Looking for sound advice, fresh ideas and new connections to help launch or grow their businesses, more than 3,000 women entrepreneurs from throughout the region filled speaker sessions and workshops during the Connecting Women to Power Business Conference at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) on June 19.
Hosted by Alumnus Jerome E. Horton (Class of ’79, B.S., business administration), chairman of the California State Board of Equalization (BOE), the conference now in its sixth year continues to grow in popularity. Most of the events during the day were standing room only or filled to capacity, including the welcoming ceremony in the CSUDH’s Loker Student Union, which was also streamed via live video feed in the University Theatre to an overflow crowd on nearly 200.
The welcoming ceremony’s keynote speaker, Ann marie Houghtailing, executive coach and author of “How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air,” discussed the importance of women examining and sharing their personal worth and the worth of their products and businesses, and her belief that “self-worth is attached to net-worth.”
“You have something to offer the world that is valuable, so make sure you name your price for it, and make sure you educate those around you to why that is the price,” she said. “That will make all the difference in the world. No matter how good your product or service is, if you can’t sell it, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to be able to communicate your value to the world, and you can’t do that if you don’t believe you are worthy. You can’t do that if you make yourself small.”
Horton and his wife, Yvonne Horton, city clerk of Inglewood, stood together on stage to welcome the participants and encourage them to “be excited, laugh and have fun.”
“Over 2,800 entrepreneurs and inspiring business owners registered for this conference. That represents about 3 million customers. What other place can you, in one day, connect with 3 million potential customers? So I hope you all brought a whole box of business cards,” said Jerome Horton. “Reach inside your purses or bags and pull out your most valuable position. Now give it away. Give away your most valuable possession today, which is simply your smile, or a ‘Thank you.’”
CSUDH President Willie J. Hagan reminded the crowd of the importance of helping others “move up the economic ladder” while they pursue their personal and economic aspirations.
“You might be here to achieve something that’s personal to you—to build or expand your business—but it’s not enough that you ‘try’ to be successful,” he said. “You have to be successful, because if you are you will bring hundreds-of-thousands of other folks into your wake as you create jobs, change lives and transform communities.”
Off to Work
After the opening ceremony, the women attendees—and the handful of men—splintered off to the workshops and speakers sessions, including Patti Cotton of The Cotton Group’s lecture, “Communications and Interpersonal Skills.” They also had the opportunity to attend the BOE’s Career Fair and Tax Resource Expo during the conference.
Cotton’s packed session taught women how to make a powerful impression, communicate and get people to listen during business-related conversations by addressing such topics as power through language, how not to downplay one’s presence, and the importance of confronting conflict and taking action.
“Who here has ever apologized for themselves by saying ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but…,’ ‘I’m not really an expert, but…,’ or ‘I don’t really know how to read financial statements, but…?’ Well, no more ladies, no more,” Cotton said. “What do you think it does when you apologize for being there? It diminishes you. You’re telling people they don’t really need to pay attention to you. Instead of ‘I’m not good with financial statements, but these numbers don’t seem to add up,’ just say ‘These numbers don’t seem to match up.’ Stop telling people not to respect you.”
Conference participant Janet Koller, owner of the Koller Accounting Group, found Cotton’s session insightful and picked up a few ideas to help her communicate and negotiate when working with clients.
“She had a lot of great tips in regards to presenting yourself professionally, and how to overcome some very common struggles that I think women entrepreneurs experience,” she said. “I loved her opening, ‘Under what conditions would you consider…?’ [a negotiation technique designed to align oneself with a client’s needs]. That’s a great thing to consider for any business negotiation, or when trying to bring on a new client to expand your services.”
Eldonna Lewis Fernandez, a retired Air Force veteran and negotiation and contracts expert with over 30 years of experience, led the workshop, “Think Like a Negotiator.” Knowing the most common negotiation mistakes is one of the best ways for women to excel in business, according to Fernandez—such mistakes as not being prepared, thinking everything in not negotiable, and not building relationships first.
“It’s not about the quantity of your connections, it’s about the quality and finding out something about the people you may end up working with. We’re in this microwave society in America, everything is quick, quick, quick. Now we’re getting back to the relationship economy where people are starting to connect more by sitting down and finding out something about the person,” said Fernandez. “When we connect first and really build that affinity for one another, often–just from the conversation–you’ll figure out whether or not that person is a right-fit client for you.”`
Unique to the conference this year were two boot camps hosted by the Entrepreneur Institute @ CSUDH, which prepared participants to pitch their products and business ideas later in the day to a panel of successful local business leaders during Toro Tank, a business pitch competition the institute designed after the ABC network show “Shark Tank.”
Approximately 90 entrepreneurs participated in the boot camps before 40 semi-finalists and 15 finalists presented their products during Toro Tank with the hopes of creating partnerships, getting advice and/or acquiring funding to grow.
The winner of Toro Tank was Kimberly Meckwood who presented her product Click & Carry, which is designed to help people carry multiple shopping bags and other items safely and more comfortably.
“This was a great experience today, especially meeting all of these people who could potentially further my career. Up until now, I’ve been a one-woman show, and what I learned today is I need to develop a team. All of my determent today focused on the fact that it’s just me,” said Meckwood. “In fact, I came here knowing I needed the money to hire a team. That was my main intention. Now, I think that might happen. I received a bunch of business cards, people seemed interested, and one guy asked me how quickly I needed the money, and I said ‘immediately.’”