Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two great resources you need to know

I just came across a website called AllExperts.com, a part of the About.com, empire that claims to have hundreds of volunteer experts standing by to answer your questions on almost every topic, from coin collecting to small engine maintenance. And they promise answers within 24 hours!

If you have a business question that’s bugging you, you may not even have to wait for an answer. They have a huge archive of business-related questions, covering everything from startups, home business and hiring to managing your business, e-commerce, and mergers and acquisitions.

I surveyed the archives and found some terrific answers to past questions. The volunteer experts are clearly well qualified, and some offer excellent information. (The worst part is how inarticulate many of the question-writers are, but the answers are literate and useful.)

One business person asked how he could get his people to ask better questions when interviewing job candidates. The response included links to hiring manuals, as well as many smart interview questions, arranged by category such as Education, Work Experience, Job Performance Evaluations, and Self-Assessment Questions. This is great information that could save you from hiring a consultant or running out to buy some book.

I haven't tested sending in a question to see what kind of response you’d get, but I’ll try it and let you know how it turns out. Click here to check out AllExperts.com yourself.


The other resource I wanted to tell you about is likely sitting on your desktop. I’ve just been playing around with Office 03’s voice-recognition system, and it’s absolutely amazing.

You hook up a microphone, do a 15-minute training session, and you can start dictating just about anything. I find that I can’t dictate a complex article, but this works fine for simpler, more conversational documents (such as writing blogposts). I find it also works for memos and e-mails.

Here’s an example of the accuracy of the voice recognition system. I will not edit anything that I dictate in this paragraph. Everything you were reading came directly from the computer based on what I spoke into my headset. So far I see only one mistake: in the previous sentence, the computer wrote the word "were" instead of "are." So, we’re not quite at the Star Trek stage, where we can speak to our computer and tell it to do sophisticated things reliably such as declare war on the klingons. But I think we’ve come a long way since I’ve tried that Dragon dictation system about ten years ago and it made about ten mistakes in every sentence (and it took forever because you had to speak slowly, word by word). This won’t work for every office; the system doesn’t like distractions or interruptions or loud background noise. And you have to get used to the sound of your own voice out loud in a quiet office. But if you can think and your feet, and you’re prepared to go back and review and correct the text of the computer has put down—and if you are as bad a typist as I am - then you may just find that this system revolutionary. It can save you a lot of time. And it’s kind of fun to.

(Okay, I have bolded the mistakes I noticed in the above paragraph: it didn't capitalize Klingons; it said "I've tried" instead of "I tried"; “think and your feet” instead of “on your feet”; an extra “that” in “that this system” that I don't think I said; an unneeded "of" in the phrase "the text of the computer has put down"; and that final "to" should be "too." Overall, not bad. And I was speaking at almost a normal pace.)

To check it out for yourself, look up the speech menu under the “Tools” drop-down menu in your Word program. Good luck and happy talking.

Leave a comment if you'd like to share your own experience with Voice-Recognition. I never thought I’d say this, but Microsoft rocks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Contest Extended!

Even though this blog has seen record traffic (more than 100 visitors a day) over the past week, I've been disappointed with the results of my poll to see which entrepreneurs you would most like to hear from. So we're going to extend it one more week.

Maybe people were turned off by my use of the word "podcasts,' which interests only a fraction of the populace. So I'll rephrase the question.

If you had a chance to meet with any successful entrepreneur(s) and pick their brain, who would it be? Bill Gates, Conrad Black, Michael Dell, Terry Matthews: the possibilities are endless. They don't even have to be Canadian entrepreneurs.

In other words, what business leader would you actually cross the street to listen to?

You can email me (Rick (at) rickspence.ca), or just leave a comment below. Remember, anyone who responds gets entered in a draw to win an original Canadian Entrepreneur mug!

The contest closes December 6. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 8

Continuing our weekly series of powerful motivational quotes designed to get your week off to an inspiring start:

"If doubt is challenging you and you do not act, doubts will grow. Challenge the doubts with action and you will grow. Doubt and action are incompatible."

John Kanary
Canadian (from Belleville, Ont.) motivational speaker and performance coach
http://www.johnkanary.com/

Friday, November 24, 2006

Business 2.0, Customers Zero

I bought a cheap two-year subscription to Business 2.0 a while back; it expires in February.
Today I got a note informing me that they're about to renew my subscription "at the guaranteed low rate of 27% off the newsstand price" - $39.95 for 11 issues.

Hold it right there. That's four times my original rate of $10 a year.

On the newsstand this week, their current issue contains an insert card (you know, the ones that fall to the floor as soon as you pick up the issue) offering two years for $11.60 - Canadian. That's about one-seventh the "guaranteed low rate" they're offering me.

Yet on the back of my renewal notice, Business 2.0 promises me that "Your price is one of the lowest rates available to anyone, anywhere."

I can't imagine it's possible to find a higher rate. When I hit the Net to look, my first Google response offered a Canadian rate of $13.75 for 22 issues. That's a long way from the "outstanding savings" Business 2.0 is offering its most important customer - the paying subscriber who wants to renew.

(Maybe it's a selling feature for advertisers: "Our subscribers are so dumb they don't shop around. They'll pay any price you ask.")

Business 2.0 calls itself "The playbook for a new generation of leaders." In an era where we are supposed to be respecting and empowering existing customers as our most valuable asset, ripping them off doesn't quite seem to fit the 2.0 spirit.

Speaking as a veteran editor and publisher, a magazine subscription is the best entertainment or publishing bargain you can find (even at $39.95). But treating good customers this way is bad business.

It's a brand old flag

How are your branding skills?
Visit this post from Toronto art director Frederik Samuel to see how today’s savviest marketers might rebrand the flags of the world! (It'll take you about two minutes.)
Warning: although this is very funny stuff, it might also get you thinking.

http://www.frederiksamuel.com/blog/images/myflags.swf


Thanks to Seth Godin for the heads-up.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The lawyers got paid

In the Dragons' Den/JobLoft post below, I mentioned the "huge" legal bill that the four owners of JobLoft were left with when the dragons pulled out of the deal. I brought it up because one of those owners mentioned it, and then I mentioned that bill again at the end of my post, as a lesson every entreprenur should learn: the lawyers always get paid.

To which a Toronto lawyer early this morning responded, why do I think lawyers shouldn't get paid? Painters do! He sounded quite offended.

Well, thanks to a post this afternoon by Lee Liu of JobLoft, we now have some idea what that bill amounts to:

"What they didn’t show on TV was that the legal bills for both the dragon’s side as well as our side of the deal (yes, we had to pay for both, but that’s just reality), eats away almost a quarter of the $200,000, after taxes."

As the VCs like to say, it costs as much to make a big deal as a small one.

See It Now

(with apologies to Ed Murrow)
Click on the YouTube screen below to watch the JobLoft deal meltdown, from last night's Dragons' Den finale.
Dragons Den - Job Loft - No Deal

Hot Times in the Dragons' Den (a long post, but worth it)

Dragons’ Den last night was mostly a disappointment - with one fascinating highlight. The season finale was a look back at some of the dragons’ most outrageous moments, along with several superficial updates on some of the show's most memorable “pitchers.”

The updates emphasized how resentful (or regretful) the entrepreneurs were regarding their Dragon Day experience. We learned almost nothing about how their businesses have advanced during that time, or what the owners learned from the experience. Probing how they retain their confidence after the tongue-lashings they received from the dragons would have been fun and possibly educational, but the interviews never scratched the surface.

The highlight, though, was the blow-up of one deal, on-camera, when the normally jovial Robert Herjavec ripped up a cheque after the dragons’ strategic plan was questioned by a current director of the company.

Here’s what happened: all five dragons had agreed to invest $40,000 each for 50% of JobLoft, a Toronto-based job-site company founded by four friends from Ryerson University. The deal was just being signed when Ryerson prof James Norrie, who had taught the students and was made a director of the company, took issue with the dragons’ plan to market mainly to employers (he thought the company should target job-seekers, too).

Based on what we saw on the tube, things got out of hand fast. The dragons wanted to know who this guy was and why they hadn’t heard about him before, and Norrie started belittling the price they were paying. He also sniped about how insignificant that amount is to people who fly to meetings in private jets (well, how else is a busy guy like Jim Treliving supposed to get around?).

That was it. The three dragons in the room (the third was Kevin O’Leary) bristled at that last remark, and Herjavec tore up the $200,000 cheque.

You can follow the fallout at JobLoft’s blog, where the four founders posted an official explanation last night after a month of (CBC-imposed) silence. The guys themselves seem not unhappy with the outcome; for one thing, they weren’t getting as much of the dragons’ time as they had been led to believe. (On the original show, O’Leary had warned the kids he’d be “in their face” every day.) But then, the deal hadn’t been done yet: how much time were the dragons supposed to be giving them?

Here’s how one founder, Lee Liu, sized up the problem: The dragons, he noted, “are just very busy people and having a board meeting once [in] a blue moon and at their convenience just doesn’t cut it for a 50/50 partnership. Experience, contacts and business knowledge is great but only if you have time to give it.”

Even better than this debate are the 30-odd (Update: more than 50!) comments that follow, with visitors split pretty evenly between those who think JobLoft had a narrow escape, and those urging them to go back to the dragons on their knees to try to resurrect the deal. It’s an exciting, real-time discussion on an important issue: the role of angel investors/VCs in startup businesses.

Should the guys have saved the deal? They originally agreed to it because they thought the dragons could help them grow their business by leaps and bounds. If they still believe that, the size of the initial investment is almost irrelevant: the pie should soon enough be big enough for everyone.

If the guys had changed their minds and grown disillusioned with their new mentors, they should have either called off the deal or raised their concerns, in person, prior to the cheque-signing. They should have taken control of the process, instead of letting their professor do the dirty work, or letting dragon-sized egos upset the deal.

Although the four founders were stuck with a legal bill they call “huge,” they still come out winners. JobLoft has received tremendous exposure, and the founders got about four years’ worth of learning in three months.

“Communicate” is the No. 1 lesson I would take away from this.
No. 2? The lawyers always get paid.

UPDATES, Thursday at 10 am
The blogosphere is buzzing about the DD/JobLoft meltdown. If you want to follow up:
* Sean Wise liked the finale episode more than I did. Plus: more JobLoft reactions and a survey.
* Kempton in Calgary offers some wise perspective.
* The CBC's DD site is abuzz. (Scroll about halfway down to pick up the latest comments.)
More to come, I'm sure.
3 pm update: Blogger Ryan Coleman of Found in Translation has some thoughts about the show.
JobLoft Gets Out of a So-So Deal But Still Needs to Dump Norrie says Ben Yoskovitz

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Coffee Time!!!

Just a reminder that I am still looking for your nominations of business leaders whom you would love to hear speak through podcasts.

Doesn't matter if you listen to those things or not - I want to know whom you respect and would make an effort (even a small one!) to listen to.

And everyone who responds gets entered into a draw for one real-live Canadian Entrepreneur coffee mug!

You can leave a comment at the end of this post, or click through to this previous post, and see what responders said last week, and then respond to that.

Either way, I hope to hear from you. Contest closes Nov. 28.

And yes, cette offre est aussi disponible au Quebec.

The Last Dragons

Your last reminder of the year. Dragon's Den, season finale tonight at 8 on CBC.

Man, they should be paying me.

This is the followup show where they look back at some of the pitchers and the deals that got done. I hear one deal went south with a bullet, so it should make for some fun viewin'.

Business is a unique subject area in that it mixes the harsh reality of numbers and discipline and time clocks and supply chains with an endearingly human element of dream-building. Kudos to the Dragon's Den folks for figuring out how to build an entertaining* show by focusing on the dreams.
  • * and yet instructive, too. I remember telling the producers before the first show aired that they should edit together a longer version for educational use. Already I know at least one busines prof who's showing it in class.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Just like the first time...

I talked this afternoon to a startup entrepreneur who has a very healthy attitude towards customer service.

He’s run a business before, so he knows how things work. He compared his industry (which shall go nameless) to the hotel business in Toronto. “Service is lacking,” he says. “It’s all supply and demand: When it’s busy, the customer gets gouged. It takes a situation like SARS to make you appreciate the customer again.”

His company is trying to promote itself on price, but sell long-term on service. The question he asks prospects is: “What would it take to earn your business, and how can we keep you happy forever?”

And here’s his bottom line: “If you treat your customers like it’s the first day you opened your business, you're not going to lose them.”

Monday, November 20, 2006

Who are you ignoring?

To promote the surprising benefits of encouraging employees to make more friends at work, last week I summarized an interview from HR.com with Tom Rath of The Gallup Organization, author of the new book, Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.

There were so many good ideas in that article that I had to add one more.

In his book Rath reports on management's shocking failure to engage with its employees. Based on Gallup’s decades of interviews with workers around the globe, he says only 17% of employees report that their manager has made “an investment in their relationship” in the past three months.

That’s not just a shame but a scandal, given this day and age when so few employees seem to engage with their work. Rath says his research shows that “People who do say they have a good relationship or friendship with their boss are more engaged and satisfied with their jobs overall.”

But according to Rath, “When we talk to employees, they tell us that for the most part, their managers are actually ignoring them.” And that’s about the worst thing you can do, he says.

“I always thought it was terrible if your manager was just focusing on what you were doing wrong all the time. But it turns out from our studies that it’s even worse if your manager is not paying any attention. There is a huge chunk of managers out there who just aren’t thinking consciously about how they can build that relationship.”

One explanation for this finding, notes Rath, is that many larger organizations actually discourage employees from socializing with colleagues in a different pay grade. Some even have 1-800 lines to help employees snitch on disobedient workers.

Let’s just mark that as Exhibit 1,452 in the list of “Big Business blunders,” and note it as one more reason small businesses are usually smarter and more effective than big ones.

For the entire story, click here.
If you have to register, go for it. It's free and worthwhile.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes - Week 7

We continue our weekly series of powerful motivational quotes designed to get your week off to the right start:

“In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”
Charles Revson, founder of Revlon

I’ve always held that marketing awareness is the chief asset of any entrepreneur: knowing who buys your product and why.

Because what they buy, as the Canadian-born Revson well knew, is not necessarily what you're selling.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Should friends matter in your business?

Here’s a Big Idea for you to think about:

People who have a "best friend" at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work than other employees. They also have fewer accidents, more engaged customers, and are more likely to innovate and share new ideas.

That’s the word from Tom Rath, leader of the Gallup Organization’s Workplace and Leadership Consulting Worldwide, as well as author of the No. 1 bestseller, How Full is Your Bucket?

If this is true, you have a golden opportunity to increase employee engagement and effectiveness simply by helping people in your organization communicate and connect with each other.

Rath described his theories in a new interview with HR.com, the Aurora, Ont.-based “Human Resources Portal.” (Three cheers for a Canadian company that thinks big and talks like a winner!)

Gallup has been studying friendships (among many other things) among 10 million people for more than a decade. According to its data, when people don’t have a best friend at work, there is only a one in 12 chance that they’ll be engaged at work.

When people are asked about their favorite past jobs, they are most likely to point not to a company or brand or job, but to the close friends they had there.

In case you're wondering, the research says that one-third of employees have a best friend at work. In other words, there's lots of room for improvement.

For years, employers have tried to build collegial, effective workplaces without turning them into a social club. Now it looks like those personal relationships are more important than we thought.
How are you going to build stronger interpersonal relationships in your office?

For the entire story, click here.

PS: One more Big Idea for you to think about:
When Gallup asked 700 people in Texas to name the activities they enjoy most during their day, the most popular activity was spending time with friends (yes, it ranked above time spent with spouse). And way down at the bottom of the list, below cleaning the house, was spending time with the boss.

“Pretty big disconnect there,” says Rath.

Is Marketing your Achilles Heel?

I was negligent in not posting a link to my controversial column on entrepreneurial marketing in the October issue of PROFIT Magazine.
You can read the column here, but the core point lies in the following paragraphs:

  • "Early in my new content-marketing career, I discovered how hard it is to separate individual marketing initiatives from the big picture. Brought in to help firms do something simple, such as write a press release or update a website, I would ask a few positioning questions to ensure I understood the market and the message. Questions like: Who is your target audience? What do they expect from you? What do you want to sell them?
  • "Not only could many companies not answer those questions, I discovered they had been unconsciously avoiding them. Understanding customers—not to mention ourselves—is a tricky business that takes time, effort and thinking. Putting aside the daily busywork to recalibrate and refocus not only seems wasteful, it might expose competing points of view, lack of focus or a failure to keep pace with the market."

The column concludes by urging entrepreneurs to consciously review their own positioning efforts. Ask questions such as these:

  • Who is your market? How has it changed since you last asked this question?
    » Why do customers buy from you?
    » What's the highest-value product or service you can sell to them? And what do they really want to buy from you?
    » Who else needs and wants the products or solutions you're selling? How can you engage them?

Agree? Disagree? Want to explore this further?

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here. Or you can click on Comments, below, and get a dialogue going with your fellow entrepreneurs.

The nerve of some people!

Did you know that some other bloggers whose blogs have been nominated for a 2006 Canadian Blog Award have been urging their readers to go vote for their site every day until voting closes Nov. 21?

Not at all the subtle approach some others have taken (see preceding post)!

You know what to do.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Best Business Blogs

The nominees are in for Canada's best business blog, as part of the 2006 Canadian Blog Awards. If you haven't read them before, you might want to browse through the contenders, below. A lot of good learning and entertaining reading.

Bloggers work very hard to create new and interesting material, all in the hopes that you'll find something you like (and then maybe even, please oh please, leave a comment). So why not reward your favorite blog by voting for it as Blog of the Year!

First-round voting is open till Nov. 21. Second-round voting is Nov. 23 to Dec. 1.
And for some reason, they let you vote once a day!

Check out all the nominees and place your votes at http://cba.myblahg.com/

Nominees for Best Business Blog of 2006:

A Canadian Econoview

Social Media Group Corporate Blogging

B(abble)log

StayGoLinks

BPWrap

The Other Bloke's Blog

Canadian Entrepreneur

Thomas Purves

CEO Blog

Uninstalled

Community Security: The Provident Blog

Vancouver Housing Market Blog

Digital Life News

Venture Law Lines

Market Insight

We're Not Wired Right

My Name Is Kate

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Project Porchlight

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

12,000th Visitor!

Another milestone: This blog yesterday recorded its 12,000th visitor.

We’re really developing traction – it’s been just six weeks since we welcomed Visitor #10,000. In fact, yesterday was our biggest day ever in terms of traffic, with 88 visitors.

Visitor 12,000 hails from Minnesota and found us by doing a Google search for “ways to cut costs in my business.” He found our story “How to cut costs,” from February 2005 – our first month of blogging.

Which shows one of the advantages of blogging over, say, writing a column for a magazine: the blog, like The Force, will be with you always.

Who would you like to hear?

This is a call for your help. Yet it could win you a brand-new Canadian Entrepreneur coffee mug!

Let's say someone (not me, thanks for asking) was to start a podcasting service featuring short, insightful interviews with North America's leading entrepreneurs.

Who would you most want to listen to?
What entrepreneur or business leader would you want to hear?

In other words, if you could get insider tips and advice from any two or three top business leaders, who would you most like to hear?

Even if you've never listened to a podcast, your opinion is important. This isn't about technology. It's about who has the right stuff to attract an audience of busy entrepreneurs.

Please let me know who you would like to hear from. You may leave a Comment below, or contact me by email at rick (a) rickspence.ca

In return for your generosity, everyone who responds by Nov 28 (UPDATE: Deadline extended to Dec. 6!) will be entered into a draw to win the first-ever Canadian Entrepreneur coffee mug - a $20 value! (Suitable for regifting.)

Thanks for your help. I really would like to hear your opinions.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Best Ever Entrepreneurial Quotes - Week 6

Our regular series of exceptional entrepreneurial quotes moves this week to Mondays -- all the better to inspire you for the rest of the week.
Today's comment is from a man who was 49 years ahead of his time:
"The institutional leader is primarily an expert in the promotion and protection of values."
Philip Selznick, Leadership in Administration: A Sociological Interpretation (1957)
Which of course raises the key question: What do you stand for?
(By the way, Prof Selznick is still around, an emeritus professor of sociology and law at the University of California, Berkeley. )

Canada’s Top 10 Brands

Arieh Singer of One Degree, the great Canadian Internet marketing resource, blogged last week on the Breakfast of Brand Champions 2006 held at the U of T's Rotman School of Management. This is the annual survey of the best brands in Canada, as voted by industry people. It is run by Cundari SFP, The Strategic Councel, and Canadian Business.

What are Canada’s top consumer brands? (Both products and companies were eligible.)

Before we reveal them, here is Arieh’s take on the key attribute of a strong brand: “In order for a brand to succeed it must create a unique customer experience, and deliver it consistently across all touch points with customers.”

Now, here are the Top 10 Canadian brands announced last week:

Tim Horton’s
Canadian Tire
WestJet
Cirque du Soleil
President’s Choice
Molson Canadian
Loblaw’s
Bell / Bell Mobility
TD Canada Trust
Shoppers Drug Mart

Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Personally, I find the list a little confusing. Cirque du Soleil is a bigger brand in Vegas than it is in Canada. Bell (is it Bell Canada? Bell Ontario? Bell Quebec?) is a confusing mess these days, beavers be damned. (They even seem to have dropped the "Bell Mobility" name in favour of the somehow-even-more-bland-brand, "Wireless.")

Loblaw’s is an icon only in Ontario, and is busy rolling out Superstores under various names in the rest of the country. And Molson Canadian is such a great brand it’s called Laurentide in Quebec. (The Montreal Canadiens would make more sense on this list!)

To my mind, a more complete list would replace those four with Rick Mercer, The Globe and Mail, Swiss Chalet and the BlackBerry.

For Arieh’s full article (which contains more on branding and less ranting), click here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Dragon of Choice is... Robert!


I must owe somebody some money.

Before the launch of Dragons' Den, I predicted to several people that Laurence Lewin of La Senza would be the breakout star of the show (after the always acerbic Kevin O'Leary, of course, since he already has his own show, on ROB TV).

But Laurence's dapper English accent and aristocratic manner haven't measured up to Robert Herjavec's charm and goodwill. Acording to a highly un-scientific survey (reviewing the Google search terms that lead people to this site), Herjavec is the man. This blog has received scores of visitors who came seeking info on Herjavec. We've had very few hits from anyone looking for the other dragons.

In fact, people seem to take a personal interest in Robert, the man with the custom-built, 50,000-sq-ft Bridle Path house. Just today one person came to this site by way of a search for "Robert Herjavec + age," and another looked up "Robert Herjavec + school."

Whatever can it mean?

BTW, Dragons returns this Wednesday with a repeat of the first show (which launched with scant fanfare and drew poor ratings). The following week, a special episode looks back at some of the most colourful entrepreneurial pitchers, as well as the deals the dragons made. I've heard that one of them, as would be appropriate with such fire-breathing people around, went down in flames.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Questions for Curves

Inc. Magazine recently interviewed Gary Heavin, co-founder (with his wife Diane) of Curves, the 14-year-old women’s fitness chain that has suddenly become the world’s largest fitness franchise, with 10,000 locations in 42 countries. Inc. asked him 10 questions: I’ll give you a preview by sharing the best four.

What's the least glamorous thing you do regularly in the line of duty? Dealing with all the problems that rise to the top. They're usually simple misunderstandings that require my intervention. I apologize a lot.

What skill would you most like to improve? Praising people.

If you could go back in time and do one thing differently in your business, what would it be? I would go back and say "I" and "me" less, and "us" and "we" more.

What keeps you up at night? I cannot think about work after 6 p.m.; if I do, I'm up all night, so I don't, ever.

For the rest of the interview, click here.

VCs face the music

A Nov. 8 article in the NY Times (not sure how long the link will last) explores the phenomenon of Internet companies that are avoiding venture capital. Seems it's too expensive and comes with too many strings attached.

  • "Some [startups] have gone without venture capital altogether or have raised far smaller sums than venture investors would have liked. Many were sold for millions before venture capitalists could even get in. That has been a challenge for venture capitalists, who have raised record amounts in recent years and need places to put that money to work.
    “V.C.’s hate it; they want you to take big money,” said Jay Adelson, who is the chief executive of two start-ups, Digg and Revision3. Digg took some venture money, but far less than backers offered, and Revision3 has been running on about $850,000 raised from a group of angel investors."

Fear not. The VCs are actually learning to adapt to the market.
  • "Just last week, Charles River Ventures announced it would offer loans of $250,000 to entrepreneurs as a way to gain access to promising start-ups. Other firms are also giving out small loans, albeit not as a part of any formal program. "
With falling technology prices reducing the cost of entry for most Net companies, one entrepreneur who has formed his own angel-investing fund told the Times, “I came to the conclusion that $500,000 was the new $5 million.”

Welcome to the real world, NYT. Vulture capitalists have never been loved (or even tolerated) for anything but their cash. Every entreprenur knows that as soon as they take VC money, their head is being measured for a pike.

The difference now is that there are more alternatives for funding, especially from angels (anyone with money who invests as much for the relationship as the return). Our society has never been richer, and these angels are smarter and more experienced than ever, and ready to take intelligent risks.

Pity the VCs: All that money, and no one wants to dance.

Best Entrepreneurial Quotes, Week V

Continuing our Friday series - which next week moves to Monday, so we can start every week on an inspirational note.

"The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective."

Warren Buffett
World's Greatest Investor

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Leave your laptop at home!

Yesterday’s technology marvel, today’s sack of potatoes.
IT World Canada has just published a useful story on leaving your notebook computer behind next time you travel for business.

Imagine – napping on the plane without feeling guilty about not going over those spreadsheets! (If that’s too daring, just print out a hard copy for reading in the departure lounge.)

The story looks at breakthroughs in mobility technology that allow you to be just as productive using someone else’s computer while you're away. A lot of intriguing ideas, such as using your iPod to store data and Internet settings. You retrieve them by hooking it up to a remote computer, say, at your hotel’s business centre.

Other suggestions:

* Find out if the airport(s) you’ll be using has its own computer-equipped business centre;
* Access the files you need through online data-storage services such as Mozy;
* Access your home computer from anywhere using the subscription service GoToMyPC
(a great product that has certainly saved my bacon a few times).

Check out the story here.

The Best in Business Blogging

The following are the business blogs that have been nominated (or nominated themselves) from the Best Business Blog award at the 2006 Canadian Blog Awards.

Feel free to visit them all and see what kind of all-star bloggers Canada has to offer. (Go ahead, click on through, I won’t mind.)

A Canadian Econoview --- B(abble)log --- BPWrap --- Canadian Entrepreneur --- CEO Blog --- Digital Life News --- Market Insight --- My Name Is Kate --- Social Media Group Corporate Blogging --- StayGoLinks --- The Other Bloke's Blog --- Thomas Purves --- Uninstalled --- Vancouver Housing Market Blog --- We're Not Wired Right --- Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

You can vote for your favourite blogs starting Nov. 25. Check here for more details.

Canadian Entrepreneur: Connecting you to the Business Web since, er, 2005.

A Fable for Entrepreneurs

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. A tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. "Not very long," answered the fisherman.
“But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the tourist.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet hisneeds and those of his family. The tourist asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?" The fisherman replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The tourist interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."
“And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the Tourist.
"And after that?" asked the fisherman. "That's when it gets really interesting," answered the Tourist. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

The moral: To thine own self be true. You may already be where others want you to go.

Found on the Internet. Author Unknown.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Writing with Power - in Business

At the invitation of my friend Shawn Phelps, I spoke to a group of students yesterday at Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Publishing program. I talked about the career (23 years in journalism, mainly business), offered some brilliant career advice worthy of a Grade 9 valedictory speech (get involved, ask lots of questions), and then discussed what I've learned about writing for results.

That advice was geared to writing non-fiction books or magazine articles, but I am struck today at how relevant most of it is to anyone writing in a business context. So here is my list of “7 Ways to Write with Power,” adapted for business writing and online attention spans.

1. Don’t skimp on the research. You can’t write with power if you don't have the facts and the details and context behind them.

2. Use vivid images. Instead of clichés, make your writing stand out by using original, griping images that engage all the sense.

3. Don’t hurry your writing: Space is always scarce, readers’ patience is limited, and brevity is usually best. But you can gain attention and influence by slowing down for key moments, letting details, wordplay, emotion or rhythm engage the reader, rather than content alone.

4. Use strong verbs. Verbs are the keystone of any sentence. Throw out your adjectives and learn to use more vivid, evocative verbs. I read from an article that transported the reader by using powerful, unexpected verbs such as “scribble,” “disappear,” “abandon,” “swoop,” “smuggle” and “dance.”

5. Vary your sentence structure. Short/long. Dialogue/description. Objective/subjective.
Especially avoid subject-verb repetition (“He did this. Then he did that.”). Variety is the spice of communication.

6. Write with authority. Provide context that proves you know your stuff , offer authoritative facts (“Our department’s absenteeism rate was the highest in the company’s history), and use telling detail.

7. Build towards strength.
Never “taper off.” The strongest word or image should come at the end of your sentence. The strongest sentence should come at the end of your paragraph. That’s how you keep people reading – and paying attention to what you say.

(Hardly anyone teaches stuff like this. If you care about good writing and want the full list of 10 tips, drop me an email – rick (at) rickspence.ca. I’ll send you a copy of the original handout, which includes a link to the most powerful, best-written article I’ve ever read. I used that article to showcase how a really good writer makes use of the writing techniques I advocate.)

Secrets of Blogging Success

Ottawa/Toronto PR guy Joe Thornley would make a great reporter (if he could take the pay cut).

In his blog, ProPR, Joe is on a one-man mission to chronicle growth of blogging and other social media from every blog/Web2.0/social marketing conference he can find – and his writeups are great. So reading his blog can save you thousands of dollars in travel and convention costs.

This week he writes up Alec Saunders’ presentation to the recent CaseCamp Ottawa, in which Alec makes the, well, case for corporate blogging. I am not convinced that blogging is the solution for all companies, but everybody should be looking at it as a possible strategy. And Saunders makes a great, well, case study for blogging as a core marketing strategy for young tech startups looking to build profile and credibility.

Saunders, founder of Ottawa-based Iotum, a VOIP application provider, offered three essential benefits to corporate blogging, sez Joe:

Thought leadership. Trying to magnify a point of view and thought and to get other people to pay attention to it.

To grow communities around your product. A blog is a fabulous tool for creating a conversation around your product and your company. Microsoft has done an extraordinarily good job with this.

Pure visibility. A blog is a way to create more visibility for your company, if properly tied to your corporate website.

Alec’s blog , Alec Saunders.Log, now generates more than 184,000 visits a month – equivalent to a national magazine. The difference, of course is that this is, for the most part, a self-selecting audience of business people who take the VOIP space seriously – so it’s precisely the market he wants most to attract and influence. (Of course, Alec crosslinks regularly to the Iotum site to remind his audience why he’s here.)

The result: Saunders has created a community of like-minded individuals who join his conversations and link to him. He has now built up over 23,000 links from other blogs to his site – which generates the “Google juice” that makes sure he’s a player in any almost any online conversation in his field.

So what’s the secret of blogging success?
I've stolen enough of Joe’s thunder. For great tips for more powerful blogging, check out his original post here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Know your customer, eh?

The Globe and Mail’s underwhelming Small Business mini-site has an interview with Jim Treliving of Boston Pizza (yes, he’s one of the Dragons’ Den, but enough of them!). It’s one of those “Best Mistake” interviews, which are usually fun.

Treliving says his mistake was getting out of touch with the communities where he was opening new restaurants. Having wrongly assumed that success in Canada implied further success in the U.S., he finally moved to Dallas to oversees Boston Pizza’s expansion in the States.

"A lot of Canadian companies expand down to the U.S. and are not successful, and the reason probably is that they don't send one of their chief executives, or people who have been in the business for a long time. They sort of hire people down there, then you have to keep showing them the culture that you want," he said.

What did he learn? “Take more time and review what and how you are going to attack the problem.

It musta worked. BP's American division, Boston's The Gourmet Pizza will open its 45th store this week, with plans for 20 more.

For the whole story, click here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

All-Time Best Entrepreneurial Quotes, week 4

Continuing with our weekly series of inspirational messaging...

"There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle."
Robert Alden

This is of course a favored religious metaphor, but it's also an essential message about creativity and individualism. In entrepreneurship, we follow our own path, often through doubt and even despair. Beautiful images such as this can keep us going.

Get ready for recession!

My most recent column in PROFIT Magazine bears the cheery headline, Get ready for recession!
(Note: readers in Alberta and Saskatchewan can skip the rest of this post.)

I don't think the rest of Canada will slip into recession soon, but it has become a possibility, should energy prices keep rising, the dollar stay high, or US growth stall.

So, realizing that many entrepreneurs today are too young to remember the last recession (or, heaven forbid, the one before that, when I cut my teeth as a business journalist), I thought I would share the 10 lessons I recall from the Great Recessions of the '80s and '90s.
(You can read the more detailed version by visiting PROFITguide. Click here.)

1. Stay liquid. In tougher times, cash is king.
2. If you think you'll need financing, line it up now.
3. Focus on relationships. You'll need the goodwill of both customers and suppliers.
4. Tighten up collection policies.
5. Cut costs now.
6. Get your employees onside. Let them know you're expecting tougher times, and solicit their ideas for increasing revenues or reducing costs.
7. Smarten up your compensation policies.
8. Invest in productivity.
9. Remember that recessions are part of the economic cycle. They wring excesses — as well as weak-hearted or behind-the-times underperformers — out of the system.
10. Pick a niche and expand. Tough times can be a great opportunity for real entrepreneurs to show what they're made of.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What’s your competition up to?

What’s your competition doing? Business management site AllBusiness.com offers “Twelve Tips for Doing Competitive Analysis.” Here’s a précis featuring eight of those tips:

1. Be a customer. Bring a notepad and pencil to competing establishments and ask a lot of questions.

2. Find out as much as you can about the people who run competing businesses.

3. Buy stock in your competitors. If you're competing against a publicly traded firm, you can receive regular updates on the firm's results and strategies.

4. Talk to your competitors' customers.

5. Use the Internet. Keep tabs on competitors’ websites and use online services such as Dow Jones Interactive or Google Alerts to access information.

6. Attend industry conferences and trade shows.

7. Assess the competition's goals. A competitor trying to increase its market share might lower prices; a firm attempting to increase profits may cut costs. If you know your competitors' goals, you'll be better able to anticipate their strategies.

8. Don't delegate the job of keeping up with competitors. You might appoint someone to work with you on the task, doing research and the like. But as the entrepreneur, you're in the best position to appreciate and act upon information about your competitors.

I would add one more tip: Open a channel (as they say on Star Trek) to your competition. Be on friendly terms with them, make a point of chatting with them at conferences, meetings, etc. There are many ways you can help each other.

I know many entrepeneurs who compete tooth and nail, but also happily share information and refer business to each other when times require it. Business success today requires many allies, and like-minded competitiors rank among the best.

(For the full original story, and all 12 tips, you’ll want to read the original post here.)