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

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.)