By Emily West
A glass of wine and gabbing with the girls could help grow business. At least, that's what Frances Hewitt is finding to be true for many women in the Tri-Valley.
In June 2008, Hewitt was looking for a new way to network. While she appreciated the more formal meetings typically held weekly and in the mornings, she was craving something more lighthearted and fun.
So she and about 15 friends met up for drinks and a bite to eat at Eddie Papa's in Pleasanton to form a new women-only networking group. Calling themselves Girls Night Out Networking -- or GNON for short -- the group has since grown to include more than 200 members, with 50 to 60 women meeting monthly at various locations in the Tri-Valley.
While not intending to necessarily replace more formal networking groups, the idea is to combine a night out with friends and the benefits of networking. This, Hewitt says, takes place without an agenda. Instead, people gather after work (on a Wednesday or Thursday night) and the only thing planned is introductions around 6:15 p.m. Attendees can come and go as they please.
GNON appears to be thriving, particularly in an economy where many are looking for work or more clients and wanting to do business in their hometown. To join, there are only three requirements: members must be female, want to meet friends and like to have fun.
Hewitt, an account executive at Pleasanton-based Allegra Print and Imaging, credits the informal and fun settings to fostering relationships that often lead to growing businesses.
"I carry around a special Rolodex with me of GNON members," she said. "Whenever I hear someone say they need a service or product, I go there first."
Members, or GNONers, range from being business owners to a stay-at-home mom, some who may be looking for full- or part-time work.
Hewitt said some women with resumes in hand "working the room" have found job leads and offers.
"It's a really diverse group," she added. "We've got everything from a funeral director to a massage therapist to doggie daycare."
Even if a networking connection isn't initially apparent, the GNONers will most often remark about the camaraderie found through the monthly mixers. Hewitt said she's heard some hesitation from prospective members because they don't know anyone, but said people are often surprised to see familiar faces and that meeting new people is the name of the game.
As the group grows into its second year, something Hewitt never imagined at the GNON's first meeting, they have had to make certain changes. Now that the monthly meetings are so large, they now meet at the businesses of GNONers, instead of making a small reservation at a local restaurant or winery. Hewitt said she is also planning to have a $50 annual membership fee to help cover overhead costs. With the membership, she plans to include advertising in the GNON Gazette newsletter, the ability to host a mixer and access to members.
For those interested in learning more about the networking group should contact Hewitt at 487-4748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out GNON
Who: Women interested in networking
What: An informal night out
When: after work Jan. 27 (introductions at 6:15 p.m.)
Where: Hairlights Salon, 4307 Valley Ave., Ste. F
Details: Bring your own beverage and $5 for appetizers. Visit www.localmarket2me.com/business/gnon.html for more information.