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July 1, 2010

Ask the Attorney – July 2010

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 4:09 pm

So if last month’s column didn’t turn you off from paying to join a networking group, perhaps nothing will.  But, unfortunately, I don’t give up so easily.  So, this time I want to point out some of the popular sales pitches these organizations will throw your way to try to get you to join their ranks.

The group that I was a member of (BNI or Business Networking International) took pride in telling you that each of their chapters only allows one member to join in any given profession.  In other words, there will only ever be one residential real estate agent in a chapter or one insurance agent, etc.  The BNI rep or member that is trying to sign you up will tell you that once you are accepted in a chapter, because of this rule,  all other members of the chapter must refer all business related to your profession to you.

This, of course, sounds great but, as you might have already guessed, is pretty much impossible to police or enforce.  For example, a lawyer I knew in a different BNI chapter than mine, was concerned that she had received no referrals at all from her fellow chapter members.  She was particularly concerned that she was not getting any work from the real estate agent in her group when she had made it clear that real estate was her specialty.  My lawyer friend confronted the real estate agent who told her, without hesitation, that he wouldn’t  be sending anything to her because he had an existing relationship with another attorney (not a BNI member, of course) that he was not willing to upset.  He added that he would “keep her in mind” and that if anything came up that he could utilize her services for that he would “throw her a bone.”  When she reported this incredibly offensive behavior to the powers that be at the regional BNI offices, she was told, amongst other things, that there was nothing they could do about it, that she could not get a refund, and her remedy was to find herself another chapter in the Capital Region that doesn’t  have a lawyer that she could join.   (Just an FYI – there are approximately 10 to 12 BNI chapters in the Albany area.  In Philadelphia, the country’s 5th largest city, there is one.)

This rule causes problems when it comes to giving referrals as well.   There was a gentleman in my chapter who filled the computer services category within that group.  So, theoretically, when someone told me they were having trouble with their computers, I was supposed to direct them to this chapter member for the service they needed.  Except there was one problem : no one, and I mean no one, believed this member or his company was in any way competent.  I was talking with a writer friend of mine who had recently gone through some bad times with a laptop.  He explained that his computer crashed and, not having the proper backup system in place, needed a computer maintenance company to retrieve the data from his laptop’s hard drive.  He told me that he had taken his computer to a local service and, $600 or so later, he still had no laptop and he had been told that his data, which included all of his past articles, had been lost for good.   I was getting ready to send him to my chapter mate and his company until it became quite clear that it was my chapter mate’s service that had taken his $600 and left him high and dry.

Equally troublesome was the associations interest in letting people change their categories.  For example, there was a mortgage broker in my chapter who decided that being a mortgage broker wasn’t paying the bills anymore.    Instead, she decided that selling disability insurance was the way to go.  Huh?  How do I know if she can sell disability insurance?  And why should I endorse her?  And there was a real estate agent who suddenly found he wanted out of that business and, abracadabra – suddenly he was a property manager.  But prior to this magical change, this member would stand up at every meeting and tell all of his chapter mates that he was the best real estate agent in the world and that we should send all of our hard earned clients his way .    Or the guy who worked for a local cable distributor who would stand up each week to tell us how great his company was.  Until they fired him and he started working for a telecommunications company which suddenly became the greatest company in the world.   I started wondering what would happen to me if I decided to go from being a lawyer to, say, fixing lawn mowers.  My clients would abandon me and my credibility would be destroyed.

I have tons of stories like this to tell you but, quite honestly, I have better things to think about.  So this is the last bit of ink I’ll expend on this subject.  And I’ll finish by reminding you that there is no easy way and there is no way to avoid the hard work necessary to make yourself a success in whatever field you’re in.  So take a page out of Nancy Reagan’s book and when someone asks you to pay up and join a networking group, just say no.

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