By Greg Ellison
(July 30, 2020) One year after launching an Ocean Pines Business Network International chapter and reaching an initial benchmark for success this April, the groups’ weekly meetings have shifted to a virtual format because of coronavirus restrictions.
BNI Chapter Area Director Consultant Anita Hicks, who relocated to the Eastern Shore three years ago, founded the Ocean Pines chapter last April.
“I moved to the beach to live a longtime dream and quickly realized there were a large number of businesses and community members in Ocean Pines without a BNI chapter,” she said.
Hicks, who started a web design company with her husband a dozen years ago, joined BNI shortly thereafter.
“After a few years, I recognized the value of BNI and subsequently became an ambassador, director and now area director,” she said.
In addition to founding the Ocean Pines group, Hicks works with Eastern Shore chapters in Ocean City, Queen Anne’s County and two in Salisbury.
“We have four other chapters that all met for breakfast, so I decided to offer a lunch option in Ocean Pines,” she said. “This was an opportunity specifically for Ocean Pines but we serve areas all around.”
With more than 270,000 members worldwide, BNI is a networking and referral organization for business, which Hicks said operates by two principals.
“First and foremost it’s always about networking,” she said. “We’ve been around for 35 years and it’s about networking with members of our community.”
Secondly, BNI is a member-based group that provides professionals from varying industries the opportunity to have exclusive license for their area of expertise.
“If you’re a real estate agent, insurance agent or auto salesperson, you lock out your competition and you’re the only one in that chapter,” she said.
Additionally, BNI members can visit neighboring chapters for other networking opportunities.
“We also offer all community members, whether you run a non profit or business, you’re welcome to visit two times to network with us,” she said. “Talk about what you’re passionate about before you are even asked to make a decision about membership.”
Hicks said after starting the Ocean Pines chapter with a handful of participants, the group mushroomed.
“The BNI 30-year platform says once you reach about 15 members, then you’ll have longevity and be successful,” she said. “We have 16 members now and we had six visitors last week and eight visitors the week before.”
The BNI Ocean Pines chapter meets online (for now) every Tuesday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
“It’s not perfect,” she said. “It’s not as good as an in person meeting but it is … a solution at this weird time.”
Hicks said the weekly networking sessions help establish confidence among members, which lead to trusted referrals.
“We are a community resource,” she said. “In the Worcester County area, it’s a small local community and everyone knows everyone.”
Hicks said BNI meetings begin with a 15-minute networking session.
“We can’t exchange business cards like we used to do but its still open networking,” she said.
BNI meetings also include networking tips and one-minute slots for individual business pitches.
“We end our 90-minute meetings with a positive quote to send our members and visitors off for the week to have a positive thought to keep them in a good place,” she said.
Noting the collaborative nature of BNI chapters, Hicks said the trademarked phrase “Givers Gain” embodies the groups’ philosophy.
“When you give back to the community you will receive in return,” she said. “It may not happen today … or tomorrow … but eventually that’s the way it works.”
For more information about BNI visit online at bni4shore.com/en-US/index or email firstname.lastname@example.org