Episode 164: “Classification Cowboy”

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This week’s topic is the Classification Cowboy, illustrated by BNI member Dan Fletcher. View and download the slideshow in the next post.


A Classification Cowboy is someone who tries to take more than one profession within a chapter. If you try to take more than one classification in a chapter, you’re blocking the connections and referrals that can be brought to the chapter.

The best way to handle this is to address the problem before the person joins the chapter, rather than after accepting a person with multiple businesses as a member. A chapter with multiple attorneys with different specialties is much stronger than a chapter with someone who doubles as attorney and paralegal.

You can download the slides in the next post to show to your chapter.

Brought to you by Ask Ivan Misner.

Complete Transcription of BNI Podcast Episode 164 –

Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Official BNI Podcast brought to you by AskIvanMisner.com, a Web site where you can ask Ivan any question you have about networking.

I’m Priscilla Rice, and I’m coming to you from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkley, California, and I’m joined on the phone today by the founder and the chairman of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner.

Hello, Ivan. How are you and where are you today?

Well, this week, I am at the South African BNI conference. As you know, last week I did a little safari, which was amazing; done it before; this was my second visit to South Africa. It’s such a beautiful country, and this week I am at the BNI conference for the organization in South Africa. Amazing group of people.

And again, whenever I visit your region, please come up and introduce yourself to me and let me know that you’re listening to these podcasts. I’d love to meet you.

That sounds wonderful!

So what do you have to share with us?

I have a fun topic this week. It’s Classification Cowboy. Now, there is a PowerPoint presentation or JPEGs that will be up this presentation, so I recommend that if you’re at the Web site, open it up; if not, download the PowerPoint. And if you’re listening to this from a mobile device, print out the PowerPoint presentation so that you can see the slides that I’m talking about.

The first one is a great slide drawn of a Classification Cowboy. And I’ve got to tell you that this was all done by a gentleman by the name of Dan Fletcher, Dan Fletcher, F-L-E-T-C-H-E-R, Dan Fletcher. Dan is a BNI member, of course, in the United Kingdom, and his Web site is CartoonBox.co.uk, CartoonBox.co.uk.

Dan put this all together on his own, and so I really wanted to thank him publicly, because he had seen problems with this whole concept of the Classification Cowboy, and he wanted to draw something that would identify it and describe it.

Now, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a Classification Cowboy is somebody that tries to take more than one profession.

In the past, in the past, we’ve used the term “Classification Hog.” Don’t do that. As you might suspect, Priscilla, makes people mad when they’re called a Classification Hog. So it’s not a term that we’d recommend that you use, but we like this concept of Classification Cowboy, and the artist on this, Dan, has done a great job of drawing his description what it is. And in his second slide, he talks about while most people accept one person per profession, that’s the spirit and the rule of BNI, the Classification Cowboy doesn’t. The Classification Cowboy insists on two professions, sometimes more, and there’s a great picture of him, Priscilla, with a little bubble over his head saying, “I’m a sharp shooter,” and then another bubble that says, “I’m a rodeo rider” and trying to take more than one classification, that they block potential members from joining the chapters. They deny the chapter of the connections, and that’s what’s really important is that if you try to take two, three, four classifications in a chapter, you’re really blocking the number of connections that can be brought by individuals.

On the eighth slide, he’s got this great diagram of blocking all the referrals that could be brought to [the] chapter over the years if they allowed other people in those classifications. And the Classification Cowboy claims that it is his or her right, it’s their job to take as many classifications as possible, but the truth is, it’s, as Dan says, it’s just darn rustling. It’s taking from the BNI chapter, which is his slide number 10. And he says, “Watch out. If you see him, don’t let him get too big for his boots and don’t bring him into a BNI group.”

This is a great PowerPoint presentation. I would urge members to print this out, take it to their chapter. I would urge members, this is a great educational coordinator’s presentation. It’s only about a dozen slides long. You can do this very quickly in just a few minutes and show it to people. Of course, give Dan credit. His contact information is there on the last slide.

But it really addresses an issue that, I think, when chapters get it – and particularly membership committees, because it’s the membership committees that control the classification issue. And membership committees should have this thing in front of them when they’re looking at a classification that somebody is applying for. Because if somebody’s taking multiple classifications, it restricts the number of people that are going to be in the group. And if it restricts the number of people that are going to be in the group, I guarantee you it will restrict the amount of referrals that are passed.

But even more importantly, I have found that when people try to find ways to work together rather than to compete with each other, that a lot of business can be done. I have seen multiple chapters – I was shocked once when I went to a chapter that had five, Priscilla, five attorneys.

We have four!

You have four attorneys in your chapter?! I think you and I have talked about this once. That was shocking to me when I first heard it.

But as I start to talk to these attorneys, they tell me they pass more business to each other than any one other person in the group. Has that been the experience in your chapter?

Yeah, well, they have very distinct categories.

Yeah, and they’re working with each other.


It’s amazing how that happens, and so if you can get people in there who say, “Hey, look, this is really my area of expertise”…

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you break your profession up on those core elements. I wouldn’t even necessarily say that you have to have more than one attorney, but the truth is, if an attorney does wills and trusts and their expertise is not family law, then they’re really different.


Family law is a lot different than wills and trusts. And if you’re focus is wills and trusts, bring in a family law attorney. That family law attorney will send wills and trusts to you, and you can send the family law to them. And you end up really becoming working together very closely.

But the ones that are really frustrating to me are the ones that are really clearly different professions. It’s many kudos to your chapter for having four attorneys. That’s wonderful, and that’s an outstanding example of what I’m talking about.

But there are professions where the professions really clearly are two different professions; they’re not the same thing. And people are trying to take both categories, and that’s where it’s critical that that be stopped. And membership committees be active in being responsible for insuring that people don’t take multiple classifications.

Yeah, it’s a difficult topic, because people will get a little bit defensive around that issue.

They do; they do. And if your chapter can coach them and guide them, that helps. And when push comes to shove, see, you’ve got to do this before you accept them. Once you’ve accepted them, then you’ve got a problem.


Especially if you’ve accepted them under multiple classifications. Then you have to deal with it again when it comes up for renewal, and that becomes an angry situation that you want to try to avoid if you can.

So as much as possible, active membership committees who can address this issue before the person is made a member [are] much more likely to be successful. And there’s nothing wrong with the membership committee saying, “No, really, this is the classification. We’ll accept this one or this one. Which one is what you focus most on?” And it’s better for a chapter to say, “No, thank you” than to take somebody who has multiple – somebody who’s a Classification Cowboy. In the long run, that’s the better decision to make.

Yep, I totally agree with you. [It] makes for a much stronger chapter.


So everybody listening to this, print out the PowerPoint or the slides that we’ll have with this podcast. Feel free to share this in your chapter. And if you have a second, Dan Fletcher’s e-mail is on the last page. Drop Dan an e-mail, thank him for his efforts, because he contributed this all on his own. To me, this is a classic example of Givers Gain. He spent a lot of time doing this because he thought it was an important issue. I want to personally thank Dan, and if you take a look at this, drop Dan a e-mail and thank him as well.

Okay, great!

Thanks, Priscilla.

Thank you, Dr. Misner.

I think that’s it for this week. I would just like to remind the listeners that this podcast has been brought to you by AskIvanMisner.com. Thanks so much for listening. This is Priscilla Rice, and we hope you’ll join us next week for another exciting episode of The Official BNI Podcast.


  1. says

    You put all of my thoughts right here on this podcast! If anybody who knew me were interviewed and asked what I did, 100% of them would all only say ONE thing, SendOutCards…Not a classification cowboy!

    Our Chapter has 4 attorneys also, working with each other…

  2. says

    Hi Ivan,
    Maybe its an operator error or my web connection, but I could not find Dan’s powerpoint download.

    Wishing You Plenty to live,
    Tom Doiron

  3. Helen Ferendinos says

    HI Ivan, wonderful to have had a chance to listen to you in Durban at the Awards Ceremony= I enjoyed this week’s podcast – will definitely share it with our chapter. (interesting you mention attorneys – I was a founder member of our chapter The Incredibles and as my speciality was conveyancing and Notarial work I was happy to have another attorney on board and so from the outset there were always two of us – I have since changed my field – I am now consulting in Occupational Health and safety law – but it worked well to have two attorneys in our chapter. Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in SA Kind regards Helen

  4. Gerhard Kriszt says

    Hi Ivan, thanks for bringing this topic up and using such great illustrations. No translation into German necessary. I will use this in the leadership team and chapter trainings.
    Dan, thank you very much for your effort. A great tool to use.
    Kind regards, Gerhard, ED in Austria

  5. Sallie Goetsch says

    The slides are in the next post. You can download them by clicking the little disk icon. I didn’t put them all in the same post because it might have messed up the podcast feed.

  6. says

    Ivan, This was excellent and will go along ways in educating Leadership Teams. Would you recommend sharing this podcast with start-up groups at the Pre-Core or Core level?

  7. says

    Yup, I have brought in 4 additional attorneys into my chapter, so we have 5 total. We all have distinct specialties and are looking for more attorneys! Would love an intellectual property attorney, which is next on the “hit list.” And, of course, we pass thousands of dollars of business to each other every month.

  8. says

    I think that while Membership Committees and chapters can intellecutally understand why Classification Cowboys are not good for a chapter, they sometimes forget this and end up accepting people who try to round up two or more classifications. It’s very important that Membership Committees screen new and renewal applicants to ensure that they are not doing this. Sometimes renewing members become what we sometimes refer to as “Category Creeps” because they add to their renewal applications other services/products that they were not originally accepted for in a chapter and the Membership Committee doesn’t compare their original or last renewal application to the one being presented at renewal.

    It would be a good idea to not only show these illustrations to the chapter, but for Directors to incorporate this into the Membership Committee trainings.
    As the saying goes, “a picture speaks a thousand words”

    Well done!

  9. says

    I does not make much sense to limit attorneys based on BNI pigeon holes. It would be like breaking up Dental practice into sub-groups. 1) cleaning 2) cavities 3) crowns 4) whitening etc. Most Attorneys can represent people in a variety of matters. Not being able to discuss all the services available when there is no competition from a BNI member nor a single visitor in years who would want to fill it, is silly. My chapter will not allow a general practice attorney. We did just induct an auto mechanic. He is not limited to just brakes, or engine work or transmissions or oil changes. Clearly there are individual businesses that specialize in just those things. This rule seems to be geared to attorneys who have had their profession compartmentalized.

  10. says

    Jeff, we actually have many chapters with multiple attorneys. I met SEVEN in one chapter and asked them how they could possibly make it work. They told me that they have worked out a great relationship where they all refer each other to their specialty. By doing this they actually get MORE business than they were getting when there was only a couple in the group. They said that on a “per-capita” basis, they got more referrals from their fellow attorney members than from the average member. They were VERY happy. Where there is a will, there is a way – and a way to make it work better for the members.

Solutions-focused comments are welcome