In January’s Athena Executive Group, Gina shared her networking journey to prove that no matter where you start, networking can be an unbelievably successful way to grow your business – and you never know what other benefits it might bring. Read on!
Accidental entrepreneur is a phrase Gina often uses to describe her early venture into business. She had never thought about building a business out of a lifestyle necessity – but that’s exactly what happened.
It was 2002 and Gina was on her second maternity leave from her career as an air stewardess with British Airways. She and her IT geek partner needed to make some extra income to support their growing family. At the time, laptops were the must have tech gadget but they were expensive and not everyone could afford one. The pair noticed an increase in the sale of second hand laptops in local newspapers and saw an opportunity – Bobby’s tech skills in refurbishing laptops and Gina’s innovative approach to customer service resulted in them working on up to 9 laptops a day, with a healthy profit margin too. It soon became apparent that if Bobby quit his day job as an IT engineer and dedicated his time to working on the laptops and other small IT services, they could grow a business. Around the same time, people were turning more to eBay to buy second hand technology so it was the right place and the right time to launch their business.
By 2005 they had expanded and moved out of their back garage into their first office. Once they had their own office space, Gina received a call out of the blue one day, inviting her to a business women’s networking lunch. Until that point, Gina had never really seen herself as a businesswoman but she went along to the first Athena lunch to see what it was all about.
A nervous networker to say the least, Gina’s lack of public speaking skills (and confidence) made her memorable at that first meeting – for all the wrong reasons! Spilling (red) wine over the (white) tablecloth wasn’t a great start to her networking journey! But, it was a turning point for Gina who realised that attending regular networking events, and growing her confidence in explaining what the business does, would help her greatly – she signed up for Athena membership immediately.
By 2006, Gina had been an Athena member for a year when her renewal was up. Having tracked her connections, she recognised that in her first year of being an Athena member, she had brought in over $60k in revenue. She was also raising her profile locally by regularly attending networking events and supporting her fellow members which helped her to become more confident at talking to people in a variety of settings. After 4 years of juggling business and babies with flying for BA, Gina left her 10 year career at BA to focus on the growth of their business.
Between 2006 – 2007, Gina and Bobby wanted to ramp their business up from fixing laptops and small IT services (which were not very profitable) to larger clients who had the money to pay for the best quality IT support packages. In an Athena Monthly Minute, Gina had some specific requests.
- Companies who had the money to invest in excellent IT
- Small companies (fewer than 10 employees)
- Rely heavily on IT for their business
- Based in the West End of London
- Private investment banks
Being specific works! A fellow Athena member had previously worked as an intern in a bank and knew her boss was setting up his own investment bank – fitting all of the criteria Gina had asked for. They were connected and a deal struck. More followed that year and by 2007, Gina calculated that over $300k had been earned through her Athena connections. A great return on investment!
2008 saw some massive changes in Gina’s networking journey. That small investment bank kept growing, beyond the rate which their boutique IT services company could cope with. That company then hired Bobby which effectively led to the end of their IT business (the client became the boss!) Still wanting to attend Athena meetings but with no business to promote, Gina took up a role within Athena HQ as Operations Director working with 30 Athena franchise owners to improve operational processes and customer experience across 150 Athena Groups in the south of England.
In 2009, Gina bought and subsequently sold one of these franchises prior to being relocated to Singapore due to her husband’s company (that same investment bank!) expanding to Asia.
Gina now runs The Athena Network Singapore and Asia Pacific and demonstrates how someone as novice and nervous as her can leverage her community and network in a number of ways.
Top Tips for Networking Success
1) It takes time to get massive results
2) Track everything so you can work out your return on investment for various marketing and networking activities
3) Communicate – tell anyone who will listen what you are looking for in your business
4) You get out of networking what you put in
5) Think beyond the figures – what else can you gain from networking? For example, contacts, confidence, reach, raising your profile, knowledge and skills
Inspiring entrepreneur, master networker, visionary business leader and unconventional business thinker, Gina Romero embraces every opportunity with boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm.
Managing Director of The Athena Network, Gina has been featured in Her World, SG Entrepreneurs and on 938LIVE ‘They are Making a Difference’ series, and has quickly become known for her ultra business networking and brand ambassador skills. Gina is also honoured to be part of the Women’s Register team with Singapore Council for Women’s Organisations (SCWO), which enables her to bring her down-to-earth approach to aspiring female entrepreneurs and business owners.