One year ago this weekend we opened up our Fire Wife Sisterhood membership site.   It was a moment of pure excitement but also a bit of scary nerves.  Like with any new venture you wonder if people will like it.  Can we serve the need?  Will the right partners and people come alongside to help make it happen?   Is this the right path?  We (myself, my husband, my advisor team, our partners, my close friends, our pastors, the prayer warriors in my life) prayed giant circles around this.  GIANT.   It was clear with the growth rate, there was no way we could continue to run this site and sustain it long term and meet the needs of more fire wives unless we were able to fund it.  Until that moment, it was funded purely from our checkbook and a few t-shirt sales.   And there was no magic money tree nor anonymous millionaire donor stepping up to say “Here.  Take my money and do good with it.”  Trust me.  We asked and prayed for that solution 🙂   In fact, the people who were stepping up to help were other fire wives insisting they wanted to help fund this.  They wanted to see it grow and reach more fire wives.  We simply can’t sit back and not get the word out about this good thing.  We must take it on the road.  We must get to fire events.  We must be in front of this community that so needs to see the light of positivity and encouragement.  Can we help you cover the cost of _______________?  Good people get behind good causes.  Universal truth.

So we took the leap and opened our private Fire Wife Sisterhood membership site.   Were there haters?  Sure there were. There are haters everywhere in life if you look for them and let them poke your tender spots.  But there was no time to focus on those who didn’t have a clear picture of what’s going on here.  Because there were immediately 100 women who filled up our 100 Charter Member spots in the first 5 days.   Yep.  These women were hungry and thirsty and proud to get behind the cause.   Since then we have grown to over 500 members with an extremely high retention rate compared to other membership communities.  Why?  I believe it is truly because when there is a need to fill, it is in our human nature to team up together in order to do more.  People want to be part of doing a good thing.   We are so honored to have this community here on this mission.

I want to give you a peek into the behind the scenes to learn more……

A brief “State of FirefighterWife.com” review for you:

  • The two year anniversary of our blog was just a couple weeks ago and with my words I tried to express the constant gratitude in my heart for all the people who came alongside us over that time.  Read that post here.
  • We have raised some revenue via memberships to help us cover costs and grow.  By grow we mean participate in more fire community events around the country (FDIC, Firehouse World, Firehouse Expo and more), throw an even bigger and better Second Annual Flame Fest and extend our programs by adding some paid staff to keep things running.
  • (Jump here if you want to know about the MONEY!)  Let’s talk about costs.  I like to be transparent.  People look at this and wonder “what can it cost to run a website?”  What they really mean to ask is what does it cost to run an organization like this but let me give you an idea.  Here’s a short list:
      • Dedicated Servers and monitoring services (when you get this big, you need dedicated servers to keep up with the traffic)
      • Services to run email, virtual team centers, social media management, credit card processing, virtual storefronts, shipping software –  Because of our size we have outgrown the “free” versions of these and they can cost from $300-500 / month depending on the volume of emails we push, order rate, etc.
      • Liability insurance and legal services (yes, people have threatened lawsuits and people have stolen intellectual property.  Sad truth is you have to pay an attorney to protect yourself from liabilities.)
      • The team.  I haven’t paid myself a dime.  That wouldn’t best serve the mission.  As we grow, there are gaps in my time and ability that need to be covered by those with different talents.  That team includes:
        • A web developer – I used to do all of this myself.  Now my time is better focused on larger partnerships and well, my husband and family (I am still working a nearly full time corporate job today.)
        • An accountant-  obvious.  Specialty talent that I am not skilled in.
        • Banking fees.  Small but every dime counts.
        • Two administrative assistants.  One virtual who handles much of the administration of the blogs, website content, social media content and Fire Wife Sisterhood programs.   One in person who takes care of most of the shipping, post office, business management kinds of things that where there is “stuff” involved that can be easily exchanged virtually.
      • Shipping costs – mailings to members, Care Mail items that are part of our membership benefits.
      • Marketing – while we’d like to think that everything just “naturally goes viral”,  you must have marketing materials to share.  This year alone us or our partners have distributed more than 5000 postcards at events.   And online, Facebook is such a noisy place these days that you must pay a little advertising to be sure your important messages are being heard even by your own followers.  Think of it like being in the yellow book back in the day.  Businesses must be listed and that costs money.
      • Writers – I don’t write every single thing on our site and those that do write some of our programs are writers for a living and deserve to be paid for their talents and skills.
      • Events.  Especially Flame Fest.  Giant hotel contracts.  Speaker fees.  Events are a giant profit machine, um, for those who own event venues, catering services, etc.   We try to keep costs down so that many can participate.  So we have not made a dime off of our Flame Fest events.  In fact, our other streams of revenue continue to help cover the cost.   Not sure this is the best business decision (many tell me it’s a crazy wrong way to be running things) but I do know that Flame Fest is a powerful force in the connection of our community.  So for now, we continue.

All of these costs grow as we grow and add up to a couple thousand dollars per month right now (not including Flame Fest costs).   But as we grow with membership, I am able to build a team that does a phenomenal job and create flexible jobs for a few fire wives.  Be still my heart.  I LOVE THAT!  Eventually there will be a tipping point and another leap of faith that I can back down from my corporate job and focus solely on this but for the moment we aren’t crossing that bridge.  God’s either not telling me too or I’m ignoring His urging of me to let go of the comfort zone of a salary 😉  Time will tell.

So our revenue comes primarily from membership, a few selective partners that are not just “whoever will give us advertising dollar” (notice you don’t see a bunch of messy and noisy ad links all over our site….distracts from the mission), and a few items we sell in our store.

I Promise to Never “Sell Out” and Be Too Salesy

There are a million and one internet marketers out there with ideas on how I should be doing this.  I despise salesy.  In fact, I probably under-market to a fault.  I don’t like to “trick” anyone into buying anything.  We believe in direct, honest and transparent.  That’s what you’ll get here.  Period.  It’s a “real business” and not some stranger in a foreign country running an internet site who doesn’t know anything about the fire service trying to make money off of the loyal fire families.  Oh, and we don’t plan to exploit the fire service to be millionaires from this either.  Just to run a sustainable organization that grows as we serve more and more people with our mission.  My husband and I have always had a personal saying.  Never do any job only for the money.   It doesn’t mean it’s bad to get paid appropriately for what you are doing.  It just means don’t do anything only for the money.  (Besides, I have other talents for which I can command a good income – God willing – and we’ll get back to that season if needed in life.  Right now my purpose and calling is here in this mission field.)

As I share all those details, I hope this explains to many of you who ask me “How do I build a fire wife group in my area like you have done?”   I typically don’t answer that question because thinking about even typing the response exhausts me!   Here’s how I answer that.  If you have a department and/or union behind you wanting to fund and make it happen – WORK WITH THEM!  It’s a different approach.  Some departments have very successful family / spouse / wife programs when they work jointly with the chief and / or union.  We never want to stop that.  There is much power in a department that does that and you come under the departments existing infrastructure to cover so many of these costs.    However, if you want to go on your own and start a fire wife group, be prepared to start your own legal business entity, financial structures, upfront funding, web hosting, etc, etc.  Even a small non-profit or business that does this is looking at a few hundred dollars in start up costs and minimum $50 / month or so to keep it running.  Not to mention managing your own team, programs, etc.   If you are being called to do this, listen to your calling and don’t stop.  We never want to squash anyone’s calling.   But this brings me to the next point in our “state of FirefighterWife.com”.

Local Fire Wife Groups

These are sooooooo desired and I understand why.  When you find a BFWFF (Best Fire Wife Friend Forever) in our online community, you just want to carry that over to in person and have a circle of ladies near to you physically to laugh, live, love and cry with.   I totally get it.   We thought that’s where we were going and would add “chapters” of the Fire Wife Sisterhood.    After much research and deliberation, here is what we found

  • Us fire wives are already so stinking busy that we can’t even consistently get local meet ups rolling with a significant amount of people.  Shift days.  Sitters.  Finances, etc.  BFWFF or not, busy lives get in the way of in person meet ups frequently.  We seem to really do well with 4 to 6 social meet ups through the year in areas where we have a larger critical mass of fire wives and then individual fire wives who have found local friendship and meet up for coffee, playdates, etc.
  • I don’t want to put the burden of all the administration listed above on any other fire wife.  It’s too much and takes away from the focus on friendship and service.
  • There is no legal or financial advantage to converting to a 501c3 or any other form of non-profit association / entity that would allow us to even setup chapters.  Dues are not tax deductible and there are quite a few other non-profits in the fire industry vying for charitable donations for good reason.  Supporting families of fallen firefighters, fire families affected by cancer, fire departments needing equipment.  Somehow stacking up “fire wife support and friendship” next to those causes doesn’t seem effective.  And the cost and administration of running a non-profit can be even higher.  So we will continue legally as a for-profit corporation with an extremely compassionate mission and generous heart.  (If you question that, check out this TED Talk for a different perspective.  Fascinating!)
  • The best approach is to leverage our national partnerships and the momentum we have in the growing online community, break out into regional subgroups within the Fire Wife Sisterhood as growth necessitates and focus on a few key regional events through the year.  Here is a hint for next year…..possibly more regional events to reach more of you at a lower cost instead of or in addition to one larger Flame Fest?  Still praying through that one.
  • We are interviewing and appointing Fire Wife Captains in key regions to help lead these groups.  You can read more about those details here.
  • Why must you be a member of the Fire Wife Sisterhood to participate in these?  See above costs.  Membership is inexpensive and we can offer a ton of great programs to everyone when a small army of fire wives bands together as members.  It’s just like dues for any other organization you believe in and want to be a part of (scouts, social clubs, service clubs, professional associations, etc).   Your membership fees help us put on these programs and serve fire families.
  • Why do I have to pay money to be part of a facebook group?  You don’t.  There are other free ones.  If they fit your personality better, join them.  You won’t hurt our feelings.   Because if you think this is “just a facebook group and you are paying for friendship” you’ve kind of missed the point of our mission and all the things that happen here 🙂

 (I’m falling asleep Lori!  Get on with the one year anniversary gift already!!!)

Ok, ok!  I’m just trying to answer some of the more common questions I get from all of you.   In honor of our one year anniversary of the Fire Wife Sisterhood we are of course offering a something special.  Special days require special thank you gifts.  The first 10 new member who signs up for the Fire Wife Sisterhood with this link will be sent a FirefighterWife.com decal, Fire Wife Sisterhood Promise and MN8 Foxfire Illuminating Heart Key Chain.  Beyond the first 10 we will send you a decal and Fire Wife Sisterhood promise only.   It’s just our way of celebrating with everyone and extending the Fire Wife Sisterhood a little further.

one year anniversary

Click Here to Register for the One Year Anniversary Membership Special 

Or……

Click Here to Register for Flame Fest 2014 and Receive Free Membership Through August 1st!

In case you aren’t convinced by all my chatter, here is what our members are saying…..

  • ” Wow! A year already.  Our sisterhood is my safe haven.”
  •  “I can not believe it has been one year! I stumbled across the website by accident and am very thankful that I did. The friendship and support is nothing short of spectacular! Thank you Lori for your vision. There is much offered by being a member and it is worth every penny!!”
  • “Only one year? This is so well organized I thought it was much longer! Totally worth the money. The support is priceless. The information as well not just fire related but all kinds of stuff. For instance our craft party. Now I do all that with my grandsons! I think about cute little {fire sister} every time I decopage.”
  • “WOW! I can’t believe it’s already been a year…crazy how time flies when you’re having fun. First I would tell other women that aren’t members that they are missing out on a one of a kind bond with other women in the same situation. Honestly I was very hesitant to pay for the charter membership, my husband was on duty and I couldn’t talk to him about it (we usually discuss $ issues) and I was afraid that I would pay and the site would end up fizzling out. I am SO happy that I took the leap and paid for the charter membership and that my fears about the site fizzling out were WRONG!”
  • “Let’s see. It’s hard to put into words what all of this means to me. This will probably be a bit long… I struggled, and I mean struggled, with the “special-ness” of this lifestyle. I didn’t have anyone in my life that understood, or that really supported me the way that I really needed them to. When my hubby and I were having problems and I was honestly considering taking our daughter and leaving him, I felt so alone and like no one would ever get it. Don’t ask me how I got through that season of my life… Lots of prayer. Lots. I lost friendships because my “normal” friends didn’t understand why I was sticking it out and couldn’t support me staying. I had looked for assistance but the department wasn’t a help at all. If I had had this group back then, I wouldn’t have gone through the depression and loneliness that I did. So now that we’re through that awful season, I am beyond blessed to call each and every one of you sister. This group is truly special – I don’t think there are words to explain exactly how. Anyone can come here, at any time, and get the support they need. And it’s solid advice from ladies who’ve been there and come out better and stronger on the other side. It’s a safe place and built on trust and understanding, with the common goal of lifting one another up. Amazing, really. I can’t ever sing enough praise for all the work that is done to make this what it is. I love you all, from the bottom of my heart!”
  • “A year?! I’ve been a member for maybe a week and I’ve been wondering how I never found this group sooner! I have “fellow ff wives/girlfriends” but I don’t feel like I can just talk to them about everything about my ff! Plus, we live in a small town!! I have been “bragging” about my new group of “sisters”. It’s SO much easier to understand the things my ff does with others who are in the same boat!!”
  • “It is crazy that is has been a year. I am one of those charter members-someone who immediately committed, knowing without a single doubt that this would be a success and would fill an unmet need within our fire service community. This sisterhood has been such a wonderful resource for issues so widely varied and unique to the fire service, a source of local and long distance friends who understand in ways no one else can, and perhaps most important, a safe place for all of us who have committed to love a firefighter. It’s a crazy life and we wives need support-until this group was formed, we had none. So, Lori Mercer, I tip my hat to you for pulling this together and working so hard for successful fire marriages everywhere. You had a vision and saw it to fruition. I believed in your vision the moment you shared it, and your leadership is appreciated in ways we could never fully express. I could write more-but not while cleaning up after dinner and balancing all the things a fire wife does on a non-shift night, LOL. I love you all, sisters.”
  • “I was with this group before it moved to the sisterhood. I never hesitated to join the charter group. I started as the gf of a volunteer FF/paid EMT. We had a brand new daughter when we found out he was accepted into the academy to join the FDNY. This group got me through it, the strength I needed to stay strong for him. This group isn’t like other groups. This is one of the most loving, supportive and uplifting group of women I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. I needed, and still need, this group. Our circle of friends has FF’s and their gfs. We are the only married couple and the only with children. It’s a different lifestyle and knowing there are other moms running the household on their own most of the week and knowing other wives are attending family functions and holidays alone… I know we will continue to face challenges in our marriage and in parenting, but having all of you there to support us means the world.”
  • “I was bragging to someone today about having a place where I didn’t feel judged & could privately ask for love, support & advice. I seriously feel like I’m getting to know a family.
    She found out I paid a membership and wanted to know why I needed to pay money, where was it going? I was a bit stumped at first, just trying to find the words. I claimed web support, etc. but she wasn’t satisfied. Then I mentioned the rescue packs, care packages, flame fest, and understanding flooded her face. I must say, the biggest part of the paid membership for me is the private group. I love the rescue packs & all the other fun gifts & discounts, but the private support group is better than I ever imagined when I first signed up.”
  • ” I joined this group to connect with other women and being a veteran wife to help others marriages. I never realized what a difference it would make in my own life and marriage. I have learned so much about my husband, his profession and our marriage from you ladies. Things I have never thought of have been brought up and best of all my husband feels that I finally respect his job. Even though I did before I just didn’t know how to show that. How do I know this group is important…. My hubby takes every chance he has to tell other firefighters about this and try’s to get them to sign up.”
  • “Why does a Fire Wife need this group? Because it shows us what a woman is meant to be. We are the support system for our husbands, his brother’s, and ourselves. We lift each other up, not tear each other down. We cry with each other and laugh with each other. We pray. We pray for each other’s strengths, each other’s fears, our families, our firefighters and their departments. This is a place we can go to vent about our firefighters, our kids, life. We are not criticized. We may be gently kicked in the behind to remind us what we need to be and do but it is done with love. A Fire Wife needs the Firefighter Wife to help show her how to strengthen her relationship with her firefighter. Whether she does the Love Dare, reads Scream Free or 5 Love Languages, the Sisterhood will help her each step of the way. Where else can a Fire Wife find programs such as those listed and have the ability to complete them with a group of women who live the lifestyle we live. Who understand the needs and the difficulties each of us face everyday. The difference the Sisterhood has made in my life in the short year I have been here is HUGE. My marriage was never rocky. But it has never been so strong since the early days of saying I do. I can see this in the way my Firefighter responds to our conversations, my endeavors, etc.”
  • “This group has given me insight to be able to understand my ff. We will be married 10 years soon, and I honestly thought he was mad at me a lot of the times. Now I know that when he comes in upset about something, that it normally isn’t something I have done. This group is my safe haven and I know that my sisters have my back.”
  • “When I think about what this sisterhood provides compared to other free groups you could choose to be a part of the first thing that came to mind was “you get what you pay for!” I thought that was a little harsh but I keep coming back to it, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! ???? In a free group, members have no “buy-in” to ensure the sanctity of the mission of the group. It could easily become very haphazard. Here the mission to strengthen FF marriages and encourage FF Wives is always with us because we have great leaders who keep us pointed in that direction. “
  • “When I think of this group I think of the verse proverbs 27:17: “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” That’s what we do here, in a million ways. When we are feeling weak someone else is strong, and vice versa. Where we are inexperienced someone else has been there. When the people in our families and churches and just day to day life don’t get why we do things the way we do, there are a whole group if women here who “get it” without explanation, and who can help us understand there are others for whom this is normal too. We are never alone! “
  • “Our Sisterhood is Priceless! With the connection I feel in the sisterhood it feels like we have been together for a lifetime not just a year.  Now, with my FF thinking about going back to Kuwait for another year, I know that the time apart with be made a bit easier because of the soft place to land of the sisterhood. A place where I can be completely honest and know that my sisters with understand and help pick me up.”

Ahhhhhh…… Warm Fuzzies

The friendships and bonds these ladies have formed are stronger than any female group I have seen in my life.  I compare this group of women only to one of my closest life experiences with female friendship.  The sorority of like-minded sisters through whom I laughed, cried and studied my way through college with.  And to be able to connect so effectively and efficiently in our busy lives via the internet and occasional in person meet ups is beyond what anyone has imagined.   There is power in a community.  When we take all of our unique talents, gifts and skills and pull together as a community that working towards the common mission of strengthening marriage and encouraging fire wives, it’s magnetic.   People want to be a part of something good and to share their story of how it has helped their marriage and their life.

I stand here today in awe of what has happened.  I’m not shocked though.  God has had his hands in this every step of the way and even in the darkest valleys, He kept me going.  There is no doubt He would do something good.  There is simply awe and wonder once again at the greatness of His works.

Lives are changing.  If your only experience with the fire wife community has been your local department and it hasn’t been so pleasant, we encourage you to give our Fire Wife Sisterhood membership a try today.

I could go on and on.  But I already did that and really do want you to read this 🙂   So I end with a major….

THANK YOU!!!!

Lori

 

 

 

 

 

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On a mission to be and inspire us all to be better humans, to strengthen fire families & marriages, to nurture and encourage fire wives, do "good business" in all areas of my life and of course, love on my 4 kids.