Professional Referral Organizations: The Skinny on “Knock-Offs”

Today news traveled to me that someone told them that a newer referral organization was a “knock-off” of an older referral organization. I laughed as I recalled the days when I was led to believe that any group who tried to leave an umbrella referral organization would basically “fail” and be labeled “rogue” and a “knock-off.” Truth be told, I know of a solo group who did leave the mothership of an organization and is doing just fine (and has been for the last 5 years or so since they “went rogue.”) Their membership is growing and they trust each other and have been doing business with each other long before they were officially shutdown by the organization because their numbers were lacking. This group is an exception as I did witness many groups disintegrate along the way, but I have much respect for them and still have great relationships with several of their members. I offer a big high five to them!

What I find interesting is that if any referral organization is considered a “knock-off” of any other organization, I would argue we need to look much further back to the very first ones that appeared on the scene starting with the philanthropic ventures of Rotary and Kiwanis in the early 1900s. Their mottos are similar to referral groups today (others first) and have grown to become some of the most prestigious, well-known organizations on the planet.

Here is a timeline to consider:

1905 – Rotary Club (founded by Chicago attorney, Paul P. Harris) – “Service Above Self.”

1915 – Kiwanis (founded by businessmen in Detroit) – “Serving the Children of the World” (originally, their focus was business networking until 1919).

1978 – LeTip (founded by insurance executive, Ken Peterson and known for setting the standard for referral organizations) – “Your Small Business Sales Force”). Known as the oldest referral organization.

1985 – BNI (founded by consultant, Dr. Ivan Misner) – “Givers Gain.” Known as the largest referral organization and operates under a franchise model.

2002 – Team Referral Network (founded by Kelli Holmes) – “Together Everyone Achieves More.” Operates under a franchise model.

2007 – Gold Star Referral Clubs (founded by Beth & Todd Davis) – “The Gold Star difference.” Operates under a franchise model.

2014 – The Referrals Group (founded by Bart Giles) – “Dynamic, Efficient, Effective.” Known for flexibility and group autonomy within a proven structure. Is not a franchise. Home office is in Kentucky.

I started working with The Referrals Group in 2017, and in the spirit of true capitalism, which works by encouraging competition in a fair and open market, I would be remiss to accuse any of our groups of being “knock-offs” if they truly felt we did not have something of value to offer.

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To automatically assign failure to a group of people because they don’t find your methodology working for them is in my opinion arrogant and manipulative. To be fully transparent, I have worked within this mindset at various times in my life and God forgive me for it! And I still struggle to smile and wish others well when I see certain things happening within other organizations that ultimately destroy them from the inside out. But ultimately it’s not up to me to show people my perception of the “error of their ways.” My job is to focus on what I and my organization do best and work to tirelessly serve the members of it because THEY are my clients.

All of the organizations listed above have their place in the world and serve people from all walks of life. We aren’t “knock-offs” of each other. We are all contributors to doing business well and we each have something unique and different to offer. Let’s celebrate that and quit making everything about who’s better. Maybe we are all “better.”

What do you think?