NIA Franchise Co-owners of five groups located on the far-west side of Houston, Texas, serving in the Katy, Fulshear, Memorial, and Towne Lake (Cypress) areas. They love helping businesses grow through networking, building relationships that last a lifetime, and entrepreneurial education. Helen was one of the first four founding members of NIA.
Helen, you got to experience Network In Action firsthand as a member before you decided to purchase your franchise. Why did you decide to jump in and buy a franchise?
Helen: It was only because of Oscar. Every single month at our meetings, you, Scott, would say to me, “You are either gonna run for the mayor of Katy or you’re gonna buy an NIA franchise.” And I would say no because I didn’t want more time away from my husband and our children. We were getting ready to be empty nesters with them going off to college, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. But one month, I brought Oscar with me to the meeting and he heard you say your usual line to me. I was about to give you my usual response, but Oscar said, “Send me the docs; let’s look at it.” So, you sent over the paperwork. Oscar looked at it and said, “Helen, why aren’t we doing this? This is exactly your rock star thing.”
Oscar: Yeah, once I saw the model, I just jumped in with both feet. I knew it was something she’d already been doing for a long, long time. Connecting people and networking is what she does naturally, and she really is a rock star at it. So, I just said, “Let me come along for the ride, and we’ll go for it.”
Tell us a little bit about your why.
Helen: Our why really is that we get the pleasure of working together and bringing our expertise, which is a little bit different, to our members. Every franchise owner out there has their different special techniques and background that they bring to the table. We just bring something a little different. My background is all sales, marketing, and business development. Oscar is an attorney practicing business law, commercial litigation, real estate law, and entertainment law. So, our members really get the best of the best with us—and then some. We are constantly thinking of ways that we can help them grow and drive business to them. We’re doing everything we can to focus on that, above and beyond our franchise agreement responsibilities.
Of the six differences we promote in NIA, which ones do you think make the biggest difference to a business owner versus what they find in traditional networking?
Helen: I can’t pick just one or two. All six of those differences made a huge difference to me as a member. When I first got involved with Network In Action as one of the founding members almost nine years ago, it was still in development. But I could already see that it was brilliant. I know the best way to grow a business is through networking and building relationships. Network In Action took away all the pains that I was feeling in the other networking organizations that I was in. I had been involved with BNI for a very long time and know that organization intimately.
The thing that bothered me the most about BNI was that it was run by volunteers. I never even met the owner of our chapter until I was in it for over two years. The members in my chapter became my friends, yes, and I did give and receive referrals. However, they didn’t have a vested interest in the members’ success other than the pride of having a good, strong group for the year that they were in “leadership” running the chapter. I’m still friends with a lot of those people, and I still think they’re a great organization—they just don’t have what we have with our technology and other great business solutions included in our memberships.
Those six differences are our key. For instance, the fact that we only meet once a month; for our groups, we actually do a little extra and offer a lot of other things for our members, but having only one required meeting a month is amazing.
I like that we vet everybody before we even invite them to apply for membership. We interview every potential member and do a background check. We don’t invite everybody we interview to join; not everyone is a good fit. I know that’s one thing our members like because they know if we have a new member in our group, we have vetted them, so they can refer them with confidence from the very beginning. I got stung personally, as a member of the other networking group, with someone who was less than stellar, so I know firsthand how important this is.
The icing on the cake and the cherry on top is the ROR—or return on relationships—that we offer with NIA. We guarantee a return on the investment of their membership. That type of guarantee, no other network offers!
One of those six differences is that every Network In Action group is required to do something charitable and give back to their communities once a year. What do those charitable endeavors look like for your groups?
Helen: We ask for nominations from our members and then narrow it down to three charities. Then we have each of those three charities present to all of our groups. The following month, the members vote on which charity they want to get behind. Every time, it’s been unanimous; and every time, it’s something a little bit different than before.
Because of our entertainment resources, the group often chooses to host an event to get the charity’s name out and raise awareness and money for that organization. Our very first charity we chose was Sunshine Through the Rain, which is a charity that helps support children who have lost one or both parents to death. That was founded by Joanne Rodriguez, who lost her sister, and her sister had left four children. She wanted to do something for her nieces and nephews. She knew they weren’t the only children who are without their parents.
That charity gets children together with other children who have felt that same hurt of losing a parent. It’s hard for those children to go back to school after the funeral and the other kids don’t know how to talk to them. It’s just a different experience. Having experienced losing my mother when I was twenty, I can’t imagine how it would be if I was ten, what I would have gone through. So, we got behind that charity, and we helped wrap gifts in the mall for two weeks leading up to Christmas. As a matter of fact, they still let us know when they need help and we still try to send volunteers to help. Members of ours have volunteered, donated money—everything.
I also love that we are allowed to gift a membership to a charity. We have charities in each of our groups, but then we have a charity of the year that is voted on by the members. Our charity members dig in, and they’re amazing. They come to the meetings, they get to know the members, and honestly, I think they get more out of their memberships than anybody. They know the value of building relationships and the fact that it’s not just the members and their reach and what they can do but it’s the companies that the other members know, the vendors that they have, and all of the friends and family members of those people. It’s like casting your net one thousand times wider than you’d ever dream as a charity.
Why is networking important to a business owner?
Helen: Everything I’ve ever done is about networking and building relationships. I’ve been in sales, marketing, and business development my whole life. Networking is about building those relationships, and the best part about building relationships is growing somebody else. If you grow somebody else, it’s going to come back to you tenfold. I have always done that. In whatever I sold, whatever business I was representing, I would sell from the other side of the desk.
I was in advertising for years, helping clients come up with campaigns for their business growth. I always said, “I don’t care if you take away my commission. It’s not about my commission. It’s really about your business and how it can grow.” My attitude was: What are we going to do; how are we going to make this happen? That’s the mentality that I’ve always had. Networking has just helped me be able to do that even more.
Tell me about one of your NIA members’ success stories.
Oscar: There are so many. It runs the gamut from members who have joined and within the first month made seventeen times their ROI, to something like this: We had a husband and wife who were members of one of our groups, and the husband got tongue cancer. All they had was some really mediocre, really crappy health insurance. They were in desperate shape at that point, and they went to one of our other members who sold health insurance. In their own words, that other member was able to turn them on to a Cadillac plan that covered pretty much everything when they went to the hospital. That made a big difference in them being able to deal with all that.
Helen: Yes, we’ve had several like that. Like Oscar said, we have members who have gotten ten to twenty times their ROI in a very short period of time. We had one member who got his ROI before he even came to his first meeting as a member. He had come to a meeting as a guest and signed up right away, and he made some connections during his guest-visit that paid for his whole membership plus some. He’s not the only one; there are so many more of those stories. We had a brand-new member who just signed up a couple months ago who is already singing our praises because of the ROI that she’s gotten.
But again, it’s not about the ROI. It’s about the relationships and the camaraderie that happens within our group, whether it’s collaborating to market together or to do events together. These things are happening every day in our groups, and I love that.
What would you say about the Network In Action franchise opportunity to someone who is looking at getting into a franchise business in general?
Oscar: I’d tell them, “Just do it.” When you look at all these other franchises, this one is so easy and it’s so lucrative. The plan that Network In Action has laid out is just so simple. When we first bought into it, I wasn’t looking to get in any franchises, but I would come across other franchises just in my daily life and I would analyze them. For instance, we’d go sit at a Freddy’s Hamburgers, or whatever, and I would look at their model and think about how they had to buy or lease a physical building and make it all look exactly like all the other franchises and everything had to be done exactly like all the other franchises. Comparatively, the cost of entry into this franchise opportunity is very low, and you have a specific model to follow but it comes with a lot of room for us to bring in the unique things we have to offer, too.
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your financial future with your Network In Action franchise?
Helen: Ten, absolutely.
Oscar: I say ten. I would tell anybody who’s interested in buying a franchise, especially if they’ve got other businesses, that there is no better way to promote your business than to get paid for doing networking. Our networking group fits in with everything we do, and it helps us promote my law practice, helps us promote our entertainment business, helps us promote our title business, and it’s not taking that much more away from us than if we were doing networking anyway. It’s a no-brainer. We are getting paid to grow our businesses.
On a scale of one to ten, how much control do you have over your schedule with your Network In Action franchise?
Oscar: Absolutely a ten.
Helen: Definitely a ten. We still run several other businesses. This is just our number-one business venture at the top of the triangle. Everything we do comes back to NIA and works in conjunction with what we do here. It helps grow all of our other businesses. With our franchise, the marketing for those other businesses isn’t really a job or a chore—it’s done for us.
How has owning your franchise affected your personal lives?
Helen: In November, we always do our gratitude meeting where we ask everybody in the group to share what they’re most grateful for. What we’re most grateful for, really, is this business and our members and what they bring to us—the successes that they have. I mean, we’re like proud parents. Our members love what we’re doing, and that makes it even easier.
Even our adult children have taken part in this endeavor and learned and grown from it. The hardest thing for a parent is to teach your kiddo because they won’t listen—especially teenagers. But what our children have learned, and shared with us that what they’ve learned, from this venture and our members has been amazing. Now they are adults and entrepreneurs themselves. We raised them to be entrepreneurs, and being a part of our businesses has given them the foundation to grow their own businesses. So, now, having them be a part of NIA and seeing their growth has really been so valuable to us and them. It’s amazing!
Oscar: I’ve got to answer that question from an attorney’s perspective. As we all know, the practice of law is very stressful. It’s something that can keep you up at night. I’ve had a very successful law practice, but you still go to bed at night thinking about all your cases and everything you have to do and the deadlines and all that sort of stuff. From that perspective, I have to say, this business is so great because I can put my head down at night in peace. When I lie down at night, I know that everything’s cool, everything’s good, everything’s positive, and everything’s moving in a forward direction. I don’t have to constantly think about all those other things.
I’m actually retiring from my litigation practice because I’ve decided that I really want to focus more of my efforts on Network In Action and less on being a slave to the docket of the court. Litigation’s very taxing that way. I’m still going to practice law—I’m going to do contracts and that sort of thing—but I’m retiring from litigation so I can put more attention into this. What I love about this business is that I get to use my expertise to help people on the front end and help them avoid litigation instead of getting paid on the back end.
If you could go back and start your NIA franchise over again, what would you do differently?
Helen: I would have done it sooner. It took me almost three years to say yes, and that was just silly.