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Coach’s Corner: ‘Tis the Season on Tips for Success

4 Dec

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Coach’s Corner: Putting the Mouse Down for a Change

17 Oct

This week, I’d like to stress what is actually a very traditional, seemingly unsophisticated aspect of marketing: the importance of making direct, personal contact with prospective customers.


Velma Crawford & Lyzbeth Monard practicing the art of networking

Much of the material available on marketing these days emphasizes new, innovative e-marketing techniques. Now, there is no doubt that this approach should certainly be part of your overall strategy. However, call me old-school, but I am a firm believer in the necessity of getting up from the computer and venturing out into the real, rather than virtual world, because that is how the long-term customer relationships that will eventually form 80% of your business must be cemented.

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Kate Campbell Stevenson connecting

As we have discussed previously, as a beginning, independent entrepreneur, what you are really selling is yourself, at least as much as your product or service. Your goal is to make prospective customers feel comfortable with and trust you. This will take a little time, but it will result in the bonds of loyalty that are absolutely essential for your ultimate success. You may prove me wrong, and if so, more power to you — but I don’t think this can be accomplished purely through the click of a mouse.At this point, I can envision those of you who know me thinking: “Sure Howie, your computer skills are in the lowest 1% percentile of western civilization, so of course you think this way.” And you’d be absolutely right! But I’m not advising you to forgo e-marketing, just to supplement it with a healthy dose of shoe leather. I don’t particularly like to discuss my own marketing and networking efforts at this blog, but in this case, I think a few specific examples will help clarify my point:


Morella Ewell networking at an outreach event

1. About two months ago, I read briefly from my upcoming civil rights memoir at an open reading at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. The center’s assistant director, who was running the session, asked me afterward to keep in touch with him. I did, and now I will be invited to present my book to the Writer’s Circle community when it is published.

2. Two weeks ago, I discussed my memoir and displayed civil rights memorabilia at an open house at Studio Pause in Alexandria, hosted by E.W.I.s own Sush Mazumdar. Less than a week later, I was offered several paid writing assignments by a photographer who discussed her work at the same open house.

3. Last weekend, I took a marketing and blogging workshop at the Writer’s Center, where I chatted and exchanged business cards with several other writers taking the class. A few days afterward, one of those students, an administrator at the Baltimore Museum of African-American History, invited me to read from and promote my book there when it is released.

Could I have secured these invaluable marketing and promotional opportunities by e-mail? I don’t think so. Was I just lucky? Perhaps, as I’ve certainly undertaken similar networking efforts which did not yield results. But get out there enough, and good things will come your way. They may not be the ones you most expected, but new horizons will open to you.

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Aida Mady networking at a benefit event

I’m no expert at literary marketing — in fact, I’ve just recently started down that path. I’m used to music marketing, which is a whole other world. Accordingly, I try to target events and venues where I figure to enjoy myself and feel comfortable. I’m not likely to attend a convention of science fiction or children’s book authors, because I won’t fit in, which will be obvious to prospective customers. I travel light — just a business card is really all you need to make your first connection. Later on, you can follow-up with more information on yourself and your business, and send out a sample of your work.You may not see yourself as a natural marketer or salesperson — I know I’m certainly not. So, as Jerry “Iceman” Butler used to sing, “Make it easy on yourself.” Bring along a friend for company and moral support, particularly if you tend to be shy among new people. Better yet: let your comrades in the EWI community know when and where you will be reading, exhibiting, cooking, dancing — whatever. We will be there to support you, so keep us informed of your appearances (by now, you may have noticed that I’m not exactly reluctant to let you know of my music and reading schedule!).

Remember: it’s Empowered Women – not Woman — International. We’re all in this together!

Take care,

By Howard Feinstein, Empowered Women International Board Member

Coach’s Corner is a bi-weekly blog for the EWI community, passing along news, events, articles of interest, and tips on growing your business.  We are all on this journey together, and no one — certainly not yours truly — has all the answers.  Accordingly, I hope you will contribute your ideas and experiences to this forum as well, c/o


Coach’s Corner: What Diana Nyad Shows Us All

23 Sep

After a break over our long, hot summer, it’s time to return to exchanging news and advice for our various entrepreneurial journeys.  This is a very exciting time for EWI, as we expand our horizons and programs.  So today, I am departing from my usual emphasis on specific do’s and don’ts to take a look at the big picture.

I’m sure that many of you were as taken as I was by Diana Nyad’s remarkable triumph earlier this month, when she completed her Cuba-to-Florida swim on her fifth attempt, at the tender age of 64.  Here is what she said upon reaching the shore:

Never, ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams.  It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s really a team effort.”


Diana Nyad (photo credit: ABC News)

She wasn’t just exulting at her own success; she was deliberately telling all of us that our various challenges are within our power to overcome.  At EWI, that is precisely what we are about:  helping each other overcome doubts, naysayers, and obstacles to realize our dreams.  Our alumnae have traveled this road, and we are pledged to do whatever it takes to bring empowerment and business success to our new students as well.  Trust me:  everyone on our staff and board understands that we are not a business school, but rather a holistic community that deals with every aspect of our students’ lives, no matter how long that might take, until empowerment becomes a reality.

It has become a well-worn cliché that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but my experience at EWI has confirmed my belief that persistence in the face of adversity is the most important habit that our women can develop.  Take Diana Nyad herself:  her father died when she was an infant; she had to halt her swimming career at its peak, as a prospective Olympian, due to a severe heart ailment; she was expelled from college, eventually transferring and obtaining her degree; and she grew up at a time when opportunities for women were strictly limited, not to mention the legally unprotected status and overwhelming prejudice against gay individuals.

Examples abound, close to home.  Ask our executive director about her journey to America, and the daunting challenges she and her family faced.  Ask our board chair about her decision to start a business from scratch, and what she heard from doubters.  Ask the members of EWI’s new Writers Circle about the staggering personal travails they have surmounted, and how their persistence has been a key to their empowerment.  In the civil rights movement, we referred to this focus and determination against all odds as keeping our “Eyes on the Prize.”  (I could give you many personal examples, but you’ll have to wait for my upcoming memoir, a percentage of the royalties from which are pledged to EWI).

Finally, never forget that, as Diana Nyad noted, successful struggles are not solitary, but rather “team efforts.”  The EWI community — a lifelong sorority, growing with every new class — provides a ready-made team to help you every step of the way.  If one of us doesn’t have an answer to a specific problem, we will find someone who does.  We will handle all requests for assistance with confidentiality and discretion.  And it’s not a one-way street.  Some day, we will call on you to reach back and help your sister as well.

In the words of our founder, onward and upward.

By Howard Feinstein, EWI Board Member

A bi-weekly blog for the EWI community, passing along news, events, articles of interest, and tips on growing your business.  We are all on this journey together, and no one — certainly not yours truly — has all the answers.  Accordingly, I hope you will periodically contribute your ideas and news to this forum, c/o

Coach’s Corner

26 Jun

By Howard Feinstein, EWI Board Member

Howard Feinstein

Howard Feinstein

A weekly blog for E.W.I. students and graduates, passing along news, events, articles of interest, and tips on growing your business.  We are all on this journey together, and no one – certainly not yours truly – has all the answers.  Accordingly, I hope you will periodically contribute your ideas and news to this forum, c/o

Mon. June 24

Sincere congratulation to each and every member of our Spring 2013 E.T.S. class, who graduated on Sunday.  They join a growing group of E.W.I. alumnae who have gone forward with confidence and high expectations, not only as entrepreneurs, but as productive citizens.  The E.T.S. curriculum is a demanding one, and those who complete it have reason to be proud.  However, as every previous graduate knows well, E.T.S. is just the first step on the road to business and personal empowerment.  Today, I want to emphasize — based on considerable experience as a board member, mentor, and trainer  — that you do not have to travel that road alone.  

The E.W.I. road is a continuing, two-way street.  We understand, from our own entrepreneurial ventures, that classroom preparation is just the beginning of a lengthy learning process.  We have taken major steps to expand our original curriculum, through our new Grow Your Business program, and the establishment of business-specific working groups, spearheaded by the new EWI Writers Group.  We are regularly re-assessing and tweaking all of our programs, and we need your continuing input to be sure we are providing the most effective preparation for your careers.  Let us know how your business is progressing, what aspects of the EWI training were most helpful, and what you would change or add.  Unlike similar programs, we do not operate out of a musty, standardized manual.  We are committed to do whatever it takes to ensure that all of our graduates remain on the road to empowerment.  At EWI, we do not fear change – we welcome it.

We also know that the road you have embarked on is seldom a straight, controlled-access highway.  Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that the greatest teacher of all is trial-and-error.  Don’t be afraid to take chances, take the road less traveled, and sometimes just “trust your gut.”  You will make mistakes and have bad days, but you will learn from them.  As the E.W.I. community grows, you have at your disposal many people who started exactly where you were, and have gone through similar experiences.  Let alumnae and staff know what challenges you are facing, how you are meeting them, and whether you can use some help.  Remember:  you are not asking for favors, but rather tapping the resources of a lifelong community of support.  You are not “bothering” us — this what we do, and as in any extended family, you will have the highly–rewarding opportunity to “give back” to your sisters as well.   Keep track of what your fellow alumnae are up to:  patronize their businesses, attend their events, and spread the word to your friends and colleagues.  All for one, one for all.

Good luck; keep in touch; and in the words of our founder, “onward and upward.”

To read more about Howie, click here.


Coaches Corner: The Establishment Of A New Era! EWI’s Very Own Business Writer’s Union

11 Jun


 Howard Feinstein, EWI Board Member


This week, E.W.I. took a major step forward by launching its first business-specific working body, the E.W.I. Writers Group.  We have long envisioned establishing specialized groups where current students, graduates, and others could share knowledge, provide support, and even pool resources, geared to their specific business areas.  Writing and publishing, which are undergoing historic changes, provide a golden opportunity to start.  To date, thirteen EWI-affiliated writers (students, graduates, staff, and board members) have signed up for this group, which will meet on the second Tuesday evening of each month in the E.W.I. conference room in Alexandria.  Anyone else interested should contact Howard Feinstein at ASAP.  There are absolutely no requirements other than EWI affiliation and an interest in writing — it doesn’t matter whether you have just won the Nobel Prize for literature, or you are just interested in exploring writing.


Writing is a highly diverse field — already we have fiction and nonfiction authors, poets, spoken-word artists, music lyricists, and others.  We will be sharing information on publishing leads and opportunities; marketing trends; technological developments; structural changes in the publishing industry; and many more facets of this rapidly-evolving field.  Eventually, we may choose to read and preview each other’s work, invite guest speakers, and other activities.  The initial meeting, on July 9, will be devoted to seeing where we are in our writing careers, and exploring what everyone would like to get from the group experience.  Writing is an unusually isolated activity, and EWI provides a ready-made avenue for support and cooperation.

We expect that other E.W.I. business-specific groups will follow.  In addition to the networking and marketing techniques that we have been discussing at this blog-space, it is also important to keep apprised of developments in one’s particular field of business (this is sometimes referred to as “inside networking“).  This doesn’t mean spying on competitors or fishing for others’ trade secrets.  Rather, we mean steps like reading journals, magazines, and websites which cover your business; attending meetings and conferences relating to your field; speaking or exhibiting at trade fairs and similar events; in short, just taking the time to keep an eye open for developments in your area.

This type of networking should be carried out on a cooperative, rather than competitive, basis.  In this age of social media and constantly expanding information availability, it is actually easier than ever to keep abreast of news and notes which can be helpful to you.  And let’s face it:  we are in a large, growing metropolitan area, relatively unscathed by the economic downturn which created such havoc in other regional markets.  Your goal is not to “corner the market” or drive competitors out of business.  We are fortunate to be in a market which can absorb quality services and products.  Put your energy into providing maximum customer service and top-notch quality, and you can — and will — succeed, with the support of your friends in the E.W.I. community.

One more quick piece of advice — I don’t believe that any of you will do this, but I have seen it in music and other businesses, so I may as well mention it:  Refrain from criticizing or circulating negative information about competitors.  Your business can stand on its own without resorting to this tactic.  Also, these digs have a way of coming back on you, as one never knows who may eventually hear them.  Keep things positive and professional, and treat every customer like royalty, and you will prosper.  The high road is the one to take.

Best wishes to all,


  Written By EWI Board Member, Howard Feinstein

Inspirations Behind ETS Training & Mentoring

6 Jun

With graduation day approaching, we were curious to know from our mentors, trainers and business coaches: a) Why training or mentoring ETS students is important for them and  b) Has this interaction affected/impacted their lives?

The responses we received were heartwarming; it is encouraging to know that we are surrounded by people that are willing to sacrifice their precious time and energy to Empowered Women International and the cause it stands for.

The first response came from Howard Feinstein our Business Coach & Legal Adviser:

Howard Feinstein

Howard Feinstein

“I have spent most of my life, professionally and personally, in the civil rights arena, trying to make equal opportunity a reality for all in American, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, orientation, or other discriminatory classifications.  Working with immigrant and low-income women at Empowered Women International for the past couple of years has given me the most meaningful experience with regard to this cause since I was a civil rights attorney in the South, many years ago.  One reason for this is that, while our “official” mission at EWI is to train and prepare women to become successful entrepreneurs, we go the extra mile and stay involved in their lives for as long as it takes, dealing with whatever issues present themselves in their lives.

During difficult economic times, it is challenging enough to navigate the business world, particularly in an area as competitive as the capital region. Add to that factors such as language and cultural unfamiliarity; lack of access to start-up capital; limited educational background; and/or a history of oppression by husbands or partners, and it becomes clear that EWI’s clients need more than the standard classroom approach.  Unlike other well-meaning non profits, EWI will do whatever it takes to ensure that our students succeed.  If this means hanging in there with a woman for several years, we’ll do it.  If it means bringing in an attorney, a social worker, a financial adviser, or other outside assistance, that’s no problem.  If it means setting up a “buddy” system, in which a former student or mentor works one-on-one with an EWI graduate while a business is growing, we will make that happen.  This holistic approach is geared to ultimately equip our students with confidence they need to succeed not just as businesswomen, but as empowered individuals. – Howard Feinstein, EWI Board Member, Mentor, Trainer, Attorney, Musician, etc.”

The second response came from our  Mentor Christine Ollis:

Christine Ollis

Christine Ollis

“I have had the privilege of being a mentor to four amazing women participating in the Entrepreneur Training for Success (ETS) program:  Dicey and Nneka Scroggins, Gabriela Garza and Nishat Siddiqui.  I was familiar with EWI and it’s great work, but I had never worked as a mentor before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  The experience was so fulfilling for me!!  I witnessed the determination of the students who have faced serious struggles, but remain committed to achieving their dreams.  The passion each woman has for their respective business goals was truly an inspiration to me.  The EWI curriculum is so well thought out, it made this very complex process of starting a business seem totally doable.  The women were also provided with the very best instructor, Sharmila Karamchandani, who guided us through the intense material with ease and wit.  I know these woman will succeed and I look forward to continuing to be a part of their journey.”

Thank you all for the wonderful work you are doing for EWI.

Meet Reneta!

6 Jun
Reneta Bennett

Reneta Bennett

Ms. Reneta LaShay Bennett is a purpose driven person who has found great meaning and refuge in spoken word. Ms. Bennett’s best friend passed away at an early age and left behind many poems revealing her insecurities and depression. Inspired by the death of her dear friend, Ms. Bennett founded her own spoken word organization for adolescents. This platform allows teenagers to express themselves in a safe, supportive environment while participating in community activism and building self-confidence. Through this experience, she hopes teenagers will find a sense of belonging and meaning.

Empowered Women International has provided guidance and direction for Ms. Bennett’s organization, allowing her to streamline her mission and build a more viable and strategic plan for the future. Similar to her own company, this program has instilled her with confidence and empowerment.

– By Chelsea Collier, EWI Volunteer 

Louisiana Night at A Show Of Hands

22 May

Please join us on Friday evening June 7 from 6-9pm at A Show Of Hands,  in Alexandria where EWI board member Hurricane Howie Feinstein will  be performing Louisiana roots music on piano and accordion for a special exhibit of arts and crafts from Louisiana.


The exhibition will feature the paintings of the late Emily Johnson Bain, a teacher and art educator who spent much of her career in Louisiana and Texas. Mrs Bain’s daughter, Carolyn Bain, is working with A Show of Hands organizing a showing of her mother’s work.

A  Show Of Hands is a delightful gallery in Alexandra’s Del Ray arts district located on 2301 Mt. Vernon Ave. Co-owners Pat Miller and Maria Wasowski have created a shop that represents the diversity of local artists by providing them with a venue to showcase and sell their unique, handcrafted artwork. They continue to be wonderful supporters of EWI.

There will be beverages and light food, CDs, Mardi Gras beads, and who knows what else? Free-of-charge for all. Pass the word on and see you there!

Coach’s Corner – It’s All About the Customer

13 May

howieBy Howard Feinstein, EWI Board Member

A weekly blog for EWI students and graduates, passing along news, events, articles of interest, and tips on growing your business.  We are all on this journey together, and no one – certainly not yours truly – has all the answers.  Accordingly, I hope you will periodically contribute your ideas and news to this forum, c/o

Monday, May 13 — Today I would like to focus once more on the overriding importance of customer service.  I was again reminded of how crucial this concept is to a growing, successful small business by a piece in last week’s Washington Post by Thomas Heath, entitled “Wash, rinse, ka-ching! Repeat.”  The article is on the Post’s weekly Washington Business page in the first section; this page appears every Monday.  Make this page a Monday morning habit, and you will regularly discover ideas and inspiration which you can use in your own business.

The piece tells the story of two sisters, both working mothers, who started a local hair salon – a highly competitive business to be sure, but one in which nurturing customer loyalty is the path to success.  Rather than paraphrase the story, here are some quotes from the owners, Stacy Dabney Ramirez and Lindsey Dabney Cabrera:

— “Presentation is your first impression.  I care about how the sugar is put in the jar.  I care about what the bathrooms look like.  I care about how things are placed on the shelves.  I try to remember people’s names when they come in.”

— “When asked why clients choose a certain salon, the top reasons have nothing to do with their haircut.  It is 90 percent customer service and 10 percent technical.  So we are invested in the customer service, although I don’t overlook the technical.”

— “We send clients handwritten thank-you notes, tossing in a $5 Starbucks gift card.”

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Now, let’s think about that:  the key to the success of this start-up business, by the owners’ own admission, is not that they are necessarily Nobel- Prize-winning beauticians, but rather that they bend over backwards to make every customer feel special and appreciated.  As I have been emphasizing in this blog from its beginning, you may develop the perfect product or service, but unless you treat your prospective and continuing customers like royalty, you are not going to succeed in the demanding Washington market.  Make people feel wanted, and they will eventually form that 20% of your clientele that brings in 80% of your business.

photo 1

Don’t take my word for it – ask some of our successful EWI graduates.  And the next time you are at the EWI office, ask Marga and Mary how they acknowledge our contributors, partners, teachers, trainers, hosts, etc.  Best of all, it takes very little in terms of time and cost.

Best wishes and keep in touch,

Coach’s Corner with Howard Feinstein

25 Apr

Coach’s Corner

By Howard Feinstein, EWI Board Member

A weekly blog for E.W.I. students and graduates, passing along news, events, articles of interest, and tips on growing your business.  We are all on this journey together, and no one – certainly not yours truly – has all the answers.  Accordingly, I hope you will periodically contribute your ideas and news to this forum, c/o

Mon.  April 22:  Once you have put in place the basic marketing materials we’ve discussed previously (business cards; website; monthly (approximately) newsletter, etc.), it’s time to branch out beyond your family and friends.  You need not feel overwhelmed at this point – this is just the beginning stage.  Start out with groups with which you’re already affiliated — at a minimum, these are people who know you, so they are unlikely to delete your e-mail.  Let them know about your new venture; direct them to your website; and ask them to refer their own friends and colleagues to you.  This will get the ball rolling, quickly and inexpensively.  You will eventually need to network more creatively and probably develop additional marketing tools, but at this point, you want to build up your confidence and solicit some constructive feedback from allies.


Nadia showing her paintings

Remember:  as we’ve stressed, entrepreneurial networking is all about making prospective customers feel comfortable about dealing with you as an individual.  Once you have established this bond, you have opened the door to eventual success, because these repeat, long-term customers will provide you with the vast majority of your business over time.  You have plenty of time to tweak your product and/or service once you get feedback – at this point, you want to begin cementing the business relationships which are the key to your entrepreneurial future.  Best to begin with people who you are already comfortable with.


Aida Mady of Cooking & Beyond

So, what types of customer bases are we talking about here?  The potential target population is broad, and will depend upon each of your individual lifestyles.  Your church, synagogues, or mosque; your place of employment [note – do your marketing outside the workplace if at all possible]; clubs, sororities, alumni associations; neighborhood associations you already belong to; book clubs, sports leagues, and other group activities in which you are involved — use your imagination.  Again, at this point, you are not seeking immediate sales, but rather, as we’ve emphasized, getting your name out there.  Ask people to help you pass the word; ask for specific feedback or suggestions; and be sure to thank people for their time.


Winter Walker showcasing her NuDelish Date Butter, with Dinelles Sakyi, Fall 2012 Graduates

Here’s an example of a pre-existing network available to all of us:  EWI itself!  We are all entrepreneurs here — not just your fellow students, but the staff, board, and alumnae.  People in this network already have a basic idea of what you are up to, because they have been there themselves; this is a perfect audience for referrals, constructive critique, and confidence-building.  Remember:  entrepreneurial marketing involves walking a fine line – don’t be repetitious or obnoxious, but don’t be shy, either.  Your product reflects your passion, so let people know that they can expect something special.  You will already have the benefit of the doubt, because members of the growing EWI family know there you are coming from, and that you are going into this effort with access to top-notch preparation.   Do you think that when my civil rights memoir is published later this year, I will be letting you know that it is available for purchase?  Of course I will!  We all owe it to ourselves and EWI to do the same — this is a win-win situation.

Until next week, best wishes to all, and keep in touch – none of this did this alone, and you don’t have to either.  Helping each other is not a job or a favor – it is our mission.