‘I’m just a walking Rolodex,” says Terri Petry of County Woman Newspapers. “I meet people and listen to them and I’m always saying ‘I know someone who can help you with that.’”

Petry has decided to put her talent for networking to work by organizing a new networking group in Mercer County. But this group, she says, is a little different from the other groups in the area.

“Shameless networking” is the goal of the new group, which is named WIN, for Women Interested in Networking. The group meets once a month. The next meeting is Thursday, July 20, at noon, at Tiffany’s Restaurant in Hamilton. Cost: $12. Call 609-890-4054 for more information or reservations.

Petry holds the licensing agreement for County Woman Newspapers in Burlington and Mercer counties. There are about 330 similar papers throughout the country, each individually owned. The Mercer County Woman and the Burlington County Woman are free publications that feature medical and health information for women as well as a mix of other news, such as home and garden, business and financial, legal and food. Published six times a year, the papers are distributed through doctors’ offices, medical centers, and libraries.

She started the newspapers after 20 years of experience in sales, working first for the Yellow Pages, then Merck, and finally as sales manager for a national real estate publication. “I increased their advertising by 400 percent in three years,” she says. “Then I looked around and decided I’m making this money for everyone else. I want to make it for myself.”

Petry developed her idea for WIN after attending a similar meeting in Cherry Hill called “The Good Old Girls Network.”

“After going to just one of those meetings I walked away with five new clients and had hired two new people,” she says. “That’s what I call successful networking.”

Petry was so impressed that she enlisted two friends, Christina Nash, of David Lerner and Associates, and Josie Pizzolato, of the Loup Group, a Princeton Junction-based web design company, to help coordinate details such as flyers announcing the meetings, reservations, and a database.

The database is one of the important features of WIN, says Petry. At each meeting everyone is asked to write a short description of her “ideal client” on the back of a business card and turn it in. The cards are then scanned and E-mailed to everyone who was at the luncheon. “How often do you go to a networking event, have a great conversation with someone, and then either forget to collect their card or just can’t find it later?” says Petry. The E-mailed cards make it easy to find those people and make connections later.

WIN is a natural for Petry. “I’m all about networking,” she says. She attends networking events for a number of reasons. Promoting her newspapers not only helps her business, but it also “helps to promote my clients, the people who run ads and write articles in them,” she says. Petry has also started a second business, BarterXchange of Mercer County. She sees the new business, which she is founding with partner Copley Szostach, as an extension of her networking skills.

Bartering is just another form of networking, and since there was no organized bartering group in Mercer County, Petry decided to start her own. She and Szostach plan to lease a building in the Hamilton area in the next few months and to hire a coordinator to man the phones and set up the exchanges.

With so many business organizations already established in the county, with people constantly complaining about their lack of time, why did Petry think that a new business group would be successful?

“Because there are a lot of women out there who are in business but have no desire to be part of an organized group,” she says. “They are crunched for time and WIN lets them get in, network, and get back to business.” The fact that the group meets during the lunch hour is also attractive to many women, she adds. Women with children to pack off to school in the morning often can’t make meetings during the breakfast hour. At night those same women are busy with their children’s homework or sports events.

“WIN isn’t like other referral marketing groups,” she says. “There are no dues to pay and no other obligations. People can pop in when they have the time, but if it is a busy month they don’t have to feel obligated to come. There are no penalties.” The fee to attend a meeting is strictly the cost of the lunch.

“Most networking meetings are not all that successful,” she says. “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?”

The first WIN meeting was held in April with 20 women in attendance. The second and third meetings, in May and June, have attracted even more people, she says. Each meeting consists of free networking time, a buffet lunch, and time for each person to stand up and give a “30-second commercial” about themselves. “That’s it,” says Petry. “We don’t have any speakers. We don’t have any lectures about how to do business — just shameless networking.”

Networking, she says, is really the best way for anyone to do business. “The difference between ‘networking’ and ‘not working’ is only one letter,” she says. “If you aren’t networking, you just aren’t working.”

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