Is BNI A Good Fit For Your MSP?
Published: August 31, 2023
Last Updated: August 31, 2023
I recently saw a few people asking about BNI for their MSP. BNI or Business Networking International is a paid networking and referral group that is commonly found in most major cities. The premise is pretty simple. You pay a few membership dues and then join a group of other business owners and all try to refer each other business. You are only allowed to have one type of business per chapter, for instance, you are only allowed one real estate agent, one MSP, one marketing consultant, etc. But is BNI a good fit for your MSP? In this post, I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience with BNI and how that might apply to whether or not BNI could be a fit for your MSP.
Do BNI For A Year, Simply For The Training And Practice
BNI is relatively affordable, I think it was in the $750-$1,000 range for the annual membership dues when I did it. Although I wound up leaving BNI after a year and didn’t get much direct ROI, I still think it was extremely valuable. BNI’s training, practice, and habit development are truly of standalone value on their own, even if you don’t close one client out of it. I can usually tell when I meet someone out in the wild that’s been in BNI before because they know how to turn a 30-minute networking meeting into a productive call. You will get training by joining BNI on how to conduct a good 1 on 1 and how to speak to an audience about your business in a short period of time. More importantly, you will get practice and a lot of it. The value of this can’t be understated. Look at it this way. You pay $900 for an annual membership and you get to practice having a quick sales meeting 5-10 times a month. When it comes time for a real sales meeting, you’ll be far more prepared and far more likely to close.
BNI also teaches you how to extract information from people about what’s important to them. There are a lot of people in the business world who want to beat around the bush and “develop relationships” and in my experience, a lot of this is just a waste of time. Relationships come later; after you have a reason to form one. If you want to get good at networking, you need to be able to create lots of positive experiences in your network in short periods of time and a big part of that is being able to find out what’s important to people in a hurry. This helps you refer them to the right people who can help them out and sending people referrals goes a long way toward growing your own business. It also coaches you to send people referrals without getting anything in return for the sake of the community. Something more people could use exposure to.
Lastly, BNI also helps you get into the habit of networking. Training is one thing, practice is another, but to really get good at networking it has to be a habit, something you do regularly because it’s just a part of your routine, much like going to the gym. BNI helps you form good habits.
Join A Big BNI Chapter To Get Value As An MSP
If I could give one piece of advice that you shouldn’t ignore about making BNI a fruitful endeavor as an MSP it’s to join a big chapter. Like most people, I connected with a BNI member at a networking event around town and went ahead and joined a chapter without seeing the big picture of BNI in my city.
BNI has multiple chapters in a city and I just went ahead and joined the first chapter I visited because I knew someone in there. Unfortunately, this chapter only had about 15 people and after talking with them regularly and doing 1 on 1’s with everyone in there twice over, I realized I probably wasn’t going to get much direct ROI out of it relative to the time I was putting in.
It took me about 6 months to learn the ropes of BNI and learn more about the infrastructure. After attending a regional BNI event, I decided to do a couple of cross-chapter visits and attended a group that had about 120 members that was just down the street. They already had both a marketing agency and a web developer in the group so I wouldn’t have been able to get in that particular one, but I would have gotten so much more value out of BNI being in a larger group and I wish I would have known that from the start. There are just so many more opportunities to both refer out and be referred to in a larger group. There’s also a greater chance that you’ll encounter other more B2B-focused companies.
BNI is an amazing tool for people whose customers could be ANYONE, like health insurance providers, real estate agents, plumbers, etc. It’s a much tougher road for companies like MSPs because you are selling B2B and are usually looking for larger companies to work with. Bigger chapters are much more likely to have other people who meet this criteria whereas small chapters can still be successful for more consumer-focused businesses. The hard part about big chapters is getting into one. Because, for the most part, people don’t leave them after they’ve found a way in and will happily farm business for years on end.
BNI is a great tool, if you’ve never done it before and you’ve got the budget, I wouldn’t think twice about joining for an initial one-year period. I ended up leaving after a year due to changing business conditions rather than any fault of BNIs. I ended up narrowing the focus of my marketing agency away from a Jacksonville generalist agency to niching down to the tech sector and as such BNI didn’t make sense anymore. Since most MSPs are generalists and focused on a specific city or regional area, BNI can still be a fit and anecdotally I’ve heard of MSPs pulling 3-4 managed services clients a year from BNI groups. Considering MSP clients can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime, it’s not at all a bad investment of time and money. Happy networking!