Starting a Networking Organization

Interview with Kathleen Hawkins, Founder and President, WOAMTEC

When the networking organization that Kathleen Hawkins participated in no longer met her needs, she took the initiative and started her own. Whether you want to start a networking organization or just be a better networker, Kathleen has some excellent tips to share.

Bringing professional businesswomen together is a passion for Kathleen Hawkins of WOAMTEC.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Women on a Mission to Earn Commission (WOAMTEC) is the premier networking, business-building organization for successful business women who want to continue to grow their business while focusing on the priorities of faith, family, and career. We have launched more than 40 chapters through Florida and Georgia, and in 2010 have expanded into Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Tennessee and Kentucky, with more growth on the way. Members meet at great restaurants (the same every other week), for a prix fixe luncheon where they deliver their 60 second infomercial, network, listen to presentations by other members and outside speakers, and gain energy for the coming week.

When did you start the business?

We held our first meeting in October 2007. Legally we became a business in February 2008.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I co-own Jeff Hawkins Photography, an award-winning photography studio based in Longwood, Florida. I've written several books on photography.

How did you come up with your business idea?

Several of us belonged to a very rule-oriented women's networking group and one day we said to each other, "Enough! We need a group that supports us instead of beating us down." The next week, we had our first meeting.

Who did you hire to help you -- Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?

We hired several people to help along the way and I think it is crucial to always surround yourself with mentors who can assist you in the areas where you may be weak. We hired a Financial Analyst who helped identify our profit margins and growth statistics. We hired an Attorney to help set up the Corporation as well as trademark our logos. We hired a business consultant to review the business plan and determine if an investor was needed. We also conferred with a spiritual advisor to make sure that we stay grounded and focused on our mission statement and core of ethics.

Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?

I've hired a National Events Director and a bookkeeper. My other employees are numerous contractors who assist with the web site, with writing, with our social agenda, with our director recruitment, with graphic design, you name it, we have a member who does it. The greatest challenge is delegating the dozens of details required throughout the organization on a daily basis so I can focus on the big picture.

Do you own a business with family members? What do you think are the benefits and challenges to running a family owned business?

Yes, I own a photography business with my husband, Jeff Hawkins. He also plays an active role in WOAMTEC. The best benefit for working with family is you can be focused on the goals of the family and work as a team. He has a skill with photography and design and that has helped with our branding and marketing efforts. The challenge is working together every day. This has helped now that we are in two separate offices.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

Using technology has truly helped us grow our business. We use social marketing in several different aspects, we use the flip videos for promoting and training, we have found Craig's list can be very beneficial in making connections as well. We also believe it is crucial to build valuable relationships and create strategic partnerships with businesses that you can work with.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Be a visionary. If you have an idea, bring in people who can help you make it happen and never look back. Always let people know they are appreciated. Be supportive of others. And give back to your community. Also, never disregard any connection. You never know when it might come in handy.

Absolutely. Thanks so much for talking to us.

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