How to invite a visitor to a Business Network International (BNI) meeting: 15 ways and 5 myths
Updated: May 7, 2019
I was once asked, “Hey Marcus, why are you so occupied with inviting visitors to this BNI thing? Do you get paid”? I replied, “When someone joins us, I don’t get paid but there is a very high chance that business comes back to me. One more business owner adopts the culture of contributing to the group, someone will receive.”
A BNI Chapter must grow in order to bring greater value to its members. BNI members are each other’s referral marketing partners. Each member is educated, trained and reminded on a weekly basis on how to bring business referrals to fellow members. Isn’t it a wonderful world if we have a very large group of business owners and professionals who would promote our business for us? The best part is when a deal is closed, we need not offer a commission, but we reciprocate by giving back business to the same person or to the group. The question is, who is going to do the work first, inviting qualified, trusted and reliable business people into the group?
My answer is “ME”. If everyone is waiting then nobody is going to do the job. Why not “I” start? A member since 2011, I have discovered many ways to invite visitors successfully. I hope these tactics make it easy for you to invite your visitors. It is enriching, fulfilling and beneficial to our business when we have a visitor (who can be our members’ customers) or if the visitor becomes a member, adding a new marketing person for ourselves. There are two types of invitation tactics; Marcus’ Visitor Invitation Tactics (MVIT) and BNI Visitor Invitation Tactics (BVIT). I hope these tactics help your visitor invitation fun, enjoyable and eventually fruitful!
Marcus’ Visitor Invitation Tactics (MVITs):
1. Festive Greeting: When there is a festival coming, I will have a “nightmare” trying to decide what to do with the hundreds of greetings on social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp. I decided to turn their greetings into something of greater value instead of just wishing a “Happy New Year”. For friends and relatives whom I know are running businesses I went, “The new year is here, do you have any plans to grow your business?” Most would say, “Yes”, you know how excited everyone is with their business goals? “I am meeting a group of business owners where we help generate business for each other this coming Wednesday, do you want to come?” I don’t even need to find them, they came wishing me.
2. Payees: The easiest group of visitors to invite are the people we pay! Obviously they are in business, hence we are paying them for their products and services, be it at work or at home. Just ask, “How’s business? Would you like to grow your business?” As their clients the chances of them saying “Yes” is very high because they want our continuous business and hey we are sincere in giving more business. Just go through your cheque book, credit card and bank statements and invite them.
3. Group Blast: This is a test of copywriting skill. It can be done in a WhatsApp group or a Closed Facebook Group. Be cautious not to appear to be over-selling or you may be labelled negatively within the group. Be extremely sincere. You can post a message along the lines, “My business associates and I are meeting to help each other grow our business together. We are looking for an accountant, a tax auditor and a lawyer because….” The key point is to angle it in such that you have something to offer the classifications you mentioned. E.g. our Business Coach helps start-ups grow their business and he has business to share with these professionals. 4. Indirect Ask: The communication culture in the east is different from the west. Eastern cultures have a “high context” culture where we use more indirect and non-verbal communication approaches. If offered a candy instead of saying a direct “No, thanks” high chance we would say, “Next day” or something else. Western cultures have a “low context” culture where more direct and specific words are used. One way is to ask a friend, “Do you know of any business owner who is keen to grow his/her business? I have an opportunity for him/her to…” This gets your message across and the listener knows what you are up to and need not reject you directly. The listener may ask you if he/she could attend. Viola!
5. Birthday: If you are on Facebook, your birthday is a great day to get a lot done! You would already know that Facebook tells your friends it is your birthday and many would drop a wish on your timeline, which has very little value. How about turning birthday wishes to Visitors and hopefully to Members so they send you more business? Here are few simple steps:
i. Disable timeline posting by others (Google “How to disable timeline posting by others on Facebook” to see how it’s done). This stops everyone from posting on your timeline. This does not mean they will not or cannot wish you.
ii. On your birthday, ideally 12:00am so you do not lose anyone, you craft a post announcing your birthday and state your intention subtly. “Today is my birthday. It has not been easy being an entrepreneur but I am excited. This year, I wish to grow my business by growing my business group. Would you please connect me to …….(classifications)…… so that we ……”
A good and engaging post must have motivational, educational, moving/touching, entertaining, public service announcement or opportunities elements, in short M.E.M.E.P.O. The idea is to “force” them to read your comment then only wish you. Surely out of the hundreds who wish you, someone would be your visitor or send you a visitor.
6. Impress with Confirmed Visitor List: Send the confirmed visitor list privately to your potential visitor. This tactic works magically when the potential visitor see you have gained traction in your event. He/she will be attracted by looking at your attendees and feel special because you extend this exclusive invitation. This can only happen if your list reaches to a significant number, typically anything above 20 is good. List your visitors in the following format (check with your local privacy/data protection act first before applying this tactic):
i. Dr. Gurdip Singh – Doctor (invited by Moktar)
ii. Sarah White – Architect (invited by Siti)
iii. Wong Li Ping – Movie Producer (invited by Roger)
iv. John Doe - Book Publishing Consultant (invited by Margaret)
v. Dato’ Mohammad Firdaus – Fried Chicken Chain Store Owner (invited by Ranjit)
Start the list with professions that are not so common and are highly respected so it has a “Wow” factor. The list of prominent profession and personalities makes it attractive for your potential visitors.
7. Broadcast Confirmed Visitor List: This is one of my favourite tactics. Similar to Impress with Confirmed Visitors List above, all names are removed from the confirmed visitor list. Reveal only the professions and the long list of visitors. I post this list in the relevant groups (WhatsApp/Facebook) or my personal Facebook Wall and I start to receive requests, asking if they can join our networking event.
8. Cold Calling: If you can cold call a potential customer why can’t you cold call a potential visitor? It is easier as now you are able to offer business instead of asking for business. What do you say? You can use the S.O.D.A.R. or G.R.I.P. conversation techniques shared below
9. Use a Referral: Offer a referral (someone looking for a supplier/service provider) whether directly or in a group chat. The referral is a great conversation starter and the receiver is likely to be happy to learn about what you have to offer in addition to the referral. The option is yours whether to invite this person to your meeting before or after the job is completed.
10. Celebrity Connection: Should your chapter has someone prominent, or a celebrity within the industry, or coming as a visitor you could highlight him/her and offer to your potential visitor to meet this person. Just make sure this “Celebrity” is present to avoid any disappointment when your visitor shows up. Manage expectations well.
BNI Training Visitor Invitation Tactics (BVITs):
11. S.O.D.A.R. by Professional Emcee, TV Host and Actor Adi Afendi
SODAR stands for: Situation, Opportunity, Decision, Action and Results. The conversation goes like this:
“I used to be in the same Situation like you, having to do everything myself and not receiving much referrals from my circle of friends.”
“My buddy, a successful business owner offered me an Opportunity to meet his group of network who has helped him in his business.”
“I made a Decision and participated in their meeting.”
“I took Action and joined their group”
“As a Result my business grew as I have more than thirty business owners working to promote my business to their networks”.
For new members of Core Group members, you may not have any results to share yet. You can then share success stories of existing members. For example, when I first met Adi Afendi, he was just starting out, today he is the official emcee for ASIAN Games and the official emcee for UNITED Nations. An alternative that is widely used is the G.R.I.P. approach explained below. SODAR is created by Sales Coach Brian Kavicky
G – Would you like to Grow your business? Who doesn’t want to do this? When inviting visitors always start with the benefits they will receive from BNI – like business growth.
R – Would new client Referrals help to grow your business? The answer is yes of course. Referrals are the lifeblood of a business and what we specialise in at BNI – let visitors know about the power of referrals.
I – I’d like to Introduce you to my inner circle of business associates, who are ready to pass referral business to someone in your profession. Interested? Word of mouth is such an important part of growing a business in New Zealand. This is what we can offer to visitors – let them know about introductions that can grow their businesses.
P – We will be meeting this (Tuesday) at (7:30am) at the (Sunset Community Café) = Place. Give specifics about your meeting details. Make sure your visitors can easily access your meeting – take the difficulty out of visiting.
13. Power Team and Inter-Power Team: In BNI different profession within the same industry that complements each other is known as a “Power Team”. For example a real estate agent, renovator, interior designer, plumber, conveyancing lawyer and general insurer fall under the Property Power Team. When the real estate agent closes a deal, he/she can share this client (property buyer) with the others because they are within the same industry. Hence when the group invites a feng shui consultant or a furniture retailer, high chance they will participate.
I modified the approach slightly. Instead of focusing on common professions within the industry I chose to focus on the client that can be shared instead. Being in the training industry, traditionally I fall under the Education power team. A kids public speaking coach or a piano teacher both fall under the Education power team too. However we have very different sets of clients. I serve business owners while they serve the kids where decision making lies on the kids’ parents. There is not much business relation between us. Hence, I choose to strategically place myself under a Power Team who serves the same set of clients such as real estate/insurance/direct sales/unit trust agency leaders. After these agency leaders attend my Zero Budget Facebook Marketing Training, I can recommend an image trainer, softskills trainer, Facebook ads or a sales trainer to them and vice versa.
14. Letters Campaign: The most popular strategy used for decades where members send letters to business owners followed by a phone call to follow up. It has worked for many years and still work but I have never sent a single letter, despite being a Double Gold Club Member. It sure works, follow your chapter’s guidelines.
15. Mysterious Invitation: For friends whom you know extremely well, tell them nothing. Just ask them to give you one morning of their time. Have your friend dress up, show up and bring business card accordingly. This works well for friends who trust you.
Top five Greatest Myths and Misconceptions:
1. I need to be successful in business or BNI first then only I can invite. Totally untrue. Every business that started was not successful to begin with. It is the vision, the mission and the values that attracted partners and customers. The same applies in BNI. We come together to be successful. How did Jack Ma convince his team of 18 founders? Alibaba had nothing to begin with, remember? Jack Ma was a “nobody” then. Never let our current situation limit our ability to achieve significant results.
2. I need to understand BNI well so that I can promote it well for someone to be a visitor. The biggest mistake when inviting someone is to focus on BNI. BNI is just a platform. A non-BNI member has very little interest to know about BNI. They care about their problems, the solutions that you have to offer. Focus on them, not on BNI. When they experience a BNI meeting they will be able to understand how BNI would work for them. It is not your job to promote BNI but it is your ability to listen and offer a solution that attracts a visitor.
3. I am only making someone else rich by inviting visitors since their membership fees do not come to me at all. Instead of focusing on what others receive, how about focusing on what you will receive? Having visitors immediately improves your visibility and credibility as a business owner. We had a 21-year old business owner who wanted to join us. I was told not he is not a suitable member because he was “too young”. This young man who distributes electrical appliances, was the first to pro-actively message me telling me he is coming and bringing visitors. He has consistently brought visitors for straight 5 weeks! He is definitely a role model to more experienced business owners. Have clarity. Know why you are bringing in visitors.
4. I invite people to come to a BNI meeting so that they can join. Except for Business Open Day and Core Group formation stage, we invite visitors during ordinary meetings so that they experience BNI. The language to invite to experience used is different from the language to invite to join. Take it a step at a time. A well run meeting is most effective in converting a visitor into a member. Don’t try to convince someone to join with your words, let the results from the meeting do the talking.
5. I am inviting visitors for my BNI Ambassador/Director Consultant/Chapter President because I am asked to do so. Think for yourself and your action and results will benefit others. Do it with a clear purpose, to grow your own business! Expand your network for your business. Doing it for someone will lead to you eventually asking, “Why am I doing it when I benefit so little?” I invite so that another person come and listen to my introduction and one more person know about my business. If this person joins, I have another precious marketing person!
Marcus Teoh is a proud BNI member since 2011. He has served as a Chapter President for four terms, Membership Coordinator for two terms and as a Chapter Growth Coordinator, Mentor Coordinator and Lead Visitor Host. He is also a Quadruple Gold Club member and a Facebook Marketing Trainer on how to grow your BNI Chapter with Zero Budget Facebook Marketing.