Time flies when you are having fun — that’s why Terri Petry can’t believe it has been almost seven years since she founded the women’s networking group WIN (Women Interesting in Networking). “I saw a need for a low-cost, no-program group where women in business could meet and develop relationships,” she says. “At so many meetings by the time you have committee reports, a guest speaker, a meeting sponsor, introductions, and lunch, it takes all afternoon. I didn’t have that kind of time, and most of the women I knew didn’t have it either.”

WIN dispenses with everything but the basics — a short open networking period at the beginning of each meeting, a buffet lunch, and time for a 30-second introduction from each participant. There are no guest speakers, no meeting notes, no sponsors giving pitches, and no committee reports. Just networking. Meetings begin at noon and end promptly at 1:30 p.m.

WIN opened its doors in March, 2006, with about 20 women in attendance at the first meeting. It now averages 35 to 40 women at each lunch. “About two-thirds of the people who attend are regulars, and about one third are new at each meeting. That means that everyone who attends always has the chance to meet and introduce themselves and their business to new women each month,” says Petry.

The attendees’ businesses range from “typical” woman-owned business such as cosmetics sales and jewelry designers to printers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and many others, according to Petry.

The next meeting of WIN will be on Thursday, December 20, at noon at Villa Mannino restaurant in Yardville. Register at www.whoscoming.com/WIN. Cost: $20.

Conversations. WIN now also sponsors a second meeting each month, a free evening event titled Conversations, “because that’s exactly what it is all about,” says Petry, “women getting together to have conversations, to get to know each other and learn how they can help with each other’s businesses.”

She started the evening events for women who could not make the lunchtime meetings and soon found they were at least as popular, if not more so, than the lunches. The meetings are held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on varying days of the month. The next meeting will be in January. Check www.winwomenetwork.com for the date and location.

Conversations is held at various WIN members’ places of business. “We’ve held them at spas and salons, at offices and banks. The hostess is responsible for refreshments. I’ve found it’s a great way for women to show their place of business to other women who might be interested in using their services,” she says.

It’s no surprise to find Petry, who describes herself as “a shameless networker,” running meetings like WIN and Conversations, which are just extensions of Petry’s love of “putting people together because I’m all about networking.” The networking events help promote her “real” business, Mercer County Woman, a Hamilton-based bi-monthly newspaper that is distributed free at a wide variety of places throughout Mercer County. Promoting her newspapers not only helps her, it also “helps to promote my clients, the people who run ads and write articles in them,” she says.

Petry, a native of New Jersey, says her mother was a big influence in her becoming an entrepreneur. “She was a senior systems analyst with Phillips Light — a real pioneer in programming, particularly as a career for women. I still go to her when I have a computer question,” says Petry.

Petry graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh in 1985 with a degree in psychology and business management. Her first job was as a sales person for the Yellow Pages. “I was on the road all the time, and once I started a family, I found it really wasn’t a good place for me.” She found other sales jobs that kept her closer to home and finally decided to purchase the Mercer County Woman franchise in 2001.

Teaching Others to Network. One of the things Petry enjoys most about WIN is the opportunity to share her knowledge of networking with newer business owners. “I have a lot of people tell me that WIN is one of the first networking experiences they have had,” she says.

While many business owners think that networking is just another word for selling, that’s not what it is about, she explains. “You need to understand that you aren’t there to sell, but to talk with other people, get to know them and make not just professional, but personal relationships. If you do that you can really enjoy networking,” she says.

When networking your motto should always be “give first,” she adds. “If someone comes in with the attitude that they are just there to sell their own products and never give anything back it won’t work for them. You need to be ready to talk to everyone — whether you think they need your product or not.”

Becoming comfortable. Many first time networkers are uncomfortable with introducing themselves and talking about their business during the traditional “30 second commercial” that each member gives.

Petry suggests a format to make it easier. First, introduce yourself and your company. Next, explain as specifically as possible how the group can help you. “If you want to meet the sales manager at a specific business, ask for it. You never know who knows someone you want to know,” she says. Finally, repeat who you are and your business.

Practice makes the process easier. In fact, she says, “the only way to network successfully is to leave fear at the door.”

Does It Work for You? “Most networking meetings are not all that successful,” she says. “I belong to several organizations. I attend a lot of networking events and I’d say that I get results at less than 50 percent of them. Everyone has a limited amount of time and money to invest in these type of things, and they have to be worthwhile financially. I’d rather spend time with my family than be at a networking event for business. When it’s crunch time and you decide what you are going to attend, that’s the bottom line. Is it successful for me?”

Petry’s friends know her for her many quotable catch phrases, “If you aren’t networking, you aren’t working,” is one. Another: “I’m good at a lot, perfect at nothing, and perfectly fine with that.”

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