Shortly after I first opened the bakery, I was invited by one of my customers to join a local business networking group called BNI. BNI is the world's largest business networking organization, responsible for generating over eight billion dollars worth of business last year alone. Still, I was skeptical. I was busy trying to run a new business. The bakery opened at 7 a.m. I couldn't possibly spare a couple of hours every single week to attend a breakfast meeting.
Back then, I had only a faint idea of what BNI was, and imagined it as a bunch pushy sales people in a room delivering a pitch to each other. That was 8 years ago.
Late last summer, another friend, Jack Ryan (the very first person I ever met in Tuscaloosa), came by the shop to try and recruit me for a new BNI chapter launching in Tuscaloosa to be called BNI Powerhouse. This time I was ready. I had been in business long enough (almost nine years) to understand that I needed to make networking a priority since many of bakery's best customers had been referred to us by someone. This was not "just a breakfast meeting."
There were about twenty people at the meeting. As we went around the room introducing ourselves and our businesses, I realized that each of these people were just like me. They were all busy. They were all passionate about what they did. And they were all people I would like to have as customers.
Two hours after leaving the meeting, I received a call from Lindsey Case with Jim n Nicks Catering, alerting me that she had referred someone to me who needed exactly what I offered. It only took about two minutes to lose the preconceived notion of BNI that I had in my head, and experience the mechanism that powers the whole show. I joined. I clearly saw the reason behind the structure and I fully bought into the concept behind BNI. I have since worked with fellow members Trisha Conyers, Zealco Insurance, Page One SEO, and Burnum-Hahn.
And these are just a few of the first people I worked with from the group that I can now call friends and referral partners.
Almost every industry is represented in our chapter, "BNI Powerhouse." We have commercial and mortgage lender First Federal, small business bank FNB Bank, and the financial advising group Raymond Jaymes. Niche industries are represented such as Northport Funeral Service, Mary Kay, JMF Technologies, and 15th Street Pharmacy. BNI is the perfect marketing vehicle for traditional industries like insurance, real estate, construction, and service industries. Those are represented by Ryan Whitson Insurance, American National, Jolly Heating and Air Conditioning, TitleWorks, Holman Contracting, Tech
Smart, Reeves Landscaping, Craig Worley, and Colonial Printing.
So how is this "Leaning In?"
Much like Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In: Women, Work, the Will to Lead," we all (the women AND the men in the group) understand that excuses and justifications won't get us anywhere. We are committed to believing in ourselves, giving it our all, and "leaning in." And not a single one of us doubts our ability to juggle work and family to succeed professionally, putting ourselves in a better position to ask for what we need, and make changes that will benefit ourselves and others.
So my goals for 2015? Leaning in AND leaning out!