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B.I.G. in West Hartford, CT: A Case Study

Posted By Becky Hull, Wednesday, November 10, 2010

B.I.G. in West Hartford, CT.: A Case Study

as told by Marie McNamara, B.I.G. Key Regional Director and West Hartford, CT Pod Leader

Q. What is B.I.G. and how long has it been in Greater Hartford? What are the group's primary goals? How big is the group locally?
A. B.I.G. (which stands for believe, inspire, grow) is a support, education and networking group designed to empower women to achieve their business goals. First and foremost, our goal is to give women confidence and self-value, so that they can feel comfortable working towards reaching their business aspirations. We launched our West Hartford pod on Feb 1, 2010, which currently has 20 official members, and is growing weekly. Our monthly meeting attendance averages 22 women, both members and non-members. Our entire organization has over 30 pods, with 475 members network-wide in NJ, NY, CT MA, and Ohio and we're launching about 4 new more pods each month.

Q. Why the need for another networking group? There seems to be an abundance of them.
A. Networking is just a part of B.I.G. First, we provide peer support and encouragement to our members, which is essential for women to step forward. Next, we educate by providing local experts at our meetings, who teach various business disciplines. And third is the networking piece. We feel that the combination of all three makes us different than the other groups. The cornerstone to B.I.G. is the in-person community meetings we have each month, as well as our forum-based website.

Q. One of the things asked on your website homepage (http://www.justthinkbig.us/) is "Have family commitments or the fear of financial investment kept you from trying to start your own business?" How can B.I.G. help women overcome those concerns?
A. One of our biggest benefits is bringing together women at different stages of their professional lives. Many of the women in B.I.G. are in transition - personal or professional. They include women who have been laid off from corporate jobs or whose financial situations or goals have changed. Many have advanced degrees and/or significant work experience, but have been out of their field for a while and are looking to re-enter the workforce. Some women are great at something and want to see if they can make it pay. We also have women who are already full-force, successful entrepreneurs. When you bring these groups of women together, you provide an environment for success, regardless of where they are in life. They enhance each other. Some members have learned to integrate their personal and professional lives and have figured out ways to find a balance. So, we give them a forum to share successes, as well as business pitfalls.
Because we focus on women, we take a unique business perspective. Women need to live their lives. We understand personal commitments play a role. We help members to get back to business on their own terms. We say, "It's ok. We get it. We know our audience. If you can't make it to tonight's meeting, we have teleconference on the same topic next week - or a webinar next month." When given these options, we build a strong, positive support system for members that gives them the encouragement, information, and resources they need to move forward with their business goals.
Q. B.I.G. charges $19.95 a month to be a member, it appears. Does B.I.G. envision becoming an organization like Rotary, which is also geared towards business people and has membership fees?
A. Rotary is a service club made up of existing business people. Not all of our members consider themselves business people - yet. We give a pathway towards business for those who may not have one. We have proven success stories where women would have stopped their pursuit, if not for us. There are ways that we are like them, in that we provide support, education and networking, and that members pay a monthly fee. Also, if you are a member of B.I.G. - West Hartford, you are a member of the entire network and have access to all 320 members through our website and online community. And we both believe in supporting our communities. Our scholarship fund, designed to help young women pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations, is raised through our membership fund.

Q. What requirements do you have for B.I.G. membership?
A. We are open to all women who are looking to achieve their business goals. Our ideal member is a woman looking to pursue her professional passion through an entrepreneurial path or by bringing her existing business to a larger forum.

Q. Are the leaders of B.I.G. volunteers at this point or are they compensated for their positions?
A. BIG is a registered LLC company, with the mission of helping women reach their business goals. We are not a volunteer business. This is consistent with the organization's philosophy that money validates work effort, in the professional arena. B.I.G. members view the membership dues as an investment in creating their future. Currently leaders are compensated for up to 50% of membership dues.

Tags:  B.I.G. leader  education unique selling proposition  getting the word out there  home business  support  West Hartford  women entrepreneurs 

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My Journey Back to Work, by Lisa Carver, Montville Pod Leader

Posted By Becky Hull, Sunday, September 19, 2010

In 2002, I left a rewarding career at Staffmark to be an "at home mom” with my 2 daughters, Emily and Madeline. One chapter in my life closed suddenly, and a new chapter opened—called motherhood. I really made the most of my new life by volunteering in Hilldale elementary school, the Pine Brook Jewish Center, and organizing community fund raisers in Montville.

In addition, I partnered with another mother in town (B.I.G. member--Amy Denenberg) and started a creative decoupage business. This was extremely rewarding but we ended our business after 4 years for not being compensated for our creativity and long hours….working in between playdates and late nights. In 2010, I decided, it was time to go back into the workforce, but wasn’t sure in what capacity. Once again, my creativity came through and I became a consultant for Creative Memories, designing photo books, as I love working with people’s photos and creating memories that last forever…. I realized I needed to market my books to gain exposure. I attended a networking event called the Ladies Lunch group at the Hyatt in Morristown. (B.I.G. member Aimee Schenkel inspired me to attend this group)

At that first networking luncheon, I met Jackie Somers of B.I.G. who really made a strong impression on me. The next day, I decided to start a pod in Montville. I was extremely inspired by the concept of B.I.G. and felt as though I had to be a part of this organization, knowing my peers in Montville would benefit greatly. I got on the phone that night, with so much enthusiasm, and started calling my friends and family. By May of 2010, I launched my first event at the Montville Inn, and had 28 women at my B.I.G. introductory meeting Since then, as I’ve gotten more involved with B.I.G, meeting many interesting people ,and making great connections. I started thinking there must be several women within B.I.G. who want to return back to the workforce. I noticed there is a job board on the B.I.G. web-site, but started thinking how great would it be to have a live staffing division within our organization. So I decided to seek some advice from my former boss from fifteen years ago, who is currently a partner of Execu/ Search. In that phone conversation, he mentioned, Execu/ Search expanded their offices (last month) into Parsippany, NJ which is 12 minutes from my house.

The rest is history…. after 8 years of being home with my kids, I realized it’s time to pursue what I am most passionate about and earn a living at what I did best. I will be supplying interim staff to all types of companies, specializing in accounting/ finance/ human resources/ and office support. Execu/ Search is offering me the flexibility to work part-time, and have off on Fridays which is very important to me when juggling my work life along with my family. My long term goal is to partner B.I.G. with Execu Search and help members find jobs while utilizing my internal resources. I am extremely excited about the challenge of working in a start-up office in New Jersey, and being part of a company who has an impressive track record in NYC. I look forward to continuing my role as the pod leader of Montville as we have some very exciting upcoming events!

Thank you B.I.G for getting me back on track toward my career goals, I would never have re-entered the staffing industry if it wasn’t for B.I.G.

There are a few things I learned while I was going through the process of transitiioning from an at home mother to being back in the workforce. Once I became a leader of B.I.G., I became aware of the power of networking. By attending lunches and meetings, I was meeting more and more people, and hearing inspirational speakers, like Ellyn Spragins, and it really gave me the motivation to go out and pursue my passion. You have to stay focused, and make time weekly to think about how you will reach your goal, whether it's networking with other working women or updating your resume. In the job-seeking process, I tried to go to as many speakers and meetings as possible to be in touch with the marketplace, and to keep my skills sharpened. Use Linked In to stay connected to as many people as possible, and by the way, this is a great way to reach recruiters. Now that I am in my new career, I use linked in to build my business and develop new contacts. Finally, when you go in for the interview, dress professional, speak with confidence, and have good eye contact. Hopefully, your dreams will come true too.

Tags:  B.I.G. leader  Ellyn Spragins  home business  Lisa Carver  Montville  stay at home  success 

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Why Small Businesses are Using LinkedIn, by Barbara Kuppersmith

Posted By Becky Hull, Monday, June 21, 2010

 Did you know that LinkedIn is used by 70 million business professionals in 200 countries and 170 industries? And that a new member joins LinkedIn approximately every second of the day. Is there any doubt that LinkedIn is to business networking what Facebook is to social media and that it will continue to grow exponentially going forward?

 If you are not a user of LinkedIn, it is important to understand why it has become so popular and the benefits that can be derived by participating in this vast networking facility. Ultimately, I believe you will find that LinkedIn creates a level playing field that provides small business owners and entrepreneurs the ability to establish their brand on a local, national or international basis, a phenomenon that simply did not exist prior to LinkedIn. I started using LinkedIn shortly after its inception. I utilized LinkedIn extensively as a small business recruiter and business developer to find candidates, business development leads and business contacts and have developed a network of over 400 connections. Because of my expertise I began to teach job seekers how to use LinkedIn. It has led to the realization that if used properly, small business owners, as much, if not more than job seekers, can extract benefits that were simply not possible prior to LinkedIn.

So as a small business owner why use LinkedIn?

First, LinkedIn is here to stay. In a few years, if not sooner, if you don’t have a complete profile you will be seen as not with the times. Second, it is a great way to maximize your brand, be it for personal or business reasons. Third, there is no better way for you to access millions of people, both domestically and internationally, or for those people to find the products or services you provide. LinkedIn will simplify and multiply your ability to reach through your network. How many people can your reach? Well, take for example the network that I’ve established over the years, which gives me exposure to over 7,411,500+million people. Isn’t that an amazing number of people I can touch or help!

Benefits of LinkedIn:

  • Create a brand presence on line of you and your product or service. This will make you memorable to business connections and possible clients.
  •  Establish an online site where potential customers can find out more about you
  • Add credibility with recommendations Help to network and stay in touch
  • Connect with other professionals
  • Create contact with new people
  • Find contacts within an industry, company or group as a target market for business development
  •  Reconnect with past colleagues, alumni, clients, etc.
  • Find people with your expertise
  •  Give advice to be seen as an expert Keep your business "top of mind” through updates, postings and events

How to start using LinkedIn:

  • Set up a profile. This should include at least headline, marketing summary, company with description of your position, professional picture, link to your website and contact information
  •  Connect with people
  •  Request recommendations
  • Join groups

 To summarize, what is the essence of LinkedIn that makes it different? If utilized correctly, you can establish a brand online, build relationships and reach millions of people.

Barbara Kuppersmith teaches business owners and Job Seekers how to maximize their use of LINKEDIN. Also works with Job Seekers on how to get past "the black hole” of on-line job applications through networking, research, interview skills and resume writing. In her spare time Barbara does recruiting and business development at BRKSolutionsGroup, llc Barbara@brkSolutionsGroup.com

Tags:  business development  LinkedIn  profile  resume  social networking 

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So What? How to Talk About Your Business so People Really Listen!"

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So What? How to Talk About Your Business so People Really Listen!"

I was having a conversation with a marketing coach one day, and she asked me to tell her aboutmy coaching programs. I responded proudly, "I work with people to help them recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are holding them back, and replace them with the kind of thoughts and beliefs that propel them forward.” And she answered, "So what?” Ouch! That’s a little harsh, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.

The purpose of her response was not to be mean or obnoxious or dismissive. The purpose was to get me to think about the reasons why people would care about what I do. "What,” she asked me, "is the benefit of that?” When someone makes the decision to buy something, at that moment, it is always an emotional decision. People buy products and services because they eliminate a pain or make them feel happy or some other positive emotion. It is our job to elicit and highlight those emotions from our potential customers, so that they can see, feel and imagine the benefits they will enjoy when they purchase from us.

So what do we say when someone asks us what we do, or what our business does? Most of us are very good at talking about the features of our businesses, but are less well versed in highlighting the benefits. Some of us assume the benefits are obvious, but in reality, we need to spell them out. So, imagine that you sell all natural, botanical skin care products. If you describe your business this way, you would be talking about the features of your product. I would say, "so what? How does that benefit me?” But if you tell me that your all-natural, botanical skin care products will keep my skin looking so healthy and young that perfect strangers will comment on my healthy glow, and all while using a chemical free, healthy product, and then you tell me to imagine how great I’m going to feel when that happens, you’re painting a picture for me. Now, I am imagining how awesome I will feel when my skin looks so great that people are actually commenting on it. Of course, you want to make sure that what you’re saying is true.

The best way to find out about the benefits that your customers experience is to ask them, and then take the most common responses, and craft them into your narrative about your business. You can even use their individual responses and their stories to talk about your business. What I’m really getting at here is something called your "Value Proposition.” What value do you offer your customers? What is the transformation that they undergo from using your product or service? Do you decorate interiors, or do you transform houses into warm and inviting homes that people will want to gather in? If you know your value proposition, then you can separate yourself from the competition.

There is an acronym in marketing called "WIFFM.” It stands for "What’s In It For Me,” and a savvy marketer will always remember this. If you spend all of your time talking about yourself and your business, your prospective customers will lose interest. They don’t really care about how long you have been in business, or how hard you’ve worked, or how skilled you are. What they care about is how all of that is going to benefit them. They want to hear about how you are going to help them, how your solution is going to resolve their problem, eliminate their pain, or cause them great happiness, not about how great you are. Remember to always connect the dots for people. If your product has a great feature, try adding the words "so that” after it, and then state the benefit. The benefit is what will interest people in what you have to offer, and you cannot assume that someone will picture the benefit on their own.

So, if you have a business helping people optimize their websites for search engines (SEO), you might say, "I offer website SEO, so that your business gets found by people who are looking for exactly what you have to offer, and your sales go through the roof.” Are you wondering at this point what my "so what” or Value Proposition is? The next time someone asks me what I do, here is my reply: Do you know how some entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals are great at what they do, but they are frustrated, overwhelmed, or stuck in some area of their business, with no idea where to start or how to break out? I work together with them as their partner, so that they can get clear and focused, make a plan, and feel positive, confident and excited about moving forward with that plan. Just imagine, when we work together, my clients get a thinking partner and the kind of best friend who will listen and focus completely on them! (And please, don’t say "so what!”).

 

By Donna Leyens, Chatham Pod Leader

MBA,CPC, of True Potential Coaching LLC. www.truepotentialbizcoach.com, donna@truepotentialbizcoach.com, 973-493-2778

Tags:  unique selling proposition  value proposition 

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Thoughts on Demystifying Social Media

Posted By Becky Hull, Sunday, January 17, 2010

SOCIAL MEDIA: When we first put social media on the agenda, I was a bit wary of the topic…not because I don't think we should use it, but more because I felt that it was one of MANY ways to market your business and should be considered within a larger context. However, for small business—for someone on a VERY limited budget, it is exactly the tool to consider!

Social media acts as a lightning rod for people. Though I consider myself somewhat technologically savvy, I had shied away from Twitter and Facebook until recently. I understood LinkedIn, thought it was incredibly useful and it met my needs as I networked my way to connect with colleagues I had worked with almost twenty years ago.

Facebook, like myspace, originally, was where my teens were, and therefore, I wasn't allowed. However, I logged on and created my profile. Even my twenty year old son became my friend. (Not my 16 year old daughter, though.)

I soon became sucked in to the Big Three (FB, Twitter and LinkedIn), spending way too much time on them. I had little to say but I did enjoy checking out what my virtual friends were up to. At some point, not too far along, I realized that I never really wanted to know what my BFF from third grade drank at Starbucks that morning. I swore Facebook off...for personal use.

Quite another story for business—when we launched B.I.G. back in September, Jackie Somers nominated B.I.G. for an American Express "Shine a Light” grant. The grant is terrific, awarding small businesses money each year. We shared our nomination with friends and colleagues through our Facebook personal pages as well through our B.I.G. page and in just under two weeks, we had qualified for the judging round (and we hadn't really launched the website yet). Just by telling our story and sharing, we had over 1500 people reading our endorsement! What a great way to get the word out. Since then, we have started a fan page!

So my take on it is this...we (as marketers) need to use social media wisely and carefully but we need to use it. Persona is everything and just like any direct mail package, press release or print ad you create for your business, stay on message and be consistent. And remember that 80% of social media is NOT selling—it is engaging.

Maintain all the tenets of the "old” way of marketing. Know your audience. Build your brand. Decide prior to launch what your goals are and work to make every marketing tactic lead toward those goals.

Five (relatively simple) Steps:

1) Create a page. The time commitment these take can be extensive. There are tools such as oomph.com, bit.ly.com etc, that can shorten what you want to say and schedule when you want to say it. Spend some time exploring the different sites and what they offer. Check out someone else's page with a similar business or lifestyle and see what you think. Learn from others. Read The Twitter Book to learn more about how to use Twitter.

2) Create your brand. What do you want people to know about you? Your product? Be innovative, try a few different things. The cost is time. Create different campaigns on Facebook and LinkedIn and experiment with offers. Create purchase intent by driving your customers first to explore your site, then purchase.

3) Change it up. This is also where the issue of time comes in. But don't go crazy, if you are sick of your site, that doesn't mean your clients are. You see your page everyday, they don't.

4) Choose your friends wisely. Join groups and befriend those that make sense to you and your business.

5) Remember that social media is part of a larger marketing mix (if you have dollars to spend). In the meantime, enjoy and stay focused!

We are experimenting ourselves. Let us know how we are doing. We know we don't post enough, blog enough or twitter enough. We are working on it. We are introducing B.I.G. through Twitter, facebook and LinkedIn to build our membership in 2010. We have a YouTube video that we created when we had our launch party. We are trying to use that too! Work with us to help us reach our goal...you can follow us on Facebook at Business Ideas Group, and our B.I.G. fan page, on Twitter and on LinkedIn at Business Ideas Group (B.I.G.). Keep the conversation going....and keep it relevant.

Tags:  facebook  getting the word out there  linkedin  marketing  members  new members  pr for meetings  social media  twitter 

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