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

network.

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

Lawrenceville,

a Georgian farmhouse built in 1761. Cost: $40. Call McDougall at

609-439-3155

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

schedule,

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,

Boursin,

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 —

printed

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

business

of their ideal customer or referral source. At the event, their

nametag

will include their name followed by a description of the kind of

business

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

architect.

"We’ve laid out these requests on a matrix," explains

McDougall,

"so we can facilitate these matches."

The event is drawing service and product providers, business planners

and consultants, restaurateurs, coaches, attorneys, financial

advisors,

realtors, accountants, brokers, engineers, doctors, publishers,

nonprofit

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

Beachgrass

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

Stockton

State College and earned her master’s degree in human development

from Fairleigh Dickinson. The mother of two teenagers, she adds,

"Since

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" —

interacting

with one another, whereas men go into their proverbial cave. Fogel

calls the connections women make and the commonalities they discover

"a weaving."

Fogel and McDougall, who banter and finish each other’s sentences

like sisters, seem the perfect blend of talent and passion for

creating

a business that celebrates the power of women’s friendships in

business.

Fogel brings expertise in helping people through career and life

transitions

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

secretary

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

McDougall’s

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

thinking."

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

resident,

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

Brearley

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:

Go with someone you know. Fogel says one registrant is

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.

Don’t feel like you’ve got to go as a salesperson. There’s

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."

The more you go, the more comfortable you get. Just like

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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