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Over Coffee

National Group Seeks to Form South County Chapter
Oct 2, 2008 - 10:42:02 AM

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One of the best things about writing this column is that so many people call or email me with a wide range of ideas. It never ceases to amaze me what South County residents are doing- and thinking about- and that means every interview is different, which continues to make the meetings exciting.

I never know whether someone is going to tell me a story about something that happened a long time ago; about the workings (or needs) of a favorite charity; or maybe even about a friend or neighbor who has just accomplished some near-miraculous feat.

It took me a few weeks to follow up on a lead given to me about Tony Badalamenti from Valencia Lakes, but when we finally met for coffee at Panera Bread in Riverview we needed a four-person booth because we were both laden with briefcases and laptops. Well- the writing instrument I carry technically isn’t a laptop- it’s a lightweight portable word processor, but it accomplishes my purposes efficiently, the most important of which is to take thorough enough notes that I can write the interview without having to make too many phone calls to fill in questions future readers might have.

I didn’t have to wait long for Tony to tell me what he’s been up to. Originally from Saint Louis, the CPA turned financial planner and his Russian-born wife, Elena, have lived in the area for six months. After hearing a fascinating story about how he had met Elena, who worked as a tour guide in Europe, and how they went on several trips together before deciding to marry, which could have been a whole story in itself, Tony proceeded to tell me about starting a local chapter of the national business organization Business Network International, usually known only as BNI.

A professional organization that allows only one person in each vocation to become a member of each chapter, it is a networking organization that generates referrals for others in the group.

“It’s like having a whole team of salespeople for your business,” Tony said. “That’s what makes it different from any other business organization.”

If there’s a photographer or an attorney for example, in a chapter, another photographer or attorney would have to go to another chapter to apply for membership because the referrals of everyone in each group go to its own members. The philosophy of “one member per vocation” has worked so well it operates in 39 countries and has hundreds of thousands of members.
“This is not a social group,” Tony explained. “We concentrate strictly on growing business. Our ethics are extremely important because when you give a referral, if something doesn’t work out, it comes back on you.”

At each meeting every member has 30 seconds to give a mini commercial, then a different person talks about their business each week. Unlike other groups, BNI does not have outside speakers. It does, however, have a whole library of continuing education materials, books and CDs all focused on conducting and developing business strategies with the motto that “Givers Gain.”
Before anyone can be considered for membership in the South County chapter which is now just in the formation stage, Tony sends them to a meeting of a Brandon group that has been in operation some time. That way they get to see how belonging to a chapter can help their business and their community.
“The Brandon group I went to knocked my socks off,” Tony said. “It is a very, very active group.”

Tony is working with several other people spearheading a South County group to gain a charter from the national organization. The group’s temporary meeting day is Thursday until the charter is granted, but BNI recommends Wednesday meetings because studies show that’s the best day of the week for business people to attend meetings, he said.

Currently, the meetings are on Thursdays from 7:30-9 a.m., in the Aston Gardens Courtyards clubhouse dining room.

“There is no geographical area involved. We hope to draw people from all over,” Tony said. Meanwhile, anyone wanting to know more about the group may call him at (813) 642-8715 or log onto BNI’s national Web site,

*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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