PEKIN — Six local businesswomen have come together to become a stronger force in the business community.

Bonnie Harken, founder and CEO for Crossroads Program for Women and owner of The Mansion on Walnut, came up with the concept.

The group formed when Harken and Shannon Cox, managing director of the Mansion on Walnut and the executive director of The Pekin Academy of Fine Arts, began working together in October.

“We realized after working together for a while that the more people in business that work together, the more impact you’re going to have. We started talking about powerful business leaders, especially women, that we could pull together,” Cox said.

In addition to Harken and Cox, these women are: Kim Brooks-Miller, founder and president of Your Story Confidential, an online counseling service; Kellie Branch-Dircks, owner of EZ Dreamin Therapeutic Equine Assisted Counseling Services; Lenora Fisher, director of Innovative Medical Technologies; and Brigitte Krieg, owner of Events 309 and Flashmugz Booth Rentals. 

Harken already knew Brooks-Miller, who formerly owned Healthy Cells magazine and Healthy You radio show.

“She came on air with me a few times and was a client,” Brooks-Miller said. “She was very supportive when I started this new business of online counseling and actually was one of my providers.”

Cox introduced Lenora and Krieg to the group, which she describes as “really powerful, busy, invested business women.”

The group meets once a month at the Mansion on Walnut in Pekin. At the meetings they collaborate, educate and support each other. They also share their struggles, skills, marketing and other tips.

“The more opportunity of professionals and services here as well as more foot traffic here, exposes more of the community because so many people don’t know this is here,” Branch-Dircks said about the Mansion on Walnut, their hub.

Brooks-Miller said each member of the group pulls their weight to do what they can to make the community better.

Each of the women has a different background and area of expertise. They help one another by sharing tips on a variety of topics, one being technology.

“We all have our strengths with our experiences and our journey to get where we’re at at this point in our life. Our services all complement each other,” Branch-Dircks said. 

The focus of the group to help others is “physical, emotional, psycho-social well being” Branch-Dircks said, adding that it’s “empowerment of helping everyone be the best they can be.”

Cox said there is also an artistic focus, with a plethora of opportunities to work together. One example is Cox and Branch-Dircks collaborating for a summer art camp in which participants will be allowed to paint on horses.

“Kellie has these horses and I’m having this summer camp. We’re going to bring those horses here and let the kids paint them,” Cox said. “We’re going to (revolve) the day around horses.”

For Brooks-Miller, who is new to Pekin, the group offers a chance to network. She is working with Branch-Dircks to offer her online counseling platform to ALS patients. 

“When you’re diagnosed with a chronic, always terminal condition such as ALS, there’s a lot of grief that goes along with it and anxiety. There’s no providers that go to the patients’ homes and we can’t get them to the offices, as well as the caregivers, they need that support too,” Branch-Dircks said.

Although the group gets right down to business when they meet at the Mansion on Walnut, Brooks-Miller said they have fun too. 

Guest speakers are invited at times to educate the group. The public was invited when they had Tammy Finch, owner of Web Tech Services recently speak to the group.

“We want to help others too. If we have those kind of skills or speakers we can offer to other business owners in Pekin, we want to support them that way and we learn too,” Cox said.

Other valuable lessons for the small business owners revolve around cost effectiveness.

“We’re not like large corporate businesses. Everybody is watching their dollars these days. We know that. But when you’re a small business it is a very different line that you walk. In order for us to bond together and learn different things to help each other in cost effectiveness, that’s been a huge key to the success to it,” Brooks-Miller said.

Rather than attending classes to learn about social media, the women are sharing their knowledge.

“We don’t have the funds to do and hire all of these major marketing firms,” Branch-Dircks said. “I think that highlights one of the greatest things about the group.”

For small business owners, Brooks-Miller said it takes six months up to two years to get established. That’s why she views the group as helpful, due to the support and networking they have.

“A lot of your best referrals, even business wise, are word of mouth,” she said. “I think if that’s something we can help each other with, that’s absolutely huge.”

The women do not see what they are doing as a duplication of a Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re not organizing or forming an association,” said Cox. “We are invested in our businesses and we want to make things happen.”

“This is more of a grassroots approach I would say. We’re really kind of starting at the bottom of things and learning things and what are the needs, where some of these other organizations are already set and have great things going,” Brooks-Miller said.

Brooks-Miller said they are also different from other networking groups in that they are not getting together to talk about business leads and sales. 

“This is more of a synergistic group that talks about ‘You have this need, what are you doing for it?’ or ‘Hey, I learned this really great trick or I have an app … and it’s free,’” Brooks-Miller said.

“I think we create our own synergy,” Cox said. “It is fun.”

The women are motivated by a passion for what they do.

“I love what I do so much here it doesn’t feel like work,” Cox said.

“I’m creating a legacy. My daughter is going to college for social work and she wants to take over the equine therapy business,” Branch-Dircks said.

Cox said they are also forming some wonderful friendships. They are not actively seeking any new members. They want to keep the group small so they don’t have “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

“Will we grow later on? Maybe. But right now we’re really dedicated to what we can do to help each other, but also to the community,” Brooks-Miller said.

For any information about upcoming programs, including Crossroads for Women or Pekin Academy of Fine Arts at the Mansion on Walnut, visit mansiononwalnut.com.