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Resource for Women : The referral service includes a hot line and Yellow Pages directory plus networking and marketing workshops.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seventeen years ago, Nancy Sardella went looking for a female gynecologist. But despite her best efforts, she couldn’t find one--or anyone who could recommend one-- short of turning to the phone book.

Recognizing that other women might share her frustration--and sensing the tip of a business iceberg--Sardella decided to start the Women’s Referral Service, a telephone hot line that refers women to businesses and services targeted at them, and perhaps more important, are friendly toward them.

“It started out just as something I would do as a community service, so women could find each other,” said Sardella, whose referral service has grown into a multifaceted but still female-oriented business that she says supports her and her daughter.

Today, the more than 3,000 members of the Women’s Referral Service’s 16 Southern California chapters pay a yearly fee, based on the services they desire. These services range from participation in networking meetings and marketing workshops, to listing in a member directory, to optional inclusion in the telephone referral service. In addition, the service publishes the Women’s Yellow Pages, a 186-page phone directory with advertisements by referral service members and other individuals and businesses. The advertisers’ target customers are women entrepreneurs who earn more than $50,000 a year.

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“The bottom line: Everything we created here is because there was a need,” Sardella said. Referral service members “wanted to meet each other, so we started the networking meetings. Then we made a directory where we could list our names. Then we started the Women’s Yellow Pages. And when the recession hit California, a lot of our members were going out of business, and so we started the workshops.”

This month, the referral service’s main office will return to its Sherman Oaks location, after a stay in Sardella’s home while quake repairs were being made. The restored building will be called the Women’s Business Development Center and will house administrative offices and educational services.

The Northridge quake also delayed printing of the 1994 Women’s Yellow Pages from January until May, but the circulation this year was an all-time high of 90,000.

Although distributed for free, mainly at conferences and to companies that want access to businesswomen, the phone directory may be purchased for $10.95 at specialty bookstores or through the referral service.

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Thumbing through the Women’s Yellow pages, you’ll first come across the Los Angeles Survival Guide, a directory of services for women, followed by a series of essays written by Southern California businesswomen. Topics range from “Sexual Harassment: Serious Business in the Workplace” to “Meet Your Body: Yoga Helps Women Rediscover Themselves.”

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But the real meat of this phone book is the thousands of advertisements from women and men (10% of the yellow pages advertisers are male) all of whom have been screened by Sardella’s staff. “We validate who they are, what they’ve done and look for three good solid references on them,” Sardella said.

If an electrician, for instance, wants to become a member of the referral service, or even just to advertise in the Women’s Yellow Pages, she pays a fee--the amount varying depending on the services selected. Then she receives an application asking her how long she’s been in business, what she specializes in, and requesting a photocopy of her state license, as well as three signed references from customers.

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“We ask the customers how they know the person and if they know them to provide quality service,” Sardella said.

But not everyone makes it. “If we don’t get the references back, they don’t get approved” either as referral service members or for inclusion in the yellow pages, Sardella said. “We’ve had people apply who come from out of town and have nothing established, and if we can’t get any information, they don’t get in. . . . We want to make sure that when somebody uses this, they can really trust and rely on it.”

Although Karen Valenti’s North Hollywood Discount Auto Repair has just started advertising in the Women’s Yellow Pages, she said she thinks it will help promote her shop. “Complete auto repair with the feminine understanding,” reads the slogan than runs with her listing.

“I really care about women taking care of their cars,” Valenti said. “There’s a good feeling of basic honesty and credibility in this business, which they’ve found is very hard to find.”

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Valenti said she decided to advertise in the Women’s Yellow Pages because of a client, also a businesswoman, whose brakes Valenti was repairing. “I hadn’t heard of it until then, but it got a bug in my ear and I grabbed hold of it.”

Chuck Bennett, owner of A.A.&B.; Plumbing in Van Nuys, said he has belonged to several networking organizations, but that only the Women’s Referral Service has been worth his time.

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“There’s a camaraderie like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Bennett said. “I won’t call anyone now without checking with the referral service first.”

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And, Bennett said, he has experienced no discomfort as one of the few men in an organization made up mostly of women. “There are no games going on,” he said.

Beyond providing a networking resource for women, Sardella said she wants to emphasize to women entrepreneurs that business today is about relationships.

“The usual business route has changed. It used to be that you could go into business, hang a sign outside your door and put an ad in the paper,” Sardella said. “Business is now happening at the relationship level and it is an art to build strategic alliances.”

Sardella’s workshops teach women who were once taught to be frugal and to manage the household money to become aggressive entrepreneurs.

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“We have to stop clipping coupons,” Sardella said, and start taking risks and making strong alliances.

Where to Go

What: The Women’s Referral Service, a networking organization for entrepreneurial women in Southern California.

Mailing Address: 13601 Ventura Blvd. No. 374, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.

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Call: (818) 995-6646 to purchase a copy of the Women’s Yellow Pages or obtain information about joining.


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