09/17/2012 05:06 EDT | Updated 11/17/2012 05:12 EST

It Took a Turning Point to Start my Own Business


Women start their businesses for a variety of reasons -- to address a need, to pursue a passion, or just to get away from life in the fast lane. Many seek more control over their lives, wanting the flexibility to work around the needs of their families, and their needs for an interesting life that stretches them and gives a sense of self.

For myself it was a couple of life-changing experiences that had me take that leap of faith to start working for myself. In 1999 I was working for the provincial government, focusing on women's issues. I'd just received the ATHENA leadership award and as a result was attending a women's leadership conference in Denver.

One of the speakers, Bonnie St. John Deane, spoke eloquently about being authentic, and her words hit home. I realized I wasn't a bureaucrat and no matter how I pretzelled myself, I could never fit that mould.

However, just as we were leaving the conference, I got a call from my daughter. My mother had had a stroke, and they didn't think she would make it. All of a sudden, nothing else mattered. I had to get to the U.K. as quickly as possible. She lived on the Isle of Man (a small island in between Scotland, Ireland and England), so it was not a quick or easy trip.

I went straight from the airport to the nursing home to see her. She was lying pale and shrunken in her bed. The nurse offered me a cup of tea, which I refused, when suddenly my mother said, "Yes, please."

Even on her "death bed" she had retained her manners. And while it was touch and go, amazingly she pulled through. But it was quite the emotional roller coaster, and I returned to Canada drained and changed by both experiences.

Suddenly, life seemed too fragile, too precious to be spent working where I didn't feel I was contributing in a meaningful way. Between Bonnie's words and my mother's brush with death, I realized life was too short to be working where I didn't belong. So I left and started my own consulting business -- Community Connections.

When I started my consulting practice, I was hired by the government to work with charities. It was the best of both worlds, as I got paid well, did not get embroiled in the day-to-day frustrations of working within the government, and having worked in the non-profit sector, I understood the challenges the charities faced. And, most importantly, I felt I was making a difference.

I also did well. The projects kept coming, and as many of you know, when you freelance it can be feast or famine. So, not knowing when the next contract might come my way, I'd say yes to them all and bring in other consultants to assist with the workload.

But much as I did well and enjoyed the work, I also found it lonely, missing the camaraderie of working with a team. There was no one to share the latest antics of my teenage daughters. There was no one to say "well done" when a project went well, and no one to commiserate with when I had a bad day, or didn't get the contract.

Believing other women likely felt the same way, I started Company of Women. We got 165 women out to that first meeting and now 10 years later we are still going strong. It speaks to the power of community; of supporting one another and realizing that you don't have to be alone when you own.