By Jennie Wong
The Charlotte Observer.
This week’s Ask the Mompreneur features an interview with Jill Salzman, founder of The Founding Moms, a kid-friendly collective of monthly meet-ups for mom entrepreneurs. Salzman is also a serial entrepreneur, podcaster and TEDx speaker.
ASK THE MOMPRENEUR
I’m a big fan of Meetup.com and have used it to find existing events to help me learn and network. I’m fascinated by how you’ve used it to build a community and address an unmet need, both for yourself and for other women like you. Can you tell us a little bit about how you leveraged Meetup as a tool for creating The Founding Moms?
When I initially had the idea, I was a mom with three businesses and two kids and I was yearning to connect with other women who also had businesses and babies and were trying to manage both at the same time. But I didn’t know how to find them. I knew plenty of women in business, but they didn’t have kids. And I knew plenty of parents who were raising future entrepreneurs, but they themselves weren’t working. So how was I going to find crazy people like me who opted to take on running a startup while raising children?
I headed straight to Meetup.com and I invited anyone who was like me to meet with me and tell me how they were getting away with it. My hope was that five or six women might show up out of the woodwork.
Boy was I wrong.
By the sixth month of our monthly Meetup, we had 200 members in my small village of Oak Park, Ill. When someone asked me to open up another one in downtown Chicago so she could commute and commune with fellow mom entrepreneurs, I did. And it just kept going. Four years later, we have Meetups in 42 cities, in nine countries, around the world. It’s the community I always wanted and a community that I never knew existed. Clearly there are a lot of us who feel the same way.
ASK THE MOMPRENEUR
That’s an awesome story. So if someone wanted to replicate your success and build a community of their own, what steps would you recommend?
1. Start with your need. What do you yearn to learn more about? Or what are you experiencing that you’d like to share with others? Maybe it’s positive, you’re getting a lot out of it and want to share the joy. Maybe it’s negative, you’re feeling lonely and want support. Whatever it is, if you’re feeling like you need others around for it, you can bet that there are folks out there who feel the same way.
2. Find the gaps. Search Meetup.com for groups that may already exist and support the need you’ve pinpointed. Maybe they’re not on Meetup, but you can suss out what’s happening on Facebook or LinkedIn to see if similar groups exist in those places. Perhaps you’re finding similar groups but they’re not exactly the same, much the way that I found plenty of Meetups for “women in business” but none that incorporated the motherhood aspect as well.
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3. Set it up. Pick a name that resonates with the community you hope to build. Find a comfortable, suitable place to meet. You don’t need to host a bunch of strangers in your home when there are perfectly good venues like coffee shops, libraries and other public places (and if they offer food and beverage, even better). Create an agenda so there is a roadmap for the event. No one likes to show up to a free-for-all even if “casual conversation” is the goal. Even a vague vision written down on paper is better than nothing.
4. Keep it up. Figure out how often you’d like to meet. Once a week? Twice a month? Once every quarter? Making your event a recurring calendar item is ideal for building your community. It fosters the notion that this is a regular “thing” and lets folks know that your Meetups are reliable.
5. Grow your community. You know why you’re doing it. You know when you’re doing it. You know how often you’re doing it. Once you’ve got all of that figured out, it’s time to extend it elsewhere. If you’re tapping into a real need, then there will be like-minded people in other locations who will want to meet about the same thing. Find folks in other neighborhoods or cities and get their help to launch your vision in those places. For example, there’s no Founding Moms Meetup in Charlotte at the moment, so I’d love to hear from anyone who is interested in leading one!
And remember, soon your vision will become their vision. It may already have been theirs but you were the one to act. Once everyone with the same vision has a way to rally together, you’ve got yourself one fantastic, and ever growing, community!
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book “Ask the Mompreneur” and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.