As a two year member, I might be able to shed some light on this VERY frequently asked question…
It is a polarizing organization; there are a significant number of rules such as mandatory attendance, lengthy meetings and constant sales pitches. You join specifically to get the other members to plug your business for you. You educate your group every week on what it is that you are looking for (type of referral) and the idea is that they go out with you on their mind and act as personal advertising. Since different businesses owners travel with different groups of people, theoretically you would be getting exposure that you otherwise wouldn’t be getting without very specific advertising or massive expenditure.
It works… most of the time. In my experience I have found that it depends on two factors: the specific group you are joining and the type of business you have. If you join a group that has very low membership (single digits) or a group that does not have proactive management… you might not get anything out of it other than the feeling of a pain in your lower backside.
If you join a good group, but the members do not have customers/clients who are looking for what your business does… you won’t be happy with your experience there because you won’t be getting many referrals.
The trades usually do well, most people can tell who needs a plumber, electrician or carpenter relatively easily and the pitch for doing those jobs is usually interesting and memorable. Real Estate (title, attorney, sales, mortgage) also usually do well, as they travel in groups that need those services regularly and frequently recommend each other as the next step in the process.
The key is to make sure that people know EXACTLY what it is that you do and what it is that makes you money. If you half-ass it and give a general pitch or overly broad group of people you are targeting, most people won’t know what referral you want and you will have wasted your time. You need to know what it is that makes your business really go before getting there and be able to succinctly describe what you want.
It is an expensive organization to join, with membership dues and potential room fees depending on where you meet. You will have to attend every week (my group meets at 7: 00, and getting up at 5: 30 to make it can be a pain, trust me) and you will be meeting one on one with members of the group on a regular basis. You will perfect your elevator pitch. You will NOT want to go some weeks, and if you are like me, you will think you wasted your time for the first month or two.
It will take time before people in the group trust you to recommend you to their clients. Remember, most of them make their money from repeat business; they won’t want to send those people to someone who they don’t trust.
I joined and I don’t regret it. The people who I have spoken to that did not like it usually quit before the first six months or had a bad group. You have to visit before you join a group and make sure that there are people there that can give you what you need for your business. If you don’t have members there that can tell you that they have clients that would be interested in what you do, make your pitch, listen to the group, thank them for their time and leave.
Short answer: no, BNI isn’t a scam, but it also isn’t for everybody. Some people really did not like their experience with it, either because they got a bad group, because they have a tough business, or they don’t want to commit to doing what you have to do in the group to be successful with it. You get out of it what you put in, if you spent as little time as possible working the system you will get as little as possible out of it. I could do more, but I put in an average amount of time for it and get a solid return on my investment. I would encourage you to visit a group and decide for yourself if it would be worth it.