Friday, May 31, 2013

A day to remember

It has been a couple of days since the conference and I admit I have just chilled, enjoying the emails flooding in from women saying how much the event had inspired them.  For some even life-changing.  Wow.

When you plan an event for a year, it’s easy to lose track of the impact it may have on the participants.  Particularly as closer to the event, you get caught up in logistics, who sits where, what to have to eat, and finalizing all the last minute registrations.

But as I listened to the speakers throughout the day, and heard the buzz in the room, I knew we’d “done good.”  Without realizing it, there seemed to be a real theme, a thread that wove its way throughout the day.  I never know what the speakers will say, but each message seemed to underscore and lead to the next.

We got off to such a lively start with Liz in her gangnam dance.  I knew she was going to do it, but frankly, being a YouTube luddite, had not heard of this video, so didn’t really know what she was planning to do.   She must have lost at least five pounds with all that bouncing and dancing.  Still it was all for a good cause – creating a fun, upbeat start to a day that would transport many to different and new horizons. 

Dr. Ginger Grant was quick to tell us that as women entrepreneurs we were the underpinning of the economy and we need to step into our spotlight (thanks Tsufit) to shine and share our talents with the world.   I could have listened to her for hours as she shared her wisdom and learning about creativity.   

While Ginger piqued our brains to start us thinking and going down the right creative path, our Courage Panel awakened our emotions. Linda Lundstrom, Fay Chapple and Trey Anthony were so open and honest in their discussions.  There were times when it was raw, and you could feel the pain and yet the message was clear.   You have to do what it right for you.  Life is too short to be stuck in a job, a relationship, a business that no longer feeds your soul.  My sense is this was the life changing moment for some in the audience.

From the opening Dragon’s Den clip that showed Barb Stegemann converting Arlene Dickinson and Brett Wilson to take on her business, to her frank discussion about her humble beginnings and then the development of a profitable business that also helped build the economies in war-torn countries, Barb had everyone spellbound.  So much so, that our afternoon plans had to be diverted as crowds gathered to purchase Barb’s book and perfume.

So in plan B, we had to somewhat shorten the group discussion and turn our immediate attention to the experts.  But then we had our own Making the Pitch challenge. It takes courage to enter something like this, and I commend all three finalists for taking that leap of faith.   Our congratulations to Daina Makinson for winning both the audience and the judges over, not just with her video clip, but her sense of humour.

So all told – an eventful day that while it didn’t altogether go to plan, was truly inspiring and impactful to all who attended.  My challenge, I can see, as I tend to compete with myself, is to make next year's conference even better.  See you at the 8th Journey 2 Success conference.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Are you an expert?

These days it pays to be an expert, in fact it is advised that you have to find your niche, hone your skills and put out your expert shingle if you want to succeed.

But what are you an expert in?  One way to find out, suggests Fay Chapple, CEO of The Clarity Centre, is to think about what people thank you for – is it for marketing, financial advice, or in the case of one woman in the group – compassion and kindness.

No sooner had she said that, she questioned how useful those skills would be and how do you use them?  Immediately I thought of customer service, of building trust and perhaps working with people who are hurting in some way.  Dealing with someone who seems to care, can make all the difference and in the case of the health industry (where this person worked) a patient would feel less isolated as she went through a procedure.

But when I turned this question on myself, I had a hard time answering it too.  What do I do that people appreciate.  I guess I am a connector, a match maker and a small business start up coach.    I like to think I can see the potential in people and look beyond the immediate and obvious at what they would be good at.

I started my career in the UK in human resources, so I guess I was on the right track, even back then. Slotting people into the right positions was something I had to do. But what if your expertise is not that obvious to you?  Or you haven’t found it yet.  Here’s eight steps to help get you on the right track.   

1.         Ask around.  Talk to friends.  Find out what strengths they see you possessing.  It’s actually quite a rewarding exercise and you can get to see yourself as others see you.

2.         Take an inventory of what you like to do.  Look at previous positions and pull out the common denominators of what you enjoyed doing. For example, I found a common thread of writing and translating complex issues into simple language – be it fundraising proposals, government reports or magazine articles, so clearly whatever I do, it should draw on my communication skills.

3.         Study the marketplace.  Where are the gaps?  What do your customers seem to want and need?  Is there a way you can fulfill and provide solutions to their issues?  Can you develop your tools to do this?

4.         Use social media.  Actively participate in discussion groups in your industry.  Find and/or write articles to share which help build your reputation as someone in the know. Start a blog.

5.         Get connected.  Move in the right circles.  Build relationships with leaders in your industry.  Ask for their support and advice, but be respectful of their time.

6.         Make presentations.  Give talks on your topic.  Set up seminars to provide information to your potential clients/customers.

7.         Write a book.  It gives you a platform to launch yourself as an expert in your field, and often the sales of books are higher, when you’ve given a presentation.

8.         Volunteer.  Get involved with your industry association or a non profit organization within your sector.

None of this happens overnight.  It takes time, experience and patience.  

You have to earnyour reputation as an expert and most of us are a work in progress because the 
learning never ends.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Drowning in emails?

How many emails are lurking in your inbox, waiting to be read, purged or acted upon?

It was fascinating at our recent Company of Women breakfast meeting to learn that the email pain threshold is different for everyone.  For some, it can be as few as 30, or for others around 200.  One woman ‘fessed that she had over 1,500 stuck in her inbox.

Years ago, before I started to tame the email monster, I remember having thousands of emails too.  Overwhelmed, and clearly out of my depth, I took drastic steps to clean up.  I deleted them.  Well, not all of them, but a good number that were past their "deal by" date.

I figured if I hadn’t dealt with them, then getting rid of them wasn’t going to make a huge difference now.  It’s a bit like the outfit in your wardrobe that is waiting for you to lose those last few pounds.  It ain’t happening – be bold and toss it.

However, I get a lot of email.  I just have to be away for a week and there will easily be 1,200 emails that have snuck into the box.  The difference now is I am more organized (read brutal).

One of the first things I did was unsubscribe to half the ezines I was getting.  I never had time to read them, and they were just gathering dust and taking up space.

Then I set up some folders, so that when I wanted to save an email or chain of correspondence, I would easily find it.  Now I have to say, I may have gone a bit overboard with the folders, but it is working for me.

When I get emails I don’t want, I delete them immediately and at the end of the week, I go through my inbox and try to pare it down to 40-50 emails, all of which require some action or I am waiting for a response from someone else.

Now at the breakfast, Deanne Kelleher, our guest speaker and expert gave us some other tips on moving emails to task lists, rather than letting them sit in your inbox and that I am going to try.

The other space guzzler is your send box.  Do you keep every email you ever sent?  Again, I took a hatchet approach to those emails.  After a certain date, like 2010, are you likely to refer back to the email?  Probably not.

Obviously there are important documents and email trails that you want to keep.  Anything related to money or agreements are important as you may need to pull them up to prove a point, but other than that… no.

Another email waster is when you are trying to set up a meeting with someone or worse, a group of people and you go to and fro on dates and times.  Try – it makes scheduling much easier.

Whether it is 30 or 30,000, getting on top of your email makes life much more manageable. After all, what did we do before we had email and wanted to connect with someone? We picked up the phone.  Now there’s a novel idea.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ask yourself why?

“What’s your vision?”  I was asked.  And there was a silence as I pondered over the question.

Coming from the non-profit sector, a vision to me was often some lofty goal of saving the world, etc… And so I really hadn’t spent too much time figuring out what my vision was.  I was just too busy doing it.  

Plus … when I started Company of Women, beyond wanting to meet up with other like-minded business women, I really didn’t have a vision or a even a mission statement for that matter.  Basically I was finding it lonely working at home and craved the company of others who were in the same situation.  Nothing altruistic there.  My plans were quite self-serving.

Little did I know that a couple of years later I would be giving up my consulting practice to pursue this further.  But even then, I can’t say I was super- ambitious.  No, I preferred to grow the organization organically.  Quality was more important to me than quantity, so the thought of having chapters across Canada just seemed too unwieldy and hard to manage.  I chose to go deeper with my offerings rather than wider.

It does seem ironic however, that now, ten years later, I am actually moving in that direction, with a chapter opening up in Winnipeg this fall and discussions underway about Vancouver. 

Having still not answered the vision question, I turned the conversation around to why I do what I do.   This I could speak about passionately and from the heart. My whole career in fact has focused on women and their needs – from young mothers to abused women and now to business owners.

I am driven  to making a difference; to helping women achieve their potential.   Company of Women just happens to be the current vehicle through which I deliver my dream of women being successful on their own terms, believing and investing in themselves and others. 

And as I noodle this over, I realize I do have a vision.  It was just tough to articulate what it was. 

What about you?  If you are struggling with what you want or what your long term goals should be, ask yourself why are you doing what you are doing?  Because maybe then you will tap into your core reason for being. Maybe then you will have the big picture vision of your life before you.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Testing. Testing. Testing.

How do you know if your new business idea has the wings to take off and soar?

In many ways, you don’t but according to Anastasia Valentine, you can give it a go, but only after you have done your due diligence.

Now for some entrepreneurs who prefer to live on the edge and take a risk without too much thought and effort, this may seem like the kiss of death to creativity.  But she has a point and as she explained, all ideas are valuable, but not all are profitable. 

So before you sink too much money, time and resources into the next brainwave, better to check it out and think it through first.

She compares this “testing” period to a relationship and gave the following advice:

  • First you have to socialize/date your idea. 
  • Ask yourself will customers buy it and at what price?  
  • Test your idea. Pull together ten people you trust who will give you an honest answer, not just humour you.  There’s too much at stake to just have folks give you a complacent nod, without much real thought to what you are suggesting.
  • Explain what you want to do.
  •  Listen. 
  • If after this feedback, you are still in love with the idea, then you are more ready to make a commitment.

Most entrepreneurs, observed Anastasia, have an idea inventory, and when you are looking at growth options, flush out your top three big money-making ideas, and maybe two low cost ideas that have a high return.   Pick one and go for it.