I met Karen Bate, the co-founder of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) at a Sweet Leaf Cafe in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington a few years ago. I was intrigued by all the buzz I had heard about her through members of The Arlington Chamber of Commerce. She and her business partner Evelyn Powers had built the largest female entrepreneur networking organization in Arlington Virginia out of her house with just a few friends. She had already made a huge name for herself as a publicist for many local businesses including Body By Ginny, Joe’s Pizza Place & Pasta, The Japan-US Friendship Commission, the Outdoor Lab just to name a few.
I loved how energetic, down to earth and honest she was. I was inspired by her beautiful spirit, creativity and her passion for women empowerment. She is one of the most altruistic women I’ve ever met, raising money and awareness for cancer as Director, Marketing and Media Relations for The Foundation for Women’s Cancer. Karen recruited Camille Grammar of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, a third generation gynecologic cancer survivor, to be National Race Chair and spokeswoman for the Foundation, and even appeared in an episode of the show filmed at Camille’s Malibu home. I joined AWE later that year and am proud to be a member and on the Board of Advisors for this amazing organization.
Karen and Evelyn are growing chapters of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs and cultivating a community of extraordinary women who are defining success on their own terms. I am happy to share my interview with mentor, my colleague and my friend Karen Bate.
How would you describe your organization and what you do?
Evelyn Powers and I co-founded Awesome Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a professional networking group for busy women business owners. We host monthly meetings at six local chapters throughout the DC area, with more chapters launching around the U.S. in 2018.
What part of your job might surprise people?
How much time this passion project takes! We both have our own businesses, Evelyn does graphic and website design, and I have a P.R. company.
Why this type of organization?
Because running your own business can be hard – and lonely! We both knew and worked with so many awesome women entrepreneurs in Arlington, we decided to form a group to support one another and share the experiences of entrepreneurship together. It quickly grew into where we are today.
Who are your members?
Other women business owners eager to make connections, refer, collaborate and support one another — and also to just have some fun. Wine and sushi are an important part of every meeting. 😉
What is an initial start up cost for an organization like yours?
We basically started it in my living room, and it grew quickly. We hold monthly meetings with excellent speakers, and have sought sponsors and partners to provide venues, food and drinks, and other expenses. We’ve put untold hours into developing our website, accountability group program, radio show and podcast, planning our events, recruiting members, and launching and growing our new chapters. Once we realized this was turning into a real business opportunity with a lot of demand, we met with business coaches and other experts to create systems and a strategic plan.
Who funded your company when it was a start-up? Did you use your own money? Did you have an investor? Did you do a crowdfunding campaign like Kickstarter? Did you have to take out a loan?
We’ve relied mostly on our own sweat equity, in addition to membership dues of just $25 per year initially, which has now grown to $150/year. We designed our own logo and website, and used only word of mouth marketing to grow. If we had any idea then how much we’d grow, we would have seriously considered seeking investors back then. That’s a step we’re considering now, in addition to local and national sponsors.
What are your top 3 qualities you look for when hiring someone?
Flexibility (the ability to work for us part-time initially), creativity and the passion to help us grow, in addition to the job skills required.
What do you wear to work to feel like your most powerful self?
You mean when I’m not in my workout clothes for half the day? 😉 I like tailored clothes, jeans, blouse and nice jacket with boots, pretty scarves. We’re pretty casual most of the time, and I’d say I have a classic style. Evelyn is more creative, and a bit more daring fashion wise.
What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
Go for a run and listen to one of the great podcasts I subscribe to, or make a lunch, coffee or wine date to chat with my tribe of awesome women friends.
What are your top 3 entrepreneurial tips?
1. Be prepared to work really hard: day, night and weekends, to take risks, face obstacles, and possibly fail. 2. Follow your passion – if it wakes you up in the morning and is the last thing you think about at night, you’re on the right track. 3. Honor your courage and moxie in choosing this route, and support other women entrepreneurs too — together we’re all stronger!
How did you get the idea or concept for your business? What is your mission?
Evelyn and I had been talking about how awesome it would be to create a space for local women entrepreneurs to connect and support one another for a couple of years, and had even come up with the name. Finally a friend and colleague said, “Just hold a meeting and do it!” So we did.
How many employees?
We have two part-time assistants who help with marketing, social media, graphics and tech support. We envision these positions growing to full time before too long.
How do you advertise your business?
Word of mouth is our number one funnel, for both members and women interested in starting a chapter in their community. Next is our existing chapters and their regular monthly meetings, our active social media accounts, our radio show and podcast, and some local media coverage we’ve received. Being a guest on other relevant podcasts with large followings throughout the US is a strategy we’re currently focused on, and we’ve booked six guest appearances so far in the next couple of months.
To what do you attribute your success?
We didn’t invent women-only networking, but we tapped into the early trend that continues to grow. Our niche is women entrepreneurs at all levels, from side hustle to $100,000 and beyond. Many groups focus only on high-earning business women; we specifically want to support women at the early stages as well, and have seasoned entrepreneurs mentor the newer ones.
What are your company’s goals for 2018?
To keep improving our services, to grow our new local chapters and launch more chapters throughout the US. We have a chapter starting in Los Angeles in May, and in Vero Beach, Florida and NW Montana later this year.
Name 3 apps you use in your daily life.
Slack to communicate with all our chapter leaders; Canva, for social media; and Facetune to smooth out those pesky wrinkles that just won’t let up, haha.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out as the owner to a start up company, what would it be?
It’s the same advice I give my three daughters: do what you love and the job will follow. If you’re immersed in something you care deeply about, you will eventually develop the expertise needed to succeed. But also recognize that just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t make you good at business: pay attention to admin and bookkeeping, and find the best ways to handle those so you can devote yourself to feeding your passion and growing the business.
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Both my parents and four brothers were/are entrepreneurs, so it was a given that I would be too someday. But first I wanted to be the Paris correspondent on network news. I did study in Paris during college, and did become a journalist early on, but sadly never got paid to report from there.
What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
I started KB Concepts P.R. is 2007 and it is still going strong, providing social media and marketing support to small businesses and nonprofits. Evelyn Powers has been running Design Powers for 20 years, and co-founded the website design firm Nice Work in 2015. In addition to co-running AWE and co-hosting the weekly radio show/podcast, we have nary a dull moment!
What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
How to be a better leader. She was inconsistent, emotional and petty — none of which will ever help you get the best from your team. My best boss ever (also a woman) taught me that you always lead with the positive, give your staff plenty of autonomy and opportunities to shine, and they will give you their best in return.
What’s your best hiring tip/secret?
I’m still learning this as we grow, but I think being really clear, specific and honest about what the job does and doesn’t entail is key. Also I try to share our vision and enthusiasm for where we’re going, and hope to attract team members who really share our dream.
How do you use social media?
I use it both personally and professionally to share who I am as a human being, what I care about, the causes and people I love, and what we are trying to achieve. This approach works for my personal pages, my company accounts and for all of our AWE social media. We have so many incredible women with inspirational stories to tell — it’s a joy to share them.
What’s your favorite book at the moment?
I have three perennial favorites that I recommend:
Do Cool Shit by Miki Agrawal, an awesome entrepreneur with a great story about starting her first business.
10% Happier by Dan Harris, a funny and eye-opening account of a type-A network TV journalist’s experience with meditation and how it changed his life. I read it last summer and have meditated every morning since, after struggling for years to make it a regular practice. There’s an awesome app too.
The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, the best book about love and life I’ve ever read, I give it to everyone, especially young people about to get married.
What’s your favorite quote?
It’s on the Contact page of my company website, by Herman Melville:
“We cannot live only for ourselves.
A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men;
and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads,
our actions run as causes,
and they come back to us as effects.”
What do you think helps a brand stand out and garner more attention?
One word, repeat as needed: authenticity, authenticity, authenticity
In addition to Awesome Women Entrepreneurs, are you part of any other local organizations?
Yes, both Evelyn and I are active in the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Arlington. We also participate in industry groups to keep up with the latest innovations, and we support several causes and local nonprofits as well.