November 3-9, 207 | Vol. 18.34
By Katie Swalm
If Hannah Buschbom’s vision becomes a reality, the Central Coast will be home to a national networking company for women in professional services.
Buschbom, a partner, certified financial planner and certified divorce financial analyst at Ameriflex, has teamed up with Ameriflex CEO and co-founder Tom Goodson to launch The W Source™, a fledgling for-profit business that creates networking groups of 20 to 25 women and provides tools to grow their companies and practices.
The company operates out of the AmeriFlex office space on upper State Street in Santa Barbara and has just a single chapter, though the Westlake Village chapter will launch in November. But it has ambitious goals, with 100 chapters expected to be up and running across the nation in a year.
In her work with women facing major life transitions like retirement, divorce or business restructuring, Buschbom realized that there were no networking groups specifically for women in professional services.
The organization is positioned on the consumer-facing side as a one-stop resource to find a vetted financial adviser, CPA, attorney, or risk management specialist. For women professionals, there is a formulaic approach for them to expand their networks through other local women.
A $999 yearly fee to join goes toward creating business development resources, training coaches and human resource costs.
“For less than the cost of a nice dinner or lunch, you can have access to a network. And we’ve had women tell us that after one client or referral, it pays for itself,” Goodson said, adding that the fee amounts to just $83.25 per month.
The Santa Barbara group is the founding chapter that launched on Sept. 28 at ImpactHub on State Street. The W Source™ already has been through a round of funding and plans to start opening other chapters.
Each city where the The W Source™ will open a chapter will be ranked by tier based on its population. A large city like San Francisco, with a high number of service professionals, would be a Tier 1 city and could have four to five groups, while a smaller city with fewer professionals would be a Tier 2 city with two or three groups.
The W Source™ member Jennifer Gillon Duffey, attorney at Fell Marking, LLP, said that she already had business generated through a referral.
“Hannah reached out to tell me that someone needed help with employment law, which is my practice,” Gillon Duffey said.
Buschbom said that after only one month, there’s already been six instances where a member has been able to refer someone else in the group.
“Women spend more time working than networking,” Goodson said, “while men will spend time, say, playing golf and discussing a business deal, and that’s their networking time. And the old adage is true: success is truly having access.”
Many women have effective informal networks but The W Source™ makes those informal networks formal. Rather than hosting unstructured mingling over cocktails at 5:30 p.m. — which, for a caretaker, could be an inconvenient time to attend an event — a The W Source™ group meets once a month on the first Thursday for a 90-minute breakfast or lunch. The meetings are scheduled down to the minute, with the written resources for each meeting designed by the founders, so they are as efficient as possible.
Women will also randomly draw names to meet for a one-on-one with another member of the group.
Across the nation, only 13 to 14 percent of financial advisers are women. Buschbom noticed that there were not many networking opportunities — which many view as the key to success in some fields because of access to “who you know” for referrals and mentorship — for females in professional services like law, risk management or financing.
Buschbom and Goodson targeted larger firms and mature businesses to source women for the inaugural group, and they now have a waiting list of professionals who’d like to start chapters. The groups are invitation only and created by the women themselves by referring others who they think would be a good fit.
“It’s not an Uber rating service — these are vetted professionals,” said Buschbom.
It also has a process for determining new chapter leaders. As the company opens chapters in different cities, this process will be carried out by trained coaches so that the The W Source™ groups are centralized.
“We have financial resources and human resources, so our biggest challenge will be keeping a quality product as we scale,” said Goodson.
The group also provides business development resources to the women: for example, how to determine value proposition, how to handle sales or how to determine branding.
“It’s about understanding what you do so we can market you to other people,” Buschbom said. “We aren’t trying to give anyone an unfair advantage: our goal is to rebalance a system that is already unequal.”