When SCORE Rhode Island launched its first Women’s Small Business Summit in 2019, its goal was to bring RI’s copious small business resources together with the female business owners who needed them. As we gear up for the event’s second year, Co-Chair Rochelle Blease shares her thoughts on why you should get involved—and how you can get more out of any business event you go to.
Get Active in the Business Ecosystem
When I got involved in SCORE, I was blown away by how many different resources were available for women small business owners. And I had to learn how SCORE fit into this whole big ecosystem. So, I thought, let’s bring the ecosystem to them. Why not create an event where you have all of that in one place, so you can learn, gain inspiration, and meet new people that can potentially support what you’re trying to do, either as a small business owner or someone who serves that group?
The other important theme was to let female entrepreneurs, and the people who serve that constituency, evolve what the event would look like. While I can be a champion of sorts for this year’s event, I hope that through a continually evolving planning team, it just will roll forward on its own. I think the best evidence of the success of the first year is that there are four times as many women who wanted to be on the planning team in the second year!
Practice Better Networking
First, before you go, know what you want to get out of it. This doesn’t mean you need to have an elaborate plan; it could be that you want to meet two new people who can help you understand something better. It’s whatever you need, and it’s different for different people.
Second, it has to be natural to you. Some of the best business development advice I got was from a partner I worked closely with back when I was a newly minted lawyer. We were talking about business development and the things he really liked doing, like music, tennis and travelling. He said, “I don’t try to go network at tennis events. I choose the events that I want to go to, that I’m comfortable at.” Because then you can be natural, you can feel comfortable, you can be your authentic self.
So, at events where it isn’t about golf or tennis or whatever, you still have to be yourself, be authentic. Which means that you don’t “sell” at all. You have very comfortable conversations with people about their interests. Yes, you get a little insight into what people do, but more importantly you develop an understanding. It’s about starting a relationship, as opposed to thinking, “I’m going to go there to hand out eight business cards.” If that’s not done thoughtfully and in a comfortable way, those cards will end up in the wastebasket.
Find, or Give, Much-Needed Support
In terms of external support that entrepreneurs need to thrive, mentors—plural—are important. Yes, you can have too many, but you also don’t need just one. Sometimes it’s an informal mentor relationship, someone that you can go to to check your thinking, bounce ideas off of, or do a gut check or rationality check.
Then there are more formalized advisor roles. Depending on the nature and size of your business and goals, I often advise clients to develop a short list of advisors who can help accelerate whatever it is they need, like developing your financial acumen. Whether you go to events or use online portals, it’s much easier to find those people today.
The other, more group-related resources are professional, industry, social, or mission-aligned associations where there’s alignment with a business or social interest. You can get involved in that community to tap into resources and creative energy, and you can also learn a great deal.
What Makes the Women’s Small Business Summit Unique
There are already women’s events, women’s leadership events, business events, etc. This one is unique to small business. I spent most of my career in a large, publicly traded corporate setting, when my heart and my roots as a human being come from being the child of entrepreneurs. And, of course, it’s about women—women first, small business second. The two are inextricably intertwined.
So, it’s not just a women’s summit where we talk about, say, style. We talk about how to take an idea and grow your business. And no matter where you are in the life cycle of your small business, there’s relevant content, relevant interaction, and above all, inspiration and support.
Last year's event sold out. This year we went virtual, and that means we can connect even more entrepreneurs together!
It's our mission to make this the must-attend event of the year for aspiring, new and veterans female business owners.
We not only encourage you to not miss out, we encourage you to be part of it. In turbulent times, we must inspire each other.