Kearsarge Women’s Network
By Kim J. Gifford

Barbra Streisand was right: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” But perhaps those who find the people they need are even luckier.

New London resident Marianne McEnrue might be able to attest to this. Three years ago, she decided to advertise a meeting in a local weekly publication, calling for women with an interest in business to come together and network on a professional and social level.

“I don’t know how else to describe it; there just seemed to be a need for it,” McEnrue says. “The idea had been welling up in me for two years, but I had been distracted by other things. It dawned on me that there just wasn’t a vehicle for women to get together and support each other in their entrepreneurial endeavors.”

Thirteen women responded and the idea transformed into the Kearsarge Women’s Network, a 152-member organization founded on the idea that women can benefit in both their professional and personal lives through encouragement, interaction and shared knowledge.

In the beginning
A broad spectrum of women responded to the first meeting. “The oldest was 70 and the youngest was probably in her mid-to-late 20s, so we spanned almost 50 years,” says McEnrue. “Some had been here a while, some had just moved to the area. Interestingly, in the relatively small town of New London, none of us had ever met before.”

The women also came from a variety of backgrounds and included professional organizers, college professors and web designers, to name a few. “There were some women who didn’t have business at all. They came to find friends and that was okay,” says McEnrue.

One of the women to first respond to McEnrue’s advertisement was Heather Turner, a Web designer from Bradford, who had just left the restaurant business after 20 years and was looking for ways to broaden her professional life. Turner subsequently became instrumental in organizing the group; she manages the meetings, brings in speakers and tracks membership. The two women are the backbone of the organization.

“Heather is wonderful at keeping us on the straight and narrow,” says McEnrue.

Turner says, “Marianne is better at drawing people out and getting them to talk about their businesses.”

McEnrue’s concept was to establish a network for women who had their own business (or were interested in starting one) to allow them to be resources for each other. She considered the possibility of establishing a women’s professional directory for referrals, which the group has since accomplished. Yet it took awhile for the group to clarify its goals and truly gel.

“We had a kind of breakthrough when we acknowledged that we didn’t just want to be focused on business. We wanted a social aspect to it as well,” says McEnrue. “It seems like once that was said, people just kind of relaxed and it all coalesced.”

Making friends
Not every member comes to every meeting, which take place on the second Wednesday of every month in the community room at Tracy Library in New London. In fact, most meetings attract, on the average, 10 to 12 members, “people sort of dip in and out, but I get at least 15 e-mails a week from people looking for information and contacts,” says Turner.

The meetings are informal, encouraging members to come as they are. “We have painters who show up in painters pants. You can wear a business suit or you can wear shorts,” says Turner. “I belong to a bunch of other business networks and I shouldn’t say that they’re formal, but they are more formal. You don’t get a chance to socialize. Yet, here a lot of people do outside things like go hiking or kayaking together. When someone is having a party, they invite everyone.”

For many members, the Kearsarge Women’s Network has provided an easy means to make friends. “I have been a member since the second meeting. I was fairly new to the area and I was finding it hard to meet people and get new contacts for my business,” says Darcie DeBlois-Rivard, a graphic designer who runs Made You Look Designs in New London. “This has been a great way to accomplish those two things. It’s a great way to talk to people you wouldn’t normally meet and, best of all, it’s free.”

Down to business
For other members, the appeal of the group is not social, but professional. Each meeting features a speaker, running the gamut from financial planners to marketing experts.

“We’ve had people talk about health care, marketing techniques, sales techniques, dealing with problem customers and how to get paid. We’re trying to cover all the facets of what a small business might need to know,” says Turner.

“I have spent most of my career in Fortune 50 companies, and this has been great to meet local entrepreneurs. Besides the opportunity to network, there is a speaker or round table at each meeting covering a variety of topics useful for new and growing businesses,” says Susan W. Nye, founder of Kearsarge Services & Solutions Consulting in New London.

“One that sticks in my mind is the identity theft guy who spoke with such fervor about the importance of protecting your identity, whether you are a business or an individual, and, as a business, how important it is to protect the identity of your clients,” says McEnrue.

Another recent speaker addressed the fear of public speaking, an issue for many members of the group. Both Turner and McEnrue feel that many women need encouragement in promoting themselves and their businesses.

“Susan Nye, an active member of the group, spoke last year on marketing and made the comment that men network everywhere — the golf course, bars, everywhere —women really need to learn how to do it better,” says Turner.

“A lot of these women are contemplating starting their own businesses and they really need role models,” says McEnrue. “Even if you pick up one piece of information that you can use or didn’t know before, the whole thing is definitely worth it.”
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