Brilliant Personal Finance
Ladies Who Latte
SHEplc for women in business Sharon and Mary's story - told by Sharon Connelly.

In 1999 I decided to radically change my career, from Computer trainer and programmer to Image Consultant. I wanted a more "social" career and something that would fit in better with the juggling life balance of a growing family. After I'd made the decision I knew I would have to grow my new business in a completely different way from the computer business so I decided to join the Thames Valley chamber of Commerce, where I met Mary Flavelle and was introduced to the concept of networking, and in particular women's networking.

Within a few months, not only had I grown my business but I also had a fantastic new circle of friends who completely understood what it was like to try to grow a business from scratch. 10 years on many of these women are still my best friends and motivate and support me every day.

Networking was brilliant. I attended Thames Valley chamber events, NRG, Refer-on, Athena, She Plc, Ecademy meetings, Institute of directors, The Women's Networking Company...everything I could to grow my business and make more connections. But as you start to get busy you don't have time to network, and no networking no more business. I needed to keep networking but I just needed something that didn't take such a chunk out of my day, and didn't need to be booked months in advance. Networking can be expensive too and I just couldn't afford to pay all the membership fees when I couldn't find the time to attend the meetings.

I drafted an email to about 30 women she'd previously met at networking events to see if they just wanted to have an informal coffee without the cost, agenda or speaker and without it taking out a whole chunk of their day. Without giving it any thought I titled the email "lets be Ladies Who Latte" and with that simple email I had the accidental conception of Berkshires biggest networking success in 2007.

Like most successful ideas a very simple one. Ladies loved the concept and one by one new groups were formed. After one year there were over 700 ladies on the mailing list who meet on a regular basis. LWL has never been advertised; our business had grown by word of mouth and is stretching far and wide. At present we operate in 30 areas along the M4 corridor and it expanding all the time - even internationally.

No one competes with what we have to offer - we are child friendly - during the school holidays Latte groups still run and the children are welcome - we are local - we meet at a mum friendly hour, usually 10am in the morning and above all else - the meetings are free.

Our Leaders are very special ladies. Their business is supporting women who would like to start their own business -no matter how small, and offer friendship, advice, contacts and business leads. People do business with people they know and women are such great communicators - there is no problem getting down to business as soon as you arrive and meet all others in the group. You can chose to have a 'round the table' chat and introduce yourself to everyone attending, or just move around groups which seem to form naturally. Venues range from coffee bars to hotels and restaurants. We have been welcomed everywhere; after all we are bringing business into some places at a very quiet time of day. All the ladies have to do when they turn up - is purchase their own coffee and join in, it is as simple as that.
Larger companies are beginning to approach us with special offers for days out and discounts, all of which are being passed on to our members.

One year after it's conception I asked "Networking Queen" Mary Flavelle to hop on board and assist with the running and promoting of the organization which continues to thrive, and grow. I recently relocated to Singapore and have recently been in talks with women's enterprises in Malay regarding starting LWL in Asia too.

We have amazing success stories of women making connections and being given opportunities that they never could have dreamed of finding on their own.

Footnote from Mary:

I have helped with the growth of Ladies Who Latte and just over a year ago, with the help of a fabulous lady - Chris Carter, we launched the first London Latte group in Groydon - since then it has mushroomed and I think there are about 14 groups around the City. No matter where you go the same atmosphere at a Latte meeting is exactly the same. A tribute to all the women who run the groups and the fantastic enterprising ladies who attend.

We are women with imagination, drive, enthusiasm and hope and we enjoy sharing our success because --It's no good being fabulous on your own

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