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CarmenDo As I Say…

The owner of two businesses, Carmen is well-known in the Manitoba business community. She is a past president of Women Business Owners of Manitoba and founding co-chair of the Women's Enterprise Centre. In 1999, Carmen was named Manitoba Woman Entrepreneur of the Year - Contribution to Community. Carmen is 47 years old and the mother of two sons. She lives in Winnipeg.

Carmen says:

So many of life's treasures and silver linings come in the form of clouds and lightning! In 1988 I found myself, along with dozen of others, unemployed as a result of the change in provincial government. While I had hands-on experience working as a policy analyst in the Premier's office my resumé showed that I had not finished high school leaving me unemployable in most decent paying jobs.

I searched for 9 months and was told that I was overqualified or underqualified for everything I applied for. With a few weeks left to collect Unemployment Insurance I took my collection cards in hoping to talk to a counsellor. While waiting in line I noticed a poster asking "Have you ever thought of being an entrepreneur". The immediate answer was no but they were offering a 12 week course on starting your own business, at no cost!

A co-worker, who subsequently became my business partner, signed up with me. The irony is that it was a youth program but the day we arrived they needed two more applicants or their funding was in jeopardy. We needed the course and the rest is HERstory.

After 14 years in business you'd think I would know all the answers. I sometimes think I have all the answers and then something comes back to smack me and remind me that 14 years is just a baby step.

It's easier now to accept that I don't know it all, but way back when I thought it was some kind of sign of weakness or inability if my brain didn't compute as quickly as a computer. Anyone in business for any length of time knows that this is a learning process and if you stop learning you stop growing. When you DO know all the answers it becomes tedious, mundane and a grind just to get your rear end up and into the office everyday.

If I have any wisdom to impart at all it would be to stop beating ourselves up so much and reach out and ask for help. We all know that accountants and lawyers and other professional advisors are all there, for a fee, but it's the freebie mentor or great buddy that often lends the most support. Not being afraid to say, "I need help here!!!" is such a strength yet we still consider it a sign of weakness. Leap kiddo - go and call your friend, your Mum, your sister, your whom-ever and talk to them!

There are lots of lonely nights (sleepless mostly) as we start and grow our businesses. And it's not unlike having a child. You create the little monster, carry it until it is ready to launch and then watch it take baby steps and fall over and over again. Then one day it is up and walking, then running, then ready for a new challenge of its own. This is where it all gets so tricky because turning our "baby" over to someone else's hands is just like day one of kindergarten as you give up a certain amount of control.

Finally do not live the "Do As I Say…Not As I Do" philosophy. Recently I sent an e-mail to a client at 5:30 in the morning. She wrote back "What in the heck are you doing working so early in the morning?" She also sent me a very pointed quote about "not letting your business take over your life, especially if it is home based…make time for yourself", blah, blah, blah. When I wrote back asking "Who wrote that BS?" she quickly responded that "Carmen Neufeld was quoted in Meetings and Incentive magazine in 1999." That was me! Talk about busted.

As I write this it is a reasonable 8:29 am...because I have learned to ask for help…I have hired wonderful staff to take the load off…and…I'm trying every day to do as I say! I don't know if I will ever know it all - actually I hope I don't because I like the challenge of wondering what today will bring!!

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