The three things I’m most passionate about are my family, my business and cycling. So when I’m not spending time with my wife and kids, or out on my bike, I am trying to think of new ways to boost my business (a magazine company which produces 13 titles a month).
The most successful strategy I have come across so far is business networking. There are many business networking organisations in the UK, but in my case it is the Business Networking International (BNI) UK which has proved to be so rewarding.
My staff jokingly call it the “Sausage Club” because the weekly BNI meeting I attend takes place over a cooked breakfast every Friday morning.
Gags aside, I am proud to be a member of the Sausage Club. I have learned so much about business and myself since joining 18 months ago.
So how does BNI work? Basically all members of the local group run businesses but membership is restricted to one representative from each trade or profession.
Weekly meetings take place over breakfast and finish before the business day starts.
At every meeting, each member is given 60 seconds to speak about their business.
The whole thing is based on a referral system. Essentially your fellow members recommend you and your business to people they meet – and do the same in return. It is basically a very good word of mouth campaign.
And does it pay off? Most definitely. In the UK and Ireland, there are 13,000 BNI members. Would they bother getting out of bed at the crack of dawn for something that didn’t work?
I have heard people say BNI has helped them generate £180,000 in business a year. I can’t say I have reached that sort of figure just yet, but I am definitely heading in the right direction.
There have been three other key benefits as well.
Once a week you have to get up in front of a room full of people and speak for 60 seconds. The first time I had to do this, I was overcome with nerves. I now actually enjoy public speaking. If you want people to believe in your business you need to be able to speak about it confidently in public. Delivering a 60 second speech each week is the best public speaking training you will ever get.
This is linked to gaining more public speaking experience but goes further than that. It takes a certain skill to sum up your ideas in a 60 second speech. You have to be concise and direct – there is no room for waffling. It means when I am preparing to deliver a pitch to a new client I am more experienced at delivering my ideas in a clear and brief way.
The whole point of business networking is that it benefits your professional life, but one unexpected gain has been making a number of new friends. I cycle with some of them, and go to the football with others.
For more details visit www.bni.co.uk.