Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Birthing a book

Last week Amy and I sent draft copies of our book Good Enough off to be reviewed by some friends and colleagues.

This is truly nerve wracking - it's like sending your first born off to kindergarten for the first time and spending your day worrying whether the other children will  like her?  Will the book be liked by our readers?  Will they love the stories and find the strategies we suggest for overcoming self doubt useful? 

Just as we can get defensive about our children, we are bracing ourselves for the feedback, telling ourselves not to get defensive, to listen and make the changes suggested.

This book has been three years in the making.  We've connected with over 350 women, so we're not making up the sense of overwhelm and fear of failure that many women feel.  Oh some of us camouflage it well - we wear a mask, pretending all is well with the world, while deep inside we worry that someone will find us out for the imposter we think we are.

It is also not just one generation - it manifests itself in young and older alike and across cultural and social differences. It's universal. 

We thank the women who so openly and generously shared their stories - which were sometimes painful to hear yet, we hope in the telling that the women can take pride in their courage and honesty in speaking up.

In a couple of months the book will be birthed, ready for the world to see and read. 

 In the meantime, we are experiencing the usual labour pains, coupled with the pangs of anxiety typical of all new parents. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

It's all in the name

As I was driving back from Niagara this morning,  I listened to Terry O’Reilly’s show Under the Influence.  It was fascinating as he talked and showcased business names that shouldn’t,  under most circumstances have worked, but they did.

Choosing the name for your business can be one of the hardest exercises that a business owner has to undertake.  For some of us it is important that the name and brand are easily understood, but for others, as I learned this morning, taking a quirky approach or even an outrageous one, can in fact pay off.

One of the examples he gave was Richard Branson’s Virgin Airline.  As he observed, flying with a company that labels itself as a rookie, may not be an encouraging message to convey to the passengers, but it worked for Branson.   

After all Branson believed that brands aren’t built around products, but rather around reputation, quality, price competitiveness and innovation.  Something perhaps we all need to keep in mind.

 I loved the story O’Reilly shared about the wine Fat Bastard.  Apparently a renowned French winemaker was tasting wines with a distributor and came up with an experimental wine, that was so full bodied that the winemaker said with his French accent, that it was a fat bastard.  The name stuck. Back in the late ‘90s, this was a break away from the other more conservative wine names.   It was launched in 1998 and fast became a best seller.

However it was the last example that really got my attention.  Not my business, but definitely my attention.   It was about a restaurant in Las Vegas (only in Vegas) called the Heart Attack Grill.  With a hospital theme, the waitresses are dressed like nurses and you’re given a hospital gown to wear.

The menu is totally unhealthy, with fatty foods, large quantities served at one time and even wine served from intravenous bags.  Now I like my wine… but not that way.   And the restaurant is super popular!  Go figure.

If you are going through the process of coming up with a name for your business, Branson offers four tips:

1.              Know your audience.
2.              Keep it simple.
3.              Be distinct.
4.              Have fun.

I’ve always liked a play on words – hence Company of Women.  But I remember when I started, people would whisper to me that had I realized the acronym was COW.  Yup – and that’s why my first newsletter was called News from the Field.  I figured if people got it, they’d chuckle and if they didn’t … well I guess it would just go way over their heads.

How did you come up with your business’s name?  Is it time for revisiting it or rebranding?  Keep Branson’s tips in mind.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Real connection wins the day

This has been a week of extremes – with amazing highs and disappointing lows.  As I sit to write my blog, a day late, which is an indication in itself of my week, I decide to focus on the highs, because focusing on the negatives, just pulls you further down and gets you nowhere.

The Rhyze Academy is a project of Innovation Guelph, through which 40 women who either have a business or want to start one, are taken through a nine-month course led by volunteer facilitators.    My month was January.

Initially I was asked if I could talk on work-life-balance.  Go ahead laugh. I did. There was no way I could present on that topic.  For those who don’t know me, I am the energizer bunny.  No. So instead I facilitated the group through the Personality Dimensions process so they could better understand themselves and those around them. 

While we are all a rainbow, our personalities are shaped by whether we are a blue, orange, gold and green.   We had fun.  This week I threw in an exercise where the women had to pitch to the other colours and it was fascinating at how creative they got as they tried to sell a new diet product.

One woman stood out.  She was marketing this beer that helped you lose weight with such aplomb that I had to ask her what business she was in.  A naturopath.  As I joked with her, she had a career in sales waiting for her if she ever wanted to go there.

As the women connected and enjoyed the exercises, I felt warm inside.  This is what it is all about.  Bringing people together.  Having fun and building community. It is what I have always loved about Company of Women.

Later in the week Laurie Hunt and I brought the women who are in the Company of Women mentoring program together to meet face to face for the first time.  In their pairs, they set goals and determined how they were going to work together.   On a much smaller scale, I could see the same thing happening.  The women were connecting on a deeper, authentic level.

So my big take away from this week is that when you are authentic, when you genuinely take an interest in another person, you can make a difference.

It’s not about money. It’s not about competition.

It’s about connection and collaboration.  It’s about being real and doing what you are meant to be doing. And for me, that means Company of Women.

Maybe we need the tough stuff so we can come to realize what is important to us and to be grateful for the opportunity we have to do what we love. 

So thank you ladies for filling my cup.   You made my week special. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Watch your speed

Ever since I got a speeding ticket last year (first ever), driving down one of our rural roads too fast, I have been forced to watch my driving speed, for fear of edging over and getting another one.  I’ve also started to pay more attention to the change in speed limits, instead of racing along oblivious. 

How fast do you drive?  Are you someone who ignores the speed signs and just goes, or do you stay cautiously within the limit, always aware of the limits set?  

Or are you someone who speeds up when you need to, but generally sticks to the rules.

You could say that my driving was a bit like the way I was running my business last year, in that I would forge full speed ahead with a new idea, without always checking my surroundings for warning signs that I needed to slow down.

I would embark on a new idea, set it in motion and then find out what I needed to give more thought to as we went along.  No caution. No recognition that I might need to know more before going off full tilt.  After all, I was a woman of action.   If I liked the concept, I was in.

Now in some ways, this is a good thing.  I wouldn’t be trying to perfect stuff before setting off, nor would I be second-guessing myself.  I would just go for it, and do my best.

But like the speeding ticket, sometimes I’d get caught out.  Sometimes it might have been better if I had slowed down before making big decisions or offers.  The outcome could have been different if I had noticed the signs along the way that this venture was perhaps not going to turn out the way I thought.  Timing is everything.

So just as with my driving, I am becoming more aware.  I am paying attention to the signs and listening to my intuition before I take that leap of faith.  I haven’t lost my entrepreneurial spirit, but I want to be more astute,  more savvy and more cautious on the road ahead. 

What about you?  How do you drive your business?  Slow and steady or fast and furious?  You too may want to observe how far your strategies take you.  Maybe it is time to change it up.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What's your vision?

When you started your business, did you have a vision statement?  At a recent Company of Women breakfast, speaker Adriana Girdler, challenged us to revisit our vision statements.  The one-liners, she observed, no longer cut it.  They’ve become too ambiguous and therefore subject to mixed interpretation.

As someone who works with Fortune 500 corporations, Adriana often finds that it is the lack of a clear vision and vision statement that creates issues within the organization. If it is not clear what you are meant to be doing, how can you know if you’ve got there or if a shiny new project fits with what you are supposed to be doing?

Good point.   When I worked in the non-profit sector, our mission statement was crucial as it spelt out the mandate, and without a mandate, it can be all too easy to go off in too many different directions.  In fact many charities can hurt themselves by “ambulance chasing” – in that they’d go after funding without giving too much consideration as to whether the proposed project actually fitted with their mandate.

I suspect the same could happen in business.  Clearly if something is profitable and makes more money than your “pet” project, it might be time to revisit and determine what business are you in.  Perhaps your “pet project” becomes a sideline and you focus your energies on what is working for you and what is paying the bills.

Adriana also encouraged people to look at their vision statement visually.  By that she meant to add visuals that illustrated the way you want to run your business and what you want to achieve. To help companies do just that, she has developed The Visual Vision Statement Doodle Book  which walks you through the process.

Prompted by Adriana’s talk, I pulled up my original business plan from fourteen years ago.  What did I say back then?  “Our purpose is to create a supportive environment through which women can realize their potential and actively pursue their dreams.”

Hmm.  Certainly we haven’t changed much over the years, but it is a bit vague and we have narrowed in our target audience to women in business, especially women entrepreneurs and broadened what we do beyond support, to providing the tools and training to help women get ahead.

So I have started to craft a new vision statement.  How does this sound?  “To build a caring community of women in business, that supports, empowers and educates women so they can achieve success on their own terms.”

To me this is a work in progress and in the months ahead my team will be revisiting this, as this is a team task, one that we need to work on together so we are literally all on the same page and clear on what we want to achieve.

What do you think?  Maybe it is time for you to revisit your vision statement and gain clarity on what success looks like for you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Out of the mouth of babes

Last week I attended Matilda.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Roald Dahl’s story, it is about a little girl who has the misfortune to live in a home where the parents couldn’t care less about her and who attends a school where the principal feels children are just maggots.

Not much of a life for a child.  You will be pleased to learn that there is one character, Miss Honey, who does take a caring interest in the child.  But in one of the Matilda’s songs, she has a strong message for all of us. 

Here’s just some of the lyrics:

Just because you find that life's not fair, it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change.
Just because I find myself in this story,
It doesn't mean that everything is written for me.
If I think the ending is fixed already,
I might as well be saying I think that it's OK,
And that's not right!

Interesting.  An important message for any of us who may be feeling stuck, who see no “light at the end of the tunnel.”  As Matilda says, if we do nothing it won’t change.

As we start a new year, what changes could you make?  As Matilda says, just because life seems predictable, doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to the ending you think is written for you.

Following extensive research, Amy Vodarek and I are finishing off our book Good Enough? which is coming out this Spring. After connecting with over 350 women, we’ve learnt more about how and why women suffer from self-doubt or feel an imposter, all of which holds them back from realizing their potential. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Many of the women described digging in and making new and often difficult choices. But one’s for the better. It means we have to reflect on what is happening, both past and present, ask ourselves tough questions and look at small steps we can take to change the situation and take charge of our lives.

Because as Matilda says, to stay stuck, is not right.