Networking Not Working? Try this!..

"I hate networking!.."

That was pretty much my mantra for the first 16 years after opening my studio. I accepted an occasional invite to a room full of card-swapping extroverts who made me feel like a bleeding sheep in a wolf den.

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It was like walking the Vegas strip 10 years ago to the "snap, snap" sound of little porno flyers being pushed on you before lining the sidewalk between casino hotels.

Come 2013, I checked my paradigm at the door of a chamber networking event. Although somewhat guarded, I kept an open mind and went in. Much to my chagrin, I was greeted by a rather large number of like-minded entrepreneurs. It became an effortless flow from one adult conversation to another.

It was everything I had not experienced in prior experiences, shy of one guy that tried pushing commercial insurance on me before knowing a single thing about me. "buh bye..." I found too many great conversations to let him taint the experience, so I stayed.

After my first year of membership I was awarded a "Rookie of The Year", (apparently the newbee version of their "Networker of The Year") which caused me to reflect on what they saw. All I knew, was that I was able to relate to a large-enough number of them to strike relationships that exceeded this Friday morning ritual.

Yes, we did business together, but it felt great that trade was more of a byproduct than the purpose. The relationships were not just transactional or forged alliances, like "one of those networking groups". One of the many friends I made, was with an insurance salesperson - an otherwise unlikely candidate for my trust. His credibility with me (by NOT ever pushing his services on me) caused me to accept his invite to "one of those networking groups". (Thank you Brian Nauheim, he's still the only Insurance agent I've met that was passionate-enough about his work to sing the jingle!... "American Family Insurance...")

"Business Network International (BNI) isn't like those 'leads groups', where you have to recruit a quota, or hand over your personal database to play." Whatever his exact words, they cut through all of my long-held beliefs, having attended three different-such groups, all of which caused me to want a shower on departure.

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The day I attended was a small group of about 11 people that were receiving training on how to conduct these time-respecting meetings to their standard. This Tualatin Oregon chapter of BNI was a few people away from being an official charter, so I got to hear more about the philosophy of the organization during my first-impression.

Toward the end of the meeting, they asked if I would stand and share my impression of the group, and I was more than happy to do-so. In animated fashion, card in hand, I stated - "I seriously came in here like a time-share meeting, ready to say no to the "snap snap" (of my card smacking my other hand) 'Vegas thing', until I heard your philosophy."

I explained that I was a fan giving first, "...so you had me at Givers Gain". The basis of their - "All-about-you, less-about-me" way of conducting meetings. In fact, there was only 60 seconds of the 90 minute meeting that is dedicated to your speaking of yourself.

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I was shocked to hear that they'd been around for 30-plus years, and the largest such group in the world. Being this large and established was not my surprise, it was that I could have ever enjoyed "one of those groups", never mind have it match my way of referring services - that being - ONLY if I truly trust them.

Now in my fourth year of our since-chartered Get Connected PDX chapter, I sometimes wonder where I would be now had I known about them sooner. Such a bad paradigm plagues the word network, that I was once embarrassed to even say that I belonged to one.

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As part of of chartering process, we added our names for consideration of potential leadership roles. Highest on my list of preferences was "Education Coordinator". Appreciating that they believed in ongoing education on effective networking, combined with my belief that "We teach what we most need to learn." (as learned from Richard Bach's book Illusions).

I suddenly accepted that I knew NOTHING about effective networking, so serving in this position would force me to learn more in order to share. Typically a one-year position, we chartered halfway through the BNI fiscal calendar, so we went for 50% more time in our positions.

On the green side of my position, I worried that I would struggle to find content for 77 presentations. Not only did my replacement prove that wrong by adding even more, but once in a while, we get even further education by Regional Directors.

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Add to that, our Executive Director of Oregon & SW Washington, Robin Schuckmann, provides us an ever-evolving barrage of opportunity-producing content. Today was one of those days. Through a clever exercise, she showed us another 2.1 million dollars in untapped referrals within our chapter, with an exercise that abolished my doubt about when this novelty might wear out.

My ROI with BNI has been rationale-enough for me to continue, but I discovered side benefits to it as well. Just as I wondered if I should drop my chamber membership and call BNI my sole source, I began seeing even greater benefits from my efforts networking in both groups.

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I barely survived the 2008-2009 financial experience with my go-it-alone method of not networking. In addition to now having 30+ allies, a newly-refined focus, ongoing training and perpetual sales, I have also let go of my guarded-hoarder mentality. The scarcity (scare-city) thinking that inhibited my otherwise-giving nature had somehow disappeared.

While every chapter has great people, I'm proud to say that our particular group has fully embodied the philosophies of BNI.  We have proven that our sincere desire to help one another grow, allowed us to surpass $500,000 in referred business - all credited to our chapter's referrals.

As if our internal giving was not enough, the chemistry of this chapter earned us a very coveted recognition called the Founder's Award. It was a surprise-enough that we qualified for the nomination by being in the top 5% of global, 8000-plus chapters globally, but even more humbling to discover that we were the only nomination to receive the award in 2017.

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Painting by the proverbial numbers was only the beginning to what got us this global honor. In addition to playing host to newly forming chapters to watch us apply the BNI teachings, we decided to adopt a cause in our community.

One of our leadership team members was serving on the board of the American Cancer Society, so we decided to form our own Relay for Life team. Several of our members and families got involved, and we sponsored thematic T-shirts to unify the experience. It seemed only appropriate that the ACS board member was our newly-elected chapter President Megan DeSalvo, who began her new role by receiving this incredible recognition.

 The back of our "Incredibles" T-shirts that we paid for with our own company sponsorship.

The back of our "Incredibles" T-shirts that we paid for with our own company sponsorship.

So if your networking is not working. Try this... Visit a local BNI Chapter. Go to www.bni.com and look in your area. With exclusive seats per profession, you may have to search the rosters to find an opening, but rest-assured, it is worth checking your doubts at the door and give it a try. While there may be a transaction-minded networker hiding in every category, our well-trained membership team has been successful in finding the right fit for the growth-oriented chemistry of our growing group of allies.

If you are local to Portland OR, come check us out. We might just have a vacancy in your industry.

Cheers to your most successful year on record. After 21 years, I just had mine.

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