How BNI networking saved my photography business.

It was 7 months after my redundancy. The comfy nest egg that I had left with was dwindling in mortgage payments, camera equipment and developing the business. I realised that my sales for the year were averaging less than half of what I needed to be bringing home.

I had a baby on the way and was scrambling for ideas on how to drum up business. If I'm honest with myself - I was drawing blanks. Not because I wasn't capable - but because I had been employed for my entire working life - with no idea how to run a business.

My GCSE and A-Level knowledge from Business Studies was a distant memory, and while I can do a fairly formidable SWOT analysis, this was not the solution I needed right now.

I'd been a BNI member for about 2 years - I had joined whilst at my previous employment to help me get my weekend photography business going. Having become fully self employed earlier in 2019, I discovered the joys and freedoms that come with running your own business - as well as many of the pitfalls. Finding where to invest my time in the business, reputable companies to trust are a minefield for the uninitiated - and after having worked for 13 years for someone else, I had enjoyed a few months without the pressures of work.

Going to my BNI meeting was always fun for me. Whilst I'm not a natural networker (I much prefer being in the corner on my phone) BNI was really helping me come out of my shell and push myself forward in business. My confidence speaking to strangers was slowly increasing, and standing up and talking about myself and my business was becoming second nature. But for some reason I just wasn't THERE yet...

I asked a member of the top table if I could have a bit longer to speak as I had an announcement to make that might run over my 60 seconds. I didn't know what I going to say exactly - I tend to talk my best when it's a bit unscripted. But as my turn came I remember clear as anything the 3 words that came out of my mouth - "I need help."

That simple line was a game changer. As soon as I explained to people in the room what was happening - that I had about 3 months before I had to start looking for work - that I wanted regular referrals but wasn't sure how to get them or what I was looking for.

Within that meeting, I not only got praise from my fellow members for being so honest, I got advice. There was a flurry of instant referrals, people who knew that a bit of cash in the bank would pay my bills for the next month - and these people gave so willingly I'll always be grateful. But there was one member who pulled me aside at the end for a 121 - and sat with me for over an hour asking me about my business, what I was looking for, what he could do to help.

This wasn't charity - it was a genuine desire to help improve somebody's business - and that is what BNI is. Yes there are referrals, accountability, training - and all the other things people who aren't part of BNI seem to fear. But the 121 meetings are where you can really develop yourself and your business as well as helping others.

That 121 was the first step into me changing my entire business model. Within 3 months I was running a business offering monthly subscription photography to 6 businesses, as well as picking up extra work from other chapters after they were hearing about the quality of what I do.

18 months later and my business is thriving. Having survived the COVID-19 pandemic that is still going my business has held strong. The subscriptions have helped provide regular income, even though 4 had to stop because of cash flow during this crisis - I've signed up another 4 to cover the deficit. I am picking up new work through more referrals than ever before, and it is down to BNI.

BNI Black Prince is my networking group, and I am proud to say that it is genuinely filled with some great local businesses, all of whom I trust to help me. If I have any work that needs doing, from my accounts to having electrics checked, BNI is where I go. Below are the trusted trades from my group.

Alan Stewart

Faxlink Communications

Office Equipment

01322 555682