MIAMI — Six years ago, a burned-out entertainment lawyer decided to build an organization to boost not only the economic savvy, but also the spirituality and wellness of other women business owners.
Lorna Owens founded And the Women Gather, a Web-based community that gets together once a month for the Women Series, as well as an annual Literary Jazz Brunch and special social events throughout the year.
The most recent Women Series on Saturday, Aug. 8 at the Ritz-Carlton in Coconut Grove, taught small business owners ways to access the media.
Steve Rothaus of The Miami Herald and Renee Michelle Harris of the South Florida Times presented to a diverse group of 22 women and two men.
Guys are welcome but generally in short supply at the Women Series meetings, so Rothaus was met with the customary women’s group greeting, “Hey, girlfriend!”
Rothaus, The Herald’s gay issues reporter, got right to business, encouraging the group to create pristine press releases and make sure they reach the correct reporters and editors for that beat. He also stressed the importance of using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to build a following.
Harris, associate editor of the South Florida Times, focused on building relationships with journalists.
It may be counterintuitive, she said, but “don’t make your first contact a story pitch.”
Instead, she suggested that small business owners introduce themselves—reporters are always looking for more sources, she said—so that when it’s time to pitch, there’s already an established relationship.
When pitching, the publication should match your market, she told the group, and business owners should try to put a local spin on a national issue.
After some discussion, attendees took 15 minutes to craft actual press releases, then received feedback from presenters. The press releases were as diverse as the attendees themselves.
Natalie Koller, a recent graduate of Florida International University, wanted to publicize her internship placement service for students. Deborah Weed got help promoting her children’s book, The Luckiest Penny.
DeAnne Graham of Miami’s Ayuda Foundation got guidance on creating buzz for a charitable event. Grandmother Edith Seaton wrote about her make-up and haircare services for the elderly.
And the Women Gather group founder Lorna Owens said she believes it’s vital for small business owners to be media-savvy.
“It’s everything,” she said. “They don’t have a marketing budget or PR agencies, so they must learn in order to thrive.”
Before last week’s event, the group hosted several programs to mentally prepare members for success.
“You have to know where you want to go, plan how to get there, evaluate your actions to see if you’re getting the desired result and be flexible enough to tweak your plan,” Owens said. “We talked about the power of group think, stress management, positive thinking, all before discussing concrete tools.”
The group’s influence extends beyond U.S. borders, supporting fair trade and donating computers to businesses in Jamaica, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.
“We support women globally,” group member Wendy Unger said.
The mission statement is each one, teach one. To that end, the group also founded the Women’s Bank, where members register their talents and expertise, and women in need are allowed to make two free “withdrawals” of those talents.
The members then must pay it forward by teaching others what they’ve learned. This is not a new model, Owens insists.
“Women have gathered for centuries. It’s not avant grade, it’s an old idea,’’ she said. “We’re not competitors. There’s enough out there for everyone, and when we come together we’re powerful beyond measure.”
Most of the women taking advantage of the bank program live outside the U.S., Owens said, and require specific information so they can get their products on the market or successfully run for office.
The women’s bank is currently looking for volunteers knowledgeable in international business law, running political campaigns, and accounting.
Owens is also looking for corporate sponsors for the group.
“Female consumers are loyal, and we support people who support us,” she said.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Lorna Owens
IF YOU GO
The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County has partnered with And the Women Gather for a special “girlfriends’ night” viewing of The Color Purple on Aug. 29. Tickets have not yet gone on sale to the public, so the best seats are available and can be purchased exclusively at andthewomengather.com.
Those who are interested in working with the group should e-mail Owens at email@example.com.