Guest Post from Stephanie Parker, Panelist, Speak Up in Your Community Panel at the Speak Up Women Conference
I am honored to have the opportunity to be part of the Speak Up Women Conference at the UN. I never imagined that my little Zipadee-Zip invention I created to help our daughter sleep would set the stage and build a platform for speaking up and affecting change and community like it has. ‘Speaking up’ for me has been two-fold. Both my faith and desire to give back are the driving factors that have given our business a much bigger purpose and mission. I’d like to share how I’ve been able to grow support and community around these causes in hopes that you can apply some of these principles to speak up in your own communities and affect change.
How to build a community with your voice:
Identify your passions: Before you can embark on a mission, you have to identify what you are willing to fight for… what defines you. The road will not always be easy when you make a commitment to speaking up so it’s important that you are personally invested in what you are fighting for or speaking up about.
Our Sleepingbaby.com Company started from one of the things I’m most passionate about and that is my faith in God. I remember sitting on my bed in tears as I faced the reality that I’d have to go back to work, only to have most of my salary go towards someone else raising our daughter while I was at work. My heart’s prayer was to stay at home with her. In a moment of desperation, I remember opening my Bible to a verse that says, “To Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or imagine, by the power that is at work within us through Christ Jesus… To Him be the glory throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen.” -Ephesians 3:20-21. As tears streamed down my face, I prayed that if God chose to bless this little Zipadee-Zip invention, I’d give Him the glory for it.
We grew to a $5 million dollar a year, debt-free business in less than 4 years by word of mouth marketing and a $700 investment…which was truly nothing short of miraculous. I feel an incredible responsibility to tell that story as my faith in God is what started it all. It may not be a belief everyone shares, but it’s a story I’m not ashamed of and am willing to speak up about regardless of the backlash. It’s also that faith that led me through one of my biggest trials of my life and ultimately created the community of women that would provide the second purpose that I have spoken up about….
Tell your story: Stories are the most powerful tool you have to affect change and touch hearts in a real and lasting kind of way. Stories are essential when hoping to build a community. There may be a lot of facts or logical reasoning that can support your cause, but nothing will be more powerful than what really connects you to your audience. The most vital ingredients that come into play when telling your story is that it is genuine and true and from the heart.
Our business built on faith led to the story that founded our community. In December of 2013, I lost a baby during pregnancy. It was the most gut-wrenching, excruciating thing I’ve ever endured and I never understood until that moment how much you can love a person you’ve never met before. To top it off, I was running a baby business where I saw photos of cute, healthy babies every day. I didn’t know how to face that, and I quickly got horribly behind on orders. I finally had to tell my customers publically that I had lost a child and to please be patient as I catch up. What resulted impacted me in a way I cannot entirely explain. I was flooded with women who reached out to me to share their losses and words of encouragement with me. They expressed being grateful that someone finally spoke up about an often unspoken struggle. Their stories not only built our community of women in a lasting and beautiful way, but they also helped me heal and move forward. My decision to speak up opened up a new passion in my heart… to help other women to speak up about their struggles and encourage true healing in a place that often goes unaddressed.
Be transparent about your weaknesses:
There is nothing more powerful than genuine transparency. Not only can people relate to it, but everyone secretly craves the ability to just be real without having to go through the walls and masks people often put up to hide their true selves. Deep down everyone wants to be known and when we are willing to open ourselves up to that, great things can happen.
When my husband and I made it on Shark Tank, I was faced with the decision of whether or not to share the loss of our baby and how our community of women helped me heal. I made the decision that if I didn’t speak up, I could miss out on touching someone’s life the way our customers had touched mine. That single decision resulted in an amazing chain of events. After airing on the show, I was contacted by a women named Kelly who was pregnant with a baby that doctors said may not survive to birth due to severe heart conditions. Doctors recommended that she terminate the pregnancy but she shared that after seeing my story on TV, she was renewed with strength and determination to fight for her son. Our community of women surrounded that little boy in prayer and support. Little ‘Finn’ was born on January 2nd of 2015 and is alive and well today. Finn has been in the hospital and his hospital stay prompted our business to raise money for his family and the Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House supports families who’s little ones are in the hospital for severe medical conditions. Our company was able to raise tens of thousands of dollars through the community of women that rallied around in support. This was a testament to what big and beautiful things can come from transparency and not being afraid to speak up!
Expect negativity and consider it a compliment: Whenever you unashamedly stand up for what you believe whether it be in business, religiously, philanthropically or otherwise, you are bound to have some naysayers. With the anonymity of the Internet, people feel much freer to share their thoughts. After I shared my story on Shark Tank, I actually had someone accuse me of making up the loss of my baby for publicity reasons! Other people criticized Kelly’s decision to keep a baby that might have medical issues! People can be hurtful, but it’s important to focus on the change and beauty you can bring into this world when you aren’t afraid to speak up! Imagine what could have happened had Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Theresa chose not to speak out in words and action… or what could happen if YOU don’t speak up. You biggest fear should not be found in speaking up, but instead missing out on a bigger purpose for your life!
Exceed your potential and SPEAK UP!
I look forward to meeting you at the Speak Up Women Conference on March 5th at the United Nations and hearing about your experience!