Blog: Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw

Concentrate gets in touch with its anima. We've invited five women, all movers and shakers, to weigh in on what it means for them to do business in the new economy. It's in recognition of the Women's Exchange of Washtenaw's (WxW) May 15th annual forum, Now We're Talking.

This week's five esteemed bloggers are:


Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw - Most Recent Posts:

Post 5: Carole Baker - Taking the WORK out of Networking

I’m a company of one. I help other companies manage their finances, track them, understand them, put financial structure in place. I used to look at NETWORKING a little bit like ice skating. I could do it… get around the rink, get around a networking event. But I didn’t really like it (sorry all you hockey folks and figure skaters), and I didn’t feel terribly good at it. I was clumsy and awkward and a little unsteady on my feet. But about 18 months ago I started working with and attending events with the WXW and that changed.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t magically cured, and yes, I still suck at ice skating. But I discovered something about networking this way. The focus isn’t on the networking, or on being the audience at a big TALK. It’s on problem solving, which as a numbers girl, I totally get. A group of really interesting and talented women come together and talk about their business experiences around a particular topic. At one event, you might be the mentor because you and your partner have just written a brilliant vision for your company. But you’re having trouble developing a team to implement that vision, so at the next event on leadership, you’re a SPONGE.

Has this problem solving affected my business directly?  Yes. About two months ago, a client of mine purchased a new business and asked me for some counsel on getting started. He was going through the typical steps, business planning, deciding on an organizational structure, setting up banking relationships, establishing a web presence, creating his financial structure. He needed to do a fair amount of commercial printing each week. Not all of these things were exactly within my purview but as an Ann Arbor Lifer, I have been involved in the Washtenaw County business community for a long time and rattled off a few names of people he could contact on the various topics. It struck me after the fact that 5 of 7 names I had given him were people I had either met, or regularly came into contact with through WXW.

So no, networking hasn’t become a completely painless effort for me. But it is a hell of a lot less work...

Carole is an Ann Arbor native with a BA in French from Carleton College and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

"I’ve been drawn to and worked in the small business environment throughout my career and recognized that there is a niche between a firm’s internal accounting staff and its CPA that many companies do not fill. Their owners and managers have a technical expertise in their individual passion: software design, web development, chocolate making, custom clothing, but not necessarily in business management. It is into that niche that Solutions First fits, bringing hands on business and financial management skills to firms that may not have the need or the wherewithal to hire a full time CFO."

In addition to serving as the Treasurer of the WXW, Carole also sits on the Board of Directors of Lurie Terrace and Neighborhood Senior Services.

Post 4: Debra Power - The POWER of Women

When I tell people the name of my company, and then they see that my last name is Power, they often make some type of comment. Usually it’s something like: "Boy are you lucky. You have the perfect name for a business."

I guess I never thought of it that way, it’s just my name. But lately I have been thinking about the word "power" and the power of women in this region.

Women Making Headlines

Just take a look at the lineup of amazing local women who are making headlines.  Maria Thompson of A123 Technologies, one of the world’s leading suppliers of high-power lithium-ion batteries; Bee Mayhew and her cool café Beezy’s in downtown Ypsilanti; and Debi Scroggins, founder and franchiser of Bearclaw Coffee. What do these women have in common? The power, drive, and energy to focus on growing their companies. They also found a unique niche, or a way to expand into new markets while maintaining their vision.

You Too Can Succeed

So how do you become a successful businesswoman like these ladies? Of course there’s lots of hard work involved, but here’s a little secret—ask for help! That’s right. Don’t be afraid to ask to admit that you need help in growing you business. When I’m facing a tough business issue, or want to talk about how to grow, I contact one of my friends and ask for advice. Sure, they ask me for advice too. But as an up-and-coming businesswoman just said to me: “That’s the great thing about Ann Arbor. We’re all willing to help each other.” They key is to turn the ideas into action.

A Call To Action

So yes, this is a call to action, women. If you’ve been thinking about starting a business, do it now. Need to write your business plan? Set aside an hour every day to work on it. Do you want to add a new product or service to your lineup? Start figuring out how to add to your capacity. Looking for resources? Ask me, or anyone else affiliated with the Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw, for help. Our mission is to provide a confidential environment where we can help each other and improve our companies. We want you to prosper because of the connections you make with other women. Some people say our events are “talky” and that’s such a compliment. We want you to talk. Let’s solve problems together and figure out how to grow this region together! 

Now We’re Talking!

Debra Power is President of Power Marketing
, a marketing and research firm located in Ann Arbor. Before she became a business owner, she was the marketing director for the Washtenaw Development Council where she was responsible for marketing efforts to attract and retain business to the Washtenaw County region. Debra has served on numerous non-profit committees, including the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB; Wireless Washtenaw; Ann Arbor Public Schools Business Advisory Committee; Ann Arbor SPARK; Washtenaw United Way; was a board member of Recycle Ann Arbor; and is currently a board member of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce.  

She is the co-chair of the Washtenaw County Success Plan Marketing Initiative. This initiative brings together representatives from nonprofit, government, business, and education sectors to create a collaborative and coordinated marketing and public relations effort for the Ann Arbor region. The goal is to attract and retain talent, businesses, site selectors, and tourists to the region while enhancing our public image on a global scale. She is also the co-founder of the Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw

Post 3: Marisa Smith - Build Your Own "Old Girls Network"

Every businesswoman I know is being challenged by the current economic climate, but the ones who are navigating the rough terrain most successfully are the "Networking Queens".  These ladies are booking their calendars with coffee and lunch dates, they've built a fabulous LinkedIn profile, and are reaching out to their connections regularly.  Most importantly, they are smart enough to build their connections in multiple areas - they don't just view networking as a chance to meet potential customers, but they're also on the lookout for like-minded people who could be potential partners in new business ventures, could offer complimentary services to their clients, or have skills to help them solve their business problems.

Another thing you'll notice is that the networks these women are building are comprised PRIMARILY of other women.  Why? I don't have research to back this up, but I think it's because women are more oriented to helping others.  The businesswomen I know are always on the lookout for opportunities for their colleagues, and they understand that women who receive help from you are more likely to give YOU help when you need it. Maybe it's the "thank you note culture" we women have been raised in - we're taught to reciprocate a kind gesture with another kind gesture, and we seem to apply the same thinking to business connections and collaborations. 

My point is that if you're facing some challenges right now, don't be afraid to get out there and connect with other women to see who can help you.  And if you're rolling around naked in piles of money eating bon-bons, put your clothes on and make some lunch dates!  Even if you don't think you need any help right now, you never know when you might need it in the future, and it's better to have your network ready and waiting for you to tap into it.

Marisa Smith is Founder and President of The Whole Brain Group, an Ann Arbor-based web application development company devoted to helping clients work smarter and greener.  Her company's electronic solutions automate repetitive tasks, get rid of piles of paper, and allow people to focus on the quality of their work.  Marisa is a LinkedIn junkie, attends scores of networking events every year, and also uses twitter, Facebook, to maintain her "Networking Queen" status.

Post 2: Rebecca Lopez Kriss - Women Need to Know it Isn't Either-Or

One of my many projects is organizing a young professionals happy hour for the hipster YPs who work or live in Ann Arbor. The group just celebrated its first birthday and we’ve come a long way from 11 people getting coffee at Sweetwaters; our last happy hour had over 70 attendees and we now maintain an email list approaching 300 names.  The thing that sticks out in my memory from our first coffee meeting, four men attended, seven women, is that every one of the men owned their own companies and none of the women did.

It’s completely anecdotal, I know. But I am hard pressed to name very many young women who are starting their own companies... I can think of one in Ann Arbor. 

So what gives?

I am not a conspiracy theorist, I don’t think something incredibly discriminatory is going on. After asking a few of my women business friends their opinion, here is what the consensus says: Young women don’t start businesses because it means choosing starting a business over starting a family, and young men don’t have to choose.

That sort of sucks.

I am not qualified to talk about what socio-cultural-class factors may make young women feel that starting a business excludes starting a family, but I will suggest that young women don’t have very many female business-owner role-models. Certainly,
studies have shown that cross-culturally, women are often perceived to lack the qualities of leadership, no matter what the group has defined qualities of leadership to be.

I am fortunate, even from my teenage years, I have almost always worked for strong women in small businesses.  Because of this, I feel like I have had an amazing hands-on business learning experience, and I have always thought I would start my own business someday. I wish I could introduce High Schoolers to the scads of women business leaders I know who have started smart, innovative, successful companies. While those ladies may not have started their companies at 25, they are running businesses while raising children, volunteering for local organizations, generally making their communities better, and they are no less inspirational. If anything, exposing all young people to women business-owners might just change their vision of what a business leader looks like.

Rebecca Lopez Kriss is a concerned citizen and community advocate at all levels.  She is currently fighting the good fight preparing for the Women's Exchange of Washtenaw's May conference event: "WXW Forum 2009: Now We're Talking."  Additionally, Rebecca volunteers her time with a number of organizations including the Ann Arbor Art Center,, the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, and Ann Arbor SPARK. She received a bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Detroit Mercy and will begin a Masters in Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy this fall. 

Post 1: Carrie Hensel - Do Women Really Do Business Differently Than Men?

I have many qualities that some might consider "manly." I know the difference between a running back and a linebacker. I know how to fly fish. I can grill a steak to a perfect medium-rare. I can pitch a curve ball. And my handshakes are always firm. But when it comes to business, I’m all woman.

Now I know what you’re saying – "Oh, come on. Business is business. You don’t really believe that men and women do business differently, do you?"

And to that I reply, "Why yes I do!"

In many areas of business, women and men do things in similar ways - we create strong company visions, inspire our teams, market, sell, negotiate deals, manage finances, and adapt our products and services to our target market's needs. But there a few places where I think we do things differently…

Relationship Building – It's Who You Know & Trust:

For many men, they go to networking events, meet new contacts, collect business cards, and move on to the next person. They talk about the Lion’s new quarterback or Verlander’s recent no-run, no-walk seven-inning gem. For women, it’s important that we get to know each other. Sure, I want to know what you do in your job, but I also want to know more about you. What’s stressing you out? What fires you up? Once I get to know and trust you, I’m more likely to either do business with you directly or connect you with a sales referral, service provider, or potential collaborator.

Collaboration Versus Competition:

For some of my male colleagues, business is all about winning. They want to beat their competitors, and they’d never consider sharing info with the "enemy." 

Call me "girlie," but I approach business in a much less competitive and more collaborative way. I talk freely with my competitors because I know we’re probably going through the same business struggles. For competitive people, sharing all that personal and confidential information probably sounds like crazy talk, but because I have good relationships with my so-called competitors, we frequently team up on projects, send each other referrals, and even help each other improve our companies.

Leadership – Down with the Supreme Leader:

Before I started my own company, I worked for a global corporation where I grew accustomed to command-and-control style leadership. To climb the corporate ladder, I felt I had to adopt a “masculine” management style where I made autocratic decisions and directed people’s performance.

After we started our company and hired a team, I realized that I did not want to be the “Supreme Leader” nor was it good for the growth of our company.  I learned that true leadership is about listening, teaching, nurturing, coaching, and always trying to improve my own leadership skills. Taking the team approach has led to more business success because when we all talk, listen and share ideas, we come up with better ideas and more quickly find answers to problems.

Plus, life and business are just more fun with a great team by my side.

Carrie Hensel co-founded Inner Circle Media in 2001. Since then Carrie's titles have included Lead Designer, Director of Creative Endeavors, Queen of Networking, and Goddess of Marketing and Sales. Inner Circle Media provides web development, graphic design, and marketing services to clients on a local and national level.

In 2008, Carrie co-founded the Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw (WXW) and is Co-President of the organization. Carrie serves on boards and committees for the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and the Ann Arbor Art Center. She is a Past President of the Board of Directors for the New Enterprise Forum. In 2006, the Ann Arbor Business Review honored Carrie with its Most Influential Women in Business Award. She holds degrees in Chemistry (Albion College) and Fine Art (University of Michigan).