As I write this, I am 36,000 feet in the air. I’m flying United – the friendly skies. As a little girl, one of my favorite past times was playing in the imaginary world of Barbie. I read recently that if you want to discover who you really are, think back to what you liked to do before you had money, before expectations and responsibilities were real. What made you come alive?
For me, I loved flying the Barbie United Airlines plane. My cousin Melissa and I went all over the world in that jet. I spent hours in the imaginary world of Barbie. I had an elevator in my penthouse apartment that took me to the top floor. I went swimming in the pool and I drove around in my sweet ride. I wore beautiful sparkled gowns that were custom made by Connie Wobler’s mom. And my date? Well that would be GI Joe or Ken depending upon which doll my friend Tammy Pfeiffer took from her younger brother Kevin (without his knowledge, naturally.)
And then I waited – to be a grown-up, to have a business, to fly for real. I was in my mid-30’s before I flew for business and then I went mostly to exciting places like Fargo, North Dakota where I stayed in the Super 8. Real life vs. Barbie life. Still, from the time I was little, I would look at a plane and think of all the places in the world I could go and all the people I would meet….someday.
The week ahead is both a culmination of events and a symbol of what is yet to come. In late August, I was working on a Friday afternoon when my phone rang. Truth be told, I almost didn’t work that day so the point of this story is that sometimes being in the right time at the right place is a real difference maker. It was Anna from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) in Boston, Massachusetts. She was referred to me because ICIC was coming to Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Wisconsin specifically, in September, as well as 6 other cities in the United States. I had been nominated by the State of Wisconsin either because of my Trailblazer award or because of my recent certification (and flawless paperwork, I might add) as a Certified Women-Owned Business by the State.
Would I be interested in applying to the ICCC program?
I took a quick look at their site and asked when everything had to be in. Anna needed the initial questions answered immediately. I guessed. Paperwork by Monday, at the close of business. Why so late in reaching out to me? Because others had passed on the opportunity. I don’t know why as there was little to lose and much to gain. ICIC helps women and minorities to have the tools to grow their businesses and succeed in the marketplace.
When I looked at the program, it was like an MBA on steroids – 40 hours of executive training in three months. No cost to participate, but I was required to attend certain classes. The teachers were from Harvard and Northwestern – an Ivy League crash course in business. It would culminate with a day of CEO level training at Columbia in New York City. My cost to participate is entirely paid for by financial institutions, the City of Milwaukee (and other participating cities) and other sponsors.
In the 11 years since Harvard Professor Michael Porter started ICIC, participants in the program have raised $1.32 billion and created over 11,000 jobs. I would learn about how to put together a SharkTank like pitch, how to scale my business, marketing, positioning and more. I would need to put together a business plan – two really – over the next few months.
Now I’m not new at this but I know what I don’t know. I know my business has been more or less the same number of employees almost since the beginning. We’ve been somewhere around 8 employees for many of the last 26 years. If I knew how to get it to a larger size and deliver even more value to our clients, I would.
- Because the market needs and deserves people and services that are set apart from the rest.
- Because it is in our DNA to be difference makers, to tell stories worth telling and to make an impact.
- Because there are too few PR firms that understand the connectivity between the digital world and the real world in terms of actual implementation and too few digital agencies who understand how essential narrative is to client success.
Most business owners are small business owners and most wonder, how do you scale it? How do you bring even more value to the market? How do you go from here to there? If I knew, I would have done it. I read 50 to 75 books a year and I can tell you, I still don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe you do. I don’t but I’m learning.
Throughout this week, you can join me in New York City on twitter, FB and Linked In.
I’ll be at Columbia University for the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City program with other business owners from around the U.S. Together, we will learn and grow. We’ll also encourage each other to do more than we ever thought possible, and I’ll share what I’m learning so you can learn too. Then on Friday, I’ll be at the United Nations for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.
If your business has grown, I’d also love to hear what you’ve learned and how you went from 8 to 14 to 40 to140 employees and more than that, a company that stayed true to its core values along the way.
Thanks so much for reading and being a part of my community and my life. We’re together on this trip and I couldn’t be more excited to see where the story goes from here!
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