Creating A Community of Strong Female Leaders
Connected Women of Influence is a leading invitation-only association where women owners, executives and professionals from all different backgrounds in business can connect, collaborate and cultivate a vast network of high-level affiliations, resources and professional relationships. The goal of this association is to see more women succeed in business and connect like-minded women together to help one another. They aim to build strong alliances among women, because they are stronger when working together.
Michelle Bergquist is the CEO and co-founder of Connected Women of Influence (CWI). She is also a nationally recognized author, award winning entrepreneur, lively moderator and engaging professional speaker. Prior to funding CWI 10 years ago, she was in the world of corporate banking for 13 years. She wanted rich and vibrant discussions between peers and corporate leaders for women. She thought to herself, why isn’t there a community for women who are managing and leaders? She got into the industry because she felt that there was something missing for women to be able to converse and bring value to one another as peers. The core impact of her company is that the women in the association are heard and have a voice. Sometimes women feel like they have to do it on their own, when in actuality they do not. Michelle wanted to deliver a culture of authenticity and share the excitement and struggles among women in business. The women in this association will receive support from other members, but they must return the favor and support the other women as well. It is not supposed to be a meeting where each woman just says nice things to one another. It is about keeping it real and authentic.
Michelle took this risk because she has always been a serial entrepreneur and felt like this was her next journey. After she sold her last venture, which ran for 9 year, the idea came to her and she felt like it was the right time. The structure of her association is setup so that the women meet face-to-face at hotels and other events. Before Connected Women of Influence, most associations or women’s groups were about a specific industry, where they targeted women in specific fields. Michelle has so far succeeded in providing variety and a different perspective. It is invitation only because they want to be able to select the best women. Members come on board because they are looking for dedicated mature women who are looking for feedback, camaraderie, and to feel a sense of belonging.
Growing from version 1.0 to 2.0: From Solopreneur to Small Business Owner/Team Leader
Michelle faced roadblocks along the way, and the toughest for her was starting a business model that was different in the market place, in one of the toughest economies at the time. She was told that this idea was crazy back in 2008, but she kept going and started this concept and started pitching to people. Funding and the concept were tough challenges for her at that time, but now it has been about sustaining power.
Michelle decided to participate in the Bootcamp since she has known Kim for a long time, and she has seen the miraculous ways of how Kim can start and build businesses. From her reputation, Michelle decided 7 years into her business that it was the right time. She was looking to add something new, and thought that adding a brick and mortar location would allow her to scale up. However, during the Bootcamp she realized that this was not an ideal strategy. The Bootcamp forced her to reboot and rethink her strategy. From the Bootcamp she was able to develop a new strategy of hiring A players, and how to know what an A player consists of. Michelle wanted to pick the right people with the right attitude. Another valuable lesson Michelle gained from the Bootcamp was that every investor is different, and before choosing one you have to treat it like a marriage. She learned that you have to choose investors wisely or they can push you in the wrong direction.
Michelle had some knowledge regarding business growth since she was in a business for 20 years. To her business growth has always been about funding and the way she grew her past businesses were through loans. She has many war wounds from starting these previous businesses. However, Michelle is excited for the future and wants to hopefully move her business out of southern California. She has been scaling upward very efficiently, from just 300 members last year to 500 this year. Her plan in the next 3 to 5 years is to be in more cities with more members. She is also willing to be bought out if it is to someone bigger, smarter or someone who may have a larger reach. Michelle knows what she does well, but if it makes sense to collaborate, expand or sell then she will take that into consideration.
Learn From “HerStory”
From participating in the Bootcamp, Michelle has some advice for other small business owners on how to grow. She says there are many different ways to grow strategically, but it is better to be efficient while also trying to perfect your business model and then look to expand. The next piece of advice Michelle had was that sometimes you are not ready to grow so it is better to be patient. In order to succeed she also stated that it is important to attract great talent who share the same passion you do. It is difficult to turn down opportunities but timing is everything. Her last tip was that it is important to find the happy balance between being conservative or risking it all. Connected Women of Influence is on the right track, but even they needed some help. So do not be afraid to look for help if the timing is right.