Small Business Networking Designed by Women
Representatives of the Northeast Planning Corporation, headquartered in Cranford, recently spoke at a small business networking event in Warren.
The road to success for any small business is paved with countless hours devoted to identifying the best way to market a product or service to new prospects and hopefully close sales.
Along the way there are invariably a lot of lessons learned as success for many new business ventures is often borne by persistence.
Small business challenges may ring true for any newly minted entrepreneur, but for women small business owners, while the goals may be the same as their male counterparts, how they arrive at that goal is invariably different.
“I think women just have a different way of marketing their businesses,” said Karen Swartz, a financial representative for Northeast Planning Corporation. “For example, when we network, we are much more supportive of each other and more likely to share lessons learned.”
The Northeast Planning Corporation is a financial services firm that provides professional guidance with insurance, investments and comprehensive planning. The corporation is headquartered in Cranford and is a great support of the community's local businesses. Swartz works closely with the community and the Cranford Chamber of Commerce.
Swartz and 20 or so counterparts are part of a monthly small business “Women in Warren Business Networking Group,” that meets at Uproot restaurant in Warren each month to share business stories and discuss new ways to market and sell.
The group is made up of a variety of businesses—a spa, a pastry chef, a dietician, a clothing designer, among others. Literally anyone woman with a legitimate business can join the group and contribute.
That openness has allowed the group to grow from 12 members just two years ago when it was seen as a “ladies lunch” to 52 business professionals today. Only a portion of that enrollment turns out for meetings, but it’s typically around 25. More members means more experiences to share.
“A lot of the growth has been word of mouth and from the Internet,” said Carol Lisa La Fronz, a senior sales consultant with Paychex, and who now leads the group. “For the most part people who have joined, have stayed.”
Much of the appeal apparently has to do with the approach. Networking meetings can become pressure cookers—once joined, there’s pressure to use members’ products or services. Groups that have that orientation, however, struggle to keep members because the focus moves to expending money almost as fast as one can make it.
Swartz said that once women business owners get a sense of the camaraderie among the group’s members they understand the value.
“We’ve taken networking to different level,” Swartz said. “It’s not better or worse necessarily, but women take a different perspective—it’s more of a nurturing approach or one that focuses on paying it forward. No one comes on beating people up for their next sale.”
Realizing that is often the case, Swartz and La Fronz said they place an emphasis on educating the members of the group.
“I would really like to be a place that women can come and ask questions and share best practices and help them if they have a stumbling block on an idea,” La Fronz said. “A lot of women get a little nervous when it comes to marketing themselves.”
Swartz said that she has compiled a list of potential business topics and hopes to discuss them at the group’s next meeting which is today at 12:15 p.m. Some of the topics the group is mulling are hwo to use social media to build a business, using popular networking sites and other topics such as selling techniques.
At a previous meeting, Swartz conducted a short discussion on “call reluctance,” or overcoming one’s fear of prospecting on the phone for new clients. Her four-page handout defined 12 types of call reluctance and offered a “30-minute rule” for overcoming objections.
Perhaps more importantly, the packet also contained an action plan for phone prospecting that asks business owners to identify at least four new prospects to call each day and identify how their product or service might solve a problem or need.
“How many phone calls did Martha Stewart have to make before she became an overnight success?,” Swartz said incredulously. “These people were all just chumps at one point and here they are on top of the world. They really had to make as great deal of sacrifice and commitment—and lots of phone calls.”