Thursday, December 11, 2008

TRUE ROLE MODELS

On Tuesday I attended the Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Dinner. What a lovely and inspiring event! Now I have been nominated myself several times (always the bridesmaid) but as I listened to the recipients talk, it was obvious to me that they were in a different league.

Not just in what they have achieved financially, but in their attitude - their passion for what they do, their belief in themselves and their team and their ability to use their success to reach out in their communities to make a difference.

My congratulations to every one of you – you truly deserved to win.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Building a Better Future

Over the years I have met and enjoyed chatting to numerous women entrepreneurs, all at different stages in their business, but driven by a passion to succeed, but none can compare with the dream Terri Smith has for her social enterprise.

When I first met Terri she was opening a private school for teens who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t fit into the mainstream educational system. Commendable work, and with a successful campus launched and underway, it would have been all too easy for Terri to sit back and coast.

But no. She saw that there was a glaring need for alternative education for youth whose parents could not afford the high fees, for families that have only known poverty, welfare and disadvantage. She wanted those students to have an opportunity to shine.

This week I visited Terri’s latest campus, located in a humble area of Hamilton. I met some of the students who for the first time in their lives felt they belonged; that someone cared about them, and who were succeeding on their own terms.

Terri offers a wide range of programs, from LINK for new Canadians to Women in the Skilled Trades, a pre-apprenticeship program for young women considering a career in the trades. And she has big dreams – of creating a vocational school that offers students the opportunity to realize their potential – be it through culinary training, picture framing or other practical hands-on, transferable skills.

I left feeling inspired and in total awe of the task Terri has set for herself, but she seems undaunted and you get the feeling, no matter what, her dream will come true. To learn more about AAT School, and how you can help – check the website at http://aat-school.ca

Friday, November 14, 2008

Down with Negativity

Surround yourself with positive people was one of the key messages in a recent talk given by Mac Voisin, President of M & M Foods.

“Get rid of all the negative focus in your business and personal life” he advised. “They take up too much negative energy, he claimed, and just pull you down.”

Voisin is clearly the ultimate optimist and when he, and his lawyer brother-in-law started M & M Foods, they really didn’t have too much to be positive about, but they always looked on the bright side. If asked how things were going, they would put a positive spin on it, even when they knew business was slow; and sure enough, the business grew.

Back in the 80’s the concept of buying ready-prepared food was a new one, but as more and more women entered the workplace, these time-starved customers loved the idea.

Today M & M Foods has over 400 franchises across Canada and is getting established in the US, under the name of My Menu. Voisin also attributes their success to:

 Hiring for attitude, training for skills
 Customer service
 Comprehensive training for staff and franchisees
 Listening
 Staying focused, not getting sidetracked
 Doing due diligence on locations, products, etc…

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tomato Juice Anyone?

I’ve been saying it a lot lately, but I really should read and pay heed to the articles I have been writing – particularly the one on going with the flow and being flexible.

Can you tell I have had a tough day dealing with the unexpected? In July we moved into the country and I think I have done really well coping with snakes in the bathroom, bats in the house. I’ve accepted that mice are just a part of country living and will always co-habit with you.

So what caught me off guard? I can’t even claim that it is only a rural phenomena, but one of our dogs got sprayed by a skunk. I was leaving for work at the time and so I bundled the dogs into the car and headed off to the office. Now it is 50 minutes door to door, not a long drive usually, but with a dog in the back reeking of skunk, I can tell you it seemed a very, very long way.

After advice from different sources, we decided to skip the tomato juice and went straight to the Skunk Off. Now it took three of us to tackle this job – fortunately my son-in-law was around and we looked a pretty picture in the back yard, wearing old clothes and armed with yellow plastic gloves and old towels, all holding the dog down as we sprayed and washed him with the solution.

Completely off his stride, the only way to calm Henry down (the dog, not the son-in-law) was to keep him in my office – door closed of course, so that the ‘eau de skunk’ didn’t totally permeate the place. And there we were all afternoon, my smelly friend and I. Amazingly, after a while I didn’t even notice the odour but maybe that’s because I was beginning to smell too! As I found at my dance class a few hours later. I was definitely not good to know.

And I definitely didn’t get too far in my “to do” list but I guess tomorrow is another day, and hopefully one without stinky dogs! Maybe next time, I’ll just make myself a Bloody Mary with the tomato juice, and all will be well.

Monday, October 27, 2008

When David Meets Goliath

I was interested to read a recent article – Mini-Power Play – in this month’s issue of Canadian Business.

Having heard some of the horror stories from members of negotiating with the big guys, it’s good to know that “negotiating with giants doesn’t have to be one-sided.”

While the author, Andy Holloway, acknowledges that the small company will understandably feel intimidated when dealing with the larger company, he offers some sound advice to protect the industry titans from stealing your ideas and secrets during pre-contract talks.

Never reveal more than you’re comfortable losing, he recommends, illustrating this point with a story of a Canadian farmer selling flavoured sunflower seeds who politely refused to reveal the secret ingredients. This strategy let him hike up his prices because the retailer couldn’t source his product elsewhere.

The key is provide enough information to spark the “giant’s” interest, without giving them anything that could be used to undermine you. Instead, he recommends you build a business case and provide enough evidence to convince the company that your product is worth the investment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dragon's Den

A small group of us gathered on Monday night to watch the Dragon’s Den. We had a vested interest in watching, because not only was Company of Women member, Marissa McTasney, one of the star pitchers this week, but several of us were part of her presentation. You’re allowed to bring props to the show, and Marissa chose to have 30women showcasing her hard hats, workboots, toolbelts and T-shirts.

It was fun to be part of that day, although I was glad no one asked me what type of handy work I do! The dragons interviewed her for over an hour. That’s a long time to be in the hot seat, but Marissa could answer all their questions, stood her ground and believed in herself. As I watched the extract shown on Monday, I was proud of her, and all the Company of Women members who gave up their day to be on the show with her. Now that’s women helping women.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Changing the Routine

This fall I decided to change my fitness regime. I was getting bored with the same old, same old and thought it was time to diversify. And if I am being truly honest, apart from the training for the 60K walk, fitness kind of took a back burner this summer. But I was getting too comfortable not working out, and I knew I had to do something So today, when I had my first training session, I realized I not only need to do this, but it felt good to stretch myself physically again.

Now you may be thinking – that’s all very nice but what has that got to do with me. Lots. Especially if you compare fitness to marketing.

It is all too easy to get stuck on the treadmill, producing the same tried and true marketing material to entice new customers. Complacency can lead to loss of business, so even when your business is doing well, you need to continue marketing. And just as I’ve chosen to change the mix on how I get my exercise, so too do you need to develop different marketing approaches to reach your target audience. Who knows, just as I was getting bored with the same routine, your customers or potential customers, are maybe getting bored with the same message from you.

So think about who you want to reach. Can you do that differently? What message do you want to deliver? When we embrace change, we open ourselves up to new territories.

You might be surprised at what you can accomplish, just by taking a fresh look at how you have been communicating. And just as I recognized the value of staying fit and active, in your business you need to stay nimble and quick on your feet, because then you can win the race.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sometimes men are right, well occasionally

I don’t know about you but I really stew about tough decisions, especially when I know I may hurt the other person’s feelings. I put it off, and I talk myself into thinking it will work out – anything to avoid a confrontation. But I am learning.

And one of the things I am learning is that sometimes, just sometimes mind you, my husband is right. He has his own business too and so is familiar with the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur. However, I have been trying to run Company of Women on my own, without his advice, (read interference.)

However, he could see this situation was bothering me and gave me his advice, and for once, I listened and took it. Working in an all-female environment, I can get so caught up in the feelings, rather than the practical, business perspective. He helped me step outside of that and take a hard look at what I needed to do.

Now I wouldn’t want this to go to his head, but then there’s little risk of that – as I am sure he doesn’t read my blog!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Finding Herself

I grew up in the UK, where my grandmother was a big fan of the Royal Family. She had a wonderful collection of hats, and she was in her glory when people would comment on how like the Queen Mother she was. So this week when I had the opportunity to hear the Duchess of York, I thought of my grandmother and her fascination with the Royal Family.

Fergie shared that her early childhood was happy, but that all changed when her mother left. She was 13 at the time and always thought her naughty antics were the cause of the marriage break-up. She believed that if she’d been a good girl, the split would never have happened. So for years, she tried to be perfect, she tried to please and as a result, lost the essence of who she was in her search for approval.

As she talked about her marriage to Andrew and the love they still shared with each other and for their daughters, it struck me as sad that their marriage didn’t work out. But he was at sea, and she saw him for 40 days/year for the first five years. It must have been pretty hard to maintain a strong, intimate relationship and as she said, at 24, they did not have the maturity or courage to take a stand for what they wanted.

As she talked about her journey to find herself, you got the sense that some of the negative media still hurts but she has found her purpose through the different charities she has started to support children around the world. This is her passion and she feels she is putting her celebrity status to good use.

Her talk was honest and real. The organizers kept saying she had to leave because of another engagement, but she stayed on, telling one story after another. It almost seemed as if she didn’t want to leave, maybe because she knew that the women in the audience understood her struggles and she felt validated.

Whatever the reason, she made an impact and I just wish my grandmother had been there to enjoy the moment.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Laughing out Loud

They say that laughter is good for the soul, and it helps burn calories. If this is true – I stand to lose some considerable weight this week as I had the opportunity to listen to two very funny ladies.

The first was Carole Bertuzzi Luciani who spoke at our dinner in Oakville. Now, Carole was my first speaker when I launched Company of Women six years ago, and her ability to take a normal situation and turn it into something worth laughing at is amazing. This time she was talking about the hoops we put ourselves through to lose weight, something many of us in the audience could identify with and her stories and antics, hit a chord. Likewise at the Inspiring Women conference, Deborah Klimmett focused on parenting, raising children and other hot topics such as menopause.

While the issues covered by both the women were different, the delivery was similar. Each talked honestly about her own trials and tribulations – sometimes saying out loud what we may have all thought or felt at one time or another, but never had the courage to verbalize.

I like their honesty – it helps us realize we are not alone, and most importantly that we shouldn’t take life or ourselves too seriously.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Stepping out

Tears. Laughter. Rain. Sore feet. And more rain. That was my weekend as I participated in the 60K Weekend to End Breast Cancer Walk.

I first did the walk two years ago and much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I did it. It was an amazing experience – my family were so proud of me, and so was I .

I was all set to hang up my walking shoes, and stop while I was ahead, when last August, one of our team members died. So Chicks Out Walking was resurrected and we donned our shoes again in memory of Val, and loved ones we had lost to cancer.

Because we had all done the walk before, there wasn’t really the same pressure to succeed. We had determined ahead of time that we would go at our own pace, listen to our bodies and ask for help if we needed it.

While I remembered the feeling of exhilaration on crossing the finish line, what I had forgotten was the sense of celebration as we walked around the city. Many streets were lined with well-wishers, offering us snacks, popsicles, badges, candies to give us the strength and energy to carry on. A group of young people, for example, were serving shots of beer – calling out “over here for your beer.” And young children and dogs alike were dressed up in pink to show support.

The four of us raised $10,600 and while we may feel stiff and ache a bit today, I know we all feel it was worth it. Not just because of the money we raised, or the camaraderie we shared but because we could.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reality Check

This summer I have been working on a book for Opportunity International that will share some of the stories of women they have supported through their micro-credit program.

As I grappled with the day-to-day realities that these women face, I became more and more aware of how much we take for granted in Canada. We have electricity, running water and a roof over our heads. While some of these women have achieved this, it is only through their tenacity, hard work and the support and training from Opportunity International.

We also do not have the double responsibility of the orphans in the community whose parents have died of AIDs. These women who are living in poverty, have given back to their communities by supporting many of the children who would not otherwise receive an education. Would that happen here – regretfully I don’t think so.

There is much to learn from how we work and support the disadvantaged. In another life, I used to run a program for teen mothers who wanted to finish high school and better their lives – for themselves and their children. We developed some strategies that were simple and effective, making the assignments relevant and practical.

Likewise, I can see that what Opportunity International has developed for their clients, would work with all of us. When a loan, as little as $84 is granted, there is a trust group formed – each person takes ownership for their loan, but the bottom line is that the group is responsible for ensuring that each member is successful and fulfils the commitment to repay the loan. Not a bad idea. We all could benefit from peer support and accountability.

When the book is published, I hope you will read it – you will be inspired and hopefully the trials and tribulations you face will be put in perspective!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Just because you feel it, doesn't mean it is true...

What sign of the zodiac are you? I am a Pisces and we are noted for being creative and sensitive. For example, I have a tendency, especially when I am tired, to take stuff personally and over-react when my feelings get hurt. So I was particularly interested to read this article on how to reset your emotional gauge.

Now it isn’t all negative. The good news is that sensitivity is essential for empathy, which allows us to tap into where people are coming from and gives us insights others won’t have.

But here’s some practical tips on how to develop your emotional resilience.

1. Focus on resilience

Don’t dwell on your over-sensitivity as this tends to reinforce it. Instead focus on building your resilience. Celebrate when you don’t over-react.

2. Reality check

“Just because you feel it, doesn’t mean it is true.” Reflect on this when your emotions start to spiral out of control to help put things in perspective.

3. Know the triggers

Know your ‘soft spots’. This will help you identify when you are over-reacting. Where in your life do you feel most insecure? Gradually you will be able to see patterns, and be better able to head-off problems.

4. Take a break

Go for a walk, sleep on it, count to 100. If someone has hurt your feelings, just consider the possibility that their intention might not have been to wound you. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Empathy is the best way to tackle hypersensitivity.

5. Listen to what others tell you

Step out of the drama so you can hear what’s being said. Ask and listen to what others tell you.

Apparently 15-20 per cent of the population fall under a distinct personality type known as the highly sensitive person (HSP). Take the test at www.hsperson.com and find out more.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Overcoming fears

They say public speaking ranks as high as death in people’s fears. It certainly ranked high in mine.

But no more. Last month I was invited to talk to a group of business women in Orangeville – actually over a 100 women turned up – so more of a crowd – which made it all a bit more nerve-wracking. I’d convinced myself that if I blew it, it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t see these women again… when in walked someone I knew, not only that, she’d brought her team to hear me. The pressure was on.

I spent much time debating what I could talk about and decided to follow the maxim that you do best when you talk about what you know. So I talked about the life lessons I’d learned in running Company of Women.

Over the years I’ve painfully witnessed what speakers should not do, and so I was determined to make my talk interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. Being visual, I used photos as my prompts, as relying on my menopausal memory is not always a good idea.

The end result – it went well. I didn’t get my usual dry mouth, I made them laugh, and cry. And … not only did I survive the experience, I actually enjoyed it. Now that’s a first.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Life is not all black or white

Listening to Marina Nemat describe her life as a thirteen year old – reading Jane Austen and watching Little House on the Prairie, it would be easy to believe that she was living in Canada, not Tehran.

However, in three very short years, her life would change dramatically and at sixteen, when young women here would be planning their prom, Marina found herself imprisoned. Instead of giggling with her girlfriends, she was listening to them being shot. She herself only avoided execution because Ali, a guard, married her at 17.

Perhaps the most poignant message of all is that while it would be all too easy to see her husband and his family as evil, and she was good – It was never that black and white. Her husband himself had been tortured and brought that baggage to the relationship, but his parents welcomed her into the family and were kind, good people. After Ali’s assassination, it was his parents who got her out of prison.

Reunited with her own parents, life was not that simple. They never asked about what happened, and you get the sense that they thought Marina had betrayed them and their faith. But the man she loved had waited for her, and as soon as they could they left Tehran and came to Canada, where she wrote her enthralling book - Prisoner of Tehran.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Letting Go

After 23 years in our current home, we are moving. Now I am a bit of a pack rat. I have kept a copy of every report I have ever written since 1981, along with files on every board or committee I ever served on… all of which goes to say, we were knee-deep in paper. And then there’s my collection of books – on every subject known to man.

My daughter ordered a dumpster for me. Subtle eh. Suggesting that perhaps given the move is looming up, I might like to start sorting through my collection of files, reports and memorabilia.

At first I methodically opened up each file, checking its contents. Needless to say, as the day progressed, I got more brutal and literally tossed the lot. It was very freeing to chuck it all into the dumpster. I was saying goodbye to a life I don’t live any more.

I don’t need to keep these files as a reference point for future projects, because there aren’t going to be any. My days as a consultant are over. I have been running Company of Women for five years now – and this is my future, but I needed to let go of the past.

However, as I ploughed through all the paper, one fact struck me - I’ve done a lot in my life. I feel very fortunate to have worked on some exciting projects, and when I think about all the programs and services that have come to fruition, I feel a sense of pride.

They say that in order to make room for new things in your life, you first have to get rid of the baggage that is taking up space. But you know for now, I just want to enjoy my clutter-free zone.

Monday, June 16, 2008

We all need role models

Last week I had the distinct honour of having breakfast with Cora Tsouflidou, founder of Cora’s Breakfast and Lunch.

Now this is one busy lady, with over 95 franchises across Canada, and more on the way, yet she offered to meet a small group of women for breakfast We had a draw and ten lucky women won this opportunity to spend quality time with this successful woman entrepreneur. It was an eclectic group but that made it all the richer.

Each woman had to introduce herself and ask a question of Cora. Without fail, she intuitively got to the root of the issue for the person. She didn’t mince her words, but was always respectful with her advice. It was an emotional gathering, tears were shed and everyone left touched by the experience and in awe of Cora’s wisdom and generosity of spirit.

Cora has so much wisdom and insights into people, business and what is important in life. It was wonderful to see her in action, as she mentored the women in the group, always with humour and with a caring heart.

We all need role models in our life, Cora has become mine.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Trust your instincts

When you start something new, you never really know what you don’t know.

As novices to the publishing industry, Chris and I were excited to learn that there were a couple of magazine conferences being held in Toronto last week. Not knowing which was the best one to attend, we signed up for both – taking a few workshops at each.

And we learned a lot. I even picked up some of the jargon.

But I think the best lesson was realizing that whether we knew it or not, intuitively we’ve being doing all the right things. It’s kind of reassuring to discover you actually know more than you think, and that when you know your reader, you’re more than half way there.

So many of the presenters were encouraging the magazines to launch websites and hold events to support their publication. I guess we have done it the other way round – with our magazine being the latest addition to our menu of services.

The second thing I observed is that there is a dire need for training on how to present an interesting workshop. Most of the presenters really knew their stuff, but relied way too heavily on their power point – some even reading out loud what was on the screen before us! Boring. Clearly they had never heard about how adults learn. So all you trainers out there – take note – here’s a potential training gig.

Last but no means least, in being out of the office for three days, I discovered that Company of Women can run very well without me. Kudos to Meg and Leah.

So I guess the message is that we shouldn’t second-guess ourselves, we know more than we think, and we should trust our instincts.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Young, Savvy and Successful..

That pretty well sums up our panel of young women entrepreneurs.

Take the Lees twins who, with no knowledge of the cosmetic industry, have successfully launched Balmshell – a lipgloss - that was given out at the Oscars and is sold in North America and Europe. One of their biggest challenges was being taken seriously. Being blonde, attractive and young was not always a business asset. But no one can question their business acumen now. When asked what next … the world!

Even at 15, Michelle Planche had a business. She knew from the start that she was destined to be an entrepreneur. Today, she has a successful event planning business which she started while in university – organizing fashion shows, etc… One of her biggest challenges has been recruiting and retaining the right staff, and that’s important because she wants to expand from her current two offices to other locations.

At 25, Carisa Reiniger has an amazing track record, with four offices and sixteen staff. Her business Silver Lining has undergone rapid growth, and she’s had to step back and look at what she wanted out of it. She’d come to realize that her biggest problem was herself - that she was getting in her own way. She’s decided that whatever happens, she needs to get back to what she’s good at, and what she enjoys, because without the passion, it wasn’t going to work for her.

Three very different stories, but the common thread was their passion for what they are doing. We could all learn a lot from these young women because clearly they are on the right track.

Monday, May 19, 2008

MOMENT OF FAME

With the recent Toronto Star article on Company of Women, we have received numerous calls, enquiries and emails. All of which is exciting as more women discover us, and better still, decide to join or attend an event to check us out.

One such call was from a TV producer and while we played telephone tag for several days, I was busy fantasizing myself on some show, or better still hosting one! I ‘d been discovered. This was my moment of fame.

When we did connect, she indeed had a morning TV show and a section on Empowering Women for which she thought I would make an ideal guest. Sounds good. And the show was taped in Florida. Sounds even better. The guests were expected to pay their travel costs. No problem. I have lots of air miles banked away.

But… and here comes the clincher … I would have to pay $11,000 US for the pleasure of this experience. At this point in the conversation, as if on cue, my two dogs started barking loudly - the joys of working from home! Needless to say, I declined the offer and she was probably relieved, because perhaps I wasn’t the high-flying business tycoon she thought I was.

What’s that expression – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Is this how it works in the US, that you pay to be on shows? Maybe I am na├»ve, but whatever happened to being chosen because you have something worthwhile to say or an inspiring story to tell.

Ah well. When Oprah calls, I’ll just have to make sure the dogs are out!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

In the news

I think the PR fairy must be watching over us… we’ve had quite a run lately. First there were photos in Snap Oakville, then at the weekend, an article in the National Post, and to cap it off, we were on the cover of the small business supplement in the Toronto Star today.

Exciting stuff – and judging from the phone calls, emails and new memberships – media coverage truly pays off – and the price is right … it’s free. As I sat on the train going into Toronto this morning, I watched people read their Star and had to resist the urge to go over and point out the article!

The flurry of emails from members has also been most gratifying, and for those of you who took the time – thank you. And to Marissa who kick-started all this and Mary who worked on the inside track – thank you.

It proves my point that when you give unconditionally, you gain so much.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Doubt

The joy of doubt – almost seems like an oxymoron, but this was the title of an interesting article I read this weekend.

Many of us are plagued with doubt, especially in the early years of building our business when there are days when we question and second-guess ourselves on everything.

Writer Emma Cook however claims that “while uncertainty makes us fearful, embracing doubt sets us on the path of true creativity and personal growth.”

One of the challenges with doubt is that if you do not act, the doubt grows and you risk feeling immobilized. So taking action, is better than no action at all. Much also depends, say psychologists on our personality style and our comfort for living with ambiguity. There are those who plan, and those of us who are happier when situations are uncertain and emerging.

Yet it has been argued that doubt can have creative potential for all of us. In fact, a total absence of doubt is considered a much more worrying trait. Never doubting is risky. As Schmueli, a psychotherapist, shares “you’ve got to be able to continue thinking, and not accept things at face value. Doubt is an invitation to apply your mind and move forward.”

Several tips on making peace with doubt were offered:

• Doubt shows your mind is trying to tell you something. Trust it and don’t reject it.
• When overwhelmed by doubt, count to 20 while breathing in and out. Then stop counting. Allow your doubt to come back into your mind.
• If you feel paralyzed and indecisive, then set a timer for three minutes and externalize your doubts by writing them down rapidly. This process will help you to detach from your doubts – and move on.

Moving away from our fear of doubt can be liberating. Living with uncertainty can be a creative, vital and empowering. As someone once said “Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

Writing it out

We’ve just done a membership survey and it has been interesting to read the feedback as the surveys have come in.

Most are really positive and some useful information has been gathered that will help us determine our programs and services in the year ahead.

I guess when you ask for people’s opinions, you have to be willing to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can all learn and grow from listening to others.

And I have always been an advocate of writing out all your negative feelings – that’s why this blog has been so therapeutic. Many a time I have written that angry letter that is never mailed.

So - to the person who wrote the vicious attack on me – I hope you feel better. My advice to you – whoever you are – is maybe this is not the group for you. My advice to myself – remember all the positive feedback, and let go the one person’s negativity, because it is all about her, not me.

Monday, March 31, 2008

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Check your credit rating was the first piece advice from our financial experts. You can do that through a couple of websites:

www.transunion.ca
www.equifax.ca

It costs around $25 and what you want to look at is your score – anything over 165 is good. It was also recommended that if you work in partnership with someone – they should be checked too.

Here are some other pointers that they shared at our panel discussion on March 26:

Shop around for a bank. Sometimes the local bank doesn’t have a commercial section, so you are better off going a bit further afield to ensure that component is in place.

Build a relationship with your banker. Help them understand your business before you ever go in to ask for a loan.

Do your homework. Have a business plan with a financial breakdown so that the banker can see what your potential is and how likely you are able to pay off a loan should you get one.

Consider other options such as factoring. What is factoring and how it is different from the traditional bank loan? When you factor you don’t borrow money so there is no monthly re-payments. What does happen is First Vancouver Finance, for example, purchases your approved commercial accounts receivable once the order has been shipped or completed. They handle the invoice mailing, processing and postage. This option helps with cash flow and funding of $10,000 to $2,000,000 per month is available. To learn more, go to www.fvf.ca

We also learned that while BDC offers loans, it also has an extensive consulting practice. To check them out – go to www.bdc.ca – if you have to prepare a business plan, they have a template on their website as well as other useful information.

Loans are also available through the Canada Small Business Finance Program, headed by Industry Canada but implemented by financial institutions across Canada. Ask at your local bank about the SB program or check their website - www.ic.gc.ca for more information.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Think positive

Are you someone who jumps to conclusions – right or wrong? Do you automatically think the worst? Do you act first and think later? Well here is a cautionary tale.

You never know what your day will bring, and last night we discovered that our basement was flooded – and I mean flooded, we were up to six inches in water. Everywhere.

After talking to the insurance company, they sent out an emergency crew to literally bale us out. By this time it is late in the evening, but this is an everyday occurrence for them, and I guess with the thawing snow, they may be even busier. So their truck is on our driveway as they pump the water out. They finished at four this morning however, not before we had a visit from the police.

Our neighbour had phoned them to complain about the noise. She didn’t call to find out what was wrong; she didn’t pop over to see if she could help – no, she automatically called the police. The officers were most polite, could see what the situation was, told us to continue and wished us all the best.

What a waste of their time. What a pity she couldn’t see the situation for what it was. Instead, she likely assumed one of our kids (who haven’t lived at home for the past five years) was larking around with a friend in a truck on our driveway.

What’s that old expression – when you assume, you make an “ass out of you and me”
So the moral of the story – think positive, reach out and ask if you can help instead of automatically assuming the worst and taking a negative stand when one isn’t necessary. Life is too short.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Story Telling

Last night we heard from Diana Bishop who humorously shared her stories of her career in journalism – from her early days covering articles on insects and animals, to her days in China as the first woman foreign correspondent. It was when she switched to NBC and was at the peak of her career, that she knew she needed to leave and find her calling.

For years she had been interviewing people in her role as a TV reporter, always looking for the unique story and angle. What she enjoyed the most was telling the story, and she had a talent for bringing out the best in people, helping them to shape their tale.

At each juncture in her career, she talked about the lessons she had learned after every gaff and mistake she made and every challenge she met. She had the ability and foresight to realize that she could learn from these experiences and would move on.

Today she interviews entrepreneurs and helps them to brand themselves through their success story. And as the audience listened enthralled and enjoying her talk, it was clear that she walks the talk. She can tell a success story, because she is one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Unfinished Painting

This weekend I attended the funeral/memorial service for a friend. She was just 50 – far too young to have died – yet she had packed a lot into her life and firmly believed life was for living.

We first met years ago when she was a social worker, working mainly with women in abusive situations. Frustrated with the legal system and its disservice to women, she went back to school to become a lawyer and mediator.

When her son spoke at her service, he joked that his friends all said his mom must be loaded because she was a lawyer. Everyone there laughed, because one thing Ascenza wasn’t - was rich. She chose to support the underdog, the immigrant family who could not afford a lawyer, or the single mom fighting the system. No – she certainly wasn’t in it for the money.

As many of you may recall, we had quite the snowstorm on Saturday, but the chapel at the funeral home was packed and many of those there were people she had helped.

But it is interesting no matter how much you think you know someone, there’s always something new to learn. Sadly often at their funeral. In this instance, I never knew that Ascenza was an accomplished artist. Many of her paintings were on display, and like everything else she did, they were good.

It was somewhat poignant to see one unfinished painting – because to me it symbolized how she’d been snatched away from us before she was done.

Friday, March 07, 2008

International Women's Day

This week, together with 580 + women I celebrated International Women’s Day. The keynote speaker at this event was Deborah Ellis, author of numerous books for children, many of which describe the plight of women and children in war-torn countries.

When Deborah wrote her first book, The Breadwinner, it was doing well and she was so moved by what was happening in Afghanistan that she decided to donate the royalties from this book to support women there. Then 9/11 happened and suddenly her book is a best seller and is translated into numerous languages and sold around the world.

Adding two more books to this series, she continued to donate the royalties and to date she has raised over $500,000 as a result. Now she is no Bill Gates. As she stood before the audience in her jeans and sweater, it was clear this was an ordinary individual, showing extraordinary generosity. In addition to writing about the conditions in these countries, she has chosen to take action, to do something about it.

I applaud her generosity. She is clearly someone who has made choices on how she wants to live her life and she is doing so with purpose and intent .

Monday, March 03, 2008

How far have we come as women?

At our Toronto dinner last week we had three journalists as speakers. All had been editors of mainstream magazines, and Linda Lewis is still in that role, heading up the new magazine More which is aimed at women over 40.

The discussion was lively to say the least and as they recalled their early days in journalism, many were shocked to learn that in job interviews they were even asked whether they were using birth control – after all the employers didn’t want to invest in someone who might get pregnant. As Dianne Rinehart (former editor of Homemakers) pointed out, she was sure they didn’t ask the men if they used condoms. When you hear stories like this, you realize we have come a long way.

But not far enough to support Hilary Clinton. When the panel were asked whether Hilary was getting a fair shake by the media, the answer was a resounding no. Not only were the media not being supportive, but women were also judging her, observed Rona Maynard, former editor-in-chief at Chatelaine.

It would seem in the eyes of many if she shows emotion, it is deemed that she is cracking under the pressure and therefore not capable of this leadership role, and if she steels herself and appears strong, she is categorized as a hard-hearted individual. Either way, it would seem that she can’t win – neither the nomination nor the unilateral support of her gender, which is too bad as she is more than capable and would bring a wealth of experience to the job. The primaries on Tuesday will reveal all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

KEEPING IN TOUCH

How many friends have you talked to this past week? According to recent research, six out of ten of us speak to five friends or fewer each week.

Now I have a wide circle of friends, but when I reflected back on the week, I wasn’t much over the five, which at first surprised me, as I have always prided myself in my ability to keep in touch. In fact, when I did a head-count on last week, I also realized that my “score” went up because we had a Company of Women meeting – as many of the women who attend have become friends. That’s the good news. The bad news, is that without that dinner, I would hardly have racked up any contacts with friends
at all.

Food for thought. These days, a quick email is taking the place of conversations over coffee or a chat on the phone. And it’s not the same. You don’t always accurately pick up the nuances in an email, in fact, you can get it all wrong and read too much into a statement or comment.

This same research found that 43 percent of us think our communities are less friendly than they were a decade ago. Clearly we need to slow down and look at what’s important. The work will always be there, but our relationships are more fluid.

Having just spent the evening with some long- time friends, it felt good to laugh, share stories and catch up on each other’s news. Make sure you’re not missing out on the fun and laughter that friendships can bring. That’s what keeps us warm long after winter is over.

Monday, February 18, 2008

COMPETITION OR COLLABORATION? YOUR CHOICE

We live in a competitive world. I don’t know about your line of business, but in mine, there are some groups that are supportive of each other and the end goal of helping women grow their businesses, and others that are not. For them, they have to be king pin.

It’s too bad really, because it’s not about us – it should be about what’s best for our members. So it was really refreshing this week to connect with Kathryn Bechtold, the publisher of Mompreneur - check www.themompreneur.com

Kathryn and I have not met but our paths have crossed and at the end of the month she is moderating a panel for me. The purpose of our call was to brainstorm ideas for the questions to be asked of the panel members – all editors or former editors of prominent Canadian magazines.

But it actually took us a while to get there in our conversation as we were both sharing the ups and downs of launching and publishing a new magazine, and enjoying the connection with a kindred spirit. Now, we could have viewed each other as competition, but we didn’t. Instead, we were sharing war stories and looking at ways we can work together to create a win-win situation.

Now that is what it is all about…

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mompreneur

Mompreneur. What does that make you think of?

Last night, along with several Company of Women members, we had the opportunity to screen the taping of the new Fortune Hunters TV Show on CBC. This particular episode focused on the growing trend of mothers at home who are starting their own business as a way to achieve work-life balance – hence the new term mompreneur.

After hearing Dianne Buckner talk about current trends in business, particularly women and business, and viewing the show, the audience made up of women from Company of Women and Women in a Home Office entered into an interesting discussion about the term, mompreneur.

While some loved it feeling it captured the dual roles, not everyone felt the same way. Others were opposed feeling it detracted for the business aspects of what the women were doing, making it sound like they were just “playing” at their business.

Certainly much depends on what the mompreneur is doing. To my mind, if they have launched a business building on an idea or need they have identified through their own experiences as a mom – then mompreneur may be appropriate. But if they’re offering say graphic design services from home, I suspect that nametag could have a detrimental affect on their business growth, as it conjures up pictures of a woman at the computer, with a babe attached at the hip.

In the show last night, they also highlighted some ideas that have been developed by mothers around the world which was fascinating. But as for the bottled Mom’s Spit, available in different flavours – somehow you can’t imagine it taking off – whether it’s been developed by an entrepreneur or a mompreneur.

Watch the show for yourself – see what you think. It airs February 16 at 6.30 ET and repeats on Sundays at 1.30pm and 4.30pm. ET on CBC Newsworld.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My day in court

Have you ever been called for jury service? Well I have and today I had my day in court. It’s an interesting experience and just judging from this morning’s process, I can see why it takes so long for cases to move through the courts.

There were probably 100 of us – a motley crew I might add – all shepherded into this warm, airless courtroom. At 10.15 we were advised to make a quick visit to the washroom if necessary – most of the women left. There were two toilets. An hour later, still nothing had happened.

Then we were told to form a single line and proceed up four flights of stairs. It was like being back in preschool – I quite expected to see a rope. Once in the next courtroom, we were advised about the case, saw the accused, and then given all the reasons we could use to get out of serving on the jury. They also read out all the names of the witnesses in case there was a conflict of interest.

Now this was a murder case and we’d already been warned it could be at least three months, so much as I believe we all have a civic responsibility to serve on juries – three months is pushing it, especially when you own a small business.

Those who could potentially serve on the jury were asked to leave to come back another day, while those of us wanting out of the process, had to stay. One by one we had to stand before the judge and give our reasons for asking for deferment or to be excused from the process altogether. I felt badly for those who had more personal reasons for not wanting to be involved as they had to speak up, not just before the judge, but the rest of us in court.

It was not without its funny moments – take the elderly gentleman who in a strong Scottish brogue complained that he couldn’t hear the judge, and when asked if he wore a hearing aid, quickly retorted back that he wasn’t deaf you know.

Well, I got off. I felt like I’d got out of jail, could go past GO and collect my $200. I’ve been anxious about this case for several months now, worrying about how I was going to juggle all this. But I’m off the hook… this time.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Speaking from the Heart

What makes a good speaker? It’s a question I am often asked and my response is usually when the speaker talks with humour, honesty and integrity, and ensures the presentation is truly relevant to the audience.

A few weeks ago, for example, I had the opportunity to attend the Access to Success Conference. The caliber of the speakers was outstanding and it struck me that each had an important message to convey and each told their story with humour and honesty. It was wonderful just to laugh out loud – we don’t do it enough.

One of the most poignant stories was told by Alan Hobson who had successfully climbed Mount Everest on his third attempt. But it was his story of his second attempt that grabbed my attention.

This expedition had been thwarted because one of their team got into trouble and was in real danger of dying on the mountain. So everyone rallied round to save him. At one point he was alone, having collapsed and was just lying in the snow. The danger here was that he would just fall asleep, never to wake up.

The team struggled from a distance not knowing what to do when someone remembered that he was linked up by a walkie-talkie system to the US. It was the voices of his young daughters saying ‘Daddy wake up, we want you to come home ‘ that brought him to back to life and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, that his daughters had saved him.

This speaker had everything – a story that made you want to laugh, cry and remember his message of focusing on what is important in life – be it raising your children, climbing a mountain or in his case, winning a battle with cancer. It was a story of courage.