Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. Founded in 1985 the organization now has over 10,000 chapters throughout every populated continent of the world. Last year alone, BNI generated 11.5 million referrals resulting in $16.3 billion dollars worth of business for its members.
Dr. Misner’s Ph.D. is from the University of Southern California. He is a New York Times Bestselling author who has written 26 books including one of his latest books – Who’s in Your Room? He is also a columnist for Entrepreneur.com and has been a university professor as well as a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of La Verne.
Called the “Father of Modern Networking” by both Forbes and CNN, Dr. Misner is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on business networking and has been a keynote speaker for major corporations and associations throughout the world. He has been featured in the L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times, as well as numerous TV and radio shows including CNN, the BBC, and The Today Show on NBC.
Among his many awards, he has been named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Red Cross and has been the recipient of the John C. Maxwell Leadership Award. He is proud that he and his late wife, Elisabeth, are the Co-Founders of the BNI Charitable Foundation. They also reached “empty nester” status after happily raising their three children. Oh, and in his spare time!!! he is also an amateur magician and a black belt in karate.
Umar Hameed 0:04
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone! My name is Umar Hameed, I’m your host on the No Limits Selling Podcast where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how you can become better, stronger, faster. Just before we get started, I’ve got a question for you, do you have a negative voice inside your head? We all do, right? I’m gonna help you remove that voice and under 30 days guaranteed, not only remove it, but transform it. So instead of the voice that sabotages you, there’s one that propels you to much higher levels of performance and success. There’s a link in the show notes, click on it to find out more. All right! Let’s get started.
Umar Hameed 0:36
Hello everyone. Today I have the privilege of having Dr. Ivan Misner here with me today, the Founder of BNI. Ivan, welcome to the program.
Ivan Misner 0:45
Thank you. It’s great to be on.
Umar Hameed 0:46
Ivan the year was 1985, you ran a consulting company. And what made you think of starting BNI?
Ivan Misner 0:54
Yeah, well, so like, I like to tell you had this vision of a global organization, but I was looking for some referrals for my consulting business. And I put together some people I trusted, they trusted me, we started passing each other referrals. Someone, we only take one person per profession and a chapter.
Umar Hameed 1:09
Ivan Misner 1:09
Someone came who said, “This is great, I could get a ton of business, would you help me open up my own group?” And I actually told her NO. I said, “This isn’t? This isn’t what I do, I’m a business consultant.” She said, “Well, this kind of consulting, you’re helping me build my business.” I said, “Okay.” We opened up a group and at that group, people came who wanted to have their own group, because they were very structured, we have a system. So at the end of the year, I had 20 groups, by accident,
Umar Hameed 1:35
Ivan Misner 1:36
and that was it. Yeah, I was shocked. And and it was at that point that I realized that I had struck a chord in the business community, that people were looking for referrals, but that we weren’t teaching this in colleges and universities, anywhere in the world. And it was at that point, I decided to scale the company. Now, it took me about six months to figure out, you know, how big could this really be? And so it was middle of 1986, I was talking to a friend of mine and I said to him, “You know, I think BNI could someday have 10,000 chapters.” And he said, ‘And how many chapters do you have now?” I said, “30,” and he said, ” And you think you can have 10,000.” I’m like, “Yeah, I really do.” And he said, words to the effect, “Well, it’s good to have goals.” That’s good to have a goal. And you know what, we just hit 10,000 chapters last December.
Umar Hameed 2:29
Let me ask you, going back to when you had your one group, it’s, you probably had some workshopping to figure out what works, what doesn’t work. So tell me about some of the early missteps till you figured out, “Okay, this is what we need to do.”
Ivan Misner 2:44
You know, I mean, there were a lot of missteps and you know, back then I was basically method-acting my way through this process…
Umar Hameed 2:51
I love it.
Ivan Misner 2:51
…because there, there was nothing, there’s nothing written about it. There are no books on networking, I wrote one of probably the first book I know of on business networking, back in 1989. I wrote the first doctoral dissertation on the subject. So there just wasn’t much material out there and we were figuring it out as we went. And the thing is, I wrote everything down. I wrote down what worked, I wrote down what didn’t work, so that I could teach people what to do, and why not to do the some of the dumb things that I did. That ended up being dumb, didn’t work, I didn’t know at the time. And so I mean, I found that, you know, teaching people a leaky bucket process, unless you write it down…
Umar Hameed 3:33
Ivan Misner 3:34
…when I teach you something, information leaks out, when you teach a third person something more information that leaks out, unless you have it written down, then you’re training from a manual and a whole lot less, gets leaked out of the process. And so that’s what I was doing back then I was writing everything down.
Umar Hameed 3:50
So having one group, the world as good as soon as you get to people, like when there was Cain and Abel came, things went kind of awry. So as soon as you had another group, all of a sudden, you had like this, will you still running that group or did you have someone else running that group for you?
Ivan Misner 4:05
I set it up with another president running that chapter. So I was the president of the one chapter for a year but I was opening up these other chapters, and I would have people to be present. It got on manageable at about 20 groups where I couldn’t even you know, the span of control was just too broad. And that’s when I created what we now called directors behind directors. At the time, we had a different title, but to experiment with that to see how it would work out. And, you know, I was writing things done, I followed Michael Gerber’s advice from the book, The E Myth, where he said, “Write everything down as though you plan on franchising your business, even if you never plan on franchising your business.” And I thought, “Well, I’m never gonna franchise this, but I’m gonna write it all down.” And you know, after a few years, I thought, why can’t I franchise this and that’s exactly what BNI is where the master franchise or and so many, many over thousands regions around the world that basically are locally-owned and operated.
Umar Hameed 5:09
Nice. So one of the things that really bad about BNI is the structure of it and the thing that is like the most important thing of BNI, the reason it’s successful is the structure. So how do you balance the two without you can’t have like the thing you said, right? at the beginning, “I wrote this stuff down, which most entrepreneurs would not do,” because, you know, why would you ever do that? But that’s how you get greatness and improvement. So tell me about how you really got franchisees to really stick with and embrace the process because that’s the magic of the organization?
Ivan Misner 5:43
Yeah. Well, so that’s a great question and very few people, by the way, asked me that topic and want to talk about that topic. So look, I, the truth is, if you want to be successful in business, you got to have systems and processes and rules and policies, you got to have them, I mean, come on hockey without a rules would be boxing on ice, right?
Umar Hameed 6:05
Ivan Misner 6:05
It’s got to have rules. The thing is, it’s how do you apply those rules. And so we try to teach our directors and our leadership teams, the people who run an individual chapter, that you apply the rules more like Mandela than Attila, you know, it’s gonna be tough love, but you got to show that you care, you got to be there to help people. And they, they have to understand the why, before you tell him the how,
Umar Hameed 6:32
Thank you so much for saying that because people miss that point all the time.
Ivan Misner 6:36
They do. And you know, like attendance, that’s one of our policies, if, if you can’t be there, you’re not going to get business. Now, right now, it’s all by Zoom, but if you’re not at the meetings, you’re just going to be out of people’s minds, and you’re not going to get referrals. And so we have, you know, a certain amount of attendance to certain amount of meetings and if you miss more than that, we’re gonna open your classification to someone else. But we have to explain why we can’t just say, “This is it, if you don’t show up, we’re gonna let you go.” So what we’ve, what we try to do is to tell people, here’s why. If you, we used to have some chapters, my first started, we had some chapters that met twice a month, instead of every week, the chapters that met twice a month past 52%, less referrals than the chapters that met every week. So yeah, that’s pretty impressive. Pretty easy, you know, sharpen evidence. And so we then told people look, you want to double the number of referrals, you got to meet every week. And so we’ve seen a direct and dramatic linear correlation between attendance and referrals. And as long as you give people the why, you know, they never say, “Oh yes, great, I want to do it.” But they’ll say, “Yeah, okay, I get it. I’ll do it. I understand.”
Ivan Misner 7:49
So Ivan what’s kind of interesting to me is this is, were you ever in the armed forces?
Ivan Misner 7:54
I was not. No, not at least not in…
Umar Hameed 7:56
Ivan Misner 7:57
…maybe in some previous lifetime.
Umar Hameed 7:58
I wasn’t till the hunt in a previous lifetime but that’s another story. But what’s kind of interesting is you get an average american kid who is pretty much selfish, they go to the military, and for themselves, they may not do a lot, but for the people in their troop that will risk their lives and do heroic things. And coming back to BNI, like if you’re not there, you can’t get your referrals but when you’re not there, you’re robbing the other 15 members from the connections you have.
Ivan Misner 8:27
Umar Hameed 8:27
Which has an impact as well. So you…
Ivan Misner 8:30
From the whole group.
Umar Hameed 8:31
Yeah absolutely. Like, that’s I think the magic of BNI is that having to come every week and building those connections and those bonds is critical, especially in this day and age where, for a lot of people things are going sideways with their businesses with the pandemic. But when you have that group of trusted people that have your back, it just allows you to go further and keep on going as opposed to giving up.
Ivan Misner 8:55
Umar Hameed 8:56
Have you some stories from your uh, believing there’s hope.
Ivan Misner 8:59
Yeah, this I believe that hope is more powerful than fear. And that during times like this with COVID, you need your network more than ever. You need your network, that’s not the time to abandon your network, that’s the time to really embrace your network. And during COVID, the absolute, you know BNI has been around 36 years. The craziest year I’ve ever experienced, our members passed over 12 million referrals worldwide.
Umar Hameed 9:30
Ivan Misner 9:30
And generated 16, 16 billion, US billion with a B, 16 billion US dollars worth of what we call thank you for close business, which is the amount of business they generated for themselves for the membership. 16 billion in referral business in one year, during COVID. There are companies that are alive today because of their engagement in their network and they’re BNI igroup
Umar Hameed 9:57
Brilliant. You probably have territory where you have a group that’s doing really, really well, and another group that’s not doing as well? Do you have troubleshooters that go out, because sometimes you the regional people may not be able to figure it out to workshop it, how do you, like I’m sure this tried and true, you guys are doing this wrong, you need to do better, but there’s also that human element, so how do you handle those groups that should be doing better, but are not?
Ivan Misner 10:23
Yeah. So I mean, it’s, it’s like herding cats when you’re trying to manage entrepreneurs. Um, you know, we train our director teams on how to manage groups like that. And my advice to directors, is to always start with the why, and to let them know that you’re there for him, I mean, you can’t, you can’t push a noodle, you can’t make people do something that they just want to do. And sometimes we run into BNI groups that like, ‘And we’re happy, it’s all good, you’re good. It’s okay.” And you know, why accept mediocrity?
Umar Hameed 10:57
Yeah, when places he is.
Ivan Misner 10:58
Is an option. And so…
Umar Hameed 11:00
Ivan Misner 11:01
…we train them to go and say, “Look, excellence is an option. When you’re ready, we’re ready to help you.” And when you do that enough with the group, you eventually get somebody who says, “Yeah, I’m ready, what do we need to do?” And then you take that one person, you put them in a leadership role, you train them, and you have them help you so that it comes from within the group, as opposed to up, you know, above the group.
Umar Hameed 11:27
Yeah, forcing it down. So I think tell me about a particular addition to the BNI experience, maybe not COVID-related, but before then, that made the entire company better. like, I’m sure it’s something that you’re always looking to improve the process. So tell me something that you guys did in the last five years to improve BNI of the experience? And then let’s talk about COVID afterwards, what you’ve done recently?
Ivan Misner 11:51
Well, I think one of the biggest things more than five, but I’ll get you I’ll start with one that was within the last five years is that, we moved all of our referral generation to a mobile app, so you could literally give referrals, receive referrals, track referrals, right off your telephone at a meeting. And that made things a whole lot easier for a lot of people. But I would say…
Umar Hameed 12:13
No more NCR paper.
Ivan Misner 12:15
Oh gosh! We were, we were paper-driven just 10 years ago. So I mean, we’ve made massive advancements in the last 10 years. I think one of the biggest changes we made was before that, where it was, it was sort of a BFO for us, a blinding flash of the obvious. We have, I think I’ve written 26 books, I’ve been an author for entrepreneur.com for almost 20 years…
Umar Hameed 12:46
Ivan Misner 12:47
…and 19 years, I think it is. And so there’s just so much content, we decided to have in every chapter, what’s called an education coordinator. And the education coordinators job is to share content with the members to share this stuff, I’ve gotten over 600 podcasts, bnipodcast.com. So there’s so much content…
Umar Hameed 13:09
Ivan Misner 13:09
…that the education coordinators, now they spend about five minutes at every meeting, you know, recommending a podcast talking about the podcast giving, you know, some reading for people to do, and one of our core values is lifelong learning. So this is all part of that lifelong learning process, and incorporating that into a meeting was just so obvious, I don’t know why we didn’t think of it from the beginning, oh, well, we didn’t think of it from the beginning, because there was no content but we went a number of years without that.
Umar Hameed 13:37
That’s brilliant. And I think that’s part of the thing is to, just look at how we can improve stuff because if something isn’t growing in terms of value, it’s shrinking. And so how about COVID, there’s probably some groups that are like thriving in COVID, so how do you take best practices from one part of the world and cross pollinate it to another part? Do you have a mechanism for that?
Ivan Misner 13:59
Yes, we do. One of the things we have is, first of all, we have what’s called BNI University. So wherever we implement something in one country, it is you know, not instantaneously but pretty close to instantaneously done globally, because we’re in 70 countries. When we had to make the transition to in person meetings to Zoom meetings, my CEO for BNI, I no longer run the day to day operations, I’m sort of the Colonel Sanders of BNI and I’m the spokesperson…
Umar Hameed 14:28
Ivan Misner 14:28
…for the company. But my CEO, he was looking around a corner, he saw this comment, he flipped all of China to online in January of last year, in January, he flipped Italy in February, early February, most of Europe in the rest of February and then worldwide by March of 2020. We had 9000 at the time we had 9700 chapters. We moved all 9700 chapters to online by the end of March of 2020. So, we examined…
Umar Hameed 15:03
That worked. Did you guys get, brilliant! So let me ask a question for someone go back to that.
Ivan Misner 15:07
Umar Hameed 15:08
So do you have…
Ivan Misner 15:09
Could you repeat that?
Umar Hameed 15:10
Sure. Do you have a master Zoom account or does every chapter have their own?
Ivan Misner 15:15
We literally have almost 10,000 Zoom accounts.
Umar Hameed 15:18
It’s probably better that way.
Ivan Misner 15:20
Zoom likes us like, we’re to zoom.
Umar Hameed 15:21
Brilliant. Have you guys learned in that Zoom experience, like one of the learnings that made the Zoom meeting better?
Ivan Misner 15:29
Well, one of the things that we discovered because if you go to an online BNI meeting, you’ll recognize a BNI meeting, it’s very much a BNI meeting. But there are some elements of it that didn’t translate from in person to online, one of them is the open networking. So you know, the first 15 minutes of all chapters, it’s just open networking, you mix…
Umar Hameed 15:49
Ivan Misner 15:49
memory, shake hands. Well, you know, you get 30,40,50, we have some chapters with over 100 members, you can’t do that, you can’t just mix it. So we started for the first 15 minutes we do breakups breakouts. So we’ll have three to five people, and they talk…
Umar Hameed 16:08
Ivan Misner 16:09
…and they’ve got about five minutes, and then it bounces to another group, we may do two or three breakouts, so that you can actually have a conversation with a few people during the open networking, otherwise, that when we first started, it was just utter chaos. So we learned pretty quickly through trial and error, you can’t do that.
Umar Hameed 16:30
That’s brilliant. I think that’s one of the things is to always be learning always be playing. So the obvious question that I’m sure we get asked a lot is, as the pandemic ends, some people are going to go, “You know, this Zoom thing is not bad, I don’t have to drive there. This is more efficient.” Any thoughts on that?
Ivan Misner 16:48
Yeah. Well, I got a few. One is, I think the genies out of the bottle. Now that we have groups that are meeting online, I think that were some may continue to meet online, I mean, we’ve had we have at least 350 groups that started online.
Umar Hameed 17:05
Ivan Misner 17:06
You know, they’ve never met in person. And I think even the groups that are, that are meeting online, now, I think there’s likely to see a hybrid, where maybe they’re meeting online three times, and then they get together once a month, I think we still think that person is powerful. So…
Umar Hameed 17:24
Ivan Misner 17:24
…that’s probably a hybrid. Here’s the low hanging fruit, this is so easy. Groups that are in, you know, northern or far southern hemisphere, where there’s snow, they have snow days, and usually the snow days happen when there is you know, when the schools closed down for a snow day, the chapters just decided they would meet so on snow days, we won’t meet because we can’t drive. I totally see groups all around the world that have to deal with snow, saying on a snow day, we’re online.
Umar Hameed 17:57
A Zoom day, makes perfect sense.
Ivan Misner 17:59
Yeah, so um, I think those are all the things that we’re likely to see. And by the way, I predicted this, more than two years ago. In 2018, I wrote an article for entrepreneur.com, that basically said, “The future of face to face is online.” Now, I didn’t, I’d like to tell you I saw COVID coming, I didn’t but what I did saw coming was the disruption of technology. The technology was going…
Umar Hameed 18:26
Ivan Misner 18:26
…disrupt our company. And I didn’t want to be Kodak, now, you know, I know if you know Kodak invented the digital camera.
Umar Hameed 18:36
I didn’t know that.
Ivan Misner 18:37
They had the patent for the digital camera, but they didn’t want to mess with their film processing so they licensed that out, how’d that work out for them, not very well. And there’s many examples of companies that allow themselves to get disrupted. And so in to that, I started in 2017, talking about technology being a disrupter to us, and we needed to be prepared for that. And luckily, I think enough people heard that so that the transition took place, reasonably well. Now, I thought it would happen because of technology, mixed reality, holographic images, you know, 3D images. And you know, like, like, Star Wars, you know, where the Jedi Knights are sitting around, and there’s a…
Umar Hameed 19:17
Ivan Misner 19:18
…and then there’s a couple of fake into holographic Jedi. And if we ever get there
Umar Hameed 19:22
Ivan Misner 19:22
I will be I want to be Obi Wan Kenobi if we ever get there.
Umar Hameed 19:25
It doesn’t work out well for him in the end, by the way.
Ivan Misner 19:28
Well, that’s true.
Umar Hameed 19:29
So here’s what I think. I think that, many times when I meet on Zoom with someone, I am more present for that meeting than if I was at a restaurant and there’s people walking by and a pretty girl walking by and I’m checking my watch and I’m doing a bunch of stuff, that there’s more presence in a virtual connection sometimes then there is in the real world, any thoughts on that?
Ivan Misner 19:53
Yeah, it might be true one to one, I could see where that’s the case, in a group, I don’t think that’s true and I think it’s one of the things that we really have to have regular conversations on is be present. Because, you know, if you’re in a group of 50 people online, and I’m muted, I could be texting and you’d never know, heck, I could be doing my email and you’d never know. And so we are regularly saying to people, “Look, you got to give everyone your undivided attention.” In the same way that you want them to listen to you when you’re talking, you’ve got to be listening to them when they’re talking. And that’s, you know, that’s a that’s a work in progress I think for any group that is meeting online.
Umar Hameed 20:41
I would think so. So as you look into your crystal ball, and we move forward, we come out of COVID and technology is improving as we go. So what do you think we’re going to be in five years, where’s BNI gonna be in five years?
Ivan Misner 20:55
Well, I think within eight years, we’re going to be seeing the technology that will just make this so incredibly commonplace. Linden Labs, just, just two years ago, through two and a half years ago, said that the mixed reality technology within 10 years will be as commonplace as an iPhone. And when that happens, I think we’re going to see a huge number of you know, the overwhelming majority of networks meeting online, I’d like to see us continue with those anchoring the meetings with a maybe monthly in person meeting or quarterly in person meeting, because I will I always believe I started it as an in person face to face meeting, I think there’s still power to that, you know, we’re doing this with the technology that is amazing today, I couldn’t have done this in 1985, if we’d had COVID in the early days of BNI, I’d be out of business. Love the technology but I think nothing beats shaking someone’s hand and you know, looking in the three, three dimensionalize and, and having a conversation. So I think we’re gonna see more of this, not less, it might go back once COVID is past us but I think it’s headed nowhere but forward.
Umar Hameed 22:10
I think so. Congratulations on going past that 10,000 chapter mark, that’s a huge milestone.
Ivan Misner 22:17
Umar Hameed 22:18
And thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your time with us today, I really appreciate it.
Ivan Misner 22:22
Well, I say I appreciate the invitation and if I can just leave you with one last thought. And that is…
Umar Hameed 22:28
Ivan Misner 22:28
…that, that your your network, whatever network you have, whatever network you have developed, your network is a beacon of light in a sea of hope of fear, it is a beacon in a sea of fear. And I have just seen so many people in in my organization who have gotten through COVID because of the emotional support and the referral support that they’ve received and so now more than ever, you need to be working on building those relationships. I’m seeing more one to ones being done online than I did prior to COVID, and I think…
Umar Hameed 23:00
Ivan Misner 23:04
…that’s, that’s I think the reason why we generated so much business because they’re continuing to develop their personal networks.
Umar Hameed 23:16
Brilliant. Thank you so much and looking forward to our next conversation.
Ivan Misner 23:19
My pleasure and anyone that’s interested bni.com, you can go there.
Umar Hameed 23:24
And we’re going to put all the links down there and some of the links to your articles as well.
Ivan Misner 23:29
Great and ivanmisner.com is my blog if you want to put that link up, it’s all free stuff there.
Umar Hameed 23:39
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