Consulting Women is DC’s professional forum for women to network and share best business practices among area women who own their businesses and provide services to non-profits, candidates, businesses and government. In 2004, Consulting Women founder Karen Mulhauser wrote the first four chapters of the Consulting Women history. In 2013, she added the fifth chapter and in 2014 she added the sixth chapter of this dynamic network.
The group was formed in 1990 when a few of Karen's friends approached her with questions about forming their own businesses. Karen had been operating her own consulting business for just over two years and friends wondered how she got started, how she figured out how much to charge clients, how she promoted her business, and how she drew the line between numerous pro bono activities or charge for similar projects. These were all good questions. Karen had to confess she hadn’t been all that strategic, but had just made it up as she went along. The group agreed to meet from time to time, share ideas and perhaps work together with clients. A small group of men and women met for a year or so.
After a while, the men stopped coming. The group decided to limit participation to women and call the group Consulting Women. When this happened, they found themselves comfortably admitting there were things they did not know – and agreed they would help each other learn. They discovered in helping each other and sharing information, they were also sharing power. There were not feelings of competition but instead, increasingly stronger feelings of collaboration. There were times when several of them responded to the same RFP. They all celebrated when one of them would get it. Some self-employed women formed legal partnerships. The group would write each other into contracts and send job notices to each other if there was too much on their individual plates.
At this time, the group was only 30 or 40. Those who attended the monthly meetings came to know each other well. There was a comfort level about certain topics being raised. Karen started providing a salad and others began bringing something to share – bread, cookies, something else to eat or drink. They came to think of ourselves as the “other food group,” which contributed to the intellectual exchange as well as the collaborations. There were some regular topics such as how to market their efforts, how to assess the legal aspects of their endeavors, how and when to subcontract, and how to determine when to hire an assistant, a staff person or a sub-contractor.
During this chapter, when they did not have regular access to the Internet, Karen collected brief descriptions of each member's bio and client activity. The group referred to this list to make referrals or to remember whom they wanted to connect with for professional or personal networking. This document was not for external use or publicity, but for themselves. Karen continued this effort until the group grew to more than 100 participants.
Because each were in their own ways benefiting from the group, word got around. More and more people joined, but they never felt they should limit it. Yet as more joined, the group lost the intimacy of in-person meetings, although expanding their reach. Some would come only once or twice to meetings, and benefited from the assurance that others had similar “getting started” experiences and then continued only virtually. During this period of growth, they continued to believe they should not formalize themselves by charging membership fees – everyone was welcome….There were months when 35 or 40 people would come to Karen's modest conference room for meetings.
During this time, we created a listserv for Basic Members and the web site for Premium Members, which eventually replaced the participant list. This growth and use of the Internet both equalized their ability to communicate with each other since one did not have to attend meetings to share information on the listserv, yet also caused the loss of a level of equality they once had. Before, everyone was “on the list” if she sent Karen the information. With the web site for full members, only those who paid the very minimal fee were able to have their contact information and client services listed.
The guidelines allow for Off Topic notices, but within an extended professional sphere. The group has grown and changed over the years. They no longer know everyone on the list, but know they have much in common. The electronic conversation is possibly replacing the face-to-face meetings.
It may be hard to believe, but Consulting Women is now in its 30th year and and almost 1000 women strong. According to a November 2011 survey, members have chosen to consult for many reasons. One member sums up why they do what they do: “flexibility, autonomy, dynamism, and engaging work on issues that I like. And the sheer challenge of it.” Some have been consulting for more than 35 years and others are just starting. Some CW members have been here since the beginning, and others have come on to the listserv through the website. The listserv continues to connect all the members for professional advices, job openings, event listings and queries on other services.
Subgroups of Consulting Women with common interests have formed. The International group is expanding, and the Coaches and Nonprofits groups each meet regularly.
CW continues to expand. Today we are almost 1,000 women strong.
Connect with dynamic professional women across the Washington DC Area. Join Consulting Women today!