Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Enough with the Recession!

Out with the old, in with the new.
This week's Financial Post column offers "Ten tips to survive the recession."
Here's an excerpt:

Reward your most effective, loyal employees: Some people don't like secret bonuses, but there's no law that says you have to treat good and bad employees equally. If you've had to impose a general wage freeze, for example, you might offer your best (and most at-risk) employees a one-time cash bonus, or even a certificate for dinner at a nice restaurant. Little things mean a lot, especially when they're unexpected.

You can read the rest of the story here: http://www.financialpost.com/small_business/story.html?id=1121371

My column in PROFIT Magazine this month goes a step further. It's called "And now, the Recovery," and includes a number of useful tips designed to help you get your business in shape for growth and success post-recession.
Click here to read this story.

Finally, here's more cheery economic tidings, courtesy of the Financial Post's interview this past weekend with RBC chair Gord Nixon:

FP: How is Canada positioned for 2009?

Gord Nixon: We go into this recession fiscally in a very different position than we went into previous recessions over the last 40 or 50 years. Unemployment is at historically low levels, interest rates are much lower, you've got a strong banking system. There are a whole bunch of factors that I do think put Canada in a much stronger relative position to weather this storm than we have been historically.

On that note, best wishes for a very happy and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

As we head into the holidays and the New year, don't let the bad economy get you down. A 1% drop in economic growth is not the end of the world: there is growth and opportunity throughout the economy.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as over-reacting to recession: cutting back too much, silencing your marketing, letting go your best people, or simply filling them with pessimism. Actions such as these only inhibit your company's ability to bounce back.

For a glimpse at a brighter future, read my column in this month's PROFIT Magazine: And Now, The Recovery. (You can even vote on the topic of next month's column.)

In the meantime, please avoid the mistake made by this Canadian entrepreneur:

Thank you for visiting Canadian Entrepreneur this year. Please accept my best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

Timely Tips for Business Leaders

This week’s National Post column presents a year-end grab-bag of business tips, on everything from making the most of holiday downtime to five low-cost ways to generate new business. (I plundered scores of unread email newsletters in my inbox to find relevant, easy-to-implement tactics and tips. )

Sample:
Adjust product portfolios
Consumers in a weakening economy will trade down to products that emphasize value. Reappraise demand for each item in your product line. Focus on multi-purpose goods rather than specialized products. In grocery categories, quality house brands will eclipse national brands. Industrial customers prefer to see products and services unbundled and priced separately.
Source: Business Bulletin, from Toronto accountants Bennett Gold

Read the full story here.

It's easy, lazy reading for the ho-ho-holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alternatives to layoffs


Tidings of comfort and joy: here’s an intriguing seasonal message. In these tough economic times, a U.S.-based business advisory group is suggesting that business owners look at alternatives to layoffs in order to cut their labour costs.

The Alternative Board, an organization that facilitates monthly peer advisory boards for entrepreneurs, says its member companies have found creative alternatives to letting employees go.

· Reduce the work week from five days to four.

· Increase employees' time off. Instead of two to three weeks vacation, offer people five weeks, with two of those weeks unpaid. (Alternative Board president Jason Zickerman says many younger workers like this tactic: they never expected to get so much time off again.)

· Offer staff sabbaticals, with reductions in pay. Their time off could involve seeking out training or other experiences that will eventually benefit the company.

· Loan out employees to other businesses that may need extra hands temporarily for project work or as seasonal help.

"If these ideas are presented and communicated properly, you are absolutely able to develop increased loyalty," says Zickerman. "[Employees] will see that you are fighting for them and to stay in business so when things turn around, they will still have a job."

Read the full story here.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Catching Up

It’s low-content week here at Canadian Entrepreneur, as I try to get some work done after spending last week with the family in Cancun.

Cancun was the freebie trip I won last January by scoring the most points on Test the Nation, the CBC’s occasional trivia quiz TV show. It was our first trip to Mexico, and while the weather wasn't the best (high of just 78F most days, and a lot of wind) the hotel and food were great, the Maya ruins magnificent, and the salsa and sailing exhilarating.

Enjoy the pics.





A few business links for those looking for rational, informative, non-festive reading material:

This week’s Financial Post column is about the myths of innovation, and how to encourage new ideas and products in your organization. Click here for more.

Charles Ruecker thinks his "virtual manufacturing" business model will be the salvation for North American industry. Click here to read about RH Colletts’ bold growth plans, from the November issue of PROFIT.

Also in PROFIT, Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, reveals why the recession is good for some firms – and how you can make the most of the slowdown. Click here for more.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Clarifying Your Positioning Statement

A friend of mine sent me some notes today outlining a new positioning statement he's seeking for his company. I thought he did a pretty good job, but I wanted him to take it further. Here are the comments I sent back to him, in case they can help you express your own competitive message.

1. With positioning statements, it often helps to do a comparison early on. eg, Pepsi is like Coke, except it tastes better. or, Amazon.com is the Wal-Mart of online retailing.

So what comparison can we use to better communicate how your company helps its clients? e.g., maybe YourFirm does for independent contractors what Alfred the Butler does for Batman: it looks after all their administration and systems needs so they have more time to do what they do best. And it pays for itself in 12 months!

2. Use numbers where possible. How much money does your product or service save me (or, as above, how long does is the payback?)? How long does your process take to learn (for my staff or for our customers)?

3. Sometimes clients hit the nail on the head for you when they give you feedback. The wording they use can be very powerful, since their perspective (as users) is so different from yours - but may match the words used by your prospects. Do you have any comments, testimonials or fan letters that you could include in this exercise as a way of helping you find the most effective ways to express customers' needs and benefits?

4. I like to boil down the positioning statement to its essentials. Here it is:

We do __________ for _____________ so that they can __________.

In your case, that might become: "We provide easy-to-use web tools that enable independent contractors and other sole proprietors to eliminate time-wasting administration and focus more on servicing their customers and achieving their goals."

Please let me know if you find any of this helpful.

Political Crisis: It's so simple

I believe former Governor-General Ed Schreyer has the best take on Canada's current political crisis.

In an interview yesterday he said that granting a request from Stephen Harper for the prorogation of Parliament would constitute an evasion of the process of Parliament and should not be done.

“I'll put it this way and I will make this a plain-spoken sentence," said Schreyer. "Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament. I think one can stop there. It's about as basic as that.”

Democracy isn't pretty. But it's about pressuring elites in power, not protecting them.

The folks who accuse the coalition of being undemocratic should take another look at any Canadian majority government (Liberal, Tory, doesn't matter). The unfettered power of a prime minister with a majority is the very definition of undemocratic.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Death of a Dealership

As the continent obsesses over automotive bailouts, interesting things are happening at the nation’s auto dealerships. After years of abuse from customers and the carmakers whose names they bear, Canada’s domestic auto dealers are struggling – and some are giving up.

The Toronto Star’s Tony Van Alphen recently wrote a detailed, touching story on the bankruptcy of Scarborough-based Davidson Chrysler, a 60-year-old, second-generation family business that did all the right things – but went bust nonetheless this October.

Over the past few years, owner Roger Davidson has faced a lot more problems than just slumping car and truck sales: Chrysler factory representatives pressing for more deliveries than dealers needed (one winter, Davidson stored 60 cars in a farmer’s field, where they were damaged by horses); incentives-based promotions that proved hard to switch off; shifty marketing tactics by rival Chrysler dealers; the automaker's exit from the leasing business, which left willing customers out in the cold; the tightening credit crunch; and finally, Chrysler’s exercise of an option forbidding Davidson to pass the business on to anyone but an existing franchisee – shutting out Davidson’s son.

Davidson calls bankruptcy “the toughest decision I've ever made in my life…. It was just an absolute heartbreak.”

Read the full story here.

Click here to watch a short video interview with Roger Davidson on the Toronto Sun website, in which he reveals one unexpected consequence of declaring bankruptcy: being unable to sleep at night.

Ted Rogers saw things no one else did

Writing in the Financial Post this morning, sportswriter Bruce Arthur had the definitive one-sentence take on the life and career of the late media mogul:

“Ted Rogers saw things that nobody around him saw and got to them first.”

Not a bad legacy. And a savvy summation of what entrepreneurship is all about.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ted Rogers' Glorious Adventure

One of Canada’s most visionary and formidable entrepreneurs died last night in Toronto.

Ted Rogers, founder and chief executive of Rogers Communications Inc., was 75. The company says he was surrounded by family and friends when he died at his home in Toronto of congestive heart failure.

Long before Rogers bought the company I worked for (Maclean Hunter), I had identified Ted as one of Canada’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Not just in terms of building an empire, which he assuredly did, but in having a coherent vision and a plan – and the guts to stick to it over the years. He took crazy risks, freely admitted his own mistakes, worked every day, and enjoyed every minute.

I first met Ted Rogers when he was just an FM radio and cable-TV pioneer – and I was a summer student managing his radio stations’ booth at the Canadian National Exhibition. It was a weird booth with a mockup of a radio studio, the cabinet with his father’s prized collection of historic radio tubes, and a display selling “Candlelight and Wine” records from easy-listening station CHFI. Ted was very gracious to the students working his booth and we knew we had met someone special.

Ted and I shared a podium at the very first PROFIT 100 award event in Toronto, back in 1990. (We attached our awards program to an existing meeting of the Markham Board of Trade, where Ted had already been signed as guest speaker.) I found him much more engaging as a dinner companion than as the after-dinner speaker, where he mainly promoted his new cellphone services. But I believe that single-minded purposefulness was one of the foundations of his success.

My admiration for Mr. Rogers was dimmed by the fact that he mainly built his empire on monopolies, such as radio stations and cable empires. But when the smoke cleared, he was the last man standing, and you can't argue with that.

Rogers bought PROFIT Magazine (and the rest of Maclean Hunter, mainly for its cable assets) in the mid-1990s, and he became my boss. By this time he was a distant, closeted tycoon, working through intermediaries who possessed little of his grace, charm or vision. This was the period when Ted dedicated himself to turning his debt-riddled company into an investment-grade corporation – and he succeeded, without sacrificing his personal entrepreneurial instincts.

You may question the customer friendliness of the Rogers companies today, or Ted’s interests in the Blue Jays, SkyDome, and NFL football. But there’s no doubt he was a catalyst for change and a whirlwind of energy. Canada could use many more people like him.

The National Post has assembled a great package of stories on Ted’s life and death and unique accomplishments. Click here to enter Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood one more time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

These BC entrepreneurs will "ace the next test"

Here's your motivational moment for the week.

In a recent column for the Vancouver Sun, B.C. journalist Malcolm Perry reflected on a few of the inspiring entrepreneurs who have led British Columbia's entrepreneurial revolution, and suggested that even in tough times, the province is in safe hands.

Among the entrepreneurs whose legends he recaps: Brian Scudamore of 1-800-GOT-JUNK; Richard Jaffray, founder of the now $100-million Cactus Club; Pasquale Cusano, the Florentine farm boy who launched the Montecristo jewelry firm; Helen Zhao, a teetotalling bookkeeper who talked China's Zhujiang brewery into making her their Canadian rep; Judson Beaumont, founder of Straight Line Design Ltd.; and music legends Bruce Allen and Sam Feldman (producers of Bryan Adams, Michael Buble, Diana Krall, etc.).

Perry says the current recession won't mark the end of the line for these creative visionaries. "The inspired among them will view a recession as school children do recess -- a time to get outside, relish the fresh air, mingle with others, share some ideas, come back refreshed, and ace the next test."

Read the full article here.

Leading to the Future

Here's an example of leadership for you.
Brian Burke is a moderately successful NHL executive who just signed a deal to become president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's obviously a tough job, but expectations are high. How do you come into this kind of situation and establish your personal leadership brand?

Here's how Burke handled it in Sunday's Toronto Star when he was asked about the future of key Leafs' front-office staff such as Cliff Fletcher, Joe Nieuwendyk and Jeff Jackson:

"I believe in giving people an opportunity to prove themselves," said Burke. "Cliff has a job here as long as he wants one, as far as I'm concerned.... I have a lot of time and respect for Joe. The rest of the front office, the same thing. Everyone is going to get a chance here to show that they want to be part of things and do it my way and be part of the future here."

This is how you take over leadership of a team. Emphasize your respect for everyone who's there, promise to give everyone a chance to prove themselves, and point to a better future.

But leave no doubt that things are going to change. Your way.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Meaningless business quotes"

A number of readers have told me they enjoy the posts where I sum up the latest search terms that readers have been using to get to the Canadian Entrepreneur blog. So here we go again: here are a few search terms people have used in the past 24 hours.

I should emphasize that these are not the regular readers of this blog (you know who you are): these are people who conducted a Web search that led them to an article on this site. (After nearly four years of blogging, you can find almost anything in my archives)

This list may even inspire you to start a blog. Once you start blogging, each single article you post becomes a content archive that can draw people to your site forever. This is why blogging is so powerful: people come to the Net to find relevant content, and every bit of content you have never stops selling itself. Thanks, Google!

Herewith, today’s search terms (with dull ones and repeats omitted):

canadian women entrepreneurs entering industries speech
bowater employee loses leg
top entrepreneur movies
meaningless business quotes
questions to ask a successful entrepreneur and the answers for them
goal-setting skills for entrepreneurs
MANAGEMENT QUOTES WITH CARTOON CHARACTER
top new canadian company
westjet gallup organization
ten point of selling
great new companies Canada
top canadian entrepreneurs
dragons den meet the entrepreneurs
problem of focussing on mistake
mortgage lending ethics case
godbout towing
life and times of a canadian entrepreneur
canadian fortune hunters
working canadian entrepreneur
GM's invisible corporate jet
canada's fastest growing companies
top brands, Canada
who's who in canadian business kevin o'leary
project management for entrepreneurs
question before signing a contract IT
7 skills students need to succeed
ed Mirvish quotes

I should note that 4% of the 100 most recent search terms revolved around “questions to ask an entrepreneur.” Two years ago I noticed that that was a constantly recurring search term, so I wrote up a post to match it. That one article has generated at least one or two hits a day to this site ever since.

When you know what your customers want, you both win.

Getting the most from business presentations

U.S. blogger Shama Hyder, a marketing evangelist who does a lot of public speaking, wrote a great post recently on how to get the most out of any speech, talk or presentation when you're in the audience.

(We all know that, within an hour, most people forget everything the speaker said.)

I found three of her points five especially useful.

* Walk away with 1 DO IT point: Every time she leaves a talk or a panel, Hyder chooses one specific action to follow up on and implement. “If you don’t think you can walk away from a talk with at least 1 to-do item, then skip it!”

* Ask for examples: “If the speaker is speaking in theory, ask for solid examples” that will make his or her points more useful or relevant to your business. “Not all points require an example, but when in doubt, ask.”

* Avoid the “I know this” Syndrome: So many people think they already understand a speaker’s message, or that they've heard it before, as if that somehow reduces the importance (and applicability) of the speech. Usually you’ll get a lot more benefit by acting on the things you already know you should do than by looking around for new ideas or a silver bullet cure-all. Never tune out a speaker because you think you've heard it all before: you may be missing a key idea or nuance that will make it all new and doable.

As Hyder says, “If you don’t think you will get anything fresh from a talk, skip it. If you end up there, keep your mind open. An open attitude makes a big difference.”

You can read her full post here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

5 Steps to Messaging Success

How do you make your business writing more businesslike? How can you personally become more convincing and influential?

Try following Toronto-based communication consultant Mark Bowden's five-step Penta-Point system. As described in my Financial Post column this week, Bowden's system is designed to help you decide what matters to your audience and then structure your messaging for maximum effectiveness.

In barest outline, here's how Bowden suggests you plan your next pitch (whether it's a sales conversation, a motivational message to the troops or a plea to your board of directors):

Step 1. Where are we now?
Step 2. Why are we here?
Step 3. Where do we want to be?
Step 4. How do we get there?
Step 5. What exactly are we going to do?

Click here for the full story.
Learn more about Mark Bowden at his website.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On the Radio

How are Canadian entrepreneurs surviving the recession?

On Wednesday night, tune into CBC Radio’s flagship newscast, The World at Six, for an in-depth report. The story will include a couple of CBC TV’s Dragons, from Dragons’ Den, as well as an entrepreneur or two, and possibly me.

CBC Radio reporter Neil Herland came out to interview me today to get a few pointers on how business owners can beat the slump. If I said anything intelligent, it might even get on the air.

See you on the radio!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bring on the Concussion Grenades

Quel coincidence!
As I blogged yesterday, in this week's Post column I interviewed a cartoonist. I asked Norm Feuti, creator of the comic strip Retail, to offer business tips to Canada's beleaguered shopkeepers on the eve of the Xmas shopping season. (You can read that article here.)

Now, more evidence that cartoonists know what's goin' on. Here is today's Retail strip.

And now read the opening lines of this Reuters news article commenting on today's launch in New York City of the new BlackBerry Storm: it's RiM's first touch-screen device.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of people lined up at some Verizon Wireless stores on Friday to buy the BlackBerry Storm, the first touch-screen phone from Research In Motion that aims to compete with Apple's iPhone.

More than 200 people had waited at a Verizon store in mid-town Manhattan early in the morning, many of whom were turned away after it ran out of the new phones less than an hour after opening at 8 a.m. The angry customers caused a ruckus and police came to restore order.


(Read the complete story here, for as long as it lasts.)

I guess "uprising" wasn't so outrageous a concept after all.

Still, it's nice to see a Canadian product creating such a fuss, isn't it?

Actually, given the current economic climate, it's good to see any product doing well. Consumers still have a pulse!

When the Truth Hurts

A recent episode of CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den addressed a pain point of mine regarding entrepreneurship: the tendency of people’s friends and families to not speak the truth about their business ideas.

I am as big an optimist as anyone. I know business miracles can happen, and outrageous successes can come from unlikely products and organizations. But they don't happen often. So when someone describes a business idea they want to pursue that I don't think makes sense, I usually tell them what I really think. Because I believe that people need fair and objective feedback, not uncritical cheerleading.

But not everyone agrees. Many friends and family members seem to believe in nonjudgmental encouragement. And that’s probably okay for peewee hockey players, aspiring ballerinas, and other people who are clearly willing to invest their time and commitment to master a discipline.

Businesses, however, are different. Achieving a business dream can cost years and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. If you join the swim team and don't make the nationals, you can still say it’s been a tremendous experience: you've learned a lot, met great people, and you're in great physical shape. In business, if you run up the bills mucking around with unpractical prototypes and ideas, you risk piling up debts that you’ll never pay off. And you probably won't have learned much except what didn't work.

The Dragons were generally supportive of a women who had created a harmless, if dull, board game – until they found out that she had spent tens of thousands developing the idea and ordering inventory. Maybe she had never heard of product testing. Or maybe nobody had wanted to hurt her feelings. But somebody in her life should have had the guts to tell her this was a dumb idea, not worth wasting another cent on. (If I recall correctly, the money came from mortgaging a home, so the loss could turn out to be devastating.)

How do you tell a friend or loved one their idea stinks? Very carefully. Consider cloaking your comment in the language of business: “Where is your business plan? Have you done market testing? Did you have any industry experts look at this? Who are your customers? Have you talked to any of them about whether they would be willing to buy your product/service once it’s ready? How much would they pay for it?”

Startup experts I've consulted on this topic admit that 50% to 75% of entrepreneurs skip the market-testing stage. They feel it’s too expensive, or will take too long. Or maybe they just don't want to hear the feedback.

Maybe pilots should skip their pre-flight checklists for the same reasons. Perhaps I should try to drve from Toronto to Winnipeg without stopping to buy gas, ’cause that would just slow me down and cost me money. Proper preparation (including market research) is always essential, because the cost is so high if you get it wrong.

Dragon Kevin O’Leary is great at telling people, “I forbid you to work any more on this business.” We may change the words a little, but that's a skill we should all develop.

What do you think? Leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail (rick-at-rickspence.ca).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

12 reasons to get smarter

WebPreneur blogger Sarah Scrafford has witten an intriguing post on the “Top 20 iPhone Apps for Entrepreneurs.” I’m not posting it here just for Macheads who are now on their second iPhone. I’m hoping it will inspire people who aren't using smartphones (like me; I barely use my cellphone to call people) to think about all the new applications out there for managing information and messages more easily and effectively.

Your competitors are using some of these tools. Shouldn't you?

Here are Sarah’s Top 12 apps. (You can click through to her blog for the rest.)

OmniFocus: makes it easy to track your tasks and get things done.
Twitteriffic: Stay on top of your Twitter connections from anywhere.
30Boxes: Establish a calendar for your events and tasks, and share it with others.
Mocha VNC Lite: Control your Windows, Mac or Linux computer remotely.
NetNewsWire: News feed for staying informed while you're moving around.
Mobile Translator: Make sense of a number of popular languages.
Urban Spoon: Find a restaurant you like, or choose one at random.
QuickVoice: Make notes or record by recording voice transmissions.
Harvest Time & Expense Tracker: Know where all your time and money go.
iBillTo: Keep track of client billing information on the go.
Traffic1: Real-time traffic reports for major U.S. cities.
Mileage Counter: Track mileage on your vehicle, and calculate your vehicle’s fuel consumption. Gas won't stay at 76 cents a litre forever.

Read the whole report here.
(Includes additional details on each app.)

Caring Enough to Care

For my Financial Post column this week, I called up Massachusetts-based cartoonist Norm Feuti, the creator of the popular new comic strip Retail. Every day he pokes fun at the foibles of working in retail - especially unmotivated staff and neglectful bosses.

Norm is a longtime worker (both employee and boss) in the retail wars, so I asked him what quick fixes Canadian retailers could make to ensure their stores are in top shape for the Christmas shopping season.

Here's an excerpt:

Stop pretending the customer is always right: There's no faster way to demotivate employees than by overruling the people who have defended your store's policies (especially on returns and refunds).

"I've had many instances where customers expected me to break the rules for them," Mr. Feuti says. When he says no, "they call somebody at the corporate office and pound their fists, and the next day the boss says, 'just give the guy what he wants.' Once you say it's okay for customers to do whatever they want, you're telling your employees they don't really matter."

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Entrepreneurship Week

Did I mention that it's Entrepreneurship Week in Canada?
And Global Entrepreneurship Week all over the world?

Um, probably not. I've been a bit busy lately to understand what it all means. Still, entrepreneurship conferences and programs are being held around the world this week to empower people, encourage them to become self-reliant, and make them more successful.
How cool is that?

Especially given what's going on at the other end of the economy (in big business).

I've always said that entrepreneurship is the only excuse for capitalism. And I have a feeling that the new generation of young people will be the one to prove it - globally!

Click here for more information about Entrepreneurship Week in Canada.

And remember: here at Canadian Entrepreneur, every week is Entrepreneurship Week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where's the Crunch?

My column this week in the Financial Post investigates the credit crunch: How has the financial meltdown affected small business access to capital in Canada?

My mini-survey found that even the experts are confused about how serious the problem is. But at the same time, it’s clear that there are specific actions that entrepreneurs should be taking to protect their access to credit, and position themselves to prosper when things turn up again.

Here’s an excerpt:

"The CFIB's Ted Mallett says the banks are trying hard not to repeat the mistakes of the 1990 recession, when they pulled credit from strong and weak companies alike. "Way too much homogenization of debt went on," he says. "The banks cut back everyone. And it made the recession worse, because many successful businesses were cut off from their lifeline."

This time around, the banks say they understand the small business sector much better, and are being more sensitive in working out problem accounts.

"It's too early to tell if the banks are doing a good job," Mr. Mallett says. But he warns the banks they are being watched. "Any signs that they're returning to their 1990 behaviour will meet with pretty strong resistance from us."

Read the whole story here.
http://www.financialpost.com/small_business/story.html?id=944825

Sunday, November 09, 2008

75,000 Visitors!*

Break out the maple syrup: Today this blog received its 75,000th visitor!

According to the blog stats, our 75,000th visitor hails from Manila, in the Philippines. He or she arrived at the site early this morning (or about 5 pm, Manila time) via a Google search for "give the four words to identify entrepreneur." That brought him or her to a 2007 post we did about a speech by Toronto menswear mogul Larry Rosen, which was entitled, "Four words I never thought you'd read in this blog: Top 10 Fashion Tips."

(Google works in mysterious ways.)

That might not have been what the visitor was looking for, but nonethless he or she liked the site well enough to hang around for 9 1/2 minutes. Which is a long time on the Internet.

Thanks to all who read and enjoy this blog. Next landmark: 100,000!

(*Let's keep 75,000 in perspective. It's the population of Chilliwack, BC.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Towing the Line

My Financial Post column this week looks at Godbout Towing, a remarkable towing/parts/accident recovery firm based in Kenora, Ont.

Nathan and Anna Godbout have revitalized a family business and turned it into a first-class service provider with 25 employees and more than 30 vehicles. I heard Anna speak at a conference in Dryden last month and decided I had to know more about her business.


The towing industry gets a lot of criticism in this country, and there are a lot of fly-by-night operators, but it's great to see two young people (both under 30) doing it right.

Here's an excerpt from my article:

Flexibility is key. If an accident closes the Trans-Canada Highway, there is no other route. With its new rotator, Godbout can pull an 18-wheeler out of the ditch from the side of the road, rather than block the whole road. That lets police reopen highways faster, making Godbout a preferred supplier.

Service is another critical factor. You have to be fast on the scene (Godbout is on call 24-7), and prepared for anything. "You're always dealing with the worst case scenario," Anna says. "The client is distraught, and the weather is never in your favour."

Find out how the best do their stuff. You can read the full story here.

Business Lessons from the Squad Car

Mandie Crawford, founder of Calgary-based Roaring Women, has a pretty unusual background for running an association of women entrepreneurs – she’s a former cop.

In a recent speech, she talked about the lessons she learned as a police officer - and how they apply to business.

* Never make a decision when the pressure is on:
Crawford learned long ago that when the pressure is on, she would often experience a sort of “emotional hijack.” When we feel stressed or afraid, she says, “our brains do not process information correctly.” She learned to fall back on her training when judgment deserted her.

Since then, she says, she has seen many business owners make rash decisions under pressure. When you feel stressed, she says, “take longer to make your decisions. Make them when you are feeling happy and excited about life.”

* When the going gets tough - the tough support each other!
When times are tough, police officers back each other up. “There was no room for self-preservation thinking - we were all in it together.”

When times get tough in business, she says, “we need to take time to support one another. This is not a time for gathering everything you have a little closer. This is a time when paying it forward and supporting others really pays off.”

* Never quit.
“This was key to everything we did in policing,” says Crawford. “We all wanted to go home safely at the end of the day. Giving up or quitting was never an option. Those who gave up did not last long in the community of brothers and sisters.”

When things aren’t working in your business, she says, use that opportunity to make changes that will help your business work better. If you don’t know how to improve things, ask for help. Never quit: “Your problems are really not that unique.”

For more information on Mandie, click here.
For more on Roaring Women, go this way.

And be careful out there.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Secrets of Better Selling

Here's a quick lesson in effective selling.

Today’s case study comes from Linked-In Answers, where members of the business-networking site ask each other questions and hope for helpful responses.

A video/media entrepreneur named John recently posted his email sales letter to the site, asking Linked In members if they'd be likely to respond to his pitch. The result was a unique lesson in how to address prospects and hold customers’ attention – courtesy of the members of LinkedIn.

(This is the occasional genius of Web 2.0 – tapping user-generated content for the wisdom that you can't normally access in everyday life.)

So here’s John’s pitch, intended for prospects whom he has already (briefly) met:

"Would like the opportunity to schedule a 15-20 minute online Webex presentation of our services. {My company} provides you with an arsenal of powerful tools that will help reduce costs, improve productivity and ultimately increase your profits.
Pls visit our site….look forward to hearing from you"

What do you think? Would you respond to that email, or just delete it?

Most commentators offered lots of suggestions for improvement. Here are some samples.

“I think it would be far more compelling if you focused on specific benefits as opposed to your more general platitude statement of value… Be specific. Tell the prospect what they can expect by involvement.”

“The answer is maybe. The fact that you claim that you can deliver the holy trinity (reduce cost, improve productivity, and increase profits) does not get my attention – because everyone says that.

“Don't start with a question, because I don't have 15-20 minutes. No one does. Start with a benefit to the reader. Do you save time? Can this make my personal life better? Will I see my kids more often? Will the boss love me and give me a raise?”

“Introduce yourself and what you do in the first line. State the specific benefit to the prospect in the second line. Then ask for time.”

“This sounds like a sales email, and no one has time for sales people. As my boss always says: ‘SHOW ME, don't TELL me.’ SHOW me how you are going to save me time/money in your email in 3 sentences.”

There’s lots more. Check out the original post and all the answers here.

It’s like having your own private sales coach. Free!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Render the Competition "Irrelevant"

My Financial Post column this week looks at one Ontario entrepreneur's singular growth formula: making the competition irrelevant.

Tony Lourakis of Complete Innovations Inc. nurtures relationships with big partners, uses a national army of sales reps, offers bite-size monthly payments, and relieves his clients' capital-budget burdens. As a result, sales in his key product line have doubled in the last year.

His formula for rendering rivals irrelevant?

"You do it by being innovative," says Lourakis. "You have to build value into your business or products or services that your competition can't match."

The proof is in the pudding. In the past year, Complete Innovations has doubled sales, to $10-million, and Lourakis credits that growth to continuing organic innovation. "We have companies that are in our space, but can't compete with us," he says.

Click here to read the full story.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ten Low-Cost Ways to Promote Your Business

Looking to promote your business? Don't rent a chicken suit!

Susan Ward, who runs the Small Business Canada forum for About.com, recently offered 10 low-cost ways to promote your business.

1) Use every outgoing piece of paper (and every electronic document) for business promotion. Put your slogan on your business cards, stationery, faxes, bill payments and receipts. “Whatever paper you send out should carry your full company message,” she says.

2) Write articles on topics related to your business expertise. Well-written articles can provide free advertising and build positive word-of-mouth.

3) Send out press releases. Just remember that your press releases have to contain information that's newsworthy, “and be engaging enough to get people's interest.”

4) Spend some of your online time on business promotion. Posting messages in forums (a.k.a. bulletin boards) can expose your business to people you might otherwise never contact.

5) Use buddy marketing to promote your business. Example: if you send out brochures, include a leaflet or business card from another business that agrees to do the same for you.

6) Give out freebies as business promotion. Remember lining up at a local store when they were giving away something free (CDs? ice cream? roses?) to the first 50 customers? “This kind of spot promotion works.”

7) Promote your business on a talk show. Local radio or cable TV stations have programs that are looking for guests. Find out who the host is, and let him or her know you're willing to share your expertise.

8) Promote your business by giving a seminar or presentation. You have expertise that other people need – or you wouldn't be in business. Share that expertise and promote your business at the same time.

9) Use your vehicle to promote your business. Ward says 25% of vehicles in her neighborhood bear the name and phone number of a business. She says you can get a pair of magnetic signs for under $100.

10) Promote your business through your leisure activities. “Get in the habit of doing business promotion wherever you go," says Ward. "You'll be surprised how word-of-mouth builds.”

Ward’s article includes lots of useful details and tips. Click here for the full story.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Looking for Green Companies

For a client, I am looking for examples of Ontario companies that have seriously adopted "green" approaches to conducting their business.

Examples could include solid commitments to recycling, reducing waste, managing "greener" fleets, reducing packaging waste, more eco-logical architecture or product design, anti-pollution measures, carbon offsets, incentives for car-pooling, etc., etc. Companies can be any size, and in any industry.

If you know of a company that fills the bill, can you let me know? You may hit "reply", and tell everyone the good news, or you may email me at Rick (at) RickSpence.ca.

Thanks very much!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The PROFIT Small Business Show

Mark your calendar for Nov. 13, when PROFIT Magazine beams a top-notch business conference directly to your desktop.

The PROFIT Small Business Show presents four dynamic speakers on business trends you need to know. Their goal: to give you the motivation and tools you need to grow your business. And it’s all FREE.

Starting at 10 am (EST) on Nov. 13, you will hear from:

Mike Lipkin, President of Environics/Lipkin
Keeper of the Flame: How to Inspire Other on the Cusp of Change

Lipkin helps you understand and execute the 10 steps to being a Keeper of The Flame. Examples: someone who goes first; someone with a heightened awareness of his impact on others; someone who is his own best coach; someone in total sync with her environment; someone embedded with the authority of both competence and character; someone who inspires others to be their personal best.

Jaynie L. Smith, Founder and President of Smart Advantage
Competitive Advantage: Is Yours a Hit or a Myth?

According to Smith, 95% of CEOs do not know their company’s true competitive advantage. She will provide the backbone of a new strategic planning, sales and marketing campaign that depends on clearly defined competitive advantages and not just the undifferentiated company “strengths” that most businesses claim to have.

Brian Beaulieu, Economist, Institute for Trend Research
The Future of Your Business: Economic Road Signs You Need to See
As one of North America’s most outspoken, entertaining and accurate economic forecasters, Brian can help you plan confidently for your company’s future, protect your business from economic threats and jump on opportunities.

Andrew Patricio, Partner, BizLaunch
How To Promote Your Business on the Internet
Discover how to develop an online strategy to help you bring in more customers, boost productivity, and save money using tools Web tools such as search engine optimization and LinkedIn.

POWER PANEL: Secrets of Success
Featuring CEOs from the PROFIT 100 Hall of Fame
* Tony Lacavera, President & CEO, Globalive Communications;
* Rebecca MacDonald, Co-Founder, Chair & CEO, Energy Savings Group of Companies
* John Nemanic, Director, GeeksForLess & TransGaming Technologies

You can also participate in a special Networking Lounge. Meet your peers, chat live with other entrepreneurs, exchange business cards and participate in discussion boards. I don't know how it will work, but it seems a great way to combine the convenience of online with the networking you need. Give it a shot, and see if it works. Maybe this is the future of conferencing!

For more info, click here.
To register, click here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More tips for troubled times

Still on the recession watch, here’s a list of best management practices for tough times – as compiled by the folks at Toronto-based Newport Partners, an organization that provides both financial and management advice to business owners.

Newport recently gathered together a number of business owners in their network to share war stories and “lessons learned.” Here are some highlights.

1. Cash is king. According to Newport Partners’ Don Lenz, “The companies and the individuals who manage through these periods successfully are the ones who stay close to shore.” Until greater certainty returns to the economy, build your cash position. Look at every expense to find areas you can trim. Stretch out your payables.

As one entrepreneur commented, “It’s not the time to be the best payer. It’s not the time for vision. It’s a time for managing cash.”

2. Communicate to your employees, your customers, your suppliers and your bankers. Says Lenz, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It’s better to have people aware of the challenges you’re experiencing and what you’re doing about them than to deliver negative surprises.”

3. Help your customers through their tough times. According to Gus Gougoulias of Gusgo Transport, “Sometimes people drop their pricing because they think that’s what’s expected [in tough times]. But you win more by providing extraordinary service and staying close to your best customers. When they go through tough times, share with them in the best way possible. If they need you to stay open seven days a week, do it - just make sure it works from a cost point of view. When the good times return, your customers will continue their loyalty to your business relationship.”

4. Consider strategic moves that don’t involve capital. Look at mergers, joint ventures or even informal partnerships. Mergers can reduce overhead and sometimes provide strategic opportunities while partnerships can reduce risk and open up new opportunities.

If you want to read the full report, drop me an e-mail at rick (at) rickspence.ca. I will e-mail you the full text of Newport's release (in handy PDF format). It has three more points for running your business better, and seven tips for managing your personal fortune (if any).

My column in the Financial Post this week covers similar ground. To read "Nurturing relationships key in tough times," just click here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

7 Deadly Sins

My speech to the Toronto Business Development Centre on Wednesday night attracted a capacity crowd of apprentice entrepreneurs to talk about The Seven Deadly Sins of Startups.

What are the seven sins? I thought you'd never ask.

1. Assuming that anyone wants your product (the importance of market research – and not falling in love with your product or business)

2. Overlooking your financials (Not knowing how much you're selling and spending is a recipe for disaster)

3. Misunderstanding the point of your business plan (Hint: it’s not for the bank, it’s for you)

4. Not raising enough capital (more entrepreneurs need to do a better job of sourcing cash)

5. Thinking that “If you build it, they will come” (AKA, no, one website does not a global business make)

6. Neglecting risk and underestimating the power of insurance (risk management is your most important job!)

7. Trying to do it all yourself (no entrepreneur is an island: they need advisors, mentors and trusted peers).

After my presentation, we had a lively Q&A session. At least half the questions revolved around insurance. I found many people have no idea where to even get started finding out what they need in this complex and fast-changing market.

There’s huge opportunity out there for any insurance provider who can get its message through to small business.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What to do when times get tight

When tough times hit, you have to invest in your best asset: you. Your skills, your knowledge, your potential.

With Small Business Week coming up next week, there will be conferences and seminars across the nation dedicated to building your business acumen. Do yourself a favour and participate. You'll meet new contacts, sharpen your skills, and maybe even learn something new.
You can find a list of Small Business Week-related events here (courtesy of the Business Development Bank).

Alberta
British Columbia
Manitoba
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Ontario
Prince Edward Island
Qu├ębec
Saskatchewan

Friday, October 10, 2008

Counter-recessionary intelligence

Recession Week continues here at Canadian Entrepreneur. Here are a few recent media items that may help you cope with what's going on.

1. The Globe Explains it All for You: For those who don't understand what exactly is going on in the financial markets and why it's hitting you where you live (which includes most of us), GlobeandMail.com is running a regular series of articles answering common questions about the fiscal crisis.

Some of the questions are basic ("What is the TED spread?", "Should you lock in your mortgage?"), while some would have been unthinkable a month ago (e.g., "Who owns CMHC and can it go under?", and "Can a country actually go bankrupt?").

Follow the long, meandering meltdown here.

2. National Post had a good interview recently with Les Mandelbaum, owner of Umbra Ltd., a household knicknacks design company that's been globally successful - until recently. This spring, in response to rising costs, Umbra laid off 10% of its workforce and shut down a warehouse in Buffalo, NY.

But Mandelbaum remains confident that useful, well designed products will always find a market. He sees three criteria for products that will do well in a downturn: they must fulfill a function that previous products don't, they must look good, and they must be priced reasonably. "You get those three things working, it doesn't matter about the economy."

Read the whole story here.

3. To find out how small business is coping, Inc. Magazine asked some of its top "30 under 30" entrepreneurs about their experiences in the latest crisis. Here's a sample.

Q: How is the crisis affecting your business? "From consumers, while we haven't seen overall sales suffer too much, we have seen a drop-off in big purchases in the last week, quite remarkably."

Q: Has credit been harder to get? "Definitely. I still haven't been able to get anything but very basic credit, and I've recently seen requirements for loans and other growth capital increasing in scope and complexity. As for investment, the last month has been a rollercoaster with investors, but I'm also seeing the appetite for angel investments increasing as brick and mortar investments actually start to look safe compared to the stock markets. This is a good thing."

Lots of variations, lots of opinions. Check out the full story here.

This didn't have to happen

Brett Popplewell of the Toronto Star has a touching story today about the pending closure of one of Canada’s oldest businesses: Gibbard Furniture Shops of Napanee, Ont. The furniture maker is 173 years old, and one of Canada’s last pre-Confederation factories.

Gibbard makes carefully detailed, lovingly finished high-end furniture. It was once described by Eaton’s as “the aristocrat of cabinetmakers.” Its website still boasts of “our twenty-step finishing and rubbing process.”

Closing the doors "was the hardest decision that we ever had to make," said Bruce McPherson Jr., who owns the business along with his two brothers and his father. "The company has been up for sale for 15 months, and although we had a lot of interest, it just wasn't happening."

The Star blames Gibbard's pending demise on cheaply manufactured offshore imports. Well, that and the fact that a mahogany dining table and chairs from Gibbard sell for $7,900, vs about $900 for an imported set made with veneered particleboard.

The writer says “it's a source of pride to McPherson” that Gibbard never lowered its standards. Yet he also notes that McPherson “lowers his eyes to the floor and speaks with a hint of regret” as he says, "We maybe didn't need to pay as much attention to detail."

McPherson knows the real problem. He says, "We make furniture that lasts a lifetime... People don't want that anymore."

I hate to see old traditions and heritage industries die. But the fact remains that business is about creating what the market wants – not what you feel like making. If you just want to amuse yourself, you become an artist and starve. If you want your business to survive and thrive, you do what the market tells you.

As I told an audience in Markham the other day in my speech on Marketing in an Uncertain Economy, “Change is part of life and a key part of business. Stability is the exception. We must always be ready for change, and ready to change.”

You can't fall in love with your product. Popplewell writes that a highlight of Gibbard's factory showroom is an 1869 walnut buffet table. According to McPherson, “An elderly lady had this piece in her family for years. She was getting old and wanted to give it away as an heirloom but none of her family wanted it. So she gave it to us.”

I feel for the McPhersons and the 85 employees who stand to lose their jobs. Hopefully, many of them will stick with their work as artisans, and keep the spirit and craft alive.

But when people can't give your product away, it’s change or die.

Read the original story here. It’s terrific, sad and enlightening.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Offspring of the Last Recession

Do strong companies start in the midst of recessions?

Let’s find out. Here is a partial list of companies that were founded in the midst of (or the immediate aftermath) of the 1990-91 recession. All were founded in 1991, '92 or '93. By the year 2000 all were ranked among Canada’s 200 fastest-growing companies by PROFIT Magazine.

Boardwalk Equities
DataMirror Corp.
TLC Laser Eye Centers
Sierra Wireless
Spin Master Toys
Open Text Corp.
Platform Computing
Angiotech Pharmaceuticals
Aware Marketing Group
BRAK Systems Inc. (founded by Robert Herjavec, sold to AT&T Canada in 2000)
RTO Enterprises
Dundas Software Limited.
Triple G Systems (Acquired by GE Healthcare)
Mad Science Group
Summer Fresh Salads
Applanix Corp.
Custom House Currency Exchange
Peak Financial Group
KIK Corp.
MTL Technologies
Biovail Corp.
Total Care Technologies
LearnStream Inc.
Canadian Plastic Lumber
Gary Jonas Computing (Jonas Software)
Chipworks Inc.
e Bridge Software
Jewelstone Systems (acquired by AGF Management in 2002 for $60 milllion)
Transpeed Express
Duplium Corp.
AMR Technologies
Chariot Carriers Inc.
Drug Royalty Group (now DRI Capital)
Great Canadian Dollar Store
Tesco Corp.
Changepoint Corp. (acquired by Compuware in2004)
Apex Corp.
iWave Information Systems
Integrated Paving Concepts
Charon Systems

Many of these companies have changed names, products, strategies and management. Many have changed ownership. Some have morphed into successor companies.
But all of them prove out the thesis that tough times breeed great businesses.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Soft Landing into the New Economy

I got back late last night from Dryden, Ont., which is so far north and west that people go to Winnipeg for the weekend. Flying low over the lakes and forests of northern Ontario is a huge treat in Bearskin Airlines’ Fairchild Metroliners - they may be small, but every seat is a single, so you have both aisle and window.

I was a keynote speaker at the FI:RE 2008 conference in Dryden, put on for the entrepreneurs of the Northwest. (The other keynoters were tireless networker Donna Messer and fashion revolutionary Ben Barry, so it was a dynamite program).

Like many resource towns, Dryden has one big employer: the Domtar pulp mill. It’s been shedding jobs for years, but at least it’s still running. That gives Drydeners a soft landing out of the “old economy” (unlike, say, the folks in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, where the pulp and paper mill my Uncle Earl used to work in was shut down by Bowater in January). Local authorities there are apparently telling longtime residents that it's time to leave New Brunswick's north shore; governments have nothing to offer them.)

That's such a crock. In Dryden I gave a version of my “Future of Entrepreneurship” speech to help local business people and government agency staff recognize that the new digital economy will actually be a huge boon. If it can get its act together, a city that's always been defined by its remoteness has a chance to develop whole new industries and sell globally thanks to the Internet’s capacity for rewarding initiative and imagination while flattening distance.

(You know, it took me an hour to get that idea across in person.)

I also led a workshop on hiring and managing “best practices” for entrepreneurs. With the active participation of the audience, we came up with lots of strategies for easing employers’ HR headaches:

* using your business and personal networks to expand your search;
* giving more time to job interviews and asking much better, open-ended questions (thanks to Cathy Argue for offering, “Tell me about a time when you...");
* getting involved in local schools and networking with teachers to get an edge in hiring the best and brightest students;
* and improving employee alignment by “opening the kimono” to share more information about where your business is going (strategy and values) and how the business is doing.

As so many entrepreneurs tell me, open-book management works because their employees already think the business is making much more money than it really does. So when they get a better idea of how thin the margins really are, they become much more conscious of (and sympathetic towards) the business’s need for higher revenues and lower costs.

In Dryden they put me up at the Riverview Lodge, an elegant inn and restaurant that used to be the home of the manager of the mill. I think I had his master bedroom: I had a great view of the mill glowing at night like a thousand stars.

Check it out next time you're in Dryden.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dragons Den returns!

Season III of Dragons' Den begins tonight at 8 pm on CBC TV (check local listings). There will be 11 episodes this year.

Watch for lots more deals this season, and for the fur to really fly as rookie panelist Brett Wilson, a socially conscious oilman from Saskatchewan, challenges Kevin ("All I care about is mon-ey") O'Leary for the position of Top Dragon.

To get you into the spirit, there's lots of good stuff at the Dragons' Den website, including episode previews, consulting dragon Sean Wise's "Inside the Den" blog (with lots of teasers and pitcher updates), and a chance to vote for your favorite pitchers. Starting today, apparently, the site will even allow you to buy products that are pitched on the Den. Check it all out at www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/

The latest issue of PROFIT Magazine has a special preview of the new season. The story package includes:

* Profiles of all five Dragons

* A fun story by Sean Wise describing the types of "pitchers" the show encounters. His taxonomy includes blowfish ("We're the next Google!"), cockroaches (they get crushed by big competitors), ostriches (three years in business and no sales yet?), and giraffes (their heads are in the clouds). Click here for more.

* My article looking back at three entrepreneurs who appeared on the show, and what happened next. Whether they won deals or not, things started to happen for them pretty fast. Was it dragon sorcery - or the magic that begins whenever you start taking action and thinking positively? Click here for the full story.

* A useful primer on other sources of startup capital, from credit cards to the BDC and angel investors. For those who don't need Dragon magic.

Hit the "Comments" button to let us know what you think of the show.

Small Business Month starts with a bang

For 1,000 Canadian entrepreneurs, October is going to be the month they turn the dial on their marketing up to 11.

Toronto marketing firm Silver Lining Inc. is launching a cross-country tour Oct. 1 to recharge entrepreneurs and help them build a strategic one-year growth plan.

The system is the brainchild of Silver Lining founder Carissa Reiniger, who is also using the tour to promote the launch of her new book, Inspiring Entrepreneurs: How to Build Your Business To Its First Million. She is also launching a new website geared to entrepreneurs, called thesiteforentrepreneurs.com.

Both the book and the website launch on Oct. 1.

Yes, Carissa is the same 26-year-old entrepreneur I wrote about in the Financial Post a few weeks ago who has just taken over as president of Women Entrepreneurs of Canada. Ah, the energy of youth!

Free to attend, the Silver Lining seminars are sponsored by a host of organizations, including Research In Motion, Staples Business Depot, Intuit Canada, and Citi Financial. Each half-day event includes Reiniger’s presentation plus a half-hour workshop by a local accountant on “Financial Planning for Growth.”

Most of the events take place at Staples stores across Canada. The launch event on Wednesday, Oct. 1 takes place at the Ontario Investment and Trade CentreGalleria, 250 Yonge Street, in Toronto. Things get underway at 8 am each day.

Here’s the tour schedule:
October 1: Toronto
October 2: Ottawa
October 9:Winnipeg
October 14: Edmonton
October 15: Calgary
October 16: Regina
October 17: Vancouver
October 20: Halifax
October 22: Moncton
October 24: St. John's

You can register for these free events by clicking here.

Naturally, Reiniger is planning a similar U.S. tour for January-February 2008. Details to follow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Entrepreneur of the Week: James Fleck

This week we salute long-time entrepreneur, business professor and philanthropist James Fleck, who was honoured tonight at a $500-a-plate dinner for his accomplishments in business, the arts and society at large.

Fleck, 77, founded Tillsonburg, Ont.-based Fleck Manufacturing Inc. almost half a century ago. Specializing in wiring systems for appliances, it started with 10 employees and a piece of wire. When it was sold to Noma Industries in 1994 for $42 million, it had 3,000 employees and $100 million in annual sales.

Fleck has since spent his time helping to build other standout businesses, such as Alias Research, ATI, and CUC Cable.

At the same time, Fleck has also had a standout career in academia (he’s taught at Harvard Business School, York University and the University of Toronto) and government. He was CEO of the Office of the Premier of Ontario, Secretary of the Cabinet, and deputy minister of Industry and Tourism.

The 600 attendees at the tribute dinner included a who's who of Toronto arts, business leaders and politicians, and senior staff of every arts group Fleck has helped over the years. Proceeds will go to LOFT Community Services, which provides housing and support for 4,000 homeless people in Toronto. Fleck himself will match the proceeds, promising to donate $100,00 each to the National Ballet of Canada, Soulpepper Theatre and Rotman School’s “Prosperity Institute.”

As Roger Martin, dean of the U of T’s Rotman School of Management, writes on the Fleck tribute website (http://www.jimfleckgala.com/), “Dr. Fleck is truly a Renaissance man with accomplishments in so many fields it is both breathtaking and humbling. In many ways, he is the perfect honouree … because of his accomplishments in fields spanning Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Museum Studies, Health Science and Social Work in addition to Management."

Martin also refers to an innovation that Fleck developed as he raised funds for his various causes: the “Fleck Flinch Test.” It may just work for you, too. Here’s how it works:

“When on a fund-raising call, the rule states, think of a number you think appropriate for the donor – let’s say $5000 – and ask the donor for that number – $5000. Watch their face and if they flinch before they have a chance to say no, clarify that you are asking for $5000 over five years, $1000 per year. If they don’t flinch, clarify that you are asking for $5000 per year for five years. I will probably never be as effective as Jim Fleck using the Fleck Flinch Test, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t use it often.”

Congratulations to the multitalented James Fleck, our Entrepreneur of the Week.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hottest of the Hot

Congratulations to Richmond Hill, Ont.-based MortgageBrokers.com, which ranks No. 1 on PROFIT Magazine’s Hot 50 list of emerging growth companies.

The new list is available in the October issue of PROFIT, or online by clicking here.

The Hot 50 list, founded nine years ago as “Canada’s Hottest Startups,” ranks emerging companies (three and four years old) by two-year revenue growth to find out what sectors are sizzling and who’s getting traction, how. The ranking originated in the dot-com days, but many different types of companies have always made the list.

Twenty of the top 50 this year are involved in business services, seven in software development, five in distribution and five in construction. There are four manufacturers, and four companies in consumer services. Rounding out the ranks are three retailers and two online publishers.

The diversity in the Top 5 is fascinating. There’s a network of mortgage brokers (MortgageBrokers.com), a Calgary-based drilling company (Pacesetter), a land developer (Simcoe Canada Land Development), a model-train manufacturer (Rapido Trains Inc.) and a developer of business-improvement software (Ottawa-based Apption).

To show just how new and hip this group is, two of the top five companies are based in Concord, Ont., a fast-growing Toronto suburb most Canadians couldn't find on a map.

What do these companies all have in common? A clear vision in a specific niche market, commitment to service and product innovation, and some facility in raising capital.

The result: average two-year revenue growth of 756%. The average company on the Hot 50 has sales of $6.7 million and employs 41 people.

And here’s some more good news: seven of the CEOs (14%) are women. While that’s not a huge percentage, it’s a big improvement over the ratio found on most lists of Canadian growth companies.

Here’s where to find more information:
* Browse the Hot 50 Rankings
* Read the thematic Overview
* How fast-growth companies hire
* Management lessons from the PROFIT HOT 50

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time for a motivational check-up?

Early birds save money at the SOHO Business Conference and Expo, coming up soon in Toronto (Oct. 1) and Vancouver (Oct. 15).

Both conferences feature a main presentation on “The Future of Marketing on the Internet,” by Kerry Munro, general manager of Yahoo! Canada. Their major afternoon speaker will be Kyle MacDonald, a B.C. blogger who captured the world's attention when he set out to trade a single red paper-clip for a house. Fourteen trades and countless stories later, he succeeded – demonstrating the power of vision, building relationships, and thinking big.

Some portions of the conferences, including seminars and trade show, are free if you pre-register ($25 at the door).

The Toronto conference, held this year at the Westin Prince Hotel in North York, includes freebie presenters such as the amazing Michel Neray (“Everything Starts With a Conversation, Including Your Next Sale!”), Shane Lawrence of TD Bank (“Proven Techniques To Improve Your Cash Flow”), Rory (“Find your Magic Number”) Sheehan, and Elizabeth Williams on “Telecommunication Technologies and Trends: How All that Annoying Stuff Your Kids Use Can Actually Help Your Business.”

Let’s face it. You could use a boost of business motivation. You need a personal recharge day. Your vision is probably in need of a check-up. And you really should improve your understanding of today’s newest marketing tools.

What’s stopping you?
For more information or to pre-register, check out http://www.soho.ca/.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Political Paradox

We don't usually get political on this blog. But I was impressed with the way Garrison Keillor, the Minnesota-based author and broadcaster (Lake Wobegon, A Prairie Home Companion) managed to capture, in a recent column, the central paradox of John McCain's campaign.

"So the Republicans have decided to run against themselves. The bums have tiptoed out the back door and circled around to the front and started yelling, "Throw the bums out!" They've been running Washington like a well-oiled machine to the point of inviting lobbyists into the back rooms to write the legislation, and now they are anti-establishment reformers dedicated to delivering us from themselves."

That's pretty much what was bothering me during the whole Republican convention two weeks ago. Although I couldn't put it into words the way he did.

To read the rest of Keillor's column, click here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

7 Survival Skills for Tomorrow's Leaders

What entrepreneurial skills do today’s students need to succeed?

I took a crack at that question in a presentation yesterday to about 50 students at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. They were attending a get-acquainted session for SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) – the Laurier branch of an international organization dedicated to building students' business and entrepreneurial savvy.

SIFE is a remarkable organization. Through SIFE, students across Canada get involved in ambitious projects designed not only to build their skills, but make the world a better place. A few of the programs SIFE Laurier is working on: helping coffee-growers in Mexico create a fair-trade co-operative; teaching business skills to inmates of a woman’s prison in Kitchener; and helping disadvantaged aboriginals in Toronto start businesses.

Building on this week’s apocalyptic events on Wall Street, I warned the students that they will be graduating into an increasingly uncertain world, where big business and government no longer have the answers. It will be up to each of them to carve their own path.

And these are the seven key disciplines I suggested they master:

* Critical thinking: Learn to question everything, to look for alternative solutions. Find the weaknesses in other people’s ideas and plans. Learn to articulate what is wrong with them and why things should be different.

* Understand strategy: Strategy is a consistent process of analyzing your assets and liabilities, understanding your opportunities, setting objectives and making appropriate plans to meet them. Strategic planning is the key tool of business. Planning what we'll do before we do it is what separates us from the apes.

* Understand a balance sheet: If you don't know how much money you have, and how long it’s likely to last, you won't be in business for long.

* Understand how to communicate: Your ability to tell explain your ideas, and convince other people to share in your enthusiasm, is essential to success in life and in business.

* Learn to tell stories. Stories are the way humans have always exchanged knowledge and information. Tell stories with beginnings, middles and end, heroes and villains and quests and obstacles. This is how people remember information; not through facts and names and statistics, but through stories.

* Embrace the Responsibility of Leadership: The world needs leaders. Leaders are simply people with ideas and visions, and the ability to convince other people to follow their lead. Confidence, passion and integrity are the leys to leadership.

* Give back: Virtually every successful entrepreneur I know is committed to giving back. No business succeeds alone: businesses win by engaging the support of whole communities of employees, investors, customers and supporters. In my experience, most business owners want to give back to the community that nourished their companies, and they are generous in doing so. They believe in kharma.