“B” is for BNI

I never wanted to be in sales – or network, or do anything that required me to play nice with others for extended periods of time. My whole career had been “back of the house” – first in collections and then in factoring.

The networking thing was a fluke. I was working for a failing company that didn’t know if was failing when I was hired. I spent four of the six years I worked there on airplanes and in court rooms trying to recover close to $10M that had been (ultimately) lost in bad deals.

We put together a shut-down plan for the company and I presented it to our “boss” (now partner). Then, without any planning or forethought, I said “Or, you can give us six months and we will…” I proceeded to list off a bunch of stuff. One was that I would learn how to bring in new business. I had no idea where to begin – my only goal was to preserve my paycheck for six months while I looked for a job.

About a week later, my (now ex) husband and I were at a dinner at our Church. One of our friends walked in and sat with us. We chatted away and he told me about this networking group he belonged to called BNI. I thought “Oh, networking…that is that thing I just promised to do”. The following week, I attended my first BNI meeting. I had no clue what I was doing. I just knew that if I joined, I could put a check next to the box on the list of promises I had made.

Right after I received my first BNI referral, I was attending a sales training course sponsored by the IFA (International Factoring Association). There I was, in a room of 120 or so real sales people. ~Gulp~ Very much not my peeps.

Our instructor – one of the top sales manager-types in the industry stood at the podium and said “Don’t ever bother with those morning networking meetings; you will never get any business”. I wanted to slide off my chair and dissolve into a puddle. I was doing it wrong!

Except, I kind of liked this BNI thing. I was learning how to talk about factoring and it didn’t take much time – a couple of hours a week. And, of course, I HAD brought in a small deal with another in the pipeline. Maybe wrong for everyone else was right for me.

When we were given the opportunity to start LDI, we had to make decisions about how we wanted to do business. One of those decisions was to build this new business by personal referral, largely because the quality of the deals coming in from BNI referrals was so high. The next decision was to stay local. My network was local, so we would stay local. The added bonus? The “best of the best” in the factoring industry said not to bother with BNI so I had a tremendous opportunity to teach people factoring the way I think it should be done, at the grassroots level. We built our entire business model around my membership in BNI.

I remember when it really hit home that BNI was a huge part of my life. It was the week my mom died. She passed on Saturday. My BNI meetings are on Friday. That first Friday morning, I got up, got dressed and went to my meeting. As I walked in, a hush came over the room. Several people came up to me and told me I did not have to stay – everyone would understand. I said “No, I need something normal. I have not done anything normal all week. You are my normal today. Just BE normal for me”. BNI was my normal. That group of people was my normal (and if you know them, you are laughing).

After over nine years in BNI, not only is it my normal, it is also where I have met some of my best friends and built a business that is done 100% by personal referral. These friends and colleagues have helped me through some of the darkest times in my life and have celebrated every accomplishment and milestone right beside me. I have experienced tremendous personal and professional growth, largely because I have a group of people I meet with every week who I trust and who I know that even when I screw up, will have my back.

It is about trust.

In business.

In relationships.