More than 50 women sat around a circle inside the St. Petersburg City Theater’s entrance hall on a Friday morning for a meeting of the St. Pete Girl Bosses.
The networking group’s communications director, Taylor Adams, walked into the circle with a microphone in hand, wearing pink earrings that read “Screw it. Let’s do it.” She kicked off the meeting.
“We are the largest, fastest-growing, sexiest female entrepreneurship group in the Tampa Bay area,” she said of the group. The women around her cheered.
The theater hall was a step up from The Crislip Cafe on Central Avenue where the St. Pete Girl Bosses began meeting nearly a year ago. The networking organization outgrew the space as word of mouth spread — female business owners were getting together to be cheerleaders for each other in their ventures.
The St. Pete Girl Bosses Facebook group has grown to more than 3,100 members since launching. About 160 people are part of a paid membership program that debuted last summer. The group also launched its own podcast called “Bosscast” at the end of the year.
As they do every week, the St. Pete Girl Bosses meet at the theater hall on Friday mornings to discuss a specific topic. In early December, they focused on the themes of social media use and other online tools. The meeting started with the leaders advertising its first wellness passport, members could buy in for access to nearly a dozen life coaches, energy readers or psychics — all of whom are women.
Then they broke out into smaller groups — which paired women from a variety of industries, like real estate, coffee bean distributing, CBD retail, yoga and more — to jot down advice on a pink sticky notes. They anonymously shared their notes with a random person in the room. They went on to discuss their wins of the week, what online tools helped help run their businesses and how chasing money can distract from their missions.
While many women came for the networking, several members said they stayed because they found people who understood what they were dealing with. The group’s sense of community made it a safe space to make friends and get feedback about their work.
Founder Sandy Bean, 45, said she started the group after she went from being a teacher to the owner of an academic enrichment center for gifted students — realizing she was missing community during the process.
While psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs prioritizes safety and consistency, Bean said, new entrepreneurs typically flip the pyramid to focus on self-actualization and sacrifice security in order to reach business goals. Having a community to lean on is key to rebuilding those safety nets, she said.
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Bean said she tried other networking groups but struggled to forge real friendships. She noticed some women weren’t being heard.
“Going to these networking groups, the women, they’re so brilliant. But they don’t always get to talk,” Bean said. “It’s just different when you’re in a mixed crowd. I’m not trying to throw men under the bus or anything, but it’s just different.”
So Bean invited five other women she already knew to meet at the coffee shop and created a Facebook group, choosing the name St. Pete Girl Bosses “ironically.” She hoped maybe 20 people would sign up. In a few days, she said there were a couple hundred in the group, then a thousand. Now, there are women from Dunedin, Sarasota and even Lakeland who come to meetings.
“We started doing in-person workshops and volunteer events, and (St. Pete Girl Bosses) quickly turned into a business which was not at all what I expected to happen so fast,” Bean said.
For Clara Clayton, a 57-year-old wellness coach, she said many of the networking groups she was a part of shut down during COVID-19 and never restarted.
At first, Clayton joined the Facebook group and began attending the Zoom co-working sessions. Then she started going to happy hour events before joining the larger weekly meetings.
The group has helped her get new clients and also advice when she needed it. She enjoyed St. Pete Girl Bosses so much she became a brand ambassador for them.
“It’s not just about exchanging business cards. It’s about forming deep relations.” Clayton said. “Passing cold leads, it’s not for me.”
Many local women entrepreneurs struggle with a lack of education in business practices outside of their expertise — in areas such as sales, marketing or pricing their products — or getting access to investors and resources in the community, said Jennifer Schultz, St. Pete Girl Bosses vice president and owner of The Crislip and the cafe’s attached gift shop, The Merchant.
“The magic of this group allows me to find others who are experts in areas that can help educate me and other women in areas that maybe aren’t our strong suit,” Schultz said. “I never want to be the smartest person in the room, I want to meet other people who can help me learn and help other women learn.”
Many women also collaborate and visit each other’s stores or book sessions with each other.
One health insurance agent shared with her small group that her week’s high was that every appointment she had in the past seven days was booked by a girl boss.
When the Central Avenue home decor and gift shop The Canary opened in November, owner Allie Padin credited the group for helping her connect to a commercial real estate agent, small business lawyer and general contractor — all which helped fast-track getting her business off the ground.
Schultz hosted a pop-up at her shop during the holiday season to support a fellow “girl boss” flower-arranging business, The Roaming Petal.
Roaming Petal’s Erica Holland, 29, said the group helped her triple her network in a short amount of time and opened up new opportunities to collaborate with other local businesses.
“I run my business all by myself, it’s just me,” said Holland, 29. “Having that support system of other people to ask questions when I need to bounce ideas off of or when you’re feeling overwhelmed with the craziness of everything in entrepreneurship has been really helpful to have.”