IT was the second BNI breakfast meeting I have been to in as many years. The last one was at the God forsaken hour of 6am at a Gower golf club.

The habitual lifestyle of journalists has been traditionally a late morning start and early hours of the morning bedtime. On the plus side, it appeared to be a great time to travel to work for apart from those on their way to an emergency meeting of COBRA the roads were relatively empty.

This meeting at the Best Western Diplomat Hotel in Llanelli was at a slightly more reasonable time of the day at 6.45 am although those same attendees for COBRA were spotted zipping along the Dimpath.

BNI for the uninitiated is essentially a group of business people who come together once a week to meet, greet, present and share all things business. I like to think of it as the Freemasons without the regalia, although there were some natty looking badges on display.

The sole purpose of freemasonry is fraternity, brotherly love and socialisation, that’s three I know, whereas with BNI it is predominantly about helping each other get business.

The organisation is not as old as the freemasons, in fact it is relatively new but like freemasonry it has developed a global reach. The structure is based on chapters not lodges. There are appointed officials who chair the meetings, look after finances and look after members. With both organisations there is  cross pollenisation as one can belong to a number of chapters and a number of lodges.

The meetings progress with 60 second introductions, a precis of the Chapter’s news, a presentation, the handing around of business cards and the handing out and receiving of referrals for work and the handing out of testimonials. After all that there is usually a hearty breakfast followed by separate meetings for in house business.

Celebrating success: Testimonials for the businesses.

Anyone attending as a visitor is ushered out of the room and provided with details on how to join. When filled in and if accepted they become members. There is a membership fee and a monthly fee to cover costs of the venue and breakfast.

During my visit today I heard from a number of established businesses in the Llanelli area. Many were already familiar to me, like Davies Craddock and Gomer Williams. Some were not that familiar but each had a story to tell. We will get to those stories in another section of Llanelli Online.

Suffice to say that the main purpose of being there was to gain business through introductions and referrals or as we like to say in the trade, rubbing shoulders, greasing palms and word of mouth recommendations. In the loose sense of the word, ‘marketing’.

BNI is the most successful business networking referral organisation in the world. They have over 12,500 members in the UK and Ireland alone, passing over 676,000 referrals worth over £497 million every year. It is quite literally the best way to build a better business.

BNI allows only one representative from each trade or profession to join any BNI group. Effectively they claim that you can ‘lock out your competition, ensuring you receive 100% of all new business. Working together, BNI members achieve incredible results, growing their business in ways they could never accomplish alone’.

The only bug bear I have with the operation is the ‘locking out’ of one’s competitors. Of course it makes sense if you happen to have that mercenary killer instinct one is told one must have to get on in business but for us as people people, dealing with people and businesses many who cover the same area, we would not want to lock anyone out. This is not a criticism of BNI or their ways. It is purely an observation and one made from the perspective of having lived and worked in a city as large as London and then returned to a place as small as Llanelli.

Why wouldn’t a plumber give another plumber a referral for work? There would be some who would jump right in here and say, because it is taking money from one’s own hand. Much as I enjoyed the company, the presentation from Davies Craddock on insurance, specifically their new area which includes cyber crime, and as much as I enjoyed the wonderful breakfast from the lovely Jenkins family at the Diplomat Hotel I was left posing the question to myself. Who are my competitors? Would I benefit from locking them out?

For some purposes I most certainly would. But we are in the news industry and that industry is all the better for plurality no matter how bad the competition happens to be and believe me, a lot of it is really bad. But it is only because of that that we are able to measure ourselves. We do not compete, we exist. At a recent training workshop with Google where a large number of the hyperlocal news organisations were present, i.e our competitors, rather than lock anyone out we actively sought to collaborate, share and help one and other. I had to pinch myself too. But there it is.

BNI is set to grow and one can see why. While the freemasons may struggle to attract the younger generation BNI is pulling them in like a cockle seller at a cockle convention. As with the freemasons their success will depend on their marketing. We all know what happens when one spends too much time with one’s own kind. For both organisations and for many businesses, the last thing on the agenda and the financial considerations spreadsheet is advertising. If we in the news industry do nothing else well, we excel in marketing as those reading this editorial  will be able to testify to. And now to close the deal.

BNI Endeavour Chapter meets every week at the First Best Western Diplomat Hotel in Llanelli at 6.45 am. They have 13 members at present.

The Freemasons meet once a month between the months of  October and May at the lodge in Harries Avenue in Llanelli.

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