Their idea is not one that is uncommon. Maybe you were sitting in your hairstylist’s chair talking about your need for a lawyer and he or she recommended one they knew? Or your dentist offered a suggestion on a good caterer for your daughter’s bridal shower?
Referrals are a popular way for businesses to find new customers. If clients are satisfied with the product or service you provide, chances are good they will suggest you to a friend or family member. But typically referrals are informal — word of mouth usually.
One group, however, has found a way to turn that system into a more formal one.
Business networking organization BNI has created a marketing plan to help entrepreneurs spread word of their businesses while also helping others like them. The group, founded by Dr. Ivan Meiser in California in 1985, opens small local chapters and invites business owners to join and refer clients to each other. The chapters, which typically have between 25 and 50 members, allow only one member per profession and have an organized plan for referrals in which business owners document who they referred clients to.
BNI launched its newest chapter on Wednesday, and its first in Southern Queens. The Howard Beach chapter is their fourth in the borough, but the founding members of the Howard Beach group aren’t simply business owners from the neighborhood, but many from other parts of Queens and surrounding areas, that see Howard Beach as a place to expand their clientele.
Among those represented at the meeting: a mortgage broker from Nassau County, an interior designer from Ozone Park, a health and wellness company from Middle Village, all of them interested in learning more about BNI and its new Howard Beach chapter.
“The group is like your marketing team,” said Steve Araneo, a certified financial planner and member of the Howard Beach chapter.
Araneo said he often sees hundreds of customers during tax season who ask him for referrals for other needs. As part of the BNI group, he becomes familiar with other business owners he can refer his clients to.
The group meets at 10 a.m. every Wednesday, which is not a common time for a BNI group to meet. Nearly all of the groups in 57 countries around the world meet at 7 a.m. The later start time for the Howard Beach chapter has to do with the needs of the business owners in the community.
“You have a lot of what we call mompreneurs, business owners who have children and families.” said Issa Davis-Burton, a consultant with BNI. “Ten o’clock meetings work better for them.”
BNI had planned on launching the Howard Beach chapter two months ago on Nov. 14, but Hurricane Sandy forced them to delay it until January.
Tim Houston, BNI’s outerborough area director, said the Howard Beach chapter is the fourth in Queens — the others are in Bayside, New Hyde Park and Rego Park — and that the neighborhood is a good place for the group to set up a chapter.
“This is still a community that knows one another,” he said. “It’s the perfect place to build your own business by referrals.”
Houston said that fact became incredibly important after many business owners were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Davis-Burton noted the storm affected many members of the chapter and that others from outside Howard Beach responded to the needs of fellow business owners in the disaster zone.
“The resilience and the dedication that I’ve seen from these members as they huddled together and picked themselves up after Sandy, it was really amazing to me,” she said.
Businesses interested in joining a chapter can visit bniouterboros.com and look up existing ones.