How to Start a Successful Networking Group for Women

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In an economy where women only made 82.5 percent of men’s median earnings in 2014, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports, women supporting women in the professional sphere is crucial for the advancement of workplace equality, as well as provides emotional benefits. Elizabeth Mays, author of “The Get-Ahead Guide: Go from Job Zero to Successful Career Professional,“ knows the power of women’s networking groups.

“Connecting with a supportive network of successful, ambitious women can be vital to success as a woman in the business world,” says Mays. “These colleagues can mentor you, connect you, challenge you, inspire you and support you along your journey. Most important, they can help you navigate through the unique challenges you may encounter in the workplace.”

Here are tips for starting a successful women’s networking group of your own.

Be Focused

  • Before setting up your group, ask questions to stay on track and help devise its mission.
  • What are the short-term and long-term goals? How do you hope individual meetings and long-term membership affect members?
  • Who will you target? Will the group be open to any professional, or is a niche focus something your industry needs?
  • What will the format be? Will the meeting include an informal social mixer? Will you set formal agendas? Will it include presentations?
  • How often will meetings occur? Will the location stay consistent or rotate?

The Ladies with Vision group organized by entrepreneur coach/social media consultant Jenn Maggiore, CEO of Red Balloon, Inc., has a successful formula. Each monthly meeting, attended by 20-plus people, starts with 20 minutes of socializing and noshing on potluck food. The bulk of the meeting, an hour and a half, is more formal. Past meetings have included members creating and sharing vision boards; members listening to a guest speaker about the benefits of aromatherapy in fostering work/life balance; and members coming prepared with a goal, sharing it, and listening to suggestions on how to achieve it.

Themes such as these leave members with actionable advice to carry out after the meeting. Informal socializing allows bonds to deepen, as well as the exchange of business cards and professional services. Everyone departs with new connections and motivation to pursue professional goals.

Keep Them Returning

While you should be welcoming to new and returning visitors, celebrating successes is vital to maintaining group momentum and passion. When someone accomplishes a goal, members may chip in on a gift basket to make her feel special. If someone gets a promotion, you could rejoice with a relaxed happy hour. If a member is moving out of state, a going-away party makes her excited to maintain relationships within the group.

Evolve based on needs and feedback of members. Adjust frequency and locations so you have regular attendance by enthusiastic attendees — once a month in a central, quiet spot is ideal. Promote your group online, and consider creating a private forum, such as a Facebook group, where people can converse between meetings.

“Being able to mentor a newcomer to the field and help them find their way is a worthwhile experience, too,” adds Collins. “My digital media business has grown steadily, fueled in large part by the connections I’ve made with other businesswomen. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet some real trailblazers and learn from them on a personal level.”

As founder of the group, genuinely convey your fervor, and be a leader in fostering relationships. Perri Collins, co-founder of the Arizona Women in Media monthly networking group, says being able to talk freely about topics such as freelancing, harassment, salary negotiation and side projects, and getting valuable input from other people who have been in the same position, is priceless.

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