Starting New BNI Chapters Can Be Fun!
There can be nothing more exciting at 7am in the morning than getting 15 to 20 enthusiastic business people together, and helping them set up a chapter so that they can use the most powerful business tool - "word of mouth referral marketing" to expand their business.
Like any venture worth doing, starting new BNI chapters too can be challenging.
With 4,100 chapters throughout 30 countries, there is already a proven system to follow. Most of the challenges come from us tweaking the system thinking that we can do it better. More often than not, instead of "beating the system", we have the "system beating us"!
I am sharing things that worked (or did not) for me, and perhaps there will be some useful tips or tricks for you to make starting your new BNI chapter a breeze!
The 3 Things You MUST DO Before Your First Core Group Meeting or else you will SUFFER!
BNI is a proven system and the action plan comes from 20 years of accumulated experience.
Let me stress that THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS to the process! Many have tried to beat the system only to find the system beating them!
A proven system means that if you follow it, success is guaranteed and starting your chapter will be easy. Stray away from it and starting your new chapter could be a real struggle!
The Guide suggests the number of phone calls for the first core group meeting to make sure that you start the process correctly with at least 15-18 people attending the core group meeting. From experience, you will have to make that many phone call to guarantee that at least close to 30 people say they will attend. And out of those, 30% will NOT turn up to your meeting due to unexpected situations - not waking up on time being the most common.That will leave you with your 15-18 people.
The first core group meeting is important to set the momentum correctly. With more people, the energy and confidence levels will be higher, the meeting more enjoyable and more people will sign up. It is easy then to build up the momentum from the large crowd for subsequent core group meetings. As the Chapter Director, you undertook to help them set up the Chapter and when they sense and have confidence that you able to do it, they will rally around you because it is in their interest for you to succeed!
If you start off with a low turnout and low sign up, then it will be a struggle to build up the momentum. The initial few people would hesitate to commit, as they want to see if the Chapter can really take off. They would not be pro-actively supporting you to build up the momentum as their own confidence level is low. Then starting your Chapter will be a struggle.
So prepare your name list, make the phone calls and make sure that you have a GREAT turnout for our first core group meeting!
(Contact me should you need a sample visitor invitation script. Lai)
2. Have at least 6 people (more if possible) already committed and signed up.
As you are starting your very first BNI Chapter, you will certainly have close friends or business associates that can join BNI and trust you enough to immediately commit even before your first core group meeting.
When I started my first Chapter, it was the very first Chapter in Penang and noone has heard of BNI before. I started in a cold market, but six of my friends trusted me enough to be the pioneer members.
It is important to have these 6 (or more) committed members before the first core group meeting. If you are close to them, you can actually coach them in a pre-core group meeting session. Train them to be your assistants so that during the first core group meeting, they can create the high energy and positive environment, and help the other visitors sign up. Human beings also have herd instincts, when they see lots of people signing up, they too will sign up.
Ideally, these 6 (or more) people would have filled up the form and with their credit card details. Otherwise they can bring their cheques at the first core group meeting. You keep their forms or else they will 100% forget to bring them during the core group meeting. At the meeting, just casually hand the forms back to them and ask them to assist other visitors to fill the form as they had filled up themselves.
3. Follow up your visitors the day before the meeting.
You will have to start inviting your visitors from the week before if you are running Tuesday or Wednesday chapters. As BNI is seen as "business" and weekends seen as "rest days", most business people prefer to be invited during normal working hours from Monday to Fridays. That means that over the weekend, many would have forgotten about your Tuesday or Wednesday meeting.
So first thing on Monday morning, you must call up all your Visitors to remind them about your Tuesday or Wednesday core group meeting. For Tuesday groups, it is very important that you don't leave it till after lunch or worse still Monday evening to call, as it will be too late for your Visitors to re-schedule their appointments if they have genuinely forgotten about your meeting.
The strategy that I normally use, which does not offend the Visitors, and in fact makes them feel appreciated is as follows:
"Good morning Mr. Lim. I am now making the final arrangements for the tomorrow morning's meeting.
Can I confirm with you whether you will be bringing any of your own Guests for the meeting tomorrow?
Okay, that will be fine.
By the way, are you clear on how to get to .........(the venue)......... Just follow .......... The best place to park your car is actually ............
Remember to bring plenty of cards and I will see you at 7am tomorrow at .........(the venue).........
See you then!"
We may be tempted to shortcut this process by using sms.
From experience, sms does not get the same level of attendance, especially with junk sms being common nowadays. BNI is all about building relationships, and nothing can beat the warmth of your voice through the traditional phone call!
The 3 Things You MUST PREPARE Before Your First Core Group Meeting
My suggestion for the core group meetings is to guarantee for 15 pax but ask them to have seating for 20pax. Most hotels will have enough food for everyone and you will have some buffer for "no-shows".
If the hotel asks you to confirm in writing, then confirm 7 weeks of 15 pax, 1 week of 80 pax for the launch and then subsequently 20 pax on a weekly basis. These numbers will keep them happy. But tell them that you will fine tune the figure for the launch day and the regular meeting at a later date.
It is very important to tell the hotel exactly how you want the room laid out, preferably with a diagram. Even then, they will make mistakes. For the first core group meeting, make sure that you check the room layout the night before the meeting if possible, or at least turn up at 6am and make sure that everything is in order. (Believe me, they still screw up the arrangement for our regular meetings, even after 3 years!)
The seating should be U shaped, with a break in the centre for easier passage. There should be a display table in front right in the centre to display the BNI books, CDs, tapes, new member’s kit, newsletters etc. There should also be a resource table at the rear of the room for members to put their promotional material, and a sign in table at the entrance to the room. The hotel should also be providing a white board, flip chart and an overhead projector. The hotels also normally provide a microphone and speakers – but they are seldom used if the Director has a loud enough voice (which I am sure most of you have).
Make sure that they provide the number of seats as requested. Sometimes the hotel gets lazy and they retain the set up from the previous meeting and you may end up having seating for 30+ people. It is important to have limited seats so that the room looks full. If there are too many empty seats, the energy level and momentum will drop. So if there are too many seats, get the hotel to remove them!
The trick is to know where the hotel keeps the spare chairs so that if more than 20 people turn up, you know where to get the extra chairs. And having to get extra chairs is good psychologically, as your members and guests will feel that the response is better than expected!
The hotel should have the breakfast set up by 6:30am. My suggestion is to have the breakfast served inside the room as it keeps people within the room, and you are more in control. It also makes the atmosphere warmer and cozier.
Have the booking for the Launch Day and the exact room they are going to give you for the Launch Day confirmed in writing. This is the most important day for your new chapter and you cannot afford the hotel to forget your booking or place you in an inappropriate room.
I have had Visitors Days (which is like a Launch Day) screwed up by the hotel through booking on the wrong date, putting us in a room that is too small to cater for the expected crowd, and on another occasion, putting us in the grand ballroom that can accommodate 40 tables and we needed only 10 tables!
So I'd rather be very cautious rather than assume that the hotel is experienced enough to get it right. They won’t!
By the way, ask the hotel to set up 10 round tables of 8 pax each. When the numbers increase, we can place up to 10 pax per table. Get the hotel to show you the layout plan for the 10 tables.
2. Prepare the President’s Box
Get a medium sized plastic box and fill it with the necessary items.
(Refer to your Director's manual for list of items.)
Get someone to assist you in the sign-in part of the meeting, to free you up to mingle with the Visitors and to create the warm friendly atmosphere. You may get your staff, spouse or even one of your pre-committed core group members to play the door keeper's role.
3. Be VERY FAMILIAR with the Core Group Script & Process
Read and re-read the Core Group Script as many times as is required for you to be familiar with the content and flow. Your presentation has to be natural and smooth flowing, therefore the more prepared and confident you are, the better your presentation will be!
It is important to understand the purpose behind each of the sections. The script provides the facts, and you the presenter, must breathe life into it. You have to add in the body language, the anecdotes, testimonials, humour, relevance, interaction and etc so that the points become meaningful to the listener.
E.g. BNI was started in Malaysia June 2000 and we now have 26 chapters throughout the country. – As facts, they are quite boring to visitors and some listener’s may even think “so what” or don’t see the relevance.
If you were to expand:
“Now, if your business is able to expand to 26 branches in a short span of 6 years, will you feel happy and feel a sense of accomplishment?”
You will definitely get a “Yes” response.
“Do you think it is easy for any business to expand 26 branches?”
Most would response with a “No” answer.
“The reason why BNI Malaysia is able to expand so widely in 6 short years is simply because BNI works, and more and more business people are wanting BNI to help them create more business opportunities. In a short while I will show you BNI can help you get more business….”
By expanding a little bit more, your visitors will be able to identify with and see more relevance in your presentation.
Apart from thoroughly knowing the core group script, you must also be very familiar with the process of the 4 weeks to get the required 16-18 core group members, the 3 weeks close door training which includes the letter campaign, and choosing the LT for the chapter and lastly the Launch Day itself.
Another suggestion is to also read and reread the AD Manual on starting chapters.
The 3 Things You MUST DO At Your Core Group Meeting
We are inviting people to a professional business networking group and when they arrive, the environment must be top class.
Firstly, the hotel must provide good signage so that the Visitors are not running all over trying to locate the venue.
The sign in table must be well set up, ideally with some flowers (hotel can provide).
And very importantly, the Door Person must be alert (not half asleep), cheerful and warm. The signing in process must be a pleasant experience, with 2 name cards requested for, and a name tag given to the Visitor.
There must be proper sign in sheets, not scraps of paper with hastily written heading. The signage for “Please pay … and Give 2 Cards” must be up to clear confusion, and the list of professions required must be clearly displayed.
Once they move into the room, all the seatings have been arranged neatly and properly, with referral slips and articles on BNI on every place. The number of seats must be correct to the crowd expected, to give a “full room” feeling. Know where the spare chairs are kept.
Breakfast should be ready in a corner, and the coffee (or tea) must be hot!
The display table at the front of the room should have the full collection of Ivan Misner’s books, and the range of CDs and tapes available, and one set of the new members’ kit.
If you have any BNI banners or posters, put them up to create atmosphere.
On the white board, have the words “Welcome to BNI “_________“ Chapter.
Get those friends of yours that have committed to be the “Visitor Hosts” to welcome the other guest and overall create a warm, friendly and inviting atmosphere.
Note: Visitors make up their minds in the first 5 minutes whether they want to be part of the Chapter or not, and spend the rest of the time at the meeting confirming their decision. So this initial first impression is very very very important!
2. Give an Energetic, Dynamic and Irresistible Presentation
As shared in the previous part, you will have to be very familiar with the Core Group Script. You musn't be just reading the script, you have to make it come to life.
People are here to be excited by you, and it is your sheer enthusiasm that is going to win them over.
Make the session very interactive, get feedback from the audience and draw out their experiences and show how BNI can help them.
e.g. Ask "how many of you have experienced getting referrals from satisfied customers? How often to you get them?"
And most would find that the closing rate from referrals is much higher than for cold calls. Ask them whether this is a fact.
Then ask them “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have all your customers give you referrals every week?” I am sure that everyone will say “Yes”.
Would they want to be part of a group that can give them referrals week after week?
Guess what? BNI is the group.
Bottom line is that your presentation must be all about Benefits – not the features i.e. how BNI can help them increase their business and not about BNI history, facts and figures.
Everyone is tuned to the same station WIIFM – What’s In It For Me
3. Ask for the Commitment – Sign Up and Pay Up!
We are having the core group meetings for one purpose only – to have 18 to 20 core group members to launch the Chapter. That must be foremost on your mind!
During the presentation, you have already told them that:
* You role is to get 18 -20 members to launch a chapter
* You are only going to allow one member per classification
* You are on a tight time frame and have only 4 weeks to get the numbers
* You mean business!
They expect you to take charge and ask them whether they are in or not, and if they are in, they are expecting to pay up immediately to lock in their position. If they are going to pay by cheque, then get them to fill the form and pass you the cheque within the next 24 hours. (They chase you, not you chase them!)
You got to show them the urgency, and that you mean business.
Don’t waste your time if they have got to think about it, which means next week. Tell them that you will be inviting the same profession again and you would not pick the first person who pays up, but the most qualified candidate. So it might not be them! (Use the fear of loss strategy!)
Now the only way a Director can have the confidence to say that, and have those present believe you is that you must show that you are able to bring people to the meeting. If you are weak, then they know that you need them and not the other way around.
So at the end of the meeting, do not be hesitant or be afraid. Just do it!
Tell them to fill up the application form so that we can have more information about them. Everyone must fill one.
And those that want to lock out the competitors to put down their credit card number.
(That is why it is important to have your friends committed to you before the first core group meeting - when the rest see your friends joining, they will also want to join.)
We recently had an AD who got his core group formed in just 2 weeks and went straight into training – he simply followed the steps outlined in this Guide!
If they want to pay by cheque, tell them to pass you the check by today, latest tomorrow and give them instructions on how to pass the cheque to you.
It is that simple!
The 3 Things You MUST DO After Your Core Group Meeting
2. Follow Up
3. Follow Up
Starting successful BNI Chapters is all about following the system and then following up.
You will need to follow up with those who turned up, signed up and paid – Remind them that they have to attend every meeting and cannot miss the 3 weeks training and the Launch Day. Get them to bring their close associates or strong contacts to the next core group meeting.
You will need to follow up with those who turned up, signed up and NOT paid – Get the cheque from them. Then remind them that they have to attend every meeting and cannot miss the 3 weeks training and the Launch Day. Get them to bring their close associates or strong contacts to the next core group meeting.
You will need to follow up with those who turned up, and NOT yet decided to join – Reinvite them to the next meeting and if necessary, visit an existing Chapter to see how BNI fully works.
You will need to follow up with those who did NOT turn up – Reinvite them to the next meeting, if they are a key person that you want on your chapter, otherwise forget about them and move on to your next contact (especially those who do not turn up and do not have the courtesy to contact you and apologize).
But you can invite them to the Launch Day to see what they have missed!
And before every meeting, you have to remind your members to attend (they are still not used to the system yet).
The way to go about it is to remind the new members to give a call to their visitors the day before the meeting to bring along plenty of business cards. Subtle but effective.
Then you have to call up your own visitors to remind them to bring plenty of business cards.
And you do this after your 1st core group meeting, 2nd core group meeting, 3rd core group meeting, 4th core group meeting, 1st training, 2nd training, 3rd training, and Launch Day – do I make myself very clear?
The next part is only for those who want to go the extra mile.
I send every visitor and member and email after every meeting. The actual letters sent are attached. Please edit them as you see fit. Different people prefer different approaches.
Notice that I use Mail Merge. I have all the particulars on an Excel file and I merge the information onto a Word file. That way everyone receives a personal letter with their name, company and some personal information.
That’s all folks. It has been a pleasure sharing with you, and I hope that you will benefit from my experience and achieve better success in your Chapters.
Take care and have fun launching your new BNI Chapters!