Dare to speak up!
How can women entrepreneurs get more visibility in local press?
How do you start saying something that you’re not really supposed to say, without risking getting in trouble, and signing the deed that guarantees the end of the dream you’re working so hard to make come true? You know – the things that everyone thinks, but no one says. Not in writing for the whole world to see at least. It might be said between friends, between the lines and expressed in subtle ways. But it can’t be said as it is, because the sick truth is that the small players depend on the good will of the big players to hopefully support or invest in their dream one day… So to keep hopes up, and keep working for that dream to come true, we must play it safe, swallow our pride and accept being put aside, pushed down, not being put in the spotlight or given any favors.
Perhaps all this will be even clearer if I give a concrete example. With a tremble of fear in my stomach, no, wait… not even a slight tremble actually. But, with a deep breath and all my pride and integrity, I want to share my thoughts about a few articles I read in local press following the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day conference that I had the honor to host Friday night.
In my role as the Advisor to the Ambassador of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) here in Luxembourg, Sleep Coach and founder of Sleep Like a Boss, Mrs. Christine Hansen, and as co-organizer of the whole event, I’ve been putting my own business aside for weeks, many weeks and working very long hours. Hours during the day, through dinner, during the time that’s supposed to be the quality time with my children, and yes I felt very bad about it, but I made that sacrifice to create a FANTASTIC event, of course hoping it would lead to something very beautiful for my business, allowing me to continue to be there for my children when they need me. And yes, several more hours after my children fell asleep, neglecting my own sleep, a very dire sacrifice.
Both Christine and I have been working very, very hard since our first meeting at Starbucks, Findel Airport in Luxembourg, to put this conference together, just the way we wanted it and of top quality. Some of the things we’ve been doing the last couple of months are; finding great sponsors, find a great venue, design flyers to promote the event, create invitations, select and book great speakers with different knowledge and personalities to assure a high quality conference, create a buzz on social media to make sure we get lots of attendees, design a great concept allowing local women entrepreneurs to expose their business to 150 persons during a fabulous networking cocktail, awarding all our registration fees to a local charity organization supporting women entrepreneurs – both for the great cause and also to decrease the no-show rate of people who register and we invited Hub Dot to contribute to an amazing networking experience and helping them get massive exposure to new markets.
We also had to deal with the stress of getting information that our venue was double booked and had to find a new one, depending on the help of our sponsors, reaching out to local press for coverage, having meetings with local magazines and turning some down who are only willing to cover the event if we pay – which we can’t as we have no budget to make all this happen. We’ve designed special offers for all the attendees and printed gift cards and conference programs. Made phone calls trying to find sponsors to offer all our speakers a bouquet of flowers – that’s one thing we couldn’t make happen.
I’ve personally interviewed all the speakers at least one hour each to make sure I could formulate questions that would best focus on the genius of each speaker and let them share their wisdom and expertise, adding the most value possible to the audience. Several audio checks with our videographer and the technical team at the Spuerkeess, to make sure everything would run smoothly during the conference. Another BIG load of hours to create a professional PowerPoint presentation with incorporated slides of a guest speaker and carefully selected and trimmed songs to allow each speaker to get up on stage to a great energy.
Practicing introductions for HOURS, and getting my children ready to welcome the audience in five different languages. That’s just some of it. And all that, without making any money.
Now, why on earth would you do that, work for free, if you’re a start-up business, in your first or second year, still working round the clock to get established and able to support your family, why? The answer is very obvious, but I will write it out anyway, just to make sure there can be NO misunderstandings. Apart from the fact that both Christine and I love entrepreneurship and live events with loads of like-minded coming together to talk about exciting projects and making new connections, the biggest reason anyone in our situation would do this is to get visibility, to put your name on the map in your industry and hopefully have a few conversations that lead to business. Paid business. A bank transfer of money coming into your account, as a token of appreciation for your services.
“We want to make money! I think that’s as clear as anyone can say it.”
I could also add a few more very personal details; such as holding your breath and hoping that there will soon be another business deal closed so that you can travel home to your family that lives in another country and let your children celebrate Christmas with their grand-parents and cousins, and actually get a little gift this year. Hug my sister and her sons, my brother and his fiancé, and their 1-year old lovely Ebba, my god daughter. I feel like a lousy daughter, sister and aunt for not travelling home more often. A lousy one who can’t afford to travel home to be near the people I love the most.
It is so brutally hard giving up financial security to start living a life that matters and that makes you happy. Just because you were ready to sacrifice the financial security and give up your old job, doesn’t mean you don’t want to earn money doing what you love and work so hard for, so that you can support your children. I want to be able to keep buying the healthy food that’s so expensive and open bills without feeling sick and scared.
So again, why would you work so hard and give your all to create an evening of great value and inspiration to a lot of people, on a subject that is very important to many women entrepreneurs, including yourself? Yes, it’s still the same reason I stated above. You want to get visibility, make connections that will lead to business, so that you MAKE MONEY. That’s why you do it.
The thing that you can’t really say, from fear of getting black listed as “trouble maker” by the institutions and big players on the market, has to do with my surprise and painful disappointment when I saw two articles in local press. I’m going to say it anyway. Not to be a trouble maker, but because it is the truth, and someone needs to say it.
The first article talks in a very nice way about the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day conference, presenting most of the speakers with a nice headshot, a big feature image of the “most important person” in the audience, the State of Secretary. There is no mention of the local women entrepreneurs who were presenting their businesses in the networking area. No presentation of Christine Hansen, the Ambassador herself. No photo of or question to Annica Törneryd, the moderator who was right there on stage interviewing and having meaningful conversations with the speakers, the creator of all the questions and the presentation, the one delivering a professional and sophisticated conference that created a very positive energy in the room (slightly uncomfortable to write these positive words about myself, so I must share that these words are echoes from the audience), co-organizer of the event and advisor to the Ambassador. There was however a quick mention of our names and business names in the very last paragraph, but no photo and not a word about “our creation”, our opinions or our work to create this event.
How does it feel? Well, it is lovely to see our work in the news, of course. We’re very grateful for that. Speaking for myself, at the end of the day, I still need to feed my children, and myself. I need to make a living. I want to see my hard work, passion, dedication and commitment to creating a great event, bringing some return to me. I say that without feeling the least bit selfish, and with all rights, after the months of work I invested in this project. I don’t want to see “just” the BIG NAMES who already have their empires and are in the press because they are “worth more” to the newspaper. That’s disgusting. It’s ugly.
“It’s using the little player to please the big player, when the only one who really needs the visibility is the little one.”
The feeling that you’ve been cheated on is not nice. It’s way beyond not nice. It’s so painful it makes that little voice in your head start pushing you down, wondering if you’re on the wrong track. Should you perhaps eat some humble pie and go back to a paid job, live unhappy with unfulfilled dreams and giving up on all your values and desire to be a great role model to your children, just to be able to pay the bills. If anyone feels the need to say, that to pay the bills and have a secure job for your children is what defines being a great role model, we’re just of very different opinions and values. But yes, the very painful reality is that many women entrepreneurs who try to start a business have to do just that; give up on their passion and happiness and go back to a more secure situation, and be a good mother. An unfulfilled, sad, good mother. I will not go into details about how good of a mother you are when you feel unfulfilled and sad.
The second article I saw was even worse. It basically turned the whole conference into ONE single point of the program, the one about the Secretary of State and the statistics of a study sponsored by the Ministry of Economy. The article sounds as if the Secretary of State has a nice agenda to “Valoriser les parcours féminins” (to enhance women in their career), and that’s it. It made me angry, because it’s so disrespectful to “us”, the women entrepreneurs who are behind and in the middle of this conference, running start-up businesses. And then I got angry at myself for wasting energy on people who have such a lack of bravery that they only write about the big names, and totally disregard “the real deal” about REAL people, who fight real battles and overcome great challenges, who truly make dreams come true and are a source of inspiration and empowerment to many. They had the GOLDEN opportunity to write about that EXACT thing. And they could have done so many beautiful things to support and enhance local women entrepreneurs, just by picking the appropriate words. But why would you want to write about that, they are not the Secretary of State, or the most well-known business profile in the country, they’re just some woman trying to make a difference. Who the duck wants to hear about that?! I wrote Duck, but you can read what I think. It might be that the article was paid for, just like we could have paid for an article – if we had a budget for that, and in that case, by all means, of course the article should be about their agenda exclusively. I hope they paid for it.
If that was the case, that the big institution paid for a nice article and got increased visibility, while the small entrepreneur works themselves to pieces, with no means to pay for visibility, working really hard to create great things that the big players are invited to be a small part of, but they end up getting all the visibility for it – the situation and their statistics will never change. The big institution with all the money gets the press coverage and the small entrepreneurs without budget get passed by.
Let me make it very clear that I have absolutely NOTHING against the Secretary of State, honorary guests, people from the Ministry of Economy or all our powerful speakers who are well-known to most. On the contrary, I am both happy and grateful that they wanted to be part of our fantastic conference and networking. My reaction is towards the press, what they value, focus on and how they choose to portrait local events on important topics, in general.
As this article is not some emotional rant, I want to share a few ideas that I think would show that there is a true intention in wanting to support women entrepreneurs:
- Write about us! Let us have some space in the press and help spread the word of our individual talents and businesses. Not just by offering paid ads and articles, but share our stories, because they are interesting and part of society. The visibility would be such a great support and encouragement and could actually lead to new clients, as more people would find out about the business. This could help change the statistics, for real. Without investing millions in setting up new systems or funds. The power of visibility!
- Start a scholarship that women entrepreneurs who are really serious about creating a positive situation for themselves, combining their talents with the needs of their family, can apply for and get financial support during their first year of activity.
- Host projects and competitions with an award to entrepreneurial women in start-up situations, on topics and themes that benefit both the society and the small business owner. This would be a great opportunity for local press to help spread the word about both the projects AND about the small businesses, a crucial factor for the survival of the start-up company. A win-win situation for all.
I wrote a post on Facebook on the topic of small vs big names in local press. Here it is:
“An open invitation here (possibly seen and interpreted as provocation): to an awesome journalist, TV station, radio or other media who’d be BRAVE enough to not just write about the persons in powerful positions, but to shine the light on, and expose the smaller profiles, the entrepreneurs who are working hard and struggling to change the statistics of women in business and make their business successful; like Christine Hansen, founder of Sleep Like A Boss, myself, founder of ACT2exceed or one of our excellent exhibitors like Cecilie Berge Rigneus, Nancy Wendt, Julie Conrad, Catharina Biver, Clare Marie Trono, Marise Hyman, Claudine Schmitt and Theresa Baumgärtner.
We’re here, and ready to share inspiring, empowering and brutally honest stories about what it’s like being a start-up company in Luxembourg.”
Interesting to see that the post immediately got a comment from another female entrepreneur who has given up a safe career to start a business working with her passion of being a creative artist. This is what she wrote:
“Thank you Annica for being brave to write it out! This is actually part of why we the small businesses struggle so much. This exactly!! There needs to be a mentality change regarding that in Luxembourg!!! I’m tired of just being interesting for selling advertisement spots to …..”
Imagine if one of the articles had actually talked about the women entrepreneurs behind the conference, who in my own opinion have truly earned a nice article in the news. Or one of the local entrepreneurial exhibitors mentioned above, to hear their journey and greatest advice, their encouragements and support, THAT would have been interesting. It would have fueled the fires of the women who fight to support their family by making a difference, doing what they love. It would have inspired those who dream about it but lack the inspiration to take the first step. It would have empowered the ones who have started out but are not yet seeing the rewards of their hard work. It would have given an honest portrayal of REAL women, living ordinary lives with extraordinary dreams. It could actually make a difference in people’s lives.
Let us read articles about things that matter. Not JUST about what the big names are doing, especially not when they get all the glory and light that someone else should have had.