By Valerie Reed
Inquirer Suburban Staff
Forty women, bearing business cards and portfolios, delivered 30-second pitches about their enterprises with style and humor at a recent meeting of the Women’s Business Forum of Bucks County.
The introductory remarks came from an accountant and a belly dancer, a marketing consultant and a housecleaner, an illustrator and a decorator.
“If it wasn’t for the Women’s Business Forum, my business would not be the success it is today,” public relations consultant Gina Furia Rubel said after the meeting in Doylestown Borough.
“My business is 100 percent supported through this forum. It’s like having the full resources of a corporation while running a small business.”
Rubel, who started her Fountainville firm four years ago, has turned to members for assistance in Web design, accounting and copyrighting – and she takes belly-dancing lessons.
The Women’s Business Forum, which started with a half-dozen members in July 2002, now has more than 300. Dozens of members attend the twice-a-month meetings.
“We think it’s so successful because people realize there are no strings attached,” said founder Chanin Walsh, creative director at Ampersand Design in Doylestown Township.
Her philosophy is simple: Don’t charge to be a member. Don’t require members to bring in referrals. Don’t restrict the number of members representing each profession.
“We’re all building businesses, we’re all trying to do it better, and we’re all pulling for each other,” Walsh said.
Doylestown Borough illustrator Pat Achilles, who typically works alone, enjoys the networking opportunities.
“I’ve gotten sales and promotion tips and tax advice,” Achilles said. “Everyone’s willing to give free advice, and that can lead to business deals. Women like to talk and like to share. But we share to a point before it becomes business time.”
The forum is not only for the self-employed or small-business owners, but also for any woman with “entrepreneurial spirit, responsible for their own hours, own discipline during the day,” Walsh said.
The forum’s major expense is the rental of the James-Lorah House in Doylestown Borough for the meetings. Guest speakers, who cover topics such as finances and legalities, do not charge a fee.
The costs are covered by contributing members who have relied on the forum to establish their businesses and who have the ability to give back, Walsh said.
The forum has 25 supporting members who pay $75 a year, and two lifetime members who make a one-time $500 contribution. As the forum grew, a board of directors was formed and three levels of membership were established – free, supporting and lifetime – with varying degrees of benefits.
Walsh modeled the Women’s Business Forum after an organization she had joined in Ohio, where she started a graphic-design business in the mid-1990s.
Recently, the forum conducted a free six-hour seminar series and launched a lunchtime book group. Last month, the forum applied for nonprofit status to make it eligible for grants.
Walsh said the grants could be used to bring in nationally recognized speakers and provide funding for women starting small businesses.
Andy Cleff, owner of Ampersand Design, is, so far, the only man who belongs to the Women’s Business Forum.
“He’s the yin to our yang,” Walsh said.
Cleff, a founding member of the forum, said that men are encouraged to join, but that the focus of the group was to support women in business.
Cass Forkin of Buckingham introduced her idea for a nonprofit organization at a meeting of the forum in fall 2003.
“It’s amazing what happened from that point on,” said the executive director of the Twilight Wish Foundation, which makes wishes come true for those 68 and older.
The foundation, which received help with public relations, Web design and artwork, has expanded to five other states and is on track to go national, Forkin said.
“I’ve never joined an organization where women are so supportive. There’s no me, me, me,” she said. “It’s all about how we can help everyone become successful.”
The Women’s Business Forum of Bucks County meets the first Wednesday of the month at 8 a.m. and the third Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at the James-Lorah House, Broad and Main Streets, Doylestown Borough. The next meeting will be at 8 a.m. July 5.
The forum’s book group meets the third Thursday of the month from noon to 1 p.m. at the Bucks County Library Center, 150 S. Pine St., Doylestown Borough. The next meeting will be July 20.
For more information, call 215-230-7650 or visit www.womensbusinessforum.org.