Jessica Rivelli is the guiding force behind hundreds of successful women in Tampa Bay. Her business success came somewhat as a surprise while trying to fill a void in what she describes as a lackluster networking market for women. In her 20s, while employed full-time as a television news producer in Tampa, she couldn’t find the caliber of networking opportunities for working women that she desired. Rather than settle for what the market was offering at the time, she decided to form her own professional development group.
The result was Working Women of Tampa Bay, an organization on the forefront of the women’s entrepreneurial movement. Its mission is to help women build authentic relationships. The casual, non-stuffy events encourage women to seek out and collaborate with other female professionals. As the founder of chapters in Tampa, Orlando and now Dallas, Rivelli’s member-based organization hosts 20 different events each month.
The grassroots group has power in numbers: 800 members strong and growing with over 20,000 Facebook fans and 10,000 Twitter followers. Rivelli learned quickly to harness the power of social media. To Rivelli, her biggest success isn’t just about the numbers – it’s about the spark that comes from introducing like-minded women who become partners in each other’s success and build a personal relationship.
“I’m a big believer in being authentic, paying it forward and making deep connections.”
What prompted you to create what you could not find?
At the time, I was looking for networking opportunities, but I wanted something that appealed to all women. I wanted to be part of an organization that had corporate women and small business owners. My goal became to connect working women with each other with an emphasis on business and professional development.
You had no business experience yet you were still determined to make this work. How did you do it?
The initial launch wasn’t very expensive. I created a business model that was cash flow positive and I didn’t allow myself to have expenses until I had money in my hands. I cashed in my life insurance policy, which had a little equity and used all of my savings. I did a lot of bartering in the beginning. When I needed a website I called on fellow working women in the areas of graphic design and marketing.
What are some of the challenges you faced?
I feel like every week presents a new challenge and through those challenges you are able to grow, develop and become a better business owner. As someone who didn’t have any previous business experience or formal business education – I think the most I took in college was an economics class – it was all about on the job training. As a problem presented itself, I had to find the solution and overcome it. I’m a research person at heart, like most journalists. That helped me navigate the waters at the beginning. I also asked pretty much everyone for help. My boyfriend is a CPA and has been in the world of business for 20 years. As Working Women grew, I was able to lean on these new friends and colleagues to help share their business “best practices” with me.
“I feel like every week presents a new challenge and through those challenges you are able to grow, develop and become a better business owner.”
How do you measure success?
Making connections is what success for me is all about. Having a big day or booking a speaker or selling out a large international women’s day event — those are short-lived wows. Long lasting personal fulfillment and satisfaction comes from those moments in my day when I stop what I am doing and make a virtual connection, at an event, introduce them in an e-mail or on social media. When I am able to connect two people together that I know are a great fit to do business — that to me is what keeps me going. I do about 30-40 connections a week. It is ALL about quality, not quantity. It’s going to be a relationship, not a transaction.
How do you create your best life when you’re not creating?
I definitely follow a work hard – play hard model. One crucial element to me staying fresh is travel —the more exotic, the more adventurous the trip — the better. My boyfriend, Mike, and I take 3 or 4 big trips a year. Last year we went Alaska; this year we are going to Iceland. I think partly when I was in TV I could have never dreamed of taking a two-week vacation. So a piece of my success today is the symbol of the freedom I have now.
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