An excerpt from my book ‘Chocks Away:Achieving freedom from the 9 to 5’:


Ground crew

A pilot on their own needs a great ground crew, or network, to help and support them while they fly …

I also joined BNI (Business Network International) in autumn 2008. BNI is an organisation that I recommend to every business owner, and is a referral organisation that helps its members to receive business through giving and receiving referrals by a structured meeting format.

BNI is now 25 years old and has developed its processes over that time. Accordingly it has a large amount of experience in what is successful in generating more business. Meetings are held weekly, as that has been proven to generate the most business for the members. BNI members in your local group carry your business card with them and actively look out for referrals for you every week.

BNI groups track the business and referrals every week, which enable them to know exactly how many thousands of pounds worth of referrals are being passed within the group. Having these statistics recorded from all the groups regularly and over time shows that each local group when it reaches its target size of forty five members will pass between three and four million pounds worth of business a year! I like to explain concept to people as joining a lottery syndicate that is guaranteed to win every year.

Once your business begins to operate in this way, you will achieve a new level of freedom. This is much like the way the pilots of the RAF Red Arrows operate. They are individually free but working together with a high level of trust. Often they are wing tip to wing tip but have implicit faith in each others’ abilities.

I remember being somewhat concerned when I heard that I would be asked to do a sixty second presentation at the meeting when I first visited – like many people who have become self employed, networking isn’t something that people generally have experience of beforehand and public speaking even less so. I was nervous and about to fly solo yet again, in a different environment this time and again without instruction.

Indeed, when people are surveyed about their greatest fears death usually only comes in at number three! Public speaking and walking into a room full of strangers are feared more by most people. However, with the support available it doesn’t have to be this way.

My first ‘sixty seconds’ was probably more like ten though, I landed with a bump as soon as it was over! The thought of doing a ten minute presentation to the group was even worse to me at that point.

However in the supportive chapter environment, and with the training courses provided by BNI, I was slowly able to develop my skills and become more comfortable doing the sixty seconds presentation.

Soon it was time for my ten minute presentation and that went ok. Afterwards I was surprised how quickly the time seemed to go.

After four months, I was offered the role of Secretary Treasurer – they must have seen the accountant in me coming! I took the role with both hands as it meant being part of the leadership team and having to make a short presentation at the front of the room to the chapter and visitors weekly.

Three months later I was asked if I would like to be Chapter Director. I really wasn’t sure about this as I would be running the meetings each week and it would be quite a bit outside my comfort zone, however it was a supportive environment and I would receive training in how to do it, so I accepted. Now I would be running the ninety minute meetings each week, when a few months before I could barely manage ten seconds! I’d gone from nervous flyer to squadron leader, what was I thinking?

This went well and over my leadership term I was able to develop until I was fairly comfortable about presenting to a group of people.

Dr Misner talked recently about the butterfly effect and how one event can lead to others; this is certainly something I’ve experienced thanks to my membership of BNI and my development there.

Since my term as Chapter Director, I have presented to several different networking groups about my own business and also about social networking of which I am a prolific advocate. On the back of being featured in Penny Powers’ book, I was offered a chance to present to fifty financial advisers in London and, armed with my BNI presenting experience, I accepted.

After my term as chapter director finished, I was also offered the chance to become an assistant director for BNI. This involves looking after chapters, presenting to them and running training courses for members.

This was the next level and would give me a chance to learn more so I accepted. I attended director training then shortly afterwards went to the US International Directors’ Conference in Long Beach, California.

I learnt a lot there with other directors freely sharing their knowledge and as well as meeting Dr Ivan Misner in person. I also first heard about the BNI author mentee program there, which provides assistance to BNI members so that they can develop their writing skills. I’ve been using the help for blogging and thanks to the support received this book has been possible.

The butterfly effect continues to come into play, recently I was offered the chance to test fly a new twin engine aircraft and write up my experiences, so the skills I’ve developed meant this was an easy task and I had the review completed the same day I flew the aircraft. I did at least wait until I landed to write it up though! The review is to be published in Flyer magazine, one of the UK’s leading aviation magazines.

As an assistant director for BNI, I am now looking after two chapters myself and helping the members to develop and the chapters to grow and generate more business. As well as that, I am also a BNI member myself and am the current Secretary/Treasurer in the recently launched Esher & Cobham chapter.

The Esher & Cobham chapter is special as it holds the current record for the largest ever BNI visitors’ day in Surrey. Thanks to all our hard work we had one hundred and thirty eight guests attend, in addition to our own twenty chapter members.

As an Assistant Director, I was also very pleased to find that one of my chapters I look after, BNI Kingswood, was ranked the number one chapter in Surrey in August 2010 – and was also ranked fifteenth out of all the UK BNI chapters. They have worked hard and grown the chapter from nineteen members just over six months ago to its current level of over forty.

When I started with BNI, giving a sixty second presentation to a few people was extremely uncomfortable. Now I regularly present to audiences of between thirty and forty people and have presented at team leader training to audiences of over one hundred people.

I also run trainings for BNI in Spain regularly as well. Having the same proven structure worldwide means that this is quite straightforward, and the two chapters I visit on the South coast of Spain also hold their meetings in English.

I’m very grateful for BNI and how I have developed personally, going back two years there was no way I would have believed I’d be standing in front of audiences of over one hundred people and training them.

Gail Nott said recently on Twitter that her BNI theme for the next year is to ‘learn more to earn more’. This is something I very much agree with. With the training and support available through BNI, this knowledge is freely available and is one of the benefits of membership.

There are many courses available to BNI members that are not just about getting the most out of BNI, they also have great value on their own for the general business knowledge they pass on. These would cost hundreds of pounds for someone to attend normally, but through BNI often they cost not much more than a normal breakfast meeting fee.

Outside of my business private flying is still my passion, and I wouldn’t be able to afford my own aeroplane without the successful growth in my company that has come through being a BNI member.

As well as my own personal growth through BNI, my business has grown significantly since I joined and that’s during a recession (that we as BNI members refuse to participate in.)

Givers Gain® is the key to my success and BNI’s strapline. The principle is simple and it works. I help members with the training so that they can generate more business and also use the same techniques myself to generate referrals for my fellow chapter members. In return they pass me business and help my company grow.

It’s almost like having your plane refuelled for free in mid-air. Now there’s a thought!

Joining BNI was definitely the best business decision I’ve ever made.