We’re talking with Karen Morrison, the president and CEO of Women 4 Success (www.women4success.com) It’s a small group (under 100) women, but the structure and the lessons learned from the dynamics are worth noting – especially if you’re a trying to sell into a women’s organization via word of mouth.
Karen has her Masters in clinical psychology from Pepperdine and was on her way to becoming a marriage counselor until she had her first child. At that point she needed to do something that allowed her to be a parent and a professional. “Women are the ones who generally have to restructure their time and day around the kids,” she said. “I had to be realistic and find something that would let me be a parent, use my education and also provide a living wage. I also wanted something that would provide real meaning in my life,” she continued, “Which is goal that many of our members have as well.”
Karen then did just what she tells other women to do now, she hired a coach. During that time she took a hard look at all her skills and determined that coaching others is what she wanted to do as well. She already was doing it in social services, this was just taking it a step further and back into her home. The difference between what Women4Success does and what other business training courses might do, however, is that she helps clients be successful and still have a personal life.
Mary: How did you decide to work only with women?
Karen: When I started, I wasn’t focused on women, but it evolved that way. Men, for the most part just want an action list as to what to do next. Women have a lot more going on in their lives. They need to work through those fears and the things that overwhelmed them before they could get to the point of making a list. I discovered that my coaching style and experience just worked better with women.
Once I was into it, I found that women were hesitant to pay the high prices with one-on-one training and that’s when I started the Women4Success model which allows women to join at a low entry fee of $27 a month, It’s less than the cost of a typical networking luncheon and it is focused completely on helping them succeed.
Mary: I see that entry level members get a teleconference call once a month, tell me about that.
Karen: During that call, members can ask anything they want of myself, another coach or the group. As they get to know people on the call, they start to building up their network of people to know better at a quarterly live event or during our once a year annual retreat.
At a higher membership levels, they can have one-on-one sessions with the peers or industry experts. It’s much like having your own personal board of directors. They can participate in everything the entry level member can, but they get personalized and focused attention based on their industry.
Mary: Do women come, get their coaching and move on?
Karen: Some do, but others have told me that they come for the training and then stayed for the camaraderie. That’s why we host events, so that the women can really get to know one another and share their experiences. During an event like kayaking, they get to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. That’s where they take off the masks. Later on, and back inside a group session, they know that it’s a safe place to tell the truth of what’s really happening in their business and life.
Mary: Is it different coaching women than men?
Karen: For one thing, women are more comfortable coming together and not staying alone. They’re already used to the concept of community and know how to operate inside of one. For them it’s a low emotional entry point as well as low cost.
Second, for them, being in a group with other women is less challenging than being in a mixed gender group. I’ve noticed that women show up more as themselves when it’s an all women group than when men are part of the mix. Here they can embrace their own ‘womanhood’. It’s more about coming as you are to learn, not coming as you aren’t to network.”
Mary: Who is your typical member?
Karen: Generally a sole service professional like a lawyer, web designer, realtor… those who tend to feel isolated and not have anyone to bounce ideas off of. I think the structure works for them for two reasons, first they aren’t buying coaching, they are buying what coaching will do for them and second they understand the community concept. They join to get inspiration and talk though their issues and to be told what to do next by those who have been there. There are tons of books on everything we offer, but women just want answers and they want other women who have gone down the path before to steer them.
Mary: How many chapters do you have?
Karen: We have groups of 16 and many individuals that we coach. The groups are in Orange County, Riverside County, San Diego County, Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and launching in Arizona in the fall of 2006.
Mary: How about your training sessions themselves, how do conduct them for optimal learning?
Karen: I always tell them that I won’t be lecturing for two hours, instead, I give 15-20 minutes of context and then we break into groups to share, discuss and finally do the work. Listening can be inspirational, but it does nothing to implement the idea into their life. By talking with others they come up with ideas that work, throw out the ones that haven’t worked for others and then form their own action plan.
Mary: What has held you back, if anything?
Karen: It’s one of those cons that I turned into a pro… I’m younger than most professional women, but I’ve always worked on my own. During that time I’ve been told that I’m ‘too emotional’ and yet all the success that I’ve achieved has happened because of that emotion. Now I coach others to own and use their strengths, emotional and otherwise and to show up in public as yourself. One of our members followed that advice. She thought she had to be an excellent public speaker to be a success, but she hated giving speeches. Instead, she went a route that fit her better and her business tripled. It’s about trusting yourself.
Mary: What do you do to keep the group together?
Karen: We have a monthly newsletter, through it people get to know me, my professional partners and each other. I asked one new member if she had any additional questions and she said, ‘No, I’ve read all the newsletters and I feel like I know you already.”
Mary: In closing, what would you like the readers to know that different, new or novel – something they can’t turn away from?
Karen: Wow, no pressure there… I think business owners need look for ways to break out of the superficial relationships that typify the usual networking meetings and look for ways that really show them off as people. Our networking and approach mimics how women talk to each other when no one else is watching and I think that’s why it works so well.
Mary: Thanks Karen for an insider view at a women’s group in work and play.
Lessons learned: 1) Make friends FIRST then follow with business. 2) Lead with your heart, and your soul will follow.
You may contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like your group founder profile, contact me.