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Women to Women opens career opportunities

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By Chris Basham,  Staff writer, South MD News.com, The businesswoman network, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010

Is it a man’s world? Well, not to Victoria Ronan.

Founder of the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce’s Women to Women networking group, Ronan said she is determined to help empower Calvert County’s female business owners and executives.

After building a career as a voice-over talent agent, Ronan found raising her two young children in a fast-paced, post-Sept. 11 New York less and less fulfilling. When her sister and brother moved to Calvert County, she and her husband also came south. She may have stepped away from one high-powered career, but she brought her drive and passion with her. These days, the Huntingtown resident is an Arbonne International consultant who sells health and beauty products and Chamber of Commerce member.

Ronan has joined forces with other female chamber members to create Women to Women. This month, the group celebrates a full year of bringing women together to network, support one another, learn new business strategies and have fun away from the office. The organization has no official position on political or religious matters.

The group first conducted brown bag lunches with speakers at the Calvert Library Prince Frederick. It tried other locations as well, and struggled for a few months to find a consistently available place that could accommodate a speaker, activities and more than 20 participants in the middle of the day. After trying out several venues, the group meets monthly at Dream Weaver Cafe in Prince Frederick for lunch and presentations by speakers of interest to entrepreneurial women.

Each month, approximately 25 women take a break from their work schedules to meet. Though about half of the group works in independent, direct sales, like Ronan, the rest are in a wide range of fields. All are chamber members.

“Our first meeting had 49 [participants],” Ronan said. “They know who we are; now they need to fit us into their schedule.”

The meetings start with an icebreaker activity designed to help foster relationships among members.

“It’s something silly but always gets you talking,” Ronan said. “We try to get people out of their comfort zone as much as possible, and make them network.”

Then, a speaker gives a presentation on a topic ranging from social media to dressing for success to motivation to anything else that can help business owners grow their trades and raise profits. After the speaker, one member’s business has the floor for a five- to seven-minute-long “spotlight,” and then the meeting moves on to relaxed social time.

“We try not to be too structured,” Ronan said. “We have an agenda but go with the flow.”

Well aware that a 90-minute lunch break isn’t always practical for women intent on building their businesses, Women to Women added a monthly happy hour, held at various locations around Prince Frederick.

“We try to make it chamber-member restaurants,” said Belinda Denton, of Port Republic, who coordinates events and manages Women to Women’s Facebook page, “Women to Women (in Calvert).”

“I’ve just kind of realized what a wonderful marketing and networking tool Facebook is. We gain 10 to 15 ‘friends’ a day,” Denton said. “The chamber is making great efforts to support us and women have responded really well.”

Denton said the Facebook page is intended as a place for all members to contribute “networking nuggets” and other information and advice of use to businesswomen.

From the luncheon meetings and Facebook presence to a less formal, monthly happy hour, the group’s goals remain business-and marketing-focused. There has to be noticeable, measurable business growth to make the group worthwhile.

“Friendships are really nice, but it’s an hour and a half of your day, in the middle of the day,” Ronan said.

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