Friday, 14 January 2011 00:00
It’s 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and customers are slowly trickling into the Celebrity Diner on Jericho Turnpike in Syosset. But in a back room, 20 men and women are buzzing around a cluster of tables, talking business, sharing information about recent encounters with clients and prospects, shaking hands, and exchanging cards.
Welcome to the weekly breakfast meeting of the Syosset chapter of BNI—Business Network International—a worldwide business-referral organization dedicated to bringing entrepreneurs from a wide variety of professions together to introduce themselves to each other and to share business referrals.
The Syosset chapter, one of 32 on Long Island, is called the “Advantage Referral” group and consists of 22 members, including a CPA, a mortgage banker, a window treatment installer, a printer, a commercial insurance agent, a realtor, a credit card processor, a financial planner, a life insurance broker, an autobody shop owner, a custom clothing consultant, an optician, a computer consultant, a home inspector, a public relations consultant, and a contractor. The chapter also comprises lawyers who handle divorce, personal injury, traffic and real estate suits. Only one representative per profession is eligible to join a BNI chapter, to avoid inter-chapter competition.
Founded in California in 1985 by business consultant and networking guru Dr. Ivan Misner, BNI operates on the principle that “Givers gain.”
“What this means,” says Blaise Ingrisano, president of the Syosset chapter, “is that members need to focus on how they can help each other, not how everyone can help them. That comes as members get to know each other and begin to have confidence in one another.”
Each week, members of the chapter fill out and pass along “referral slips” to each other. A key part of the hour and a half breakfast meeting each week is when each member introduce themselves and describe the services that can be provided to other members. The member then discusses how any previous referrals worked out.
Joe Tracz, a Plainview realtor, says that BNI has been a measurable help to his business. “I’ve gotten many referrals from our group, and I’ve given them as well,” he notes. Other members echo his sentiment, some saying that more than half their annual business comes from referrals attributable to BNI contacts.
Matrimonial attorney Alan Stein of Plainview and Southampton, a past president of the Syosset chapter, describes the mission of BNI as “helping people increase their business through a structured, positive, and supportive word-of-mouth marketing program.”
Notes Chris Acheson, a financial planner who was among the first members when the Syosset chapter began five years ago, “For most businesses, word-of-mouth is the strongest form of promotion, and BNI is a valuable mechanism to accomplish this.”
BNI chapters comprise more than 124,000 members in almost 6,000 chapters in more than 40 countries.