Monday, December 03, 2007

On a Learning Curve

Did you know that Thursday is the new Friday? Neither did I. But I am learning a lot through working with the young women on the launch party and launch of Company of Young Women.

It’s fascinating to better understand what impresses and attracts them to events – so different from us boomers. And as for Facebook, I am still grappling with the pokes and someone writing on my wall. I guess I will get there… eventually.

I see Company of Young Women as a wonderful opportunity to learn from and support young women as they work their way through the ranks. And who’s to say who will learn the most!

So stay tuned for the launch party… one thing I do know, it won’t be on a Thursday!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Amazing Women

Did you know that the person who started the Hospital for Sick Children, was a mom in her twenties? Pretty impressive for the times. As were the other women and stories we heard at the luncheon to celebrate Canada’s 100 most powerful women.

But perhaps the most impressive were from the youngest and oldest in the group. Young Hannah Taylor, 12 who had to stand on a box to reach the microphone, captured the audience with her charm and amazing confidence as she shared why she had started a charity to support the homeless. We need to clone her enthusiasm, caring and compassion because if we did, the world would be a much better place.

At the other end of the spectrum, we heard from Mayor Hazel McCallion, 86 who cracked jokes and spoke passionately about the need to have more women in politics.

Several of the women honoured were past speakers at Company of Women and we congratulate them all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

All grown up

Last week marked a special moment in my career as a mother. We bought my daughter’s wedding dress. And we did so without any disagreement, both selecting the same dress and agreeing – this was THE one. She looks beautiful – young, fresh and poised, ready for her new life with her partner.

“Did you cry?” my friends asked. I didn’t but seeing her in her dress, made me realize our relationship is going to change. No question now, she’s grown up and growing away. She’s starting a new and exciting stage in her life.

But isn’t that what motherhood is all about – we raise our children to give them wings - the confidence and courage to make their own way in the world. And we accept them for who they are.

There may be some of you questioning why I write about this in a business blog, but I would argue that we are women and mothers first, business owners second.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


This morning we had fun and games with the GPS in my car. I am not used to it, so thought I would test it when I was going on a trip when I knew where I was going.

This GPS machine is single-minded, unlike other GPS systems where the voice will say re-calculating the route, this one was stuck on one route to reach our destination and I didn’t want to go that way. So at every turn, it was trying to get me to turn around and follow directions. Quite irritating actually.

But it made me think of what it is like when you start a business and need to be flexible. There’s no one route to success, and for some of us, we’ve made some detours on the way. We need the GPS that will recalculate the route and allow for us to make mistakes, take the wrong turning but still end up at the desired destination.

There’s mixed views on whether you need a business plan to successfully launch a business. I see it like a big journey – few of us would set off on an exciting trip across Canada say, without first checking a map. So why would you set off on a business venture without doing the same.

I’m not saying you have to have a 80-page document, but when you put your goals down on paper, do some homework and give some thought to how you are going to build your business, you give yourself a head start on reaching your destination.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Doing Well, by Doing Good

Last night’s speaker, Peggie Pelosi, spoke eloquently and with passion about how we all need to get involved in giving back. She admitted that while she’d always wanted to, she would keep saying to herself, I will do this when… but “when” was never right at that moment.

It was when she was working for USANA, that she came to realize that when companies reach out and develop their corporate responsibility muscle, that it makes a difference – not just to the charity or cause, but to the employees and the bottom line. Today’s generation particularly wants to work for a company that gives back.

In our own small way, Company of Women has been making a difference. Through our Give Change to Make Change campaign, we have raised close to $2,500 for Opportunity International, a charity that provides micro credit loans to women in developing countries. As an organization that supports women entrepreneurs in Canada, it seems a good fit and judging by the generosity of my members, they think so too. It really doesn’t take that much. We just collect change at the end of our meetings and the toonies and loonies add up. And with a small loan of $84 we are changing the lives of others.

What can you do? Which cause would fit well with your business? Think about it. Even from a business perspective it makes sense. As we agreed last night, your business can do well by doing good. Start today.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Jusk Ask

In another life I was a fundraiser. One of the first rules of fundraising is ask, and the second rule of fundraising is ask again.

I was reminded of this as I listened to Erica Ehm talking at a conference on Saturday. She was sharing that most of her successes were due to just asking for what she wanted. And when you think about it – what’s the worst that could happen – they say no, but often they may well surprise us and say yes.

As entrepreneurs, we are already risk-takers, so why not take it to the next level. Think about what you want to achieve, who could help you realize that goal, and ask – for help, for money, for support, whatever you need I really believe that it is only when we put it out there that the universe can respond. So just ask.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Launch of magazine

This has been an exciting week with the launch of our magazine, Company.

Like any business venture, you worry that you are on the right track, that you’ve accurately sensed the pulse of your “community” and that the product you develop is both user- friendly and professional .

Well… judging from the instant response, it would seem we are “on the money” and everyone seems to love the magazine. We’ve heard that you like the size, the length and content of the articles, and that it is relevant and meaningful to you. Whew! Just keep the feedback coming – this is your magazine and we want it to meet your needs.

It’s been kind of a heady experience as we had coverage on CHCH TV, interviews with Media in Canada and Masthead, the magazine for publishers. As a novice at this, I felt a bit of an imposter. What is it that they say ….just fake it until you can make it. But as one member observed, this is intuitive. I know what I want out of a publication and I reckon that other busy women in business feel the same way. Time will tell. Meanwhile, we're reprinting so that we can keep up with the demand for copies!

My thanks to Chris Desforges who did such a wonderful job on the design, and my team of writers for pulling this off in such a short timeframe. And a special thanks to the advertisers who had faith in us, and came on board.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Power of Networking

Talk about the power of networking! Last May at a retirement party, I bumped into someone I knew from another life. We chatted and updated each other on our projects and as a result I got invited to attend an International Trade Mission with a group of women from Africa. It was just a couple of days prior to our first conference, so I went but could not devote too much time to it.

I really enjoyed meeting the women and as a result, four of the delegates chose to attend our conference. Their involvement just made the conference experience that much richer. I have always believed that it doesn’t matter what business you are in, the issues are the same and after spending time with them, I’ve come to realize that it also doesn’t matter what country you are in, we all face similar challenges.

One of the women, Aoko joined Company of Women, making her our first international member and I have kept in touch with others from the delegation. I am working on ways to link my members with women entrepreneurs in Africa as I believe we can learn so much from each other.

So it was wonderful today to receive an email from Kuena to tell me that our conference so inspired her that she now wants to offer a similar learning experience to women in her country and she’s pulling together a committee to make it happen! Now how cool is that.

Just goes to show that you can never tell where one connection will take you.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What are we waiting for?

Last week at my friend’s funeral, friends and family spoke of her determination, her courage and her love of life. As her husband shared, in the four years since she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, she’d been crazily optimistic and packed a lot of life into those four years – learning to ride a motor bike and getting her license, taking up golf, participating in the 60K walk to end breast cancer twice, succeeding in a high powered job with a major corporation. No, nothing was going to stop Val from living the life she wanted.

It does make you wonder what you would do if you were given the same prognosis – would you work as hard? Would you try to spend more quality time with family and friends? Or would you, like Val continue to learn and grow, perhaps travel to broaden your horizons?

What holds us back from doing all this in good health? Why do we have to wait until it is almost too late to achieve our dreams?

In a recent article, life coach Gail Blanke asks a similar question – what are you waiting for? She observes that we tend to put our power on hold until we get a signal or an invitation that this is THE right time to change our lives, that all the stars are aligned to make it work. It is almost as if our fear of failure holds us back.

She tells a poignant story of a young woman who aspired to be an intern with a famous opera maestro and she had written to him to explore this possibility. She got a letter back but her fear of rejection held her back and she never opened it. It sat unopened for years until his death, and only then did she discover that he had been willing to take her as his intern. What a missed opportunity. After that, she vowed she would never shortchange or sabotage herself again. She encourages other women to recognize their self-worth - “Don’t be a smart girl with dumb fear. Fear is nothing more less than False Evidence Appearing Real” she tells others.

How do you embrace your power asks Blanke. She encourages us to add up the times we’ve showed up big, not the times we’ve messed up. What’s your big dream? What’s holding you back? As Blanke asks – what are you waiting for? Go for it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Farewell my friend

I was all set to update my blog, with some observations from my vacation on how switching off is really important to your health AND your business.

Little did I know that hours after writing the piece, I would learn that a friend and colleague had died. Further emphasizing to me, that we all have to live for the moment as who knows what tomorrow will bring.

I can’t say Val’s death was unexpected, it wasn’t. She’d been waging her own war against breast cancer for four years now but I guess I thought and selfishly hoped she had longer.

Last year she participated on our team for the Weekend to End Breast Cancer and although she was by this time walking with a cane, she was bound and determined to be with us as much as she could. In fact there were times when we were concerned that she was doing too much, but such was her tenacity that she walked much further than any of us thought possible. What I remember most was her smiling face, glowing with pride as we walked over the finish line.

Val, we will miss you. None of us are walking this year, but next year, the Chicks out Walking team will be back in force, and thinking of you every step of the way as we raise funds in your memory.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mompreneurs - A winning combination

Recently I have had the opportunity to connect with several mompreneurs. It is exciting to see how they have been able to combine running their businesses with raising their children.

Several had identified a need because of their own experiences and started to develop a product or service to help fill the gap. Others have turned their talents into opportunities to work from home, so they are there for their children during these crucial years.

I congratulate them on their wisdom and their conviction that they are on the right path – because it takes courage to break away from the corporate track and start out on your own.

Many of these mompreneurs have been nominated for the Mompreneur of the Year Award, and as I read their profiles, I found myself hoping that they are reading them too, as I could see the potential of some great strategic alliances if they connected with one another.

And it is a small world. Now I always knew that but as I connected with the women, several times I found we had something in common – be it people or our paths. All of which goes to emphasize how important it is that we stay connected, that we support each other and that we build our community of women because together we are strong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This summer my daughters wanted to start a vegetable garden and I was thrilled that they wanted to do so. Although in hindsight it has become a bit like the time they wanted to get a rabbit. “Oh yes, mummy we will look after it.” “Oh yes, mummy we will clean out the cage.” Right. Guess who ended up with the maintenance of the rabbit?

Likewise with the garden, the major watering and weeding seems to have landed with me. However, it has been an interesting experience and as I reflect on it – very similar to starting a business.

Being novice gardeners, we started by planting all sorts of vegetables and strawberries. I have to say, we rather leapt in and read up what we should do after we’d planted – not always a good idea. Just as in starting your business, it’s helpful to do some homework so you can determine what you need to do and when.

We had a broad selection of vegetables from tomatoes to broccoli to pumpkins. The first to take off were the radishes which is when I started to question our choices. You see none of us like radishes, so why are we growing them? Similarly when you start a business you tend to offer a broad range of services and products because you are not sure what will take off, what will prove popular. My lesson from this – don’t choose something you don’t like to do, or in our case, like to eat. It’s a waste of your time.

Watching our garden grow has also been a lesson on flexibility and not guessing at outcomes. Given our lack of knowledge, the weather and other tests of nature such as local critters who are also keenly interested in our produce, it has paid to diversify. You never can tell, especially when you are starting out what is going to fly. So as you offer a range of products, give it time, you will soon learn what works and you may even be surprised at what ends up being your niche market. And like the garden, it pays to cultivate and nurture your customers.

We planted the seeds too close together, making it impossible for some to grow which makes me think of how we can take on too much and squeeze too much into a day when we start, not realizing how much time all the different tasks will take. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Prioritize.

And as for the strawberries, they were a lost leader. The weeds grew up so strong around where we planted them that we were unable to discern which were weeds and which were the strawberry plants! The solution– we dug it all up. We’ll start over next year and be a tad more attentive as to what they look like. As you grow your business, there will be lost leaders too. The trick is to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

Next year I think we will be a little more selective and realistic about what we will plant. We know more about what works, what we like and have a better sense of the work involved. If you have just ended your first year of business, no doubt you will have grown too and be better prepared for the next season in the life of your business.

Tonight we are sampling our beans – one of the joys of gardening – be it a business or vegetables - you get to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Monday, July 09, 2007


I met with Andrew Patricio from Biz Launch ostensibly to explore ways that we could work together in providing training and support for would-be women entrepreneurs.

I had heard Andrew talk at a women’s conference and was impressed with what I saw and heard. He clearly knew his stuff and from the stories he told, was truly supportive of women entrepreneurs. So I contacted him to suggest a meeting. It took us a while to find a mutually convenient time, but we persevered and we met at Andrew’s Mississauga office – Starbucks.

As we familiarized each other with the programs and services we offered, it was clear that we were working with similar groups, albeit at different levels as BizLaunch delivers workshops across Canada for Staples and Company of Women is based in the GTA.

When I initiated the meeting, my goal was to look at how BizLaunch could help my members and other women build and grow their businesses. I never expected that the main focus of our discussion would be on how to build and grow mine!

Like other entrepreneurs, there are times when you feel you are working in a vacuum not sure if you are moving in the right direction or making the right moves. My conversation with Andrew was a real boost as he enthused about all that we have done in Company of Women to date and encouraged me to think bigger.

I left that meeting on a real high – pumped and ready to take on the world! So thank you Andrew – for your time, your suggestions and your frank comments.

PS If you are looking for training and support – check out

Monday, June 25, 2007


We all have dreams that we want to realize, and often it takes us longer than we think to get there.

But a few weeks ago, I shared my dream with several women who are part of Company of Women and with their help, it is becoming a reality.

I have always enjoyed writing – real stuff – not fiction – but the facts of life. When I look back, I was even the editor of the school newsletter so it really should come as no surprise, that writing, sharing our truths and finding our voices are very much part of my future as well as my past.

So what’s the dream? To produce a publication that is meaningful to women; that gives you the information, tools and a touch of reality (and humour) to help you succeed and realize your dreams. The other weekend, we had the first meeting of a group of women who will be writing for Company – a new publication we plan to launch in September.

Sure, there are other publications out there – but few that address the needs of women in business, and few that acknowledge how busy we are, and how little time we have to read, reflect and relax. Our goal is that Company will be THE resource to accelerate your success.

Company will be a cross between a newsletter and a magazine – we’ve fondly nicknamed it a “nag” and it will be more a mini-magazine. Why now? Well I have decided, if I don’t get on with it, it will all be too late, and just a lofty dream. So sink or swim, we’re off.

Stay tuned, it could be quite the ride!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Life is precious

Life isn’t fair to some people, some of the time. Take some close friends of my parents, a really great couple who had raised two daughters and enjoyed their four grandchildren.

Then one of the daughters suddenly gets sick with leukemia, and within six weeks has died. The shock of her death took its toll on her parents. I mean none of us expect our children to die before us. It’s the wrong order of things. But being brave and having each other, they survive and life begins to resume some normalcy when two years later, their second daughter has a massive heart attack and dies instantly. Having two daughters myself, I can’t even begin to imagine their pain, their loss.

Now today I learn, eight months after Angela’s death, that Muriel, her mother has died also. The cause isn’t known, but I suspect from a broken heart. How tough can life be. Now her husband has to soldier on, instead of enjoying his golden years with his loved ones. Sure makes you appreciate that we should live for the moment.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Taking Time to Play

Every May, Megan and I escape from Company of Women for a mini-retreat. We started this a couple of years ago, and have found it works well – for both of us.

When mother and daughter work together, it can be too easy to cross boundaries in our relationships – as mother-daughter, employer and employee. Besides, by the time we reach May – having co-ordinated at least four events a month since September, we have almost had enough. We know instinctively that it is time for a break – it refuels us so we can carry on and finish “our year” still being professional, friendly and willing to tackle whatever comes our way.

This year we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Just an hour drive from Oakville, it is amazing how quickly you can slip off the business shroud and don your play clothes.

Our rule – one Megan devised (can’t think why) is that we don’t talk business, and as Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing. It allows us to slip back into our other and more important roles of mother-daughter. We enjoy each other’s company and of course, share a love of shopping so spending time together is not difficult, except maybe on the pocket book!

Just three days … and you feel totally different. I highly recommend a mini escape – be it one day or more - as it allows you to catch your breath, see things from a different perspective and get back to work on a more even keel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It is a small world

Last week was truly exciting on many fronts. We were hosting our first annual conference for women in business and by all accounts, it was a huge success. Knowing who we had coming as speakers, I was confident that it would go well, but what I hadn’t known was that we would be joined by some women from Africa and Pakistan who were in Canada as part of an international trade mission.

I had been able to spend some time with them for two days prior to the conference, and when four of them chose to join us on Thursday, it truly made the conference special.
In talking with them afterwards, they found as we do here, that the issues are the same world-wide and there is comfort and support in finding out you are not alone in your business.

I thank everyone for giving them such a warm welcome and I am excited to report that we have our first international member, as one of the women joined. Not only that, they are talking about coming back for next year’s event and bringing more women with them! Now that… as young people say, rocks.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Touching base

When did you last ask your customers what they wanted or needed?

So often we spend our time determining what we think our customers need, which of course somehow fits into what we have to offer. But is that good business? Does it work? And how long do you keep those people as clients if that is all they are to you – a pay cheque?

At our members only meeting this week, we actively sought feedback. You could feel the energy in the room as people discussed (and debated) the questions asked of them. It has been my experience that when you involve people, they feel more connected. When you ask their opinion, they feel valued and when you give them a voice, they clamber to be heard. People came up with some great ideas, many of which we hope to implement in the months ahead.

It’s good to touch base and check in with your clients. It keeps you honest and helps also clear up any miscommunication, so everyone is on the same page and expectations are realistic.

Why not contact one of your clients today – not to make a sale, just to chat. You might be surprised what you learn.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Our Hero

This week I had the great pleasure of attending the retirement party for Charlie Coffey, formerly of RBC Financial Group. This wasn't an official party sponsored by the bank, but one where women, many of who were recipients of the Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award, came together to celebrate and honour this special man.

Charlie is a strong advocate for women, and especially women entrepreneurs, so it was no surprise that women from across Canada had come to this event. A champion of youth, he also supported their efforts over the years and so the age-mix at this party was also noticeable.

I’ve been to several events hosted by Charlie and what has always struck me was his unfailing interest in people – and not just his guests, but the wait staff and anyone else who crossed his path. One time on the 40th floor at RBC, he had the waiter give the grace according to his culture, and he introduced him personally.

He would always joke that with five sisters and his mother, he had to get women’s issues or he was “toast” at home. At the Women Trading Globally conference in Vancouver a few years ago, Charlie was made an “honorary woman” much to the enjoyment of the women participating in this event.

Naturally we all wish Charlie well in his retirement, but oh we are going to miss him.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Work ON your business, not in your business was the key message to Bev McMaster’s talk on Wednesday night. And she should know. She grew We Care Health Services from a home-based business to 50 franchises across Canada, but it wasn’t without a price.

She found it hard to let go, and insisted on being involved in every aspect of the business, all this while working to maintain a marriage and raise four children. Something had to give and it did. Her marriage ended and her health suffered. It wasn’t until she was through her depression that she realized she needed to trust the people she’d hired to get on with their job, so she could get on with leading the company.

She called it Founder’s Syndrome and cautioned the audience not to fall into this trap of believing that they were indispensable. Today, while she is still a shareholder in We Care Health Services, she is very much arms length from the business and she likes it that way.

However, once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur and she has gone on to start another venture – Blue Sky Personnel. This time she has taken all the lessons she learned from running We Care, and launched a business where she is very much in the back seat. She’s not even a back seat driver, critically directing traffic from behind the scenes.

No, she’s realized that she has a very competent team working for her, including at one point, her son, and she doesn’t need to be involved in the day-to-day running of the organization. On the personal front, she has moved to Collingwood, and has a new partner. Life is good.

When you read Bev’s bio, you assume that this is someone who has her life together in order to achieve all that she has done, including the awards she has won such as Leading Woman Entrepreneur of the World in 1998. So to hear her presentation on Wednesday was an eye-opener. I always encourage my speakers to be honest… and she sure was. It took courage for her to reveal the darker side of success.

It felt like a cautionary tale of how ambition and the drive to succeed can take you down a dangerous path to self-destruction. And for many of us, as Bev discovered the hard way, that price is too high.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a media interview, and in preparation had to answer some really tough questions on topics we don’t think about on a daily basis.

It was an interesting process and I was surprised at how deep I had to dig to come up with honest answers. I had answered all the questions but struggled with some, waffling on what was the best and most accurate answer to give.

I mean… if you were asked what talent or skill you wanted to have … how quickly could you come up with an answer? I had narrowed it down to three choices – public speaking, painting or driving (I am a nervous driver). As I reflected on this, it struck me that no where had I ever really acknowledged that I wanted to learn to paint, and if I really wanted to pursue this, there was nothing stopping me from taking lessons. Hey – who knows I could be the next Emily Carr!

What did I pick? In the end I went with the driving, because my fears limit me and I need to overcome this one.

Yet other questions, were easy to answer, such as describing the perfect day. Straight away I saw myself with my girlfriends, chatting, laughing, supporting each other in the way that women do.

All in all a thought-provoking process, that caused me to think hard and to ask my friends and family how accurate and truthful I was being in describing myself.

I leave you with one of the questions – what five words best describe you?

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Have you heard of Theatre Sheridan? – To me it is one of Oakville’s best kept secrets. Each year the Sheridan students put on six productions, the best of which is Catch a Rising Star, where students showcase their talents and their own work. And, I might add at the fraction of the cost of going to the theatre in Toronto or Hamilton.

With Catch a Rising Star, you are never sure what you will see or hear. The students pick their own theme and often use their musical talents to speak out on issues that are important to them. This year’s show was no exception.

As I sat in the cabaret style theatre, I wondered how many of the audience, who seemed to be mainly part of the grey hair brigade, were agreement with the views voiced by the young students? Or whether they felt uncomfortable with their brutal honesty.

Two performances truly stood out for me. A young woman with a powerful voice, and a powerful message sang her song Dear Mr President, in which she asked how he could sleep at night, how he could look people in the eye, while young men and women were killed and mothers never got to say goodbye. She sang it with passion and I found myself thinking – good for you for speaking up and giving words to what others think but do not have the courage to say.

The next song was Earth, and focused on global warming. Again a strong performance and the message was emphasized as the students wandered among the audience with the chorus “What about us?”

I find it reassuring that our young people do care about these issues and as always I’m in awe of their talent.

If you get a chance, go see the show, you will be glad you did. It is on until April 21st.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Realistic Expectations

We expect so much of ourselves and often we stand in our own way with our unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and what we can do.

Years ago I taught a parenting course on children’s self-esteem and one of my favourite sessions was the one on realistic expectations. Children don’t question whether our expectations for them are accurate and so if we aim too high for them, they fail, and if we aim too low, they fail also. In parenting, it is therefore key to have some understanding and knowledge of normal child development and the ages and stages that children go through, because with these tools in our back pocket, we can be more realistic about what our children can accomplish and as a result they flourish and grow, not hindered by unrealistic expectations.

So perhaps we need to take a leaf out of our parenting books, and develop some realistic expectations for ourselves, because as adults, we are constantly raising the bar. Last night one of our panel members shared how trying to juggle two young children and a thriving business caught her off kilter. No wonder – that’s a lot for anyone to manage – yet she thought she could.

But as she found, when she stopped, caught her breath and focused on her priorities - a toddler and infant baby – her customers were willing to wait. When you set boundaries and limits, it protects everyone. If you are good at what you do, people will wait, they won’t just switch to someone else.

As I listened to her share this experience, it struck me that when you have the courage to reveal your vulnerability, your truth, you seem real. I know the women in the audience identified with the situation and appreciated her honesty.

The truth is always simple, but living it is not always easy.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Spring Cleaning

With Spring just around the corner, it was interesting to read an article this weekend about decluttering your life.

The author, a life coach, was encouraging readers to be brutal with their “stuff” and clean out fifty items from their lives. Books, for example, just counted as one so you could not cheat by recycling 50 books from your collection. No, you had to take a systematic approach and work your way through your home. She also recommended keeping a list, so you can look at it later and actually feel lighter.

As someone who has lived in the same house for 23 years, raised two daughters who have left and come back but never empty-handed, our basement looks like a battleground. We have a two-car garage that has not seen a car in years, as it too is home to the leftovers of lives lived elsewhere.

And if I am really honest, I am a bit of a packrat. I’ve had several careers and still have the paperwork to prove it. I’ve kept every file, study or report that I have ever written… just in case … you know, I may need it again.

But what was really interesting about this article, was the premise that when you get rid of the clutter in your life, it is much easier to move on to letting go of the negative thoughts that litter your head and hold you back. And you can count them in your fifty!

She suggests you make a list of the old convictions, fears, negative assumptions and depressing voices that weigh you down and commit to letting them go. Every morning for two weeks, recommit to eliminating them from your day-to-day thinking and congratulate yourself on the progress, however slight.

One woman was concerned when she contacted the author because she’d only got rid of one thing – her partner. But as the coach said, that was perhaps all she needed to take control of her life again.

Her advice – spring is here, and it’s time to lighten up. Don’t let yourself be shackled to irrelevant debris of the past, either physical or mental.

So, as I start to sort through old files and boxes of stuff, it becomes very freeing, and already I feel lighter because of the process.

What are you going to throw away? Start counting…

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Branding Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 23, 2007

You're not alone

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Technically challenged

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Leaving a legacy

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about ReThink Breast Cancer, go to

Friday, March 09, 2007

You Go Girl...

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

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

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

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

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

To check out her products, go to

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Building your team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 02, 2007

Making a difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 19, 2007

Work-Life Balance

I've recently been asked to speak at Ryerson's International Women's Day. Public speaking is probably one of my biggest fears and it was all too tempting to turn down this opportunity, but I decided to accept the invitation.

My daughter's first response on hearing about the request was to ask why would they want to hear from me? No chance of my getting an ego! Then later when I heard they wanted me to talk about work-life balance, my husband just laughed and observed that it wouldn't be a long presentation, as I'd never achieved it!!

Then when I chatted to a girlfriend about my dilemma, she suggested I read a few books on the topic. Bit like studying for an exam, I'd have to bone up on the subject. Somehow that didn't seem real.

So instead, I spent the weekend crafting what I wanted to say. What did I decide about work-life balance, apart from the fact that it has alluded me? Personally I think it is a bit of a myth. I'm from the first generation of women who worked outside the home, and we were promised it all. I have reached the conclusion that you can have it all - just not at the same time. We have cycles or seasons in our lives, and it's all about choices and priorities.

There are times, especially when your children are little (or teenagers), when they need you. But I don't think we should become martyrs to motherhood either. And yes, there have been times when my life has been totally off kilter, but I like to think that I recognized the problem early and wasn't afraid to move on and leave that position.

It is often time for ourselves that gets lost in the shuffle - and that is one area I have always protected and guarded - be it to volunteer, visit with girlfriends or get my hair done. I find grabbing those moments for myself are what keeps me balanced.

A few years ago I asked women entrepreneurs why they started their business, and the most popular response was to gain more control. And while that is true to a certain extent, when you are first starting out, it is definitely not 9-5, especially if you want to be a success and there are times when it seems your business controls you, not the other way around.

What's your thoughts on this topic? Have you found balance? What do you do? Let me know, and who knows, I may be able to weave it into my presentation!!
Empowering Women

On Friday I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the Empowering Women event hosted by the Board of Trade.

Over 700 women attended this event and they had an impressive line up of speakers to provoke, challenge and start us think differently - about the environment, mental illness, politics and the proverbial glass ceiling.

Justin Trudeau was the opening speaker and with his good looks and charm, it was easy to stay awake, despite the early hour, to listen to what he had to say. I was impressed by how poised and eloquent he was as he spoke passionately about today's youth and our environment. Next came his mother, Margaret, who shared her struggles with mental illness and glimpse of her life with Pierre Trudeau.

The panel of women in politics was vibrant and provocative. Although the women were from different parties, you got the sense, that they at least, would be able to work together. Mary-Ann Chambers, was a refreshing change, still clear on her role and not jaded (yet) by politics.

Helen Johns, someone I had worked for in the past, brought up an interesting point that the behaviour in the House had deteriorated with the arrival of TV tapings. Instead of dealing with the issues at hand, too much time was spent on posturing and showing off for the cameras.

Normally, the crowd can be a bit sleepy after lunch, but no chance of that with comedienne, Jessica Holmes, who had the audience in stitches with her dramatic take of Celine Dion. Next was the moving story of Carol Ann, a woman who had survived a dire childhood to successfully run a multi-million business in Vancouver. Her story served to remind you of the tenacity of some individuals to overcome unsurmountable odds.

The afternoon ended with a panel of women who have broken the glass ceiling - either within their corporation or through starting their own business venture. This panel was probably the low point of the day. I had taken my daughters to this event, wanting to expose them to the issues facing women, but neither were impressed with the challenges facing women in the corporate world.

It was clear from the women on the panel, that they had made choices and sacrifices to get to where they were, while for many of us, those choices were not an option or something we would consider in our pursuit for success. It might have been more real to hear from middle-managers who want to move ahead, but are stuck because of the lack of opportunities and mentoring available to them.

All told however, it was a wonderful day and the Toronto Board of Trade is to be commended for bringing such a wealth of experience and expertise into one venue.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In the past I have always tried to see the best in people, but lately my faith has been sorely tested.

Take the 20 copies of Courage to Succeed that I provided on consignment to a women's group, on the understanding that as they sold, the money would be paid. Well over a year has lapsed and while I have tried on several occasions to get the status on book sales, and better still, some funds or the books back, I've been thwarted at every turn and given the run-around. So what started out as a supportive gesture, has turned into a costly mistake. Clearly, I totally misjudged the character of the individual involved and frankly I feel I've been taken for a ride. Who knows where this will end - maybe in court - but regardless, it leaves me with a sour taste and a more cynical perspective. I won't be so generous the next time someone asks for a favour.

Then there's someone who is bad-mouthing me, and worse still, lying about a situation to anyone who asks. Again - what's the answer? I've always believed in staying professional, in taking the high road and letting business disagreements stay where they belong, between those parties involved. But it's hard when others don't operate under the same rules and values. Do you enter the fray and get down to their level? Or do you just walk away, with your dignity in tact? In this instance, it's much easier to let it go. It costs too much in negative energy to pursue it further, and as someone pointed out...people who know me, know who to believe.

At times it does seem like a dog-eat-dog world out there, but personally I don't have the appetite for it.

PS - March 2nd. After much reflection, I have decided to let go my pursuit of getting my money or books back. My only hope is that the books have gone to women who will be inspired by the stories.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This week I have been reminded of the fragility of life. None of us really knows what tomorrow will bring.

Certainly that is true for two people I know. One has just learned that her son - a young twenty-something, has an aggressive form of leukemia. With a young family of his own, he has a tough battle ahead of him. And as a parent, my thoughts are with his parents, because we just never want anything bad to happen to our kids.

Then yesterday I woke to a call from a girlfriend whose sister had just been contacted and informed that they had a kidney for her. In other words, they were offering her a new lease on life if she was willing to grab it. And she did. They scurried through all the prep work and last night, she received a new kidney. Exciting and scary at the same time. The next few days will be crucial but what a brave, life-changing decision she made.

So as you go about your day, be grateful and say a few prayers for those whose lives have changed - for the better or worse, in the blink of a second.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I have been following with interest the blog on the Business Challenge - especially since Judy Steed asked me to submit something - which I did. -

In writing up my piece, I checked to see who else had submitted comments and was horrified for Susan to see that someone (a disgruntled customer) had used this opportunity to complain about the service she'd received. A business owner's worst nightmare. It is one thing to deal with an angry client one-on-one, or even in a group - but to have to handle the situation in the public domain is another matter.

One hopes that common sense will prevail and that readers will realize that you can't please everyone. I know there are times when I wonder if women have attended the same event when I review the evaluation cards, in that some LOVED the speaker, while others thought she shouldn't give up her day job.

Part of it is people's expectations. In Susan's defence - this woman clearly expected to meet the man of her dreams through Dinnerworks, but he wasn't someone who was ten years older. But when we narrow our expectations and have rigid ideas of who is right for us - we run the risk of not meeting some interesting people, and who knows - someone who was a perfect match (if he exists - but that's a whole other topic!)

At Company of Women, I have members who almost seem to expect big business orders within seconds of handing out their business card and meeting someone for the first time. It ain't going to happen. People do business with people they know and trust, and that takes time. You have to build the relationship.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The law of attraction... everyone is talking about it. Have you seen The Secret? people ask.

As someone who has always been the eternal optimist, I find it exciting to hear that others are now finding merit in not only being positive, but in sending out to the universe what you want out of life. Much has been written about how when we focus on what's wrong; not working, what we don't want - we just get more of the same. So changing your attitude, changes the outcome.

I've often been told that I am lucky... and yes, I am. But you know what... part of that luck comes from taking risks and putting myself out there.

Case in point, there was an interesting article in The Toronto Star two weeks ago about ten entrepreneurs who had been selected from hundreds to be blessed with a coach and business advisor for four months. As I read about the entrepreneurs, I found myself truly identifying with one of the winners - Susan Kates, who runs a successful business - Dinnerworks, a networking group for singles.

Like Company of Women, Dinnerworks was attracting lots of people and from all appearances seemed like a growing concern. However, like Company of Women, it's labour intensive and hard to eke out a profit. So I was interested to learn how Susan plans to turn this around.

I am always encouraging people to connect, so I took my own advice and contacted Susan. Within a couple of days we'd met, brainstormed and shared ideas, with a promise to stay in touch. It was good to talk to someone who faced similar challenges and issues, but who also loved what she was doing.

This week when the Toronto Star reports back on what has been happening with Susan... lo and behold, Company of Women is mentioned, with our website and date of next dinner and the reporter now wants to connect with me.

So the moral of my story is... when your intuition tells you to connect with someone... do. You just never know where it will lead, and what's the worst that can happen - they don't return your call. Hey, then they don't know what they are missing.

Friday, January 05, 2007

New Year, new start - that's certainly how it feels. By the end of 2006, I was feeling a bit depleted after a hectic fall. So it was good to take a break, visit with friends and family and get a fresh perspective over the holiday season.

It is usually hard for me to switch off ... but I was more than ready to do so when December 21st rolled round. Can highly recommend it, as I am back at my desk after that 10 day break, full of energy and enthusiasm again.

Yesterday I received a lovely email from a woman in New York who has just started her business and advised me that Company of Women had inspired her to do so! We all should get such positive feedback. It served to remind me that while we don't hear back from everyone whose lives we've touched... we are making a difference.