More Than Just “Nice Ladies”
Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.
It’s a word often used to describe something that is pleasant and mild: “The weather is nice today,” or “She’s a nice teacher.” This adjective can paint its subject as benign and not altogether substantive, particularly when used to describe women.
Nice Ladies, a networking group of professional women in Ocala, redefines the term “nice” by showcasing the strength women have when they gather for a common purpose: to give back to their community in a meaningful way.
The brainchild of Christina McGowan, founder of Teak Lane, which creates unique, handmade decor, Nice Ladies evolved out of a need to network in a nontraditional, more purposeful way.
McGowan started Teak Lane in the summer of 2020 after quitting her teaching job due to the strain of teaching remotely during the pandemic. In order to promote her young business, she attended a few networking events. However, she felt she lacked a connection with those who had more traditional businesses. Referral-based networking events didn’t fill her need, personally or professionally.
At one of the networking events she met Sabrina Lewis, creator of Graze + Prosper, an Ocala catering company specializing in grazing boards featuring charcuterie and fine cheeses. The two women met over coffee to discuss the need for a better networking experience, particularly for female entrepreneurs.
McGowan said, “I loved her (Sabrina’s) energy, how organized she was, and knew I could learn from her. I shared my idea with her, and she immediately said yes. We both have hearts for service. The idea was to take our grit and our drive as entrepreneurs to lift up different organizations in our area that people might not know about.”
And, just like that, Nice Ladies was born.
“The ‘nice’ part of Nice Ladies stands for Networking Inspiring Caring Entrepreneurs. We believe it sets the tone for the group. That’s the expectation: We’re going to be kind, compassionate, and support each other,” said McGowan.
In August 2021, 17 female entrepreneurs met (socially distanced) for the first time as Nice Ladies. Today, there are more than 70 members and holding: They are pausing their growth until they can find a larger meeting space. They plan to resume admitting new members by this fall.
Nice Ladies is not only redefining the networking model, it is chipping away at the long-held notion that women must compete with each other in order to succeed.
“We work together to raise each other up,’’ Lewis explained. “There’s collaboration across businesses, definitely collaboration over competition. Our group is made up of women raising each other up, pulling each other up the ladder of success. When we get together, we feel like we can solve all the world’s problems. Women are meant to join together. We need our village of other women.”
McGowan and Lewis acknowledge that being an entrepreneur can be isolating at times. Their hope is that through Nice Ladies, members can meet people with the same spirit and develop friendships while serving their community.
“It’s (Nice Ladies) flourished into something we didn’t think our souls needed. We always get a message after a meeting from one of the girls saying, ‘I needed that today.’ They are propelled into their business for the next month after being together as a group,” McGowan said.
Meetings are an hour long, once a month. The women spend quality time with one another and have a guest speaker from a nonprofit who explains their group’s mission and needs. The members are expected to promote that month’s nonprofit on their social media channels to raise awareness. They also gather needed supplies, such as toiletry items to make hygiene kits for clients of Interfaith Emergency Services.
Lewis noted, “We’re usually so busy as entrepreneurs we don’t have time to volunteer. Our events allow us to lift our heads and have a moment of gratitude and see what nonprofits are doing in our community. It provides us substance outside of our careers.”
A myriad of professions are represented in Nice Ladies: real estate agents, bakers, photographers, nonprofit leaders, designers, and many more. Unlike most networking groups, Nice Ladies allows more than one person from each profession to join (i.e. two photographers, not just one). Membership dues are $120 a year.
Nice Ladies is proof that you can grow yourself and your business while helping others flourish at the same time. Thanks to Nice Ladies, ‘nice’ now connotes strength, compassion, and collaboration.
To learn more about Nice Ladies, visit www.niceladies.org. There will be a Ladies’ Night Market on Thursday, March 10 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Ocala Downtown Market. This free event will feature 40 vendors (all of whom are Nice Ladies) and nonprofits from across Ocala/Marion County. The group encourages the public to support their members by buying local as well as supporting area nonprofits by donating prom dresses and suits, diapers, gently-used clothing, and school supplies.