If you’re a student and new grad, networking is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door of a new career.
But after awhile, the wine and cheese nights can get a little repetitive. And all that brie is certainly not helpful for young professionals trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. These are just a few of the many reasons Celine Tarrant took matters into her own hands and started an innovative networking initiative.
We caught up with Celine to learn more about her new project, Smart Girls Sweat.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Celine: I started my career at Walmart Canada in the DARE New Graduate Leadership program. I had the opportunity to rotate throughout the company and work on projects for different teams to learn more about the business. I’m currently an Associate Category Manager at Walmart Canada in ladieswear. It’s pretty awesome getting to buy clothes for a living! Outside of work, I love running, yoga, trying new fitness trends, and experimenting in the kitchen. I also love to travel. My most recent adventure was a trip to Brazil, and I’m looking forward to going to India next year!
So, what is Smart Girls Sweat?
Celine: Smart Girls Sweat is a “sweatworking” (working out + networking) group for professional women in the Greater Toronto Area looking to be inspired, meet like-minded people, grow their networks, and maintain an active lifestyle. We believe that professional success should never come at the expense of physical and mental well-being. Our goal is to contribute to the advancement of professional women by combining fitness and professional development to help busy women make the most of their time. We achieve this through events including group fitness classes, inspiring speakers, and networking sessions.
Why did you start this project?
Celine: I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind for almost a year. I’ve always been active in terms of networking and professional development, and I love attending events, meeting new people, taking courses, and learning new skills. Between work, training, and an active social life, I found myself with less and less time to devote to my own development and networking. Typical corporate networking events seem to revolve around junk food and alcohol. I wanted to create something unique, where women could have excellent networking and development opportunities, while doing something good for their health at the same time.
There is a long history of men in business bonding over physical exercise – golf and hockey come to mind. In a sense, men have been “sweatworking” for years! With Smart Girls Sweat, I wanted to provide professional women with that same opportunity with a modern twist.
What did you need to do to get this idea off the ground?
Celine: I got really overwhelmed at the beginning with all that I needed to do from scratch. I tried to focus on the big picture, knowing that I needed three things to get the first event up and running – a speaker, a venue, and sponsorship. It was a classic “chicken or the egg” scenario – I needed the concept and the branding in order to pitch to potential speakers and sponsors, but I needed those speakers and sponsors to fully develop the concept and the brand! It was very hard for me to accept that not everything would be perfect at the beginning. I was very fortunate that Laurel Walzak (our inaugural keynote speaker) was willing to buy into the concept alone without me having a concrete plan established. It is truly an awesome feeling when someone understands and believes in your vision right away! I was lucky to have Fitneff Inc. and Health Capital jump on board as sponsors right away as well.
Did you have any initial hesitations about starting Smart Girls Sweat?
Celine: My biggest hesitation was wondering if I would have the time to do this on top of a full-time job, a busy training schedule, and trying to maintain a social life! The answer was a resounding no – but yet here we are! I’m still struggling to keep up with everything, but I think it’s something that will improve with time and experience.
What types of challenges have you faced in starting this initiative, and how have you dealt with them?
Celine: I was very surprised that my biggest challenge so far has turned out to be logistics! I work full-time, so it’s been challenging to schedule meetings and calls during the day when others are free. Especially when I am trying to pitch the concept to venues, sponsors, and potential attendees, it’s much easier to engage in person than over email. I pride myself on being very quick with email and returning calls at work, but I haven’t been able to be as responsive when it comes to Smart Girls Sweat. I’m a fairly strong salesperson, and I haven’t been able to leverage that skill as much over email. The irony is that I end up sacrificing gym time to work on SGS late into the night.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of “sweatworking” over traditional kinds of networking?
Celine: Firstly, sweatworking allows for a much more authentic experience. Working out together serves as an excellent icebreaker, and attendees are guaranteed to share something in common since everyone there will have an interest in health and fitness. Sweating together also helps people bond without thinking about corporate hierarchies and ranks. Think about when you go to the gym or out for a run – you don’t know who’s a newbie or a CEO and it doesn’t matter! Finally, it helps us do more in less time – which is something that I think all professional women can appreciate. Attending networking events often meant skipping a training session and missing out on quality time with family and friends. Sweatworking is a unique concept that allows women to access key networking and development opportunities while doing something good for their health at the same time.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your experience?
Celine: This sounds cheesy – but I have definitely learned over the last few months not to be discouraged when I get “no” for an answer. For every “yes” I get, I receive at least a dozen “no’s”. I have encountered lots of people who just don’t understand my concept and are unwilling to give it a chance. However, there were many who just “got it” right away, and those are the people that are willing to invest in me and help grow my vision. If I had just given up, I wouldn’t have found all the awesome supporters that I have now!
What advice would you give to young women who want to start their own career initiative?
Celine: It’s true what they say – the hardest part is starting! Even if you have the best idea and all the right skills and know all the right people, it can be really daunting to decide to actually do something about it. My practical tip is to make a huge laundry list of everything you would need to do to start your own initiative. Include everything from the easy stuff like registering your business, ordering business cards and creating a website to the really hard stuff like cold-calling clients and negotiating with vendors. Then, pick anything, and just do it. I found once I started getting easy stuff out of the way, it just felt natural to progress to the next task.
What do you hope to ultimately achieve with Smart Girls Sweat?
Celine: My ultimate goals are to inspire professional women to lead a healthy active lifestyle and provide a more effective and authentic networking environment for women. We live in a world where most social and business interactions happen over food and alcohol. While there’s nothing wrong with indulging once in awhile, for those of us who want a healthier experience, this is a great alternative. I truly believe that professional success should never come at the expense of physical and mental well-being. Women put so much pressure on themselves to succeed at work, and I want to create an environment where they can still feel like they are doing something important for progressing their careers, while living a healthy and active lifestyle.