Why I left BNI after more than a decade


In early May, I decided I needed to make a significant change in my life and leave my beloved BNI group. I had been a member of the organization for almost 12 years, and deciding to exit was difficult. I thought I would never leave as long as I was in business. BNI was one of the best moves I ever made as a business owner, but circumstances finally made me realize I needed a break from the routine.

What is BNI?

Business Networking International (BNI) is a global referral network with chapters worldwide. Business professionals seeking a way to expand their networking possibilities may find BNI incredibly beneficial. I can honestly say that BNI helped me grow my business and become a better business owner.

Members of BNI meet for networking and referrals. In addition, BNI may be an excellent way to connect with other business owners and potential partners in your local area. BNI only allows one of each profession, or seat, in a chapter. So, you have a lock on your competitors, making BNI a very effective networking opportunity.

BNI meets weekly, and you are only allowed a small number of absences. You can also send someone in your place. You give a weekly commercial about your services and the perfect referral you are looking for. You also give an 8-minute presentation about 3-4 times a year.

BNI is a commitment. There are leadership roles to fill and time outside the regular weekly meeting called one-to-ones. This is when you meet with members to learn more about them, their services, and the types of referrals they need.

You are expected to give referrals and track what business you receive as a member online. This data provides your chapter with a success rate. At its highest, my BNI group passed nearly 3 million annually. Most recently, it passed around 1 million between members.

What are the benefits of BNI?

  • Building relationships. As I sit here and write this blog post, I’m in a local coffee shop with a photographer and graphic designer. Both of these women are my most vital referral partners and dearest of friends. In BNI, this is called a power team. BNI fosters strong connections. This is both true for work and play. Social events are encouraged, and spouses and partners are included. It’s business with fun!
  • Building consistency. BNI has a strict attendance policy that teaches you that showing up matters. People see you as a trustworthy person and someone they can refer to if you are present, on time, and reliable. Miss too many meetings and you can be asked to leave the group.
  • Mentoring. When you are in a room of fellow business owners, you learn from others who provide business tips and lessons on managing work and clients. In addition, longtime BNI members are always willing to help new members learn how to be successful. This means you eventually become a mentor yourself.
  • Public speaking. Every time you speak in BNI, you stand up and state your name and business. Weekly, you give a one-minute elevator speech about your company and the type of referral you need. Quarterly, you lead an 8-minute presentation. For those that are not comfortable with speaking in front of others, it provides an opportunity to face their fears.

Notice I didn’t mention getting business? Of course, that is the ultimate benefit of BNI. My business grew fivefold in the 12 years I was a member. Getting business results from all the items I listed above, but giving is the focus.

From the BNI website

Givers Gain® is a philosophy based on the law of reciprocity. In the context of networking groups, people who adopt this philosophy dedicate themselves to giving business to their fellow networkers rather than making their foremost concern getting business for themselves.

BNI makes you a giver.

So, why did I decide to leave?

As I have blogged about for many years, I have been spreading myself thin with work, my parents, and balancing travel with a growing business. In January, my Mom passed away, and when I returned to BNI, I felt exhausted. Suddenly, I started to wonder how I could keep juggling all the commitments in my life. I am still traveling to see my Dad often since he is still coping with the loss my mom and I need to share the role of caregiving with my sister.  She deserves a break every now and then.

My BNI chapter had been meeting online for almost two years. While I’m happy we were able to pivot, the online environment didn’t foster the relationships in the same way. Getting new members to join to keep up with attrition was harder. Our group went from over 30 to just under 20 members during COVID-19.

Finally, my power team members decided to move on, and I found myself without my core referral partners. We started in-person meetings again, and while it was great to see everyone, I suddenly had an issue with those regular trips home to care for my 92-year-old Dad. I hadn’t missed a beat all through the pandemic with the ability to Zoom it in. In-person meetings would not give me that flexibility anymore.

It was a tough decision for me, but the right one for now. I’m filling my BNI time with training sessions for all the courses I’ve signed up for over the years and never found time to complete.

I plan to develop a handful of presentations for WordCamps to help new web designers navigate their own solo web design businesses as I did.

I volunteer and teach a beginner class for WordPress through my local Meetup group. I stepped aside from that when I knew one of my parents would pass soon, and I’ve eased back into that role.

I’m still actively reaching out to my fellow BNI members. After all, you don’t see people weekly for 12 years and not develop solid and lasting relationships.

I’m not sure if this exit from BNI is forever, but it is what my life needs now.

I will forever be grateful for BNI and the friendships, business, and personal growth it brought to my life.  If you are starting a solo web design business or any business for that matter, check out your local BNI group.  Maybe it can help you grow your business, too.

BNI social outing photo- kickball

BNI social outing photo- kickball

Ugly Sweater Holiday Meeting- BNI

Ugly Sweater Holiday Meeting- BNI

West Seattle Champions nearly 50 members strong

West Seattle Champions nearly 50 members strong

Cami MacNamara

Cami MacNamara has 20+ years of experience running a small, profitable, one-person web design business, so she can walk her dog whenever she likes. WebCami.com / Twitter / Instagram