Tweets, posts, likes, shares. While there’s no question the face of business has shifted over the past decade, successful business communication — especially for women — is embodied by the proverb: it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.
More and more women in business are acting on that message, including Heather Howe, who has just joined the Women’s Business Network of Peterborough (WBN).
Apart from her full-time job as a social worker with Fourcast, Howe has started a local chapter of Wen-Do Women’s Self Defence, a not-for-profit national organization that teaches women and girls physical modes of self defence.
She first attended a meeting of WBN as a guest to hear a special speaker she was particularly interested in.
“I found that everybody was really welcoming and friendly,” Howe says. “The evening was very well organized; I received a confirmation email and had a host assigned to me, so I didn’t feel awkward in a room full of strangers.”
While Howe is not particularly looking for new business through WBN, she is looking for tips on how to run a successful business.
“I’m very skilled in teaching self-defence, and skilled in counselling women, but I’ve never run my own business,” she explains. “There’s nothing comparable in this area for women to network and learn. I like that it’s an opportunity to network, but I also like that it’s women-centred.”
That’s not surprising, given that Howe works with women most of the time. Her self-defence program is geared for women, teaching them not just physical defence poses but also other ways of avoiding an attack: how to yell, how to prevent freezing up, how to employ the element of surprise, to use reasoning — even humour — to stop an attack in a street or at home, or harassment anywhere.
And according to WBN’s current president, Theresa Foley of Showplace Peterborough, the “woman” aspect of the organization may be hard to describe, but everyone who attends feels its worth.
“It’s not a surprise that women think differently and do business differently,” she says. “We’re more relationship oriented. Our speakers speak more to us as women in business. There’s a different temperature in the room. We enjoy that social aspect.”
Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey estimates there were almost one million self-employed women in Canada in 2012; more than one-third of the self-employed workforce was female. That number is on the rise (in 2008, the number of self-employed women was considerably lower).
With its 175 members, WBN is the ideal way for women — self-employed or otherwise — to share their business expertise while promoting their businessess. But most importantly, it allows women to build invaluable business relationships.
“WBN is not so much about getting business as building relationship,” Foley says. “Like the dog wagging the tail, you should be building relationship so they understand who you are and feel your integrity, so they are then happy buying from you because they know who you are. You can bang on doors and make it a numbers game — and you might be disappointed in your results — or you can build relationship.”
Foley is the first to admit the idea of building relationships can be intimidating, especially for a new member who doesn’t know anyone.
That’s why Foley is pleased the WBN began offering an expanded guest program last year, so that guests can attend as often as they like without buying a membership. She says the guest rate has risen because of it.
While not all decide to join WBN, Foley says there’s no doubt in her mind that guests attending a meeting realize the added value a membership offers.
Benefits include the opportunity to write a 60-word blurb about their business for the WBN newsletter (which also circulates to members of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce), the chance to include a blog in the newsletter, having access to the email addresses of all members for targeted advertising, and spotlighting their business at a monthly meeting. A full list of membership benefits is available on the WBN website at www.womensbusinessnetwork.ca.
For those who find the membership fee a challenge, there are options for half-year memberships as well as payment arrangements.
“If you spend $400 or $500 on a half-page newspaper ad, there’s your membership in the WBN,” Foley says. “If you instead spend that money on a one-year membership and take advantage of the benefits, you are more likely to increase your return on investment.”
Monika Carmichael, General Manager of Trent Valley Honda who has been a WBN member since 2010, concurs.
“We hear about how sales is about who you know, but it truly is about who knows you,” Carmichael says. “But it’s not just about sales: it’s about integrity, relationship, shared interests, motivation, support, and growing as women in business.”
Howe, who is just starting to enjoy her membership benefits, has this advice for other women considering WBN membership:
“I would say go to one meeting as a guest, and decide from there. You’ll be amazed at how much knowledge there is in the room.”