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Expanding the reach of women-owned businesses

Madison’s Amber Swenor was the first American to participate in VV Grow, an international accelerator for women business owners.

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The span of recorded human history is about 5,000 years, which means most of the “firsts” have already been accomplished by someone long since passed.

Credit Amber Swenor, founder and brand strategist of Strategic Partners Marketing, for nabbing one of the few remaining firsts last year by becoming the first woman from the U.S. to participate in an international cohort of 39 women business owners that made up the Vital Voices signature business accelerator program, VV GROW.

Vital Voices works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights, and VV GROW partners with women leaders across the globe who use business growth to improve their community and world.

Swenor was chosen from a pool of almost 700 applicants based on her demonstrated business growth, commitment to serving her local, regional, and global communities, and potential for continued growth and prosperity.

Participants met for weekly webinars from January through April, attended an in-person, five-day training in Dublin, Ireland in May, and then resumed biweekly web sessions from June through November before graduating in December. The trainings included visionary leadership, strategic networking, financial management for executives, operational management, technology for business growth, leadership, and paying it forward.

A Shawano-area native, Swenor grew up seeing the value that local business owners and local businesses brought to both the economy and the spirit of community, and she wanted to help them succeed.

Her Madison-based business, Strategic Partners Marketing (SPM), partners with companies of all sizes to provide both high-level brand strategy and tactical-level execution of those strategies, including brand strategy, digital marketing, web design, social media, public relations, media relations, and media strategy and buying. In less than three years, Swenor increased SPM’s revenue from $0 to over $1 million and has grown the team to seven employees.

The biggest lesson she took away from VV Grow, however, was that to evolve as a leader and continue her company’s  growth, she can’t do everything.

“My expectations going into the program were to organize and systemize the business so that it could grow more efficiently and without tasks becoming ‘bottle necked’ with me,” explains Swenor. “I wanted to stop holding the company back from growth due to a lack of processes or lack of people. I knew that I wanted to utilize my talents in the places where I could make the biggest impact and get the best output for both clients and for SPM.”

In order to accomplish these goals, Swenor needed to grow as a business leader and essentially become the “CEO,” which required mindset work and making the commitment to growth. “This meant backing myself out of certain tasks and accepting that I wouldn’t touch every task for every client. This also required hiring, training, and empowering a stellar team, trusting that team, and also raising my personal rates.”

Tactically, says Swenor, it required SPM to become more streamlined in its internal processes and removing tasks from her plate that were eating up too much time and weren’t engaging her top strengths.

“I now focus my time on business strategy and being a leader to the team, and client time is focused on key areas that can have the biggest impact such as business coaching, brand strategy, and media strategy,” Swenor says.

Programs like VV Grow are essential for many reasons, notes Swenor, but particularly because women are major drivers of the global economy, yet in most countries, women own significantly fewer businesses than men. “Bringing more women entrepreneurs into the marketplace offers a chance for more successful businesses.”


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