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Woman of the Week: Ann Kaplan

Think big — that’s Ann Kaplan’s biggest piece of advice for those wanting to succeed in business.

“I wish I had thought bigger,” she said. “Once I looked back and saw how big we had become, I thought ‘why didn’t I envision that when I was thinking of building the business?'”

Kaplan is president and CEO of iFinance Canada inc., a money-lending company that offers loans for elective surgeries, veterinary services, dental, and home improvement financing — items that would otherwise be difficult to get a loan from the bank. She built the corporation from nothing, relishing in the chance to pitch her ideas and grow.

Kaplan originally went to school for interior design, but once she opened up her own store, dealt with her own clients, and got a taste for the back room dealings of business, she was hooked. She now has an MBA in finance, a Masters of Science in Business, a Corporate Governance designation (ICD.d) and is completing her PhD thesis, which involves creating an algorithm that would determine whether a consumer would default on a loan.

All of her hard work has resulted in an influx of awards, the most recent being the PROFIT Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship as part of the 23rd annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She said she cried when she found out she had won. “I was taken aback. I knew I was a finalist, but there were very qualified candidates.”

Kaplan was also recognized in 2000, a few years after the creation of Medicard Finance Inc., her first enterprise which is now under the iFinance umbrella, as Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year, Start-Up. In 2001, she won the Peak Award of Excellence in Finance. Kaplan has been on the Canada’s Profit Top 100 Companies nine times and has held a place on the Canadian W100 list eight times. She was inducted in the WXN Hall of Fame in 2014 after being named as one of Canada’s top three Female Business Leaders and as Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. If that isn’t enough, she has also written four books — and these are only some of her notable achievements.

Despite her success, Kaplan remains humble and modest, speaking with a dry sense of humour — “verbal volleyball” she calls it, a skill that makes her popular with bankers and businessmen. Her time is split between work and her large family of eight kids, which means the word ‘relax’ isn’t in her vocabulary. Kaplan gets her hair done three to four times a week, and schedules in time for manicures and pedicures, but even then she has her laptop on hand. “No time is wasted,” she says.

What’s unique about Kaplan is that after nearly 20 years building iFinance, she still sees the opportunity for growth and education. But, what else made her start-up a success? Kaplan spoke with Women’s Post over the phone to go through a few tips on pitching to investors or lenders. According to Kaplan, the first, and most important aspect of a pitch, is to have an idea. This idea must help solve a problem. “That’s what a good business model is. Whether that is an App or providing instant financing that’s unsecured.”

Kaplan explains that the internet is inundated with everything. An idea must stand out and it must be able to provide a service that solves a specific problem. This means that people will actually be motivated to use the product or service you are pitching.

The next step is preparedness — be prepared to demonstrate your market, competition, and uniqueness. Understanding how your business is going to grow and what investors are going to get in return is crucial to landing a pitch. “There are great things like crowd-funding, but even in that you need to be prepared and be able to display the vision.”

In addition to knowing the worth of your business endeavour and of the company you are pitching to, it’s also important to also understand your own worth. Don’t undersell.

Finally, it’s all about communication and confidence. If you are able to explain in a concise manner how investing in your idea will be mutually beneficial, how the idea will be a success, and how you plan on making it into a larger, bigger entity, there is no reason why the pitch shouldn’t be considered.

For Kaplan, the independence that comes from creating a business from scratch is empowering. “The first time someone besides your mother buys something — it’s exciting!” That’s why it’s so important to continue to grow and think of new ideas, expand, and adapt to the new technology available. Kaplan is in the middle of a new and exciting enterprise called Brix Exchange, a Canadian crowd-funding portal for real estate and technology start-ups. It will be the first regulated portal of its kind in Canada.

The biggest piece of advice Kaplan can give, besides thinking big, is to follow your dreams. You can have everything if you are organized.

“Young women … they come to talk about handling their boyfriend who are concerned they are not spending enough time with them. It sounds like I’m generalizing, but it’s very common,” she said. “Family will come, but you should set yourself for your future.”

“Being able to walk away and do what makes you happy is empowering.”

Ann Kaplan is currently reading “So Anyway” by John Cleese.

 

GlobeTrotter Woman: Luggage and handbags for the professional woman

The 21st century businesswoman is a traveller. Deals are now brokered on trains, planes and automobiles, and important meetings can happen at a moments notice. It’s important to have the necessary equipment to deal with these types of business scenarios, and GlobeTrotter Woman has you covered.

GlobeTrotter Woman offers sleek and elegant luggage equipment and accessories that will meet the needs of the professional women on-the-go. The items they sell are unique and stylish—each has been hand-selected to ensure the highest quality. The products are presented in a beautifully clean website that is easy to navigate, so you can shop from the comfort of your home.

The company’s goal is the following: “We want to bring you a touch of elegance and practicality as you conquer the world.” And their products really do meet that criteria.

Their Ultra-Light Luxurious Luggage Set is made of jute tweed and consists of five elements. It has two wheeled Pullmans, one duffel bag, one carry-on and one garment bag. The entire set is priced at a reasonable $239.99. Other products of note include a security-friendly laptop bag (which is TSA compliant) and a genuine leather carry-on rolling laptop briefcase. Both are professional looking and practical—two aspects that are common in all of GlobeTrotter’s products.

Travel accessories include high resolution binoculars, phone charging wallets, and suitcase GPS trackers. The company also offers sport gear and electronics. All of these items are great to have in your bag in case of emergency meetings or trips.

The company also launched their G Lux Line this week, which includes a number of elegant and classy high-end leather bags. These gorgeous bags are made to order, by hand, in Italy.

GlobeTrotter is a startup that understands the international aspect of business and knows that professional women deserve to use the best tools out there .

PRACTICAL. RESISTANT. ELEGANT.
​JUST LIKE YOU.

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Woman of The Week: Elena Mayer

Last week, I had the chance to attend the Hard Hats and High Heels, an event hosted by Women Who Rock at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As an informal networking organization, the Canadian fashion industry and women in the mining industry came together for the night, looking to accomplish their goal of empowering women who work in the industry. I sat down with the founder of the organization, Elena Mayer, before the show for some insider information on the unique initiative.

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Can you tell me about Women Who Rock? 

Women Who Rock is a organization, which started last year, with the mission to attract and attain more women in the mining industry. I founded it while I was still a student at the Schulich School of Business. The reason why I did it is because I felt there was a bit of a disconnect between junior women and senior women in the industry. For one thing, women didn’t know about the opportunities they have in mining. Secondly, women already in the mining industry had trouble connecting with their colleagues. It all started by a few socials.  When more and more women began to join these socials, I decided to start this organization to allow women to have a more formal umbrella. It quickly turned from a social setting to an empowering organization.

What inspired you to start this organization? 

A number of mentors and trailblazers in the mining industry inspired me. It is quite male dominated. Only 11% of those in the industry are women. These women, in addition, are very disconnected from one another. I experienced this myself when I was 1 of 3 female students in the global mining management program. But my professors and other women in the industry were so inspiring and so passionate about it that I thought why not do something like that?

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Why did you decide to go into the mining industry? 

I actually have a legal background. I’m a lawyer. Because I speak Spanish, I was put on all Spanish speaking files and 90% of them were mining cases. But what really got me interested was the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention 2011 when I had to go and promote my firm. That’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

How do you suppose women can break the barrier of being the minority in such a male dominated industry? 

I think, and this is both from research and statistics, that a lot of times, women lack confidence and suppress their opinions, especially when surrounded by males. There are some progressive companies that create programs. They have forums for women to share their idea and allow them to realize that their ideas are worth something. Women, have the tendency, even though their idea is valuable, to not share their ideas until they are a 100% sure. Women Who Rock hosts seminars with the basis of giving women confidence to speak up. What we strive to do is to create out of the box events, such as Hard Hats and High Heels, that will give women an opportunity to speak up and create a sense of self confidence. Learning all of this, for women especially, starts with the way we look and the way we dress.

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How important do you think it is to dress well? 

It’s not necessarily about fashion sense, it’s about being comfortable expressing yourself. For a very long time, women had to choose between being feminine and beautiful or being smart and intelligent. If you’re smart, we are taught to tone down our sense of fashion. So what we’re trying to do now is to show that the new generation of business women do not have to choose between one or the other. You can still be fashionable and feminine and love colours and be smart and intelligent to pursue a career just like men do.

 

What advice do you have for women in other industries? 

I think we all have a common ground as women. We like to socialize, we like to talk, and we like fun events. Creating a sense of comradeship no matter what level and what type of a job you’re doing is very important as shown by our models today. Our models today are those who work in the mining industry. They’re ideologists, they’re engineers, they’re assistants. What they have in common is fashion. They want to dress the way they want but they also need to learn the right way to do so. We want to help the fashionistas succeed in a corporate world.

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What are you most looking forward to tonight? 

I’m looking forward to the panel discussion. Tonight is all about trial and error. We’re bringing two distinct industries together. Having two panelists from the mining industry and two panelists from the fashion industry allows us to be united by the same goal – promoting gender diversity. We want to give women the confidence to express their brain and their beauty. I’m hoping that we can show, through this event, that we’re not all that different.

 

Olivia Pope: PR Mastermind & Fashion Goddess

Olivia Pope has been handling tricky situations for the past four years on ABC’s hit show, Scandal. With the Season 4 finale airing tonight, its only fair that we look a back at all the Scandalous fashion statements Pope has made strutting down Washington, DC. Scandal withdrawal may cause some depression amongst fans but there’s no need to worry because actress Kerry Washington and her team are giving you the opportunity to channel your inner Olivia Pope with these pieces at The Limited. Now you, too, can be the powerhouse of your office!

Lace it Up

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Bring femininity into the office with this lace overlay skirt. The black and white contrast creates a bold statement but still allows you to play with the piece, pairing it with either a bright or neutral colored top. Who says business casual can’t be fashion forward?

Keep it a Mystery  

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Stay warm and chic on cool, spring mornings with this tailored trench coat. At under $120, this structured look can be all you need to pull your look together. The bright white adds freshness and confidence to your outfit while the length adds an elongating effect.

Day to Night 

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Don’t let your social life take a toll! Take your work outfit from day to night with this beautiful lace insert dress. The structured look shows off your curves while still maintaining professionalism. Wear it with simplicity or add a statement necklace to take this outfit from 100 to 110.

Power Up in Pants 

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Everyone needs a pant suit in their wardrobe. At just under $50 (whoa!), these wide leg trouser pants  can get you feeling like a Pope without the price. Perfect for busy days on the run, the right dress pants are an essential for any business lady.

There you have it! Master her strut, obtain some sass, and show off that bad-ass persona all at once with these perfect pieces for your professional wardrobe!

5 must-have tips to becoming your own boss

Being an entrepreneur is a dream for so many people; and, it was (and is) a dream I strive to realize every single day. The idea of being your own boss and working in a field that you’re interested in and passionate about is a luxury that many don’t get to live in their 9 to 5. The truth is, though, that a lot of new businesses fail within the first three years. So, I thought I’d share some personal revelations and experiences in planning my own entrepreneurial journey.

Is being your own boss right for you?

The first thing I needed to come to terms with is that not everyone can cut it. I needed to figure out whether or not being an entrepreneur was right for me and my family. Every successful business owner I know works above and beyond the 40 hour work week and more than conventional jobs. There are, of course, benefits to being your own boss. Every day, I put my own ideas into motion, and I make decisions that define the course of my company. I enjoy the limitless potential to create higher goals to attain and to earn more money. But, before embracing those advantages, I had to take the time to think it through. Make sure you’re the kind of person who likes to give yourself challenges taking on a new project and sees possibilities where others see problems. Dreams play a role, but what counts is action, and if you’re willing to put in the work, it is absolutely possible to influence your destiny.

Let’s develop your business plan

After making sure that I was prepared for and committed to everything that comes with running your own business, it was time to develop my ideas and my business plan.  This is where the work begins.  A dynamic business plan can help you determine the path you plan to take with your company, turn ideas into a tangible constructed business, and is even necessary in securing financing from lenders and investors.  It can help in identifying weaknesses in terms of capabilities or local competition, and can communicate your vision to potential colleagues or partners. If you want to be a business owner, regardless of the industry, your first capability should be your product or service, but your second capability should always be business itself. If you don’t know what an Executive Summary or an Operational Plan is, Google it, research it, and learn! It’ll be the first of many hats you’ll have to wear as a small business owner. Trust me.

Let’s think about your brand

Then came the logistics. I had to choose a name for my business — something unique and easy to remember — and register my business with the necessary levels of government. For me, that involved applying for a Business Number, which serves as my account number for dealing with the government regarding payroll, taxes, and other activities. It’s also what I used to open a business bank account so I could start keeping my personal money away from my business money. My advice is to do this right from the start to avoid potentially devastating complications down the line.

Where will the start-up money come from?

Financing is often the most challenging aspect of starting a business, but when I started out, I found that there were so many little known resources available out there to get your business off the ground. The government provides financing to help start-up businesses, some that need to be repaid and some that don’t. There are also various private sector financing opportunities that you might be able to secure. Do your research and take advantage of the resources that exist.

Take action!

The most important part, however, is what comes every day as an entrepreneur. Put your dreams into action, and get ready to roll your sleeves up and delve right in! This is your moment to shine and to build an empire out of nothing! It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without some sleepless nights and stressful moments, but if you’re willing to put in the work, the sky’s the limit!

Good luck!

How to raise your net worth

Often when asked, it’ll take me a few seconds of thinking to remember my shoe size, my dress size, or my home phone number. Never my net worth; that’s always top of mind. Is that backwards? Considering my priorities and measure of personal success, I really don’t think it is. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t want to give off the impression that a person’s net worth is the be all and end all of how they should be valued and treated as human beings, but I do think it’s a significant qualifying factor to a person’s success in business. There are a thousand business people and entrepreneurs who can talk a good game, but at the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie.

Your net worth is basically how much money you’d be left with if you subtracted all your debts from all your assets. I put a substantial amount of thought and energy into increasing my own personal net worth, and the habits I’ve developed have proven to be beneficial, not only from a personal standpoint, but also for my business and for my family. The simplest ways to increase your net worth are to purchase assets and to pay off debts.

Purchase Assets

One of the first lessons I learned, however, was that not every asset purchase you make will actually help you build your net worth. For example, a new car, unless it’s a collector’s item or vintage automobile, will depreciate faster than almost any other asset you could purchase. Forty thousand dollars spent this year could be worth $10,000 less next year. Any assets you purchase need to at the very least remain stable or ideally increase in value over time. I prefer to increase my net worth by way of real-estate, artwork and silver bars (a bit of a gamble, but I’ve found still more stable than gold). Others may choose to purchase rare coins, and my mother is partial to handmade Persian rugs. All these things will help in building your net worth.

Pay Off Debts

Another way to build your net worth is to pay off your debts—even if you have to start off with the small ones. Pay off your car loans, your student loans and your credit cards. If you have to prioritize, start with the high-interest debt first, or any other debt where the interest is not tax deductible.

Invest

It may also be worth it to use debt to build your net worth. This is especially the case when it comes to investing in real estate, where the debt you incur with a mortgage is being used to purchase an asset that will appreciate in value. This is always a risk of course, since there’s no way to know for sure whether an asset will actually appreciate, but there are lower risks involved if you focus on assets that have a habit of increasing in value.

As a business person, your net worth is an important figure to consider in your financial goals. Decide what your net worth goal is, and then do whatever needs to be done to get there. Work hard, make the sacrifices and ultimately, you’ll reap the rewards!

Here’s the first step in getting ahead in your career

Those who know me best know that I take a decidedly flowerchild approach to the way I conduct myself in business. As focused as I may be on success and financial rewards, I try my best to create and operate within a universally free-spirited domain, and I encourage those around me to do the same. I’ve never responded well to the rigidity and formality of the mainstream corporate sphere. So, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to my little circle that one of the main contributing factors to my business success is also touted by new age, likeminded flowerchildren like myself as a means to living a successful and fulfilling life: visualization.

Visualization is powerful. In my own day-to-day experience, I find that visualizing my business goals is often a foolproof way to attract the outcome and energy that I want.  But the practice itself, at least for me, is not as free-spirited and whimsical as some might believe.  For me, it’s actually pretty practical and methodical.

Before I visualize what it is that I want, I really have to sit down and work out exactly what that is. I set concrete, specific goals for myself, and I always make sure to include timelines. Writing them out so I can refer to them whenever I need to is also really important to my whole process.

Then I just use my imagination! I put myself in the center of it all, and visualize everything as if it’s happening right now, in this very moment. I imagine what it feels like and looks like to have achieved the goals I have set for myself, and I picture everything to the tiniest detail. I know what colour my office walls are, I know what artwork I have hanging, and what plants I have on my desk. I picture myself doing work that I love, working with my ideal clients, making my ideal income, and having enough time off for my friends and family.  I think about how I’ll feel – the sense of security and confidence I’ll feel as my bank balance increases. It’s not a snapshot or a photo, but my own little mini movie that allows me to breathe in the positive feelings that I experience as I imagine my ideal life.

The result? When I take the time every once in a while to indulge in a little visualization, I often find myself more prepared, more confident, and more believing of the fact that I can achieve any goal I set for myself. I’m energized and completely ready to start my day!

Of course, the simple act of visualization is really just a starting point – actually, maybe a pre-starting point.  The real fun comes in activating that vision and turning it into reality.

3 ways to market yourself and your business

In adding a new capability to my firm’s services this year, one of the biggest tasks I have ahead of me is creating a buzz for this new venture while balancing any investments with potential returns.  I’m not naïve to the state of our economy right now – I hear the constant reports of doom and gloom that seem to permeate the airwaves these days, and my newest real estate project seems especially vulnerable to any sudden turn or drop on this economic rollercoaster.  While I’m an unapologetic optimist, I’m also a businesswoman, so the debate between investing in marketing and promotions and holding on to my cash is a very real one.

So my approach in moving forward this year will be investing in inexpensive promotional activities that offer a key value for the money being spent.

1. Online marketing

For one thing, most of my efforts will be focused on online marketing. The days of ignoring online marketing are definitely gone, and there are many businesses that wouldn’t survive, were it not for the money brought in by traffic to their websites. Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is especially unique, because it allows you to pay only for potential consumers or clients who have actually received your message. Facebook has incorporated some unique PPC advertising methods that I plan on doing a little more research on. The added bonus for this is that it boosts your online presence and could even result in a higher appearance in Google’s organic rankings. Researching Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and seeing how I can drive new traffic to my site will definitely be near the top of my list.

2. Promotional gifts

Promotional gifts are not usually my cup of tea – the idea of spending money on an obscene amount of trinkets and handing them out to any and everybody and then seeing them strewn across the parking lot of an expo on your way to your car after an event is not fun.  (Sorry for the rant, personal experience).  But using gifts to maintain relationships with my best clients, that may be in the market for this newest service stream, could be well worth the bottle of wine and postcard.

3. Word of mouth

But the best type of marketing, I think, might just be the oldest: word of mouth.  It’s low cost, meets business objectives, and is the most compelling way to bring in new customers. Think about it: we’re bombarded with countless messages every day – print ads, radio ads, TV commercials, salesmen, spokespeople – and most of us don’t put much stock into what we hear from any of those mediums until we experience it ourselves. But word of mouth marketing is genuine, because the only way to effectively use it marketing is to deliver a kick-butt product or service. Putting my clients first and developing a continuous referral program where they’re encouraged to talk about my awesome service is something I’ll be putting a lot of energy and effort into.

The timing may be a little scary, but I’m focusing on the quality of my promotions rather than the quantity, and putting myself in the best possible position, even if the worst-case scenario should come true.

This article was previously published on February 7, 2012.