First, I have to start with a moment of gratitude. Less than 90 days ago, I had a simple idea while stuck in traffic.
What if all of the people working with women business owners worked together?
Now, every day my email box is filled with economic development agencies asking what I am doing, women business owners pledging their support and people telling me about their experience. This momentum is because of a group of individuals (who are already VERY busy taking the time to answer a call for collaboration). To all of those individuals and the organizations they represent, I say thank you.
This collaboration of groups, individuals and organizations committed to the further economic development of Phoenix women business owners, is currently called PhXX Forward. We held our second meeting September 11th at Scottsdale Skysong. Our attendance had grown and people came prepared to answer one simple question:
“One is the first objective that we want to focus on as a group.”
The possibilities where endless. We had government agencies, successful women business owners and representatives from the largest women’s networking groups in the room.
Through feedback from our first meeting, responses to my blog, emails and a few strategic meetings we had narrowed it down to a couple of key areas that we felt our first objective might fall within.
First, we laid the ground rules.
I attended a panel discussion with Jodi Leggit and Angela Hughey. These ladies had some wonderful insight on community grassroots organizing. I shared with the group what I heard from these ladies about what works in our community and encouraged them to consider them as guidelines:
- Be positive and inclusive, you can’t make change if you can’t enroll people outside of your group.
- Create a unified story and a simple call to action that is easy to support.
As women (mostly, we did have a couple of male participants and we hope to have more) that represent a wide variety of backgrounds and passions it would have been easy for a discussion about our first objective to spiral out of control. We kept our focus by brainstorming in small groups and using the following criteria to narrow our possible options.
- Do we have the resources needed to achieve the goal?
- Does it create momentum and engage stakeholders outside of the group in support of women business owners?
- Does it strengthen the existing groups and resources available?
- Is it measurable? (We don’t have to determine HOW we are going to measure right now, but it has to be measurable on some level).
- Does is economically empower Phoenix women business owners?
The groups discussed and debated. Sometimes heated. Many women business owners were in the room. For some, it was the first time they got to articulate their frustrations. Many of which we have now heard repeated multiple times:
“I don’t know what I am doing, I don’t know where to start, when I finally reached out to business resources they didn’t provide the help I needed.”
“There are so many meeting and resources and at the same time no one can make any sense about what works for my business.”
I assure you the sentiments are not limited to Phoenix, in fact they are very similar to trends on a national level.
Still, we had to come back to the point.
What were we going to do about it?
Even though all of the groups had different areas they all seemed to come back to the same question, “How can we measure our impact, or even know where to start, if we don’t have the facts? “
Here is a scary truth, we don’t know who many women business owners are in Arizona let alone Phoenix, what their business looks like or the economic impact they have. Everyone has the same reaction, you need to reach out to the SBA, the ACA or…fill in the blank…I have reached out personally to pretty much every agency you can think of. I have received data on small business owners, on national trends, aggregate rankings but not the clear data we need to develop a story. The members of this collaboration had a similar experience.
We decided if we wanted, that was our first step.
Create a data sheet that describes a cohesive story of women business owners in Phoenix and articulates our needs.
We also decided on a few organizational needs. We needed to create a system for communication that encourages collaboration and information sharing that was not overwhelming or overly time intensive. So we created a communications sub-committee. That sub-committee is also taking on the task of starting to create a list of all of the partners and resources available to women business owners in Phoenix.
Second, people want to be able to describe what the group is, who is involved and the NEED we address. They want to tell our story. This is a task that we have now spent hours working on, getting feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including several one on one meetings with experienced community leaders.
The need for a collaboration like PhXX Forward is best demonstrated with a moment that occurred in our second meeting. One brave soul stood up and he asked. “Why should anyone care about women business owners?” Brave, and a valid point. People don’t know why they should choose a women owned business over other options, why they should care if their taxes support organizations that can actually create economic development for women owned businesses, or the systematic economic impact that achieving gender equity among business owners can have. What is the need for another group talking about a group of business owners who all share the same lady parts (stolen from an email I received from someone who refused to speak on a women business owner’s panel because she saw no difference between her challenges and those of men)?
There are a lot of great reasons, data and research that articulates the value of a diverse vibrant entrepreneurial community. We have to get better at articulating that value in the same language as the people in power.
So that is where we stand. We ended the last meeting with a promise to go back to our groups, organizations and business and find data. Dig up research and facts that can help us create a cohesive story of the Phoenix women entrepreneurial community and our economic impact. A tool that will help us build strong organizations and advocate for women business owners but perhaps most importantly it represents a starting line. A simple, action oriented goal that will support the members of this collaboration and set the tone for our organization.
We hope you will join us. What resources do you have to help us better collaborate as a community? What leaders do you know that need to be part of this conversation? What data about Phoenix women business owners do you have access to?
Our next meeting is scheduled for October 11th at 8:30am at ASU Skysong. RSVP here:
If you have answers to any of the above questions email me ask to be added to our supporter network and share your resources or post your thoughts and comments on this blog,
We might not know all the answers yet but one thing is clear. We have tapped into a tremendous need in our community for collaboration to help us leverage our efforts. We have an amazing group of individuals and organizations that are committed to working together in support of women business owners. They have seen the writing on the wall. Women business owners are a critical piece of our economic outlook and we are putting together the pieces one step at a time to create a more vibrant picture of our future.