Tips From The Top

Coffee Shop…BNI…Coffee Shop…BNI…

I’ve been a big “BNI-er” for a few years now. In fact, a friend of mine and I even went and visited a BNI when we were in Saigon!

The thing is, is BNI worth it when it comes to working your direct marketing/MLM/network marketing company?

In BNI, you’re not “allowed” to talk about your business opportunity, especially during your “infomercial.” Though it might seem that you should be able to do this – an insurance salesman in your group can stand up and ask “Who do you know” that might want to work in insurance – you can’t.

The reason behind this is that as a supplemental income/”Plan B”, many MLMs are similar. They all have a product, they all have a value proposition, and they all have a comp plan. If you have a few MLMs represented in a BNI group, you can tout your product/service, but you can’t ask “Who do you know” who might want to be a “salesman” for your biz…because then all the different MLM distributors in your BNI group will try to “duke it out” as to “whose opportunity” is the better one. Since BNI only allows “one product or services” from one “category,” this can’t work.

Granted, you can talk about your opportunity during 1-to-1 meetings, but even that’s sort of frowned on. So, even though those of us who are network marketing professionals know that finding other people that want to work the business is the best place to make leveraged income, you’re usually just going to find customers via BNI.

If your MLM is heavily weighted on the product side – in other words, if you can make a big check just by having customers – then this might work out for you. If your “lotion or potion” throws you off 30% and a customer needs to purchase $100 or so a month, then that’s not a bad return. Then BNI as a place to find income is potentially a good proposition.

If, however, your MLM only requires a very small up-front amount from customers, or the product sales are not high ticket, then you’re going to be getting your percentage from a very small number.

In my case, even though the bulk of the members in my BNI groups saw the value of, and signed up to use, my service, they all signed up to the lowest possible subscription (less than $10). So I wound up making pennies on the dollar on this “first line” business – and then they never really brought any 2nd line/referrals to my attention.

I think this often happens in BNI. I have been in a couple of BNI groups, and (except for people in the “trades”) it seems like the bulk of the “thank you slips” put in are for use by the BNI members themselves.

This year, I decided (in the middle of a paid-up BNI subscription!) to retire my membership. I had put in over $250,000 in business last year (yes, really) and had netted $246. That didn’t even pay much over the quarterly fee.

Some people go to BNI because it’s a social outlet for them – they are “solopreneurs” and this gives them the ability to get out every week. I decided to see what would happen if, instead, I spent the time in a coffee shop each week.

Interestingly, Fast Company just had an article on this! If you’re on FourSquare, CLICK HERE for their list of “Best NYC Coffee Shops to work from” that came out of that article.

So, how’d I go about “maximizing” my coffee shop time?

First, I paid a graphic designer to do a “skin” for my laptop which you can see by CLICKING HERE. It is “right side up” when my laptop is open on the table. (NOTE: I’d prefer if you didn’t copy this, since I have a contract with the graphic designer that states I will NOT pass it on, since she designed the font for me. It’s up to you and your conscience…but please, don’t.) The “QR-Code” goes to a landing page that talks about why I picked my MLM. Right now, it’s just words – some day I’ll get my act together and my makeup on and put a video there.

Results? At least once or twice at each coffee shop visit, I have someone ask me what the back of my laptop means. I have a headset plugged in, and I ask if they have a couple minutes and want to see something cool. If they do, I take them directly to the website that lets them use my product and has a video about the business opportunity. If they don’t, I give them my business card, and tell them to check out the website on the back. (It goes to the same place.)

What prompted this blog post is someone I don’t know just signed up to send a card through my website. Since they’re local, my guess is it’s a “coffee shop patron.” I had 2 folks sign up as customers the other week.

This is more “traction” than I got from BNI. And it costs a lot less than the quarterly dues, BNI dues, getting up at 6:00 a.m., showing up every week, and all that jazz. (You can also interest the coffee shop staff, if you are a good tipper and don’t get in the way. I mean – do you think that being a barista is their idea of a career move…? Not so much.)

I used to be a lot bigger on BNI, when my MLM company had a fee to use the product – which I’d get a part of. Now, since it doesn’t, the ROI (return on investment) isn’t penciling out.

If you’re part of BNI, be sure that it’s really working for you. Measure where your income comes from. Also, really notice why you’re in BNI…is it to be social? If so – then perhaps it’s worth the $$ that you spend on it! (But maybe it would be better spent at a yoga studio, gym, adult ed classes or…coffee shop?)

And if you’re looking for me…I’ll be in the coffee shop!