Those seeking inspiration for how to run a successful company need look no further than the 13th annual PROFIT W100 ranking of Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs.
The women on the ranking come from all corners of Canada; their businesses span all industries and range in size from five to 1,300 employees. What unites them is their fierce drive, deep resourcefulness and razor-sharp business acumen. And they know what it takes to make a difference.
In 2010, the W100 firms generated almost $1.4 billion in revenue. The 49 that export their products or services abroad sold almost $259 million worth to foreign buyers. And they're big-time employers, providing the equivalent of 9,000 full-time jobs last year. Furthermore, these entrepreneurs know how to expand their empires: over the past three years, their businesses have grown by an average of 156%.
They've found success by skillfully adopting the right strategies to make their businesses excel. For instance, this year's No. 1 entrepreneur, Shannon Rogers, applies relentless innovation to please clients and subdue competitors. No. 25 Sherri Stevens has tempered the recession's brutal effects on her automotive client base by both diversifying her business and deepening her relationship with existing customers. No. 34 Eveline Charles took customer service to the next level by implementing a standardized system to make every visitor to her salons feel terrific. And No. 58 Jennifer Blakely generated major buzz by using a series of zeitgeist-friendly marketing ploys, including a flash-mob video that has generated almost 35 million YouTube views.
And these businesswomen haven't let the old boys' club keep them down. Some 72% say they have never had any problem building the professional networks they need to get ahead. Of those who did struggle, few did for long, coming up with masterful tactics for making the right connections. These include volunteering, getting involved with industry associations and joining peer networking groups (or, in some cases, starting new ones). Several have gotten their businesses certified by WEConnect, which links female-run companies with buyers interested in diversifying their supplier bases.
But useful as these activities are, the W100 are under no illusion that they're cure-alls. As one winner puts it: "You must earn the respect of customers and vendors. I network wherever possible and belong to several boards, but most of that respect comes from hard work and self-learning."
The W100 have plenty to offer by way of advice to entrepreneurs of either gender: strike a balance between your work and home lives; don't undervalue your product or service; get a coach or mentor you can trust; never hire in a hurry; and finally, as No. 75 Diane Johnson puts it, when all else fails, go with your gut. "Listen to your heart and trust your own instincts," she says. "And don't be swayed by the naysayers."
How we ranked them
The W100 were ranked by a composite of the size, growth rate and profitability of their businesses. All growth rates were based on a base-year revenue of at least $200,000, and figures were verified through financial statements. To qualify, women must be owners or significant stakeholders who at least share chief decision-making responsibilities. This is a ranking of entrepreneurs, not companies, so some participants are ranked on the combined performance of more than one qualifying firm. PROFIT solicited entries through an entry form in PROFIT and on PROFITguide.com, as well as through the PROFIT-Xtra enewsletter, other magazines, direct mailings to past winners and other female entrepreneurs, and several organizations that support Canadian women in business.
Growing Globally: W100 leaders take advantage of foreign opportunities
Total 2010 export revenue: $259 million
Total exporters: 49
Top export markets:
Mexico & Central America 20
Western Europe 18
Russia & Eastern Europe 13
Total 2010 revenue: $1.4 billion
Average number of full-time equivalent employees: 90
Average age of W100 CEOs: 47
What they do: A sector-by-sector breakdown of the W100 companies
Business Services 43
Consumer Services 7
Health care 6
Retail/Direct consumer sales 6
Software Development 3
Financial services 1
Social services 1
Financing Fuel: Their most commonly used sources of external capital
Loans or lines of credit from a Canadian bank 62%
Credit Cards 25%
SR&ED tax credits 16%
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) 11%
Private investors (excluding angels) 10%
Loans or lines of credit from a foreign bank 8%
The Big List: The W100's largest firms, by 2010 revenue
> $250 million
ViXS Systems Inc.
Eagle Professional Resources Inc.
Summerfresh Salads Inc.
Marks Supply Inc.
Speed Merchants: The fastest-growing W100 companies, by 3-year revenue growth
Booty Camp Fitness Inc.
Paradigm Public Relations Inc.
Yellow House Events Inc.
Bug in a Rug Canada Inc.
Jaguar Land Group Ltd.