Professional Community Builders vs. Volunteers | Building Relationships That Last a Lifetime

Most major networking group in America is run by a volunteer or is a non-profit organization. The fact that we have paid leadership is a unique identifier of Network In Action. However, for our franchise owners, the money always follows their passion for building a successful group. It truly is not about the money. It is about creating value for our members—it is about creating value for you. Look at it this way: You can get your nephew to build you a website, or you can pay someone to build it. The professional, trained expert you pay is always going to do a better job. Period. This principle is true for everything. When you ask someone to give you something for free, you are likely to get what you paid for. In a typical networking group today, the group is run by the next man or woman up, which is most often determined by who served as last year’s volunteer vice president. This annual migration of leadership leaves many groups wandering aimlessly while the new leaders find their way. A volunteer lawyer, CPA, realtor, or whoever it is who is next up is just not going to care as much about a networking group as a vested professional. With NIA®, we are breaking the mold and doing things a different way. We are proving that better leaders build better groups!

We aren’t just simply paying our leaders. We aren’t offering a job opportunity with rebates on enrollments. Our groups are set up as franchisees with owners who have to first make an investment in order to have the rights to operate an NIA® group. These investments are not made lightly, and they ensure your leaders’ commitment to the purpose and integrity of NIA’s model.

Each franchise owner is a professionally-trained Community Builder, which means they are every bit “the professional” you would look for when hiring for any other task in your business.

Focused on YOU

Our franchise owners have a financial stake in the success of the group. That means that in addition to taking the time to help your business grow, they are personally invested into making sure it does. They are always thinking ahead on your behalf. They understand that your success is necessary for the group’s success. They want to make sure you have every opportunity possible to build relationships with the types of business owners and decision makers who can impact your business in a positive way. When NIA® franchise owners leave a monthly meeting, they are typically leaving and going right back to work on group-building strategies.

By joining the NIA® group, you essentially hire a professional matchmaker to keep an eye out for the people looking for your products or services. This completely takes the risk out of your investment and is a service that is unique to NIA®.

Sure, in other groups your fellow group members have your name in their Rolodexes, and hopefully you are on their radar so that when they come across someone who is looking for what you have to offer, they will be quick to pass along your name. That has great value and is why networking has a long history of working, even when run by volunteers. However, the volunteer group leaders are just like you: they have full-time obligations with either their employment or running their own businesses. Although they are giving and may be sincerely committed to the group, their first priority is the same as yours—making sure they pay their own bills. At the end of the day, they have no real incentive to create a dynamic and growing group.

NIA® group leaders, on the other hand, are not just saving your name for those moments they come across referrals for you. They are actively looking for people to connect you with. You magnify your networking power a hundred-fold by enlisting their help. I promise they are going to more networking events than you are. Every time they step into a new room of entrepreneurs, they are representing you. They are your eyes and ears when your eyes and ears are busy doing other things. Together, you are able to divide and conquer. It is their job to think about you and the exact resources, people, and tools that will help you take your business to the next level. This is what shapes the itinerary for each monthly meeting, the supplemental group networking events, and their recruiting efforts. In addition to staying focused on creating a dynamic group that is most often larger than volunteer-run groups, they are strategically creating a network of individuals who are compatible in their ability to help each other. For instance, if you’re a residential realtor who has just joined, you better believe your leader is going to be on the hunt for a reputable mortgage lender and a real estate attorney. If you are an online marketer, your leader is going to be on the lookout for copywriters, graphic designers, and web developers who can help to support your needs and feed referrals into your growing enterprise.

What sets you apart in your industry? Who is your ideal client? What is your ideal secondary contact—someone who is likely to be able to refer your ideal client to you? What problems are you trying to solve in your business? These are the points of the most interest to your group leader—more so than your ability to sign a check. This is not a numbers game. This is a game of strategy, and they only win when you do.

The Networking Rollercoaster

Would you let a volunteer manage your SEO, print materials, website, marketing campaign, or relationships? We have proven that not only is a professionally-run group larger and more active, it is also simply more efficient and better! Having paid leadership creates more consistency and value across the board. It eliminates what we call the “networking rollercoaster” that is characteristic of every single group being run by a volunteer.

With volunteers heading up operations, you never know if you’re going to be up or down, barreling ahead at high speed, or on the sure-and-steady descent when leadership changes every October. This happens annually all over the country. There is simply no way every volunteer has the same skill, passion, or time to run the group as the last leader. You are always on the rollercoaster—always on the way up or on the way down—but your dues stay the same even when your results suffer.

Let’s say you joined an early-morning group two years ago because you were impressed with their bulging membership or their charismatic leader. How’s that group doing today? Regardless, there is no guarantee on how it will be doing next month, next year, or two years from now. The reason is because “volunteer leadership” is equivalent to “transient leadership.” When leadership changes, everything changes. I know of a weekly group here locally that was booming with forty-one members at one time. However, as soon as the volunteer leader stepped down and another volunteer took his place, the numbers plummeted.

The success of any group is dependent on the perceived value of the group (mostly from guests who are invited to attend). That perception is largely dependent on the skill sets and participation of the leader. When you walk into the room and a new volunteer is now heading up the group, the entire dynamic shifts. This creates an environment ripe for drama and politics to sneak in and start eating away at the integrity of the group.

In NIA®, the leadership never changes because each group is being led by a franchise owner—someone who has made a financial investment into doing this for a living. You don’t have to worry about their excitement sagging because the comped membership dues don’t seem worth it anymore. No—they are committed to showing up today, tomorrow, and forever with the single goal of helping you grow your business.

Leaders Alone Are Responsible for Growth

When you join a volunteer-run networking group, you become one of the volunteers, too. Think about it: You go to a meeting early one morning, and you are impressed with the energy and the number of referrals being passed around (though the powdered eggs are hard to choke down). The leader is charismatic enough to get you laughing before you’ve had that first cup of coffee. The members recognize that you’re a guest, so everyone is on their best behavior in order to convince you this is the group for you. This is great! You sign up.

Uh oh. You’ve crossed over from being a “guest” to being a “member.” Now the pressure is on for you to help grow the group, too. Who do you know, who do you know, who do you know? If the group shrinks, everyone suffers, so you have to pull your weight and make sure everyone’s investment—including yours—is paying off. Whatever you do, don’t let the membership go down!

When you are part of a volunteer organization, each member holds some responsibility for growing and maintaining the group membership numbers. The group itself becomes a member that you’re trying to pass referrals to. This dilutes what should be your main focus, which is to bring referrals to the group members alone. In addition, it’s harder than you think. You quickly realize that it’s more than just a numbers game. As a member, you are now “behind the curtain.” You now see that this bulging group of participants is buzzing with sales people selling, multi-level marketers recruiting, and employees needing to meet quotas—all are welcome! But there’s one big problem: those are not, and will never be, your best networking partners.

When you have a paid leader, these are non-issues. Our franchise owners are required to keep their rosters at over twenty-five members, and the leader alone focuses on growing and managing the group so that you can keep the singular focus of serving your friends.

Corporately Trained Networking Experts

You can be sure that each group leader is a networking expert qualified to train you how to enhance your networking skills and to help you get the most out of your group membership. In most instances, we look for the most connected business owners in an area to develop our franchises. These leaders are typically your number-one referral source. Working with them is the equivalent of adding an additional sales person to your payroll—but incredibly less expensive.

Each franchise owner is required to participate in a rigorous training program to ensure they meet our five-star standard of excellence. In addition to having a thorough grasp of the art of networking, these are professionals who have mastered the business world in their own right. They are able to draw on their wide spectrum of knowledge, resources, and contacts to help you strategize your own growth.

In the next chapter, I’m going to introduce you to three of these leaders and let them personally tell you a little more about themselves.

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