Founder of Central Texas NIA, Charles is NIA’s first area developer and largest franchise owner, owning six separate NIA franchises and running a total of eighteen groups. His passion is helping business owners scale and grow their business.

How did you find Network In Action?

I was a BNI director in addition to managing my full-time job, and you came across my profile on LinkedIn and gave me a call. We had a couple conversations, and that planted a seed in my mind that continued to germinate, whether it was from myself watering it or you watering it as well. But it made me ask myself whether or not I saw a value in the number of hours I was spending and what was I getting out of where I was. What I realized over a short period of time was that, no, there wasn’t that value there—especially when I was driving a lot and especially since I was coming from more of a B2B versus a B2C venue. Other networking opportunities out there really focus on the B2C, and I needed more of that B2B. I also wanted to bring value to people, which I didn’t feel like I was doing. And if I could monetize that value that I was bringing, that would be even better. The BNI director position brought in a small check—it’s mostly a volunteer position—but between tolls and gas, I was just about breaking even.

I finally scheduled a time to meet up with you in person. During our dinner, my phone was going crazy with notifications. At one point, you looked at me and said, “Charles, do you really think you have time to do this with your full-time job? It looks like it’s keeping you pretty busy.”

I said, “Scott, these aren’t calls for work. This is drama from BNI that I’m having to deal with.” There was quite a bit of drama on that side, and I just don’t have time for that. I mean, most people don’t, and they’ll say that but they still foster the drama. Not me. My attitude is: Hey, resolve this; if I need to get involved, it’s not going to be pretty for anybody.

It was during that meeting with you when I decided I needed to make a move.

What motivated you to purchase the NIA franchise?

My motivation was two-fold: First, I really thought there was a lot more that could have been done at BNI that wasn’t being done. One of the things that really didn’t sit well with me was that the whole BNI meeting is not about the BNI members—it’s about the visitors’ experience. This is something that is preached from the top down. I looked at that and thought, They’re getting a free ride, but we’re the ones paying membership dues, we’re the ones who have to pay to get trained every six months, and we’re the ones who have to deal with leadership changes. We’re putting all the effort into it, but there’s no value in the meetings for us.

But honestly, after a while, if you’ve been to enough meetings, you kind of lose focus of that and start to buy into it just because that seems to be the only thing out there being offered. There’s no doubt networking is a necessity, so you just do it. I ended up being the president of two different BNI chapters, and I would lose that focus even as the one running the meeting. But I knew there was more value to be had that wasn’t being capitalized on.

Second, I also thought it didn’t seem fair that BNI would carve up the pie so many different ways to get as many seats in there as possible. One example of this that always set poorly with me was when we brought in an insurance person whose only service was selling life insurance. But we already had a financial advisor in the group who also sold life insurance, we already had a property and casualty person who sold life insurance as part of his services, we had a health person who also offered life insurance—and all of those individuals had been in the group for a while and already had established relationships with the rest of the members. So, I knew that new life insurance person wasn’t going to have any success because everyone in the group had already dealt with these other members who offered life insurance as an add-on to their other services. I didn’t like that.

I knew that there were so many different opportunities that could be capitalized on to help business owners scale their businesses and be more successful and mastermind with each other. I think you lose some of that masterminding opportunity in other networking organizations, where we really focus on it. I think that’s one of the reasons we have so many BNI members coming over to us. In fact, there was recently a BNI group where they were all just kind of done with the BNI model, and about 80 percent of the members converted over to one of our Network In Action groups. So, those things all together really kind of drove it for me.

How has being an NIA franchise owner complemented what you’re doing for full-time employment?

NIA is my primary focus, but I do also have a specialty tax consulting business. I work with business owners, and as such, NIA provides plenty of opportunity for me to assist others. However, with my NIA members, I focus on them and don’t view them as a means of garnering referrals for myself.

How many NIA franchises do you own?

We bought an entire area-agreement for Network In Action. Our first group launched in 2020, two months before COVID, and our second group launched the week before everything went into lockdown. We’ve purchased a total of eighteen groups; thirteen are up and running, and two are in the launch-and-learning phase.

How do you manage so many different groups at one time?

When I see problems out there, I know that there are always solutions. I believe there’s opportunity in chaos. I brought on a partner in that vein, because I knew he could definitely help with some of the chaos of starting and growing and making this a primary focus—while also working full-time and having a family, like me. People only have so much bandwidth, so bringing on a partner was very important for the success of our chapters. I knew I could run the meetings and handle some of the administrative stuff, but if I could bring in somebody who could focus on the recruiting, that would amplify our numbers. I brought on a partner, Justin Kessel, to do this with me; he worked with me at BNI. I was right—bringing Justin on definitely did amplify our numbers. Even through COVID, we were still growing. We launched and grew an entire group during the pandemic. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and one of his best strengths is in the recruiting side. He was always number one in the Central Texas BNI groups for bringing in the most visitors.

We really gleaned a lot of our experiences from BNI and some other networking organizations that were located out here in the Greater Austin area. We recognized that if we want to run all these groups, we can’t run them all ourselves because we’d get pulled too many different ways. It’s tough to recruit for eighteen different groups and run eighteen different groups in a month. There are only so many days in a week, too, so if you’re holding a meeting that has to be on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday and your primary time is that happy hour time, you’ve only got sixteen groups you can conceivably run in a month.

We were struggling with that and realized we needed help. So, just as BNI has directors and presidents who run the chapters, we realized we needed to do something like that as well—except we were actually going to pay these people and call them Group Leads.

We ran the numbers, and we put together a very nice compensation structure for our Group Leads. They run the groups and are responsible for helping to grow their groups. We incentivize them to recruit and bring in visitors—which we do for all of our members. I mean, they’re doing the hard work of bringing the people in, so if we add their guests into the system and we’re making money on a new membership, we want to share that. This way, we don’t have to do all the recruiting ourselves. All of this helps us make a much bigger footprint here.

How do you recruit enough members to fill eighteen groups?

Our initial vision was to buy our first franchise, grow three groups, continue to grow, and then pretty much own the whole Central Texas area. We’ve done that. But we don’t have enough time to cold call to build thirteen to eighteen groups. There just are not enough hours in the day. We figured we really need to be as efficient as possible. I love efficiencies.

So, we started hosting these networking events and called them Lunch and Learns. We post them on Eventbrite, Meet-Up, and Facebook. We invite people that we’ve met from other networking opportunities, such as Chamber events and things like that. During the lunch, we do a presentation that includes an introduction to Network In Action and then share the NIA PowerPoint. Then we hand out the member applications for NIA right then and there. (That’s the biggest thing—taking the assumptive approach that everyone’s going to sign up.) We pass out the applications and tell them, “Hey, you better get your spot right now. There’s only one per category.” If we’re building out a new group, we advertise the fact that they’ll be a founding member of that group—one of the first twelve members necessary for the group to launch—and we give some incentives for that.

In the beginning, we really pitched that hard, and that really worked quite well. We would get three to four new members with every Lunch and Learn, and we highly encouraged those founding members to come to them because they would have the opportunity to network with these new people from lunch to lunch. There was no cost to them yet, since the group was still being built out, and we would encourage them to bring their own visitors and guests, too, so we could launch their group quickly and make the magic happen. We weren’t the only ones doing the hard work. We had our founding members doing the hard work, too. It was during that time, in the beginning, when we actually came up with the idea of incentivizing these people. The old adage my father taught me a long time ago is: People do what you pay them to do. So, Justin and I knew that if we’re making a certain amount of money on a member, we could give some of it away and still make a profit without having to work as hard to get any of it. So that’s what we did.

When we started, we paid $100 per membership to incentivize our members to help with the recruiting. Then we upped that to $200 when the membership fees went up. It made sense to us to do that because we were making more money per member. It was still one heck of an ROI. I was still making many times what I was paying out; I’ll do that all day long.

Once we had a couple groups up and going, we would encourage our members from those other groups to come over. We’d say, “All we want you to do is give a testimonial and to talk to people afterwards if they have some questions.” We just offered to cover their first drink, and that was worth it to them because they knew they’d have the opportunity to network with these other people as well, even before the new group launched.

All of that really helped with our Lunch and Learns. It made it a lot more efficient and a lot easier for us.

How did the pandemic affect the way you managed and filled your groups?

We launched our first groups during COVID. NIA was already positioned in case something like that ever happened; you were way ahead of the curve. Because of the technology that Network In Action had in place, we pivoted very quickly, and we were on Zoom immediately. That allowed us to even grow our groups during that period of time, which shocked me. We grew and launched a group during COVID. We wanted to make sure we were staying engaged with our members, so we set up a weekly coffee conversation, and we’re still doing it every Tuesday morning at 8:30 AM Central Standard Time. These coffee conversations give us an opportunity to talk about something of value. Initially, my partner and I would pick a topic for the group to discuss. Then we thought it would be a good idea to let our members talk about some of the things that they know about. That brings extra value, and it also puts the spotlight on our individual members. We just had an individual talk last week named Dagon who did a great job. He sells supplemental health insurance, but his topic for the conversation was networking because he’s big and involved in networking. We had about twenty-three people log on, just to hear him talk about that.

Many of the people who attend are members, but we also have a lot of visitors and guests. We have our coffee conversations advertised on Eventbrite, Meet-Up, our social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and everything like that. Anyone who wants to can log on—whether they’re a member or not. We’ve had people from Pakistan, Albania, China—literally from across the world—logging into these coffee conversations. It’s great.

If they’re local, we invite them to our monthly meeting; if they’re not local, we try and plug them into a meeting with an NIA franchise owner out in their area. We’ve done that a couple of times, especially in the Seattle area. Our members who have joined as a result of these coffee conversations actually tend to be some of our better members. I don’t know why, but those are the members who get the most out of what we’re doing. It seems like they’re engaged right from the beginning.

How much freedom do you and your NIA business partner have to make decisions within the Network In Action franchise model?

NIA has given us a lot of leeway to experiment with some of the different strategies out there, which is the most important thing to us. I don’t know if what we do would work for everybody, because sometimes we’ve failed as much as we’ve succeeded in areas. But we knew we’d like to bring in additional value.

We’ve got the key tenants that NIA provides—everything from our technology, the guaranteed ROI, being involved in a charity every quarter and giving back—we stick to all those. But we also wanted to know what else we could do that was going to bring value. So, we brought in some additional things that we thought would benefit our members and help with that conversion, too.

One of the additional things we brought in is our social media day. One day a month, we rent out a sound-proof space with a big green screen room and set up a really high-end camera that shoots and records a commercial-grade video. Everything is TV quality. We have our members shoot their own thirty to forty-five second commercials that they can use for their social media marketing campaigns. We do all the editing for them, and we also feature the videos on our YouTube channel. This is an exclusive offer to our members and has a huge value to them. If they went out there and priced it out themselves to shoot that same video, it would cost them $1,000 to $3,000, and that’s if they don’t have any help with editing or anything else.

That’s just one of the value-adds we brought on board with us.

We also do some social events between our groups so that they can all come together. That’s something really unique in the networking space—if you’re looking at BNI, for example—because we encourage our members to attend the other groups. The reason for that is because then our members have a much larger community; they get much, much more value out of that. We do this because we come from a place of abundance, not scarcity. We know that people are going to enjoy working with other people. If you give them the opportunity to develop those relationships, then they’re going to have a lot more success.

Those are probably two of the bigger things that we’ve done that are not one of the key tenants of NIA but which we’ve had the freedom to do, and it’s really benefited us as owners of multiple franchises.

Which of your members’ success stories stand out to you?

We’ve had a lot of great stories, but I will share two. The first story is about a gentleman named Cyril Allgeier. He’s actually a really good friend of mine; he was even at the surprise birthday dinner party that was thrown for me this year. He joined our second group that we launched right before COVID. All the boxes were checked—he had three-plus years of experience in his industry, he was a decision maker and a high-ranking manager—but I was on the fence about letting him be a member. My concern was what he did. He worked for a company that did high-end SEO, websites, and web application development. His low-end package was between $25,000 and $30,000. I knew it was going to be tough to guarantee that ROI. I didn’t know if he was going get any value out of his membership. But he wasn’t worried; he said, “Just give me the opportunity. I know I can be successful with this.” So, I did.

He came into our group and continued his membership with BNI at the same time. But towards the end of his first year with us, BNI was making a push, saying their members can’t be a member of multiple networking groups; he had to pick one or the other. He left BNI completely. He told me it was an easy decision because NIA accounted for 20 percent of the overall business of his company here in the Greater Austin area. I asked him what that number looks like. He said, “North of $200,000.”

I said, “Wow, we met the guaranteed ROI.”

He said, “Oh, yeah; you blew it away.” Then he added, “Remember: It’s not just the members in the groups; it’s who they know and who they can refer you to.”

After that, I tell everybody, “If you can’t be successful here with what you do, it’s on you; it’s not on us. Because if he can be successful with it, you can, too.” And he really did it. He got engaged, he did his one-to-ones, he went to the group meetings, he went to other group meetings, he brought value, he wasn’t trying to sell people, and he was a great resource for individuals. From there, he became very easily referrable. I would say that is probably one of the best stories I’ve experienced personally.

My second story is about one of our Group Leads, Mandy Botts. She runs two strong groups for us, and she is phenomenal and has a great personality. When she first joined, she was with Keller Williams and she was already a top real estate agent in the area. She’d never had any kind of online review system—nothing—so we set her up with Repman, an online system for realtors. Then we told her to send out a link to some of her clients and have them write her a review. She sent it out to maybe ten people, and she immediately received five five-star reviews. The next month, she got a call from a woman who wanted to hire her to be the real estate agent to sell her home. Mandy asked who referred her so she could send a thank you gift, and the woman said, “Oh, no one referred me. I found you online. I looked around, and you are the only real estate agent in my area that has five-star reviews. So, I want to choose you.”

That home was originally listed for $600,000 and actually ended up selling for $720,000. Mandy got the commission on that as a result of her relationships here in Network In Action. Some people don’t think about those kinds of benefits; they only think about the referrals just from other members. Sometimes it’s multigenerational referrals—it’s referrals of referrals of referrals that you’re getting business and reputation management from. Mandy’s deal came from an online review—and that was the direct result of the value that NIA brings.

On a scale of one to ten, how much would you say you’re able to influence your income and the amount of money you’re bringing into your organization?

I would say that number would probably be about an eight-and-a-half to nine. It would be a ten if I could find the perfect formula to find the perfect people all the time, but no one has that. You’re always going to have those people who are either just the wrong member or the wrong Group Lead. That’s just going to happen sometimes. But just because it happens doesn’t deter us from doing it again. I put in a lot of hard work and effort, and we have other people who are putting in a lot of hard work and effort.

On a scale of one to ten, how much personal value do you get out of what you’re getting back from owning your franchise?

I’ll put it this way: I had a member who left one of our groups—completely left. We both agreed that he wasn’t the right fit for NIA. He’d put in the effort—he did his year, he did his time, all that stuff. He didn’t commit to all the one-to-ones, but by then, he already knew this wasn’t a good fit for him. However, he did see value in what we were doing, so he stayed for the year and enjoyed the meetings. When he left, we left on good terms, but I hated to see him go. I just kept wondering if there was anything I could have done differently that would have made him successful. I wanted to know it wasn’t me that had failed him.

After he left, I got a card in the mail—an actual handwritten card. The card basically said, Hey, I want to let you know that you did everything you could have. I loved everything you did. I think you guys are great. You provide so much value, and I have nothing but great things to say about Network In Action. I’m actually referring somebody to the group right now. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. I hope that we can stay friends.

I save things like that. I put that card in my “thank folder.” It meant a lot to me because it showed me that I’m bringing value to people. I brought value to him—even if it wasn’t directly related to his business—and he saw value in what we were doing. That’s all I needed.

What would you say to somebody who is thinking about purchasing a Network In Action franchise?

There are always those people who want to fight every little thing. My advice is to just do it. You can be successful; just get out of your own way and you’re going to go so much further. I’m a firm believer that if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.

I can only think of a handful of other franchise owners who’ve gone through the same experiences we have and who were able to survive the pandemic. Imagine buying a franchise—any franchise—and you get it going, and then the pandemic hits. I’ve never seen anything like that in my lifetime, and I hope I never do again. A lot of businesses were shuttering and closing their doors. But we had a lot of success stories come from that time period—businesses that would have been out of business if it weren’t for Network In Action. I mean that in all sincerity. Our group members’ businesses were growing when everyone else was trying to get the scraps at the end. Our members really came together and were successful, referring each other and doing business online and staying connected. Sometimes it was just being there for each other. We brought a lot of value during that time because of everything that was already built into our model. We went through some very troubling times, and we persevered. We were successful because we didn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Genius is defined by perseverance and hard work. You don’t have to be smart to be successful here. You just have to put in some effort and follow the script.

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