I'm disturbed about something. I hadn't given it too much thought until the November issue of Chatelaine magazine landed on my doorstep.
As soon as the magazine arrived I flipped to the article on “Women of the Year.” I had heard about these awards beforehand - the judging panel was crazy-impressive, and I couldn't wait to see which Canadian women were honoured. I was not disappointed: there were rags-to-riches stories, stories of innovators, survivors and do-gooders. Truly an inspirational collection of amazing women.
And then I turned the page to read the next article – a feature on Kate Middleton who is declared "the most talked about woman in 2011." The article focussed on Kate’s wild popularity and chronicled her fashion choices. Much mention was made of her sparkling smile and how many magazine covers her face has graced.
And please, like the rest of you, I was a fan of “Catherine the Great.” I watched "The Wedding." I thought she looked like a true princess. I said to myself, "She's so beautiful! She's so skinny!" And like Prince William, I fell in love with her too.
But here's the thing I realized in reading the Chatelaine article: Kate Middleton doesn't speak. Kate has never publicly uttered a word.
So doesn’t that freak you out?! In 2011, one of the world’s most popular women – someone who is adored, a role model – is someone we have never heard speak? I mean, I’m happy to give Kate the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure she’s lovely. But what are her opinions? What does she think about her new role in the monarchy? How will she use her power? I know she’s got a penchant for skinny jeans and ballet flats, but that’s about it.
Princess Di, also adored the world over, also didn’t speak at the outset. During the first four years of her marriage, she publicly spoke about 500 words (or, the length of this blog post). She later grew into the role of advocate – for AIDS and land mine victims – but that wasn’t until her marriage had dissolved. She seemed to have to get out from under the royal shadow before she found her own voice.
Look, I get it: Diana was beautiful – the People’s Princess. Kate is beautiful – the Queen of Style.
But to have Kate’s face on the cover of a magazine that featured such amazing, accomplished Canadian women? Totally disappointing. I would rather read about the Canadian entrepreneurs, heroes, mavericks and game changers that Chatelaine profiled any day of the week.
What does this say of us in 2011, that we, as women have a hero who has never spoken?
One upside of being a small player in business is flexibility. Before you’ve gone too far down the garden path, and before you’ve invested too much money, you can take advantage of your ability to react to demands in the market. When starting out in business for yourself, it’s hard to know which aspect of your business will ‘take.’ Our friend Debbi Arnold of D.A. Consulting originally thought she’d be designing marketing brochures but it turned out that her clients demanded her services as a consultant, and she is now a successful business coach. We didn’t know what our business was going to be when it “grew up” either – that’s actually why we called ourselves Admiral Road and not ‘fuzzyblankets.com.’ It took a few years before we could define ourselves as an online personalized baby blanket company.
This week Dragons’ Den featured Bill Walsh, a Calgary-based lawyer who invented the Swing Jacket, a training product designed to improve your golf swing. Walsh asked for $750k for a third of his company in order to resuscitate an idea that had gone bust. Once upon a time, via an infomercial, Walsh sold over 100,000 Swing Jackets and earned over $10 million in revenue. While manufacturing his product overseas, Walsh received one batch of inventory that was highly defective. After that and other missteps, he ran out of cash and had to pull the product off the market. He has invested $400,000 in the business, has mortgaged his home and still hasn’t recovered financially. With no money, now he wants to get back into the same game.
Given Walsh’s lack of cash and seeming inability to manage his finances, the Dragons suggested pursuing a different model – one in which Walsh doesn’t run the company but instead collects royalties on the idea. Then, he’d have a viable business model. When Walsh refused, Kevin O’Leary accused him of being “bull-headed.”
Walsh has demonstrated that he can generate sales, but he’s also being stubborn. He can’t see that won’t be able to raise the money to re-launch his business as it was before. If, however, he were willing to be flexible about how he saw his role in the company, he just might be able to climb out of the hole he’s in. Kevin O’Leary didn’t have a problem with the product, but he told Walsh that he “was the problem.”
If something in your business isn’t working as it should, you can keep banging your head against the wall. Or, you can be flexible. Changing course a little might be just the answer.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade is mad, really mad, at Canadian lenders these days. We’ve all seen the author and television host force people to pull up their britches and get their debts squared away on her popular TV shows, ‘Til Debt Do U$ Part and Princess. And while no one is a bigger believer in personal responsibility when it comes to taking on debt, this time Vaz-Oxlade is setting her sights on banks and their ‘irresponsible lending practices.’ She sees a disconnect between the amount of credit lenders are willing to extend and the ability of people to assume that debt. Gail Vaz-Oxlade wants to ‘school’ lenders and is taking advantage of Credit Education Week (Nov. 13 to 19th) to ask Canadians to avoid credit card transactions, using only cash, in order to send a message to lenders.
We caught up with Ms. Vaz-Oxlade to talk about debt specifically as it pertains to entrepreneurs. She believes that one of the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is starting their businesses without a plan. According to Vaz-Oxlade, more than 80% of businesses fail for this reason. She cautions, “You need to know how many months you can go without income and for how many months you have money to float the business.”
Gail Vaz-Oxlade put her money where her mouth is. A while back, she had the idea of starting a financial magazine targeted at women. She mapped out the costs and revenues and how much debt she was prepared to assume before she pulled the plug. At the end of the day Vaz-Oxlade lost the money. She recalls, “I remember the day I sat on the stairs and said, ‘I have to stop now. If I keep feeding this monster it’s for emotional reasons and not for business reasons.’ You have to be willing to pull the plug.”
Ms. Vaz-Oxlade is philosophical about one-size-fits-all rules for finance. When asked what is a reasonable amount of debt for entrepreneurs to take on, she says, “Everyone wants an answer to that. There is no answer, there’s your answer”. This was music to our ears: as we mention often in our, book about mompreneurship, Mom Inc., your entrepreneurial venture needs to work for you, and only for you.
That being said, Gail Vaz-Oxlade has some great general tips for entrepreneurs:
Using a credit card to finance your business is a really bad idea. You are far better off getting a line of credit. (BUT, you must keep your transactions only for the business. Your interest on the line of credit is tax deductable, but once you start buying shoes on it the tax man is going to come for you.)
Don’t live on overdraft protection - it is supposed to be temporary.
Hold your credit card in a different bank than your bank accounts. If you don’t, your bank can access assets from other accounts to pay your credit card bills.
Protect your family – don’t put your home at risk to finance a business start-up.
Make sure you communicate with your spouse regularly about the business. If you have secrets, take that as a bad sign!