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Women mean business

Three female entrepreneurs in Bedford share their stories and advice about running their own companies

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Stephanie Graham, Natalie Frederick-Wilson, Marie MacMullin. Photo: Randal Tomada

Stephanie Graham, Natalie Frederick-Wilson, Marie MacMullin. Photo: Randal Tomada

Editor’s note: More women are starting and operating their own businesses than ever before. Tanya Priske, executive director at the Centre for Women in Business at Mount Saint Vincent University, says the proof is in the number. Every so often, she has faculty at MSVU collect stats on how many women entrepreneurs there are in the province.

The figures are gathered from a few sources, including the Conference Board of Canada, ACOA, and Industry Board of Canada. According to the latest figures, there were 18,900 women in business in Nova Scotia. Compare that to 1976 when 8,800 women owned businesses. That’s a 114 per cent increase.
“Women are not only looking at how to start a business, but also how to keep a business running,” Priske says.

Priske says the Centre holds about 600 business advisory meetings a year with women. About half of those are women looking to start a business. The other half are women who run businesses, but are looking to grow their companies.

While men and women need the same management skills and resources to start and operate a business, Priske says there are some differences in how the genders work as entrepreneurs. She says she once heard a line that in business, “Women are gatherers, men are the hunters.”

“I think with women, it’s the leadership style that’s different,” Priske says. “Women look for common interests, collaborative projects.”

“Sometimes they don’t think they have the capacity to start a business, the confidence to start a business,” Priske says.

She says according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in 2010, 47 per cent of women asked said they feared failure in starting up a business. For men, the number was 62 per cent.

Priske says women go into business for themselves for many reasons. Some have professional training they’d like to use in their own company to give back to others and the community. Still others are work-from-home moms looking to supplement their household income. Many of these women go on to expand their businesses as their children grow and become more independent.

As for advice to those women looking to start a business or expand upon an existing one, Priske has one suggestion.

“Give us a call and talk to somebody about what resources are out there,” Priske says. “Don’t do it alone.”

In this issue of Bedford Magazine, we profile three women entrepreneurs in Bedford and learn about their business and their story.
—Suzanne Rent

Marie Mac Mullin

Photo: Randal Tomada

Photo: Randal Tomada

When Marie Mac Mullin designed her first wedding dress for a client more than 25 years ago she never imagined it would end up shaping her whole career. Since then she opened One Stop Bridal, One Stop Limo, and now The Wedding Venue and Cafe.

She says the idea for her latest venture came to her when she realized she had so many of her client meetings over tea and coffee that she thought she should just open her own café. It also brings all of her businesses under one roof. It’s located in a three-storey building offering, among other things, garment design and custom wedding decor.

Mac Mullin is also hoping the space will act as a venue to support other local entrepreneurs who may not have a storefront. They will be able to rent rooms for meetings, pop-up shops, networking events, and workshops.

She knows the challenges that come with running a business. She has never worked for anyone else, although she admits that she’s probably tougher on herself than any other employer would be.

“It’s very satisfying to be your own boss although most of us are our own worst enemies at times,” Mac Mullin laughs. “It is a lot of hard work so it’s really important to like what you do.”

In the wedding industry, being an entrepreneur means working around the clock most weekdays, as well as giving up most of your weekends. It can be a juggling act, especially when you have children, as she does, but she says she’s in it for better or for worse.

“I’ve always loved what I do,” she says. “If you’re even considering getting into business, really, really know what you’re getting into because it’s a lot of hours and a lot of responsibility. But when you enjoy something, it’s worth it in the end.”

Stephanie Graham

Stephanie GallantStephanie Graham, founder and CEO of The Perfect Fit, says she regularly faces stereotypes. “If you’re an entrepreneur, or doing something untraditional, there’s a misconception that it doesn’t make money or you can’t support yourself,” she says.

This single mother has done her part to prove that wrong by creating a successful consignment boutique that has been in business for two years now. She calls the store a “curated shopping experience” that brings together name brand, quality used clothing and provides a personal touch by working with customers to help them find the best style for their life.

Graham drew on her background in marketing and business development in the corporate world to create the company. This is the first business she’s started on her own, but that didn’t intimidate her.
“I wasn’t afraid to try something new and put myself out there,” she says, adding that being able to take risks is a big part of entrepreneurship.

She relied heavily on mentors while navigating the world of retail and purchasing, and she sought out support systems through networking as she got started. Recognizing when she needed help, and asking for it, is one of the things she thinks has led to her success.

The most exciting part for her about owning a business is the ability to choose every path she takes.
“Knowing that it’s all on me is probably the best, and the scariest, thing,” she says. “They’re my decisions. You do your research and you make a decision, but it’s nice to have that flexibility to go with your gut when you want to.”

Graham says her biggest lesson in the past year of business is learning not to apologize for who she is, but rather to celebrate her strengths, and she advises other women entrepreneurs to do the same: “Be yourself. If you’re your true self, you can’t go wrong.”

It’s in the detailing

Natalie Frederick-Wilson

Photo: Randal Tomada

Photo: Randal Tomada

Natalie Frederick-Wilson says the glass ceiling women entrepreneurs encounter is still all too real and, even as the successful co-owner of House of Auto Details, she still bumps into that glass ceiling on a regular basis. She says when she walks into a meeting with a potential client, despite being a business owner and a certified detailer, she often gets a double take.

“Not only am I a woman in this industry, I am a black woman in the automotive industry,” she says. “I find I always have to work harder to get people to have a conversation, have a meeting, call back.”
That doesn’t stop her though and, despite those challenges, Frederick-Wilson loves her work. She and her husband opened their shop together three and a half years ago. They decided to combine his love of cars and her passion for people and business development. They created, what she calls, “an experience business,” a shop that provides a welcoming space for everyone, including women.

To be successful as an entrepreneur, Frederick-Wilson believes women should start by enlisting local support. They should also take the time to fully consider how being entrepreneurs may affect every aspect of their lives, especially if they have a family. She balances this herself by often bringing her children to the shop when she’s working, which also teaches them to appreciate and understand the work their parents do.

As an entrepreneur, she loves being empowered to make decisions at her own pace about the business, and the personal connection she has with clients.

“The best thing about owning your own business is that you also get to own the results,” she says. “It’s a very visceral emotion we have when we do something for our clients. That joy we get that comes from their joy.”

  • An excellent article! It is wonderful to see women entrepreneurs being acknowledged for the passion and dedication that they bring to the business world!


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