Friday, May 29, 2009

2009 Family Enterprise of the Year

Congratulations to the Bragg Group of Companies from Oxford, N.S., which yesterday was named the 2009 Family Enterprise of the Year by the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFE).

The award, sponsored by KPMG Enterprise and Royal Bank, recognizes significant achievement in a family enterprise.

The luncheon featured insightful presentations from three finalist companies: the Bragg family, represented by Matthew Bragg, Director of Sales in the Food Group; Toronto-based Pizza Nova, represented by founder and president Sam Primucci,and Jarlette Health Services, a manager of long-term care facilities based in Midland, Ont. It was represented by second-generation president David Jarlette.

In a release, Matthew Bragg commented that, “The recognition of family as the core of our business really makes this a special honour. We are very proud of our history and equally excited about our future.”

(Seriously, why do people write such boring press releases? Watch upcoming issues of the Financial Post for an interview with the Braggs, where I hope to bag better quotes than that.)

All three family finalists deserved their honours. Who knew Oxford controls 40% of the world’s wild blueberry market? Or that Pizza Nova has more than 100 locations in southern Ontario, the U.S., Cuba and… Romania?

“It was the most difficult year to judge we have ever had,” said CAFÉ CEO Lawrence Barns. “The Bragg family is certainly a deserving recipient for this award and a model of a thriving family business.”

John Bragg is the fifth generation of family entrepreneurs based in Cumberland County, NS. He represents the first generation in Oxford Frozen Foods and the related businesses he founded in 1968. All four children of John and his wife Judy are involved in the family business.

CAFE is a great organization. Founded in 1983 by 14 entrepreneurs who believed family businesses share unique challenges, CAFE now has 14 chapters across Canada. If you have a family business (and most businesses qualify), consider signing up.

Your kids will thank you. Maybe even your parents.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

7 reasons to be grateful you’re an entrepreneur right now

I found this inspiring article today at the website of The Strategic Coach, the Canadian-made entrepreneur-training program so many business owners swear by. I’ll give you the highlights – see the original post for the full details.

Seven things entrepreneurs should keep in mind in this economy:

1. The need for new, better, and different ways of doing things is more evident now than it has been for decades. Entrepreneurs specialize in the new, better, and different.

2. You have invaluable assets that the market can’t touch. Among them are the abilities to create value, find solutions, mobilize talent, sell people on what they need to make their futures bigger, and make your visions real.

3. If you’ve lost money in the markets, you can make it back in your business. This is a tremendous advantage that the non-entrepreneurial world doesn’t have.

4. Most entrepreneurs do their best work in times like these. Challenges and uncertainty bring out entrepreneurs’ best instincts for creativity and innovation.

5. Unlike others, you have the ability to insulate yourself permanently from external economic shocks. Every day in Strategic Coach®, we see entrepreneurs whose progress has not been negatively affected by what’s going on in the world.

6. There is a model that works. Many Unique Process entrepreneurs in Strategic Coach® are reporting every day that, even in the toughest of times, their businesses are growing and thriving.

7. Your entrepreneurial life will keep you going and growing. Heavy lifting builds big muscles.

Don't stop now. Read the full article here.

Thanks to Dan Sullivan for being so far out front for so long.

Leave your competitors in the dust

GTA readers, circle your calendars.

BC-based strategy consultant Roy Osing, former Chief Marketing Officer of Telus and author of the just-published BE DIFFERENT or Be Dead: Your Business Survival Guide, will give a public talk on Tuesday, June 2 at the McNally Robinson book store at Don Mills Centre (DOn Mills at Lawrence Ave. E.) The 8 pm -9 pm pm event will undoubtedly include signing copies of his book.

I have seen an advance copy of BE DIFFERENT or Be Dead, and it's an epic piece of work brimming with tips and tools for differentiating and strengthening your business.

Osing's starting point is "the ONLY" statement, in which he challenges you to find ways to describe your business as "the only" source of whatever it provides. "We are the only ones who..."

Among the examples in his book are this line from Queen's University's MBA program. "Only Queen's provides personal development coaching to build on your individual strengths."

Osing offers a practical, hands-on approach to performance enhancement and more effective marketing. He says it's "based on solid business principals that have been successfully implemented in the real world and will leave your competitors in the dust."

Go to www.bedifferentorbedead.com for more info on the book, Roy's blog, and other tools and resources.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Recognizing Daniel Gelbart

Congratulations to Canadian entrepreneur Daniel Gelbart, who is receiving an honorary degree today from the University of British Columbia.

Though not a household name, Gelbart is an extraordinary engineer whose genius for invention has produced significant contributions to communications and electro-optics. He co-founded Burnaby-based Creo Products, which revolutionized the printing and imaging sectors industry in the 1990s. By 2005 Creo had 4,000 employees, and it was acquired by Kodak for a cool $1 billion.

As an eight-year-old in Israel, Gelbart had his own laboratory in his parents' home. At the age of 12, he received an award for child inventors from the Weitzman Institute. In 1973 he immigrated to Canada, where began inventing and developing innovative products. He now holds more than 100 patents.

Among his many important inventions are the mobile radio data terminal, the digital film recorder, which won the Research and Development 100 award; and the world's first optical tape recorder.

Having retired from Kodak, Gelbart is now tackling new challenges in the medical field.

He also teaches in and advises UBC’s Mechanical Engineering department. According to UBC, “this year, he is teaching a graduate course about industrial sensors and actuators, for which he is freely giving his time and personally providing all needed equipment and material resources.”

Can we clone him?

Forgotten orphans of the Internet

In a new blog post, marketing guru Seth Godin breathed new life into a neglected form of marketing: banner ads.

As you probably know, banner ads sell for real cheap these days. Nobody clicks on them. In these days of measurable social media (online search, pay-per-click ads, web metrics), etc., they're the forgotten orphans of the Internet.

But wait a minute. Godin reminds us that banner ads are good for one thing: branding.

If you want to drill your product name into people’s heads, what could be better than a cheap medium like banner ads that let you dominate online sites where your customers congregate?

Here’s Godin’s money paragraph:
“Banner ads are fairly worthless in terms of generating clickthroughs... you have to trick too much and manipulate too much to get clicks worth much of anything. But, if you build ads with no intent of clicks, no hope for clicks... then you can focus on ads that drill your name or picture or phrase into my head. 100 impressions and you're almost famous.
A household name. Not for everyone, but for people who matter.”


You can click here to read Seth’s blog. It’s always rewarding reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Notes from a Dragon: "Just ate a scorpion"

Dragons’ Den has been shooting its fourth season this month, and has just a few days to go. I haven't been in to watch the tapings yet, but it sounds like an extraordinary season. The quality of pitchers was extremely high across Canada this year, and at least one Dragon is having the time of his life.

W. Brett Wilson, the Calgary-based oil and gas magnate with a soft spot for hard-luck stories, is chronicling his Dragons’ Den experiences on Twitter. If you haven't discovered the gold that is Twitter, this is a good way to start. Begin by following the Twitter posts of interesting people, get to know a little more about them, note what kinds of posts or topics resonate most with you, and then start thinking about what you might write in your own Tweets.

(Your Twitter posts will be a series of short promotional, biographical or impressionistic notes that eventually form an ongoing, collective profile of you, your interests, your values and professionalism. It's a great way to promote yourself or your business with authenticity and passion.)

You can find Brett Wilson’s Tweets here. His most recent post is my favourite. It shows so much energy and personal charm:

“So close to done. We have looked at almost 185 deals. Done some great stuff. And seen some of the wildest ideas. I love Dragons Den...”

(I also like this one, from Saturday, May 23: "Just ate a scorpion. So did Jim Treliving. What will Dragons Den think of next...?"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Read & Tell

One of my favorite Canadian entrepreneurs is Jim Crocker, a multi-PROFIT 100 winner who now consults through his company, Boardroom Metrics, and blogs and Twitters as well.

Jim had a great blogpost earlier this week distilling the highlights of the May 11 issue of Fortune Magazine. Lots of insights you can benefit from.

Excerpt:

“Page 12. 'Gun Money'. Bizarrely, the gun and ammunition business in the US has exploded (sorry) over the past year. Remington just announced a backlog of almost $300 million. Up from $115 million a year ago. Smith and Wesson shares are up 338%! There is a backlog of 1.3 people waiting for background checks to purchase firearms.”

His post, entitled “Fortune Teller,” is full of little gems like this. Click here to read the whole post.

Free money?

An entrepreneur recently wrote me to ask if I knew of any government grants to help companies invest in technology, such as specialized industry software. I replied and said I didn't know. So I decided to ask the readers of this blog. Feel free to drop me an email [rick (AT)rickspence.ca] if you know of any help such as this.

Here is the text of my reply to the entrepreneur:

I'm afraid I don't know of any government aid of the sort you describe.
Your accountant may know if there are any grants like that available.

You could also ask the folks at the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham, Ont., which has run several seminars on financing alternatives for small business. http://www.iscm.ca/ In fact, they have another session scheduled for May 28.
Finally, you might look into whether the software you are seeking is available as a "service", ie, for a monthly fee rather than an upfront pricetag.

If anyone has a better answer, please let me know.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Stimulate Your Business

Stimulate Your Business... and Prosper in a Brutal Market.

That's the title of a creative and timely marketing session being put on by two crackerjack business experts in Burlingon, Ont., this Wednesday, May 20.

(Full disclosure. I am friends with both - but I gain nothing from promoting their seminar.)

Both George Torok and Kelley Robertson have been quoted in this blog many times for their proficiency in marketing (George) and selling (Kelley). I have seen both of them speak, I have talen a course from Kelley, and I have hired George (and paid him full rate) for a conference I put together in Montreal two years ago.

I hear so many Canadian entreprenurs who are suffering in this recession. So many Canadian entrepreneurs who don't know how to market themselves, and don't have much confidence when it comes to selling, either.

Well here we have two experts in their fields sharing their expertise for a full day. They're taking a bit of a gamble putting on their own summit, betting that Canadian business people will take time out of their busy days to plunk down $295 to improve their marketing and sales skills – and I really hope it pays off for them.

You could spend days wading through their books, or you could hire them for several thousand dollars a day each. Or you could go to their seminar on May 20 and learn how to prosper in this economy from Kelley and George in person.

And since they're offering a 100% money back guarantee, you have nothing to lose. If you don't learn anything useful from these guys that will make you a more effective marketer and salesperson, you'll get for your money back. No questions, no hassles.

Whenever Canadian experts on small business get together, they always lament the lack of sales and marketing skills among our entrepreneurs. We make great products, we make great business leaders, but many Canadians simply missed out on the selling gene.

Why not spend on professional development? If it doesn't take, George and Kelley will pay for it.

Click here to learn more about this seminar. You have nothing to lose but excuses.
Place: Holiday Inn Burlington.
Time: 8:30 am to 4 pm, Wednesday, May 20
Priority: High

(Charles Marcus, a motivational expert, is also on the program. I don't know him, but I’d recommend George and Kelley any day.)

The most powerful tool in small business

My Financial Post column this week looks at small-business advisory boards. I am currently working with Ajmer Mehmi, a recent MBA graduate from Vancouver Island University, to promote the creation of a central database and knowledge centre for advisory boards, to help more business owners benefit from these powerful tools.

This week’s Post column sums up some of the results from an online survey we conducted earlier this year of Canadian business owners on the subject of advisory boards. We concluded that advisory boards are tremendously useful for growing companies that want to become more focussed, effective and resilient – but that most entrepreneurs never get started because they have no idea how or where to recruit potential advisers.

Read the column to learn about our solution.
http://www.financialpost.com/small-business/story.html?id=1583309

Let me know if you have any ideas on how to move this project forward.
And watch for part II in the Post on Tuesday, May 19.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bankruptcies still heading up

This just in: Personal bankruptcies in Canada up 57% in March from a year earlier.

There were 10,578 personal bankruptcies filed during the month, up from 6,736 in March 2008, acording to the federal Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.

On a monthly basis, consumer insolvencies were up 17.3% in March, from 9,020 in February.

I suspect bankruptcies are a lagging indicator - one of those stats that continue to haunt us even after the economy has turned the corner. Anyone know for sure?

Surprise! Andy Nulman on The Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Andy Nulman is one of my favourite Canadian Entrepreneurs. A co-founder of the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, as well as mobile-content producer Airborne Mobile, he also runs one of my favorite business blogs, on Surprise Marketing.

Having just written a well-received book on the subject earlier this year (Pow! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting from the Power of Surprise), Andy has now become a superstar. And tonight at 12:30 EDT, he's on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, talking about his book and reminiscing about his days with Ferguson and other famous comedians.

Andy's appearance was taped on April 1. You can read about that experience here.

Tune in tonight if you can. They're both entertaining guys, so it should be a lot of fun.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A startup is like facing a recession every day

Many people have wondered if there is wisdom in Twitter.
I like this recent Tweet from Mississauga, Ont.-based growth consultants SpyderWorks:

The beginning years of a business are like facing a recession every day. But there’s no better training ground.

Friday, May 08, 2009

10 Recession Tips

Mandie Crawford, founder and chief roarer of Roaring Women, asked me earlier this week if I had any tips on managing through recession. I'm rarely lost for words, so I put together a short article on 10 recession tips - stuff I have learned recently, written about in my columns, or used in my speeches.

Things like:
Measure your marketing.
Leverage partnerships.
Figure out how you can offer more value to your customers.

You can read the whole story here.

Recession: That which does not kill us...

As a postscript to an email exchange the other day, I asked an entrepreneur I know how his business is doing. He responded with much more than I bargained for.
His comments below are slightly edited to preserve his anonymity.

Hi Rick:
I’ve got to tell you that I have learned so much about business in the last six months.
Our clientele was mostly U.S.-based companies. Our budgets got cut or eliminated so we lost over half our business. It nearly killed us.

We reacted by redefining our business model. By tackling smaller businesses and creating a monthly residual service, we pulled through. We are now squeezing the most profit possible out of the jobs we have.

Basically we got lean, eliminated unnecessary expenses and expenditures and got totally focused on our clients.

Last year we grew so fast that I kept hiring bodies and throwing them into the mix. We grossed a lot of money but had no profit at the end of the year.

Knowing what I know now, I would like to go back in time and do things our new way. I can’t help but think of how much profit we could have had.

The good news is we pulled through and I’m now slowly growing the business in a more intelligent manner.

Cheers!

Cheers indeed. Here's to learning from our mistakes!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Baby Boom: Still the way to bet

"Baby Boomers represent one out of every three adults in the U.S. Boomers control 70% of the wealth in America. Every day 10,000 Boomers turn 50 years of age.

"Boomers spend $2.3 trillion annually on consumer goods and products, which is $400 billion more than any other generational group."

Mac McKinley writes a cool blog on the baby boomers, national (i.e., U.S.) issues, and business.

There's life in the post-war generation yet. Click here to catch the gray wave.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What you need to know about Twitter

So here it is late Wednesday, and I am blogging about my Financial Post column this week on Twitter.

I Tweeted (wrote a Twitter message) about it on Monday. Twice.

And that essentially demonstrates the difference between Tweeting and blogging. One is convenient, the other requires thinking. And who has time for that any more?

Blogging is a great way to get across a continuing series of messages to your marketplace or community through ongoing short essay-type articles posted directly to the Web.

Twitter is like mini-blogging, except you are allotted a maximum of 140 characters, or about 20-25 words.

Blogging means you have to think about what you are going to say, and how you are going to structure your message. Then you have to type it up and format it for the Web. Even a minor post will probably take 10-15 minutes, and often much more.

And if you're not the type who likes to string two sentences together, blogging can be a daunting challenge.

Twitter, by contrast, is blogging on speed. No time for niceties about paragraph construction, developing your argument, communicating multiple ideas. Just one or two sentences, and ZAP!, you're done.

It turns out you can communicate a lot in 20 words. But if you know what you want to say, it needn't take more than a minute or two.

Which makes Twitter a perfect medium for today's attention-deficit times. People who don't have time to compose essays writing short, singular messages for people who don't have time to read.

I started out thinking Twitter was a toy, but now I realize it's a powerful specialty medium that almost anyone can use. Plus, it builds community faster than blogging, or websites. And it's viral: you follow other people, and then you start following the people that these other people follow.

Relationships ensue.

So my Post article goes into this stuff in greater depth. And in the spirit of Twitter, I wrote it entirely in paragraphs of 140 characters each (give or take 1 or 2). It's annoying, but I think it works.

Click here to read the story.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Next-to-free promotion tips

A friend asked me by email today for advice on promoting a two-day event he is working on. This (with a few details left out to preserve his anonymity) is pretty much what I told him:

How to spread the word? Put together a press release about how powerful events like these can be. Tell why events like these are so popular now, and what makes yours special. Email your release to every magazine and newspaper in B.C. Also to every blogger on these issues you can find, and every site related to this industry, regional business groups, etc.

Have you considered pay-per-click advertising (eg Google Adwords)? You bid for appropriate keywords that might be used by your prospects on their Google searches - eg, "business," "stress", "sales," etc. You can restrict its visibility to BC (or any other geographic area), buy as many keywords as you want, and pay as little as you wish. And you pay only when someone clicks through to your website or sell page. It's the perfect ad medium for entrepreneurs selling niche products.

Another great site to check out is Yahoo Answers. You can search for people's questions related to the issues you help with, and then offer them a solution based on your experience. And in your answer you subtly promote your upcoming event. You may not sell many tickets on that site, but it has a lot of traffic and is well regarded by Google.

To get more attention, you might even offer a contest - say, announce you’re giving away a free ticket to the person who writes you the most creative (or moving) Twitter post (retweet) saying why they would like to attend your event. Get people excited!

Be bold. Be confident. This is work, but it's all healthy relationship-building. And an investment in learning what works and doesn't.