Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Get motivated! Get found! Get more business!

Time to recharge your batteries and get new business ideas you can take right back to work and implement! The Vancouver-based SOHO Business Group is presenting its annual SOHO/SME business conference in Vancouver this Friday, Sept. 30, and in Toronto on Wed., Oct. 26.
SOHO is the Canadian champion at putting on these shows. They always provide great guest speakers, relevant and timely topics, and the best conference content around. And the price is right!
Here’s the lineup of the Vancouver show:
OPENING KEYNOTE: Get Motivated! Developing Million-Dollar Habits For Success
with the matchless Peter Legge, author and speaker,
CEO of Canada Wide Media Ltd.
7 Proven Strategies for Getting and Keeping More Money in Your Business
Tracey Lundell, Small Business Banking, TD Canada Trust
Design Your Business To Get The Performance and Life You Want
Anurag Gupta, Founder, The Difference Engine
Google Demystified - Tips for Better Rankings
Jeff Quipp, Founder & CEO, Search Engine People
Your Roadmap to Success: An interactive interview with 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner Emad Yacoub, owner of The Glowbal Restaurant Group
How to Do Business with the Federal Government
Ravinder Rakhra, Regional Director, Public Works and Government Services, Canada
Blogging, SEO and Social Media Tips
John Koetsier, Senior Manager, Online Media for Canpages
The Art of Networking!
Sue Clement, President, Success Coaching
Expert Panel Session: Proven Social Media Strategies for Business
Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? What Else? Learn from industry experts on how to maximize your online presence in a growing and competitive social media world
Chris Breikss, Co-Founder, 6S Marketing
Rajan Sodhi, Vice President Marketing & Communications, Peer 1 Hosting
So what are you waiting for? Click here to register for the Vancouver show Sept. 30. It's at the Hyatt Regency, 655 Burrard.The Toronto show (Oct. 26) will be held at the Sheraton Centre Hotel, 123 Queen Street W. I’ll post the lineup soon. And hopefully I'll give you a bit more notice.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just a great quote

We all have two choices in life: to live consciously and purposefully, or not.

Which is summed up by this great quote I found on Twitter from twitterer @KeltieZubko, who describes herself as a writer and publisher in Western Canada. She posted today:

"There are two ways to sleep well at night -- be ignorant or be prepared." (Simon Black)

Entrepreneurs know that preparation is the key to success. I am always striving to prepare more. I made a rule once to always prepare for a meeting two days in advance. It's a good rule that I wish I could abide by more often.

While we're here, Keltie offers a few other choice quotes on her intermittent Twitter feed.

 "Free speech is the gift you give to your worst enemies so you can keep it for yourself." (Douglas Christie, Cdn lawyer)

"Is it just me or are brains today suffocating in information and starving for wisdom?" (Terry Small)

John McPhee on writing a lead: It should “shine like a flashlight down through the piece.”

"It's never too late to be what you might have been." (George Eliot)

"Write every day. Regaining momentum takes three times as much energy as sustaining momentum." (Daniel Pink)
"Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer." (Winston Churchill)

And finally, a great quote that seems to be from Keltie herself:
"Those who make the most mistakes will go far, as long as they don't give up."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dragons' Den returns Tonight

Just a reminder that Dragons' Den returns tonight at 8 pm in most parts of Canada.

I think DD has become the most important show in Canada's history in terms of promoting entrepreneurship and, more importantly, entrepreneurial values (things like understanding opportunity, identifying how you create value, testing your plans by talking  to customers, and collaborating with mentors, investors and other stakeholders). It's quite ironic that it took a Crown corporation to do this. We're seeing more business-oriented shows creeping on to our TV listings this year, but none has the dynamic and built-in audience identification of Dragons' Den.

Note that there's a new Dragon in the den this season: Bruce Croxon of Lavalife has replaced W. Brett Wilson. Brett certainly became a viewer favourite during his time on the show, for his unique personality as well as his personal commitment to supporting good people and socially beneficial businesses. But truth to tell, I thought he spoiled the dynamic of the show a bit; when the other Dragons cynically passed on investing in companies that didn't meet their investment objectives, he would often find ways to bend the rules in order to support the unloved entrepreneur anyway. It was good business for the pitchers, but seemed to violate the show's own rules about "You either get all the money you ask for, or you get nothing."

I had a chance to watch some of the tapings last spring, and I can assure you that Bruce Croxon is a good guy, but a hard-nosed investor. No free rides this year!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Business owners ready to take risks, but not to raise prices

The squeeze is on Canada’s entrepreneurs, as costs are rising but most lack the confidence to raise prices in return. Yet, as the economic slowdown grinds on, more of them are saying they are willing to take risks to grow their businesses.
These are the paradoxical findings of the latest quarterly American Express Small Business Monitor poll, conducted in late July-early August 2011. According to the poll of 720 Canadian entrepreneurs, 47% of small business owners are protecting their customers and employees against rising prices, hoping that the resulting loyalty benefit will offset the immediate financial hit.

Of course, they have other choices. Some 52% of business owners say they’d rather reduce overhead costs in general than raise prices, while 48% say they're cracking down on accounts receivable in order to improve cash flow (48%). Some 36% are balancing the books by cutting travel and entertainment budgets.

Only 20% of Canadian entrepreneurs said they were willing to reduce perks for customers, and just 18% per cent were willing to reduce perks for employees. Only 12% said they were willing to reduce staff wages or benefits.

When they’ve had to raise prices, 78% of entrepreneurs say they’ve taken steps to make those increases more palatable. That includes explaining the reason for the increase (61% of entrepreneurs), extending payment terms (18%) and offering discounts to customers who pay early (16%).

But here’s the rub. According to the survey, 54% of the business owners who have raised prices say they experienced little or no customer resistance.

It’s often been said that business owners are more reluctant to raise prices than their customers are to pay higher rates – and this could be one of those times.

Eric Nielsen, VP and general manager of Small Business Services for American Express Canada, says the survey findings point to a positive strategy for business owners feeling squeezed. “The most uncertain of times can create the opportunity to be innovative and adopt new pricing strategies,” he said in a release. “Business owners are having success when they support the new price points with tactical customer communications explaining the rationale for change, or strategic enhancements to their service experience.”

(You might also try a trick I learned from a friend in retail. When margins are tight, raise the prices on just a few of your offerings. Choose those that are hardest for customers to compare – say, on custom packages or unique services that your closest competitors don't offer. Be prepared to offer a compensatory discount if customers complain – but experience suggests they’ll barely notice.)

Why are so many businesses feeling the pinch? According to the Amex survey, during the past year business owner have struggled with above-normal price increases in motor fuel (78%), heating oil/natural gas/electricity (40%), travel (37%) and insurance (34%).

A full 68% of business owners say they’ve also been hurt by suppliers’ price increases. In fact, 51% have switched to competing suppliers with lower prices as a way to mitigate the impact.

The goods news overall: 74% of entrepreneurs believe their companies are financially strong enough to weather another recession. Nearly half (47%) report an improvement in their business’ current financial position, which is a 14-points improvement over last quarter (33%).

Finally, more (28%) say they are willing to take risks today than they were three months ago (22%). And 37% indicate that growing their business is their No. 1 priority, up six points from last quarter (31%).

So go ahead and raise those prices. Respectfully, of course.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Four Resolutions for the New Business Year

With summer fading and Labour Day roaring 'round the bend, I want to wish you a safe and fun long weekend. Next week, there will be a new renewed sizzle in the air as everyone's minds turn back to business, mastering that all-important fourth quarter, and planning for 2012.

I've always thought that Labour Day marks the true start of the new business year. To mark the occasion, reprinted below is a slightly condensed version of my Financial Post column on four new years' resolutions for your business, originally published on Sept. 1, 2009. Happy New Year!

Forget New Year’s Eve and the ball dropping in Times Square. With Labour Day coming and pucks dropping in towns and cities across Canada, this week marks the start of the real New Year, especially in business, where entrepreneurs and executives are now shifting their mindset from managing vacation schedules to executing freshly minted budgets.

Here are four New Year’s resolutions to help you get your business in better shape.

• Take a fresh look at your business, through the eyes of a customer. Hire a mystery shopper to walk through the customer experience at your business and report back, or just think through all your processes and systems that touch clients. Either way, you must identify and root out any discordant element that prevents prospects and customers from experiencing your company the way you would like them to.

Here are just a few things drive customers crazy: old brochures, out-of-date (or tired) websites, or client-facing employees who don't share your passion for your products and customers. You also have to blow up the roadblocks that prevent people from doing business with you, whether they’re stringent credit policies, delivery delays, or tedious online registration systems.

Forward-looking companies track and measure the customer experience, then set standards to ensure that everyone receives consistent quality service throughout the journey from curious stranger to valued client. Even the smallest business can set customer-response standards (e.g., phones answered within three rings; messages returned within one business day), or track conversion rates to see how many inquiries become genuine leads, and how long it takes to complete the sales cycle.

• Invest more in training your people for this tougher new economy. All your staff must be miracle workers (and not in the sense that if they're working, it’s a miracle). It’s their job to turn raw resources (time, money, or metal and plastic) into value-creating products and services, or to transform ordinary customers into raving fans.

If some staffers aren't big on miracles, reorient them or invite them to seek fulfillment elsewhere. Most people can be salvaged with a consistent application of entrepreneurial zest: help them understand how dependent your company is on their actions, and give them the training they need to perform their jobs right.

If your training budget is tight, pair up underperforming employees with mentors or “change buddies” within the company. This gives troubled employees a chance to recharge their batteries, learn new skills, and ask questions they might feel embarrassed to ask their boss. It may also revitalize older or superior performers, who will benefit from learning to put into words the skills and attitudes that have made them successful.

• 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. (No idle flattery: if you weren’t a sophisticated, results-oriented leader, you wouldn’t have read this far.) Plus, with the gradual return of economic confidence, good performers who are already employed will be less wary about leaving secure jobs for new opportunities.

Be a wolf. At the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, I learned that the recent reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park has helped other species, including prey, in the region. With wolves back in the picture, sick and diseased deer are now culled early, before they can infect the herd. Result: the remaining animals are healthier and breeding more successfully. (In business, we call that productivity.)

• Say “thank you” every day. This simple resolution won't require trips to the gym or costly consultants. It simply reflects your dependence on other people’s good will for your success – and the karmic benefits that result when you thank others for the differences they make in your life.

You may still have the first thank-you note you ever got from your boss. All your staff want to hear from you more often, to know that they're on the right track, that they're recognized, and that their efforts are appreciated.

Written notes, especially in this email era, can have a lasting effect. But they're not just for employees. Make sure your industry partners – customers, suppliers, bankers – know how much they mean to you. Post them a thank-you note, invite them to lunch, send them a little gift. No strings attached.

You’ll not only bolster a relationship. You’ll restart dialogues that could result in valuable business tips, new opportunities, repeat business and referrals. Your colleagues and staff already know how important they are to your business. They're just waiting to see if you do.