Sunday, May 29, 2011


Bringing a group of powerful, strong women together is always exciting. The fact that they all owned their business, were successful and leaders in their own right, made the meeting even more dynamic and you could feel the energy in the room.

On Thursday, the National Task Force on Women’s Business Growth held its fourth roundtable – this time in Toronto. Three roundtables had already taken place across Canada, and I suspect the conversations were similar.

While more and more women are starting their businesses, the growth of their ventures is slower to their male counterparts. Why is that? And more to the point, what can we do to change this situation? These were the topics under discussion at the roundtable.

We had sixty-four women in attendance, representing all types of businesses. Following a report on the latest research, a panel presentation from three successful entrepreneurs, the women were divided into groups to look at supplier diversity and procurement; access to capital; adoption of technology and training needs.

As the facilitators from each group reported back, you could see some common threads. First women needed to be more confident in their abilities to succeed and to actively seek out opportunities to grow their businesses, and it was identified that role models and mentors were needed who could show the way.

Another frequent observation was a lack of financial literacy which hindered growth. As a result, accessing capital became a scary prospect and one that women often chose not to pursue.

We actually had three groups of women from the IT sector which was gratifying to see as so often they are striving to get ahead in a male-dominated industry and they came up with all sorts of innovative strategies to keep us connected and supporting one another.

Different mechanisms and delivery options were considered in terms of training so as to fit into the busy schedule of women business owners and it was recognized that women business owners often seemed reluctant to invest in themselves.

And talking of time, we ran out of it. We’d been together for four hours and the meeting ended on the cusp of exploring solutions that could help and support women business owners. But this was just the beginning, and having the women all in one room to start the dialogue gave credibility to the need for change and the desire for it to happen.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I’ve just been watching a show about a bakery that needs to change - its products to meet the needs of their clients and the layout of the store so it becomes contemporary and attracts younger shoppers.

The owner is really set in her ways and despite the expert’s advice and a tour of successful bakery, is digging her heels in because she doesn’t want to change what she is doing. Actually she is not listening – to her customers or to the expert they’ve called in to save her bakery.

No one says change is easy but if we stay complacent or set in our ways, then the outcome is not likely to be positive. As Einstein says “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

After doing a trial run with different breads, the owner has to acknowledge that there was lots of interest in the new, healthier types of bread. However, while she has agreed that the speciality breads might work, she is taking short cuts and using bread mixes instead of making the breads from scratch. From the expert’s point of view, she’s totally missed the point and her controlling, passive aggressive behaviour is dooming the move forward.

Her rationale for her resistance is that she has been running her business for over 36 years and done well, thank you very much. I was in awe at the expert’s tenacity in trying to get her to change her mind but in the end, the business owner turned down all the ideas and suggestions.

So how set in your ways are you? Are you open to change? What does it take to get you to change direction? A decline in revenue or customers; constant feedback emphasizing something you don’t want to hear? Well, ignore at your peril. Even the most successful business cannot rest on its laurels, part of staying successful is staying current and innovative.

Plus, don’t you get bored with the same old, same old? I do.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


How many emails do you get a week? I don’t know about you, but if I am out of the office for just a day, I am faced with hundreds of emails from people, all expecting an instant reply from me.

At a recent conference, I had the opportunity to hear Elaine Stirling, author of The Corporate Storyteller: A writing manual and style guide for the brave new business leader who shared tips on more efficient use of emails. Too often she says, we waste people’s time by not being specific about what we want and by when, which results in several emails going to and fro until this information is nailed down. How true.

She also encourages people to set the stage for their email message, with a quick courteous sentence that allows you to check in with the person or helps them clarify who you are and where you met.

Being visual, I truly got her statement about white space and how a long, dense email is intimidating before you even read it and in fact may result on you not responding straight away. Introducing paragraphs or better still headings, makes it much easier for the reader to grasp what you want.

She suggests that the closing sentence should revert back to the personal and be friendly, helping to build the relationship between yourself and the recipient.

So often I write what I want and then it seems too stark and to-the-point, and so I go back and inject the email with more of a personal tone at the beginning and at the end. And it would seem I am on the right track.

Elaine recommends that when we send an email we take three steps :

1. Why I am writing this
2. What you need to know to take action or make a decision
3. What I need from you and when.

When we outline what we need, why we need it and by what time, there is no confusion and best of all, we save time – for everyone.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Some call him a Shark, others a Dragon. But meeting Robert Herjavec of Dragons’ Den fame was less scary than you would think. He’s actually a likeable, down-to-earth, shrewd businessman who has worked hard to achieve his success.

Along with several other “media,” I had the opportunity to sit in on a media conference before he spoke at the Toronto Entrepreneur launch this weekend. What first struck me however was the length of his hair - it was longer than I thought. Overlapping on his collar, it gave him a younger look and he is a lot slimmer than he appears on television, but they say that the TV adds ten pounds.

He talked about the role Dragons Den has played in making entrepreneurship sexy. It is now considered cool to own your own business and at a recent talk at Wilfrid Laurier, he was encouraging the students to “become great at something you do and the money will follow.”

Being on the show he has seen many budding entrepreneurs and he encourages anyone thinking of pitching to the Dragons to do their homework, do the math. “When we ask you what you want the money for – don’t say marketing, “ he advises. “You are wanting us to invest in your business, be prepared for real world questions because if you can’t answer them, then you are in trouble.” he adds.

His parents who came to Canada with nothing and who could not speak English, are his inspiration. Because of the sacrifices they made for him, he was determined to be successful. In the early nineties, he was waiting on tables at a local restaurant and launching BRAK systems in his basement in between shifts.

Ironically, while the Dragons often seek a share of the business in return for their investment, Herjavec himself prefers to keep all the equity to himself. He wants to own his businesses 100 percent.

Herjavec sold his first business to AT & T for $100 million. At the time he was offered stock or cash. Unsure which way to go, he asked his accountant and other advisors, who recommended he take the stock. But that wasn’t sitting right with him, so he asked the one person he knew who would give him an honest answer – his father – who said take the cash. He took the cash but a few months later the stock value was on the rise and he started to question his decision, however not much later, the company folded. Had he taken the stock, he would have been left with nothing.

After a three-year hiatus, he started up the The Herjavec Group and he admitted that it hasn’t grown as quickly as he thought. “In some ways when you don’t have much money to invest, you stay laser-focused and less willing to take risks. Whereas this time I’ve thrown money at different things, and they haven’t all worked out. “

It was interesting to learn that no one within the company has a title on their business cards. From Herjavec’s perspective, all his staff have the same job – to keep the customer happy.

When asked about giving back, Herjavec started by explaining that culturally in Eastern Europe, you don’t give back. Having said that, he went onto say while he can’t help everyone, he’s chosen causes that have personal meaning to him. And family always comes first.

As Herjavec points out, we all have the same 24 hours in a day, it’s what we do with that time that counts. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t use our time wisely.

Clearly Herjavec has made every second count.