Are you an entrepreneur who is passionate about your business, committed to your success and prepared to do what it takes to realize your dream?Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) provides tools to help women across Alberta succeed in business.
You are unique. So is your business. Nonetheless, it is easy to feel drowned out by larger firms with well-established brand awareness despite best efforts to make your business heard. It’s important to claim a piece of perceptual territory, making a promise to your customers that no one else is making. When there are bigger sharks in the water, how do you compete to gain a presence in the market, especially when your business falls more under the umbrella of boutique?
Do Your Research
Know Your Competitor
Above all else, you must have an in-depth grasp of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Know their target customers, their pricing, itemize their marketing strategy and identify their competitive advantage. By analyzing your competitors’ activities, you are then able to see what you could do better or different entirely. You can respond strategically, sidestepping their current position to find your own gap to fill.
Know Your Customer
Focus on a specific market segment--don’t try to serve anyone and everyone. Seth Godin said it best,
“When you delight your minimum viable audience:
You’ll discover it’s larger than you expected
They’ll tell the others
If you aim for mass, you’ll probably create something average”
What pains are your (potential) customers suffering from that you can alleviate? Their everyday hassles will help you determine talking points and messages that will help you gain attention and propel you as a leader in the category.
Know Your Business
Identify your core competencies and develop a market niche around these competencies. Bigger firms are likely to have the resources to compete in areas like pricing, so instead, compete by adding value and special experiences that your customers are willing to pay a little extra for.
Where Small Businesses Prevail
Yes, larger firms have their own value propositions that they excel at. But there are things smaller firms offer that big corporations simply cannot.
Small businesses are much more flexible than their larger competitors. As a company grows, the harder it becomes to change directions or act quickly in response to current events and trends. You can run special promotions or messaging based on unexpected events or contribute to real-time conversations in an authentic way.
Small business owners are better positioned to build personal relationships with their customers. You most likely have a hand in most if not every aspect in the day to day operation of your business, which means you have more frequent and genuine contact with customers which allows for trust to be built. You are able to offer a more one-on-one customer service experience, so personalize your interactions and work to build meaningful relationships over time. This can be done by something as simple as remembering their dog’s name or following up with something they mentioned the last time you spoke. Furthermore, the additional contact allows for quicker response time when potential problems arise, providing you with the opportunity to let your excellent service shine through.
You are the ultimate differentiator. The passion that motivated you to break out as an entrepreneur is the same energy and enthusiasm your potential customers want to see. Furthermore, align your personal values with those of your business. Tell your story, let that separate you from the rest, and humanize your brand.
Conducting this kind of analysis will then help you to develop your differentiators. It may be helpful to even make a list of 3 or more. Ask yourself these questions about each:
1) Is it true?
2) Is it relevant?
3) Is it provable?
Strategic use of social media platforms and content marketing allows you to be heard by huge numbers of potential customers without requiring lots of capital. Your website is also the perfect landing pad for your audience to connect with you. Whether that be to learn more about your offerings, your values, or your story, a good website is an integral touchpoint for prospects to build awareness and familiarity with your brand. If you don’t have a website yet, fret not. There are thousands of professionally designed website themes and templates for Wordpress and other frameworks that highlight your business in a sleek, smooth, manner that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Digitally Solid is a digital marketing program to gain hands-on experience, learning strategy and technology to turn up the volume of your communication efforts.
Once you start promoting your story to your target audience, be sure to monitor your results and use analytics wisely to further tailor your message and optimize engagement. Engage with prospects, turn them into leads, and convert them to clients.
Without a doubt, big corporations are intimidating. These tips should help you to find your niche and gain a better idea of your position in the market. Most importantly, have faith in your offering and stand behind its value. As long as you stay passionate about the work you do, differentiating your business will come naturally. Remember, the ultimate differentiator is you. Connect with AWE to learn more about how we can support your growing business!
Have you ever had difficulty financing your business properly? Do you struggle between finding investors and also maintaining the vision you have for your business? You’re not alone. This is a common challenge faced by a number of entrepreneurs who are looking for more capital for their business. At our recent Learning Day: Sparking Solutions event, this topic was discussed during our Finding Solutions Session. For those of you who were unable to attend, we’ve compiled some of the solutions that were brainstormed and we’d like to share them with you!
Challenge: How do I decide whether or not to accept potential investment if investors have a different vision of what the organization could look like in the future? Do I take the money and build the company they envision? Or keep going on my slow and steady growth path?
It can be difficult to balance the needs of potential investors and your own aspirations, however, there are some techniques to making this process less challenging. The first question you need to ask yourself is “how far off are their values from mine?” Take a look at what they believe in and what their opinions are on aspects such as accountability, honesty, communication, work-life balance, and stability vs. high growth. By comparing your views to theirs on such matters you can see if there is some common ground or opportunity for compromise where both parties are happy with the outcome.
However, if you find that the investors have a very different idea of the path the business should take, you could take a cash loan to create a working relationship rather than providing them with equity in your business. This will give you access to capital while also maintaining your vision. If you stray too far away from it, you might fail not only in your business, but also emotionally and spiritually.
Once you have made the decision as to whether or not the potential investor is the right fit for your firm, make sure you spell everything out in your contract or agreement to prevent any discord in the future. This will also ensure that both you and the investors are aware of the other’s expectations and values. Finally, create a strategic plan for the next few months and years to hold yourself and the investors accountable. It will allow for smoother operations within your organization and help you follow your vision!
Challenge: How do I know when to bring in outside money and how much capital (investment, financing) is needed to grow from the current stage to the next?
Although this question was not answered at Learning Day, it is one that we felt was worth exploring.
Many entrepreneurs tend to seek financing when they are already maxed out with the capacity they have in their business. Whether it’s with their own time spent trying to keep up with the demands of their business or their financial resources are just not enough to keep up with the business needs, these entrepreneurs sometimes find themselves scrambling to find the help they need. This can be problematic as it can lead to rushed decisions about investors or other financing.
My advice to entrepreneurs is to pay attention to their time and budget constraints when they begin to stretch outside their capacity and take time to revisit their business plan.
As you explore financing, ask yourself: What equipment do I need to be more efficient with my business output and is it worth the investment? Do I need to hire employees to help with the increasing demand? Will spending more money on my marketing expenses lead to growth in clientele and revenues? Does this fit into my business planning? What resources do I need and how much will it cost?
Discuss your business planning needs with a trusted advisor, business mentor and even your own team. Planning for the building and growth of your business in as far in advance as you possibly can will lead to more time for you to explore your financing options which might include seeking outside investors who align with your company’s vision or getting a business loan.
We reached out to the AWE community for more advice. Here’s what they have to say about financing challenges business owners may be facing and some remedies to their concerns:
“It depends on what type of outside money is being considered. If it is some simple operating capital for a company that is in a slow growth phase, then simple debt is likely the right instrument, providing that the bank will help. This would be considered non-dilutive capital and sit as a liability on your balance sheet. If you are a tech company with a market opportunity to scale quickly once commercialization starts then considering angel capital could be a good option. This will likely be dilutive capital and you need to make sure the investor/company match makes sense as not all investors are a good fit for your business. The business will need to ensure they have a shareholder agreement, a subscription agreement and available issued shares for assignment.”
- Kristina Milke, President of K-GAR Consulting Inc.
“It’s always a fine balance between personal money, outside share capital and debt. That specific balance is dependent on your business plan. I prefer to have a balance where I can bring in shareholders who have skill sets that I may need in my business in the future. As you grow, individuals with “skin in the game” bring value beyond their share capital. They bring networks, expertise, and an easily accessible “adhoc” advisory board. I am a proponent of bringing in external share capital to dilute risk, get access to expertise and not to be reliant solely on debt, which has the fixed interest costs. I will say that not all shareholders are equal, so it’s important to interview prospective shareholders and ensure they are a fit with the philosophy and strategy of your company. To seek the right balance for your company, always consult with your advisors to determine the appropriate strategy for your business plan.”
- Phoebe Fung, Proprietor of Vin Room & VR Wine
“Managing cash flow is an important activity for any business. Building at minimum, a 12 week cash flow forecast that takes into account the exact week in which cash comes in or goes out. This helps provide insight to cash needs over the next quarter and helps make smart decisions about how to manage your working capital or when to make active decisions to stretch it out. Short-term financing such as a line of credit can also be used to bridge the gap between payables and receivables.”
- Melissa Richards, Managing Director, Entrepreneurship Strategy, ATB Business
Financing challenges can be difficult to deal with and they often create a great deal of stress for business owners. That being said, remember that you are not alone and there are ways around even the most difficult obstacles.
Jeanette Many Guns is a filmmaker and is the Owner and Operator of Many Guns Ranch and Adventures. Jeanette participated in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series in Calgary.
For 20 years, Jeanette Many Guns has been offering trail rides and customized tours on horseback throughout Siksika Nation. Speaking passionately about the beauty and the history of her community, Jeanette explains that the many historical sites, close proximity to the Bow River, and breathtaking badlands, make Siksika a popular tour spot.
“I had a lady from Europe that came and she couldn’t believe how we didn’t see anybody all day. The land that we go through is the same as it was 100 years ago; it hasn’t been touched. There’s so much history here at Siksika and it’s beautiful.”
It was her love of teaching about history and culture that inspired Jeanette to start a second business, this time in filmmaking. In 2015 she began creating educational films about Siksika. In addition to a series on the Blackfoot language, Jeanette has also made films sharing Blackfoot legends and stories.
Jeanette participated in the NextStep to Success program to help her get more organized and to improve her business plan. Her advice to others starting a business is to put their ideas down on paper.
“Start off with a business plan. And have everything in writing. When you go to the banks, or to any company, they want to see everything in writing.”
When asked what she likes most about entrepreneurship, Jeanette says she enjoys the freedom of working for yourself and the ability to set your own timelines. Ultimately though, it comes down to achieving her goal of educating people.
“When visitors come out I get to educate them on the Blackfoot history, our culture, our heritage, and our traditions. That feels good.”
As Mark Twain puts it, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. Being an entrepreneur is never easy – it requires countless hours, meetings, and a never-ending series of obstacles. But, the rewards of being one are plenty – you can work your own hours, be your own boss, and live your dream. The key is to get started and take a leap of faith. You’ve probably heard chatter around what entrepreneurship entails, particularly being a woman entrepreneur. How much of what you hear is actually true? We’d like to debunk some common myths and remind you that nothing is ever impossible, including being an entrepreneur.
Myth #1: Entrepreneurs are born.
The way that our culture talks about entrepreneurs often suggests that there is somehow a connection between genetics and your ability to be an entrepreneur. The truth is, entrepreneurs are not born, they are made. You don’t need to be a creative genius from birth to become a successful entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship requires hands-on experience and looking at the world through a critical lens. Successful and well-known entrepreneurs do have some features in common – they are dedicated and are committed to their business idea. In fact, according to Mark Healy from the Globe and Mail, most entrepreneurs don’t even start their businesses until they’re in their 40s. So if you think you weren’t born to be an entrepreneur, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you can train yourself to be one!
Myth #2: Entrepreneurs finance their businesses with venture capital and they need a large amount of funding.
When people think of entrepreneurs, they often turn to places like Silicon Valley or shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank. The truth is that these entrepreneurs are part of a minority of people – the vast majority of entrepreneurs use their personal financing, friends and family, or turn to financial institutions. Statistics from AlleyWatch show that in the USA, over 57% of start-up funding comes from personal savings. While there are some start-ups that do require larger amounts of funding, most entrepreneurs need a smaller amount to get their business off the ground. In fact, AWE offers a fantastic loan program that is designed to help women entrepreneurs succeed. Don’t be afraid to seek external funding when you need it, but don’t be intimidated – there are many options out there for small to medium sized businesses!
Myth #3: You can only be an entrepreneur if you “reinvent the wheel”.
Both Uber and Lyft provide similar transportation services, yet Uber was developed three years before Lyft. Despite being variations of the same service, their founders are all still considered entrepreneurs. There is the common myth that you can’t be an entrepreneur unless you invent something new or “change the game”. However, it’s far more common for individuals to take an already existing idea and add a new dimension to it. Entrepreneurship is about finding the market gap and areas that existing companies are lacking in and tailoring your offering to accommodate for those shortcomings. Most markets aren’t fully saturated and you can usually find a niche market that is interested in your product. Don’t focus simply on revolutionizing the industry, focus on how to add value to the lives of your customers and do what others aren’t.
Myth #4: Women are “too emotional” to be good entrepreneurs.
This is the classic argument that women are somehow less capable than others because they are more likely to show their emotions. This is nothing more than a myth. BDC released a video that discusses myths related to women entrepreneurs, and this is one that comes up and is discussed in depth. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean that you have to be ruthless and emotionless. Use your emotions to your advantage – they will be what set you apart from others. Part of entrepreneurship is your passion and dedication to your idea, so don’t be afraid to show this! These positive emotions will drive people towards your business and will make you successful.
All entrepreneurs are different and each one will experience their own journey. Entrepreneurs dream big but can also remain realistic and focused on their goals. Remember that you are in control of your business and with the right mix of passion and dedication you can be a successful entrepreneur!
If you were at our AWE Awards reception on May 14th, 2019, you’ll know it was an evening full of good food, great conversations, and celebration of some of Alberta’s finest entrepreneurs. For those of you who weren’t able to join us, we’d like to relive some of the magic with you.
AWE was lucky to have Quinn Ohler from Global News Edmonton as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. She was an excellent host and made sure to keep everyone in the crowd entertained! There were also some inspiring speeches delivered by Marcela Mandeville (CEO of AWE) and Teresa Clouston (Executive Vice President of ATB). Teresa Clouston even remarked that “If you’re looking for a role model, look no further than this room, as it’s here in spades”.
Now, for the part that everyone has been waiting for: the awards! We’d like to recognize all of the finalists for this year’s awards and congratulate the 2019 winners.
Emerging Entrepreneur Award: Staci Millard, S. Millard Chartered Professional Accountant
Staci is an outstanding business woman who owns and operates her own accounting firm in Fort McMurray. She is the current treasurer for the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and won the female entrepreneur of the year for the Chamber Awards in 2018. When accepting her award, Staci commented that “As women, we’ve come to believe that being in business has to be a struggle. And at one point, it was. But, being a woman business owner was one of the best things I’ve ever done. We are in the most abundant position as ever to be women in business”. Congratulations Staci!
Myrna has been involved in the tech industry for many years now, and is currently the CEO and co-founder of her third tech company - RUNWITHIT Synthetics. She has a tremendous reach and has even worked on projects with NASA and US West. She is a proud promoter of equality, diversity and representation. Although she wasn’t able to attend the event personally, in her acceptance video she gave some wise words on how “The best things aren’t easy, they are just profoundly worthwhile.” Congratulations Myrna!
Upsurge Entrepreneur Award: Allison Grafton, Rockwood Custom Homes
Allison is a hardworking and driven woman who is always looking to grow her business. She has won the RBC Women of Influence Momentum Award and has also been inducted to the WXN Hall of Fame. She is currently in the process of scaling her business and has just recently opened up a division of her business in the Okanagan area. In a field that is often dominated by men, Allison commented that “Out of all companies in Canada, there are only 2 woman-led construction companies. Any woman that comes into an industry looks at it differently, and that’s where our success comes from. As females, we always go above and beyond”. AWE is proud to recognize Allison for her achievements.
Celebration of Achievement Award: Karina Birch, Rocky Mountain Soap Co.
Karina has always been an advocate of the principle that “what goes on the body, goes in the body” and used this value to build her company, Rocky Mountain Soap Co. The company has grown tremendously and has been included in the Profit 100. Karina is committed to using natural products and ensuring that her business is sustainable and socially responsible. When speaking about the entrepreneurial spirit, Karina stated that “I started my business at 24 when I was naive but uber-confident"! This is the entrepreneurial spirit”. Karina is an inspiration to so many women and AWE is incredibly proud to recognize Karina and the strides she has made in the world of business.
While the awards ceremony is over for this year, women will never stop changing business. As CEO of AWE, Marcela Mandeville, stated, “When women succeed, everyone succeeds”. We are proud of all the incredible women entrepreneurs out there, and if you know someone who should be recognized, nominate her today for the 2020 AWE Awards!
Are you facing a challenge in your business? If you are an entrepreneur, then chances are the answer is yes!
Business owners face difficult problems and hard decisions every day while starting, growing, and leading their companies. On May 14th, AWE is bringing together women entrepreneurs, subject-matter experts, and leaders in the business community to work through common challenges together and create solutions for success.
Learning Day: Sparking Solutions is a full-day event focused on bringing together entrepreneurial thinkers. Tap into the collective brain and experiences of the entrepreneurs around you as we spark solutions together!
Whether you’re struggling to hire the right people, find low-cost marketing options, manage cash flow, or access capital, you’ll have an opportunity to explore a challenge that’s relevant to you and walk away from the event with tangible solutions.
Learning Day will begin with an opportunity to select one challenge that you are facing in your business. In small groups, you will work with your peers and a facilitator to work through your chosen challenge and brainstorm innovative solutions.
Possible challenges include:
How do I plan and implement low-cost marketing beyond using social media?
How do I decide whether or not to accept potential investment if the investors have a very different vision from me?
How do I find valuable leads and make effective sales connections?
How do I hire the right people? Should I hire contractors or permanent employees?
How do I set pricing when my competitors are cutting costs?
How do I manage my professional and personal life when my business partner is a family member?
How do I stay profitable during an economic downturn?
How do I manage cash flow in an industry where 30-90 pay periods are the norm?
How do I address and implement strategies to support mental health in my team?
How do I know when to bring in outside money and how much capital is needed to grow from one stage to the next?
We’re stronger together. Let’s tap into the collective brain and experiences of those around us and spark solutions!
Edmonton, AB, Canada – A total of 180 entrepreneurs were nominated from across the province for the 2019 AWE Awards. There are three categories celebrating the outstanding contributions of women entrepreneurs, with multiple finalists named in each, as well as one Celebration of Achievement Award recipient who is recognized for being an inspirational leader and role model for women in business.
This year the AWE Celebration of Achievement Award will honour Karina Birch an exceptional woman entrepreneur who has built a business in Alberta with significant impact on the economy and the community.
At the AWE Awards Reception on May 14th, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs will celebrate Karina Birch, as well as announce the recipients of three other award categories including the Upsurge, Emerging Entrepreneur, and Emerging Innovator Awards.
“We believe that our economies and communities are stronger when women are full participants in entrepreneurship," said Marcela Mandeville, CEO of AWE. "Our award nominees demonstrate the power of entrepreneurship and the leadership, commitment, talent, and innovation that fuels small and medium-sized business success. We are proud to recognize the contributions made by our nominees, finalists, and this year’s recipient of the Celebration of Achievement Award, Karina Birch, to Alberta, Canada, and the world.”
The AWE Upsurge Award is presented to an entrepreneur who has built a solid foundation for her business and is now experiencing rapid growth and significant expansion opportunity. The 2019 finalists for this category are:
The AWE Emerging Entrepreneur Award is presented to an entrepreneur who has built a strong, scalable business foundation and has achieved early success with strong market potential. The 2019 finalists are:
"ATB understands that women entrepreneurs face unique challenges when it comes to making their businesses a success," said Teresa Clouston, ATB Financial's Executive Vice-President of Business and Agriculture. "ATB is focused on understanding these challenges so we can help overcome them. We're thrilled to support these incredible dreamers, doers and risk takers, because we know that when these women are successful, Alberta is successful."
Anyone wishing to celebrate the outstanding women entrepreneurs in our province is invited to attend the AWE Awards Reception. Tickets for the event can be reserved here.
About Alberta Women Entrepreneurs
Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enabling women to build successful businesses. AWE provides unique programs and services to women at all stages of business through advising, financing, mentoring, and skills and network development.
Esther Jacobs is the Co-owner and Operator of Jacobs Weaselhead Corporation. The company has several different streams of business, including catering, equipment rentals, and training. Esther participated in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series in Tsuut’ina Nation.
Esther Jacobs is no amateur when it comes to her craft. She has been working in catering for over 30 years, a skill she learned hands-on at a young age.
“We learned a lot of our hands-on skills from our own mothers, aunts, cousins. You learn a lot of the basics you need to know from community connections.”
She also grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with her father being a business owner for over 25 years. Her whole family worked in that business, and she credits her dad for teaching her many of the business skills she has today.
Like most entrepreneurs, she often wears many hats in the company, doing the marketing, promotions, negotiations, and payroll, in addition to cooking.
“There’s not a start and end date when you’re an entrepreneur. It’s all day, every day, it’s always on your mind what to do next. Getting out a quote, or an estimate, or submitting a bid.”
Esther and her husband incorporated their business, Jacobs Weaselhead Corporation, in 2017. With her catering expertise, and his background in the construction industry, their combined skillsets are perfect for the variety of services their business offers.
Partaking in the NextStep to Success Business Planning Series was a good complement to other training Esther has done to build her business. The sessions allowed her to look at the big picture for her business. What she found particularly valuable and empowering were the discussions with other women, and the supportive learning environment.
“I find that when you’re with a group of women, it’s different. The learning is different, the teaching is different, and what you get out of it is different. There’s more camaraderie.”
Each year, AWE celebrates and honours female entrepreneurs from across Alberta. Nominated by their peers, these inspirational women are achieving growth and success in business, and making an impact on the economy and their community.
This year, we are pleased to share that we had a record number of 180 women nominated for our AWE Awards! Over 100 of these entrepreneurs submitted nominations packages to be considered for the 2019 Awards. Collectively they represent over 282 million dollars in revenue, and over 2100 employees.
On May 14, 2019 we will announce the recipients for this year's AWE Upsurge, Emerging, Emerging Innovator and Celebration of Achievement Awards. Finalists will be revealed in April.
Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, along with Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) is pleased to share an opportunity to help you enter and expand into international markets.
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair is being held in Baltimore, MD on in June 25 – 27, 2019. If you’re looking to grow your revenue through international markets, then we invite you to join our delegation.
What is the WBENC National Conference and Business Fair?
This event is the largest conference of its kind in North America with corporate and government buyers connecting with women business leaders from over 18 countries. Attendees will enjoy tailored Canadian programming and three days of speakers, executive workshops, matchmaking and networking opportunities, including the WBENC Business Fair– the largest of its kind with more than 300 exhibitors and procurement specialists.
This program is ideal if you:
want to grow your business via export
have interest in or already have experience selling business to business
have the capacity to manufacture or deliver products or services in larger volumes
How much does it cost?
The Early Bird rates for the full conference for a small business owner (not WBENC-certified) is $799.
There are grant opportunities to help cover travel and conference fees. Please connect with AWE before registering to learn more.
Why should I go with AWE and Business Women in International Trade (BWIT)?
You could attend the conference on your own, but when you attend with AWE and the Canadian delegation, you’ll receive additional support and guidance.
By joining our delegation you can:
Tap into AWE’s knowledge and expertise of international markets
Identify the right opportunities for you and your business
Access personalized advice and support
When you are in unfamiliar territory, sometimes you need a tour guide. Our team has a wealth of experience and information on how to build strong connections and how to do business in the U.S. supplier diversity market.
We’ll start with a pre-conference meeting to get clear on your goals. Then at the event we’ll assist you to determine where to spend your time, and which activities are the most valuable.
Going alone to this massive conference can be very overwhelming, but we’ll be there every step of the way to make sure it’s productive and a valuable investment of your time.
Please let us know if you’re interested in learning more about the opportunity!