Guest Post by Tricia Kagerer
The Dallas Women in the Workplace Examiner had the opportunity to interview Sandra Yancey; Founder of Dallas based eWomenNetwork. (www.ewomennetwork.com) This is the first of 5 articles in which our readers will get to know Sandra on a personal level and learn more about eWomenNetwork, the Glow Project and the eWomenNetwork Foundation.
DWWE: What inspired you to start the eWomenNetwork?
Sandra: Honestly, I was a lousy networker. I’ve never really been terribly comfortable in a room full of people. I’m an introvert at heart, but I’m great one on one. I started going to networking events in Dallas in about 1998. We had moved here in 1996. I had my own consulting practice at the time and was really a soloprenuer. I had a bevy of impressive clients, which made for an impressive portfolio. My business was indeed successful.
I was living on a plane daily. And as a soloprenuer, I was doing it all. I was booking my flights, as well as my hotel room and interviewing clients. I would then run to Kinko’s, make copies, get the mail, update QuickBooks, and process invoices. I wasn’t functioning as a CEO—Chief Executive Officer, I was functioning as a CEO—Chief of Everything! All the while I had 2 small children at home; my son was not even three years old and my daughter was eight. I wasn’t happy.
It was at this point I learned the difference between success and happiness. My husband encouraged me to look for clients in my own backyard to cut out some of the travelling, so I did. I started attending various networking groups in Dallas and witnessed the most amazing, phenomenal thing: “The Good ‘Ole Boys Club.” First, you must know, I say it in the most complementary way; I’m not bashing anyone at all. I saw these guys at work and thought, “You know what, they deserve to be where they are; no wonder they are so successful.” They were sharing ideas, talking about what they needed, and opening up their rolodexes to each other. They also had their protégé close by, there with them to watch and learn the ropes, introducing them to others along the way. I thought this was a really amazing way of doing business, “a unique sport” and I wanted to play. I wanted to be on the team. I didn’t want to be sitting on the bleachers—I wanted to play.
DWWE: So did you start to play?
Sandra: Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible. I just didn’t have the qualifications to get in.
DWWE: Do you think it was because you were female?
Sandra: I think part of it was. I also think it was the dynamics of the group. It’s similar to when you’re at an eWomenNetwork Conference; there’s an energy that can’t be replicated anywhere else. It’s not that it’s right or wrong, or good or bad; it’s just what it is.
DWWE: So how did you begin to move forward?
Sandra: I started looking for women networking groups. The first one I attended was a disappointment and eye opener. It seemed as if the women were all showing up in pairs, coming with a girlfriend. I felt like everyone knew this but me, that I wasn’t included on the memo. I went to the meetings alone and felt like people were thinking, “You don’t have any friends? What’s wrong with you?” It was hard to even find a table that had a spare single chair because everybody came and sat in pairs. When I did find a seat and sat down, I started eating my salad and noticed the ladies seemed to all be talking to their girlfriend. I tried to interject something here and there, but never really felt welcomed into their conversation. It was just the weirdest thing.
On the way out, I realized I was not the only one who was disappointed. On the way down the elevator, I overheard heard someone say they didn’t get much out of the meeting. I thought to myself, “No Wonder! You didn’t talk to anyone new. ”
Soon afterwards, the idea for eWomenNetwork began to percolate. As I talked to other women colleagues and business owners, I discovered I wasn’t alone in my experience. It was then that I knew there was a need to networking group for women that would focus on sharing resources, ideas, contacts, leads and customers with a female approach and environment would be a viable business model.
DWWE: How long did it take you from idea to the launch of eWomenNetwork?
Sandra: I began to test my assumptions by embarking on some statistical research. (This was before the internet was popular, so research was much slower than it is today.) I discovered that there were 10.1 million women-owned businesses in the nation. One out of eleven adult women in the USA runs her own business! The list goes on. Bottom line, I saw a need and decided to fill it an immediately developing a business plan.
DWWE: What other research motivated you?
Sandra: Women influence 80% all purchasing decisions in this nation. Women are starting businesses at the rate of two to one to male-owned businesses. They are leaving corporate America, and are starting businesses in droves. I also found out that there are about 7,000 networking groups that open and close each year. So, the viability of longevity of using networking as a business model wasn’t what I would call seductive. It wasn’t like I was easily seduced into this because I was looking at a huge failure rate.
I also noticed that the largest organizations that were out there had a big leg up on me. One organization, for example, was celebrating their 25th year the year I opened my doors.
My business model is based on stickiness; I had to have something women would value and “stick” to. I learned a lot of networking groups were born out of women who had other primary businesses but weren’t getting their networking needs satisfied. They were starting their own networking groups “on the side” to feed their core business. Eventually, these women would realize the amount of time organizing these events took from the core business, and would eventually give them up. I knew that if I could meet their fundamental business-building needs, they would become members of eWomenNetwork and tell their colleagues, who would also join.
Resources were also scarce; banks and investors wouldn’t really talk to me because I was too small. They didn’t a value business model based soley on building relationships. Silly them! All businesses are built on relationships! It’s true that for the first several years, I struggled. But, by sticking it out, honing our message, investing in technology, building our memberships, things started to take off. Like many others who have experienced the same thing, suddenly everyone had an interest, everyone wanted to talk.
This is the first in a series of 4 interviews with Sandra. Stay tuned for the next posting to read more about Sandra’s amazing story.