Diane Stadnyk knows how to get people organized.
The RM of Hanover resident is the owner of Embracing Simplicity, a recently launched business that help people better manage their time, set goals, and clear clutter in their homes and offices.
She’s also putting those organizational skills to use as volunteer president of the Women’s Business Network, a southeastern Manitoba women’s business group.
The group was set up to help women start and sustain their businesses, said Stadnyk. It has nearly 50 members and holds monthly breakfast meetings that feature speakers and a chance to swap stories about challenges faced in their businesses.
“It’s all about learning from one another,” said Stadnyk.
Table topics have ranged from how to handle donation requests to finding economical ways to advertise, said Stadnyk.
It’s a diverse group and includes lawyers, financial planners, gift shop owners, marriage commissioners, photographers, B-and-B owners, market gardeners, pharmacists, artists, and reflexologists. Other members offer specialized products and services such as wig sales and website management and design. The business owners are located throughout southeast Manitoba, in communities such as La Broquerie, Niverville, and Landmark.
Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives supports the network with rural leadership specialist Tracey Drabyk-Zirk serving on its executive and acting as a liaison between the group and government.
All members — who pay a $50 fee to join — are at different stages in business, and some are exploring an idea for a business start-up, said Stadnyk.
But they share the goal of getting better at what they do by learning through the experiences of each other.
“I think women approach business a little differently,” she said. “The women I know in this network all really want to use their gifts and talents to help others to succeed and reach their full potential.”
The network began 10 years ago with just three or four members. All were looking for learning experiences and support that wasn’t offered by local chambers of commerce, said Anni Markmann, one of the founders.
“They were just looking for a different type of support and networking group,” said Markmann, a financial planner with Ste. Anne’s Tax Service.
Many female entrepreneurs don’t feel comfortable seeking advice on business struggles or issues in a male-dominated business group, she said.
“We were looking for an open, comfortable environment where you could say ‘I have a problem with this’ or ‘Does anyone know how to help me with this?’” she said.
Annette Tetrault became a network member a little over a year ago, after opening AnGer Fitness, a 24-hour gym in La Broquerie.
She said she’s learned from speakers who have dealt with topics such as customer relations, advertising, and using social media. The interaction with other business owners is also key, she added.
“I do like those opportunities for talking with other women, plus I’ve gotten some business out of it,” she said.
Joining a network can be one of the best decisions a new or expanding business owner ever makes, said Sandra Altner, CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Centre.
“Networks are superb mechanisms not only to build business, but to build yourself as an entrepreneur,” she said.
Women tend to excel at networking because “they know it’s as much about giving as getting,” she said.
Rural business people, women and men, share a number of distinct challenges, and one notable advantage, she added.
First, they are well-placed to identify a need for a product and service. And they’re a known commodity, too.
“It’s easier to start and sustain a business where you are known and trusted and it’s also easier to find those niches that aren’t filled yet,” said Altner.
The challenges include seeking out business advice, training and mentorship, and the awkwardness they may feel dealing with local financial institutions.
“A great many entrepreneurs are generally loath to look for financial support within their own community,” she said. “It’s because the people who make those decisions are their neighbours.”
Unfortunately, the gauntlet entrepreneurial women run also includes sexism.
“Sadly, that still exists,” said Altner. “A woman’s competence is more likely to be challenged than that of a male entrepreneur. They have to work a lot harder to prove themselves competent and capable than their male counterparts.”
Women are often primary managers and caregivers in families as well, and face additional challenges balancing all their various responsibilities.
But successful businesswomen make major contributions to their community, and not just by keeping storefronts occupied and Main Streets vibrant. Studies show businesses owned by women contribute more to their communities, in terms of sponsorships and supports for community-based activities, than those owned by men, Altner said.
“That isn’t to say men aren’t great supporters and sponsors where it counts, but there is a greater predilection for this among women-owned businesses,” she said.
The Women’s Business Network of southeastern Manitoba is itself an example of that kind of community building.
“They start with a nucleus of two or three very strong women who, at least in the beginning, do all the work, and reach out and get their colleagues and their cousins and their friends to show up,” said Altner. “Then people realize there’s a real benefit to this and not just in providing business for each other, but in learning and dealing with issues and sharing ideas.”