After getting laid off from her job with a homebuilder, Plant City resident Carol Weathersby decided it was time to become her own boss.
"I was one of the first casualties of the recession," said Weathersby. "I didn't know what I was going to do but I decided I didn't want to work for anyone else again."
So, in November 2009, Weathersby launched Crown Shirts Inc., offering shirts featuring custom designs in screen prints, embroidery and even rhinestones to businesses, schools, churches and organizations.
Although she relished the independence and sense of satisfaction she felt running her own business, she missed the camaraderie of working with others. And she longed for the support and encouragement of fellow small business owners.
"Also, I wanted to step up to the next level of professionalism," Weathersby said. "I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me."
While searching for a way to meet her needs, she discovered Women on a Mission to Earn a Commission, a national organization started five years ago by Valrico native Kathleen Hawkins.
A business consultant, international speaker, award-winning photographer and nine times published author, Hawkins started the first chapter of WOAMTEC in Heathrow in 2007 with the mission of helping women promote and grow their businesses while maintaining their priorities of faith, family and career.
The organization's appeal spread rapidly. Today, WOAMTEC has more than 1,000 members in 70 chapters in 15 states, including a new Valrico chapter started by Weathersby.
Formed March 22, the Valrico chapter meets every other Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Buckhorn Springs Golf and Country Club, 2721 S. Miller Rd., Valrico.
"We're not here to compete with other business organizations," said Weathersby. "Our purpose is to provide a relaxed social environment that will encourage and support women."
The response to Weathersby's call to area businesswomen has been better than she envisioned.
"We now have 14 members and are continuing to grow," she said, adding that she hopes to have 50 members by the chapter's first anniversary. "There's such a sisterhood and bond among the members."
The members, most of which live or work in Brandon, Valrico, Bloomingdale and Plant City, have diverse business interests ranging from independent consultants to corporate bankers.
But Weathersby said they all share a common desire to exchange ideas on building their businesses and support other working women.
The meetings include a half hour of open networking followed by a presentation by one of the members or a guest speaker.
The cost to join is $165 for six months or $300 a year.
With the membership, business women not only have an opportunity to network within the chapter but also with chapters throughout the country.
"WOAMTEC offers so many opportunities to market yourself," said Weathersby.
There's a national directory of members, a state and national convention with numerous networking opportunities, features on members in the WOAMTEC magazine, Confident Women, and nationally videotaped sessions with members sharing their expertise.
In addition, Hawkins provides each member with a one-hour consultation along with a business assessment.
"It's been amazing getting to know all of these professionals and learning from them," said Weathersby.
The chapter's next meeting is today, Aug. 9.
For more information on the Valrico chapter, contact Weathersby at 813-546-1645 or visit the group's Facebook page, WOAMTEC Valrico, FL.