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Not to be deterred, she asked to create a second group; he consented, and within the year, twenty more chapters were opened. “It was at that point that I realized that I had struck a chord in the business community that I hadn’t expected. It was clear to me that there was an untapped need that I knew I had, but I didn’t realize that almost everyone has,” says Dr. Misner, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI. “I just didn’t realize everyone was having the same challenge.”
Fast forward to 2019, and BNI generated almost 12.3 million referrals, resulting in $16.7 billion dollars worth of business for its members. (In 2020, he says the group generated as much as the prior year, despite Coronavirus. Moreover, membership is up for the 36th year in a row.)
He is a New York Times bestselling author who has written 26 books including Who’s in Your Room?, Networking Like a Pro, The Networking Mentor, The Connector Effect, and How To Build Your Inner Circle. In the next year, there’ll be two more books released.
These books are enough to fill a university course on the topic — a course, as it happens, that is desperately needed, he maintains: “This is not taught at any school, but should be.” It’s because the art of networking, according to Dr. Misner, is an integral part of growing a business. Moreover, what many underestimate, or don’t realize, is the effort required to plant and water the communication seeds, he says.
One of his most famous lines in this regard is: “networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about cultivating relationships.”
How one begins to do that, is have a vested interest in finding out more about the person they are meeting.
“It’s very easy for people to just launch into talking about themselves. Don’t talk about yourself first. A good networker has two ears and one mouth, and should use them proportionally. You should listen to people. In a way, a good networker is like a good interviewer,” he says.
“If you really want to build a relationship for business, you have to shut up, listen, and ask questions.”
What may surprise some, is that one need not be naturally outgoing or an extrovert to win at relationship-building.
“The truth is, an introvert – by nature – could be a better networker than the extroverts. The problem is that introverts have a hard time introducing themselves to people. Introverts have to get past that, and if they can get past that – and there are techniques to do that – they can be every bit as good as the extrovert. The extroverts can be good, if they learn how to be quiet and listen.”
Dr. Misner advocates being open-minded to meeting anyone.
“I think you just have to find the nuggets in the people you meet, because you just never know where these relationships can lead,” he explains.
“Because you never know who people know. Most people are trying to network with high net worth or really successful people… I don’t care if I’m networking up or down, or peer to peer – they have to be good at what they do, and passionate about what they are doing.”
One of the best contacts he says he ever connected with was a relatively unknown life coach. It became a paradigm networking success story. She introduced him to someone, who introduced him to someone else, and that led to a chance meeting with bestselling author Jack Canfield, which led to an invitation to spend two weeks with Richard Branson on his private resort, Necker Island.
“Had I talked to her and then said to myself, ‘This person has nothing to offer me,’ I would have missed two of the most interesting weeks I’ve ever spent professionally. You never know who people know. I call this the ‘Butterfly Effect’ of networking. It might be someone they know, that introduces you to someone else, who introduces you to someone else, who introduces you to someone else, that can lead to amazing things.”
Understandably, in these pandemic times, it becomes tougher to widen the circle and meet new people. Still, there are always opportunities to be tapped with the existing Rolodex, he says, especially at a critical time as this.
“Today, more than ever, you need your network,” he counsels. “You need people around you to help and support you.”
Unexpected and positive turnarounds happened during the “new normal” for some BNI members, as a result of leveraging the connections they had already farmed.
One of the most notable was a furniture reupholster shop in the US. The owner had to let go of all of her employees. Dr. Misner advised her to brainstorm with members to problem-solve. In virtually no time, a member chimed in, suggesting she use her stock of cloth to make face masks.
At first, she made a hundred, not knowing how things would all turn out, and she gave two to everyone in her chapter as a promotion. She encouraged them to keep one, and give the other one out to a frontline worker, with a business card tossed in.
She received so many orders that she was able to hire back all of her employees, and is now a COVID mask manufacturer. “That is the kind of stuff I’ve seen – people coming together to get focused,” Dr. Misner says.
“You can get frozen by fear, or focused by fear, and your network is a beacon of hope.”
If there was any question as to just how true that statement is, $16.7 billion dollars worth of business in the BNI network seems to be a pretty good indicator. And to think, it all began with one man, simply wanting to expand his network.
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