Thursday, March 29, 2007

Branding Yourself

In running Company of Women, I get to meet some wonderful women with amazing stories to tell. One such woman is Diana Bishop, who was our guest speaker last night. With no notes (which always impresses me), she told her story with humour - always keeping her audience attentive and entertained.

With self-effacing honesty, she shared her fascinating climb up the journalism ladder, from the early days when her assignment was to write about white asparagus, to her national break when she covered a story about three ducks stuck in the ice , to her years in China as one of the first female foreign reporters with CBS, CTV and then NBS.

There she was at the peak in her career, earning big dollars but something was missing. Many of us would have just stuck it out, but Diana felt compelled to follow her heart and see where it led. She left her job, unsure of what the future would unfold.

When she reflected back on her career, she realized that what she truly loved was the storytelling. She turned her seasoned interviewing skills into a business through which she helps people share their story and then packages it so they can use the material as a marketing tool to brand their business. And it works.

Her advice to the women in the audience was to find their passion, to think about their special talents and find the one thing that truly differentiates them from anyone else, because when you build your brand on who you are and what makes you unique; no one else can come close.

Many of the women told me that they'd been really tired when they first arrived, but following Diana's presentation, they felt energized and renewed. They left with a bounce to their step, full of enthusiasm and hope. Thank you Diana for your story - it warmed our hearts, let us laugh out loud and gave us food for thought. What is my one thing? Stay tuned.

Friday, March 23, 2007

You're not alone

This week I have had several emails from people just starting out. It takes me back to my early days when I first launched my consulting practice and was constantly second-guessing myself. Should I have done this… should I have done that.. What if…

It really is a time of uncertainty and there were days (and there still are) when I questioned my sanity and my ability to work for myself. Mind you these days, I joke that I am no longer employable. You get very used to calling the shots, but with that control comes the responsibility and knowledge that the buck stops with you.

One woman was asking if she should join a network and I really encouraged her to test out the ones in her city. Meeting up with other business owners helps reduce the sense of isolation you can feel and you quickly realize that you are not alone. One thing I have found in running Company of Women is that it doesn’t really matter what business you are in… the issues are usually the same – cash flow, finding customers, marketing, websites, finding and keeping staff, etc…

Through all the connections I have made at Company of Women, I enjoy linking people and it's been fun to match someone in a business in one city, with someone in a similar business elsewhere. To me that is what networking is all about. Listening and helping each other.

One of the joys of the Internet, is that it is so easy to connect and reach out for help. And that was my invitation to these women… email me, let me know how you are doing, and when you want to celebrate or vent… I’m just a click away.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Technically challenged

Deleting all my emails in error should have been my first clue that the day was not going to proceed as planned. Fortunately I managed to retrieve most of them, but it was a time-consuming exercise and for those of you who emailed me between mid-February and mid-March – I apologize. If I didn’t reply before, I can’t now because your email has been lost to email heaven. Hopefully you will get back to me if it was really important.

My computer started to go on the fritz yesterday. No Excel – there goes my database. No Internet – there goes my ability to google and search on the net. Scary stuff. It must be human nature but as soon as you can’t have something, that’s all you want. I felt myself stymied as if using the Internet was the only thing on my “to do” list.

And of course, it wasn’t. We are busy promoting our conference which is on May 17 and I am sure my graphics person is ready to fire me if I make one more change to our flyer. For a variety of reasons we’ve had to make several changes, some if I'm honest because of oversights on my part. At any rate, it is time to put this baby to bed.

I wait for my tech guy to come… he was due five hours ago and still no sign. I seem destined to have a day sans Internet, but wouldn’t you know it, today is the Day of Virtual Introduction, sponsored by The International Virtual Women’s Chamber of Commerce and I had signed up and paid to participate. At least some of it is done through email, so I am not totally missing out but much is also linked through the Internet.

My tech guy arrives. His car had broken down. I guess he’s not had a great day either!

Ah well, tomorrow – I will be online, onboard and moving onward…

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Leaving a legacy

MJ DeCoteau was just 22 years old when her mother died of breast cancer. For many, this premature loss would leave a lasting scar and a feeling of emptiness, but for MJ it led to a new career, and a new charity ReThink Breast Cancer.

Realizing that she needed to check out her risks, MJ searched for health information and found that most literature showed an elderly woman doing self-breast exam. As a young twenty-something, she couldn't relate to this material and was sure she wasn't alone. So she founded ReThink Breast Cancer so that she could reach young women. Her organization set about developing innovative awareness campaigns and strategies that would peak the interest of young women. And it's working which is just as well, as contrary to the myth that breast cancer only strikes older women, sadly more and more young women are falling victim to this disease.

Last year, when I was participating in the 60K walk to end breast cancer, I was asked to be a media spokesperson. There were seven of us selected from the 5,000 walkers and as we met to be briefed on how to work with the media, we had to share our stories. Most of the other women were much younger than me and one in particular comes to mind. She had been diagnosed just after she had her first baby. How scary and it sure hit home to me that this is no longer an old lady's disease.

We should be grateful that women like MJ are stepping forward and helping young women come to terms with their illness and that her fresh, upbeat, marketing approach is putting a new spin on breast cancer and getting the message out there.

As I said to MJ after she spoke at our Company of Women dinner, her mother would be proud of her. Instead of leaving her lost, she's left a legacy.

To learn more about ReThink Breast Cancer, go to

Friday, March 09, 2007

You Go Girl...

This week I received an exciting news from Marissa McTasney, of Tomboy Trades.

I first met Marissa last September when I presented her with the Company of Women scholarship which is presented to a graduate of the Women in Skilled Trades program. At that time, Tomboy Trades was just a kernel of an idea; a concept she was pursuing.

Fast forward to March of this year, and Tomboy Trades will be launching its line of products - hard hats, work boots, safety glasses, tool belts and t-shirts in pink, blue, green and red. All of which will be available by the end of month through Home Depot!

This is huge! Not only has she sourced manufacturers in China, US and Canada, but she's persistently gone after Home Depot and it's paid off. I applaud her tenacity and determination to turn her dream into a reality. As a young mother of two, she's had to juggle her business start up with the needs of her family.

But best of all, Marissa is paying it forward and this year, she is presenting her own scholarship at the Women in Skilled Trades program. Now THAT is what it is all about.

To check out her products, go to

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Building your team

Last week, our speaker Cynthia Richards of Event Spectrum shared some of her secrets of hiring and keeping gems on her team. Starting her business just nine years ago, she and her partner Zora Kriz, have built an amazing business which has led to Cynthia being listed in the top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in PROFIT magazine. Clearly they were doing something right.

And as Cynthia talked, it became obvious that they were on to something. Cynthia’s entrepreneurial philosophy is a simple one -- happy, motivated and challenged staff results in exceptional client service and loyalty that positively impacts your bottom line!

As they built their team, they offered all sorts of incentives not only to stay, but to work hard for the company – such as profit sharing, shopping days, an on-site gym, and opportunities to celebrate their successes.

Working in the fast-paced world of event planning, it was key to the company’s growth that staff had time to relax and unwind, and providing an on-site gym helped them to stay fit and healthy.

I also liked Cynthia’s approach to working with staff, assigning projects that work to their strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. They take time to assess and determine each staff member’s talents, skills and interests so that they are given projects that will challenge and engage them.

Some of this she has learnt the hard way – as she said – the good, the bad and the ugly, especially when describing the situation when you hire the rock star, who doesn’t fit in with your culture and can undermine any sense of cohesiveness within the team. Her advice – if your gut is telling you it is not going to work out – don’t wait – let that person go before they do too much damage to staff morale.

Cynthia also walks the talk and her team of staff all attended the dinner, proud of their boss and keen to support her.

She shared a couple of situations where the team not only supported them, but came to the rescue – further speaking to the loyalty she has deservedly earned from her staff.

It is often said that you are only as good as your team, and building an effective, enthusiastic team has clearly been a priority at Event Spectrum, and it has paid off.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Making a difference

For some time now I have been looking for a new cause to get involved in. For the past seven years I had been an active volunteer with ATHENA - an organization that assists women in realizing their leadership potential but I was getting restless and knew it was time for me to move on and lend my time and talents to another worthy cause.

I met Lise just by chance. She was having lunch at the restaurant where we hold our breakfast meetings, and the owner introduced us. We did the business card exchange thing, and I really thought nothing more about it... until I checked her website.

Lise is the Senior Advancement Representative for Opportunity International Canada, an organization that "provides banking services and training - microfinance - to the entrepreneurial poor so they can work their way out of poverty."

Making a difference has always been my driving force in life and here was an opportunity to truly impact the lives of women globally.

Just in case I hadn't got the message then, who should be the closing speaker at the Empowering Women event, but the Vice President of Opportunity International. She showed a moving video of how just a small loan of $100 completely turned the life around for a woman in Peru and her family.

Clearly this was meant to happen and this week I met with Lise. I am really excited at what we can do together - both personally and professionally as we will also be involving Company of Women in supporting this initiative.

Opportunity International is holding an information luncheon on March 15 at the Toronto Board of Trade, if you want to learn more and you can reach Lise at Or check out their website at