After five years of getting up at the crack of dawn on Thursdays to attend my BNI meeting, I woke up automatically this morning even though there was no meeting since it’s Christmas Eve. It was a good opportunity to reflect on what BNI has done for my business.
One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve seen various brilliant business people and professionals come and go is that those who leave, usually do so because they haven’t really grasped that networking is more about farming than it is hunting. When I first got involved in this worldwide organization, networking was to me a process of getting to know people that could give me business. I’ve learned that this is such a shallow understanding. The late Zig Ziglar, whose material I study often, used to say “you can get everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want.” Although I had heard the words, I didn’t really understand them until I had spent some time in proper networking. When you give consistently to others, there’s a natural tendency to have them want to give back to you. Do this with enough people over time and you’ll benefit more than you ever imagined.
Though I’ve always been confident as a person, BNI has delivered a special kind of confidence. I’ve learned to understand the value of my services in new ways. I still don’t charge enough for the quality of services I provide, which seems to be an ongoing issue in my life, but that’s now due to my passion for helping small business owners and not because I don’t know the true value of my time. Meeting with some of the city’s best business experts week after week has built up my own confidence, just as I’ve helped build up the confidence of my networking peers. Again, this is more the result of focusing on others rather than on myself.
Meeting with great people every week, through winter and summer, rain and sunny days, and together experiencing unexpected situations like the cook not showing up builds a special bond. It’s not unlike the bond that happens with those you attend college with. When you see people all the time with a desire to help them, you learn to appreciate them in a much deeper way. You weep with them through the tragedies in their lives and share the joys when life hands out those great moments. The Breakfast of Champions make an effort to accept only the highest quality business people, those that we can really trust to deliver high quality products and services when we refer to them. This level of trust, combined with weekly (or more often) engagement builds a huge understanding not only of their business strengths but also the complexities in their fields of expertise. As a result, we learn to appreciate one another more.
The benefit of these relationships extends outside the immediate weekly BNI group as well. When I visit other BNI groups and see familiar faces that have been there for years, I know that these are people I can trust to be there for my clients and associates when I need their services.
When I see familiar faces that have been there for years, I know that these are people I can trust to be there for my clients and associates when I need their services.
Another remarkable benefit of BNI is the way I’ve learned to sharpen my own skill at communicating what I do. I can help the people in my team by making it easy for them to help me. If I look back at my pre-BNI explanations of my business, it was a complex description that would have been hard for people to grasp. And I’m in the communications business! I had given little thought to how others might need to explain what I do. By having to compress the description of my services into less than 60 seconds week after week, I’ve learned to say much more with fewer words. In any setting, I can easily explain what I do without boring people.
The Value of Benevolence
Unlike most networking environments, BNI is focused not on a “what can you do for me” but instead on a “what can I do for you” mentality. There’s incredible power in having a couple dozen people consistently looking for opportunities to help grow my business. But beyond that, I gain a lot as a person from helping them grow theirs.
I’m not, by nature, a great networker. In my work I often find myself sitting at the computer for hours at a time working on layouts or code with few opportunities to talk to anyone else. This isn’t typically a great situation for networking. Yet I’ve learned to listen for opportunities. Even when I’m doing something non-business like buying groceries I listen to the conversations around me, alert to the potential for improving the lives of others by directing them to someone who can help with a problem. I’ve become much better at listening in general, which makes me a better communications expert.
A recent Educational Moment by Krystal Patience talked about the three great virtues and one of them was Benevolence. We become better, more relaxed and more positive people when we make an effort to help others. BNI is entirely focused on helping others, making it an obvious way to develop the virtue of Benevolence.
As human beings, one of the things we value most of all in others is consistency. The longer we commit to a process like BNI, the more consistent we become in our business and even in our personal lives. So often I see people grow their business through networking and then forget what got them there, itching to move on to “the next big thing” instead of staying the course and continuing to develop the potential.
I like to think of the progress I’m making like the pendulum swing of a grandfather clock. When the pendulum is in the highest position on either side of the swing, it has no kinetic energy but a huge amount of potential energy. As it moves downward, it builds energy, with the highest amount of kinetic energy at the very bottom of the swing. This seems to be the very moment that most people abandon a successful strategy, robbing them of the potential growth as the pendulum uses that pent-up energy to rise on the other side. Stay the course. See what can develop as you continue to grow relationships and opportunities.
Merry Christmas to all of those who shared in business opportunities with me this past year. As your calendar year comes to a close, take a look at what got you to where you are today. If networking was a significant part of your growth, stay committed to making it work even better. If it wasn’t, consider applying the power of giving back to help grow your business in 2016.