Thursday, January 31, 2008

How much do your competitors charge?

I received an interesting email today from a Canadian consultant who had read my PROFIT magazine article "Raise Your Prices", and wondered how to get more information on what prices his competitors are charging.

I offered a few suggestions:

1) Why not contact other people in your line of work and ask them what they charge? Ask specifically about related issues, such as do they charge mileage, do they charge travel time, how do they charge for out-of-town engagements, do they have separate rates for small and big business, etc., to indicate you are looking for real advice and not just inquiring about their base rate. In my experience, many business people are happy to help each other - especially if the market is bigger than any one person can ever hope to own.

2) You could specifically focus on out-of-town experts who are in your business. If you live in Toronto, for instance, you could contact your counterparts in Montreal, Vancouver, New York or Chicago and ask straight-out for pricing advice. Ask enough people, and some will answer.

3) Make sure that you focus your clients and prospects on the tremendous value you provide, not your price. If you can give someone the training and advice to help them land just one deal, the return from that should be so great that your price is almost irrelevant.

4) PROFIT Magazine has an online service, Peer to Peer, in which questions such as yours are asked by email to an audience of thousands of Canadian entrepreneurs. They usually draw some very thoughtful and useful answers.

You can read past Peer to Peer articles here. That page also has an email link you can use to submit your own questions.

PROFIT editor Ian Portsmouth also sends this link to a recent Toronto Star story that discusses a scientific connection between price and perceived quality. Click here to find out why wine tastes better when you think it costs more.

Phoning It In

I've been experimenting lately with a short Web poll down the right-side margin of this page. The topic will change every month or so, so please feel free to take it whenever you drop by.
This month's poll asked, "What tool do you most depend on for staying in touch?" The results surprised me.
Out of 77 people who reponded, 66 (that's 86%) chose their cellphone. By contrast, the BlackBerry got just 6 votes, and laptop computers got just two.

Obviously, the findings of this poll are not statistically significant. But the trend is so overwhelming, it's fascinating.

Of course I knew that cell phones are essential to today's mobile business people - I consider it one of the key drivers of the "entrepreneurial revolution" of the 1980s/90s. But I had assumed that the BlackBerry and/or laptop were new enabling new and perhaps deeper, more value-added day-to-day communications opportunities than the mobile phone. But I seem to have been wrong.

I guess that's why Ted Rogers is a zillionaire, and I'm still blogging.

If you haven't responded to the survey yet, please do. I will leave it up for a few more days before changing the topic. If you have an opinion on this topic, you can also leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Find the opportunity you're looking for!

Lots of people want to start a business, but don't have a clear idea of what they want to do – or how to assess an opportunity when they see one. If this describes you, here’s a document that can help.

Small Business BC is the British Columbia arm of the CanadaBusiness network of small business advisory organizations across the country. For my money, Small Business BC does the best job of any of them. Its website is bursting with great business-management information – and you don't have to live in B.C. to benefit.

One of the best opportunity guides I've seen is a Small Business BC guide with the underwhelming title, Business Development Concepts. What it really is is 39 pages of entrepreneurial gold.

The document offers 30 or more strategies for starting or expanding a business, by finding new product ideas, identifying new market opportunities or simply taking a different approach to an existing market.

This paper gives you everything you need to start exploring an opportunity. It describes a specific opportunity (say, Capitalizing on a Growth Trend), offers some examples, and then provides three to five bullet points describing “How to Do It.” Then it sparks your thinking by offering three to five key questions you should ask if you decide to investigate any of these niches.

Here’s an example of the format, so you’ll see how easy it is to use.

Cover Market Gaps or Shortages
Market gaps or shortages can occur when a needed product or service is not available or when customer demand is greater than the current available supply. Opportunities then exist for someone to step in and meet that demand.


Some Examples
1. Each summer, the demand for rental houseboats was greater than the supply of boats available in a community resort area. A company began building houseboats to sell and complemented its sales program by renting the unsold units to the local resorts during the peak season, enabling them to place a reduced pricing on these and later sell them as demos (resulting in more sales with no net loss of income).
2. A hotel employee noticed that there was a demand for a mattress repair service and none existed. She quickly signed contracts with several hotels and opened a mattress repair business.
3. A computer store employee who realized that there was no well-developed source of second-hand computers for clients on a budget opened a second-hand computer store.

How To Do It
1. To find situations in which needed products or services are not available or in short supply:
o Ask distributors, agents and retailers what items they have difficulty obtaining.
o Check delivery times and availability for orders of popular products and services.
o Ask companies to identify services that they need but have difficulty obtaining; and listen to people when they complain about products they cannot find or mention services they wish were available.
2. Look for potential supply shortages caused by companies going out of business, changing their production focus or shutting down temporarily. You can do this by:
o Watching out for such news in newspapers, particularly on the business pages.
o Reading trade publications.
o Analyzing lists of companies in receivership or bankruptcy.

Key Questions
What market gaps am I aware of?
What supply shortages am I aware of?
How could I find other market gaps and shortages?
What market gaps and shortages could I meet by providing needed products or services?
Which potential customers have indicated that my perceived gap/shortage is genuine?

If you're looking for new opportunities, this is the real deal: lots of ideas to start you thinking and point you in the right direction. You can read or download Business Development Concepts here.

The unnamed author deserves a medal for initiative, clarity, and just plain “getting it.”

50,000 Visitors!

Sometime today Canadian Entrepreneur will welcome its 50,000th visitor.

It took us more than 13 months to record our first 5,000 visitors, and now we’re averaging 4,000 a month – which means the next 50,000 should take about a year.

It’s not quite mass media, but it’s targeted information for a specific community of shared interests and values, and one that continues to grow.

I especially like the global nature of this medium. The accompanying map, from my SiteMeter analytics, shows that the last 100 visitors to this site come from every continent (other than Antarctica, of course). Knowing that so many people from so many places visit Canadian Entrepreneur is one of the secret thrills that make blogging worthwhile.
Thanks to all our readers. I enjoy our interaction and look forward to hearing from you any time. Skol!
Wednesday morning update: Our 50,000th visitor arrived overnight from Mangalore (or Mangaluru), on the west coast of India. Mangalore is a very historic city (it was known to the Romans) in the state of Karnataka, which also includes Bangalore, about 350 km to the east. According to Wikipedia, Mangalore (pop. 500,000) is a major port city, and also a booming centre for outsourced IT services to Western companies.
And get this: one of the four regional languages spoken in Mangalore is Kannada. It's apparently the 27th most-spoken language in the world.
Thanks for visting, eh?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 69

To help you get your week off to an inspired start.
This week: a best-selling author on the primary paradox of entrepreneurship.
"Failure defeats losers. Failure inspires winners."
Robert T. Kiyosaki, Hawaii-born entrepreneur and author (Rich Dad, Poor Dad)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Startup Nation

I've been so busy I forgot to plug my new business-startup series now running in the National Post.

It's called "12 Weeks to Startup," and it's a 12-week series on everything you wanted to know about starting your own business. It comes out every Monday in the Small Business edition of the Financial Post.

Last week's instalment was "Registration and Licenses" - which is much more interesting than it sounds. Tune in Monday (Jan. 28) for "Sales Forecasts and Cash Flow."

There are actually two versions of each story - a 500-word version that runs in the paper, and a more detailed 1,000-word version on the Web for those who want more insights on each topic. Three cheers for unlimited bandwidth!

And for all you new media fans out there, there is even a videocast. Yep, I do a two-minute video summary of each story. Give them a look and let me know what you think.

Click here to check it all out.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"You never came to see us"

I've been browsing an interesting book, Patrick Watson’s autobiography, This Hour has Seven Decades. Watson is a groundbreaking TV journalist (still best remembered for This Hour has Seven Days), who later became chair of the CBC.

But what I wanted to share with you is this particular gem, which relates to a key responsibility of management: walking around.

Here’s the scene: In the mid-1970s, a former president of the CBC, Alphonse Ouimet, was writing his memoirs. He asked to speak with Watson, then a freelance journalist, to sort out some of the issues around his controversial cancellation of Seven Days in 1966 - a move in which Watson was fired. Somewhat to Watson's surprise, the meeting went well. But after dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux, Watson realized he still harboured a grievance against Ouimet.

“I said ‘Al, you never came to see us, the producers. Or if you did it was always to tell us to pull our horns in, to not spend too much.’

‘You never came to the studios, you never came to pat us on the back and tell us what a great job we were doing. You were the father figure, you know, and we needed that from you.’”

Ouimet’s response? “He said he found that an astonishing thing for me to say. We must have known we were doing a good job and that management thought so, too, since we were given our budgets and our airtime, and we were all such confident and self-sufficient people; how could I say such nonsense about the father figure and needing to be patted on the back?”

Today, similar dramas play out every day in workplaces across Canada. Staff, even managers, desperate for attention and praise; and bosses unaware that that’s part of their job – perhaps the most important.

Does this happen in your workplace? If so, what will you do about it?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Top TechTrends

Consulting firm Deloitte released its annual list of predictions for Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) yesterday, showcasing emerging global tech trends that should affect business in 2008.

The headline on their release was a little gloomier than I’d have expected: “2008 anticipated to be "the best of times and the worst of times" as Canadians begin to understand that change comes at a price.

Brrrr!

The “price” they are taking about is the risk of becoming dependent on potentially scarce resources. For example, says John Ruffolo, National Leader of Deloitte’s TMT Group, “putting all of one's data on a single device is extremely convenient until it is stolen, lost or simply malfunctioning. Further, society must carefully balance the needs of a growing planet with a threatened earth, as our homes' carbon footprint is suddenly cause for concern."

Deloitte’s three Prediction reports are available online at www.deloitte.com/ca/predictions2008.

They are being showcased in a five-city roadshow that began yesterday in Toronto and now visits Ottawa (Jan. 24), Montreal (Jan. 25), Vancouver (Jan. 29) and Calgary (Jan. 30).

Here are a few of Deloitte's top trends for 2008.

- The rising value of digital protection (or, Goodbye hardware, Hello software): The value of personal computers and other electronic devices no longer rests in their silicon chips, but in the data, files, songs and images they store. Backing up this content to protect it from viruses and theft, and making sure files are forward-compatible, will fuel growing industries.

- The flight to privacy: As recent controversies with Facebook/Beacon demonstrate, even if privacy has not actually been breached, online users are highly sensitive to perceptions of violated privacy. This will be a continuing flashpoint. (Or as an entrepreneur might say, another opportunity.)

- The $10 mobile phone: Advances in semiconductor manufacturing and integration technologies have led to the era of the $10 phone. By embedding digital phone functionality in machines - from ATMs and cars to vending machines and freight containers - two-way data communications can now create far more powerful and cost-effective networks.

- Gray is good: As Canadians age, making technology more accessible to older users - bigger buttons, bigger fonts, and better ergonomics – will open up new and under-developed markets.

Nothing earth-shaking, but then this looks like a consolidation year.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 68

Back to business, with our continuing series of leadership quotes designed to get your week off to an inspired start.

This week: Why there will always be room for entrepreneurs, in every market:

“The underdog in many products can pick and choose where it wants to hit the giant. The giant, by contrast, must defend itself everywhere.”

George H. Lesch, former president, chairman and CEO, Colgate-Palmolive (from 1960 to 1971)

Sometimes, as entrepreneurs, we see only the huge challenge in front of us. If we could see it from our competitor's perspective, things might not look so daunting.

Trivia on Demand

Thanks to so many of you for your kind wishes on my Trivia win yesterday. My high-speed connection is down today (thanks, Rogers), so forgive me if I have not yet responded to your email. It's been a busy day.

A friend wiith more time on his hands than I has collected these YouTube links from last night's Test the Nation. Given my connection problems I have not yet viewed them. But maybe they will interest you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-okWNFrT-c&NR=1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5KAdXWYZ6k
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5KAdXWYZ6k

Sweep! Sweep!

Now it can be told. The Bloggers team cleaned up at Test the Nation Sunday night on CBC TV.

We managed an average score of 50 out of 60, tripping up the Backpackers, grounding the Flight Crews, faking out the Celebrity Impersonators, cooling off the Chefs and overheating the Cab Drivers.

We 36 bloggers came in feeling pretty confident: the subject was 21st Century Trivia, and people who blog tend to be information sponges to begin with. They spend a lot of time reading and thinking, often quite widely, so it seems only natural they would pick up more facts, random details and assorted trivia than flight crews and chefs and others who are involved in less public-domain pursuits.

But they were all good sports and I think everyone had a lot of fun. (It sounds bland, but I mean it. And how often can you say such things these days?)

Not only did my team win, but I walked away with the prize for highest individual score (57 out of 60). I was surprised to do so well. Some of my answers were more like informed guesses, but the spirits seemed to be with me. (Thanks to Rebecca Bollwitt [Miss 604] for the pic of me and the team trophy.)

Kudos to the CBC and all my boisterous teammates. Just before the show started we serenaded our competitors with a round of “We will, we will blog you,” and the blogging has already begun.

To savour the victory, visit my teammates:

MightyGodKing (who finished second overall), does a great job summing up the in-studio atmosphere. (Monday update: Apparently MGK is one of several second-plave finishers. Congrats to all.)

Rannie at Photojunkie.ca took pictures of every Blogger team member – and then arranged them on his blog in the order in which they were seated in the studio. Sheer genius!

Miss 604 sums up the mood. (“Nerds on Top”)

CalgaryGrit offers some very funny comments on the day. Excerpt: "The celebrity team captains then entered. Now, by "celebrity" I mean "Canadian celebrity" so it was the usual collection of Little Gas Station on the Prairie cast members. Also on the panel was the Canadian "Randy", the hot cylon, and the blogging team captain, Samantha Bee (who I guess is stuck doing stuff like this until the writers' strike ends)."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How to head off lawsuits

Business writer Jeff Wuorio has written a great article on how to head off lawsuits in your business. I think lawsuits are like war: destructive and useless. By the time they're over, even the alleged “winners” have usually lost.

So to help you stay out of trouble, here’s a brief recap of Wuorio’s seven points.

1. Never let a lawsuit take you by surprise. “Most lawsuits are preventable if you proactively manage trouble and have plans already in place."

2. Get all agreements in writing. Legally, a handshake agreement isn't worth the paper it’s not printed on.

3. Specify how disputes will be resolved. Example: many contracts specify that the parties agree to arbitration or mediation rather than head to the courtroom.

4. Ensure a lawyer sees all agreements. Even well-intentioned written contracts can blow up in your face if they contain some loophole or other issue that the other party can exploit.

5. Never ignore customer complaints. Far too many problems start out as small issues and fester into a lawsuit simply because someone didn't pay sufficient attention to dealing with them as minor headaches.

6. Swallow your pride. "Even if you're in the right, offering a discount, compromising a bill or even offering an apology will almost always trump the eventual cost of a lawsuit."

7. Spend now, save later. For instance, rather than having an attorney draw up all contracts from scratch, do some research and track down the best sort of prototypes that you can find. Then have your lawyer tailor them to your business.

There are more useful details in the full story. Click here.

More reasons to watch Test the Nation tonight

Don't forget: tonight at 8 pm on CBC TV, Test the Nation. A chance to see how well you know your 21st century trivia. Plus, you can see who's smarter: Bloggers, Chefs, Flight Crews, Cab Drivers, Backpackers (maybe) or Celebrity Impersonators (yeah, right).

This may be closer than some of my colleagues on Team Blogger think: the cabbies have a contestant known as Mr. Geography, for his encyclopedic knowledge; and there seem to be several Air Force pilots (even Snowbirds pilots) on the "flight crew" team. Plus, Jamie Kennedy will be cookin' for the chefs.

Anyway, it's all in good fun. I'll be wearing some kinda sweatshirt, as they asked us to come dressed as we would for "work." I think the CBC is hoping some bloggers will come in their pyjamas. I'll only do that if I can switch uniforms with the Air Force guys afterward, like the tams used to do at the end of Canada Cup series as a sign of respect .

Also, watch for the special celebrity team, which most of the pilots and the bloggers and Jamie Kennedy undoubtedly feel they should really be on:

* Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex
* Design diva Debbie Travis
* Corner Gas's Lorne Cardinal
* Carlo Rota: A great actor in both 24 and Little Mosque on the Prairie.
* Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer
* Actor/satirist and "Daily Show" regular Samantha Bee

Now that's Canadian content!

Click here for more info on TtN, or to vote for which team will win.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Music Lessons from the Edge

Because of its high profile (and the way it marched, unprepared and eyes tightly closed, ahead of most of us into the digital future), the music business is a fascinating case study for the evolution of business in the Web age. Marketing guru Seth Godin had a fascinating blogpost recently entitled Music Lessons: Things you can learn from the music business as it falls apart.

Here are some of his rules:

The first rule is so important, it’s rule 0:
0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now: Soon, the new thing will be better than the old thing will be. Don't expect old models to survive long.

1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success: Every single industry changes and, eventually, fades.

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream: You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs.

3. Interactivity can’t be copied: The winners in the music business are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel.

11. Understand the power of digital: You may believe that your business doesn’t lend itself to digital transactions. Many do. If you’ve got a business that doesn’t thrive on digital, it might not grow as fast as you like... Maybe you need to find a business that does thrive on digital.

13. Whenever possible, sell subscriptions: Few businesses can successfully sell subscriptions (magazines being the best example), but when you can, the whole world changes. HBO, for example, is able to spend its money making shows for its viewers rather than working to find viewers for every show.

Godin concludes that the biggest opportunity for the music business is to combine "permission with subscription."

"The possibilities are endless... the good old days are yet to happen."

Read the original post here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Meatball Sundae and the triumph of small business

I've long been a fan of Seth Godin’s work, so I love his new book, Meatball Sundae. It’s all about what happens when an old-line company, selling commodity-level products with a low-cost, low-value mentality, tries to adapt to the online marketing world of Web 2.0. The result, says Seth, is like putting whipped cream and a cherry on a bowl of meatballs (hence the title.)

I had a chance to interview Seth last week about his book, and wrote it up for my column in Monday’s Financial Post. The gist: either you get hep to the need for broader, deeper customer relationships, or you're stuck in slow-growth meatball business for the rest of your career. He cited JetBlue (a metaphor I extended to include Calgary’s WestJet) to illustrate the difference between 21st century marketing and “running a bus company that happens to fly in the sky."

Godin has written a manifesto for a permanent new way of doing business. Is he right? It feels true to me. And Godin says he feels the same way. After writing a book a year for the past 10 years, he says this one left him drained, and he has no idea what he’ll write next.

Most interestingly, I suggested that this new industrial revolution he’s talking about seems tailor-made for small business. Godin agrees. In fact, he thinks this is the best time in history to start your own business.

“What wins now,” he says, “is speed, transparency, authenticity and passion. And all these things come from people, not faceless corporations.”

And here’s a thought-provoking Godin quote I didn't have room to put in my story: “If someone had sat down 15 years ago and said, “How can we create an atmosphere that’s conducive to startups?, what they would have come up with is what we have today.”

So go for it. But first read the full story here.

Read more on Seth Godin’s blog. It’ll pump you up.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Battle of the Titans

This Sunday, Canadian bloggers have a chance to prove that not only do they know their stuff, they own more clothes than sweatpants and pyjamas.

A group of 25 (or so) bloggers is competing against teams of cab drivers, backpackers, chefs, flight crews and celebrity impersonators in the latest episode of Test the Nation, CBC-TV's twice-yearly trivia game show. I’ll be on the team (they even asked me to join four much prettier bloggers in the official promo photo, below).

Other bloggers of entrepreneurial note include Andy Nulman, CEO of Airborne Entertainment, VOIP blogger Jon Arnold, tech reporter Amber Macarthur, social-media expert Kate Trgovac, pr guy David Jones, and Craig Silverman of “Regret the Error” (links below).

I am excited about meeting many of these bloggers for the first time. But I'm nervous about the actual competition: the subject is “21st Century Trivia.” While I am embarrassed to admit that I have never lost a game of Trivial Pursuit, they were all played in a previous century, and I haven't been paying much attention lately.

Anyway, tune to CBC at 8 pm on Sunday, Jan. 20. You can play along as we do and prove you’re much smarter than any of us.

(One of my teammates, Andy Nulman, is proving to be quite the competitor. He has bet $500 that a blogger will score the highest point total of all the in-studio guests. Check out his challenge here.)

Below are the other participating bloggers you’ll be cheering for (and pix of the celebrity impersonators). Click here to meet the other teams (and predict who you think will win).

BLOG TEAM MEMBERS
Dan Arnold
Jon Arnold (blog) Add Image
Christopher Bird (blog)
Buzz Bishop (blog)
Rebecca Bollwitt (blog)
Jules Carlysle (blog)
Alexa Clark (blog)
Ryan Couldrey (blog)
Ryan Cousineau (blog)
Katharine Hay (blog)
Jesse Hirsch (blog)
Kerry Anne Holloway (blog)
David Jones (blog)
Allyson Kenning (blog)
John Klein
Andree Lau (blog)
Lainey Lui
Amber Macarthur (blog)
John Martz
Hugh McGuire (blog)
Mark McIntyre (blog)
Patrick Metzger (blog)
Andy Nulman (blog)
Ryan Porter (blog)
Adam Schwabe
Craig Silverman (blog)
Julien Smith (blog)
Allan Sorenson (blog)
Rick Spence (blog)
Graeme Stewart (blog)
David Topping (blog)
Kate Trgovac (blog)
Rannie Turingan (blog)
James Viloria (blog)
Karen Whaley (blog)
Frank Yang

Monday, January 14, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 67

Here's the 67th installment of our weekly series of motivational quotations, personally selected to get your week off to an inspired start.

“Humans have learned only through mistakes.”

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), architect, author, inventor and philosopher (and creator of the geodesic dome that housed the U.S. pavilion at Montreal’s Expo 67)

The prolific Mr. Fuller believed mistakes are useful and necessary. To avoid a sense of total mortification at their propensity for making mistakes, Fuller believed human beings were deliberately endowed with “pride, vanity and inventive memory” to help us forget our own errors.

As he wrote, “So effective has been the nonthinking, group deceit of humanity that it now says, 'Nobody should make mistakes,' and punishes people for making mistakes."

How about you: Do you encourage (and forgive) mistakes in your business?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Your Self-Improvement Checklist

I've been negligent in not linking to my National Post column from last Monday: five self-improvement tips all Canadian entrepreneurs should put on their agenda for the new year.

Here’s my list:

1. Get a good photo of yourself. You never know when you will need one for your website, the media, a community association or an upcoming speaking engagement. No graduation portraits, photos with your family, or snapshots of you wearing a barbecue apron (just a few of the photos I've received as a journalist when asking entrepreneurs for recent pix).

2. Refine your personal mission statement. I still run into business people who can't explain what they do in 30 words, or even 1,000.

3. Delegate more. When you do a job that could be done by someone else in your business -- or by an outside contractor -- you rob your company of the high-level thinking that only you can provide.

4. Review your business plan. With markets and technology changing so fast, if you're not working with a current plan, and updating it at least once a year, you may be falling out of synch with customers and falling behind the competition.

5. Employ more relatives. One of the Canada Revenue Agency's best gifts to family businesses is income-splitting among family members.

Click here to read the full story, with more details on all five points.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Entrepreneurial Vision Test

I had a great day today at the enVision conference put on by the Commerce Students' Association at the University of Toronto. I observed workshops on team-building and crisis-management in the morning, and then I got to deliver a lunchtime keynote speech on "Entrepreneurial Vision".

Most of my presentations are tactical: how to market smarter, 10 ways to fix your business, that sort of thing. Today I only had 15-20 minutes, so I went for more of a motivational message.

Students today really are graduating into an exciting world of unbounded opportunity. There are no limits to what they can do, and incredible new tools with which to succeed. As Internet marketing guru Seth Godin told me in an interview the other day, “If someone had sat down 15 years ago and said, 'How can we create an atmosphere that’s conducive to startups?', what they would have come up with is what we have today.”

So I tried to equip these students with the key entreprenurial attributes they will need to take advantage of all these opportunities - whether they end up in big business or small. I called these attributes "Entrepreneurial Vision," and offered five examples of what that means.

1. Superman can see through walls with his X-ray vision. Entrepreneurial Vision enables you to see around corners and into the future, so you know what’s coming.

2. Like a Blackberry, entrepreneurial vision is "always on," so you are aware of trends, patterns and connections nobody else has noticed yet.

3. Entrepreneurial vision means looking at problems in three dimensions: how things are, how they might be, and how to get them there. Some people look at climate change, for instance, and despair. Others see it as a huge opportunity to find new solutions, to transform people’s thinking, to find new ways of recycling, or getting to work, or harnessing the sun.

4. Entrepreneurial vision is reflective. It lets you see yourself truly, with all your limitations, so that you can acknowledge what kinds of help you need – from people to know-how or financial resources - and know where to find them.

5. Entrepreneurial vision lets you see your objective so clearly that you can vividly describe it to others to get their support. This is essential, as entrepreneurs don't do it all themselves. They succeed by getting other people – partners, employees, suppliers, investors, and most of all customers – to share their vision of how things could be.

May your Entrepreneurial Vision be 20-20.

Fortune Hunters on TV

A new TV show on entrepreneurship debuts tomorrow (Saturday) on CBC Newsworld.
“FORTUNE HUNTERS” looks at entrepreneurs trying to profit from new trends in society and the economy. It was created (and is hosted by) former Venture host Dianne Buckner, also known as the keeper of the Dragons’ Den.
In the first show tomorrow, Fortune Hunters looks at eco-businesses – will they save the planet? Or at least make some money for the entrepreneurs behind them?
The show starts with profiles of some interesting new businesses, but the sparks start to fly when special guest commentators take over to discuss these particular businesses and their chances of success. Tomorrow’s experts include eco-investor Vicky Sharpe and Kevin O’Leary, the outspoken dragon from Dragons’ Den. It should be a lot of fun.

(Witness Kevin and Vicki’s tip of the week: "It won’t be green that saves the planet - it will be greed. Entrepreneurs can cash in big time by finding a way to help the planet that also helps the bottom line."
Tomorrow’s show also includes the first instalment of a feature called “My First Million.” In the spotlight will be Canadian Springs founder Glenn Bailey, who overcame dyslexia to make big bucks in the bottled-water biz.
Kudos to Dianne Buckner and the CBC for trying to make business – and particularly entrepreneurship – exciting enough for TV. Set your VCR or Tivo for 6:30 pm (Eastern time) or 3:30 pm (Pacific time). You can figure out the rest of the possibilities.
The show will also repeat at 1:30 and 4:30 pm Sunday (Eastern time).
You can check out the Fortune Hunters website here.
Or read Dianne Buckner’s online diary here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Your recession survival guide

More and more signs point to an upcoming recession in the United States. Canada is insulated in two ways - by its booming energy industry (which is mostly western-based, although it generates a lot of activity in central Canada), and by its healthier real estate market.

Nonetheless, the two economies are closely entwined, and the overall slowdown will hurt a lot of businesses in central and eastern Canada.

Three points:

1) Agile, nimble entrepreneurs can escape the worst of a recession. There are many strong markets in Canada, from energy and health care to affluent, luxury-loving baby boomers. Look for sources of strength, and aim your marketing activities in those directions.

2) Recessions can be a time of tremendous opportunity. If you fine-tune your marketing plan and conserve your cash, you have the opportunity to invest and expand in your market when others are retreating or selling out. Cash is king.

For more managing-in-tough-times tactics, click here for my column from Nov. 2006, Get ready for recession!

3) The federal government showed great timing over the past year or two in orchestrating a series of tax breaks for business. If markets are off a percentage or two, maybe sending fewer bucks to Ottawa will help. The corporate tax rate fell three percentage points last week, and the small business rate dipped from 13.12% to 11%. The GST went from 6% to 5%, and the feds are increasing the rate at which we can write off computers, buildings, and (temporarily) processing equipment.

For more information, see Susan Ward's tax-change update at Small Business Canada.

Things may get tougher. But we've seen a lot worse.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 66

Here's the latest installment of your weekly series of motivational quotations, designed to get your week off to a superior start.

Today, one of Canada’s top retailers emphasizes the importance of self-knowledge and authenticity.

“After all these years, when you walk into a Canadian Tire store, it’s just different than any other retailer. It still smells like tires, because we know who we are.”
Wayne Sales, former CEO of Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. (rated Canada’s Top CEO by Canadian Business Magazine in 2005)

Although Sales no longer runs Canadian Tire, he oversaw its survival and growth in an era of retail turmoil. As he said at a 2005 address at the University of Toronto’s Rotman business school, Canadian Tire was written off by many observers when Wal-Mart came to Canada, but it responded by focusing on its strengths.

“My team and I were able to ‘see inside’ of our organization, and we recognized that we only had to do four relatively simple things to be successful: offer competitive pricing, convenient locations, friendly service, and dependable stocking.”

You have to play your game, says Sales. Because chances are you can’t play anyone else’s game as well as they do.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Touchdown in the Snow

Toronto-based Veritas Communications publishes “Touchdowns and Fumbles,” a weekly newsletter pointing out recent PR wins (e.g. Stephen Harper’s GST-cut photo-op) and flops (the Pakistani government’s attempt to blame Benazir Bhutto for getting herself killed).

The latest issue also looks at a timely touchdown by a Canadian entrepreneur: Jonathan Carroll’s iTravel2000 "Let it Snow" promotion. His company promised to refund the retail cost of qualifying customers’ vacations in 2007/8 if it snowed more than 5 inches (12.7 cm) in their area (Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Halifax) on Jan. 1, 2008. When the results came in, Montreal got 14.8 cm of snow on New Year’s Day, so the company is offering retail-price refunds to thousands of Quebec customers.

“This is the perfect way to start 2008 - by giving away thousands of trips,” said itravel2000 president Jonathan Carroll in a statement. “We’re now looking forward to coming up with another innovative new promotion to capture the imagination of Canadians.”

He could afford to be upbeat. itravel2000 had protected itself with the largest-ever one-day weather-related insurance policy – so it isn't paying up itself. Plus, as the Veritas crew said, the snow day allowed “itravel to parlay their fall gamble into coverage galore, including the lead story on CTV National News.”

Veritas added two useful points.

1. They praised Carroll’s customer-first attitude. “We loved that itravel president Jonathan Carroll was on the side of his customers and able to say genuinely that he hoped for enough snow to cut refund cheques.”

2. But Veritas caught one fumble: itravel’s messaging focused strictly on the promo that was now over. It didn't seem to have a new message ready to make the most of its PR bonanza. According to Veritas, itravel missed an opportunity to deliver a stronger message about its brand, “or even introduce a follow-up promo to sustain momentum… So they missed the conversion for what could have been a game-winning extra point.”

Just wait'll next year!

Getting Great in 2008

Moe Somani, president and CEO of Vancouver-based SOHO group, offers a New Year’s message today that's full of useful resolutions for any entrepreneurs wanting to step up their game this year.

Here are his suggested resolutions to help you reach your 2008 goals faster:
1. Have a clear, written vision of what my business is going to look like by the end of 2008 so I can create a plan on how to get there
2. Learn to delegate more effectively so I can focus on doing what I do best
3. Plan my work and work my plan with regular, weekly planning sessions
4. Keep learning by learning something new everyday
5. Share my knowledge - givers always gain
6. Make time to give back to my community
7. Make uncomfortable decisions...faster
8. Have a networking strategy to keep in touch with clients, prospects and mentors
9. Read more for professional and personal growth
10. Write my goals down for 2008 and measure results against goals every month
11. Invest more time in my people so they can also experience a good work-life balance
12. Create structure and consistency with improved office procedures and regular planning meetings with the staff
13. Start my day 30 minutes earlier than usual

I can't imagine adding much more to this list. Other than I think customers and mentors deserve more than a networking strategy.
To up your game, you must develop creative, strategic ways to get closer to your customers and discover their new needs. And you should be actively seeking out new advisors and mentors (perhaps even forming an advisory board), to make sure you benefit from formal feedback over time.

Great job, Moe.
For more info on SOHO, click here.

Shedding Light on LEDs

I've just learned that CBC radio runs a daily business show, The Business Network, at 5:45 a.m.! (Make up your own CBC joke here.)

Some of the “guest columnist" contributions are pretty interesting. Fortunately, you can read these “columns online,” categorized either by date or by author, at http://www.cbc.ca/money/moneytalks/.

Reading at random, I discovered an interesting by Duncan Stewart, Director of Research for Deloitte Canada and an occasional contributor to the Financial Post. The title, “2008 will be a good year for the LED.

Why should you care about light-emitting diodes? Because they're energy-efficient, they last nearly forever, and they're taking over the lighting industry.

LEDs, says Stewart, “are 20 to 30 times more energy-efficient than standard incandescent lightbulbs” – and seven to 10 times more efficient than compact fluorescents. And prices are falling: “as a result of various semi-conductor improvements the price of them has come way down.”

“As an investor,” says Stewart, “I think this whole LED area in 2008 is going to be an absolutely fascinating area. The problem of course for investors is finding the right ones to play. Intellectual property matters a lot, there's a lot of lawsuits in this area, and some of the companies that are good at it aren't exactly pure plays.” If it’s an investment play, and the field is so muddy, you can bet there are still lots of entrepreneurial opportunities here, too.

To read Duncan’s original column, click here.
You can also read the comments from listeners/readers. Some of them seem very well informed. They offer interesting insights into the development of LED technology and the problems with commercialization.
You might also check out the website of Victoria-based Carmanah Technologies, one of Canada’s top success stories in the LED field. (They also suppplied the photos.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Your future on Facebook

A reader disagrees with my contention in Monday’s Financial Post that “If you are not on Facebook by the end of '08, you'll be sending out the signal you're not serious about building your business."

He says he’s played around on Facebook and found it fine for staying in touch with friends and family, but sees no signs of it becoming a useful business tool.

Here’s how I responded to his email:

“Thanks for your note, xxxxx. I agree with much of what you say. For the most part, Facebook is still an awkward teen that doesn't know what it is going to be when it grows up.

“Just in the past few months, however, I have seen a new energy in Facebook. More and more people I know have joined and are actively playing with it. They are using it to stay in touch with friends and business colleagues alike. Some have two identities - one for friends and family, the other for business acquaintances, groups and networking.

“The new applications being created daily for Facebook are mainly juvenile and leisure-oriented, but I predict that more and more business applications will be developed. Just as important, there will also be more and more business-related groups that will find creative ways to use text, blogs, messaging and video to connect and inform their members.

“I also think that the prospects who have been Googling you before doing business with you will increasingly be checking you out in Facebook as well. (They will even judge you by who your "friends" are.) If you can maintain a mature, professional posture on Facebook, moderately self-promotional but demonstrating openness to your community, I believe it will say much about your qualifications and integrity.

“Also, targeted advertising through Facebook (much like Google AdSense) will increasingly become a useful tool for niche marketers. How can you begin to understand the potential of this new medium unless you are already familiar with the Facebook environment?

“I am not a Facebook expert, a raving fan or an apologist. I have been casually studying it for a few months, and I came gradually to the conclusion that it is going to be a useful entrepreneurial tool. It's probably not for everybody, but it's potentially very powerful for some. There's only one way to find out if it's right for you, which is why I encourage business owners to dip their toes in."

That's what I wrote. What do you think?

Eight trends for 2008

I’ve had some good feedback to my column in Monday’s Financial Post, “Eight trends will fuel '08 growth

My eight trends:
- Expect slower growth and more financial shocks from the U.S. and its subprime real estate crisis.
- More business owners will take advantage of Web-marketing tools that enable them to target niche markets more efficiently than ever.
- Entrepreneurs will make greater use of social networking sites such as Linked-In or Facebook.
- The loonie will hold the gains it made in 2007. That means more painful adjustments for manufacturers and service exporters. On the positive side, it will force them to focus on innovation as a source of wealth, and diversifying their markets beyond North America.
- Entrepreneurs will develop faster-growth markets, such as products and services for ageing Baby Boomers, mineral prospecting and development, "ethnic" foods and anything wireless.
- Mobility is going mainstream.
- Entrepreneurs will call on consultants and coaches because business decisions are getting harder to make, while the supply of talent is growing in the form of capable, experienced executives who are retired or let go from bigger corporations.
- Green consciousness will affect more decisions you make. Finding eco-friendlier ways to travel, produce goods, dispose of waste and reduce energy use will begin making a real difference to your bottom line.

You can read the full story here.

Do you have a trend to add? Leave a comment below.

Update: I had a dissenting note from one reader. Read my reply in my next post (see above, or click here).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

50 ways to save money in your business

It’s three years old, but Entrepreneur.com has a great cost-cutting article on “50 Ways to Save Money in Your Business.” It’s chock full of practical, useful ways to cut costs now.

I have cited this story before, but they changed the link, so click here for 50 ways to Save Money.

I like these two tactics in particular:

“40. Form a buying alliance. Join with another business or a trade association for bulk purchasing discounts.”

“50. Seek at least three bids on everything. Even mundane purchases merit shopping around. If you quote a competitor's lower price, a supplier or vendor will often match that price to win your business.”

Now read my previous post, How have you cut costs?, to see how you can win a free coffee mug by sharing your favourite money-saving tips. (Deadline is Jan. 31, 2008.)

How have you cut costs?

One of the most overlooked ways of increasing profits is cutting costs. Virtually every dollar you save goes straight to the bottom line.

But there are all kinds of complications around cutting costs: deciding what you can do without, taking the time to find cheaper ways of doing things, and getting your team to buy into the need to reduce input costs.

So let's shorten the learning curve. Send me an email telling me what tactics you have used to cut costs in your business. I will retail them all in a future column and in this blog, so everyone can learn from your experience.

And everyone who shares a tip will be entered into a draw to win one high-quality Canadian Entrepreneur mug, suitable for no-name coffee, board meetings, and even storing pencils.
Have you find a way to negotiate lower prices with suppliers? Have you sourced cheaper office supplies, increased your use of performance-based pay, rented out surplus real estate? Let me know what you have done, so that all can benefit from your ingenuity.

Email me by Jan. 31 at rick (-at-) rickspence.ca

Many thanks!

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 65

Here's your New Year’s installment of our weekly series of motivational quotations, designed to get 2008 off to a productive start.

Today, an anonymous adage that addresses the key problem facing every entrepreneur: Focus.

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

Best wishes for a happy, focused New Year.