My 3 Biggest Business Mistakes by DeAnna Burghart

DeAnna-close cropStarting a business isn’t easy. I’ve done it three times now – twice as a sole proprietor, and once as a founding member of the ProjectConnections team. The process is fraught with tension, loaded with exciting opportunities, and rife with chances to make mistakes. Thank goodness! How else would we ever learn what works and what doesn’t?

I can’t claim these are the only three mistakes I’ve made in business. (I’ve made more than that since my first cup of coffee this morning!) But these are the three biggest mistakes I think I’ve made in any of those business start-ups. How many of them are you guilty of?

Mistake #1: Analysis Paralysis. I’m good at research. Really, really good. I actually research things for fun. That makes research a very safe place to run away to when I’m not quite sure what to do next. You get conflicting opinions, really smart people are telling you to make a variety of different choices, and you aren’t quite sure which one feels right. Research it!

To. Death.

Sometimes, we feel so insecure in our own judgment and experience that we spend weeks or even months longer than we should on “getting a little more market intelligence” or whatever we want to call our stalling. It’s the start-up equivalent of forming a committee to investigate options. Used properly, research is absolutely essential to success. Used excessively it will yield even more confusion and insecurity, not to mention lost opportunities because your competitors were out there doing things you were just reading about.

Lesson: When your research stops turning up new insights and information, stop! Adding one more voice to the “me too” stack isn’t going to tell you how you feel about the information you’ve uncovered. You won’t be able to take successful steps forward until you understand that critical piece of information, and you won’t find it in anyone else’s books or blogs. You’ll only find it by being honest with yourself about what you’ve uncovered.

Mistake #2: Not Speaking Up. In my adventures in the business world, I’ve frequently enjoyed the luxury of being in a room full of really smart people. I know just how fortunate this makes me, and I revel in it. But there’s a danger as well. When you’re in a room with that many smart people on a regular basis, it’s easy to be a little intimidated by them. And from there, it’s a small step to suppress your own misgivings when everyone else seems so sure of themselves. There’s a powerful temptation to “go along,” and by doing so to seem wise and well informed. This is understandable.

It is also a mistake. Stifling that little voice, or that feeling in my gut, has cost me precious time, money, effort, and opportunities. No one can see everything, so if one person is holding back, the group is missing valuable information – even if the person holding back is you.

Lesson: That little voice in your ear, or that feeling in your gut, knows more than you give it credit for. I’ve learned to listen and to speak up when it’s bugging me. I’m not always right, of course. Sometimes I just need to hear others address my concerns, and the feeling goes away. But it pays to speak up, even when you don’t have the final say.

Mistake #3: Not Listening. This is the flip side of #2, and it’s an easy and dangerous trap. I usually find myself falling into this mode when I’ve finished a few rounds of “I told you so” in my head. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud. Stopping to really listen – to my CEO, my colleagues, my customers, my competitor’s customers – has opened doors that would have remained forever closed if I’d focused on speaking (or worse, on selling).

Lesson: Listen when people talk to you. Don’t spend the time running a script in your head of what you’re going to say in response – you’re throwing away valuable input and connections with others when you shut off like that. Open up, sit back, and really listen to what’s being said. Listen like your business depends on it. It probably does. And note that this is probably a good step to take both before and after speaking your mind.

You may have noticed that all three of these items – communication, intuition, connection – all relate to the so-called “soft skills” (they aren’t necessarily) that women are supposedly so good at (we aren’t necessarily). But as dicey as generalizations can be, I think women who end up in entrepreneurial spaces are often more driven and perfectionistic – and thus more inclined to these particular flaws. Or maybe these flaws are just more visible and damaging in the entrepreneurial space. Either way, they’re mistakes worth looking out for. I continually remind myself to listen to others, speak up about my doubts, and above all to do something! No one was ever successful in business by doing nothing at all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

DeAnna Burghart is content editor at ProjectConnections.com. Prior to joining the founding team in 1999, she was a successful software training consultant, and helped launch a web design and SEO firm.

Leaders Make the Future by Sue Lebeck

images (2)(Originally posted at Sue Lebecks’s blog on www.innovatingsmart.org, May 24, 2011)

Great title, yes?  It’s not mine!  This title and the inspiring book behind it belong to Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future.  The full title, published in 2009, is Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World Thought you’d read all the leadership books you’ll ever need?   Think again.

As Bob expresses in his opening lines:

We are entering a threshold decade…  [a VUCA world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.] Self-interest will not be enough: leaders will need to broaden their concept of self to include the larger systems of which they are a part… Traditional business leadership mandates won’t be enough.  Leaders must… embrace the shared assets and opportunities around them… This will be a very tough decade to be a leader, but it will also be a very exciting and meaningful time to lead, with the right set of skills and appropriate expectations.”

So, what are those new leadership skills for an uncertain world?

Today’s SMART innovation story, which is a visual revisit of the inspiring tale of Serious Materials (check out the just-completed video) includes evidence of several of these new essential leadership skills.  For example, the maker instinct is alive and well in Kevin Surace’s story.  Redirecting his Silicon Valley high tech experience and skills in the direction of clean tech, Kevin has gotten serious about becoming a Maker, developing products to help re-create the built environment.  The skill of clarity enabled him to see beyond the common and critical problems of fuels and transportation to focus on this much larger problem of buildings and materials.  An immersive learning ability has made him a quick study for the possibilities present, and an apparent adeptness for rapid prototyping and experimentation has enabled him and his team to realize many of those possibilities already.

In addition to these four potent skills, Bob’s book identifies the need for six other critical skills, and articulates them in fresh and clear language.   Key among these is dilemma flipping, the “ability to turn dilemmas — which, unlike problems, cannot be solved — into advantages and opportunities”.  The Institute for the Future’s Ten-Year Forecast (found on the inside cover of the book) reveals dilemmas everywhere.  Dilemmas lurk amidst competing social diasporas,  terrorism-redefined warfare, and the uber-expectations of baby-boomers (especially when juxtasuposed with the challenges posed by sustainability goals).   Dealing with these dilemmas will require the ability to “remake” a situation — “reimagining and making again.”

Close behind dilemma flipping, also fresh and important is the skill of bio-empathy —  the “ability to see things from nature’s point of view”.   “Bio-empathy is about seeing human activity as nested within envrionmental stability and vice versa.”  This necessary modern skill is applied, nurtured and propagated as a design and engineering lens through the further leadership of Janine Benyus and the Biomimicry Guild and Institute she has built.

Constructive depolarizing and quiet transparency round out a 21st century leader’s artfulness kit — moving minds and building trust along the way.  Finally, smart mob organizing and commons creating are among today’s power tools, helping leaders to engender their leadership principles at scale.

Leaders make the future indeed.  How are you a leader?  What is the future you are making?  We would love to hear your story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sue Lebeck is an innovation management specialist working to advance smart, sustainability-driven systems. A researcher, product management and development specialist and innovation manager, Sue brings her diverse background in software, psychology, media and collaboration to the work of sustainability innovation.

Through the GotSMART? suite of services, Sue offers internal research and communications services to her clients’ leadership and marketing functions; assists initiative leaders in mapping their sustainability-driven stakeholder needs to technology requirements; and facilitates the implementation process.  With GotSMART? smart leaders get the extra support they need.

Going the Distance by Sue Lebeck

SueLebeck(Originally posted at Sue Lebeck’s blog on www.innovatingsmart.org, August 1, 2011)

This past weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of hosting guests from London who came to town to participate in the annual San Francisco Marathon.  As a former three-miler (make that two) and a current hill-climber (the urban kind), I fell naturally into a state of awe and admiration. Twenty-six-plus mile-markers to be overtaken by foot in the terrain of the cable-car seems extreme, if not unachievable.  How does one even begin?

Sometimes the quest for sustainability feels like that.   According to leaders of the world’s largest businesses, the roadmap to a sustainable future includes forty-plus non-skippable mile-markers. Reaching the mileage requirements for the current decade alone will require us to collectively pass a wide variety of milestones:

  • new measures of success
  • long-term financing models
  • business models that integrate all actors
  • costs of renewable lowered
  • value chain innovation
  • closed loop design
  • integrated urban management, water efficiencies, more agricultural R&D
  • and more

Tired yet?

Whatever your field of play, seasoned players know that success begins by choosing a direction and taking a step at a time.  Capacity and endurance is built consistently and increasingly, always working to a conscious plan.  This year’s seminars-for-marathoners (pp 11-13) offered this further inspired advice that sounds right-on to me:

  • Set high expectations:  “If you put your mind to it, you will surprise yourself by what you can accomplish” (It’s All in Your Head)
  • For best results, attend to what goes into and out of the whole system (Nutrition for the Endurance Athlete and TrainingWell™)
  • A centered frame of mind is key (Running with the Mind of Meditation)
  • What begins as a stretch goal can quickly become a way of life (63 Marathons in 63 Days)
  • Having succeeded over time, you will want to playfully step up your game (Charity Chasers)

Yes, like a marathon, sustainability is a long-term achievement — one which can at once protect and transform our lives.  So let’s get our support systems in place and get ready to go the distance.

Which sustainability mile-markers will you be helping us cruise past in victory?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sue Lebeck, is the Founder and Director of InnovatingSMART.  You can contact her via sue@innovatingsmart.org

Sue Lebeck is an innovation management specialist working to advance smart, sustainability-driven systems. A researcher, product management and development specialist and innovation manager, Sue brings her diverse background in software, psychology, media and collaboration to the work of sustainability innovation.

Sue is also one of our authors of the Scrappy Women in Business book.

From Chick Singer to Boss Lady – by Pamela Rose

me new headshot“Here, can you make us dinner out of this?”  Bobby, the blond keyboardist from the rock band I had just joined, handed me a grocery bag with a whole chicken, a box of spaghetti and a few dejected looking vegetables in it.  I was a little taken aback  – but as a 20 year old wanna-be singer, I just accepted the grocery bag and went to work in the kitchenette while the band started their rehearsal in the living room.   ‘Chick Singer’  was the actual title I had just accrued.  And honestly, chick singer was what I thought of myself back in 1979 – I was the gal with the voice and the tambourine and the dress.

It took me a few years to sort out what the rest of my talents were – agent, human resource manager, bookkeeper, arranger, song-writer and, most important:  Band Leader.

The role of women in music has thankfully gone through a fundamental change in the past 35 years.   We are seeing a stream of extremely talented young women show up on classical, pop, rock and jazz bandstands.   I know that every time a sax or guitar phenom answers the supreme unspoken question from the guys in the band  “it’s cool that she’s a woman, but can she play?” by PLAYING with fire and brilliance – we are changing minds and hearts about women and music from within.

I tour regularly with a show I’ve written about the history of women in jazz and blues “Wild Women of Song: Great Gal Composers of the Jazz Era” and I do love getting a chance to alter the cultural memory of the role women played in the creation of American popular music.

But when I was asked to submit something to this Scrappy Women blog – I knew I wanted to address this ‘chick singer’ part of my own musical journey. As I’m reading the entries in this website, I am hoping that some of my experiences might be useful to these smart business babes!

I’ll tell you a secret:  most singers, not just women, understand very little of what musical information the band is hoping to get from the musicians they work with.   The term ‘chick singer’ has come to mean a lot of negative things to a band – the singer who is often uninformed, or arrogant, assuming the band will just back them up and then fuming when the poor musicians don’t devine what he or she had in mind.  There’s a terrible joke:  Q: “How can you tell when a chick singer is at the door?”  A:  “She can’t find the key and has no idea how to enter”.   With a sigh, I must admit that was probably true of me in my earliest days of singing.  And conversely, I was often frustrated that the band didn’t seem to be paying attention to my own attempts to direct an arrangement or tempo or ending.

I began to watch very closely just how the instrumentalists were able to convey what they wanted from their band mates.  There were many subtle gestures and cues, almost a code, which I made my business to learn.  I took aside band members and asked for their guidance.  And I began to pay attention to each musician’s  unique ability, and how to also be aware of what might be their own weaknesses.  I learned how to put my bands in the best possible light where each moment on stage made us all feel the way artists like to feel:  confident but not complacent, informed yet supremely free to create within the framework which I have explained in just a few words.

I do think that one of the most fun things about my job is not just being the vocalist (although of course I love to sing) but being the Band Leader.  Just this New Year’s I walked onto a stage of mostly unknown to me musicians who, due to  the sudden illness of their usual vocalist and bandleader, needed me to call off 2 ½ hrs of straight dance music, without any rehearsal or set list.  I was grateful for my many years of professional experience – for those years spent learning the code, and for the confidence I felt from the band once they heard my first words (“okay this is a 12 bar blues in E, we’ll take it from the five chord, shuffle groove, one, two, one two three four!) and of course, for all those happy folks packed onto the dance floor all night long.

Not accepting the labels handed to us as women in any business, learning our trade, paying close attention to the needs and abilities of our team – isn’t that what Scrappy Women do?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pamela Rose is a Bay Area vocalist, bandleader and educator.  Her 6 CD’s are available on Amazon and CDBaby.com and when she is not touring nationally with her show Wild Women of Song: Great Gal Composers of the Jazz Era  her Bay Area performance schedule can be found by going to www.pamelarose.com

Becoming a Successful Business Diva Takes Skill by Shanna Webb

2013-12-20 Shanna Webb pic1Quote: “You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are!”-John Lennon

Becoming a successful business diva takes skill. It is a mind-set and it is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

When I started my public relations agency Webb & Associates more than five years ago I had exactly $250.00, just enough to get my business license. My mind-set became one of, ‘I better be successful or I will be sitting out on the corner with a plastic cup begging for change.’ Well, that wasn’t an option for this diva. And with the average American woman earning 70 cents to every dollar a man makes I knew I was going to have to work hard.

So I’m going to give you some tips to help you become the business diva you deserve to be.

1. Knock down doors – The very first client I got was an automobile dealership. I gained there business simply by walking in and handing the general manager a brochure about my services. Don’t be afraid to go out and canvas for business. And certainly don’t be fearful of meeting new people.

2. Talk a good game – My first client called me up and asked me if I could film some commercials for the dealership. I had never produced/edited a professional commercial before. But he didn’t know that. Luckily, I had friends who knew how to do this work. If you don’t know how to do it turn to your network of business associates and friends who can help you.

3. No one can wear your skirt – In order to become diva-lious you have to remember you are an original. There may be many businesses out there that do the same thing, but you have something no one else can offer. Find that one thing and capitalize on it.

4. Get paid what you are worth – A lot of times we have this false belief that customers buy price. This isn’t true and every luxury item sold whether it is cars, jewelry, or real estate proves that point. Don’t under bid a job or service, but be careful not to price yourself out of the stratosphere. Know your worth.

5. Don’t cherry pick – Every customer is a potential client and or sale. You can never judge a book by its cover. Assuming always makes an ass out of you and me.

6. Keep your finances tight – The biggest issue a businessperson will experience is money. Sometimes it rains down money and other times there will be droughts. It is important to plan. Stay out of debt and don’t buy it unless you can afford it.

7. Follow your brave heart – You can meet with business mentor organizations and talk to other businesses owners; however you are ultimately the captain of your yacht. The comfort is when you follow your heart you know you always made the right decision.

8. Dress for success – This is especially important in sales. I’m not saying run out and buy a Hermes bag or a Mercedes, just look professional and wear the proper business attire. When people dress for success they have a successful perception and attitude that shines through.

9. Avoid the crap-out crew – There are going to be people in your business and personal life who are just negative. These people are mentally destructive and total buzz-killers. Limit your time with these people and be aware when they mount their pity pony they want you to join them for the ride. Just say no to negativity.

10. Roll honest – Be honest with your clients and do good business and good business will come to you through referrals or ongoing sales. Roll honestly and you will always have excellent karma.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Shanna Webb, is a scrappy business woman and CEO of Webb & Associates Public Relations. As a veteran of the USAF, Ms. Webb is tough and determined. She believes in taking risks and in her abilities as a smart, sassy scrappy chick to teach other woman how to become scrappy!!

MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME THE F WORD By Patti Fletcher

 

patti-headshot-199x300This article was originally published on www.PSDNetwork.com and is published here with permission from the author Patti Fletcher.

Get your mind out of the gutter. The F word I am talking about is feminism. My mother is a feminist, but I am not sure she knows it. She will after she reads this article. And my father, well, the same goes for him: feminist. My father might be most shocked to learn that not only is he a feminist, but he also raised me to be one.

 

Heck, I didn’t know I was a feminist until a few years ago. It won’t be hard to imagine the shock at my claim. My father is the last person who might come to mind when the word “feminist” is spoken. I remember him responding to the topic of feminism when I was younger with gems like “if women want equal rights, then they can open their own damn doors.”  Awesome.

Resurgence of feminism

From the recent NYT article, The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In, to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In mania, to outrage at women breadwinners, to entire HBR’s dedicated to the phenomenon of women in power (honestly, I could go on and on), the resurgence of feminism seems to be everywhere.

I have had far too many arguments with people about what being a feminist is or is not. I don’t want to have another one. So, let me set the record straight with this nice narrative from the author of Wonder Woman, Debora Spar:

“Feminism wasn’t supposed to make us miserable. 
It was supposed to make us free;
the challenge lies in recognizing that having choices carries the responsibility to make them wisely,
striving not for perfection or the ephemeral all,
but for lives and loves that matter.”

Freedom + opportunity = feminism

My father is a veteran. He retired after 25 years, serving in most branches of the US Military. My sisters and I never took our country’s freedom for granted. My father taught me that freedom is gained from hard fought wars. Freedom is earned, often with bloodshed, and should never be taken for granted.

My mother was raised by immigrant parents. Her father ruled the roost. Men held the power and women followed the rules. Men were free. Women were not. My mother didn’t agree with that mentality. She went to business school and trained to be a bookkeeper.

My mother was a working mother before working mothers were a phenomenon. I remember hearing one of my aunts say that my mother worked because she had to work. Even at a young age I knew that wasn’t true. My mother worked because she wanted to work. Working outside of her home gave her access and freedom.

How the F word manifests in my life

Being a feminist does not mean that I don’t want my husband to open the occasional door for me. And, at work, it doesn’t mean that I would advocate hiring a less-qualified woman over a more qualified man. The implication of feminism is freedom through equal access to opportunities. Not more freedom or more access. Not better freedom or better access. Equal freedom and equal access.

Simply put, feminism is freedom through equal access to opportunities.

Whether they realized it or not, my parents showed me that freedom is something that I need to fight for and cherish. Freedom gives me choices. And access gives me the ability to make choices that make a difference. With my parents as my examples and my earliest personal champions, I learned how to fight for and earn equal freedom for myself and now for others.

I want my daughters to know the F word

I learned 10 life lessons from watching and listening to my parents. These are the lessons that have made me the feminist I am today. All 10 combined have leveled the playing field for me to make great choices; choices that have given me the freedom and access I need to pursue my dreams. These are the lessons I hope to intentionally pass onto my daughters, who take their own feminism for granted.

1.   Get a good education inside and outside of the classroom.

2.   Always have the ability to earn your own money.

3.   Always have a bank account in your own name.

4.   You will only get out of something what you put into it.

5.   Never ever quit.

6.   Ask questions even when others do not.

7.   Question people in authority.

8.   Do not look to others to define you.

9.   Accept who you are and what makes you tick.

10. Expect and demand a lot from your life.

I want my daughters to know the road my mother and I travelled on our own paths to feminism.

But, mostly, my wish for them is to live feminism through their freedom to make choices based on the equal access they have to opportunities.

Got a comment on this article? Connect with Patti Fletcher at @pkfletcher.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Patti Fletcher is Co-Founder and CEO of PSDNetwork, LLC. PSDNetwork, LLC is committed to being the first place women turn to make startup, leadership and management decisions. Patti has 15 years experience in applications, big data, and technology with global corporations and helps people and organizations transform “what’s next” into reality. 

 

Women, Careers and Risk: Lessons from the Improv Comedy Stage by Kathy Klotz-Guest

Kathy Klotz-Guest head shot pic1Research today illustrates that on average women do not take the same career risks that men do. Why? The reasons are complex but they all point back to a very important subject – how women perceive, manage, and act on risk. Despite gender differences, however, the fact is that anyone can increase the confidence required for smart risk-taking.

As a marketer and business owner, I’ve seen women take far fewer risks in the workplace. I’ve also seen that same fear of failure mirrored in my almost 20 years doing comedy. I’ve seen women come and go – quitting before they reached the prize of confidence, acceptance and the ability to take risks and handle failure. The ability to take risks and to see failure as learning are critical for career growth, innovation, and yes, for comedic success.

Today, I perform regularly with a group where the percent of women ranges anywhere from 10% to 25%. At one time, in a group of 14 players, I was the only woman. My stand-up days were more polarized; I’d often be 1 of 2 women on open-mic nights out of a lineup up of over 15 comics. The good news is I think the gender ratio is changing, at least in improv. In my experience, there are more women in improvisation than in stand-up comedy.

While I am sure there are many social and cultural (as well as family) reasons that contribute to this situation (and because many women aren’t nurtured to think they are funny), I also know the rewards that come from improvisation. Improv isn’t just about being funny. It’s so much more than that: it strengthens our ability to make choices, to take risks, and to trust our gut because it increases confidence. These are the same qualities that have facilitated some bold and successful career moves in my life. No guts, no glory – of course, women don’t have to bet the farm to succeed. They just need to reach beyond where they “think” they are just capable enough. That’s what men do. Statistically, men fail more, and they also succeed more. That’s because they take “bigger” chances where the downside isn’t all that bad, and the upside is substantial.

The bottom line is that “risk” matters, especially in careers and comedy. This lack of bigger “game” risk-taking has longer-term economic implications for women and explains, in part, the gender wage-gap that still exists today (about 21% for equal work according to the Department of Labor). Yes, women are more likely to take time out from the workforce to have and raise children than their male counterparts, and this accounts for some of the gap. However, research also tells us that women are also less likely to take risks in negotiating pay, better benefits, and promotions, and in taking “risky” projects that also come with high visibility in the organization. In the end, less risk-taking in a woman’s career leads to a lifetime wage and career gap estimated to be greater than $500,000. And more than money, it means too many women are ‘settling’ for careers that don’t match their potential or desire.

Women and Risk-Taking

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell explores the concept of 10,000 hours: it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice and experience to reach virtuoso status in an area of expertise – music, software programming, painting, innovating, and comedy. Of course, part of those 10,000 hours will involve failing if you are doing it right. You can’t achieve expert status without trying, failing, taking risks, and learning from those choices. There are also various degrees of risk and it’s important for women to recognize that many of these choices involve “recoverable” risk where no one is hurt, besides maybe a bruised ego here and there.

Research also points out that men and women, on average, deal with and process failure in different ways. Men, for instance, on average look at failure not as a personal flaw, but rather, as a situation outside themselves that just didn’t work out. You win some, you lose some, you move on. Conversely, women are more likely (on average – yes there are individual differences) to personalize failure and view it through the lens of some shortcoming on their end.

Whether it is comedy or career, the same risk-taking is needed to grow to the next level. Just as men take bigger career risks, they also tend to take more chances in comedy. That begs the question – what can women be doing to strengthen their ability to take measured risks and to see failure as learning rather than personalizing it? Moreover, “failure” isn’t bad – it’s part of growth. You are expected and encouraged to fail or you’re not trying hard enough.

Of course, some of this difference between the genders can be explained by physiology. Men are wired to take more risks because they have traditionally been the “hunters.” Yet, the good news is that much of this difference has to do with skills and behaviors that can be learned.

The “Yes, and!” Concept

One of the best ways for people to learn to trust their instincts, take small risks that lead successfully to bigger ones, and learn to see failure as learning is through improvisation. Improvisation is based on a positive framing – “Yes, and!” mentality that accepts offers from others, builds on other suggestions, allows people to stay focused on the present and to fail good-naturedly with small risks. Improvisation strengthens decision-making skills by making it OK to fail. You have to fail to know what works! Without the risk-taking, there is no success.

Improvisation creates a safe environment where failure is encouraged because it means you are taking changes, pushing the envelope and exploring to see what works. Over time, your instincts are strengthened and risk-taking becomes less scary. There are no “wrong” answers in improvisation; there are many choices and alternatives. Improvisation strengthens our ability to react to the situation at hand – to respond with our own solid choices that accept and add (the “Yes, and!”) on to “offers” presented to us by others. Little risks (with low stakes) taken over time lead us to make bolder and bigger choices as we grow in our confidence. This permeates others aspects of our lives including our careers.

While improvisation won’t change the overall salary gap or underrepresentation on corporate boards or the C-suite over night, it will strengthen women’s confidence in their own choices, in their risk-taking and will help them learn that “failure” is not personal. Nor is it something to be feared. It happens, you learn and grow from it, and you move on. And sometimes you get it just right, and get a “win.” Like when you negotiate for better pay or a more visible position. And it’s those little individual wins that, in aggregate, will lead to real change.

After all, ladies, we’ve got nothing to lose by trying. It’s the high cost of failing to take smart risks – the lack of pay equity and loss of bigger careers – that we should fear.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathy Klotz-Guest, A marketer and storyteller, helps clients tell compelling stories that get results. The founder of marketing strategy and communications firm, Keeping it Human, she also performs improvisational comedy and kicks jargon’s butt.
Email: kathy@keepingithuman.com.

The Female Entrepreneur – Unstoppable Passion By Bonnie Ross-Parker

brp portraitWho is this woman?  She is empowered, enlightened and enterprising.  She exudes energy, enthusiasm and confidence.  She has chosen to embark on a journey and create a mission only she can fulfill.  The female entrepreneur is a risk taker.  She connects.  She collaborates and she gives back and she will not be denied.  She deserves success and takes pride in her accomplishments.  She knows that her gifts matter and strongly believes in her journey.  This strong willed, focused woman must live her destiny by sharing her talents with the world.  She sets the standard of excellence in all that she does and in all that she is.  She endures even under the toughest of challenges and naysayers.

The female entrepreneur is unstoppable.  She does it all.  She creates.  She markets.  She promotes.  She shares resources.  She supports other likeminded individuals with her ideas, her time and knowledge.  It requires courage to be an entrepreneurial woman in today’s marketplace.  There’s no fall back.  No guaranteed pay check.  No employee benefits.  No paid vacations.  It’s you, your products and/or services that are vying for consumers in an already established economic environment.  This individual possesses the fortitude to differentiate herself from everyone else by finding a unique way to be memorable.

When I decided to leave the teaching profession after 12 years in the classroom, I was ready to pursue what at that time was a dream to become an entrepreneur.  That was over 30 years ago!  I bought a franchise.  Everyone thought I was crazy.  A typical comment was, “How can you give up your career, vacations, benefits, etc. to owning a retail business?  You’ll have to work year round including weekends!”  No one and nothing could persuade me.  It was time and I as ready.  I was determined.  I was tired of someone else directing my life.  I wanted control even if that meant long hours, hard work and an unknown future.  Twelve years later I owned 6 franchises and became the company’s Regional Director with responsibility to oversee 22 other stores.

I look back on those years with huge satisfaction.  I went from school teacher to entrepreneur.  I went from a single, dependable pay check to multiple streams of income.  I proved to myself and those who doubted my unstoppable determination that I could meet the challenges and survive.

I know firsthand what it takes to break away and go out on one’s own.  I know the amount of faith it requires.  I also know the rewards that come from doing what you really want to do even if that requires following unfamiliar roads to travel an uncertain journey.  The female entrepreneur is doing better than surviving.  She’s thriving.  She’s unique.  She’s a gift.  She’s a person who endures.  It serves us all to pay attention to and support her economically.  She takes her tasks seriously, often over delivers and shows us what is possible by her example.  If you are a female entrepreneur, congratulations.  If you are considering ‘stepping out on your own’, go for it.  When you believe in yourself, others will believe in you. Be unstoppable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bonnie Ross-Parker, America’s Connection Diva, is a high energy, enthusiastic, successful businesswoman and solo-entrepreneur. She is a speaker and author who is passionate about teaching individuals how to step up their game in any networking situation.
Visit her website: www.BonnieRossParker.com
Join the community: http://xperienceconnections.com/join-our-community/become-xc-leader/

We Move Forward By Janeen Halliwell

WMF 2012 Janeen & FloraThere are milestones that we, as women, share.  We can collectively roll our eyes, laugh or cry at the memory of buying a first bra, going on a first date, having a first kiss, getting married (or not), deciding whether to have kids (or not), and being a mom, a single mom, or stepmom.  We’ve all faced decisions about whether to work our way up the ladder, further our education, step out and start our own business or to take a different route altogether.  Eventually we all change roles as we go from daughter to caregiver, supporting our ageing parents and eventually letting go once they are gone.  After each of these milestones is reached, we are faced with the same question – “What is next?”  The answer lies in taking stock of your ‘You Are Here’ location on your life’s journey, and being mindful of the direction you want to head next.  And then you move forward.

With Every Ending There is a New Beginning

At 48, I’ve done my share of moving forward.  I’ve held the titles of student, wife, divorcee, wife again, and stepmom. I’ve owned businesses, completed a graduate degree, worked on four continents, travelled to 33 countries and sailed 9000 sea miles.  I’ve worked hard and truly lived.  But even with all those experiences under my belt, I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to move forward when I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. The grieving stopped me in my tracks.

In the summer of 2010, my father was failing. After a heartbreaking visit to his doctor where he was told, “Scotty you are dying,” I witnessed hope fade from my dad’s eyes and leave his frail body. I put my work as a consultant and trainer on hold and moved in with my parents.  A visit to Victoria Hospice followed, at which time the inevitable became our reality. My dad moved in a few days later.  And, at 1 a.m. on July 26, 2010, he breathed his last breath, with me and my mother holding him as tightly as we could.

The months that followed were rough.  My mother went to Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, Mexico, to heal, as it is known for its magical qualities that mend people’s souls.  I visited my mother there in March 2011. I was still grieving and finding every day to be difficult.  It was during this trip that I had a vision: I will host an International Women’s Day conference and celebration on the Island of Women!  It was time to take on a project that would ignite my soul, and that had an element risk, as risk-taking is something I espouse through my work.  The conference needed a name.  I called it We Move Forward because the 3-days were about women re-energizing all that makes them whole, body, mind, and soul, and steering their life in the direction of their passion and purpose.

It would be different from other women’s conferences.  Inspirational speakers would go far beyond just giving a canned talk and then leaving, they would participate in the full 3 days.  Group discussions and activities would have women shifting inspiration into action.  We Move Forward would create positive change and it would include local women through sponsorship.

Believe and Create

I felt passionate about my vision, and set out to create it.  I had a snazzy website developed,  booked a conference space, and approached potential sponsors. I got on a bus in Mexico and visited international women’s clubs in Cancun and Merida, encouraging women to join me on ‘Isla’ in March 2012.  I made my voice heard on television, radio and social media.

I had never taken on something so big and so full of promises – promises of inspirational speakers, promises to pay these speakers, and promises of an experience of a lifetime to registrants – that is, if there were registrants.

You see, registrations didn’t take off as I had hoped.  They trickled in.  Consequently, some of the people who were eager at the beginning of the project began to lose interest.  Many dropped off.  It didn’t look like a money maker after-all.  I crawled forward.

The Show Must Go On!

In January 2012, I sat down with my registration sheet that contained 21 names, my project plan and calculator.  I needed 63 registrants to pay for my promises.  If 45 women registered, I would lose money, but still be able to run the conference.  But at 21, I was deep in the hole.  Do I quit or do I move forward, I asked myself?

I reflected on why I wanted to see We Move Forward happen, and the scrapper in me pulled herself up by the bootstraps and took a broad step forward. And, on March 8, 2012, 81 women gathered on Isla Mujeres to celebrate International Women’s Day.  The 3-day conference surpassed everyone’s expectations with women calling it “crazy amazing”, “life-changing”, and “a MUST for all women.”

I am thrilled to say that We Move Forward is heading into its 3rd year.  The WMF community continues to grow in numbers, with many women returning again and again.  The WMF experience continues to propel women in one direction – forward.  From March 7-9, 2014 women will celebrate their accomplishments and how they have moved up, over and around life’s challenges, in the company of women just like them – ordinary women that are capable of extraordinary things.  That is the essence of We Move Forward. www.wemoveforward.com

Quote: 
“We are all ordinary women that are capable of extraordinary things.  Taking time out to get clear on our desired future brings us closer to experiencing it.  Surrounding ourselves with like-minded & hearted women is the perfect environment to build our confidence to take our next step forward.  Believe in yourself and pay attention to those who believe in you too.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Janeen Halliwell, Founder & Director, We Move Forward, Island of Women, Mexico and Principal, Consultant & Trainer, People Minded Business Inc.

Website: www.wemoveforward.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/WeMoveForward
Twitter: @janeenhalliwell

The Price of Leaning In by Natascha Thomson

Natascha and 2 friends 2013_9_12A Review of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

“I am surprised how often we don’t ask the most basic questions – what do we want, what do we have to do to get it, and can we pay the price – in marriages, families and the workplace.” ~ Marc Lesser in Know Yourself, Forget Yourself

Personally, I find it extremely encouraging that the discussion about emancipation has restarted and is getting significant publicity. Partially, this is thanks to accomplished women like Sheryl Sandberg who have thrown their heads into the ring with books like Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Interestingly, when I ask female friends if they have read Lean In, many of them respond that they don’t think they “need it”. They feel that they have things under control, are already strong, and can make it on their own. If this is true, why are less than 20% of women in leadership positions in Silicon Valley?

While I would consider myself a strong woman, I took away many good insights from the book, including tips on how to negotiate my salary, how to avoid blind spots as a manager, and why it is so important to lean in as a woman.  But I also enjoyed the tales about the early days at Google and the present day at Facebook.

While the book is, no doubt, also a PR vehicle for Ms. Sandberg, she appears to open up for the sake of giving other women courage. She confesses that she still sometimes feels like an impostor at work, worried that she might fail. Many women can relate to this feeling and might be surprised to hear that somebody at the top is not immune to it. The message here is: push through your fear. Or as they say “if it’s not scary it’s not brave”.

How has the discussion changed?

In the past, discussions about women’s equality often focused on what women did NOT have and how men were holding them back. This made the only obvious solution that men had to change.

In this new wave of women’s lib, the discussion has a stronger focus on what women CAN do to overcome the current inequality; what steps women CAN take to get what they want and deserve, despite existing obstacles.

Societal expectations

Lean In, the much-discussed book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a brave and educated contribution to the gender equality discussion.  Ms. Sandberg has been most faulted by critics for focusing on well-educated women with high ambitions as opposed to women from all walks of life.  As her book fits into the genre of management and career advice, it’s not clear to me why she would be expected to write a book about society at large.

Yet, Ms. Sandberg, herself, preempts this criticism, in the chapter where she talks about the fact that women are expected to act “communal”, i.e. in the interest of all women and society, while the same expectation doesn’t generally exist for men.

She provides an intriguing example of a societal double standard for women from her time as a student at Harvard. When reviewing an HBR case study, half the class was made to believe the key player in the study was male, while half the class was told the protagonist was female.

The result was telling:  when the protagonist of the study was assumed to be male, he was commanded for his behavior. When the students assumed it was a woman, they disliked her and disapproved of many of her actions.

The career penalty

Ms. Sandberg makes the bold statement that the most important career choice for a woman is picking the right husband (or partner). Will the partner share housework, childcare, elderly care, and all other chores of daily life?  Having a job and children is a balancing act at the best of times, but staying at home, Ms. Sandberg says, carries a high career penalty. It can be difficult to get back into the game, and limit a woman’s ability to climb the corporate ladder.

Consequently, Ms. Sandberg advises women who are planning a family NOT to scale back too soon and NOT to tame their ambitions. Her rational is, that if women don’t pursue promotions or better job opportunities while they are getting ready for a life with children, the career penalty will be compounded.

Not only do many women get punished for taking a child break, says Ms. Sandberg, many already compromise their professional future even before they have to take time out, by cutting back prematurely. She recommends going as far as you can before the break.

Different comfort levels

I have discussed this advice with two career women who are planning to have children soon and only one of them agreed. The other, while she did not like her current job and saw no path for advancement, felt that she had “earned her stripes” at the company. Consequently, she would be able to juggle work and being a mom much more easily than if she had to prove herself all over again in a new environment.

Can we pay the price?

In conclusion, I enjoyed the book tremendously and recommend it highly. Yet, something about it does not sit well with me.

While Ms. Sandberg writes extensively about how she and her husband have created a supportive relationship where they share all responsibilities of daily life – and she freely admits that her resources afford her luxuries like housekeeping and child care that others might not have – something is missing.

Is this the message of the book?

To be a successful woman in corporate America, you have to give up time with your husband and time to take care of yourself?

Living in Silicon Valley, I see the rat race every day. Many people are asked to prioritize work over their private lives, while research clearly shows that human beings need breaks and diversions to achieve their full potential and creativity.

Ms. Sandberg is very clear in her book that she is not judging individual choices and  believes that every woman needs to decide for herself if she wants to be a stay-at-home mom or a career woman.

I want to be a high-achieving career woman who has a stimulating job that makes an impact and also have enough time to stay healthy and socialize. Some people tell me this is a pipe dream. I don’t want to believe it.

What price are you willing to pay?

ABOUT the AUTHORNatascha Thomson is the Owner & Founder of MarketingXLerator – a B2B Social Media Marketing Consultancy – with a focus on using social media to connect people for business impact. She is also a co-author of the book 42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing.