Monday, December 31, 2007

Every problem is an opportunity for someone

There’s gotta be a business opportunity in here somewhere.

A recent Globe & Mail online poll asked the question, “After the holiday season, how do you feel?

Out of nearly 6,000 respondents, 31% said they felt “more refreshed.”

The other 69% say they feel “totally exhausted.”

How could your business help these exhausted consumers next year?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Amazon's mis-step

I have always been impressed by Amazon.com’s ingenuity in simulating (and improving) the bookstore experience online – how you can look into sections of the book, browse the index, read reviews, find similar titles, etc.

A message today from Amazon.ca tells me their system is out of whack. All you need to know is that a few weeks before Christmas, I bought a book for my wife of photographs of Muskoka, the cottage-country region just north of Toronto.

So today Amazon tells me that:

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated Muskoka Souvenir by Judy Ross or other books in the Photography > Architectural category have also purchased Institutional, Limited Edition: Photographs of Jails, Schools, and other Chicago Buildings by Judith Russi Kirshner. For this reason, you might like to know that Institutional, Limited Edition: Photographs of Jails, Schools, and other Chicago Buildings is now available. You can order yours at a savings of 37% by following the link below.

Does this make any sense? Decide for yourself.

Muskoka:
Chicago Jails











P.S.: The Chicago book retails for $250. No wonder they're trying so hard to move it!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Best Businesses to go into Now

The December edition of PROFIT is known as the “Annual Opportunity Issue.” It’s all about Your Next Big Thing: the best business opportunities and growth markets in today’s business climate.

As you might guess there’s lots of stuff about aging boomers, health care innovation and niche manufacturing. But there are many, many more ideas in the issue that could help you expand your business or maybe even start a new one. It’s worth seeking out on the newsstands.

Second best (because the layout is so ugly), you can read it free on the Web.

Coping with climate change
Sector report (retail, construction, technology, etc.)
Fortune tellers (what the futurists say)
Alive and kicking (macro opportunities)
Secrets of product success
Selling to the poor
Generation Y (helping the boomers’ kids cope with adulthood)
The retirement-ready
Recession (how to prosper in an economic slowdown)

It's proof positive that entrepreneurs can thrive in any environment. It's all in your attitude, after all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 64

The latest installment in our continuing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start. Today, a useful warning from the guy everyone's talking about this week.

"What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?"

Jesus was speaking to all of us, but entrepreneurs in particular would do do well to consider these words. The trappings of success - wealth, influence, publicity - can change people.

Still, most of the entrepreneurs that I have met have been creative, unselfish custodians of wealth, eager to redirect it from their hands to places where it is more needed. As this generation of entrepreneurs retires, I predict we will see a boom in local and national philanthropy. As one entrepreneur once told me, "You can only sit on one beach at a time."

Speaking of which, here's a link to a timely story in today's National Post on philanthropy and small business.

And once again, Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

We wish you a Merry Christmas

Best wishes to all for a safe, happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Take the Entrepreneurship test

I have just updated the link from a January 2007 post to the Canadian Entrepreneurship Test.

The quiz, a shortened version of the "National Entrepreneurship Test" I wrote for PROFIT magazine a decade ago, no longer resides at PROFIT's website. But we encouraged other organizations to republish the test for non-profit purposes, and it's still found here and there, across the country and on the Net.

So if you want to take a fun little entrepreneurial quiz to test your business-building traits, click here. It'll take you to the Enterprise Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., which still offers the test as part of its services to local entrepreneurs.

Good luck, and let me know how you fared.

Why Big Companies are Dysfunctional

Smart companies don't expose their employees to messages like this one.

Here's a link to a not-so-festive holiday message from Pierre Karl PĂ©ladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor Inc. It's a great example of the sort of thing employers should never do.

What's wrong with it? It is stilted, cliched and joyless. There is neither genuine emotion nor an original thought.

Peladeau's eye are glazed over (I presume he's reading the whole thing off a teleprompter), his body language is stiff, and he stumbles over key phrases. If you don't have time to do it over till you get it right, then don't do it at all.

It's like some terrible parody of a Christmas wish - except that it's for real. And it comes from one of Canada's top communications companies.

Sit through it if you can. The link (however long it lasts) is here.

(Thanks to rachelmarsden.com for the link.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Holiday Gift For You

Just about everyone you know is taking next week off, right? There’s no point going into the office because no one else will be in theirs. Right?

Umm, no. After Christmas and Boxing Day there are still two days left in the week. If your post-Xmas schedule has not yet been filled by ski days or well-meaning relatives, consider going back to the office and making the most of these opportunity–filled days – when many gatekeepers are out of the office and the people you've been trying to get through to all year are in, working at half-speed, and feeling no pressure.

That’s the message from U.S. sales consultant Art Sobczak, who just sent out a fascinating newsletter. A year ago about this time he published an article urging his readers to do some serious selling between Christmas and New Year’s. And today’s newsletter features the e-mails of thanks he received last year from readers who did just that – with surprising success.

One person writes: “I called a customer whom I had been trying to reach for two months… He didn't want the program I was selling, but thought this other guy might... He said now was a good time that I called because... you guessed it, he had money to spend before the end of the year. He actually told me that!

Another says: “Yesterday (12/27/) I reached a high-level executive at the organization. He spent ten minutes telling me all about the problems they are having and what they are looking for in a solution. Just so happens we have something exactly to meet their needs!”

And another: “The last two weeks of December were our best weeks ever! The team made a decision in their minds that they would use the holidays and end of year as a reason to close up deals instead of a reason to get put off for later. It worked!”

Art also reprints his column from last year, which includes this good advice:

“I've never really understood not calling during the week between Christmas and New Year's. What do these people think? That when they get back to the office on January 2 and start hitting the phones that they'll be the only ones with that idea? No! EVERYONE starts calling the first day back in the office. And that's the day the decision makers are swamped with their own work!”

I couldn't find a copy of this article on his website, so it’s only accessible to those who get his newsletter. But if you send me an e-mail, I would be happy to forward a copy of the e-mail to you, so you can read the complete column, and those success letters.

(Send your request to rick (-at-) rickspence.ca)

Warning: I can not be held responsible for ill feelings created by a) your missing a family party on the 28th; or b) your being moody and morose about having to visit in-laws on the 28th. Nobody ever said entrepreneurship would be easy!

Oh. And, um, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cutting Costs in Your Business

I just found a decent article on Microsoft’s website called “How to Cut Costs Painlessly in Your Small Business.

It offers lots of useful tips for managing transportation costs, cross-training employees, comparing service offerings, monitoring receivables, and marketing more efficiently

I also liked their grab bag of miscellaneous tips:

• Do you check your invoices against your purchase order to make sure you got everything you asked for — at the price you were quoted?

• Should employees who travel at company expense turn frequent flyer miles back to the company?

• Is your insurance coverage up to date, or is it based on equipment or vehicles you no longer have?

• Do you always purchase items new? Could you buy a year-old van or look into used office furniture next time you need some?

• Do you have more office space than you really need? If so, could you rent out part of your space to another business?

• Can you do a better job of organizing shipments to avoid costly overnight or next-day charges?

• Do you monitor energy usage to make sure you're not paying for lights and heat when no one is in the office?

Lots of small changes make a big difference. As they say, reducing your expenses by a dollar is worth 10 times that amount in sales.

See the full article here.

New niche markets

What are the new niche markets for 2008? The U.S. journal Advertising Age ran a list this week of the 10 top “microtrends” that will affect America in 2008.

They certainly don't all apply to Canada, but some may. Here’s the list, compiled by Mark Penn and Kinney Zalesne, co-authors of Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes.

WORKING RETIRED: 75% of baby boomers have no intention of seeking a traditional retirement. Employers, Madison Avenue ... is anybody paying attention?

SUN HATERS: Look for new interest in sun-safe clothing and permanent sunscreen.

NEGLECTED DADS: Today’s fathers spend twice as much time with their kids as dads did in the 1970s. Where are the ads for dads buying gifts for kids?

CAR-BUYING SOCCER MOMS: Someday, smart marketers are going to catch on.

SEX-RATIO SINGLES: Single women now make up the second-largest group of homebuyers in America. It’s time marketers -- of everything from home security to vacations – paid attention.

OFFICE ROMANCERS: In 2006, almost 60% of U.S. employees said they'd had an office romance, up from just 47% in 2003.

THIRTY-WINKERS: The average American sleeps less than seven hours a night – down 25% from a century ago. What are the repercussions for safety, productivity and civility? And drugstores?

SOUTHPAWS UNBOUND: With fewer left-handers being forced to conform at an early age, one in six Americans now say they're left-handed – compared to the traditional estimate of one in 10. Look for lefty-targeted products and services.

PROTESTANT HISPANICS: About 25% of Latinos in the U.S. are Protestant, mainly Pentecostal or born again. And their impact is growing.

WEB TO WEDDING: Online matchmaking is the new normal. Nearly three million Americans have turned Internet dates into long-term relationships or marriage.

Now a few Canadian trends to watch from me (since the name of this site isn't American Entrepreneur): the native birth rate is climbing; immigrants are playing increasing roles in many cities (including Calgary and Edmonton); and semi-retirees (folks transitioning out of the workforce, but taking five years to do it) are booming. Plus, condo development in downtown Toronto is through the roof: how can you enhance sky-dwellers' quality of life?

The essence of small business is niches. Find a microtrend, and you have yourself a market.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 63

Another installment in our continuing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"The new entrepreneur is someone who knows how to utilize the fine art of story-telling and can do so with boldness, imagination, charisma and tenacity. Story-telling provides a logical format for “creating something out of nothing.”

Canadian entrepreneur Ellie Rubin, from her 1999 book, Bulldog: Spirit of the New Entrepreneur

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Generosity of Teresa Cascioli

I've noticed a sudden surge yesterday and today in the number of people coming to this site looking for info on Teresa Cascioli, the remarkable Hamilton entrepreneur who built Lakeport Brewing into an industry dynamo before selling out to Labatt last February for a potful of money. (You can see my previous post here.)
So I just Googled her myself (using Google news) and discovered she has just donated $1 million to McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business to establish the Teresa Cascioli Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership. She hopes that it will not necessarily educate students on how to run a business, but on "here's what to watch out for."
"There are many pressures facing today's entrepreneurs, and the challenges in the coming years will not diminish," Casciola said in a statement. "You face pressure from investors wanting the highest return on their investment with the lowest possible risk; pressure from customers wanting the lowest possible price and the absolute best value; pressure from employees wanting job security. You face resistance from everyone. There is a tremendous amount of skill required in order to navigate these pressures. Students need to be given guidance that can assist them in their future leadership pursuits."
Cascioli (class of '83) says it's equivalent to "putting a coat over the puddle" for future entrepreneurs.

This is the first major donation of her Teresa Cascioli Charitable Foundation.
Congrats to Teresa, for putting her money where her heart is. I will be interested to see what she does next.

What's your entrepreneur name?

Here's a little fun courtesy of Halifax's Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development: It’s a random name generator that takes your real name and translates it into a funky entrepreneurial monicker – and suggests an ideal business for you to develop.

It’s a fun gimmick, probably meant to get high-school kids thinking more entrepre-neurially – but it still amused me.
(And by the way – you may now address me as “Funky Mastermind.” Which would be fine, except that they also decided my “cool business idea” is a Pet Hotel.

Try it yourself – and discover your true calling.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 62

Yet another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start. Well, except for this week...

“This has been one massive smear job from A to Z and it will have a surprise ending, a complete vindication of the defendants and an exposure of their persecutors.”
Canadian tycoon Conrad Black, on Nov. 23, 2005

Black was sentenced today in Chicago to 6 ½ years in prison for fraud and obstruction of justice.

As a Canadian business leader who amassed his fortune through timely buying and selling rather than vision and innovation, Black seems to me a victim of what Vancouver real-estate entrepreneur Peter Thomas calls “King Arthur Syndrome.” It’s when you've had a few victories and think you can do no wrong.

In his book “Never Fight with a Pig,” Thomas recalls the heady 1970s, when no one could lose in B.C. real state. “Nelson [Skalbania] and I thought we were invincible,” he writes. Thomas says sufferers of King Arthur Syndrome “take no advice and accept none. They don't do their homework. They are overtaken with ambition, ego and greed, and so were we.”

Conrad Black seems to have understood the threat of this syndrome. As he once told biographer Peter C. Newman, "I have always felt it was the compulsive element in Napoleon that drew him into greater and greater undertakings, until he was bound to fail."

Sadly, Black seems to have been unable to recognize this syndrome in himself. He became excessively proud of his self-enriching legal manipulations. In 2002 he referred to Hollinger International serving “no purpose as a listed company other than relatively cheap use of other people's capital.” When outsiders grumbled about Hollinger’s internal workings, he told the London Times, "We are not running a Christian Scientists' meeting here … Anybody who complains about it can take a hike."

Regarding his use of corporate aircraft, he wrote in a notorious 2002 e-mail, “I'm not prepared to re-enact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of nobility... We are proprietors, after all.”

Such a waste. Black is an intelligent, talented man. Why take such pride in being a “proprietor” when he could have been a builder? Perhaps if he had been less concerned with making himself important, Conrad Black might have become more significant.

(Thanks to David Olive of the Toronto Star for compiling Black's best quotes. You can read his clipping file here.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Do kids make better entrepreneurs?

Do kids make better entrepreneurs? Does “growing up” kill the risk-taker inside of us?

These are some of the questions raised by a recent column by U.S. sales consultant Art Sobczak called, “We Should Be More Like Kids.”

He says most of us would be happier and achieve more if we acted more like kids every day.

Here’s why:

1. No's don't bother them. “My kids react to no's as if they were hearing-impaired, relentlessly firing off their next salvo of requests.”

2. Kids take risks. … “Most grown-ups are too risk-averse, traveling the warm, safe, beaten path.”

3. Their imaginations run wild. … “Unharness your imagination, and let your ideas run wild. You'll be surprised.”

4. Kids have high ambitions. “The neighbor kid, six years old, is facing a tough decision right now. He isn't sure whether he's going to play in the American League, or the National League when he becomes a Major League Baseball player. …”

5. They have great attitudes. “A trivia question on the radio the other day asked, “What do kids do about 400 times a day, that adults do less than 20 on average?” The answer: laugh.”

6. Kids are constantly active. …“Put a spring in your step, move more quickly like a kid, and that really does translate into a better attitude.”

7. They're curious. “I'm often exasperated trying to explain things that I've always taken for granted, like, “Why is there frost on the grass when you wake up in the morning?” In sales, we need to have that child-like curiosity because it helps us to understand everything we should know before we make a presentation.”

I would add one more point to Art's fine list: Kids forgive and forget. They can fight like dogs and cats for an hour and make up in a minute. They're not hung up on what happened yesterday, or who did what to whom. Every day is a new page.

Click here to read Art’s full column.
Click here for Art’s website, Business By Phone Inc.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How to Raise Prices

My latest column in PROFIT Magazine looks at raising your prices as a way to grow your business. It includes interviews with two Canadian entrepreneurs - one from the East Coast, one from the West - who have remade their businesses in order to justify charging higher-than-market prices for their goods and services.

Excerpt:
My research took me to the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam, where Bob Burnham and Jeff McCallum run a disaster-recovery services firm called BurnMac Services Inc. Founded in 1976, BurnMac enjoyed many great years. But by the 1990s, competition had increased and margins were falling.

Burnham and McCallum have learned that too many people charge too little for their services. “Small businesses are really undercutting themselves,” says Burnham. “They’re so close to being successful. If they raised their price just 5% to 10%, it could change their lives.”

It’s a matter of margins. Let’s say you’re a typical service business grossing $1 million a year and making a profit of 3.5% to 4.5% of sales. “You’re working your tail off for $40,000 a year,” says Burnham. But if you can raise prices 10% while keeping costs steady, your net income becomes $140,000. Your profit margin has more than tripled.
Read more about how to raise prices here.

Report from Vancouver

A trip to Vancouver kept me hopping this week. It was the last leg of my three-city speaking tour, which involved presenting to dentists and dental professionals on 7 ways to grow their practice.

The trip included a very late outbound flight and lost luggage (by the airline, not me) on the way back. Like all business trips, the only surprises were bad ones. Until I went to check out of my hotel. That's when ... well. you can read the rest in my Financial Post column next Monday.

Vancouver as usual was wet, but very warm: plus 12 degrees C on Monday was a lot better than the bone-chilling -12 on Saturday in Toronto. I had a lunch in Nanaimo on Tuesday, which called for a 90-minute ferry ride through the most beautiful scenery on earth, so it wasn't all hardship. The trip back, which featured a beautifil rainbow to the east and a sunset on the west, was pure BC gold.

One discouraging note: the Christmas shopping season got off to a slow start. Park Royal, West Vancouver's largest mall, was a ghost town Monday night. It was the first day of extended Christmas hours (most stores close at 7 pm the rest of the year), and no one seemed in a shopping mood. There were more soccer players practising outside in the rain at the park next door than there were shoppers in the stores - despite some great bargains, and a snowstorm two days earlier that should have triggered the new-skiwear instinct.

One more point: I was very impressed with being able to pay for a downtown parking spot on Robson Street via cellphone, when I found myself stuck without change. Viva la high tech!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The 411 on SEO

I’ve written a few times lately (on this blog and elsewhere) about pay-per-click advertising as a key marketing tool for small business. But there’s a complementary tool that more entrepreneurs should be looking at: search engine optimization.

SEO is the art and science of (re)building your website so it appears at the top of the Google results charts whenever someone does a Web search for a “keyword” that’s important to your business. If you run a bicycle shop in Coquitlam, for instance, you would want to “own” keywords and phrases such as “bicycles lower mainland” “bike parts coquitlam”, “ccm bikes port moody”, and so on.

Burlington, Ont.’s Scott Wilson, a corporate-video producer turned search marketing consultant, calls SEO “the single most important marketing and communications medium available today… It can take your business to entirely new levels."

I wrote about Wilson and his SEO pioneering in my column in Monday’s Financial Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Wilson offers a three-part formula to reach the top of the Google charts:

Trust: Before Google -- the leader in Internet search -- will rank your site, it must trust your site. You score points when other sites link to yours. Anyone can do this: "Talk to businesses you're dealing with and trade links," Wilson suggests. Seek listings in industry and community directories. Ask your staff and friends to link to your site.

Read: Before Google can link to you, it has to be able to read your content. Avoid burying key content in graphics, Flash programming, or databases that the search engine can't read.

Key words: Identify words and phrases people may use when seeking products and services such as yours. Find the most cost-effective terms. If you sell golf accessories, for instance, you will never own the word "golf " -- there's too much competition. Maybe you can dominate searches for "left-handed golf clubs." But you have to know how people search. Wilson found, for example, that more people search for "golf clubs lefthanded" than "left-handed golf clubs."

You can read the rest of the story here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 61

Yet another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"The man who commands efficiently must have obeyed orders in the past, and the man who obeys dutifully is worthy of being some day a commander."

Marus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher (106-43 B.C.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Most problems revolve around people"

A memorable quote in today's Globe & Mail from financial giant Claude Lamoureux, who retires tomorrow as boss of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.

The Globe's Gord Pitts says Lamoureux is "appalled" that would-be corporate leaders approach business as a narrow quantitative exercise, while ignoring the critical human element.

"Too many of them don't think that people are important," says Lamoureux. "They say, 'Let me learn analytical tools,' or 'Let me learn how to do present value and discounted cash flow and have all the buzz words,' when in fact, in business, most problems revolve around people."

A lesson most Canadian entrepreneurs - so often obsessed with their ideas, their products and their next sale - would do well to remember.

Don't Undersell Yourself!

I got some valuable feedback from a client recently on my speaking style. And I’m wondering if it could help you, too.

“Don't undersell yourself,” I was told. Essentially, her message was: You have good information. Don't back into it. Don't waste time explaining it. Just get into it.

Like many entrepreneurs, I’m a naturally modest type. It’s a habit hard to break. And to an extent, modesty is good. It implies the opposite of bombast and hype, which every Canadian entrepreneur can spot a mile (okay, 1.6 kilometres) away.

But sometimes – especially when you are speaking or presenting as an expert – a little hype is expected. It shows confidence in yourself and your material. It gets people revved for your information.

Of course, you don't want to oversell your message. But underselling it can be problematic, too.

You should already have a 10-second introduction about you and what you do that highlights why you are an expert in your field. Follow the same formula in your presentations: let people know what your information can do for them, and why you're the best person to present it to them. Don't brag.
Just make the truth sparkle.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who are the Top 11 Business blogs?

A while back I mentioned the list of Top 100 Business Blogs compiled by John Crickett, a UK-based consultant and entrepreneur.

It occurred to me that you might want to see what’s going on at some of the best business blogs in the world (not just at No. 87 here). So here is John’s Top 11 blog list (that's 11 and not the usual 10 because a Canadian blog placed 11th).

Business Opportunities Weblog T: 12 A: 16,213
Copy Blogger T: 36 A: 7,825
Seth Godin T: 47 A: 10,314
MicroPersuasion T: 169 A: 33,643
How To Change The World T: 180 A: 14,709
Duct Tape Marketing T: 215 A: 31,714
Freelance Switch T: 312 A: 10,638
A VC T: 1,226 A: 27,737
Rough Type T: 1,253 A: 69,429
Successful Blog T: 1,432 A: 44,935
Small Business Canada T: 1,517 A: N/A

The numbers refer to the blogs’ Technorati rankings (T), which were used to rank the top 100. The “A” score is the blog’s Alexa ranking. If you don't know what any of that means, don't worry.

Click to check out the rest of John’s Top 100 Business Blogs list.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Confronting Your Dragons

Canadian sales guru Kelley Robertson offers some good advice today to anyone trying to sell to senior business people – and he got the idea from watching TV!

“While watching a television show featuring several very successful business executives, I noticed how direct these individuals were in their communication. No skirting around issues. No hesitation to challenge others. And certainly no fear of asking direct questions.”

Doesn’t this sound like Dragons’ Den to you?

For Robertson, watching this unnamed show reinforced four points that all marketers should consider when selling to senior executives:

1. Ask tough questions. “Most sales people fail to probe deep enough when talking to C-level buyers.”

2. Focus on the big picture. “Shift your thinking to a macro view.”

3. Focus on ROI. “Skip the features and benefits” and focus on the tangible impact your product will have on the customer’s business.

4. Don't take it personally. “Don't be put off by what an executive says or how they say it."

I would add one another point: Know all you can about the individuals you are going to meet. Focus on their personal interests and needs. Some pitchers on Dragons' Den do better when they target just one or two dragons, rather than the whole group. After all, individuals make buying decisions.

You can listen to Robertson’s full article on his podcast here. (It's Episode 50.)
Or sign up for his free "59-Second Tip" e-newsletter here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 60

Here's another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotations, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"Every decision you make is a mistake."
Edward Dahlberg, U.S. novelist and essayist, 1900-1977

I don't believe this is literally true. But what a liberating concept it is! No more agonizing over what-ifs and what-to-do. Since you have no idea whether your decision will be right or not, you just go ahead and make it.

Now the resources that might previously have gone toward checking and rechecking your assumptions before making the decision can now be directed to monitoring the result – and making the changes required to ensure that your decision becomes, over time, the best decision possible.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Winning the Space Race

Congrats to Encelium Technologies Inc., winner of the 2007 “Markham Space Race.”

And congratulations to the organizers – Town of Markham, Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham (ISCM), Great West Life Realty Advisors, FIT by Design, and Jim Brown of Colliers International – for creating a contest that promotes small business and actually helps promising companies achieve their potential.

Markham-based Encelium develops energy-management systems that help building managers control lighting and other building loads to dramatically reduce energy costs. Last March Encelium made the papers for selling its ECS system to Toronto’s Rogers Centre (SkyDome), which was expecting the system to save it $300,000 a year.

A panel of judges selected Encelium as the Ontario small business “most likely to grow” over the next year. The company wins a $63,100 prize package that includes use of a furnished, 1,000-square-foot Class A office space for a year in the Town of Markham, a telecommunications package from Telus Business Solutions, thousands of dollars in business, legal, accounting, financial and HR consulting services, and printing and furniture moving services.

Maple Lake Ltd. of Markham and Maxxian Integration Inc. of Thornhill placed second and third.

Telus was the contest's Title Sponsor, with Creechurch International Underwriters, Cushman & Wakefield LePage and PowerStream Inc. as gold sponsors.

The Markham Space Race was open to export-focused, entrepreneurial companies in Ontario that have been in business for at least two years and have at least three full-time employees. Participants submitted a growth plan demonstrating how their company is positioned for rapid growth.

This blog rarely quotes press releases, but this next paragraph from the official announcement rings true to me:
"[Innovation Synergy Centre CEO Bob] Glandfield emphasizes that every company that participated in the Markham Space Race comes out a winner, just by developing a growth plan – something many small businesses neglect. “Developing a plan that must face the scrutiny of a third party forces a sense of realism into the process. Entrepreneurs tend to overstate the opportunity, and understate the challenges and timelines, when moving to market. Creating and implementing a realistic plan for growth goes a long way in ensuring the future success of a small business,” he said.

Amen to that. And kudos to the winners and the sponsors for a rare win-win.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your Advisory Board is Waiting

There is no more powerful tool you can adopt to grow your business than to set up a board of advisors.

Part II of "Success Insurance," PROFIT Magazine's groundbreaking series on building boards of advisors (a collaboration of myself and outstanding entrepreneur Greig Clark) is now available. "Building Your Own Board" points out that there is no one right way to establish a board: how many people you select, how often it meets, what areas it will oversee, is all up to you. Whatever system you set up will work better than what you have now.

Here's an excerpt:

Some boards meet monthly, others twice yearly. Some never meet, and are really just loose coalitions of contacts for CEOs who want to tap them for advice without setting up a formal body. Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all. In our research, however, we found that regular, quarterly meetings are the most common among successful boards — with dates set out well in advance so everyone can make it.

Who should chair? A Queen’s University study identifies the chair as key to a board’s success. Some CEOs are reluctant to hand off authority, but I believe the more power you share, the better off you’ll be. I recommend appointing an outsider, perhaps the champion who helped set up the board, as chair. That person can prod you to prepare properly for meetings, which is the only way you’ll get full benefit from them. “You have to put work into your meetings up front,” says Lance Laking, president and CEO of Ottawa-based BTI Photonic Systems Inc. “You have to make a concrete effort to carve out some time and make it a priority.”

Chairs must also ensure meetings are productive. This includes preparing and distributing agendas and prep material, running effective meetings and knowing when to encourage discussion and when to shut it down. The chair can also follow up with the CEO between meetings, and generally ensure that the board is meeting its mandate.

For more information on how to build an effective board that will challenge you and help your business continuously improve, click here.

And if you missed Part I, it's still waiting for you to jump "on board." Just click here.

Part III comes out in just a few weeks: How to turbo-charge your board.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Market Research and the Entrepreneur

An ambitious Canadian entrepreneur in the market-research sector asked me recently if I thought that startup companies and new SMEs tend to make much use of market research to help with new product development or for general insight into their target markets.

While I haven’t formally studied this, I told him, I have made a few observations. My experience is that they trust their instincts first and foremost. Sometimes they do poll a few friends, though even a high-school student could tell you that's a pretty poor tactic, statistically speaking.

(Just watch an episode of Dragons’ Den to see how many entre-preneurs have poured years of effort into a product or project without ever really testing it against a market. Last night the Dragons sneered at an inflatable hoodie, a drinking game for fratboys, a card-based game to help families communicate, and a protective poncho for air travelers, among other things. They said they didn't think any of those would sell. And not one of the entrepreneurs appeared to have any market research with which to refute them.) (Or if they did, the CBC didn't show it.)

I totally believe that market research should be a line item in every entrepreneur's startup budget, but sadly, I don't think it often is.

Some startups I've talked to lately have moved forward based on viral Internet-based polls of 300 or 400 potential prospects, but I think they are looking more to confirm their own hunches rather than learn anything new or challenging.

Yet I think doing proper market research could save some of these people a lot of money - not to mention a year or two of their lives.

So there's probably a huge opportunity to provide this service to startups, although it would require a new approach to the industry and a much lower price structure.

Any ideas?

Worst Venture-Capital Deals of All Time

I’m always amazed by the continuing popularity of venture capital as a subject of interest to entrepreneurs. I’m amazed, because so few entrepreneurs qualify for venture capital – and even fewer ever receive any. I guess hope springs eternal.

But venture capitalists often make mistakes. If you’d like to learn from some of these errors, there’s a great story at Inside CRM on “The 20 Worst Venture Capital Investments of All Time.”

For the record, here are the top five:

Amp'd Mobile (raised $360 million, ended in bankruptcy: marketed to risky consumers and took too long to collect receivables);
Procket (networking company raised $272 million, eventually sold to Cisco Systems for $89 million);
Webvan (grocery-delivery business raised $800 million, was once valued at $1.2 billion; money burn caused bankruptcy in 2001);
Caspian Networks (formerly Packetcom) raised more than $300 million before shutting down in 2006);
Pets.com (you knew it would be on here, right? ) This online retailer of pet supplies, the official mascot of the dot-com bust, went from NASDAQ listing to liquidation in nine months.

Lots more good reading, bad examples and useful lessons here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 59

Here's another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotations, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer, but wish we didn't.”
Erica Jong, U.S. author (Fear of Flying) and social critic.

I like the cynical insight at the heart of this quote: the suggestion that we seek advice to avoid doing something we know we should do. Not always true, certainly, but often enough to make us question our own motives next time we go looking for a second opinion.

Two-for-One: I also like this quote of Jong’s: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

The equivalent in entrepreneurship: Lots of people have good ideas. What makes a winner is the courage to endure the hardships that make it happen. I think most entrepreneurs can identify with the notion of “the dark place.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

New Customer-Service Nightmare

I’m reporting in from Florida, down here for a three-day break to visit my mother in sunny Dunedin.

On day one alone, I got enough customer service nightmare stories to keep most bloggers busy for a week.

So we are trying to set up my mother’s high-speed Internet account, which involves several calls to Verizon. In the brochure they promise customer help 24/7, but I think maybe those are just percentages.

1. When we called for support, they began shifting us around between billing, long distance, Internet, and billing again before we finally found someone to help us.

2. When we finally got the right technical support, “Paul” was able to identify quickly that are trouble was coming because of a broken DSL modem. No problem, he said: we could buy a new one at any Verizon store, or at Radio Shack or Best Buy. Then he asked us what day it was.
We soon found out he is located in the Philippines, so I guess that question is almost forgivable. He promised to connect us with Verizon customer service, so we could arrange to buy a new modem over the phone. We waited fifteen minutes for “service” to answer their phone before we decided to take our chances at retail.

3. Arrive at mall at 8:00 PM. Verizon store is closed. Fortunately, there’s a Radio Shack outlet right across the hall. But when I ask if they sell Verizon DSL modems, they laugh and laugh. I guess it’s old technology to them. It’s not funny to me.

4. Arrive at Best Buy. Yes, they sell DSL modems. They show me the empty shelf where they used to have one. They’ve sold it, and when they check the system, there are none on order. Fortunately, they can check to see what local stores have it. They suggest Destin or Panama City, which are more than 200 miles away.

5. On Saturday morning I go back to the mall. They have the modem and package it up for me, charging it to my mother’s account over three months. Good enough. Then I make the observation that I was surprised last night to find that they were the only store in the mall that closed at 7:00 PM. Chris laughs. “Sweet, isn’t it?” he says. “Union rules.” “It turns out that Verizon retail clerks belong to the same union as the guys who lay the telephone lines, and I guess they don’t work overtime in November. Chris couldn’t be happier. Over the next few weeks, he says, everyone else in the malls will work till 9, 10, 11 PM. “We’ll g0 home at seven.” But, he adds, that’s the only good thing the union does. I found it fascinating that he could so misunderstand customers' needs, and diss the union that enables him to, in the very same breath.

6. Making small talk, I ask Chris why a modem should break so soon. I was about tell him my mother only had it for two years when he said, “They only last about two years.” He said something along the lines that, if you could see what kind of components they use inside, you’d be surprised that it lasts that long. Whoever let this guy serve the public should be sentenced to six weeks manning the Verizon tech support line. Sure, his honesty was refreshing, but from a business point of view, it's got to be a firing offence.

6. When I got the modem home and unpacked, we found it came with filters and cables that we already had. It annoyed me that we had to pay for this complete kit when it was clear that we already had these components, and all we needed was a new modem. If this modem really needs to be replaced as often as Chris said, surely they should offer a less expensive package that doesn’t make us pay for a bunch of electronic components we don’t need and seem so wasteful to throw out.

Sigh.

One more story: on the way home from that shopping trip, I saw the dumbest advertising sign ever, outside a True Value hardware store. The sign said: “Only six more days till the greatest sale ever.”
I know that it’s trying to generate some buzz over the Friday-after-Thanksgiving retail blowout, but I can’t imagine a better way to say: “Don’t come in and buy anything today.” And in fact, on a very busy retail day, their parking lot was almost empty.

Sometimes, the sanity of small business, an entrepreneur’s ability to bring common sense to everyday life, is a huge competitive advantage.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Choosing your company name

I mentioned in a post the other day a lengthy conversation I had with a young Canadian entrepreneur planning her startup business.

Of all the feedback I offered her on her concept, she seemed to have the most problem with my questioning her choice of business name. I think she and her partner came up with a name that almost works. It’s the usual mash of two unrelated words (similar to last week’s BlueCat Networks, I guess, although I would argue that the technology sector is more accustomed to these word-collision names than most industries).

The name she chose makes sense – but really, only once you know what the company does. The partners have an intricate explanation for the name, but the name doesn't help you understand the company better until after you know what it does.

It was the second time in two weeks that I've had this conversation with a startup entrepreneur. The other company is also hoping to become a prominent Internet brand using a made-up name that most people wouldn't understand or retain long.

Now it’s easy to say that most brands don't describe what they do. But keep in mind that Inco started life as International Nickel, and Heinz began as Anchor Pickle & Vinegar Works. Just maybe, resource-short startups have different branding needs than do established companies.

But in the end, it doesn't really matter whether someone understands your name. The question is, will clients remember it? And how will it sound when they tell their boss they want to place their next order with FrogBog, or whatever Frankenword you’ve chosen?

Remember, as a startup your biggest problem will likely be credibility.

Sure, all the good dot-com names are long gone. But keep looking for the right name. Using an obscure and complex Frankenword, or an in-joke only you and your partners understand, just builds barriers between you and your customers – not bridges.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

7 Things You Should Know About Venture Capital

Montreal bloggger, marketing guru and tech entrepreneur Ben Yoskovitz posted a great article yesterday on 7 Things No One Ever Tells You About Raising Venture Capital Financing.

Ben's 7 Things:

* Signing a term sheet is only step one. Now the real work begins!
* Don't try to negotiate all the fine points of the deal at the term-sheet stage. "The term sheet is a letter of intent to invest, not a binding or absolute contract."
* For most entrepreneurs, "Due Diligence" is a completely foreign concept and a frustrating experience.
* The paperwork is extremely detailed and extensive. And heavy.
* Most of the final deal focuses on negative details. "Everyone’s excited and eager to turn the business into a success, but here you are negotiating what to do when the s--t hits the fan."
* You pay all the legal bills.
* Don’t focus only on how much you’re raising and what chunk of the company you’re giving up. There are other key issues to work on, such as the composition of the new board of directors.

Read the whole post here. There are lots more details worth reading, and good links to follow. Thanks for posting, Ben!And good luck with your journey.

(An eighth point might have been that a lot of deals fall apart even after the term sheet is signed.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 58

Here's another installmen in our weekly series of inspiring entrepreneurial quotations, personally selected to get your workweek off to a fabulous start.

This week: what's the job of a CEO?

"As CEO, your primary responsibilty is to ensure that the organization is commiting to move forward, to change, to innovate and to transform."

RBC Financial CEO Gordon Nixon, selected as Canada's outstanding CEO of the year, in the November issue of Financial Post Business.

Help from on High

Today I spent about an hour on the phone discussing a young entrepreneur's startup idea with her. Why would I do that?

Well, for one thing, she asked. Also, like most people, I enjoy helping people. Plus, I get a kick out of hearing people's business ideas. And it's great mental exercise to figure out worthwhile things to say that can either connect the entrepreneur to a new idea or valuable resource, or point out a potential obstacle that they haven't adequately foreseen.

The best thing she did, though, was ask for help. I believe it's essential that Canadian entrepreneurs ask for help more often. Running your own business is a multidisciplinary exercise: few entrepreneurs know all the roles they're expected to play, and fewer still (i.e., NOOBODY!!) is good at all of them. So how else are you going to get better except by asking for help?

Obviously, many entrepreneurs are good at recognizing what they don't know, and asking for the appropriate help. But many others seem shy about it: Why should anyone help them? If you ask me, they're pushing the stoic, lone-wolf stereotype too far. After all, if you ask someone for help, what's the worst thing they can do? Say no?

By some cosmic coincidence this is also the theme of my column today in the Financial Post. Inpsired by two panelists at the Vancouver SOHO conference, it's about the amazing good things that start happening when you ask for help. And the higher you go, the better.

Here's a sample:
Brian Scudamore [founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK) scours newspapers and magazines for stories of successful business people, adding them to his file of people to call when he faces challenges similar to theirs. That tactic landed him meetings with digital marketing expert Seth Godin, Subway founder Fred DeLuca, and Costco's Jim Sinegal. He has talked leadership with Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander and met with Bell Canada CEO George Cope to learn how Cope runs effective meetings.
The key to contacting VIPs is to target them precisely, know what answers you're looking for, and respect their time. The best way to approach them? "Sincerely," says Scudamore.
You can read the whole column here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

An Evening with Innovators (and one Dragon)

Here's an upcoming event that sounds like fun.
Innovators Alliance, a group of Ontario's fastest-growing companies, and the Ontario Ministry of Small Business and Entrepreneurship are hosting "An Evening with Innovators" at the Schulich Business School in Toronto on Dec. 4.
Things get underway at 4 pm with EDC economist Peter Hall leading a discussion on staying competitive in the global economy (sounds timely me). Then there's networking with other growth-oriented CEOs, then dinner. Then comes an address by technology entrepreneur Robert Herjavec, who has launched two fast-growth companies and is now turning heads as the most interesting (and occasionally compassionate) multimillionaire on CBC TV's Dragon's Den.
They'll probably also try to get you to join Innovators Alliance. And why not? They have lots of services, including peer groups, targeted at CEOs who want to grow their business smarter. It could be the best investment you ever make. (And it's not as expensive as you think.)
For more information on An Evening with Innovators, call Leytha Miles at 905-332-0340, ext. 24. (That's in Burlington, so it's long-distance from most of the GTA.)
I have to speak in Vancouver that day, but I will be with you in spirit.

In the News: RiM and Recession

A couple of items in the press caught my eye today.

In the Globe, Eric Reguly files a fascinating piece on how RiM retooled to make the BlackBerry a hit in status-conscious Italy. RiM worked with local cell provider Telecom Italia Mobile to change the pricing (apparently, Italians prefer pay-as-you-go), and founder Mike Lazaridis himself called on Milan designers Dolce & Gabbana to ask them to design BlackBerry carrying cases.

It's a great example of the fundamental (and oft-forgotten) need to know your market and customize your pitch. And of the rewards that can accrue for doing so. Read the story here.

The Financial Post today runs a little Reuters item titled "No U.S. Recession: Bernanke", in which U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke announced yesterday that the U.S. economy "does not appear headed for recession." But he warned growth could prove weaker than expected.

The economy is fueled by confidence. My experience is that when the authorities start trying to reassure us that there is no recession, it doesn't really matter: things are slowing down regardless, and businesses have to be ready.

Trim your sails, hoard your cash. Avoid investments that rely on customers continuing to spend stupidly. Our economy has been defying gravity long enough.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It's Not About You

I'm a big proponent of content marketing – which means using free information products (articles, speeches, books, comic strips, newsletters, podcasts, blogs, whatever) to build your brand and promote your professionalism and expertise.

People like to buy from people they know. People buy from people they trust. Content marketing helps you overcome these two fundamental obstacles – to get known and trusted. You show you know – and you show you care.

Anyone can do it. The photo at right, taken last month in Bellville, Ont., shows how easy it is.

Instead of promoting the company’s wares, or the latest half-price sale on cat-flavored doggy treats, Loyalist Veterinary Hospital used its roadside sign to offer passersby useful and timely information. Reminding prospects not to feed Rolos to Rover is a thoughtful thing to do – and shows that these vets are interested in something other than making a quick buck.

Because content marketing is about producing information that’s important to your customers – it’s not about you.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Success without Distress

My Financial Post column today focuses on an interview with Toronto technology entrepreneur Mchael Hyatt of BlueCat Networks. I met him at the dinner for the Deloitte Fast 50 a few weeks ago, where he challenged me to write a story about how he and his brother built two multi-million dollar companies without relying on venture capital.

As he complained in the interview, many company founders today are just "buying an employer... They give everything away because they don't have any money themselves. They give the reins of control to an investor that doesn't love the company, may not even understand the market space -- and will fire the founders as soon as the numbers aren't realized."

Hyatt's formula for success without bosses:

* Focus on the U.S. market from the start.
* Start cheap.
* Begin selling fast.
* Put your money into marketing: "Focus on doing fewer sales calls and more sales."

For the complete story, click here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 57

Here's another installmen in our weekly series of inspiring quotations specially selected to get you and your business off to a fabulous week.

In honour of Week 57, here's a quotation from the founder of Heinz. Keep in mind that this quote dates back about 120 years, back when enlightened employers were few and far between:

"Heart power is better than horse power."
Henry John Heinz (1844-1919)

By all accounts, Mr Heinz was a remarkable man. Among other things, he invented the ambitious slogan, "57 Varieties." It taught consumers to think of Pittsburgh-based Heinz as a producer of a family of food products, not just pickles or ketchup. It was one of the first deliberate branding successes. Signs bearing that number aone could move Heinz product - even though at the time the slogan was adopted (1896), Heinz already offered more than 60 different products. (The number is now well over a thousand.)

Proof that marketing is not about literal truth, but creating impressions in customers' heads.

As for "heart power"? In a heartless Dickensian age of labour exploitation, Heinz chose to attract and motivate quality workers by treating them well. Known as the Prince of Paternalism, Heinz offered employees better conditions at work than most of them knew at home. (Women on the assembly line even received weekly manicures.)

In an age of substandard manufacturing practices, Heinz was dedicated to producing the best. "Quality is to a product what character is to a man," he said, and walked the walk by leading the fight for the controversial 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act - landmark legislation that first prescribed truth in food labelling.

A more famous version of Heinz's credo: "To do a common thing uncommonly well, brings success."

Friday, November 02, 2007

40,000th Visitor!

Today's a special day at Canadian Entrepreneur. This blog just recorded its 40,000th visitor.

Sure, it's taken 2 2/3 years to get here, but half of these vistors have arrived since we celebrated our 20,000th visitor at the end of February. We're now averaging well over 100 visitors a day, with October traffic up 20% over September, so things have really taken off.

40,000 doesn't mean much compared to the circulation, say, of my columns in the Monday Financial Post. But the connection on a blog is much deeper and more direct. Basic web conventions like embedded links allow you to learn more about the subject of most posts if you wish - while the "Comment" button makes it's easy for you to provide feedback or ask further questions. For comparison, most of my magazine columns - which reach 100,000 people or more - attract no feedback, whereas this blog's 40,000 visitors have contributed scores of comments over the years.

That's called "dialogue," and it's why the Web will edge out print publishing in the end.

Our 40,000th visitor comes from British Columbia. Fittingly, he or she is an employee or associate of a longtime PROFIT 100 firm, one of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. (I won't identify the firm, because it's spooky enough that web analytics allow me to know this much.)

Thanks to everyone for visiting and contributing to Canadian Entrepeneur.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Report from Vancouver

The SOHO/Small Business conference in Vancouver yesterday was a huge hit, with folks lining up for the trade show all day long, and standing-room-only in the seminar halls. People seemed really happy with SOHO's combination of motivation and information, and they gave closing speaker Peter Legge a standing ovation after he challenged everyone in the room to live their "Olympic dream."

[Speaking of which, probably few Canadians outside BC are paying attention, but the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are going to be huge. Most of the formal business opportunities (e.g. licensing and contracts) have long since been locked up, but there are many other niches - accommodation, hospitality, communications, security, etc. - for hungry entrepreneurs to fill. The opportunities are many and varied - London Drugs was even selling Hallowe'en-themed 2010 Winter Olympics pins! For $9.99, no less. )

Thanks to a sponsorship from Visa Canada, my contribution to the SOHO conference was a presentation on "10 Ways to Fix Your Business Now." I even cited some local case studies from BC firms I have studied recently (such as City Express, Coastal Contacts and MediaWave Communications).

For posterity's sake, here are my 10 Fixes:

No. 1. De-commoditize your business. Distinguish yourself from the competition by finding new opportunities to add value to your traditional products and services.

No. 2: Get out and talk to your market. Become the Ed ("How'm I doing?") Koch of your industry.

No. 3: Adapt to the Web 2.0 world of burgeoning communications technologies.

No. 4: Make the Internet work for you.

No. 5: Jump into pay-per-click advertising. Now.

No. 6: Set up an advisory board for your business.

No. 7: Invite your banker to lunch. If the economy weakens, you need someone at your bank on your side.

No. 8: Add creativity to your HR skills. Innovate with talent-focused techniques such as group interviews and Try Before You Buy.

No. 9: Leverage your resources by making constant and strategic use of partnerships.

No. 10: Well, I cheat a little here. I ask members of the audience to break into groups of two to share fixes they have made (or are thinking of making) in their business. It's very powerful - the buzz in the room almost raised the roof.

When I finally reasserted control, I asked the audience to share the fix stories they had just heard from their partners. (I figure most people would rather brag on behalf of someone else than for themselves.) Congratulations to Leanne, who told us about her partner's decision to involve his entire management team in strategic planning. What a great fix that will be!

For her contribution, Leanne won a rare copy of my (still available on Amazon) book, Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies.

Monday, October 29, 2007

JobLoft Makes a Deal

I don't get to break many stories here on Canadian Entrepreneur, but because I’m working late tonight [I’ll sleep on the plane], here’s a world scoop:

There seems to be a happy ending after all to one of the most controversial stories to appear on the CBC’s Dragons’ Den show.

JobLoft.com, an online job-listings company founded by four business graduates from Toronto’s Ryerson University, made waves last year by squirming out of a buyout offer from all five dragons. Last season's final episode, following up on the deals made during the show, depicted how the founders’ advisor, one of their former professors, insulted the dragons during a meeting to close the deal. After the prof questioned the millionaires' "measly" investment, nice-guy dragon Robert Herjavec took back the $200,000 cheque (for half the company) and tore it up.

That stimulated lot of online debate: should JobLoft have taken the deal?

Today, JobLoft announced it has been acquired by Texas-based Internet recruitment company OnTargetJobs. No price was disclosed, but JobLoft CEO Chris Nguyen told me two months ago that he was working on a deal that offered a much more generous valuation than did CBC’s Dragons. A deal would now cost “seven figures, plus,” Nguyen told me.

(In fairness to the dragons, I should mention that when JobLoft appeared in front of them in August 2006, the company had a website and a great niche – localized retail and hospitality jobs sorted by postal code – but no paying clients.)

The official announcement dated Oct. 29 reads:

Hcareers, the leading online job board for the hospitality industry worldwide, announced today that its parent company, onTargetjobs, has acquired the assets of JobLoft.com, a cutting edge hospitality and retail job board located in Toronto, Canada. The combined companies now hold the number one spot as the dominant provider of online recruitment solutions for the hospitality industry.”

“… JobLoft.com’s concentration on the hourly jobseeker looking for local jobs coupled with Hcareers’ worldwide reach and industry presence enables Hcareers to provide a more holistic solution to its hospitality, restaurant and foodservice clients.”

Nguyen offered this quote in the release: “This is such a great move for the hospitality industry as a whole. Our loyal following in the hourly job-seeker space is going to flourish from this new ownership as we’ll now be able to expand the opportunities available to job seekers in their own communities.”

Allen Paschal, CEO of OnTargetjobs, offered a happy soundbite: "We are ecstatic to be able to have the JobLoft team join our family and together with the existing Hcareers product offering, we will leverage the excellent technological advancements that JobLoft offers the hourly hospitality and retail marketplaces. With name-brand clients such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Hudson’s Bay Company and Sobeys, JobLoft has developed an excellent reputation within the industry.”

Congrats to JobLoft for making a deal and getting this monkey … er, dragon … off their back. Now let’s see what they can really accomplish.

See my previous post on JobLoft
See my story on JobLoft in the September issue of PROFIT

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 56

Another in our weekly series of powerful motivational quotes, specially selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

“Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”

John D. Rockefeller Jr.
American oil magnate and philanthropist, 1874-1960

This struck me as a rather useful summary of the most important role every boss should play.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Top 100 Business Blogs

UK business consultant John Crickett runs a fascinating blog where he gives away business opportunity ideas.

Last week he produced a blog post on the Top 100 Blogs for business – and Canadian Entrepreneur is thrilled to be included. Sure, we’re No. 87 on the list, but that just gives us a target to improve on for next time.

John seems to have compiled the blogs he likes and then ranked them in order of their Technorati ratings (based on the number of sites that link to individual blogs).

Why not click here to read John’s list, and then copy and paste it into a Word document of your own so you can start visiting some of these blogs? That’s what I'm going to do.

Blogs will never replace having business partners, mentors or other sympathetic souls to discuss business with. But they can free your mind, expose you to new solutions and other ways of thinking, and give you an ongoing source of new visions and ideas for growing your business. This is a powerful tool we've never had before, and it’s a shame not to use it.

PS: Why not post a link on your site to Canadian Entrepreneur? :^)

Free conference on social media

If you're interested in learning more about digital marketing (blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc.), there’s a free conference coming up in Toronto on Nov. 15 that you can't miss.

Talk is Cheap is an evening “unconference” at Centennial College’s Centre for Creative Communications (in east-end Toronto), on Nov. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m. It offers a series of 20-minute presentations about use of Web 2.0/social media in public relations. Topics will include blogging, podcasting, wikis, social networks and social media newsrooms.

Here’s the powerful part. An unconference is a conference where sessions and content are determined (and delivered) by the participants. If you know something about social media, you can volunteer to present. Or if there are specific topics you'd like to see covered, you can suggest them and hope somebody takes up the challenge.

The name "Talk Is Cheap" recognizes that social media is about conversation, and represents a less expensive tactic than most other forms of marketing.

I've volunteered for a topic, based on what I’ve learned about the power of blogging vs. print. So come on out and spend some time talking up the future of marketing.

The CCC is located at 951 Carlaw Avenue. It's north of Danforth Avenue and one block west of Pape Avenue, at Mortimer. There’s parking nearby and the subway a few blocks south.

Sign up here.
Read the schedule or suggest a topic here.

(It’s all wiki-based, which means you add your own input onto a document page that’s accessible to all. If it’s confusing at first, stick with it. It’s part of your initiation into "we" media.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Recherchez la Femme

PROFIT Magazine has just published its 2007 list of Canada’s top 100 women-owned businesses.

You can view the whole list here.

I've often been asked what purpose this list serves. Unlike performance-based lists such as the PROFIT 100 (ranking companies by five-year growth) or PROFIT’s Hit 50 (ranking new companies by two-year growth), or even the growth-oriented Entrepreneur of the Year, the W100 lists businesses based on size (i.e., annual sales revenue).

Among other things, this makes the list predictable: Rebecca MacDonald’s Energy Savings Income Fund tops the list for, I don’t know, the fourth year in a row?

But here’s why I think it’s important, and why I credit PROFIT for continuing this project long after two of its sister magazines, with many more resources, walked away from it.

1) Women owners of substantial businesses are still a fairly new force in society. Chronicling the growth, evolution and increasing diversity of these firms is an important social project.

2) It's an inspiring list of role models that helps other entrepreneurs realize there are more ways to get to the top than through the Old Boys' Club of Bay Street.

3) There are legitimate questions about whether women treat business or manage organizations differently from the way men do. PROFIT’s research focuses on the W100’s management techniques – bringing their business philosophies and best practices into the spotlight for all to see and learn from. (Even the men!)

You can read about the W100’s best HR tips and tactics here.

Learn from their positive approach to building productive banking relationships.

And check out how W100 leaders are using their business skills to give back to society – and why it's also good for growth.

Having a Blast in E-Marketing

Congrats to seven great Canadian entrepreneurs.

Blast Radius, one of the most successful young growth firms in Canada (as measured by the very first PROFIT Hot 50 list of Emerging Growth Companies, away back in 2000) has just been sold to an international direct-marketing firm.

Why should you care? Because it’s a key indicator of the digital marketing revolution, which you should be part of (as I've written here, here and here).

Founded in 1996 by seven Vancouver film schol grads, Blast Radius specializes in digital marketing and social networking. It has 400 employees, offices in the U.S. and Europe, and clients such as Nike and Starbucks. (Click on the pic at right to see more clients.) The buyer is New York-based Wunderman, which calls itself “the most diverse digital relationship marketing network in the world.”

What’s interesting to me (and to you, if you care about marketing trends) is the explanation from Wunderman CEO Daniel Morel. According to marketing news service ClickZ, the increasing migration of ad budgets into Internet channels (especially search engine marketing) is pushing Wunderman to ramp up its digital services. "I'm surprised at the speed at which clients are moving real communication dollars into the [digital] channel," said Morel. In fact, he expects that one day the history of advertising will be divided into "Before Search" and "After Search."

Blast Radius CEO Gurval Caer gave ClickZ an example of what this means. "We have some built-in tools to identify how best you can tap into social networks in a way that is sustainable and truly meaningful to the brand and its community," he said. Helping companies share content and experiences with customers with “is core to our brand."

Caer contrasts this with Wunderman's experience in data-driven relationship marketing. "Wunderman has a modern operating system with data and results at the core -- not storytelling," he says. "It's having to redeploy those core competencies from traditional direct marketing and direct mail to the new environment." (Click here for the full story.)

The marketing world may be in a huge state of flux, but it’s clear that things are advancing fast. Is your firm keeping up to date?

(Thurday afternoon update: If you're interested in more info on social media/digital marketing, I have just updated my "tags." You can read my past posts on search, Internet marketing, blogs, etc. , by clicking on the "digital marketnig" tag below. See, this is the power of interactive media!)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jim Flaherty vs The Mall

Perhaps the Conservative blogworld has been all over this, but why is a Tory government getting invoved in the prices that retailers charge Canadian consumers?

The Canadian dollar is up against the US$, so yes, some prices should go down. But retailers don't need the government's permission to raise or lower prices, so why is it Ottawa's business whether retailers pass on the savings or not? Surely the marketplace is competitive enough that consumers can find alternatives to retailers who decide to keep this windfall for themselves?

Come on, Jim Flaherty, where's that old Common Sense when you need it?

The prices I worry about are taxes and other regulated government charges and fees that are competition-free. Maybe Parliament could do something about that.

Winner Take All

My Financial Post column this week concerns business awards: how you win them, and how you exploit that win for personal gain.

"Winning a business award doesn't guarantee you'll get the loan you need or land a big client, but it gives you a powerful pretext to generate new relationships and revive old ones. As with any other asset in business, what you do with an award -- how you promote it, and how you follow up -- is much more important than the bare fact of winning it."

The story goes on to present 10 steps to achieving fame and fortune through business awards programs. Here are five of them:

* Know the judging criteria.
* Include specific metrics
in your application. Declaring that your company "never looked back" is not as convincing as saying it has grown 300% in the past four years.
* Look for "niche" awards. Some programs offer specialty award categories where there may be less competition. For instance, "turnarounds" and "emerging entrepreneur."
* If you're nominated, treat it like a Big Win. (Besides, many people won't read your announcement carefully and will think you've actually won it!)
* Use the credibility created by your award to leverage relationships, with lenders, customers, suppliers, even potential new employees. Everyone loves a winner.

See the full story here.