The Inspiration Lab, a women’s membership community that focuses on personal and professional growth, is hosting a conference at the Wilmington Convention Center on November 13-14. Stephanie Lanier, of residential real-estate firm Lanier Property Group, is the mom, entrepreneur and mastermind behind the event. She took a few minutes to share with encore about the conference and where she hopes to take her message in the next few years.
encore (e): The conference appears to be one event among many you offer. Tell us a little about Inspiration Lab and why the monthly membership is beneficial?
Stephanie Lanier (SL:) The Inspiration Lab exists to give working women tools and teach them to transform their personal and professional lives within an empowering community. The monthly membership is the community piece and actually the driving force for many of our members to join.
We love live events because we know that, while modern women are more connected than ever, they also tell us they are more lonely than ever.
Monthly, we have our Member Meetups, which are free for members and are a casual way to get to know one another and deepen existing relationships.
Quarterly, we host our signature event, a members-only workshop called “Banner Year Blueprint.” This series kicks off each January with a full day of planning aided by a workbook I create for each attendee. At each subsequent workshop, we reflect on the quarter that was and plan for what’s ahead.
Twice a year we host a member/guest mixer so any woman can attend for free, member or not, and find out what we are about. For our next one, we’ll be at Brooklyn Arts Center on March 8 to celebrate International Women’s Day!
e: Why this conference and why now?
SL: I have a boutique real-estate firm in town, and we happen to all be working moms (including two who are pregnant right now). So all of us traveling to real-estate events out of the area is challenging. I have always wanted to take my entire team to a national-level conference, so I figured why not start one here in Wilmington?
As far as I know, this is the only large (200-plus attendees) women’s real-estate conference based on the East Coast, which is mind-blowing. I saw an opportunity to bless our team and industry, and make a wise business move all at once.
As for why now, I am passionate about women growing in their personal and professional lives—simultaneously. I couldn’t find a place/event/organization interested in both. As the mother of a medically fragile son who is autistic, it is impossible for me to separate my professional journey from my personal one. I think all women can relate to this concept. We bring our whole selves to work and our whole selves home, so why can’t we transform our whole life at the same time?
For all the ways we are connected digitally, nothing beats spending time together in person. Some of the biggest breakthroughs in my career and life-changing relationships were experienced before, during and after conferences. The energy from so many women, all there to learn, is powerful and no device will ever be able to capture that.
e: How did you select the speakers? You mention they are coming nationally and from Canada. What was the criteria?
SL: It was important to me to bring onstage women who have the respect of their peers in their respective industries—they are leaders among leaders. For those women giving solo talks and keynotes, they are all experienced with public speaking; many get paid to speak yet every speaker is volunteering her time for this event, which is amazing!
As the founder of The Inspiration Lab, I personally handpicked every single speaker and already have quite a few in mind for next year. One of the things I am committed to doing with The Inspiration Lab is to shine a light on women who haven’t had the chance to speak publicly or who want to speak more. I want to see more women on more stages, sharing their stories at everything from small gatherings to big national conferences.
At the highest levels of public speaking, we see way less women than I think we should. So much of public speaking is about knowing how to get the opportunity in the first place; we hope to demystify it. We even plan to host a class in 2020 to teach women how to get an invitation to be on stage, how to prepare for their talk or panel, and how to get invited back by organizers.
e: On your website it says you ended last year’s conference with puppies and are planning to end this year’s with miniature donkeys. What did you learn from last year that you are applying to better in 2019?
SL: The puppies were just so much fun, and we loved featuring the founder of paws4people, Kyria Henry, as our final speaker that night. We knew we could never top puppies, but when trying to decide on locations for our off-site happy hour on November 14, we found out Edward Teach Brewery has mini donkeys. Their names are Ernie and Friday, and they will be coming for photos and fun, carrying the swag of our sponsor, Sahara Crawlspaces. One of our goals with our conference is to bring some humor and Instagram-worthy experiences to our attendees and sponsors as well.
We learned so much from last year’s conference that we could make a mini workbook. Last year, we tried to save money, so one of my friends, Mandy Mattox, went to pick up more coffee when it appeared we might run out … and epic amounts spilled all over her minivan. I don’t know if she will ever get the coffee smell out of her car, so this year we are leaving all that to professionals.
e: I noticed a pump room is included at your conference. Whose idea was that? Is that standard at your events?
SL: The pump room was the idea of Meaghan Lewis, director of leadership development at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. She had mentioned the NC Chamber offering this at one of their conferences. I immediately made calls to set up one for our attendees. At a traditional conference, a nursing mom would have to leave the event in order to pump due to the length of time, but now there is a private space for her right on-site. At our conferences going forward, this will certainly be standard.
e: Tell us about the Inspiration Lab squads that meet six times a year: What purpose do they serve? Has there been a lot of interest? Approximately, how many people comprise a squad? Any stories about something that has come to fruition as a result of a squad?
SL: Since community is so important to our program, we created squads to function as small, niche-focused, peer-led groups. We currently have three [Small Business Owners, New to Town, Single Ladies], and by far our most successful is the one for women business owners.
To give an example of the small business squad’s impact, two local business owners, Sarah Pless of Renaissance Dental and Kristen Hobson of Bloom Nutrition, both totally revamped their marketing after we read through the book “Never Lose a Customer Again” by Joey Coleman. Sarah subsequently bought the book for her entire staff, and they have already seen incredible success by implementing ideas from it.
Kristen also got a new client from our small business squad, and Alisha Thomas from Wait. What? (a financial consulting firm for creatives) has said being with other like-minded women who are entrepreneurs has been so great, but the top benefit for her is the accountability.
For me, I want a place to talk about all the “not so sexy” parts of running a business among peers, from finance to retaining employees to legal concerns, and if/when you should buy or lease a commercial space.
e: What would you like women to know about the business world?
SL: I will speak to at least the women in our membership community: They are so hard on themselves! Their own standards for being a superstar at work, a chef at home, a saint at volunteering, and a machine at the gym is a heavy load to bear. I want to teach women we want to crush our goals, not the other way around. Goal-setting is important, but life can change quickly.
As I have learned from parenting a special-needs child, some quarters, years or weeks you just have to wrap your goals in grace. That phrase, “Wrap your goals in grace,” has become a mantra for The Inspiration Lab, and it is even going to be on a conference coffee cup. There are so many people out there motivating women, drill sergeant-style, pushing them to their limits, and while I like a pep talk as much as anyone else, I think my special message to the world is more about grace.
My life has been so impacted by my son’s life, and so many of my goals and dreams needed to change. So, for a woman with that kind of story, I want women in business to know there is a community that is a soft place to land and a strong place to launch. The grace is seen in the soft place to land, and the goals are reflected in the strong place to launch. The business world needs both.