Women-led networking group grows in Derry Township
Laura Barta considers herself a finisher, but admits she probably would not have completed her first educational playset for children without the help of the Derry Township networking group she founded a decade ago: Hershey Entrepreneurs' Resources and Support, or HERS for short.
“Most of us work alone. I make decisions alone,” said the owner of Whole Wide World Toys, a home-based toy company. “But you need others to help you avoid glaring mistakes.”
HERS acts as an informal board of advisers that small business owners, especially one-person operations, can lean on for a push and to “hold them accountable,” Barta said.
As she was developing the prototype for a playset about Chinese culture — part of a planned series of globally themed educational toys — Barta relied on the group for feedback. She also hired other business owners in the group to help with research and photography.
Most members of the group, which is free to join, are solopreneurs and the majority are women. Some were stay-at-home mothers or fathers who had a business idea and needed advice when they wanted to bring their plan to life.
“This is more of women helping women get through certain business struggles they might have,” said Patti Santangelo, owner of Marketplace, a pop-up gift retailer in downtown Hershey. “It’s more about ‘here’s my idea, what should I do next?’ It helps people take steps to take it to the next level. It’s a comfortable place to go and hear what others are doing and hopefully it motivates you.”
HERS started as a small group of friends and evolved into a Facebook group with more than 120 members, Barta said. “We just never stopped meeting.”
The low-key group meets twice a month, usually over lunch or dinner. Most of the time, a handful of members are able to attend, and they talk about what’s happening with their ideas or what’s new in their businesses. Others keep tabs or post updates through the Facebook group.
Occasionally HERS brings in speakers to talk about relevant business topics, including social media marketing.
Joining HERS helped Laura Abello and Camille Quirin take their freelance language translation and interpretation business, Accurate Spanish LLC, to the next level.
“We had to learn everything and how to implement a company,” Abello said. “We got a lot of advice from other people and learned things we never did before, like taxes and other bills. Some people knew a lot about websites and photography. And it was free.”
Accurate Spanish has continued to pick up clients across a variety of business sectors. Medical translation is a growing area of business, especially in Hershey.
Abello and Quirin are now looking to begin hiring full-time staff.
Jennifer Davis-Lewis, who owns a boutique media production house, said the flexibility of the group has been a major benefit for her.
“With my schedule, I’m in and out on the road. I find this (group) helpful,” she said.
Whether she’s working on a documentary, traveling for architectural photography assignments or designing websites for clients, Davis-Lewis said she’s able to check in through Facebook and get peer feedback on projects.
“If I’ve got an editing project, I can post and say ‘what do you think?’” she said. “It’s been helpful.”
She also enjoys being a resource to others with business ideas.
“I think one of our biggest challenges as females is we underestimate our value,” Davis-Lewis said. “We’re used to volunteering our services a lot, especially the stay-at-home moms.”
For Dan DeLong, HERS has helped him gain perspective from potential women clients.
“It provides resources and different perspectives of how I can provide the best product I can for my business. It helps me diversify,” said DeLong, a freelance musician who teaches percussion and runs a music studio in Mechanicsburg.
He gave drumming lessons to Barta’s son, which led DeLong to HERS.
“From a business resource, I cannot think of anything like this,” he said. “I’d like to go more than I do. I come back smarter. I come back inspired.”
Barta said she hopes to see the group continue to grow organically. “We’re trying to be of the highest value. We’re not trying to be a networking group, but we all need help in one form or another.”