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Spreading the Word

Network of local business people relies on each other’s promotion

April 5, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald
One way for entrepreneurs and business owners to promote their products and services is through networking.

While many organizations promote business, Business Networking International is focused on one thing: growing business through referrals.

Fulton-Montgomery BNI Coordinator Lee Pelletier said each of the organization’s worldwide chapters have a structured format to focus on networking and referrals. The local group of 10 members meets Wednesday mornings at the Friendly Restaurant in Johnstown. Pelletier said he first learned about BNI through a friend out of state.

“We begin with open networking at first,” Pelletier said.

He said the annual membership cost is $330, which can be recouped in one sale through a referral.

Member Allen Reed, general manager for Fucillo Pontiac, Buick and Jeep in Amsterdam, noted the importance of the referrals that can be made through BNI.

“You need to be at every meeting to give and receive referrals,” Reed said. “If you aren’t here to give and receive referrals, [the customer] may go somewhere else for their business.”

Cheryl Place of Ikon Office Solutions said it was important to attend meetings or have a substitute attend to relay referrals or information about members’ businesses.

“Money loves speed,” Pelletier noted, explaining that unless a referral is followed up on quickly, that money may go elsewhere.

He said the underlying principle was that “givers gain.” By referring business to others, referrals return to the “referee” and the business cycle continues.

BNI North East New York Managing Director Lesley Shimer said there are more than 100,000 BNI members worldwide in 39 countries. She said 900 members are in her Rochester, Albany and Syracuse regions, where 50 chapters are represented.

“BNI was founded in 1985 by Ivan Meisner, who had a financial business,” Shimer said. “He wasn’t satisfied with the referrals he was getting belonging to typical Rotary International or Chamber of Commerce associations.”

Shimer said most BNI members already belong to local rotaries and chambers, but the difference with BNI is its exclusive focus on referrals.

“Also, only one person per profession is allowed at any chapter, so there won’t be competition between chapter members,” she said. “That way, they develop trust in each other.”

While there is no size limit to any one chapter, Shimer said a new chapter tends to form when a person wants to become a member of a local chapter but someone from their profession is already represented.

“I oversee three chapters in Glens Falls for that reason,” Shimer said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, those present gave a one-minute outline of the person they were looking for in a referral.

Charles Williams of Rockwood Air and Water gave a presentation on the type of referral he was looking for.

“I’m looking for the person who wants to improve their air and water quality,” Williams said. “We have new equipment to test air quality and moisture in walls and ceilings that leads to mold formation. The water may go, but the mold will stay.”

Pelletier, a certified hypnotist, said he was looking for the person who wanted to improve his or her golf game.

“Good golf comes from the inside,” he said. “Many people don't know that Tiger Woods has used hypnosis since he was 13.”

Pelletier said members help themselves by helping each other. He spoke of building a "power team" of referrals who were naturally complimentary to each other. An insurance representative, for instance, would complement Reed's auto sales possibilities as would a body shop representative.

"BNI is about marketing and consistency," Pelletier said. "The initial process is business with each other, and then we can give each other referrals."

He spoke of a "tier one" referral within a BNI chapter and a "tier two" referral when friends and business associates of members are referred.

"As the group grows there is exponential networking potential," he said.

Fulton County Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Wally Hart said that BNI was a member of the chamber and the chamber's Membership Director Amy Praught usually attended the meetings.

"They are complementary to the chamber," Hart said. "Networking is what we do, so anything that broadens that networking and encourages business growth is great."

Hart said he agreed that BNI limited networking exclusively to referrals in a way the chamber did not. Overall, he said he thought the organization was helpful.

"Anything that stimulates business connections is a good thing," he said.

The end of the BNI morning meeting came with actual written referrals exchanged between the members so they could go out and do their business.

"This was really good for me today," Williams said. "I've had kind of a gray week and this meeting gives me a mid-week boost."

For more information about the Fulton Montgomery chapter of BNI call Pelletier at 684-0148.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be contacted at

Article Photos

Bill Trojan/The Leader-Herald

Allen Reed, general manager of Fuccillo Pontiac of Amsterdam, and Cheryl Place, account executive for IKON Office Solutions, participate in Business Networking InternationaI’s weekly meeting at Friendly’s in Johnstown Wednesday.



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