The Power of Mentorship

Brooke Rouse

Mentorship in professional development is especially beneficial to women leaders, whether those mentors are male or female.  Some women are hesitant to ask for help, others crave constant feedback;  finding a balanced support system of mentors and mentees allows you to continue learning from other perspectives.

                A circle of mentors should include some diversity in experience, age, gender and other defining characteristics. It should include people within your industry and outside your industry, people you know well, and people who are just acquaintances. In some cases a mentor may be a paid coach, lawyer or advisor of another sort. The key to establishing a truly productive mentorship balance is engaging people who will tell you what you need to hear, and what you want to hear…not always at the same time. Personal, emotional, and professional feedback can come in many forms and it is good to have someone on speed-dial for the variety of scenarios you face as a businesswoman and leader.

                The power of mentorship between women of different ages and experience levels has been gaining momentum in the Canton-Potsdam college towns of St. Lawrence County. In 2014 the Young Women’s Leadership Institute of the North Country (YWLI) formed as a partnership between the four colleges and the local chapter of the American Association for University Women (AAUW) and has quickly recruited a number of active and diverse professionals from the county. According to their website (http://ncywli.weebly.com ), the group notes their vision as being “… a membership institute providing opportunities for women to come together from the area colleges and engage with each other, with mentors and other resources in the community, enhancing the leadership development options for young women”.  Professional women in the area mentor college students and the college students have teamed up with middle and high school women. An annual conference and special speaker and networking events throughout the year have helped the board realize that there is a critical role to be played in developing young women leaders.

                Listening and learning, that is what mentorship is; age does not define a mentor. As many professionals in the YWLI have found, they are learning so much from college students, as well as connecting with each other as mentors. Likewise, college students are finding great value in their conversations with older and younger women. A study by LinkedIn in 2014 found that only one in five women have mentors, yet business success, poverty reduction, fair pay and higher GDP have all been identified as impacts of female mentorship.

                Finding the time to be a mentor or seek out mentors often takes a back seat to being a mom, a business leader, a wife, sister or daughter. Making a goal of one hour per month is a great start. It does not always have to be in person, as Google hangouts, Skype and a variety of online networks allow you to connect at any time of day or night. Mentorship does not have to be formal; it can happen over a cup of coffee or a walk (good self-care!) In addition to making a difference in someone else’s life, leaving a legacy, and helping to shape the next generation, you too will benefit from a growing network, a reduced feeling of isolation, fresh ideas, and the opportunity to further your own leadership skills.

BROOKE ROUSE is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 315-386-4000.

Building the North Country Economy

Sarah O’Connell

The American economy has changed greatly over the last half century, and we’ve seen a lot of those changes right here in the north country.  Most of our paper manufacturers have closed down, national chains have changed the faces of our downtowns and our many small dairy farms have merged into just a handful of large agricultural enterprises.   Our largest employers now are the military, the hospitals, the various levels of government and educational facilities.

                So what happens when someone doesn’t fit into one of those types of businesses?  Maybe they decide to start their own business.   Every year we at the Watertown SBDC talk to around 700 would-be entrepreneurs.  Of those, many just want to kick around an idea or need some basic assistance with getting the business set up. Others decide to go forward and obtain a startup or expansion loan. 

                Many of the small businesses we work with are what the U.S. Small Business Administration calls “nonemployer” firms, meaning they are a one-person operation with no employees.  We could call them “starter businesses” – usually they are quicker and less costly to start, and also to close.  The median age of a nonemployer business is six years, about four years less than an employer business.

                Furthermore, startups are less likely than established businesses to create jobs, again because during those crucial first five years, the new business may be just struggling to find its place in the market, much less adding employees.  Less than half the jobs created by startups still exist after five years, while expanding, older businesses account for 60 percent of small business job creation.   The share of employment that microbusinesses (those with fewer than 10 employees upon start up) contribute has declined over the past 30 years – from 15% in 1978 to 11.6 per cent in 2011.  (SBA.gov).

                With all that being said, small businesses are very important to the local economy.  Besides providing employment for a local resident, new businesses may bring new ideas to the area.  They can provide support services or products that free up larger employers to do what they do best.    Small businesses also generate tax income through self-employment, payroll taxes and sales tax collection.  They can also be more reactive and flexible to market trends. Just look at the rise of the craft beverage industry in our area,  or ethnic restaurants and small niche shops; I think they make our community a more interesting and enjoyable place to live than large metropolitan areas that are just lines of chain store after chain store.  

                How about lawn care providers, plumbers, small contractors, or snow plow operators (shout out here to my guy Mike!)?    Small hardware stores, bakeries, crafters, web designers, our local news sources, and professionals like lawyers, insurance agents and accountants are here to provide us with their goods and services; they know their community and may even be our neighbors.

                So sure, you may find the Internet is quick and easy to search for something, order and pay for it electronically; it might even offer a cheaper deal than what you’d pay locally, and hey! – free shipping!    But at the end of the day, what is that doing to help your local economy?  If you want to support the north country economy, it starts with spending your money right here and creating growth and job creation, one local purchase at a time.

                For fiscal year 2015-16, the advisors at the Watertown SBDC serving Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties saw 735 clients, spent 5,174 hours counseling, helped them create 167 new jobs and retain 53 jobs and assisted 51 clients in obtaining financing for business startup or expansion in the amount of $15,166,933.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

Why It Pays To Be Honest in Business

Joleene Moody

I’m going to share a personal story here, one that actually destroyed me emotionally. But only for a moment. When it was over, it gave me exactly what I needed to be a better leader. If you’re interested in being the best version of yourself, listen up. This has to do with being brutally honest, even at the cost of making a fool of yourself.

     I write books for professional men and women. Self-Help and How-To, mostly. When someone who needed a book written contacted me, his professional stature intimidated me a bit. So much so, that when he asked me what it would cost to write his masterpiece, I fumbled and jumbled my quote horribly. So much so, that I severely undercut myself.  Severely.

     He agreed to my teensy price and we ended our call. I was devastated. What had I done? Why didn’t I say anything? How could I possibly move forward, knowing I would be making mere pennies, thanks to my fumbly foolishness?

I had a choice to make:

1) I could either move forward and write his book for peanuts, or

2) I could call him back and tell him I made a mistake.

     If I went with option one, I knew I would regret it and hate every step of the process.

If I went with option two, I risked making a fool of myself and looking unprofessional.

     After wrestling with both options, I decided to go with option two. I decided to be honest, even if it meant I might look like a fool. Here’s what I said:

     “Mr. Author, I owe you an apology. For reasons I can’t quite explain, other than I became flustered while talking to you, I severely misquoted you. I said I would write your book for X dollars when the truth is, I should have quoted you four times that amount. I am so sorry. I don’t know how it happened or what I was thinking, but I would be doing myself and my clients a huge disservice if I moved forward writing your book for what I quoted you. I am so very sorry. I am embarrassed and humiliated. I understand completely if you want to move on and find someone else to write this for you.”

     And do you know what happened?

     He said he would like to move forward with me anyway.

     Yes, I was as stunned as you are.

     Mr. Author told me he valued my work and appreciated my honesty. He could hear in my voice how terrible I felt and understood I simply made a mistake.

     After we hung up, I had an unexpected emotional release and I cried.

     I cried because telling this man I made a mistake was very difficult.

     I cried because the perfectionist in me was still beating me up.

     I cried because I was honest and it felt good.

     I cried because I realized, even if he decided not to work with me, being honest and standing in integrity felt better than any check in my hand would.

     Choosing to be honest is actually a gateway to freedom. Had I lied to him or myself and moved forward anyway, I would have actually done more damage than good. One lie leads to another lie, which leads to another lie, which in turn leads to another lie. My emotional release was my body understanding that, and thanking me for being true to myself and to Mr. Author.

     If you want to feel free, take the route of honesty every time. Looking back, I can safely say that even if Mr. Author told me to go fly a kite, I still would have felt free and safe because I told the truth. There were no stories to protect and no lies to continue to weave.

     Decide to be honest, no matter what. None of us is perfect. All of us make mistakes. Besides, look what happened when I told the truth. I ended up getting paid what I should have from the beginning. See? It really does pay to be honest.

JOLEENE MOODY is a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Learn more at: www.joleenemoody.com

How To Dominate Social Media

Joleene Moody

If your business isn’t showing up loud and proud on social media, you could be compromising your bottom line. You want to dominate the social airwaves and bring new clients and fresh opportunity with it. Your social success hinges on where you post and how much effort you put into it. Consider these options when posting on social media platforms that meet the likes of your business.

1) Schedule Your Posts

     Some businesses don’t consider this an option as they circulate the cyber airwaves. But continuous posting can pull more followers your way, especially on a platform like Twitter. Use apps like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to schedule hourly tweets. Include posts that inform, engage, and promote sharing. Your followers choose to trail you because of what you do or what you’ve posted in the past. Make them happy and share their posts as well. The more followers you have, the more you open the space to be recognized as the expert in your field. If you seek more sales and a powerhouse reputation, share great content and post regularly.

2) Use Video to Share Content

     When Twitter released Periscope, the response was both immediate and overwhelming. Within a few short months, small business owners and entrepreneurs across the globe were Livestreaming tips, stories, and useful information to followers. With a chat that allows comments and hearts for likes, Periscope is ideal for the business owner that wants to stay focused and instruct. Many followers convert to fans and clients for those that regularly use the app.

     If Periscope doesn’t thrill you, consider Blab, a social video platform still in its Beta stages. With four video seats and a chat section that allows hundreds of attendees to engage, Blab is shaping up to be the new wave of Podcasting. If the host allows, a single attendee can briefly take one of the video window seats and be heard. Blab chats can go on for hours. Some Blab users actually schedule 24-and-48 hour marathons. While this isn’t necessary, a short 30-minute show can prove invaluable for business owners that want to share content and elicit trust.

3) Use Platforms that Match Your Business

     You don’t have to exist on every social media platform to dominate in social media. For some businesses, determining which platform works best is a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be. Spending time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest can answer that question for you. If you are a coach or consultant, Facebook and Facebook Ads are where your tribe exists. If you are a social media or content marketer, Twitter may be where it’s at. And if you own a design or bakery business, Pinterest is the ideal platform for you. Overwhelming yourself with too many platforms can actually work against you. Choose two or three that fit your business well and shoot for the moon.

     Regular posting and highly valuable content will give you the exposure and leverage you need on social media. Offering information that is actionable is also key, as it leads followers to your website and other social platforms. Show up with integrity and your business will shine above all others.

JOLEENE MOODY is a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Learn more at: www.takeyourvoiceback.com