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Women Business Owners Come Together To Support Each Other

By Laura Nightengale Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)> Bonnie Harken, owner of "The Mansion on Walnut" and founder and CEO of "Crossroads Programs for Women", has assembled a group of business-minded women to come together for support and collaboration. The group of six meets once a month and chats much more frequently online about how to boost their businesses for everyone's benefit.

PEKIN

Bonnie Harken admits that when she began her career, she learned a lot from the successful women in her company.

At her next job, she did the same, and throughout her career she has, again and again, gotten to know women who have been able to give her advice or inspiration to move forward.

"The same kind of thing happened in meeting some other women who were not just highly successful, but had very successful relationships with other women and could inspire other women," Harken said.

"It's people like that, who have collaborative spirits and encourage other women, that I'm always drawn to."

Harken, owner of The Mansion on Walnut and founder and CEO of Crossroads Programs for Women, found a group of such-minded women among the small-business owners in Pekin and saw an opportunity for collaboration. The group of six meets once a month and chats much more frequently online about how to boost their businesses for everyone's benefit.

"We women can encourage other women in a way no one else can because we know what it's like to be a working mom, to be a woman who's single living in a world made for couples, women who know what it's like to have PMS," Harken said.

Though she's the designated spokeswoman of the group, Harken is quick to point out that she's not calling the shots -- it's a collaborative group, not a board with a chairperson.

"No one is the leader of the group, so to speak. We're just a group of women getting together to promote our businesses," she said.

It's the informal atmosphere that drives the group's direction. Any member can bring up an experience they've had, negative or positive, to ask for or offer advice.

"It just feels more collaborative somehow," said Lenora Fisher, a small-business consultant. The discussion of the day, then, is driven less by agenda than it is by conversation.

Each month's successes and failures will help dictate what topics the group will tackle the next.

"We talk more about Facebook and social media than anything," Fisher said.

The group has been using social media not only as a means to communicate with its own current and potential clientele, but also as a platform for making recommendations for the other group members.

The group has committed to, at least once a week, share a post from one of the other member's business to help reach new audiences.

The women have varied business backgrounds, but their businesses have some commonalities. They all deal in mental/emotional health, events and arts or health care.

And while similar businesses would certainly have a more obvious opportunity to compete, the women have decided instead to collaborate to improve the market overall.

"I think people can get competitive -- and it's a small market -- but by choosing to work together, we have more to gain than lose," Fisher said.

Many of the women have experience, past or present, dealing with other business cooperative groups like a chamber of commerce, but the informality is part of the appeal.

"Because it's smaller it's going to be more intimate," said Kim Brooks-Miller, founder of YourStoryConfidential.com, an online counseling platform. "It's a more hands-on, grass-roots source of help. We're not out to imitate a chamber or anything like that."

New to the Pekin area after moving from Peoria with her husband, Brooks-Miller was looking for opportunities to network with other business owners when the group began to form last year.

"So for me it has been really nice to meet other women who are businesswomen in the community. That's been a real godsend for me, that support," Brooks-Miller said.

The group's main purpose has been information sharing and referrals.

If one member is looking to improve her web page, another might recommend a web designer that works for a reasonable price.

The conversations are almost always directly related to business and operations, but not always. The women are able to offer encouragement and support for the life-outside-of-work issues ranging from raising kids to caring for ailing parents.

"I think a lot of women who are working have many demands on their time. Many have relationships that they're in; many have children that they're trying to raise. They're trying to be the mom, be the wife, be out there building businesses, working hard. Most women wear many hats," Harken said.

Each of the women who spoke to the Journal Star was cautious of speaking in generalities, but each also brought up that many women, by nature, bring a different perspective into the business world than men -- an emotional intuitiveness -- that they can learn to use to their advantage.

"There are just certain nurturing things that are gifts that are God-given to women that we can use," Harken said.

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