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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 16:43 GMT
Business networking takes off in Britain
Networking graphic
The American idea that most business comes through networking has been gaining credence around Britain over the last five years. Now there are 7,000 members nationwide of Business Network International - and BBC News24 business presenter John Terrett went along to a meeting in the British town of Northampton to see how it all works...

It's 0645 GMT, and at a golf club on the outskirts of Northampton, businessmen and women are mingling in the club house. Well, they do say that many a major business deal is done and dusted on a golf course.

But actually, there's not a five iron or a three wood in sight. Remarkably chirpy for this time on a cold December morning, this gathering of over 50 men and women will soon be heading for the dining room. And then it's down to some serious business over breakfast. This is Business Network International (BNI), networking at its most enthusiastic.

Linking up

"Networking is so important to the success of any business, but BNI is more than networking," said Steve Jennings, the organisation's East Midlands director.

"BNI is about developing trust and friendships among fellow members, so that they'll have the confidence to pass your card to clients and colleagues of theirs who'll want to do business with you."

Golf course
Linking up business
"That's why BNI meetings are held weekly, so that you can develop that trust, and the benefits are there in black and white...all around the country millions of pounds worth of business is done over the breakfast table every week."

Not one member of this chapter in Northampton has any reservations about getting up even earlier than normal to come to a BNI meeting.

"Networking is everything to my business, and through BNI I've got much of my work," said Alan Price, of Price & Co, a business rescue and insolvency specialist.

It's all about fellow members understanding your business then having the confidence to pass your name on to contacts that might need your services

Julie Holdom
"That's a sentiment reiterated by Jacky Briggs, who runs IBEX, a human resources and development consultancy. Jacky has no doubts that joining BNI not only helped establish her in business, but gave her the confidence she lacked when she first set up.

Milton Keynes based Julie Holdom, of Verbatim Central Counties - who answer the telephone and take messages on behalf of their clients - came to a meeting as an invited guest during the summer, and joined up immediately.

"Networking is vital to the success of a business, and it's certainly worked for me," she said.

"It's all about fellow members understanding what your business is all about, then having the confidence to pass your name on to contacts that might need your services."

The cost of contact

BNI was born in the US, and has been embraced throughout the world. At this meeting there's a strong feeling of friendship and camaraderie, and there's no shortage of wisecracks and laughter.

But when all's said and done, there's only one reason why so many people are prepared to pay 280 a year and 5 per week for their breakfast, and force themselves out of bed so boost business and make money.

It's like having a really strong sales team working for you week in week out

Colin Brett
This year, nearly 1,500 referrals were passed over the breakfast table at Collingtree alone...about 250,000 of business among 25 regular members. Indeed, chapter director Colin Brett, who runs a family print business in Wellingborough, says he has actually passed on business worth over 300,000 to fellow members since he joined two years ago.

"BNI is based on the principle of 'givers gain'...if I give you business then you will want to give me business in return," said Mr Brett. "It's like having a really strong sales team working for you week in week out.

"But just as importantly, there's a great team spirit here at Collingtree, and I'm sure I can speak for other chapters of BNI throughout the country," he added.

"We've all become good friends, and what impresses many people about our chapter at Collingtree is that we always have a good laugh...but at the same time we don't lose sight of the fact that we're there first and foremost to get business and give business."

For those willing to join in the spirit of BNI the rewards - new business and good friends - are well worth getting up for.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | Business
Office talk is good for business
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