Friday, March 24, 2017

Courageous conversations


If there is one thing I have learned over the 14 years of running Company of Women it is that it doesn’t matter what business you are in, the challenges are the same.  Typically they are finding customers/clients, cash flow and relationship/HR issues and staying positive.


But when we start out, we don’t know that. 

We think we are the only ones struggling with finding any customers, never mind the ideal customer.   We believe we are alone as we try to make the business viable with sufficient money in the bank to pay the bills when they come in.  And we definitely think we are the only one to suffer from self-doubt, to question why we thought this business was such a great idea.

That’s one of the reasons it’s good to belong to a group of entrepreneurial women, like Company of Women, where it’s safe to admit to these problems.  And this week in Barrie, we actually gave each woman at the meeting ten minutes to air her “dirty laundry” so we could brainstorm together on how to solve the particular challenge she was facing.

My hope is that as we went around the room that women started to feel better as they heard from others.  We certainly came up with plenty of ideas as there was real wisdom in the room.   For us more seasoned entrepreneurs, we’ve been there… in fact, truth is, we may still be there but on a different level, because as your business evolves, so do the issues you face.

The challenges ranged from finding customers – a big one – to having difficult conversations to getting ready for a new and first baby and how that might impact the business.

What I loved was the other women were listening intently, putting forward their best suggestions and no one was being judged because of the challenges she faced.

And that is what it is all about.  It is about being there for each other, being willing to be vulnerable and upfront about what is happening in your business and your life, because when you do, you quickly learn that you are not alone when you own.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let's build a village, not a wall

Is it just me but everywhere I go people are on edge? 

There is a cloud of hesitancy and fear because no one quite knows what is going to happen next.  We’re walking a tight rope, and one slight twitch could make us wobble and fall off.

Is this what it was like before World War 11?  Were people aware something dreadful was about to erupt and going about their day-to-day life, trying to pretend nothing was wrong? 


That’s kind of how it feels right now.  People seem to be hunkering in, just waiting for the boom to fall.  No matter how much you may dislike what is happening “down south” you can’t get away from it. 

Every night on the news, some other foolhardy or discriminating action has been taken and you worry where it will lead.  Every conversation you have with someone, his name creeps in.  Every day you wake up and wonder what’s going to happen next.

Our fear for the future is holding us hostage, and it is time we broke free. 

We can’t be held ransom by someone “playing” at being president or the unrest around the world.  We have to grab our lives back.  We have to carry on and live our lives to the fullest.  Because if we sit back and just wait for the bad stuff to unfold, we just increase the possibility that it will.

Let’s be clear.  It’s not just that we worry that the economy will tank.  It is that deep-rooted fear that with one foolish move, we could find ourselves at war, or worse, eradicated. As I write that, I feel myself shudder at the very thought.

But here’s the thing, while that is always a possibility, we have to Carry On. Keep Living.  As Jini Reddy observed in a recent Psychologies article,  “The world can feel very divided at the moment – which is all the more reason to celebrate our shared humanity.” She suggests that we need to come up with ways to avoid adding to the negativity, without retreating into denial or complacency.

“The urge, she says,  to experience communion and our shared humanity or to take meaningful action and to feel uplifted by it, is palpable.”

Good advice. I have always been an optimist, and I don’t intend to stop now.  I encourage you to do the same. Be aware, yes,  but don’t let it paralyze you or cause you to stop being who you are meant to be.  Let’s cluster together to neutralize what is happening and build a community that cares.

It takes small, simple acts of kindness, so that on a daily basis we remind ourselves of the value of community and helping one another.  As Reddy says “these small everyday acts, taken individually, create ripples. This is community in action – and we all benefit from it.”

We can do this. You know we can.






Thursday, March 09, 2017

What do you think it takes to be a leader?


Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of being the opening keynote speaker at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Cambridge.

I was asked to share my story and talk about the ways women lead.  Starting my talk with a photo of myself at three, wearing my kilt, like the good Scottish lassie that I was, I went on to talk my career path and how receiving the ATHENA Award, was a pivotal point in my leadership journey.

As I explained to the audience of over 100 women (and two men), up until that point I had not really seen myself as a leader, more someone who saw a gap in service, would recruit people to help, and we’d roll up our sleeves and get the job done.


The ATHENA award was started by Martha Mayhood Mertz, who when she joined the board of her local chamber of commerce, found herself to be the only woman. Knowing that there were equally qualified women who deserved to be there, she set about to establish a leadership award that would honour women. Thirty five years later, over 7,000 awards have been presented around the world.

As I showed the audience my sculpture, I explained that each element was symbolic. The base is marble, representing the strong foundation of the individual, the bronze body represents the ability to withstand whatever comes your way, the arms reaching out speaks to how a leader reaches out to people and the crystal at the top illustrates how the leader has a clear vision and can see all aspects of a situation. 

The ATHENA Foundation did research to determine what are the key and common characteristics of women who had received the award.  And this is what I shared in my presentation, tying the attribute to a Canadian woman, most of whom I have met and know.

Courageous Acts  - These women are the trailblazers in our midst, who despite the risk involved, choose to take the road less travelled, paving the way for others.  

Fierce Advocacy - Likely we all know someone who has turned a tragedy into triumph by challenging the system and working steadfastly to change whatever had befallen them.   

Learning – Leaders are life long learners.  They see the value and importance of always learning, gaining more information and are never satisfied with the status quo.   They are curious.

Giving back – Often the women would be connected to foundations, charities or causes, giving of their time, resources and expertise. 

Relationships – As women we are very much about building relationships. We work hard to foster, build and maintain relationships – both professionally and personally.

Collaboration – This is one skill set that women often bring to organizations, business and boards – our ability to involve others, to partner up with others and to see the merit and respect diverse perspectives.
Authenticity – Being who you are and comfortable in your own skin, authentic leaders treat everyone with respect.  They are the real deal and build trust within their organizations.

Celebration and joy – In our fast-paced lives, it’s important to pause and celebrate our successes along the way.  When we have gratitude for what we have, we find joy.

I couldn’t resist using the last attribute to showcase Company of Women, because that is what we are all about.  We’re the cheerleaders for women business owners – there to celebrate your wins, and support you over the near-wins.


I ended with a challenge to the women to look at themselves as leaders, and left them with this quote – “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. You are a leader.”

Thursday, March 02, 2017

When using your connections works a charm

This week one of our speakers cancelled just before an event.  What to do? What was our Plan B?

We had a good crowd coming, so cancelling was not an option.  Instead when we checked to see who was registered, we found that we had two marketing experts coming.  

While not like the marketing generalist we’d 
booked, each knew her stuff about her aspect of marketing – social media and video – so we asked them to quickly prepare a short presentation.

And they did.  Not only was it good to involve the women in the group but also to showcase the expertise we already had in the room.

Yes they were a bit nervous.  It’s hard to strut your stuff in front of your peers, fearing they will judge you, but you know what,  I bet they both went up a notch in people’s perception of them because they came to our rescue and because they knew what they were talking about.

All of this to say that sometimes plan B works out better than your original plan. 

I remember going to the theatre once and being disappointed that we had the understudy, but she was amazing and it proved to me that sometimes it is better to leave your expectations at the door. I could have so easily let that disappointment colour my view of the results, but I didn’t.  I decided to be open to what unfolded and it worked well.

Just like it did the other night. It is always good to have a Plan B in your back pocket and often when things don’t work out the way you wanted, it makes you more creative and you come up with a great solution.  In our case, we tapped into our connections.


Maybe Plan B stands for Better.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Do you judge a book by its cover?


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Right?  We have had such a difficult time selecting the cover for our book.  Way more frustrating than writing it.

Of course you ask for opinions … and you get them.  All favouring a different one.

Before all this started I actually went on a fishing expedition and had gone to Chapters to look at and check out the current covers for books.   Most have bright coloured jackets and words. No photos.

And I can tell you why.  It is near impossible to find a photo that accurately depicts

a) what your book is about or

b) who you want to pick it up and buy it.


I know because we tried.  We really tried.  Too young. Too old. Not diverse enough. Too diverse.  Looks depressing and this is a book about improving your life.

We had one with a gorgeous child on the cover but that bubble was quickly burst when both my daughters said that it looked like a parenting book and they wouldn’t buy it.

We tried all sorts - flowers, swans, the sea, just an arm reaching out, a girl at the subway - you name it. Then when we gave up on that, we started to explore designs, backgrounds but that raised the question – what colour? 

We had one that was pinkish – too girly was the conclusion.  We tried turquoise  but actually it is a popular colour for book covers these days and we wanted our book to stand out. So that was nixed.

Eventually we settled on a cover, but next… what are the tag lines.  Another round of deliberation.  Each word carried a certain weight, a certain nuance.

So here is the latest favourite.  What do you think?  And if you don’t like it… I don’t want to know.  This was way too painful a process to start over and repeat.  Besides, the book is weaving its way to be printed as we speak.




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.