Networking Tips

Not All Substitutes are Created Equal

Submitted by Braith Bamkin, Executive Director – BNI Melbourne West & Geelong and Melbourne Central

Did you know that you can increase the amount of business you generate from your membership if your chapter has a clear strategy on having great substitutes in the room?

It always amazes me when I visit a chapter and I see ‘regular’ subs in the room.  Without fail, these are chapters that seem to struggle with member accountability, growth and closed business.

Member Accountability

Each chapter needs to formulate its own policy of what an acceptable substitute is and how often they can visit.  Most chapters say a member can have a substitute 3 times in a six month period, with anything outside of that needing to be approved by the membership committee.

High performing chapters will also say that one substitute cannot be present at more than 3 meetings in a six month period without prior agreement from the Membership committee.

Membership Committees that communicate this and enforce it, are always part of high performing groups and their members value their membership and do everything they can to increase the value they extract from the room.


If that sounds harsh, then let me tell you a story of a ‘serial substitute’ I came across recently.  “Mary” – a cleaner in Melbourne loved BNI and would happily substitute anywhere she was asked.  Of course, she was way too busy to join BNI, but as was usually found at two or three BNI meetings a week.  When I had a conversation with Mary, she proudly informed me that BNI was amazing, it had built her business in less than 6 months and she tells everyone about it and that they should sub everywhere.

So, how do you think Mary’s credibility was, once people found out she was doing this?  But more importantly, how do you think the chapter felt about the members that keep inviting her?  Say no more.

Of course Mary did have plenty of time to visit BNI and had she joined a chapter, I have no doubt that she would actually have generated far more business for herself than from subbing.

But I don’t blame Mary, she didn’t know what she didn’t know and the chapters she was visiting were too complacent to challenge her on this – after all she was lovely and she got business and she ‘helped’ members out.

The chapter missed out on a member and lots of closed business because they allowed Mary to keep coming and enjoying the benefits of BNI without the commitment they had all signed up for.

Closed Business

The biggest loss when using poorly chosen substitutes is the potential closed business to the chapter.  It may surprise you that substitutes spend money in the room.  A lot of money.   So selecting potential clients or people who can advocate on your chapter members behalf, can be extremely financially rewarding (teachers are a great example).

Who makes a good sub?

In order of appropriateness, here is a list of who makes great subs and why.

  1. Your clients.  These people are hopefully your raving fans.  What better to represent you than someone who is going to speak highly of you.  It’s like a double whammy – you get represented and you get a testimonial at the same time
  2. A potential client.  What a great way for them to see that you have a strong and broad network that makes you an even more valuable person for them to do business with
  3. Your work colleagues – they know what you do and it also gives your chapter chapter mates a chance to see who else is in the orgainsation they are referring to
  4. Your friends and family.  Again, these people hopefully will be your advocates so again, they represent you well
  5. A member from another chapter (see below)

So it stands to reason, there are people who make less than desirable subs.  These are

  1. Former Members.  They didn’t hang around the first time, their credibility is probably poor anyway, so why have them represent you?  Crazy stuff.
  2. Members of other chapters.  This is a double edged sword.  Whilst I advocate people visiting other BNI chapters to pick up ideas, often members from other chapters come in and talk about them more than you.  This is clearly not the goal.
  3. Any person who has visited more than 3 times in 6 months.

How to prepare your sub.

  • Just because you’re away, it does not mean you should have nothing in the “I have” section.  If nothing else, give a testimonial and prepare your sub to read the 2 pertinent paragraphs.
  • Pre-prepare their 60 second referral request and time it so they are not put on the spot.
  • Let your fellow chapter mates know who is coming to represent you and ask them to welcome them (the closed Facebook group is best for this)
  • Set up potential meetings with possible clients – this way you facilitate the business that may be done.
  • Let your sub know what will happen on the day.  If they are coming for the first time, nothing feels worse than not being aware of what is about to happen
  • Pre-pay for their meal, after all, they are doing you a favour.

If your chapter is having trouble with substitutes, why not organise a “Bring you substitute” day.  Talk to your local Director on the mechanics, but this is a great way to double the number of people in the room and supercharge business generated from people outside your chapter.  I have never seen a “Bring a sub day” fail to generate business for existing members.  Done at least twice yearly, this can be a real shot in the arm for any chapter.

If you select the right substitute, you can set yourself up to be a chapter hero by demonstrating that even though you’re away, you value your seat in the room and are willing to make the experience a great one for everyone involved.  A little bit of effort on your behalf can have big payoffs for others in the room.



Recent Posts

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related Articles
Inviting for the Speaker
Networking Tips
Inviting for the Speaker

By BNI Global October 12, 2023

One of the best ways to support your fellow BNI Members is to invite visitors to your Chapter who could...

Read Article
The Dos and Don’ts of Networking: Etiquette Tips for Success
Networking Tips
The Dos and Don’ts of Networking: Etiquette Tips for Success

By BNI Global June 20, 2023

As a business professional, networking is an essential part of building relationships and growing your business. Whether you're attending a...

Read Article
6 Proven Time Management Tips for BNI® Success
Growing your Business
6 Proven Time Management Tips for BNI® Success

By BNI Global June 14, 2023

“Your greatest asset is your earning ability. Your greatest resource is your time.”   —Brian Tracy, Canadian American Author & Speaker ...

Read Article