Monday, June 30, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 91

Here’s the latest entry in our series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

In honour of Canada Day (July 1), here's a message from Canada's first Prime Minister.

"Whatever you do, adhere to the Union. We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken."
Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891)
from an 1861 speech, quoted in E.B. Biggar, Anecdotal life (1891)

How Manufacturers Will Survive

Here’s a powerful story from PROFIT Magazine that illustrates the journey many (if not most) Canadian manufacturers will have to make to survive in today’s competitive global economy.

Peter Hart runs a company in St-Laurent, Que. called Rideau Recognition Solutions. It started out making custom jewellery and promotional merchandise, but by the 1980s it was clear that Canadian manufacturing would become a dying art.

To survive, Rideau adopted a new strategy based on the highest value it provided to its customers. It`s now become a hybrid manufacturer and service supplier specializing in employee- and customer-incentive programs.

As Eleanor Beaton wrtes in the June 2008 issue of PROFIT, ``No longer would he sell only corporate gifts to order; he’d sell a turnkey recognition system that would encourage customers to stick with Rideau."

That change has helped Rideau rank in the Top 200 of Canada`s Fastest-Growing Companies for the past three years.

There's lots more, but you will have to click here to read the rest of the story.

The lesson: your greatest asset is not the product you make, or how you make it. It's the relationships you have with your customers and how well you understand how to solve their problems.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sign up for your free RickAlert

I got had the hugest compliment the other day when a friend told me that his son buys the Financial Post every Monday just to read my column. What makes this especially cool is that the son, a business professor, didn’t know his father and I are friends.

On the other hand, many contacts have told me they already read two newspapers a day. While they would like to read my "Growth Curve" column, they just can't bring themselves to buy another paper.

So I’m starting a handy new service.
Every week I will send out an e-mail with the link to my latest column at National Post.com, which is usually posted every Monday morning. That way, anyone can read my column each week, without having to remind themselves to go looking for it.

If you would like to receive your weekly RickAlert, send me an email. I’m rick (-at-) rickspence.ca

(Of course, your email address will be known only to me, and will never be sold, rented or otherwise abused.)

Fast Talk: Lessons from the PROFIT 100

Every year the editors at PROFIT Magazine ask the entrepreneurs who run Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies to offer their best management/leadership advice.

The result is always a plethora of poetic punditry, like a graduate business class taught in haiku. Here are some of the gems unearthed from this year’s PROFIT 100 team.

Come up with a plan, and stick to it. Do what you say you are going to do.

Tell your employees about your strategy, repeat it over and over and over again, and get them to own a part of the outcome.

Be willing to constantly evolve your management practices to meet the changes in your market.

Treat your people well and they'll treat your customers well, and your revenue will follow.

Never stop dreaming! People give up too easily.

Manage your business by numbers. The more you look at your numbers and the more reports you have to analyze your business, the quicker you can make decisions.

See yourself as a servant, find really great people and give them everything they need to succeed.

Assess risk, but don’t be afraid to take it.

Be positive about the future. That gives you your strength when things get tough.

Hire the right people, but don’t trust them. Always have checks and balances in place to ensure everybody in the company is doing their job.

Don’t let your good people leave.

Compete for talent the same way you would compete for a customer.

Maintain focus on a niche market, where the competition isn’t nearly as intense. Then, hopefully, you can own it.

Market yourself. If you’re leading the company, you’re the person customers are looking at.

Don’t underestimate the value that a strong banking relationship can add to your growth.

Believe in karma. What you do comes back to you.

Don’t stop till you succeed.

You can read the whole list in the June issue of PROFIT. It's on newsstands now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin's Business Smarts

Trail-blazing comedian George Carlin died Sunday at the age of 71. The Toronto Star today published his "advice to young comics," which originated in a 2001 interview with Carlin by Star correspondent Leatrice O'Neill.

I thought Carlin's advice was pertinent to artists and entrepreneurs everywhere. We practice much the same craft: selling ourselves and our ideas, communicating with others, keeping our pitch unique and fresh.

Here's what he said:

"Get out in front of the audience as often as you can. That's an obvious thing, but there are people who don't do it as often as they should. Just hear yourself. You gotta hear yourself all the time."

In other words, practice makes perfect.

"Don't worry about what they think of it. It's up to you. Find your common voice. Find your identity. It took me a long time."

Entrepreneurs too must find their own voice: their own mission statement, their own cost-benefit ratio, their own unique brand.

"The writing must be given all the attention. You gotta write good stuff. You gotta be thinking. You gotta be using your head all the time."

Entrepreneurs reinvent themselves all the time. Their market is always shifting, the competition is catching up. Entrepreneurs, like their BlackBerrys, are "always on."

In honour of Mr. Carlin and his entrepreneurial instincts, here are seven words and phrases you don't hear enough on TV:
Hard work; invest; responsibility; accountability; market (as a verb); long-term; strategic planning.

RIP, George.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shhhh -- a big international confererence is here in Canada!

As I write this, the International Council for Small Business is holding its annual conference in Halifax, N.S. How do I know this? I read it on my blog.

You may not have noticed the new feature, Entre-News, at the bottom of the right-hand column on this page. It's a customizable newsfeed provided by Google based on keywords I select. I just installed it last week, and I change the keywords regularly. Last week I set it to "Calgary business" and then "Vancouver business," and tonight I changed the search term to "Halifax entrepreneur." And what pops up but news that the world's pre-eminent small-business research body is meeting in Canada this week for the first time since 1979!

The academics' theme this year is "Advancing Small Business and Entrepreneurship: From Research to Results." Though something tells me that if they were really interested in results, they might have informed this blog of the event. Okay, it's not just the blog - I'm also the only national small-business columnist in the country. You'd think they would let a guy know...

According to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (it was my grandmother's favourite newspaper), the conference, which runs till June 25, brings together more than 1,000 policy-makers, academic researchers, educators, service providers and consultants focused on small-business entrepreneurship.

"The biggest outcome will be the sharing of knowledge and the building of global networks," says Annette St.-Onge, a senior vice-president with the council and vice-president of Solutions for Women Business Owners Inc.

Among the topics being discussed: startups in China, technology transfer in Tunisia, microcredit, the development of entrepreneurship education in Canada, Entrepreneurs as Educators, design thinking for small business, Creating a New Generation of Business Leaders in Atlantic Canada, Support for Aboriginal Entrepreneurs, top-down tourism strategies, characteristics of fast-growth businesses, hiring practices in small business, SME exporters, Strategic Planning for Social Enterprises, "Hidden Champions in Developing Countries," Improving the Business Environment at the Municipal Level in Latin America, "Entrepreneurship and the Role of Government in Post-Socialist Economies," and many more. That's just a sampling of today's topics.

Obviously, this is a conference for scholars and theorists, not practicing business people. We can only hope that some of their research will make it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of people who can use it.

For more information on the conference or topics discussed, click here.
Read the detailed workshop program here.

WANTED: Young, Fast-Growing Companies

If you run a young, fast-growing business, you may belong on the PROFIT HOT 50!

Now in its 9th year, the PROFIT HOT 50 is the definitive list of Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies, ranked by PROFIT Magazine based on two-year revenue growth. A PROFIT HOT 50 ranking can inspire your staff, attract new clients, and spark relationships with other dynamic companies.

PROFIT HOT 50 companies enjoy many other benefits, including coverage in the October 2008 issue of PROFIT Magazine and online year-round at PROFITguide.com. PROFIT HOT 50 leaders also receive a free invitation to GrowthCamp, an exclusive three-day summit.

If your firm was launched on or after January 1, 2004, enter the PROFIT HOT 50 today!
The entry deadline is June 30.

For more information or to enter online, click here, visit or call 1-800-713-GROW.

(Rick's note: Yeah, I let this breathless press release run mostly unedited, mainly because it reminds me of when I used to write them. Seriously, though, many entrepreneurs have told me that GrowthCamp is the most outstanding business event they've ever attended. If your firm qualifies, don't miss this opportunity to apply for the Hot 50. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience!)

You can also read up on last year's Hot 50 winners here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 90

Here’s the latest entry in our 100-week series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an entrepreneurial start.
This week: communication advice from a cartoon character.

"If something is so complicated that you can't explain it in 10 seconds, then it's probably not worth knowing anyway."

- Calvin, precocious child hero of the 1985-1995 comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, created by cartoonist Bill Watterson.

Although this quote was put in the mouth of a six-year-old cartoon character, its message strikes me as true. The way to communicate a complex idea is to offer your listeners the 10-second version first, and then ask if they want to hear more. Otherwise you risk boring your audience - or worse.

While he was much more impulsive, Calvin shares many characteristics with Charlie Brown - mature and introspective, with sophisticated insight and an implausibly rich vocabulary.
A few more choice Calvin quotes:

"I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know."
"If you do the job badly enough, sometimes you don't get asked to do it again."

"Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless."
"True friends are hard to come by...I need more money."

"To make a bad day worse, spend it wishing for the impossible."

Friday, June 20, 2008

From innovation to profit

Canadian entrepreneurs need to do a much better job of turning their ideas into commercially successful businesses. Many innovators and inventors are surprised to find out that the business side of commercialization is so much harder than the process of developing the product or servce in the first place. (Which is why Dragons' Den, with its emphasis on customer needs and marketing plans, is such a great national resource.)

My column in the National Financial Post this week looks directly at this problem. It's titled, "Take budding idea from prototype to final product," and it offers a seven-step formula for turning a product or service innovation into a million-dollar business. The points come from longtime Grimsby, Ont. innovator Ron Gdanski, who shared his experiences at the recent Innovation Forum sponsored by Enterprise Toronto.

It starts, naturally, with communication. Gdanski urges innovators to start by recognizing that their most valuable asset is not the invention they've been obsessively perfecting for so many years, but the way they describe it to others.

Read all about it, right here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Live-blogging the PROFIT 100 Summit- All-Star Panel

The panel featured three smart leaders of prominent PROFIT 100 companies: Tony Lacavera, Globalive Communications; Rebecca MacDonald, Energy Savings Income Fund; John Nemanic, former CEO of Tucows/InternetDirect, now with GeeksforLess.com and TransGaming Technologies.

Q: What did you do that made your companies successful?

Nemanic: “I hired people smarter than me, because if they're not smarter than me, we`re not going to get to the level we need.”

MacDonald: created a flat management structure where you are never more than two phone calls away from a decision.

How do you deal with employees who can't grow with your company?

Lacavera: has had to fire friends five or six times. It’s hard to do, but it usually works out for the best for everyone.

Nemanic: “My experience is that the employees that give you the biggest headaches are not the ones you fire, but the ones you should have fired.”

Update 2
What other activities are getting your attention now?

Nemanic: Learning to surf (he has a house on the water in Panama); developing a closer relationship with his sons; working on alternative biotech projects.

MacDonald: Expanding into the States: “Try doing business in Texas when you're a woman with an accent.” She has a five-year goal for Energy Savings to become the dominant player in North America.

Lacavera: Buying up bandwidth to create a national wireless platform that will reduce telecom costs.

Go Yak!

Live-Blogging the P100 Summit - 2

Here are some points from PROFIT 100 speaker Brian Beaulieu, a common sense, plain-speaking economist, from the Institute for Trend Research. He warned us early on, “I don't have good news for you.”

* The US economy has slowed down to less than 1% growth.

* The liquidity crunch has not gone away.

* There’s a breaking point for how long the consumer can keep the growth going, in Canada and the U.S. Canada is hampered by the strong loonie, shrinking auto industry, and low levels of business reinvestment.

* “You will be confronted with increasing headwinds and you have to be ready for this.“

* “A perfectly acceptable strategy is to sell your business at the top of the business cycle ... you could sell it to your kids.“

* “Banks have a new model now: It’s ‘trust no one.’ And they don't…they're running scared as can be ... And that's how a liquidity problem spreads very rapidly.“

UPDATE 2:

Beaulieu has just credited previous speaker Jaynie Smith: “One of the ways to combat an economic downturn is to understand what your strategic advantages are, and then pound away at them.“

He forecasts a steeper downturn than in 2001-2; more like the recession of the early 1980s. As Mark Twain said, “History doesn't like to rrepeat itself, but it sure likes to rhyme.“

Update 3:

* The deflationary trend for U.S. home prices will go till early 2010.
* Bealieu says interest rates will go up 100 basis points over the next year – and he`s an optimist. Some economists think rates will rise by 200 to 300 basis points: “That will delay recovery to 2012.“

Here`s the good news: “You should be thinking, so what? How do I turn this economic weakness to my advantage?“

* “A downturn can mean enhanced economic opportunities... at the bottom (2010) there will be lots of opportunities if you have the guts.

* His advice: “In 2010 you go into debt as much as you can – fixed, long-term debt. You borrow and borrow and borrow.”

* “You need cash and visceral fortitude. If you don't have those two things you will miss out on that massive period of opportunity.“

* “This will be the mother of all buying opportunities for real estate… Buy as much as you can, and then sail through the rest of your lives watching the value of your real estate go up around you.”

Update 4:
Beaulieu cited the following sectors as growth industries or recession hedges:
Energy, travel, green, higher education, health-care practices, leisure, pets.
* ``There`s a worldwide explosion in pets,`` he said. ``We see people cutting back on dental care in order to take their pets to the vet.”

He ended on a high note. “We have no excuse for letting our business go into business cycles- not in this room anyway.”

Liveblogging the Profit 100 Summit-1

I'm in the dining room at the Granite Club which is packed with PROFIT 100 entrepreneurs assembled for a one-day summit and celebration.

Florida-based speaker Jaynie L. Smith is talking about competitive advantage. She's the author of a book called Creating Competitive Advantage.

She started off by asking the attendees to write down their competitve advantage. Then she asked people to stand up if they had written down any of the following advantages:

Customer Service
Quality
Reputation
Results
Employees

Pretty well everyone was standing up by then.

Smith then pointed out that those are the same competitive advantages everyone else is selling. In other words, everyone is selling the same thing. All those wonderful qualities - including knowledge, innovation, relationships, etc. - are all just commodities now.

They're all cliches.

2. Jaynie is explaining Three Types of Competitive Advantage. And everyone is writing this down. Well, except for those on their Blackberries.

Sustainable: can be maintained, with a little work.
Competitive Advantage: differentiates us for a time.
Competitive Positioning: may not be unique, but can position you as a leader.

A few minutes ago, she mentioned the book Differentiate or Die as must reading for CEOs: "If you don't have tme to read it, just memorize the title."

Smith's 3 Strategic Flaws of Most Companies:
1. They don't have a competitive advantage;
2. or they have them, but don't know them;
3. or they know them, but don't tell them.

She asked the CEOs of they recognized themselves on this list. From the murmurs in the room, most of them think they're either No. 2 or 3.

Update 3.
Create statements of competitive advantage by analyzing what matters to customers. Examples: “We have a 95% customer retention rate.”
“85% of our business comes from referrals.”

Where possible, relate these statements to your competition. Example: Saying you have 50 service reps is not as powerful as saying that you have 25% more reps than the competition.

Where do we find these statements? “Right under our nose,” says Smith. She cites the example of J Tech, a supplier of pagers to the restaurant industry. They allow restaurants to notify guests waiting in the bar when their tables are ready in the dining room. When Motorola started eyeing their niche, J Tech went to Smith for help. She helped them come up with the compelling statement, “Of the 50 top restaurants, 100% of them use our pagers.” Motorola never did enter the market.

Your goal, says Smith, is to build confidence and reduce risk in the buying decision. When you do that you no longer have to compete on price.

Update 4.

Look for “only statements” you can make: they are the only true competitive advantage. E.g., we are the only supplier with this system, with this level of quality, or to be chosen by all the best seafood restaurants on the east coast.

``Invest in appropriate market research” to make sure you know why your customer buys. Her company has done a lot of market research for their clients on buying decisions, and often she gets to tell her clients why their customers buy from them. Usually she asks them to tell her why they think their customers buy – and in the past few years, she says, only one company has ever gotten that right. And even they only got two out of three.

Even if it costs you $15,000, she says, outside market research will be a much better investment than lowering your price.

Update 5:
Look for the Shadow Effect: What one thing is so important to your customers that they will forgive you for everything else. EG, for airlines it`s leaving on time: if you can do that, then your customers are likely to think that their flight is smoother and your food tastes better.

You have to identify the Shadow Effect in your marketplace, and then make sure everything you do revolves around getting that right.

One more point: What do visitors want from your website. Not ``About Us``, but ``Why Us.``

Monday, June 16, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 89

Here’s the latest entry in our ongoing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an entrepreneurial start.

"So much for a 'temporary measure' introduced to fund the expenses of the First World War."
Ottawa software developer Ram Balakrishnan, commenting on income taxes to mark Tax Freedom Day, which took place across Canada on June 14 this year.

Balakrishnan has been blogging since 2004 under the name Canadian Capitalist. (His site, recently ranked the 5th most popular personal finance blog by the Globe & Mail, has long ranked as one of this blog’s “Best Outside Posts” -- see list at right.)

According to the Fraser Institute, Tax Freedom Day marks the day on which Canadians start working for themselves every year – having spent the first 5 1/2 months of the year working just to pay their taxes. (Besides income tax, the burden of course includes sales taxes, EI premiums, CPP contributions, provincial health premiums, municipal property taxes, employer contributions to EI and CPP, liquor tax, tobacco tax, amusement tax, fuel tax, gasoline tax, land transfer tax, motor vehicle license tax, import duties, and so on.)

The good news is that Tax Freedom Day is now coming earlier and earlier each year. After hitting a record-late date of June 25 in 2005, TFD took place on June 23 in 2006 and June 18 in 2007. Enjoy!

For more on Tax Freedom Day click here.

Seinfeld on Marketing

Can Seinfeld teach you about marketing? Utah marketer Bill Gammell thinks so. He’s written a short e-book called Seinfeld on Marketing: 7 Marketing Lessons from the Cast of the Show about Nothing.

I was never a huge fan of the show, but the following excerpt from the script (reprinted in the book as Lesson 2) sounds eerily real.

Jerry is picking up his reserved rental car at the rental agency:
JERRY: I made a reservation for a mid-size.
AGENT: Okay, let’s see here. (The agent checks on her computer)…
I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.
JERRY: I don’t understand. I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation?
AGENT: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.
JERRY: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
AGENT: I know why we have reservations.
JERRY: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation, and that’s really the most important part of the reservation—the holding. Anybody can just take them.

Funny stuff. And it feels so real. I've been in many situations like this, and I just wish I had Jerry’s clarity in pointing out the gaps in the clerk’s logic.

Gammell draws a lesson in branding from this scene:
"When you think about it, a reservation is nothing more than an expectation. And quite simply, this is also the definition of a brand. A brand is a perceived expectation in an exchange of value. In other words, if I give you something that I value (my time or my money), then I expect something of value in return from you. The stronger the brand is, the greater the expectation I have. But this expectation of mine goes much deeper than just your products or services. It is an expectation of anything and everything relating to your business."

If you want more, you can download the e-book for free by clicking here. It’s a fun read that won't take 15 minutes.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Your Dragons' Den preview

I spent yesterday at CBC on the set of Dragons’ Den, the show that brings together aspiring entrepreneurs with multimillionaire investors – for fun, financing, and fireworks. Its two-week shooting schedule winds down today, and the show will run for 10 weeks (or possibly more) starting in October.

As a guest on the set, I can't tell you what specifically I saw. But crew members are crowing that more deals are being done than ever – and for much higher amounts. This could be the year that the Dragons earn their wings.

New dragon W. Brett Wilson (second from right), who made his money in the oil business in Calgary, this year replaces Lawrence Lewin, who has bowed out for health reasons. He brings a more thoughtful, purpose-driven approach to angel investing, so there have been fiery clashes with some of the more veteran dragons who have made a reputation as being solely driven by the “Mun-ey” (as Kevin O’Leary would say).

Since I can't give you specific tidings, here are some of the Dragon quotes I noted down during yesterday’s taping. They should give you a taste of what’s coming up in Season III.

“Financial abuse is a serious crime. You should be arrested.”
“You're solving a problem no one knows they have.”
“You don't take No for an answer.”
“What I like about me is my consistency.”
“There's something scary about your inability to accept No.”
“This business is worth only five times EBITDA because it doesn't grow.”
“I’m going to be dead in 20 years. I want my money back sooner.”
“If you worked for me, I’d fire you.”
“I'm just waiting for us to save the whales on this one.”
“How can you not know your margins?”
“You're asking me to minimize your risk. As an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to take the risk.”
“I like your product, I like your presentation. I don't like the deal.”
“As an officer in the public markets, there is no way I can be booty-licious.”
"You can't talk yourself out of a crazy valuation.”
“Now you make me crazy. Now you make me mad.”
“People are lazy. They won't input the data.”
“Your product is fantastic. Stop developing the product and start selling the product.”
“I beg you not to pursue this. It’ll be as slaughterfest.”
“In the nicest possible way, this is not a good business.”

I also enjoyed the Dragons’ interplay with each other.
“Is gigajoules a real word?”
“Are you out?” “As out as I can be.”
“People let you near their babies?”
“Could you be any more predictable?”
“Am I the only one still thinking?”
“I think this is the highest ratio of valuation to crap that we've ever seen.”

Looks like a fun ride.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Creating a culture of innovation

This morning I took part in a ceremony launching Peel Region’s new RIC Centre (Research, Innovation and Commercialization) in Mississauga. Mayor Hazel McCallion was there, along with the local MP, the chair of Peel Region, and the head of the Board of Trade.

The organizers showed their innovative-ness by inviting four local business people to help open the centre – all named Rick. There was Rick Drennan of the Mississauga Business Times, Richard Fine of RMF Manufacturing & Design, and Rick Holden of Best Buy (Witty) Insurance – and me.

I support resources such as the RIC Centre, which aims to connect inventors to resources, mentors and expertise. As I said in my brief remarks:

"In my experience, when innovation fails, it fails for one of four reasons:
* the inventor fell in love with his product;
* the business was undercapitalized;
* the marketing plan was ineffective, insufficient or non-existent;
* or the innovators failed to realize how long commercialization takes, and how many changes even the best products have to go through before they succeed.

The same problems recur, over and over again. And all of them can be solved by places such as the RIC Centre.”

But I also went off-script to respond to a few remarks made by previous speakers. For instance, Peel regional Chair Emil Kolb, who operates a family farm near Bolton, Ont., noted that the original farmers who pioneered Mississauga probably couldn't have imagined what goes on at a place like the RIC Centre.

I took issue with that, pointing out that the farmers I know are tremendous innovators and inventors. They are always tinkering with crops and seeds and fertilizers to find the best combinations. And they're constantly collaborating with other farmers to identify best practices. I believe that’s exactly the culture we're trying to recreate today!

A couple of speakers also criticized the shortage of venture capital in Canada. I pointed out that Canadian entrepreneurs have to take some of the blame for that. If we had all been better at commercialization, Canada’s venture capitalists would have made a lot more money over the past decade, and there would be a whole lot more capital to throw around today. Incubators such as the RIC Centre can help overcome these problems – but until they do, Canadian VCs can hardly be blamed for not throwing good money after bad.

I may never get invited back.

June 11 update: Click here for the writeup from the Mississauga News, which also published the photo below.
Joining Mayor Hazel McCallion are, from left, VP of Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga Ulli Krull, Financial Post journalist and speaker Richard Spence, Mississauga Business Times Editor Rick Drennan, MPP Mississauga-Streetsville Bob Delaney, Rick Holden of Best Buy (Witty) Insurance, Rick Fine of RMF Design, Peel Region Chairman Emil Kolb and Mississauga Board of Trade Chair Jake Dheer.

More on the PROFIT 100

If you want more information on PROFIT Magazine's new list of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies (see previous post), here are the most likely links.

Click here for the "overview" story that explains what the PROFIT 100 is and what it means.

Click here for the PROFIT 100 rankings.

Here are the listings on a handy downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

Here's the profile of the No. 1 company. I was pleased to be asked to write it.

Here's Cam Cornell's story on P100 best management practices. Lots of great ideas you can borrow.

And here is the Next 100 - Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies, #101-200.

The magazine includes some enlightening interviews with past PROFIT 100 entrepreneurs, in celebration of the PROFIT 100's 20th anniversary. I'll let you know when they post that. (Or you can buy it on the newsstand in handy paper form.)

The issue also includes editor Ian Portsmouth's editorial grumbling about the year that PROFIT ranked 300 companies. So it wasn't one of my better ideas...

But it was 2000. That's the sort of thing people did back then.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Who are Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies?

My column in today’s National Post takes a look at the PROFIT 100, the list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies that was just published by PROFIT Magazine.

(First, thanks to my Post editors, for letting me analyze another publisher’s project. Too often these days, the media giants cover mainly their own media partners [e.g., Globe and CTV, Canwest and Global TV], and ignore the worthwhile stuff in competing media.)

The PROFIT 100 tells us a lot about today’s economy: where the opportunities are, and why entrepreneurship is a much more dynamic force than your parents ever taught you it would be. The 100 companies on the PROFIT 100 enjoyed average five-year revenue growth of 1,800%. Only a handful of these companies existed 20 years ago, but now they account for $7.9 billion in export revenues.

A full 42% provide business services; just 19 are in manufacturing. There are 12 software developers, and lots of companies providing other high-tech products and services, including Research in Motion, which placed on the list for a record-tying eighth time.

But the No. 1 company is a daycare supplier: Kids & Company, of Markham, Ont., which had five-year growth of 12,639%.

Proof that opportunity is everywhere.

You can read my Post column here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Part 88

Here’s the newest entry in our ongoing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an entrepreneurial start.

Today, a bugle call for entrepreneurs everywhere:

“He who does something at the head of one regiment will eclipse him who does nothing at the head of a hundred.”

Abraham Lincoln
1809-1865

(Little-known fact: Lincoln was an unsuccessful storekeeper in New Salem, Ill., before he became America's greatest president. You see, being an entrepreneur is tougher than most people think.)

Apropos of our previous post, about dealing with No’s, Lincoln lost more elections than he won. Even as he awaited the result of his first race for a seat in the Illinois legislature in 1832, Lincoln wrote: "If the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointment to be much chagrined." Persistence paid off when he won his first election two years later. At the age of 25.

About those No's

I wanted to share one other insight from Rory Sheehan, a trainer and sales coach who spoke at last week’s Innovation Forum presented by Enterprise Toronto. (Also see previous post.)

Sheehan had some good advice on dealing with prospects who say “No.”

“A lot of people are going to say ‘No’ to you,” says Sheehan. “Usually, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction; they're saying ‘No’ out of force of habit.”

Never take the “no’s” personally. "It’s not about you or your product,” says Sheehan. These auto-responders don't understand your proposition, and haven't given it much (if any) thought.

It’s just like when you go into a store and a clerk asks if they can help you. You probably say “No, thank you, just looking,” even if you're intending to buy something. It’s a conditioned reflex.

You can't let the “No’s” discourage you, says Sheehan, who reminded his audience of aspiring innovators that when Ross Perot was founding EDS, he endured 87 No’s before he got his first Yes.

It’s all about persistence - and confidence, Sheehan says. No matter how great you think you are (or your product is), “you have to be prepared to get a whole bunch of No’s before you get a Yes.”

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Business Blunders, Management Mistakes

I’m pleased to announce a new blog in the family.

You may already know that in addition to Canadian Entrepreneur, I also write a blog called Selling to Small Business (recently redesigned for your enjoyment).

This week I am launching a third blog, New Management Welcome. As forecast in a post on Canadian Entrepreneur three months ago, New Management Welcome is a light-hearted look at typical business blunders and bad decisions – any one of which could prompt the exclamation, “New Management Welcome.”

The inspiration for the title came from an actual restaurant sign I spotted in March. It just seemed the right title for a blog that looks at what happens when management drops the ball.

Among the early posts you’ll find on the new blog are an airline website that misses the mark, the waitress that got laid off after shaving her head for charity, and actual video of an employee going berserk.

You’ll want to bookmark the site and return often. There’ll be a new business lesson in every post.

Click here for a warm Welcome.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Three questions to ask your prospects

I just came back from attending a few morning sessions at Enterprise Toronto’s “Innovation Forum.” I was impressed with speaker Rory Sheehan, a Toronto-based trainer and sales consultant.

His job was simple: teach a bunch of innovators and innovators to think like salespeople. Simple, like swimming up Niagara Falls.

The first thing, says Sheehan, is to forget selling “benefits.” People don't care about benefits, he says: they just want to know whether your product or service will solve their problem.

(I’m not sure I accept this blanket statement, but I certainly agree that you can't start selling benefits until you understand your prospect’s key concerns. Saying that your dual-voltage appliance will work in North America and Europe is pointless if the client has no intention of going to Europe.)

Whether you are selling high-tech solutions or women’s shoes, Sheehan offers this valuable formula: “Ask every prospect three things.”

1. What is most important to you about … (your product or service, or, better still, whatever problem your product is trying to solve)?

2. What part of that answer is most important to you? (Shifting your understanding to a deeper level.)

3. If you get that (whatever it is you say you want), what is it going to do for you? (This relates to prospects’ motivations, and may help them sell themselves on your solution.)

Shannon offers a bonus question – another useful, open-ended question that can help you probe the customer’s problem or objectives: “Have you ever experienced ….?”

If you’re selling shoes, for instance, you might ask if the customer has ever experienced a real high-end luxury brand, or has ever had a problem with too-high heels. Either way, you will learn more about your customer and get more clues on how to solve their problem.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama's Leadership Moment

Barack Obama has just secured the Democratic nomination. A victory of style over substance, to my way of thinking, but we'll see how he does now in the main event - vs the Republicans.

In his speech tonight on St. Paul, Minn., he did an outstanding job positioning himself as a leader by praising his former rivals. You can learn a lot about leadership and graciousness from his remarks:

"At this defining moment for our nation, we should be proud that our party put forth one of the most talented, qualified field of individuals ever to run for this office. I have not just competed with them as rivals, I have learned from them as friends, as public servants, and as patriots who love America and are willing to work tirelessly to make this country better..."

"Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight..."

"You can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country, she will be central to that victory... Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honour to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Good leaders also know how to manage criticism and transform it into strengths. Here's how Obama redefined success:

"There are those who say that this primary has somehow left us weaker and more divided. Well I say that because of this primary, there are millions of Americans who have cast their ballot for the very first time. There are independents and Republicans who understand that this election isn't just about the party in charge of Washington, it's about the need to change Washington. There are young people, and African Americans, and Latinos, and women of all ages who have voted in numbers that have broken records and inspired a nation."

See what he did there?

I was disappointed, though, in Obama's take on the economy. As the candidate for "change," he should be in the forefront of supporting the new economy and promoting innovation. Instead he gives us standard NDP rhetoric: "Change is building an economy that rewards not just wealth, but the work and workers who created it."

That may play on Main Street, but it's not the message America needs to hear. It's innovation and productivity that creates wealth, not "workers" (sorry, Karl Marx). Until North Americans truly understand that clock-punching "workers" are now just a globally outsourceable commodity, value creation will continue to shift overseas.

Obama did give a shout-out to "improving our schools, and renewing our commitment to science and innovation." Let's hope he builds on that over the next five months.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 87

The latest entry in our ongoing series of motivational quotes, personally selected to get your week off to an inspired start.

This week: an ode to perseverance from Calgary's prairie prophet.

“If your luck isn't what it should be, write a “P” in front of it and try again.”

Robert (Bob) Edwards, editor of the Calgary Eye-Opener
Jan. 13, 1912