By Cynthia Washicko
About 15 women gathered around tables in small groups swapping business cards and contact information at the kickoff event for one of Clatsop County’s newest business networking groups.
The Clatsop County chapter of Divas Doing Business officially launched during the Jan. 12 event. The group’s focus is on providing a networking platform within the community for businesswomen. The Clatsop County chapter is an offshoot of a larger organization with its roots in Colorado, where it began six years ago.
Judy Curnow founded the Clatsop chapter to give local businesswomen a networking platform — something she said was missing from the community.
“(People) putting business cards on bulletin boards just doesn’t work from my personal background,” Curnow said. “Being able to meet people face to face and to know who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish, I think you get a lot more out of it than a business card or looking them up in the yellow pages or looking at their website.”
Nationally, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 59 percent from 1997 to 2013 — 1.5 times the national average for business growth, according to a report commissioned by American Express OPEN. Oregon saw 50 percent growth in the number of women-owned businesses during that time frame, which ranks the state 25th in the nation according to the report.
In 2012 there were well over nine million women-owned businesses, a jump of more than two million from 2007, according to the National Women’s Business
Curnow began her relationship with Divas Doing Business in Colorado, after a friend of hers founded the group in Colorado Springs. Now, she said she’s drawing on her experience there to help navigate the possible challenges of starting the group in Clatsop County.
“When I was part of it in Colorado Springs, I loved the concept and I knew that we didn’t have anything here in Clatsop County,” she said.
Members who attended the kickoff event have already seen the benefit of face-to-face networking, Curnow said. One attendee came from a local radio station, which made ad sales after the meeting. Another young woman looking to return to school connected with representatives of the American Association of University Women for information on available scholarships.
In general, few industries in the area have any sort of support structure for business owners, Sandi Hilton said, one of the organizers for the Jan. 12 event.
“This community doesn’t have much of an infrastructure if you’re not in government or in certain circles, it doesn’t really have a structural network of businesses,” Hilton said.
That support system is crucial in a business climate that’s largely dependent on seasonal revenue, said Connie Brindell, a reflexologist who attended the kickoff event.
“(This) is a thriving community six months out of the year, but the other six months it’s do or die and I think you need the support to keep going and you learn from other people,” Brindell said.
Even when an owner can’t afford traditional advertising, using relationships to build word-of-mouth awareness about a local operation can help bring customers through the doors without a hefty price tag, Hilton said. By facilitating face-to-face interaction at Divas Doing Business, members of the group can keep each other in mind for referrals down the line, she said.
Building a network of contacts who can then be referred to other businesses is a major part of the goal behind the community-based networking Divas Doing Business strives for, Curnow said.
For now, Curnow’s plans are to continue to grow the group’s membership, she said. She plans to rely largely word of mouth to accomplish that goal, using social media like Facebook and Meetup to continue to draw more and more women to the organization.