This conference, held on the 23rd of February, was a very interesting occasion. There was a cross-section of business women in attendance and the venue was full. The speakers were very capable, and the workshops were enlightening.
Maria Eagle, MP was the keynote speaker. She was very clear in her encouragement of women in business, urging us to ignore the glass ceiling and instead, “stand up and bang the drum”. She said that we should serve as mentors and support systems for each other and for those women who were new to business. She informed us that there were some funding available through the ASPIRE fund for women in business. Further details of this fund are available from Business Link.
We also heard from Steph Cutler www.making-lemonade.co.uk who spoke to us on the topic “viewing obstacles as opportunities not as setbacks”. Steph is truly inspirational, since she launched her businesses after losing her sight . Steph’s message to us was to “use the lemons that life hands us to make lemonade”. Her key aides to success are:
• Staying determined
• Keeping self belief
Penny Power, founder of Ecademy, spoke to us about social networking and business as the way of the future. Imploring us to tap into the Facebook generation – the amazing generation of teenagers who “are connected through the power of Facebook. They are using Facebook and other social networking media to build a different world around them. They are not afraid of technology. They support each other.” When I went home from the conference and showed my well “connected” daughter this part of my notes – she said “well, that would be £100 per hour for you – £250 per hour for your friends!” to show us how to get connected that is!
And what is this “connectedness?” Well, according to Penny, you are connected when people know you, like you and want to follow you. But what Penny says is true. My daughter is well-connected. Her fingers work magic on her mobile with that other thing she calls texting. She speaks to friends and family abroad, and tells me what’s happening to my nieces and nephews, way before my sisters get round to telling me! A few years ago when I wanted to find some friends that I had lost touch with from my secondary school years, she put out a search on Facebook and found one of my friends who then led us to the others and we are planning a massive re-union in December of this year either in Miami Florida or in Jamaica – so I have experienced the power of face book.
And yes, my daughter and her friends are very supportive of each other. A ‘Level assignments are discussed via Face Book and other social problems sorted out there too. In fact when I organised her 18th birthday party last September, I designed some beautiful invitations for her – she casually said to me – “Mom we don’t do that anymore, I will send my invites via Face book”. I started to panic, having recalled that a few weeks before I had seen on GMTV where someone’s house got trashed, because details of a party were leaked on face book. She read my mind and quickly assured me that the invites would be sent “privately” via Face Book, but to make me happy, she would also hand out the invites to her friends when she saw them. Theirs is a truly interesting world.
Penny tells us that our main asset is our Network. The value of our Network is in this online community, the people who we have our conversations with online. The people who will talk about us, even when we are not around. Unless we learn how to connect with and to our ‘network’ we will be surpassed as entrepreneurs by these young people who are already so well-connected, 50% of whom are aspiring to be self-employed.
So how do we have our conversations with our online community? How do we decide which to join and which to lead? Penny assures us that it takes time to build, and that one way of doing this is by using Steve Jobs’ model (Apple) to “join the dots in your life, but first make them”. One way of doing this, is by offering more than a product or service – have an emotional push behind your business, something that will move your contacts through to “liking you”. Penny’s talk was truly inspirational and she ended it with a poem that she has written entitled “When I understood”.
And the inspiration carried on with an equally enlightening delivery from Deborah Szebeko, Founder thinkpublic, this time, giving us some insight into doing business in the public sector. Her top tips for starting business include the following:
• Be adaptable, match your business with who you are, in how you communicate and relate with people.
• Learn the lingo – different industries use words that are unique to them
• Develop your story– how you came to be and your brand – logo, communication and copy
• Build relationships, don’t underestimate your clients as advocates and embrace social networking
• Give staff respect and responsibility – don’t be a control freak, create a positive working culture that draws people to your business and encourages team working
• Find a great accountant that is unique to your business
• Find a mentor – someone to listen to you and someone to answer to.
• Don’t forget to have fun
• Trust and follow your instincts – follow your heart.
And when we thought that there couldn’t possibly be anything else for us to learn, we were taken through a crash course of coaching techniques by Rita Bailey , Director RJB Consulting & Development Ltd.
Her first word of caution was for us to set compelling goals that will get us up in the morning, backed by a step by step plan. Success needs a plan, if we fail to plan, we plan to fail! She then moved on to look at the “obstacles to success”, that is, those barriers that stop us from taking action we know we should take. These barriers can be real or imagined, and the main ones are, lack of self-confidence; procrastination and inertia. Rita’s strategies for dealing with these obstacles include:
• Self confidence
Show what you know, play to your strengths and ask for the fees you want. Confidence is a skill that can be developed by mentors and coaches.
Hold ourselves accountable – find a mentor someone we can account to and give them the power to ask us the pertinent questions. Procrastination can become a challenge when it stops us from achieving our dreams!
It takes vast amounts of effort to keep going. But this effort must be complemented by motivation. Therefore we must set smart, compelling and inspiring goals that will motivate us. It also helps if we can visualise the results.
• Managing time and stress
If we don’t manage our time, someone else or something else, somewhere else will steal our time. We must be mindful of how we spend our time, in particular, how much time we spend building our business.
• Seeking support
Seeking support will enable us to free up some of our time. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for support.
• Skills and knowledge
Identify our skills gaps and knowledge i.e. marketing, project management, negotiation, client accounts and fill it. There will always be gaps in skills and knowledge as businesses evolve, so continuous development is important.
To round it off, Rita gave us some steps to fulfil our plans:
• Make plans, short medium and long-term.
• Write them down.
• Engage an accountability partner. Someone to share success with and who will ask all the questions we don’t want to answer, namely: what do we want, and when do we want it by.
• Set compelling goals.
• Review goals daily, weekly, monthly.
• Have a vision of what our success would look like.
• Identify barriers and get help to overcome the barriers.
• And finally, she challenged us to give ourselves the gift of success by setting a goal for the 31st of December, visualising what successfully achieving that goal will feel like. My goal – to be established in business by the 31st of December 2010.
So, how would I rate the conference? I would give Business Link a big thumbs up. The conference was well organised and I will certainly be attending again next year if another one is planned.