Jessica Fontane, of Soho Business Network

Tell us about SoHo Business Network…

I live in Soho, started my business in Soho, and found so many amazing small businesses there that are struggling because rent is increasing and gentrification is ruining that New York feel. The original idea was to help and bring awareness to businesses in the area, some of which have been there for over 100 years and are being forced out of business. It quickly grew to encompass all of downtown Manhattan as I continue to find that so many businesses all over NYC need help.

I want to genuinely help other businesses compete and showcase their products. The entire foundation of SoHo Business Network is to build a strong community of people that want to help each other out.  Unlike most awkward networking groups you find online now where you never know if help will be reciprocated; we're collecting authentic people with integrity. The SBN is an exclusive members only organization, that way you know you’re getting a certain type- people that will turn up and build a strong community of networkers.

It all started because I had a hard time finding a professional networking organization that that would really make a difference to my business. I quickly realized that other people were having the same problem.

That's wonderful. How long did it take to implement?

I quit my full-time job not even six months ago! When you emailed it was so funny- I was sitting with friends at lunch and just started cracking up… I didn't know I was an entrepreneur! I left the PR firm I worked at because I wasn't completely happy- I knew there was something inside me that was entrepreneurial. So I started Spark PR Group in December; built the website in a weekend while freelancing for the initial firm. Then SoHo Business Network came out nowhere and just took on a life of its own.

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was … none of it. You know when an amazing author says, 'the book just poured out of me- just sat there for two weeks and did nothing but write this book'... That’s what it felt like. Just one day, I decided I wanted to do something like this and it just clicked. Now it’s May and I’m planning my launch party! Although there was a lot of research on Chambers of Commerce, on the different issues circulating... I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

You have a big event coming up…

I’m really excited! This started out being something just for people I know in the neighborhood to have some cocktails and it quickly took on a life of its own. I began calling people and they got really excited - it’s become this giant thing. I mean, it’s at this huge Maserati showroom, we’re having a pop-up shop for up and coming fashion and swimwear brands, drinks, music, silent auction… It’s going to be great!

What does the future look like?

It’s increased to Lower Manhattan and now it seems like it might be all of Manhattan. We went from SoHo to downtown and now I have people from all over asking about helping small businesses who want to help each other and get recognition from big businesses. We're kind of still feeling it out. Might have to rename it, but we’re already working with a world-renowned graphic design agency (the Partners). Its certainly not limited to SoHo anymore. Businesses started coming in and wanting different things so we had to go to the drawing board, reword and re-evaluate the details in how we'll achieve our goals.

One of the most important things for SoHo Business Network is the member’s forum (sorry! It’s password protected for members only). We want our members to have a place to talk about events or important things coming up, but most importantly, we want to provide a place where they can ask for help. Maybe they need a marketer or designer or just mention the scaffolding is really hurting their business. I want the community to come together say, ‘I have that problem too- lets get together and raise an issue to the community board. Can we get a petition together?’ Then I want the network to collectively help raise a voice on issues to the global community and governmental organizations.

Has this additional undertaking had an impact on your personal life?

Only in a positive way. I’m working harder than I ever have in my life, but I’m happier than I've ever been too. This has given me the flexibility I always knew I wanted and needed- because of this, I can virtually work from anywhere. It's helped my life on so many personal levels. Not only with my family-being able to be with them in Florida more often, but also because I’m meeting such amazing people, people that are going to be lifelong friends.

Any advice?

If you're passionate about something, that’s the best thing you can do for your business. It’s something I said in my blog post this morning: your passion for what you’re doing is infectious- people know it; they feel the energy you’re giving off and they can’t help but take notice. If you’re passionate about something but you’re scared to take the leap because you’re working full time like I was, you just need to have faith in what you want to do. It’s scary, I had to take a 40 percent pay cut, but I’m making more now just 6 months later because I’m working hard and networking. I didn’t concede and people noticed and they’re excited about what I’m doing. I’m loving every minute of it!

Toast to Jessica with Mariette, Order Here.

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