Corrections or additions?
This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the May 21, 2003
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Networking with a Feminine Flair
Does going to a networking event for women conjure up
scary images of cheese cubes on a toothpick and white zinfandel served
in plastic cups in a hotel conference room that exudes all the warmth
of an ob-gyn exam table? Do you imagine a swarm of grownup alpha girls
and tight-lipped schoolmarms wearing blouses that tie in a bow at
the neck, scrutinizing you with a catty look that says, "Well,
what have you done with your life?" Of course you’d run in horror.
Robin Fogel and Lynn McDougall would run, too. That’s
why they hope to change the way women professionals in this area
The inaugural event of their new business, Beachgrass Harmony Group
LLC, which presents programs and retreats for working women, is a
networking evening — with a few tantalizing twists. For starters,
it won’t be held at a hotel. Called Commerce on the Canal, it takes
place on Wednesday, May 28, 5:30 p.m. at Brearley House in
a Georgian farmhouse built in 1761. Cost: $40. Call McDougall at
or Fogel at 609-730-4164.
Other area networking groups such as BNI and Le Tip "feel like
work," says Fogel. "We want people to enjoy themselves. We
think everyone deserves a time-out." The focus of Commerce on
the Canal is less on work and more on "facilitating conversation
and incorporating a relaxation component." And that begins with
the venue. "We believe setting is important. [Networking] events
are always in hotels. If you’re going to take time from a packed
you want to be somewhere nice."
In addition to the bucolic venue, attendees will enjoy a Chambers
Walk menu featuring caramelized shrimp, Indonesian chicken satay,
and miniature Peking Duck pancakes with plum sauce. The only cheese
will be baked brie with mixed berry compote as well as Stilton,
and Vermont cheddar.
The true twist is the chance to make advance requests to meet specific
types of professionals. "We know there’s a limited amount of time
at a networking event," says McDougall. The invitation —
in a color that could only be described as cabernet on pretty paper
full of spring leaves ("we spent more time picking out the color
than any man would," says McDougall with a smirk) — includes
an optional line for registrants to write in the profession or
of their ideal customer or referral source. At the event, their
will include their name followed by a description of the kind of
connection they are trying to make. One registrant is an accountant
who wants to meet new business owners. Another is an interior designer
who is looking to gain commercial clients; she wants to meet an
"We’ve laid out these requests on a matrix," explains
"so we can facilitate these matches."
The event is drawing service and product providers, business planners
and consultants, restaurateurs, coaches, attorneys, financial
realtors, accountants, brokers, engineers, doctors, publishers,
professionals, and more.
While Fogel, 53, a coach and business consultant, and McDougall, 48,
a self-employed lawyer, each has her own business, they formed
to help promote the power of women’s friendships in business. Over
coffee with a reporter at Panera in Nassau Park, the two probed the
differences between how men and women approach networking. "Men
traditionally approach networking with a `what can you do for me’
attitude," observes Fogel, who did her undergraduate work at
State College and earned her master’s degree in human development
from Fairleigh Dickinson. The mother of two teenagers, she adds,
women have always served a caregiver role, whether for their children
or their parents, that transfers into business in a good way. Women
are more willing to take the first step in networking and offer to
help others first."
Fogel also cites the results of one of the first studies of women
and stress (previous studies have focused on men), which showed that
women reduce stress by "tending and befriending" —
with one another, whereas men go into their proverbial cave. Fogel
calls the connections women make and the commonalities they discover
Fogel and McDougall, who banter and finish each other’s sentences
like sisters, seem the perfect blend of talent and passion for
a business that celebrates the power of women’s friendships in
Fogel brings expertise in helping people through career and life
and through launching their own businesses. McDougall, a graduate
of Douglass and Rutgers Law School in Camden, brings legal expertise
and extensive public speaking experience.
The two met last fall at the New Jersey Association of Women Business
Owners (NJAWBO) book club, just as McDougall, who is president-elect
of the Mercer County chapter of NJAWBO and as of June will be
to the state board of NJAWBO, was about to make a bold move, leaving
a large law firm to start her own business. They starting talking
about the shore — and discovered they both vacationed there as
children; Fogel now owns a second home in Cape May Point, and
parents live in the town of Cape May Courthouse.
Over lunch one day, Fogel initiated a spontaneous five-minute coaching
session with McDougall. "Robin started asking me questions like,
`If you weren’t practicing law, what would you be doing? What does
your heart tell you?’ I replied, `I would love to have a B&B facility
that also had a women’s business component, where women could go for
retreats, to gain business expertise, and to network.’" Fogel’s
response was, "Oh, my God. She’s thinking the same thing I’m
And so Beachgrass Harmony Group was born and named for their mutual
love of the shore.
Fogel, who lives in Titusville, and McDougall, a Lambertville
both tapped into their own networking expertise to plan Commerce by
the Canal. At a networking event hosted by Community Works, which
draws together people from the nonprofit sector, McDougall met Janet
Bickal, president of the Lawrence Historical Society, which runs
House. One phone call to Bickal and Brearley House was booked. To
procure keynote speaker Caren Franzini, executive director, New Jersey
Economic Development Authority and the mother of three, who will speak
on "A Daughter’s Roots in Business," Fogel just picked up
the phone. She and Franzini worked together in the state treasurer’s
office several years ago. Fogel, whose parents owned a small furniture
manufacturing business, says, "Caren knows what it was like to
be the daughter of a business person."
Still feeling antsy about attending a networking event? Fogel and
McDougall offer these suggestions to overcome fear of mingling:
a very successful realtor. "She was terrified of coming. We told
her to bring a friend, maybe another realtor." But, warns Fogel,
be willing to move around once you get there and talk to other people.
no need to feel like a walking billboard for yourself. "Focus
on the other person," offers Fogel, who advocates not talking
about work right away. "Ask her questions like, `What do you like
to do in your spare time?’ Many times, the answer will shed light
on a circle of connections."
riding a bike, networking takes practice. If you go and enjoy Commerce
on the Canal, you might sign up for their retreat on Friday, September
19: "A Business Women’s Sojourn."
— Jamie Saxon
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