By Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman of BNI

Face it, some businesses are more difficult to refer than others. Often times, those same businesses struggle to get clients through traditional mediums of advertising as well. Word of mouth is the best way for almost all types of businesses to grow but, in some cases it’s almost the ONLY way to grow. Before I started BNI, I was a management consultant. When I started my consulting firm in the early 1980’s, I learned these lessons the hard way.

No one retained a consulting firm off an advertisement. Most of my clients came from referrals but, that took time and I needed to find new business to keep my company’s doors open. Through this struggle, I landed on a technique that I have been training to business people and entrepreneurs for the last two decades. I call it “working the rubber chicken circuit.”

Years ago I learned that when I did a speaking engagement, I often got new business. The key was to get more speaking engagements while I was working on the long-term process of word of mouth. I discovered that this became a specific strategy, in and of itself, to build my company through the word of mouth that comes from speaking engagements. Educating my referral sources took time, so getting some speaking engagements was a great short-term approach to building my business while I was educating my referral sources.

When you schedule an appointment with someone you think might be interested in what you are selling, that hour is important! Imagine setting that same appointment with between 20-50 business people in your community! That is, in effect, what you are doing when you are asked to present at these various clubs or organizations. While many business people may realize the immense networking value joining and participating in service clubs lends to their credibility in the community, what they don’t often think of is how many referrals can be generated by actually being the speaker at these various meetings.

How do you as a business person gets on their calendars? It isn’t as hard as you might think. With a little creativity, you can put together a presentation that will be informational, educational and even entertaining for these groups. Usually program chairs are scrambling to find someone different, engaging and interesting to have come on in and present to the group. Your job is to help them find YOU! I eventually produced a letter that I would give to the people in my extended network to make it VERY easy to refer me for a speaking engagement.

Here is a sample letter. This is the one I actually used to send to program chairs when I was in business consulting. You will see that I was offering much more than a sales pitch for my service.

[Remember, this is a sample — you need to put in YOUR information]:

Dear Program Chair:

AIM Consulting is a management consulting firm that works with small and medium size businesses. During the last two years, we have given a presentation entitled “Entrepreneuring in the 80’s” to over 60 service organizations such as yours. The presentation deals with managing and motivating employees. It involves participation and interaction with the audience and leaves time for questions at the end. Here are some of the comments we’ve received:

Fantastic, every service club must hear!
East LA Rotary

One of our best…Ivan kept everyone excited.
Alhambra Optimist

An excellent talk by an excellent speaker.
Irwindale Rotary

Excellent, highly recommended, got a lot of questions.
Hermosa Kiwanis

If you are interested in this topic, we would be glad to visit your club to give this presentation.

Please feel free to contact us is you have any questions.


Ivan Misner

I would take this letter to networking meetings and give it to people who knew me and wanted to refer me but, didn’t know how. When I started BNI, I handed this out to my fellow members of the first Chapter (where I was a member). This really helped build my business while at the same time enabled me to educate my personal network on how to refer me to potential clients. I ended up getting a lot of business this way. Many of my largest clients came from speaking engagement!

Just one acceptance to this letter can position you in front of multiple business people who might be in the market for just your product or service! Once you have the opportunity to make these types of connections, you never know where they will lead. Often business generated this way leads to a lot of spin-off business.

It is important to note that I found that it was critical to give the audience something to take away that would bring them back to me. For example, for me it was a “ behaviour profile instrument.” I told them they could take this back to their office, give it to any employee, have them fill it out and mail it back to me. I would give them a FREE 4 page analysis of the behavioral characteristics of the employee so they could better understand how to manage that person. I almost always got one or more companies to follow up after I spoke.

Let me give you an example of how a business owner might position him/herself to be a speaker at an organization’s weekly meeting. Take the case of a handy man. You might wonder how a handy man could appeal to a program chair who is looking for someone to speak to his or her group. The topic of home safety is a very timely message. Who better than a handy man to fashion a presentation on home safety and give viable tips on things to do around the house to be sure that the home environment is free from hidden (and not so hidden) dangers.

Of course, the members present at that meeting might have a need to correct some of the things the presenter is bringing up. Who do you think they are going to contact for that? Bingo! That week’s speaker is just the person for the job.

Another great networking result is spin-off business from being a speaker at a local organization’s meeting. Spin-off business is like so much icing on the cake. Once you begin networking with the members of the organization, you will be met with an open door for referrals from them. Make sure you ASK for those referrals.

The key is to go in with information and education...not a huge sales pitch. People don’t like being sold to, but they do like to buy! A great presentation can motivate your audience to want to buy what it is you have for sale. But, not only that, a great presentation can also position you favorably for extended networking with the members and their contacts.

This technique made my company easy for anyone to refer and it got me a lot of clients while I was building my business. Most importantly, this technique can work for almost any business. It is tailor-made for difficult businesses, but it can work for almost anyone.

Next time you think of rubber chicken, think - leverage, think - networking, think - business!!

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Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI - www.bni.com, the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro can be viewed at - www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company - www.referralinstitute.com

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