Friday, April 28, 2006

Ontario Rocks!

Yesterday’s Ontario Global Traders awards luncheon in North Bay was one of the best. The winners – from all over Northern Ontario – were terrific success stories, and their acceptance/thank you speeches were heartfelt and in some cases quite moving.

Since I was on stage the whole time as MC, I couldn’t take notes. But you can read about the winners here.

It was particularly fun when Jeff Borer of McLaren’s Bay Mica Stone Quarries in Redbridge, Ont., came to the podium, held up a big hunk of red granite and yelled, “Ontario rocks!” Jeff brought the house down, even if he did leave tiny, sharp crumbs of red grit all over my script.

And I particularly liked a comment by Partnerships winner Brent Bywater, of North Bay importer Vested Interest Trading. He said he doesn’t mind tough times, because he knows it will knock some of his competitors and make life easier for his firm in the long term. Talk about winning attitudes!

The provincial finals awards take place May 31 in Toronto. You can read all about the program and the other regional award winners by clicking here.

Trout Creek Confidential


So I drove through Trout Creek...

Maybe I should explain. At the Ontario Global Traders Awards luncheon in North Bay on Thursday, I got talking with Victor Fedeli, the mayor of North Bay, and we started talking about “twinning” – the ongoing project to convert Hwy 11 from a two-lane road to four-lane divided highway all the way from Huntsville to North Bay.

They’ve been working on it for years, and there’s only about 25 miles to go. I suggested that it would be nice to see it finished, but the mayor expressed regret about what will happen to some of the communities along the way.

He said Emsdale, Burk’s Falls, Trout Creek and other communities that grew up along Hwy 11 have hit hard times now that the highway bypasses them entirely. And he expressed concern for the future of South River, Sundridge and other towns that the two-lane highway currently drives right through.

I could see his point. On the way north Wednesday night, I stopped at a bank in Sundridge, thinking how convenient it was not to have to go searching for a bank machine once I got to North Bay. That transaction wasn’t worth much (if any) revenue to the town, but I could see how preferable it is for the community to have all that through traffic funnel through downtown rather than take their business to Huntsville or North Bay. In fact, Mayor Fedeli mentioned going off the highway recently to get some gas at Emsdale – where the station owner said he was the only customer of the day. One more local business that won’t last much longer.

Like Mayor Fedeli, I care a lot about small towns. So on the way back home from North Bay, I pulled off the highway at Trout Creek to see what today’s busy motorists are missing.

The sad answer: nothin’. People aren't going to Trout Creek because there is no reason to go to Trout Creek.

A couple of restaurant, a motel, and one of those dingy old two-storey hotels (one of the last old buildings left on the main street) that makes you wonder who would ever stay there. Plus a really ugly lumber yard with piles of greying wood. Nothing distinctive – or even attractive - about the place at all. If Trout Creek is dying, it’s by suicide.

Irma’s Restaurant might be a great place to eat. Maybe they have fresh daily specials, or homemade desserts, or special kids’ menus. Who knows? Irma isn't talking. The sign just says “Irma’s Restaurant,” so you better know Irma going in – or be prepared to be surprised.

Is marketing dead in northern Ontario? A hooked trout would fight harder to survive than Trout Creek seems to be doing. (Maybe they should change their name to Minnow Creek?)

Why not put signs along the highway giving people a reason to pull into town? “Visit historic Trout Creek.” Put up a plaque talking about the difficulties faced by early settlers. The old railway hotel could be restored and turned into a working tourist attraction – see where people stayed in the years before Motel 6. Irma could promote lunch specials or free coffee refills – anything to let people know she’s in business to serve and eager to help. Maybe the village council could put up some new playground equipment and invite tourists with kids to stop in for a break.

Today’s tourists want experiences, folks. Families with kids want quick, safe breaks. Know your market.

Like Mayor Fedeli, I wish all small towns could flourish. But you have to put up a fight. Give people a reason to visit – or suffer the fate you deserve.

Notes: (According to this site, the taxpayers of Ontario paid $46 million to bypass Trout Creek! If we had known the village would roll over and die, we could probably have steam-rollered it and saved a bundle by not building 5 km of new highway.)

Thanks to this site for the old postcard of Trout Creek (which has a lot fewer buildings today than in the old photo). It also features a short history of the village, which makes me think today’s residents are letting their forebears down badly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

10 Steps to Personal PR

I spoke Monday night to the Association of Independent Consultants on Do-it-yourself PR. First I quoted a professional public relations practitioner saying Step One in any PR strategy is to hire a PR practitioner (No wonder, I said, consultants have an image problem).

There's nothing wrong with professional PR practitioners, but if cost is a concern, you can do your own. At any rate, it’s a good way to learn the field during the point in your life (could be years!) when you have more time than money.

So here, much condensed, is the 10-point plan I set out for entrepreneurs interested in doing their own publicity. If you want to know a bit more on any single topic, please leave a comment at the end.

Step 1. Understand what “news” means. It’s not what you want to say. It’s what people want to hear about, read about, talk about.

2. Identify your motives. Why are you seeking press attention? Be honest with yourself.

3. Identify your target market(s). Your media strategy depends on the markets you wish to influence.

4. Identify the message(s) you want to communicate. Each market deserves its own message.

5. Identify the best media to reach your target audience. Where your audience is, you want to be.

6. Get to know those media and their needs, to help you identify the most effective way to communicate with them. (This is the step most often left out, even by communication professionals.)

7. Speak the language of the media. Media thrive on passion, on conflict, on evidence and on anecdotes.

8. Maintain a vigorous, pro-active campaign to get your message across. Keep up the pressure, stay in touch.

9. Make effective use of the attention you get. The spinoff benefits may be more important than the original media impact.

10. Make your own media. Opportunities abound in websites, newsletters, blogs – and the new electronic communities they beget.

The presentation got a great response. One attendee has already recommended me to speak at another association. With the referral he wrote this: “I've spent the day building articles about myself to feed a mini-public relations machine, to improve my visibility and to open doors. Surely anyone who can wean me away from 35 years of passionate programming is worth listening to.”

And thanks to Darla for manning the projector when the remote control wouldn’t work.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Public Service Announcement

When I was a magazine editor, we received so many useless press releases that most were tossed unopened into the round file. My blog, however, is not so choosy. If someone thinks us worthy of disseminating their information, and it's relevant to our mandate, we will consider it.

So I am happy to alert you to one of the biggest annual conferences on entrepreneurs and technology, taking place May 12-13 in Santa Clara, Calif. (Silicon Valley). It sounds very cool.

It's TiECon 2006: Disruption and Convergence – Entrepreneurs Unlimited

The theme: Disruption and Convergence are the yin-yang push-pull that periodically demolish and realign the world of business. While the unprepared enterprise risks being destroyed in its wake, the well-prepared entrepreneurial professional knows that the froth that surfaces in the churn promises the freshest opportunities!

Here's the bumph: The 13th TiE Conference is dedicated to providing a collaborative framework for entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and leaders of global ITC companies to discuss the big issues facing the technology industry and entrepreneurism. Keynotes, panel discussions and case studies will focus on various business ecosystems including networking, semiconductors, software, storage, security, Internet, hospitality, wireless, life sciences, and other emerging businesses.

Who: TiE.org (Talent, Ideas and Enterprise) is a not-for-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals. Originally founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley, as ‘The Indus Entrepreneurs,’ reflecting the ethnic South Asian or Indus roots of the founders, it is today is an open and inclusive organization with more than 45 chapters in ten countries. TieConference brings together the talent, ideas, enterprise and people who are shaping the future of our electronic world.

What: TiECon features a series of Keynote speakers, panel discussions and networking opportunities. This year’s keynote speakers are John Doerr General Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers; Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, United Nations; Dr. Vijay Mallya, Chairman, UB Group; David Lynch, Director & Writer, Hollywood Producer; Judy Estrin, CEO, Packet Design; Jane Wales, President & CEO, World Affairs Council, NC; T J Rodgers, CEO, Cypress Semiconductor; Howard Dean, Chairman, Democratic National Committee.

Other speakers include: Tom Berquist, CEO, Ingres Corporation; Subrah Iyer, Chairman & CEO, WebEx Communications, Inc.; Guy Kawasaki, Managing Director, Garage Technology Ventures; Byung Moo Kim, Global CTO, SK Telecom; Nobuharu Ono, President & CEO, NTT DoCoMo USA, Inc., etc.

If any of this excites you, click here for more info.
For Online Registration click here
Conference Contact: TiEadmin@TiE.org, Phone: 408.567.0700 Fax: 408.567.0777

Say hi for me.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Frustrated

I had a very frustrating lunch today with a self-employed business consultant I’ve known casually for a while.

She’s made a good living from her field for 18 years, but admits the big win has eluded her – the major, longer-term service contract that could provide income stability and serious money in the bank.

She is outstanding at what she does. And she clearly wants something to happen. But she’s been at it so long I think she’s lost the stomach for taking chances – and the will to try new things. I wasn’t trying to sell her anything – just looking for new ideas that would rekindle her passion for the business and connect her with the high-value clients she needs. But despite her current dissatisfaction, she wasn’t listening.

It was very strange. Every time I came up with an idea she told me a story. She wasn’t building on my idea, nor did she pooh-pooh it – she just talked about things she had done in the past. Sometimes it was about a similar initiative she had tried that didn’t work out, but often it was just vaguely related. She wasn’t saying my ideas wouldn’t work (at least, not directly). Just talking right past my suggestions, as if hoping they would go away.

Her evasion got so blatant that finally I pointed out what she was doing. Pointing out people’s flaws to their face is a high-risk strategy, but sometimes I’ll take the chance. (Just ask my friends, if you can find one.)

The consultant considered my feedback. Then, consciously or not, she kept on doing it. She didn’t reject any of my ideas, but continued to ignore them. Most involved only an investment of time, not money, but I guess the opportunities I was suggesting to her were not the slam-dunk she’s looking for.

I have rarely met an entrepreneur so in need of opportunity, yet so unresponsive to it. I think it’s called burnout.

I'll be thinking more about this person, and I'll try to help one more time. Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ideas are a dime a dozen

Synnex Canada CEO Jim Estill makes a great point in his blog today about what makes business work - and why startup entrepreneurs needn't fret so over non-disclosure agreements and Keeping Everything Secret.

"It is not the ideas that will make a business successful, it is the implementation."

"When EMJ (Jim's startup firm) was public, I was worried people would see our statements and public disclosures and copy what we were doing. Some tried. Over time I came to realize that implementation is hundreds of little things that tend to be almost impossible to copy.

"Also, businesses are not static. In the rapidly changing business world, in my case accelerated by being in technology, even implementation is a moving target.

"Most entrepeneurs could be more successful by simply implementing now and faster rather than trying to keep everything a secret. I have seen more failures caused by inaction than caused by having ideas stolen."

In my experience, when the lawyers and the NDAs are in the room, it's time to get out. As the goddess Nike might have said, "Just Do it."

Why you need your own blog

Everyone’s talking about corporate blogging. It’s a great way to create broader, deeper relationships with clients, prospects, or any other stakeholders you target. But is it for your business?

You bet, says Mark Kingdon, CEO of Organic, a U.S.-based digital marketing agency. His employees maintain a blog on digital design, and he himself recently started an in-house blog for employees. He’s not sure why only 5% of Fortune 500 companies maintain corporate blogs, but he thinks you should have one. “Coupled with your Web site, it's a great way to create a dialogue with customers and employees.”

In a recent news release, he offered these 8 lessons from his blog’s first year:

* Designate an editor. Corporate blogs need an editor to monitor the blog and ensure posts pass whatever standards you set.

* Have a purpose. Yes, a blog is a reflection of your company, but it's a less formal communication medium so you should experiment, take feedback, and adapt your blog as you learn.

* Content is king. What makes a good post? An honest perspective; a fresh point of view, provocative thinking about an issue, trend, or technology; and real news all make good posts.

* Develop a content engine. It's hard for just one writer to produce a lot of high-quality content. A dozen or so people inside our agency post regularly on our blog.

* Have an editorial policy. Some blogs allow people to post whatever they want. We have an editorial policy inside the agency that's quite simple: if you wouldn't be comfortable sitting around a dinner table discussing the content of your blog posting with your mother, your largest client, your best friend, your boss, and your mentor, then you probably shouldn't post it.

* Experiment, learn, and evolve. The Web is a constantly evolving medium, and we try new things all the time. If something isn't working, we pull it off… Ultimately, a blog is a journey, not a destination, and should evolve as your readership changes and grows.

* Make it a core part of your marketing strategy. At first, our corporate blog was an experiment. We kept it quiet as we built the foundation. Then, we added our blog address to our marketing materials, e-mail signatures, and main site. Today, we dedicate half of our home page to it. As people link to our blog and we link to theirs, our presence in the blogosphere grows.

* Be patient and watch your audience grow. When we started, we had tens of hits a day, mostly from inside the agency. Traffic is growing steadily, thanks to increased citations from others, e-mail list growth, and RSS feeds. Now, over 3,000 people read the blog every week with staffers representing only 15 percent of the total.

"Corporate blogs are the new faces of business,” concludes Kingdon. “Customers, employees, and those interested in your business want authentic dialogue, real insights, and a fresh perspective. Give it to them with a blog.”

To get started, ask the youngest employees in your company. They may already blog, and they can get you up and running in an hour for free.

I am working on my own treatise on corporate blogging. If you’d like to see it, email me and I will send you a copy when it’s done. Rick (at) Rickspence.ca

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Meet the New Web

"It's fashionable now to laugh at the great Tech Boom of 1998-2000. All that hype about the Net, stock prices and VCs tripping over each other to give too much money to companies with too few customers..."

That’s the way I started out my PROFIT column this month on the new Web boom. But I came to the conclusion that what’s happening now is pretty significant – and pretty exciting. This time, the power is in what individuals can do with the Web, not what the Web can do for (or to) us.

“In the Web 2.0 spirit, it's about personalization and connecting, not simply the provision of a prepackaged commodity to aggregated online markets.”

It’s a pretty good read, I think. Why not check it out online at the PROFIT/Canadian Business website by clicking here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

V for Visitor 5,000

Visitor No. 5000, from Richmond, Que., dropped in Monday night on a referral from the Blogs Canada site.

Although he didn’t know he was Visitor 5000, he was kind enough to leave a supportive comment on his way out.

In response to the April 6 post, Global Heroes, about the Ontario Global Traders Awards, Don wrote: “Great to see small businesses thriving. It really is the engine that keeps going when the big companies go through the ups and downs.”

I couldn’t agree more, Don. Thanks for being our best millennial visitor ever.

Welcome 5,000th Visitor!


Sometime today, Canadian Entrepreneur will record its 5,000th visitor. Considering all the noise on the Internet, that's a pretty awesome number.

Of course, it's not about traffic. Blogging is about getting new conversations going, and I appreciate all those who have turned my one-way monologuing into enlightening discussions.

And for those who silently read and lurk, keep on reading - but feel welcome to make a comment, in this or any other blog you frequent. Because that is where the value really lies - in sparking new conversation and relationships.

And while it's not about traffic, I continue to be thrilled by the international scale of the visitors to this site. The picture above is a map of where the last 100 visitors to this site come from. As you'll see, we cover every continent. And I (a short-wave radio nut when I was a kid) find the idea of yakking about entrepreneurship to people from Eastern Europe and Mongolia very exciting.

Thank you for visiting and for passing the word about this site. The countdown to 10,000 has begun!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

23 Words And Phrases That Weaken Your Credibility

Oscar Bruce is a U.S.-based marketer who has written several books on effective language and conversation. I haven’t read his books, but I’ve been checking out his newsletters. And while some of it bothers me a bit (for one thing, he warns readers to ignore his spelling and grammar mistakes), some of his stuff is quite good.

Here, for instance, from his e-book WINNING WORDS & WINNING WAYS, are 23 words, phrases and clichés that seriously weaken your credibility and your message.

They are so habitual, says Bruce, that you may never notice them. But others do.

Statements to banish from your language:

Um
But
Like
Well
I'll try
Never
Always
Perhaps
Should
It's kind-of
Whatever
I'll have to
What you need to do is
I wish someone would
You ought to
It seems like
I'm not good at
Maybe we could
I'm wondering if
I might be able to
Sorry to bother you
I could be wrong , but
This is just a thought…

I agree with most of these, but I can think of a few more, too. How about:

“You must buy today…”
“Just between you and me”
“You can trust me”
and “Ignore my spelling and bad grammar. It’s what I mean that counts.”

If you want to suggest any more credibility-killers, please leave a comment.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Best Quote Ever

I just ran across this quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"To obtain a man's opinion of you, make him mad."

Fascinating insight (what a blogger he would have made!).
But do you think it's true?

Comments welcome.

Tomorrow's Obituary Today!

The big winner of yesterday’s Global Traders Awards event in Barrie (see previous post) was Grimsby, Ont.'s Dennis Parass, who won the Gold award for export leadership in Central Ontario. His company, Handling Specialty Manufacturing Ltd., has become a world leader in custom-engineered hydraulic and mechanical lifting equipment.

It has built lifts for the major automakers as well as for some of the most prestigious stages in the world - including Las Vegas’s Bellagio Theater, the Neil Simon Theater in New York, and the National Institute of Arts (Taiwan).

I was struck by Parass’s down-to-earth approach to success. When speaking to the luncheon crowd yesderday, he extolled the virtues of “leadership from behind.” That means standing behind your employees and encouraging them to move forward, to explore, to take chances – urging them on to success and catching them if they fall.

I know a lot of big corporations that could benefit from some of Parass’s common-sense wisdom.

Parass also had some interesting advice when interviewed a few years ago by Niagara Business Magazine after being named Niagara’s Entrepreneur of the Decade in 2003. Here’s an excerpt from the story by Wendy Luce:

“To maintain perspective and a sense of mortality—as well as find long-term direction for the company—Parass recommends that anyone starting out in business first write his or her own obituary. “If you are going to die at 85, it’s a chance to put into writing and define the things that will be most important to you in your lifetime.

“By knowing who you are going to be as a person, you will know how you are going to handle that business,” says Parass.

For him, it means a business that is built on integrity, service, investment in staff and a management style that is “tough but fair”.

(snip...)
Parass says he has always tried to react in such a way that Handling Specialty’s success would be measured in a certain way. He has worked, as leader, to expand the foundation laid by [company founder] George Machand, and to build a company of integrity, innovation and strong from the inside out.

“I have tried to build something that is solid enough to withstand both success and difficult times,” Parass says. “And with a character that is respected and admired by its peers and competitors.”

Congratulations to a creative innovator with decency and wisdom to spare.

Global Heroes

I was delighted to be asked again this year to emcee the Ontario Global Traders awards luncheons. These are the “Ontario export awards” for small and medium-sized businesses, taking place in four cities across Ontario this month (Barrie, Cambridge, Kingston and North Bay).

We launched the 2006 program in Barrie yesterday. It was a great day. Four dynamic speakers on exporting, followed by a lively networking session, then lunch, and then the awards presentation. I knew some of the winners, and they're very deserving, but it was great to meet so many entrepreneurs I didn’t know who are doing innovative things that are building the economy of this province.

It’s a very inspiring event, especially when we can get the winning entrepreneurs to share some of their secrets of success. So I will try harder as MC to pry more of those secrets out of the winners at the next three events.

If you're interested in attending an upcoming event, click here for more information. But hurry! The next luncheon is April 12 in Kingston.

And congratulations to yesterday's Gold Award winners for the Central region of Ontario:

Innovation: Aecometric Corporation, Richmond Hill
Market Expansion - Product: ViEX Inc., Newmarket
Market Expansion - Service: G.A.P. Adventures, Toronto
Partnership: The Pressure Pipe Inspection Company, Mississauga; WRc Group, Wiltshire, U.K.
Leadership: Dennis Parass, Handling Specialty, Grimsby
Student Achievement: Misagh Tabrizi, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Nice Storm

If you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. That’s something every entrepreneur learns (some sooner than others). If your brand message doesn't reflect your brand, you will be caught out.

Go to www.TheNiceAgency.com and meet Toronto-based interactive marketing agency Henderson Bas. Maybe they're nice to their clients (surely that’s the easy part), but even nice agencies have bad days.

In an email from last month that is now flying through the blogosphere, agency president Dawna Henderson snarls at certain staff members for not properly organizing a company-wide cleaning event, and drafts her own office-cleaning chain gang. Here are some of her rules:

"Because the assigned team failed to coordinate this month's Round Up - and we don't want to waste the time that has been allocated - everyone will be required to participate in henderson bas spring cleaning.

“Beginning at 4pm, each of you will be responsible for cleaning your individual pod (just not moving stuff around) and making sure the area around your desk is neat & tidy. Once your area is perfectly clean and organized, you will each be required to participate in office cleaning. Tech and creative will be responsible for the kitchen which includes the fridge and above the sink cupboards. The PMs and AMs will be responsible for cleaning the down stairs coat closet and making sure every single screen & keyboard in the building is cleaned. ”

"Once you are finished cleaning your pod and assigned areas, please come and find me as I would like to make sure the office is cleaned to my standards.

(snip)
"If anyone has any problems with this, please be sure to thank this month's Round Up team. Do not come and whine to me.”

Oh, and don't forget this rule: “No one can leave until the offices are clean.”

Nice.

Blogger Joe Thornley of Ottawa-based PR agency Thornley Fallis makes this observation apropos of Henderson Bas:

“Think before you hit the send button.

“When angry, breathe deep, save a draft. Go look in the mirror. Then come back, read the email and ask yourself if you recognize the person who wrote this.”

Good advice. The brand you save may be your own.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Why service is marketing's (unused) secret weapon

Evan Wood is a Toronto-based marketer who has just started a blog on “smarter travel marketing.”

In his first post, on March 20, he asked why the travel industry spends so little time and money trying to keep him (and others) as a customer. “Every year,” he writes, “I spend thousands (if not tens of thousands) of hard-earned dollars on travel, both for pleasure and for business. With the exception of the frequent-flyer organizations, I’m very hard-pressed to think of any travel or hospitality organization that has tried to approach me as a customer to garner my repeat business. It’s ludicrous!”

He’s right, of course (although of course it’s not just the travel industry that fails to market to its own). Evan asked his readers to comment on their experiences in the travel biz, so I thought I’d throw in my 2 pesos’ worth:

“I think the problem with customer service in the travel business is a lack of staff training resulting in a shortage of respect for the client.

"The goal of every flight crew is to get you out of their hair and down to baggage claim ASAP. The goal of the check-in desk is to process (i.e., get rid of) a long line of surly, demanding people, as fast as possible. Customers' selfish need for special services ("Oh, I wanted an aisle seat!" "I need a late checkout!") merely exacerbates the tension as it interferes with efficient herd management ("Next!").

Clearly, none of these "service" employees have been properly trained in their real duty - making sure that the next time the customer travels, he or she will fly with/stay with/visit their employer again.

If travel-industry employers taught their employees that today's customer is tomorrow's raise, next year's promotion and long-term job security, then perhaps customer service would be valued more as a vital part of the marketing function instead of an unrewarding herd-management chore.

And maybe companies wouldn't have to work so hard convincing customers to come back.

(Could give whole new meaning to the word "Next!")


You can check out Evan's original post (and the discussison, if any) here.