Thursday, December 31, 2009

Banish these bad business habits

For my column this week, the editors of the Financial Post asked me to contribute to their “Out with the Aughts” series marking the end of the decade. I took this as a cue to talk about some of the bad habits that Canadian businesses have picked up since 2000.

Based on the comments I've received, a lot of people identify with these bad habits. So let’s all look forward to eliminating them in 2010.

If you build it, they will come: Simply setting up a website won't bring thousands of customers to your door.

Wilful blindness: The tendency to say, "We can get along perfectly well without..." (choose your innovation: Facebook, Twitter, colour printers, spreadsheets, profit-sharing, consultants, a sales rep in Red Deer).

Hire now, ask questions later: We are seeing a return to diligent resume (and reference)checking.

Low-dollar denial: Business owners understand that they have to reinvest in productivity or fall behind.

Take a number and wait: Businesses today have to run on customer time.

Competing on price: Clients today have more choices than ever, so you must create the best customer experience you can afford.

Exporting is for Experts: E-commerce makes exporting possible for just about everybody.

Treating customers as a mass: It takes only a moment, sometimes just a word, to make customers feel special.

Neglecting Trust: Say what you do, do what you say. Dance as if everyone's watching.

Negativity: We are privileged to live in a time of unremitting change. For resourceful, optimistic entrepreneurs, the next decade could be a perfect 10

For more details and the full story, click here.

I wish you a safe, healthy and prosperous new year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What did you learn in 2009?

What did you learn in 2009?

Kim Clausen of Ready2Go Marketing Solutions is offering these 15 take-aways from the year just past, to help you position for the business year about to begin.

Here's her list:

1. Make people feel special.
2. Be a person of high integrity.
3. Over-deliver.

4. Deliver quality or don't deliver at all.
5. Value yourself. Embrace who you are.
6. Always make time for you.

7. Make learning a priority.
8. Be prepared to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term gain.
9. Support your colleagues. Refer them, speak well of them, use their services.

10. Collaborate - Don't try to do it alone. It's harder and lonelier.
11. You have no competitors. Always adopt an abundance mentality.
12. Always be growing your list.

13. Don't wait for perfect - Perfection can be the enemy.
14. Action is the enemy of fear. Just do it.
15. Failure isn't fatal. The more risks you take, the more successes you will have.

Find more like this from Kim Clausen at her blog, at http://ready2gomarketingsolutions.com/blog/

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Please accept my best wishes for a safe, happy, warming and memorable holiday season.

May all your Christmas dreams (ie, key performing indicators) come true.

Best Business Tips of the Year

What’s the best way to control costs in your business? How should you always start a sales presentation? Can customer-focused “lists” help you sell more?

My column in this week’s Financial Post looks at seven of the best ideas I gleaned this year from the hundreds of email newsletters that arrived in my inbox. It’s an annual look back at expert tactics that most of us either don't know or have long since forgotten.

Excerpt:

• Sell more by creating "lists" for customers. Toronto-based strategy consultant and speaker Donald Cooper wrote about the time he and his wife bought mountain bikes. The dealer was in such a hurry he failed to sell them the shoes, shorts, pullovers and panniers needed. They bought everything else from a rival retailer, who provided a handy list of the most popular accessories.
"Whatever business you're in, your customers are confused, overwhelmed and short of time," writes Cooper. "How could you pro-actively use simple lists to create confidence in your professionalism, help your customers save time, and have a complete and extraordinary experience ...and grow your bottom line?"

For the full story, click here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mission statement: It’s not about selling clothes

I understand why many companies struggle with creating their own set of vision, mission and value statements. It’s hard to instil personal values into a business context: What’s relevant? What’s appropriate?

How do we compress our complex corporate culture into a set of words on the page – without embarrassing ourselves, missing the point, boxing ourselves into a corner, or losing the whole spirit of the thing?

Yet getting it right is essential. Identifying a mission or vision is the essential first step to fully understanding it, nurturing it, communicating it to others and preserving (and extending) it.

And of course these days the best new employees judge a company as much by its values and culture as by old-fashioned concepts such as salary and location.

Here’s a great example of a Mission and Value statement for you to think about. It comes from legendary Vancouver-based retailer Please Mum.

It is packed with vibrant language, exciting concepts, and specific, daring intentions. It’s fun, inspiring, hopeful and empowering. It’s the sort of manifesto that would delight any potential employee and excite any potential customer.

Our Mission
Please Mum is a Canadian-based company rooted in a desire to make growing up fun for families.

Driven by customer feedback, we design and create a diverse selection of quality children's clothing that is fashionable, comfortable and easy care.


At the heart of our business is the experience we create for our customers, employees and their families. We strive to create a shopping experience for our customer that is easy and stress free and a work environment for our employees that is vibrant, challenging and provides a garden of opportunity.

Through living our values - Fun, Caring, Challenge, Creativity, Honesty, and Teamwork - we aspire to create an enjoyable experience for customers, employees and their families.

Values
Values represent what is fundamentally important to our company - they guide our behaviour and decision-making. At Please Mum we aspire to 6 core values.

Fun
• We take our business seriously, but approach it in a light-hearted manner
• We find joy and excitement in our work

Caring
• We promote empathy and understanding to our employees, customers and community
• We strive to provide everyone with what they need to be successful

Challenge
• We thrive by pushing boundaries and testing limits
• We seek to do great things and learn from our mistakes

Creativity
• We value imagination and resourcefulness to help separate us from the competition
• We employ interesting and creative people who collaborate to get things done

Honesty
• Trust is at the core of our foundation
• We are open and truthful with our co-workers and customers

Teamwork
• We foster a team environment by respecting the uniqueness each individual brings to the company
• We are excited to collaborate and share information to help make Please Mum as great as it can be

Rick again: What's your mission? What are your values?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

PROFIT's Top 10 Stories of the Year

PROFIT Magazine today sent out a newsletter promoting its Top 10 “Can’t Miss” stories of the year.

I was delighted to see they had chosen two of my stories in the Top 10 – a short, fun piece about business lessons from the new Star Trek film, and a first-person look at what went wrong that resulted in the death of one Canadian business earlier this year.

Beam to the Star Trek story here: http://tinyurl.com/ycls3mr
Attend the Post-Mortem here: http://tinyurl.com/ybhowtx

And here are the other 8 essential PROFIT stories of the year.

* Selling your baby : What to expect when you sell your company

* 5 simple ways to sell more : Tips from Canada's hotttest growth companies

* Become indispensable to your clients : How to get customers to admit they can't live without you

* Dragons' debate : A rousing roundtable of TV titans

* Cutthroat compassion : an aggressive approach to social responsibility.

* Sleep Country's Christine Magee shares her best business tips

* Given to distraction: Entrepreneurial Attention Deficit Disorder
* The four components of high-performance teams

Social Media Tipping Point

When three senior business people last week asked to pick my brains on social media, I realized marketing has reached a tipping point. People are moving away from mass media and starting to really come to grips with Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other marketing channels made possible by social media.

So in my Financial Post column this week, I tried to make sense of this burgeoning opportunity – with an 800-word guide to social media.

Excerpt:
“The humble electronic newsletter may still be your best tool for informing and motivating clients. Easier, cheaper and quicker to produce than the paper-based version, e-newsletters build relationships with clients by providing company and product news, industry updates, and advice on how to get more from your products.

"They also leave a trail of statistics that indicate how many people opened your message, what they read and how many visited your website and did what you want (e. g., registered or made a purchase).”

Read the full story here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Power is never given"

Artist/writer Hugh MacLeod, who blogs at http://www.gapingvoid.com/, has a list of business rules he says has "worked for me" over the years. The key ones are in the following chart.

There is much wisdom here, I believe. Plus bull, bluster and wishful thinking. What do you think?

"It was impossible to say 'no' to him"

David Pecaut, a tireless entrepreneur and activist for the City of Toronto, has died today of cancer. He was 54.

The founder of the Toronto City Summit Alliance and the arts festival Luminato, Pecaut was hailed in a Toronto Star online story today as "the greatest mayor we never had."

I was particularly intrigued by a comment in that story from Toronto mayor David Miller. He praised an ability of Pecaut's that we can all learn from - whether entrepreneurs or activists.

"He always finds ways to make things happen," said Miller. "It was impossible to say 'no' to him because he worked miracles to find common ground where the only answer was 'yes.'"

Finding common ground: surely the most important task facing any business executive, salesperson, entrepreneur or activist.

Thank you, David Pecaut, for showing us what can be.


PS: If you are interested in more, the Star last week published Pecaut's "love letter" to the city: his vision of what it could yet be. Here's an excerpt:

"We can be a city where collective leadership is the norm. A city where civic entrepreneurs are everywhere and the process of bringing all the parts of civil society together to solve a problem is really how the city defines its uniqueness - a city where this quality is the essence of what makes Toronto so special."

You can read Pecaut's last message here.

Globalive's Tony Lacavera: Teaming up with Goliath

It's great to see Industry Minister Tony Clement supporting Canadian entrepreneurship by ruling in favour of Toronto-based Globalive and its new WindMobile cellphone service.

Globalive is an innovative provider of a wide range of telecom services, from hotel-based long-distance to Yak phone and Internet services. Yet when founder Tony Lacavera decided two years ago to enter the bidding for wireless spectrum to help bring more competition to Canadian mobile industry, he couldn't raise any money in Canada or the U.S.

Lacavera called every contact he had in the financial business, as well as cold-calling wireless companies around the world in search of partners. He made all the calls himself, fuelled by equal parts aggression and humility. He knew Globalive couldn't pull off this coup on its own. “I don’t believe in ‘David and Goliath’ scenarios,” Lacavera told me last year. “If you hit big competitors in the eye, you’re going to lose.”

He finally found a Goliath partner in Orascom, the progressive Egyptian wireless company run by chairman and CEO Naguib Sawaris. In funding Globalive’s ramp-up, Sawaris agreed to a complex series of transactions and restrictions to satisfy Canada’s byzantine domestic ownership regulations. So everyone took a huge chance when Globalive bought $400 million of wireless spectrum last year.

And it’s good to see the federal government (which had approved the ownership structure prior to the CRTC’s questioning it) standing behind a gutsy Canadian innovator.

Wind has already hit the good running, with ads in major newspapers and today’s announcement that it will sell phone plans through kiosks in Blockbuster Video stores (in Toronto and Calgary, to start).

I interviewed Lacavera extensively late last year for a profile in PROFIT Magazine. Check out the story here for a look inside the mind of a great Canadian entrepreneur, and a peek at the future of telecom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tapping your fanbase

Does your business have loyal alumni, fans or other resources you could be making better use of?

My column in this week’s Financial Post looks at one entrepreneur who found a valuable resource of ideas and support under his very nose – once a year.

That entrepreneur is Vic Fedeli, mayor of North Bay, Ont., and my article explores how he meets every Boxing Day with young people who moved away from town – but still come home for Christmas. He asks them to brainstorm ways that North Bay, a city of 54,000, can develop a stronger economy, and what it would take to bring them back.

Result: he is leveraging a resource North Bay never knew it had – and getting lots of great ideas for strengthening the economy.

It's a good news story that reminds us of the human assets we may all be neglecting around us.

You can read the full story here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Top Business Opportunities for 2010

Susan Ward of About.com’s Small Business Canada has drawn up a list of the best Business Opportunities for 2010. If you're looking for a business to start or a new angle for your business, these are some of the most promising trends and opportunities she sees.

1) Green Construction: Green materials, green techniques, and green certifications are going to be the keys to success in construction this year.

2) Green Technologies: Both loans and grants are available from governments to fund projects that attempt to solve environmental challenges.

3) Dollar/Discount Stores: Consumers will continue to be frugal and look for bargains.

4) Senior Care: Opportunities range from opening your own senior-care home through providing in-home care or home services such as preparing meals, housekeeping or running errands.

5) Renovations for seniors: Seniors needing renovations to make their lives easier and stay in their own homes longer is a niche waiting to be exploited.

6) Heating and Cooling Products and Services: High energy prices combined with government tax breaks make this traditional industry a rich niche.

7) Local Food Suppliers: Knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown or raised is all the rage.

8) Nutrition Consulting: Consumers are looking for food information tailored to their lifestyle and health concerns. It will be a banner year for nutritionists and naturopaths.

9) Social Media Marketing/Management: If you can actually deliver actual effective social media marketing campaigns (blogs, Twitter, online video, etc.), the clients will follow.

10) Business Security: Businesses continue to beef up security investments, ranging from security guards to biometric identity systems.

“Taking into account the economy, consumer and business trends,” writes Ward, “these are businesses that should be profitable not just for 2010, but for years to come.”

To read her entire article, click here.

Rick adds: I like all these trends. But if you are looking for superior opportunities, why not look at where two trends converge (e.g., just as Ward did in identifying renovations for seniors)?

The intersection points of two growing trends can create opportunity squared. So why not think about specializing in social media for renovation contractors, cheap green products (to sell through dollar stores), or security systems focusing on agribusinesses? Ride the waves!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Marketing to small business

My Financial Post column this week offers 10 tips for marketing more effectively to small and medium-sized business.

The insights come from Jeff Berry of the Executive Council on Small Business, who shared his 10 points for making your marketing more "consumable” at a conference last week in Toronto.

The key, as in any market, is to better understand your target audience. When you know, for instance, that business owners are older than most people think, that they're more risk-avoiders than risk-takers, and that 60% are resolutely locally-oriented, then you can refine your marketing offers to match the actual mindset of your prospects.

Excerpt:

"Tactic 2: Reduce perceived risk by offering samples and free trials, refund periods or money-back guarantees. The more you promote such offers in your ads or website, the more you overcome buyers' fears of making a wrong decision."

Click here to read the full story.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

One Free Ticket to marketing seminar

Want to learn how to market your business better? For free?

The American Marketing Association - Toronto chapter is holding a seminar on "How to Market Your Small or Mid-Sized Business (So it Doesn’t Look Like One!)". It's at the Toronto Board of Trade on Tues., Dec. 8, from 8 am to noon. (Or come at 7.30 for breakfast).

The organizers offered me a guest ticket ($79 value), so I decided to hand it out to one of my blog or Twitter readers.

If you would like to enter a random draw for a free pass to the seminar, email me at rick@rickspence.ca by noon (Eastern Time) Friday, Dec. 4. You don't even have to write anything in the email - just put in a title like AMA Ticket. (Try not to use the word Free. Spam filters are funny that way).

I will pick a name at random shortly after noon, and let you know if you have won. If you haven't heard by 1 pm (EST), please assume you didn't win.

The seminar includes sessions on marketing plans, prospecting, creating buzz and building relationships. Plus there's a panel of successful entrepreneurs, including Razor Suleman of I Love Rewards, an amazing marketer whom I wrote about recently in PROFIT Magazine.

For more information on the seminar, or to actually buy a ticket, click here.

Why Put the Customer First?

I’m a customer-first person. I believe that when marketers put their own needs ahead of those of their customers, they lose in a big way. They may make the one-off sale, but they sacrifice the opportunity to turn a single transaction into a relationship.

Are you a customer-first person?

One customer-first marketer is Toronto real-estate agent Farrell Macdonald, who gives an example in his most recent newsletter. In September 2008, he helped a couple buy a condo. A few months ago, they called Macdonald again to explore “trading up” to a town home.

Macdonald writes: “I quickly did up a calculation showing them what they could expect to net from their current place and what they would have to pay for a larger property - including the land transfer tax and other closing costs. It was apparent that their plans to trade up were a little premature. Although disappointed, they thanked me for setting them straight.”

In other words, Macdonald helped his clients realize their best move was not to move just now. By spending time helping them understand the market, Macdonald forfeited a deal that could have earned him a healthy fee.

That’s customer-first.

In a perfect world, this deal would only be deferred, not lost. Theoretically, after proving his objectivity and professionalism, Macdonald should get the business next time, and possibly every time this couple moves. That’s the power of building trust through customer-first service.

The real world doesn't always work that way. People lose touch, people forget, someone else might come along and lure those customers away. But in the long run, this is the only way to go.

Are you prepared to lose a deal in order to serve the customer?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Staples launches business blog

Staples Business Depot has today launched “How’s Business?” a blog for Canadian small businesses. As far as I know, this is the first small business marketer to invest in a coherent blogging strategy for Canadian entrepreneurs.

This is a move I applaud. As one of the top small business-related brands in the country, Staples has the goodwill and the savvy to become a credible purveyor of business advice and insight.

I met recently with the Staples marketing brainstrust and they also understand – unlike many bloggers, both individual and corporate – that their blogposts will have to be engineered to benefit the reader first, not the company. They know that in today’s over-marketed economy, you have to give first to gain your target audience’s attention and respect before you can hope to have any influence.

The posts published so far (e.g., startup myths, a business plan primer, creating a workspace, dealing with failure, avoiding identity theft, and of course blogging) live up to the promise of creating value without excessive self-promotion. Looks like http://blog.staples.ca/ will be worth bookmarking.

“How’s Business?” is integrated with an improved business-resource centre that includes articles, links, how-to videos and so on. And there are already some good conversations going on in the “comments” appended to each post.

The blog leans on guest contributors, which is good. But most of the posts come from someone named Lynnette, who writes interesting stuff despite having to be the “voice” of a corporation. Since blogging is a one-to-one medium, I hope Lynnette will come out of the shadows and develop more personality over time.

One quibble: in an introductory post, Lynette says that “Blogging and the web gives us a new way to communicate with you, our customers.” It’s not exactly new – as noted by the subtle dig from “Leo,” a fellow Staples employee who left this comment on that post:

“Welcome to the conversation, cousins! I work at Staples Argentina, we’ve had blogs for three years, and it’s been great!”

Good luck to Staples on a promising initiative. The question is not why it took Staples so long – but why no one beat them to it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Learn from the past, or forfeit the future

(This post has been cross-posted from New Management Welcome, my part-time blog on chronic business blunders)
Holy Lemons! A study quoted in a recent New York Times GadgetWise column says 20.4% of laptops fail over three years.

The study, produced by SquareTrade, an online vendor of extended warranties, found evidence that netbooks fail at a higher rate, 5.4% in the first year of use compared with 4.2% for a premium-level laptop.

The study also says the accident rate for laptops is another 10%, so the total failure rate over three years is closer to 30%.

What’s most fascinating is that different manufacturers have compiled startlingly different failure rates.

SquareTrade concluded that Asus and Toshiba laptops fail about 15% of the time. At the other end of the scale is Hewlett-Packard, with a failure rate of more than 25% (my first laptop was one of those statistics - right out of the gate).

How sad is it that the report concludes, “In some cases, it would appear that failure is not only an option, but the expectation.”

We need higher manufacturing standards. Yes, price points are competitive, but the failure rate is just too high.

The big U.S. hardware brands should recall what happened to Detroit in the 1970s when foreign carmakers got the unique idea to focus on quality.

Learn from the past, or forfeit the future.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

When Entrepreneurs don't do the things they should

I got an interesting email this week from a CA with a big problem.

"My focus as a CA is business advisory services to small businesses. Unfortunately I find that even after signing on clients to an engagement, the clients don’t do the required action plans to grow their business.

This has me stumped. We had a conversation that they initiated, they bought into what services and investment were required , but once I send them the engagement letter everything stops. They have all sorts of reasons for not moving forward.

If you have any ideas , any advice or referral would be appreciated."


Does that problem sound familiar? I think it's pretty common.
Here's the response I sent.

"I have certainly noted this paradox before. (Don't worry, it's not you.) I call it "entrepreneurial inertia" - the inability of small business owners to do the things they know they have to do.

My (still evolving) theory is this: entrepreneurs like being the boss. It means they're in control. They call the shots. This means no one can ever force them to eat canned beans or broccoli ever again. When you have a mindset like that, it takes a lot of character to decide to go ahead and spend a lot of A) money and B) time doing some complicated thing that you really don't understand and probably don't believe in."

I wrote about this whole thing in a Financial Post column last year, and then followed it up with additional thoughts in a blogpost about what to do about it.

You can
click here to read the blogpost, and at the end of that post you can click through to read the Post article.

I finished by asking the CA, "Let me know what you think. If you can find a cure for this, I'll nominate you for the Nobel Prize in Economics."

What do you think? Is there a cure for entrepreneurial inertia?

How about a customer contest?

Here’s a great way for a company that prides itself on customer service to promote itself, and the very concept of service as well.

Rackspace.com, the “cloud computing” hosting company that calls itself “The Home of Fanatical Support,” puts customer service first in its own business. But it also holds a contest for its clients to recognize “one of our customers for valuing customer service as much as we do.”

The 2009 Fanati Contest is now underway (for U.S. customers only). Rackspace clients who think they have what it takes have until Dec. 11 to put together a 5-minute video explaining why they deserve to be this year’s winner.

Here are some of the approaches Rackspace suggests to contest entrants.
• Tell us who you are and what your business does.
Describe what Fanatical Support means to you.
• If you were going to take a thesaurus to the phrase “Fanatical Support” and use that in your company’s business motto, what would your new motto be?
• If you already have a Fanatical Support-like battle cry, what is it and give us the back story.
• Tell us about a time you or an employee went above and beyond (fanatically) for a customer or employee.
• Tell us how you’ve continued to enhance your motto to adapt to your business’ changing needs, culture, and/or growth to ensure that customers stay satisfied?

So why is Canadian Entrepreneur telling you about a U.S.-only contest?

Because it’s a brilliant (and inexpensive!) promotional idea. Rackspace is reinforcing its “Fanatical Support” branding. It’s building community and loyalty by engaging customers (and customers’ employees) in the campaign. And it stands to win valuable publicity as well.

What’s your brand? How could you get customers more excited about it, and promote it to the rest of the world, by organizing a contest of your own?

Perhaps you could recognize the customer to whom product quality is most important, or the one that does the greatest job of staff training or personal empowerment.

Because business is too important to be boring. And branding is a powerful tool that begs to be shared.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Re-designing the Future

Rotman School dean Roger Martin has just published a new book on "The Design of Business." He believes all businesses must develop "design thinking" (a mixture of analytical and intuitive reasoning) to solve the challenges they face today - or else face irrelevance.

It's a great book, plus it's short and easy to read, with lots of examples, from Procter & Gamble to Target and Cirque du Soleil.

But my favorite part is the insights it contains on the development of Research in Motion and its renowned BlackBerry. RiM co-founder, co-CEO and chief engineer Mike Lazaridis gets due credit for his dogged research that ended up changing the way the world communicates.

Lazaridis jumped on the potential of digital signal processing before any of the big telcos. It's part of his philosophy of business, says Martin. "Product design has to push the envelope to the point where it seems like you're making a mistake," says Lazaridis. If you're going to beat the giants with an innovation, he says, "It has to be audacious from a technical point of view."

I also liked Lazaridis' quote about never resting on your laurels. "In a business, no matter how good the process is, no matter how much you've got it down pat, no matter how much money you're making, you have to always go back and say, 'Is there something fundamentally wrong with the way we're seeing the market? Are we dealing with incomplete information?'

"Because that's what's going to get you; it's not necessarily that some young whippersnapper's going to come up with some better idea than you. They're going to start from a different premise and they're going to come to a different conclusion that makes you irrelevant."

According to Lazaridis, "Motorola lost because it didn't embrace the future... It was too damn good at what it was doing."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Letter to a Startup Entrepreneur

I had a query last night from a startup entrepreneur looking for my advice and best practices on starting and financing a business. That's way too big a question for me to answer for strangers in my spare time. But here is the free advice I offered her:

Hi Elizabeth. I think you wil find there are lots of good sources on starting a business, writing a business plan, finance and marketing. They're at your local bookstore, your local library, and all over the Web. Also look for local small business centres, which are often affiliated with your local municipality.

Your request for best practices, etc., is a bit too broad for me to help with. But I would be glad to help if you have a specific question on anything.

One particular resource I can recommend is "12 Weeks to Startup," a 12-part series I wrote two years ago, on starting a business. You can find that material at
http://www.financialpost.com/small-business/startup/index.html

I am sure you will do well. My most fundamental advice to new entrepreneurs is, "Never be afraid to ask for help." And you have obviously mastered that step already.

All the best

Rick

As the World Turns

This post isn't about entrepreneurship, exactly. But a huge part of business is knowledge and insight and understanding how the world wags, and what wags it.

So you might find the following quiz of interest.

It's a 12-question quiz devised by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center to probe your knowledge of how various peoples of the world view themselves and other parts of the world.

At the very least, it will open your mind to different ways of thinking. Which to me is the first step in business: stepping out of your own shoes and being able to understand the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.

Scoring is not important: the point is to learn a few things you didn't know. Having said that, I got 6 out of 12.

Check out the quiz at
http://pewglobal.org/quiz/iq/questions/

Then come back and leave a comment to let me know how you did.

All-Star Panel on Buying and Selling Companies

My column this week in the Financial Post recounts a few highlights from a lively business panel featuring two Dragons from CBC’s Dragons’ Den show (Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec), and two of Canada’s most prominent women entrepreneurs: Teresa Cascioli (founder of Lakeport Brewing) and Rebecca MacDonald (Just Energy).

The subject was the buying and selling of companies in today's economy. The debate covered a range of subjects, including valuations, acquisitions, buyers vs. builders, and the lies sellers tell. It’s a fun (and timely) read.

As MacDonald noted, "This is a phenomenal time to be in the market... I have never seen more distress sales than I'm seeing today. If you've got cash, prices are low and it's time to buy."
Added Herjavec: "We just bought a $15-million company with no money down, based on their own cash flow... If I had approached this guy with this deal three years ago, he would have laughed at me."

The irrepressible O'Leary had lots to say: "Maybe those aren't distressed values... Maybe they're realistic values given today's market."

Many companies "kill shareholder value," he added, when they acquire other businesses that don't immediately boost the buyers' income statements. "What's important is free cash flow," he maintained. "If I buy my competitor's business, will I generate more cash than I had without it? That's the only question that matters."

For her part, Cascioli urged sellers to hold off. "If you can ride out [the current downturn], you will get more money tomorrow than you'll get today."

Read the full story here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

10 Crucial Consumer Trends

Trendwatching.com has released its list of 10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2010.

Some of these are a bit too cute, and some trying too hard to be cool. But if you can fight your way through the confusing verbiage, this list offers some good ideas you might want to start grappling with.

Here's the condensed version of the list:

1. Business as Unusual
Forget the recession. Te societal changes that will dominate 2010 were set in motion way before we temporarily stared into the abyss.

2. Urbany
Urban culture is the culture. Extreme urbanization, in 2010, 2011, 2012 and far beyond will lead to more sophisticated and demanding consumers around the world.

3. Real-Time Reviews
Whatever you're selling or launching in 2010, it will be reviewed 'en masse', live, 24/7.

4. (F)Luxury
Closely tied to what constitutes status (which is becoming more fragmented), luxury will be whatever consumers want it to be.

5. Mass Mingling
Online lifestyles are fueling and encouraging 'real world' meet-ups like there's no tomorrow, shattering all cliches and predictions about a desk-bound, virtual, isolated future.

6. Eco-Easy
To reach meaningful sustainability goals in 2010, corporations and governments will have to forcefully make it 'easy' for consumers to be more green, by restricting the alternatives.

7. Online Tracking & Alerting
Tracking and alerting are the new search, and 2010 will see countless new INFOLUST services that will help consumers expand their "web of control."

8. Embedded generosity
Generosity as a trend will adapt to the zeitgeist, leading to more pragmatic and collaborative donation services for consumers.

9. Profile Myning
With hundreds of millions of consumers now nurturing some sort of online profile, 2010 will be a good year to introduce services to help them make the most of it (financially), from intention-based models to digital afterlife services.

10. Maturialism
2010 will be even more opinionated, risqué, outspoken, if not 'raw' than 2009; you can thank the anything-goes online world for that. Will your brand be as daring?

For more details, info and application ideas, go to http://trendwatching.com/briefing

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Honesty and Humour in Advertising

I came across a few choice quotes today from advertising legend David Ogilvy (1911-1999). Although at least one now appears quite dated in tone, I think the message is important, so I have left it intact, in all its mid-60s glory.

How to sell: "A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself."

The need for sales: "In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create. Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman."

Honesty in advertising: "Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine."

The use of humor: "The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Global Entrepreneurship Week

How time flies. Global Entrepreneurship Week is back again, from Nov. 16-22.

I have trouble getting my head around GEW. As an international event it's a growing force, and a welcome shot in the arm for grassroots capitalism around the world at a time when Big Business is under increasing attack (much of it justified). In Canada, GEW has the misfortune of directly following Small Business Week (and in some places, Small Business Month), creating a sense of deja vu.

This year GEW Canada is under the wing of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. There's a goodly number of events across the country. as well as a number of "national" events delivered online. You can check out the schedule here: http://www.unleashingideas.org/canada/activities_calendar
You can even search for events by province (there are four next week in Manitoba, for instance).

Or you can read up generally on GEW here. http://www.unleashingideas.org/canada/activities_calendar

Have a great Week. Hug an entrepreneur.

How to pay for referrals

My column this week in the Financial Post provides a follow-up to my article two weeks earlier on referrals.

Reason: I had a fascinating note from Leonard Lee of Lee Valley Tools in response to the first column, and I wanted to let this legendary Canadian entrepreneur set the record straight in public.

Lee Valley put a lot of effort into learning how best to “encourage” satisfied customers to provide names of friends or colleagues who might be interested in his company’s products. But if you pay too much for referrals, the quality of those opportunities falls off fast.

Lee's solution: Lee Valley offered to give $5 to a charity (Nature Conservancy of Canada) for every name and address it received who ended up becoming a paying customer. As Mr.Lee points out, "This establishes a nebulous but real customer benefit, and forestalls someone sending us the Winnipeg telephone directory in hopes of earning a small fortune but at great waste to us.”

You can read the full column here:
http://www.financialpost.com/small-business/story.html?id=2200881

Friday, November 06, 2009

Even billionaires strive to please

My column in this week’s Financial Post tells about my recent encounter with billionaire Scott Cook, founder of Intuit (Quicken, QuickBooks, etc.).

He came to Toronto last month to kick off an Intuit Canada campaign to get closer to the small business market by holding information sessions with working entrepreneurs across the country. Cook himself facilitated the first one, asking 14 Toronto business owners about the problems that keep them awake at night.

So my story looks at small business’s most urgent needs today, as well as how one company is getting closer to that market in order to identify the problems it can actually solve.

Here’s an excerpt:

After the meeting, I asked Cook if he'd heard any promising ideas. One big one, he said: "Social media as a time suck."
"I don't claim I understand it yet," he said, "but it's given us more to do."

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Outlive Strong

I just found out that I have outlived actor Raul Julia. Also Jerry Garcia, Gene Siskel, Enrico Fermi, Dian Fossey, Harry Houdini and Babe Ruth. Plus Lenin, and Hermann Goering.

The source of this trivial nostalgia is a clever, simple website called http://dead.atyourage.com . Just type in your date of birth and you'll find get the names of prominent people who passed away when they were just your age, or a bit younger.

It's a sobering reminder of how short life can be - and the need to make the most of every day.

If there are things you are waiting to do or accomplish, or dreams left unfulfilled - reopen the file and get them done. Life is too short to put off important things.

Don't let your goals outlive you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Starting a blog

I received an email this morning from a business contact who wants to get into blogging. Some may think blogging is being displaced by other social media such as Facebook or Twitter, but I still think it's a huge opportunity for business professionals with specialized expertise and an interest in sharing it for the benefit of clients, prospects and others.

In case you are still thinking of starting a blog, here is an copy of my response to her. It has been slightly edited to preserve confidentiality.

Hi, xxx. Thanks for your note. I just looked at your website and yes, I think you are a prime candidate to blog. You obviously possess high-value information and expertise in a narrow but crucial niche, and one that can make a big impact on company strategy and performance.

My definition of a successful business blogger is someone who has a lot of information that his/her clients would love to understand better, and who keeps him/herself updated on an ongoing basis. By sharing some of that knowledge, you A) help companies recognize the value of your service, and B) position yourself as a uniquely confident specialist who is open and easy to do business with. And of course Google will love you and position you highly in its search results.

After you get the blog up and running, you should also look at buying pay-per-click Google ads to make sure that anyone looking for your keywords (name of industry, product or service, location, etc.) will be more likely to find you. It's cheap and very targeted, and you pay only when someone clicks on your ad and goes to your site.

If it is important to you to be seen as a high-end blogger, I suggest you contact an Internet expert who can set you up with your own custom-designed site and custom blog tools. That is the best way to create a professional (and professional-looking) site. If you want to play around for a while to discover if this is for you before you invest any money (not that it's that expensive), then the free service I use is perfectly adequate: http://www.blogger.com/

Blogger.com is owned by Google and is one of several popular free blogging sites. You can go there, register, then pick a design from among the free templates on offer. You can be posting articles in 10 minutes. You can also post photos and other graphics. There are also lots of choices for added tools and "sidebar" gadgets, such as favourite links, accessing older content, serving up related business headlines, linking Facebook and Twitter, etc.

The coolest thing about blogging is that you don't have to write everything yourself. It is perfectly legit, and useful to your readers, to post links to (and maybe summaries of) other interesting articles on the Web you run across that relate to your topic.

If you can be a one-stop shop to update your readers on all the significant ideas and issues in your space (ie, both an aggregator and a filter, giving them only information of value), you will be providing a welcome service, which again positions you well as a preferred advisor.

One other point: a blog can take some time to develop traction (ie, people find out about it and return regularly). So you need to work actively to promote it, by linking from your website and emails, mentioning it as often as possible, putting the URL on your business cards, etc.

You might also propose a "link exchange" with other sites in your industry, in which you agree to post links to each others' site/blog in order to provide a more well rounded service to your readers/clients.

One final note before I overwhelm you: Blogger will give you a URL that reads something like
http://www.yourcompanyx.blogspot.com/ . You should create an alternate URL to point your readers to (shorter, more professional looking and easier to remember) as soon as possible. Best thing for you would probably be to tuck it into your current site (eg, www.yourcompanyX.com/blog). Any web consultant can help you do that.

Best of luck. Let me know if you have any questions.

Rick

Death of a Growth Company

What's sadder than a fast-growth company that falls victim to its own success?

My latest column in PROFIT magazine looks at a PROFIT 100 company that took a one-way trip to the seven circles of hell. Dante Manufacturing (not its real name) had a great concept and a great future, but executive blindness did it in.

Here’s an excerpt:

Explore alternative financing before you need it
"As conditions worsened, the bank warned that its continued support was contingent on Dante raising more equity capital. Suddenly, Ghieri had to learn all about private equity, mezzanine financing and asset-based lending. Identifying potential suppliers took weeks; negotiating possible deals took months. Ghieri was just days from a deal when the firm’s creditors blew the whistle. Dante died of self-inflicted wounds."

You can read the full sad story here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here's an opportunity for someone

The following item is reprinted in full from a Dec. 27, 2007 post on this blog. After all, Santa Claus is coming to town in just 60 days.

"Every problem is an opportunity for someone"

There’s gotta be a business opportunity in here somewhere.

A recent Globe & Mail online poll asked the question, “After the holiday season, how do you feel?” Out of nearly 6,000 respondents, 31% said they felt “more refreshed.”

The other 69% say they feel “totally exhausted.”

How could your business help these exhausted consumers next year?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Jack Poole: 1933-2009

Heavy traffic on this blog today following the death of Jack Poole, legendary Western Canada entrepreneur and chairman of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Organizing Committee.

Poole died early today of cancer - just 24 hours after the torch for the Vancouver Olympics was lit in Greece. He was 76.

Poole rose from modest Saskatchewan roots to become one of Canada's most successful real-estate developers. A few months ago, journalist Gary Mason wrote an epic profile of Poole in BC Business Magazine. On July 9th, I wrote a blogpost linking to that article and highlighting some of Jack's classic quotes, as compiled by Mason.

Tough guy, straight shooter, community builder, inspiring entrepreneur, Order of Canada honoree: RIP, Jack Poole.

Read CTV's hastily compiled yet eminently detailed obituary story here.
The National Post weighs in here.

Click here for the original BC Business article (July 2009).
Or click here for my blog's "condensed" version of that article: The Epic Struggle of Jack Poole.

Asking for Referrals

My column this week in the Financial Post looks at the lost art of asking for referrals.

I have been hearing from more and more entrepreneurs lately that most means of marketing just aren't working for them this year. What still works, they say, is old-fashioned word of mouth and referrals. So I thought I'd look into why referrals are so hot.

Excerpt:
"Done properly, referrals solve lots of problems endemic in our low-trust age. Despite today's hyper-competitive markets, buyers are still beset by doubts: Will this new supplier come through? Will the product do what they say it can, and will I get value for my money? Nobody trusts anybody anymore.

Referrals break this logjam of uncertainty by helping you tap into established trust networks of already satisfied customers. They transform you from just another marketer-on-the-make to a proven problem solver. But only if you remind customers to recommend you
. "

How do you get great referrals? Click here for more

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Great speakers, great speaking tips

Want to meet the next generation of professional speakers?
Would you like to pick up practical, useful tips on how to become a better speaker?

Come out Thursday night to the Speakers Gold Talent Showcase, featuring 12 specially selected, up-and-coming speakers battling head-to-head to win gold. And you get to vote for the winner!

(Think of this as a live version of American Idol, or So You Think You Can Dance, except that you will hear great stories, emotional epiphanies, and many more metaphors.)

The event is this Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6.30 pm, at the King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto. The venue was just changed due to high ticket sales, so there are a few more tickets available.

I will be a judge in the competition, as I was last year. The 2008 event was fun and memorable – a classy way to spend an evening in the big city.

My fellow judges will be James Erdt and Alizabeth Calder. (James, founder of www.Joyzone.com, won last year’s competition. Alizabeth is author of the new book Growing Up: Practical Strategies for Sustainable Business Growth.)

The judges will be commenting on each performance and trying, as best we can, to be helpful and practical without being discouraging.

These speakers will make you laugh and they’ll touch your heart. They’ll challenge your thinking and open your mind to new possibilities. Or you could stay home and watch The Office.

For tickets, contact Cathleen Fillmore at Speakers Gold (Cathleen@SpeakersGold.com), or call 416 532-9886. For more details visit http://www.speakersgold.com/events_talent-show-sep09.php

And here’s a link to the Financial Post column I wrote distilling the 10 best speaking tips learned at last year’s event. I just reread it and it's good stuff. http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=654070

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy SB Week!

Small Business Week is a great time for entrepreneurs to get up out of the trenches for a moment, reflect on their accomplishments and plan their future growth.

Well, any day is a good day to do that. But this week (and to some extent, next week) there are lots of resources to help you, from the SBW Mega Mixer Trade Expo in Grand Prairie, Alta., on Oct. 22 to the Hants County "Turning the Corner: Seizing Opportunities After the Recession" workshop in Windsor, NS, on Oct. 30.

Best single source of info for SBW events is the Business Development Bank (BDC) website at http://www.bdc.ca/en/no_navigation/prov_events.htm . In Ontario, Google "Bridges for Better Business" in your community to see if there's a full-day business conference scheduled close to you.

Or contact your local economic development/Community Futures office to find out what's going on. Even if they're not doing anything special for SB Week, chances are they have useful seminars and events coming up that you really should be taking advantage of. And you can look forward to swapping cards with other growth-minded entrepreneurs while you're there.

The best entrepreneurs I know are sponges for information, always trying to get smarter and do better. Jump right in to SB Week. The water's fine.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

7 "subject line" blunders you may be making

Want more people to open your emails? Pay more attention to the subject line.

It’s your headline, the scene-setter, the call to action that should grab your target's attention and create credibility and excitement at the same time.

In a new article posted at http://www.imediaconnection.com/, email expert Wendy Roth reveals how to get your subject line working harder for you. “Sending an email message with a lacklustre subject line is like building a house without a front door,” she writes. “Maybe your recipients will walk around the house to find a back door, or try to crawl through a window. More likely, they'll just shrug and walk away.”

Roth, senior manager of training services for Lyris, Inc., a pioneer in email and online marketing, says that everyone now gets more email than ever, so your messages have to work harder than ever to stand out.

Here is Roth's list of the 7 most common blunders marketers make when crafting subject lines.
1. Personalization run amok: When you use names in your database to ”personalize” emails, you run the risk of offending people or turning them off. They might not use that name regularly, or it might be a pseudonym. “Write meaningful subject lines that speak to their interests instead of slapping a name on another boring subject line,” says Roth.

2. No "oomph" to the urgency: State a time limit in your subject line if your offer has one.

3. Call-to-action is MIA: “Always tell the reader what you want him or her to do. The call-to-action doesn't have to be "Buy Now." It's the hook that will persuade the reader to act: an incentive, an urgency reminder, a price, a store opening.”
4. Call-to-action amputation: Assume most inboxes will cut off subject lines at 60 to 70 characters. Make sure your critical information appears in that space.

5. "Same-old, same-old" syndrome: When you publish regularly, a standing headline (e.g., “News from Gocter & Pramble”) might save you a few minutes, but it doesn't give readers a reason to look further. Use your top story or best offer to create the subject line.

6. Funky punctuation: Use punctuation sparingly in subject lines. It confuses more often than it clarifies.

7. Cryptic subjects: Recent real-life example: "NEW: Samsung 23" LCD $199... Sony 40" 1080p HDTV $749...Core 2 Duo Laptop w/ HD Graphics $579 & More New Deals" “You shouldn't have to know geek speak to understand what's going on," says Roth. "Focus on a key deal or two in your subject line and include more detail.”

To fix these problems forever, take advantage of email’s flexibility for research. Test different offers, different subject lines, different approaches. It takes only moments to fine-tune your emails, offers and subject lines to test different approaches with every mailing. The response from your list will let you know if you're on the right track.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

100,000th Visitor!!!

One of the 170 visitors to my blog yesterday was our 100,000th visitor. It happened early yesterday morning, and because I was on the go from dawn till dark, I never got a chance to acknowledge it or hand out the book prize I’d intended to give away.

I will make amends by handing out a copy of my book, Secrets of Success from Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies, to one lucky attendee at my morning keynote presentation at the SOHO Vancouver conference tomorrow. Hope to see you there!

And thanks, as always, for visiting this blog. Your interest and comments are always appreciated.

Maslow and "Deep Loyalty"

My column this week in the Financial Post looks at how you, your products or your company can absolutely maximize customer satisfaction and create “deep loyalty.” And you may have first learned about it in first-year sociology.

According to Chip Conley, founder of the California boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre, the secret is to use Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" to delight your customers, employees and other key stakeholders. By supplying not only basic needs (e.g. food and shelter), but also people’s needs for safety, belonging and esteem, we can turn the customer experience into a significant competitive advantage.

Using this strategy, Joie de Vivre has not only survived the latest recession, but it is gaining market share. Better still, Conley told me in our interview, “We're creating an operating manual for working with humans."

Read the full story here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Rebuilding the Dream: 10 Reasons to Attend

Mandie Crawford of Roaring Women is the entrepreneur behind Rebuilding the Dream, a two-day business conference in Hamilton, Ont., October 16-17. Since Mandie (an ex-cop, visionary and marketing whiz) is behind it, it'll be a weekend like no other!

And yes - I will be involved. I am doing the Oct. 17 lunchtime keynote, and a workshop on how to build buzz for your business. You can see the full agenda here.

Mandie's goal: to help you prepare your business to thrive and succeed for the next 10 years!

Mandie has written up 21 reasons why you should attend. Here are just 10 of them:

1. To see your future you need to live it now!
2. Business is changing - you need to be in the know
3. Build your contact list - meet good contacts
4. Develop long-term vision
5. Connect with media
6. Break through barriers of time
7. Guerrilla marketing techniques unleashed
8. Become accountable to yourself and your dreams.
9. Learn how to fire the wrong clients while building your business !
10. Learn how to laugh at disasters, reduce stress and move forward

For the rest of Mandie's list, click here.
See you in Hamilton!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Most Impressive Launch

This press release received today is about the most impressive business launch I have ever seen. This is how you build a business: with product, supply, distribution, message, design and mission all figured out and working in harmony.
I can't wait to see how this goes.

Oliberté Launches 1st Urban-Casual Shoe Company Made in Africa

Oliberté is a new shoe company showcasing the true potential of Africa. Working to-date in Liberia and Ethiopia the company looks to work in over 10 African countries in the next years. Shoes are sold and targeted in Canada, USA, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Oakville, Ontario October 1st, 2009 -- Headquarted in Canada, Oliberté has launched the first international footwear company to work exclusively in Africa. Designs for men and women shoes are urban-casual inspired and sold online (http://www.oliberte.com/) and in select stores this Fall in Canada and the United States. Initial styles include ROVIA (Men) and ELIKA (Women) which retail for $95-120 are sleek and have colourful pop with Oliberté`s signatures including thin crepe rubber soles and circles throughout designs.

Oliberte Footwear ROVIA FOR MENS AVAILABLE FALL 2009

Oliberté is a new revolution showcasing the true potential of Africa. Every time someone buys a pair of Oliberté shoes, they are showing to the world that Africa is more than just poverty - that it is full of pride, power and liberty .

"Oliberté is a new revolution showcasing the true potential of Africa. Every time someone buys a pair of Oliberté shoes, they are showing to the world that Africa is more than just poverty - that it is full of pride, power and liberty," said Tal Dehtiar, Oliberté's Founder and President. "All the attention on Africa is focused on alleviating poverty, but the only real way to alleviate poverty on this beautiful continent is to build a middle class that includes fair-paying jobs. The more shoes sold, the more fair jobs will be created at local factories where Oliberté works which ultimately changes lives for the better."

The rubber for Oliberté footwear comes from natural milk from rubber trees that have been tapped in Liberia. Liberia has the largest amount of natural rubber in Africa, but because of decades of civil unrest, it has been difficult to work in this West African Country. Today, Liberia is moving forward and Oliberté is thrilled to work with the country in creating local jobs and the first to process its rubber into natural crepe soles.

The shoes themselves are manufactured in Ethiopia, which has the largest selection of natural hides in Africa and a growing footwear manufacturing industry. By 2015, Oliberté looks to work in over 10 countries in Africa to source material, accessories and manufacture its shoes that will be sold from Canada to USA to Europe to Australia to Japan.

"If we wanted to make cheap shoes, we'd simple go to Asia, but this is NOT about cheap shoes or labour. This is about premium quality and fashionable footwear that creates fair paying jobs in the poorest countries of the world. Pride. Power. Liberty. This is the real Africa. This is Oliberté." -- Tal Dehtiar

Launched in 2009, Oliberté Limited is headquartered in Canada and founded by Tal Dehtiar, who, in 2004, launched the international charity MBAs Without Borders (MWB) that supports small businesses in Africa, Asia and Latin America. MWB was recently acquired by CDS Development Solutions but for his work, Tal was recognized with the International Youth Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award and nominated for the YMCA Peace Award, Canada's Top 40 Under 40 and Ernst and Young's Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Rick again: Very impressive debut. Only thing missing is a list of participating retailers; the website says it is "coming soon." I hope so. I'd hate to see them lose the momentum of such an impactful launch. And at any rate, you can buy the shoes through http://www.oliberte.com/.

After the recession: more trouble

My Financial Post column this week looks at the economic prospects of the long-awaited recovery – and why things may not turn out as rosy as we would like.

According to an economic briefing I attended last week, the post-recession period will be marked by high interest rates and resurgent inflation, which could reach 6% by 2012 – which would be a 25-year high.

But forewarned is forearmed, so the column also offers counter-strategies to help entrepreneurs make the best of these conditions. A few ideas:

• Borrow now: “If you wait until there's undeniable proof of the recovery, then you'll be paying higher rates along with everyone else."

• Cut back costly entitlements: "Don't give people raises for nothing,"

• Use automation to control rising labour costs

• Burrow deeper into your market niche: The narrower and more exclusive your niche, the more you can set the pricing trends.

You can read the full story here.

The Robots Are Coming!

This real-life "Transformers" video is wonderful and eerie at the same time - with the background music adding a melancholy note. Auld lang syne for humanity? Or will we all travel around in the future on robotic shoulders?

Either way, science is moving ahead faster than we can imagine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Upcoming Events

I've been remiss in not keeping you informed of my upcoming presentations. I always stay around afterwards for as long as I can, so I would be delighted to meet you if you can make it to any of the following events.

Monday, Sept. 28: Networking Lunch Keynote (sponsored by Grand & Toy). Soho/SME Business Conference and Expo, Toronto. 12-1:30 pm. Royal York Hotel.
Click HERE for information and registration.

Tuesday, Oct. 6: Enterprise Toronto. North York Civic Centre, 8-9:30 am
Click here for more info

Thursday Oct. 8: Networking Breakfast Keynote. SOHO/SME Business Conference, Vancouver. 8-9:30 am, Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.
Click HERE for info.

Saturday Oct. 17: Hamilton. "Rebuilding the Dream," Crowne Plaza Hamilton
Click HERE for info.

Wednesday Oct. 21: London -Bridges to Better Business Entrepreneurs' Conference, Best Western Lamplighter
For info, www.sbcentre.ca/bridges.htm#agenda

Friday, Oct. 23: Markham - Markham Small Business Forum, "Business Success in Changing Times", Markham Civic Centre
For info click here

Monday, Oct. 26: Belleville - Dinner meeting of the Belleville Sales & Ad Club.
For more info, email moreinfo@salesandad.com

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Random notes from Cameron Herold's closing keynote at GrwothCamp;

Get more done faster, cheaper. Herold recommends Crowdspring, eLance, MechanicalBull Talk to any university student for more

Get your employees headsets so they can talk while walking about or going to the bathroom. And high-end Herman Miller chairs. "Your people will love you for it."

Get every employee a laptop. And three monitors for thier desktop computer: one screen for email, one for projects, etc. Big productivity increase.

Herold believes in a no-blame culture. "People don't fail, systems do."

On meetings: Allot half the time you think you'll need. You'll still get it all done.
Every meeting should end with: "Who will do what by when?"

Cameron Herold, part 3

Provide full disclosure to your employees.

Cameron Herold remembers when his employees thought the company was making too much money (ie, there was no real reason for them to work so hard). He realized they knew nothing about the concept of variable expenses, so he sat down with them and opened up the books to show how things were really going. Suddenly, they started working harder because they feared the company was going to go out of business.

Herold also reccommends weekly coaching meetings with your key reports. Don't follow up on tasks not done. Focus on three positive things:

* Direction
* Skill Development
* Support

Painted Pictures and Brutal Facts

Cameron Herold is a huge proponent of "The Painted Picture" - a vivid mental image of what your company should look like, feel like, and act like. It's a blueprint of what you want to do, and how you are going to do it. You pull it out and loook at it every time you have to make a decision about the future - it's both a guide and a filter.

Cameron says the most important part of growth is hiring the right people. "Find the A players and make sure you have something in your place to handcuff them there for the next five years."

What if you find yourself with an A player who nobody likes, or is toxic to your company culture? Fire them now, he says. (Apparently, it's a Jack Welch concept.) Good people will think your company is a phoney if you don't cull the people who don't fit the culture. And they'll flock to join you when you show the world how important culture and chemistry are.

As Jim Collins says, "Confront the brutal facts."

Cameron just asked how many of the entrepreneurs in attendance have someone in their business who doesn't fit the culture and really ought to be fired. About half of them put up their hands. Cameron encouraged them to fire those people by Monday at noon. And he offered them his phone number in case they need any encouragement or support.

"You can't build the great company you should be building by keeping them on."

Liveblog: Cameron Herold

Cameron Herold has just taken the stage at GrowthCamp. He's co-founder of Boyd Autobody, and the former COO of 1-800-GOT JUNK? He helped build that Vancouver-based franchisor to $100 million in sales. Cameron was selling newspapers at age 10. And he's one of those guys who used to organize other people to deliver papers; he would collect the money and pocket the tips.

Cameron opened his presentation with a slideshow about how entrepreneurs are changing the world. Business isn't what it used to be, he says. Some companies still try to control what their employees do, eg making sure they work from 9 to 5. Cameron suggests a different approach if you want loyalty and engagement: "You want employees to walk out of the office every day, saying, "That was fun."

An interesting personal note from Cameron: "I don't work on Fridays. And you shouldn't either. I think working is overrated."

The One-Page Business Plan

Plug all employees into a common direction, says Kraig Kramers.

Make sure it includes four elements:

* Unique Business Proposition

* Purpose of your Business

* Overall goal of your business

* Your strategy to achieve the goal

(Kramers says employees' greatest fear is that the boss doesn't really have a strategy for dealing with what is going on.)

One last tool from Kramers: "I wouldn't run a business in this economy today without a daily cash report."

What to track, and how (Kramers part 4)

"Spend your money on what causes sales," says Kraig Kramers. Figure out what is the driver, and then focus on that.

He suggests you use a 12-month forecaster: set goals, then do what you can to make sure actual results match the forecast. This process lets you know when you're diverging, and helps you figure out what tactics work best to get you back to projections.

Watch:
* What causes sales
* Bookings, billings, collections, backlog
* Headcount and expenses
* Gross profits, in dollars and by percentages
* Pretax earnings

How to track cash, credit and asset management
- actual cash availability
- Line of credit Level and Limits
- Receivables DSO > 90
- Inventory Earn-n-Turn

Kramers on tracking your progress

Kraig Kramers' key tool for tracking your business's ongoing progress: the trailing 12-month chart (or trailing 52-week chart).

(This eliminates seasonal variations and anomalies vs. standard monthly P&Ls.)

Standard accounting systems were set up by accountants for their own needs, says Kramers. "They weren't meant to run businesses by."

Most powerful performance-tracking tool: What causes sales in your business?
EG, at Kramers' former printing business, it was sales people that drove sales. So he hired more of them.

It could also be direct mail, advertising, trade shows, or referrals. Find out what is the key sales driver. "Grab hold and start managing it."

And don't tackle three or four or five of these tactics at once. According to the Pareto Principle (80-20 rule), 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results.

Kramers mentions that more info and templates for a lot of tools are available free on his website at http://www.ceotools.com/

When you have these tools, he says, you have the key to Jim Collins' bus. (Remember him? "Get the right people on the bus.")

More from Kraig Kramers: Measuring

What gets managed gets done, right?

But only if you do it right.

Kraig Kramers says the first 3 steps of his 7-Step Management Process are all you need to set objectives and get things done.

1. Set Meaningful Goals.
2. Communicate and Build Trust.
3. Track Progress Publicly.

Pretty easy, right? But how many people actually do all these three things.

Another key point: celebrate success when you win.
Celebrate with everyone on the team, of course.

Live-blogging GrowthCamp

This morning we're in sunny St. Catharines, Ont. attending GrowthCamp, the conference for PROFIT Magazine's Hot 50 CEOs - the leaders of Canada's emerging growth companies. Despite the early hour, there's lots of energy in the room with all these youthful CEOs - all of whom have at least doubled their companies' annual revenues in the past two years.

First speaker is Kraig Kramers of CEO Tools, an energetic CEO/consultant who develops growth and management systems, tools and processes geared to entrepreneurs. He's offering 45 growth tools this morning - nearly one for every CEO in attendance.

But his first point is anything but quantitative. He reminds us that our goal as leaders should be to put a smile on everyone's face.

And he says the most important thing you can do as a leader is to open up communication in your organization. Make sure it goes bottom-up as well as top-down. Kramers says he owes his success in many businesses to listening to his employeees and associates. "If you go around and ask employees what to do they will always tell you."

Kramers says every CEO, every day, should "Walk the 4 corners of your enterprise." Pick out a few employees every day to talk to and confide in. Ask them:

* How can we improve our product for the customer?
* How can we improve our product?
* What do we have to do to make things better?

Too many CEOS, he says, "tend to deafness, listen selectively and get ourselves isolated."

A few more gems from Kraig Kramers:
* "Trust and communication rise together and fall together in every organization."

* "When we stop communicating, trust drops."

* "Use the same relationship-building tools you use every day outside the business to build trust in your business."

* "These are simple, silly little tools, but they really work."