Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Budget reaction 08 (try and stay awake)

I haven't had time to study the latest stand-pat federal budget, but of course I have a few opinions on it anyway.

I’m glad Jim Flaherty said "No" to so many special-interest groups who believe the state has an obligation to bail them out of the problems created by their own mismanagement.

But I think it’s a shame the Conservatives are dumping environmental programs, such as the incentives for buying greener cars. The environment is in crisis and this issue is not going away. Creating more sustainable attitudes and lifestyles should become a national brand for Canada, and the Tories’ neo-con ideology is setting us back. (I believe this short-sightedness will come back to haunt them next election.)

Um, back to the budget. By tomorrow we'll have forgotten it, so while it’s fresh, here’s a summary of the budget reaction from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canada’s top small-business lobbyist.

* The CFIB praised the creation of a new crown corporation, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, to manage the EI account. “This is a good first step in bringing much needed change to Canada’s EI system, and CFIB will work to ensure that the needs of Canada’s smaller employers are addressed within this new system.”

* Good on Jim Flaherty for paying down the national debt by $10.2 billion, bringing total debt reduction in the past three years to $37 billion. “CFIB will continue to pressure government to dedicate at least 50% of any future surplus to debt reduction.”

(Note from Rick: As a reporter for the Financial Times, I covered most of the federal budgets in the 1980s. I remember $30-billion annual deficits. It was a criminal attack on the future - on all of our futures, and our children's - and it will still take decades to pay off. But the progress we've made on debt reduction is considerable, and future generations will thank us.)

* CFIB was disappointed not to see any commitment or plan to reduce personal income taxes.

* The CFIB identified several smaller measures related to small business. They welcomed some important changes to the automobile-expense deduction. “Changes to the administration of the SRED, as well as changes to late remittance for source deductions will also benefit many smaller companies."

You can read the CFIB’s full reaction here.

Click here for the CFIB’s pre-budget submission: what it wanted from the budget, and what we didn't get.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 74

And now the latest in our series of motivational quotes designed to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you have only one idea."

Émile Auguste Chartier , 1868-1951
(French essayist and philosopher, who wrote under the pseudonym Alain.)

To me this is a call for open-mindedness, flexibility and creativity. It's a warning against going into any situation thinking you have all the answers.
Yes, you always need a plan. But you also need a backup.

Your new opportunities in Latin America

Federal industry minister David Emerson spoke to the Canadian Council for the Americas (British Columbia chapter) in Vancouver on Friday to talk about Canada’s commitment to trade within the Americas.

Since neither the Industry department or Latin America get much ink these days, I found lots of interesting points in his speech. Here’s a sum-up:

* Prime Minister Harper has made re-engagement with our partners throughout the Americas a top priority.

* “Globalization is not going away. And there is nowhere to hide. We all have to get in the game, set a plan and give it all we’ve got. Anything short of that and we will be left in the dust of the many rapidly growing, highly competitive tigers.”

“ Within the Americas, we’ve witnessed more than a decade of dramatic economic reforms: from how businesses operate, and how they treat workers, to well-developed credit, and increasingly open and transparent regulatory processes.“

* “New ideas about trade are also taking hold. In country after country, old ideas of import substitution and protected domestic markets are being abandoned in favour of liberalized trade and increased linkages to the global economy.”

* Brazil is the world’s leading producer and exporter of ethanol. And it is one of the most sophisticated agriculture and agri-food producers in the world. “We can learn from their knowledge and innovation, and we are."

* Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the Canada-Costa Rica free-trade agreement — which has boosted two-way trade by 40%.

* “Throughout the Americas, we’re seeing the clear emergence of a strong, increasingly open and forward-looking region. One marked by solid economic growth and new commercial opportunities; by increased job creation and standards of living; and by falling inflation and levels of poverty.”

* Canada is “focusing on three core, interconnected areas where we believe we can make a difference and influence positive change throughout the region, namely governance, security and prosperity."

* Canada’s exports to Latin America (excluding Mexico) grew 15% to $6.7 billion last year, while imports totalled $13.6 billion. Export growth to Peru and Brazil was 14%; to Colombia, 29%; and to Chile, 62%.

* “To help our businesses and investors succeed in Latin American and Caribbean markets, we’re putting a new focus on getting more Canadian Trade Commissioners on the ground.”

* Canada recently concluded negotiations with Peru on a bilateral free trade agreement that will give Canadian exporters, service providers and investors access to Peru’s dynamic market.

* Later this year, Canada will host the Canada-CARICOM Summit to advance stronger relationships with countries in the region. And in May, Halifax will host the next meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank’s Board of Governors.

* Canada is committed to concluding a balanced free-trade deal with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. We are also negotiating FTAs with Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Clearly, there’s a world of change going on in a part of our neighborhood that doesn't get much attention from the media. Should your company be looking into business opportunities down south?
You can read Emerson's full speech here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Daring to dream and making things right

I just finished watching the Oscars tonight with my daughter. We found a lot of flubs – which is to be expected from live TV – but we were especially critical when the orchestra cut off an Oscar winner before she had a chance to speak.

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard won Best Original Song for their tune "Falling Slowly," from the independent Irish film, "Once" (nope, I'd never heard of it either). Hansard got to say a few words in his Irish brogue (“Make art. Thanks”). But just when Irglova stepped up to the mike, the orchestra started playing (which is the Academy’s cue to shut up and get off the stage). Irglova courteously stepped back, and the show went to commercial.
It seemed monstrously unfair. Winning an Oscar is a glorious moment for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old unknown from the Czech Republic via Ireland. And Hansard hadn't taken much time at all, so it seemed that Irglova had been eclipsed by Oscar’s obsession for finishing on time.
But when the show came back, host Jon Stewart re-introduced Irglova. Oscar producer Gil Cates had noticed the problem and invited Irglova to come back and have her say. It was a classy, spontaneous moment.
Irglova’s message was short and sweet. “The fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream, and don't give up.”
It’s a message of hope to all artists and dreamers – and of course I believe entrepreneurs belong in both categories. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I loved her line, “Fair play to those who dare to dream.”
There’s another lesson to take away from this incident: never be afraid to admit a mistake. A show director had looked away for just a moment and hadn't seen Irglova approaching the mike, so he cued the music when Hansard stopped speaking. A natural mistake.
But what matters is that the show officials saw what happened and reacted immediately. Yes, the Oscars are always pressed for time, and few would have blamed them for letting the show continue. Instead, however, the producers confessed their mistake and corrected it – which was a gutsy move, and the right thing to do. I think they earned lots of goodwill for doing so.
Commenting after the show, CTV host Ben Mulroney call the academy’s move the “water-cooler” moment of the show – the incident that would be most discussed in offices tomorrow morning. Three cheers to Stewart and the show producers who took a mistake and turned it into magic.

Next time you mess up, don't brush it off. Why not do something fine to make things right?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

33 Ways to Change the World

The current issue of Wired magazine has a great feature called “Why Things Suck!” It lists 33 things that drive the magazine’s writers crazy – everything from laptop batteries to Ticketmaster and out-of-season tomatoes.

Since we all know that every problem is an opportunity for somebody, this issue is actually the ideal guide to some of today’s most promising entrepreneurial opportunities. Wherever there’s a complaint, there’s an opening for a new service, product or approach. And when the complaint gets written up in a mass-circulation magazine, it probably resonates with a lot of people. Which means your reward for solving the problem will be all the greater.

So here is Wired’s list of 33 things that suck. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can click on each one and go straight to the magazine’s specific writeup. But I think the real value of this list is in getting you thinking about all the parts of life today that you think are broken and need fixing. Then you explore the opportunities that are right for you.

Here’s the list.

The Things That Suck
Air travel
Batteries
Booze
Car alarms
Credit cards
Customer service
DVD sound
Evite
Fuel economy
Hearing aids
Infertility treatments
Junk mail
Knees and backs
Medical records
Office copiers
Plastic packaging
Prescription drugs
Printer cartridges
Radio
Roads
Robots
Science
Spam filters
Subscription cards
Teleconferencing
Ticket purchasing
Tomatoes
Traffic
Vending machines
Web video
Whiteboards
Wireless speakers

What drives you crazy? Feel free to add to this list by leaving a comment, below.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 73

Here's the latest in our series of motivational quotes designed to get your week off to an inspired start.

This week: an ode to passion, creativity and leadership.

“One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”

Elbert Hubbard, American philosopher, artist, writer and editor (1856-1915).

Hubbard was a genius who lived much of his life in East Aurora, N.Y., just south of the border near Buffalo. He made his fortune as a seller of soap by the age of 37 (he is said to have invented the concept of "premium with purchase" -- thereby anticipating free prizes in cereal boxes and Happy Meals). Selling his share of the business, he founded a publishing company which led to an influential Arts & Crafts colony which at one point employed 500 artists and free-thinkers. His intellectual journey led him from socialism to enlightened entrepreneurship. And his famous pamphlet, A Message to Garcia, turned the difficulty of finding good emplyees into an anthemic crusade for individual passion and initiative.

Hubbard made a point of interviewing the brightest thinkers and authors in the English-speaking world - publishing the results himself in a series of books called Little Journeys. In May 1915 he and his wife journeyed to Europe to interview Kaiser Wilhelm. They died when their ship was sunk by a German U-boat. They had booked passage aboard the Lusitania.

The couple is said to have retreated into a cabin to await death rather than be parted by the raging seas.

Hubbard's writings included many illustrious sayings relating to the entrepreneurial mind. Here are three more:

"Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped."
"To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."

Although Hubbard is pretty much forgotten now, he also coined at least two phrases that have lived on in popular culture, mostly as slogans for T-shirts and bumper stickers:

"The love we give away is the only love we keep ."
"Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Surviving in Tough Times

The latest issue of PROFIT Magazine is out, with lots of great stuff this month.

As the economy teeters, columnist Jeff Dennis offers his top "Lessons from the Edge.”

Kara Aaserud talks to experts on Managing in a recession

Columnist Rick Spence holds forth on “How to get results

There’s also the fourth and final instalment in the Advisory Board series that I co-authored with entrepreneur Greig Clark. This part is all Greig's: it's the story of how an advisory board he headed helped entrepreneur John Armstong build up his business and sell it for $25 million. I think every entrepreneur could use an advisory board, so if you haven't read any of this ground-breaking series yet, it's time you climbed, umm, aboard.

This issue also contains a fascinating Q&A with AIC investment legend Michael Lee-Chin. But it doesn't seem to be up on the Web yet, so maybe you should just buy the magazine.

I also wrote the cover story, on one of Canada’s smartest and most adventurous entrepreneurs, Bruce Poon Tip of G.A.P Adventures. He's survived a recession or two himself, and bounced back every time. I’ll let you know when the link is up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

25 Things to Ask For

Texas marketing consultant Shama Hyder believes most people should feel more comfortable about asking for things. On her blog at http://www.afterthelaunch.com/, she recently wrote a great article entitled “25 Things You Must Learn to ASK For when working with a client.

Here’s her Top-25 list.
1. Ask for a down payment
2. Ask for more time if you need it
3. Ask for clear directions.
4. Ask for consistent expectations
5. Ask for recommendations
6. Ask for referrals
7. Ask for testimonials
8. Ask for suggestions
9. Ask for alone-time
10. Ask for their business!
11. Ask for feedback
12. Ask for your payment
13. Ask for their Linked-In "Add"
14. Ask for a bonus
15. Ask for future contracts
16. Ask for their email address
17. Ask for references
18. Ask for a “shout-out” in their e-zine or newsletter
19. Ask for their best business tips
20. Ask for a better time-frame
21. Ask for their card to give out to your own network
22. Ask for a phone number
23. Ask for reconsideration (if you're not happy with where they're headed based on your work)
24. Ask for ideas
25. Ask for a comment from them on your blog. “It’s a great way to build community and keep in touch.”

This is a superb list. Click here for the full article.

You can tell a lot about a guy by the way he deducts business expenses

What kind of entrepreneur is Brian Mulroney? Not a very good one. Anyone who fails to deduct business expenses probably can't even call themselves an entrepreneur.

Toronto consultant Adil Sayeed of Smartgreen Financial Planning has written a little essay about the former prime minister's difficulties with some cash he accepted from German lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber. It's a nice piece of satire that has some useful pointers about the need to keep proper business records.

Excerpt:
If you've ever thought of starting your own business, you can learn a lot by studying Brian Mulroney's misadventures.
Brian Mulroney the businessman should have paid closer attention to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney introduced.
... Mulroney should have registered with the tax authorities as soon as he started his consulting business. He would have received an introduction to business tax package stressing the importance of keeping good records.
If Mulroney had given Schreiber receipts for each payment and invoices for expenses incurred and work completed, the former Prime Minister would have the information on hand to put some questions to rest."


Adil's conclusion: "The new entrepreneur who acts as his own tax adviser has a fool for client."

Click here for his story at straightgoods.ca.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tell Me Your Positioning Story

I've already had some feedback that the links in yesterday's posting have been useful to some people in creating a new, more effective positioning statement (elevator pitch, inspiring proposition, whatever).

That's terrific news. Thinking about what you do from the customer's point of view is always a great focusing exercise, and can reveal new ideas, opportunities and talking points.

Now I'm thinking there's a follow-up column in this. If you've read my FP column this week and worked on your seven words, or if you've tried the PitchWizard I linked to, please let me know what your results were. It may even earn you some publicity in a national newspaper.

(But I have to strike while the iron is hot, so please get back to me by Feb. 20.)

Thanks!

One more link you may find useful: Toronto-based Michel Neray has been helping people develop their "Essential Message" for years. Click here for Michel's self-marketing tools.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A proposition you can't refuse

My Financial Post column this week deals with an age-old problem: composing a brief, powerful positioning statement that explains what you do and engages listeners’ attention without burying them in detail.

This should be Job One for Canadian entrepreneurs, but sadly, very few know how to do it.

There’s lots of information in books, magazines and websites on how to do this right (click here for a random example). But there’s always room for more.

So this week I wrote about marketing consultants Ian Chamandy and Ken Aber of Toronto-based Blueprint, who came up with the idea of seven-word positioning statements – which they call Inspiring Propositions. Then they take it a step farther by helping you build a complete customer dialogue and corporate “architecture” around your IP.

Excerpt:
When they started Blueprint three years ago, Chamandy and Aber weren't hooked on "seven words." They were trying to help companies plan better. But when they met with management, they found no one could ever answer the question, "Why should a customer choose you?" As they helped organizations develop mission statements, they realized the best were also the simplest. At seven words or less, Chamandy says, "they're easy to understand and articulate." And they're short enough to remember -- not just for the client's staff, but for their clients, too.

You don't need to hire a consulting firm to develop an IP, although Chamandy insists it's not something you can do by yourself. The process involves reviewing rigorously -- and from an outsider's perspective -- everything you do. "It's the difference between what you're selling and what the customers are buying."

Click here for the full Post column.
Click here for Blueprint’s website to get more information.

And here’s a bonus: a website that helps you produce your own positioning statement in five minutes. It’s pretty low-tech (and it’s a lot more than seven words), but if you don't know what to say, it’s a good place to start.
Click here to begin.

Thursday update: Reader Rob MacArthur of Halifax sends along a link to another site geared to help you pitch and promote more effectively. Click here for Vator.tv!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 71

The latest installment in our weekly series of motivational quotes designed to get your week off to an inspired start.

This week: a Canadian adman and consultant on one of the most precious assets in business: wisdom.

"There are no degrees in wisdom...
The process of developing wisdom is not random, but involves deliberate reflection and constant practice."

John Dalla Costa, summing up his 1995 book, Working Wisdom

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why "Going Green" pays off

How important is “going green” to your business? Perhaps more important than you think, not just in terms of saving the environment, but in cutting costs as well, and even recruiting new talent.

In a thoughtful e-newsletter article, Toronto accountants Bennett Gold LLP analyze some of today’s environmental trends. You can skim the first half of the article, which deals with recent legislative developments. The good stuff starts here:

“Don't get the idea that only the corporate giants can benefit from green practices. Some observers suggest that by integrating sustainability into their operations, small and medium-sized companies can boost profits by at least 65% over five years. Companies can save money by using less gas, electricity, and heating oil, as well as trimming waste volume, which lowers the need for some of the labour and machines needed to handle waste.”

“Green” businesses can also expect reduced recruiting and attrition costs. According to one survey, “three-fifths of college graduates and potential employees said ‘ethical management’ is an important factor in choosing an employer. Another global study of graduates showed that nearly 70% of respondents felt that a company's social and environmental reputation is more important than salary.”

That number sounds high to me, but just think of the implications to your business if the true number of graduates who rank “green” ethos over salary is even half that. It suggests to me that a small business can make itself an employer of choice much more easily than its larger, harder-to-steer competitors.

Bennett Gold’s article concludes with five tips for going green. Most seem more geared to big businesses rather than small, but they're worth thinking about.

1. Take an environmentally conscious approach to product design changes. Conduct research and testing on products before regulations impose new mandatory standards.

2. Coordinate efforts with all departments. Look for improvements that can be made in your buildings, workforce, supply chain and vehicle fleets.

3. Ask your marketing department to play a role. Strive to raise awareness among your customers, as well as the public in general, of the importance of new environmental approaches. It projects an image of social responsibility to customers and the community.

4. Work to help develop policy. (Yeah, right. Next.)

5. Expand your C-suite. Many companies are adding a Chief Energy Officer or VP of Sustainability to manage their energy strategies and measure return on investment. Their objective: improve corporate reputations, lower costs and boost profits.

Bottom line: You have a choice between adopting a wait-and-see approach to government regulation and stepping up self-regulation in anticipation – with the hope of seizing a sustainable competitive advantage. (The bad pun is mine, not BG’s.)

Read the original article here.

Update: Is green business a priority to you? Let us know by answering the new poll in the right-hand margin of this blog. It will be "live" for the month of February. Thanks very much. (And as always, if you have a comment, click on "Comments" below.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Happy Birthday three-year-old!

Three-year-olds are notorious for being active and curious. They also need way too much attention.

Which pretty much describes this blog, which turned three years old on Feb. 1.
Hopefully, this is the last self-promotional post for a while. But in the blogiverse, three years is a long time, and worth recording. Thank you for your support.

There is so much more to discover.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 70

Another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotes designed to get your week off to an inspired start.

This week: J. Paul Getty’s formula for business success:

“Rise early, work late, strike oil.”

In other words, as I see it, normal play-it-safe work patterns will not give you the breakthrough you want. Only a breakthrough will give you the breakthrough you want.

So don't go looking for “business as usual.” There’s no leverage in it.

Not as smart as they should be

A new survey out today says that Canadian entrepreneurs aren't as smart as they should be when it comes time to selling their businesses.

Newport Partners, a Toronto-based financial advisory firm, says its poll reveals that many business owners are waiting until they get an offer before they address key issues in selling a business. They haven't prepared their business for sale and they don't have the systems in place to extract maximum value, which means they're not negotiating from strength, and they're leaving money on the table.

I was also intrigued by the survey’s finding that “sellers' remorse” is surprisingly common. The former owners don't regret selling, but they may regret their failure to get the best deal for themselves, or for their management, staff and customers.

They also have lots of advice for business owners who haven't sold yet.

For more on the survey, see my column in today’s Financial Post.

You can also read Newport’s press release here.