Saturday, November 30, 2013

You go girl... the world is waiting

The lyrics of the song “In his hands he’s got the whole world, in his hands he’s got the whole, wide world…”  were playing in my head this week, as I witnessed the achievements of women entrepreneurs. Time to change the words to “In her hands…

Between the W100 event and the Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Gala, I had the amazing pleasure of hearing the stories of truly exceptional, successful and award-winning  women entrepreneurs. While each was in a different type of business, from making roads to working in the mining industry, what struck me was the passion and tenacity with which the women led and drove their businesses.  Several were working in male-dominated businesses where they had to work hard, show their grit and determination to prove themselves. 

All of this emphasized to me how much you have to believe passionately in yourself, your dream and your vision, because without doubt you will be tested along the way, if not by others, definitely by yourself.  Even one of the award winners, Tamara Barker Watson, admitted that there were times when she was riddled with self-doubt and she couldn’t believe she was a finalist for the Sustainability Award, let alone win it.

I have been attending the Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Gala for years now and it is quite fascinating how it has evolved in terms of the finalists for these prestigious awards.  First they seem to be getting younger – now this could be reflection on my age – I mean I am getting older, but one finalist, Michele Romanow of Buytopia was just 28 when she started her business a couple of years ago.  Twenty-eight.   I was home having my first baby at that age, not building a business that was ranked #3 on the Profit Hot 50 ranking.

There is also more diversity in terms of what the women actually do.  While at one time we seemed to gravitate to human resources or service-based industries, today’s entrepreneurial women are venturing into businesses that were once in the male domain such as drilling, mining, ocean research, freight logistics and technology.

Women are also recognizing the wealth of potential beyond Canada and are reaching out beyond our country.  Momentum Award winners Victoria Sopik and Jennifer Nashmi of Kids & Company will be opening their first child care centre in Chicago.  And as for Shannon Rogers of Global Relay, the majority of her work is outside of Canada and she works in 90 countries, providing cloud-based message archiving. 

All of this speaks to the fact that as women we can get into any business we want, anywhere we want and what likely holds us back is ourselves.  So let’s celebrate and honour these role models and just go for it, as they’ve paved our way. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Are you losing sales, without realizing it?

Cold calling.  It is something you either love or hate.  There is nothing neutral about it. With Company of Women, I am lucky really as I don’t have to do cold calling, except at times when I am trying to recruit a speaker, but more often than not, I try to use my network to open up the introductions, so not cold calling really.

Trouble is, I am not into sales be it cold, warm or hot.  I just want people to love what we do and offer, and sign up which is perhaps a tad unrealistic.  I always remember Kim Duke, the Sales Diva, explaining that when you look at sales as helping people, then it become much easier to reach out.  And that is true.

Finding customers – especially the ideal customer – is something that most small business owners struggle with, yet in the struggle to find new “suspects,” we forget about the existing customers who have already sampled your products or services, and who likely, if asked, would repeat the experience or better still, make a referral or give you a testimonial.

But you know what, we don’t ask.  We don’t follow up with the tried and true.  Yet it is much easier to keep an existing customer happy, than to spend all our time and energy chasing after new ones.

How often do you touch base with your existing clientele?  Once a  month, every two months or do you just let them fade off into the sunset.  Well you certainly can’t accuse Company of Women of not touching baseJ  In fact it could be argued that we do it too much, and for that I apologize, but you know what, it works.

Who is your ideal client?  When you first start out, a warm body willing to pay will suffice, but as you get more established, wouldn’t it be better to do business with people you like, people who appreciate what you do, and get your offering?

When I am giving workshops on finding your ideal customer, I often ask the audience to spend a few minutes thinking about their ideal client – let’s call her Suzy.  Who is she?  Why did you like working for her?  And… here is the important one – how did she find you?  Once you’ve answered these questions and hopefully you have several ideal clients in your database, it can become easier to narrow down who you want to work with, why and identify the best resource to finding another client like Suzy.

How do you keep in touch?  It can be through special offers or a monthly e-zine or updates on what is happening in your world.  A word of advice about the e-zine, include useful, practical information for your clients.  It shouldn’t be all about you. 

In fact the same is true when you are out there networking too.  Spend more time listening and less time talking about your company, and you may find you get further than if you are pushing sales on someone who is not interested.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Where were you?

Where were you on November 22, 1963?  For some of you this may be before you time, but for me, I was a twelve year-old living in Edinburgh, Scotland and it is a day, like many, that I remember vividly.

For those of you who have no recall of what happened fifty years ago, it was the day that J.F Kennedy was shot and assassinated.

I remember I was at home that night watching “Emergency Ward 10” a popular British TV show when they interrupted the show with breaking news.  That in itself was unusual, and I remember our horror at the news. My mother was in tears.

As a young tween on the brink of adulthood, I was aware of world politics and JFK really inspired me.  He seemed such a hero, young, handsome and demanding change in the way the world worked together.  I was so moved by his tragic death, that I actually wrote to Jackie Kennedy sharing my sorrow at what had happened to her and her young family, let alone the world. To me, his profound statements provided such wisdom.  I believed he could lead us into change, into peace.

Of course, as an adult I have since learned more about the affairs, the adultery and manipulations, but you know what,  Kennedy, whatever he did,  was the first person to interest me in politics. He caught my attention to what could be, if we allowed it.

It makes you wonder what if… But we will never know.  We can only speculate and what his death and life teaches us, is unfortunately what you see is not always what is real.  Such a hard lesson to learn after my teenage fantasies of a man who I thought could change the world and bring peace. But who knows, maybe he could have.  But we will never know.

It makes you realize that what this world really needs are true leaders, ones who will capture our hearts and souls and who will lead us to a future of hope, love and peace. Something I sought back when I was a teen. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Are you passionate about your business?

Does your face light up when you talk about your business? 

Having a passion for what you are doing makes such a difference, especially given the number of hours you have to dedicate to your business for it to be successful.

Recently a young friend was telling me about her business plans, and ever -ready to offer assistance and foster entrepreneurship in young people, I was in there like a ‘dirty shirt’ making suggestions and offering support to help her make this happen.

So I arranged for her to meet a friend, a business expert and coach, thinking this would help her crystalize her ideas.  She arrived ready to talk about her business plans, and left with a totally different perspective, and lots to think about and consider.

Why?  Because unlike me who took her concept at face value, my friend challenged her on why she wanted to do this and asked probing questions about her life, her relationships and her passions.  

It quickly became clear that her business idea, was just that - an idea – one of many, and not really her true passion.  It was when her face lit up that we identified that this passion and a new relationship, was what she needed to pursue.

Because as we all know, ithout the passion and right people behind you, it is harder to make it work.

It was an interesting afternoon for all of us.  While my friend left with her head likely spinning with the options available to her; I realized that I need to learn to ask more questions and not just assume that the person knows what is best for her,  because perhaps she doesn’t.

Friday, November 08, 2013

How to make your business viable

Over the past few days I have enjoyed conversations with business owners from across Canada and further afield.

But no matter where you live or what business you are in – the challenges seem to be the same.  Some may be sprinkled with some local issues such as the violence in Brazil and the gender roles and expectations in that country, but basically there is little difference, whether you are in Vancouver, Sao Paulo or London, England.

The key question I kept hearing was how do I make this business viable?  So many are doing what they love, and are hoping the book Do what you love and the money will follow is right.  But what we all want to know, is when?

What is it that you have to do in order to bring in a decent revenue so you can pay yourself?  My first suggestion is to track where it comes from – what’s your most popular source of income, but you also have to look at how much time you have to spend in order to get there.  If the project is labour-intensive, then you may want to rethink if this is the best revenue stream for you.

After ten years of hosting a Christmas Show, for example, I decided not to do one this year.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, when I added up all the hours I would spend both organizing it and being at the event, I barely broke even and even more telling, I was exhausted.  It would take me days to physically recover.  So I decided it wasn’t worth it.

While most of us probably have a good sense of where we make our most money, sometimes when you actually sit down and total up the costs and revenue, there are some surprises. 

And then there’s the programs/services that we love to offer, that truly get us excited, but don’t bring in much money.  Here you have to weigh it up because if all you are doing are these types of projects, it is going to be hard to make ends meet.  You have to develop revenue streams that are more profitable, so that you can then afford to basically “volunteer” your time.

For example I love working with “newbies” - women who are starting out, but as one consultant reminded me “There’s no money honey.”  And of course she was right.  That doesn’t mean I don’t do that work, it just has to be tempered with projects that generate more income.

Much is said about finding your niche, and moving away from being a generalist, and that may be true, but when you are starting out, you can’t afford to be such a purist.  You also don’t really know which aspect of your business will take off, and even then, it can change, so keeping your options open is not a bad idea.

And talking of ideas, brainstorming with others from the same sector, can help you zero in on where you fit in the spectrum of services and what you can offer and where you need to direct your energies.  When you take an abundance approach and share ideas with your peers, you can in fact end up further ahead.

After you’ve looked at your finances, you may want to do the Stop, Start, and Continue exercise where you take a hard look at what you do and what’s working for you.  We do that at the end of a major event, for example, while it is still fresh in our minds.

Bottom line, you need to decide whether you want a business or a hobby.  Either is fine if that is the direction you want to go in.  But if after all this analysis you determine that you have a hobby, when you really want a business, you will have to change what you are doing to get the business in gear.