Thursday, October 20, 2016

Life around you changes before you know it.

Every month I meet up with a friend for breakfast with the purpose of supporting and helping each other in our respective businesses.  So imagine our surprise when we meet up outside our local meeting spot, to find that it has closed.

I found myself staring at the sign for Cora’s in Cambridge which has been taken down and already looks faded, wondering how this has happened and when.  Now I know from a friend who owns several restaurants  that this is a treacherous business and 
90 percent fail to succeed.

But it was a shock.  It speaks to the fragility of  business today. Nothing is carved in
stone.  There are no guarantees that even a successful business will continue down a successful path.  Much can change, and what’s more, change on a dime.

All of which speaks to the need to stay on the top of your finances and do the math. Often we choose to ignore the warning signs, but maybe we do so, it is at our own peril. Just as I wrote in a recent blog, it is good to know when to quit.

But no denying, that decision is a difficult one to make.

Maybe the key is to examine how much you retain your passion for what you do.  If it is fading, it is harder to rally around and save what you are doing. And maybe it is a sign for change.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Know when to quit

With the launch of our new book, The Best of Company, I have had to explain the source of the articles in the book.

You see for four years Company of Women published its small but mighty magazine Company which was much-loved and distributed across Canada.  However, the publication also offered me a big business lesson – know when to quit.

As a writer and avid reader, I still strongly believe in the power of the printed word, and the magazine fast became my favourite project.  It took up much of my time as I garnered up articles, sought out advertisers and oversaw the production of the quarterly magazine.

However, as I shared at a recent meeting, it was a money-pit.  Launched in 2007 it faired well at the beginning but with the downturn in the economy, it became increasingly difficult to secure enough advertising to cover the production and distribution costs.

But remember, it was my favourite project, so I kept trucking.  I even convinced myself that it was a membership service, rationalizing and justifying the expense because we were providing useful information to our members.

And I did that for four years.  True it did make us unique and could be classified as a membership and recruitment tool.  But as the bills came in and I was writing cheques for thousands with each issue,  I reluctantly realized there was no way I could continue.  

A good friend, Michele Bailey, of Blazing the Agency, generously agreed to do the layout for the last issue for free, but really it was delaying the inevitable. More buying me time to get used to the idea that it wasn’t financially viable to carry on.

My lesson from all this is that you have to know when to stop; when to pull the plug on a business venture that is just not working financially, no matter how many resources you throw at it.   In other words, I should have made this decision way earlier.

My other piece of advice is to track the numbers. Find ways to measure the results. Ask tough questions. While Company created increased awareness of our organization, when I looked at the funds coming in vs. the funds going out, it wasn’t working.

You have to be honestly brutal with yourself.   No excuses. No rationalization.  If it ain’t working, it ain’t working.

Back to the book, if you have missed our articles or never caught them first time around – check into The Best of Company, which provides 50 of the best, along with a bonus on networking.  Copies of the book will be available at our events and will shortly be available online at

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Passing the test of time

Forty-four years ago I married my husband.   It was a small wedding in Wimbledon, England.  We were young, but that’s what you did back then.  I was twenty-one and my husband was three years older.

Three years later we were off on a big, exciting adventure – we emigrated to Canada.  We didn’t have jobs, but with the confidence of youth, we were sure that would not be a problem. And it wasn’t.

This past weekend we hosted a wedding reunion – as by chance our best man and his wife were here on vacation from England, and our bridesmaid and her family were visiting Canada from Scotland. 

We’d known both since we were young children, so our friendship spanned over sixty years.  On the Saturday night, there were twelve of us gathered around to celebrate – not just our anniversary but being together once again.

It was incredible.  It was like slipping back in time as we shared stories, jokes and updated each other on what was happening in our lives.  They say that laughter burns calories and if this is true, I lost pounds this past weekend.  I haven’t laughed continuously like that in a long, long time.  Not only that, our adult children all got on well too. 

You may be wondering where I am going with this blog and what it has to do with business, but it has everything to do with business.  It’s about relationships, trust and staying connected.

When did you last connect with your top customers or ones who have been with you for years?  Have those relationships stood the test of time?  Sometimes we spend so much time looking for new clients that we forget the ones who’ve stayed with us; who have been loyal and with whom we have a trusting relationship. 

Don’t take them for granted.  Like any relationships, you have to stay connected and take an interest to keep the two-way communication working.

We have wonderful memories from this reunion and this gathering marks the highlight of my year. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Birthday reflections

Fourteen years.  That’s how long Company of Women has been in existence.  I have to confess that I had no idea what I was starting back then.  Company of Women was supposed to be a sideline to my consulting practice which was doing well. But  was lonely, and saw Company of Women as a way to meet like-minded women, and perhaps make a few friends.

Little did I know that it would not only take off, but grow to become the ten-chapter, 400 member organization that it is today.  Last year over 2,500 women benefited from our programs and this year we are offering over 150 events.  It just blows me away that so many people are involved in making this happen as we continue to build a positive community for women.

As most small business owners will share when you start out it is such a solo profession – you wear all the hats – accountant, sales person, administration, and program/service provider.  Whew.  It is such a juggle and some days it works, and other days it is frankly overwhelming.

But it is knowing that you are not alone in those moments of challenge that makes it less intimidating.  When I look back over the past few years I am proud of what we have achieved and thrilled when I see women blossom and grow because of the confidence and knowledge they have gained by being part of Company of Women.

I recently was on a panel to talk about Company of Women and what made us different.  Immediately I thought back to when we first started and I was interviewed by a reporter on why Company of Women was so successful.  I asked her to check in with the women and come back to me.  What did she tell me?  That the women felt safe in our supportive environment of women. 

And that’s it in a nutshell. We welcome you as Suzy or Suzy Entrepreneur – it is Suzy as an individual that interests us.  It is Suzy as a woman that we want to support both professionally and personally. It is Suzy that we want to provide the tools to succeed.

None of that has changed since we started, and now I have chapter leaders who continue this inclusive, welcoming approach to women who have chosen to become part of our community.

As for my original goal of making a few friends…. I have a wonderful tapestry of friends who give me strength and who have my back. 

Who could ask for more? My thanks to everyone who makes Company of Women special.  
Remember to celebrate YOUR milestones. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Doing well by doing good

Growing up my father always talked about having a sense of balance.  What he meant was that when you were fortunate, you needed to balance out the scales and help someone else get ahead.

He was a real role model for me, always supporting the underdog.  He’d grown up on the “wrong side of the tracks” and never forgot his humble beginnings. It wasn’t until he died that I learned just how generous he’d been. You could say he was a dragon before we had the den, lending money to people starting a business. 

With giving back in my DNA, it should come as no surprise that it is also an integral part of Company of Women.  Over the years we have supported numerous charities – Opportunity International, Girls Inc, Because I am a Girl, World Teacher Aid to name but a few, as well as scholarships for women entering the skilled trades.  The common thread is that they all focused on women and girls.

And that makes senses.  When you are picking the organization or cause you want to support, there should be a strong tie or link to what your business does.   For example, if you are in real estate, perhaps Habitat for Humanity fits the bill.  Or if you are in the beauty industry, Look Good, Feel Good, a program for cancer patients might be a good fit.

We once had a speaker, who armed with copies of SNAP, got the women in the audience to check through the paper to see if there were local causes or events that they could get behind.  That isn’t a bad place to start, but make sure you do your homework on the cause selected, because not all charities are created equal.

As well as the business fit, there may well be a cause that tugs at your heartstrings. Perhaps a disease has inflicted someone in your family and you want to help raise funds for a cure, research or support for families.

You might want to get your feet wet and just dip a toe into the cause-related pool. See how that goes.  Working on a smaller project, gives you a chance to see how well the organization functions.  How much of the funds raised go towards the actual recipients, and how much is swallowed up in administration?  Who is on their board?  How many staff is involved?  These are good questions to ask.

This year we have chosen to get behind the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and particularly their program aimed at young girls and how they feel about themselves. I am excited about this partnership, and particularly interested in their As We Are Project 

Still need convincing that giving back is a sound business decision?  Putting sentiment aside, it earns you brownie points with customers and staff alike.  People, especially millennials, like to work for a company that takes corporate responsibility seriously.  It gains you credibility with your client base and bottom line; it fees good to be doing good.