Everyone knows networking is crucial but nearly nobody is teaching anybody how to do it well.
5 min read
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As we celebrate another graduating class, we thought we’d give them some good advice to help them turn their dreams of business success into reality. We recently caught up with Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Network International), the world’s largest business network. Ivan was good enough to agree to an interview where we could zero in on this universal challenge. He gave us some real jewels.
M&B: You're the creator of the world's largest business network. Can you tell us why you thought there would be a market for such a concept?
Ivan: I didn’t. I mean I’d like to tell you that I had this vision of an international organization, but the truth is I needed referrals for my consulting practice. I hoped my friends would be willing to refer me, and I was willing to refer them. So, we got together as a group and started passing referrals to each other. So BNI exists because it’s a classic example of necessity being the mother of invention.
But here's the piece I didn't understand at the time. I didn't know how to get referrals. I thought that since everybody I brought into my first networking group was older and more successful than me that they knew how to network. But, when we met, they were asking “OK, what do we do?” And that’s when I realized, no one knew how to network effectively.
M&B: That’s surprising, with all the emphasis today on networking. So how did this discovery lead to the development of BNI?
Ivan: Everybody needs to know how to network. Everybody needs to build their business through referrals. But nobody’s being taught how to do that, and this was really the genesis of BNI. I had one chapter, and somebody wanted me to open a second chapter. At first, I said no, this isn’t what I’m doing. I’m a business consultant, but they talked me into it and I did it. Then it was two more, and then three more, and when we were up to 20 chapters in the first year, I realized, Hey, something is going on here! I need to pay attention to this!
M&B: So, what makes these BNI chapters unique? What lead to the rapid growth of these networking chapters?
Ivan: Several things really. For starters there’s only one member per professional specialty in each chapter. So that reduces competition and limits the size of the groups. Our average size worldwide is 26 members, but we have chapters as large as 100. Another thing is our core value that Givers Gain. Basically, I’m here to give you business and help you. And, by building that relationship with you, you’ll give me business. But it starts with me helping you first. Several years ago, we had a new member who’d been doing business for several years and it was all about what was in it for him. When he saw BNI, he said, “Wow this is a completely different strategy. It’s like taking off my bib and putting on my apron! It’s about helping other people, and by helping them, they’ll help me!
M&B: So, you’re talking face-to-face, with in-person networking. What would you say to those who think they can do this with technology through social networking?
Ivan: A few years back, I was in Stockholm. One of the big newspapers sent a young reporter out to interview me. He was twenty-something. He spent the first three or four minutes beating me up for running what he called the “Buggy Whip” business of the networking industry. In other words, it was as obsolete as whips for horses and buggies when the automobile came out. He didn’t think there was going to be a need for that type of networking because technology is taking over. And so I said to him, “Why are you here? It took an hour to get here and it’s going to take an hour and a half to get back with traffic” He said, “Well, because my boss said I had to come and do this interview.” Then he paused and said, “Oh I get it, because a face-to-face interview is always better” Bingo! I'm a big believer in online networking, but I also believe that there's an incredible power to face-to-face networking.
M&B: So, if you are advising today’s young entrepreneurs about why soft skills are so important what would you tell them?
Ivan: I did a survey of 12,000 business people from all over the world. One of the questions I asked was, “Have you achieved success through your networking efforts?” Nintyone percent said yes, networking had played a significant role in their success. So, I would say it’s really important to learn how to build a powerful personal network. I think soft skills like social capital, emotional intelligence, and business networking are really important skills for people to learn in or out of college.
Ivan believes today’s grads have great opportunities to learn from mentors, either in person or virtually. He practices what he preaches buy sharing his wisdom with 50 plus videos on YouTube and you can join his 60,000 followers on Facebook. Congratulations Grads! It’s time to take off the bib and put on the apron!