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,

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

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.

* 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

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."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Turning browsers into buyers

My column this week in the National Post looks at what you can do to turn browsers into buyers.

It was actually inspired by my experience in Jamaica during a brief business trip last week, when I stopped into a den of ramshackle souvenir shops. One owner in particular was an excellent saleswoman: she wouldn't let me leave until I promised to come back the next day.

Her sales savvy made me wonder how many Canadian business owners excel at converting tirekickers into actual revenue-generating customers – and how many let prospects slip through their fingers due to simply not trying.

Excerpt: "Therein lies the secret of winning over reluctant customers: you need to create a dialogue. Not in a "what-can-I-do-to-sell-you-this-car-today?" way, but a genuine conversation aimed at solving the prospect's problems rather than filling your weekly quota."

Read the rest of the story here.

Free book will go to 100,000th visitor

Sometime in the next week or two, this blog will receive its 100,000th visitor.

Milestones like that need to be celebrated, so I will be giving away a copy of my book, Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies, to someone on that day.

It may not go precisely to the 100,000th visitor: I have no way to identify the individuals who visit this site. But as soon as I find out we have hit the 100,000 mark, I will put up a post on the blog offering to send a free book to the first person who responds by email with their name and address - and their reason for coming to the site.

98,788 - and counting!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Free PR Advice

I received an email today from an entrepreneur looking for some PR advice. A contact of his in public relations has offered to write up a press release for his business free of charge. She would also give him an email list of Canadian media so he could send out the release himself; or she would charge him a certain amount to send out the releases herself and track the responses.

My correspondent wanted to know if a press release looks better coming from a PR company or an individual. Here's what I told him:

Your friend is giving you a good deal. A free press release is quite a bargain!

I'm not a huge fan of PR agencies, but I think they do add value when it comes to wide releasing of a press release. Their name on a release, representing you, is generally better than you sending it yourself: it makes your business look bigger and more successful.

But the crucial question is, who will do the follow-ups? Journalists rarely respond to press releases: they just don't have time. Often they don't even read them. It usually takes a follow-up call or email to get their attention and make sure they actually look at your release. If you have time to do that, fine. But the question you should be asking is, is there other, higher-value work you could be doing in that time instead? I bet there is.

One other question is: which are the key media outlets you would most like to appear in? Your time is probably better spent thinking up how you could break into those outlets. You need a customized pitch that has been thoroughly thought through. And this is where a call to the media from an entrepreneur, to my mind, is more powerful than one from a PR person: when you have a specific story idea to pitch that you yourself can explain better than anyone else in the world.

For the more generic work (sending out emails, following up). I think you are better off to use a pro.

Cultivating key media relationships is an important business task. For mass-market PR work, however, most entrepreneurs have more valuable things to do with their time.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Transform your weaknesses into strengths!

My column in the Post this week looks at how small businesses turn weaknesses into strengths.

The topic was inspired by the Post itself. This week it brought back its Monday paper, which had been shelved for the summer. Because there’s not much business news on Mondays, they are filling the Monday paper with more features, sports and arts – recognizing a weakness and making sure it’s no longer an issue.

Every retailer gambles when it purchases inventory, knowing some items will be more popular than others. In the heart of what used to be East Berlin, the Broker's Bier Borse devised a market-oriented solution. An electronic ticker over the bar readjusts prices every three minutes, upping the pricetag on popular beers or lunch specials, and lowering the prices of the drinks and dinners currently less in demand. Result: better-balanced inventory, fewer product shortages, and daily discounts for bargain hunters.

Click here to read the full story.

Bonus weekend reading:
Who are Canada’s fastest-growing startups? Read all about the Hot 50 in the latest issue of PROFIT Magazine (or click here).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Celebrating Small Business Week on a Budget

I received an email today from a local economic development staffer in a small rural community with an interesting request related to next month's Small Business Week: "I would love to hear some of your ideas for events we could run to celebrate the small businesses in our community. They would have to be ideas we could pull together in a few weeks..."

They left it kind of late, but here is what I wrote back:

Hi, Jean. Thanks for your email.
I think there are lots of things you could do to celebrate small business in your community.

How about asking a local banker, lawyer and accountant to put on a panel session, each talking about "5 things that local entrepreneurs need to know, but often don't." Then invite all the business owners in town to come for the free advice. And give them lots of time to ask questions of the panel.

You might also ask local businesses to bring in samples of their products, if appropriate, to raffle off at random.

Another fun thing is to have an "idea cafe," where you invite local business owners to an event where they form discussion groups with the people at their tables and work through specific problems. If time allows, you could also have each table appoint a representative to present their problems (and solutions) to the other groups in the room.

Or you could just hold a networking event. Invite the local town council, business owners, and professionals just to get together and mingle and meet each other. You could even offer a prize to the person who collects the most business cards that day.

Another way to hold a networking event is to invite some expert to speak for 15-20 minutes on a topic of interest to everyone in the room. It might be the mayor talking about the future of the community, a local expert on marketing through the Internet, an accountant talking about the upcoming HST, a sales coach talking about better cold-calling methods, the local newspaper editor offering tips on how to get publicity, etc. The greater the sense of community you create, the more everyone will bond.

Get a local hotel or service club to sponsor the location, and you can pull off a great event for very little cost. But better get started right away. Best of luck!

Monday, September 07, 2009

A few thoughts on Labour Day

I was surprised recently to read that Labour Day as we know it started in Canada and then spread to the U.S. The rest of the world of course, celebrates Labour on May 1.

Like Victoria Day (celebrating the birth of a queen no one today remembers very fondly, on a day that is not her birthday), Labour Day it is a rather odd, outdated holiday. It celebrates labour unions, which today are widely considered superfluous sources of one-sided greed and/or defenders of an extinct status quo.

As everyone knows, labour unions were once indispensable in checking the growing power and ruthlessness of big business. According to Wikipedia, “The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to April 14, 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work-week.”

At the time, Canada had strict laws restricting union activity, but not even Sir John A. Macdonald could stand up for big business on such issues. After unions in Ottawa staged sympathetic parades on Sept. 3 to support the Toronto strikers, Sir John A. promised to repeal the “barbarous” anti-labour laws. A new Trade Union Act was passed the following spring.

Before long everyone was clamouring for a 54-hour workweek.

While instances of corruption and exploitation still exist (as they do in all aspects of human affairs), few could deny that workers today have it pretty good: high minimum wages, safe working conditions, good benefits, and fair severance deals (albeit moreso in Canada than the United States). But this is not just due to the role of labour unions. It’s really about the nature of work.

As long as workers were supplying only a commodity (muscle power) to their employers, they were vulnerable to exploitation and indifference. But then machines took over many of those jobs. At the same time, we witnessed the growing information economy, characterized by the rise of big corporations, and the need for managers, administrators, marketers, salespeople, planners, designers and others who use their brains and experience to create value for their employers.

Suddenly workers were no longer commodities selling easily replaced services. And the more value they created for their companies, the better they tended to be compensated. Yes, there have always been employers who have treated experienced knowledge workers like dirt, but in today’s highly specialized economy, this no longer works very well (read any post mortem on Circuit City for a recent example).

So let’s hail the unions for what they once accomplished. But let’s remember that as individuals, our future is not based on banding together with other needy colleagues, but on how well we distinguish ourselves by creating value for our customers and employers.

The information economy that empowers us makes entrepreneurs of us all. We deserve to earn as much as we can get – but our paycheque is determined by what we can produce, not by how much time we put in. This to me seems a much better system.

When Robots Attack

For your holiday reading, here's a fun post from PC World Canada: "Real-Life Robots That Could Kill Us All."

As the name implies, this brief slideshow offes examples of 10 robots that have actually been built that bear eerie similarities to the Terminator and other killer robots that we have long been accustomed to seeing in the movies.

Examples include the fly-eating robot that generates energy from the flies it consumes; the robot with the brain of a blood-sucking lamprey eel; and the "Multiple Kill Vehicle" built by the scientists at Lockheed Martin. (It flies, shoots bullets and emits flames.)

Reading the list is morbid fun, but it also makes you think about where technology is heading. You can start the slideshow by clicking here.

Robotic Traffic Cones: University of Nebraska scientist Shane Farritor decided to install robotic motors and GPS systems into traffic barrels that could then be controlled remotely by a computer to move to different places on the road depending on where they are needed. It's easy to see the cones malfunctioning, however, and directing unsuspecting drivers toward shark tanks or vats of nuclear waste.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting around the receptionist, the website for the Canadian magazine industry, has a fun column on selling magazine ads, by sales trainer Peter Ebner. In his most recent column, he tackles a subject that should interest any entrepreneur: How to get around a receptionist who is screening out your calls.
His ideas are kind of fun.

1. Call before 9 a.m., at lunch or after 5 p.m - when an executive is most likely to be without their administrative screen.

2. Ask for sales. Phone any company and ask for sales, and chances are you will be put right through. "You’ll find that most salespeople will tell you anything you’d like to know because they haven’t been instructed to screen calls," sasy Ebner. "They’ll not only tell you who the marketing manager is, they’ll also give you his direct line."

3. Call accounts receivable. If the company you are targeting doesn’t have a sales department, ask for accounts receivable. "Once again, accounting has not been instructed to screen calls, so they see nothing wrong with answering your questions."

Click here to read more columns by Peter Ebner.

New Resolutions for a new year

My column in this week’s Financial Post looks at four “new year’s resolutions” your business should consider adopting.

Reason: I’ve always thought that Labour Day is business’s New Year’s Eve, and that the new business year begins on Tuesday. Dec. 31 has snow and stuff, but September marks a new start after the summer doldrums. Plus, it’s budget times. Plus, for many companies, the fourth quarter is the one that counts the most.

Here are my four resolutions.
Take a fresh look at your business, through the eyes of a customer. Identify and root out any discordant element that prevents customers from experiencing your company the way you planned.

Invest more in training your people for this tougher new economy. Help them understand how dependent your company is on their actions, and give them the training they need to perform their jobs right. Pair up underperforming employees with mentors

Cull the herd. If training and retraining don't work, get rid of underperformers. This is a great time to find motivated new staff: There are many unemployed and underemployed people eager to work for a leading-edge company such as yours.

Say "thank you" every day. All your staff want to hear from you more often, to know they're on the right track, that they're recognized and their efforts are appreciated.
Make sure your industry partners -- customers, suppliers, bankers -- also know how much they mean to you. You'll spark dialogues that could result in valuable business tips, new opportunities, referrals and repeat business.

Read the full story here.

Happy New Year!