This morning I was invited to attend a “guest day” meeting for a local BNI chapter near me. I had attended BNI groups in the past so I thought I knew what to expect. A very regimented, no nonsense, approach to networking that was more transactional than relational. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised.

BNI is a networking organization that promotes referral marketing. The idea is people in the community give of their personal and business relationships to other members in the group that they believe could be a service and benefit to those they are referring. Stats are kept and tracked to ensure all members are participating and to see how successful (measured in business booked) the group is doing as a whole.

Usually, this translates to a very formal atmosphere that may be conducive for business but not for forming relationships. However, this particular chapter of BNI was different. While they followed the BNI structure of the meeting, there was a very real sense of friendship and camaraderie amongst the group. I also appreciated that there was a variety of different business represented, from the standard financial planners, real estate, and insurance brokers to life and health coaches, SEO planners, and app developers. This varied mix of entrepreneurs and business people made for interesting and engaging conversation.

Even though I was not a BNI member there was no hard sales pitch to get me to join (there was a very soft one – this was “guest day” after all), and the members where willing to talk with me and set up follow up conversation to explore ways we could support each other.

Overall, I found the group a nice experience and I would recommend this particular BNI chapter to anyone who lives near the Brooklyn Heights area.