As an architectural and commercial photographer, effective advertising options can be limited.  Unlike wedding or portrait photographers, I specialize in a field the average person or family does not regularly use, especially in a small Florida coastal town dependent on tourism.

Therefore, I typically have to rely on referrals and the best way to get referrals is to network.  But what is the most effective way to network?

For most people, your local Chamber of Commerce comes to mind and, while I joined my local Chamber and even became an Ambassador, I found it to be more of a social function than a true ‘networking’ venue.  Don’t get me wrong, the Chamber is great but at the end of the year when I looked at my return on investment, it really wasn’t that great.

Community organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist Clubs likewise were extremely gratifying, but is the purpose for joining these organizations primarily to garner more business or to give back to your community?  Perhaps it’s both.  But if I truly want to increase my revenue, I want to focus strictly on an organization that will help me do just that.

The one organization that I found to be focused on true ‘networking’ is Business Networking International (or, BNI).  Founded in 1985, BNI has over 200,000 members in 7,500 chapters worldwide.  Each chapter allows only one member from each profession to join.  For example, once I joined my local BNI Chapter, no other photographer would be allowed to join that chapter.  The concept is simple; by limiting each profession/industry per chapter, referrals are maximized.  For me, this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made and here’s why:

Each BNI chapter typically consists of someone in real estate, the building industry/ construction, banking/finance, business owners, public relations/advertising, health care, website design … in other words, all the professions and industries that could use my services and who could refer me to others.  Does it really work?  Well, having joined my local BNI chapter just over three years ago, it accounts for more than a third of my revenue and I know that because it is easy to track in BNI’s system.  I also know that I did not have to chase down people or knock on doors, since this revenue was generated by referrals from my fellow members and, in return, I provided a lot of referrals to them as well.  Among our chapter’s 38 members we have collectively exceeded $1 million dollars each year in referred business.  Worldwide, BNI generated in 2015 alone, 9.3 billion dollars in shared revenue among its members from millions of referrals.  I don’t know of another networking organization that can claim those numbers.

If you are not already familiar with BNI, you can locate a chapter near you here.


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