In 2015, Stephania Varalli and Alicia Skalin became the third owners of Toronto-based Women of Influence. Since its launch in 1994, the community has focused on promoting gender equity in the workplace.

As the new co-owners and co-CEOs, Varalli and Skalin set out to build out the content arm of the community. This proved to be a critical step to growing their social following — and landing a 6-figure sale in 2022.

Content proves key in Women of Influence’s growth

When Varalli and Skalin purchased Women of Influence in 2016, the community primarily hosted in-person events and courses across Canada and offered consulting services.

Skalin served as the head of events and programming. The largest annual program was the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, which celebrates Canada’s most accomplished, influential and impactful women. Varalli said it attracted over 10,000 nominations each year.

In total, the organization gathered more than 1,000 women each year for in-person events, though that number was significantly higher pre-COVID, Varalli noted.

In 2018, Varalli and Skalin launched WOI Connect, a paid membership for those interested in more networking opportunities. The main perks were discounts on event tickets as well as exclusive member events.

However, the company’s revenue model wasn’t reliant on these paid memberships — and that was by design, Varalli told us. That’s where the content by the new owners came into play.

Varalli, who served as Women of Influence’s head of media, has experience in copywriting, marketing and journalism. Before Women of Influence, she helped build the now-defunct, a local Toronto newsletter, into one of Canada’s top lifestyle sites for women, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“My goal from the beginning was to design and build the media/content business, which ended up being critical to our success,” Varalli said. “It helped diversify our offerings, grow our community and carried us through COVID when in-person events were no longer possible.”

Already, by the end of 2015, website visitors could explore a wealth of new free content, including inspirational stories, expert advice and tools for advancement.

“We worked with partners to deliver value to our community without a cost barrier,” Varalli explained. The partners were companies that sponsored content, events and programs.

Part of the content strategy also focused on building out the brand’s social communities on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They organically accumulated more than 850,000 collective followers — a more than 20x increase from the 41,000 followers they started with. Email subscribers grew 15%.

One of their biggest challenges was meeting their growth goals as a bootstrapped business of six employees and contractors.

“We had very honest conversations as business partners on our risk tolerance,” Varalli said. “Instead of jumping into every idea, we would assess every option and move forward with whichever new project provided the highest return for the lowest risk and investment. It may have slowed the pace of our growth, but this safer option worked for us, and ultimately led to success.”

Women of Influence was profitable, though Varalli could not disclose specifics.

Finding Women of Influence’s fourth owner

Seven years after acquiring Women of Influence, Varalli and Skalin were ready to move on.

“I had achieved my goal of building a content arm for the company, and I knew Women of Influence was ready for a new leader who could add their own ideas for growth to our solid foundation,” Varalli said.

Through their network, they connected with Dr. Rumeet Billan, who has more than 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, business development and leadership training, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Varalli described the sale as a collaborative process.

“We were all invested in doing what was best for all stakeholders — from our community to our clients to our employees — and ensuring the future success of the business,” she said.

Even so, navigating the sale and running the business proved challenging, noting it felt like she was working two full-time jobs.

In December 2022, the 6-figure deal went through.

In 2023, Varalli focused on her next chapter as a story strategist. She now helps experts craft stories that set them apart. She described the approach as the intersection of personal branding and copywriting.