Helping sisters to do it for themselves

  • Stephanie Lee, founder of  Women Who Own and Manage Businesses (WOMB)  (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Stephanie Lee, founder of Women Who Own and Manage Businesses (WOMB) (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

  • Trail blazer: Stephanie Lee, founder of Women Who Own and Manage Businesses (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Trail blazer: Stephanie Lee, founder of Women Who Own and Manage Businesses (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Some people start businesses for a bit of extra cash, others lose their jobs and have no choice.

For Stephanie Lee it was a bit of both.

“I’d been doing marketing for Sandys 360 Sports, Aquatic & Enrichment Centre for two years when it closed in 2013,” she said.

“I was left between a rock and a hard place. The marketing industry in Bermuda is volatile at best.”

But she didn’t panic, because since returning home from college in 2011 she’d been building up a reputation as a social media consultant.

“I launched Soicalee Consulting,” she said.

“I was teaching charities and other organisations how to use social media to achieve their goals.”

At first Ms Lee didn’t think much about what it meant to be female in business.

“Sometimes I’d be in meetings with very high powered business players,” she said.

“Many of them were men. I did notice that sometimes when I tried to put my viewpoint forward they would talk over me. I wasn’t sure if it was because of my gender or my age.”

Looking for more insight she attended a women in business panel discussion in 2015 put on by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation.

“I thought the women would just be talking about what they did,” she said.

“I was amazed when they started going so much deeper.

One woman talked about the challenges of running her own business and balancing family life.

“She struggled to get her kids to school on time,” said Ms Lee.

“Another woman said she was in business, but had faced bankruptcy several times. Emotions really ran high in the room.”

After the event she wanted more, but couldn’t find it.

“There didn’t seem to be an environment where women could feel safe to talk with other women entrepreneurs about the realities of what it means to be a woman in business,” she said.

So in 2015 she created the Facebook page Women Who Own and Manage Businesses in Bermuda (WOMB).

“Within 72 hours I had 200 subscribers,” she said. “I was amazed. Today I have 600 subscribers.

“That just shows you the number of women in this country that are running businesses.”

WOMB activities quickly expanded beyond social media.

In 2016 WOMB started holding networking events, and also designed a competition recognising female entrepreneurs. And yesterday they held their first WOMB Female Vendor Market, where women showcased their businesses.

“I was expecting about 15 women to sign up,” Ms Lee said.

“Then a day before the event my phone started ringing and I started getting e-mails from women wanting to sign up. I was gobsmacked by the last minute sign ups.”

In the end, 25 women took part.

Participants in the women’s market ranged from crafters and bakers to accountants and real estate agents.

Ms Lee hoped the event would help participants gain greater exposure in the marketplace.

She thinks women in Bermuda have a tradition of entrepreneurship.

“Think of all the nail salons, hair salons, and nurseries in Bermuda,” she said. “Most, if not all of them, are owned by women.

“A woman, Pamela Ferreira, owns Marketplace. Sheila Nicoll is the chair of the Argus Group.”

But she said the dynamics of entrepreneurship are changing.

“I am finding that a lot of millennials are finding it difficult to land a job. More and more women my age are starting businesses because they have no choice.

“And I think people of my generation have to be very fluid, because the business world is changing so fast.”

One of WOMB’s success stories involves a trio of women.

“Love My Hair salon owner Roseann Harris, Therapeutic Touch’s Nikkia Samuels and Felica DeRoza of FRD Essentials met at a WOMB networking event,” said Ms Lee. “They’d known each other before but lost track of one another.

“After our event Ms Samuels started doing pop up spa treatments at Ms Harris’ hair salon. Ms DeRoza started selling her beauty products there.

“It just makes me feel so good to see that happening, because of WOMB.”

Ms Lee said one of her challenges was balancing WOMB with the needs of her own business.

“One of the members of WOMB is my sounding board,” said Ms Lee.

“She tells me, you are one person and you have a business to run. You can’t do it all.”

For more information see WOMB Bermuda on Facebook

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Published Nov 30, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 29, 2017 at 9:47 pm)

Helping sisters to do it for themselves

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