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Networking groups for entrepreneurial women have been around for decades now, but each year, new groups form to fill unmet needs. Take Wild Women of Wonder (WiWoWo), for example. What started as an informal weekend brunch in Silicon Valley, co-founded in April 2001 by author and entrepreneur Sally Richards, 36, quickly exploded into one of the hottest gatherings for women in tech and multimedia (plus a few honorary male participants). There's a waiting list to attend Richards' invitation-only group, where vibrant, offbeat roundtable discussions are launched by passing a "talking stick" around the room (whoever has the stick has the floor).
Or RG2, a more intimate group of women entrepreneurs who share leads, opportunities and advice. "We all are in noncompetitive businesses," explains founding member Molly D. Shepard, 55, also founder of a leadership development consulting firm, The Leader's Edge, in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Shepard's reason for helping start RG2 (the name stands for Radnor Girls Group, after the Radnor Hotel, where the first meeting was held in November 2001)? "Men have been sharing leads and opportunities for years. [Women] need to be more supportive of one another." Although other women's business groups were operating in the Philadelphia area, Shepard says none of them focused on entrepreneurs or shared leads and advice.
RG2 meets in the mornings at one of the member's offices. They exchange leads, then one member makes a presentation about her business, explaining how the group can help it grow. They share clients, brainstorm strategies, and turn off their competitive sides, giving generously to one another.
Sandra G. Yancey, 42, founded eWomenNetwork Inc. in Dallas in late 2000. "I believe women need a networking environment that allows them to ask for what they need to take their business to the next level."
Yancey's solution, the eWomenNetwork.com Web site, "is all about promoting its members and helping them get connected to the resources they need," she says. "We have events where each woman who attends meets at least 20 women who learn who she is, what she has to offer and what they can do to help her in the next 30 days."
These groups are all examples of what you should look for in a networking organization, says Lucy Rosen, 42, president of The Business Development Group in Garden City, New York, and founder of 15-year-old power-networking group Women on the Fast Track. "Networking is more than handing your business card to someone and hoping they call you," she says. Rosen suggests women business owners look for groups with "stability and a great leader. A true networking group has a set day they meet each month, a set time and a set meeting place. The leader is organized and accountable. Members understand the value of networking."
A good group is worth its membership fee, Rosen adds. When you find one, get the most from it. "Don't wait until the meeting to say hello," Rosen says. "Get together; explore opportunities."
Entrepreneurs Terry Neese and Barbara Kasoff have spent years advocating for small businesses. Now, they've formalized their passion by launching Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). The San Francisco-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization works to advance legislation to help women business owners. WIPP informs members and congressional leaders about issues such as government and private-sector contracts, access to capital, and reducing regulations and paperwork. To find out more, visit www.wipp.org.
Aliza Pilar Sherman is an Internet pioneer, netpreneur, speaker and author of the book PowerTools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work(Entrepreneur Press).