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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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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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