Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Coming Succession Crisis

More and more entrepreneurs I talk to are looking at ways to exit their businesses – not necessarily now, but over time, and with the highest possible price and the maximum possible control (over both their company and the transition process) right up till the end.

But you can't always get what you want. The demographics of the baby-boom bulge dictate that there will more sellers than buyers – and you know what happens when that happens.

Last month I wrote a feature for PROFIT Magazine on the upcoming succession crisis. It’s worth your attention, not just because of the problem it creates for retiring owners, but also for the opportunities it will generate for anyone on the buy side.

You can access the story, “The trillion dollar trap,” here.
For those who hate clicking through, here are the first few paragraphs:

“It's September 2012. You wake up one morning, drink your Starbucks energy juice, and check the digital news on your iPod. When you see that the price of oil has just passed US$100 a barrel, you decide that's enough. It's time you enjoyed the fruits of building your business. You message your accountant and tell her you want to sell. Then you call up an ad for an around-the-world cruise.
But your accountant throws cold water on your dream of worry-free years in the sun. You've left it too late, she says. Your staff are not ready to run the business without you—and at the shape your books are in, you'll never get top dollar. Even worse: tens of thousands of entrepreneurs—most of whom are baby boomers seeking retirement—are trying to sell their businesses at the exact same time. If you had started planning for this back in 2005, you might be able to afford something better than a time-share in Moose Jaw.”
For more guilt-ridden crisis-mongering, click here.

(By the way: when I wrote that in early August, $100-a-barrel oil seemed quite science fictionous. Funny how the future catches up.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

5 characteristics of winning entrepreneurs

A reader of this blog sent me this note recently asking for help:

"I just started small business management and entrepreneurship at Mohawk College and I would like to hear some of your ideas and experience on owners of small businesses, entrepreneurs and the top people you have guided that have been successful. I am very interested in any advice you may have."

My reply suggested that her query was rather too open-ended fr me to deal with well. But that sounded harsh, so I added the following to try to sum up what I've learned about entrepreneurs in the past 20 years. It turned out okay, so I decided to share it with you:

"For what it's worth, here are the five most important characteristics I think most entrepreneurs can have:

1) Vision. The ability to see a goal or objective, and then make it clear enough so that others (employees, bankers, customers, etc.) can make that vision their own.
2) Passion. This gives them the courage to begin and the strength to persist.
3) Genuine interest in people. Others will be more likely to help you when you show interest in them.
4) Relentless curiosity. Entrepreneurs must always ask themselves, how does this work? How could it work better? How did they do it? How can I learn more about this? And they must feed this curiosity by reading and absorbing all the knowledge and information they can.
5) Self-Awareness. This tells them when to talk and when to shut up and listen."

And then of course I directed her to my book, which is available still in some libraries: Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. Also available here.

(Surely "asking for the sale" is another admirable entrepreneurial attribute.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Why do entrepreneurs do what they do?

You'll never find a better explanation than that delivered by Shasha Navazesh of ShaSha Bread Co. at our Entrepreneurs' Panel at Enterprise Toronto's Small Business Forum today. A professional pastry chef who started his own artisan bakery to produce nutritious, organic sourdough breads, Shasha is remarkably passionate - and eloquent - about what he does.

As moderator, I asked the three panelists to tell us the worst business advice they ever received. Shasha recalled that most of his friends and family told him not to start his business - it was just too hard, they said. Someone in the audience asked how he found the courage to ignore all those warnings. Taking the risk was just part of his lifelong dream, said Shasha:

"In the depths of our personal being is that drive to experience and learn in this life. So it’s beyond just having a business – it’s about how you conduct your life...
"Are you going to sit on the wayside, or are you going to get your toes wet or go in the water and swim? Some of us sit and watch from the wayside, some of us dip our toes, some of us just dive right in."

Shasha had another bon mot, about how entrepreneurs learn. “We learn more from our mistakes than anything else. When you go the bank, if you have already been bankrupt once, they give you a loan much quicker. Because the second time it’s personal. This time they know you know what you shouldn’t be doing.”

More highlights when I have more time.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Can YOU read my handwriting?

At PROFIT Magazine’s GrowthCamp conference this morning, the first session I attended was a hands-on demo of mobility technology from Hewlett-Packard, one of the sponsors. The GPS technology was fun, 'though the Bluetooth demonstration and the iPaq phone seemed ho-hum.

But what everyone loved was the tablet computer we each got to play with. These are sub-notebook computers in which the screen can be detached from the keyboard – and you just use the screen! You can cradle the thing in your arm and type using a “virtual keyboard” on-screen, or draw or write the messages you want using the attached stylus.

These computers have been around for a while, but they’re still rare at retail – sold mainly through bulk and “reseller” channels. Tablets cost twice as much as a comparable laptop, but they’re tremendously functional, and I think they will take off soon.

The key is the MS handwriting-recognition software, which seems much improved since I first tried out a version two years ago. Most human beings have trouble reading my writing, but Windows Journal figured it out immediately.

Here’s an example. The pic below is a typical sample of my messy handwriting as scrawled on HP’s TC 1100 (the black text is the “marker” font, the red is often used for correcting text). See if you can read my writing, before reading down to see the computer’s translation.












this is the marker.
No way this will read
my handwriting.
TC 1100

The computer made just one mistake – it missed the capital T!

As our session leader said, taking notes in a meeting by typing on a laptop is unfriendly and distracting. But writing on the screen, just like in a real (paper) notebook – that’s accepted, and easy! Very cool stuff.

One attendee at the demo had just bought a laptop. But the 30-day return period hasn’t expired yet, so she’s thinking of trading hers in for a tablet. Wicked cool, as the kids would say.

(You can read more about tablet PCs here.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Letter from GrowthCamp

I’m writing this from the Nottawasaga Inn in Alliston, Ont., site of this year’s annual GrowthCamp conference for the CEOs of PROFIT’s Hot 50 list of emerging growth companies.

This event bring together amazing entrepreneurs and dynamic speakers for a unique, intense and fun learning experience. In the six years GrowthCamp has been going, it has become a huge hit, and literally changed some people’s lives.

Here are a few highlights from today:

* Magician (or master illusionist) David Ben revealed the secrets of creative problem solving – whether it’s for magic or business. The best psychics don’t predict the future, he says, “they make the future happen.” Savvy entrepreneurs do the same, by creating pictures in other people’s minds, setting expectations, relentless preparation, hard work and confidence. The power of suggestion is key.

* Donald Cooper, whom I consider Canada’s best professional speaker and business guru, talked about “the power of committing to a clear purpose.” Lots of great stories and examples, which I will blog more fully another time.

Here are the questions he says you must ask in order to achieve your profit commitments (not targets – commitments!):

- Are we good enough to get the top price in our specific market?
- Are we efficient enough to be price-competitive, service-competitive, and profitable?
- Does everyone on our team know how their job impacts the bottom line? And how we’re doing compared to where we’ve committed to be?
- Do we hold people accountable for their commitments to growth and profitability?

* Bill Tatham, multi-millionaire founder of Janna Systems, revealed the strategic thinking that transformed Janna from a struggling service company to a highly targeted software developer that sold in 2000 for $1.7 billion. Aim to sell to industry leaders, he advised, and the bigger the better: “Strive for the largest possible average transaction size.”

I chaired one of the six “Idea Exchange” roundtables, where entrepreneurs swapped their successful tactics on marketing and employee motivation. Two great ideas that emerged:
- Do what it takes to keep your key sales people and other top performers, even if it means treating them very differently from the majority of people n your company (e.g. profit-sharing, big raises, phantom equity);
- Survey employees on their satisfaction with the company and its management, but make sure you act on the findings. (One entrepreneur at our table even bonuses his managers based on the scores achieved in their department.)

More to come.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Leadership and the failure to act

(Warning: long post. But worth every word.)
I was in Boston with a good friend from Baton Rouge the day Hurricane Katrina blasted New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, so I followed the horrific developments with great interest. There is blame all around, but I haven’t seen much thoughtful discussion of the mistakes leading up to this mess.
But check out this post from the Wharton Business School’s Knowledge at Wharton newsletter. It names names and blames games – all from a sober, rational management-school point of view. It's chilling stuff.

Interesting excerpts:
Robert E. Mittelstaedt Jr.
, dean of the W.P. Carey School of Business: Despite all the laws about what a president can or can't do… when the chips are down, leaders step up and take action and worry about the consequences later.
Bush should have declared martial law on Tuesday [August 30, one day after Katrina swept through the city], sent troops in there and started to marshal resources… I have never seen him as a leader. He's just a politician managed by his handlers. And I'm a Republican.
… Leaders don't worry about consequences. Leaders are born, not made. He [Bush] has amazing power but inherently doesn't have much leadership ability. There is no leadership test to be elected.
Where did leadership show up? The Coast Guard. They had deployed helicopters to the area, so they were able to move resources in right behind the storm... People at the middle level in the Coast Guard knew it was their responsibility and they just did it.

[New Orleans] is a place with a long history of political corruption and a lack of concern for the broader public good... It's still far down on the list of cities that have things under control. The poverty level is horrible. Crime is terrible. The public school system is terrible... All of that contributes to an environment where there are no leaders who can effectively deal with the bulk of the problems.

Management professor Lawrence G. Hrebiniak: It seems the government has an aversion to good planning… FEMA has been swallowed up by the Department of Homeland Security whose emphasis is on terrorism… Third, there were leadership failures, like Brown's appointment by Bush as FEMA director. He's a buddy. We see a pattern of cronyism in politics, placing inexperienced and unqualified people in important positions. So the leader who appoints them is acting poorly, and then he appoints people who can't do the work. [Mistakes] feed off each other. It's a disastrous situation.

Morris A. Cohen, professor of operations and information management: I do a lot of work in support of mission-critical problems and systems prone to random and infrequent failure that lead to catastrophic results… What my work teaches me is the need for 'event management.' ...When events occur you find yourself in real-time management. You have to bring resources to play at the right time and manage the process of repair or replacement.

One's ability to do that is almost completely determined by the decisions and systems in place prior to the event… You can only do them by investing in advance. …It looks like a lot of this was a failure to execute rather than a failure to plan.

Hrebiniak: I've been studying some government agencies from a management perspective… Structurally, these agencies are a mess. If you tell someone to do something, size and bureaucracy inhibit functionality. We are not efficient and not effective.

I am becoming afraid of what might happen in the future, especially if we have an unannounced terrorist attack. The government is very complex... I see a need for change. I hope we start appointing qualified people to important positions. But I'm afraid there will be a flurry of activity [in the wake of Katrina] where we will help rebuild the city, but then go back to the normal way of doing things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Entrepreneurs for all Seasons

Busy, interesting week coming up.
On Saturday and Sunday I will be attending GrowthCamp, PROFIT Magazine’s weekend retreat for the CEOs of the Hot 50 Growth Companies (see previous posts). I’m looking forward to seeing friends from last year and meeting some of the new winners I’ve interviewed on the phone.

On Monday I will be at the Enterprise Toronto Small Business Forum, where I am moderating the noontime Entrepreneur Panel. (Admission free. Click here.) My panelists are:

Margaret Sarrasin, who started MJ's Fine Foods Inc. in 2000. Within 10 months, the distribution of Margaret's Artisan and Santa Fe Flatbreads expanded from local specialty shops to national grocery chains.
Henrique (Henry) Sia of Golden Valley's Food Outlet Inc., a wholesale and retail outlet of specialty food products imported from the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Shasha Navazesh of ShaSha Bread Co., an Organic Artisan bakery that combines ancient techniques with innovative methods to produce nutritious, organic sourdough products. (Shasha was very generous about sending us free samples when I was at PROFIT magazine, so I am looking forward to thanking him. His flatbreads got us through a lot of late production nights.)

I’ll be asking my characteristically impertinent questions:
* Did you have a business plan when you started out? How much does your business resemble that plan?
* What’s the worst business advice you ever received?
* What has been your worst moment in business? What got you through it?
* As an entrepreneur in Toronto, what are your impressions of:
* the business climate in this city?
* the banks?
* City Hall?
* our transportation infrastructure?

Shasha himself suggested a few interesting questions I will try to include:
• what was the most effective way you promote your products into the market?
• what do you think consumers are basing their buying decision on these days?

And on Tuesday I am moderating a private seminar for a client featuring Brian Luborsky, CEO of Premier Salons, which was Canada’s Fastest-Growing Company in 1997. He’s a great business strategist who has gone from success to success, so I am looking forward to hearing about his latest adventures and lessons learned.
I’ll blog all I can.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Learning from the Hottest

The other day I wrote about the new PROFIT magazine list of the "Hot 50" companies - Canada's fastest-growing early-stage companies. (Scroll down for the full list.)

I also wrote a story for PROFIT on three of these Hot 50 companies: what do they do, where do they come from, and what do they know that lesser mortals don't? Click here for the story.

Too busy to click? Here are some highlights.

Move fast, bid low: At Voda Computer Systems Ltd. in Kamloops, B.C., president Andrew Watson reveals his techniques for making two strategic acquisitions while the company was less than two years old. His philosophy: do your homework, bid low, take two years to pay.

Today, lots of companies are approaching Watson to buy them out, but he prefers to wait. "What I would rather do is hit hard, decimate them and then buy them out for less."

Innovation opportunities are everywhere: Poptech Ltd. of Toronto creates near-life-sized cardboard point-of-purchase displays such as you see dispensing gum, chocolate bars and DVDs at your local supermarket or video store. The key, though, is that they used innovative design to come up with displays that are easy to assemble (most just pop into place), saving retailers valuable time. "Our competition has been asleep at the wheel for 50 years," declares president Geoff Moss. "We were the first company to take the blinkers off."

Why was the point-of-purchase industry sleeping so long? "They never thought anything was broken," says Moss. Buyers weren't demanding better products, so it took motivated newcomers to devise them. As his partner David Minister admits, "They weren't buying our stuff, so we had to change it."

Make service measurable: At Carlu Corp. in Toronto, Jeffry Roick and Mark Robert have turned an abandoned department-store floor (the Seventh Floor of the old Eaton's College Street) into the city's premier location for society weddings, formal dinners and other posh events. To succeed, they had to create a service ethic as special as the art moderne landmark itself.

The pair developed a 100-page policy manual that covers every aspect of operations, from the look of sales proposals to the right way to answer the phone. "It's the most comprehensive in the industry," says Robert. "And we continuously fine-tune it so we have the best practices nailed down."

"We wanted to put ourselves in an international league, and have trained our staff accordingly," adds Roick. "We give our people a lot of freedom, but they also have to accept accountability."

As I said, the rest is here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Canada’s Hottest New Companies

The 2005 Hotlist is out! PROFIT Magazine has just released its list of the PROFIT Hot 50, the fastest-growing new companies (under five years old) in Canada.

Click here to see the rankings of the Hot 50.

To save you time, here are the top 5 companies on the list:

1. Multi-Channel Communications Inc., Toronto (operates call centres for telcos): Two-year sales growth: 35,824% (whew!)
2. Kids & Company Ltd.., Toronto (child care for corporate employees): 1621%
3. Maximum Fence Inc., Hamilton (high-end fencing): 1316%
4. Pearson Software Recruiting Specialists, Toronto (recruitment agency): 892%
5. RIFCO Inc., Red Deer, Alta. (finances vehicle repairs and purchases): 860%.

My first impression: all five are niche service companies, mainly for business and high-end consumer markets. What’s happened to manufacturing? Where are the tech companies?

A glance at the overview story accompanying the list confirms my initial impression. 62% of the companies (i.e., 31 of the 50) are engaged in business services – and only 20% of those are IT-related. In all, 12% of Hot 50 firms are involved in consumer services, 8% in software development, 6% in manufacturing, and 4% in each of retail, construction and distribution.

I bet this is the lowest “manufacturing” percentage in any PROFIT growth company list published in the past 20 years.

I read the other day that Canada has lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs this year. Check out this Hot 50 package if you want to see what Canada’s economy of the future may look like.

You can also read about the No. 1 company, MCC Inc., here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Communicating for Success

One of the things I do is speak on communication skills to business managers and entrepreneurs.

Why communication? Because being able to communicate your visions, expectations, requests and feedback - consistently, honestly and clearly - is a fundamental business-building skill.

And as business guru Peter Drucker says, “60% of all management problems result from faulty communication.”

So I was delighted to talk to a senior manager in a huge, successful IT company today about the biggest challenges he faces. It turns out it’s communicating: making sure he represents his company properly to outsiders, and that he and his team can communicate clearly, quickly and strategically with superiors and peers throughout the company.

“Being able to get a point across or develop a thought is the key to being successful,” he says. “Communication skills are ultimately what separate people who are successful in business from people who aren’t.”

Look for upcoming posts from me on some of the biggest communications challenges that business people face.

We've all heard the cliché, “a failure to communicate.” Let’s re-focus on communicating for success.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Hang on a minute while I cut off this station wagon..."

Here's a link to a Globe & Mail story about new evidence corroborating what many people secretly know, but don't wish to acknowledge: talking on a cellphone while driving increases your chances of causing an accident.

And don't think those hands-free devices help. According to writer Richard Russell, "The oft-repeated answer of using a hands-free device is nothing more than an extension of that distraction, one that creates an opportunity to talk more often and for longer periods -- heightening the risk, and the length of time at risk."

I've always looked at any attempt to ban cellphone use while driving (as they do in New York State, among others) as a direct assault on entrepreneurs.
I believe the entrepreneurial revolution of the 1980s owes much to the simultaneous development of the cellphone, which allowed entrepreneurs to multiply their effectiveness by exerting greater control over operations while they were physically absent (i.e., in the car). And entrepreneurs spend a lot of time in their cars.

Would bans on phoning while driving affect your business? Given the evidence, would such a ban be fair?
Let me know what you think by clicking on "Comment", below...

Goal Setting and Organizational Failure

I'm affilliated with a group called TEC (The Executive Committee), an entrepreneurs' self-help group designed to help people improve their businesses and the quality of their lives. If you are an entrepreneur looking for a peer program that can enhance both halves of your life, drop me a line. I can hook you up with a TEC chair in your region.

To assist its members, TEC has produced a number of useful "executive summaries" of issues that plague entrepreneurs. Today's link is to a publication on Goal-Setting.
It's just four pages long, but it's a terrific summary of advice, checklists and tips to make you a more productive planner. And thanks to entrepreneurial Toronto accountant Ed Scheck, it's available for your free perusal here.

As you probably know, goal-setting is not for the faint of heart. It takes passion, purpose and commitment. Here's an excerpt from the TEC document that lists 10 common organizational roadblocks that get in the way of achieving objectives:

1. Lack of clear-cut responsibilities around the goals
2. Lack of a tracking system
3. Lack of an accountability system
4. Lack of commitment
5. Lack of buy-in from people who are expected to fulfill the goals
6. Ineffective communication
7. Lack of time or resources
8. Too many goals are financially driven
9. Focusing on too many or too few goals
10. Goals aren't tied to a longer-term vision

To score more goals, read more here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Customer Service Diatribe

I just fielded another "courtesy call" from a company that wanted me to know how much they value my business. And by the way, did I know about this month's incredible deal ...?

I personally think it's okay for suppliers to inform me from time to time about new products and promotions. But please don't insult me by calling it a courtesy call.

It's a good lesson for all marketers. When you're trying to build a relationship, start by not lying.

How To Get Results

I just got off the phone with an entrepreneur at a fast-growth company who has been particularly successful at getting results by setting basic daily operating targets for all of his employees (eg, number of sales calls made, number of customer contacts per day, speed of processing mail, etc.)

He says that if you look after the daily inputs, the important quarterly performance quotas and targets look after themselves. Few businesses have the discipline to look at things this way, but it makes a lot of sense.

I asked if it was mainly a function of the old saying. "What gets measured gets done." That's partly it, he agreed, but he then quoted a more appropriate adage I hadn't heard before, which takes that one step further: "People will do not what you expect - but what you inspect."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Technology in the Service of Mankind

Just to give you an idea of the power of free Internet services today, the "SiteMeter" at the bottom of this page offers incredible functionality.

Here is its map of where the last 100 visits to this site came from, within North America. You can also map the whole world or other continents, but other than a few folks in Europe and Singapore, they are mostly dark.

If you're from Monterrey, Mexico or Nunavut, you may recognize your own visit. Thanks to all for coming.

And sleep soundly tonight, knowing what kind of trail you are leaving whenever you visit a website...

Canadian entrepreneurs kick ---

I'm not one for the A-- word myself, but I like this article from PROFITguide.com, "Canadian entrepreneurs kick ass."

Jim McElgunn interviews Leonard Brody, a sometime entrepreneur turned author (Everything I Needed to Know About Business...I Learned from a Canadian), about why Canadians are really global entrepreneurial leaders. I don't agree with all of Leonard's analysis (a more realistic explanation for Canada's high level of self-employed people is our sprawling and inefficient farming and fishing industries), but his enthusiasm is welcome.

But not everything is rosy, even on a book tour. When asked how Canadian entrepreneurs could improve, Brody has some good ideas.

"* We need to overcome our risk aversion. Canadians are not yet of the school of thought that failure is a badge of honour, not of shame. Entrepreneurs do not become great until they fail. Rupert Murdoch went bankrupt seven times... If we don't start accepting the importance of failure as a lesson rather than a badge of shame, we are going to lose out on opportunities.

* "Second, we need to work on our marketing prowess. We are not good marketers. We need to get better. The very fact that we need to have a conversation about whether Canadians are good entrepreneurs says something—we wouldn't need to have that in the U.S.

* "Finally, we need to become more venturesome...We need to start taking some serious swings for the fences. If we match that with a greater tolerance for risk, we'll have a great mix for future growth for this country."

Read the whole thing here.

(Ironically, PROFIT chose to follow this story with a link to a classic 2001 cover story, "Why Canadians Can't Market.")

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Next Level of Laziness

In the past I have posted about some of the weird and wacky search terms that have led people to this site. I am preparing a similar post for next week, but in the meantime, I had to tell you about this one.

Here is an assignment that some kid in Ontario got today in school: "Look up Entrepreneur on the internet. Looks through some of the hits and find an interesting article. Cut and paste the item on the next page."

So what did the kid do? He cut n' pasted the entire text of that assignment into Yahoo's search engine. And somehow it led him to this site.

I don't think the inventors of search engines ever imagined such laziness. But hey, I guess it worked.

Your $100 discount is here!

In my last post (conveniently located just below this one), I mentioned an exciting upcoming event: the Soho Business Conference and Expo coming to Toronto on October 14. The main reason for my enthusiasm: keynote speaker Michael Gerber, best-selling author of The E-Myth and a genuine pioneer in entrepreneurial thinking and growth.

Since I posted that, I’ve learned a little more about the conference, and it’s even cooler than I thought. And then I made a deal with them.

If you want to attend, you click on the link below, use my special discount code (below), and you’ll get $100 off the $249 ticket price. (Full disclosure: I then get $49 of the rest. But that’s not why I recommended this conference in the first place. And you still get a great deal.)

Three more reasons why the conference is cool:

* T. Harv Eker is also speaking. He’s a successful U.S. entrepreneur and the best-selling author of Secrets of a Millionaire Mind, a NY Times No. 1 best-selling book.

* My friend Franc Nemanic is on the agenda. He’s the founder of Hostopia, PROFIT Magazine’s No. 1 fastest-growing company for 2005. I interviewed him in the June issue of PROFIT, and his story is fantastic – in fact, the profile I wrote is about to be reprinted in a university business textbook. You can read that story here – but trust me, Franc is cool.

* Another keynoter is Andrea Slingsby, president of Flight Centre North America, a huge international success story. Flight Centre is also been ranked as the fourth-best company to work for in Canada, so this should be a dynamite presentation.

For more information on the conference, click here.

To register and receive your special rate, click here.
Don’t forget to quote your SOHOSavings Code, soho-RISP, to claim your $100 discount.

If you'er coming, leave a comment. Maybe we can arrange to meet up.

Michael Gerber, Superstar

Here's a heads-up on a very cool event coming to Toronto on Oct. 14 (and to Vancouver on Oct. 20, for those who prefer to live by the sea among majestic mountanis):

On Oct. 14, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will hold a "Kick-off to Small Business Week" featuring Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.

Gerber is the guru of growth entrepreneurs. In The E-Myth, he was the first to push the idea that an entrepreneur who wants to build his or her business must "work ON the business, not IN it." That is, good entrepreneurs must evolve from running day-to-day operations to become leaders, visionaries and strategic thinkers.

That notion has inspired and assisted more successful entrepreneurs than any other I know (although Jim Collins' Good to Great is starting to give Gerber a run for his money).

There will also be lots of other events, including a CEO/Entrepreneur Spotlight Panel, how-to presentations, industry expert keynotes, exhibits and displays, and an Ask-The-Expert Advice Centre. The evening also includes "THE ULTIMATE NETWORKING RECEPTION!" (Featuring live entertainment and great opportunity to meet and network with many business professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and industry leaders. Or so they say.)

More details on the SOHO conference...
http://www.soho.ca/2005sohosme/Toronto/main_toronto.htm

If you want to register, though, hold on a day or two. I have met the organizer before, and I might be able to swing you a discount. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How to be a Better Business Person

A couple of useful quotes I’ve run across today....

* Chet Holmes, a U.S. sales and management consultant, says every business owner needs the Three Ps. “It’s what made every Fortune 500 company: Planning, procedures and policies.” In most companies, he says, managers run around doing whatever they think is best, rather than agreeing on uniform and productive operational policies.

I buy that, because all the growth companies I have known have been racing against time in their fight to survive and succeed: Can they develop the policies and procedures they need to hang together as a company before their fast growth spins out of control?

* “Create Mental Pictures” in your marketing, says online sales expert Wes Blaylock.
“Create mental pictures in the readers mind through your ad copy. You can easily do this by telling a story, or putting them in a certain scenario…The point is to try and get them to day-dream about what it would be like to solve the problem that you are selling the solution to.”

* “Replace your clock with a compass,” says Jim Estill, CEO of SYNNEX Canada and a time-management guru too.

“It is better to know the direction you want to go than to try to move quickly. Effectiveness is more important than efficiency. It is more important to work on the right thing than to simply work quickly.”

Click here to read Jim’s blog, Time Leadership.

Cheap ploy to sell books

A number of people have asked recently about my book: a 1997 epic entitled Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. Many of the examples are a little dated now, but the key lessons remain significant, so it's still a good read.

Since it's out of print now, you won't find it in stores. But copies are still available from Amazon.com and some of its used-book affiliates, so check it out. I have just posted a link to my book's page on Amazon. You'll find it at the bottom of the "Links" list, at right, and also at the very bottom of the main page. (It replaces the Google AdSense ads that no one ever clicked on anyway...)
Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Why it's such a great time to be an entrepreneur

Joe Kraus was a co-founder of Excite.com, one of the first international Web portals. He’s now working on another startup, Palo Alto-based JotSpot, the first application-wiki company. (If you have to ask, you’ll never understand it.)

Joe’s a pretty slack blogger – he hasn’t posted since June 29. But what he has to say in his blog, Bnoopy, is pretty cool. Here’s why he believes “It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur.”

There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur because it’s never been cheaper to be one. Here’s one example.
Excite.com took $3,000,000 to get from idea to launch. JotSpot took $100,000.
Why on earth is there a 30X difference? There’s probably a lot of reasons, but here are my top four.
Hardware is 100X cheaper.

It’s two factors – Moore’s law and the rise of Linux as an operating system designed to run on generic hardware. Back in the Excite days, we had to buy proprietary Sun hardware and Sun hard drive arrays. Today, we buy generic Intel boxes provided by one of a million different suppliers.
Infrastructure software is free

Back in 1993 we had to buy and continue to pay for maintenance on everything we needed just to build our service -- operating systems, compilers, web servers, application servers, databases... Today, free, open source infrastructure is the norm. Get it anytime and anywhere.
Access to Global Labor Markets

Startups today have unprecedented access to global labor markets. Back in 1993, IBM had access to technical people in India, but little Excite.com did not. Today, with rent-a-coder, elance.com and just plain e-mail, we have access to a world-wide talent pool of experts on a temporary or permanent basis.
Search Engine Marketing changes everything

Ten years ago to reach the market, we had to do expensive distribution deals. We advertised on television and radio and print. We spent a crapload of money.
It’s an obvious statement to say that search engine marketing changes everything. But the real revolution is the ability to affordably reach small markets. You can know what works and what doesn’t. "


Joe believes these enduring advantages ensure that more people will become entrepreneurs than ever before. After all, he says, “a lot more people can raise $100,000 than raise $3,000,000.”

It’s also a great time to be an angel investor, he adds, “because there are real possibilities of substantial company progress on so little money.”

For the whole story, click here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What's happening Sept. 26?

Toronto-area entrepreneurs should be circling Sept. 26 on their calendars. That’s the date of Enterprise Toronto’s Small Business Forum, a one-day celebration of entrepreneurship and a terrific source of information and motivation for all growth-minded entrepreneurs.

The trade show and conference will attract 50 speakers, 80 exhibitors and over 3500 entrepreneurs. And best of all, it's free! The Forum includes:
* Roundtable discussions on marketing, financing, business plans and more
* Breakout sessions on market research, communication, modeling masters and other hot topics
* Special networking opportunities
* Forums tailored to female entrepreneurs and youth entrepreneurs.

Best of all, of course, will be the Entrepreneur Panel, featuring three dynamic Toronto business owners – and a handsome and charming moderator named Spence. My three panelists will be Henry Sia of Golden Valley Foods, Margaret Sarrasin of MJ's Fine Foods, and Shasha Navazesh, the innovator behind ShaSha Bread. Our theme? "The Taste of Success!"

Come on out, learn from inspiring entrepreneurs, and play Stump the Moderator during our Q&A. The panel takes place from 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm in Hall 107 of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, on Monday Sept. 26.

For more information or to register, visit http://www.enterprisetoronto.com

The Art of the Deal

Fabulous “insider” story in the September issue of Inc. Magazine on its sale – along with sister magazine Fast Company – to Chicago entrepreneur Joe Mansueto.

The sale was well publicized because of the tremendous difference between the price that former owner Gruner + Jahr AG received for the magazines ($33 million U.S.) and the price G+J paid for them just a few years ago – in the hundreds of millions. (Now that’s value destruction!)

But this story goes into the minutiae of the sale, from valuing the two properties to exploring the different motives of each bidder. It even examines management’s conflicting role: working enthusiastically to attract more bidders while also considering a bid of their own.

One significant takeaway from story is seeing the advantages that an independent entrepreneur enjoyed as the bidding process became more complicated. Only he – free from the oversight and control of higher levels of risk-averse management – could bid from the heart. And only he could respond flexibly and sensitively to the changing (and often absurd) demands of the sellers.

It’s also interesting to follow the rivalry of the two magazines. Fast Company was loud, splashy and hopelessly naïve, a visually exciting magazine that sprang from the hyped-up Internet craze. Inc., 25 years old, was the older, more staid chronicler of the rise of small business in the 1980s, easily overshadowed by brash newcomers like FC. The story makes it clear that Fast Company was seen by almost everyone to be without value – a last smack in the face to the Internet bubble economy.

Sure, it’s 9,000 words. But worth your time, especially with writing like this…

[Fast Company editor John] Byrne, meanwhile, was looking through the deal book for the first time that morning. [Inc. editor John] Koten had urged him to get a copy as quickly as possible, adding: "You're not going to believe how much it undersells our magazines." Byrne's initial reaction was shock, which quickly gave way to rage. The book did a poor job presenting Inc.'s prospects, he felt, but its discussion of Fast Company was appalling. He later showed the book to an investment banker friend who said, after reading it, "John, I've just read your death warrant."

Read the whole story here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

10 ways to cut your fuel costs

In times like this, you need to count your pennies.

Here's a timely article from About.com's useful Small Business Canada site, on 10 ways to cut gasoline costs. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it offers some good ideas for individual motorists as well as for business owners managing fleets.

Here's the gist:
* Ensure that all vehicles are properly maintained.
* Consolidate trips.
* Train your drivers not to idle their engines.
* Use block heaters on cold winter days.
* Have more clients come to you, rather than you going to them.
* Trade in your vehicle(s) for vehicles with better fuel economy. (Example: could you get by with mini-vans instead of trucks?)
* Search out discounts on bulk fuel purchases (they may be available from your local chamber of commerce).

Check out all 10 tips here.

And while we're counting our pennies, here's a similar story from About.Com on saving money on business insurance. Go for it! Because cash is king.