It’s getting to be that time of year when women come together at West Chester University (WCU) to network, learn and face the special challenges of entrepreneurship and woman-owned business.
In 2014, almost 90 local business women gathered for the first time at the WCU Graduate Center when SCORE Chester and Delaware Counties initiated a women’s conference to support the significant growth of female business clients, who represented about 50% of the SCORE client base at the time.
Seven years later, the program has evolved into an annual event with over 150 attendees. The WCU Cottrell Entrepreneurship Center and SCORE have partnered to bring critical topics and successful women leaders to the stage.
In 2020, due to COVID-19, the women’s conference was remote for the first time, with virtual networking and breakout discussions.
This year, the women’s conference will be back live and in-person on campus and live streamed on Friday morning, October 22, to enable safe, convenient participation for all interested parties – regardless of gender!
As more women are stepping into business ownership and defining their own destinies, this conference is addressing some of the most critical issues of our time:
- Equity and inclusivity
- Readiness for ongoing change in the workplace and marketplace
- Business growth in an ever-changing social and economic environment
SCORE reached out to a few loyal women business leaders whose names appear on the WCU Entrepreneurship conference roster every single year. Brief conversations highlighted the reasons why they keep coming back, what insights and lessons they learned from the pandemic crisis, and what they are looking forward to hearing about at this year’s conference.
What brings them back?
Mary Simon, former faculty member of the Wharton MBA and Executive MBA Programs, Executive and Team Coach, Negotiation and Applied Neuroscience expert, business consultant and author, tells us: “I always learn something about the world women are creating!”
The vibrancy of the program content and meeting the participants and speakers are important to Mary.
Attendees agree that the networking is a draw. Lisa Bryant, founder of LM Bryant Consulting and certified life coach, shares: “The value of what we receive each and every year brings me back again. This is where you get the information about how you can do it, how you can be successful. I like to see those ‘light bulb, aha’ moments!” Lisa also emphasized that the women who attend this program make her feel comfortable. The group is collaborative, not competitive or judgmental.
How did they face the audacious challenges of COVID-19?
Paula Paisley, founder and President of Paisley Solutions, a full-service bookkeeping firm tells us, “I remember that ‘deer in the headlights’ time when COVID first hit and the Governor of PA identified our business as non-essential.”
What did she do? “I remembered the old adage: ‘Put one foot in front of the other!’” Paula began reaching out to all of the clients as a first step, with a personal phone call and a very important message: “We are here for you. Tell us what you need.”
Paula’s business had a head start working remotely which was already a part of the Paisley business model. She said: “The lesson I learned most coming out of the crisis is how important it is for me to keep up the personal communication with our clients.”
Even with the best-laid plans for 2020, small service consultancies providing face-to-face training lost all their contracts for the year. Lisa Bryant got to work. “First, I enlisted a marketing coach. Second, I stepped back to pivot all services to virtual.”
Then, Lisa created a show, “Food for the Body & Food for the Soul,” encouraging people to patronize local restaurants and at the same time provided words of encouragement.
In 2021, Lisa took her coaching experience to a new channel, helping students with anxiety and apprehension as a WCU adjunct professor. Quite an impressive ‘redirect!’
What experiences are they looking for in the 2021 women’s conference?
Priorities for small businesses and nonprofit organizations shifted significantly since March 2020. Customer needs, focus on health and well-being of staff, family and child care …all changed versus pre-pandemic days.
Women, more so than men, are burned out shouldering the everyday responsibilities for home and office like no other time in our history.
Mary Simon is interested “to take a pulse on how others are doing, their well-being, consider possible partnership opportunities and ideas to pivot in a couple of areas.”
Lisa Bryant will be joining the conference in person to hear about “how women are taking their businesses to the next level.” Lisa has learned that sometimes it just takes a little tweak to refocus or identify a new direction.
Paula Paisley is looking forward to updates about pivoting and recruiting talented associates in a post-pandemic environment.
She says, “Being prepared for a disaster and moving forward is important…especially after what small business owners have been through!”
These insights and concerns of local women business owners are consistent with national trends, no surprise!
The Women in Business Trends: 2021 survey recently reported on non-COVID related issues for women small business owners: “… challenges with marketing and advertising jumped significantly year-over-year, up from the third-most common answer to the first…” followed by cash flow and recruiting and retention of employees.
“To help lighten the load, women business owners have plans to outsource some business services to another professional or organization in 2021.” The data indicated: 25% respondents will seek help for tax preparation, 19% for payroll, and 17% for CPA services. Other common responses included bookkeeping, IT support, and marketing/advertising.
Source: Women in Business: 2021 Trends, Guidant Financial and Small Business Trends Analysis
Come join us at West Chester University on October 22. Network safely, pick up some new ideas and get your questions answered at the WCU Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference.
Meet the SCORE Mentors of Chester and Delaware County who can help you work through your business plans and identify your key areas of focus for 2022.