From the Founder


The Formula for Success in BNI

By: Ivan Misner, Ph.D
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    From the Founder

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    Ivan Misner, Ph.D

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What is the one true secret to success in BNI? 

The one secret is…there is no “one” secret.  In order for members to be successful in BNI it’s a formula of four important elements that members need to apply in order to achieve success.

This is the formula for success in BNI:

  1. Quality
  2. Growth
  3. Engagement
  4. Stories

1. Embrace Quality

Quality is first on the list for a reason.  The process begins by being very selective about who you bring into a chapter.  You want quality business professionals who have a positive, supportive attitude.  You also want people who are good at what they do.  It is aptitude and attitude.  We all assume aptitude but we often forget about attitude and after three decades in BNI, I can tell you that this is critical.

Effective networking is dependent on the quality of the relationships that you actually develop in the group.  If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, you won’t be getting the referrals you expect.  Therefore, it is important to build deep relationships with your referral partners if you want to generate more referrals.  This means that you need to know, like, and trust them.

In order to ensure quality participation, there has to be accountability in a group.  One of the strengths of a good network is that many of the members are friends.  One of the weaknesses of a good network is, ironically, that many of the members are friends.  Friends don’t like to hold friend accountable.  However, BNI is not a friendship organization.  It is a referral organization.  Thus, in order to generate quality referrals – members must hold their fellow members accountable for their participation in a group.

If you expect the best from your members, you’ll get it.  If you expect less than the best from your fellow members, you’ll get it.  Why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option? Accountability in a group will help you achieve excellence.

The last part of “quality” that is important to mention is the application of our core philosophy,

Givers Gain®, in a chapter.  The more members who live this philosophy (particularly as it relates to referrals), the more successful a group will be.

2. Grow Your Team

Years ago I learned that there is a dramatic correlation between the size of a quality group and the number of referrals that are generated by that group.  Groups under 20 do not generate as many referrals (proportionately) as do groups over 20. The math proves it.  If you have a group of 16 people, that group has 256 connections (16x16). [See Diagram A] However, a group of 32 people has 1,024 connections (32x32)! [See Diagram B]   In BNI, critical mass for a group begins in the 20s (the average chapter size worldwide is roughly 24)



This multiple of connections gets even more interesting as it gets larger.  For example, if you double a group of 24 members to 48 members, that group goes from 576 connections to 2,304 connections (double the size – quadruple the connections)!  In a network, the number of relationships (or members) leads to a number of connections that is a squared multiple of the actual membership.  I call this ratio of people in a group compared to the total connections that are created the “Squared Connection Effect.”  Hence, the quantity of members truly makes a difference in the total number of connections and inevitably the amount of referrals that can be generated in a group.

Sometimes this begs the question: When is a chapter too large?  That’s difficult to answer; however, I can tell you that less than a fraction of 1% of our chapters have ever gone over 80 members (by the way, a group of 80 members has 6,400 connections!). 

The bottom line is that the more connections you have (based on quality relationships of course), the more referrals you generate.  For decades, I have seen groups that are twice the size of other groups in an area generate several times more referrals than their smaller counterparts.  The math is pretty significant and consistent.

3. Seek Engagement

Engagement involves a promise and an action. In order to achieve success in a group, the members must promise to support one another and take the actions necessary to fulfill that promise.

There are many ways that members can be engaged in a group.  They all begin with the group as a whole being immersed in a culture of learning.  Has everyone in your group listened to the BNI Orientation audio material?  Have they all gone to Members Success Program training? Have many members taken it a second time (or more)?  Do most of your members listen to the weekly podcasts at,?  Do they read SuccessNet regularly?  Are your members reading my blog at or viewing our videos on the Networking for Success Channel?  The higher the number of members engaged in these activities, the more likely the entire group will be generating more referrals.  The reason for this is a shared vision of success and a shared implementation of that vision.

Another way to be actively engaged in a group is to do regular and consistent 1-2-1s (meet with members outside the regular BNI meeting).  Over and over, I see that members who do regular 1-2-1s tend to both give AND get more referrals.

Lastly, are you and your members doing really effective introductions every week?  The best introductions are ones that focus on breaking your business down to laser specific elements of your business.  Sharp-shoot your talks; don’t shotgun them.  Each week, talk about one key element, product, or benefit of what you do.

According to Psychology Today, research has found that people who are “actively engaged” in a business environment are “43% more productive” than those who are not.

Furthermore, they state that engagement includes “regular dialogue, quality of working relationships, perceptions of ethos and values of the organization, and recognition.”  Does any of this sound familiar to what is done in good BNI groups?  It should.  There’s research behind our recommended action for engagement, and it’s critical to the success of members in a group.

4. Share Stories

The last piece of the “3+1 For Success” is to tell stories.  Listening closely to your member’s weekly presentations will help you in telling positive stories about your fellow members.  Doing regular 1-2-1s will help you to tell stories when you give referrals.  Think about your many experiences and write them down.

A number of years ago I met Robert Dickman, author of The Elements of Persuasion.  He taught me the formula for a good story:

  1. A story is a fact
  2. Wrapped in an emotion
  3. That compels us to take action
  4. That transforms us in some way

The key here is that a good story compels people to take action, and this action transforms or helps them in some way.  I always try to re-live a story, not just re-tell a story.  Make it sound fresh and alive.  That is an important aspect of storytelling.

Can’t think of a story?  Look here at SuccessNet.  There are a ton of stories that you can share.

Remember that facts tell, but stories sell.  If you want to build your group in order to generate more referrals, overlay storytelling on top of your efforts.  This is particularly true regarding the testimonials you give at a chapter meeting.

The Formula for Success in BNI:

  1. Embrace Quality
  2. Grow Your Team
  3. Seek Engagement
  4. Share Stories

Why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option.  Excellence is an option in BNI.  Understanding and applying this success formula will transform your group in amazing ways.