Suzi Dafnis, Community Director, Australian Business Women's Network: Technology Allows Small Businesses to Punch Above Their Weight

Suzi Dafnis is Co-Founder of Rich Dad's Seminars, Co-Founder of Pow Pow Events International and Community Director of the Australian Businesswomen's Network.

Suzi Dafnis founded Pow Wow Events International in 1994 with her partner, Peter Johnston (PJ) to provide transformative education to Australians. She sold Pow Wow Events in 2007.

Suzi is passionate about supporting women in business and has been involved Australian Businesswomen's Network - the leading organisation for women in business in Australia, since 1995. She became director in 1998.

In 2000, she helped establish a new company, Rich Dad's Seminars in Phoenix, Arizona to take the same leading edge seminar technology that has made her previous business, Pow Wow Events, a market leader – to the enormous market of the USA.

Suzi came to the world of personal development education with a background in marketing in the music and fashion industries. A successful direct marketer, Suzi has been responsible for creating numerous successful campaigns for the promotion of products and programs. A natural and demanding leader, Suzi's mission is to have others achieve their goals as she sets the benchmark even higher for herself.

Suzi was a finalist in the Business Owner category of the Telstra Business Women's Awards in 2001. She was also a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2003.

We spoke to Suzi about how it felt to sell her first business; how she broke into the US market; and how technology enables her company to ''punch above its weight''.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch Pow Wow Events?

SD: I never went to university, but loved learning and so much of my learning was through books, seminars and mentors. I had the opportunity to work with exceptional minds and so started the business to bring this non-traditional education to others who, like me, loved to learn and grow. We produced thousands of events across three countries. We published and sold over 1.5 million books authored by the speakers we represented.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

Technology has always allowed us to innovate and to punch ‘above our weight’ as a small business.

We were online very early and have used cloud-based solutions for years, in part because we operated across countries and timezones and, as a small business, looked to technology to leverage our time and money.

More recently we’ve used technology to turn the Australian Businesswomen's Network into an online training and mentoring organisation and a publisher of great business content across lots of media (social networks, blog, podcasts, webinars, videos).  Our team members are located over a number of venues so we use technology to collaborate and do business.

TNW: How does your company distinguish itself from the competition?

SD: We made the conscious decision to move away from being a networking organisation to focus on education aimed at helping women develop their business skills. Networking is a short-term fix for the long-term goal of growing a business.

Education empowers women to make choices and do business better. Through access to mentors and role models women develop powerful business skills.

TNW: What is next for Australian Businesswomen's Network? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

SD: We continue to use technology to innovate. I personally have a passion for technology and for helping small businesses see how technology can help their business. Social media has become a big part of what we do and teach and we’re often used as a case study of a small business that punches way above their weight with technology.

TNW: Did you learn lessons when launching Pow Wow Events which you applied to the launch of Rich Dad's Seminars? Which aspects of your launch strategy did you keep the same? Did you have to change any aspects of your business plan for the US market?

Moving into a big market was quite frightening. We didn’t have the staff, infrastructure, customers.

We did have a big vision and we had a proven system of marketing and seminar production that we could translate to another market. It was very exciting and we grew very quickly.

TNW: How did you manage the exit process for Pow Wow Events? How did it feel when you sold it and was it difficult to leave the company behind, having founded and run it for over a decade?

It took me a long time to decide to sell. Pow Wow Events was my first business and my baby, and it allowed me to fulfil my vision of providing transformative education and to helping people move their lives in new directions.Luckily though we did transition out of it well, selling it at a great time. Initially I thought I’d take time off, but I have ended up dedicating my time to the Australian Businesswomen's Network – my other passion.

TNW: When you sold Pow Wow Events, did you consider any other career options, or did you always know that you would go on to found another company?

SD: I knew I’d start another business at some point, because I love business. However, my partner and I have invested in real estate for many years and so we had a backup financial plan, as well as the proceeds from the sale of the business, so I didn’t have to jump into anything right away.

I decided to focus on moving the Australian Businesswomen's Network from an offline live events association-style organisation to a leading online training and mentoring portal. This has taken a couple of years and I love this work and the women I meet.

TNW: Which aspect of your role as Community Director of the Australian Businesswomen's Network brings you the most personal satisfaction and why?

SD: Being an online organisation we’ve had to be very creative in how we grow the business. And, we’ve had to retrain ourselves on how we market the benefits of being a part of our community. We use technology a lot and we have become leaders in online mentoring, webinars and social media. I am an eternal student and as we create programs for our audience I am learning too. I started my first podcast series 2 years ago and had to learn how to interview, how to design an episode. I have been using social media for three years and continued to learn how to use it effectively. I also transfer my knowledge to helping other women to use the same technology – and that is very satisfying.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN and your own Australian Businesswomen's Network?

SD: The Dell event in Rio was such a pleasure to be a part of. I enjoy the company of smart women and liked that the event was presented so professionally, and that Dell was so generous. Of course I was honoured to be a guest speaker as well. I often get asked why we still need women’s organisations. And, I don’t know that I think we NEED them, but having been around women at DWEN and in our own network, I see the value and confidence in the women sharing with woman and so appreciate what Dell is doing for entrepreneurs.

TNW: What is one lesson about leadership you learned from a boss or mentor and have gone on to apply to your own leadership style?

SD: Being a good leader takes being a big being. And by that I mean that when you only have to manage yourself you can deal with your own foibles. Once you start to manage people you need to get beyond yourself and be present to what is going on with the other person. 

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?

SD: I am a big advocate of personal development and taking responsibility for our lives. I have, for the last 20 years, surrounded myself with people who ask more of me than I would ask of myself - mentors, personal trainers, other business women.

I believe that we become a product of the thoughts we think and the people we surround ourselves with. So, my recommendation is to be very deliberate in your choice of what you consume (whether it's media, books, information) and to choose your people very consciously.

If you're in a funk - take a look at who and what is around you. Of course, take responsibility for what you can do about it without laying blame.

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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