(3/21/12 by Marcella Van Oel)
Spring blossomed at Urban Enoteca this Tuesday morning as it hosted the Women on a Mission conference. Thanks to the orchestration of Christine Hanna, Erin Nelson and emcee, Tonya Mosley, this event brought together 150 women entrepreneurs and 'a few great men' to discuss the challenges of running a sustainable business.
The day opened with Carol Sanford suggesting ways for entrepreneurs to envision their businesses differently. A business that is an integral part of the life of the community, focuses on value-adding—keeping this word in present tense. The goal is to keep the delivery of products/services rooted in a living process in ways analagous to natural cycles of renewal, always adapting, remaining fluid and responsive to change. Businesses also thrive from a place-sourced point of view, where all support the story of place. Informed by the culture and history of its locality, a business community brings an ethic of stewardship to the customers it serves. Even when structured as co-ops, business progess is supported by what Sanford calls global imperatives, those mission-driven actions that make your values transparent.
Our stories -- competition vs. collaboration
The morning sessions introduced the audience to a wide array of local, women-owned businesses who generously shared what they've learned with both encouragement and cautionary tales. While trying to prioritize decisions about which tasks to do first, weigh the importance of actions as they are distributed in 'the four quadrants' comparing effectiveness to expense. Tip: go for the low-hanging fruit of the most effective task to accomplish that costs you the least right now and schedule those with equal effectiveness but more expense to a later time.
In the afternoon, a fascinating discussion moderated by Lara Feltin of Biznik, centered around perceptions of competition versus collaboration. Several of the panelists acknowledged that as an owner you have to stay protective of your interests. There is unforeseen risk in relying on collaborators who may pull out of an arrangement, leaving you with unexpected gaps in workflow. However, when taken in aggregate, a local business community perfectly exemplified by CHEW, Capitol Hill Entrepreneurial Women, the competition paradigm diminishes its influence when each individual business within a particular locality champions the success of the others. The ethic here is: If you do well, I do well, because all co-exist in a matrix, in this case, within walking distance of each other.