Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lessons from the trenches

Fifteen years ago I started Company of Women.  It was supposed to be a sideline to my consulting practice, something I did that was really for me, rather than a whole separate business.   

You see I found working at home isolating and I suspected that other women likely felt the same way and to be honest I just wanted to meet some like-minded women and perhaps make a few friends!  It wasn’t that altruistic at all.

Little did I know that 165 women would show up to my first event, that two years down the road, I would close the doors on my consulting practice, Community Connections, or that 15 years later, I would still be running Company of Women.  Perhaps it is as well, as if I’d known I was in for the long haul, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Now it hasn’t always been fun and I’ve learned and grown a lot since 2003 when we started out.  Here ‘s what I have learned.


1.              Surround yourself with people who believe in you.  We all need cheerleaders on our side who are there when we succeed and when we fail.

2.              Let go of the naysayers, the negative nellies or those who just want to “use” you.  They drain your energy and take you away from what you want to achieve.

3.              You won’t please everyone.  As women, we tend to be pleasers, but it is impossible to keep everyone happy. There will always be someone who complains. Don’t take it personally.

4.              Not everyone is going to like you.  This was a tough one to learn but it is a reality.   Develop a thick skin and keep believing in yourself.

5.              Take the high road. Don’t get drawn into battle when someone bad mouths you. You and your “people” know what is true.  Look at the source and let it go.


6.              Be clear on who you are trying to reach.  When you can visualize your target audience, who they are, what they do and what they want, it becomes much easier to recruit and attract them to your business.

7.              Do your homework.   (Disclaimer - this was before social media)- but we once we spent thousands advertising in a publication that wasn’t read by our target audience.  

8.              Be nimble and fluid.  Don’t get locked into how you want your business to unfold and what you have to offer, as you could miss out on some great opportunities.

9.              Nothing is carved in stone.  If something isn’t working for you, change it.
Early on I learned that having membership run for a calendar year was disastrous cash flow wise. So we switched it up year two.

10.          Stay current.  Pay attention to the trends.   

11.          Change things up. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean that it always will.  Be prepared to change your mind.

12.          Listen.  Ask your customers/clients what they want or need and deliver. It’s not about what you think they need.  After all, you could be wrong.

13.          Do the math.  Be sure you know how much it costs you to deliver a program, product or service.  Be ready to change the price if it is not working out for you financially.

14.          Delegate.  Build a team of people who can help you realize your dream. You don’t have to be the expert or do everything in your business.

15.          Revisit your vision.  On a regular basis, at least annually, check in on your vision for your business.  Are you on track? Are your end goals the same or do you need to change them?  Involve your team to make sure you are all on the same page.

Last but not least - You

16.          Learn to celebrate.  Too often we focus on what went wrong.  Instead,  spend time congratulating yourself on what you have achieved.

17.          Mistakes are lessons you needed to learn.  We can all too easily beat ourselves up on our mistakes.  Instead, ask yourself what you would do differently next time? And then move on.

18.          Trust your gut.  If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Pay attention.

19.          Be authentic.  When you connect with people, be who you are. Don’t try to be who you are not, play a role or be sales driven.  Be sincere.

20.          Take a break.  Don’t let your business become all-consuming. There is a life outside of work.  Take time to enjoy it.

When I started writing this blog, I was initially aiming for 15 pointers – one for each year, and I wasn’t sure I could come up with fifteen.  Guess I could.   And more.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

It is what it is...for now

When you first start your business it is such a leap of faith, and you have such wild and wonderful dreams of how it will be.

The reality however often proves to be very different.  Sometimes the business takes off with great zest, only to wind or slow down at a later date. And for others it is more a timid start, picking up as you learn and grow.

The challenge with any business is you just never know.  Popular one minute, struggling the next.  Any one of us could find ourselves in this predicament. 

I started to think about this because several women I know have had to go back to working for someone else because their businesses were just not bringing in enough money to make it work for the family.

That’s so tough, and what a difficult decision to have to make.  Yet, it is what it is. When you have to keep a roof over your head, food on the table then you have to do what you don’t want to do.  You could say that you have to put on your big girl pants and get on with it.

That doesn’t mean it is easy.  It doesn’t mean that you may feel like a failure. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t second-guess yourself as to whether you are making the right decision.

You probably are.   For now. 

But here are some thoughts that may make it more bearable:

1.              You are brave. You took a risk and learned from it.
2.              Make the most of your time back in the workplace.
3.              You can be intrapreneurial in the workplace too.  Don’t lose your entrepreneurial skills, just use them differently.
4.              Learn new skills when you are there, ones that you could use if you return to your business.
5.              Make new contacts, you may meet some people who can help you down the road.
6.              Enjoy the steady paycheque. (Many of us envy you that)
7.              Sometimes taking a break and stepping back from your business, gives you fresh insights, so next time you know what you need to do.

And keep in touch.  We want to hear how you are doing.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Breaking barriers

Persistence. Resourceful. Guts. 

That’s what Ginella Massa believes got her to where she is today  -  the first hijab-wearing woman to be an anchor with a major Canadian TV station.

As I listened to her talk at a recent Women of Influence event, it struck me that these are three key ingredients vital to success for women entrepreneurs too.

She credits much of her persistence to her mother.  When Ginella went to school in Toronto, there were only two girls wearing the hijab – Ginella and her sister.  Her mother lobbied for their religious celebrations be respected at the school, and Ginella learned that first, you have to ask.  And if that doesn’t work, ask again.

Following her studies at York University and then Seneca College, she started to pursue her career in broadcasting.  She wanted her voice to be heard as a woman, a woman of colour and as a hijab-wearing woman.  But she also knew that she’d have to work harder, aware that wearing the hijab could be the death knell for her career.

Much of her early career was spent behind the scenes as a news writer and producer.  But Ginella’s dream was to be on television reporting the news herself.  In a leap of faith in 2014, she quit her full-time job so she could focus her energies on making that dream a reality.

Three times she applied for a position in Kitchener-Waterloo.  The first time when she got turned down, she decided to get more training and volunteered at Rogers.  The second time she was informed that they’d filled the position internally.

The third time, she got the chance.  “I’ve learned to be my own cheerleader. Unlike others in this industry, I didn’t have the networks.  I couldn’t draw on my parents’ connections. I had to create my own network.” she shared.

Ginella demonstrated her resourcefulness when she shared the story of an interview that took place in a restaurant.  She arrived early and the waitress recognized her and was quick to tell her how wonderful she was, and so on.  

After a moment’s pause, Ginella went back to the waitress and asked if she’d do a repeat performance, in front of the two men who were interviewing her. And she did.   When asked if this happened to her often, Ginella was quick to smile and say “yes.”

But in some ways, that wasn’t stretching the truth in that when she first arrived on the Toronto scene as an anchor at CityNews Toronto, her story caught media attention.  Her story appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, FLARE, Aljezeera and the Washington Post.

However, not all the attention was positive and she also received her share of hate emails and tweets.   Racism, she observed, is often the elephant in the room. “We fear what we don’t know.”   And she could tell when people were giving lip service.  It would the tone of their voice or the back-handed compliments. 

All of which left her feeling at times that she wasn’t good enough. “Your own self-doubt  can become your biggest barrier to success.”  We are our own worst enemy and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” she cautions the women in the audience.

Ginella was quick to say at the beginning of her talk that she preferred to talk about representation, rather than diversity, which she feels can get laden with tokenism.

She feels her role is to report the news, which at times can be challenging and upsetting to her personally,  but she remains professional feeling that she’s not there to talk about or defend her religion.   She just happens to be a hijab-wearing woman reporting on the news.

Being the first, the trailblazer takes guts.  You’ve got no role models to follow, you are paving the way.  And there are times in our own businesses, that we are carving out our own path, breaking down barriers too.

Ginella’s story was inspiring.  Her lovely smile drew you in and the standing ovation at the end of her talk was well-earned.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Stop. Start. Continue.

September always marks a time of renewal, a time of transition as we move from one season to another, one school year to the next.  And for me the Fall has always been a fresh start.

The summer gives you more time to reflect and determine what worked and just as important, what didn’t in the previous months.   Each year at Company of Women we go through a stop, start and continue exercise.  Trouble is, we often didn’t stop anything, but kept adding to our plate!

Often the stops are areas where financially it doesn’t make sense in terms of the investment of time.   Another stop can be to stop trying to do everything yourself and delegate.  With my new admin help, I can tell you it is SO freeing.

 As for continue - while we are continuing with much that we do, we are also looking at ways to maybe do it differently.

 And for the start… well we have several exciting new plans. Back in March we started a strategic planning process that we are still working on, but we are getting closer to implementation.

Changes are scary aren’t they?  It can be a risk to change the status quo, but Company of Women turns 15 this September and if you don’t freshen up or reconfigure what you are doing, you run the risk of getting stale. 

So we have been busy - working on rebranding, our website and the type of programs we want to offer moving forward.  We are excited about our new “look” which will be unveiled later this month.

What I will share now is our new slogan - Success on your own terms.   Success means so many different things to each of us, but the important piece to remember is that it is YOUR definition of success, not your partner’s, not your friends – it is all about you.

And to help you get there, we are focussing on three pillars– business development, mentoring and leadership, and personal development.  Our goal is to provide you with the biz tools, connections and confidence to move forward and achieve success on your own terms.

So what are you going to start this fall?  What changes are you going to make to your business and life?  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

·      As you look at your business and life, what would you stop, start or continue? 

·      What could you delegate?  How would you spend that regained time?  

·      When you decide to continue something, ask how you can make it even better? 

·      Are there some ways that you can enhance what you are doing? 

·      Could you market it in a different way and spread the word further?  

·      What about something new?  Have you done your homework and thought it through?

Try it.  Going through this exercise can help you focus on what you really, really want.

And as for Company of Women – stay tuned.