Nearly 2,000 women (and several men) who either are small business owners or are considering becoming one filled the Loker Student Union at California State University, Dominguez Hills for the 2014 Connecting Women to Power Business Conference on June 20.
The capacity crowd was on hand to gain invaluable tips on a variety of topics facing small business owners, including how to build a feasible budget, business promotion and marketing, winning government contracts, and how venture capital could help spur growth.
The event’s panels focused on issues specific to female business owners who seek mentorship, advice and practical knowledge, with featured exhibitors offering free business assistance services throughout the day.
The conference was hosted by the university in conjunction with the California State Board of Equalization Office of Chairman Jerome Horton (Class of ’79, B.S., business administration), California Educational Solutions, California Legislative Women’s Caucus, and the National Association of Women Business Owners-Los Angeles.
Horton was joined by his wife Yvonne Horton, city clerk of Inglewood and chair of the conference’s planning committee. Both husband and wife gave rousing welcome speeches to the audience, recounting how proud they were to see so many women seeking to connect to each other, learn and grow in both their professional and personal lives.
“You have been told to think outside the box,” Jerome Horton said. “Today, I encourage you not just to think outside the box, but begin to manufacture more boxes and ship your product overseas and all around the world.”
He added that the old adage about making lemonade when life gives you lemons is too short-sighted:
“Forget that!” he said to a round of applause. “Take the seed from that lemon and plant yourself an orchard!”
Attendees participated in breakout sessions and workshops and also heard speeches from powerful women such as Judy Carter, author of “The Message of You: Turn Your Life Story into a Money-Making Speaking Career;” Fawn Weaver, author of “The Happy Wives Club: One Woman’s Worldwide Search for the Secrets of a Great Marriage;” master of ceremonies Hyepin Im, president and CEO of the Korean Churches for Community Development, and keynote speaker Rhonda Britten, life coach and the author of several self-help books, including the bestselling “Fearless Living,”which helps people identify and overcome their fears.
“The only thing that’s stopping you from being happy is fear,” Britten said to the rapt audience. The Emmy-award winning life coach and frequent Oprah guest described ways that guilt, stress and worry infect women’s lives to the point where they become paralyzed with fear and “opt out” of being happy.
With nods of understanding from the audience, Britten relayed how she had let fear get in the way of her happiness, recounting times she tried to commit suicide and was at the lowest points in her life. She worked slowly to create a support network for herself and eventually created the life she wanted by realizing that women far too often limit themselves from their full potential because of internalized doubt.
“Fear comes from us and our experiences, but consider today your nudge to do what you’ve always been afraid to do,” Britten said.
Charmetra Roberts, currently a senior associate at a financial company, took that advice to heart. Roberts, who was a teacher for over 30 years, dreams of opening her own preschool in South L.A. this year.
“I have to conquer my fears,” she said. “That’s what really stops any of us from doing what we want to do–that fear of the unknown.”
Roberts acknowledged that it was heartening to see so many other professional women who not only want to pursue their passions, but also faced many of the same doubts.
“It’s within our power to go after our goals, we just need that confidence to do it,” Roberts said. “That’s why this event is so nice. We get to network, meet people and share our ideas with like-minded women.”
CSU Dominguez Hills President Willie J. Hagan also spoke during the event, telling the crowd he was honored to stand in front of so many inspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs. He pointed out that the university’s mission of providing education to an underserved community has led it to becoming a bastion for women leaders. Currently, CSU Dominguez Hills has a 66% female student population and is continuing to provide growth services for all of its students.
“I believe that this campus is the perfect place for this kind of conference,” Hagan said. “We transform lives through education and this conference is about that– how to transform you as an individual and how to help strengthen and expand your business.”
In fact, the rate of women in business has blossomed over the past several years and their importance in spending has been proven in study after study.
According to BOE First District representative Betty T. Yee, who spoke during the conference, nearly eight million businesses in the U.S. are owned by women. These entrepreneurs generate $1.2 trillion for the economy and provide an average of eight jobs per business. In addition, California is especially fertile ground for female entrepreneurs, with nearly a million of those women-owned businesses here in the Golden State, 40% of which are in the Los Angeles and surrounding areas.
One of the most popular sessions of the day was the “Utilizing Social Media: 2014 Marketing Trends & Strategies” session that had standing-room-only capacity for hundreds of attendees.
The panel featured marketing experts including Deane Leavenworth, Time Warner Cable’s west regional vice president of government relations, and Michele Ruiz, president and CEO of Ruiz Strategies, a communications firm that develops content marketing strategies for organizations around the world.
The speakers offered practical advice about viral marketing, social media tools and tricks, public relations, and entrepreneurship, and took questions from the audience about their own experience with the changing world of marketing.
One of those in attendance was Suzanne Patterson, a marketing director at a startup company who was looking to strengthen her business. She appreciated the holistic view the speakers took to the industry and hoped to apply the techniques to her company.
“It’s just all about learning, day in and day out,” she said. “You can’t stop educating yourself or else you’ll get left behind.”
Patterson also attended the “Real Talk, Real Issues, Real People, Right Now” session, which was led by Yvonne Horton and featured a panel of experts on physical and mental health to speak about the toll women put on themselves both physically, mentally, and spiritually as they navigate the intersecting worlds of work, family, and love.
The panel discussed how to find time to exercise, eat healthfully, and take much-needed ‘me’ time. Patterson related to the “rat-race” the panel spoke about. Because of a demanding professional and personal life, she, for years, left her health on the back burner.
“As women, we just minimize what happens to us, and it was so great to hear other women acknowledging that it’s really hard to juggle it all,” she said. “Talking about keeping our minds and bodies healthy is essential for us to keep living productive, happy lives.”
She was glad to have a conference that offered camaraderie for female business professionals that encourages entrepreneurship.
“It’s my first time, and I just see myself coming back every year,” she said.