When women are looking to start their own companies, they cansure use company.
That’s what Marissa McTasney – better known as “the pink boot lady” – discovered through all the ups and downs of launching her super successful women’s workwear line Tomboy Trades Ltd. out of her Brooklin, Ont., home last year.
Though it all started with her thinking pink about construction gear, she really needed a helping hand.
She searched high and low for all kinds of resources to get things rolling, and quickly discovered there was no shortage of businessmen willing to throw in their two cents worth.
Luckily, the 33-year-old mother of two met Anne Day, founder of a professional women’s networking group called Company of Women. The ladies’ co-operative has nurtured her career in the cute boot business since Day One with loads of advice, tips and moral support along the way.
“I find with men in business, it’s usually all about the bottom line how much it (the business) is going to cost and how much it’s going to make,” explains McTasney.
“Women care about every aspect of a business, in terms of the type of culture we’re trying to create and the creative side of it.
“We’re just interested in so many different things,” she says.
Although her workwear is made for the female “fix-it” set in pale pink and baby blue hues, McTasney has found herself mainly doing business with men now that she’s playing in the big leagues.
Her signature boots, tool belts, hard hats, shirts and tinted safety glasses are being sold through Home Depot online and in selected Zellers locations. (She recently had to make a difficult decision to rebrand and change the company name to Moxie Trades for a planned expansion outside Canada since the Tomboy name was already taken, although the distinctive Tomboy logo will remain on goods in Canada for the time being.)
“All of my business partners are men. It’s been hard for me to find women to do business with out there,” she notes.
That’s likely going to change down the road with women flexing their entrepreneurial muscle in droves these days. According to RBC Group, women entrepreneurs are one of the fastest growing business segments in Canada.
The number of female-run, incorporated businesses more than doubled during the last decade, with 821,000 self-employed women contributing $18 billion to the Canadian economy.
In fact, Canadian firms run by women create new jobs at four times the rate of the national average, collectively providing more jobs than the Canadian Top 100 companies combined.
Four out of five businesses launched today are started by women. And nearly half of small and mid-sized businesses across the country have at least one female owner.
“The issues are the same, but women have a different attitude about getting things done. We bring different things to the table,” explains Day.
“We’re the multi-taskers, and we’re used to being interrupted and doing all kinds of things at the same time. Men are focused – and probably more successful,” she quips.
Day and her small business Company of Women have “really given me a lot of business advice on a personal level,” notes McTasney. “I’ve also hired women in the group to help with my business.”
It comes as no surprise since Day has made a career out of bringing folks together.
She has headed up several charities and ran a successful consulting practice, Community Connections, in which she worked with community agencies to develop services for children and families. It was actually through the isolation of working alone out of her Oakville digs in that business that led her to start another successful venture, namely Company of Women.
“When I held the first meeting five years ago, I was told 35 people were guaranteed to show,” she recalls.
She couldn’t believe her eyes when 165 women from all over the GTA turned up to attend the meeting at the Oakville Convention Centre.
“It blew me away. I knew I was onto something,” Day says.
The group has about 340 members now and holds monthly meetings plus regular retreats and dinners – even golf clinics – for women in various stages of their professional life, whether they work for themselves or have an employer, or juggle both, or just want to get started.
Many of the members have made sales or landed new clients through the organization. There have also been more practical offshoots of sharing resources. For instance, two of the women in landscape gardening ended up sharing a website to promote their services.
“It’s not just about collecting business cards. It’s about building relationships and supporting each other. A lot of women who are starting out are unsure which direction to take,” says Day.
“We have everyone you can think of (in our membership), from fashion designers to undertakers.”
And every age group is represented. Her daughter Megan Day, 24, happens to be the youngest member and, remarkably, she’s already run a few small businesses of her own, from making and selling baby clothing to graphic design, to her current offbeat venture designing ‘Spirit Stones’ crafts and keepsakes.
“My biggest fear was selling myself, which is what you have to do when you are self-employed. I’m kind of shy but a lot of women have an issue with this,” she says.
“You also need support. Company of Women is like a cheerleading squad,” jokes Megan, who is also on her mom’s payroll part-time, doing administrative duties and planning events.
“I do feel networking isn’t about sales. It’s about building relationships that lead to sales, and you want to build ones that last,” she says.
For McTasney, being a woman launching a business has been a real eye-opener, professionally and personally.
“I never thought I was going to be a feminist, but I feel like waving a flag at the front of the parade,” she says with a laugh.
And she practices what she preaches, having just hired a female fashion intern from Paris who acts as her “mini-me” by doing all the things McTasney used to do but doesn’t have the time for anymore now that her business has exploded.
“It’s not just about pink boots anymore. We’ve established that this gig is working,” she says, noting she’s in discussions with Wal-Mart and has had some interest from other major retailers including Mark’s Work Wearhouse.
From a business that started in her basement and has since moved to a big warehouse with an office in Markham, she’s now looking at not only expanding globally, but adding more practical things to the line, including low-rise and black boots, among other things.
McTasney also does a slew of presentations and speeches to young and aspiring entrepreneurs and has been asked to go on the popular CBC show Dragons’ Den, where entrepreneurs make a pitch for funding from big-time backers. She just had a visit from Canadian actress and TV fix-it lady Mag Ruffman.
Anne Day sums it up simply “I think it’s all about the fact that women want to get control of their lives. And it’s more that we care about each other.”
Credit: Toronto Star; Lisa Wright
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