No two business network organisations are the same.
Before you part with an appreciable amount of money and commit hours of your valuable time, make sure that you join the right one.
In 16 years of owning my own business I‘ve done a lot of networking. Some of it good and highly lucrative and some of it a complete waste of time.
I’ve been a member of 4Networking, BNI, and a few others including some local independent groups.
So why am I writing about 4Networking ( 4N from now on).
I want to point out the difference between 4N and most of the other Business Networking oragnisations and what it can do for your small business.
Although most of the other offerings may differ slightly from each other they pretty much follow the same basic pattern. This pattern was set originally by BNI ( Business Networks International) the brain child of American businessman Ivan Misner.
The UK have the rather flamboyant Brad Burton to thank for 4N, who now have about 320 groups in the UK with, in my estimation, about 8,000 active members.
I have seen claims of up to 50,000 but that’s simply silly and would be over 1,500 members per group (big room required here).
What do you expect to get out of a Business Network?
I imagine that you, like almost everyone else that I’ve ever spoken to would say the same thing “ new customers” with social interaction coming home firmly in second place.
We should never lose sight of this in everything that we look at.
I’m sure you’d agree that only a very sad person would want to pay over £ 1,000 per year and get up early in the morning. Then scraping ice off the windscreen of their car and traveling, often a many miles, would sit through a two hour meeting just to make a few “friends”.
We could do that by walking down to the pub.
And you don’t have to get up early.
No I’m sure you’ll agree with me we do it for money. The hope of finding fresh customers handed to us by our new found friends.
The friendship is nice and you can certainly learn a lot by just listening.
But, the ultimate aim of everyone at a business network meeting is come away with sales leads.
How is 4 Networking Different
There are several ways in which the network differs from most others, principally:
No compulsory attendance – most of 4N’s competitors insist on attendance, by you or your stand-in, every single week. This is a big ask for a one man band or a small outfit with only one person who is prepared to stand up and represent your business. 4N have no such requirement.
A relaxed friendly atmosphere – this is definitely true but it would also be claimed by the other networking organisations. I think, however, that the lack of pressure to produce results does bring about an atmosphere which is far more relaxed.
More than one person per group in the same business – Exclusive rights are favoured by many members who are in highly contested businesses. It is not uncommon for professions such as IFAs to find themselves competing with two or three others at the same meeting.
No compulsion to bring referrals – BNI and some others insist on the public handing over of referrals as a feature of every meeting. And it’s woe betide anyone who arrives empty-handed. The 4N policy of successful business being based on friendship is intended to render this unnecessary.
Lastly – the 4N passport which enables the holder to visit as many groups as they wish.This can be used to great effect but just turning up once or twice a whole host of different venues is not likely to bring you the type of relationships that bring business.
There we have it.
All good stuff.
Who could possibly have any problems?
Well I know that Brad’s a lot bigger and younger than I am, but I have.
Let’s take a look at these one by one.
No Compulsory Attendance
When I first started networking with BMI I was a one man band and getting to a meeting every single week, without exception ( well you were actually allowed two no-shows per year) was a nightmare.
This puts a lot of would-be BNI’ers off and the combination of bi-weekly meetings ( if that’s the right expression ) and no penalties for failing to make it would have been most welcome.
But there is a downside.
Like me I suppose you can be a bit lazy and might miss a few meetings this can result in low attendances.
Half empty meetings are a big turn off for networkers. This is, however, alleviated by visiting members from nearby groups using their “passports”.
The effect of missing bums on seats will vary from one group to another and is due to the efforts of the organisers and the dedication of members.
Remembering that dedication is direct proportional to new business received.
More than one person from each type of business
I know I missed the friendly welcome but it really didn’t warrant much comment.
All networking groups have friendly members and some not so friendly.
My experience with 4N is that the more relaxed atmosphere due to the lack of enforced pressure makes for a more welcoming atmosphere.
So what about having more than one person from each Business type.
If you want to join a BNI chapter (that’s BNI speak for group) then you can only do so if no one else din that group does what you do.
Membership is exclusive.
Only one Accountant, one Solicitor, one Finacial Advisor and so on.
4N believe that we can all attend the same group irrespective of how many others there are looking for the same type of business.
This has never bothered me largely because there has never been anyone, doing the same work as I do, at the same meeting.
I have, though, talked to many people such as IFA’s who were thoroughly brassed off with going to meetings and finding another three IFA’s peddling similar wares.
This is a serious consideration if you are in a business niche which is heavily patronised at business network meetings.
After all if you attended a meeting and you wanted an IFA which would you chose?
It’s ok 4N saying you can compete but your chance of getting the groups IFA business is far less than if you were the only one.
No Compulsory Referrals
Just to clarify a referral is a lead, usually written on a small form, containing the name of a contact, their business name, their contact details and what you could do for them.
In the BNI model you are expected to bring some referrals virtually every week.
They are presented by you to the recipient ( and vice versa ) in front of the group as part of the meeting.
4N have dispensed with this.
I have to be honest and say this is a real sticky one. Many people really object to the authoritarian approach of BNI and find it almost impossible to come up with a continuous stream of referrals week after week.
I, personally, agree with this but have found over years that without an element of compulsion referrals are often few and far between.
We all need a kick up the backside from time to time.
This lack of prospects often contributes to a high turnover in members and even worse a short life of many groups.
The 4n Passport
The freedom to visit any group in the whole of the organisation is bestowed on members by the “passport”.
If you want to tour your area and visit all the groups within reach, you can.
I have even known a couple of guys who started with a new business and set out to visit every single 4N group in the UK.
That is a huge planning and motoring operation. A bit like going on tour as a rock star, only not as much fun.
I can’ tell you whether or not it was a success because I haven’t seen him since, seriously.
So if you’re out there Tony, and you know who I mean, I hope it went well.
I think that you will hit a problem with this and that is, in order to get business from the people you meet they have to get to know you.
For this reason you will have to go to each group several times. I will concede that there are some products that will sell as a result of a single visit.
But not many.
Even the 4N idea of business through friendship implies getting to know people reasonably well.
If you are looking to chose a business network organisation to join the choice is simple.
If you want the best chance of big returns on your investment you must be prepared to make a lot of effort.
You must attend virtually every week, find and bring referrals most weeks or else. And if you want to be the only person in your line of business, then, try BNI.
If on the other hand you want a more relaxed way of networking, with less pressure.
And the ability to miss the odd meeting or visit lots of other groups.
And you don’t mind there being others present who are in direct competition with you then 4N could be just the job.
As for me personally I found BNI too demanding for my circumstances.
So that only left me with one choice, or a local independent group.
Want to Know More
If you want to know all the ins and outs of Networking and how to get the best from it I can highly recommend a book by master Networker Will Kintish.
Will is one of the most experience specialist trainer in Business Networking and his book Business Networking – The Survival Guide: How to make networking less about stress and more about success ( by the way if you use this link we will get a small commission if you purchase the book and this helps us to keep the site a free one)
This is a great guide to everything from the invitation to a networking event to improving your performance and maximising your gains.
I have met Will on many occasions and can vouch for his ability to work a room and to teach others to do it, no matter how shy or self conscious they may be.
I have never forgotten watching as he gave a talk on networking where he asked everyone in the audience to say their name once. During the talk that lasted half an hour he went to most of the 35 people in the room and started to talk to them by name.
For someone who has to really try to remember names it impressed the hell out of me.
Enough of this if you want to know more give it a try.
I would advise that anyone trying out 4N only take out a six month or pay as you go membership.
In the area where I live I have noticed a worrying tendency for some 4N groups to open and close within a short space of time.
On two occasions I have joined a group only to find it was wound up long before my membership ran out.
I know that 4N would say that you can use your passport to attend other groups, but not everyone wants a forty mile round trip first thing in the morning.
Of course it’s up to you.