Growing and learning
Q: As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we often look back at the people and experiences that helped us get where we are. Who (and what) were your "game-changers," and how did they change the way you look at your life and career?
Reflecting on my 20-year career in the transportation business, there are four game changers that took my business to the next level.
The first was a decision made early to focus on corporate accounts and group transportation. This led to the purchase of Reston Limousine's first bus in 1990. It was an attractive bus with an eye-catching logo on its side, and it became a moving advertisement for Reston Limousine. As a result, we won our first Metro shuttle contract and we were offered our first government contract.
After securing the government contract, a door opened for us and we decided to focus on this niche. Bidding and winning government contracts became our strategy. By providing excellent service, buying new equipment, hiring great drivers and using the latest tools of technology, we single-handedly improved the level of service government agencies were receiving from transportation companies. For the next five years, Reston Limousine won every government shuttle contract awarded in Washington, D.C.
The next major game changer happened after 9/11. Business came to a standstill and the phones were not ringing. Reston Limousine had a million dollars in cancellations.
I made the decision to get out of the office and find new business. I started networking, and attended six to eight events per week. I met people, attended seminars, sipped a lot of wine and ate a lot of cheese! Back at the office, the phones were not ringing. I chose to not give up, but continued to network. I volunteered on committees, co-chaired galas, recruited new members, and soon things changed. I was offered board seats and today I'm a director for many boards. Board-level networking definitely took my career to the next step and brought in many large corporate accounts.
In 2006, another significant change occurred. I had been networking for six years and developing many relationships. Reston Limousine continued to grow, networking was paying off, we were coming out of the downturn, and my business tripled in size in three years. Due to this surge in revenues, I was being asked to speak on panels and tell my story!
Unfortunately, I was terrified of public speaking. I turned down every opportunity to speak and knew deep down inside this was a bad decision. Then I decided to try a public speaking class. Over the next nine weeks, I gave nine speeches, and was videotaped and critiqued. To graduate, I had to deliver a speech in front of 200 people, which I managed to complete.
Accepting public speaking opportunities really took my career to the next level. I now speak six to eight times per year. I volunteer on panels for the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO); Loudoun SBDC, a group for small businesses; Enterprising Women Magazine, and other national women's organizations.
Each time I speak, I grow my network and business contacts. I had the pleasure of speaking at the International Business Women's Conference in Beijing, China in May 2010! I was the first woman to speak on the State of the Industry Panel at the Limousine Digest Convention in Atlantic City this November.
The fourth game-changer was the creation of my own Women's Networking Lunch. A few years ago, I had a lovely woman working for me who suggested I start my own networking lunch series. The program is called "Sterling Women" and it takes place on the second Thursday of the month at the National Conference center in Loudoun County, Virginia. Its mission is to "showcase" women in business.
Each month we feature a speaker who runs a multi-million dollar business in the area. My goal was to have 50 women attend the lunch. Today, over 150 women attend on a monthly basis.
By hosting this program and spending my energies showcasing other women in business, I have been able to get even more PR for myself and Reston Limousine. I've created a database of 5,000 women in business in the local metropoilitan area. And I've become a resource for others looking to tap into my network. My speakers have received press and accolades for their stories -- and the experience has provided me with a great deal of satisfaction.