Local women in business find knowledge, support and community through a new group.
As any owner can tell you, successfully running a small business isn’t easy. Between the long hours, constant multitasking and seemingly never-ending to do lists, being your own boss is hard work, and when juggling the demands of the business with those of home and family—as many women business owners do—those challenges can be even more difficult. In Woodbury, however, there is one group dedicated to supporting local women throughout their business endeavors: Women Owners of Woodbury.
Women Owners of Woodbury, also known as WOW, was started in early 2016 by Amy Leferink of Interior Impressions and Woodbury Blinds and Melissa Miroslavich of Miroslavich Photography. It was originally an offshoot of a previous group, which was similar in nature but soon phased out, because “we didn’t have a real structure or a real focus on the needs of business owners specifically,” Leferink says. “We felt like it was nice to get together, but it ended up being more of a social thing.”
Time is money when you’re a small business owner, and the women in the original group realized that they were seeking a more direct investment of their time. “Taking two hours out of your day can sometimes be very cost-prohibiting,” Leferink says. “We really felt like we needed to create something that was more structured and provided more value.”
From there, WOW was born. Now a year and a half old and nearly 20 women strong, it serves as a networking and support group for local women who own their own businesses. “Being a small business owner is a challenge,” Leferink says of the need for such a group. “We’re wearing a lot of different hats, and it’s a great journey, but there [are] a lot of different components to being in charge of everything.”
That’s exactly where WOW comes in. Members meet every other month, rotating between each of their businesses, to learn about and discuss a wide range of topics specific to owning and operating a small business. “We’ve let the group sort of organically talk about what it wants to do, and that allows us to flow with the needs that come up and change as the business environment changes,” Miroslavich says. Past meetings have covered issues such as tax and insurance planning, websites and search engine optimization, and cross-marketing—anything and everything that will help WOW’s members continually improve and expand upon their businesses to better serve customers and strengthen the Woodbury economy.
From dentistry to desserts, the backgrounds of WOW members span a diverse range of fields and areas of expertise. That diversity, they say, is central to the group’s mission and vision. “Collaboratively, everyone [can] bring something to the table,” Miroslavich says. “Even though we might have different businesses, we all have similar issues with things like credit cards, employment, benefits, marketing… things like that.”
Small business owners often have to play many different roles at once, which can be overwhelming and intimidating. But sharing resources and knowledge helps everyone in the long run. “A lot of times we are not only the owners but also the accountants and the HR people for hiring and firing, so [WOW] is really helping with those kinds of things,” says Jill Strand. She and Chris Radke own UpLift Guided Fitness and have been involved with WOW since it launched last year.
“We are all about wanting to support each other’s businesses and help each other grow,” Radke says. “We’re coming up with ideas of how we can help each other be more at the forefront of the community. Whether at this point, that means sharing a Facebook page or events that we’re having so that we can get more communication out to the community… It has all been very helpful to collaborate.”
Collaboration is at the heart of what WOW is all about, and it has quickly led the group to become not only driven and dynamic but also tight-knit. “Just having that common ground, the fact that we are all doing business in Woodbury, that we are all driven and want our businesses to succeed, and that we are all highly motivated and supportive of each other—that kind of instantly creates this trust system and a cohesiveness that really helps our group,” Leferink says.
The specific focus on women is integral to the group as well, especially as women in business have long faced obstacles that their male counterparts have not. Not even 30 years ago, women needed their male relatives—usually their husbands or fathers but, in some cases, their teenage sons—to sign off on their business loans. Thanks to changing times and major legislation like the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, the playing field is more level now, and the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. rises each year. But there are still challenges, whether balancing dual career-family pressures or combating gender stereotypes, unique to being a woman business owner. For WOW members, the opportunity to confront those challenges—alongside a room full of women who also experience and understand them—is invaluable.
“We [women small business owners] are a little bit more of a rare breed, and I feel like there’s just a basic understanding and compassion that we share that wouldn’t be quite the same in a mixed-gender group,” Leferink says. “We have a higher level of concern and support for each other, because we’re all women, and because we’re all in the Woodbury area. We’re all pulling for each other.”
That concern and support extend far beyond WOW’s meetings every other month. In addition to learning from each other within meetings, members are supporting one another outside of them, as well, brainstorming ideas as to how their individual organizations can work together and referring customers to each other’s businesses—not out of an obligation or to meet any sort of quota but because they genuinely value the services that each other provides.
“That organic part is really important to it,” Miroslavich says. “The more you’re connected to the community and not just counting referrals… This is softer and more heartfelt, I think, [and] our customers ultimately benefit from it, because we know each other.”
The women of WOW cite a long list of benefits to their involvement. Megha Kaila owns Gymboree Play & Music, a play and interactive learning center for adults as well as children ages 0-5. She says the open, collaborative nature of the group has been the most meaningful aspect of her experience thus far. “We are all striving toward the same goal, which is to provide services to the great city of Woodbury,” she says. “I think that’s really, really something that makes me feel very proud to be a part of this group. It’s amazing to see.”
Other members echo Kaila’s sentiments. “It’s been really good to connect with other business owners in Woodbury that I didn’t know before,” says Heather Horton of Horton Orthodontics. “They’re wonderful resources, and I like supporting other small businesses, because I know how person-to-person referrals are just critical when having small businesses like we do.”
“They’re all really fun and smart women,” says Tonya Holt, who owns the Primrose School of Woodbury. “The fact that we can all get together, and it’s a safe place to learn, a safe place to grow, a safe place to admit that you don’t know something, and a safe place to bounce off ideas—it’s a really wonderful thing.”
As WOW becomes more established, it continues to grow in membership and impact. They have big goals, but through the motivation and encouragement they share, there is little doubt that they will achieve them.
Women Owners of Woodbury members
- Amy Brown Insurance Agency
- Sweet Peas Floral
- Brand, Marketing and Social Media Consultant
- Woodbury Dental Center
- Mayor of Woodbury
- Salon Bambino
- St. Paul Pediatric Dentistry
- Primrose School of Woodbury
- Horton Orthodontics
- Gymboree Play & Music of Woodbury
- Image 360
- Gigi’s Cupcakes of Woodbury
- Interior Impressions and Woodbury Blinds
- Miroslavich Photography
- Maxville Services
- UpLift Guided Fitness
- ChiroWay of Woodbury
- Valley Creek Animal Hospital