These days, women entrepreneurs are blazing trails, “bossing up” and being their fabulous entrepreneurial selves. In fact, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. increased 44 percent from 2001 to 2011, not to mention the fact that they are getting more support from universities, governments and corporations.
Further, The Cheskin Research Company reports that, “Women are leaving corporate jobs in favor of entrepreneurship at twice the rate of men, and multicultural women are departing even faster.”
Two women leading the charge are Linda Spradley Dunn, founder and CEO of marketing and communications company Odyssey Media; and Cheryl Walker-Robertson, Odyssey’s executive vice president. With the help of a few of their friends, business coach Becky Davis and Essence magazine Editor-at-Large and beauty expert Mikki Taylor, these “Odyssey women” have taken the discussion on the road among thousands of influential and affluent multicultural women.
Focused on “connecting women business owners, entrepreneurs and professional women in transition,” Odyssey’s “In the Black” tour kicked off on September 22 in Cleveland, Ohio, and will conclude on November 18 in Miami.
“The reason we are running around the country going to 15 different cities is because we are excited about bringing women entrepreneurs and women in transition together to network, compare notes and work with each other while we share with them the messages that our sponsors, Coca-Cola, Marriott International, Life Reimagined and AARP, have for them,” Walker-Robertson explains to TNJ.com.
She adds, “The Coca-Cola tool, called the Supplier Training & Empowerment Program [STEP], gives them access to resources on how to enhance their entrepreneur skills; Life Reimagined has a Life Map that is all about helping women identify where their passions are, what they want to be when they grow up and how to get from the place they are to where they want to be. And the Marriott wants women to have great fun while they’re out on the road doing business with one another.”
And these ladies sure do know how to have fun!
I attended the NYC stop at The Ritz Carlton, Battery Park. The room was packed, the presentations were awesome and the laughter was positively infectious. Truth be told, I had not even planned on staying for the entire event, due to other obligations, but I couldn’t leave! (During my interview with the ladies in their hotel suite, they challenged me, saying that I would not be able to leave early as planned. They were right!)
When the event began, the whole team was great starting off with Spradley Dunn’s dancing entrance and lively opening remarks. Davis shared her financial tips for entrepreneurs and solopreneurs, but what was particularly engaging was Taylor’s segment about personal style and the ‘little black dress (LBD)’ to take women from home to the office. She set out to show women how to accessorize their outfits and, in record time, she ended up creating whole new looks from what the women were originally wearing by re-stylizing their accessories.
Says Taylor, “I have been an Odyssey woman from the beginning. Odyssey Media reaches a collective mindset of empowered women and if you identify with that in some form or fashion, you’re going to become an Odyssey Woman. So, I have been involved from the start and when I heard about the “In the Black” tour, it was like the click of a belt, or diamond earrings if you will. I’m there!”
She continues, “Image is everything and we feel that you can’t talk about success without talking about style. I personally feel that the LBD is at the heart of any bankable wardrobe, whether you’re an entrepreneur or someone sitting in the C-Suite. Your black dress lives all the lives that you live. We no longer live the lives that our mothers lived from 9 to 5 or 9 to 9 and beyond and we have to look great at every stage, every hour of the day. And the LBD allows you to do that. And one of the things that we’re working on on the tour is the use of accessories, because that’s how you can shop frugally and look fabulous. Accessories are the stretchers, if you will.”
From where I sat, attendees loved every bit of it and Spradley Dunn is pleased with the feedback.
“The feedback is off the charts,” she tells TNJ.com. “Women cry, they release, they hug us and thank us for coming. They tell us it’s necessary because they don’t get out that much for fun. We’re kind of corny! If you come to the event, you gotta wear a black dress, you gotta have fun, you gotta network. You can’t just sit at the table and be by yourself. Odyssey has a type of warmth and love that just invites you in. Women feel that – and they respond to it. What they tell us is that we have made it okay for them not to be perfect. They tell us what they’re going through. They say, ‘It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who’s not getting money [for a business], I’m not the only one who’s stuck in my career and I’m not the only one crashing because I’m trying to be Superwoman running a household, running a business and running a community.’ They tell us that we’ve made it safe for them to be them.”
Shares Walker-Robertson, “The beauty of the In the Black tour is that it spans a variety of ages. You could be in your fourth career starting a business after retiring, or you could just be starting out of college and launching your own business. So, we have everyone from A to Z in the room sharing their skills about doing business and sharing business cards with each other. The important thing to note is that when you go to a city with Odyssey, you think you know everyone but invariably we always introduce you to someone in your own city that you didn’t even know!”
For Davis’ part, her presentation offered viable, practical advice on financing a business. She wants women to know that it’s easier to borrow the money from friends or relatives to start a business rather than getting into debt right away with loans. “But if it’s an organization that really needs the funding, there’s a ton of resources out there to try to get additional capital or funding. There’s ACE, which is access to capital for women entrepreneurs. They can do ‘small lending’ under $50K. It depends on how big a business is when you’re trying to figure out which direction to go for funding,” she says.
She also suggests that aspiring entrepreneurs create an entrepreneurial fund. “Put some money up. If you can save a year or two years’ worth of your salary and then launch your business, it would be a lot less stressful when you launch,” she offers.
Business-wise, the ladies tell me that the secret to their sold-out events is their relationship with Fortune 500 companies. “We trust our sponsors with our brand and they trust us with their brand,” notes Spradley Dunn. “We pick sponsors who are devoted to Black women.”
And at any one of these events on the In the Black tour, there could easily be 200 guests. Shares Spradley Dunn, “Women arrive early and they are extremely thrilled to be there. At our annual signature business retreats, sometimes we have 3,000 women who need a break to focus on themselves. There are image coaches, spiritual coaches, small business experts and other activities designed to help women improve themselves. We hang out, we compare notes…we grow with each other. These women want to give – not take.”
(For information on tickets for the In the Black tour, visit Odyssey Media’s website.)
(CLICK HERE to view the PHOTO GALLERY from the In the Black tour.)