This is the latest entry in a series from Report on Small Business called Who Owns That. We’ve asked readers to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. Their answers are edited.
Introducing Leigh Mitchell, the president and founder of Toronto-based Women in Biz Network.
1. Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you work from?
Women in Biz Network (WIBN) was founded as a corporation in 2011, after a few years of evolving our business offering for professional and entrepreneurial women. In a nutshell, WIBN is a national organization dedicated to professional development and entrepreneurism for women. With locations across Canada, we empower our community by providing online business content, events, business services, and powerful connections for our members.
Our point of difference is that we are a community of digital business influencers. We empower our community by providing helpful content through our WIBN bloggers, as well as guest writers, which makes our site a hub for education and empowerment. Our digitally savvy members connect online through our website, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+, and at in-person events.
Social media has been a great connector for our network, encouraging women to connect over business opportunities and career tips, resulting in a “community” dedicated to meeting the diverse needs of professional women. Each year we have two national conferences for women entrepreneurs on both the east and west coasts.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Like many entrepreneurs, personal circumstances affected my choices and entrepreneurship fell on my lap – like many women I had childcare problems that led me to leave my corporate position and pursue entrepreneurship. Also, entrepreneurship was in my blood: my parents owned a resort while I was growing up. This experience had a great impact on my life's ambitions, as I got to see at an early age how exciting and challenging being your own boss could be. I also knew from early personal experiences that business owners need support and inspiration to keep going. I felt I could bring a community together to provide it.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
My customers are female entrepreneurs and professional women who find WIBN through social media and word-of-mouth referrals. I also work with corporate sponsors. Interestingly enough, many of those relationships were established through Twitter or meeting at industry events.
4. What is your role in the business? Do you have any employees?
I am the president and founder of Women in Biz Network and my role is to help champion and lobby for the success of professional and entrepreneurial women. We achieve this by educating the pubic on the importance of supporting professional and entrepreneurial women through working with local government organizations, providing small business online content, coaching, consulting, and overseeing major in-person events, conferences and online educational webinars.
I also oversee the national membership program for WIBN by providing online resources and adverting opportunities for our members. I am the national spokesman for WIBN and often speak at industry events and I also work with local entrepreneurship programs and contests. I don't have employees but I have many WIBN consultants who work with me across Canada (hiring is costly so I prefer to work with self-employed consultants).
5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
I feel so honoured by this! I think the key to my success has been to think big, believe 100 per cent in the importance of my movement to help entrepreneurial and professional women and to believe in myself and to be persistent in following up with those who can help WIBN – whether it be prospective sponsors, members or clients. Word to the wise: You need thick skin to be an entrepreneur, it isn't for the faint of heart.
Most importantly, it has been extremely gratifying to hear how our organization has helped to change lives. I get many hugs for that and this keeps me going most of all.
Do you have a favourite small business you’d like to learn more about? Make suggestions and join the conversation on the Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group, use the comments field, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow the series on our Pinterest page.