Marji's Takeaway As A Small Business Owner
About a month ago I received an email from the internship coordinator at Iowa State (where the FarmHer intern, Lexi, works through) inviting her and I to attend EntreFest. I had to look it up to see what it even was; a three day long conference/event/festival for entrepreneurs. My first thought was, “I don’t have time.” Then I stopped. Sure, “I don’t have time to get the 10,000 things done that I need to do each day, but I never take the opportunity to network with other small business owners and this might be just the push I need to reinvigorate me to get through these very busy and hectic summer months. So, Lexi and I circled the wagons and decided we could find one day to go. With just a two hour drive to get there and about a million opportunities to learn once we were there, why not?! We arrived first thing in the morning, pens and paper in hand, ready to absorb the day. First up was a three hour, yes THREE HOUR long workshop about the recipe for business success. Honestly, while the fundamentals were good I felt like I was in business 101 and struggled to pay attention to the speaker. By the end of the session I had completed some of my own to-do lists and also left with a few thoughts on what I could do to better focus my efforts in the area of business planning. On to lunch where we met the women who run the Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative through Iowa State University. This is the program that I found Lexi through and is a really great way for students who think they want to run their own business to get a first hand look at what that means (right now, to me, it just means working ALL of the time as I write this at 11:00 at night). Then it was on to the opening keynote of the conference featuring Ben Milne, founder of Dwolla. It was refreshing to listen to him talk about his journey of building Dwolla. One of my favorite things he said was “don’t forget what you stand for.” While simple and obvious, it is a reminder that we all need from time to time. It was a far better message for me in just 30 minutes of listening to his very plain, very real talk - you need a passion for what you do (check), a drive to see it through (check, most of the time) and plain old hard and smart work (check, I think).
From there Lexi and I took a break from the next time slot of sessions to gather our thoughts and touch base on the day so far. Maybe it was the entrepreneurial spirit of the day, the fact that we were out of our offices and in an invigorating environment, or maybe just the stars aligned, but as we sat and talked we came up with one heck of an exciting plan for FarmHer. Earlier this year Lexi had applied for and received a scholarship through 4-H. To win the scholarship she had to formulate an innovative idea. Her idea was to bring together a group of young women in agriculture to connect them with successful women in ag - farmers, ranchers, professionals, etc. What she didn’t know when she sparked the thought was that is something I have been toying with in my head for months. For the past two years I have attended a wonderful event for young women in ag in Illinois. A day-long event filled with learning, encouragement, networking and some fun too. I have loved my time spent at the Illinois event, sharing FarmHer with these inspiring young women, and really feel that Iowa could use something along the same lines. Heck, every state and country around the world could use this! So, we let our thoughts crash together and came up with the plan for our first annual Future FarmHer event. It will be a day-long event held in central Iowa later this fall exclusively for young women in agriculture. A place where they can connect, learn, ignite their passion for agriculture and a place where they can celebrate being a woman in the field of ag.
Last up for the day we attended a session about Women-to-Women Peer Advisory Boards. I wasn’t sure what we were in for but figured the subject matter was right on so it was worth a try. Good call by us as it was the best session of the day! Kim Vogel, an entrepreneur from Cedar Rapids started this idea of small groups of like-minded women that join together to help each other through the trials and tribulations of owning and operating a small or start-up business. Her idea is based on the fact that, while there are plenty of groups for business owners or entrepreneurs, most women don’t attend those. I have to say, in my experience she is right. First off, I have a hard time considering myself an entrepreneur. Sure, I run a small business but it was just the result of doing something I love and finding a way to keep it going. If I ever start to think I might attend a networking group I talk myself right back out of it. I fear that I would be one of the only women there, and that most of the people would look at my business model like it is a joke. Whether that is the reality or not, it is what goes through my mind so I end up not participating. I work mostly by myself and have very few trusted advisors or mentors that don’t stand to make money off of what I do (though I am working on growing that list). I bounce ideas off of my husband daily and while he supports me with FarmHer, he doesn’t want to live it 24/7 like I do. According to Kim, most women business owners find themselves in the same situation as me (who knew!). I am a woman working on my own, working a LOT and struggling to find ways to make the business stable. I am a woman trying to balance a family with the constant needs of a growing business. I am a woman new to this business ownership game. All of these things are what caused Kim to form the first peer-to-peer advisory board. A small group of 6-8 women who are non-competitive, agree to confidentiality, who meet on a regular basis to provide feedback, support, ideas, connections and accountability to goals. A place to go with all of the things that you have nowhere else to turn. As you might imagine I was ALL over this idea and have already met with the Director of our local Small Business Development Center to see about forming a group like this in central Iowa.
All in all the day was inspiring and refreshing. It provided a much needed break from the daily grind of too much to do (trust me, it was all waiting patiently for me at home). It provided us an invigorating environment to brainstorm and we came out on the other side with an idea, plan and budget to make something really cool happen! Stay tuned for more on the First Annual Future FarmHer Event!
Lexi's Top 5 Lessons Learned As Future Entrepreneur:
1) Use Your Head
After the three hour session Marji and I sat in at the beginning of the day, I honestly wondered what we were doing there. Perk of the session, we got a free book! I don't think I'll ever read it again, but it will remind me whenever I have a crazy idea, is to use my head. Do not start a business without doing research and do not fully invest without having a plan. It's a no brainer, but pretty important. 95% of the pattens submitted will never make money. Don't be in that 95%.
2) Talk to Others
I'm a talker. I always have been and I've learned that even if my voice goes horse, I still talk. By collaborating with Marji, my AgEI advisors, and other attendees, I was able to develop great ideas and add to the vision for FarmHer.
3) Close Your Mouth and Listen
Along with talking to people, I also listened to others. By listening, other people's ideas pushed me to expand my own. I also realized that over half the people there have an idea to develop an app, but when I think about my life, I will never buy an app. Note to self: do not develop an app.
4) Talk Advantage of Opportunities
If Marji hadn't encouraged me to go, I would've missed out on great learning lessons and networking opportunities. Everyone needs a reminder to not just walk out of their comfort zone, but every once in awhile you have to run.
5) Do Your Dreams
Usually people say "follow your dreams" but I believe instead of just following your dreams, you should do them. This conference made me want to take action and not just follow what I want to do, but make it happen.