Women and Business: Networking to Grow and Prosper

Women and Business: Networking to Grow and Prosper

Women who own or manage a business often are looking for ways to connect with others to help move their businesses forward. They may have their business or career up and running, but feel they need a boost from meeting others who can help them build on their initial success. In the Upper Valley, businesswomen have a number of options — some are more structured, with regular meetings and fees; others are informal and free. Here is a look at three such groups.

Business Networking International

The primary objective of Business Networking International, which has two clubs in the Upper Valley, “is to assist its members in ways to improve their business and to educate them concerning how they can effectively network,” according to its website.

“BNI is the perfect place for young women starting up,” said Cindy Hollis, the owner of Check-Write Payroll Service in Lebanon and a member of the Upper Valley BNI. “They can come out of their shell and learn to speak in public.”

At the two meetings I attended — one of the Upper Valley BNI, and one of the Twin States BNI — women were in the minority. But they insisted they participate, and gain, just as much as the men.

“In this group, I never thought of being a woman,” said Kasia Butterfield, a Realtor with The Masiello Group’s Quechee office. “We are all treated equally.”

At BNI meetings, participants often arrange one-on-one meetings outside of the group, forming relationships and referring friends and associates to member businesses. “That’s where good work gets done,” Butterfield said.

“We do support each other,” she said. “It is important to know other businesswomen in the Upper Valley. We are there to help each other out. This is a pretty strong group of women here.”

Membership in BNI is based on referrals by another member of the club. There is a $445 annual membership fee, and the group admits only one person per profession.

For more information about the Upper Valley BNI, email President Peter Coughlin at coughlinenergy@gmail.com. For more information about the Twin State BNI, email Kimberly LaBarge at kim@labargeaccounting.com.

Leading Women

Another source of support for Upper Valley businesswomen is the Leading Women group at Ledyard National Bank in Hanover.

Kathy Underwood, the bank’s chief executive officer, said women who manage or own their own small businesses often do not have access to a human resources department, an insurance assistant or a legal division. So, in 2010, she established Leading Women, a free program that brings women together four times a year to network, share what their business does, and hear speakers or presentations.

“Ledyard’s Leading Women initiative is a product of the bank’s commitment to helping its clients as well as its broader community thrive and prosper,” reads the program’s mission statement on the bank’s website. “Leading Women provides a unique forum for women in business to experience the Ledyard ideal of ‘plan well, live well’ through speaker and/or panelist presentations that focus on topics most pertinent to businesswomen.”

Recent programs have covered subjects from speed networking to cybersecurity to a recent year-end tax-planning session attended by about 40 women.

For more information, visit http://www.ledyardbank.com or email l eadingwomen@ledyardbank.com.

Lady Boss Women Entrepreneurial Club

Billed as “an interactive club,” the Lady Boss Women Entrepreneurial Club is led by Katerina Kekalo, a research scientist at Dartmouth College.

Kekalo has launched two chapters, one in the Hanover area and one in the Claremont area, with the goal of supporting female entrepreneurs by meeting regularly to report on their progress, promoting member businesses and providing information on area business events.

Club members “brainstorm together on every business, working on defining and solving particular problems, as well as motivating an owner to move forward and achieve their short- and long-term goals,” according to the club’s brochure.

The Lady Boss club offers informal meetings, including family activities such as apple picking, hiking, and trips to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. There are even more offbeat activities, such as an evening of “psychological games” during which participants learn to negotiate, play as a team and influence people.

To find out more, visit the Lady Boss WEC Facebook page, or email LadyBossClub@gmail.com.

The Elevator Pitch

At each of these club gatherings, members are asked to give their “elevator speech.” That means boiling down their business to a one- or two-minute pitch. In our world of short attention spans and multimedia bombardment, a brief, to-the-point business presentation is essential. But perfecting the “elevator speech” takes practice and guidance.

Next month, we’ll look at the elevator pitch and other tips on how to grow your business.

Author: Cyndy Bittinger

Cyndy Bittinger, of Hanover, is the former president of the Women’s Network of the Upper Valley. She owned and managed two gift shops in New Jersey before moving to the Upper Valley in 1988 and changing careers to become a historian and nonprofit manager. Today, she teaches a course in Vermont history for the Community College of Vermont, writes for Vermont Woman, and is a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio. Questions for her may be sent to enterprise@vnews.com.

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