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Lessons of a female entrepreneur

Northern Credit Union speaks with Wendy Kauffman of Wendolyn Reputation Management

Few organizations can boast having 80% women, including 70% of leadership roles being held by women.

But such is the case for Northern Credit Union. This goes hand in hand with Northern’s support for entrepreneurs, the economic drivers behind the Canadian economy.

In this Spotlight article, Liisa Woolley, Senior VP Member Experience at Northern Credit Union met with Canadian business owner Wendy Kauffman, founder of Wendolyn Reputation Management who offers advice to fellow women entrepreneurs.

Wendy, how long have you been an entrepreneur? What are you most passionate about? 

I started my career as a journalist. My training came from CNN. Then, I wrote wire copy for United Press International before moving to CTV News as a field producer for their Middle East bureau. I returned to Canada and moved into public relations. I spent 20 years with a PR agency, supporting organizations from start-ups to international brands. 

The COVID-19 lockdown forced me to slow down. It provided the chance to think about the most critical communications services for the next decade and new delivery models. The answer became so clear that I decided to leave the PR firm and start my communications consulting practice focused on this vision. 

Regarding passion, I directly state it on my homepage and ensure it is inextricably linked to everything my business offers: "Everyone deserves to feel their story matters, their voice counts, and their truth is heard. Prioritize corporate citizenship for the simple reason that – you can. Use words purposefully, cautiously, and delightfully." 

Achieving work/life balance can be a touchy subject. For many of my friends, it feels like an impossible task. What is some advice that you can share for women entrepreneurs who are working hard in their businesses as well as their home lives? 

Early in my career, a mentor gave me a life-changing insight—balance does not mean 50% home and 50% work.

At different points in life, one takes the lead, and the other takes second place. A balanced life can look like 70% home and 30% work, 60% work and 40% home, etc. I permitted myself to follow this advice years ago. It was as valuable when I had babies at home as when they moved out to university. 

How important is it that women overcome imposter syndrome? What suggestions do you have that could help? 

KPMG study found that 75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers. It is okay to experience self-doubt and hesitation about whether you are the right person for the job. If, however, these feelings stop you from asking clarifying questions, prevent you from raising your hand to say, "Pick me," or cause you to become so nervous that you are making mistakes, it is a problem requiring a solution beyond simple advice.

When I feel unsure, I ask myself the following, which may help other women entrepreneurs: 

Could a man in this role feel equally unsure of how to proceed? The answer is always yes. So shake it off. 

Have I ever been unable to meet an expectation if the task involved my general skill sets? The answer is no. So shake it off.  

If I need help figuring out the task, do I have the skills or resources to find that assistance? The answer is yes. Take a deep breath. Reframe this problem as an opportunity to learn. Charge forward. 

Determining our value seems to be a roadblock that most women I know face. What are some steps that women can take to make sure that they are paying themselves fairly? 

Most entrepreneurs know approximately how much their competitors charge for similar services or products. So she must ask herself, "Do I want to charge on the range's high, medium, or low end?" If she chooses the low end of the range, she will always compete on price, and she must accept that her service/product is a commodity targeting the lowest bidders. Or does she want to charge on the higher side, basing the worth of her service/product on the value the client/customer will gain? Value is always a stronger positioning from which to start a negotiation. 

Going back to the previous questions, if a woman business owner doubts whether she is good enough, she won't charge top fees. However, when she feels she has the right to be in the game, she will feel more confident to charge what her service/product is worth and will, ultimately, feel she is being paid fairly. 

I'd like to end the article with the section about leveraging experiences through a female lens. I think women have unique experiences that are valuable in all aspects of life. What does leveraging experiences through a female lens mean to you? 

Some traits are typically assigned to men, such as risk-taking, aggression, confidence, etc. Other traits are commonly attributed to women, such as collaboration, empathy, compassion, and intuition. The truth is that people of all genders possess the full range of traits, but our personalities, environment, and socialization condition certain people to rely on some over others. 

With this in mind, women can spend more time leveraging the value of their lived experience, what you refer to as their "female lens." They can consciously look at a situation and ask, "What do I see that someone with a different lived experience cannot see?" It may allow her to understand how the same message can be heard differently, identify missing voices in research and development, or lead with a more empathetic response in a crisis. I bring additional value to my products and services by using my female lens to identify risks and opportunities that half the population may not see.

To learn read more about how Northern supports women entrepreneurs visit them online here.