When BlogHer asked me to take a look at the women's business community, Ladies Who Launch, I chuckled, as you're supposed to at the name deliberately chosen to evoke (and reject) the stereotype of ladies who lunch.
Ladies Who Launch bills itself as the world's largest community of women entrepreneurs, but make no mistake, it is a for-profit operation. Local chapters are franchisees and the company's revenue model is probably a combination of membership fees, local franchise fees and advertising revenue.
The community site offers all the basic things one expects in an online community -- profile page, in-network messaging, member directory, classified advertising and educational resources. It also doesn't ignore the face-to-face component of successful networking; Ladies Who Launch has chapters in communities across the US and even a few in Canada. Membership in the basic community is free, but the extended membership is not. More about that below. Registration fees are charged for events and webinars.
The website features case studies of successful women entrepreneurs, as well as free resources like business templates. It's pretty clear from both the tagline -- entrepreneurship and creativity as a lifestyle -- and the site content that the community is for small business owners and professional service providers. I think you'd be less likely to find women running tech start-ups in this community.
Ladies Who Launch is a PR Newswire partner, and the site pretty heavily advertises a free one-year membership to the news release distribution service (advertised value $195). This sounds better than it really is, because you still have to pay for each press release you issue as well as any other PR Newswire services you want to use. But if a small business owner already planned to use the PR Newswire service, it could be a valuable benefit. Comparison shop first though. BusinessWire and PRWeb are the other well-known alternatives, and there may be deals available from them as well. You need to look at the total cost of sending your press releases to the intended media outlets, not just the membership fee. And whatever you do, refrain from spamming bloggers with your press releases unless they ask for them first!
Membership in the Ladies Who Launch community is free. Except not really. There is a definite push to encourage you to become a STRATA member for $39 per month to take advantage of extended benefits. Don't ask me what STRATA stands for. I couldn't find it spelled out on the site. Doesn't sound like much until you annualize it, and then you realize that's pretty hefty dues for a small business -- $468 per year.
Before you s ign on the dotted line, be a smart shopper. Make sure you are able to take full advantage of everything the organization offers and check out some of the competition. Attend a networking event to meet current members. TIP: Even if the local chapter doesn't advertise networking events as free to first time guests (as the Boston chapter does), most membership-driven organizations will waive a $15-25 dollar event fee if you ask.
Ladies Who Launch was included on Forbes' Top 100 Websites for Women, and that's a good place to start to check out other communities and sites that also might work for you. I found two on the list that are squarely aimed at the same audience -- Startup Princess and Women Entrepreneur.com. Startup Princess is based in Utah, and its revenue model seems to be built around an annual conference. Women Entrepreneur is a sister site to Entrepreneur.com and has a similar mainstream media feel to it.
You should also check out the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). It offers similar networking and educational opportunities as well as annual membership, which includes a local and national dues portion and runs about $250 per year. Local dues vary by chapter.
Bottom Line: Ladies Who Launch may be the perfect community for you and your small business. But do your due diligence first.
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