There are going to be curveballs.
I had the absolute privilege to sit down with Zahra Al-Harazi, Owner & Creative Director of Foundry Communications. The day before, we were two of the three panelists asked to speak about Women in Entrepreneurship at the Globe and Mail Small Business Summit in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
I knew I was going to interview Ms. Al-Harazi ahead of the summit appearance, and knew what I was going to ask her. “What’s on the hearts and mind of our mom entrepreneur audience?” I asked myself. Given her background, I knew the burning question to ask: “How did you overcome the adversity you clearly experienced being an immigrant to North America with no recognized credentials, parenting three children by the time you were 25 years young?”…But of course that was my question for the intelligent, successful, charming woman I just met.
However I quickly realized during the course of the preparation for our speaking engagement that the teachable lesson on adversity we were sure to glean from Zahra Al-Harazi wasn’t to be. It was somewhere around the point at which she was asked about the hardships of being a female entrepreneur. She retorted, “Yes things happen that are difficult but that’s not unique to women. That’s just life. There are going to be curveballs.“
Zahra Al-Harazi was not an entrepreneurial mom who overcame adversity story for one very surprising, and decidedly simple reason: this is a woman who does not see adversity, only opportunity.
No Adversity, Only Opportunity.
Zahra Al-Harazi was born in Yemen to a loving, supportive family and a deeply family-oriented community. However the traditional culture offered little for women who dreamed of career success. Al-Harazi was genuinely content with the life of a full-time, very young mom three children by the time she turned 25 years old.
Following the promise of new opportunities in Canada, she and her then-husband decided to move to Calgary in 1996, one of the worst winters on record. Accustomed to a different culture, a desert climate, knowing no one, and parenting now school-aged children, Al-Harazi became bored. However her university credentials were not recognized in Canada. Her years teaching elementary school and English as a Second Language in Yemen weren’t worth much without the credentials in the competitive oil and gas driven market. Warding off self-doubts in her abilities in her new country, one day Al-Harazi applied and was hired as a salesperson in a clothing store.
They Gave Me a Rule Book, But I Threw It Out and Wrote My Own.
The company handed out a store policy book with recommendations for approaching customers, suggesting merchandise, and closing the sales. But Al-Harazi quickly learned that her own instincts trumped the book. “They gave me a rule book, but I threw it out and wrote my own,” she muses. Instantly she recognized her penchant for selling using her own prescience in sensing whom to approach, learning how to listen to their needs, and authentically delivering the best solution for them. Al-Harazi found she excelled at the art of customer satisfaction.
Thirsting for knowledge and advancement in her newfound skills, Al-Harazi enrolled in an art design school, still struggling with confidence in her abilities in yet a new frontier. Quickly the doubts subsided, and she found a sense of ownership in her talents and aptitude in design. By the fourth year Al-Harazi was altogether the top student in her graduating class, ten years older than most of the other students, half as able to devote time to study as a parent of three, and first to get a job after graduation. Zahra was going places.
I realized that others appreciated what I brought to the table.
The next two years would find Al-Harazi on a meteoric rise. Spending about one year each in two small design firms, Al-Harazi rose from a junior designer to head designer in two years flat. “It was a time of huge awareness for me and my own abilities,” Al-Harazi recounts. “I realized that others appreciated what I brought to the table.” And she never looked back.
Sensing the time was right she gathered other business partners, set about to buy them out in a strategic multi-year plan, and started Foundry Communications, a boutique communications, marketing, branding company with two co-founders.
In Foundry’s third year, it was named #4 in Profit W100 List of the Top 10 Companies to Watch. In 2011, the young Foundry Communications made #82 in Profit Magazine’s prestigious list of fastest profit-growing companies run by women. Additional honors would soon include Al-Harazi’s inclusion in Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 in Calgary designation, and Al-Harazi’s honor by Chatelaine Magazine as Entrepreneur of the Year.
You should do good.
Despite the superfluous trophy cabinet and medal hook Al-Harazi and the Foundry team can boast, Al-Harazi remains grounded in humility, family, and philanthropy. Renowned for her tireless volunteer hours benefitting women immigrants in her community, vacations with her children to build houses in developing countries, generous devotion to mentorship of fellow entrepreneurs, and her advisory role on several boards, Al-Harazi sees giving back as a way of life.
“Honestly I have not felt once that I couldn’t do something that I set my mind to do,” Al-Harazi gazes thoughtfully, “but I know not everyone is as fortunate. And so I give back. You should do good.”
Al-Harazi has incorporated philanthropy into her business persona, noting, “People see what you are doing, and where you spend your time, and it does make a difference. It helps them form an opinion about who you are. The time you invest causes people to talk about you,” Al-Harazi explains. “Like Brett (W. Brett Wilson, friend and fellow successful entrepreneur) says, philanthropy is part of your marketing budget. “ Foundry Communications donates a staggering $100,000 of its time annually in support of non-profit organizations.
Already resolving that this curveball in my interview with Al-Harazi was a serendipitous seed of inspiration, I set out to reach the heart of this entrepreneur with the golden fingers of success.
What really does it for you now?
“Providing a strategic solution that is perfect for a business makes me happy,” Al-Harazi shares. “I hate ‘that’s so pretty’,” her voice rises in offense to the word. “I don’t want to make something ‘pretty,’ I want to create a lasting solution that clients will appreciate 5-10 years down the line. ‘Pretty’ isn’t the goal.”
Al-Harazi is also immensely proud that Foundry Communications rose from nothing debt-free. No bank loans, and no big investments leapt the infant firm ahead. “It’s something I needed to do at the time, for me- to stay debt-free.” However she thinks differently now, and believes that Foundry has proven itself, and is open to new possibilities.
What advice can you offer entrepreneurial moms from your journey?
Believe in yourself. Al-Harazi says pointedly. “Believe in your strengths. If you don’t believe in yourself, it will shine through. Have faith in yourself, and others will have faith in you. You must have confidence in your own abilities.”
Be a part of a community. Join groups, network, mentor, and give back. Teach your children the value of volunteering.“ Become integral to a community, and it can’t forget you.
Learn how to delegate. It’s so hard for entrepreneurs to let go of control, but you have to. Build a great team, and pay them well. There are parts of my business I should never touch with a 10-foot-pole. But I’m a damn good Creative Director, so that’s what I should do.“
Redefine Adversity: Drink It and Fill It Up Again. “People look at me and say, ‘Oh my gosh you came to Canada and you didn’t know the culture and you had to go back to school, and there were all these barriers, and you didn’t have this and you didn’t have that… ‘ And I say, ‘Yes! I did (all of that)! And it was FUN!,” Al-Harazi beams. “Not to say that I didn’t have to work my ass off and had to start my homework after little kids were in bed, but those weren’t difficult things because I love my kids and I love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work.”
Al-Harazi shared her favorite quote in closing, perhaps in perfect summary of her teachable lesson. She heard once that the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi was asked, ”Do you view the glass as half full or half empty?” And he quickly quipped, “Who the f*ck cares? Drink it and fill it up again!” ~ Christie Schultz, Founder & CEO of MomVentures.com
Follow Zahra: @zahrasays
Follow Foundry Communications: FoundryCommunications.com; @foundrysays
Last night I gashed my foot open on a Lego. Even though the playroom is in good condition and it was just an unlucky step, it reminded me just how important it is to keep a handle on kids’ rooms before they get a handle on YOU.
Kid clutter got you feeling a little claustrophobic?
Try these 5 tips to tame the madness:
- Should it be kept? – Wrestling with what to keep for little Johnny’s posterity scrapbook (that you TOTALLY plan to start someday)? Here’s the rule of thumb: if it represents his or her era, usual style at this age, or a special event you can all remember together, it’s in the running. Only if it can stand the test of time (likely with your modifications) and display nicely, should you keep it. If it’s a pile of rose petals that are already looking smashed and attracting ants, ditch them. Make a project of pressing some the next time, label, and laminate or preserve them in wax paper.
- Think: dual use – In a playroom or bedroom, instead of a traditional kids’ table with legs and 4 chairs, consider installing an inexpensive shelf into a wall and tuck bean bags underneath it. Kids can use the shelf for eating or crafts while sitting on the bean bags, or longterm book or trophy display. Bean bags are also great sleepovers, movie-watching, travel, and versatile storage when not in use.
- Throw it UP and tie it DOWN – Think vertical in kids’ rooms and get as much off the floor as possible. Stuffed animals can be hung from the ceiling in mesh bags, stackable organizers can safely pile those light items such as sticker collections, feathers and puff ball craft supplies, and markers. Remember to anchor shelves, organizers and anything that kids might climb with inexpensive hooks and anchors from the hardware store to prevent injury. Creative thought into shifting from horizontal storage to vertical can give you back valuable square footage. Tie down cords for gaming modules, TV’s, laptops, and other modern toys create safety hazards and the illusion of a big mess even when there isn’t one. Invest in inexpensive rip-ties, clips or bands to get the cords out of eyesight and out of tripping range. Lassoing in those wayward cords can yield lots of usable space you thought you lost.
- Repurpose – Did that favorite truck finally break? In your sweeping spring clean up as you find broken parts that your nostalgic little one doesn’t want to purge, try making art from a few of the pieces that can be displayed. Broken wheels, dollhouse pieces, and random red and green crafts leftover from the holidays can be creatively fit into a diorama to give to Grandma for Mother’s Day, or fit into a 3-D canvas painting for your family to enjoy for years to come. Don’t forget that broken crayons can be stripped of their paper wrapping and melted down in silicon cupcake molds, and cooled to create fantastic rainbow-colored, shaped crayons.
- Lastly, but often as a last resort, donate it – Kids are often very attached to their special items. But throw in a special twist and magically giving seems so fun. Help them make a letter for the child that will receive their old toys. If you have time, include a photo of your little one or a photo of the family. Have your child write as much of the letter as they can, or draw a picture. Deliver the toys with your child and let them experience the closure and satisfaction of giving something they once loved. It will build character and a lasting memory that giving is worthwhile and fun.
We are thrilled with the recognition from Forbes for not only being one of the top 100 websites for women, but also one of the Top 10 Entrepreneurial sites for women!
Our recognition: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/lml45fghe/entrepreneurial-moms/
Entrepreneurial Moms of Toronto Holiday Mingler
Date: December 13, 2011, 6:30 to 9:00pm
Location: 18 Spring Garden Ave, Toronto, Ontario
Speaker: Moira Sutton of Success Breakthrough
Join us for a fantastic holiday evening to remember with appetizers, drinks, networking with Toronto’s finest Entrepreneurial Moms, and nuggets of wisdom from the amazing Moira Sutton of Success Breakthrough.
Members please RSVP to Bonnie Chan
Guests: Register Here
Please note that our site is currently being updated and is in maintenance mode. Appearances and functions may be temporarily altered at this time. Thanks for visiting!
Title: Entrepreneurial Moms of Toronto November Mastermind: Ranting Your Way to Success
Location: Fionn MacCool’s – 181 University Avenue?- Toronto, ON M5H 3M7
Description: Entrepreneurial Moms of Toronto November Mastermind: Ranting Your Way to Success
Have you ever had a complaint you couldn’t let go of? A problem that wouldn’t go away? Ranting, or “Power Bitching” as we sometimes call it, is a powerful tool for clearing up irritations, upsets, and creating solutions that under other circumstances would keep causing stress-damaging your productivity and peace of mind. We’re going to go through the process of getting from rant to solution, giving you a practical tool to use anytime, anywhere in your life and business.
Tina Dietz is a woman with a mission of causing 10,000 thriving businesses. After earning a Master of Science in Counseling and Educational Development, Tina developed transitional high school to college programming with more than 250 local educators. She has created college education programs for some of the nation’s largest utility providers. Tina is also a veteran entrepreneur and coach with years of experience helping businesses grow and specializing in small businesses and startups. Her combined experience in education and entrepreneurship make her ideally suited to guide other entrepreneurs in developing their businesses with an eye on creating ventures where business is one fantastic part of your extraordinary life.
Also speaking is Emily Chung, founder of AutoNiche sharing her expertise as a mom entrepreneur.
AutoNiche is a unique auto repair shop, featured on Breakfast Television and the Marilyn Denis Show, because founder Emily Chung brings a woman’s perspective into the auto repair experience by offering an environment that is family-friendly and respectful of all clients. The staff at AutoNiche bring over 25 years of technical experience and over 15 years of automotive parts experience. AutoNiche’s mission is: in faith and grace we strive to provide our customers with auto repair services that meet the highest standards of quality, honesty and integrity.
While on maternity leave with her second child, Emily pursued the Automotive Service Technician program at Centennial College. She placed second in her class and received the Toronto Automotive Dealers Association apprentice scholarship. She holds a Hons. BA from the University of Waterloo, has worked in public policy, psychological testing and human resources.
181 University Avenue?Toronto, Ontario M5H 3M7
EM members attend for free. RSVP to Bonnie Chan at appreciationwins (a t) gmail.com
Non- members $25.00
Start Time: 6:30pm
End Time: 9:30pm
We are proud to announce the launch of Entrepreneurial Moms of Toronto!
Join us on October 4, 2011 for an inspiring evening of education and connections over appes with fellow entrepreneurial moms! For the first time ever, under the direction of a team of passionate women, Entrepreneurial Moms of Toronto brings you dynamic speakers in the heart of Toronto to help you move your businesses forward.
Entrepreneurial Moms Toronto Launch Event
Tuesday October 4, 2011, 6:30-9pm
181 University Avenue
Toronto, ON M5H 3M7
$25: Registration by Sept 28
$30: Registration after Sept 28
Current EM Toronto Members, please log in with your Member ID and message Bonnie.Chan to RSVP for this Launch event complimentarily!
New to EMI? Explore the benefits of Membership here!
Did you love our event? Join Now!
If you become an EM Toronto Member within 72 hours of this event, your registration fee will be applied to your membership price!
Title: Entrepreneurial Moms of Calgary Signature Event
Description: Join us for our last Signature Event of the season!
Where: The Keg Restaurant & Bar – 7104 Macleod Trail SW – Calgary, AB
Start Time: 7:00 p.m.
Date: Thursday June 23, 2011
Jennifer Broe, President & Founder of Baby Gourmet, will inspire and educate us as she shares her entrepreneurial journey with us. We’ll enjoy appetizers, wine, and the finest company of entrepreneurial women in Calgary!
Registration: Limited seats available. Registration closes Tuesday, June 21st at 10pm.
About Jennifer Broe
Jennifer is the Visionary and President of Baby Gourmet Foods Inc, a multinational food manufacturer specializing in nutritious and delicious packaged baby food. She successfully launched the Baby Gourmet brand in 2005 at The Calgary Farmers Market and has since built a company with product that will be distributed across North America by the end of 2010. She is the mother of two well fed children and has a passion for all things culinary. Jen is an inspirational and motivating speaker to women, entrepreneurs and busy moms.
Goodie Bags: Members are invited to include “swag” or light promotional material in our goodie bags. Samples of your product and useful promotional products are always a hit with our entrepreneurial moms!
Door Prizes: Members are also invited to contribute door prizes for our attendees, which will be credited and highlighted at the event.
Event Sponsor: We are accepting one more Signature Event Sponsor for this event. If your brand would benefit from social media, newsletter, and event exposure to our audience, please email EMCalgarySponsorship@entrepreneurialmoms.com.
Members and Guests are encouraged to bring: Any questions you may have for Jennifer, a notebook or handheld organizer to record your ‘a-ha’ moments and big ideas, a mindset for networking and learning, and a healthy appetite!
Registration: Limited seats available. Registration closes Tuesday, June 21st at 10pm.
Are you a Member? Register here:
Not a Member yet? You’re still welcome – please sign up here:
Title: Entrepreneurial Moms of Vancouver Founding Members VIP Event
Location: Register for Info (details in confirmation email)
Description: To celebrate we’re inviting our Founding Members of Entrepreneurial Moms of Vancouver to a special complimentary cocktail event to help us de-clutter for spring with an amazing Entrepreneurial Mom and best-selling author as our host!
What would your digital life look like in the physical world? Imagine your overstuffed email inbox as a closet, or your PC desktop covered in random files as your kitchen counter. Frightening, isn’t it?
Discover how to de-clutter your digital life over cocktails, canapés and conversation at The Refinery on Wednesday, May 4. The evening’s host is Kathy Buckworth, an incredible Entrepreneurial Moms veteran speaker, award-winning author, award-winning author, and broadcaster and mom of four, as Microsoft Canada Technology Advisor and proud mother of twins Ruth Morton shows us how Hotmail and Windows Live can help us sweep away e-clutter in seconds.
About Kathy Buckworth
Kathy Buckworth is a mother of four kids who only has two hands, and one of them is usually holding a glass of Chardonnay. She is also an award-winning writer, television personality and public speaker, with numerous publishing credits in both national and local magazines and newspapers. The BlackBerry Diaries: Adventures in Modern Motherhood was released in April 2009 by Key Porter to rave reviews. Her new book, Shut Up & Eat: Tales of Chicken, Children & Chardonnay was released by Key Porter in March 2010, and is available on Amazon.ca or in bookstores across Canada.
Start Time: 19:00
Cost: FREE for Members
What’s the difference between success and failure? Planning and FOCUS!
As the old adage says: If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there? That’s why we put together an e-course that walks you step-by-step through building your one-page business roadmap guided by MOMeo Magazine Publisher Carla Young. Includes a one-hour audio course and fill-in-the-blank worksheet.
Use this one-hour audio course and fill-the-blank worksheet to:
• Set strategic priorities and break them into focus themes
• Identify and laser focus on attracting your target market
• Identify your core competencies and the key differentiators that will make you stand out from the crowd
• Create a Unique Selling Proposition (starting with what makes most unique selling propositions not so unique)
• Work out your product matrix, including tips on how to introduce value-added add-ons and passive revenue opportunities
• Build your sales funnel to take prospects from contact to contract
• Create the ultimate customer experience that taps into the emotional side of selling
• Build in support mechanisms in both your business and family lives
• Put together a one-year tactical action plan!
Digital Download: $37