You MUST Compare Apples to Oranges

When you recognize that networking is a powerful way to grow your business, it only makes sense to then ask, “Where’s the most efficient place to network?” You want to focus your efforts and resources on the groups that are going to bring you the greatest return on your membership fee and, even more important, on the time you will be required to invest. Otherwise, your efforts are more like hunting big game with buckshot, and instead of producing results and growing your business, you are just being robbed of your valuable time and resources that would be better spent investing into your business.

When it comes to growing your business through networking, the adage "You can’t compare apples to oranges" simply does not apply. In fact, in order to get the most benefit for your business, it behooves you to make that comparison. Up to this point, there have really only been two options out there for business owners who want to grow their businesses through networking: Weekly networking meetings run by volunteers with meetings focused exclusively on impressing guests, or Chambers of Commerce run by non-profits.

Historically, those who value networking have had to settle for joining one of these groups in an attempt to grow their businesses, only to come face-to-face with the reality that these are broken models that don’t deliver as advertised. That’s the boat I was in, which is why I was so disenchanted with the whole idea of business networking in the first place. Although both options may include some networking, that is where all similarities to Network In Action end.

Chambers of Commerce

I used to work with thirty-seven different Chambers of Commerce and Better Business Bureaus across the country, and I got to know them very well. Chambers are non-profits that have one focus and one alone, which is to help grow the economy in a particular city or in a particular area of the city. In order to do that, they want to attract more big businesses to the area. They want universities and large corporations to set up shop, which brings jobs and millions of dollars in annual revenues. That’s who they want. But in order to fund that effort, they prop themselves up on the shoulders of small businesses like yours. They get a bunch of small businesses to pay $300-$400 a year with the perceived value being: If I join this organization, I’ll network and grow my business.

Joining a Chamber can be a positive if you want to support your community. It can even be a positive if you are prepared to spend a huge commitment of your time attending ribbon cuttings and as many Chamber events as possible—making sure that you’re the person who’s there more often than your competition. Just keep in mind that Chambers love your competitors’ dues as much as they love yours. That means that while you’re going to be showing up with business cards in hand, ready to work the room, you’ll be dodging a number of people in your very own industry. When you go to an event, you’re going to be standing in a room full of multiple insurance people, numerous realtors, and a sea of people in your industry who recognize that if they attend more than you do, they’re going to get the business. It’s a game of survival.

So, how do you survive? Well, it’s on you to figure that out. The Chamber isn’t going to give you a handbook or a mentor to walk you through it. Come swim, sink …or drown! It’s all the same once your check clears. Outside of your ability to afford a few hundred bucks, the organization has no interest in you or the success of your business. The Chamber will do just enough to get you to renew next year. If you’re not a great networker, or if you can’t make it to the meetings and events frequently enough, then you’re not going to derive any benefit from your membership. It simply becomes just another listing in another business directory.

That’s very different from the NIA® experience. Here, you and your family matter, and your membership comes with ample coaching.

You may be able to glean a positive experience from your Chamber membership if you’re an accomplished networker who is outgoing and gregarious. But make no mistake, it is not a networking group.

Let's face it—the entire function of the Chamber is not to help you network. It is exclusively meant to help grow that particular area in the city and to grow that particular area of the city. Most people go to these meetings to sell something, where in a networking organization like ours, you’re there to build a relationship. You don’t walk in the door thinking, "What am I going to get out of this?" You walk in the door thinking, "I’m here to take advantage of this opportunity to build relationships, and I need to spend this ninety minutes seeing who I can make friends with and who I can help."

Weekly Networking Groups: The Bad Apples

When it comes to networking, there are numerous models offered across the country with various acronyms in front of the group names.Almost all of them offer a singular model. They are almost identical in the prices they charge, the weekly meetings held at the break of dawn, the volunteer effort running the group, very little training for the next man up, and meetings built around impressing the guests instead of serving the members (all of which contribute to the networking roller coaster we will discuss in Chapter 5: Professional Community Builders vs. Volunteers). They have little to no technology, and anyone can join the group as long as they can write a check—no background checks required. The industry leader, BNI®, has been known to even require non-competes for volunteer leaders, and they either frown on your involvement in other networking groups or flat out forbid you to grow your business through business relationships outside their group.

BNI® is known for their “Givers Gain” mantra and philosophy. But let’s take a minute to look at that. Can any business owner really get all the business they need from a single networking group? Of course not! I do not believe there is a business out there that has ever gotten all the business it needs from just one networking group—not even NIA®. We all still promote our businesses on the Internet, attend Chamber events, and spend our hard-earned dollars on marketing to keep our brand front and center. Yet, BNI® requires you to only participate in one industry exclusive networking group in order for you to be a member of its group. Many business owners have been booted out or denied admission when they are honest about their participation in other networking efforts! In Katy, Texas, BNI® membership committees were specifically told not to admit anyone who mentioned on their applications that they are NIA® group members.

Can you imagine Uber telling you that you will be prohibited from using its services ever again if you dare to catch a Yellow Cab? Or Airbnb refusing customers who ever stay in hotels? This antiquated commandment from BNI® is a territory grab and nothing else. It is a fear-based decision meant to serve BNI® and BNI® alone—not the members who are paying dues.

However, this exclusivity comes with a double standard. BNI® has a “BNI® Ambassador” position, which is a political way to give privileges to certain members they value above others. Those in the ambassador positions are required to visit multiple groups a month to keep their ambassador status, but the payout is that they are able to grow their business by representing their brand in multiple groups—all while speaking out of the other side of their mouths and telling Joe Blow that he can only attend one group and just that one group in all the world. Is that consistent with “Givers Gain”?

Today, NIA® groups are largely made up of former BNI® presidents, vice presidents, membership committee members, and ambassadors who all clearly see the hypocrisy of BNI®’s ways.

At NIA®, we believe that the more networking you do outside of our group, the more value you bring into our group. If your network is continuously expanding, then your ability to bring referrals to your fellow group members is continuously expanding as well. We are comprised of business owners who see the value in what NIA® offers and who appreciate the way we are truly committed to their growth and the growth of their businesses.

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