Women business groups prove to be good for business

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), women own 30% businesses a total of 7.8 million firms generating $1.2 trillion in sales as of 2012.

As that number grows, so does the need for entrepreneurial female networking groups to strengthen business and development in a world dominated by males.

“When women get together to network, it’s not always about business, it’s more personal,” says Anne Thornton, president of MSI Plumbing Inc., based in Lebanon, N.J.

But that’s not to say they don’t discuss business or refer business. The personal responsibility of women helping women succeed is universal, and as NARI members share, a great source of business.

The start of something new

Having started her own a women-owned business forum within her local chamber of commerce 15 years ago, Thornton has dedicated a lot of time toward empowering female entrepreneurs.

NARI chapters are also catching on to this trend, developing women’s only groups and events. The Women in NARI Networking (WINN) group at the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council meets monthly to network and improve professional development through education. “We are getting together for education purposes and with a focus on speakers that are relevant to growth,” says Susan Keel, of Advanced Communication Specialists based in Waukesha, Wis. She says that though the group is segmented, the women backgrounds represent highly diversified facets of the remodeling industry, making the group more apt to sharing business opportunities.

With a background as a teacher and counselor at a vocational school, a co-owner a condo association and property management company and now, running a multi-million dollar plumbing and remodeling company with 30 full-time employees—Thornton’s years of business experience drove her to fill a need in her community.

The women’s business forum is valuable tool in what Thornton describes as a rural business community that was risking fragmentation, especially in the small business sector. “Small businesses can become insulated in their own little world; it’s hard to get out there, and we end up missing out on new information,” Thornton says.

Comprised of women business owners across all industries, the group meets quarterly to exchange ideas on variety of topics/issues. “I founded the forum to address women’s needs, as a way to support each other and learn from one another by talking through different issues and leadership development,” Thornton says. The diversity of the group adds value as someone in the group almost always has the knowledge or expertise needed to solve almost any problem.

The group has also brought MSI Plumbing big contracts.

Four months ago, Thornton received a call from a woman she met 15 years ago through the forum. This woman worked in the banking industry and had recently  transitioned into a new banking position. She contacted Thornton  for property management services on a foreclosed building.

“Not only are we managing the building, but we are also signed contracts for $400,000 worth of refit work,” Thornton says.

Over the years, Thornton developed the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce Women’s Leadership Summit, which MSI sponsors to this day. The fourth-annual event boasted 120 attendees—10 of whom were awarded scholarships for free admission through Thornton’s sponsorship of the event.

“We try to award scholarships to younger business women or those working at non-profits,” she says.

Though Thornton has scaled back her personal involvement in recent years, she is proud of what the event stands for and hopes that women attending will walk away with a renewed sense of empowerment to be strategic decision makers and developed plan of business principles and operations.

“I own a plumbing company, but I don’t know how to fix a leaky faucet,” Thornton says. “But I know how to run an organized business, and my job as the owner is to empower my tradesmen to be the best they can be.”

Stepping up to the plate

Mina Fies, founder and CEO of Synergy Design & Construction, based in Reston, Va., is another shining example of a female remodeler who is heavily involved in women-based networking groups, serving as president-elect of the National Association of Women Owned Business’s Greater D.C. chapter.

“Our economy is driven by new businesses, many of which are generated by women, and as contributors to the recovery, I am supportive of women business owners,” Fies says.

Involvement in the female-only group has also been fruitful for Fies’ business. In fact, two out of the three most recent leads at Synergy originated through the group. “It pays off [to be involved], getting to know people on a personal level, and building trust means they will keep you top of mind when they need you,” she says.

She says the culture of these meetings reflects a woman’s nature to be “social beings,” with more openness and a higher ability to connect on many levels.

The networking sessions are a great opportunity to acquire talent as well. Fies is looking for a full-time marketing professional at her company and is tapping into the women’s network for referrals. Small business owners cannot afford to make bad hires, and Fies says she now has a pile great resumes from which to choose.

Another great opportunity came from a member of the group who invited her to be a sponsor at the Virginia Women’s Business Conference.

Now in its fifth year, event organizers are expecting more than 500 attendees. The one-day event focuses on business topics across all industries such as marketing, reinvention, leadership, sales and technology. “She said she wanted to create an event that can speak to women business owners and provide educational content to help take business to the next level,” Fies says.

The event has the typical keynote speakers and breakout sessions, and sponsors are given booth space for attendees to visit during breaks. Fies and two designers staff the booth and offer a free kitchen design giveaway to collect business cards.

This year, Fies is stepping away from her booth and into the spotlight, as a speaker on how interior alignment of an office impacts energy levels and business profitability. “I have been studying interior alignment [a form of feng shui] that examines how the position of things and the balance of a space can alter moods and behavior,” Fies says.

She incorporates interior alignment into her residential remodeling projects, but put a more professional spin on the topic by zoning in on the office area.

The speaking opportunity gets Fies in front of potential clients. “The opportunity to speak to a wider audience about something that I do, is great,” she says.  –Morgan Zenner

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