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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 55

Here is another in our weekly series of powerful motivational quotes, specially selected to inspire and motivate you in your business.

Especially if you had to sit through a weekly update meeting this morning.

"Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything."
Canadian-born economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Strategy and Luck

Last month I posted some musings on the role of luck in business, and tips on how to maximize your own good luck.

This morning I found an intriguing comment on luck - in, of all things, a story on University of Calgary poli-sci prof Tom Flanagan, a longtime aide of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Flanagan has just written a book on the rise of the Conservatives called Harper's Gang. In an interview with the National Post yesterday, Flanagan says Harper possesses one of the most strategic minds he has ever encountered. And, he observes, "strategists tend to have good luck."

Strategy in business is all about setting objectives, pursuing appropriate courses of action, and keeping a steady eye on your industry and the economic landscape. That helps you know when to stick with your focus, and when to adjust. People who do that, says Flanagan, "tend to have good luck."

Want to get lucky? Fine-tune your business strategy. People who focus their efforts and constantly monitor their results make their own luck.

Friday, October 19, 2007

10 ways to build your credibility

Your weekend reading comes from Toronto-based marketer extraordinaire Michael Hepworth, the "Streetsmart Marketer," whose newsletter today offers 10 ways to establish greater credibility with your prospects:

· Educate them on how to buy your product of service. Help customers understand what their buying criteria should be.
· Tell the truth. Trust will grow and so will your business.
· Be sincere. Sincerity is being believable and presenting the facts in a way prospects understand.
· Use specifics. Precise numbers and details are more believable than generalities.
· Reverse the risk. Offer a guarantee.
· Provide testimonials. Few people like to be the first to use a product or service.
· Establish yourself as an authority. Write and speak on your specialty.
· Support your sales with editorial and articles. PR is important in building your credibility.
· Tell prospects why. If you are offering a discount or a special deal, give a reason for it.
· Point out a non-fatal flaw in your product. This gives special promotions more credibility.

There's lots more in the original article, which you can read here.

My Mission

I'm working on my next "Growth Curve" column for the new Small Business section every Monday in the Financial Post. It's a great opportunity for me to write about issues, challenges and heroes of Canadian entrepreneurship.

But because my mandate is pretty broad, I have a million ideas for what I want to do. And that of course is a perilous situation for any entrepreneur.

I decided I needed to narrow down what I'll be writing about - establish a set of criteria that will help me recognize which ideas really work for this column and its readers, and which are probably just self-indulgent space-fillers.

So I created the following list of objectives for myself. And once it was done, in the spirit of accountability, I thought I would share it with you.

My "Growth Curve" Mission

* To tell great stories
* To offer practical, useful information to help business owners grow their businesses
* To encourage business owners to persevere and overcome their many challenges and problems by demonstrating “how others do it”
* To open readers’ eyes to the myriads of opportunities in business, in Canada and the world
* To stimulate entrepreneurial spirit and confidence in Canada

Still pretty broad, I know. But it's also a pretty good mission statement for everything I'm trying to do.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Your No. 1 Business-Fixing Tip

The SOHO conference in Toronto on Tuesday (Oct. 16) seemed a raging success. Lots or people, lots of buzz, and some great comments from a panel of dynamic entrepreneurs: Ray Civello of CIVELLO Salon-Spa Group, Greg Taylor and Cam Heaps from Steam Whistle Brewing, and Kerry Knee of Flirty Girl Fitness.

(That last is a women’s fitness centre that apparently specializes in pole-dancing and similarly stripper-inspired exercises. It’s already opened a second outlet in Chicago, and more are to come – apparently.)

It’s what I've always said: there is no limit to the number of potential niches out there.

I spoke at the Visa Seminar room on “10 Ways to Fix Your Business Now.” (I’ll be doing a similar presentation at SOHO Vancouver on Oct. 30, so come on down!)

Most of the buzz afterward centred on “Fix No. 6”: Set up an advisory board.
As I said in my speech, “It’s probably the single most powerful step you can take to tune up your business and keep it running smoothly into the future.”

Most of my knowledge of this topic comes from work that I did with uber-preneur Greig Clark, founder of College Pro Painters. This summer we interviewed business owners across the country on the subject of advisory boards: who uses them, why, how they work, and how you can make them work better.

An advisory board is a group of experienced business people who meet regularly – often three or four times a year – to learn what’s going on in an entrepreneur’s business and offer their advice and feedback. The entrepreneurs we talked to pick their advisors’ brains on everything from hiring and firing people to finding new sales leads and dealing with their bank. Greig calls it “success insurance,” and indeed we have found several companies that have become major players in their industry because of the success of their advisory boards.

Your board can be as formal or informal as you want – friends who meet once in a while over coffee, or a rigorous watchdog group that advises on all aspects of operations. We found that every board is different – but we also found evidence that the more seriously you take your board, the more you work with them and the more you include them in your deliberations, the more benefit you're going to derive from their help and expertise.

What’s it cost? Some advisors work for free; some expect stock options or phantom stock, and others expect a flat fee for every meeting. But no one does it for the money. They join advisory boards if they like you and believe in your business and respect the other people on your board.

If you want more information on boards, we have distilled our research into a four-part series running in PROFIT Magazine. You can read Part 1, the advisory board primer, here. Future chapters will also be available online (or sooner on the newsstand).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Search of... Small Business Week

I don't know about you, Charlie Brown, but this just doesn't seem to feel like Small Business Week. Maybe I've missed all the activity somehow, but I haven't heard much about it or about all the events that surround it from coast to coast.

I attended the SOHO Business Conference in Toronto today (and I will be at SOHO Vancouver on Oct. 30), but there didn't seem to be much of a tie-in with SBW. The new “Small Business” edition of the Financial Post was specifically scheduled to coincide with Small Business Week, but it wasn't really tied to it in any way.

Still, the week is only half over, so there are lots of events still to go. (Thursday, Oct. 18, seems particularly event-packed, so why not take one in?) For a list of events across the country, click here.

One of the problems with Small Business Week may be that it was started by (and is owned by) a big eastern syndicate -- the Business Development Bank, which is A) a federal Crown corporation, and B) exceedingly bad at marketing and public relations. I noticed on their website that they are starting to brand it as BDC Small Business Week (see picture). That's about the best way I can imagine to kill anyone else’s interest in taking part.

Are you participating/did you participate in Small Business Week this year? What type of event did you find effective? Leave a comment below and maybe we can get a fruitful discussion going. Then I will e-mail the discussion to BDC so they can ignore it for next year.

BTW, the BDC kicks off Small Business Week every year by presenting awards to the top young entrepreneurs from each province and territory.

Congratulations to this year’s winners:
EPIC Newsgroup Inc., Vancouver
Upside Software, Edmonton
24-7 INtouch, Regina
Modern Earth Inc., Winnipeg
I Love Rewards, Toronto
matt & nat, Montréal
Ad-Dispatch, Halifax
Fatkat, Miramichi, N.B.
Smooth Cycle, Charlottetown
MedicLINK Systems Ltd., St. John's
Igloolik Isuma Productions, Igloolik, Nunavut
Northern Canadian Adventure Racing, Yellowknife
What's Up Yukon, Whitehorse

You can get lots more details on these companies here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Seven Virtues of Small Business

The Financial Post published its inaugural "small business edition" today. It's a weekly section (every non-holiday Monday) covering the people, issues and opportunities that make entrepreneurial busines so dynamic and ever-changing.

I'll be writing a weekly column for the Post called "Growth Curve."

For today's launch column, I chose to itemize the seven key advantages that small business enjoys over big business. Here's a truncated version of that list:

1. Small business owners are close to the action.
2. Big companies need permission to do things.
3. Recruit who you want when you want.
4. Small-business owners have more opportunity to make their employees care.
5. Today's best opportunities are in small, specialty markets -- and entrepreneurs are the nabobs of niche.
6. There's no substitute for passion.
7. Small businesses can't coast. They don't have the capital or the brand power to last long if they screw up - so they get the job done instead.

The point: if you're not making use of these secret weapons, someone else is going to eat your lunch.

For the complete story, click here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 54

Here is another in our weekly series of powerful motivational quotes, specially selected to inspire and motivate you in your business.

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
Henri Bergson, French philosopher, 1859-1941

I can't pretend to understand the work of Bergson, who studied humour, causality and free will (though probably not all at the same time).

But this sentence expresses a lot of what I believe to be true about communication and learning:
- that no two people look at anything the same way;
- that we all have a hard time seeing what we do not expect;
- that we must prepare others (explain, teach, soften up) before we try to tell (or sell) them something new;
- change is hard.

The takeaway for marketers: Never assume.
Prepare your audience for every new idea. And sell the "new" before the "idea".

But first, the bad news

I found a curious story in today’s Financial Post (the first of the new “Small Business”-focussed Posts, which will run every Monday).

This CanWest News Service story, "Loonie rise bodes well," quoted TD Bank Financial Group in a recent report saying that the strong Canadian dollar “offers advantages to the country's small businesses going into 2008.”

Sadly, the story cites few indicators that "bode well."

"The overall assessment is that 2008 should be a decent year for small business, but significant challenges will be present," says TD's Craig Alexander. "Small-business owners cannot be complacent and must be innovative in developing strategies to address the challenges."

Among the points this short article makes:
· Labour markets will remain extremely tight and wage pressure will persist;
· This situation shows no sign of changing;
· Business owners must develop strategies to attract and retain high-skilled employees;
· Competition will remain fierce in the domestic and international spheres;
· Small businesses will be “very constrained” when it comes to setting prices;
· Businesses exporting to the United States are suffering from a harsh trading climate.

I’m still wondering what exactly makes next year look so “decent" for small business. And which businesses will benefit from the high-flying Canadian dollar.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Your One-Day MBA

Giveaway time! You too can celebrate Small Business Week in style.

I have six free passes to give away to the Soho SME Business Conference and Expo in Toronto at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (north building) on Tuesday Oct. 16th. Each pass is good for the whole day, including the opening keynote at 10:30 with Kerry Munro of Yahoo Canada, the “featured keynote” with humorist and stress-management expert Loretta LaRoche, and the Entrepreneur Success Panel featuring Greg Taylor and CamHeaps, co-founders of Steam Whistle Brewing.

You also get access to the main tradeshow and conference program, which includes my presentation on “Ten Ways to Fix Your Business Now,” at 3:00 pm in the Visa Seminar Room.

Plus, you can make a full day of it by staying for the “Celebrate Success!" Business Networking Reception from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Maybe you’ll even buy me a drink.

To claim your free prize you must do three things:

1. Leave a comment at the bottom of this post claiming the prize (please state whether you'd like one ticket or two);
2. E-mail me so I can email you back and give you the secret code in order to preregister for free; (I’m at Rick (at) Rickspence.ca)
3. Plus, if you win the ticket(s), you must promise to actually go on Tuesday. I don't want any no-shows on my free tickets.

First come, first served.
Enjoy the show!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 53

And so we kick off Year 2 of our weekly series of powerful, motivational quotes, specially selected to inspire and motivate you in your business.

This week, a visionary contemporary quotation attributed not to a single individual, but to one of the three founders of the New York-based Blue Man Group:

“We are all competing against mediocrity.”
Stated by one of Chris Wink, Matt Goldman or Phil Stanton, founders of the Blue Man theatrical troupe – the silent, endearing show which became a successful growth business once the three founders stepped back from regular appearances on the stage and delegated the on-stage work. That left them free to explore new strategies and opportunities.

The quote was originally cited by Anita Campbell, editor of the Small Business Trends blog.

She blogged last November about a small business conference in New York and the 10 Best Bits of Wisdom she picked up from the speakers.

Here’s Anita’s take on the meaning of today’s quote:
“Instead of focusing on the competition, strive for a higher level of creativity. To create a great business, create something extraordinary – instead of falling into a rut and settling for average.”

Friday, October 05, 2007

Dragons' Den reruns again!

This just in from Sean Wise's DD blog.

You can catch reruns of Dragons' Den several times this weekend (and for the next 10 weeks).

It's on CBC's Newsworld cable channel at Saturday at 9 am, then repeated late Saturday night (actually, early Sunday) at 1 a.m.
You can also watch Sundays at 8:00 pm, and then again at 3 am (actually, Monday morning).

I presume these are local times (other than in Nfld, where everything is 30 minutes later). But you'd better check your local listings.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

New faces at Soho Conferences

The Soho-SME Business Conference and Expo has added several new speakers in both its Toronto and Vancouver incarnations later this month.

Michael Hepworth, a compelling marketing expert and successful entrepreneur, will be speaking on “The 7 Most Costly Marketing Mistakes Almost Every Business Owner is Unknowingly Making and How to Avoid Them.” (sponsored by TD Canada Trust)

And Rick Spence, no stranger to fans of this blog, will be speaking on “10 Ways to Fix Your Business Now.” (sponsored by Visa)

We’ll both be speaking in Toronto on Oct. 16 and in Vancouver on Oct. 30.

For other speakers at the conference, see my previous post. Or for the full agenda and registration details, go to the source: Vancouver and Toronto.

What's in a Plan?

Roger Laurent Bernier is a biotech specialist with a background in incubating startups in Eastern Canada.
He says that a good business plan should answer the following questions:

* Who are your customers?
* How will you reach these customers?
* What do your customers want and how do you know this?
* How does your business provide customer wants?
* Do you know your business and how it should operate?
* Do you know your industry and current trends in the market?
* How are you qualified to do what you want to accomplish?
* Do your assumptions make sense to someone unfamiliar with your business?
* Do your financial projections make sense?
* How will you measure your progress financially, and in other ways?
* How will you make it easy for people to do business with you?
* What differentiates your business from all the others in your industry?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More on Dragons' Den

I see by my site stats that lots of people are looking for more information on Dragons’ Den.
Click on the following links for lots more fire-breathing:

The PROFIT Magazine supplement on Season 2
(including my story following up with some of last year’s pitchers)

The Globe and Mail’s review of the show
Don’t forget to read the comments, including this one: “The fact of the matter is these 'Dragons' are basically taking advantage of young entrepreneurs who don't know any better…”

A Kitchener-Waterloo Record story about local entrepreneurs in the Den:
(Best quote comes from a local venture capitalist who says there are no Dragonesque put-downs in the real world of venture capital. "We are not scary or brutal at all," she says. "This (show) is good entertainment, but it almost does us a disservice."

"Kempton" reviews Episode 1 - pitcher by pitcher:
Dragons' Den's biggest fan writes, "I feel really sorry for John and Peggy and wish them all the best."

One of Monday night’s presenters has already blogged to complain about the editing of Dragons’ Den.
“It was really sad how they edited the program, and really didn’t get or try to get the concept of BikiniZero. It is actually quite simple …girls in bikini’s talking about the latest technology.”

From the Calgary Herald: “Dragon's Den devours dreams”
This CanWest story escalates the "feud" between badmouthing Kevin O’Leary and nice-guy Robert Herjavec (noted in my review yesterday): “Herjavec figures if he had encountered a potential investor like O'Leary early in his career, he would have quit long before he ever succeeded. "The thing that scares me about Kevin is for me he crosses the line," he says. "That would have crushed a guy like me."

DD insider Sean Wise blogs on the ratings for Episode 1.
“We were third in our time slot.”

UPDATE (Oct. 5): Toronto Star story profiling a winner from last year who not only got a deal on-air, but actually closed the deal and got some money. "I've tripled my sales in the last year," says Jennifer MacDonald.

Meet the Dragons
http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/thedragons.html

Enter the Dragon contest
http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/armchairdragon.php

The IPO Slowdown

Interesting report yesterday from PricewaterhouseCoopers indicating that Canada's market for initial public offerings appears to be heading for its slowest its year in a decade. Nobody’s going public anymore!

The third quarter of 2007 saw 22 new issues worth a total of $337-million, vs 33 new issues in the year-earlier period worth $650 million (nearly a 50% drop!).

So far this year we’ve seen 63 IPOs worth $1.2-billion – compared with 95 IPOs in the first nine months of 2006 valued at $4.7-billion (nearly a 75% drop).

PwC spokesman Ross Sinclair said, "It's surprising with the general economic activity and the markets overall that we're experiencing such a low level of IPOs.”

Rick says: not such a surprise. The feds’ decision to choke off income trust IPOs removed an artificial stimulant to the public markets. Growing governance issues (and corresponding legal/accounting costs) make “going public” more onerous and expensive than ever. And the rise of private equity is giving private companies a cheaper and easier alternative.

I was talking to one entrepreneur at a fast-growth company this summer and asked if he intended to take his company public. “Are you crazy?” he said. With the additional costs of governance and compliance, he said going public would add $1 million in annual overhead to his company – an anti-competitive burden it couldn't afford.

This has serious implications. As more and more large Canadian companies get bought up and privatized, it reduces the “basket” of Canadian equities that the Canadian investment community needs – for investing all that RRSP and pension cash, for diversification, and for safety (against currency fluctuation).

The negativity compounds: when institutional money can't find enough stocks to buy, more of it becomes private equity, which then competes with public markets.

Public companies are actually a vital national resource. We have to find some way to revitalize this market. If they want to keep this cash cow healthy, the brokers and lawyers may even have to cut their fees a bit.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reviewing the Dragons

I attended the launch party for Season 2 of Dragons’ Den last night at a funky Toronto bar filled with funky CBC people – and all five Dragons. We watched the first episode on a live feed from the Atlantic region, thereby scooping other viewers in Ontario and Quebec by an hour.

A few personal observations on last night’s show:

* New dragon Arlene Dickinson, a Calgary marketing consultant, is quiet but firm – and much tougher than the Season 1 dragon she replaced, Jennifer Wood. Pitchers beware: with Arlene on the panel, your risk factor doubles.

* Kevin O’Leary is in fine form, upbraiding poor pitchers and denouncing bad business ideas as sinful. He told one couple, who had produced a line of sports-related business books, to burn the books rather then keep trying to sell them. He defends his diatribes by saying that it would be much crueler to give entrepreneurs such as these any hope, and so encourage them to waste more of their lives and savings pushing loser ideas any further.

* Robert Herjavec, in this episode anyway, comes off as the sensitive, nurturing dragon. He compliments pitchers on their presentations or their idea before turning down their investment opportunity. At one point he even chastised Kevin for bullying the pitchers, saying there are nicer ways to get the same message across.

* Boston Pizza's Jim Treliving seems to have grown younger and hipper. He’s quipping more and taking greater part in the action. Looks like he’s decided not to be the old guy in the room any more.

* The show itself seemed a little less polished than last year. Some segments went on too long, I thought, with too many silent dramatic pauses that had no emotional payoff.

* The first part of the show disappointed me. It seemed to be reaching for titillation rather than serious business content. The first pitcher was an "edgy" fitness expert, gyrating and showing off his abs. He was followed by two women in bikinis for some bizarre marketing business, who were followed by three entrepreneurs selling oddly shaped plastic cases for protecting lunchbag bananas – an innocent product in itself, but a little too nudge-nudge-wink-wink the way they were scheduled right after the washboard abs and scanty bikinis.

Those quibbles aside, the show was probably as interesting as the best episodes of last year. The one deal that did get done on the show was a nailbiter, with a drawn-out, dramatic ending that reflected the dilemma of the entrepreneurs who appear on the show to pitch for cash: do you accept a lower-than-expected valuation in order to work with the dragons? In other words, do you see them as sources of money only or as positive partners you want to work with?

Having interviewed some of the contestants from last year who sealed deals on the show, only to have those deals fall apart afterward, I’m not sure what the answer is. But it makes for great TV. And great business discussion.

PS: One dragon I talked to agreed with me when I expressed disappointment with some of the editing decisions on last night's show. He says he believes they are pushing entertainment over substance this year – and is curious as to which will attract more viewers.

Personally, I think TV viewers can find sex and double entendres anywhere on the dial. The heightened real-life drama that Dragons’ Den represents is rarer – and far more interesting.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Dragons' Den is back: someone's gonna get burned


Don't forget: Tonight (Monday night) at 8 pm* is the season premiere of Dragons’ Den, the CBC TV show that has aspiring entrepreneurs pitching for investment money to a panel of self-satisfied and overconfident multimillionaires in an overdramatic and unnecessarily confrontational setting.

It's great TV. Even for people (like entrepreneurs) who hardly ever watch TV.

There’s also lots for you to learn. Watching the dragons tear apart bad presentations and half-baked business ideas is an education in itself. (See my blogpost from May, when I auditioned potential pitchers as a Deputy Dragon).

If you don't come away from this show a better critical thinker and more persuasive presenter, you just weren't paying attention.

Since there’s some complication over video rights, this show may never come out on DVD. So dust off that old VCR and tape this show, because this is one program you can watch again and again. Watch it with friends and family – it can get the whole group talking and laughing, and all the while absorbing the primal law of business: Know your market.

If you miss an episode, watch for reruns on CBC Newsworld. Apparently they will be airing the show at 9 am on Saturdays.
Or check out all the action at the website, at http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/
You can also get news and comments on the show from insider Sean Wise on his DD blog, at http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/blog2/

(*Yes, 8:30 in Newfoundland and Labrador)

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 52

With “Week 52,” we complete our first year of offering powerful, motivational quotes every week to empower your entrepreneurial spirit and inform your work.
Our weekly quote, from entrepreneurs and thinkers all over there world, has become a major draw on Canadian Entrepreneur, so the feature will continue to Week 100.

This week, an inspiring quotation from a creative and influential entrepreneur who died last month at age 64:

“If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”
Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

Like many people, British-born Anita Roddick was an accidental entrepreneur who started a business out of necessity (to support herself and two children while her husband was travelling). She turned it into a both a smashing success and a powerful crusade.

I heard her speak in Palm Springs a decade ago and she electrified a roomful of hard-to-impress, award-winning entrepreneurs with her passion and conviction. You couldn’t help but be moved and excited by her vision of business as not just an economic unit, but a positive social force.

More Anita Roddick quotes:

“Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.”

“If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just.”

“I believe in businesses where you engage in creative thinking, and where you form some of your deepest relationships. If it isn't about the production of the human spirit, we are in big trouble.”

“I believe the older you get, the more radical you become.”

Dame Anita Roddick died of a stroke on September 10, 2007. She left us too soon.

Read her short autobiography here.
More on Anita at Wikipedia.