You're ready to take the entrepreneurial leap: You have a solid business plan, a laptop and a disdain for business suits. While at first it may sound appealing to work in your pajamas as an entrepreneur or freelancer, the novelty soon wears off. The fact is, it is difficult to become and remain motivated day after day when you work in your home, isolated and without all the amenities of an actual work space.
"What amenities?" you ask. Amenities like a hellish commute, an overbearing employer, gossiping coworkers and a filthy lunchroom?
While there is nothing to miss in that scenario, there are elements to a more traditional workspace that are very conducive to productivity, success and satisfaction. What elements are often missing when you're not working in the traditional business environment?
Workspace You may have a spare room or a corner of your basement. It's true that the space is free of charge but is it free of distractions?
Business equipment You have a laptop, but what about a heavy-duty printer, fax machine, dedicated business phone line?
Meeting space Where can you meet with clients? Is your space professional or cluttered with toys and, well, clutter?
Networking opportunities How much business are you going to do with the postal carrier? That's most likely the only person with whom you'll have contact working from home.
The key to being a successful freelancer or entrepreneur is to have space to conduct your work that is not only affordable but that affords you the amenities you need to be productive. Coworking is a way to have the best of both worlds: freelancer and fully-equipped professional.
Coworking - the Concept
By way of definition, coworking is a concept of bringing solo-workers together so that they can pool resources to enhance their work experience. Coworking can take place anywhere a group can congregate. This is often at a coffee shop or restaurant where workers can gather and either collaborate and network or work alone and simply enjoy the benefits of being in proximity of others.
As to the benefits of coworking, Lorenz Lammens, Marketing Director for Online Design Bureau, suggests that coworking allows workers to, "Get a second brain and think outside of the box." He goes on to say, "Many ideas are born out of conversation. You're stuck, can't quite figure out how to move on, so you take a break and discuss your ideas with others who have different skill sets. The combination of different experiences, approaches and temperament often spur on new ideas that you simply couldn't have come up with on your own."
The point is to fend off isolation. Whether you feel pangs of loneliness or not, it is important to remain in contact with the world outside your four walls. Lorenz makes the point that, "You don't always have to leave your home office to cowork. With modern technology such as Skype, Twitter and Facebook you can still co-work when you are not physically present at your co-working station. When at home, we simply connect with partners who also work from home that day via Skype, and get to experience the feel of a virtual office."
Coworking - a Physical Location
A coworking facility is a shared office environment where freelancers and entrepreneurs can share workspace, equipment and other resources along with the pleasure of each other's company. The amenities provided at a coworking facility can include furnishings, meeting/conference rooms, office equipment, internet access, cleaning service and utilities. The cost is far lower than providing the same in an office for just one individual because expenses are shared. Coworking facilities can be used as frequently - or infrequently - as needed. Often those who use a coworking facility discover networking opportunities within the facility itself, providing the added value of customer acquisition.
According to Jonathan Hilley, co-founder of a workspaces concept called, KUBIK Office, coworking facilities can assist workers in the following ways:
reduced capital in fixed assets, which can then be better used in personnel, research, marketing, or other investments
providing offices, equipment, and support for meetings, classes, and presentations
projecting a professional presence to clients and prospects
enabling workers and teams to meet and function at sites close to home and clients
provides familiar and reliable offices and services while on business travel
Is the concept of coworking for everyone? Most likely. Even those who prefer to work in quiet conditions must, in their own best interest, have some social interaction. Is a coworking facility for every solo entrepreneur or freelancer? It depends.
Take these factors into consideration when deciding if a coworking facility is the right choice for you:
Is the nature of your job portable enough?
Is the facility conveniently located for you and your clients?
Can you abide by the fact that you won't have control of ambient noise, temperature, fellow workers' temperament?
Is the facility populated with professionals with similar working requirements as yourself?
Coworking can be a solution to the isolation of being a solo-worker by giving you the resources, networking opportunities and reason to get dressed in the morning that you may lack by working at home.
Do you cowork? How does coworking help your productivity?
Mentoring provides a plethora of benefits for businesspeople. It can help them to grow within their position, tackle obstacles and recognize and capitalize on their strengths. You can find effective mentors in the workplace, through local business organizations and even independently. Regardless of where your mentor comes from, he or she will become a trusted adviser, privy to some personal information about you, your values and your style of doing business.
Have you ever wondered what this intimate relationship of mentoring looks like in practice?
When CEO of Chic Galleria Publications and Editor in Chief of Chic Galleria.com, Beth Anderson realized that her business was on the fast-track for growth, she turned to Business Coach, Christie Crowder for advice. Beth recounts, "Our staff had grown to over 30 writers, editors and assistants and I needed her thoughts on how to make our group cohesive even though they spanned the United States, Canada, England, Australia and Malaysia. Christie was able to show me exactly how to set up a system of communication where I divided the writers into groups and addressed each according to the section for which they wrote. She instructed me on how to deliver specific information, goals, objectives and responsibilities to the writers via email. As our staff continues to grow, Christie is there to help me stay with this system."
Several months later, Beth spoke with Christie concerning the day to day operations of Chic Galleria.com. "I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work I was doing and the pressure I was putting on myself. The magazine was growing its readership at a rapid speed and it was taking its toll on me emotionally and physically."
The first thing Christie did was help Beth realize that it was acceptable to ask for help. Christie advised Beth to:
Hire a personal assistant who could help her be more organized as a whole
Speak to the staff and offer managerial positions to those who were interested in becoming more that just contributing writers
Set up a well-functioning system using current staff members
"Our magazine now has three Deputy Editors, four Senor Editors, a Test Kitchen Director, Promotional Director, Regional Event Correspondents and a Graphic Designer," declares Beth. "All these people now have responsibilities that I had originally been doing myself."
Summing up her professional relationship with Christie, Beth says, "Most of all, Christie has shown me how to take responsibility for my position within the company. I am the CEO of Chic Galleria Publications and Editor in Chief of Chic Galleria.com. She has taught me to embrace my roles within my own business. Christie advised me to move out from behind the Chic Galleria logo and have professional press photos taken. She showed me the importance of allowing Chic Galleria.com readers to connect the magazine with me personally, putting my face with my business."
Beth and Christie's relationship is long-ranging as well: "Christie and I keep in touch on a regular basis," says Beth. "We are now in the process of getting ready to launch our new web design. I find comfort in knowing that Christie is there for me when I need her opinion on this rebuild. With each day there are new challenges concerning the site design, layout, graphics and esthetics. Christie has been there to keep me focused on asking for exactly what I want and staying true to my dream. Having a business coach and mentor has been by far the best decision I made this year."
So that's what a mentoring relationship can look like: supportive, educational and empowering. Effective mentors bring out the best of their mentees' talents and abilities, clearing the road for their success.
The U.S. Government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year purchasing goods and services. It is good to know, then, that in these times when most everyone is trying to be more conscious of protecting the environment that our government is making that effort as well.
According to Enesta Jones with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Press Office, there is a growing effort to take the environment under consideration when the government seeks to procure those goods and services. Ms Jones reports, "President Obama signed Executive Order 13514 in October 2009 which defines a number of attributes that federal agencies must consider in buying green products and services." She continues, "This Executive Order states that federal agencies must consider that 95 percent of new contract actions for products and services are: energy efficient, water-efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable, non-ozone deleting, contain recycled content, or are non-toxic or less-toxic alternatives." For our information, Ms Jones defines 'environmentally preferable' as products or services that "have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose." She concludes, "This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance or disposal of the product or service. EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program works to develop standards and provide guidance to federal agencies which look across the life cycle of products and services, considering multiple environmental attributes."
President Obama's executive order was not the first governmental initiative promoting greener choices. Since as early as 1976,the EPA has been required to designate products that are or can be made with recovered materials and to recommend practices for buying these products. Once a product is designated, procuring agencies are required to purchase it with the highest recovered material content level practicable. Obama's executive order, however, puts some teeth into the plan.
How does "green procurement" actually benefit the environment? Jones responds, "An excellent example of environmental benefits of a “greener” product is with electronics, specifically those desktops, laptops and monitors that are EPEAT-registered. EPEAT is the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool which has set criteria for what constitutes a green computer and assists purchasers in procuring those products."
Jones boasts that 2008 US purchases of EPEAT registered laptops, desktops, and monitors over conventional products will:
Reduce use of toxic materials, including mercury, by 1021 metric tons, equivalent to the weight of 510,949 bricks
Eliminate use of enough mercury to fill 149,685 household fever thermometers
Preclude the disposal of 43 thousand metric tons of hazardous waste, equivalent to the weight of almost 22 million bricks.
Eliminate 14,353 Metric Tons of solid waste, equivalent to the amount 7202 U.S. households generate in a year
In addition, due to EPEAT’s requirement that registered products meet ENERGY STAR’s energy efficiency specifications, these products will consume less energy throughout their useful life, resulting in:
Savings of over 8.39 billion kWh of electricity — enough to power over 700,000 US homes for a year
Reduction in use of 14.8 million metric tons of primary materials, equivalent to the weight of more than 114 million refrigerators
Avoidance of 34.2 million metric tons of air emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) and over 71,000 metric tons of water pollutant emissions
Reduction of over 1.57 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to taking over one million US passenger cars off the road for a year
In addition to these benefits, reported global sales demonstrate EPEAT’s potential for reducing the environmental costs of computing worldwide. Despite only 27% of participating manufacturers reporting their Canadian EPEAT sales and only 20% reporting their Rest of World sales, the estimated benefit of EPEAT sales to these regions is still significant:
Reduction of 2.8 million metric tons of primary materials
Elimination of over a million kilograms of toxic materials, including enough mercury to fill 157,311 household fever thermometers
16,297 Metric Tons of solid waste eliminated
Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 2.3 million US cars from the road for a year
Putting our money where their mouth is, the government has established the following guideline in their procurement practices:
Guiding Principle 1: Environment + Price + Performance = Environmentally Preferable Purchasing "Environmental considerations should become part of normal purchasing practice, consistent with such traditional factors as product safety, price, performance, and availability."
Because the government factors these initiatives into their equation, a company offering greener options enjoys a market advantage in the procurement procedure. Let's keep things green by following these guidelines to offer environmentally friendly products and services. It's a win-win proposition.
What "green" options can your company offer the government?
What makes an effective leader? Do you possess the traits of an effective leader? What does leadership in the 21st century look like?
ATHENA International is a Chicago-based organization that supports and celebrates the contributions of women as leaders in business. They hold up the traits of successful leaders as the model for success in business. According to their web site, those traits, which make up the ATHENA Leadership Model tenets include: Authentic Self, Celebration and Joy, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Fierce Advocacy, Giving Back, Learning and Relationships. In their own words, ATHENA International's mission is:
"Supporting, developing and honoring women leaders
Inspiring women to achieve their full potential
Creating balance in leadership worldwide"
As a complement to their mission to empower women in business, ATHENA International offers a nationwide mentoring program called, ATHENA PowerLink. It is self-described as, "An advisory program designed to increase the growth and profitability of women-owned businesses." According to Robin Kottke, Director of Programs at ATHENA International, "ATHENA PowerLink was created to help already established, successful women business owners who have reached a plateau and/or are looking to take their business to new levels."
Robin expresses the importance of such a mentoring program for women: "Although the number of women-owned businesses has been growing fast and furiously for some time, the growth rate for women business owners is slower than that of their male counterparts. ATHENA PowerLink strives to help women business owners navigate hurdles and barriers to growth such as achieving access to new networks, mentors, capital, best business practices, staff/employee management issues, etc. previously unavailable to them."
How does the mentoring program work? Robin explains: "ATHENA PowerLink provides business owners unparalleled opportunities to establish invaluable networks and mentor relationships by 'linking' her with a panel of subject matter experts recruited from her community and selected specifically for her business needs/concerns (as identified by the woman business owner) for one year. This volunteer panel, once selected, works closely with her to address her business concerns over a minimum of six formal meetings (initial meeting, quarterly meeting, and wrap-up) over the course of one year."
While ATHENA International has supported women business leaders since 1982, ATHENA PowerLink was launched ten years later to offer increasing and targeted assistance to women and continues to meet those needs today. "The rise of the Internet, new technology and sheer number of women owned businesses since 1992 is staggering," declares Robin. "Although there are more opportunities and resources available in the way of advertising, networking, professional associations and social media than ever before, choosing and maximizing the right ones can be incredibly overwhelming, costly and time consuming. In today's economy, capital is more difficult to access and businesses have to do more with less."
"In spite of these changes, ATHENA PowerLink remains ever-relevant and powerful," says Robin. "Its advisory panels are hand-selected exclusively for the needs of the participating business owner, and advisory panel members are well connected, versed and vested in that particular community's business culture and economy. This combination makes them uniquely qualified and positioned to provide the woman business owner with relevant, timely and sound guidance in growing her business."
What benefits does ATHENA PowerLink mentoring provide? Robin reports that the program delivers these benefits:
Results in increased profitability
Results in economic growth
Best business practices are shared, honed, and emulated
Fosters collaboration and giving back to emerging leaders/ aspiring business owners
How effective can mentoring be? Robin says that ATHENA PowerLink graduates report, on average, in one year:
88% increase in sales
38% increase in business income
57% increase in personal income
36% increase in full-time employees
75% increase in part-time employees
The ATHENA PowerLink mentoring program recognizes the importance of fostering successful leadership skills among women. By providing support for businesswomen from their peers in the community, it helps the businesswomen themselves and the community they serve. Ensuring that women have all the support they require for success in the business community is a benefit to everyone.
What types of support could benefit you as a woman in business? What could you gain - or give - in a mentoring experience?