Crystal Canney’s many and varied experiences as a journalist prepared her well to embark upon her career as an entrepreneur. A graduate of Old Town High School and Emerson College, where she studied mass communications and political science, Canney worked as an investigative reporter and editor for WGME-TV in Portland for 20 years and for WABI-TV in Bangor for five years. During her tenure as a reporter, she covered a number of national stories, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Her reporting for a series of stories involving impoverished children in Maine and the state’s Department of Health and Human Services won a national award from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In 2005, Canney left broadcast journalism to become Gov. John Baldacci’s communications director. In that position, she was constantly in the public eye, helping to get the governor’s message out to the media. Two years later, she was appointed associate commissioner of finance and oversaw a staff of 350.
Canney worked for Baldacci for four years. In 2009, she decided to open her own communications company to work with businesses, nonprofits, and specifically, on campaigns and elections. Her first campaign was in opposition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative, which appeared as Question 4 on the 2009 ballot and was defeated, 59-41 percent. During the last election cycle she was the communications director for the group advocating for the $33 million bond to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center, which passed by a large margin. She also handled public relations for the group behind the Biddeford racino question on November’s ballot, which was defeated.
Q: What were your most important needs in getting started?
A: A working business plan was crucial. The Maine Media Federal Credit Union sponsored an event with SCORE and that gave me the know-how to get feet on the ground. In addition, cash flow was important. I had saved enough in case I didn’t get clients for six months to keep things running at home. I had an extremely supportive family. Both my husband and daughter knew that this was important to me. When I was preparing to leave state government, in the midst of a recession, there were some long conversations about trading in a good-paying job with benefits to become an entrepreneur and all the risk that comes with that. I am quite sure without their unwavering support I would not have been able to do this.
Q: What was there about your upbringing that gave you the courage to venture out on your own?
A: I have a very close family and grew up next door to my grandparents. My grandmother worked in a shoe factory and worked very hard all her life. She always had a positive attitude no matter how long the days, how hard the work, and how little the pay. She would return home each night and be concerned about what went on in everyone else’s life, despite working terribly hard. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be my own boss and create an environment that people would want to work in. It’s interesting, we don’t always see the building blocks at the time you are immersed in this job or that job. I was fortunate to have worked as a journalist and to really get to understand the state and its dynamics. That block brought me into the governor’s office where I worked on communicating state policy and learned how the political process plays out. The final block came when I knew I had the skills to open my own company. Each step was a learning process and very important to get me where I am now.
Q: What do you think the advantages are of being a female entrepreneur?
A: I find other businesswomen to be very supportive. I had a great mentor when I worked in state government in Becky Wyke, who was the commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. In terms of advantages, I am not sure there are direct advantages as it relates to gender. However, it is important to keep telling the story of women willing to take a calculated risk in order to achieve their goals.
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring woman entrepreneur?
A: Work smart. Listen, listen, listen. Know what you bring to the table and don’t be afraid to talk about your successes.
Q: If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
A: No. For me all steps were necessary and I am very happy where I am in my life, personally and professionally.