While structured networking events such as BNI can provide much more value than unstructured networking, many accountants still doubt whether they are worth attending. If you find yourself in this same predicament, this article explores the BNI pros and cons for the small accountancy firm owner.
What is BNI?
Business Network International (BNI) is a networking and referral membership group for small businesses. With a ‘one member per business category’ stipulation, the idea is that associates from different industries meet every week to discuss their business and generate referrals for each other.
With regional branches all over the world and more than 120,000 members, BNI could be a great networking opportunity for your small accountancy firm. However, paying for that accountancy slot doesn’t come without its disadvantages.
BNI pros and cons
Thinking about joining a BNI chapter under the ‘Accountant’ heading? This can provide you with many benefits.
- Generates more work - if you occupy the accountancy seat, all the other members are meant to refer work to you. In fact, accountants actually generate the most amount of work of any of the seats in a BNI chapter!
- Generates specific referrals - if you’re looking to target clients in a certain industry, there is likely to be someone else present that has the contacts you need to open that door. Here’s what you need to say and do to generate referrals.
- The accountancy seat is the most profitable - one referral could result in a recurring fee income for a fixed number of years worth thousands of pounds.
- Extends your professional network - not only do you make some useful local commercial contacts, but you also have these contacts at hand to recommend to your clients who may be looking for non-accountancy services (e.g lawyer, insurance broker).
- Improves your confidence in public speaking - BNI meetings are a great way to practise presenting your firm using an elevator pitch (60-second networking pitch) or detailed presentation.
- Offers other opportunities for business development - you can take part in non-BNI occasions such as exhibitions and seminars where you can present your firm. Here’s why you need to always make time for business development.
- Easier for you to take action - BNI is a structured event where a clear format is followed. This makes it much easier for you to pitch and ask for what you need (need to get better at converting leads?).
- Grows loyal relationships over time - BNI meetings are closed to members only and they can be held weekly or fortnightly. This makes it much easier to get to know people and form trusted long-term contacts.
As you can see, BNI offers a great opportunity for you to network and grow your small accountancy firm. However, it wouldn’t be a true representation of the group without looking at the BNI pros AND cons, so here they are.
- Time-consuming - you get out what you put in, so to do well you will typically have to invest at least 4-8 hours of your time every week. This includes travel, attending meetings, one-to-one's with other members, finding visitors for the group, and finding referrals for other group members every week.
- Pressure - some accountants find themselves under too much pressure to find business for other members every week, as well as being able to attend every week. You are allowed to send a substitute in your place but this is very difficult for a sole trader and some groups limit it to 3 times only.
- Frequency & timing - most BNI groups meet over breakfast once a week, some as early as 6 AM. This can be difficult for members with children and other times of the day may be more suitable for other reasons such as travel. However, more BNI groups are now starting to meet at different times throughout the day.
- Much more difficult in a new group - it’s difficult to build positive momentum with a small number of members. Well-established groups with 20+ members are much more valuable as you gain the benefits much quicker.
- You still may end up getting work that you don’t want - if you’re not very specific in your 60-second pitch, you will end up getting the wrong type of work (e.g contractors, tradespeople). You may also still receive referrals that are of low quality. Be more specific and create your target client persona.
- Accountants don’t normally have products, they have services - this can make it harder for you to get the referrals that you want, especially if you’re focusing on advisory services, as members tend to find selling products much easier.
- Rules - you need to accept that BNI is structured and that there are rules that you need to follow. These include not being able to promote certain aspects of your business if there is a bookkeeper present, for example, you will have to concentrate on your other services such as tax and accounts or audit compliance.
- Attendance doesn’t mean business - just because you go every week doesn’t mean you will definitely get business and that other members with long-standing relationships with their existing accountants will switch to you. Also, bear in mind that there will always be people that you don’t particularly like or get on with (read overcome referral friction!).
So in terms of BNI pros and cons, BNI is a good way of getting more of the ‘right sort’ of business for your small accountancy firm, however, the success rate is very much dependant on you and the members of your group.
Before making the decision whether to occupy that accountancy seat, make sure to consult these BNI pros and cons and assess the other members of your potential chapter to see whether they are the sort of people you can work with. Only then can you decide whether this networking opportunity is for you and your firm.