Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year! 2010 - For the past few years, 2010 has been touted as the year by which there should be one million women entrepreneurs in Canada. Hard to believe we are here already.

That’s the good news. The bad news is we still are not as successful we could and should be. Why is that? In part I believe it is because our ideas of success are different to those of our male counterparts. So many of us start a business not with the goal of making lots of money, but more buying ourselves more control over our lives.

We also tend to be risk-adverse and not comfortable taking that monumental leap to the next level if it means putting what we have in jeopardy. As a gender we’re cautious, preferring to do our homework and not step over the edge. And yet, often that is what needs to happen to move ahead.

So what does 2010 have in store for you? Part of answering that question requires that you look back on 2009 and your learnings from that year. What worked and is worth repeating, and what failed and should be left in the past? Loaded questions, but taking the time to answer them should be illuminating if you are honest with yourself.

The new year is a time of reflection, a time to set goals – both business and personal – and a time to start afresh, grow, plan and move forward with confidence that you will succeed at whatever you set your sights on.

It’s 2010 and we are in good company. I wish you a successful, fulfilling year as you grow both professionally and personally.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

True spirit of the season

Tis the season to be jolly …. Or is it? For so many people this is a hard time of the year. Perhaps they have lost a loved one, or the family is split because of a divorce, a fight or just distance and can’t be together. It can be very lonely.

With the current economy, it’s been a tough year for many financially and this is when you really feel it when you can’t afford to buy much for your kids.

So as we all rush around full of Christmas cheer … let’s pause for a moment and remember those who are hurting. Perhaps you can leave some food for the foodbank when you do your next round of shopping, or drop off an unwrapped gift to the Salvation Army.

Be true to the spirit of the season and reach out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winning Women

I always remember Linda Lundstrom saying that when she got the call to say she’d won the Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, she was sure they’d dialed the wrong number. Now a man, she jokingly added, would more likely ask what took them so long, but as women we doubt ourselves, even as we move forward to win prestigious awards.

Now that was several years ago, and clearly our view of ourselves has not changed because Cora Tsouflidou was just as quick to say that she often felt an imposter who would soon be found out.

It was so exciting to be at the Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Awards Gala this week, where two of our members – Cora Tsouflidou of Cora’s Breakfast and Lunch and the gals from Mabel’s Labels won the awards in their category.

How many organizations can boast two out of the five winners as members?? And a third winner who was a speaker at our 2009 conference. Now we’re not taking any credit for their success – they did that themselves, but it does to speak to the caliber of members at Company of Women.

As I listened to the acceptance speeches, there were some common themes: Several of the winners came from humble backgrounds but they recognized that this gave them the determination to succeed. All had a dream and the tenacity to turn that dream into a reality, refusing to take “no” as an answer. Often mothers were mentioned as role models and advocates which speaks to how we all have a responsibility to raise our daughters to believe they can achieve anything they want.

My congratulations once again to Cora, Julie, Julie, Tricia and Cynthia – we’re all so proud of you.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Do you have super staff?

We have a small but mighty team in our office. There’s three of us and while it is often hectic and demanding, especially when we’re doing nine events a month, I like to think we have fun.

So I was interested to read Brian Scudmore’s recent article in PROFIT magazine in which he identifies the seven traits of super staff.

The first was cultural fit – i.e. hiring people who share your core values. I know from previous workplaces, when you don’t share the same end goals, it’s hard to work together.

This leads nicely into the next trait a shared vision. You have to be using the same road map to be sure you all reach the right destination.

Scudmore in his third trait – fire within – believes that you can’t motivate someone to perform, they have to have it inside them. “Motivation, he says, comes from within and for it to be long lasting, there has to be a fire burning inside that drives someone beyond what any amount of money can.”

Setting goals is another trait. Look for people who on a routinely set clear goals and achieve them, he advises.

As the captain of your ship, you set the tone and atmosphere. A sunny outlook is key and Scudmore specifically “looks for people who are optimistic, positive and the see the potential in the company and its people.” We all know what it is like when you have someone negative in your midst – they can dampen enthusiasm quicker than anything.

Tenacity is the sixth trait and in our current economy, we’ve all needed a steady dose of this quality. You need people who will rise to the challenge.And last but not least, your staff need to have the ability to have fun.

In our office we have an ongoing joke about the way we can rapidly change conversation, making it hard sometimes to follow the train of thought. So following the lead from one of our speakers, Carole Bertuzzi Luciani, who poked fun at women’s conversations, we got a bell, which we ding whenever the topic has changed. May sound silly, but it creates a few laughs and helps us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Bottom line, none of us get to be successful on our own. We need a strong team behind us, no matter the size so it behooves us to take the time and hire people who fit the bill, who have these traits and can help you move your business to the next level.

I am lucky – I may have only two staff – but they have all these traits in spades.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I don’t know about you but the last few months have been pretty hectic and when I step back and look at my schedule I can see quite clearly that I have over-committed myself.

I receive a lot of requests and in my efforts to be helpful, I say yes to meetings when I really should say no.

I was talking to my coach about this dilemma and she challenged me on why I was saying yes, what was I getting out of it, she asked. Her next question gave me pause for thought – and what would happen if I said no.

When I look at the commitments I have made – sometimes it is tied up in my ego – being flattered at the request and other times, I believe in the cause and want to contribute. And I am from the old school where if you make a commitment, you stick to it. Well, as I discovered this week – maybe you don’t have to.

After much deliberation, I decided to take charge of my life and my time and I have gone back and got myself off the board; out of the meeting and booked in some time just for me.

It is actually quite freeing when you lighten your load and listen to your truth.
What about you? What can you do to be true to yourself?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Years ago I used to help my daughter sell her products at trade shows. At that time she was into sewing baby clothes and in particular, she had a popular line of flannel PJs that she sold.

So I learned first hand that doing trade shows is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, especially if your product was something you had made – it was a part of you. Doing trade shows is also very labour intensive. It takes time to set up the booth and when sales are good and everyone loves your stuff, it all seems worthwhile.

But when you go and sell nothing, it is so discouraging and whether you should or not, you end up feeling somewhat rejected.

I share this because I know some of the vendors at our Christmas Show met with mixed results and it is hard not to take it all personally, especially when you have worked hard to make your product or hand-picked what you think will sell.

I found the “not-knowing-what-will-sell” was one of the hardest aspects as each show was different and you could never really predict what would be the hot number of the event. So much depends on the people who attend, whether they are looking for what you have to offer; have the budget to cover the cost and are genuinely there to shop.

I know we did a show just recently and it was evident from the way the people strolled around, deep in conversation with each other that the show was just an outing, not a serious shopping trip.

I truly admire those of you who do trade shows on a regular basis. Maybe it’s my age but I find all the lugging of stuff just physically exhausting, let alone the standing for long periods of time, and as for looking cheery and welcoming … well, sometimes it is a stretch. So pat yourself on the back – you are showing true courage because you are putting yourself out there and if you have the right product, in the long term, it will pay off.

Friday, October 30, 2009


My name is Anne and I don’t have a Blackberry. There I said it out loud.

I’ve been avoiding getting one because I know myself and my addictive personality. As one of our team said, the great thing about a Blackberry is you are available 24/7, but on the other hand, the problem is the same – you are available 24/7 and never get away.

I have to say that this past week has caused me to re-evaluate my decision. First my keynote speaker who was sick had emailed me to say she was not coming – but how would I know, as I was at the hotel, with no access to email. She just assumed that I had a Blackberry. Most people do.

Then when my tire blew, and my cell phone was dead – I realized that with a Blackberry I could have at least texted or emailed someone for help. As it was, I was stuck on the side of the highway waiting until a tow truck spotted me (and the dogs).

So I don’t know… is this enough to convince me to purchase one? The jury is out.
I am certainly warming more to the idea and can see some of the advantages, but my fear is I will next be announcing – my name is Anne and I am a crackberry.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The universe provides

Several years ago a group of us went to hear Gloria Steinham talk. Imagine our disappointment when it was announced at the start of the event that she was sick and unable to make it. Instead, the organizers advised that they had brought in Tobin Anderson. At the time, we all shook our heads – none of us had ever heard of her.

Well, we had the privilege of hearing one of the most profound and moving presentations from a woman who was terminally ill with cancer but who refused to let life pass her by. She has since passed away, but I can honestly say that her talk was one of the best I have ever heard and I will always remember her words of wisdom. Instead of getting second-best, we had the best.

I share this story because you just never know how your week will unfold, and sometimes what seems like a disaster turns out to be best thing that could have happened.

I started my week talking to a group of professionals about starting a business and how you have to be flexible to survive whatever change comes your way.

By the end of the week, I was having to practice what I preached! It was every event planners biggest nightmare – I found out thirty minutes prior to the scheduled presentation that my keynote speaker was sick, and not coming!

But the universe provides. Among our participants we had a motivational speaker. Not only that, she had her presentation with her. And her lively, funny keynote was just what we needed after an action-packed day.

Pat Mussieux – thank you. You were my guardian angel, my Tobin Anderson, and a real trooper. Not only did Pat come to the rescue, she was one of the highlights of the day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Heading in new directions

I am in love. It’s early days, but this new relationship is exciting; it’s broadened my horizons, giving me the courage to go further and venture outside of my comfort zones.

No, I am not cheating on my husband, nor am I fantasizing after someone else. I’m talking about Gina – my GPS system. Like many relationships, there are times when I want to rebel and disobey but on the whole, I listen and just do as I am told.

It often surprises people when I share that I am a somewhat nervous driver, and in the past, this has limited me in where I will go. But with the GPS, I have new-found confidence and am finding my way around and driving to places that once were off limits.

Having someone, Gina, tell me when to turn, what lane to get into, takes all the guesswork out of going somewhere new. This way I can concentrate on my driving – which is not a bad thing - and going somewhere new is no longer the nerve-wracking experience that it used to be.

It is a bit like having a business coach. Just as now I can concentrate on my driving and reaching my destination, a business coach helps you to focus on the business and achieving your goals. With “Gina” on my team, I can be confident that I will get there and with a coach by your side, you gain more confidence in your ability to succeed.

And it doesn’t mean you hand over control. There have been times when I have totally ignored the directions, because I know a faster route and like a broken record, Gina recalculates the route – but eventually she gets onto the same path as me. Likewise, if you don’t like the direction you are heading in, change it. Listen to your instinct, it will guide you well.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

What a Week!

Do you ever check out your horoscope? I read mine regularly and if I like what it says, I think great. If I don’t, I declare it a load of rubbish! I really should have checked mine this week. To use astrology jargon, I am sure mercury must have been in retrograde.

Why? Because nothing worked out the way it was planned – mix ups in appointments, serious computer problems and to cap it all – I hit a skunk on the way to work on Tuesday.

Now for those of you who are not aware of the potency of eau d’skunk, let’s just say as people walked up our driveway, the not-so-pleasant aroma swamped them. But I have decided it is all my husband’s fault.

Several months ago I swerved on the road to avoid hitting a deer – I mean this could have been Bambi. At any rate, I got lecture 22 on how you should never swerve to avoid animals, it was dangerous. So… I saw the skunk, did not swerve but drove straight ahead. I have to say, I was hoping that the skunk was right in the middle and nowhere near my wheels. But no, I hit it. The good news is the world has one less skunk, but the bad news is my poor car.

While I was driving and the car was moving, I was lulled into thinking I’d got away with it. But when we stopped in traffic, the smell just permeated the car. To give you a sense of how bad it was, it took them two days to “bomb” and de-skunk my car.

So the moral of the story is read your horoscope - because maybe then I could have seen it coming!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


My recent nomination and finalist ranking for the Women of Influence Award caught me by surprise.

Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to receive several awards for my work. I remember receiving a flurry of awards shortly after my first cancer diagnosis, and I recall at the time joking that people wanted to celebrate my contributions before I “checked-out.”

Clearly that didn’t happen, and I am alive and well and still doing meaningful work to help women succeed.

But this award is different. When I first heard that I was a finalist, I was thrilled of course, but then I realized that I needed to ask people to vote for me. Not my comfort zone at all. First I’ve always had difficulty asking for help. Second, it felt presumptuous that people would even want to vote for me. So needless to say, I’ve found the whole process very uncomfortable.

And reality is there are some serious contenders in this “race” who truly are women of influence and who also have massive databases to draw on. So I have concluded that with this American Idol strategy, it’s not going to happen.

So I am letting this one go – I am voting myself off that island. You won’t be hearing any more from me as I don’t want to get further embroiled in this vote-seeking campaign.

At the end of the day, none of what we do in life is done to win awards. For me, it’s always been to make a difference - and that is honour enough.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Over the last two weeks I have heard two amazing women share their story of how they turned a personal tragedy in their lives into something meaningful that will benefit others.

First was Joey Adler, CEO of the clothing retailer diesel Canada. When her husband died, she vowed that everyone’s life should count, especially children and she founded the One x One Foundation, with celebrity patron Matt Damon. This charity is making great headway in its attack on child poverty around the world, and in four years has raised $6 million to make sure that children’s basic needs are met. To learn more about the foundation, go to www.onexone.org

The second was Jane Roos, who is the Executive Director of CAN Fund, a charity that raises funds to support Canadian athletes so they can train and compete at the Olympics and other world competitions.

In Jane’s case, she had just graduated from high school and had her career in athletics all mapped out, when she was involved in a serious car accident. Her girlfriend died and she endured injuries to her back, thus ending her dreams of being an Olympic athlete.

But she had kept this dream alive for others, and founded the Canadian Athletes Now Fund to provide our athletes with direct financial support so they can afford better nutrition, coaching, new equipment, travel to competitions, etc,… With every donation, you are given the name of the athlete you have supported and receive a tax receipt. You can donate online at www.CanadianAthletesNow.ca

The word crisis in Chinese means danger or opportunity. Clearly these women have chosen to make their crisis an opportunity for others. I applaud them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Building a community

I have one of those books that gives you the thought for the day. So I looked up September 15 – the evening of our first event of the season – and it seemed so appropriate that it said “A feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness. You’ll find that all human beings are just like you.”

It seemed fitting on a number of levels. First, one thing I have discovered in running Company of Women is that it doesn’t really matter what business you are in, the issues remain the same. We have an opportunity therefore to learn from each other.

Second, I liked the idea of “a feeling of warmth” because that is the atmosphere I want to create – that we are a community of women coming together to support one another.

The third reason is that last week we launched the book Faces of Opportunity, which tells the stories of women in developing countries. I’ve always known and understood that it takes courage and tenacity to succeed, but I am in total awe at the determination, resilience and joy of these women as they strive to create a better and brighter world for their children. Yes, they are human beings just like us and as women entrepreneurs, we should applaud and honour them.

And lastly, I have always believed that being honest and open creates the best of relationships.

Two sentences. And it says it all. These words so accurately describe what I dream and want for Company of Women.
I have one of those books that gives you the thought for the day. So I looked up September 15 – the evening of our first event of the season – and it seemed so appropriate that it said “A feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness. You’ll find that all human beings are just like you.”

It seemed fitting on a number of levels. First, one thing I have discovered in running Company of Women is that it doesn’t really matter what business you are in, the issues remain the same. We have an opportunity therefore to learn from each other.

Second, I liked the idea of “a feeling of warmth” because that is the atmosphere I want to create – that we are a community of women coming together to support one another.

The third reason is that last week we launched the book Faces of Opportunity, which tells the story of women in developing countries. I’ve always known and understood that it takes courage and tenacity to succeed, but I am in total awe at the determination, resilience and joy of these women as they strive to create a better and brighter world for their children. Yes, they are human beings just like us and as women entrepreneurs, we should applaud and honour them.

And lastly, I have always believed that being honest and open creates the best of relationships.

Two sentences. And it says it all. These words so accurately describe what I dream and want for Company of Women.

Monday, September 07, 2009


First it was the email from Nigeria announcing an inheritance; then you’d won the lottery – and hard to believe some people still fell for it – part of their get-rich-scheme I guess, but these days, scam artists are getting much more sophisticated.

Take last week. My address book on Facebook was hacked into and friends received an email implying that I was stranded in London and needed financial help to get home. Given I am from the UK, this was quite plausible, however the colourful language used gave them away, and friends knew it wasn’t from me.

In sharing this tale with someone else, I learned of an even more sophisticated attempt to empty your bank account. My colleague was invited to speak at a conference in the UK, the invite seemed genuine, the location existed and they forwarded a professional looking contract, etc… She had done her due diligence and checked some of this out, and it all seemed above board. Until she got an email asking for her bank account information – supposedly so they could pay her honorarium in advance. That’s when she stopped, contacted the church where the conference was to be held and discovered it was all a scam.

Wow! I think several of us might have fallen for this one and the “ask” if you will wasn’t immediate, so you could be lulled into thinking this was the real deal. All of which flags, that sadly we need to be cautious and never take what seems like an amazing offer at face value. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Date first

When I worked in the non-profit sector, I had a reputation for bringing people together to collaborate on a project. Agencies didn’t always do so willingly, sometimes there was resistence – mainly because of territorial issues, but bottom line, we were able to find a common ground that made it work. Usually it was because of the clients, and we would pool our resources to better the outcome for them.

I can’t say I have had the same level of success since starting my own business. People are suspicious – always wanting to know what’s in it for them, and questioning why you would want to partner. Were you going to get more out of it? And when I have partnered, it hasn’t always worked out the way I expected.

When I reflect back on my non-profit days, I realize that apart from wanting the best for our clients, the other common factor we shared was our values. We tended to be working in the non-profit sector because we wanted to make a difference. Earning lots of money was never a draw, which is just as well as the salaries were low.

So when I look at the partnerships that haven’t worked, I can see now that part of the reason why, is we didn’t share the same values. We hadn’t taken the time to really get to know one another – to share our values, to discuss our vision of the intended outcome or to agree on goals. If one of you wants to make thousands and the other is happy with a lot less, then problems are bound to arise.

Also when you’re an entrepreneur, one of the reasons you’ve chosen that path is because you want to be in control of your own destiny, so it is not surprising that there are control issues when there are two captains steering the ship, and even more so when there is no real agreement on the end destination!

I’ve written my share of articles on partnerships, and have often joked that I really should read and heed my own advice! Does that mean that I am off partnerships? No. I see real merit in collaboration, in working with like-minded individuals who share a common audience or goal. It actually makes business sense.

But I am more cautious and less likely to get carried away by the excitement of a new idea, a new project. Now I would recommend dating before leaping into a serious business partnership with someone. Work on a mutually beneficial project first, see how it goes and then build on the relationship.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Living life to the fullest

Last night I gave my first public talk about being a breast cancer survivor.

I was nervous about revealing such intimate information and a bit wobbly to start but once I got into my stride, I realized that I do have an important message to convey. In my presentation I described my membership in the cancer club in terms of features and benefits. As most of the women were in business, I figured they would get the correlation.

But what may have surprised them was the fact that there are benefits:-

1. You become more focused. You don’t sweat the small stuff and become more selective on what you do, where you spend your time and who you spend it with. Negative people be gone.

2. You follow your passion – for me it was starting Company of Women and launching our magazine Company last year. Making a difference in the lives of women is important to me. This is my legacy.

3. You learn how much people love you. With all the cards, letters and kind gestures, you feel enveloped in love and caring. It’s like hearing the eulogies but you haven’t actually gone.

4. You take charge of your health. Information is power and for me I adopted a more healthy lifestyle – one that included exercise and regular work outs.

As I said at the end of my speech, ““Each of us finds our own path to survival. No path is every walked the same way twice, but we need not walk alone.”

To me this speaks to life, not just life with cancer.


Michael Dell, founder of Dell Inc, recently shared a story from his early entrepreneurial days. He was sixteen and had landed a job at the local newspaper, selling subscriptions. He quickly realized that the people most likely to buy the newspaper were those who were looking for a home to buy or rent, so he set about getting data on people who had just got married; who were applying for a mortgage and contacted them.

Within a month he was the top salesperson, and made enough money on commission to buy himself a BMW. His high school teacher challenged him when he submitted his tax return as part of the math class. She was positive he was making it up – but no, this was his real income and he was making more than his teacher!

The moral of the story? Do your homework. Think of who would need and benefit from your product or service. Then look at how best to reach those individuals. When you understand your target group, know how they think and feel, then you can tailor your marketing strategies to convert them into customers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Perfection Optional

Some people are born entrepreneurs. Right from an early age they have that entrepreneurial spirit. My daughter was 12 when she started her first business – Kids Klub, running a summer camp for local kids from our street. She learned a lot that summer and really it is not surprising that today she is onto her fourth business.

But not all young people are that enterprising. Take the young lad we hired this summer to try and tame our gardens. It has been interesting to watch him in action. First he was very timid. Not sure what were weeds and what was meant to be there, so he only removed the obvious sinners. Gradually he has become more confident but his approach is still be very much to focus on one area and make it perfect.

Perhaps because I want more instant gratification and I only have a certain amount of time to devote to the task, my strategy has been more wide-spread. I tend to attack and remove all tall offenders so that the overall garden looks OK, rather than having just one section that has been neatly groomed.

It’s just like owning your business, you quickly learn that you can’t just focus on one area and that striving for perfection isn’t necessarily the best survival tactic, as often there are several demands on our time. We don’t have that luxury. As entrepreneurs, we have to multi-task and be able to turn on a dime to deal with issues as they arise.

Our young gardener is an archaeology student, more used to being on a dig and studying his find, rather than making quick decisions about what goes, and what stays. No doubt he will do well in his chosen career.

Monday, July 27, 2009


As the novice, albeit reluctant gardener, I often find myself comparing what is happening in my garden with running a business.

Take my lavender. Last year we planted some lavender and I loved it – it grew well, its beautiful aroma filled the summer nights and it had that wild, country look that fitted a farm garden. This year, it is dead, gone, not even one branch has come through. Yet my mint, no matter what I do, is tenacious – it survives, grows, and spreads itself throughout the garden.

In business, you can have a hot item that every one wants but come the end of the season – it’s no longer up there. It’s had its moment in the sun – so to speak – and it is time to give it a rest and find something else or repackage it.

Hopefully every business has its base product or service that continues to bring in the money on a regular basis – a bit like the mint. Although unlike the mint, you do want to control it or it could end up controlling you. But there is this maverick quality to mint in that it spreads and lands where you least expect it. A bit like promoting your business on the Internet, with its global audience, you never know where your “mint” could land and it could end up bringing you in business from far afield.

Talking of the unexpected, there’s also the beautiful flower that survives and blossoms in a bed of weeds, catching you by surprise. All of which goes to say that like the gardener, you have to stay flexible. You never know what will be the “flower” of the year, but you want to be ready so you can take home the prize, and cut your losses when the petals drop and the interest wanes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Press One for Service

For weeks now I have been trying to get our dishwasher fixed. One of the “joys” of living in the country, is contrary to popular belief, you’re not alone. Invariably you are sharing your homestead with the critters around you. In our case – a family of mice, who have not only set up home at the bottom of our dishwasher, but chewed their way through the pipes. Needless to say, the dishwasher isn’t working, and hasn’t for some time now.

I discovered the culprits when the service man came – back in early June. He had to order a part and I was to phone in and book a service appointment. Sounds simple.
But no. Every time I phone and do the press 1 for English, press 1 again for service, I get advised that my call is important to them, but I am number 8 in the queue. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to be on hold while I wait not so patiently to move up to #1. So I hang up, try again later – same thing.

Frustrated with this, and tired of washing dishes, I thought I would email them. Wrong. It bounced back. So then I thought I would send a fax. The number doesn’t work. Meantime, I am still without a functioning dishwasher and who knows another family could have set up house by the time the service guy gets back to put in the new part.

What ever happened to customer service? We have around eight products that are manufactured by Miele – heaven help if any of those go wrong. No, I want to press one and get service.

But I don’t have time to vent … got some dishes to wash.

Monday, July 13, 2009


With hours to kill waiting for my plane at Manchester airport, I bought a few books, one of which was Common Sense Rules: What you really need to know about business by Deborah Meaden. Now Meaden is the UK’s version of Arlene Dickinson on their Dragon’s Den, and from reading her book, I would conclude she is one smart, tough cookie, who has earned a reputation for her straight-talking, no-nonsense approach.

She also raises some important points on making the pitch and getting investors onboard. Just as the title of her book conveys, much of it is common sense. Yet we seem to forget that in our passion to market our business idea.

She observes that entrepreneurs rarely give would-be investors enough information to persuade them to part with their hard-earned money. As she says “today, more than ever, an entrepreneur has to present some pretty compelling reasons for an investor to part with cash, which means presenting a rock-solid pitch as well as some convincing numbers.”

She encourages entrepreneurs to think carefully about how they contact potential investors and what they send by way of introduction. Do your homework and find out who actually makes the investment decisions at a company, she suggests.

Rarely do people get their business plans right, she shares. They either do not include enough information or they don’t include the right information, or it becomes a lengthy document sharing minutia that is of no interest to an investor.

Before ever approaching a potential investor, the business plan needs to be in place. It should be a simple, step-by-step document outlining timescales and milestones, what has to be done in the run up to the launch and what it is all going to cost. What investors, like Meaden, are looking for is something that “outlines in a punchy way what the business is all about, where it is going and what it needs to get there.”

As Meaden concludes, having a business plan is not just for raising money, it keeps you on track and makes you think through all the different aspects of running your business – competition, marketing, financial, etc…

Do you have one? Even if you have been in business for several years, it is not too late to start. You might be surprised at how the process makes you focus and gives you the tools and confidence to succeed.

(You can find business plan templates at www.bdc.ca)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Feeling mellow after a week away from the office - no phone, no email, no people… I am not quite ready to settle back down to work. Somehow I want to extend the break from the old routine. So I have decided to declutter my office.

Now this is a major task. We have bets on in the office as to just how long this will take me – but I have allowed a week. While we may be trying to save the trees – I think a forest landed in my office. Where did all this paper come from?

The challenge too is that it has to get worse, before it can get better – so right now you can barely see the floor as I spread out my stuff trying to make some order out of chaos.

Now is not the time to pop in for a visit, although I might be glad of the excuse to have a break. No – I have to keep ploughing on, set up some systems that I might stick to and get myself free.

And it is freeing to get rid of stuff. I remember last year we got a dumpster delivered and I filled it – full. Full of files and papers from committees and boards I’d sat on – but long since left; reports I had written and keeping just in case.

So I have come a long way, but I guess there’s always room for improvement. Must go – the recycling bin is calling.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's a done deal

Putting on a conference is a bit like organizing a wedding. I should know – I did both last year! Both take a lot of planning and forethought to make sure all the right people are invited, meet each other and everyone has fun. But like a wedding, there is a feeling of anti-climax once it is over.

It’s the day after, and we’re surrounded by boxes – leftovers from the event. However, clearly the memory of the day is not over for you and it has been wonderful to hear the feedback from our “guests.” It would appear that everyone did have a good time; that they connected with the right people, and left a little bit more confident, knowledgeable and inspired than when they arrived.

In the interview with CH TV, I was asked why the conference was important. My answer – there’s strength to be gained from hearing each other’s stories – not just the speakers – but the women participating in the conference. We learn so much from each other.

Believe it or not, we’re already thinking about what we can do next year. Hope to see you at the 4th Journey to Success Conference.

Monday, June 08, 2009


This weekend I went on a retreat with six other women, four of whom I had never met before. So I left Friday feeling a little nervous about how the weekend would unfold, and with my British reserve, not wanting to give away too much of myself.

It turned out to be an amazing experience, as we opened up and shared our lives with one another. There was laughter, there were tears. Five of us owned our own businesses, so we understood the pressures we each faced, while another had gone through hell and back with the demise of a family business.

Even though we didn’t know each other, we were able to reach out and provide support, share words of wisdom and talk about our wishes for the future. But what really struck me was that as quick as we were to tell each other to stop putting ourselves last on the “to do” list, none of us were very good at taking our own advice.

We are all so busy in the fast lane of life, that we forget to slow down and take the scenic route. But this weekend, as we soaked in the beauty of the heron on the lake, the beautiful sunset and the camaraderie of like-minded women opening up to share their truths, we took time to stop, pause and regroup.

We’d put ourselves first for a change, and as someone said, we “walked into lives.”

Monday, June 01, 2009


In a recent editorial in the magazine Entrepreneur, Editor-in-Chief Amy Cooper, observed that in today’s economy, brilliance is the new bail out.

She is constantly asked about what is different about starting a business in this economy vs. a non-recession year? Her answer – nothing. As she rightly points out, it still takes a great idea, finances, a business plan, sweat equity and “a level of courage you can’t grasp until you’ve tried.”

However to succeed, she advises, you need to outdo yourself. Now is not time to be cautious, to hunker in and do the “same old, same old.” Now, she suggests is the time to be truly entrepreneurial, to take risks – OK, calculated risks – and as she says “to zig when everyone else is zagging.”

Food for thought.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just ask

This week we had two exciting panels of women sharing their business success stories. As they all shared the ups and downs of their business ventures, it struck me that men probably wouldn’t do this.

I mean if they can’t ask for directions, what makes us think they would bare their business souls to an audience of peers. Not likely. Yet there is something to be gained when you share your truths. For one, the audience appreciate and value more what you have to say when you are being honest and upfront. You seem more real and people are more likely to remember you and want to support you in the future.

But it is a fine line. We need to be selective on who we share the facts about our business. After all, if things are not going well, telling the world isn’t likely to make it any better, in fact it may speed up the demise of your business.

These are scary times for many businesses. Everyone is working hard to keep the financial wolves from the door. As women, we are good at asking for help and seeking advice from experts is a good idea. Reaching out and getting their input can help you turnaround a worrisome situation. Often an outsider looking in, can offer an objective perspective and solution.

One success strategy shared by all our panel members was that when they needed help, they went out and got it. As business owners we can’t expect to be good at everything, know your strengths and recruit others to cover off those other areas that test your patience. You may even be able to trade and barter services so it doesn’t cost you to obtain the help you need to build and grow a successful business.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Making the Pitch

“First you have to sell yourself, then your product,” advised Diane Buckner at the recent Coliseum competition at the Rotman School of Management. Buckner, who is host of Dragon’s Den and Fortune Hunters, knows a thing or two about making successful pitches and was the moderator for the event.

There were five finalists and each had five minutes to make their case. Like Dragon’s Den, there were three judges – successful entrepreneurs who knew all about making a business succeed.

It was interesting to watch each presentation, and even more interesting to see the outcome. The winner had a unique product, which if it is well-marketed and positioned right, could do really well. Although it didn’t appear that he’d done much math in working out the costs of this venture. But his concept captured the judges’ attention and everyone likes to be part of something new.

The runner up excelled at showing her passion and it was her ability to sell herself, that sold the panel on her business concept but again the important number-crunching wasn’t evident.

Yet, the person who got “honorable mention” was the one, in my opinion, who truly did the best presentation, she knew her figures, had clearly a solid business plan, but somehow didn’t sway the panel with her idea.

As for the other two finalists – all I can say, is don’t give up your day job!

In looking at the results, it becomes clear to me that none of us really knew or understood what the criteria was for selecting the winner. The audience got one vote, so it would have been helpful to know what the judges were looking for as then we could have all been on the same page.

One lesson to take away from this is just as Buckner said, if you can demonstrate your passion for your product, it will take you a long way. “

Monday, May 11, 2009


This week I was in Ottawa meeting with women from the Atlantic Provinces who run women’s business organizations in their cities. It was exciting to connect with them, explore how we can work together and to realize that really it doesn’t matter where you are in Canada, the issues are often the same.

What I really liked about the discussions was that we were all being honest, sharing in a genuine way and wanting to support each other. There wasn’t any sense of competition, just an attitude of abundance and mutual respect. What more can you ask for?

And in the months ahead we plan to continue the dialogue and share best practices, so that we can all offer the best possible service to women entrepreneurs in our province.

How often do you meet up with others in your sector? You might be surprised at what you can learn from each other when you drop the competition and are open to some real conversations.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Do you want to compete with the big guys?

On Monday I attended the Toronto launch of WEConnect Canada, a new organization to Canada, but WEConnect is well-established in the US, UK and India.

What is WEConnect? It is a non profit organization that provides the mechanism to certify women business owners so that they are eligible to compete for tenders issued by the large Fortune 500 companies. Many of the large corporations in the US, have diversity policies whereby they have to give a quota of contracts to women-owned businesses.

In Canada, WEConnect is working to establish a similar program and is actively recruiting companies such as IBM, BMO Financial Group, Accenture, Cisco and more. What does this mean to you?

Becoming certified opens doors for you and gives you the opportunity to compete with the big guys. One of the advantages of being a small business, is we're nimble, we're not bogged down in bureaucracy and rules which can be appealing to the large corporation that wants instant results.

One of the women whose company became certified through WEConnect just this month, has already received overtures from a large American corporation. This is exciting stuff and I encourage you to look closely at how you can get involved.

Check the website at http://www.WEConnectCanada.org

Monday, April 27, 2009


This weekend a group of people were taking a dry wall stone building course at our farm. They were a diverse crew –men and women - from across South-Western Ontario, all there to learn the dying art of building a dry stone wall. It was fascinating to watch (I was the chief cook and bottle washer) as a symmetrical stone wall emerged from the rubble of stones we had collected from across the property.

Over dinner, the teacher, John, was explaining that it takes a certain personality to build a wall. For the perfectionist, it can be an exercise in frustration as there isn’t a scientific formula to getting the wall right and sometimes you have to select the less-than-perfect stone. But he added, “for the cowboys” who just think they can stick a stone anywhere, there are lessons to be learned as they find they can’t be quite so casual about the whole process.

John also observed that people who get into wall-building are often musicians, writers and other creative types who see the wall as a work of art – something beautiful to be created out of stone.

Apparently he’s been approached about using wall-building as a team-building exercise and you could see how that could be very effective. People had to learn to work together, to listen to each other’s opinion, and not always be right.

Likewise, it struck me that there were some lessons for business owners too on the importance of being flexible. If you are hell-bent on being right all the time; on sticking to one course of action, it likely won’t always work to your favour. So an element of going with the flow makes sense. Now if you’re so laid- back that anything goes, like the cowboys, then you run the risk of losing your focus and offering a shoddy product or service.

The other lesson learned this weekend is the value of bartering; of forming strategic alliances. Sixteen people gathered at our place to build a wall, in return, all we had to do was feed and water them! Pretty good deal I would say and now we have a beautiful wall and some new friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009


With the great weather this weekend, I had no excuse about getting out in the garden. Now I have to confess, gardening is not my favourite pastime, but the spring clean up was calling me whether I wanted to do it or not.

And I have to say I did procrastinate a bit – you know - found other things to do that were suddenly pressing; called my cousin for a long chat, you name it – I tried to do it. But eventually I had to get out there and start raking those leaves we left in the fall with the theory that they would nourish the earth. Hmm right. There seemed to be an awful lot of them.

Now I don’t want this to get out.. but I quite enjoyed the physical labour of getting the garden in a bit more in order. Like your office or your wardrobe, there is something freeing about getting rid of clutter – be it paper, clothes or leaves. And if you are realistic on what you can achieve in the time allotted, there can be a sense of accomplishment.

Just as in life and business there are tasks we want to avoid, sometimes it is better to just parcel off small portions of time – the Swiss cheese approach – so you are not so overwhelmed and you are moving forward.

But let’s not get too carried away with my new-found enthusiasm for the great outdoors; otherwise who knows, I could get roped into weeding next. Heaven forbid.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Talk about extremes. I went from a relaxing break in Florida, soaking up the sun to hopping on a plane to attend the Oakville Awards for Business Excellence where it was announced that I had won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Now that sure gets your adrenalin going! I am still on a high.

Over the years I have been fortunate to receive several awards, but this one is different, and I've been reflecting on why it means so much to me. It reminds me of the time when Sally Fields won an Oscar and she said "you like me, you really like me"

Like many of us, I have my moments of self-doubt too, when I question what I am doing and whether I am just kidding myself with this business. Now a group of professionals and peers, that I admire, have recognized my work, my contribution and my leadership. I feel validated.

But there are other factors kicking in - this award goes beyond me. As a woman entrepreneur representing and supporting other women entrepreneurs, the award represents recognition of the vital role women play in today's economy. Women can, and do, run successful businesses. It's no longer the "old boys club" - in fact we have our own - and it's called Company of Women.

So let's celebrate.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Just recently I started a LinkedIn Group for Company of Women. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and one that might generate some useful discussion and dialogue between women business owners.

I would love to say that I gave it a lot of thought, that I had carefully crafted my long term goals and had a vision for the group, but I would be lying. It was one of those hasty, why-not decisions. I had the time, was just mastering how LinkedIn worked and what the heck… what’s the worst that can happen?

Well… three weeks later, as our group has rapidly expanded to 83 women, I am now realizing that there’s some truth to the expression – be careful what you wish for.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting to see this immediate response, my challenge is more what to do with this captive audience. How can I make this group work well, and provide a vehicle for productive discussion, without increasing my workload three-fold?

My decision – I am going to throw it back to the group – who better to tell me what they want to discuss and get out of the process

So if you want to be part of an exciting new discussion group – check us out. Better still, join us and share your views. It’s http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/1795964/

At this point my competitive gene is kicking in and I want to make our group the best ever!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Telling your Story

Can you think of an adjective that describes you or your business? Can you now think of a story you could tell that would prove it? Sounds simple, but it is not as easy as it sounds, as women in our workshop Telling Your Story found out.

So often we talk in jargon and don’t drill down enough to get to the core ingredient of our success story. And when we really don’t feel that passionate about what we are doing, that sure shows through when we try to talk about it.

It was when Liz Radzick, the workshop leader, selected a couple of women to illustrate how to do it, that you could see the difference. Asking difficult questions, forcing them to move out of their comfort zone, Liz moved the stories from technical and long-winded, to passionate and interesting, and physically you could see the difference as the women became more comfortable and confident in what they were saying.

It’s good to have some success stories in your back pocket, so that next time when someone asks you how business is, instead of saying busy, busy, busy which tells you nothing, you can tell a story that illustrates how invaluable your services are.

Just listing the features of what you do no longer cuts it in this competitive marketplace, you need to grab their attention. Tell a story that makes it clear how using your services, programs or products will be of benefit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Recently I hired a business coach. Being accountable to someone, having to report in each week sure makes you get on with stuff that’s been on your “to do” list for ages. I have my homework and on the whole, I’ve been a “good girl” and got it done, but not all of it and that is when you have to ask yourself why, what is holding you back?

We reached the conclusion that my avoidance was more to do with my priorities and my preference to focus on activities that excite me. Good to know, and so now we are tackling the project differently and working to involve others in the process, so the outcome is not hinging on me.

In reality this is probably a better approach anyway, as then others have some ownership in the end result, and I get to draw on their expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm to make it happen.

It’s all too easy to think it all has to revolve around yourself, when in reality, if your business is going to grow you have to delegate, you need to involve others and you have to let go. I’m a work in a progress. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Do you know what you will be doing five years from now? That was a question I was asked this week, and it was one I found difficult to answer. Not because I don’t have goals or a vision of what I want to achieve, but more that five years is a LONG way out.

In today’s economic unrest, we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, let alone five years down the road. When I worked in the non-profit sector, we actually stopped doing five year- strategic plans, because with swings in funding priorities, who knew what the future would bring. It seemed like a wasted exercise, so instead we focused more on the short term – often planning one to three years out.

But there is another reason that I think it is a mistake to plan too far ahead – it can make you too locked into what is down on paper, and you could lose the ability to be nimble when an opportunity arises. To me, it is more important that you are clear on your mission, your focus and target audience – because then you are less likely to get pulled off track.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have operational plans and I’ve found putting my goals down on paper, makes it more likely that I will achieve them. It’s like setting off on a road trip, you are more likely to reach your destination if you’ve set out knowing which direction you are headed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cold Calling

Do you like cold calling? No? Well, you’re not alone. It’s not easy to contact a stranger to sell yourself and your product.

However, as Theresa Syer of Syer Hospitality Group pointed out at our workshop last week , if you’ve done your homework, drilled down to who you should contact and researched to see if you have a contact in common – it doesn’t have to be so intimidating.

Her first piece of advice is to make the calls at your best time of the day – no point in making the call when your energy level is low. You need to block of time for prospecting every day, she suggests, and plan your list of questions to uncover future opportunities.

Listen for opportunities within their answers so you can refine your questioning based on their specific information. And don’t jump in if your prospect doesn’t answer immediately. All too often we can’t stand the silence, and leap in, instead of waiting for an answer, she observed.

By the time Theresa finished running through her ten steps to finding new customers it struck me that sometimes we miss the obvious – like asking for referrals. There was much discussion about social networks, but that is clearly a topic for another day.

As Theresa emphasized, develop a positive attitude and persistence. Without regular prospecting, you run the risk of your revenue sources running dry. To learn more, you can always check out our upcoming teleclass on building your customer base.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tough Decisions

Do you have pets? As many of you know, we have two dogs who come to work with me every day.

Last week we faced a tough decision – Sophie, the younger dog, was sick and we either went with expensive surgery which may or may not work, or we put her down.

As we weighed up the odds, it struck me that this type of decision is somewhat like the ones being faced by business owners across Canada. Do we let staff go or do keep everyone on and run the risk of not making it? Do we close down one office in order to save the rest? Business owners have to do the math, weigh up the pros and cons of their decision, and in some cases may well decide to cut their losses, and close their business.

It’s not easy. I always remember Cora – of Cora’s Breakfast and Lunch, telling us that she made decisions with “her head and heart” sitting side by side on the sofa. Good advice.

What did we decide? Well, the heart won over the head and next week she goes for surgery. At the end of the day, we decided that we owed her that, and if it doesn’t work, we know we’ve done our best by her.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Taking Risks

If you had to come up with a name and song that represented your industry or sector, what would be your answer? This was the challenge facing over 70 members at the recent Company of Women mix & mingle dinner.

We’d pre-arranged for people to sit at tables with their peers and encouraged a sense of abundance instead of competition among the women.

As I wandered around the room, I could see that some groups were really getting into it, while others struggled, particularly those in the finance industry. “we’re black and white, not creative” explained one member of the group, and you certainly could feel their anguish at the task assigned.

One group – the coaches – had us all on our feet, clapping our hands and singing “yes I can” and another did a take on Desperate Housewives, but guess who won? The financial planners or the “Money Honeys” as they may prefer to be called. And their song – the 12 months of financial planning, sung to The Twelve Days of Christmas.

All of which goes to show, that when you step outside your comfort zone, take a risk – you’ve got nothing to lose, and sometimes you actually win.

As the late Dr. David Viscott, author of Risking wrote “If you cannot risk, you cannot grow. If you cannot grow, you cannot become your best. If you cannot become your best, you cannot be happy. If you cannot be happy, what else matters.

So kudos to the Money Honeys.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winter be gone

I am tired of winter. I’ve had enough. I’ve discovered muscles I didn’t know I had, from shoveling the snow to my country girl role – collecting fire wood.

The other day as I was checking the weather forecast on the Internet, I noticed some ads down the side of the page for trips to Fort Lauderdale and other warmer regions. Beam me up I thought. But I also recognized that this was a company that was truly strategic in its advertising. As you’re checking to see just how low the temperature is going, of course, a trip to the sun sounds attractive.

How strategic is your advertising? How well do you understand how your ideal customer thinks, feels and spends her time? It is important to do your homework and invest your advertising dollars wisely, because when you do, you reach your target.

So am I off to Florida? No, not yet, but it sure is tempting.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Always the bridesmaid?

My head is alive with the Sound of Music, which I went to see with a friend this week. It was my Christmas present to her, but of course I got to come too.

Now Sound of Music was a big favourite in our family – from my grandparents who lived with us, to my parents. We all loved Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in their roles, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I know all the words to the songs (just as well it wasn’t a sing-a-long version.)

At first I was disappointed that we didn’t have the winning Maria perform that night. We had her runner-up in the contest. She was terrific. But then it struck me that coming in second, doesn’t mean you are not any good.

And from a business perspective, just because you don’t land the big order or you don’t get the job, or you get laid off, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t good at what you do either.

I know there have been times when I have been disappointed when something hasn’t come to fruition as I planned, but without fail, something better has been around the corner. What’s the saying, as one door closes, another opens.

So stay the course, believe in yourself, because just like the Maria runner-up, you’ll get your moment in the sun.

Friday, January 02, 2009


How do you cheer yourself up? New haircut? Some retail therapy? With the current financial doldrums, these strategies may not be an option, but there are ways to feel good without it costing a cent. In a recent article in Psychologies, the following were listed as ways to feel good for free.

1. For the next seven days, carry out three random acts of kindness every day. Visit www.randomactsofkindness.org for inspiration.

2. Log on to www.just-a-minute.org for free one- minute meditations and join the quest to promote personal peace.

3. Go without your cell phone, Internet, television and newspaper for a day and try living in the slow lane. Curl up with a novel, try a new recipe, or write a letter to a friend.

4. Make it your mission today to give at least five compliments and enjoy how good it feels to make someone else’s day. Visit www.complimentday.com for inspiration.

5. Spend half an hour making a gratitude list. Psychologists believe that experiencing gratitude is a core component of wellbeing.

6. For one weekend, try becoming a tourist in your own town. Most residents rarely visit the tourist attractions on their own doorstep.

7. Call and chat with one of the friends you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

8. Plan a night with your favourite funny DVDs. Psychologists have found that we can raise endorphin levels just be anticipating a good laugh.

9. Spring clean. Not only is mess a background stressor, but research suggests that we subconsciously connect cleaning with purging ourselves of guilt.

10. Sit quietly, without movement for a couple of minutes. When you are still, you become who you are beyond your everyday routine.