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Creating Smarter Networks: A Winning Strategy for Success and Professional Growth

Build a supportive network that is inherently motivated to share information and help everyone grow to be better in their respective careers.

By Ryan Patel



A good question popped up at a recent lecture I gave: “How can we set up successful and professional growth in our careers?” During the lecture, I responded that it was about the circle of people around you and the growth of their relationships with you over time.

This answer traditionally doesn’t get enough notoriety or credit when you think of success and professional growth.  It was drawn from my experience and from other leaders who always swear by the importance of the circle of people around them to achieve any success.

Of course, a follow-up question focuses on the definition of “circle of people” and how it is different with network.  For this article, the term “circle of people,” is meant as a different type of networking from the one that we are most familiar with.  It is different from solely building contacts at cocktail or happy hour networking mixers.  “Circle of people” is a more focused and pinpointed type of networking, especially at the beginning. You are looking for a few things to establish in your network, and here is what to look for:

Surround Yourself with Ambitious People

Surrounding yourself with ambitious people is not just a reference to the inner circle of friends that you may have; it also relates to your work/industry life as well.  Having ambitious people within your professional life can continue to push you toward your goals, provide critical feedback and valuable perspective to enhance all work senses.

This circle can include the team you work with internally, but for most of us it is about creating a circle of people outside both of our family and company that can push us to reach our short- and long-term goals. It is similar, at least somewhat, to building a board of directors, but for your career you are not paying anyone and you are not having any mandatory quarterly meetings. You are building a supportive network that is inherently motivated to share information and help everyone to grow to be better in their respective careers.  An immediate benefit to this is being able to have access to additional points of view. Does that mean I can pick everyone’s brain and create this so-called “circle” and automatically be successful?  Absolutely not.  Something I have learned long ago and from others as well: what you do that matters more than just having a list of names that surrounds you.

When using the circle, it is more than just taking readily available feedback.  It is more than just sharing when things go well.  It is an opportunity to become an asset to share failures and shortcomings, as well as how you face them. You will be surprised by the variety of opinions and level of engagement from people trying to help you overcome obstacles and succeed.   In essence, you are creating a forum of healthy back and forth exchange and discussion with your trusted advisors.  The possible outcome can be the ability to implement diverse solutions from all different industries.   That is why the feedback needs to be critical of yourself, of your work, and of your goals when it comes to interacting with your circle.


First, initially look for like-minded values. For example, furthering one’s career and visions, such as giving back — that matches your personal and professional motivations.  Second, find people who also have the ability to look at things uniquely at times and even those who create solutions while thinking outside the industry norm.  Third, diversify your network.  Don’t only look at adding vertically, but horizontally as well, such as your peers. Having a varied mix of good people is important, especially for industries like franchising which continues to innovate from different segments’ ideas.

What resources do I need to start this search?  They can be as simple as searching through LinkedIn connections or looking for people with concepts you have admired or those who had developed growth strategies you thought were great.  You might have liked a certain leader’s philosophy.  In the franchise world it could be the outlook from domestic to international experts, and from master to area developers.  If you don’t know where to start, your professional organization is always a great point.

In the franchising world, the International Franchise Association staff and directory (Yes, that was a plug for IFA, but the association does work very hard for its members) have been great in helping to introduce members and people in general to each other.

Another good place to start involves conferences and industry events to set meetings and connect in advance to access quality time. Don’t forget, it never hurts to send an email and call directly, as that is never a bad idea. Being selective and using your time wisely is important. It can be very difficult to try to maintain and build quality relationships with a large number of people at the same time.

Be a Connector

Thus far we have talked about the benefits of trying to gain something out of building your own network.  But the truth of the matter is that being valuable to your network is equally important, as well as the most rewarding part of the entire process.  You might very well be in a situation where you can connect someone in need to a person within your circle.  It could be as simple as an introduction to someone or gathering intelligence for a person. It is also a great opportunity to see the shared practices and values from all different kinds of people during your process of being a connector as you can choose your involvement. Regardless of the task, it is always a tremendous feeling to be able to help others and especially to give back to those who have helped you in the past.

Some people in my network have said being a connector creates a positive atmosphere for them.  Regardless of how you view that, you are trying to create not only value for yourself, but for others. Creating smarter networks is a tremendous trend emerging among many of types of industries that I have been exposed to, one that is becoming more of a common practice among the top leaders and managers through all types of industries, including franchising.

Ryan Patel is vice president of global development for Pinkberry. Find him at


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