Debra Dakin traded earthquakes for hurricanes when she relocated from Los Angeles to Brandon in 2004.
A trained aesthetician, Dakin wanted to be closer to her family. But when she started looking for work, reality set in: "Where's all the actors?" Dakin thought to herself.
She had to start over.
In November 2008, she opened In the Pink, a skin care and eyebrow studio. But it wasn't an easy road. The first summer Dakin survived by doing freelance makeup for weddings.
"I thought, 'I need to get involved,' " Dakin recalled of that tough first year.
She sought support from a few networking groups. Some required hard core meeting attendance; others had expensive membership fees.
It wasn't until she attended a Working Women of Tampa Bay networking mixer that the self-proclaimed "free spirit" felt in synch.
"It's loose, it's bohemian, they have little events everywhere," said Dakin, who credits the group with helping her build a client base. "It's like having a girls night out."
That was exactly the mood Jessica Rivelli, the founder of the organization, had in mind almost a year ago.
As a producer at WTSP-Ch. 10, Rivelli needed insight on starting her own business. But she couldn't find a networking group that fit her personality.
"It struck me that a lot of the networking opportunities that I was seeing were in the morning and at lunch and they weren't really social occasions," said Rivelli, who now runs Socially Successful, a social networking consulting firm in St. Petersburg. "Wouldn't a glass of wine, appetizers and a swag bag be more fun?"
Rivelli, 29, and a group of friends started meeting for dinner to discuss their challenges in life and business. Those informal dinners grew by word of mouth.
"I knew that we were on to something," Rivelli said.
Today WWOTB has more than 300 members in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties and is approaching its first anniversary. Six-month memberships cost $50 or members can pay $90 a year. Members run the gamut from raw foodists to software developers.
The unifying factor is a desire for fun and learning.
"We strip down the intimidation and encourage the girls to come to each event as their authentic self," Rivelli said.
Each month Working Women of Tampa Bay hosts two organized lunches where business-related topics are discussed. During the rest of the month, it hosts social events at a variety of locations.
Krayl Funch, a garden and interior designer, lives in South Tampa, but attended her first event in St. Petersburg because it fit her schedule better.
"I immediately felt welcomed there," said Funch, who recently relocated to Tampa from Pennsylvania.
WWOTB is unabashedly girly. In fact, the group's signature color is pink; its flower is the daisy.
But Rivelli maintains that despite the whimsical nature, the goal is to teach women business skills.
At a recent networking event held at Ikea, members went on a scavenger hunt through the store's office and home organizing section.
"The goal was to show you products to keep you organized in your home office," Rivelli said. "But it was also about team building."
Next month, WWOTB will host a bowling night.
"I think that the more the girls have the opportunity to really get to know each other through activity-based events, the more likely they are to build relationships that build their business," Rivelli said.
Supporting one another's businesses is also a perk.
On a recent day, Megan Kite-Henry had her eyebrows waxed by Dakin at In the Pink. Henry owns Vue Day Spa, also in Brandon.
Both are WWOTB members and sometimes work as a team during beauty events.
"You get a whole experience when you come here," Henry says, as Dakin sketches in her eyebrow shape.
It's part of Dakin's signature "Eyebrow Diva" technique.
After the sketch, she waxes clients' brows with them sitting straight up in a chair instead of leaning back. It's so she can look in the mirror to see the symmetry, she says.
Dakin finishes with a brow massage and makeup touch up.
"Women support women," Henry says, admiring her groomed brows in the mirror. "That's what has us thriving."
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)226-3405.