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How do we change our business networking contacts from accidents into allies through BNI?

by Richard Foulkes

Imagine your network as a bulls-eye, with each concentric circle representing a different networking relationship, like in this illustration Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon.

Let’s work through each level.


• Accidental networks are outside the concentric circles. For example: On a plane you’re in seat 14A. Next to you, in 14B, is a stranger. You’ve met by Accident.

• An Accident is a person you’ll never see again unless you make it happen. You have to exchange contact details or stalk them to get back in touch.

• In one study, 27% of people developed a relationship with someone they met on an airplane (pre-inflight entertainment, laptops, and tablets). But it’s not smart to rely on meeting people by chance.


• Inside the outermost circle, imagine the word Acquaintance. An Acquaintance is a person you could find again if you had to because you know someone in common.

• Think of the architect you met at your cousin’s daughter’s wedding. You won’t run into her in the normal course of your life.

• Remember your Acquaintances when you want to diversify your network.

• Cultivating an Acquaintance will bring you in touch with people with whom you don’t normally have contact.


• Inside the next circle is Associate. An Associate is a person who belongs to a group in which you belong. That means you’ll see him/her repeatedly. This happens with BNI members at our weekly meetings. 

• On average it can take six to eight months of BNI meetings before two people know and trust each other enough to go to bat for each other.

• Associates, whom you’ll see again and again, are your easiest contacts to develop.

• However (and this is one of the biggest mistakes networkers make), if you don’t develop these relationships, you will remain only co-members of a group. You won’t act as resources for each other.


• Once you have acted by exchanging something of value – a tip, a resource, some information – you convert Associates into Actors.

• Actors are people with whom you are actively trading. When you give first, you plug into the basis for strong networking relationships: The Givers Gain® Principle.

• It goes like this. If you give somebody something, he or she will try harder to give you something back. Others in the group want to help those people who they see actively helping their fellow members too.


• There are ways to make relationships even more relevant. When that happens, you and your contact will be able to help each other even more.

• Advocates (inside the next circle) know you so well and trust you so completely that, when they see an opportunity with your name on it, they’ll grab it and give it to you.

• Because you’ve taught them so much about yourself, they’ll unhesitatingly pass your name along to others.

• Advocates can give vivid examples of you in action, serving a client, saving the day, or solving a problem.

• In BNI these are your referral partners where you generate multiple referrals for each other, often you serve the same client type.


• Finally, in the centre circle, you’ll have a few Allies. Allies are on your personal board of directors.

• They know where you’re headed and will do all they can to help you reach your goals. They will actually seek out opportunities for you.

• And you’ll do the same for them. They’ll celebrate with you when things go well, as well as commiserate with you—and even tell you the truth—when things go wrong.

• In BNI, advocates and allies are those two members with the amazing referral partnership that other members look at and say “wow, they are so lucky”.

• It’s not luck, it has taken time and effort to get to this level, but the results can be extraordinary.


• Take a minute to think about your networking contacts. Draw the bulls-eye and decide which “A” best describes each of your fellow BNI members. 

• Then you’ll be able to determine what your next step could be with each person. If you want to move from Associate to Actor for another member, you might try their service yourself.

• To move from Actor to Advocate, in a one-to-one, you might share anecdotes so your contact will be able to describe your capabilities to others.

• Ask for stories from your contact so you can reciprocate. To go from Advocate to an Ally means spending quality time – business and social – and really getting to know, like, and trust, the other member.

• You will see them as more than just a business partner but as a true friend. You will care about each other. That is why we only have a few allies. 

Using this model will help you create a fully developed network and help you make networking an art, not an accident.

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