When Woodstockers Debbie Dougan and Patricia Laufer announced via Facebook that they were creating a support group for women entrepreneurs, they expected they’d get, at most, ten people to attend the first meeting. Instead, as their friends invited friends, who invited more friends, Dougan and Laufer watched their Facebook responses grow to 30, then 50, then 70 prospective attendees. When Women Empowering Women was held at Oriole 9 on Wednesday, November 5, over 80 women —attorneys, shop owners, web designers, a chiropractor, an architect, an accountant, and others — showed up to exchange information about their businesses. Kristen Noel spoke to the group on the ‘art of the ask,’ and Melissa Gibson talked about the power of buying local.
One enthusiastic participant, massage therapist Angel Ortloff, said afterward, “The women wanted to promote themselves but also to get in touch in a survival way. We can get together — we don’t have to be stuck at home promoting our business and being overwhelmed with self-doubt.”
Exhilarated by the success of the gathering, Laufer and Dougan have organized a holiday craft fair for Sunday, December 14, from noon to 4 p.m. at Cucina in Woodstock. Twenty-eight local businesswomen will offer their wares, including jewelry, clothing, essential oils, gift certificates for services, and much more. Gift baskets will be raffled off and the proceeds given to Parsons Child and Family Center in Kingston to help families in need have a festive holiday. The next networking event is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21, at 7 p.m. at Oriole 9.
“There are a lot of women looking for support and to be together and have people see what they’re doing,” said Laufer, who teaches yoga privately and at Shakti Yoga locations in the Woodstock area. “I’d been daydreaming this image of creating something that would empower women. I already do that in my classes. Then one day I discussed it with Debbie, and she’d been thinking about it too. We didn’t know what it would look like.”
Dougan has a business called Glo, doing facials, chemical peels, and waxing at her home. She explained, “I was wondering, how am I going to grow my business? But I didn’t want to advertise — I didn’t want strangers in my home. I thought, I need to meet more women. When you know a woman who owns a bookstore, you don’t go to Amazon. When you’re looking for a landscaper or someone to do your website, you support people you know. I’m a connector. I’ve always got someone for you without your even asking. Now I have to do that for me.”
But networking is more than finding customers. Laufer said, “Working for yourself gives you amazing freedom, but at moments it’s emotionally hard to continue to put yourself out there. You do all this work and two people show up for class. How do you keep believing in your dream? In the event in November, it was so sweet and awesome to watch women meeting each other. There was no awkwardness, no one left out in the corner.”
Ortloff was inspired by Noel’s talk on “The Ask,” the title of her recent article on Huffington Post in which she addresses women, saying, “How many times do we get so caught up in the caring for others that we sidestep our own needs, as we watch our personal agenda slip to the bottom of the totem pole?” Noel, a former model who recently launched her self-empowerment business, gave the group an assignment, explained Ortloff: “To identify your ‘ask’ and find three sisters to network for. It’s not just about promoting yourself. You turn to the person next to you and find out what they do.”
Plans for the December 14 crafts fair incorporated Noel’s suggestions. “Our Facebook group has gone to 300 organically,” said Dougan. “In our ‘ask’ for the fair we ask each person in that group to bring ten people.”
Gibson, who has a business development and marketing firm called New in Town, also helped to organize Rethink Local, a regional business collaborative based on the concept of the economic multiplier. Ortloff explained, “Melissa made the analogy of having $100, and say you come to me for a massage, and I take that $100 and get a facial from Debbie, and she goes to Oriole 9 — we keep moving that $100 around, and it becomes $1000.”
“If people shifted 10 percent of their purchases to local businesses, imagine what it would mean to the local economy,” said Gibson. “I also talked about what I call ‘collaboratition’ — all of us working together for the same goal: to attract people. Suppose there’s one antique store on Route 28. People from New York City are not driving up to go to one antique store, but if there’s a string of antique stores, we become a destination. There’s nothing more depressing than driving along and seeing ‘closed’ signs. Local business ownership is an asset we all have to invest in for greater good of our community.”
As for the importance of a women’s networking group, Gibson observed, “We talk about being independent, owning our own business, but when we see each other in the community, we often talk about our kids, not about business, like guys do.”
“There’s obviously a need for it,” said Dougan. “We didn’t realize how much everyone else was feeling it. To succeed in business, you have to get turned on. I think we turned some people on.”
The Women Empowering Women Holiday Fair will be held on Sunday, December 14, noon to 4 p.m., at Cucina, 109 Mill Hill Road in Woodstock. The next networking event is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21, at 7 p.m. at Oriole 9, 17 Tinker Street, Woodstock. To find out about future events, send a Facebook message to Debbie Dougan or Patricia Laufer, asking to be added to the Women Empowering Women Facebook group. If you’re not on Facebook, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to Laufer’s email list. Dougan may be reached at email@example.com.