Girl power has never been more prevalent in the business world.
Women-owned businesses are growing faster than ever, as businesses owned and operated by women have doubled in the last two decades. According to the Harvard Business Review, women are the fastest growing population of business owners, currently making up 37 percent of global enterprises and generating $1.5 trillion in sales.
Though these are national statistics, Michiana is no exception, as you can hardly walk down the street without running into a woman’s business, be it a pizza shop in Niles or a boutique in Mishawaka or St. Joseph.
With the knowledge that female-driven business is on the rise in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, let’s take a dive into three Michiana-based organizations designed to support and foster women-owned businesses.
Women Business Owners of Michiana
With a pink streak in her hair and a long necklace hanging from her neck, Angie Anderson, 32, of Mishawaka, makes it clear that her idea of a 21st Century business owner is a far cry from the stuffy business men of yesteryear.
For her, business is all about bringing women together and making connections, something she constantly strives to do as the president of Women Business Owners of Michiana, a nonprofit organization that, for more than 30 years, has been dedicated to providing an environment for women in business to meet.
Each month, the group meets for lunch at Bonefish Grill in Mishawaka to network and listen to a chosen speaker.
“We are a group designed to foster and support women-owned businesses in Michiana,” Angie says.
Though she has only been president of the group for one year, Angie got involved with Women Business Owners of Michiana as a new business owner in 2007.
After moving to the Michiana area from New Jersey to marry her husband, Angie started Belle Behind the Ball, a full-service wedding and event service. Once she started her business, she realized that she needed to make connections with other business owners to thrive, so when a friend told her about Women Business Owners of Michiana, she almost immediately knew it was the place for her.
“I was new to town, and I was looking for a way to meet and connect with people,” Angie says. “Someone told me about the group and its once-a-month luncheons, and I just thought that sounded really fantastic. I’ve been impressed ever since.”
Angie says that being a member of the Women Business Owners of Michiana has helped her as a business owner in innumerable ways, from her own personal growth and development to finding business leads as a young business owner, to now allowing her to mentor new members.
“It’s been a really fulfilling experience for me both personally and professionally,” Angie says of being involved with the organization. “I’m a woman, and I’m a business owner. It’s obviously a like-minded group. This was a group of ladies that could just help me through what I was going through starting a new business. Now, 10 years in, they are helping me through the more advanced stages of my career.”
Though Angie believes that any networking group could have helped her business grow, being a member of a women-only group allowed her to share her experiences with women who understood and knew her needs and the needs of her business, something she thinks her organization can do for any woman.
“Working with [the women of the organization] is incredible. Women have unique needs, being that they are moms or trying to juggle many things,” Angie says. “This organization understands. Women can do amazing things for our community in terms of their perspective on things. That is something that is so important to be cultivated from girls from a young age. [Women Business Owners of Michiana] does that, and that’s so important.”
Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance
Dressed in black, Cornerstone Alliance’s Margaret Adams sits poised at a table, her hands neatly pressed in her lap. Though she has a kind smile, her demeanor is all business, and with good reason. Margaret, 64, of Benton Harbor, is the leader of an organization designed to help women get their businesses off the ground.
Margaret is the director/manager of the Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance out of Benton Harbor, which serves Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties. Open since 2004, The Women’s Business center aims to help new business start-ups get off the ground and to help existing small businesses grow.
“We meet with individuals that want to start, grow or expand their business,” Margaret says of what the Women’s Business Center does. “We work with them with counselling sessions where we come in and sit down and talk to them about what we do. Then, they help us understand what they would like to do. From there, we make a plan to get them to that end.”
The Women’s Business Center helps get small businesses off the ground by offering planning and counselling services, professional development classes and a loan program that can lend individuals anywhere from $500 to $50,000.
“Once someone has done the due diligence of creating a business plan, they have the opportunity to possibly borrow money,” Margaret says. “[The Women’s Business Center] truly is a great tool for small business owners.”
Margaret says she believes that the center leads to success, and for evidence of that one needs to look no further than the story of Amber Williams, the owner of Power in Motion Gymnastics and Dance in St. Joseph. Amber was 21 years old when she went to the Women’s Business Center in order to receive funding for her business, as banks would not grant her a loan due to age.
Since receiving help from the Women’s Business Center, Amber has made Power in Motion into a successful business and has even expanded her business twice.
“No one believed in her, but we did,” Margaret says. “Now look at her. Amber is running a million-dollar business. That’s just one of our success stories.”
Success stories like Amber’s are what makes working at the business center rewarding for Margaret, she says, as watching new business owners cut the ribbons for their grand openings and watching the businesses grow is something that makes her proud of the work she does.
“[The business owners] have the opportunity to make whatever salary their business allows them. They don’t have to be limited by what corporate America says they can make. They control their financial destiny,” Margaret says. “That’s empowering for women, and it gives me great gratification to be a part of that.”
A small business owner herself, Margaret runs a catering company called Adam’s Ribs Catering and Event Planning, which she opened in 1994. Looking back now, Margaret says she wished she had a resource like the Women’s Business Center when she started out.
“We did a lot of trial and error, getting out there to see what works. We were underbidding because we were just trying to get jobs,” Margaret says of how she started out. “If I had the Women’s Business Center or something of that sort to help, I would have understood that my product will speak for itself. I wish I had that direction and someone to talk to me; I think we would have been more successful sooner. … [The center] really helps people. We are helping women achieve their dreams.”
Premier Women’s Network
Tearsa Smith, of Dowagiac, is a busy woman.
Between being a mother, a grandmother and a consultant for Usborne Books and More, there is hardly a minute of the day that she isn’t running around.
However, on top of all this, she has found the time to run a local chapter of a regional networking group.
Tearsa is the president of the Dowagiac chapter of the Premier Women’s Network, which was started in 2008 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Premier Women’s Network is a collection of local networking groups that help female entrepreneurs make connections and grow their businesses.
Tearsa started the Dowagiac chapter in January 2017.
“Our goal is to help women in business to achieve their goals,” Tearsa says. “We work hard to work together and uplift each other. It gives women the opportunity to share their business with other women, so that they can refer customers to each other and support each other.”
Tearsa says that she spent years looking for the right networking group to join, going to meeting after meeting, and never found the right fit. She says that it wasn’t until she heard about the Premier Women’s Network and went to a meeting that she found a place that felt like home.
What makes the Premier Women’s Network special, in Tearsa’s book, is the amount of care that its members put in and the relationships that are created through the network.
“First and foremost, we try to create relationships with one another, as that it’s through those relationships you achieve your goals,” Tearsa says. “By building those relationships, it’s more likely that you will find people to refer people to your businesses.”
What Tearsa also says is unique about her organization is that the speakers who come to meetings do more than try to sell products. In addition to having speakers that focus on professional development, the group has invited safety experts, experts on overcoming fear, housing and tax experts, and representatives from Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services to speak to its members.
“We like to have a variety. We ask the women in our group what they would like to hear about. Then we try to find speakers for those topics,” Tearsa says. “Building life skills, building friendships and building relationships are all so important. That will help your business and help referrals.”
Being a part of a professional network is important to any businesses owner, Tearsa says. For women business owners, being a part of a female-driven network can have advantages such as friendship and like-minded goals, she says, adding that she believes the Premier Women’s Network can provide for the needs of women business owners.
“All businesses have things in common, but as women, we have different obstacles to face sometimes,” Tearsa says. “Women also connect different sometimes than men, because we look at things different. So, as women business owners we are able to connect together on a level that fits our way of thinking.”
Photos by Tim Ritter