There has been a common thread in the interviews I have done for my monthly deep dive. Yes, Aviva, Stacey, Yael, Shay and Angie have all been women but all but two have something else in common… Aviva, Yael and Shay are members of Her Corner. Her Corner is a “hyper local” women’s networking group started by an amazing women named Frederique Irwin (affectionately known as Fred.) I am mesmerized by the cadence of growth of Her Corner and I am convinced that Fred has more than 24 hours in her day. One year ago I hadn’t heard of Her Corner or Fred. Today almost every female entrepreneur I know and respect in the DC area is a member of a Her Corner group (and Her Corner is growing past DC to Baltimore, Memphis and San Diego in the coming months. (Did I mention that on top of all of this Fred is expecting her third child in a month?) My Bethesda based Her Corner group has become a source of inspiration and a highlight on my calendar. Fred’s ability to create that was why I chose her for my May deep dive.
Her Corner went from being unknown to being almost omnipresent among DC female entrepreneurs. Can you speak to how you did that in such a short period of time?
I don’t really have the same impression of omnipresence that you portray but we did move very fast to grow groups and get out there. There has been a lot of grass roots momentum from the time we started growing groups in August 2012 to today. We didn’t have a strategic plan in our first year, but we have gotten very lucky on a few things. For instance, this all started with a group that I was running for free. It was something I felt I needed. The members of that group urged me to take the concept bigger and to make it a real business. I had a business I was growing already so I resisted that idea. When I finally decided it was worth trying I relied on my founding members to really be out there and promote this concept. In that initial group there were some real connecters. They were able to create a buzz for Her Corner before we were even ready to accept new members. So, the founding members became a huge part of the momentum of the growth of organization.
In addition, the way we structured the membership requirements have helped in the growth. There are so many networking opportunities out there but I wanted something different. I didn’t want that sort of icky sales component, I didn’t want businesses that weren’t their own brand such as realtors or Mary Kay vendors. That wasn’t going to be what this group was about. We reverse engineered what we wanted the group to be to come up with the membership requirements. We are only for business owners that have been in business at least a year, who are building their own brand and who are committed to growth. We didn’t want to be another BNI who will take anyone and everyone. That selectivity got out there and made us more attractive to business owners who wanted to deal with other business owners like themselves without the noise.
I know you have been a part of a lot of networking groups? What about this being an all women group makes it different?
Women network very differently. Most women don’t want to just make random introductions. For most of us, social capital really matters. We want to get to know you, we want to know your business, hear your story, figure out who you are. Once we know who you are and we believe in what you do, we won’t just recommend you, you can’t shut us off. For us, we want to really get to know you and trust you before we are willing to recommend you. Throwing a deal sheet for referrals in front of us just doesn’t work for the way we tend to network.
I know you said you haven’t really had a strategic marketing plan but I would love to hear your philosophy for your online presence?
From a web presence perspective, our underlying philosophy is to shine the spotlight on our members, not on ourselves. I personally feel over saturated by “how-to” newsletters. I actually used to write them and they were well received but when I decided to build Her Corner, I thought long and hard about the mission. The mission is to help women’s businesses grow and to change the game (the game being that 88% of us female businesses make less than $100,000 per year.) I felt the best way to support that mission would be to create an environment where we can showcase our members. Where it is evolving and what we will be implementing next year is how can we support our members, not just emotionally but financially. We will be raising outside money to fund others. I don’t know what that will look like yet but that will also flow through our web presence.
I love that aspirational part of the group. You create the garden and the members plant the flowers. I know for me, when I first joined the group, I was blown away by what was happening on the Facebook page. In a given week one member had completed an amazing video about her product, another had had her product approved by a government agency and another had received major media coverage. It was such a kick in the pants! It really cuts through your brain’s bull shit about whether you can do this when you see others doing it so effectively.
That, what you just said, is what Her Corner is all about. I know from experience and I know from research that we are almost conditioned to think that we are going to fail at our businesses. We are told that we can’t do this, because we have children or that 88% of us are going to have these tiny businesses. There are so many barriers to our mental mindset that we can do this! There are little bombs everywhere. The self sabotage we do combined with our tendency to think that we can do everything ourselves (so we don’t bring in the right help to make things happen) can lead to complete disaster. I love that I have heard from so many Her Corner members that they are inspired by just being a part of Her Corner. I always say “come be inspired to aspire to build your vision.” To be a part of this group you had to be ambitious enough to have created something. You have already aspired to these things, you already have had this idea and have created a business. When you are a member you can keep that inspiration up by hearing about the success of other members. We are creating an environment of success.
The community is not just inspirational though, it is a tool. To create a thriving business, you need others. We are surrounding ourselves with people that we will need to accelerate our business. No one does this alone. They need accountants, or copy writers or web strategy people [Did Fred say this or did Erika add it? You will never know.] By building this community they have people around them who either have these specialties or can recommend others that do. We spend so much time treading water. By treading water I mean trying to get smart about things that aren’t our specialty. That is time that we are not using to increase our revenue. That is time we aren’t getting known for what we do.
How do you measure the success of the web presence you have created?
At this point for us our measurement is more instinctive. Of course our members aren’t quiet. We get LOTS of feedback on everything we do and sometimes even silence is the feedback we need. We also just ask the questions. We ask what is working.
Any closing thoughts? What do you wish you had done better?
Definitely think I wouldn’t have hired a crystal meth dealer to do PR. [A fascinating story if you ever have a chance to chat with Fred.] More recently, I think we are shifting the balance towards more transparency. We want to hold onto decisions long enough to assess them thoughtfully but we need to be careful to not come across as holding out information on our members. We are working on that now. We need to share the vision of Her Corner and why we are doing what we are doing.
Know someone great I should promote as part of my web strategy deep dives? Tell me in comments or send me an email.