By Andrea Harwood Palmer
Business Network International, known as BNI, has revamped its networking approach in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The group, which has chapters in Saratoga and Warren counties, refers to the transition as a “brand refresh.”
The international organization has more than 9,500 chapters worldwide. Eleven of these are in the Albany and surrounding region.
Attorney Kim Salerno, of Salerno Law, is the president of the Saratoga Winners Circle chapter in Saratoga Springs. It continues to meet weekly online via Zoom, to network and pass introductions and referrals to members. She has been part of the group for nine years.
“I was impressed with how quickly BNI put together an entire Zoom platform. They also put together a Power Point for our group to use. I’m not that tech savvy, so I was nervous at first because I was the one who would have to run the Zoom meeting for 34 people. But it’s been working out very well,” said Salerno.
“Business is still being passed. Especially in the beginning, it was really good for all us to be able to see each other. It’s a source of comfort to see everyone, and hear how their businesses are doing, and how each of us can help one another if we’re able to,” she said.
Michael Cruz, chapter director consultant for the Greater Glens Falls BNI chapter, said “there was a project already underway within BNI. We were figuring out how to turn live, face-to-face training, into online training. BNI had purchased 10 seats of Zoom to begin this training. Ironically, at the time, they thought they overbought. Then the shutdown happened, and BNI decided to re-purpose the training platforms into meeting platforms. By the third week of March, we’d launched BNI Online,” said Cruz.
“Almost immediately, we were able to do meetings online,” he said. “We produced a slide deck that mimicked the in-person meeting presentation as close as we could. For the most part, we kept the tenor of the meetings the same. Passing referrals, the one to ones that members do with each to build trust—all of this went to the Zoom platform. We tried to do everything we could to keep it flowing. And we were able to do it for all of our chapters.”
“The fresh new look will help give rise to more referrals by attracting people who are unfamiliar with BNI and all it has to offer,” said a news release from BNI founder Ivan Misner. “More members mean more referrals. It provides members with sustainable business growth and an optimistic future. The refreshed BNI brand will leverage all the features and benefits that BNI has to offer.”
“When you own your own business, you have a different approach to networking. You’re more invested. And when you’re going through the ups and downs of your own business, you tend to be more compassionate towards other business owners. You want to help them,” said Salerno.
“We have a very dynamic group,” she said. “We pass a lot of business, over a million dollars. A lot of the networking goes on before and after the actual meeting. Nothing will be able to replace our in-person meetings. But Zoom is a good solution for the interim.
“Even though we’re meeting virtually, we’re still having visitors. If you’re home, it might be nice to see that there are still businesses out there, and that we’re here to support you.”
Said Cruz, “In April and May, our first two months of virtual BNI meetings, our members have passed over $1 billion worldwide.”
He said he would like the organization to go back to face-to-face meetings, but not anytime soon. Virtual meetings could continue for two or three months.
“We’re open. We’re doing business. Our members are continuing to build personal trust and personal brands,” said Cruz.
Brian Rollo, president of the Adirondack BNI Chapter in Glens Falls, said since going virtual, leadership has implemented weekly regional meetings. This gives members access to meetings with other members and businesses owners throughout the region, not just their own chapter.
Rollo is the founder of Brian Rollo Consulting Group, providing leadership development, executive coaching and career development coaching. He said for businesses like his that are not location-dependent, this has been a valuable resource.
The international networking group represents over 270,000 businesses worldwide. Amidst transitioning to COVID-19 virtual meetings, the organization has also redesigned their logo, website and social media. Branding materials have been updated as well.