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Business Over Breakfast

At 7 o’clock on a typical weekday morning, most Long Islanders are on their way to the train, on the road, or in their bed, trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep. But 7 a.m. for some in Jericho, Syosset and Woodbury means time to pass out business cards, network with colleagues, and exchange referrals.

“Networking is a great way to develop relationships,” says Gerard Simonelli, a Jericho-based financial planner who is vice president of a business breakfast networking group in Syosset. “Strong relationships are a good basis for doing business.”

One of the largest nationwide networking groups is Business Network International (BNI), founded in 1985 in California by Dr. Ivan Misner. There are 40 chapters in Nassau and Suffolk, including three that meet in Syosset and one that meets in Woodbury. But BNI is not the only such group on Long Island. Started in 1978, LeTip boasts 11,000 members in 600 chapters in the United States and Canada. Dues in networking clubs run from $300 to $400 a year with quarterly assessments for breakfast and location costs. On Long Island, quarterly breakfast dues average about $150.

Kerry Doyle, with CardWorks Acquiring, a merchant services firm in Woodbury, is president of the LeTip Westbury chapter; she says that belonging to a networking group that meets regularly makes members “more accountable.”

“A member knows he or she has to show up, focus on referring business and help other members succeed,” she says. “In the long run, that’s the way to help yourself succeed at the same time.”

The Celebrity Diner on Jericho Turnpike is a hotspot for BNI’s meetings. Its “Advantage Referral” chapter meets there every Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Its “Gold Coast Referrals” chapter meets there on Thursday mornings.  

The Advantage chapter has 24 members, each of whose professions is unique to the chapter; no competitors are able to join once a “seat” is “locked up.” The group currently includes a realtor, a mortgage broker, a home appraiser, a merchant services consultant, a CPA, a financial planner, a property insurer, and lawyers focusing on real estate, personal injuries, elder law and divorce, a printer, brokers in the mortgage and reverse mortgage business, a window shade contractor, a massage therapist, a title search agent, a copy machine dealer, an auto body shop owner and an advertising specialty distributor.  Long-time members typically claim that at least half their business can be traced back to their BNI membership and referrals they received. Woodbury attorney Jeff Getzel has benefited enough from LeTip to remain a member for 16 years.

“Our motto is: Givers gain,’” says Plainview-based realtor Joe Tracz, who has been breakfasting with the Tuesday morning Advantage chapter for more than 10 years. “There’s no question that my business has grown with the help of ... the members of the chapter.”

The sentiment is echoed by reverse mortgage consultant Rob Tollin, another Syosset Advantage member.

“Making a commitment to coming to a networking breakfast every week is making a commitment to building your business,” he says.

He says the group has been useful to him. One added benefit of the networking groups, according to real estate attorney Glenn Riegler, a member of the Syosset Advantage chapter, is that the groups “provide business people with a network of resources to help serve clients better.”

Business networks on Long Island usually invite interested business people to attend one or two meetings at no charge (although meetings of Manhattan groups may charge visitors as much as $20); at each meeting, members, including visitors, introduce themselves and their business and explain what kind of referrals they are seeking. Members and visitors distribute business cards to all who attend.

More information on individual chapters, their membership, day, time and location of meetings, can be found on www.bni-li.com and www.letip.com.