Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sharing The Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young person starting out?

Several women entrepreneurs were sharing their wisdom at the Rotman School of Business’s Women’s Conference on Friday. Every year for the past three years, the 4th year students have organized an all-day conference for their peers.  

As I arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel, there seemed to be a sea of young women in short navy suits and high, high heels.  (how do they walk in them?) They were mainly Commerce students and I’d helped the team this year recruit speakers for the different career panels and agreed to moderate a couple of Entrepreneur panels for them.

Most of the women on the panels were seasoned business owners and on the whole their answers were fairly consistent, except when we got to the discussion around finances.
How they tracked their finances ranged from a daily cash flow statement to an inventory count to an annual financial statement. 

But no matter how they counted their money, the panelists were all doing well and it speaks to the fact that there’s never just one way. The key is to develop a system that works for you; and if it’s not working in your favour, adjust and change. 

And as for their advice for the new entrepreneur,  a common response was to surround yourself with people who had different skill sets and strengths to yourself.  One woman went as far as to suggest hiring people brighter than yourself.  All acknowledged that while at the start you do have to be the multi-tasker and do everything yourself, once finances allowed, hiring for your weaknesses was an important first step to taking your business to the next level.

But pay yourself first was one strong recommendation.  While it may be tempting to pour all the money back into the business, it was important to get paid, and that you value your time.

Hiring and retaining the right staff was identified as another crucial element and once you had a team, determining your core values, mission and purpose became more important as creating a positive work culture impacted your end results and whether people stayed with you for the long haul.

No matter what session I sat in on, one of the questions from the young women in the audience always revolved around work-life balance.  Know what that is?  Neither do I and I guess they will find out soon enough.  Certainly when you start a business, it is your balance sheet you are more worried about, not balancing your life, that’s a lofty dream for the future.

Reality is you have to be passionate, determined and work hard if you want to succeed, and for sure, running your own business is not for everyone.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Judge Not

When I first received the invitation to be a judge at the Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE) Competitions, I was so flattered and was quick to tell whoever would listen that I had been invited to be a judge.

Monday comes around and I had to check in at 7.30 am which given the time change meant I was really up at 3.30 to get ready and leave from the farm for Toronto.

When I arrive at the hotel I was quickly ushered into the room where breakfast was being served to the judges – all 250 of us!! It was at this point that I decided to check my ego at the door.  No more preening myself as a noted expert, judging a small competition.

However, it was a fascinating experience.  Students from universities and colleges from across Ontario were pitching their projects, all of which were aimed at providing entrepreneurial skills to different populations, with the goal of whetting their interest and appetite to becomie entrepreneurs; to improve the environment for their communities, individuals and themselves.

The specific program I was judging was the Students in Free Enterprise program (SIFE) and we listened to seven presentations – from five universities and two colleges.  It was all run with army-like precision, with each presenting team having an allotted time to set up, present and answer questions.

What struck me first was that only two guys were part of the presentation teams, by far the speaking was left to the young women.  The projects were diverse, but often targeted young children or youth at risk, helping to empower them to want more for themselves.  One project was aimed at artists, teaching them the business skills that are often not part of their DNA. 

Another focused on the needs of military spouses, who with their constant moves, often did not have a career of their own.  Instead they were taught business skills so they could start a portable business, that could travel with them, no matter where their partner was posted. 

Years ago I remember reading a book about youth entrepreneurship, and the author stating that immigrant youth often do well in business, because having left their country of origin, what did they have to lose and risk-taking was second nature to them. It was therefore gratifying to see immigrant youth in Toronto being part of one of the projects. 

As someone who worked for years as a community developer, I just loved the marriage of high risk communities and entrepreneurship.  What a wonderful combination and a great learning for all involved, including the judges.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Leap of Faith

As the women sat and shared their stories of starting their businesses, you could see the heads nod and a feeling of relief enfold the group when they discovered that they were not alone with their fears and frustrations.

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart.  It takes courage and like any step into the unknown, it can be a life filled with fear, doubt and uncertainty.  It certainly does not suit someone who likes routine, with no deviation along the way.

If you are bound and determined that your business will go in a certain direction, rest assured it likely won’t.  Living with ambiguity, especially at the beginning is what it is all about.

You don’t know for sure which aspect of your business will be your ticket to success, so to make sure you have all the bases covered, often the newbie entrepreneur offers a range of programs, services or products, in the hope that at least one will prove popular and take off.

One woman confessed that there were days when she got up, she hadn’t a clue what she was going to do that day, or she would come to the end of day and question exactly what she had achieved.  Spinning your wheels was a common thread among the group, along with partners who impatiently asked when the money was going to start to come in.

That’s why belonging to a group made up of other women in similar situations can be so encouraging, because no matter the type of business, the issues and emotions are often the same, and learning that what you are going through is normal and typical, makes the situation more bearable and hopeful.  It also can make you more focused and goal-oriented when you are held accountable.

This was just the first session but I am confident in the weeks ahead this group will bond more and really start to support one another in their pursuit of their dream.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Switching Off

Mercury is definitely in retrograde!  It was quite the week last week – from computers crashing, printers taking on a life of their own, and then this weekend the Internet at the farm is not working.  

It was almost as if the powers that be had determined that we were not going to be technically connected and we therefore needed to focus our time on other work that did not rely on the Internet.

Pretty hard these days, when much of our way of communicating is by email, and people register online for our programs.  So if we have been tardy in our responses or not replied at all, now you know why.

We’re disconnected.  Hopefully normal service will resume next week.

I have to say it was quite pleasant to be “switched off” at the farm and it did force me not to spend my downtime surfing the net or posting articles on Twitter.

A friend advised me that when mercury in retrograde it is actually still moving forward, however at such a slow speed, that it gives the appearance of going in reverse. “The good thing, she pointed out, is that you get to revisit aspects of your life and take the time to consider them differently.”

Certainly this forced hiatus from the Internet has served to remind me that I need to switch off more often and curling up with a good book is a rewarding way to spend my spare time.