last Updated 11 August 2023

Does BNI Work for Mortgage Brokers?

One of the things I’m often asked by the mortgage brokers and financial advisers that I coach privately or via my group coaching programme is whether it’s worth joining a BNI chapter to get more referrals and more clients.

Until recently I was a member of BNI for over 12 years, including four years as a Chapter President and a couple of years as a Director Consultant helping launch new BNI groups. That means I’ve got a good understanding of how BNI works and I’ve seen how various mortgage brokers and IFAs have used it to grow their businesses - with varying degrees of success.

So in this article I’m going to explain what BNI is and how it works, and look at the pros and cons of using BNI as a way to market your financial services business.

What is BNI?

BNI (Business Network International) is a networking organisation that focuses on building professional relationships and generating referral business for its members. The organisation was founded in the USA in 1985 by Ivan Misner and first appeared in the UK in the late 1990s. 

There are now individual BNI groups (or chapters as they are called) all over the world. Pretty much every town in the UK will have its own chapter and larger towns and cities will have multiple chapters. For example, in central London there are currently over 20 different chapters.

You can go to a BNI meeting as a visitor (usually twice) but, after that, you have to apply to become a member if you want to carry on attending.

One of the biggest benefits of BNI membership for mortgage brokers is the ability to build relationships with other professionals and business owners in the local community. This can lead to you getting a steady stream of referral business, as these fellow members refer clients, friends and colleagues to you who are in need of a mortgage. 

Obviously you may also get business from your fellow members themselves. But the main idea of BNI is that your fellow members become your sales force (in the same way that you become part of their sales force) and that you are selling through them rather than to them.

Where and when do BNI meetings take place?

BNI meetings are held weekly, and each individual chapter will have a set day and time for its meetings every week.

These weekly meetings typically take place early in the morning (people often think the B in BNI stands for breakfast!) and when I say early, I mean early. Most chapters start their meetings at around 06:30 and finish at around 09:00 - the idea being that you can get all your networking done without impacting on the main part of the working day.

- Does BNI Work for Mortgage Brokers?

For most of my time as a BNI member, I used to get up at 05:00 every Thursday morning in order to get to my central London chapter by 06:30. On the plus side, the drive to the station was always pretty quick at that time of the day and I always got a seat on the tube.

I’m not a morning person at all, by the way, but the amount of business I got through BNI made it worth dragging myself out of bed at the crack of sparrows once a week.

To cater for those who really can’t cope with such an early start, there are also a few BNI chapters that meet mid-morning or at lunchtime. 

BNI meetings have tended to be held in hotels, golf clubs, or other venues with conference facilities. But it’s also common to find BNI meetings being held in restaurants or bars that would not normally be open at that early time of day.

What does it cost to join BNI?

At the time of writing it costs £615 per year to be a member of BNI in the UK. In addition, there is a one-off £200 joining fee to pay in your first year.

VAT is added to these fees which, of course, most mortgage brokers can't reclaim.

The impact of Covid on BNI

Of course, things changed dramatically and very suddenly when the pandemic hit in 2020.

All BNI chapters in the UK and other countries where lockdowns were introduced had to switch to holding their meetings online.

These online meetings were conducted via Zoom and were held at the same time and day as the in-person meetings would have been, following pretty much the same agenda as in-person meetings.

Far from spelling the end of BNI, the forced switch to online meetings in 2020 actually opened up new opportunities and meant that people who had not previously been able to commit to BNI due to work or domestic commitments could now become members.

As restrictions have eased, some chapters have remained fully online, others have gone back to in-person meetings, and some have adopted a hybrid model where they meet in person once a month and online the rest of the time

What makes BNI different from other networking groups?

I often say that BNI is the Marmite of the business networking world, because people tend to either love it or hate it.

So why does BNI polarise opinion so much? Well, it’s probably because it’s quite different from most other networking organisations. And, as with most things that are a bit different from the norm, some people will like those differences and others won’t.

- Does BNI Work for Mortgage Brokers?

BNI's key differences:

  • No competition
    Each chapter only allows one person from each trade or profession to join, so you won’t be competing against other mortgage brokers to get your share of the business that’s passed between the members
  • Big commitment
    Members are expected to attend every meeting and if you really can’t make it one week then you have to find someone else (a “sub”) to stand in for you
  • Structure 
    Every BNI meeting runs to a set agenda using a structure which is designed to maximise the amount of business passed between the members

The benefits of not having any competitors in the chapter are fairly obvious. However, the problem it creates for mortgage brokers and IFAs is that these are popular professions and so it can be quite difficult to find a chapter where the mortgage broker or financial adviser “seat” is not already taken.

The requirement to attend every week can be off-putting for a lot of people. But the reason for this rule is that BNI is based on the idea of people doing business with, and referring contacts to, people that they know, like and trust. And if you don’t show up every week it is going to take a long while for that trust and those relationships to develop to a point where your fellow members will feel comfortable referring their own clients and friends to use your services.

Whether you like the structured agenda and the fixed meeting format will depend to a large extent on your personality. If, like me, you’re not very good at “working the room” and doing that kind of informal networking and smalltalk, then the structured approach of BNI can be very appealing. But I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

The other thing that makes BNI different from other networking groups is that members are expected to follow the principle of Givers Gain.

What is Givers Gain?

If you’ve ever been to a BNI meeting you’ll almost certainly have heard people talk about “Givers Gain”.

This is one of the key principles of BNI and it’s based on the idea that by giving referrals to other members, you will also receive referrals in return. The idea is that by helping others to grow their business, you will also be helping yourself.

The Givers Gain principle encourages members to build a sense of trust and reciprocity within the chapter. The more they help others, the more they can expect to receive back in return. It creates a win-win situation for all the members, and it's one of the reasons that BNI can be so effective for generating referral business.

It's worth noting that in order to gain the most benefit from this principle, members need to be active in giving and receiving referrals. That means being involved in the chapter, attending the meetings regularly, inviting visitors to the meetings (who may then become members) and actively seeking out opportunities to help others.

What happens at a BNI meeting?

The agenda for BNI meetings in UK chapters typically follows a set structure. Meetings usually begin with a period of informal networking where members can grab something to eat and catch up with each other. This is followed by the formal part of the meeting, the agenda for which is as follows:

BNI meeting agenda

1. Welcome & announcements

The chapter president welcomes everyone and explains to the visitors what the meeting is all about and how BNI works.

2. Education slot

One of the members talks for a few minutes to share some tips or ideas that will help the other members improve their networking and get more out of their membership.

3. 60-second presentations

Each member then has 60 seconds to introduce their business, explain what they do and what makes their business special, and say what kind of referrals they’re looking for that week.

4. 10-minute presentation

Each week one of the members gets to do a 10-minute presentation to explain their business and their offerings in more detail.

5. Contributions

Members will share any referrals they have for other members and/or give testimonials for other members.

6. Open Networking

After the formal part of the meeting, members will engage in open networking, where they can catch up with each other, exchange contact information, and discuss any potential opportunities for referral business.

Is BNI a good way to get mortgage leads?

One of the biggest benefits of BNI for mortgage brokers is the ability to build relationships with other members who work with the same type of clients that you want to work with. These fellow members (often known as your power team) are usually them ones best place to refer clients to you and they’re the ones you yourself are most likely to refer clients to. 

For example, the architect might refer you a client who needs a remortgage to fund the extension that the architect has designed for them. And you might refer a client to the property solicitor to get their conveyancing done.

Plus you’ll often find that people outside your power team (e.g. the member who’s a florist) will be able to refer their friends or clients to you, and that they will come to you themselves when they need their own mortgage looked at.

All of this means BNI can be particularly beneficial for mortgage brokers who are just starting out or have recently relocated to a new part of the country, as it can help you to establish a client base quickly.

However, there are also some downsides to BNI. One of the biggest is the cost. BNI charges membership fees (see above) and for in-person meetings there’ll be a separate fee due each month to cover the venue and the breakfast. This can quickly add up to a fair bit of money. Of course, you’ll only need one or two new clients in the space of a year to be in profit, but the upfront costs can be a barrier to mortgage brokers who are just starting out.

BNI tips for mortgage brokers

As I said earlier, I sat alongside several different mortgage brokers and financial advisers during the time I was a member of BNI myself. Some did well and some didn’t do so well. Here are my tips for how to make sure that if you join BNI you’re one of the people who gets good results from it.

7 Steps To Get Mortgage Leads from BNI

step 1

Turn up every week and turn up on time

Rightly or wrongly, if you’re often absent or rolling in late, your fellow members will wonder how professional you are and will be wary about referring themselves or their clients to you.

step 2

Build up a list of subs

If you can’t attend one week you are expected to send a substitute who can read out your 60-second presentation on your behalf. This can be someone from your own company, or it can be anyone else who is willing to stand in for you (e.g. a client, a friend, or someone from another BNI chapter).

In return for helping you out, the sub gets to attend the meeting for free and they also get to do a 60 second pitch for their own business, so long as their profession isn’t already represented in your chapter.

This is probably as good a point as any to drop in a photo of my daughter subbing for someone during her first visit to BNI (she was 7 at the time).

- Does BNI Work for Mortgage Brokers?
Photo credit: Charles Gervais
step 3

Tell stories about past and current clients in your 60 seconds

Not only will this make your presentations more interesting and avoid you saying the same thing each week, but it also gives your fellow members a real insight into how you help your clients and the tangible outcomes you get for them.

step 4

Be specific with your referral requests

In the same way that niching can massively improve all aspects of your marketing, if you get specific with your BNI referral requests, it becomes easier for people to think of potential clients they can refer to you.

For example, if you say to me that you want to be introduced to anyone who owns a house or is thinking of buying one, then that’s too big an ask. I don't know where to start so I’ll do nothing.

But if you say you want to be introduced to someone who’s been told they can’t get a mortgage because they’re a contractor then I’m far more likely to be able to think of someone in that category or be able to keep my ears open during the week for someone who says they have that problem.

step 5

Do 1-2-1s with the other members

There’s only so much you can cover in a 60-second presentation. The real meaningful discussions happen when two members go for a coffee together to talk about each other’s businesses and what makes them different and what sort of clients they are looking for.

- Does BNI Work for Mortgage Brokers?
step 6

Make yourself easy to refer to

It’s a good idea, especially when you’re new to BNI, to give your fellow members a nice easy way to introduce their contacts to you.

For example, if I’d been a mortgage broker in BNI at the time when the Truss/Kwarteng mini-budget caused interest rates to shoot up and people to panic about their mortgages, I would have said something like this in my 60 seconds: 

“A lot of people are panicking at the moment about what will happen when their current fixed rate mortgage ends. This week I’ve got a special offer for BNI members and their referrals where I’ll do a free mortgage review and tell you whether you should be trying to switch to a new rate now or waiting another few months.” 

By offering something free as a door-opener and linking your offer to something topical, you’ll make it easier for your fellow members to drop your name into conversations they’re having with friends and business contacts during the coming week.

step 7

Be patient

The whole point of a system like BNI is that it’s a way of getting other people to know, like and trust you so as they will pass business to you.

That process of know, like and trust doesn’t happen overnight. So, although you may get lucky and get a great referral the first time you visit a BNI chapter (which is what happened to me back in 2010) you shouldn’t expect instant results. 

Should mortgage brokers join BNI?

So, if you’re a mortgage broker, is it worth joining a BNI chapter?

Well, as with all things it depends a bit upon what kind of person you are.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to become a good member of BNI then I believe that it’s a very good way of generating leads and new business. At the very least, if you’ve never tried BNI, I’d encourage you to go and visit a few times to see for yourself what it’s like.

Remember that, although all BNI chapters have the same structure and use the same agenda, each one is slightly different due to the size of the group and the people in it. So it is worth visiting more than one chapter in order to find the one that’s likely to be the best fit for you. Just make sure before you go that they don't already have a mortgage broker as a member.

On the other hand, if you hate structured meetings, don’t like mixing with other people, or can’t stand the thought of being out of bed before 6am once a week, then BNI probably won’t work for you. 

However, if that’s the case, there are still other ways you can take this idea of getting people to know, like and trust you and use it as a way to generate mortgage leads. You just need to do it via online channels such as email marketing or social media. If you do these things consistently then it’s like going to BNI every week but you can do it on a much larger scale and without having to change out of your pyjamas!

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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