On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, I took part in a competition for women entrepreneurs called “Make Mine A Million” (“M3”), an annual event sponsored by Count Me In (an organization promoting the success of women entrepreneurs) and OPEN by American Express. The whole idea behind these events is to bring business women together to inspire and empower them to move their businesses forward, to make that leap from just getting by to really prospering and growing.
In light of the current economy, this was one big eye opener. There is money out there. There are jobs being created. And they are being created by women with ideas and the courage to ask big questions like “who can I get to help me with this?” and “how do I get where I need to go?” while helping those around them to prosper at the same time. Glory be!
I’ve been an American Express customer for a long time, and I’ve been receiving invitations to join the Count Me In group for some time now. I glance at the emails and think, “this looks cool. I’ll read it more carefully later.”
Then another year passes.
This year, the event was being held in New York City, uptown, at Barnard College, the women’s college at Columbia University. Of all locations in Manhattan, this is relatively convenient for me, living and working as I do in the North Pole of New Jersey. I read on.
They were having a “pitch competition”: women entrepreneurs were being invited to give a two minute elevator speech on what their business is and how they intend to grow it. Would I pitch? Could I pitch? The winners stood to get a lot of valuable prizes. Why not?
I don’t mind public speaking. This was a hard-won skill. I had deathly stage-fright as a kid. I couldn’t read a paper to a class without nearly passing out. In my twenties, I had taken singing lessons, ostensibly to learn to sing better, not necessarily to perform in front of audiences. My singing teacher had other ideas.
She gave me an ultimatum: if I did not set a date to perform by a certain date, I would not be permitted to continue taking singing lessons with her. This was a tough call, because I was making progress. But my terror at the prospect of performing was crippling. I decided I had to get over it. If I could lose my fear of performing in public, I could do anything.
I took classes at The Actor’s Institute in New York. One of the classes was called “Acting For Singers,” where each week I was required to perform a song in front of the class while being videotaped. My homework was to WATCH said tape.
One of the hardest, most painful things one can do is watch themselves. But guess what? I got over my stage fright. I learned that the butterflies in my middle were simply excitement at having something to say.
Since then, I’ve fronted rock bands and lectured to audiences of all sizes at trade shows and in classrooms. Is it easy? I wouldn’t say that. But do I dread it? Not in the least. And I am pretty confident about my ability to convey my ideas effectively.
So I applied to be a “pitch woman.” As I got to the end of the application, I saw that the minimum revenue a pitcher needed to be earning was $85K. My heart sank. But I went ahead and submitted my application with my payment (half price to American Express OPEN members!) and figured, what the hell, they can only say “no.”
Well, they didn’t say “no.” In fact, I started getting emails welcoming me, congratulating me on taking that step and inviting me to “pitch parties.” Sadly, my schedule couldn’t accommodate any of the parties, but I worked on my pitch, asked a knowledgeable friend for feedback and then I video recorded myself. This was key to making sure I could recite the pitch in the two minutes allotted smoothly and intelligibly.
I re-read the pitch sheet, made sure I hit on all the points required and incorporated them. Then I refined it some more. I got my pitch down to 1:53 to leave room for hiccups, stammers, lost place, etc. I felt like I had it down.
Two weeks before the competition, I was interviewed by a reporter from a big local paper (The Record). She was a sweetheart. She knows a friend of mine from one of my professional organizations.
Soon, I was getting pats on the back from folks in town regarding the article and calls from colleagues. It felt great! I tweeted the link to the online version of the article and posted it to my LinkedIn page and personal Facebook page. Here’s a link to the article in case you missed it: http://www.northjersey.com/news/162549566_2_women_aim_to_reach__1M_at_their_firms.html?page=all
On Tuesday, I went in wearing my most fun business clothes and feeling really good. I knew that my failure to meet the revenue criteria was an issue, but it kind of took the pressure off. I really couldn’t win. It wouldn’t be fair to those who truly qualified if I somehow did win. But I felt like I had a contribution to make, something to say, and a forum in which to say it.
Well, I can’t say enough good things about the event. I got to hear New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn deliver the welcome speech, and I loved what she said about ‘conventional wisdom’ (everyone’s happy to tell you what you already know about yourself and why you have no chance at success because of who you are, so ignore them and go do what you know you have to do anyway). I heard from women who’ve already figured it out. “Work ON your business, not IN your business.” Learn to ask for help. Hire people carefully and then trust them. Delegate to them. Wear your favorite colors!
And I learned that there are LOTS of small business owners who’ve figured a lot of things out but haven’t yet gotten the social media portion working for them. I sat between two women from the Philadelphia area with two different businesses. I was talking to one of them just before she was called to the stage (and she had just taken my business card). The woman seated to my right also ascended. It was awesome.
I met and spoke with two other women who have businesses close to my heart, both helping people with their health. And THEY both won!
Today, I got a call from a local small businessman who saw the first article in The Record, and decided to call me when the second article came out this morning. We’re meeting next week.
So, did I win the competition? No. But I gained so much by participating, I’m now hopeful that by this time next year, I’ll be reporting that I surpassed the minimum threshold and will have competed for real. And whether I win the actual competition or not, I most certainly will not lose.
Author’s Note: The photo shown is from the print edition of The Record, 8-1-12. The link to the online story is http://www.northjersey.com/news/Contest_for_female_entrepreneurs_offers_help_reaching_business_goals.html