Friday, September 28, 2007

Rage against the routine

Everyone knows that business owners are innovative, adaptable and fearless. Entrepreneurs are the new knights of commerce: passionate crusaders whose courage and creativity dominate today’s fast-changing markets.

But if all that’s true, why are so many business owners such sticks-in-the-mud?

For the rest of this post, see my column in the latest issue of PROFIT.

Or just (sigh) click here and read it for free.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Business intelligence on the Internet!

I listened this morning to the PROFIT 100 Online Summit, an interesting experiment by PROFIT Magazine to bring their brand to the interactive web.

This morning editor Ian Portsmouth gave a great presentation on the “Best Lessons of Canada's Entrepreneurial Leaders.” It was sort of a long lecture though (albeit with slides attached), and I still find these things a little … thin. (I listen to podcasts only in the car when there’s nothing else to do.) More interesting was the Q&A that followed, when Ian answered questions sent in by online attendees.

The interesting thing is that the information in that part of the show wasn't as useful as in Ian’s speech, but it was more interesting simply because it was more dynamic. Make of that what you will, Web 2.0 marketers worldwide.

If you're online today (Tuesday, Sept. 25), there is still time to take part. At 3 pm eastern time, Ian will be interviewing Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-Got-Junk, one of Canada’s most thoughtful and innovative CEOs. You have probably seen their cheesy signs all over town. Don't laugh – they have helped the company reach $100 million in sales! So if you get a chance to hear Brian, grab it.

You can also go to the site to listen to Ian’s speech anytime. It’s been archived for three months (which means if things get dull Christmas morning, you’ll have one last chance to hear it). I presume Brian’s interview will also be available in archive form.

PROFIT also has other videos from a previous conference online at the site, so it’s worth checking out. To register (takes only a minute), go to http://events.unisfair.com/index.jsp?eid=215&seid=28&code=pro5

Monday, September 24, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 51

Here is your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to a thoughtful start.

"We were listening, but we weren't hearing what they were saying."
Justin Belobaba, CEO, Medical Telecom Corp., Toronto: the No. 1 company on PROFIT Magazine’s 2007 Hot 50: Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies

Here’s the backstory: MTC was founded in 2003 to help doctors bill patients for uninsured services. But the first two years were rocky – physicians just weren't using the complex telephone system MTC created. What these uber-busy customers wanted was a system that required virtually no effort on their part.

Writer Jim McElgunn quotes Belobaba as saying, "We were listening, but we weren't hearing what they were saying… They were asking for features and we would deliver them, but performance wouldn't change. What they were really telling us was, 'This doesn't work for me'."

MTC traded in its complex system for a much simpler fax-based service that generated new sales and rave reviews.

Are you listening to your customers? And are you really hearing what they are trying to tell you?

For the full story on MTC, click here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why blogs are better than print (there, I said it)

I’ve tried not to commit the cardinal sin of blogging – which is blogging too much about blogging.

But the other day I was struggling to explain to someone why blogging is such a powerful medium. For instance, yesterday my blog recorded its 35,000th visitor. That's pretty exciting – but it’s small potatoes compared to my average column in PROFIT or MoneySense magazines, which reaches more than 100,000 people. So why does blogging intrigue me so much?

Because reading a column in a magazine is essentially a passive act. The only natural thing to do once you've finished is to turn the page (literally and metaphorically). That's certainly all that the technology encourages you to do.

Reading a blog post, by contrast, is generally a more conscious act – with many more potential outcomes. If you're intrigued by the topic or the writer of a blog you've just read, there are many follow-up steps you can take.

This has huge implications, not just for writers, but for anyone marketing or promoting themselves or their business. So here are 12 reasons why blogs are better than magazines, billboards, newspapers and other media – even those with greater reach:

* people come to blogs because they are interested in the topic – whether they have deliberately targeted your site or arrived by accident through a search engine link
* people usually know how to find a blog again if they want to
* not only can they bookmark blogs they like, they can even subscribe to their favourites so they never miss another update
* people can contact most bloggers directly with questions, comments, requests, and suggestions
* blogs are generally more welcoming of a dialogue than newspapers, ads, columns, etc.
* using standard web analytics, bloggers can see how many people visited the blog, when, and from where (country or city). That makes those readers more “real” to the writer/publisher than the thousands of people who read newspaper articles and ads – but leave no trail behind. And by checking web-search terms, the bloggers know what those people were interested in or looking for.
* blogs often link directly to references, sources of more information, and action steps, providing instant gratification for readers wanting more (e.g., if a blogger mentions a good book, they will often include a link to where you can buy it right now if you wish)
* blogs are generally more timely (no long production or distribution delays), thus of greater perceived impact
* readers can interact with other visitors around specific ideas or topics through comments (and sometimes emails)
* ability to go deeper: if you like this writer or topic, you have instant access to their previous blog posts and can find much more
* ability to copy and paste means you can “own” that information, by printing out or storing it as a digital file (which then becomes searchable on your own computer)
* the blogger often includes links to their other sites, projects or products, enabling interested readers/consumers to pursue deeper relationships with that person or business automatically.

I figure that the difference between blogging and print (or TV, radio, and other one-way media) is comparable to the difference between seeing a billboard with a picture of a dog, and play-wrestling with a golden retriever in your living room .

Which would you rather do?
And which would your customers rather do?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The New Dollar.

It's finally happened.


Click here to see where the Loonie is now.
http://finance.yahoo.com/currency/convert?amt=1&from=USD&to=CAD&submit=Convert&

Fast and Green

Tis the season to do lists. On Monday, PROFIT Magazine released its Hot 50 list of Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies. And yesterday, Deloitte consultants unveiled its annual Fast 50 list of Canada’s fastest-growing technology companies.

I attended yesterday’s gala Fast 50 dinner in Toronto, one of four events Deloitte held across Canada to celebrate the list. Among the interesting features last night: Deloitte unveiled a new “Green 15” list of promising new environment-technology companies; federal Environment Minister John Baird (looking much less grim than we usually see him) handed out those awards; and the MC was Montreal’s Andy Nulman, co-founder of Airborne Entertainment, a two-time Fast 50 company. And a great blogger too.

Congratulations to Research in Motion, which won a special award for being the only company to make the Fast 50 all 10 years that the list has been in existence. According to Deloitte, which compiles these lists in several countries, RiM is the first company in the world to make the list 10 years in a row.

Oh, and kudos to Sandvine (No. 1), Platespin (No. 2) and all the other daring and successful tech companies that made this year’s Fast 50. You can see the whole list here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

600th Post: What are people seeking on the Net?

To celebrate our gala 600th post, here are just a few of the search terms that people around the world have used to get to this blog today. It's always fascinating to study how people find information. Sometimes even I’m not sure why Google and MSN and others directed people here – but isn't that part of the magic of the Internet?

bronfman john roy climate change (I have no idea what this means)
ed Mirvish (a great entrepreneur who passed away earlier this year)
jim pattison tactics (I wish I knew them)
westjet profit magazine (sounds like a winner)
women entrepeneurs in canada (we got them)
profit sharing program examples (yeah, we got them too)
Top entrepreneurs in north America (what part of “Canadian” don't they understand?)
Rick segal recession (how is he going to explain that?)
Questions to ask an entrepreneur (this topic came up so often on searches that I wrote a custom post with that exact title – and now I’m No. 1 on Google for that phrase. Worth at least two hits a day.)
entrepreneur conferences+upcoming
Why is Simon Cowell so successful? (Yes, we wrote about Simon one day)
Popular Canadian Entrepreneurs (We got ‘em)
"Rick Spence" (blush)
teresa Cascioli (The Lady from Lakeport is the single most oft-searched entrepreneur on this site. Maybe because she’s single and dazzling and rich?)
canada's important people (Yeah, we got those too)
free disney ringtones for canada virgin mobile phone (It takes all kinds)
getting people to call your business (another common search)
small growing compaines quebec
BACKSTREET BOYS WHEN THE HORSE IS CALLING (It would take too long to explain)
entrepreneur pitching site (a new sport?)
top entrepreneurs Alberta (We got those, too)
entrepreneur quotes (A new one every Monday for 50 weeks)
5 important characteristics of an entrepreneur (a 2005 post on this topic still brings them in – so I just added it to the “Favourite Posts” list, below-right)
quebec companies (Quebec is one of my favourite parts of Canada - and it shows)
Showing Up for Work and Other Keys to Business Success (sounds like a plan)
quebec business magazine
top reasons to be an entrepreneur (Yep, we had a post on this)
"atlantic canada" "fastest growing" (used to be a contradiction in terms, but not anymore)
Simon Cowell billionaire (again?)
Canadian beverage consumption trends (in 600 posts, you cover a lot of ground)
Stay in the mind (I have no idea)
Delighting (For some reason, we are the eight-ranked site on Google for this word)
writing an obituary for your business marketing (no clue)
entrepreneurship best practices (we got those)
free sample of biography of business man achievers (double huh?)
"it’s all written in his vigorous, personal style" (I was the only person on the Internet to have written this phrase – until someone entered it in a search box)
need money for family (I didn't write that)
entrepreneur nice (Nice!)
divorce stalling tactics Alberta (this only came up because of a post I wrote about Jack Welch in March 2005 – honest!)

What’s the takeaway from all this? Well, it’s a reminder that everything you've ever written on the Internet – the good and the bad – will always be there to haunt you.

But it also suggests that if your business isn't blogging yet, maybe it should be. Even small blogs score high on Google and other search engines because they are usually updated often, include many links back and forth, and build up a massive database of information and comment related to a specific topic. That's marketing power in an easy-to-use box, and it costs you only your time.

Business Communication for Bears

"Everyone needs to communicate, because that's how we learn and live. From the information we receive, we make decisions about what to do, what not to do, how to work, how to live, how others are relating to us, what they are thinking and feeling, and what is important to them. From the information we give, others learn the same things.

"Which is why communication is so important to a manager. It is a manager's job to get things done, and the only way that things get done is by an exchange of information. If a manager is not good at communicating, individuals will not understand what is wanted. They will not know how to direct their efforts in trying to achieve the objectives that have been set, and they will not know how they are doing. Since others working with them will have the same problem, there will be duplication of effort or, even worse, some necessary things will not get done at all."

"Are there rules?" asked Pooh. "I like rules. Then I know if I am doing things in the correct manner."

"Yes," answered The Stranger.

"Do the rules apply to Tiggers?" asked Tigger.

"They apply to everyone who needs to exchange information."

from Winnie the Pooh on Management, by Roger E. Allen (1994).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Growing in Three Dimensions

What did you do on your summer vacation?

Eric Andrew, a Vancouver-based private company services leader for PriceWaterhousecoopers, went kayaking off the west coast. And learned something new about business.

As Andrew reported last month in his blog, he soon noticed that the water looked different depending how he looked at it. On the surface, he could see kelp, logs and ripples. Changing focus, he could see the reflection of the coastline. And when he looked down into the water, he could see beds filled with sea cucumbers, starfish and marine plants.

He writes: “What was interesting was that I had to focus on each of these three dimensions quite deliberately. Otherwise I would miss one or more of them entirely. It was difficult—if not impossible—to see all of these at once..."

"This reminded me of several experiences I’ve had working with different businesses. Many businesses are very good at dealing with the one dimension that made them successful in the first place, which is most often the customers who are their source of revenue. However, many businesses fail to pay attention early enough to the other two important dimensions: the financial and operational health of their business (the “organization” dimension) and the management of their people within the business (the “people” dimension).”

Andrew's point is that as business becomes more competitive, companies need to focus much sooner on developing a financially sound operating structure - and on creating a culture to attract and retain good people. The trick is to work on all three dimensions at the same time.

“Just as it's difficult to see the surface of the water, the reflection on the water and what lies beneath the water at the same time, it’s also difficult to balance and focus on the different dimensions of clients, people and the organization simultaneously. To build a healthy and sustainable business, owners and managers must focus on all three dimensions and ensure that they have developed strategies that will allow them to succeed.”

For more of Eric’s blogposts (and to encourage him to keep writing), visit http://pwc.typepad.com/myviews

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 50

Here is your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to an inspirational start.

“I am an optimist because I have never met a rich pessimist.”

Seymour Schulich, Canadian entrepreneur and mining innovator

(Wikipedia reports that a $1,000 investment in Schulich’s company, Franco-Nevada, was worth $1.2 million by 2002, equivalent to a 40% average annual rate of return.)

You might also want to check out Schulich's new book, Get Smarter : Life and Business Lessons. Currently on sale at 45% off (till Sept. 30) at Chapters.Indigo.ca.

(No, I get no cut if you buy the book. I just think he’s a smart guy, and this is a good deal.)

Doing business in Japan

Searching for something else, I discovered a fascinating article on how to succeed as a foreigner in small business in Japan. Although the article was written in 1996, much of it still appears relevant.

The author, Steve Porrit, wrote the story for the American Chamber of Commerce Japan Journal. It basically concludes that the deck is stacked against foreigners running businesses in Japan.

Here’s how the article starts: “It's tough doing business in Japan. But if you're a lone entrepreneur with a product or service from overseas, the going is especially hard. It takes years to build relationships with your Japanese customers. Meanwhile, banks won't lend you money. Startup costs are horrendously high. Landlords demand exorbitant deposits and outrageous rents. Language and culture are round-the-clock challenges. And customs regulations, while a bureaucrat's sweet dream, are an importer's nightmare.”

So how do some business owners succeed? “For the most part, by doing things the Japanese way, patiently building trust and good will with Japanese customers.”

The story interviews about a dozen American business owners working in Japan. It found one of the biggest problems is financing: “Banks generally won't lend money to foreigners or their companies without collateral, yet most small entrepreneurs have very few qualifying assets, such as product or property. Sometimes it takes a Japanese national – often a spouse – to become a guarantor for what essentially becomes a personal loan.”

But it’s not all gloom and doom. One entrepreneur said that foreign business people can often penetrate deeper into a customer’s organization than a Japanese salesperson. And client loyalty is such that once a Japanese customer gives you their business, “they will remain with you for a long time.”

One software entrepreneur offered another incentive for doing business in Japan. "Japanese companies are terrible at predicting the future, so there are plenty of opportunities for a foreign company to find and exploit niches that no one here is yet aware of."

For the full story, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Make Your Own Luck

I love the old adage, “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” (It has been variously attributed to Thomas Jefferson and Stephen Leacock.)

So it makes sense that the other day I picked up a book called, How to Create your Own Luck, by California author/consultant Susan RoAne.

It’s a pretty sketchy work – mostly a seemingly endless series of two-page anecdotes about people who helped strangers in the rain and ended up making the biggest deal of their career with them. If I stick with this book, I will skip the next 60 pages and try to find the sections with more practical, prescriptive advice.

But the book is worth it for Page 2 alone, where RoAne identifies the eight “counterintuitive traits” that distinguish “luck-makers” from the rest of us. You open yourself to luck, serendipity and opportunity when you leave convention behind and display the following characteristics of “lucky” people:

Trait One: They talk to strangers.
Trait Two: They make small talk.
Trait Three: They drop names.
Trait Four: They eavesdrop and listen.
Trait Five: They ask for or offer help.
Trait Six: They stray from their chosen paths.
Trait Seven: They exit graciously without burning bridges.
Trait Eight: They say yes when they want to say no.

“These ‘You Never Know It Alls’ don't conform to the ‘keep it to yourself and play your cards close to your vest’ school of thought,” says RoAne. “They remain open, and that openness is the linchpin of their so-called luck.”

Fort further reading:

How To Make Your Own Luck, from Fast Company, 2003
Get Lucky, by Susanne Ruder, from PROFIT Magazine, December 2006

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

SOHO conference hits Toronto, Vancouver

Since I mentioned the Toronto Small Business Forum in my previous post, I should also plug the annual SOHO/SME Business Conference and Expo being held next month in two cities: Toronto (Oct. 16) and Vancouver (Oct. 30).

The SOHO team promises keynote presentations to motivate and inspire; seminars & panel discussions on key business tools and resources; networking, exhibits and real-life success stories.

Some of the guests are pretty exciting. Keynote speaker at both conferences will be Kerry Munro, General Manager, Yahoo! Canada. (Though that might just be because Yahoo is a sponsor of the conference.) But the Toronto entrepreneurs on tap include Cam Heaps and Greg Taylor, co—founders of Steam Whistle Brewing.

The Vancouver lineup gets even better. It includes Brian Scudamore, founder & CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? (a thoughtful business leader whose column appears right after mine in PROFIT Magazine); serial entrepreneur Peter Thomas, founder of Century 21 Real Estate and President of LifePilot (if you ever find a copy of his 1990s book, Never Fight with a Pig, grab it!); and Peter Legge, CEO of Canada Wide Media Ltd. and one of North America’s most acclaimed speakers.

Some parts of these conferences are free, and others cost. Check out the SOHO site here to sort it out.

There’s also talk of an upcoming conference/expo in Ottawa, but no date has been announced yet.

Small Business Forum coming up next month!

Back by popular demand: the Toronto Small Business Forum.

On Oct. 9, Enterprise Toronto and Centennial College’s Centre of Entrepreneurship present a one-day conference for entrepreneurs and B2B organizations. Free admission includes:

* Roundtable discussions on marketing, financing, business plans & more
* Breakout sessions on market research, modeling masters and other hot topics
* Networking opportunities for starting or growing your business
* Special sessions tailored to start-up entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, youth entrepreneurs and seasoned entrepreneurs
* Trade show displaying products and services for small businesses and entrepreneurs
* Keynote speakers on topics of critical importance

The opening keynote is Chris Ward, president of Riverhorse America Inc., on The Power of Branding. I know Chris and he’s the real thing.

The afternoon also features a celebration of 2007 award winners for outstanding achievements in entrepreneurship.

Location: the Toronto Eaton Centre Marriott.
What are you waiting for? For more information and to register, click here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 49

Here is your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to an inspirational start.

“Winning isn't everything, but wanting it is.”
Arnold Palmer, professional golfer and living legend.

Today Arnie celebrates his 78th birthday. To send him a birthday greeting, click here (registration required in “Arnie’s Army”).

And here's another great Arnold Palmer quote on competition for all entrepreneurs to chew on:
“I never rooted against an opponent. But I never rooted for him, either.”

Looking Back

September 10, 2007. The sixth anniversary of the last day of innocence.

I spent Sept. 10, 2001 playing chief councillor at PROFIT Magazine’s GrowthCamp, its annual conference for the leaders of Canada’s “Hot 50” emerging growth companies. It produced, as always, a stunning combination of dynamic entrepreneurial personalities and creative idea-sharing.

On the way home, still charged with the passion and idealism that comes from spending three days with such an electric group, I parked the car at the side of a country road and wrote my editorial for the next issue - urging entrepreneurs to use their talents to make a difference beyond business.

Here is an excerpt.

'Now is the time to begin using your skills to benefit your community. Take this energy, and all your many gifts — for sizing up a situation, seeing an opportunity, planning, leading and analyzing — and focus your efforts on organizations and issues outside of your business.

'What can entrepreneurs give the world? Contagious enthusiasm and a bias for action. There are too many committees where lawyers debate process and nothing gets done. I've seen what impact one courageous board member can have on a group. By raising questions no one has asked before, suggesting new ways of thinking and proposing creative solutions, you can make an impact on any interest group.

'It won't be easy. Entrepreneurs are used to giving direction. And they like things done right away. Getting involved will require levels of patience and diplomacy you never knew you had. Don't give up, because you have unique gifts to share.

'Don't give up, because the world needs you.'

I still believe this to be true today. Perhaps more than ever.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Delighting your Customers

You've probably heard about Apple’s big marketing stumble last week. When they cut the price of an iPhone by $200, they alienated millions of loyal customer/fans who had already dutifully anted up $599 to be “early adopters.”

In an open letter to all Apple customers, founder and CEO Steve Jobs admitted Apple made a mistake: “We need to do a better job taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price. Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.”

He then announced Apple would give previous iPhone buyers a $100 credit for future purchases at Apple retail and online stores.

Most folks saw that move as smart customer service – and a savvy move for Apple, since it brings customers back to its stores. But could Apple have done even better?

In his blog, marketing guru Seth Godin disagrees with Jobs’ solution. “My guess is that his $100 store credit and personal note helped a great deal, but it also cost about $20 million in profit.” Godin believes Apple could have saved that money by offering those estranged customers something different. A premium that reflected their importance to Apple, yet wouldn't have cost the company and its investors so much cash.
Godin’s suggestions:

* Free exclusive ringtones, commissioned from Bob Dylan and U2, only available to the people who already had an iPhone. (“This is my favorite,” said Godin, “because it announces to your friends--every time the phone rings--that you got in early.”)

* Free pass to get to the head of the line next time a new hot product comes out.

* Ability to buy a specially colored iPod, or an iPod with limited edition music that no one else can buy.

“The key,” writes Godin, “is to not give price protection to early buyers (that's unsustainable as a business model) but to make them feel more exclusive, not less.”

I think Godin is on to something. When you really know what makes your customers buy, as Apple does, you have lots of opportunity to delight and reward them. And money is rarely the most important element in that equation.

How could you take advantage of this insight to recognize and reward your customers – without incurring significant costs?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Entrepreneurs saving the world

In a post called “CEOs to the Rescue,” Inc. Magazine yesterday drew attention to a speech by former president Bill Clinton at its Inc. 500 conference encouraging America's top entrepreneurs to channel their creativity into tackling the health-care crisis, poverty and other pressing social problems.

We need a culture change here and an organizational change: things that entrepreneurs do well,” said Clinton. “Everybody can give something, whether it’s time, money or talent.”

Strangely, Inc. (or Clinton) didn't provide many follow-on examples. Here’s the gist of the post, on Inc’s Fresh Inc. blog:

As an example, he pointed to the rise of employee wellness programs that are helping to contain soaring health-care costs. Or a private-sector initiative aimed at helping low-income earners open bank accounts for a better financial footing – what Clinton called the flipside of the subprime mortgage crisis. “We’re talking about people taking their money out from under a mattress and putting it in a bank.”
More generally, successful business owners might also tap into a rising global consciousness among ordinary Americans – which saw more than a billion dollars in donations go towards tsunami victims in Southeast Asia – and an upward trend in corporate philanthropy, Clinton said.

In an attempt to drum up some action on their blog, Inc. then asked for comments. “So what do you think? Will CEOs save the world?” Here’s what I wrote for my comment on their blog:

Entrepreneurs are already changing the world. Look at the work Bill Gates is doing, and [Canadian] Jeff Skoll (eBay's first president, who now has his own foundation encouraging social entrepreneurship), and so many others.

In fact, they are likely to accomplish much more than Bill Clinton and other do-gooding politicians, because entrepreneurs are committed to results. They don't throw good money after bad because they are committed to making a difference; they're willing to walk away from a situation when it's no longer working out the way they'd expected. (Unlike politicians, they are allowed to admit mistakes.)

They also have more freedom to experiment (see Nicholas Negroponte and his $100 laptop), so they are more likely to discover innovative means of achieving change. And finally, since they tend to favor market-oriented solutions, they are more likely to create sustainable aid programs that will outlive changing trends and political whims.

What do you think? Leave a comment below, or click here to tell Inc.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Scam Alert: Phony renewal services

This morning I received a polite, well-written email from a company called Domain Renewal Services. They informed me that one of my domain name registrations is about to expire, and offered to renew it for me.

Since I couldn't remember dealing with this company, I checked with the firm with which I did register that domain. They confirmed that rickspence.info expires in three months and can be renewed for $17.98 for two years.

That made me curious, so I looked again at the original email from Domain Renewal Service and clicked through to see what “service” they actually provide. They were offering to renew the domain name for me – for $79.95. For one year. A 700% markup.

Most domain-name registration is public, so these types of pirates must be flourishing. To avoid them, you can register domain names confidentially by paying a small extra fee (except, I believe, for .ca names). I’m beginning to think the extra fee is worth it.

At any rate, watch out for scammers offering to renew your domain names for you. Should you receive any information from a name you don't recognize, check with your original supplier first.

UPDATE: I looked a little more closely into “Domain Renewal Services.” It claims to be based in Brussels, but no Belgian I ever knew talked this badly:
"We know that internet is a fast growing market and it is of great importance to take a part of it. Our customers are large multi-national corporations mid size firms as well as small businesses. We operate with a grate number of partners all over the world and therefore have access to the grate competence and technical knowledge with in Internet."
Domain Renewal's website is also prominently adormed with the logos of Cisco, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. Watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

5 Rules for Better Communication in a Web 2.0 World -- Part II

Earlier I posted about my speech in Burlington, Ont. on Sept. 4 on “Communicating in a Web 2.0 World.” Here’s the takeaway from that session: five tips for getting noticed and communicating more effectively in a world where everyone is talking at once.

1. Know your customer. If you're going to reach the greatest number of customers and prospects, you have to know who they are and what their media habits are.

We know that more than 70% of car buyers do research on the Internet before they visit a dealership. How do your customers seek out information? Are they reading ads in the paper, searching on Google, or reading blogs? Are they talking with friends on FaceBook, or over the back fence? Would they read your blog, would they subscribe to an email newsletter, would they respond to a contest for the best home-made video of someone trying out your product?

2. Get people’s attention! When you know what you want to say, say it well. Stand out. Be lively, be interesting, be fun. Don't hold back. And never, ever be boring.

Most ads, most brochures, most website copy is dull. Boring. Written by people who didn't understand people’s needs to be entertained, amused, teased and intrigued. Take a chance, hire a marketer, and find a way to be dazzling, fascinating, habit-forming.

3. Make it easy for your audience to find you. Archive all your ads, your press releases, your product specs or announcements, your newsletters. Get an SEO specialist to give your site more Google juice (i.e., a higher ranking on the search engines). Trade links with other businesses. Put your URL in your ads and n your business cards, let people know where to find your blogs, newsletters or limited-time coupons. If your market can't find you, it doesn't matter what you're saying.

4. Overuse the word “You.” Have your customers and their needs in mind at all times. Don't talk about your products or services – talk about how your products and services solve their problems. Get over yourself and put the customer and his or her needs at the centre of all you do.

5. Experiment. There is no one fix for every business. If blogging isn’t for you, maybe you'll make a splash with YouTube videos or pay-per-click advertising. If newspaper ads work for you, stick with them, but experiment with interactive elements that help you build your database and communicate with more customers directly.

Above all, ask your customers what they're listening to, what they're reading, how they're using the net. That's how you can focus on the best opportunities for your business to stand out, be heard, and serve its customers better.

Communicating in a Web 2.0 World – Part 1

How do businesses get noticed and heard in our noisy, overcrowded Web 2.0 world? That was the topic of a short presentation I made yesterday to a breakfast meeting of the Burlington Network Group, a business group that meets biweekly at the beautiful lakeside Water Street Cooker restaurant, in Burlington, Ont.

Web 2.0 of course refers to the whole gamut of creative new online communication tools and channels. In Web 1.0, you used the Internet to read stuff or order products and services. Today, Web 2.0 turns consumers into producers, by enabling anyone to interact with websites, praise or critique products and services, blog, podcast, post videos, advertise or sell advertising, etc., etc. It even lets you create products for you or others to buy – such as the Canadian Entrepreneur coffee mug from Caf├ęPress.com, which I handed out to a lucky audience member yesterday to salute their pioneering efforts at blogging.

Among the best tools for small business I cited blogs, search engine marketing, Linked-In and Facebook, and Google’s Adwords, the pay-per-click service that lets you target your advertising directly to qualified prospects – and in which you only pay for results (i.e., when someone clicks on your ad to learn more). It amazes me how many people don't know about this powerful product, and how cost-effective it can be.

As I said in my speech text (I spoke mainly from memory, so the actual wording varied):

“AdWords (along with its counterparts from Microsoft and Yahoo) is one of the best targeted marketing methods ever invented. Big businesses are using it more and more, and you should be looking into it too.”

Click here to learn more. And no, Google isn’t paying for this recommendation. I just think every entrepreneur must explore the potential of this medium.

And here’s the payoff: Advertisers can not only target their pay-per-click ads by topic and geographically, but you can also use it to test, test, test. If your copy doesn't sell – that is, it doesn't convince consumers to click on your ad - you don't pay a thing. So it provides free marketing lessons, which shuld interest any business that normally can't afford to test advertising variables. You can find out what copy works best, what headlines make people act, and which sites and keywords produce the most clickthroughs. And it’s so affordable - you can set your own prices and limit your maximum monthly spend.

I got a number of people to agree to look into Adwords this week. I hope you do, too.

In Part II: 5 Rules for Better Communication in a Web 2.0 World

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Subprime Lending and Subpar Ethics

What's the scoop on this “subprime” real-state crisis that has wafted out of the U.S. to slow the Canadian economy?

Carl Hausman, editor of the Ethics Newsline of the Institute for Global Ethics, offers a useful summary in his Aug. 27 newsletter. Here’s an edited excerpt:

"Subprime lending" usually means lending to borrowers with low credit scores or with low income and few assets. As with almost any investment, expected return to the investor is based on risk, and in the case of subprime real estate lending this translates to a higher mortgage rate.

Another aspect of risky investment is that investors often hedge their bets by spreading the peril, putting the most fragile eggs in different baskets or selling a whole basket of fragile eggs to someone who understands and can withstand the potential loss. In the rarified air of high finance, the eggs are sliced and diced and newly created financial vehicles are sold to those with different appetites for risk…

Those vehicles then morph into an alphabet soup of financial vehicles bought and sold among financial institutions. The most basic are residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBSs), which are sometimes repackaged and resold as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)….

It was these CDOs that provided the tip-off that something was wrong with the subprime industry when one hedge fund used them as collateral to borrow money from an investment bank. The investment bank tried to sell the CDOs but couldn't, and sniffed out the fact that some of the eggs had gone bad. (Buyers figured out that the collateral was shaky.)

What happened? To (over)simplify, many subprime loans, which make up about 8% of the total U.S. mortgage market, were written as adjustable loans at a time when interest rates were low and housing prices were regularly appreciating. If rates went up, so the reasoning went, so would housing prices, enabling the buyer to cover the obligation by refinancing. More ominously, some subprime loans offered low "introductory fixed rates" that actually were due to be reset in a couple years at much higher variable rates...

The result? "According to one firm that tracks home loans, a subprime mortgage that originated between one and three years ago will cost, on average, about $400 more per month today. Many loans with "introductory fixed rates" will be reset at monthly rates $1,500 higher than when they were written.

"As a result, defaults are skyrocketing, and that's bad news for everybody...”

Representing the Institute for Global Ethics, Hausman finds several questionable angles to this story:

* Lack of personal responsibility. The people affected are, the argument goes, adults who took on obligations that in many cases they should have known were more than they could handle.
* Lack of corporate responsibility. Industry critics contend that the schemes were confected to take advantage of consumers who cannot be expected to analyze all the intricacies.
* Lack of responsibility in the links of the chain of businesses involved in subprime lending. Some of the key players in the process handled only a piece of the transaction and didn't worry about the eventual outcome because they didn't shoulder any of the risk.
* Potential conflict of interest in the sale and resale of financial vehicles based on subprime products. In an August 19 editorial, the Washington Post notes that many subprime-related securities that now are in the financial toilet started out with Aaa ratings. Could it be that rating agencies were less than scrupulous? The agencies, noted the Post, “get their information -- and their fees -- from the investment banks that underwrite the securities the agencies rate. You can see how this might lead to grade inflation."

Read the full post here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 48

Here is your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to an inspirational start.

"Nothing great has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe something inside them was superior to circumstances."
U.S. adman Bruce Barton (1886-1967).

Barton was the co-founder of ad agency BBDO and created one of the greatest of all marketing icons: Betty Crocker.

Towards a theory of entrepreneurial bosses

The fact that it’s Labour Day got me thinking about the relationship between entrepreneurs and “labour.”

Entrepreneurs tend to be benevolent dictators. They love their employees. They think of them as family. But in my experience, this relationship lasts only as long as the employees don't threaten the entrepreneur in any way. Question the boss too much, press too hard for more money, recognition or – gasp! – equity, and you unbalance the family aspect. You may even put your career at risk.

Organized labour is rightfully suspicious of entrepreneurial leaders. In a way, the entrepreneur is like the leader of a wolfpack. Challenge the alpha wolf and you could get killed. Try to start a union at an entrepreneurial company, and you’ll evoke two sequential reactions:

1) Puzzlement and genuine sadness as to why this step was necessary – “Why didn't you just come to me and tell me you were unhappy?”
2) Total war. “I’ll shut this company down before I let a union tell me what to do.”

In other words, entrepreneurs can be generous employers – but they like to do it from a sense of personal generosity (and yes, paternalism), not out of a sense of need.

The talent shortage in today’s job market also presents entrepreneurs with great difficulties. They feel aggrieved that employees are less loyal than ever – and they dislike having to bend over backwards, suck up and shell out the big bucks to get qualified professional or technical help. The talent shortage alters the balance of power, and entrepreneurs don't like that one bit.

On the other hand, if you need help, if you show promise, if you work hard – most entrepreneurs are delighted to help you succeed. They’ll make exceptions for you, and find ways to train and strengthen you. They won’t try to hold you back if you decide to move on, and they’ll take pride in your progress as you advance in life.

Entrepreneurs are usually self-made people with well-honed egos who truly believe they alone (or with partners) made their business a success. But as the business grows, they come to realize that they depend on their employees for continued success. It's a difficult transition to make, but it perhaps indicates why trust is so important to them.

On the whole, I think entrepreneurs adapt marvelously to a very difficult job that probably no one ever trained them to do – employing others.

A toast to the worker on Labour Day. But spare a cheer also for the boss - imperfect but still trying - who makes their work possible.

Lessons from Quebec’s fastest-growing companies

Some of you may not yet have checked out the executive summaries from the presentations at the Visa Small Business Big Thinking conference held in Montreal earlier this year.

What are you waiting for? There's a lot of good learning in the summaries, including the points of view of outstanding Quebec speakers and entrepreneurs whose opinions and learning don't usually break through into English Canada.

Besides, Visa’s team of Montreal writers did a bang-up job of compiling and translating the summaries.

Here’s a sample summary: someone named Spence analyzed the top 12 Quebec companies on PROFIT Magazine’s 2007 list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. Here, from his speech June 3, are the 10 best practices” of Quebec’s top growth companies.

1. Find a niche and make it yours. Companies that did well on the PROFIT 100 list tended to specialize in smaller markets that they could “own,” rather than offer products for everyone.
2. Transform the business model. Growth leaders develop innovative strategies such as turning software products into recurring services, or signing exclusive distribution contacts with key partners.

3. Build value for customers. For instance, RadialPoint creates a “triple win” with its online security products for Internet service providers that not only benefit the ISPs’ customers, but discourage them from changing carriers.
4. Overcome your fear and make cold calls. Some of Quebec’s best-known companies have grown by picking up the phone and asking strangers for their business.

5. Be financially conservative. Quebec’s fastest-growing companies tend to shun venture capital and high-cost debt by hoarding their cash and arranging financial assistance long before they need it.
6. Master technology, and use it to differentiate what you do. Companies such as MarketingIsland and Triglobal Capital Management lock in customers with proprietary technology that gives them everything they need.

7. Find the best motivational tools for your team. To retain god employees, top companies offer incentives such as performance bonuses, pension plans and frequent parties.
8. Upgrade your management structure. Make sure your people and systems grow to keep pace with the company’s expansion.

9. Share opportunities with long-term strategic partners. DuProprio.com, a web service that helps consumers sell their homes privately, recently partnered with national networks of lawyers and appraisers in a deal that creates long-term advertising revenue and supplies valuable services for its clients.
10. Think like a customer. Keeping in touch with customer needs can produce a constant flow of new products and strong relationships that shut out competitors.

You can find much more at http://www.visa.ca/bigthinking/presentations.cfm