I thought i’d take a moment to reflect back on my many years of networking and draw a personal comparison between my time as a member of BNI Brentwood and my membership of Essex Business Forum.
I joined BNI Brentwood almost as soon as it was launched in 1998. I was new to the world of running a business at this stage, and the concept of regular networking with like-minded business professionals was amazing. I joined after my first visit and enjoyed over a decade of membership throughout which BNI was responsible for a very significant part of my income.
Towards the end of my time at BNI, the concept of business networking was becoming very popular and many rival groups were emerging. Most of these groups didn’t last long and has only a small group of members. Networking groups without a critical mass of regular members are doomed to fail, and therefore anything less than 20 bodies attending the meetings each week just doesn’t work or last very long.
What finally made my mind up to leave BNI was the ever increasing feeling that as members of this organisation we were getting less and less value for money. Given the global size of this organisation, and the fact that all of the membership fees that were paid each year (around £600 per person I seem to recall?) the individual group saw none of this money and were left to promote itself and the members to promote themselves.
Introducing Essex Business Forum…
As a break-away group from Brentwood BNI, Essex Business Forum was formed back in Feb 2011 with just 17 members who all left Brentwood BNI is a mass exodus. This fresh new approach was welcomed by all members and very quickly the membership levels which we’d struggled to maintain let alone increase under BNI Brentwood policy started to grow dramatically.
The actual meetings were similar in that they both followed a structured agenda and were both focussed of doing business, but the EBF way was without the “military policies” that so many BNI members get tired of. Of course the most significant thing about Essex Business Forum is that all of the membership fees (Only £350 per year – much less than BNI) are used to promote the organisation and its members.
Below is a list of points that I hope demonstrates my personal views and differences between the two business networking groups:
Joining BNI Brentwood costs £435 + VAT per year (£522 per annum). Oh and that does not include the £100 + vat joining fee! So your first year in BNI is going to be £642.
Joining Essex Business Forum costs either £200 (No VAT) for a six month membership, or £350 (No VAT) for 12 months. There is also a one-time joining fee but this is just £50.
Compare £642 of which none of that money is used to promote your business, against £400 with which your business and the EBF Brand is widely promoted online and offline.
The Essex Business Forum website provides full details of all of its members in a directory style, and members have full access to add and edit as much content as they wish. This content is regularly promoted and gets a high volume of traffic.
EBF also commit to a constant advertising campaign through the use of SEO, Google Adwords, Social media and many other initiatives. Members have reported business deals worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds that have come on the strength of their listings on the EBF website. As I understand it, no such promotion even exists with BNI Brentwood?
In a recent initiative, Essex Business Forum have now produced member directories which are being distributed to local businesses and households for the main purpose of generating more business for its members. These, I am sure, will generate lots of opportunity and business for the members.
Serious about Business, but fun at the same time:
The BNI meeting agenda is the same worldwide. It has been developed over a number of years and “apparently” is the best way to run a networking meeting from the many many thousands of Worldwide members and millions of meetings they must have had by now.
I just dont believe that one size fits all. You need a structure absolutely, and it should be focussed unashamadely around doing business, but that doesnt preclude a few jokes and great friendly atmosphere. In my opinion one of the strengths of Essex Business forum is the friendliness and welcoming nature of its members. Guests feel at ease and are made to feel part of the group, and it is because of this that they have over doubled in size from 17 to 36 members.
Evolution and Expansion:
For most of my 10+ year membership of BNI Brentwood everything was a nicely maintained status quo. Members joined and left, some like me stayed and were in for the long-haul and it was very worthwhile financially to do so. Even in my years of running my own businesses, I do firmly believe that the landscape for marketing yourself and how business promotion and communication happens is profoundly different since 1998.
BNI feels to me like it hasn’t really kept up with these modern trends. I dont just mean Social Media, but its whole approach feels the same now as it was when I first was introduced.
I know that Essex Business Forum has learned from what I consider to be these percieved shortcomings of the BNI way. Increasing the membership fees during a recession is just another example of the money-grabbing behaviours that I grew to dislike.
At least with EBF being Essex based and not global, when things need to change they can happen quickly and without fuss. Members regularly suggest new ideas or initiatives and these have been discussed and many of them have been successful.
My conclusions in the BNI Brentwood vs Essex Business Forum round-up:
BNI was an excellent organisation. It was a market leader and the Worldwide best business networking group. Notice I am saying WAS.
I think that BNI has had its time. Not just in little old Brentwood, but on a national or international level.
Business networking is everywhere today. BNI is like an old-fashioned network which still works but there are far easier and better ways of achieving the same or a better result.
I wish BNI Brentwood the very best of luck, and I do respect the many great things that being a member of their organisation has given me, but Essex Business Forum is in an entirely different league!
Please dont take my word for all of this. Both organisations allow visitors to attend infact welcome them. The BNI Brentwood website is at http://www.brentwoodbni.co.uk and the Essex Business Forum website is at http://www.essexbusinessforum.com. Pay a visit to both and make your own mind up.
I would also welcome comments from both Essex Business Forum and BNI members. These are my personal opinions but I know many other people who share them.