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Founding An Internet Workshop Group
Lori Beldo, Denver PC

In 1980, I went through a divorce. With a college degree in history and work as a part-time travel agent, I couldn###t earn earn enough money to make it on my own. At that time, the personal computer was just being introduced to the business world. I had only rudimentary skills using the airline reservations terminal at the travel agency and had never used a computer in a business environment.

Fortunately, I could type and take shorthand. The business skills I learned in high school helped me get my foot in the door of a national company. But a secretarial job was just not enough pay for a single mom with two children. Thank goodness I had enough foresight in high school to take that typing class!

During the next 15 years spent working in large corporate environments, I took advantage of the many training opportunities available to employees. As a female working in the clerical field, any time I found a chance to take a class and improve my computer skills, I did. Most of my training, however, was on the job. I started out learning word processing, spreadsheets and databases from an end user viewpoint.

My technical career advanced, and I became a network system administrator, computer teacher, webmaster, and system designer – an all-around computer guru. The best part? My employers, the corporations, paid for my training. I was truly fortunate. For the past seven years I have worked for myself in my own business and as a contract computer consultant. If it weren’t for those computer classes, I would not be where I am today.

In 1992, as a small business owner, I was invited to join a Chamber of Commerce and a weekly leads networking group. It became apparent to me that there was great inequality between the men and women in the group. Even today, as a partner of Denver PC and member of two chambers of commerce, I notice the gap has not really narrowed. I found that the typical small, woman-owned business either did not have a computer or used the computer as a glorified typewriter. There is little money in their budgets to develop computer technology. A very small number of these women business owners, however, were computer literate and knew how to get on the Internet. These women usually had come from the corporate environment where computer skills were a necessity.

In the corporations I have worked for while in the computer field, more people in management (still usually male-dominated) have had computer classes and are allowed company access to the Internet. Women still fill the majority of clerical roles and are given minimal computer training. Most training is on the job. Rarely are they allowed company access to the Internet. They are trained just enough to do their specific job, and opportunities to learn more are virtually non-existent.

Furthermore, if the woman does have a computer at home, often the children and the husband are the primary users. Husbands use them to work at home; children use them for homework. The spouse and children are more likely to be Internet knowledgeable. Even if the woman wants to learn more and explore the Internet, time is limited. Her role at home is still traditional in many cases: come home from work, cook dinner, clean up after dinner, and put the children to bed. Where is the time and energy to get on the Internet?

How can women business owners learn computer skills? Where do they go for training? Their hours are long, and time away from the business is scarce. So, how can they compete against the good ‘ol boys?

In thinking about these problems and observing the difference in computer knowledge among men and women in business, I found my business goal! I decided I would focus my computer and training skills to teach those women: florists, dry cleaners, accountants, nurses, chiropractors, beauticians, retail store owners, insurance agents, travel agents, any woman owned business. Instead of putting precious time into social networking for our businesses, it###s time we put it into a networking group geared to learning how to use the computer as a business tool through Internet workshops. By starting this group, I hoped to even up the technical knowledge score and maybe even give women a competitive edge. I can dream, can’t I?

Last September, I formed the Women Business Owners Network, aka, wbo.net; a Denver based Women’s Internet Group. We have established four goals:

  1. To help women promote their businesses through an Internet based Women’s Workshop Networking Group.
  2. To learn how to establish and market "the woman owned business" on the Internet.
  3. To learn how to use the resources of the Internet to help grow their own business.
  4. To provide the public with a safe, convenient way to shop, research, and learn about our network of women in business, Women Business Owners Network, aka, wbo.net.

We currently have 22 members, mostly "newbies" to the Internet, who meet weekly to attend Internet Workshops in small groups of four to eight people. It is a very relaxed environment geared to make learning fun. We do, of course, accept computer literate women. Members receive hands-on instruction on all facets of the Internet: E-mail, browsers, search engines, internet service providers and web sites.

Membership is $45 per quarter. Each member may attend a weekly Internet workshop, and receives an e-mail business account hosted by wbo.net. Only one member from each business category may join the group. Dialup is offered at $18.95/month for unlimited access.

Low cost web site packages are also available from a basic web page for $100 to a full blown e-commerce site. If the member already has a web page, we can link the page on our site. Web pages feature the business owner’s picture, an "About the Owner" page, and an e-mail link, so that the total group and community can learn about who the woman is behind the company. This creates a real feeling of community among the women in the group and clients who visit the wbo.net web site.

Our weekly workshops are every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 1:00 pm and 3:30-5:00 pm. Our monthly group meeting is the first Thursday of each month from 5:30–7:30 pm and is hosted each month by a different member of the group.

Wbo.net is not a leads networking group; however, business is naturally generated between the members as they get to know each other and learn about each other’s business. We hope to grow, and develop a large force of women business owners in the Denver area. Please call Lori Beldo at (303)462-0955 if you are interested in joining our group, or visit our web site http://www.wbo.net for more details.