Monday, November 07, 2005

Women helping women

Today I moderated a roundtable discussion among seven distinguished women entrepreneurs. They all rank on PROFIT’s 2005 list of Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs, and were tremendously successful and articulate.

Nonetheless, the goal at the W100 Idea Exchange, held at the Vaughan Estate in Toronto, was to discuss the challenges these entrepreneurs are currently facing. Graciously, they each came up with one or two.

Here’s a sampling of the issues they are facing, and the solutions offered by their peers.

1. One business owner asked for help improving the margins in her business. Suggestions included raising prices, hiring consultants to cut costs, and selling the company’s real-estate assets. When the entrepreneur said she was reluctant to raise prices, another participant said her company raised prices 15% last year. When it received no complaints, it raised them again.

2. One participant complained about the high cost of buying custom end-to-end management software. Several entrepreneurs said they had found it cheaper to hire their own IT staff to produce home-made solutions where the mass-market packages leave off. Another said she actually asks competitors for advice on topics like this, as they understand her needs best.

3. “I need help finding, contracting and keeping sales people,” said another entrepreneur. “’Good sales people’ is becoming an oxymoron.”
Among the suggestions from the table: Ask more process-oriented questions in the interview to better understand a sales candidate’s abilities and experience; revise commission structures to better reward desired behaviour; offer better training to encourage good people to stay; hire two or three salespeople at a time to reduce training costs and hope that at least one makes the grade.

4. One entrepreneur said her business is ‘plateauing,’ and competitors are eating into her margins. What should she do? Did she need an exit strategy?
One peer picked up on the real problem: “Are you bored with the business?” The table offered several solutions, such as delegating the parts of her job she doesn’t like, or investing in new startups to give her the growth fix she seems to crave. She seemed pretty happy with the feedback.

For more on PROFIT’s W100 list, click here.

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