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Solving a Social Challenge can Become a Business
By Beverley Sinton
Founder and CEO Pink Link Pages
Colleen thank you for agreeing to this interview; I am really interested to know more about Pink Link Pages(1). Can you tell us more about it? What gave you the idea to start the Pink Link Pages?
Pink Link Pages is still in the pilot stage…but the vision is to create regional directories of women-owned and women run businesses…(women run being women who are CEO’s or sit on corporate boards)..
Now you may be asking, “why do we need this?” Well, in doing some research about women-owned businesses in the US, I learned that only about 15% of corporate board seats are held by women and only about 3% of fortune 500 companies have women CEO's! Further, I learned about women-owned businesses that women own 29% of all businesses and yet generate only 4% of all business revenues in the country. I also learned that women in most other countries around the world fair even worse than this in their business endeavors.
What I found most frustrating was that I knew from other research that I had done that women buy 80-85% of all goods and services!
So I started telling women I knew (and some I did not, like women I met in line at the grocery store or at the doctor’s office)…this alarming statistic of how little women-owned businesses generate in revenues…and then I asked them the simple question, “would you go out of your way to buy from a woman-owned business.” Their answer came back a resounding YES! 100% of the women I talked with said that they would go out of their way to buy from a woman-owned business!
FANTASTIC, Right? Well, no…. because the next thing they said to me was this…”so how do I find out who the women-owned businesses are?”
That was the “AHA” moment…. That was when I knew that someone needed to solve this problem and let the world know who the women-owned businesses are.
So, I created a website, www.pinklinkpages.com and started to float the idea of buying preferentially from women-owned businesses on LinkedIn as a testing ground. But I quickly learned that this was something that needed to be done as an American (or US) regional endeavor, not as one big directory for the whole world.
I also discovered a few of these types of directories of women-owned businesses in other parts of the US…but none of them are what you would call, “highly successful”…so I have been studying the situation to learn how to more effectively market this idea.
I also decided to add women-run businesses in the directories to include women in the corporate world in CEO positions or who serve on corporate boards because women leadership in business at all levels needs to be supported and increased and there are very few women in these high levels in the corporate world.
So you see, this is a “work in progress”…and while not ready for “prime time” yet, we are definitely moving forward and working out the kinks to develop a quality product.
The vision is that these directories will actually be franchise opportunities for women all over the world…and not only support local women’s businesses, but at the same time create women-owned business opportunities!
How do you choose which businessescan advertise in Pink Link Pages? Why did you choose the color Pink?
”Women-owned businesses…and women-run businesses” is the criteria. We are not so strict as to require only “certified women-owned businesses”…but we do ask for a photo of the owner to help us identify her gender. We also ask for proof (a business license for example) that a woman owns the business. There can be some grey lines here…but I say, “I don’t ask to look up anyone’s skirt” so, if someone defines themselves as a woman, that is the criteria we go by. However, we have weeded out the occasional man’s business who is just looking for exposure through our directory.
Interestingly, while most men and women have been supportive of this initiative, some men have scorned it (and surprisingly even some women) who see it as “discriminating.” To those people I can only say that I see this as supportive for a portion of the population that has in fact been discriminated against for years. It is not illegal to have clubs or initiatives that support certain populations. Discrimination would be not allowing other populations to do the same thing for their population if they wanted to. No one is stopping anyone from doing it for others who may want to.
As for the color “Pink”…well, that is pretty universally recognized as the color that represents the female gender (as blue does for boys)…but as we further develop this initiative, the name may be changing as well (although we will likely remain true in honoring the color pink in the publication.
Do people have to register before they can use the Pink Link pages? Do you have an idea if any men use the Pages? If men do use Pink Link, do you know how many?
The website details how a woman can post their business in the directory and provides the rules for doing so…although, as I explained, we are really just in the pilot stages right now…so we are not actively engaging women to post their businesses unless they really want to.
I do know that there have been male visitors to the site who have contacted some of the women business owners to purchase goods or services offered. We certainly welcome men to buy from the women-owned businesses for sure!
However, as with all online media, there are also occasionally men seeking companionship and using “unusual sources” for finding potential mates. These things happen on lots of websites where people are interacting, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. People can be as socially inappropriate online as much as they can in person. What I recommend to women in the directory is to be polite to these men and to simply refer men making such advances and inquiries to websites that would be more appropriate to fulfill their needs and interests such as eharmony.com or match.com.
Do the women who use the Pink Link Pages have any sort of contact with each other? (The contact could be through social media or actual meetings)
Yes, as for social media, I have established three groups on LinkedIn as part of this Pink Link Pages pilot. One is strictly for the women who have posted a business in the directory called “Pink Link pages, ideas and interactions”. Another group is open to anyone, male or female, who would like to discuss women’s issues and /or the directory. That group is called “Pink Link pages public forum”. The third group is called “women-owned business Pink Link Pages shameless self-promotion” and is only for women. It is a group for all women who own businesses so they can practice and learn how to promote their businesses without having to be “modest” in front of men as is the custom still for many women. The dynamics of women change dramatically when they are in the presence of men. This is why “girl-only” schools help young women to be bold, take more interest in the sciences etc. It is just a fact of nature that women will yield to men and will be more submissive when men are present. Please understand, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with that…the sexual tensions between men and women are what makes the world go around as they say…But, what I am suggesting is that by providing women only forums for women to learn how to be more outspoken, it provides them an opportunity to find a stronger voice and helps them to become more financially self-sustaining. If you do research on women, it is clear that women are definitely more impoverished than men worldwide…and learning to become more outspoken and confident helps women become more financially and politically empowered in the world. There is also a twitter feed @pinklinkpages
As part of the experimenting of this pilot, we also held a “meet-up” for local women for about two years. The local women came together to discuss how best to promote and distribute the product…. They also shared other ideas for what they felt women needed. It was very informative and has helped to shape the way this initiative will be rolled out.
Has it been easy to establish the Pink Link Pages or have you had some problems along the way. If you had problems can you tell us how you solved them? Can you give us an idea about your plans for the future?
There have been lots and lots of problems…LOL! Let’s see…Well, for starters, the poor state of the economy has certainly not helped. Additionally, Pink Link Pages was threatened with a lawsuit over the name of the directory and turned down for a trademark. We have also had people copy the website we created almost exactly, and try to do it on their own…We have had hackers try to destroy the website, had people crucify the idea on social media due to their feelings that it is discriminatory, etc…
There have been more problems than we have time to discuss! Here is the thing about problems…you deal with them one at a time. Step by step, you learn from what goes wrong. As they say, if it does not kill you, it makes you stronger. I have learned a lot. I also became sort of “zen” about the whole initiative…in that if it is meant to be, it will happen. Yes, you put all of your money and effort, and hopes and dreams into it, but there is also a degree of providence as to whether it all comes to fruition
And, as for people who try to create what I have and am creating, Good luck! LOL! I know what the problems are, I have already been there and I know what they have yet to face in trying to do this. But, ultimately, I am on a mission to improve the lot of women in the world. So if someone else does do this successfully before I get it done, I will still have won. For me, it is not about the money. It is about the mission. But, I also know that it will have to become about the money to be successful, and work so that other women who own the franchises will be successful on doing so.
As for plans for the future, Pink Link Pages is part of a larger initiative called FemmeSpeak! The mission of FemmeSpeak! is to empower all women, not just women business owners and women business leaders. FemmeSpeak! is envisioned to be a forum for local women to gather around, to support one another, to share resources, to provide an outlet for women to express themselves, Think of it as a regional women’s club where the club members create their own magazine and provide content for their own local website (with help and guidance from the FemmeSpeak! National office)… A sorority of sorts…but inclusive of all women in the region…not just a select few. Pink link Pages will be a revenue generating product of that club.
The club will be able to be run by a woman entrepreneur as a for-profit company or may be run as a non-profit with an executive director. But only one license will be offered to each region and regional boundaries will be determined by the FemmeSpeak! National office. This is a big, cumbersome project with lots of moving parts. It has taken a long time to work out a lot of the details, overcome many obstacles, and construct a working model, but there has been a lot of interest globally, and we expect to have a working model available by the end of 2016. My goal is to have 20 FemmeSpeak! regions established by 2020….
Colleen I was wondering if you have any other ideas for encouraging women business owners?
Yes, I would recommend that women think hard upfront about the business they are creating and how to make it scalable. The reason women-owned businesses are so small and create such low levels of revenue is because women typically are thinking about what needs to be done to support themselves and their families first…but they are not thinking BIG. So, for example, women may go to craft fairs or flea markets to sell their creations…or they may be a little more sophisticated and sell online or even have a “main street” business. But women need to think about how to turn their hobby business into big business. We need to get women to understand the difference between local business and traded business clusters (those businesses that have global markets and are exposed to competition from other regions).
That will be a the real tipping point for women-owned businesses…helping them to recognize that they can play in the big leagues…they can get access to large sums of capital to grow their businesses, and they can run large, international corporations just as well as any man can. Some of this is about providing education, some of it is about providing confidence, some of it is about connecting women to resources and networking opportunities, and a lot of it is about encouraging supporting and even collaborating.
I am excited to get FemmeSpeak! and Pink Link Pages going to provide this system of support for women world-wide. Women can be just as financially successful as men, but women need some education and a lot of confidence building. Men learned long ago that strong networking is what takes them to the top of their profession. Women simply need to learn that lesson…that we are all stronger when we support one another.
Do you have any other aims (professional or private) that you would like to share with us?
Yes, I am also the founder, President and CEO of the North East Regional Employment and Training Association (www.nereta.org) which is an organization in the northeastern US that supports workforce development efforts. I am a strong advocate of getting economic development entities to work collaboratively with workforce development entities (such as education and training providers) to proactively plan for and thereby create the pools of talent needed locally to attract and expand business in the region and provide good quality jobs for the citizens of that region.
I guess you could say that both my work with Pink Link Pages/FemmeSpeak! and NERETA is about working toward a world that values and utilizes the highest potential of all citizens.
Colleen LaRose has 20 years’ experience in workforce development and economic development public policy at the local, state and federal levels. In 2012, she founded the North East Regional Employment and Training Association (nereta.org) to encourage government, business, economic development and education to collaborate more effectively on workforce development issues. Through NERETA, Colleen provides professional development webinars, conference presentations, articles, and consultation services. Her graduate work was in public relations and higher education administration at Rowan University.
She is also a strong advocate of women and is establishing a global initiative for women called FemmeSpeak! whose mission is to support and empower women on a region by region basis and includes advocating support for women-owned and women-run businesses through the online directory www.pinklinkpages.com.
P + 1 908 995 7718
Fund me at gofundme.com/up387k
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Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nereta, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.