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Rewind several decades to Smalltown USA, when almost anyone could give you the name of a trusted auto mechanic or a good family physician.
With the world now exploding in population and complexity, Business Networking International capitalizes on the innate human need to seek out personal relationships of trust, even when doing business.
Founded by Ivan Misner in 1985, the Upland, Calif.-based networking organization now boasts close to 134,000 members in 47 countries 1,000 of whom reside in Utah and make up the state's 33 chapters, soon to become 34.
Members vow to provide quality service at their quoted price, to be truthful with members and referrals, to build good will and trust, to take responsibility for referrals received, to remain positive and supportive, and to uphold the ethical standards of their profession.
"The best fit has to do with attitudes an acceptance and willingness to do it the BNI way," said Gary Birdsall, executive director of Utah BNI.
The road to BNI membership resembles that of a job seeker with the exception of the $365 in annual dues that BNI members pay. Hopefuls submit applications, have their references checked and undergo rigorous interviews. Unlike chambers of commerce, each BNI chapter allows only one member from any given business category to join. Once in, members can be ousted for missing meetings or passing bad referrals. Absences are only allowed if members send a proxy in their place.
Basically BNI's networking model boils down to three steps: know, like and trust.
"It's not just the business that you pass. It's the friendships that you make," said Louise High, a Platinum Payments account executive who has been a member of BNI's Goldmine chapter in the Salt Lake Valley for five years.
High is one of 70 Goldmine members who gathered early one recent morning at Murray's Larry H. Miller Chevrolet dealership for the chapter's weekly 90-minute session. Even though the cold winter night had barely receded, an infectious warmth and energy filled the room where members gave pitches, testimonials, referrals, thank-yous and presentations.
About six years ago, real estate agent Steve Duke learned of BNI during a conference call, and since his career slot was already filled in Utah's existing chapters, he decided to start a new one, in what is now Goldmine.
Duke's next step was to team with his certified public accountant and friend, Ken Klingler, to get the chapter off the ground. "And when there were only two of us,'' Duke said, "we honestly thought we'd never be three."
Insurance agent Lyall Affleck joined the group when it was still small enough for members to gather at a corner table in a south valley Village Inn restaurant.
"Only three to four referrals were being passed each week," Affleck reminisced. Since then, "there's been a huge change a huge upgrade."
Now only a handful of career slots remain unfilled and last year's Goldmine member referrals generated $2 million in business transactions. In the first week of 2012, Goldmine members passed 84 referrals valued at $67,546.
Klingler recently received recognition as the chapter's top producer, passing $154,946 in referrals in 2011. "I've given a lot," he said, "but I've made a lot."
Other members have enjoyed similar success.
Matthew Roller, a chiropractor with Sandy-based UpZen Health, said BNI participation has been a "huge factor" in the growth of his business. "Every year, we double," Roller said.
"I've always believed in the power of networking," he said. "The first meeting I attended, the auto mechanic got like six referrals. I said, 'If he can do that, so can I.' "
Tracie Drage, who purchased Brown Floral in Holladay in October 2010, joined the Goldmine chapter a year ago. At Thursday's meeting, Drage announced that she would not seek to renew her membership due to the intense growth she'd seen in her business.
"I just need some time to focus on what we have," Drage said, adding that BNI's personal connections "make all the difference in the world."
Of course, that means one thing: Utah BNI's Goldmine chapter now has an opening for a florist.
What is Business Networking International?
Founded in 1985 by Business Consultant Ivan Misner
Worldwide • 134,000 members, 47 countries
Utah BNI • 33 chapters, 1,000 members who generated $12 million in business transactions in 2011, up from $6.5 million the year before.
Source: http://www.bni.com and Gary Birdsall, executive director of Utah BNI