I am often asked how and why I came to start Women in Biz Network. The evolution of my business started from necessity and the love of my family. Community building and connecting with people in a meaningful way is apart of my genetic make up and ultimately, my soul.
Here is my story:
Every since I was a child I was curious about people. I wanted to know why they ticked and I was always looking for ways to support the people in my life. I found my friends jobs when I was a teenager. I also loved to start clubs and groups at school and in my neighbourhood. There were a number of factors that contributed to why I become a community builder. Here they are:
Factor 1 – Circumstance and hardship
Entrepreneurship is in my genes. My parents owned a resort while I was growing up. I witnessed the highs and lows of business ownership through the eyes of a teenager. I watched with fear, the stress my parents were under as they struggled to understand the complexity of owning a huge operation like a resort, restaurant and marina. These were the days before the Internet and email, where marketing a business was through word of mouth mainly, and expensive printed vacation guides. After 5+ years of my parents owning the business, the bank seized all the assets and my parents declared bankruptcy. My parents had to both start over in their early fifties and life was never the same for them. My dad lost his spark when the business died. It was tragic and hurt us all.
Factor 2 – Powerful women in my life
Throughout most of my life I was raised by three strong women – my mother ( a single mom), my step mother (who would eventually become a single mom) and my grandmother (whose husband – my grandfather had a stroke at an early age). These women were hugely inspirational to me.
Factor 3 – Life gets boring and daycare emergencies emerge
I decided that even though I had the soul of an entrepreneur I would stick to something safe.
It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties (just like my parents) that I started my business. The necessity to start my business came from lack of daycare choices to return to my full time job working for the government. I decided after a disastrous run with a nanny and a husband devoted to international travel that I was going to work from home and start a business from scratch.
I was already socially savvy and had been on Twitter since 2008, so it made sense to me to network on twitter. Guess who was also on twitter with me? Lots of work at home moms and women who saw the online marketing potential to promote their businesses. These women were also a bit lonely, working mainly in a home office – perhaps with a baby at their side, with no one to talk to or to understand what they were going through. Owning a business can be scary and stressful.
Conversations were done virtually for sanity’s sake to feel less alone. That’s when I realized that a business network for “everyday” women who were running businesses was required. So that I could connect them with others online but also meet in-person and receive training and membership services that they told me they needed.
The first event was called a “tweet up”, still a relatively new term – at that point I didn’t even know what a #hashtag was. I thought it was something that you had to order on twitter! It was another twitter gal pal @Wondermoms_ca who told me that I could use the # symbol and add my own hashtag to a tweet and start my own stream of conversation.
Forty women came to the first event and since then we have worked with thousands of women both in person and online in Toronto and Vancouver.
Our two annual conferences (http//www.womeninbiznetwork.com/conference2014) trend on twitter across Canada because those who can’t come to the event in person follow the conversation online and receive tips and support virtually.
Now we host weekly twitter chats for the #WIBN community and I have never taken for granted the power of social networking and how it has helped me to build a business.
Supporting ALL women with difficult and exciting career choices is what guides and inspires me. We support the Centre for Abuse Awareness – Delivering Hope Program for Women in Shelters with career guidance and financial support through our conference and membership donations. How do we do it all so well and fast? That’s easy –
Here are the FIVE Top powerful tools I use to run and grow my business:
- Twitter (powered on my Windows Phone): Connects me with women across Canada
- Onedrive: Helps me share files with my offices in Vancouver and Toronto
- Contactually: Works with my Outlook (via Office 365) and helps me manage my CRM and sales needs
- Lync: (part of the Office 365 cloud suite): Allows me to have live online member meetings/training with women across Canada. It also records the meetings (we can see and chat with each other and share presentations live) so that others can watch afterwards
- Sage One – Cloud based invoicing and accounting that I use http://na.sage.com/us/sage-one is accessible by my accountant and contractors. It even allows me to accept payments online!
Technology is such a powerful force for businesses’ today. In comparison to my parent’s generation we are incredibly lucky because of changes in technology, along with the cost of it. Internet and cloud-based tools have made Canadian business ownership possible, with success rates much higher and “start up phase” so much more affordable. I wish my Dad could have lived to see the changes that have occurred – if he started his business today maybe he wouldn’t have had to give up his own dreams.
I live the dream for him, and help others find and secure their dreams –all in honour of my dad who taught me to dream big and never give up.
Leigh Mitchell is a small business specialist and the founder & president of Women in Biz Network. Leigh specializes in professional development for women through skill building events, conferences, memberships, webinars and marketing services. Leigh is passionate about connecting women online across North America and in person throughout Canada. Her main focus is to empower women with opportunities to learn how to lead the life of their dreams. Leigh has successfully worked with major brands such as GM Canada, Microsoft Canada, Telus, Johnson & Johnson, Maple Leaf Foods, TD Canada Trust, Staples Canada and Random House. These brands believe in power, influence and value professional women bring to the economy. Leigh has been featured on CBC Radio, the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail and in other media and has been a featured speaker at Blissdom Canada and the Wellness Business Summit as well as a judge for UPS and Microsoft Small Business Contests.