Earlier in my career, when I was single and starting out, I actually enjoyed networking events—free drinks, new people, and the sense of possibility.
Fast forward almost two decades, and with three kids waiting for me at home, I do almost everything I can to avoid unnecessary evenings out or even lunches away from my desk. So I’ve been actively looking for ways to hack my networking efforts. Allow me to introduce you to "network franchising."
It's pretty much what it sounds like: Network franchising is all about empowering others to market your skills and personal brand to the people they know and meet. But that's not just about asking for favors. It works by explicitly agreeing with a small group of like-minded friends or colleagues that when one person is out networking, they'll keep the interests and needs of others top of mind—a favor that each one in the group then pays forward.
The arrangement deliberately amplifies the number of potential relationships you can build and the level of sophistication with which you can each navigate them (since you have insight into why a connection can be mutually interesting). It also validates the person who first arranged the introduction and is a great way to increase the number of people you "meet."
And that matters quite a bit, given that some 70% of jobs are found through personal connections. For entrepreneurs in particular, relationships are the determining factor in securing venture capital, subsequent financing, and a profitable exit. Here are a few steps to help you franchise your networking efforts.
Identify the two to three people with whom you already have an existing authentic relationship and whose skills, networks, or access support your own goals. Ideally these should be people who you would naturally advocate for and vice versa. You might work in the same field in different positions or hold a similar role in different industries. The point is that you'll want enough overlap to be valuable to one another but not so much that your networks are virtually identical already.
Tip: According to anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, the optimal number of relationships in an individual network is roughly 150. So to compound this number, look for diversity—choose champions with different networks from yours and from each other, just as long as they'll include some useful connections for you, too.
According to Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO of Edelman Canada, "individual influencers are incredibly important in shaping people’s beliefs." So it matters not just who you approach to be a part of your franchise but how you approach them.
"When it comes to creating your pitch," Kimmel says, "make the most of this opportunity by knowing how you want to be positioned in the marketplace and then creating clear and simple content that demonstrates both your expertise and passion for the subject."
The pitch should be short and focused on why someone would want to connect with you; this way your champion knows how to position you when they come across someone you might want to meet.
Tip: The key is to create a pitch that sounds like people naturally speak, so use the simplest language possible and then edit it by saying it aloud. When you get together with the advocates in your network franchise, practice each other's pitches until you can speak as naturally and accurately about one another as you can about yourself.
Network franchising is about creating an explicit quid pro quo relationship with your champions. Unlike personal networking or even the happenstance introductions, this is based on a shared commitment to proactively advancing the networking goals of each person involved.
And that requires having an open conversation where you can lay out a strategy covering things like:
- what types of network opportunities are of interest (e.g. connecting with potential funders or media opportunities)
- gaps in each of your existing networks
- calendared networking opportunities (e.g. upcoming conferences or events)
- the date for your next check-in
Tip: Former colleagues or classmates are a good place to test a network franchise arrangement; they're already people you know and trust, and chances are you're at similar levels in your careers.
Ultimately, any effective networking, especially franchise networking, comes down to building long-term relationships with your champions. This means always looking for ways to help them with their goals.
"The greatest good I can do for people is introduce them to other people for mutual benefit," Jodi Kovitz, the director of business development for a cross-border law firm and founder of the Just Say Hello initiative, tells me. "So I’m always looking for opportunities for others and then seeing how I can help make them happen."
"When you sense a potential opportunity or point of connection, act instantaneously," Kovitz advises. "Send the email and briefly explain why you think it would be interesting or mutually beneficial for them to meet."
Tip: After you've made a connection for one of your champions, check in with both parties to see how it went. This keeps the relationship going and growing.
Increase the ripple effect of your franchise networking by making sure your online profiles each match the elevator pitches you and your champions are out there sharing.
No need to reinvent the wheel on the score, either. According to Pew Research Center, LinkedIn remains the most-used networking site among educated high earners with the most professional experience. So just make sure it's up to date and accurate.
Unlike many online networks, though, franchise networking gives you a filtered pipeline of potential relationships vetted by someone you trust. But for the relationship to advance at some point, it needs to move to an in-person connection.
Tip: Scheduling all your meetings for a certain weekday and meeting over coffee (instead of lunch or dinner) can increase efficiency without compromising impact.
When it comes to your franchise networking champions, plan to meet regularly. They can help you save time and improve your reach when it comes to meeting people you otherwise wouldn't, but it requires an up-front time investment with those core relationships. For them—just as with the other people who matter most in your life—there are no shortcuts.