Conference Helps Women Master Important Business Skill Sets
Kim Miles says many women fail to network effectively, and for various reasons.
They lack the confidence to promote themselves, their accomplishments, and their products and services, she said while summing them up, and don’t get results because they are uncomfortable asking for what they want or need.
“If you pressed the ‘pause’ button and put your career on hold to raise a family, you should talk about it with delight,” Miles, founder of Miles in Heels Productions, told the audience during a talk at a recent conference titled “Entrepreneurial Adventure,” staged by Bay Path University. “There should be no change when you speak about any transition. But many women network in a passive manner and have a hard time promoting themselves. They do it somewhat apologetically, which is something men never do.”
These were some of the words of wisdom shared at the conference, which was designed with a purpose, said Caron Hobin, Bay Path’s vice president for strategic alliances.
“More and more women are becoming entrepreneurs — taking control of their destiny and capitalizing on a great idea,” she told BusinessWest. “Our goal with this workshop was to provide a springboard for women who just want to get started or need guidance. We want to encourage and empower women to start their own businesses by providing the tools, knowledge, and networking skills they need to succeed.”
Other speakers included Holly Hurd, an author, serial entrepreneur, and owner of VentureMom; and Bay Path Professor Stephen Brand, who facilitated an engaging, skills-building game where participants worked in teams to design new businesses.
Hurd and Miles are passionate about helping women fulfill their dreams and encouraged participants to swallow their fears, take risks, and believe in themselves.
“Whether you are a heavy hitter or new to the workforce, you should be able to walk up to the leaders in a room, extend your hand, make eye contact, and introduce yourself with confidence,” Miles said, explaining that women tend to lower their eyes, brush off praise, or share credit when they tell their story or receive a compliment.
“Entrepreneurs have to sell themselves, but it does not come naturally to women, and they are not persistent enough. If they try to get in touch with someone and don’t get an immediate response, they don’t follow through.”
But polite persistence is an art form, she continued, adding that people might not respond quickly because they are on vacation, are swamped with work, or accidentally deleted the e-mail.
Hurd shared stories from her book, Venture Mom: From Idea to Income in Just 12 Weeks, about women who created something a family member needed, then found it filled a need in the marketplace and built it into a business — or discovered a skill they took for granted could be turned into a service-oriented business as it was something other people were willing to pay for.
“The key is to find your passion and build a business around it,” she said.
Building Strategic Skills
Miles worked as a financial advisor for years and discovered that adopting the right tone and attitude was essential in a male-dominated industry. After she became aware that women network very differently than men, she shared her findings during a chamber of commerce presentation that quickly sold out.
Seven hundred women attended, and two years ago, she started a production company called “Miles in Heels.” Her mantra is, “you don’t have to get it perfect; you just have to get it going,” and during her talk she outlined ten ‘golden rules’ to help women cultivate lasting business relationships through networking.
“You have 10 seconds to make a great first impression,” she said, adding that appearance matters, and this includes how you dress, how firm your handshake is, and whether you make eye contact.
She advises women to try to find out who will be at a networking event or conference, then introduce themselves to influential people who can help them.
“If you want to be a rock star at networking, you need to remember that 90% of the time you should be listening so you can discern whether the person is someone you want to cultivate a relationship with,” she noted, adding that offering to introduce a person you have targeted to another person who shares their interests is a good way to make a lasting impression.
“People love to talk about themselves, and if you connect with someone on a personal level and bond over the fact that you are both dog lovers, it is much more comfortable to transition to a business conversation at the appropriate time,” she continued.
It’s also important to extract yourself from conversations with people who can’t help you, which can be done by going to the ladies’ room. And when women meet someone they do want to know better, they should send a handwritten note, e-mail, connect with the person on social media, or call them afterward and say they enjoyed the conversation.
Miles said entrepreneurs also need to ask for what they want. Although it may not be prudent to do so immediately after meeting someone, females often make other excuses.
“They say, “I don’t want to impose on them, take advantage of them, look needy or greedy, or be perceived as aggressive,’” Miles said. “Timing is critical, but you need to have confidence.”
Hurd was no stranger to the business world before she started VentureMom. Her father taught her to trade commodities and futures when she was in her teens, she started her first investment company in her 20s, and when she was 25, she was featured in Futures, USA Today, and Fortune’s “People to Watch” column for her exceptional work managing her own futures fund. In the ’80s and ’90s, she ran an investment firm with a partner, and in 2002 they sold an algorithm they developed.
After her son was born, she became a real-estate broker and “fell” into her new business during a car ride to the family’s ski house when she decided to write a motivational book.
She didn’t have a publisher or following, but believed her ideas could help others, and started her VentureMom blog because it was free.
“I stumbled into my business venture like many other moms,” she said, adding that there are 10 million women-owned businesses today generating more than $1.4 trillion in gross income, and women are involved in 80% to 85% of buying decisions made today.
Her book is based on 250 interviews she conducted with entrepreneurial mothers.
“Everyone is scared, but you have to do things anyway,” she said, adding that it took her weeks to hit the ‘send’ button after she wrote her first blog post because she felt she lacked credibility and didn’t think anyone would be interested in what she had to say.
Instead, she received a flood of e-mails from people who wanted her to continue writing, and today her website contains an e-commerce site where mothers can sell their services and goods.
One story from her book focuses on a woman whose children played field hockey and lacrosse. She asked her husband to build something that would allow them to store their playing sticks behind a door, and her friends loved it and wanted similar racks, so the woman found a manufacturer who made her a four-piece collapsible model in a variety of colors that she called “Stick Storage.”
She began selling them at lacrosse tournaments, and slowly built a business with products sold today in 250 stores.
Another mother launched a business after she solved a personal problem. “Her son had nightmares and kept waking up, so she made a pillow with a pocket and had him write down what he wanted to dream about each night and put it in the pocket,” Hurd told the audience.
It worked well, and mothers in her son’s playgroup told her they wanted pillows for their own children. She learned that her neighbor’s husband was in the pillow-making business, so she had him make some pillows, called the product “Tucker” (which was her son’s name), and began selling them at farmer’s markets.
When a friend’s child was hospitalized, he wrote down his dreams of being healthy and put them in the pillow she gave him, and today, the hospital purchases the pillows for sick children.
“The 250 women I interviewed built businesses around something they were already doing or stumbled onto,” Hurd said. “You may be really good at putting together photo books, or cooking garlic chicken, and don’t realize it’s difficult for other people and something they will pay you to do.”
The women in her book have three things in common: they never wrote a business plan, their businesses were self-funded, and they used friends and family members to spread the word about what they were doing.
Taking the Risk
Hurd sells a ‘venture hour’ on her website that includes a two-page questionnaire, followed by an hour-long phone consultation.
She asks women what kind of business they would start if they won $500 million in the lottery and had access to anything they needed or wanted. After asking other questions, such as what they would talk about if they were invited to appear on the show, she tells them to turn their answer into a business.
“You can change people’s lives and start any business you want,” she said. “There are a lot of young moms who accidentally solved a problem that grew into a business, like the one selling the Tucker pillow.”
It’s a product designed to prevent bad dreams, but the story behind it and the advice that conference participants received can help them turn their own dreams into reality.