Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where's your next dollar coming from? The customer!

“A company’s best source of financing is its customers.”

With that declaration, pioneering tech entrepreneur Douglas Barber throws down the gauntlet for Canadian businesses: Stop fretting about bankers and investors, and look after your customer. You’ll succeed through internal focus and fierce client loyalty.

My column in this week’s National Post features an interview with Barber, the now retired (but not retiring) CEO of Gennum Corp., who’s on a mission to save business from itself.

Excerpt: "I've never seen a 'market'," insists Barber. "It is always people who issue a purchase order. If all you talk about is markets, you're not serious about commerce."

Read the full story here.

Last week’s column looked at how you can keep costs down in your business and get more done by thinking (and acting) like a non-profit. It’s based on a book called Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business.

Author Nancy Lublin, a New York-based social entrepreneur, has never had much funding for her endeavours. But she says starting with nothing can be a powerful advantage: "It's a cocktail that drives creativity and fresh ideas."

Take a sip here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 25

"A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation."
Mark Twain

2010 marks the centennial of the death of Mark Twain, who was not just a writer and humorist but one of the shrewdest observers of any age.

I just recently discovered this quote, which fits neatly into the entrepreneurial mindset: specifically, the need to quickly and intuitively assess the character of the people you meet. Should you buy from them, sell to them, hire them or work with them?

Everyone has their own way of doing this, but Twain’s concept of tracking the adjectives strikes me as genius. Is a person a positive thinker or a negative nelly? Sophisticated or homespun? Evasive, boastful or truthful?

By your adjectives shall you know them.

This won’t replace your entrepreneur intuition – but I bet it will reinforce it!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sprouter takes root

Sprouter is a global community for startups and young-at-heart entrepreneurs, based out of Toronto. When I first met founder Sarah Prevette about two years ago,  she was one of many people I was meeting around that time who was determined to set up an online forum for entrepreneurs.

Most of those projects never happened. A few launched lamely and were quickly ignored. Sprouter however, seems to be working, and growing. It passed 15,000 members six months ago. And this month Prevette was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of "Top 30 Under 30" entrepreneurs, which is pretty good for a Canadian entrepreneur!

Click here for a profile of Prevette and Sprouter. Learn all about all the Top 30 entrepreneurs here. And click here to read about the big trend among the Top 30 this year: growing their companies by building communities.

Sadly, Inc.'s profile of Prevette shies away from the big question: Is Sprouter making any money? It says "Prevette plans to make money by selling ad space in its e-newsletter, Sprouter Weekly, and by making introductions between investors and start-ups." But no word on how successful they've been so far..

Sprouter itself offers online forums, sharing of best practices, lots of profiles of entrepreneurs from all over the globe, and actual events in which human beings actually meet each oher IRL (in real life). And coming soon, you'll be able to ask questions of a panel of business experts and get a personal answer.

Registration is free for entrepreneurs. I signed up a long time ago, but have not been an active member of the community. I think I'll get more involved. The entrepreneur scene needs flagship online communities with a critical mass of  members to make it effective and useful: maybe Sprouter is it.

At any rate, it's Canadian. So check it out, eh?  http://www.sprouter.com/

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Startup Advice

I got an email the other day from a Web entrepreneur who wanted me to write about his startup.

I had to tell him it's too early for me to get involved. I don't like writing about what people say they're going to do - I like writing about it after they have earned the ink, by producing tangible results (money, market share, disruption, creative recognition, etc.)

He wrote back and said he understood - but did I have any tips for him, especially about raising seed money? I didn't have time to say anything brilliant, but here's the advice I offered:

What can I tell you? Take a breath. Take your time. See if you can generate some income before you go seeking investors; the more self-reliant you are, the more they will pay to get in on it.

* Surround yourself with people who like what you're doing and want to contribute. Pay them in promises - that at some point, if you see a return, they will too. But try not to give up equity until you really have to. For some people, the adventure and the experience will be enough.

* Clean up your website. Make it as professional-looking as possible. I see lots of grammar mistakes, mis-spellings, and room for improvement.

* You're doing the right thing in terms of reaching out to media, bloggers, etc. But remember - your site isn't news. It's how you help people that creates a story.

* And check out Zilch, the book I reviewed in my Post column this week. Lots of great advice for getting things done on a zero budget.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blogging vs Facebook: It's not either-or

What’s the best way to promote your business on social media?

Should you blog, email, or just jump wholly into Facebook?

Digital media entrepreneur Nick O'Neill addressed this question in a blogpost yesterday at http://www.allfacebook.com/ entitled, “The One Mistake That Will Kill Your Facebook Page Strategy.”

O’Neill said he had just read an article from Ducati, the motorcycle company, explaining why they had decided to end their corporate blog and replace it with a Facebook “page”. O’Neill calls that a bad idea.

“Corporate blogs are good for a number of reasons, most importantly search engine optimization.” He says they're also a cost-effective way to generate fans on your Facebook page.

“Any effective social media marketing strategy involves multiple channels. Yes, Facebook should be one of your company’s primary marketing channels, however killing all other channels and replacing them exclusively with Facebook is not only a bad marketing gimmick but it’s also a great way to kill off your other channels of new Facebook fan acquisition. By embedding your Facebook fan box on your website, you can dramatically increase your Facebook fan base.”

So don't kill your blog to jump on the Facebook bandwagon.

The same blogpost’s comments section contained an unusual number of useful observations. Here are a few:

Bryan said: Let’s not leave out just how unreliable the Facebook platform is: constant changes in the api, apps, privacy settings and the fact that they can pull the plug on the web property they own and a business relies on at will. A good social media [strategy] need be multifaceted and ultimately result in bringing communities and customers closer to the properties that are controlled by the business (both virtual and brick and mortar). This decision seems short sighted and self destructive.

Daniel said: I love facebook for social interactivity and local and niche news, but if I want to learn about a company, I’m not going to facebook, I’m going to google. Stupid, stupid, stupid

Tom: The biggest advantage to corporate blogs that I’ve found is being able to communicate messaging and intelligence fully and thoroughly: Facebook just isn’t the right venue for that.

Nicky: The biggest reason to NOT do this is because you control your blog and the platform where it is hosted. On Facebook you have limited control of the platform that businesses are investing so much time and money into.

Deborah: Not everyone is on Facebook! There are a lot of people out there who are on the Internet, but reticent about joining a social media service for fear of their “personal information” going viral. How do you reach those people in your marketing scheme?

Dennis: Nick, good point on killing the SEO for all those pages. But the good news is that Facebook page should now rank highly. A Facebook fan page should be more than just a blog, too.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 24

"Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something you have never seen before."
Alexander Graham Bell

"Dive into the woods." A beautiful metaphor for doing something different, mixing up your routine, or opening eyes and ears to new ideas, new perspectives, new opportunities.

In other words, success is all about attitude. Or as the Great Inventor also said:

"When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

Keep your eyes (and ears) open!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tips to avoid spam

Symantec Hosted Services says New Brunswick is the most spammed province in Canada: 92.5% of email there is spam.

Not that there’s much difference between worst and first. Newfoundland is the least spammed province, with a spam rate of 86%.

According to Symantec’s MessageLabs, 90% of spam is sent by five to six million private computers that have been compromised by cyber-criminals. Organized into automated robot networks, or botnets, these computers send an estimated 120 billion emails each day.

Spam drains valuable business resources such as bandwidth, processing power and employee productivity. Here are Symantec’s tips to reduce the chances of falling victim to spam:

• Protect your email address: Exposing your email address online puts you at risk of being targeted. Keep your real address private and only use it with trusted contacts. Use a disposable email address for other online sources.

• Never reply to unsolicited emails: Acknowledging a spam email, even to complain, validates your email address and can lead to more spam.

• Do not click on hyperlinks in unsolicited emails.

• Never open attachments in unsolicited emails: Attachments may install malware on your computer.

• Avoid downloading pictures in spam email: These can notify the spammer that their message has been opened. Many email applications allow you to turn off images that don't come from trusted sources.

• Use privacy controls on social networking sites such as Facebook: Limit what others can see on your profile. Be careful how much information you share about yourself and be careful who you add to your trusted circle of friends.

How to bolster your business this summer

Oops. The weather was so nice I never got around to posting my column in last week’s Financial Post.

Which is pretty ironic, since the topic of last week’s column was the work you could be doing this summer (while your rivals are napping in the sun) to get the jump on the competition this fall.

Here are seven summer jobs you should put on your to-do list:

* Take staff out to lunch. Find out what's bugging them, and how you can help them get more done.

* Invite clients to your picnics, barbecues and other events. While everyone has more time on their hands, snuggle closer to your customers.

* Learn some new skills this summer. Remember what summers were like when you were a kid? You learned more new skills than you ever did in school.

* Figure out Twitter. (Or PowerPoint, Facebook or Excel.)

* Launch a strategic-planning push. How are your markets changing? What new benefits do customers want from you, and what are they telling you to stop doing?

* Plan a summer romance. Surely there some customers you have always coveted. It's never too late to kindle new relationships.

* Review the effectiveness of your team.

* Identify your likely staff requirements for the year. What skills will you need, and where will you find them?


Click here to read the full story.

The Most Important Entrepreneurial Trait

What do you think is the most important characteristic an entrepreneur should have?

My column in this week's Financial Post looks at the biggest challenge facing growth-oriented entrepreneurs. To my mind, it’s learning: constantly seeking new and better way to handle the challenges that no one (and no school) ever prepared you for.

Excerpt:
There's only one way the entrepreneur who built a business can lead that company in so many new directions: you have to be a lifelong learner. You have to "park" your past successes and become a humble, willing student.

Sounds easy. But I meet many entrepreneurs who act as if success has immunized them from the inconvenience of learning new things. Worse, their need to be perceived as the all-knowing leader prevents them from asking for help, seeking out contrary ideas, or exploring new opportunities like a rookie. Taking a course or learning new skills is for subordinates, not for the king (or queen) of the corner office.

Read the full story here.

Leave a comment: What do you think is the most important entrepreneurial trait?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 23

"Never let an inventor run a company. You can never get him to stop tinkering and bring something to market."

Royal Little (1896-1989), U.S. entrepreneur, founder and chairman of Textron, considered one of the first conglomerates

Are you an entrepreneur or an inventor? Would you rather tinker with your product or get it out the door?

There's nothing wrong with either role. Just so long as you understand your tendencies and compensate for any gaps that stand between you and success.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Win Your Marketing Department For A Year!

Here's news of another great marketing opportunity for one lucky business...

Will you be the lucky company? It's your last chance to enter Toronto-based Mezzanine Group’s ‘Win Your Marketing Department For A Year’ contest. Application deadline is July 16th – apply now!

Mezzanine Group’s ‘Win Your Marketing Department’ contest aims to help one Canadian firm achieve significantly greater success. Too often, companies that are great at product development, customer service, and even sales just aren't that great at marketing.

Outsourced marketing is a way for them to get marketing expertise and implementation, without a big price tag.

The Mezzanine Group will award one Canadian company $75,000 in outsourced marketing services. The winning firm will receive a marketing strategy, a 12-month marketing plan and a dedicated part-time Outsourced Marketing Director to implement this plan.

All Canadian-owned businesses are eligible to win. Visit www.winyourmarketing.com for full contest details and to apply.

The application form includes two questions: Why do you want to win your marketing department? What would better marketing help you achieve?

I suspect they are looking for a company that has a tremendous product and a reasonable understanding of what marketing can and can't do for a great product. The more you understand what marketing can do for you, I suspect, the stronger a candidate you are likely to be.

(Full disclosure: I am one of the judges in this process. But I am not involved in the initial sort, so this is merely guesswork on my part rather than inside information.)

Application deadline: Midnight July 16, 2010
http://www.winyourmarketing.com/

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

CBC News is looking for startup blogger

A few days ago, I mentioned how PROFIT Magazine is looking for Canada’s hottest startups. (hurry! Deadline is this week!)

Now CBC News is looking for Canada’s newest startups. They want to find a startup entrepreneur who is willing to blog about his or her experience, as part of a feature leading up to Small Business Week in October.

Sounds like a good opportunity to me. Write online about your startup experiences and frustrations, and get a built-in national audience. For the right company, the PR value could be unlimited.

It also sounds like they are looking for iconic, Main Street-type businesses - not the exotic sort of high-flying tech companies that usually hog the news.

Here’s the deal, as announced here.

Entrepreneurs: Are you getting ready to start your own business?
From the first rumblings of an idea or the labour of love that keeps you up through the night, to the nervous anticipation of finally opening the doors to your own store, the journey of starting a small business can be both frightening and exhilarating.

But the experiences of entrepreneurs can also be inspiring to others looking to take the path less travelled.

So in anticipation of Small Business Week in Canada, CBC News Your Voice is looking for a Canadian to share the journey with us. We want you to share the process with other readers, relating everything from registering your GST number to looking for the perfect storefront. It's an opportunity to share fears, pitfalls and triumphs.

If you're starting your own small business and are interested in blogging for CBC News "Your Voice", send a description of yourself, the business you're starting and why your experriences would make a great story to: yournews@cbc.ca . Use the subject line "small business week".

It’s always great when a national institution like the CBC shows an interest in small business. And marketing opportunities like this don't come along every day. Give it your best shot!

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 22

“A real entrepreneur is somebody who has no safety net underneath them.”
Henry Kravis, founder of pioneer private-equity firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.

Sure, Henry Kravis earned his reputation as Wall Street’s prime Barbarian at the Gate. But the carried-interest fees that he took for his work - after taking over underperforming public companies through leveraged buyouts – were all geared to paying him BIG money only after his investors achieved their goals.

To me, “no safety net” doesn't necessarily mean you lack resources. It means you take full responsibility for the performance of your company or its products and services. If they don't perform, you're willing to take a hit.

And when they do perform as promised, you deserve whatever margin you can wrangle.
Just like Henry.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Wanted: Hot Startups for PROFIT List

PROFIT Magazine is looking for Canada’s hottest startups!

The PROFIT Hot 50 is the premier list of Canada's fastest-growing young businesses, ranked according to two-year revenue growth. Anyone who manages or knows of a young, fast-growth company is invited to submit a nomination by completing the simple entry form at www.PROFITguide.com/awards

Candidates and nominators looking for more information can call the toll-free PROFIT HOT 50 hotline at 1-800-713-GROW, or visit www.PROFITguide.com/awards . But ACT NOW: the entry deadline is July 9, 2010.

The benefits are great! PROFIT will honour Canada's Emerging Growth Companies in its October issue and with an exclusive invitation to GrowthCamp, a dynamic weekend entrepreneurs’ summit at which HOT 50 leaders share ideas, learn from experts and make valuable new contacts. Past winners call it the best business event they’ve ever attended.

Winning firms will also benefit from a national publicity campaign that generates extensive consumer and trade-media coverage.

Past PROFIT HOT 50 winners include Robert Herjavec of The Herjavec Group and “Dragons’ Den”; Tony Lacavera of Globalive Communications and Wind Mobile; and Stephan Cretier of Garda World Security, a billion-dollar global security firm.

For a list of last year's winners and stories about their best practices, visit www.PROFITguide.com/hot50