Thursday, September 29, 2016

Birthday reflections

Fourteen years.  That’s how long Company of Women has been in existence.  I have to confess that I had no idea what I was starting back then.  Company of Women was supposed to be a sideline to my consulting practice which was doing well. But  was lonely, and saw Company of Women as a way to meet like-minded women, and perhaps make a few friends.

Little did I know that it would not only take off, but grow to become the ten-chapter, 400 member organization that it is today.  Last year over 2,500 women benefited from our programs and this year we are offering over 150 events.  It just blows me away that so many people are involved in making this happen as we continue to build a positive community for women.

As most small business owners will share when you start out it is such a solo profession – you wear all the hats – accountant, sales person, administration, and program/service provider.  Whew.  It is such a juggle and some days it works, and other days it is frankly overwhelming.

But it is knowing that you are not alone in those moments of challenge that makes it less intimidating.  When I look back over the past few years I am proud of what we have achieved and thrilled when I see women blossom and grow because of the confidence and knowledge they have gained by being part of Company of Women.

I recently was on a panel to talk about Company of Women and what made us different.  Immediately I thought back to when we first started and I was interviewed by a reporter on why Company of Women was so successful.  I asked her to check in with the women and come back to me.  What did she tell me?  That the women felt safe in our supportive environment of women. 

And that’s it in a nutshell. We welcome you as Suzy or Suzy Entrepreneur – it is Suzy as an individual that interests us.  It is Suzy as a woman that we want to support both professionally and personally. It is Suzy that we want to provide the tools to succeed.

None of that has changed since we started, and now I have chapter leaders who continue this inclusive, welcoming approach to women who have chosen to become part of our community.

As for my original goal of making a few friends…. I have a wonderful tapestry of friends who give me strength and who have my back. 

Who could ask for more? My thanks to everyone who makes Company of Women special.  
Remember to celebrate YOUR milestones. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Doing well by doing good

Growing up my father always talked about having a sense of balance.  What he meant was that when you were fortunate, you needed to balance out the scales and help someone else get ahead.

He was a real role model for me, always supporting the underdog.  He’d grown up on the “wrong side of the tracks” and never forgot his humble beginnings. It wasn’t until he died that I learned just how generous he’d been. You could say he was a dragon before we had the den, lending money to people starting a business. 

With giving back in my DNA, it should come as no surprise that it is also an integral part of Company of Women.  Over the years we have supported numerous charities – Opportunity International, Girls Inc, Because I am a Girl, World Teacher Aid to name but a few, as well as scholarships for women entering the skilled trades.  The common thread is that they all focused on women and girls.

And that makes senses.  When you are picking the organization or cause you want to support, there should be a strong tie or link to what your business does.   For example, if you are in real estate, perhaps Habitat for Humanity fits the bill.  Or if you are in the beauty industry, Look Good, Feel Good, a program for cancer patients might be a good fit.

We once had a speaker, who armed with copies of SNAP, got the women in the audience to check through the paper to see if there were local causes or events that they could get behind.  That isn’t a bad place to start, but make sure you do your homework on the cause selected, because not all charities are created equal.

As well as the business fit, there may well be a cause that tugs at your heartstrings. Perhaps a disease has inflicted someone in your family and you want to help raise funds for a cure, research or support for families.

You might want to get your feet wet and just dip a toe into the cause-related pool. See how that goes.  Working on a smaller project, gives you a chance to see how well the organization functions.  How much of the funds raised go towards the actual recipients, and how much is swallowed up in administration?  Who is on their board?  How many staff is involved?  These are good questions to ask.

This year we have chosen to get behind the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and particularly their program aimed at young girls and how they feel about themselves. I am excited about this partnership, and particularly interested in their As We Are Project 

Still need convincing that giving back is a sound business decision?  Putting sentiment aside, it earns you brownie points with customers and staff alike.  People, especially millennials, like to work for a company that takes corporate responsibility seriously.  It gains you credibility with your client base and bottom line; it fees good to be doing good.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trust your gut

This summer on our trip to Nova Scotia, we rented a car plus a GPS.  Past experience told us that this was a good move for the sake of our marriage. 

I always remember our first romantic getaway without children when we had to rely on my navigational skills to reach our destination.  We were barely speaking to each other by the time we got there.

Let’s just say that map reading is not my forte!

So armed with our GPS I thought we’d be safe.  Wrong. This navigational tool wasn’t always accurate.  We unwittingly drove down dead end roads, and her slight left turns were really full-blown left turns.  And as for getting to the airport, she clearly was asleep at the wheel, as she neglected to say take a right turn.  

Fortunately by this time, we knew not to rely on her whimsical directions, and were watching out for where we needed to turn.  In the absence of any direction from our automated friend, we used our common sense and made the right move.

The other quirky foible with this GPS was that when she wasn’t sure of the best route, she’d issue a disclaimer saying we were in unknown territory and then proceed to tell us exactly how to get there.  It was almost as if she was hedging her bets.

Truth is I am a nervous driver, so I’ve found having a GPS takes away some of my fear of driving into new territories.   My trusted friend has broadened my horizons, giving me the confidence to drive and travel to places I would have previously avoided.  

I have often compared having a GPS with having a coach, as like the GPS, a coach helps guide you and lends her insights and expertise to help you reach your destination.

Personally I’ve found having a business coach gave me the confidence to move forward.  She would push me outside my comfort zone and helped me realize my goals.  Yet, as we found on our trip, at the end of the day, you have to rely on your own intuition and rather than second-guessing which way to turn, follow your gut.

My advice? Make the most of your GPS/coach, utilize the expertise and knowledge available to you, always remembering that it is YOUR business and YOUR life, and whatever direction you go in, it has to fit with your vision, values and goals.  

And making a wrong turn isn’t the end of the road, literally.  You can reverse and redirect.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Putting your customer first

If you want to learn more about customer service, go to Nova Scotia.

We found in our recent trip that staff at hotels, restaurants and in local stores all treated you with such a friendly, helpful manner. It was refreshing.  Everyone was cheerful, asking questions and would strike up a conversation with you. As a result, you left feeling respected and valued. 

And who doesn’t want to feel that way?   It was almost as if they were thrilled to see you.  When I think about how you are received elsewhere, it can be way different.  Sometimes you are lucky to get a smile and everything seems a chore to the person "helping" you.

We chose to stay in bed and breakfasts as we travelled around, and that’s where we noticed some real differences.  At the first B & B, the owner, who in fairness was heading off to Europe the following day, was a bit curt.  Quick to tell us all the rules and regulations of the establishment, and we had to say exactly what time we would be down for breakfast, with three choices provided.  And when we selected the latest time possible, it was met with a frown of disapproval.

Fortunately for us, the “guest hosts” were charming.  Hannah Clare was warm and friendly, taking an interest in those staying there.  She’d just retired as a palliative care nurse, and I am sure she was amazing with her patients and their families.

At our next stop, the welcoming reception was so different.  Maps, advice on local places of interest and restaurants all provided. Breakfast was available for three hours and you just came down when you were ready to eat. 

Whereas the first B&B was focused on what worked for them, the second one was paying attention to the needs of the guests. Now, there’s a real customer service lesson to be learned here. 

When we focus on what we want to deliver, whether it suits the customer or not, we somehow miss the boat. On the other hand, when we think about what the customer needs and wants, and provide it, we hit the jackpot.

I know I have been guilty of putting my needs first.  For the last couple of years, for example, I stopped offering evening events.  Oh I kidded myself that the women were busy and didn’t want to come out at night, but truth is, I was the one who didn’t want to work evenings.  Wrong decision, made for the wrong reason.

When we let go of what we want, and focus on what our customer wants – we are way ahead.  I am pleased to say evening events are back at Company of Women.  I don’t come to them all – but then I don’t need to.  I have a great team – but that’s a whole other blog.

To wrap up this one, I thoroughly recommend Nova Scotia and if you want to know where to stay – give me a call.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Planning for success

“People commit to what they help create”

This back to school time of year also marks a fresh start for many of us in business. It’s a time of planning and focusing on the future

As someone from the non-profit sector, and even within my business, I have tended to use a SWOT analysis to determine future plans.  SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  This strategic planning exercise is one commonly used by organizations and has its place in the planning of your business, organization and even your life.

However, at a recent conference I learned more about another strategic planning tool that excited me.  It’s acronym is SOAR – strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results.

What appealed to me is the focus on the positive.  While yes you do need to look at what could hold you back from achieving your goals, with SOAR the focus is on the future, while SWOT can leave you stuck, particularly if the weaknesses and threats seem overwhelming.

The presenter also advised that while SWOT tended to be a top-down approach, the SOAR process was inclusive, involving everyone, including members and clients.  As he shared, people commit to what they help create.  The advantages of SOAR is it draws on the energy and creativity of the participants, and fosters ownership in the outcome.

“You are starting from a different mindset.” he observed, and went on to suggest several questions to ask when going through this particular process:

  • ·      What are the root causes of our success?
  • ·      What key achievements are we most proud of?
  • ·      What positive aspects of service have others commented on?
  • ·      What are we known for?
  • ·      What makes us unique?
  • ·      What key resources and areas of expertise give us an advantage?

As you will see they are all forward-thinking, positive questions, helping you to look to the future and to build on your strengths.

While the presentation was aimed at non-profit organizations, I see great merit in using these questions to help you determine what you want to achieve moving forward in your business.  The terminology is just different, for example we’d talk more about brand recognition and unique value proposition, but bottom line whether you are running a charity or a business, we all want our endeavours to be financially successful and meet the needs of our clients.

So as you plan where you want to take your business next, consider using this technique – you may even want to involve key customers and members of your team in the process.