Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Notes from Nantucket

Just returned yesterday from a road trip to Nantucket with three friends. Great fun, wonderful island (14 miles by three, 20 miles south Cape Cod), and a delightful, shabby cottage by the sea.

Nantucket is one of America's most exclusive playgrounds: the sort of place where multimillionaires buy the home next door to house their staff, or tear it down just to improve the view. John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry has a summer home there, surrounded by a 12-foot hedge. And apparently one of the founders of Google just put down $16 million for a house that's not even on the water.

A few economic observations from Nantucket:

* There are no limits to prices. Just when you think prices can go no higher, they can. In practice, this is true only of niche markets in which motivated, affluent buyers chase commodities that are rare. Yet many people serve such markets. Certainly that description could be applied to markets in Canada such as cottages in Muskoka, specific neighborhoods of Toronto, recreational property in Alberta and B.C., high-end clubs and restaurants in thriving cities such as Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, top-tier art, skilled labour and crafts people, etc.

* Related markets are also price-insensitive. We paid $25 an hour to play tennis (at a public court). Room rates at one hotel top $1,000 a night. One of my friends paid $25 for a quarter-chicken dinner. The good sweatshirts cost $80. (All prices U.S.$, frighteningly enough.)

* Vision pays. I met a few "middle class" people (academics, lawyers) who managed to buy homes or land on Nantucket in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when prices were much lower and in fact falling. Now they are sitting pretty. Even in a declining market, these people believed in the island and they followed their hearts.

* Every problem is an opportunity. Two hundred years ago, Nantucket was one of the most prosperous ports in America, its whaling ships circling the globe for precious whale oil. Then the harbour silted up, and petroleum was discovered. In the 1850s and 60s, the island stagnated economically and lost half its population. Then it rediscovered its most precious assets - a wonderful location with beautiful beaches, and a village with by unmatched collection of quaint (but solid) 18th-century buildings, untouched by the Industrial Revolution or the excesses of Victorian architecture. Nantucketers began a concerted effort to lure vacationers to their island - and created an infinitely renewable resource that was not only more lucrative than whaling, but much less smelly.

* Private philanthropy matters. One civic-minded businessman bought up most of the Nantucket waterfront to create a vigorous, attractive tourist area - without the carnival trappings. The Maria Mitchell Association, in memory of one of America's first female scientists, conducts important research and educational programs for tourists and residents alike. To preserve the island's environment, foundations have sprung up to buy land as it comes up for sale - bidding against private developers. (This of course also helps drive up land prices further.)

* Prosperity presents problems, but they can be solved. Few native-born Nantucketers can afford to buy properties of their own on the island, so many are forced to leave. One way Nantucket is trying to stem that problem is by allowing homeowners to build second homes on their lots.
And of course, it's hard to find good retail staff and other lower-skilled labour, due to high housing, food and transportation costs - so Nantucket firms have learned to hire willing workers from all over the word, especially eastern Europe, whose young people love the idea of living in the States. (They also endure crowded housing conditions that most young Americans wouldn't accept).

Supply and demand rules. (If only they taught this in school...)

- Thanks to my friend John B for this photo from our whale watching trip...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Off to Nantucket


No posts expected for a week or so - Rick and a few friends have gone off to an enchanted island in the North Atlantic to celebrate our 200th birthday.

Captain Ahab bids you all a fine last week of the summer. See you soon.

Monday, August 22, 2005

10 Recruiting Initiatives You Must Start Immediately

(Don't you love must-read headlines like this?)

That's the title of a recent article by U.S. recruiting consultant Lou Adler. Like me, he believes the talent shortage is here to stay (in fact, I think it will only get worse, but I'll save that for another day).

The solution: you have to get tougher and much more proactive if you are going to get the good people you need for your company. Here are Adler's 10 tips for toughening up your recruiting process:

- Make your hiring processes more potential-employee friendly.
- Break the wall between recruiters and hiring managers.
- Use technology to increase recruiter productivity.
- Implement workforce planning.
- Get more recruiters.
- Get your recruiters off the PC and onto the phone.
- Focus on referrals, referrals, and more referrals.
- Focus your technology efforts to build and nurture your pipelines.
- Train your hiring managers to be better interviewers.
- Don't take no for answer. (Adler says great recruiters recognize "No" as a request for more information.)

You can see his full article here.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Put a Tiger in your tank


With Tiger Woods tearing up the golf world again, it's time to look back at a story I wrote for PROFIT awaaay back in 1998: Business Lessons from the world's hottest golfer.

Some of the references may be dated, but the messages remain relevant.

A phenomenon since he scored 48 on nine holes -- at the ripe old age of three -- Tiger Woods isn't just the golfer to beat on today's PGA tour. He's an inspiration for achievers in any line of work. PROFIT looks at Tiger's brief career so far to identify six rules of entrepreneurial success:
* As a teenager, Tiger excelled at baseball, basketball and the 400 metres. That shows the importance of getting experience in diverse fields, right? Think again. Tiger eventually gave up his other sports, because they interfered with golf practice. Which shows the overriding importance of focussing your efforts on the activity you most enjoy, or the one that offers the most potential.

* Earl Woods has become notorious for pushing his son to become the world's top golfer, but his lessons were sound. When Tiger was just a cub, he would bang his club on the ground whenever he hit a bad shot. Earl taught him not to blame errors on his club, his lie, or any outside distraction -- but to take responsibility for every shot he made.

* When Tiger won the prestigious Masters title in his pro debut last year in Georgia, his not-so-secret weapon was a long drive that tamed some of the toughest holes in golf: the Augusta National's par 5s. His drives (averaging 323 yards) sailed high over the bunkers that have intimidated most long hitters. Lesson: Make your first shot count.

* Before competing in the Masters, Woods got to know the heart-breaking Augusta course by playing several practice rounds. So this moral must be about preparation, right? Wrong. Preparing smart is the lesson here. Woods didn't just practise with anybody. He teamed with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and other former champions. He watched and listened carefully to the men who knew that course better than anyone. Moral: Preparation is important, but true success comes from seeking out the best teachers -- and paying heed.

* At the Canadian Open in Montreal last September, an errant Woods shot hit a fan in the elbow. Despite bogeying the hole, Tiger walked over to the spectator, apologized, and gave him the ball. The next day, after two subpar rounds, Woods was out of the tournament -- the first time he hadn't made the cut since turning pro. But he bowed out with grace, answering every media question, praising the course and saying how much he looked forward to returning to Canada again this year. The moral: Class counts.

* When arch-rival Ernie Els was preparing for this year's Masters, he summed up the impact of Woods' success. "In the past, I've gone in and shown the course too much respect," Els said. "You've got to freewheel, let it fly and go for every pin. That's what Tiger did last year, and that's what I'm going to do." Lesson: True champions bring out the best in everyone around them.

©1998, PROFIT, The Magazine for Canadian Entrepreneurs

For more Fun With Business Lessons, see:
Business Lessons from Star Trek
Leadership Lessons from Reed Richards

Friday, August 19, 2005

Talk your way out of this one, Conrad

From today's Toronto Star:

Black lieutenant to plead guilty
Fallen media baron's firm, execs indicted

Conrad Black's legal problems appeared to take a serious turn for the worse yesterday when his long-time business partner agreed to co-operate with the U.S. Department of Justice, giving it a crucial ally in its criminal probe of the besieged newspaper baron.

(much omitted here)
...
"Today's indictment charges that insiders at Hollinger, whose job it was to safeguard the shareholders, made it their job to steal and conceal," the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote.

I spent an afternoon interviewing Conrad Black many years ago, for the late, lamented Financial Times of Canada. Like everyone else, I came away vaguely repulsed by his arrogance, but dazzled by his intellectual brilliance.

As a businessman, though, he spent way too much time with lawyers.

On the road again

Quick post while on a short family vacation to Kingston and the Thousand Islands.

Wonderful entrepreneurial story in Reid's Dairy, a local production, wholesale and retail business in lovely Belleville, Ont. Founded by a post-war German refugee, it has become a local legend, and with a people's touch. Its factory outlet store has great products at cool prices, and the old-fashioned ice-cream parlour attached to the plant (it's the castle you see in the distance when driving along the 401) has wonderful treats at prices that let families afford to upgrade to waffle cones.

(I had the looney milkshake, thining that anyone selling milkshakes for a buck these days deserves encouragement.) The straw doesn't just stand up straight in a Reid's shake - you need two hands to pull it out.

My kids loved the ice cream, the little zoo, pond and playground - all warm personal touches in a cool world. They want to move to Belleville.

August 21 update: Later on the trip we saw two more Reid's Dairy stores - in Kingston and Whitby. Motivated to do some actual research, I found they have 23 stores now between Kingston and Toronto. Good on 'em! You can view their website here.
You can even print out a handy shopping list!

Monday, August 15, 2005

E-Mail Your Customers Will Love

Eight out of 10 broadband users delete commercial e-mail without reading it. Six in 10 say most e-mail doesn't offer them anything interesting, anyway. So how do you get through?

E-mail marketing expert Bill Nussey offers his ideas in a new article on Inc.com. “A good marketing e-mail sparks trust in the "from" field, piques interest in the subject line, and follows through with concise, relevant content that is easy to act on,” he writes. Here are his tips for creating e-mail that works.

* Be the friend in the "from" field: Research says the No. 1 factor influencing people to open e-mail is knowing and trusting the sender - followed by an intriguing subject line.
* Place key information above the fold: Your brand, offer and call to action should be viewable on the screen without scrolling.
* Tailor messages to recipients: The key to relevance is personalized content.
* Write in terms of customer benefit: E-mail customers don't want to read about great sales; they want to read about great discounts on items they are interested in.
* Keep content simple: Too many elements or offers can divert reader attention and degrade response.
* Clearly state your call to action: And give reasons to act soon.

You'll find all the details I took out by clicking here

Thursday, August 11, 2005

To Blog or Not to Blog - that you call a question?

A week ago I penned a response to an item in the AIMS (Association of Internet Marketing and Sales) newsletter in which the writer advised companies not to encourage employee blogging because, basically, employees can't write.

I think that's nonsense. I believe that if companies give employees the right tools, encouragement and support (i.e., editing), then teams of employees can use blogging to engage their customers and contacts in new and powerful ways.

As I wrote, "Yes, good blogs are tough to pull off. But to say that companies should not blog because most of their employees lack the skill or motivation to post coherent thoughts on a regular basis is like saying companies shouldn’t have security guards, since none of their employees wants to walk around the premises at night carrying a flashlight. "

The article got picked up by OneDegree.ca, a cool new Canadian site for Internet professionals founded by Ken Shafer - who also founded AIMS.

If you wish, you can read the whole bloggin' story here:

http://www.onedegree.ca/2005/08/11/to-blog-or-not-to-blog

Don't Overplan: More good news on strategic planning

Here's another interesting take on strategic planning, to go with the post below this one.

While many entrepreneurs feel intimidated by strategic planning, it doesn't have to be so tough. It's thoughtful consideration of the future of your business, that's all: where do you want to go, and how do you get there?

Verne Harnish, U.S.-based founder and CEO of Gazelles Inc., offers a recipe for a one-page strategic plan. On a single sheet, he says, the owner of a growing business must be able to answer just two questions:

1. In a single measure (revenue, number of closings, active communities, revenue per employee, etc.), where do I want the business to be 10 years from now?

2. What is the most important thing the company must accomplish during the next 90 days?
“If an owner can’t answer the first question, it will be impossible to make the 100-plus other decisions that are required day to day,” Harnish says.

“Secondly, don’t over-plan; do what is most urgent. Because of the pace of change today, the world will be different in 90 days. Stay true to the long vision, but lead in the now.”

In bigger companies, he urges business leaders to "cascade" this same 90-day planning approach to every department in the company so that every individual focuses on “today’s brutal reality, not what’s to come.”

Click here to see more.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Strategy and Spamalot

A lot of business people still have trouble with the concept of strategic planning. They wonder who should do it, and what it's for.

I just encountered a great explanation of strategy. It comes from a book, The Power of Strategy by Jacoline Loewen of Strategy International.

"I think that strategy is very similar to the search for the Holy Grail.

"Renowned knights traveled great distances and overcame severe hardship in the struggle to find this sacred relic, the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Finally, Sir Galahad was the one who discovered that the Holy Grail is, in fact, within us. There is no right or wrong answer -- it is the journey that provides the learning, not the Holy Grail itself.

"In strategy, it is the process of people going through the questioning and thinking that ingrains the strategy into their everyday actions, not the plan itself."

You can read a much longer excerpt from Loewen's book at http://www.strategyinternational.com/index.php?menu=7023&

Yet Another One-Liner

It’s just been a day for witty comments.

I was talking to an entrepreneur who runs her own accounting practice, and the conversation turned to the future of her business. I asked her if she was working toward selling her business eventually, and she said she’s working on her succession plan every day. She is trying to convince her school-age children that being a CA is the coolest job possible.

But one of her daughters said she had no interest in running the business. “I want a job where I can get to see my children more often,” she said.

Ouch. Talk about a wake-up call.

So that's the market segment I've been missing!

At a meeting today I was helping a client distill his company's personality, in order to represent it appropriately in words, pictures and design, both online and off.

The president was sure his company was offbeat, laid-back and fun, but we weren't sure what that meant. So the art director asked, "How loose are you, really? I mean, I have clients who don't wear shoes."

Not that loose, we decided.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Backstreet's Back

Last week I drove my 15-year old daughter to the Backstreet Boys concert at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto. She and her friend had an awesome time.

Why do I mention this?

I am just curious, frankly, to see what mentioning the Backstreet Boys does to the traffic on this weblog in the next day or so.

It will also be interesting to see how the Google ads (click on them and I may get a penny some day) change way down at the bottom of this page.

Scientific discovery are us.

(By the way, you too can observe this experiment. Also way down at the bottom of the page is my SiteCounter, which records how many people come to this site. [Don't worry, it doesn't know who you are.] I left it public for anyone to see. But if you click, prepare not to be amazed. I could have a lot more traffic on this site if I wrote about the Backstreet Boys more often instead of Harold Taylor. But what would be the point?)


Who knew people kept stats like these?

Kudos to time management consultant Harold Taylor for digging out cool, often obscure tips and statistics related to productivity.

In his newsletter this week, he includes a little note entitled, “Writing Skills Increase Productivity.” (Actually, what he wrote was “Writing Skills Increases Productivity,” but we know what he meant.)

Here’s Taylor’s item:

A survey of 218 executives by Communispond Inc. revealed that 88% of the respondents rated writing skills between 7 and 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of importance to productivity.
(Source: Building your Business Writing by Lin Grensing, MW, March/April, 1988)

Okay, so it’s not the most comprehensible statement you ever read. But when you’ve just begun a business-writing training service, and you’re positioning it as a productivity tool, confusing stats are better than no stats at all.

For more on Writing4Results, see http://www.writing4results.com/

For the full Taylor’s Time Tips, click here:
http://www.taylorontime.com/timetips/050808.html

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"Got it. Thanks!"

Here is my contribution to world peace and workplace efficiency.

Send more e-mails!

No, I don't want to know what you did last weekend. But I do want more people to acknowledge receipt of key e-mails. It is the courteous thing to do. (What a quaint word "courteous" is, even though the world has more need of courtesy now than ever.)

If you receive a document you've been waiting for, let the sender know you got it - and that you appreciate it. Send a quick e-mail to say Thanks.

If someone sends you an invoice, or any other document that is is important to them, acknowledge receipt. A quick "got it, thanks" will set the sender's mind at ease.

When you receive an e-mail that requires a considered, thoughtful response - and you have no time for that just now (who does?) - do the sender a favor. Let them know you got the e-mail, and give them some idea when you will get back to them. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness and be pleased to know that you are on the case - or at least intending to be.

Feedback is an essential part of communication. In interpersonal communication we rely on continuous feedback - even if it's just a nod, a wink or a smile that says the other person understands what you're saying.

E-mail is still a dodgy technology that can't really be trusted, so it is a medium in which feedback is even more important.

Give your correspondents a break, and let them know where you're at with their e-mails. Best of all, since so few peoople do that, it will help distinguish you from the run-of-the-mill faceless hordes in their Address Books. And that's what business is all about.