Franchise Owner at Network In Action, Cathryn runs three highly engaged NIA Groups in the Greater Seattle area. She is empowered to create a strong business community that is committed to growth and support. Cathryn was the first to bring the franchise to Washington state.
When did you start your franchise, and how many groups do you have today?
I moved to Seattle in January of 2021. A week after I got here, I had purchased the franchise and was calling people to build out my groups. I didn’t know a soul in the area, other than my husband and one friend (neither of whom were joining), and we were still moving through the whole COVID situation. I was only going to do one group, but after two weeks of calling people, I already had a waiting list for the second group and realized I needed two groups. So, I built out two groups at the same time. I launched the first one in March of 2021 and the second one in April of 2021. At that point here, dining was still limited to 20 percent occupancy because of COVID restrictions. So, we couldn’t have in-person networking events. It was definitely an interesting time, but I don’t regret it. Then, in October of 2021, I felt the need to start a virtual group for the greater Seattle area. I was really hesitant about it because, don’t let the word get out, but I don’t like networking virtually. But then I realized I’m not the one networking virtually—I’m the one running those groups, and I definitely feel comfortable doing that. I started building out that group in November and launched it in January—and, wow, am I glad I did that. My virtual group has taught me some really interesting things. One, they taught me that virtual networking absolutely does work, and their engagement and commitment to the group has been really awesome to see.
Why do you think Network In Action works so well virtually when so many other virtual groups have not?
That’s actually something I have pondered quite a bit. I have attended other virtual networking groups to meet other people and build out my own, and I honestly hate those meetings. I really just do not enjoy virtual networking in general. So, I asked myself, “What is so different about my virtual group that my members are enjoying it and seeing really fruitful relationships and business come out of it?” I realized it’s the fact that most of these virtual networking events you can go to, people can just pop in; there’s no membership, or there’s maybe a pay-as-you-go fee. That means you never see the same people again. The reason most people are attending is really just to sell to you and be done, not necessarily to build a super long-term relationship. I think that’s what’s so different about ours—we have this core group of people who are committed to helping each other grow, and they’re in it together. I think the second piece of it is our professional leadership. I’m invested in making sure our agendas are high quality for the participants, that they attend, that they do interact with one another. In a lot of other virtual groups, you’re not going to get as high touch with that.
What was your motivation for getting into Network In Action and buying the franchise?
You and I had worked together on franchise development for a year before I ever started my franchise, but really it was the pandemic that made me want to start this because, over that year, I got to know franchise owners who were already doing this in the middle of the pandemic. I saw the impact they were having in their local communities and how some businesses truly wouldn’t have stayed in business if it weren’t for those relationships they had in Network In Action. So, when I realized we were moving to the Seattle area and that there wasn’t an NIA franchise in the entire state, I knew I wanted to bring that here.
On a scale of one to ten, how does having your NIA franchise allow you to make a difference in people’s lives?
It’s a ten, just for the personal impact it’s made on me. Without my franchise, I wouldn’t have the connections I do in the Seattle area today, and I most likely wouldn’t be a business owner. For the business owners in my network, gosh—just to hear their stories and about some of the connections they’ve made, it’s humbling. One of my members had been in the insurance world for a significant amount of time but never was a business owner. When I met her, she was with a company and working as an independent agent. She joined my NIA group and was really excited about it. Then, within a month or two, she actually decided to leave the company she was contracting with and start her own agency. That was a big jump for her. Fast forward a year, and she says she no longer has to buy leads and all of her business comes through referrals and through the relationships that she’s made through networking and through Network In Action. That’s really impactful—especially for me to know that I was able to impact her business.
How does Network In Action allow you to set your own schedule and take the vacations you want to take?
I host all of my meetings in the same week each month, so as long as I’m here the second week of every month, I can really take care of everything else remotely. I can meet with people over Zoom, I can attend events over Zoom—it’s very flexible and allows me to be able to travel and take those vacations when I want.
What do you think is the future of networking?
I feel like there’ s been an interesting transition in networking. It seems like during the pandemic, everything went virtual, obviously, because we had to. Since then, there’s been some floundering in the networking community because people really do want to meet in person—I don’t think that’ll ever go away—but they’ve gone back to doing it exactly how they did in- person before the pandemic, which doesn’t necessarily always work for people. I think you need to be able to offer some type of both in-person and virtual opportunities for people to meet their needs and suit their schedules because many of them can no longer put in the time or the drive time, or maybe their schedules have changed. It’s important to have options; whether it’s an in- person group or a virtual group, meet their needs. I think people are tired of meaningless networking that isn’t really engaging or fruitful. As leaders in the space, we need to be really thoughtful and creative when it comes to why we’re actually bringing those people together and never lose sight of our purpose.
Why would you tell a business owner that it’s important to go network?
There are so many reasons. One, you need that community of resources. Whether you’re looking to grow your business or not, your clients are going to have needs; you personally, as a business owner, are going to have needs that you can’t meet on your own. It’s so important to have that network of people that you trust and that you know and that you want to do business with so you can tap into that resource, whether it’s for yourself or for your clients. I find that entrepreneurship and being a business owner can be lonely sometimes. You might have staff, but they’re not your co-workers. It’s really nice to be able to go into a space where you can share and be completely open and really be able to help patch through things that you’re wanting to focus on. To be able to have that communication and connection with those people makes a huge impact.
We always talk about the six primary differences of Network In Action. Talk about the significance of one of those differences.
Honestly, my favorite is our professional leadership. It is a game changer. That person is financially invested in the success of the group because it is their business. They are hand-selecting their members. Do we get it right every time? No, but we’re always working to improve that so that we’re truly building a robust group of business owners who want to help each other. I get to work with people I like because I’m going out into the community and actually finding business owners who I think are doing really cool things to impact the community or providing a service that’s really needed out there—and then I get to bring those people together once a month. What would you say to someone who owns another company or business and are thinking about buying a Network In Action franchise? I would say that the Network In Action franchise pairs perfectly with your existing business because, one, it’s a really fantastic place for you to network. It really makes sense with what you’re already doing as a pair or add-on for your services, especially if you’re in the consulting or service-based industry serving within that B2B landscape. But make sure you have the time because you do need to be able to spend enough time to get your groups built out. You don’t want to try to start two businesses at the same time; make sure that other business is okay first.
What would you say to someone who is looking to segue out of a career and do a Network In Action franchise full-time?
I think it’s a great opportunity if you are looking to leave corporate. You’re going to be able to take so many of those things that you probably had in corporate America and offer them to small businesses that don’t usually have access to those same things. So, it’s a really nice transition. I had already segued out of corporate America, but I was actually struggling to find my fit before I found NIA. I knew things I wanted to offer and how I wanted to do that—I did have a consulting business and I did have some clients—but I was really trying to figure out how to scale that. The NIA franchise filled in all of those holes for me. You just obviously have to understand that when you purchase a franchise, you’re starting a business. Make sure you can financially stay afloat while you build out that business. However, the nice thing is that you do get a pretty quick return on investment if you follow the model to build out your group, especially if you’re doing it full-time.
What would you say to anyone who is looking at buying an NIA franchise?
Follow the model. There’s a reason it’s a franchise. Don’t get overwhelmed by small, minute details that aren’t going to build out your group. Don’t get bogged down trying to find the absolute best solution or technology or process out there. All those things are already at your fingertips and there for you. Build out your groups, get them really well established, and then go back and start to refine your processes or look for the next coolest technology that you want to use to make it faster and easier.
If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently as an NIA franchisee?
I’m not sure there is anything I would do different, but there was definitely a lesson learned of something I wouldn’t do different: Remember that anytime you get a no from a prospect, it just means someone better is around the corner. Don’t stress about it. You don’t need the sale—you need the right person, and the members will appreciate that. They’re not counting people in the room. They’re interested in the quality of the work that you bring. One of my newer members made the comment to me, “Wow, it’s amazing how quickly people trust each other in here. The members are so open to already meeting with me, and they just met me. I’ve never felt that in any other group before. Usually, people are really hesitant to go on a one-on-one with you or have a coffee with you right away if they don’t know that much about you.”