One of my biggest clients (Microsoft) started when a product manager attended a Forum for Women Entrepreneur (F.W.E.) event where I was the speaker. He was the lone man in a room full of 45 women and held his ground-particularly when the PowerPoint presentation didn´t work and he came to the timely rescue. In any case, he bought a book, called me back for a job in the next week and we were off to the races. Talk about a return on investment (the forum comped me the membership).
According to the US Dept of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing new business segment are women-owned One more statistic to throw at you is that women turn to other women to drive (or get) new customers.
And an executive at Key Bank told me earlier this week that a majority of loans originated (over 80%) are for women. Since I have no shame, I asked the executive about this statistic and she said it´s consistent across retail banking.
With all this competition for business-where to women turn to get new business?
I started my biz in 1996, took out a loan in year 5 to build a new office space and throughout, turned to other women to build a clientele, trade for services and get advice. I´m going to give my 2 cents on the subject of the best forums for women, since I´ve both been members of these groups as well as spoken at the forums.
Forum For Women Entrepreneurs-C- for local chapter strength and national direction. The forums were quite good a few years back before the national management changed, but for the last few years, the local topics, membership activity and direction have really gone downhill.
NAWBO-National Association of Women Business Owners-
Give this one B for national programs and events, a B-/C+ for local chapter strength. Good overall services and programs, helpful national programs but the local programs are dependant on the strength of the chapter-don´t they all? Also, coverage is sketchy. No chapter exists in Seattle-which is odd, given the number of female entrepreneurs.
NAFE-National Association of Female Entrepreneurs-B+/A-
Great programs at the national and local level-across the board very professional. Not as broad as NAWBO-but perhaps that´s why the programs are more valuable-a bit fewer and far between-but the topics are more relevant, and therefore, more worth the time to attend.
Sometimes the best forums aren´t just for Owners or Entrepreneurs
I´ve been a part of, and spoken at, a variety WITI (Women in Technology International). This isn´t just for the CEOs or entrepreneur´s, but all women working in the technology industry. Great forum and excellent for business development.
According to a 2003 HispanTelligence Special Report, the number of firms owned by Hispanic women experienced a growth rate of 39.3 percent from 1997 to 2002.
Another great forum is the Hispanic Business Women´s Alliance. I´m not Hispanic-and can´t claim to have spoken at this groups events, but those Hispanic women I´ve spoken to LOVE this group and rate it a solid A. That´s quite a statement.
Best ways to take advantage of the forums:
BE a speaker-no cost to become a member-if you have an area of expertise, propose yourself to the chapter member, direct or anyone else on the committee
Attend a breakfast
Consider cost-monthly or annual fees, visitor fees, speaking fees. Breakfasts are the cheapest, followed by lunches and dinner. In my experience, breakfasts are power-meeting-quick-to the point and worthwhile. Lunches are more for chatting and have never produced much for me, since attendees have to rush back to the office and can´t linger. Evening events are perfect for both socializing and getting business done-at least before the drinks start flowing.