For decades, many network marketers have been using BNI to help grow their business. As the founder and chairman of BNI, I am often asked about the relationship between our organization and network marketing professionals, and more specifically: "Why does BNI does not allow network marketers to share their business opportunity at their chapter meetings?"

First, let me say that network marketers are most definitely welcome in BNI. We have one or more MLM members in almost all of our 6,000 groups in more than 47 countries around the world. BNI members representing reputable network marketing companies have been active in our organization since the formation of its first chapter in 1985.

Second, it is important to understand the cultural context that permeates the entire BNI organization and its membership. We believe that networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It's about cultivating long-term relationships with other businesspeople. Also—and this is really important—each BNI chapter is made up of members from a variety of professions, but there is only one available membership spot open for any given business or profession in an individual chapter. Once a member has filled an open business category, nobody else in the same business or profession is allowed to join that particular chapter.

Understanding this cultural context will help you understand why our guidelines state that members need to represent their products and/or services in BNI and not the business opportunity element of their business.

Publicly Pitching the Opportunity

BNI is all about promoting the products and services that people represent. A particular chapter can have multiple members who are building network marketing businesses, as long as they sell non-competing products and services. But if one or more of those members begins advertising and offering the business opportunity side of their business, this can become a problem, as it creates competition among all of the MLM-affiliated members: they are now all selling the same thing—a business opportunity. It also violates the BNI rule that we can't have competing professional classifications in a given chapter.

Over the years, we have learned the hard way that when one BNI member pitches his or her network marketing opportunity during a meeting, fellow chapter members who sell a non-competing product or service for a different network marketing company can become very upset, because they feel the potential no longer exists for them to attract other chapter members to take an interest in the opportunity aspect of their business.

In the past, many verbal knock-down, drag-out arguments have occurred at meetings as a result of network marketers publicly stepping on each other's toes and getting upset over the competition to recruit interest in the opportunity aspect of their respective businesses.

Consequently, many years ago, our board of advisors (made up exclusively of BNI members) decided that members representing a network marketing company must solely represent their products when participating in BNI meetings and refrain from sharing the business opportunity aspects of their profession.

"Over the years, a large percentage of my business income has come from my involvement with BNI. My teams all across the United States, Canada and Australia attend BNI meetings to connect with other business professionals, build quality relationships and learn the art of networking.

"We never share our business opportunity in BNI meetings; instead, we focus on the benefits of our services and look for opportunities to refer business to others. Once someone gets to know our product, it sometimes happens that the person wants to share it with others and get paid to do so, in which case we set up an appointment outside of the BNI meetings.

"This has worked out very well for me and my team. If you want to exponentially grow your network, I highly recommend joining your local BNI chapter." — Jordan Adler

Sharing the Business One on One

That said, there is nothing wrong with representing the business opportunity side of a business with another BNI member during a one-on-one meeting that takes place outside of the weekly chapter meeting. Most network marketing leaders in BNI will tell you that speaking to someone in a personal setting is much better than trying to pitch a group on a business opportunity in only sixty seconds.

In addition, members representing MLM-based businesses can lay the groundwork for sharing their business opportunity during future one-on-one meetings by focusing on relaying the quality and usefulness of their products and services at the weekly networking meetings. By first becoming recognized as having credible products and services, members are able to broach the subject of any business opportunity much more effectively when they are meeting with other members in a personal setting. The bottom line is that the business networking environment has to work for the whole group—not just for certain members of a networking group.

Networking groups such as BNI are about developing strong professional relationships. First and foremost, fellow members of a group should be viewed as referral partners, not just clients. If BNI members view their BNI chapter as a room full of clients, their reach is limited to the number of people in the room. Conversely, if they view their BNI group as valued referral partners, then they have a chance to reach the hundreds of additional people their referral partners know. This is a much larger potential source of business, and it is one that is ever-changing as people grow their personal networks.

Called the "father of modern networking"
New York Times
bestselling author and founder of BNI, the world's
largest business networking organization. He is also
the senior partner for the Referral Institute, an
international referral training company.