The newest BNI group in the UK was launched in Gwent on November 1 with an event at the Parkway Hotel, Cwmbran. Joe Lane of GPS Financial and who leads the new group, is currently the youngest Chapter President in the UK.
The property finance specialist and mortgage adviser is 23 and will lead the BNI Gwent group for year. The referral marketing organisation has previously had a Chapter President elsewhere who was 21.
Joe, from St Julians, Newport, started his first letting agency business at the tender age of 16 with £600 saved up from his job as a local newspaper boy.
“I set up a website and registered with the ombudsman,” he said.
“Because I was young, I had to work hard to get people to take me seriously. I would go to meet prospective landlords with tenants already interested in the property, something no other agent was doing.
“Their properties were let quickly and that helped build my reputation quickly.”
Joe had always been entrepreneurial. At the age of eight he made his first sale – flower pots – and he had an interest in finance which led him to study for ACCA qualifications as an accountant.
“I was going to be an accountant but I soon realised that I was sales driven and needed to start my own business,” he said.
“So, I got my qualifications as a mortgage broker with the London Institute of Banking & Finance.”
Eight months ago, Joe and two business partners began investing in property. Since then, they have developed a substantial portfolio worth more than £1 million. Joe aims to lead the new group of 22 members to become a 50-member BNI Chapter within its first year.
The group aims to do £5 million of business per year over the next few years.
BNI members pass referrals to one another which help to grow everyone’s businesses, supporting jobs and the local economy. Each group has one seat per category, with competing businesses locked out.
The new Gwent group has member businesses including an accountant, a conveyancing solicitor, a probate solicitor, a heating engineer, a health cashback scheme, a Facebook advertising specialist, IT support and telecommunications companies, a wealth manager, a printer, a branded promotional products provider, a social housing landlord, and a mortgage adviser.
Award-winning illustrator and animator Jessica Morgan is also a member. Her Abergavenny-based company is Jessica Draws and who has worked for clients such as Confused.com and St John’s Ambulance.
“I’ve done a lot of networking and realised it was all about relationships.
“I joined BNI because you meet your group every week and build deep relationships with them quickly. I run my own business and have a family, so my time is at a premium and this group is the best use of it, because it is focused.”
Forensic genealogist Phil Jennings is a real-life heir hunter. The Newport-based business helps find the heirs to estates, and sometimes helps re-unites families.
“I was a telecommunications engineer and had been made redundant when I watched the first episode of the BBC 1 TV programme, Heir Hunters.
“I had researched my own family tree and took it back to the 1500s, so was really interested. I decided to set up my business, Bond Lane Research Limited, and also contacted one of the firms in the TV show, Celtic Research. I now do some work for them.
“The cases can be very emotional. I was working on one case where a lady had died in care having had a mental incapacity. She had six children who had all been taken into care themselves and had lost touch.
“I was able to re-unite them after 60 years apart. Some hadn’t seen each other since they were toddlers.
“Being able to do that was a great feeling.”
Emily Samuel of Newport’s Seren Living was a driving force in creating the group. She said:
“I was very nervous about coming to BNI initially, but I loved the people and soon realised that the system works.”
Anne-Marie Hern, the head of conveyancing at HPJV Solicitors in Newport, is the Chapter’s Secretary Treasurer and Web Designer Jesse Crystal, based in Newport, is the Vice President.
The group meets between noon and 2pm every Thursday at the Parkway Hotel, Cwmbran. Visitors whose categories are open are always welcome.
BNI South Wales Owner Guy Griffiths said:
“Gwent is such an important area, and Newport is such an important city with a growing economy, that we felt we must have a BNI Chapter there.
“Our South Wales Chapters have passed more than £25 million in business in the last year alone, supporting the economy and helping to create and sustain local jobs.
“In fact, South Wales groups have passed more than £133 million in business since 2008.
“We are a referral organisation based on the principle that giver’s gain – if I give you business, you’re likely to want to give me business.
“Our Chapters are effective because they are focused on passing business and use the best marketing tool you can have, word of mouth. They also measure and verify the figures.”