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It was 1990 when Andre Agassi uttered his famous tagline in a commercial for Canon saying, “Image is Everything”.  It was a powerful statement back then, and even now it is widely agreed that image carries significant weight in what is believed about us in business.  Skills and credentials cannot be discounted, but the most powerful message comes from how those variables are packaged through how we dress and our body language.

Christie Ressel, image consultant and owner of Personal Power Image Consulting, advises women everyday on how to dress for success.  A family tragedy seemed to channel her into that professional direction.  Christie lost her mother – her good friend – to cancer years ago and as a result she felt very lost and disconnected with herself.  Rather than let it drag her down, this tragic event transformed her outlook on life, wanting more than ever to live a life she felt passionate about.  Now as an international image consultant, Christie is helping women everywhere!  She is Editor of Beauty and Style for ChicGalleria.com and an image consulting instructor at George Brown College.  Christie is living her dream by giving style and image advice to women to help them feel chic and confident!  She writes for over twelve publications about style, etiquette and communication and travels across Canada to speak at shows and events for women.  In our interview with Christie, she shares some “must-know” business fashion tips for women.

  “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous”– Coco Chanel

What are some of the business fashion faux pas women should steer clear from?

I think trying to be too sexy and fashion forward at work. While I’m all for expressing who you are, and having fun with your attire – when in a place of business, the key is subtly with fashion (unless you are in a very creative environment, in which case you’d have more leniency). If you dress too fashionable you’ll lose credibility with those around you. I recommend using more classic pieces in business that you can dress up while still looking professional. You can use statement pieces of jewellery to make your outfit current and have a pop (max of 2 per outfit) or use things like colourful pumps, and scarves with great prints.

And equally important – make sure that your shoes, clothing, and hair are up to date. This is s must!

 

How can choosing the right colours for a particular individual affect your professional image?

What most people don’t realize is that black doesn’t make most people look good (no matter what you think the slimming affects are). Choosing and knowing which colours suit you personally is the new edge in fashion and business right now. It really makes you stand out as an individual and gives you your own “it” factor. For example, if you’ve ever looked at a loved one, or someone you know and think to yourself, “Wow, they look great today” and you can’t figure out what the difference is because nothing has changed in their style – it’s usually because they are wearing their colours.  It really enhances who you are. It makes your face lift and look brighter, you skin glows, the white of your teeth and eyes become more clear (goodbye whitening strips!), and it smoothes out skin tones so women don’t have to wear to much makeup! Not to mention, knowing your colours will save you time and money shopping because you’ll only invest in pieces that you know will make you shine! The best part? We’re naturally attracted to the colours we should be wearing (as opposed to what we’re socialized into thinking we need to wear) – so our closets will be full of things we can’t wait to put on that will make us feel and look stunning.

Just make sure you see a trained image consultant like myself to do your colours – sadly, many people do it incorrectly.
 
 

Is it possible to dress well without breaking the bank?  What are some tips?

Absolutely! There is an endless supply of fashionable stores that cater to our personal and business lives. H&M is a prime example of that – they have a huge selection of current pieces that will fit anyone’s style, personality and lifestyle requirements.

What I recommend for women to do is invest in classic pieces – so clothing that has simple, clean lines – usually in a solid colour or neutral. This will give you a fabulous foundation for your wardrobe that will give you extra mileage. From there, purchase more inexpensive “trend” items that will only last a couple of months to make your attire current! You’ll end up with hundreds of ways to mix and match your outfits for your many different moods and occasions!
 
 

What wardrobe and accessory advice do you have for women who are going to a job interview?

I cannot stress enough how important it is to research the company you are interviewing for. Know whether you are walking into a company that is conservative, formal, creative, or fun. From there you’ll be able to pick the best outfit for the occasion. But generally speaking, a fabulous pencil skirt, medium pumps and blouse (in your colour of course) with your favourite accessories are best. If the occasion is more formal – add a blazer into the mix.

Make sure that you don’t go accessory overload either – 2 statement pieces at a time. Otherwise, you’ll look over the top and inappropriate.

 

What is one “must have” item a woman should have in her business wardrobe?

A stunning blazer or pencil skirt – either of these pieces can transition to evening looks as well for when you’re out with friends or a loved one!
 

What can a woman, who is interested in enhancing her professional image, expect in a consultation with you?

Well the first thing we’ll do is find out – you! I’m looking to learn about how you spend your time, how you feel about yourself, your image, and what your goals are. From there, I make recommendations on what I think would work best for you. It’s a really personalized experience for everyone. I’m not someone that will point to an outfit and say, “you need to wear this” as they do in makeover shows. I want women to embrace themselves, their bodies, and their signature style (which we help you create). You learn what works for YOU – your body, your life, and your personality – no more frustrating guessing games. From there, we’ll rummage through your closet and create new outfits, things to toss, and things to transition with. I can teach you about makeup techniques for your face, and take you personal shopping – it’s such a fun experience! A real treat because you’re taking time to invest in yourself. Something most women forget about or put on the back burner.

 

Christie’s Picks

Books:  “Style from A to Zoe” by Rachel Zoe and “The Little Dictionary of Fashion: A Guide to Dress Sense for Every Woman” by Christian Dior

Websites:  www.wwd.com if you’re looking for up to the minute fashion industry news. www.personalpowerimage.com for blogs, articles, and newsletters on style tips, business tips, and image news for women!

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In Part 1 and Part 2 of this special interview series we spoke with Kathy Korman Frey, founder of The Hot Mommas Project and learned about how this initiative is impacting women and girls through virtual mentoring.   We also chatted with Kathy about her involvement in the Project and she shared some of the key life experiences that have helped shape her both as a person and a professional.

The focus of this third post is simple yet powerful.  It is a call to action.  As the Canadian Regional Manager of The Hot Mommas Project this year, my goal is to increase representation of dynamic women in Canada in the online library of case studies.   Canada is both rich and diverse in expertise, experiences and culture.  Our stories, as Canadian women, need to be heard and shared.  There is a new generation of women aspiring to succeed both professionally and personally, but need to hear our experiences of trial and error, challenges and success to help them maneuver through it.

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”— Robert McKee

Do women and girls need role models?  Moreover, do they need same-gender role models?  Research seems to point in that direction.  According to a study conducted by Dr. Penelope Lockwood at the University of Toronto, women more than men need role models who are the same gender as they are.  She states: 

“Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable” .

So what can YOU do?

In addition to authoring my own case study in 2009, I have nominated select women that I know to serve as role models and contribute their story to this amazing initiative.  My call to action to all of you is to look at the remarkable women in your circle who you think would make great role models and nominate them to author their case study.  You can also self-nominate and begin writing your case study immediately.  I, personally, found the writing process to be very enlightening and therapeutic.

To nominate a woman, send an email to support@hotmommasproject.org

To begin writing your case study, here is a Video Tutorial and a Full list of case writer resources.

The RedSphere Network will be showcasing all Hot Mommas Project cases authored by women in Canada.  Now is the time to act and to be part of the solution!

Important dates:

  • January 4-31, 2010 – Official case-writing period. TELL YOUR STORY. Join the fun and see our upcoming article on Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference site, judge announcements, and more! Updates listed on column of our site www.HotMommasProject.org or sign up for our blog’s email updates.
  • January 31, 2010 – Last day to submit your story on www.HotMommasProject.org and make a difference in the life of a young woman.
  • April 28, 2010 – Hot Mommas Project 2010 award winners announced at Women in Philanthropy Forum. Top three winners plus special Schwab Foundation financial literacy category case winner will be published in a Prentice Hall textbook.

In Part 1 of this special Special Interview Series, we learned about the importance of role models for women’s success, the value of case studies and how both of these have come to life together through  The Hot Mommas® Project.  In Part 2, we chat with the remarkable woman behind this initiative – founder Kathy Korman Frey, who is also Adjunct Professor at George Washington University.

In addition to being a savvy entrepreneur and educator, Kathy is mother to two beautiful children – Maxwell and Delilah – and is married to her entrepreneurial husband Josh who, as she puts it, is her “third child, entertainer, partner and best friend”.  Her big issues are the aged (she used to work in the field) and civil rights, which has recently expanded to human rights for girls and women after reading “Half the Sky.”

Kathy is very proud of how The Hot Mommas® Project has grown – having put it together working part-time and in a mere seven months.  It made her redefine success and what is possible.  She has a theory now on maximizing time and thinking big, “I see many women who have less time, and therefore shoot lower. My message is ‘shoot higher’,  because you only have a few hours – so make it good.”

If you are looking for an example of keen self-awareness and how it relates to professional success, look no further.  Kathy has built her success, in large part, by paying close attention to life experiences right from childhood.  From selling Amway and Girl Guide cookies as a kid to observing and connecting with family and “power women”, Kathy has learned that key activities and people along the way – even the seemingly insignificant – have had a huge impact and have helped her become who she is today.

More with Kathy…

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.  ~ Jane Austen

Kathy, who has been your role model?

I have a bunch. I gravitate toward people who are incredibly accomplished and smart – and therefore could easily have an excuse to have screwed up values; But they don’t, and they know what really matters. I also tend to gravitate toward highly intuitive people who are authentic. I actually have a theory about a sort of business intuitives movement going on, but that is another story.

My mom – She could and can literally do anything professionally. She reminds me of this guy in an old TV series called ‘The Pretender’ where a genius can do any profession flawlessly. So, looking at my mom growing up, it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do something. But, she also taught me about the challenges associated with this type of competence. Yes, she can do anything, but what does she CHOOSE to do? What makes her happy?  I think the multi-tasking, massively capable women of today are kind of drowning in this question. I had an early intro to this topic.

Another point about my mom: You know when someone is a really good gift-giver? They just know what people will like and you open up the present and say, “Oh I LOVE it?” My mom is like that. She has this freakishly accurate intuition. When she would say to me growing up “You can do it!” it wasn’t your average pep talk. It was literally, like “You can do this. You will be good at this.” She was always right.

My dad and my aunt have also been big influencers. They are both well known experts in their fields.  Random people always come up to me and tell me what a big deal my dad and aunt are to them. They both help people at their most vulnerable. (My dad is a well-known family lawyer, and my aunt is one of the nation’s leading child behavior experts). They are just so humble, and so cool, and so smart and funny, yet so well respected in their field. I like that. Making a difference, and not being a jerk about it. And, they both really love what they do which has been one of the most important lessons for me: Love what you do and be great at it.

The “when I grow up” people…I want to be like:

My grandfather – To me he was just “Grampy.”  We had the same birthday. He was a BIG. He gave me bear hugs. But, almost 30 years after his death there are STILL people who talk about my grandfather and the influence he had on their lives. Some still call him “the judge” (he was a judge). I just love him and miss him still. We all have those people in our lives who just don’t seem totally gone.

Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter – There is just no other way to say this: Rosabeth Moss Kanter is one of the most brilliant, authentic, and truly generous people I’ve ever met. She’s been named as one of the 50 most powerful women in the world, and one of the world’s top 50 business thinkers. But, when you meet her and talk to her, she bears no diva-gene whatsoever. You know when you feel drawn to someone and just always learn so much from them? It’s like that with Rosabeth.

 

When did you realize that entrepreneurship was for you?  Was it a childhood experience?

Looking back, I realize many experiences gave me the confidence to start my own consulting firm, Vision Forward with the original “Hot Mommas” (dynamic women who worked for my firm part-time). However, I’ll never forget “the email-of-death” day. This is when – one day during 2001 – I sent an email telling everyone in my Outlook contacts list that I was starting my own business. Now, as an entrepreneur, this one act does not seem like a big deal because I put my butt on the line constantly. But, I had historically worked in various companies which made me feel protected. I was “yada yada” title for “yada yada” company. But, to be out there on my own and live or die by my own hand was a BIG STEP.  I doubt I would have gotten there without being forced. I was pushed out of the nest into entrepreneurship when a venture I worked for went by the way of the dot-com. I thought about my options practically with a spreadsheet. I said, “Okay, I could make ‘X’ much money working 60 hours per week, or, I could make ‘X times 3’ working 20 hours per week and pay my consultants when the company is paid so I don’t have to get a loan.” So, that made things pretty clear for me: Work less, make more. I make a lot of my decision in this way. First, there is the intuition or idea. Then, I try to quantify that I’m not high.

For the curious, here is what I see as the journey to entrepreneurship which started WAY before “the email-of-death” day.  Before that, everything was a series of experiments leading up to the confidence I needed to send that email.  These are the EXACT kinds of things you’ll be thinking about as a case writer:

  • Selling Amway at age 8 – Lesson: This was forced on me by my parents, but, it was good to have the exposure. If cash is king, sales is queen I teach my students.
  • Office depreciation – Also at age 8, I overheard my parents’ conversation about office equipment depreciation and told them I had an idea. They laughed. Then realized I totally understood what they were talking about. Lesson: I understood business. My mom mainly internalized this and guided me later in life. I had no idea what was going on.
  • Girl Scout cookies – You heard me. I LOVE THAT THE GIRL SCOUTS TEACH SALES!!! Also sort of forced on my by my parents, and, there is a distinct possibility I was kicked out of girl scouts for mouthing off. Anywhoo – onto the lessons. Lesson #1: Success. I liked seeing that list of cookie orders fill up. Lesson #2: Competition – I could care less what the other girl scouts were doing, I was just focused on my own list. I didn’t feel competitive with others, just myself.
  • Mediocrity – There were periods of my schooling where I felt mediocre…just trying to keep up, fit in, drifting, but faking like all was fine. Lesson: I remember to be patient with myself when I am feeling mediocre or in a waiting period. There are dry periods and down periods amidst the chaos of entrepreneurship.
  • Joining a dance company – I auditioned for a start-up dance troupe formed by some really fabulous young dancers. I wondered if I was good enough, and then I got in. That was a great feeling. Also, because it was a true passion, it was just SO FUN! I miss it to this day and am always looking for artistic outlets.
  • Being a senate page – I was a Virginia State Senate page in high school. Again, this was essentially an idea of my parents’ which they got from our family friends the Greenes. I rode down and back to the Capitol each week with Senator Clive DuVall. He was the real deal. And he asked my opinions on things. I was like, “huh? I’m 15!” I became an informal leader of the page group. Maybe it was formal leadership and I got voted into something. I really can’t remember. But, what I remember was the feeling, “Hey, people seem to kind of like and trust me.”  Lesson: I felt like I mattered. And, I began to feel a little bit of leadership quality bubbling.
  • Being high school president – I had lost an election for class secretary my freshman year. After being a page, I thought: “Screw it!” Why not?” and I ran for President. My dad is a great artist and we came up with really funny signs. Like, one showed the scary dude with the hockey mask from Halloween with blood dripping from an axe and it said, “Vote Kathy Korman for President…..Please.” You have to see it. Lesson: “Why not?” can turn into A LOT!!
  • Founding a service group in college – I had an idea about connecting senior citizens with college students when I was at the University of Virginia. I got very into a research topic, “The Greying of Charlottesville,” assigned to me by my news writing professor.  It turned out that the two largest populations in the town were the student and senior populations. I started a group to connect them, we won a hoity toity award, and I ditched my interest in news production for an internship at a local Area Agency on Aging. Lesson: Implementing an idea that you come up with is fun!
  • Excelling professionally –  I was just built for the working world. I knew that my last year in college when I was just ready to go out and work. I hit the ground running working for Markowitz & McNaughton after school after graduating. I went on to do lots of other impressive-sounding things in my career, however I will never, never, never forget my time at Markowitz & McNaughton. They let me do things someone my age really had no business doing. It was AWESOME and I learned a ton. It was like a match made in heaven. Lesson #1: Implementing an idea – even in someone else’s company – is fun!  Lesson #2: Who are the decision-makers in your company/organization and do you connect with them? If so, and you deliver, your career will soar. If not, even if you deliver, your career might not.  If you connect with someone, and do not deliver, you’ll fool them for a while but will ultimately be found out.
  • Teaching at GW – I started teaching at GW when I was 30. I wore glasses and was hoping the students wouldn’t find out how old I was. Soon I gained confidence as the classroom became an entrepreneurial experience for me. I made up new exercises and could guess – pretty accurately – how they would go over in class. I shared them with other professors and taught them in other professor’s classes. I once used an exercise I developed on 400 high school kids! This led to my creating an entrepreneurship curriculum for Visa as well as an ongoing relationship with the Young Entrepreneur Foundation at the NFIB (world’s largest small business association), the SBA, and Prentice Hall. This interest in education has opened up countless doors for me. I was, and still am, part-time faculty. I like having one foot in the real world, and one foot in academia, so I can help play telephone back and forth. Lesson: Implementing an idea – even in a classroom – is fun!
  •  The Hot Mommas® Project– This has been a fun, constantly moving, series of experiments that just keep working out. When I hear the “click” in my mind and am ready to pursue an idea for the project, I try to focus and really shoot for the moon, and be patient with myself when I find that instead of shooting for the moon I am actually checking emails and on Twitter and looking up activities for my kids and getting more coffee. Then, I re-focus, and shoot for the moon again! I am always surprised when some idea I have is successful. First the academic awards, now the case study competition. All the press coverage REALLY sent me for a loop. I am really, really interested as to what’s next and have been thinking about that all summer and fall and driving myself nuts over it.

As you can see, entrepreneurship has been a pretty long process of discovery for me. I don’t think it ever ends. I am always learning. Sometimes it is really tiring mentally. Earlier this year, I sat around a conference table with a team of executives who needed some help designing a market research project (This is what I used to do at Markowitz & McNaughton). It was so easy, like falling off a log. I miss that sometimes.  But, there is no going back. Every entrepreneur knows that. Even if you go back to work for someone, being an entrepreneur changes you.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series…

It has been almost one year since I learned for the first time about an incredible initiative that pretty much changed my life.  I was always on the lookout for great causes to align myself with, and one day while flipping through one of my online newsletter subscriptions I came across a request for mentors.  What intrigued me about this particular request was the “how” of the involvement.  They were looking for dynamic women to author their own case study – it would be housed on an online library and used by educators, women and girls around the world.

I was on it.

Almost a year later, this initiative – The Hot Mommas® Project– has grown like wildfire.  It is officially the world’s largest online library of professional role models for women and girls.  In this three-part series, we will share the wonderous impact of The Hot Mommas® Project, meet the brains (and heart) behind this masterpiece, and decalre our call to action to Canadian women across the country.

 

PART 1 – The Hot Mommas® Project – changing women’s lives, an interview with Kathy Korman Frey

 

What was your inspiration for the The Hot Mommas® Project?

The idea of “Hot Mommas” percolated in my head since 1998 when I was in business school. However, the project as it stands today is a collection of women’s stories designed to help one another and the next generation. This is a pretty good article about how it came about, but, the bottom line is:

  • How – Girls and women don’t just want to know that women can be successful, they want to know HOW. Saying how to price a product is not really showing them “how.” What happens when they leave the office? That is what women really need to know in addition to the textbook lessons. That’s why we take the professional AND personal stories of women and help make them teachable.
  •  Scale – Dual income households are on the rise. Volunteerism among women is down. It’s not too tough of an equation: We are too busy multitasking to be there for each other. So, I thought, “If someone told their story online, maybe that could be like a virtual role model or mentor to a young woman.” It takes the little bit of time we have and makes it as valuable and scalable as possible.
  •  Real women, and the changing definition of success – What about the woman who is running a profitable business out of her basement? What about the woman who works 20 hours and is the happiest and she’s been in years? What about the stay at home mom who is just waiting for the right time to press “go” on her venture. Don’t these women count? I think we as a society are not really sure. Putting the stories of new and different versions of success helps us try these on for size. We help showcase women’s stories and the idea that EVERYONE has something to teach.  

 

What does the research tell us about the importance of role models for women’s success?

Role models are tied to success, especially for girls and women who have documented lower self confidence in certain career situations.

  •  Studies show women are less likely to network and promote themselves than their male counterparts and that girls and women are more likely to limit their career aspirations due to lack of confidence in their abilities (Bandura, 1992, Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G., & Pastorelli, C., 2001).
  • Access to role models in the form of case studies is a known successful intervention or solution to this issue (Cox, Mueller, & Moss, 2002). The Hot Mommas® Project provides curricula focused on role modeling and personal leadership – as well as key business and professional skills – housed within a credible, proven, award-winning case study framework.

Here is a good women’s business fact sheet.
 
How has The Hot Mommas® Project changed the lives of women and girls thus far?

The winners from last year were published in one of Prentice Hall’s top entrepreneurship textbooks, so, that will have a tremendous reach as will PINK Magazine’s feature of the winners.

On a one-to-one level there are some great stories.

Michelle Scheumann, who is a stay at home mom was not even going to WRITE her case. She thought, “I’m a stay at home mom, I have nothing to offer.” But she did. We all do. So, I coached her through how to write her case (video) and she wrote it (here it is). And she inspired Marla Isackson, a former American Express big wig and founder of Hearts of Gold, to write HER case. Here it is.  They met at the first annual Hot Mommas Project case awards last year. It was great.

Lydia, who is probably too humble to mention this, really made it very very clear to me how much writing her case impacted her life. She DROVE from Canada for The Hot Mommas® Project awards ceremony last year in DC. How cool is that? I wrote about Lydia’s fabulous perspectives in a recent piece for Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference site. Here is Lydia’s case.

So, this is what has been the surprising part of the project to me – that in telling our stories, we’re helping ourselves. It’s actually prompted me to recruit a prominent female leader in the Native American business community to be a judge for us this year. That tradition of oral history can’t be beat. We also have another judge who is literally one of the best storytellers in America.

Then, there is the student perspective. Here is a slideshow and podcast series highlighting student reactions to cases. Bottom line: Young women find these stories real, and inspiring. There is no b.s.ing Generation Y in case you haven’t noticed.

 
Some women may want to write their case study but feel the writing process may be too daunting.  What type of support do you have in place?

We have a lot of tutorials on the site, and have weekly conference calls every Friday in January. We recommend this for people who are ready to share, write, or have thought about writing. Many women say, “I’m too busy” – but, this is actually perfect for busy women because you can tell your story once, and it will be told over and over again.

Video Tutorial

Full list of case writer resources
 
My hope is to get more Canadian women to become Hot Mommas!  Why do you think it is important to have a global voice and presence in the Project? What would you like to say to Canadian women who may be thinking about writing their case study?

The perspectives from diverse women are critical. Some young woman, somewhere, is going to read your story and say “Yes, that’s it for me – I identify with her.” You could be in Canada, or Egypt, or France, or the U.S. But, if you don’t tell your story, that opportunity goes away for that young woman. We all need to start thinking of ourselves as part of the answer. There is no secret “other person” that is going to come riding in on a white horse. It’s us, ladies. Nominate someone, yourself included, and start writing your story today.

 

More Hot Mommas® Project buzz:

  • Teachable moments – We are all teachers, and The Hot Mommas® Project allows you to share your teachable moments no matter how big or small by writing your story on our site using our “case wizard.” (P.s. Case study is an academic term for story with specific teaching points.)
  • Mentors/Role models – The Hot Mommas® Project is currently the world’s largest library of virtual mentors/role models for women and girls. This is important because, research on women and girls show lower self confidence than males. We need to help one another and make it a priority. As Marie Wilson has said, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
  • Helping others, helping yourself – Many women who have written their stories have been forced (through our “case wizard”) to really explore what they have learned in life and at work and share it. I originally started the project to help the next generation. I did not anticipate that women would be helping themselves. The reactions we’ve gotten from women who have written their stories continue to astound me. I’ve heard things like, “It changed my life” and “I felt like I mattered.” There are pretty much no words to describe how I feel when I hear that. I am just so proud of these women.
  • The surprising wildfire – The Hot Mommas® Project is the winner of a Coleman Foundation Case award. The first Hot Mommas Project stories or case studies were a true experiment. I remember sitting at my desk doing a proposal for the case award at USASBE which is the largest organization of small business and entrepreneurship professors. I thought, “I’m calling this ‘Hot Mommas’, and it talks about this woman’s personal life in addition to the traditional teaching points. Boy, am I going to get rejected. HARD!” But, instead, we won an award and were basically celebrated by this organization, and later published by Prentice Hall. I continue to be amazed by the supporters of this project.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 in this series…

 When my husband and I bought our first home a little over ten years ago, I could not help but feel relieved that I had a partner to help me maneuver through the home-buying process.  Yet there are many women homebuyers going it solo – and the statistics show that this demographic is on the rise.  How can a woman in this situation feel comfortable and confident with her mortgage and financial decisions when you feel like no one understands your needs? 

Enter Mortgages For Women and business partners Marcy Berg and Danny Kellman.  Together, they operate the only financial wellness company in Canada dedicated to women that provides products and services to help women becoming financially independent.  With a wide range of services and a diverse team of experts, they are licensed to offer mortgages, insurance and investment.  Mortgages For Women is the only mortgage broker in Canada that offers loyalty programs such as Air Miles and HBC rewards and they provide services in French, English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

In our interview, Marcy shares with us her company’s philsophy and unique business approach and why “Prince Charming is not a mortgage strategy”.

 

What kind of trends are we seeing with regards to women and home-buying in Canada?

The trend is statistical – The number of single women entering the Real Estate Market is growing year over year. 

 

There are many people that say “buying a home is the biggest investment”.  What are you thoughts on this?

Yes people “say” that but I think people need to get “real” about real estate.

  • It becomes an investment because you buy and hold to make a profit,
  • It is an expensive investment (i.e. buying a house for 100K and reselling it for 250K, you did not make 150K profit as you have to subtract the cost of carrying that investment such as interest on the mortgage, taxes, repairs, etc)
  • It is really a forced savings plan as you are building equity and you are counting on the increase in the market value.
  • You are leveraging 3 times your salary to make a profit 
  • As a woman, you do not really see it as an investment when we live in it, but a lifestyle which makes us look independent and of course there is a need to be prudent about the market you are buying into.  You also have to consider the length of time you plan to stay in your property.  If there are any gains to be made in the short term then you are counting on market increase in value. 
  • The lure of the “NonSense” stores have us spending money  on the Spring, Fall, Autumn, and Winter looks for our living spaces which eat into their profit, not everybody makes money in real estate.  That is why we make budget, provide insurance and look at this transactions with an investor eye.

 

Tell us about your “a-ha moment”.  What were you noticing in the mortgage industry that made you think you needed to start something specifically for women?

 I was working in the bank and I always had a bent for statistics.  I was tracking my own transactions and I saw the trend growing.  A few years later I started tracking the statistics from CMHC research and I started to realize that this was more than a trend. 

I started to focus on the single woman climate and had to throw out the bank’s method of delivering their service.  Everything became “sales” and methods for dealing with clients was getting pitchy.  I use think I would be offended if anyone spoke to me like that.  The banks have good mortgage product.  It seemed pointless to try and package it with a “sale”.  I quite after a power selling convention thinking there must be a better way to do business. I believe that the client is more important to me than making the bank richer with selling scripts. That’s when I really got serious about my research.

 

I love your tagline, “Because Prince Charming is NOT a mortgage strategy”.  Tell us a little more about this.

I grew up with a belief system that your worth was measure by the type of man you could “bag”.  The better your catch the nicer your house.  Laughable I know but that was true.  Mortgage decisions were based on the “man’s” ability to pay.  I heard tons of stories during my research from women who were denied access to credit for all kinds of reasons related to “no man”.  Women suffered through a lot of turmoil in order to keep a roof over their family’s heads.  I listened to some very sad stuff.  The tag line was born out of the stories I heard during my research.  I had other tag lines in mind but again the research showed the women in my target liked it.  I think financially well women make better partners and moms. 

 

What can a woman expect in an appointment with you?

A woman can expect that the interview will be about her financial situation and her financial well-being. How can she get stronger from where she is today?  She will expect an analysis of her current situation and that we will provide options in order for her to make an informed decision. We will not tell her what to do, we will lay out the options and offer advice. It is a collaborative relationship that we develop with our clients that makes us the mortgage broker of choice for women.

 

What energizes you about the work you do?

The results!  Being able to empower women to follow their dreams and change their lives. Everyone can move forward from where they are right now.  No matter what your situation you can improve it. 

 

What is the one, most important piece of advice you would give to a woman considering purchasing a home on her own?

 Planning: Make sure the plan is not about today, but about what it will look like down the road.  And of course all good plans go sideways from time to time so you really need the confidence that if something happens how will it be okay?

Marcy’s Picks

Books

Liar’s Poker – by Michael Lewis.  Published in 1989 and I read it the year it came out.  It was witty but at the same time it threw open the light switch for me.  I was working in the banking system and it validated how I was feeling.    I had forgotten about it and then a girlfriend reminded me about it when I started Mortgages For Women in 2007 so I re-read it.  Everything that book predicted was suddenly coming true. 

A Woman of Independent Means: A woman’s guide to full financial security by Gail E Vaz-Oxlade  – Gail’s book from 1999 was another life changing book for me.  I would not only recommend her latest book but in fact I would give it to you when you get a mortgage from me.  I really believe in this woman.

Website:  For Real Estate and Real Estate financing Marcy recommends www.cmhc.ca 

Danny’s Picks

Books

HomeGirl – The Single Woman’s Guide to Buying Real Estate in Canada by Brenda Bouw – Danny is so passionate about  this book that she gives away with mortgage approvals. 

101 Streetsmart Condo Buying Tips for Canadians by Douglas Gray – Buying a condo is not as straight forward as you might think.  This book is a must read “heads up” for anyone thinking of buying a condo.

Real Estate Investing in Canada by Don Campbell – If investing in Real was easy we would all be doing it.  It’s a great way to create cash flow and this book is a comprehensive guide to deal with financial and emotional costs of this type of investment.

Website:  Danny recommends www.mortgages4women.ca

What do you get when you take a vibrant, part-time stand-up comedian from Manitoba with an appreciation for women’s inner “do-it-yourselfer” and mix in a big dose of entrepreneurial spirit?

Meet Lori Mitchell, President and CEO of Tomboy Tools Canada. A finalist for Manitoba Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008 and a recognized speaker on women in business and achieving your dreams, Lori knew she was on to something when she read an ad in the newspaper about an interesting start-up company out of Denver. She was so intrigued by what this company was up to that she set the ball in motion and quickly made inquiries.  Within months Lori had secured the rights to Tomboy Tools Canada.

Tomboy Tools boasts the world’s first pink power tool – an 8v Pink Impact Driver, and their Pink Hammer was featured in the October 2008 edition of “O” Magazine. In my interview with Lori, she tells us a little bit about how both she and her company have evolved and how tools, of all things, are bringing Canadian women to tears.

“Good is the enemy of Great”

What is a “Tool Party” and how is it different than other party a woman might host or attend?

We’ve all been to home parties. A Tomboy Tools – Tool Party is very different from the other home parties out there. Guests have the chance to try the tools, ask questions, share stories and learn a few Tomboy Tips all in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Everything is done on demo boards, so there are no concerns about making mistakes. The intimidation factor that can sometimes occur is gone… so if you don’t know the name of the squared headed screw – just ask. Our guests try something they may have been afraid to and leave with a sense of empowerment, accomplish and that they can take on the projects around their homes that they have always wanted to. They can now turn the place they live into the place they love.

What were you seeing that made you think, “I’m going to start Tool Parties just for women?”

I read an article over coffee one Sunday morning in May 2002 in my local newspaper. It was a filler article from the Associated Press about a new start-up company out of Denver called Tomboy Tools. I looked over at my husband and said: “I am not the only one!”. I had a very strong reaction to this whole thing, so I sent an email to them to see what was happening in Canada. The next day the president of company called me…two months later I flew to Denver, met with the three founders and spent the weekend with them…and returned home with the rights to a company for Canada. I knew that the products were top quality, the message and method were solid and that this truly was a pioneering moment. Eighteen months later we launched Tomboy Tools Canada.

What typically happens at a Tool Party?

Fun and laughter! Our Tomboy Consultant takes you and your guests on a journey through the world of Tomboy Tools. Most of our new hostesses choose our Tool School 101 as their first party. We explore the old and the new. Old tools, old conceptions and the amazing changes that Tomboy Tools has made to make all the jobs around the house easier and faster. Our parties are every interactive and everyone gets the opportunity to try the tools first hand. Using our magnetic head hammer and starting a nail with one hand is always a crowd favorite. The stories that are shared – good ones and home repair horrors – make the evening full of laughter and sharing. You find out you are not the only one who may not have known what a Robertson tip is. Our guests leave with a sense of accomplishment and ready to take on the world – or at least their corner of it.

Some women might think, “But I married my tools. Why would a Tool Party be something for me?”

For some people it is a shift in thinking. Yes some people have handy partners and that’s great! Single women are outpacing married couples in the first time home buyer category and for the most part, women have the most influence on projects being done in homes. For many women it is discovering their inner designer diva that brings them to needing tools. They want to put up a curtain rod or a shelf, or install a closet organizer in their son’s bedroom. Our homes are a reflection of ourselves, so the creative side of home ownership appeals to many women. Many couples work together these days as well, and traditional tools are not made based on our bodies. With Tomboy Tools everything has been weighted, sized, balanced or gripped based on a woman’s physiology. Our hand size is smaller, upper body strength is less, muscle mass is less and centre of gravity is lower. By changing the design, we can increase functionality of the tool… making the jobs were are already doing around the house easier and with that ease comes the empowerment and desire to try more.

What type of projects can you work on at a party?

We offer a number of Project Parties including, “Going Green”, “Say it with Paint”, “Style with Tile” and our most popular party – “Tools School 101”, to name a few. We encourage our Tomboy Consultants to be creative with the types of parties they can offer to hostesses and parties like mosaic tiling, garden projects, and car awareness have been conducted.

What is some of the most interesting or surprising feedback you have heard from women who have attended a Tool Party?

We see women visibly excited and we constantly hear words like “finally” “it’s about time” We met a woman named Tammy at a party who wanted to try our drill. After achieving a successful result, she began to cry and we were quite confused. Tammy shared her only other experience with a drill. Years ago, as new home owner she borrowed a drill to put up some shelves. She had no experience with a drill and thought she could figure it out. No matter how long she held it to the wall nothing happened. No one had told Tammy you needed to put a bit in the end to make the holes or drill in a screw. She had not picked up a drill since that experience…until our Tool Party. She purchased a drill that night and has been enjoying it ever since.  

Other than hosting or attending a Tool Party, how else can women get involved with Tomboy Tools?

We provide a fun, flexible and REAL home based business that is unique, groundbreaking and unlike anything else available today. Becoming a Tomboy Consultant does not mean that you have to be at a contractor level with tool knowledge. In fact, the reverse is what most of our Tomboys are. Women who have a passion for their homes, design, renos or crafts who want to share their stories and help others make excellent Tomboy Consultants. We offer ongoing training and support to all Tomboy Consultants and now have several Leaders across Canada who also provide ongoing support to their teams. Tomboys earn sales commissions, as well as training and leadership bonuses for growing their teams. Our international convention in July is held in Denver and our trip to Puerto Rico this February are some of the other incentives offered to Tomboy Consultants

Tell us a little about your life before becoming CEO of Tomboy Tools Canada.

At the time that I go the rights to Tomboy Tools for Canada, I was an executive with a large payroll and HR company here in Canada and had been in that position for 5 years. I came from a senior management position at our local telecom provider where I had been for 5 years. I spent most of my adult life in the corporate world. While I was growing my executive career, I also had two sons, a husband, and a large dog! All of which, I still have.  

What was your first inkling that entrepreneurship was for you?

I don’t think I ever really thought of it that way. I was raised in an entrepreneurial home, where my parents owned a Shell station and then when I was 12, they sold the station and started a landscaping and landscape supply company. We had the office in our home (which, in the 1970’s was very rare), and I was expected to be able to answer the business phone, answer customer questions and take orders with payment. I got about 5 minutes of training. I assumed every 12 year old had to know how to do that stuff. When I was in university, I started my own off shoot business where we worked on yards, and provided bagged soil to local garden centres. Later, after my second son was born, I started my own consultant and training practice specializing in quality initiatives and customer service improvement. Even in the corporate management roles I had, I still thought of my department as my own little company. To me, the definition of entrepreneur is “willing to take full risk, responsibility and actions to achieve excellent results”.

Who has been a role model to you?

As corny as it sounds…my father. Most of how I operate as a business owner is drawn from him.

Are you involved in any philanthropic activities?

We are totally committed to giving back to the communities we serve. Since 2006, we have been involved in raising money for breast cancer related organizations. We have donated thousands of dollars to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and this year our partnership is with Willow Breast Cancer Awareness (www.willow.org). We also have ongoing support to Habitat for Humanity in the form of product donations to build sites, as well as items used in fundraising and volunteer time from Tomboys across the country. We also support programs and initiatives through Skills Canada. Finally, we say “YES” to any charitable cause that contacts us for donations for things like silent auction items etc. It is a lot more fun to say “YES” than it is to say “NO”.

According to a report by CIBC entitled, “Women Entrepreneurs: Leading the Change”,  it is predicted that by 2010 one million Canadian women will own a small business.  Reports aside, one could easily scan their own networks and recognize that entrepreneurial women are, indeed, a strong presence. 

As an entrepreneurial women myself, I am constantly on the lookout for resources that will support me as a businesswoman – and is one of the reasons why I started the RedSphere Network.  A few months ago, I came across a website that truly captured my attention as a woman biz owner.  The name itself was enticing enough – She Takes On The World is a blog authored by Natalie MacNeil, a Canadian entrepreneur who is passionate about helping other women business owners. 

Natalie MacNeil - photoHaving travelled to over 50 countries to date, Natalie was once Ambassador to Canada and has represented the country all over the world.  One of the greatest highlights of her travels was meeting the President of Tanazania Jakaya Kikwete and his wife Mama Salma Kikwete at their presidential home. 

Her latest passion, She Takes On The World, is a finalist for Blog of the Year at the 6th annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business and Natalie will be heading to New York in November to attend the gala event.  I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Natalie about her life, her work and her inspirations.

What was your inspiration for creating “She Takes On The World”?

I was inspired by the fact that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men yet only a fraction of business and entrepreneurship blogs are written from a female perspective. I created SheTakesOnTheWorld.com to provide women with resources, articles, and support to start and grow a business.

I love the name of the site. How did you come up with it?

The named used to be Taking On the World in 4 Inch Heels which was more of a personal blog about my adventures traveling the world and starting a business. In mid-2008 I decide to relaunch as a blog for businesswomen and women entrepreneurs and I rebranded it as She Takes On The World to put the focus on women entrepreneurs from all around the world.

The “Blog Carnival” seems to be a popular feature on your website.  Tell us a little bit about it.

Blog carnivals are a way of communicating across the blogosphere and connecting with people who cover similar topics as you do. I started the blog carnival for women entrepreneurs as a way of connecting women (and some men) who write articles that are relevant to women business owners. People submit articles and I find helpful blog posts and articles and put them together as one publication. It’s a great way of hearing other people’s perspectives and sharing other blogs that my readers may find interesting.

What are some of the other ways women entrepreneurs can benefit from the site?

Besides being able to access some really great articles and posts written by women entrepreneurs, for women entrepreneurs, there are many great resources to help women start and grow a business. There is a free directory for women-owned businesses to gain more exposure. We also feature the success stories of women in business and entrepreneurship as part of our interview series, In Her Heels, to inspire women around the world to create their own destiny. 

When did you first realize that you were meant to be a business owner?  Was it a childhood experience?

I always say that ever since I set up my first lemonade stand as a kid, I was hooked on entrepreneurship. I started my business in university so that it could become my job for when I graduated and that’s exactly what I did. I like knowing that my success and my destiny are in my own hands. I think I was born to be an entrepreneur.

I’ve read that you’re involved in several philanthropic activities.  Which ones are you currently active in?

It’s important to me to be involved in the community. I’m passionate about helping people start businesses so many of my volunteer efforts are entrepreneurship-oriented. I’m active with Junior Achievement, Ontario Small Business Centres, Summer Company program, and Waterloo Region Business Education Partnership. I also volunteer to speak at a number of schools, events, and seminars.

Who has been your greatest role model, and how has it manifested in your professional and personal life?

I don’t have one role model but rather a group of people who inspire me. I really feed off the energy and passion of others. Entrepreneurs that care about making a difference are the ones I have the most respect and admiration for. People like the late Anita Roddick, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey have used success to drive change. I see entrepreneurs as change agents and that’s the path I want to follow in.

What energizes you about the work you do?

Well, getting to develop new media every day is incredibly energizing! I love that I get to connect and work with so many amazing people. It makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning and start working. Being in the media industry is exciting because we always get to work on interesting new projects and every day is different.

What energizes me about the blog is the feedback and messages from people. I got a lovely letter from a woman who told me that after following my blog for 6 months she was inspired to finally start the business she had wanted to start for over 5 years. That’s why I blog!

If you could share your “words of wisdom” with other women business owners, what would they be?

Don’t be afraid to take risks! Studies show that women entrepreneurs tend to stay in a comfort zone and they don’t take the big risks that lead to big rewards. Women are much less likely than men to get to the $1 million revenue mark. I was at a business show last week and the speaker was talking about the fact that the majority of big accomplishments we have in our lifetimes are achieved outside of our comfort zones. Make the conscious decision to step out of your comfort zone and take more risks.

Thank you, Natalie.  We’ll be rooting for you at the Stevie Awards in New York!

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