WOMEN IN BUSINESS

Networking in a new way

Flourish connects working women through friendship first

Lisa Petersen – Chapter Leader Milton/Alpharetta
Linda Barbour, Founder of The Flourish Network.
Anne Cicconi - Chapter Leader Johns Creek
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By CANDY WAYLOCK
Posted
Flourish: To Grow Well & Be Very Successful”

Linda Barbour realizes now that her “downsizing” from a job she held for nearly 25 years turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Without the redirection in 2009, she may never have found her true calling —helping women thrive professionally and personally.

In 2015, Barbour founded Flourish, a networking group for women based in Acworth, with multiple chapters in three states and others on the way.

The focus of Flourish, Barbour said, is to connect, inspire and impact women in a way that supports them individually and in business. The atmosphere is about personal growth, not competition, aggression, sales tactics and other aspects that are often a part of the networking experience.

“The idea for Flourish came to me in early 2015 out of my frustration with [traditional] networking groups,” said Barbour, who moved to the Atlanta area in 1991 group that was focused on helping and supporting other women.”

At the time, Barbour was a top leader in a direct sales marketing company after a long career in the telecommunications field. When she couldn’t find the networking niche she wanted, she created her own.

“At the very beginning it started with two of us meeting at a local restaurant,” Barbour said laughing of the organization’s humble start. “It was simply about us connecting, helping each other, and becoming friends.”

She soon invited more women to her home in Acworth, reaching out through social media and other platforms, to draw in working women who also sought a more personal style of networking. The idea resonated, and soon other chapters sprang up around the metro area, initiated by “leaders” who took on the role and responsibility for their chapters.

Today, there are 18 Flourish chapters in Georgia, primarily clustered around the Atlanta metro area from Cartersville to Canton to Buckhead, including three chapters in North Fulton. Flourish has spread to Tennessee and Florida, and Barbour‘s goal is to eventually see chapters across the country and the world.

Barbour is not surprised by the growth of Flourish; she said the structure resonates with many women in the work force.

“Before Flourish, I saw a lot of groups with cliques and [special] interests, and often a shallowness,” Barbour said. “I wanted to put a group together where we all get to know each other first, develop friendships and then [focus] on business.”

She has no set goals on how and where Flourish chapters will evolve, preferring the organization to grow organically through the work of committed leaders.

Other than a code of ethics that each leader must follow, Barbour encourages each chapter to evolve its own personality.

“We have one chapter where the leader was a school teacher, so she prefers to run it by the book like a classroom,” Barbour laughed. “If you come to my meetings [in Acworth] you’ll probably find a featured guest and we just go with the flow.”

Flourish draws a wide spectrum of working women, Barbour said, from corporate executives to stay at home moms with home businesses. To date, about 1,800 women have participated in Flourish events.

In addition to the monthly chapter meet-ups, the Flourish calendar includes conferences, ladies mixers, girls’ night out and social networking events. Barbour said they often partner with businesses for special events, such as health and wellness seminars, to inspire the “spiritual side” of personal growth.

It’s a far cry from traditional networking focused on business card exchanges and gathering names of potential customers, but Barbour says that is intentional.

“The best way to describe Flourish is ‘our purpose is to be different on purpose,’” she noted. “We build relationships.”

For more information on Flourish, visit http://www.comeflourishwithus.com ■

Leadership Profiles

Anne Cicconi - Chapter Leader Johns Creek

Anne Cicconi first discovered Flourish on Facebook and was drawn to the approach which focuses on relationships first, and work second.

“I found the women who attend Flourish meetings to have exceptional hearts ... and [that] is important to me,” said Cicconi, a native of New York who moved to the Atlanta area in 1991. “I look forward to connecting with them on a monthly basis and nurturing solid relationships.”

A designer and renovator who owns her own business, Cicconi attended several chapter meetings before approaching founder Linda Barbour about starting her own chapter.

“I asked Linda is there was a chapter in Johns Creek and she said ‘no, how about if you start one?’” Cicconi laughed. “So I did!”

She has a business marketing degree from Kean University and an interior design degree from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and spent years in the furniture business.

“I have been in design my entire career,” Cicconi said. “I started my own company two years ago – finally fulfilling a lifelong dream of being in charge of my own destiny.”

She believes it is in the nature of most women to want to help other women, but they often don’t know the best approach.

“Women are great at relationships, and if we are given the right forum, with guidance, we can join together and achieve great things,” Cicconi said. “I think  more opportunities, more outside the box thinking, etc., would facilitate more participation.”

That’s where Flourish comes in, she added, providing the opportunities to grow your own business, while at the same time helping others grow theirs.“I [encourage women] to get rid of your fear and preconception and join a Flourish group!” Cicconi urged. “It is only through reaching out to others that we can be helped.”

Lisa Petersen – Chapter Leader Milton/Alpharetta

After a long career in education, Lisa Petersen transitioned to a new profession a few years ago, taking on a new role as a real estate agent with her own agency.

“My career change into real estate was exciting and daunting at the same time,” said Petersen, who works for Palmer House Properties. “Being an agent is so much more than just showing pretty houses and negotiating contracts.”

She knew success in the ultra-competitive real estate industry required strong business skills and decision-making abilities – along with lots of advice from others in the field.

Petersen was directed to Flourish through a business contact and jumped at the chance to become a chapter leader in Milton/Alpharetta in January.

“I thought what an excellent opportunity to lead a group of like-minded business women! It was exactly the type of networking group I was looking for,” said Petersen, who lives in Canton.

Flourish fits her needs for a number of reasons. It provides members flexibility on attendance at chapter meetings, and it focuses on relationship building as a core value.

“Being women only, Flourish is also much less intimidating for some,” said Petersen, who majored in communications and special education in college. “Here, we are able to let our guard down more and get to know each other on a personal level.”

Professionally, she noted Flourish has expanded her network of potential clients, both directly and indirectly, and she in turn has helped others build their own businesses.

“More than that, though, I learn a lot from these ladies on what works for them in their businesses and what doesn’t,” Petersen said. “It’s a chance to share ideas, empathize, and celebrate. Personally, I consider my Flourish meeting my ‘Girls Night Out’ [with] some great laughs!”

She said gender inequality still exists in the workplace, so it’s important that women support and mentor each other. Networking with other women helps build that support.

“Any woman who relies on referrals for her business should join a networking group,” Petersen advised. “It never hurts to expand your circle and gain a new idea or a new friend.”

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