Nancy Fields of Leeds has been asking herself a lot of questions lately about her business, Nancy Fields Design.
That's because her participation in the new Network of Women Entrepreneurs at Holyoke Community College got her thinking and is helping her to breathe new life into the business she started in 1993.
"I feel like I'm getting an MBA, or at least learning what I should have done before starting my business," said Fields, who is now creating a business plan for the first time after seeing a sample distributed at a network meeting. "I also love being around women who are excited about starting a business or working on their start-up businesses. It's so hopeful and positive."
The Network of Women Entrepreneurs was launched in December 2012 by Sharon M. Styffe, the college's dean of Workforce & Economic Development, who saw the need for a new support system for women business owners.
Styffe now leads network meetings every other Tuesday night and offers resources, information and networking opportunities to roughly 20 women who attend on a rolling basis, representing local businesses that include a consignment shop, a yoga center, a radio program, a relish producer, laser engraving, a real estate agency and a waste management firm.
"The reason for the network is to identify the unique topics that businesswomen deal with," Styffe said. "Women are still mothers when they run a business. They're still doing it all and trying to keep balance and stay sane.
"Women are good with children. They're good with friends. We love to nurture," Styffe added. "You can transfer those skills very easily into running a business and build it from scratch."
Each meeting of the network features a speaker on an aspect of business management. Since the group began, speakers have addressed stress management, email marketing, human resources, accounting and financing.
Marketing was the topic of the March 5 meeting, and women who attended that night appreciated the knowledge gained on public relations, media relations and speaking about their work in public; women practiced introducing themselves and giving their "elevator speech," or a 30-second introduction of who they are and what they do.
"Marketing is an attitude. It's how you present yourself," said speaker Dianne Fuller Doherty, regional director for the Western Massachusetts Regional Office of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center. "Good marketing begins with good research."
Fuller Doherty talked about the importance of knowing the customer and knowing the competition, and she also applauded the women for their work as entrepreneurs.
"You are important ingredients of the evening," she said. "You are the economic engine. Small businesses in the region provide two thirds of new jobs in the economy and they are where growth is."
Women-owned businesses are growing faster than businesses owned by men, Fuller Doherty said.
Christine Parizo of West Springfield, the owner of Christine Parizo Communications, checked out the March network meeting out of curiosity and said it's a great resource for women just starting out in business.
"I think the network is great for women who aren't sure how to go about marketing, establishing or otherwise running their businesses," she said. "The topics are very relevant."
-- Janice Beetle
Photos: (Left) Donna Bliznak, vice president of Commercial Lending for PeoplesBank, talks about finance at the April 9 meeting of the Network for Women Entrepreneurs at HCC.(Right) Bliznak and network members Mary Kearney (CleanScape, Inc.) and Nancy Fields (Nancy Fields Design), at the group's April 9th meeting at HCC.