Interview By Anne Marie Moro
Photo credits: FrancesLitman.com and wwbnvictoria.com
Q: Deb, your businesses have served as a great support for women over the years. What has been your driving force to specialize in this area?
A: Being an entrepreneur over the years—a serial entrepreneur, in fact—I know first hand the struggles that women often have in business. Everything from a lack of self-confidence to nagging self-doubt. Can I do this? Do I really have what it takes? All of those things. I suppose we all have those feelings even if we aren’t entrepreneurs. When I worked in media sales about a decade go, I visited businesses that so often were led by women. I would leave a business and think, “I don’t know whether she’s going to be around a year from now.” It was a concern for me.
After a while, these women would get to know me and they would ask me a lot of questions about their business: what do you think of this and what do you think of that? My role in media became much more consultative. I wasn’t just selling them an ad any more. I really got to share some of the knowledge and wisdom that I had acquired over the years, being a business owner myself.
I was also passionate about connecting women to other women for mutual benefit. That’s really how the Westshore Women’s Business Network [WWBN] started in December, 2010. It’s so important for entrepreneurs to know who they can turn to when they’re stuck, to build a support network of trusted professionals, friends and collaborative partners, and get the training and education they need for success.
Q: Starting up a business can be intimidating. How did you cope with that?
A: Every entrepreneur has a great idea or concept, a new and improved product or service; but turning that vision into reality can feel intimidating for sure. Many great inventions, concepts or ideas never make it to market. The main reasons:time, money, motivation, confidence in the product or service and self confidence to actually pull it off. Guaranteed, everyone has thought at some point, “Can I really do this?”
I get a lot of great business experience through trial and error. I just keep trying different things. I think that probably a lot of entrepreneurs are like this. Yet, surprisingly my journey and the trajectory of how I got to where I am today really has been situational.
Q: How so?
A: Would you believe that every business that I’ve owned has been born out of my life’s circumstances at the time? I would recognize a need based on where I was at a particular point in time. For example, one of my businesses was a small-scale food services business. I loved to cook and I particularly loved to bake. Alice, a good friend of mine, loved to do both. Our kids were quite small, so we formed a business around what our passions were at that time. We sold frozen, baked products to schools and it was very successful. I would make tons of pies in berry season and other frozen products like butter tarts, short bread and Christmas treats. Alice’s specialty was Tourtière pies.
As a mom with three little boys, I was quick to figure out ways to simplify my life, too. I’ve always been one to analyze systems and processes and figure out ways to streamline. So, I created dry-food mixes for my pantry for muffins, cookies, spice combos and seasoning mixes. At the time, these products were not available in stores. It wasn’t until they gained popularity with other parents at school that I realized I was onto something. I added these product lines to the food service business.
Q: A lot of women don’t think they’re suited to an entrepreneurial lifestyle. What do you make of that?
A: It’s true. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. The ability to turn your dream into reality takes gumption, self-determination and tenacity. Not everyone has that. However, stats show more than ever before that women are starting and buying businesses. I believe women are well-positioned for entrepreneurship; we are wired differently than men. As women, we use our strengths in collaboration, inclusiveness, multi-tasking, big-picture and visionary thinking.
On the down side, women tend to evaluate risk more than men which cause ceilings for growth in their business. They desire more work-life balance—often because they are the ones managing the household, finances, kid’s schedules and their business! So, when I work with female clients, we look hard at the role of entrepreneurship and we ask the tough question: “Are you ready to be your own boss?” It’s important to be realistic about yourself, your abilities, your personality and your financial situation to determine if you can weather the storm. It’s too easy to lose confidence at any given moment and say “Well that didn’t work, so obviously that’s not a good idea. I’m not doing that again.”
Q: How has networking changed? Is the networking scene more supportive for women today?
A: Networking has definitely changed and evolved. In the past, a handful of organizations offered structured networking for men and women in mixed events. Today, there’s more choice for women wanting to connect and grow their business. I believe women tend to be more collaborative. Most understand the value of connecting on a personal level in order to better refer and do business. It all gets down to the age-old saying that “People do business with those they know, like and trust.”
I think that’s probably the biggest nugget. It’s not going to work for everyone, but yes, I do believe that collaboration is the way of the future and can definitely lead to more success for women in particular—not just in business but in other areas of their lives, too.
Q: What’s next for you, Deb?
A: I have a strong vision of what I want to create going forward. My vision for Westshore Women’s Business Network, for example, is to continue to deliver exceptional networking experiences on the West Shore, providing the all-important platform for connections and business growth during lunch and evening events. The sisterhood that WWBN has become is truly a supportive environment for women to thrive.
I also want to have a training space for my Brand Power program for entrepreneurs and business owners to create their kick-ass businesses! On-line education is great, but I believe there is much to be gained working in small pods, face-to-face, where learning opportunities are gained from each business owner as well.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: Your futures are yours to design and implement. Choose your path and who you want along for the ride.. Be curious and explore new possibilities and opportunities at every turn. You never know where they will lead.