Monday, May 30, 2016

Business Boutique Dallas - my first businesswoman's conference!

Himself is a fan of Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who preaches that a paid off home is a better status symbol than a BMW, and listens to Dave's podcasts all the time. They were advertising the third iteration of a business women's conference in Dallas and before I could say "but who's going to feed the animals?" I was packed off to it! The Man takes care of me. J

I drove up on the Thursday and wow! Texas sure is green right now! 

And overcast and thundery! We've had a lot of rain this year.

The drive up was long and uneventful. Five hours of driving, with about 95% of it being all alone on the highway. 200 miles between gas stations! It was glorious. It's a beautiful part of Texas and I was dreamily thinking of how nice it would be to live up here... until I remembered it's right in Tornado Alley. Suddenly, it was not quite so appealing!

The conference was held in Fort Worth, actually, not Dallas. Although the two cities are only virtually separate, the denizens are fiercely defensive of their individuality.  There were several comments posted on social media about how the conference was NOT in Dallas!

Fort Worth has this interesting way of lighting up its skyscrapers. I shudder to think of the electric bill!

They have a lot of museums and interesting places to visit and I got to visit... one. Yeah, sucks! I shall have to go back with Himself and explore the city. And, that one place was a bit of a letdown too. The food was delicious, but I think Penny was off duty, so there was no sign of Leonard, Sheldon, or the rest of the gang!

The Big Bang Theory TV show is the reference for Penny, Leonard and Sheldon - for those who are lost. :)

I didn't get cheesecake though. They made me a yummy gluten free pasta lunch that was so enormous, half of it went home with me for dinner! As for sightseeing, I did get to walk past this glorious vista on my way TO the Cheesecake Factory, but as we were limited on time, I could only get a quick snap across the road. Or, in other words, apologies for the picture quality.

Ok, on to business.

There were, according to the speakers, 1600 women at that conference. And five men. We all laughed at the MC's comment: "To the five men - Hi ... and... Why?" The conference was held in the Fort Worth Convention Center which is, in a word, HUGE! 1600 women plus vendors plus speakers plus workers and we barely used up a third of the downstairs!

The actual conference took place on Friday and Saturday, as it was a Christian-based event and the folks all go to church on Sunday. The main speaker was Christy Wright, a business/life coach and Dave Ramsey team member. She did most of the speaking and covered a lot of business basics. Excellent information for those who are new to business, but not quite as valuable for anyone with business experience. 

The women were divided into three groups: dreamers - those who don't have an idea yet or those that have an idea but have not yet started a business; starters - those who are just starting a business or who have been in business up to six months; and builders - those who have been in business for a while. All good, except that all three categories were lumped together in one single group for the entire conference. 

Several women asked if they were going to have breakout sessions so that folks could choose to attend sessions particular to their level of experience; and at the end of the event, a survey included a question of whether we felt the organizers should include breakouts in future. One thing that did impress me was that the organizers took the feedback seriously from the last conference they did, so I look forward to a "new improved" version. 

We received workbooks to complete during the presentations. 

It was helpful, in that we had a handy bound copy of the event in which we could scribble notes and stuff, and all the speaker info was together. Much better for future reference than scribbled notes on a legal pad. Still, I heard many comments about "Back to middle school!" - and it did feel a little childish. Perhaps keep the info and the quotes in the margins, but leave the notes section open for the adult attendees to fill in their own thoughts! 

Another unfortunate side effect was it advised the participants that all the information was canned, right down to the "interviews" they held during the day, as the fill-in-the-blanks sentences were provided even for the interviewer's responses. It kinda lessened the impact of what we were hearing, knowing that it was just a one-size-fits-all approach. The answers for the blanks are even provided in a margin! Everyone has different triggers, different things that speak to us. Telling us all to take the same notes in our little preprinted notebooks was a teensy bit Orwellian! 

Day One was mostly entry level stuff: business plans, monetizing your business, stuff like that. Or, as I put it to some friends - revision. It had value for those with business experience in that it reminded us that we needed to go over our business plans and tweak them. Or maybe create one, if it was not yet created. 

Day Two was more meaty with some excellent speakers such as Amy Porterfield and Tiffany Peterson. One issue that frustrated several attendees was that they gave a full platform to women like Rachel Cruze and Christine Caine (both excellent women of business in their own right, but their talks were more personal and less business) but reduced critically important business speakers like Shane Gibson (tax and accounting) and Melissa Kaiserman (Etsy) to mere interviews. Melissa was actually only part of a panel interview team. Several around me were openly astounded at this, especially as it was glaringly apparent that Rachel and Christine were both promoting new books. While I understand that the bulk of their income for these events comes from after sales, to bump business speakers in favor of the boss's daughter (in Rachel's case) was deplorable. 

One of the new books being promoted was by comedian and author Annie Downs. She was the Master of Ceremonies and got only a couple of sentences between each speaker, no special treatment. She was so funny and down to earth, I would have loved to hear more from her, but I did win a copy of her book! You can see it clutched in my grubby little hand after she autographed it for me.

The main benefit of this conference IMHO was getting to meet other ladies in the same or related industries. Unfortunately, very few women were in mine, but I did make a couple of friends and meet some extremely interesting women. I would love to attend again just to expand my network. These women are out there, making it work, growing their businesses and battling their demons, and creating a sisterhood of like-minded ladies can only do good!

Toni, Christina, Christy, and Jodi

Just outside of the event itself was the vendor display, a collection of staff who were either selling books for the speakers, or selling business related stuff like marketing or IT, or selling personal items such as jewelry and clothing. (It was a women's conference after all!) They also had a little display where you could snap a photo of yourself with a motivational sign. The whole weekend there was a long queue of women snapping selfies, but I waited until the very end as I considered which one I liked the most. In the end, I couldn't decide between these two:

In closing, was it worth it? Well, much as I would love to give you an unmitigated Hell Yeah, I'll have to go with yes and no. There definitely was value to be found and, based on historical performance, they do take feedback seriously, so I reckon it will only get better as they have more of these. The business plan and other business information was excellent revision for me and has motivated me to actually create my business plan. You know how a plumber never fixes his own pipes? I wrote business plans for a living but haven't gotten around to my own yet. This was a good kick in the whotsit for me. 

And going forward, do I have plans? Now here I can say HELL YEAH! Watch this space!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wicked Crack Candy

Sometimes, when dealing with stress or frustration or... other things,... a woman needs something sweet. Those times can be SUPER bad when there is nothing sweet to be had. It was in one of those tragedies that I began experimenting with making  my own candy and eventually put together this fail-safe sweet treat that is wicked - mainly because the ingredients are almost always in your cupboard! It's also wickedly addictive. A friend mentioned it's like crack after her husband offered to trade her for it, and so it was named! :)

The recipe is simple. Take a tablespoon of butter and melt it in a pot - use one with high sides. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and blend well, then drop in a tablespoon of milk and a tablespoon of chocolate spread. Mix together well. Careful! You'll spray milk all over!

Cook gently until everything is melted together and the pot begins to boil and bubble. Quote Shakespeare, if you wish. The mixture will turn a lovely golden brown. Keep stirring so that nothing burns! It takes less than 10 minutes, so even my short attention span does not run out. 

To test it, grab a bowl of cold water (fridge water is best) and drop a little from your stirring spoon into the cold water. It should form a nice soft ball. Fish the ball out of the water and eat it. Delicious! Resist the urge to "test" it some more. Ah... that was a memo to me, but you might want to follow the advice too. 

It will be ready when it has reached the soft ball stage and the candy begins to move away from the sides of the pot and curl around your spoon as you stir.

Remove from the heat and stir in one teaspoon of vanilla essence, beating until it turns glossy. Pour the candy onto a greased plate or pan and allow it to cool for a little while. Then cut it into squares with a butter knife. If the 'cut' area begins to flow back together as you slice, let it cool a little longer, but don't leave it for too long or it will be extremely difficult to cut neatly. The candy tends to crumble and become brittle after too long. 

Mmmm.... luxurious self-indulgence!

This makes a very small quantity as it was supposed to be a treat, not a dessert, but it can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled without a problem. I've not gone any more than that, because then I switch to my fudge recipe instead. And it has been the most forgiving recipe ever! I've added too much or too little and even substituted and it still worked!

For those who need it all in one place, here is the recipe:

1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp chocolate spread (hazelnut is decadent!)
1 tsp vanilla essence

Place a bowl of water into the fridge to get cold and grease a plate. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, add the sugar and stir until blended, then stir in the chocolate spread and milk. Bring gently to the boil, stirring all the time, and then boil gently until the mix reaches soft ball stage (a small amount of mixture dropped into cold water forms a solid, soft ball) and the mixture tends to form a rounded shape as stirred. Remove from heat and add vanilla essence. Beat until soft and glossy. 

Pour onto a greased plate, allow to cool briefly, then cut into squares using a butter knife. Do not allow to set before cutting, or it will shatter.  Allow to cool entirely. 

An after dinner treat for 1 to 4 people. 

Resist it if you can!