Networking group: BNI - worth the fee?


Hi all, have you heard of BNI, the global referral group? I went as a visitor to one in Newcastle, and they tried to do a classic 'sales pitch' at the end, trying to get me to sign up. It is about £740 to sign up a year, and £10 a week for each meeting. You meet once a week at 6.45am, and you have only one person from your industry so you can pass work around. It isn't necessarily the people in the room you get work from - it's their wider network. It's a big outlay, I have been in business about 15 months, I am trying to work with businesses that have a positive social impact, so I am wondering if I will get the sort of creative work I want from this type of group, or if it will be more 'so and so builder wants a logo' - not that I'm denoting this sort of work, I just know the type I am passionate about.

Has anyone ever been part of a BNI group? If so, how did you find it? Was it worth the money, did you get a good ROI?



An alternative to BNI is your local chamber of commerce. You can join them and then you will not be restricted to only one person from your industry. They have meetings so local businesses get to know each other. Also they have a membership directory on their website, so members are encouraged to buy products and services from each other. I don't think this will be as expensive as joining the local BNI. Have you looked into this option?

Paul Murray

Ultimate Member
I tried a smaller, local networking group as a trial a while back. It wasn't BNI so I can't comment on there meets specifically, but from what I'd gathered from this group, most of the design work was kind of scrappy little jobs – flyers, etc. There was talk of people needing a new website or knowing someone they could put me in touch with (if I joined), but a lot of the members were local tradesmen who I felt probably didn't really have a need for the level of design I was trying to push. BNI is probably different, but I'm personally reluctant to pay to join a group where I might get work.

I'd personally rather tap my own clients for contacts or join a local business group. In Manchester we have the Business Growth Hub who put on free networking events and such like. There might be something similar where you are.


Thanks Paul - that's what I was worried about, that it may be smaller jobs when I am looking to work on brand projects and create longterm relationships with brands I am passionate about/that have social impact. It's a lot of money to outlay, and a lot of time to committ - I will also have to find referrals for other people in the group and I am not sure how easy this will be...


I was approached to join one in county Durham, found it all a bit pushy and a bit of a clique, the work likely to come out of it was the scrappy flyers etc. beggars can't be choosers but then again...

graham foster

New Member
I don't like it myself but I have seen it work very well for one particular website designer. She runs her own design agency, about 4/5 employees and they design mainly simple show and tell sites, but a lot of them. She got a lot of referrals via BNI.
found it all a bit pushy and a bit of a clique
But like Bonsdes, I personally found it all a bit pushy.

Depends on your business plan I guess.


I was a member of a local branch of BNI for a couple of years and think it has its advantages and disadvantages. However, it can depend on your personality and the other members in the group.

It's true that they only allow one person per industry. However, there is a lot of crossover; i.e., a 'printer' will also do design and a designer may also do 'print'. Likewise, a 'joiner' will do roofing and a 'roofer' may also do joinery, etc. This can cause confusion, underhand dealing and potentially conflict.

There is a lot of pressure to bring in 'referrals' where during your conversation with a client about their letterheads and logo design, you feel that you have to say something like "Talking about letterheads and logos, do you need any carpets fitted in your gran's bathroom, and I notice that you're a bit overweight. I have a colleague that can help you lose weight with this new and improved diet pill". I'm afraid, I couldn't and wouldn't shoehorn these things in.

Every week, everyone has to stand up and say what they've done to bring in business for the members of the group. If you don't have anything for someone else, it's a black mark against you. These 'black marks' are routinely brought up in some form of league table to show who is and isn't pulling their weight in the group.

Unfortunately, the members of my particular group mostly gave me referrals that led to time-wasting, and/or a job that wasn't worth doing.

Some businesses seem to do well. Web designer, car mechanics and handypersons. However, more specialised industries struggle, and this shows in the turnover and fluctuation of members in some groups.

If you or someone decides to leave, all the other members are pressured into switch their allegance to someone else in another group while trying to replace you with someone else. So, not very good for making long term acquaintances.
I did make 2 or 3 long-lasting clients (who incidentally left too), but in the big scheme of things, wasn't really worth it.

There is a general feeling of being treated like a child and that you're a member of some sort of cult. They occasionally have conferences where a motivational speaker (guru) will tell you how great they are, how you should be leading your life, and how grateful you should be that you're a member of the greatest business networking organisation in the world.

I could write a screed of stuff about them, but this is the gist. ;)