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Spreading networking word

By RACHEL BRANT

Staff writer

Dagmar Lacy of Olympic Northwest Insurance works mainly out of Port Orchard, but was looking to expand her business further north.

Through a local Business Networking International (BNI) group, she was able to do just that and her clientele grew exponentially.

Feb. 4-8 is International Networking Week and BNI, the largest business networking organization in the world, wants people to take advantage of BNI opportunities that are available right here in Kitsap County.

Kitsap County is home to many networking groups including two chartered BNI chapters and two soon-to-be chartered groups in Silverdale.

Lacy serves as president of one BNI group, Olympic Business Exchange. BNI groups allow business professionals a way to improve their business through word-of-mouth referrals.

“It is a natural way to increase business through word-of-mouth referrals. It’s a way to be proactive,” Lacy said. “It’s a good place to learn how to market yourself.”

Lacy said she was able to boost her Olympic Northwest Insurance clientele through the Olympic Business Exchange meetings and said other business owners would benefit from BNI groups as well.

In 2007, BNI passed more than 5.5 million referrals in more than 5,000 chapters. This equates to more than 100,000 members in 39 countries resulting in more than $2.1 billion in business, according to Micki Peak, the area director of BNI.

“I think that people are recognizing more and more the value of getting a referral,” Peak said. “Someone that is a referral is more loyal to you and more likely to do business with you. It can have a dramatic impact on smaller businesses.”

BNI groups are “industry exclusive,” meaning there is only one type of each business in a group. BNI members are guaranteed to meet and mingle with people from all types of businesses at their weekly meetings.

“The concept behind any chapter of BNI is industry exclusive,” said Jennifer Whitelaw, TW2 Marketing Inc. senior consultant and BNI member. “If you’re with a heating and cooling group you will be the only one (in the chapter).”

BNI members pay a yearly membership fee and $20 a month to attend weekly meetings. Whitelaw said most BNI members happily fork over the payments because the rewards greatly outweigh the cost.

“I think that everyone in our group has found that they get their membership dues back and then some,” Whitelaw said. “It’s just a good way to build your network. Everyone that’s joined the group said the value is there.”

Peak has heard lots of positive feedback from BNI members including a woman who said her business increased 80 percent by attending meetings and interacting with other business professionals. A chiropractor also said his business increased 50 percent after he joined BNI.

“I think professionals are getting back to the basics of relationships and what BNI offers that other networking groups don’t offer is tons of education and training and structure,” Peak said. “We do our best to make sure members are getting referrals.”

Business professionals are encouraged to attend a BNI chapter’s meeting to see if it is right for them. Olympic Business Exchange, Sound Referrals, Peninsula Business Partners and Referral Net-Works Core Group all meet at various dates and times in Silverdale, but there also are other groups throughout the county. Visit BNI’s Web site at www.bniww.com to find a chapter or chapters forming in the area.

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