Local Women’s Professional Group Goes Global During Pandemic

Laura Best’s Passion collective turns to virtual programming; attracts women across the country and beyond.
Laura Best leads Passion Collective event
Founder Laura Best leads a pre-pandemic Passion Collective event. Photo by Lauren Engfer.

About five years ago, Laura Best realized that, even though she was years deep in a successful marketing career, she wasn’t feeling fulfilled. And she wasn’t alone—she began conversations with other professional women and learned that many felt the same.

So she launched Golden Valley-based Passion Collective, a cooperative of professional women that has grown to 700 members. “Some members join because they are questioning their career path after years of success, some are trying to rediscover their creativity, others simply want to rediscover the things that light them up,” says Best. “We help these journeys by bringing women together to talk honestly and share experiences and advice.”

Since Passion Collective’s launch five years ago, Best has held successful in-person workshops and networking events in the Twin Cities several times a month. She began noticing last year that women were joining the collective from other states and countries and asking her if she would host events in their areas. While she’s been seeking out options for expansion since, she hadn’t yet figured out how to manage it.

But then, when the Covid-19 outbreak hit in March, banning groups from meeting in person, Best was forced to quickly find an alternative way to keep members connected.

This week, Passion Collective is launching a platform to take its events online—finally giving the collective an opportunity to grow and connect with its membership beyond the Twin Cities. The first virtual event, scheduled for June 18, will feature Nancy Lyons, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based interactive design and technology agency Clockwork Interactive, as she talks about taking back power at work and shares about her new book “Work Like A Boss. A kick in the pants guide to finding and using your power at work.”

Q | How has your work changed/been disrupted by coronavirus?

Best | Before Covid-19 hit, we focused on in-person events and online content. For five years, we connected in person, at “Even Happier Hours” and larger “Buzz Session” events.

Last year, we saw women join our online collective from across the US, the UK, and as far away as Dubai, so we knew that we had to extend our offerings beyond Minneapolis in-person events. We also knew that our audience—professional women with active lives—often couldn’t make event schedules work. We had committed to creating a strategy to solve this by the end of 2020.

On March 5, we had our most successful Buzz Session yet. More attendees than ever, fantastic conversation, unique venue. We were on a roll! We had events planned in April and were just about to confirm the rest of 2020. We had committed, supportive sponsors on board. Then, only a few weeks later, the shutdown happened.

The day I collected my third grade daughters’ belongings at school was when it really hit me. Not only was there mass uncertainty about my business, but in life, for the world. It was overwhelming and I questioned whether we should act or just stay quiet and sit tight. After reflection (and a good cry in the car), I realized that we needed to be there for our community. We could still help—even if we helped one woman, we could at least try.

We decided to take the best of what we did—the connections, the story sharing, and practical advice—and move it totally online for the time being. We produced four free “Mini Buzz” workshops, featuring women leaders talking about topics such as self-care, being a role model, and connecting with others. We also hosted a free Google #IamRemarkable workshop that focused on self-promotion, which few felt they had the right to do during a time of crisis.

The first Mini Buzz happened barely a week after schools shut in Minnesota, so we were moving really fast, and I was concerned that we weren’t as buttoned up as we like to be. But then I realized it was better to show up with imperfection than not at all.

More than 150 women joined these workshops, some from the east and west coasts, which far exceeded our expectations.

Although we knew that Covid was forcing people online, the energy and demand we felt was very real. We also saw that our members were exhausted with social media and were craving a better way to connect. These themes were not unique to Covid, so this gave us confidence to accelerate our next phase. On June 1, we launch our new online “home:” Passion Collective On Demand. Here, our collective members will have access to special events, articles, prompts, tools, and private groups for deeper connection. This brings everything to them, on their schedule, instead of expecting them to come to us. And of course, it enables us to reach women globally, which is incredibly exciting.

Q | Have you lost work because of coronavirus?

A | Yes, we have lost revenue because our events have not happened as planned. We are lucky in that we have manageable overhead, so we were able redirect some resources into investing for the future.

Q | Do you anticipate your work returning to “normal” once the pandemic is over?
A | Passion Collective On Demand is definitely our “new normal”– we’re excited about now being able to connect women globally. We’ll host in-person events when it is safe to do so and the magic we see there won’t change.

Q | Any bright spots in the crisis you can share?

A | It has been heartening to see our members adapt and open up at a time when they could have quite easily done the opposite. They continued to show up with vulnerability, generosity to each other and a willingness to take action. It was—and continues to be—inspiring.

Q | What advice do you have for businesswomen during this time?

A | You are carrying a massive burden right now, you most likely feel that you have zero time to yourself and you’re juggling more than ever. Take care of yourself first, even on those days when you feel you have lost sense of who you are. It may not feel like it, but your focus, your energy and motivation is still within you. Give yourself space to connect with that energy, believe in your strength and the generosity of others. Most of all, be gentle on yourself.