Consulting Women is a unique community of professional, talented women with notable accomplishments as consultants, contractors and business owners. Our members represent a number of fields and industries from throughout the Washington, DC metro area.
Consulting Women is DC’s professional forum for women to network and share best business practices among area women who own their businesses and provide services to non-profits, candidates, businesses and government. In 2004, Consulting Women founder Karen Mulhauser wrote the first four chapters of the Consulting Women history. In 2013, she added the fifth chapter and in 2014 she added the sixth chapter of this dynamic network.
Chapter 1: Formation
The group was formed in 1990 when a few of my friends approached me with questions about forming their own businesses. I had been in business for just over two years and friends wondered how I got started, how I figured out how much to charge clients, how I promoted my business, and how I drew the line between my numerous pro bono activities and when I would charge for similar projects. These were all good questions. I had to confess I hadn’t been all that strategic. I just made it up as I went along. We agreed to meet from time to time, share ideas and perhaps work together with clients. A small group of men and women met for a year or so.
Chapter 2: Further Definition
After a while, the men stopped coming. We decided to limit participation to women and call ourselves Consulting Women. When this happened, we found ourselves comfortably admitting there were things we did not know – and agreed we would help each other learn. We discovered in helping each other and sharing information, we were also sharing power. The collaboration felt good. There were not feelings of competition — instead there were increasingly stronger feelings of collaboration. There were times when several of us responded to the same RFP. We all celebrated when one of us would get it. Some self-employed women formed legal partnerships. We’d write each other into contracts and send job notices to each other if there was too much on our individual plates.
At this time, the group was only 30 or 40. Those who attended the monthly meetings came to know each other well. There was a comfort level about certain topics being raised. I started providing a salad and others began bringing something to share – bread, cookies, something else to eat or drink. We came to think of ourselves as the “other food group,” which contributed to the intellectual exchange as well as the collaborations. There were some regular topics such as how to market our efforts, how to assess the legal aspects of our endeavors, how and when to subcontract, and how to determine when to hire an assistant, a staff person or a sub-contractor.
During this chapter when we did not have regular access to the Internet, I collected brief descriptions of each of our bios and client activity. We referred to this list to make referrals or to remember whom we wanted to connect with for professional or personal networking. This document was not for external use or publicity, but for ourselves. I continued this effort until the group grew to more than 100 participants.
Chapter 3: Growth
Because we were each in our own ways benefiting from the group, the word got around. More and more people joined. I never felt we should limit it. Yet as more joined, we lost the intimacy of in-person meetings, but we expanded our reach. Some would come only once or twice to our meetings, and benefited from the assurance that others had similar “getting started” experiences and then they continued only virtually. During this period of growth, I continued to believe we should not formalize ourselves by charging membership fees – everyone was welcome….There were months when 35 or 40 people would come to my modest conference room for meetings.
During this time, we created our listserv for “Basic Members” and the web site for “Full Members,” which eventually replaced the participant list. This growth and use of the Internet both equalized our ability to communicate with each other since one did not have to attend meetings to share information on the listserv, yet also caused the loss of a level of equality we once had. Before, everyone was “on the list” if she sent me the information. With the web site for Full members, only those who paid the very minimal fee were able to have their contact information and client services listed.
Chapter 4: CW in 2004
Entering the Internet age also meant I stopped sending paper notices of meetings and we used the listserv. We set guidelines on how to use the listserv, such as not using it to promote ourselves. But we were never clear if the electronic conversation should be limited to professional information exchanges only. The guidelines allow for Off Topic notices but within an extended professional sphere. The group has grown and changed over the years. We no longer know everyone on the list, but we now we have much in common. The electronic conversation is possibly replacing the face-to-face meetings. I miss knowing who everyone is. And I, for one, would like to know who “we” are now that we are approximately 300 self-employed women!
Chapter 5: Fast Forward to 2013
Hard to believe, but Consulting Women is now in our 23rd year and more than 700 women strong. According to a November 2011 survey, we have chosen to consult for many reasons. One member sums up why we do what we do: “flexibility, autonomy, dynamism, and engaging work on issues that I like. And the sheer challenge of it.” Some of us have been consulting for more than 35 years and others are just starting. Some CW members have been here since the beginning and others have come on to the listserv through our website. Our listserv continues to connect us with one another for professional advices, job openings, event listings and queries on other services. The International Consulting Women subgroup is expanding. The NoVA (North Virginia) subgroup, open to all CW members, hosts monthly gatherings.
CW continues to expand what we offer our Basic and our Full members. Webinars and more in-person meetings on professional topics are in the works. Potlucks will continue to bring us together. We’re looking to aggressively market CW Full members to organizations, businesses, government agencies and campaigns that need our services.
Chapter 6: still growing in 2014
Consulting Women has become an LLC with an enhanced website and will begin a more assertive marketing effort to promote Full Members’ consulting services. We also now offer Full Members benefits that include vender discounts and exclusive partner discounts.
Become part of Consulting Women LLC’s next chapter and benefit from the marketing campaign. Please join us today and become Consulting Women member!