Monday, July 24, 2006

How to Tell Your Spouse

Here’s essential info for anyone thinking of becoming an entrepreneur – and a juicy read for everyone else.

Pamela Slim of the blog “Escape from Cubicle Nation” weighs in on “The Conversation” every new entrepreneur dreads: how to tell your spouse that you want to chuck your job and start your own business. How do you manage the shock, the insecurities, the fear?

There is no way to predict or direct your spouse's reaction to your news since that is totally outside of your control,” Slim writes. “But here are some ways to ensure that the conversation, or more likely series of conversations, goes well…”

Rule 1: Don't bring up the subject in the morning just as you're about to leave for work. Make it a conversation, not a proclamation.

You can read the full story here.

My favorite part:

* "Explain why you are so excited about starting your own business. Make sure your spouse knows all about why this idea is so compelling to you and why you are excited about it. Don't just talk about the business idea, talk about what it would mean to you personally to get enjoyment from your work. Would you have more energy? Would you watch less TV? Want to help around the house more? Become a 19-year old sex machine?

* "Explain the consequences of not following your dreams. Everyone processes job stress differently. Some people have a high tolerance for staying in an unhappy or stressful work situation if it means bringing home lots of money. Others have very low tolerance and develop health problems including depression, high blood pressure, weight problems, anxiety disorders and low energy. Make sure your spouse understands the consequences to you if you are unhappy with your work."

I believe that family support is essential to an entrepreneur's success. Never take it for granted.

Match your pitch to your audience

The other day I met one of the "pitchers" who has been selected to appear on the new CBC show Dragon's Den (click here for my previous post). He will have just 5 minutes or so to explain his business idea (on camera) and try to convince the panel of 5 "dragons" (flinty-eyed entrepreneurs who've seen it all) that they should invest in it.

The pitching gets underway in a week or so; the show launches Oct. 4 (lots of time for editing out the boring bits).

The pitcher was taking all this very seriously. His first point, he said, would be to tell the Dragons that 5 minutes was nowhere near enough time to discuss a business idea with the complexity and potential of his concept. So he would really only be able to give a slice of it, and he would hope to talk to them about it afterwards...

I had to stop him in my tracks. "Are you treating this as a standard investment opportunity?" I asked. "Or are you treating this as television?"

He seemed unsure of the difference. "If you play to the panel as if this were a normal venture discussion, you'll be so boring you'll be cut out of the show," I said. "If you treat this as TV entertainment, with its main goal of maximizing ratings, then you take their 5 minutes and make it the most entertaining 5 minutes you can."

(He seemed stunned that the CBC would be in this for the ratings, but I had to explain that if the ratings are low, the show will sink after 5 episodes and ever be seen again.)

My suggestion was that he go for the simplest, most comprehensible, most viewer-friendly pitch he could muster. That way, even if he fails to interest any of the Dragons in investing, he will have the chance to use that pitch over and over again by showing the tape to future potential investors.

Promising to overhaul his whole pitch, the pitcher thanked me for the advice.
"Elementary McLuhan," I thought to myself.
Every one in a while, my degree in Communication Studies still comes in handy.

For more on these Dragons see http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Catching up with the PROFIT 100

When I wrote about the PROFIT 100 list of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies last month, PROFIT Magazine hadn't yet uploaded all of the stories in that issue to its website. (Something about them wanting you to buy the magazine, I guess.)

Anyway, they stories are up there now. So for those who forgot to rush to the newsstand, here are some useful links that will connect you to the whizbang world of fast-growth business:

Click here for the PROFIT 100 list

Click here for the profile of the No. 1 company, Rutter Inc. (written by a close personal friend of yours)
You can also link from this story to profiles of the rest of the Top 10 companies.

Click here for a great story by Cam Cornell on the Best Management Tactics of the PROFIT 100 companies

And click here for a frightening story about the Worst Moments Ever faced by three PROFIT 100 companies (written by moi)

Here's a little preview of the Rutter profile for those too busy to click through:

RAMMING SPEED
By Rick Spence

When sailing ships held sway over the world, a navigator's most treasured possession was his rutter, a diary containing detailed accounts of each voyage. Every page was gold, preserving the information needed to retrace past trips and beat the competition to the most lucrative ports.

The dog-eared rutter has long since been replaced by commercial charts and electronic equipment. But until recently, no single electronic device had emerged to record all the key data about a ship's voyage—such as its position, speed and course—in one place.
Enter Rutter Inc., a St. John's, Nfld.-based company that perfected the voyage data recorder (VDR), similar to the black boxes that record flight data on commercial aircraft. What makes the VDR golden is its nearly captive market. In December 2004, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which governs ocean-going shipping, announced that VDRs would now be mandatory on all international cargo vessels over 3,000 tons.


Although this isn't Rutter's only offering, it's the company's flagship product, a canny combination of homegrown hardware and software. And while its big payback may still lie ahead, the VDR has already put Rutter on the map as the first Atlantic-Canadian firm in the 18-year history of the PROFIT 100 to earn the top spot among Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies....

If you're bursting to read the rest, click here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Your startup story

I'm working on a major project related to startups and business planning.

The theory is all pretty much the same; what makes the startup process interesting are the lessons different entrepreneurs learn along the way.

For instance, one piece of advice I've heard from more than a few enterpreneurs is: "Love what you do - because you're going to be doing a lot of it."

If you have any startup-related stories or anecdotes or lessons learned you'd like to share with aspiring business owners (or the other readers of this blog), please e-mail rick(at)rickspence.ca, or leave a comment at the end of his message.

Confidentiality and anonymity will be strictly preserved, so fire away!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

CSR Canada

In recent years I have been delighted (and surprised) to see growing support among Canadian entrepreneurs for the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Business owners are eager to “give back” to the community that nourished their businesses, and they are proud of the initiatives they have taken -- whether it’s recycling programs, outreach hiring or charitable giving – that make the world a slightly better place.

I think Canada’s entrepreneurs are ahead of big business on this one. My impression is they are giving back out of a sincere sense of gratitude and duty, not for sake of appearances, or because it’s a CEO’s pet project.

While CSR awareness is growing, it’s still a pretty amorphous concept. But now there’s a how-to guide from the federal government that tries to distill what we know about CSR, including benefits and best practices.

Corporate Social Responsibility: An Implementation Guide for Canadian Business” is available free on the Web by clicking here. It has a useful background on what CSR is, lots of implantation steps and tips, and tactical information geared to small biz.

(FYI, here’s how the guide defines CSR: “Generally, CSR is understood to be the way firms integrate social, environmental and economic concerns into their values, culture, decision making, strategy and operations in a transparent and accountable manner and thereby establish better practices within the firm, create wealth and improve society.”)

(OK. That’s the most boring part of the post. It gets better now.)

The guide even suggests there are 10 financial benefits to adopting CSR:

* Better anticipation and management of an ever-expanding
spectrum of risk
* Improved reputation management
* Enhanced ability to recruit, develop and retain staff
* Improved competitiveness and market positioning
* Enhanced operational efficiencies and cost savings
* Improved ability to attract and build effective and efficient supply
chain relationships
* Enhanced ability to address change
* More robust “social licence” to operate in the community
* Access to capital (Financial institutions are increasingly incorporating
social and environmental criteria into their assessment of projects.)
* Improved relations with regulators

But in the end, as the guide admits, non-financial criteria must be the key drivers of a CSR program.

“It is important to acknowledge that while positive or neutral correlations between social and environmental responsibility and superior financial performance have generally been supported by the evidence, conclusive causal links have not. Many studies are being undertaken, with varying conclusions. Suffice it to say that research is continuing on this issue.”

Click here for the full report

More on CSR:
Ethics in Action Awards: (a great Vancouver organization that I hope will return to Toronto sometime; I think we’re ready now)

Canadian Business for Social Responsibility
Their motto: Better business, better world

Questions for CSR Practitioners
or those considering starting out.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Getting it done on the Golf Course

Have clear, written objectives.
Respect the rules.
Have a product positioning statement.


Is this a formula for success in some sort of business competition?
Absolutely.

These are just some of the rules offered by Michael Hughes, the Ottawa-based networking guru, for doing business on the golf course this summer.

Hughes’ article reminds us that while the golf course is no place to do deals, it is a serious forum for building business relationships – and that you should prepare for a golf game with an important supplier, client or prospect just as rigorously as you would prepare for any significant business meeting.

To read Michael’s article, click here.

My favourite nugget of his wisdom is point 4:

About business. Don’t discuss business before the 5th hole or after the 15th . This gives everyone a chance to relax and get into the game before discussing business, and to end with the focus on the game. A good finish can help the 19th hole confirm some business.

But I also like point 8:
Play the best golf you’re capable of. Some people believe in playing “customer golf”, allowing the customer to win by missing some obvious shots. This is insulting and can have disastrous consequences. Use the handicap system to even the competition.

Game on.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day (la fete nationale!)


And for those who like their Canadian symbols, here's the Confederation Bridge, the first "fixed link" to PEI. We're still nation-building: I love it.