Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tough Times

I have just heard of the demise of two long-standing businesses – Homemakers magazine and POWE (Power of Women Exchange).   It’s kind of a wake up call to this changing economic climate.  Businesses that were doing well one day, and are gone the next.

And as someone who publishes a magazine, I know how tough it is.  We are down to two issues this year and even that is pushing it.  I am grateful to all the advertisers who have stuck by us and the writers and colleagues, like Michelle Bailey from Blazing the Agency, who have rallied round to make sure we continue.

As for POWE, I really feel for Lia and Tina who started the organization.  It is so hard to close the doors on something that you know was making a difference, and which you have poured so much of yourself into making it happen.

One argument might be that there isn’t a need for women-based business organizations, but I don’t think so.  It’s more that we need to pay attention to what is happening, adjust what we are offering so we continue to provide meaningful, real experiences for women.

It reminds me of when I ran mothers’ groups for Children’s Aid.  Obviously their mandate was to improve the women’s parenting skills, but when they didn’t have enough money to put food on the table or were worried about when the next blow would come from their abusive partner, teaching parenting skills seemed a bit futile. 

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the women needed basic life skills and once those basic needs were met, and they felt better about themselves, then they would be more willing to tackle their parenting skills.

Likewise, for the past nine years we have put on event after event, brought in amazing speakers and helped women learn and connect with one another.  But I am not convinced that this is what is needed now in today’s climate.  Yes, we all need to continue learning, and we will still bring in the speakers and cover topics of interest to business owners at all levels. But if you are worried and feeling all alone, finding out that others feel the same way and that they have some solutions to share, can really change your reality.

People seem to be hunkering in.  Let’s face it, when money is short and you are feeling discouraged about your business, the last thing you feel like doing is shelling out even more money so you can put on a mask and pretend all is well with the world.

No, it is time for some honesty, some authenticity and some down-to-earth, practical conversations.  We can support one another.  We can problem-solve together and yes, we can get through this challenging period, and not only survive, but thrive.

As the Dalai Lama said “ It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom, and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.”
So don’t give up on networking.  Yes,  meeting people online is one alternative, and I maybe old-fashioned,  but I still like meeting people face-to-face.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fast Forward to Next Year's Trends

Looking for what will be hot in 2012?  A recent article in Entrepreneur highlighted ten trends that will shape business next year,  and for website and software developers it would seem the sky’s the limit as nearly each trend has technology implications.

More and more we are relying on information, feedback and recommendations from others to help us in our decision-making,  Knowledge is power.  In a 2010 study it was found that 62 percent of online retail shoppers think product recommendations are useful.  With sites offering recommendations on products, restaurants, decision-making does become easier. So how can you tap into this trend?  At minimum, ask for referrals and make sure your testimonials are front and centre on your website.

Collaborative commerce speaks to the increase in businesses interested in sharing, bartering, lending and renting goods, skills, money, space or services. Take Getaround, it’s a social car-sharing service that enables a car owner to make money by renting out their car when it is not being used.  Or TaskRabbit which is like an eBay for errands.   What services do you need?  Is there someone you can barter with?  We actually will be talking about collaboration at our January Oakville dinner.

 More and more customers are wanting products customized to their needs and they are willing to pay for these special orders – be it chocolates, shoes and jewelry.  Closer to home, Megan Barnes with her customized play mats for children can testify to this growing trend, with orders flooding in from all over the world for her product.

New electronic devices, like the tablet, give people mobility and make it easier to work from home or while on the road.  Any applications that can further increase their productivity will be successful in the year ahead. Are you accessing useful apps on your mobile phone?  Consider checking out what is available to you.  You might be surprised.

Today resources are available to foster creativity and help creative artists sell their wares.  Websites like Etsy, an online marketplace for direct-from-the-artist crafts clocked up $314 million in sales last year.  While other sites like sell in-person lessons on everything from guitar to gardening and with Blurb, authors can self-publish bookstore quality books or produce photographic journals.  

The push for food grown locally is growing. As a society we are more concerned about what we eat and what we put into our bodies. With urban farming, people in cities are converting their back yards into vegetable gardens; public places are being developed to include community gardens; and local farmers markets are turning into social gathering spots where the community collects and supports its local farmers.

The popularity of social gaming devices has been ever growing, but gamification is actually looking at “how to use game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” explains Nathan Landes, founder of Gamify, which has developed a product that allows individuals and brands to gamify their own virtual space.
 Simplicity and authenticity are the current driving forces behind design. It is about moving back to basics. Several websites are marketing design products.  With the increased interest in industrial design,  the Rhode Island School of Design, is equipping its graduates with “artrepreneur starter kits”  in preparation for this growing market.

High intense boot camps proved more popular this year compared to fitness centres where people join but never go.  Software designers are also capitalizing on this extreme fitness, developing boot camp apps that let its users develop their own circuit training workout.

With unemployment at an all time high, online tools such as LinkedIn are linking people to jobs through social media.  Entrepreneur reckons “the employment support sector is rife with opportunity.” New software apps, for example, are being developed to make it easier for job-seekers to post their resumes on numerous job sites at the same time.

Regardless of your business or industry, if you are not online, don’t have a website presence or are not taking advantage of all the new software and apps out there, you may well find yourself on a desert island. 

One fast growing trend for sure is that technology is changing faster than anything, and now is the time to get on board.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Power of Women

Recently I witnessed first hand the strength of women working together to support one another.

I was attending the WeConnect conference which brought women entrepreneurs from across Canada to learn more about how to tap into corporations that operate supplier diversity programs – i.e. they encourage and support women-owned businesses to apply for their contracts.

The group I was in had spent an hour discussing the merits of mentorship and how best to run a mentoring program that was a win-win for all involved.  The challenge was finding the necessary funds to run the program in a professional and organized fashion. 

The recorder for our discussion group then reported back to the whole audience and advised them that we needed $15,000 to make the program happen.  She worded it in such a way that it became almost like a live auction and before we knew it, one woman business owner offered up $5,000 towards the program and within ten minutes, $12,000 had been raised.

It was a magic moment and demonstrates how as  women we have the power and influence to make things happen.

Kudos to all who signed up.  And yes, my cheque is in the mail.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mistaken Identity

I had been looking after my daughter’s cat – Phoenix – while she was away on vacation.  Now Phoenix is an indoor cat who often sits by the back patio door looking out longingly at the great outdoors, anxious to explore it for herself.  So we take great care to lock the door after the dog has gone out as we don’t want her to escape.

So you can imagine my horror when I came back one evening to see a black and white cat sitting on the front door step.  My immediate thought and horror was that somehow I had let the cat out and my daughter would never forgive me. 

On getting closer, I started to reflect on Phoenix’s colouring – all white, with some black.  This cat was the complete opposite – all black with some white.  In my panic I was struggling to remember exactly what Phoenix looked like,  so I was still second-guessing myself and rushed into the house shouting “Phoenix, Phoenix.” Timid by nature, she eventually showed herself and I gave a big sigh of relief when she appeared.

I had nearly scooped that cat into the house. Just imagine my daughter’s surprise when she came home to find not one happy well-fed cat, but two!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Speaking Out Loud

While I am getting much more comfortable with public speaking, my interview at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore made me more nervous.  Mostly because I didn’t know the questions and therefore couldn’t rehearse my answers.  I’ve never been someone who felt confident speaking off the top of my head.  And then there was the reading out loud – I had to read two or three sections from my book. 

First, which ones do I choose?  And second, and probably more important, I suck at reading out loud. I always went to great lengths to avoid this at school, where there was the expectation that the students in leadership roles (I was one)  would frequently read to the whole assembly.

Well you know what… it was OK.  Actually it was more than OK, it was pretty good.  What I had forgotten is that when you know your topic (which was me and my book), you know the answers.  On reflection there were a couple of things I probably shouldn’t have said – being critical of a well-known entrepreneur – but hey, take a number,  there are many who take pot shots at him.

My thanks to friends who came in to be supportive, especially those who drove in from Oakville.  It was lovely to see some familiar faces and it made the whole event seem like a friendly conversation between friends. Annemarie Shrouder was a charming host who made you feel comfortable and at ease and she seemed to have genuinely liked my book, which helps.

So my advice to those of you facing a demon or taking a risk – just do it.  It is usually worse in your head than in reality.