It’s so easy to get caught—caught in that web of lies that you aren’t good enough—that you have showed up to another networking event to exchange pleasantries and smile to a) find the job you want to do, b) find a company culture you fit into, and c) be successful at doing it.
Stop gulping the Chardonnay and inserting your business card with every handshake. There’s another way to grow. SheSays Chicago, an international organization aimed to help women grow and become leaders in creative fields, has joined three other chapters to introduce a mentor program.
“I feel like I planned a wedding,” SheSays Chicago organizer (for the past three years), Jennifer Lemerand said as she handed me my name tag and table number.
There were 12 groups, each with two mentors and four or more mentees.
After running out of wine (and getting more) and eating thin crust pizza and salad from Lou Malnati’s, thanks to sponsor, DDB, who by the way is hiring, we separated into our groups. Some sat on big read chairs, others filled the conference room, or congregated at tables. Our host, Assemble’s space was huge. Even with a sold out event, it was easy to feel like we were the only people in the open office.
Each group was given a question. From there, rather than having a formal layout, we had an organic mashup of ideas, fears, and advice.
Mentor: How To:
Mentoring, like networking can be awkward. How do you find a mentor? What do you talk about? In this setting, when you have a group of creative, hard working, and inspiring people, it’s easy to build off one another’s expertise and help each other grow starting with the question, “what are you working on?”
During the cocktail party of the evening, I was introduced to a creative director. We spoke about pursuing a new project. She understood my concerns, but she challenged me to think about my current situation—do I have a family and other obligations.
I finally divulged my true concern—self doubt. “I don’t feel completely qualified, and I don’t want to set myself or the company up for failure.”
She stopped me and said, “Men would fake it until they make it.”
Then she further pushed me, “What’s the worst that can happen—if it doesn’t work out, go back to what you were doing or find something new.”
With that boost, I turned around and followed someone to the sustenance.
“You look like you came off the set of Madmen,” I said.
Her name was Tracy Schmidt and she is launching her own company, Socially Authentic, in a few weeks. In those brief minutes, she asked me to give an elevator pitch about my idea, and then she helped me reach a breakthrough. To my surprise, when we sat down at our tables, she was my mentor. It was refreshing to work with someone who I not only admired, but who I also connected so well with.
At my table, there were six women. We went around the table discussing our current jobs and projects. We discovered that we were working on blogs (hosted by WordPress.com or Squarespace) and that we all had our own companies and projects or were working towards that.
Uusing Your Network, Reading Books, and Joining Twitter Chats:
I was the last one in the limelight.
I introduced myself, “I’m a property manager, a freelance writer, and I am working on a new business idea.” I turned to the woman next to me to redirect the conversation, but my mentor gave me the floor.
“Tell them about your idea,” she said.
After I presented my pitch, the group became like little elves at Christmas time, giving me advice about market research and finding a developer. Everyone had something to offer from encouragement to things to consider.
Given that everyone had an entrepreneurial spirit, we talked about finding focus. Some use the app, Breathe, to meditate for a few minutes a day as a way to re-focus and stay centered.
We talked about how we learn and grow. Some use Twitter chats like #altchat (Wed @ 11:00 am) or #organikchat (Thurs @3:30 pm). Others read books like Art of the Start, Rework, and Find Your Northern Star to learn about startups and turning ideas into businesses.
Creating Small Goals for Big Projects:
We talked about taking huge projects and breaking them down into bite-size, week by week chunks.
My mentor asked, “What is your next step?”
I said, “Build a prototype.”
“What are you going to do tomorrow,” she asked as she challenged me to think of the very next thing I could do.
My mentor advised me to go on LinkedIn and ask 10 developers in my network to have coffee with me. In that meeting, I could introduce my idea and then ask the developer about the scope, the language we should use to build the API in, among other things.
Mentor Program: The Importance of:
Having someone believe in your idea and provide tangible advice to reach that goal is one of the greatest feelings. When you and your ideas are put on the spot, you not only find growth, but accountability and the inertia to pursue it.
Special thanks to all of the mentors, some who were past panelists, who gave their encouragement, their advice and their time for the SheSays Chicago Mentor Program.
A special shoutout to the male mentors. As a mentor from DDB said, it is great to have women helping women, but as Emma Watson, who started the campaign, HeForShe, acknowledged, we also need men to help women.
- Trina Uzee – Creative Director, Allstate
- Melanie Griffin Pugh – Vice President Business Development, AnswersMedia, Inc.
- Alma Klein – Creative Director, Arc Worldwide / Leo Burnett
- Emily Boylan – President, LimeRed Studio
- Jill McClain – Director, Ving Project
- Kimberly Campbell – Director of Marketing, Greenheart International
- Betsy Drach – Creative Director, Team World Vision
- Christopher Foltz – Social Entrepreneur, Brand and Organizational Advisor, Educator, Community Builder
- Natalie Birdsong – Entrepreneur, Natural Girl Hair Imports/Hair by Natalie B.
- Beckie O’Connor – Associate Creative Director, Havas Worldwide; Founder of local Brewery Startup
- L’Oreal Thompson Payton – Communications Strategist and Freelance Writer/Editor
- Chester Lantin – People Manager, Belly
- Gail Swanson – Innovation Specialist, 18F
- Jason Early – Independent Design Consultant & Lead Instructor, General Assembly Chicago
- Sophia Savino – Digital Designer, Sears Holdings – Vlogger, LunchTime Creative
- Sweta Kannan – VP, Planning Director, DDB
- Ann Watson-Johnson – Writing & Research Sabbatical, Personal Growth & Learning
- Vanessa Flowers – Content Specialist, Burrell Communications; Photographer, Flower Girl
- Melissa Kimble – Social Media Strategist + Consultant, Writer, and Freelance Community Manager with Golin (McDonald’s)
- Tracy Samantha Schmidt – CEO, TSS Media Group
- Jean Batthany – Executive Creative Director EVP, DDB Chicago
- Miranda Tegan – Freelance Creative Director / Writer
- Molly Savage – Marketing Manager, Devbridge Group
- Julie Krause – Event Director and Operations Manager, Red Frog Events
- Jacqueline Tamas White – Senior Event Planner, Freelance; Director of Operations, Ascend Training
- Candace Keene – Creative Talent Scout, DDB Chicago
Event Location: Assemble (1165 North Clark Street #700, Chicago, IL 60610)
Event Host: SheSays Chicago
Event Date and Time: Thursday, June 25, 2015 5:30-8:30 pm
Discovered Through: Invite
Bonus: My mentor
Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.