Sunday, September 30, 2012

Top ten lessons learned

It’s hard to believe that Company of Women just celebrated its 10th birthday.

As I reflect back on the past nine years, I admit that I’ve personally come a long way – from someone timid about speaking in public to someone comfortable on the stage. To someone who didn’t like to drive on the highways, to a person who will mix and mingle with the best on the 401.  Now driving in Toronto, that’s another story, but guess I am still a work in progress.

But apart from the personal fears I’ve overcome, I have also learned some important lessons about running a business, and admittedly, some the hard way.

1.  Dig deep and know your target group

I’ve often observed that while we think we know who we want to reach, we don’t dig deep enough to analyze the who, what, or why.  This summer I went through a marketing exercise and had to actually name my target group – Audrey, Stephanie and Caroline. It’s funny how once you put real names to them, they become real people and as a result, your strategies to attract them become more real too.

2.  Can’t please everyone

Like many women, I tended to be a pleaser, ever keen to keep everyone happy.  I would look at evaluations after events and wonder if people had been the same event as they rated a speaker.  Some would think she was fantastic and others felt she shouldn’t give up her day job. So I quickly realized it was impossible to satisfy everyone.

I was also super-sensitive so when someone didn’t renew their membership or made a negative comment, I would take it personally, feel rejected and get defensive.  These days I have come to realize it is not about me, it’s just business.

3.  Date first and get it in writing

I would leap into a business relationship, because on the surface it seemed like a good fit, then when the “honeymoon” period was over, discover we didn’t share the same values and vision, or how we would achieve our not-so-shared goals.  Now I like to “date” first before moving in with someone.

And while I would believe that we’d discussed everything and it was all clear, often it wasn’t and when assumptions were made, it would come back to bite me.  So I have learned to spell it all out and put it on paper, so there is less of a risk of miscommunication.

4.  Realistic expectations  

Everything takes longer than you think, especially when you are doing something for the first time.  When finding your way in unknown territory, it can be so easy to get lost.

I’ve also observed that sometimes people have unrealistic expectations on what they will achieve in attending a networking event.  Many come thinking if they hand out enough business cards, they will leave with business. If only that was true. 

It takes time and it is all about building relationships, not how many cards you have collected. Nor can Company of Women promise to deliver you business if you are part of our group, that is up to you.

5.  Involve others, delegate

I guess I bought into the myth that women can do it all and I sure would try.  Looking back I realize this was a big mistake because I would end up undertaking tasks that just weren’t my forte and not a good use of my time, plus errors would be made.

Reluctant to give up control, I would not delegate to others for fear that they wouldn’t do it to my way.  A rather self-defeating attitude which meant I ran the risk of burning out, fast. I also missed the opportunity to discover that doing it differently might actually be better.

Being driven and focused on business, I would sometimes work silly hours just to get something done.  Keep that schedule up for too long, and it catches up with you – and it did.  This past winter, I got sick.

So this year we’ve set up committees to plan big events.  I am relying on others to share their expertise and provide feedback on what would work for them.  And you know what, it’s so much better.  By sharing the responsibility, it lightens the load.

6.  Surround yourself with positive people

This leads me to my next point – that no one achieves success on their own.  You need a team of people to make it happen.  The key is to surround yourself with positive people who are supportive of you and believe in what you want to achieve.

7.  Don’t get complacent, change your game

We’ve been going strong for nine years now, but when we started we were the only game in town.  That’s not the case today.  You’re only as good as your last event and there are plenty of other groups out there now offering events to support the small business owner. So it is important to listen to your customers, ask them what they want which may well be different to what you want to deliver, but it is not all about you.  Be flexible and nimble when opportunities arise.

8.  You are never too old to learn

With social media there is always something new to learn.  I find I just master one aspect such as Twitter, and along comes something else.  But you know what, there is a sense of accomplishment when you grapple with and learn a new concept. 

The brain cells welcome the opportunity and while you may feel your hard drive is full, maybe it is time to download some of the old way of thinking, and free up space for these new ways of marketing, because they are here to stay.

9.  Givers gain

Are you a giver or a taker?  Sadly over the years I have met my share of takers, who pick your brains, get what they want out of a relationship and then disappear never to be seen again.  Mind you that part is OK, because do you really want to be around people who just take?  No. 

It’s like friendships.  I have a couple of friends who I meet for dinner once a month.  We’ve learned to “share the air and care” but if one person has a challenge, we focus on her.  Another month, it could be someone else’s turn but the help and support is reciprocated.


It is all too easy to get caught up on what didn’t work, and what went wrong, but be clear on what success looks like, and celebrate and honour those moments.  It can be little things. 

I like to think I am a connector (matchmaker) bringing women together.  For me, when I connect two people and it works, now that’s success, and it feels good, really, really good.

When I embarked on this journey with Company of Women nine years ago, I had no idea where it would take me.  But what I do know is that I am glad I did, because I have met some wonderful women who have become close friends. And it can’t get much better than that.


Bridget Saulnier said...

Congratulations on your recent 10 year celebration of Company of Women! This is an excellent article and very generous of you to share all these insights which you've encapsulated so well after years of trail and error and experience. I admire your values and perseverance! Thanks for sharing these valuable lessons. Now, to put it into action!

Ann Holmes said...

Anne, I remember when you started Company of Women. It was just before I started my foray into entrepreneurship. I was delighted to watch the success of a friend and former colleague take off. As a connecter of people, you are a mighty role model. When I read your article, I thought that many of these lessons also apply to our personal lives. Another excellent reason to stay connected to Company of Women!