Wednesday, July 27, 2005

How well do you understand people?

Every entrepreneur is in marketing. And I believe every marketer needs to know what makes people tick. What attracts their attention and compels them to action?

It's rare that we actually get a chance to see what interests people most. But here's an interesting opportunity in the Toronto Star's website: its "most e-mailed stories" page.
http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Render&c=Page&cid=1109682110623

On July 27, the day British police arrested a key bombing suspect and NASA revealed more launch problems with the shuttle Discovery, which Toronto Star news stories did readers most e-mail to their friends and colleagues?

You guessed it: the liquor store strike that didn't happen. Furor over a downtown movie studio. Ikea cuts prices. Which gives us lots of clues into why people behave the way they do (hint: self-interest), even if it is Marketing 101.

Here are the Star's Top 10 most-emailed sories of the day, in descending order:

Cheers! LCBO strike averted
July. 27, 2005 04:55 PM
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the union representing its 5,400 workers have reached a tentative agreement that will avert a threatened strike at 12:01 a.m. tonight.

Mega-studio deal sparks controversy
July. 27, 2005 06:17 AM
A massive studio complex has become mired in controversy.

Ikea cuts prices on more than 500 items
July. 27, 2005 07:09 AM
Retailer Ikea is slashing prices on its most popular items by 17 per cent.

Rule forces MD to leave her patients
July. 27, 2005 01:00 AM
Dr. Jesse Bhatia is wondering how seriously the Ontario government is taking the shortage of physicians.

Meet the chef of Kimbourne Farm
July. 27, 2005 01:00 AM
Louis-Charles Desjardins pulled up in front of the 1896 farmhouse at the end of a dusty road and knew he had found the perfect place for his country inn.

CSIS angered by imam's campaign
July. 27, 2005 06:19 AM
Canada's spy service is waging a rare public battle against an outspoken Scarborough imam.

Newcomers' skills wasted, group argues
July. 27, 2005 06:41 AM
The provincial and federal governments are doing a terrible job of helping professionally trained immigrants become accredited in Ontario.

Residents shocked as Abitibi closes mills
July. 27, 2005 04:09 PM
STEPHENVILLE, Nfld. — Residents of this community were stunned to learn that the region will lose 300 jobs.

Blackout hits downtown
July. 27, 2005 10:33 AM
A blackout yesterday morning knocked out traffic lights and power for more than 7,000 customers.

Who's taking blame for Christian violence?
July. 26, 2005 01:00 AM
Now that imams are publicly condemning terrorist acts as anti-Muslim and against the teachings in the Qur'an, I wonder if pressure might be put on Christian leaders to take a similar stand.

We'll have another "Understanding People" exercise in a few days. Because people are your target market.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Your Message in the Media

I had a great meeting yesterday with some people who are trying to rebrand their company and raise awareness in their selected market by doing some public relations.
They found it interesting to hear about my take on PR, so I thought I would share an abridged version with you.

1. The media are a great tool for getting coverage and raising awareness. But for most small businesses, you are better to tap into niche media than to go all out expecting TV, radio and big daily newspapers to pick up your story.

2. To do that, you need to know what niche you are targeting. (Fortunately, this company had just figured it out, which makes my job easier. A lot of companies still have no clue.)
3. Then you do some research to find out which media your target markets consume (preferably, when they are in a business frame of mind).
4. Study those media. Figure out what kinds of stories they are looking for. (Studying back issues, for instance, tells you what stories they like to run.)
5. Simply put, use your contacts, knowledge and industry expertise to give them more of the same.
6. Editors and news producers exist mainly to filter out press releases. They rarely see themselevs as searching for hidden gems amid the mountain of media releases they receive every day. So target specific media with personal queries.
7. Press releases are necessary for certain governance processes. From a marketing point of view, however, the best function of a press release is to create a comprehensive archive of controlled information for your website. It answers a lot of people's questions and looks incredibly professional.

But you will need to have a pretty good gimmick going (or there must be millions of lives at stake) if you expect a national newspaper to run your press release.

Pleae let me know if this has been helpful.
if you'd like more info, e-mail me anytime. rick@rickspence.ca

Friday, July 22, 2005

Lessons from a comic-book superhero


You can turn any experience into a lesson, says my friend, sales trainer Kelley Robertson. In my case, a childhood spent reading too many comic books turned into a story in The Globe and Mail today.

"Lessons from a comic-book superhero" offers 10 leadership lessons from Reed Richards, the stretchable leader of the Fantastic Four.

I wrote it up at the cottage and sent it to the The Globe's Careers page almost as a lark. To my surprise, they liked it. Mind you, they did a good editing job; they asked me to punch up some of the lessons to make it more focused and useful.

You can judge the results by clicking HERE.

An excerpt, for those too busy to click:

Stay ahead of others
When Dr. Richards incorporated the Fantastic Four, he divided the shares among all four members. But in a move of Conradian complexity, he managed to keep 51 per cent of the voting shares for himself.
As a leader, you have to be two steps ahead of everyone else.
And you must never forget that even consensual teams need clear lines of authority.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Author's Lament

I told a friend this story yesterday and he asked if I had blogged it. No, I said. This blog is not about me, but about business. He said it was too good a story not to blog, so I reluctantly agreed.

Caution: Unhappy ending.

I have written one book, Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. It went out of print a few years ago, so last year, just curious, I went on Amazon.com to see if it was still on sale there. It was, but there was also a used copy for sale from someone in Maryland.

This was a first for me. Very excited, I clicked on his site to see what over-the-top praise he would lavish on my book in order to sell it. And there to my horror were the four words every author dreads:

"Mint condition. Never read."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Return of the Revenge of Ontario Business


Life moves in mysterious ways.

Two weeks after posting my thoughts on why an Ontario-focussed business magazine would never work, I got a call from a former colleague, a publication advertising sales professional, who wanted to pick my brain on that very topic - not knowing I had just blogged about it.

You can scroll down about eight postings to read my June 27 article, "Oh, the thrills of Ontario Business!" (or you can click here: http://canentrepreneur.blogspot.com/2005/06/oh-thrills-of-ontario-business.html )

So we met for coffee yesterday, and I told him why I thought Ontario doesn't really exist. But he insists there are advertisers who think otherwise.

I am still dubious. In my years in ad sales, I never once heard an advertiser or media buyer ask for MORE Canadian business magazines to advertise in. And I have never heard a business person say they didn't have enough magazines to read.

Nonetheless, I wished him luck, and gave him the name of the journalist who broached the idea with me a month ago. Maybe they can make it happen.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have met too many entrepreneurs who have achieved the impossible to ever say that an idea won't work. After all, the concept is only part of the equation: It's the commitment and resources of its backers that determines the success or failure of any undertaking.

And I will deny ever saying these two should be committed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Barriers to Innovation

Everyone knows that innovation is the solution to today's competitive business problems. But you can't just tell people to be more creative and successful. Innovation is hard.

So what are the toughest challenges in innovation? Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (the old Cdn Mfrs Association) has the answers. In a recent cross-Canada survey of business leaders, they asked about the major constraints to commercializing innovation today.

Here, courtesy of CME chief economist Jayson Myers, are the barriers to innovation in Canada today.

Finding Customers/Lack of Customer Demand: 42%
Lack of Internal Resources: 28%
Competition: 28%
Availability of skilled personnel: 26%
Product Design: 23%
Prototype Development: 22%
Process Re-engineering and Scale-up: 17%
Corporate Culture: 13%
Financing: 13%
Inadequate Return on Investment: 13%
Technology Constraints: 10%
Other Regulatory Impediments: 9%
Short Product Cycles: 8%
Taxes: 5%
Accessing research: 1%

(% refers to the percentage of companies citing each particular problem.)

I find it interesting how lack of information is not a problem any more (1%). And taxes and regulations and even financing seem to be non-issues.

Obviously, the real constraint on innovation in Canada today is will.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Cold calling: The Big Chill down your spine

Entrepreneurs are dauntless businesspeople who dare all and fear nothing in their quest for success, right?

Wrong. Their knees buckle at the thought of cold-calling. Oh, the fears of rejection and insecurity that cold-calling arouses in even the stoutest hearts.

Of course, there are a few courageous entrepreneurs who dare to call people they don’t know to sell them on their services and arrange conversations and meetings. But even those don’t tend to do it very well.

Enter Susan Aldridge, Queen of the Cold-Callers, an Ontario entrepreneur who is building her own consulting business around cold-call training and outsourced cold-call services. Helping cold callers with cold feet: talk about a hot niche!

I devoted my column in the June issue of PROFIT Magazine to Susan’s business, and her cold-calling tips. Check it out at
http://www.profitguide.com/sales/article.jsp?content=618

My favorite of Susan Aldridge’s cold-calling tips:
Find an Accountability Buddy. Tell them your goals and give them progress reports.”

To keep your cold feet to the fire.

Monday, July 11, 2005

When the horse is dead, dismount

I was looking for some notes and accidentally found (thanks, Google Desktop Search) buried treasure.

It's some inspiring comments from John Kelly, the Newfoundland-born entrepreneur who founded (or co-founded) SHL Systemhouse, JetForm, Nabu Network Corp., etc., and remains an active business leader and mentor in Ottawa.

It was towards the end of a PROFIT 100 awards luncheon in Ottawa, where John sat on a panel of high-growth entrepreneurs. When we asked for the panellists’ best advice for all the entrepreneurs in the audience, here’s what he said.

“I find value in the old Newfoundland expression, ‘Sometimes I sits and I thinks; sometimes I just sits.’”

What that means, Kelly explained, “is that when you are just sitting, you’re dreaming. And what I have learned is that in dreaming, there are no limitations, and that it’s dreams that create new ideas. As Carl Sandburg says, ‘Nothing happens unless first we dream.’

“I think entrepreneurship is all about dreaming and visioning, and then, really, the ability to convert that vision into strategy and a plan. Leadership would be the ability to motivate others to believe in that vision, and work together to fulfil that plan.”

And then he added: “There’s a shorter version of what I learned, too: that when the horse is dead, dismount.”

After all, not every vision turns to gold.

What peeling paint?

Ignore the peeling paint in that photo below.
I was up on the scaffolding yesterday scraping and painting. The boathouse will look much better by next weekend.

The sunsets are looking better lately too.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Room with a View


If my postings fall off a bit this summer, it's because I am spending some time working from the cottage.
So you can sympathize with my plight, here's the view from a recent sunset, with my office (it's over the boathouse) in the foreground.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

When deals go bad

One of my entrepreneurial heroes is Ron Foxcroft, the Hamilton entrepreneur who barely finished high school yet built two companies - while working three nights a week refereeing NCAA basketball games all over the U.S.A.

He is best known as the inventor of the Fox-40 pealess whistle, the loud, shrill whistle that never jams - and is sold all over the world at a huge markups for a 1-oz lump of plastic, simply because it is unique.

Ron is one of the first subjects of the Globe & Mail's new online feature, "My Best Mistake", which interviews prominent Canadian entrepreneurs. (Of course, my friends at Alberta Venture magazine have been using that same department title and idea for years. For an example, see http://www.albertaventure.com/abventure_3775.html)

Ron's "mistake" is worth reading because it speaks to an issue no one can understand until they have been in business for some time and made lots of mistakes: how to get out of bad contracts. Here's what he says:

"My biggest career mistake was to not have an exit strategy or expiry date on contracts and commitments. This applies to suppliers, distributors, agents and employees.

"Sometimes entrepreneurs make decisions from the heart and not necessarily in a scientific way. For example, even good suppliers, distributors, agents and employees can get complacent or, heaven forbid, incompetent. Early in my career I would honour a commitment in a sacred fashion even to my detriment. This cost me dearly because in some cases complacency and incompetence did rear its ugly head. Because I did not have established expiry dates or exit strategies, I paid the price for my mistake."

It's worth reading the whole article at
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20050629.wfoxcroft-bestmistake29/BNStory/specialSmallBusiness/

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

What's your personal motivation plan?

I know how difficult it can be to motivate yourself to do business during July and August, so let’s start the summer off with an exercise in self-discipline. I recommend you read the article, The Importance Of A Personal Motivation Plan, by my friend Kelley Robertson, now featured at About.com.
http://sbinfocanada.about.com/cs/management/a/motivationkr.htm?nl=1

The story starts kind of slowly, but page 2 offers lots of ideas for ratcheting up the motivation and making sure you do what has to get done.

I especially like Kelley’s final words of advice:
“Lastly, associate with positive people. I have made it a point in the latter part of my career to distance myself from negative individuals. They drain your energy, will not support your goals and desires, and do little to motivate you. On the other hand, positive and optimistic people will uplift your spirits and help you through challenging times.”

This is a hard one. But it is devastatingly true. Negative people who fail to see the everyday miracles around us will drag you down – and there are lots of them out there. Stay close to the upbeat friends who know you can do anything you put your mind to. Optimisim begets success.