SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 26, 2012

Networking group marks $600K in referrals

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — SWAMPSCOTT — When it comes to networking, BNI Red Rock, the Marblehead and Swampscott chapter of Business Network International, has a pretty impressive record. Since last October, its members have referred $600,000 in business to each other.

The group has 30 members who meet one morning a week at the First Church in Swampscott, Congregational on Monument Avenue.

Attorney Julie Rubenstein, a Peabody resident who practices with Anthony G. Keck and Associates of Salem, has been with the group for six years and is now the president. She chatted with The Salem News recently about how the referral network works.

How is this different from other networking groups?

The concept of BNI is one person per profession. Obviously, there is a little leeway among professions; for attorneys, it’s more specialty area. But that’s what makes it unique ... the fact that you have one person per profession. So, you don’t have 17 bankers or 20 mortgage brokers or five Realtors. You really get to know the person individually, and you really get to know, like and trust that when you refer business to them, that you know them, you know how they work.

I had never heard of the organization before.

There are chapters all around the area. It’s quite a large international networking organization, but it based its whole purpose on referral-based marketing, and one person per profession, so it doesn’t have the same feel as a chamber.

Tell me how a referral would be made.

Everyone has their natural referral sources, like the mortgage brokers and the real estate brokers, their natural referral source would be each other. ... We have an auto repair person, and he works really hand-in-hand with the auto collision person, but you would be amazed once you come into a group like this the number of people that you know who might need services. If you have an issue where you need a contractor, we have a contractor. Me, being an attorney, it’s helpful having other attorneys in the room who cover practices areas I don’t.

So you could have more than one attorney, but it’s in a different specialty.

I do real estate and business; there is another attorney who does divorce and bankruptcy.

Can you give me an example of a natural referral you have done?

I’ll have clients come in and say they are looking to buy a house or they are looking to list a house. ... Several times I’ve had clients call me, again, and they need help with divorces, so I refer their business to the divorce attorney. Sometimes it’s simple, little things where we have someone who sells Mary Kay, and I’ve had a Mary Kay party for friends and family. Or we have a collision repair person, so I’ve had someone be in an accident and given his name to call.

How much does it cost to join?

The membership is $365 per year. There’s also a $100 registration fee, which right now our chapter is reimbursing for any new members. And then there is just quarterly dues, which takes care of breakfast and after-hours networking events and that sort of thing.

A referral could pay for those dues?

Definitely. A good referral, one referral, in a lot of professions, will cover your annual dues, and the next (referral), you are on your way.

Unlike a chamber or other networking groups, you have to attend meetings?

Yes, there is an attendance requirement. There is a certain number of absences you are allowed per six-month term, but it’s really about being here. To be honest, if you are not here, then you are not going to get the business out of it, or you are not going to get the benefit for the buck.

Are you looking for some trades that are not represented?

Any profession where they have contacts is a good fit. Some people we have been looking for for a while is a florist, limo driver, computer specialist — we had one, and he had to leave, he changed businesses, and we are looking for someone to do computer repair. We don’t have a Web designer right now, which we have had in the past, and it was a very successful seat. Kitchen cabinets, we have a contractor, but sometimes there is someone who does countertops.

What’s the best part of being in the group?

You get your most enjoyment when you pass business. Like when you walk in the room, and you are like: “I have a referral for so-and-so.” You just get this big charge out of it, and you know you are excited you made something happen for someone else. And that’s the philosophy of BNI: It’s giver’s gain.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.