Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mass media vs. the blogger on every corner

The mass media like to think they're a superior form of life to blogs. But the gap is closing.

Make no mistake, I'm a mass media guy. One column of mine in PROFIT or MoneySense reaches more people than will read this blog in a year. And yet - blogs bring many things to the table that the mainstream media lack.

Personality, for one thing. With bloggers you get not just the facts, but interpretation - which is very often bad, but sometimes very good.

Feet on the street, for another. There are more bloggers with eyewitness reports on major events than there will ever be professional news-gatherers.

Moreover, as the media try to expand their coverage and become more useful in an everyday sense to their readers (especially on the Web), they run into the army of bloggers who have been there first.

Case in point: on May 19 I pointed readers to a new feature on the CFIB website for entrepreneurs tryng to cope with the paperwork for the upcoming GST reduction. Six days later, The Globe & Mail "Report on Small Business" webfolks pointed their readers to the same resource.

Did I "scoop" The Globe? Of course not. But I proved, as bloggers are now doing every day, that whenever the media swerve from their highest calling of reporting original news, they are likely to be beaten to the punch.

Yes, The Globe will (presumably) reach more people than will any individual blog, so what they do is still worth doing. But it is no longer journalism as we knew it.

The mass media are now part of the information factory and not above it.

Corollary: Your company needs a strategy for tracking blogs and perhaps publishing one or more. Blogs are starting to matter.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Getting people to call you back

Great post last week by Ottawa-based sales consultant Colleen Francis on a subject I ranted about a few weeks ago: getting people to call you back.

“No matter how persuasive, compelling or brilliant you may be, it’s difficult to build a relationship with a prospect if you can’t get them to call you back,” says Francis. So she offers “12 Ways to Get Your Prospects to Call You Back.”

You can find the post here. Or, below are a few highlights from Francis's article.

* The fine line between persistence and stalking.
The trick is to call consistently If you leave a message, tell the customer precisely when you will call them back – and stick to it. I usually say something like: “If I don’t hear from you by March 15th, I’ll call you back on the 16th.” I get return calls more often, because my prospects know that I will be calling them if they don’t get in touch with me.

Some of my best customers today are those who I was initially the most patient with, and to whom I made multiple calls over a period of weeks, or even months.

* Let them off the hook.
In a voice or email, it’s a great idea to tell a prospect that’s its OK for them to say no. Say something like: “If you’ve chosen to go with a different product, that’s okay. Just let me know so I don’t become a follow-up pest.”

* Put them on auto-drip.
If you’ve tried everything you can think of and still can’t seem to get through, put the prospect on auto-drip. Send them something interesting and of value every month or quarter. This will help keep you top of mind for when the time is right for them to make a decision.

* Create a deadline.
After every conversation, gain agreement from the prospect as to next steps. When the time for the follow-up call comes around and the prospect doesn’t show up, you can leave a message like: “I’m calling because the last time we spoke, we agreed to chat today about….” Reminding them of your agreement will help move them to call you back.

* Call early or late in the day.
Call either early in the morning (say around 7:30 a.m.) or late in the day (after 5). The decision makers are often alone in the office, and therefore more likely to pick up calls themselves.

Seven more great ideas at http://www.engageselling.com/article_230506/index.htm.

Learn from the Pros, June 12

It's high time I alerted you to a fabulous conference in Toronto that's just two weeks away: the Small Business/Big Thinking conference put on by Visa Canada.

This'll be the second annual rendition of the conference, but I think it'll be bigger than ever. I had a hand in selecting the speakers and content, so I know it will be worth your while - if you're serious about growing your business and interested in learning from the best.

The two keynote speakers are proven Canadian successes and inspirational to boot: Retail maverick Donald Cooper, one of the most motivational and idea-filled speakers I've ever heard; and Teresa Cascioli, who turned around Lakeport Brewing and made it one of Canada's top independent breweries.

Then there are seminars on banking, marketing, e-commerce, management, and more, featuring such luminaries as Ian Portsmouth of PROFIT Magazine, Canada's Sales Coach Tom Stoyan, Ken Schafer of AIMS, Michel Neray on positining statements, Catherine McQuaid on selling to big business, Mia Doucet on doing business with China, Jordan Banks of eBay Canada, Margaret Butteriss on Employee Engagement, Doug Robbins on buying a business, panels of successful growth entrepreneurs spilling their secrets, and much, much more.

They even found room for me on the agenda, talking about the best practices of successful growth companies.

And since no one can possibly make it to every session, attendees will receive executive summaries of every session at the entire show. (Click here for the full agenda.)

Run, don't walk to www.Visa.ca, and sign up now. And no, no one's paying me to say this.
The essence of entrepreneurship is learning from the pros, and this is your opportunity of the year.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Heat is On!

PROFIT Magazine is now searching for young fast-growth companies for inclusion in its dynamic list: The Hot 50, Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies.

The criteria: your company was founded in 2002 0r 2003. And you're bursting with pride over its success so far.

Your company can be in any industry, from any part of Canada. PROFIT will honor its HOT 50 companies in the September 2006 issue of PROFIT, and year-round on its website. Plus, the CEO receives a free ticket to GrowthCamp, an exclusive three-day summit for HOT 50 leaders.

I have to admit that I founded this program when I was editor of PROFIT back in 2000, as a way to capture some of the excitement of the dot-com boom. But the program has thrived and survived despite that.

It’s become a wonderful first chance to recognize the achievements of early-stage companies (many companies on previous Hot 50 lists have gone on to earn great distinctions from other awards programs). The list is also a powerful window into new business trends and dawning opportunities in the ever-shifting “new economy.”

For more details and an entry form, click here. Entry deadline: June 30.

To read about last year’s winners, click this way.

Or to read my story "Go Big or Go Home," featuring three of the coolest companies on the 2005 list, grab a coffee and click this.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Whittling down the GST

Is your business ready for the 1% GST reduction, now just over five weeks away?

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has a readiness checklist and a useful review of the rules at:

The Music of Your (Business) Life

For reasons that will become clear later on, I am looking for examples of songs that express any part of the emotional range of being in business.

Are there songs you identify with because they remind you of emotions or experiences you regularly encounter in your business life?

If so, I would love to hear about them. Put the name of the song, plus the name of the artist/band if you know it, in a comment below, so everyone can share, or e-mail me at rick (at) rickspence.ca
Feel free to name as many songs as you wish.

By business, I mainly mean the experience of entrepreneurship and small business. I'm not so much looking for the depressingly soul-destroying experience of working in big business. (Song going thru my head right now: Dolly Parton's Nine to Five.)

So basically I am looking for songs that express the feeling of business/entrepreneurship/small business as a creative act, if that makes sense to you. An enobling act of visualization, courage, empowerment, success, loss, self-actualization and growth.

Still, if you have a favorite song about big bad big business, send it along anyway. It couldn't hurt. And please, do it now, while you're thinking about it. (I have never been back to most of the sites I bookmark.)

Thanks for your help. I'll share the full list (minus sendees' names) with you in a couple of weeks.

Not what we’re looking for:
** Working nine to five, what a way to make living--
Barely getting by, it's all taking and no giving.
They just use your mind and they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it.
That’s not business. That’s a job.

Once more with Mesh

There's a great summary of the lessons from this week's Mesh 1.0 conference written by Jim Courtney at Skype Journal. I hope he doesn't mind if I steal his list for you:

Business needs to build conversational dialogues with their customers.
Blogs can humanize the enterprise (think Scoble and Microsoft)
Web 2.0 relationships are complementary to "community" media for local news and events, broadcast media for relaxation and print media for easily accessible portable news.
Copyright reform needs to move from controlling markets to facilitating market driven protections.
Technology can and will change the way people do business but in a transparent productivity-enhancing manner
It's about building credibility and trust: When it comes to ethics, etiquette, editorial policies and other social interaction protocols, "legacy" social guidelines survive the technology shift (and, in many cases, become more transparent)
Participants in communities will self-manage credibility and trust issues through tools such as self-editing wikis, blog comments and other dialog facilitators
New advertising models and metrics are needed to build the infrastructure that captures a reasonable ROI for the infrastructure providers.

Wish I'd said that.

BTW, a few weeks ago Jim had a pre-post on Mesh that nicely summed up the remarkable accomplishment of the five part-time organizers:

"In summary, mesh has been organized by five individuals who have to hold down their day job but have succeeded in attracting top-notch speakers and several hundred attendees, all via the web, living the Marketing 2.0/Web 2.0 experience. With no budget and taking all the financial risk associated with ensuring a professional meeting environment."

Congrats, guys. Way to walk the talk.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Summertime, and the hooky is easy

I was taken by surprise today how many people intend to take tomorrow off, or work only three hours and call it a half-day.

That's because it's the 24th of May weekend, the first holiday Monday of the year, and the beginning of summer, even though the temperature where I live feels more like the end of October.

Everyone feels so gleeful about the very prospect of playing hooky. And after two years of being my own boss, it's funny how unfamiliar and alien I find that attitude.

Entrepreneurs like to work. Saturdays and Sundays are our secret weapon. Not talking to clients for three days is like cutting off our oxygen. Sure, we like our free time, and my friend Michael is probably already on board his boat on Lake Simcoe. But for the most part, entrepreneurs (and certainly solopreneurs like me) love what we do, so we don't feel the same deep need to get away from it.

No, we're not workaholics. I just think we're closer to integrating our personal and working lives than most of our deskbound salaried friends.

That doesn't make up for the lack of dental plan. But it's got to be worth something!

Have a great V-Day. Buy Lakeport.

In Mesh we trust

This week's Mesh Web 2.0 conference on “social media” has been blogged pretty thoroughly, so I’ll just offer a few thoughts after attending three sessions on Tuesday. They mostly (as you might gather from the previous post, below) dealt with blogging.

At a panel on corporate blogging, Jeremy Wright of B5Media made the useful observation that the most important progress is being made not in external blogs (e.g., the CEO writes a weblog for customers and the rest of the outside word), but in private, internal blogs. These aren’t promotional media but management tools.

Companies find internal blogs very useful for informing and motivating employees, conveying ongoing workplace and corporate information, polling employees and/or giving them a chance to vent, and to manage projects. Wright said he has several clients that love blogs and only use them for that.

A panel on “Engaging the Blogosphere” discussed how to get more companies experimenting with and using blogs. There was a lot of talk about “convincing” businesses to blog. But there are two problems with that: blogs involve, um, writing, which many organizations are not good at, or which scares them; and they represnet an ongoing infinite commitment, not just a one-off effort like a website. Hence, said Ottawa PR guy Joe Thornley, “You can't convince people to start blogs.” Because even if you succeed, and they start one, it will likely wither and die very quickly, like my plants, for lack of attention, care and warmth.

(Joe's blog ProPR includes some detailed posts about the conference with lots of verbatim quotes, saving me the trouble of writing it up.)

I talked afterward with Nathan Rudyk, a “social media”-oriented PR consultant in Ottawa (and an old buddy who worked at PROFIT Magazine before I did). He is helping lots of companies jump on the blogwagon, and he had an interesting perspective on what drives them. The first step, surprisingly enough, is often podcasting. It’s easy to do, it’s a series of one-off projects rather than an ongoing, evolving print product, and clients seem to love ’em.

And according to Nathan, you can get almost anyone to sit still to be interviewed for a podcast (his company has already nabbed Steve Ballmer).

I think there's something else at work here. I think the printed word (even in cyberspace) scares people more than voice recordings do. There's something permanent (and way too easy to copy) about text. “Smoking guns” are almost always documents, not recordings.

Podcasting is conversation. It’s informal, loose, kind of showbizy, sorta fun. The printed word, however, is an obligation, a line drawn in the sand forever, the bane of lawyers and regulators. It’s still too scary for many people to cozy up to.

Time to get over it, folks. Print (i.e., the words in your blog) is warm, accessible, searchable, linkable, and powerful. Fear must give way to passion, excitement and the need to explore the full potential of your (or your company's) relationships.

Lots more follow-up resources from Mesh at http://www.socialtext.net/mesh/index.cgi

Blogging peaks

Overheard late Tuesday afternoon at Mesh Web 2.0

First Guy: “Everything today is about blogs.”
Other guy: “Yeah. Yesterday it was podcasting, today it’s blogging.”
First: “Too much about blogs.”
Other: “Yeah.”
First: “For the last session, the only one I’m interested in is the one about blogs.”
Other: “Me too. Are you gonna go?”
First: “Yeah. I think so. You?”
Other: “I guess. … Is there a strip club around here?”

(No wonder they call blogs "social media.")

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What a Fine Mesh you've gotten us into!

The first Mesh conference on Web 2.0 and the digital future continues today down at the MARs centre in downtown Toronto. Lots of talk about interactivity, blogging and the future of business. Very positive stuff, all about transparency and collaboration.

Some business people might sneer about the return of geeks who take the Internet too seriously, but I for one find the idealism refreshing.

I’ll be taking in some events this afternoon, but here are some links to others blogging about day One.

Mathew Ingram (Globe & Mail tech reporter and conference co-organizer)
Scott Karp on the miracle of live blogging
Tris Hussey: lots of posts that will make you feel you were there
Nathan Rudyk, The Trojan Mouse
Steve Rubel on Om Malik

For serious Web 2.0 aficionados (and those who want to learn more about it): Visit the Mesh wiki page (contributors, in-house blog, further info, etc.)

There should have been more same-day blogging at an event like this, but I understand yesterday’s session was followed by a pub night. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...

Friday, May 12, 2006

La Mer, the final frontier

I talked today with Dave King, who runs the Genesis Group business incubator at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld. We were talking mainly about ocean-related industries, and how important they are to Newfoundland’s economic future.

We in Central Canada don't often think about the oceans, but many people consider them the next great business frontier. F’rinstance, you might not guess it in these days of air travel, but sea-going transportation is growing every year. We may not build ships in Canada anymore (they mostly come of the Far East now, especially China), but someone is building 1500 new cargo ships a year.

According to King, lots of different forces are driving ocean technology today: maritime commerce and trade, which has all kinds of need for new services, new technologies (especially in communications and controls), and safety-related products; new concerns about border security and coastal surveillance; the worldwide quest for offshore oil and gas; environment-related industries; and of course the fishing industry and conservation-related services.

The cod may be gone, but Newfoundland is now harvesting surf clams, a red-tipped mollusk that’s a popular delicacy in Japan (where it's often eaten raw).

The other interesting thing King pointed out is the way industries evolve. He cited one Newfoundland company that started out in ocean technologies and ended up with a world-beating system to track money laundering. If anyone ever started such a business from scratch in Newfoundland, you’d question their sanity; but business excels at serving up such synergistic anomalies. (Did you know Prince Edward Island has one of North America’s most successful producers of upscale cookware? Go figure.)

For Newfoundland (and other under-developed regions), maybe having a business-development strategy is more important than whether individual entrepreneurs stick to it. As King says, to succeed in business you need strategy and focus: “Where you begin is not always where you end up, but you have to have a plan to start.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Steak Guy Only Rings Once

I just had some guy knock on my door to tell me about the fabulous fish and steaks he distributes – perfect Alberta steaks from High River, best barbecuing ever, that sort ofthing. He seemed very sincere but I was just trying to get rid of him, cuz I have work to do.

Then he offered his fabulous guarantee: meat so tender, you can cut it with a plastic fork. And if it’s not, he said, with a grand sweep of his arm, he would come back and mow my lawn.

Well, that got my attention. It didn’t make the sale, but it did make me ask for his brochure. And it made me a lot more likely to try him out. Self-confidence such as that inspires confidence in others.

How can you inspire confidence among disinterested prospects?
What grand gesture can you make?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Saying Goodbye to a Client

A new Toronto-based blog, The Essential Message, offers compelling insights into a number of common communication challenges in business. (And if you know my work, you know that I think communication accounts for about 90% of everything that matters in business.)

Last month, TEM wrote a post on "5 Steps to Say Goodbye to a Client." Writer Jonathan Cohen reports that one of his firm's longstanding clients has hired its own writer, and doesn't need the firm's services any more. But how do you say au revoir to a good client? Cohen identifies five steps, which I have condensed below for your convenience.

1. Get clear on where you stand. Review your contract, if you have one. Have both sides met the expectations of termination?

2. Finish up outstanding work. "If you can provide some stellar, unexpected benefits at the end of your relationship, you’ll leave a lasting positive impression."

3. Hand over all documentation (where appropriate).

4. Hold an exit interview. This can be as informal as a telephone call. Make sure you cover points 1-3 above. Ask what the client liked and didn’t like about working with you. What could be improved? Ask for a testimonial if you haven't already done so.

5. Stay in touch. If you’ve ended on good terms, your client will appreciate the odd call, email, or note. Even if you only contact them twice a year, you'll maintain your network and remind them you’re around.

As Cohen notes, "Proper client care can turn a parting of the ways into a positive experience that leads to referrals and more business down the line."

It's good stuff. Read the full post here.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Selling to Growth-Oriented Entrepreneurs

I've just completed a significant two-part posting over on my other blog, Selling to Small Business.

"How to sell to entrepeneurs" looks at 10 characteristics of growth entrepreneurs, with tips on how to use these insights to sell to them.

(And no, I am not selling out entrepreneurs. I am helping potential service providers communicate with them more clearly - which I believe will result in a win for both parties.)

You can read Part 1 here, and then click on the link at the bottom of the page for part II. Or click here to go straight to Part deux.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Exciting News!

We interrupt this blog to brag for a minute.

I just learned this week that a story I wrote for PROFIT Magazine last year has been nominated for a National Magazine Award.

The story, "The Trillion-Dollar Trap," examines the looming succession crisis in small and medium-sized business in Canada, as tens of thousands of baby-boom entrepreneurs bail out of their busnesses over the next 10 years. I found that neither the entrepreneurs nor the people who are supposed to help them - from the banks to the federal government - are remotely prepared for this generational transition.

Forewarded is forearmed.
If you missed the story the first time around, you can read it here.

Wish me luck. I've been the president of the National Magazine Awards (1994-95), but I've never been personally nominated before. The awards get won at a gala soiree at the Carlu on June 9.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Getting those calls returned

Long-time readers may remember me griping occasionally about the failure of so many business contacts to return phone calls or e-mail.

I think it’s because most people are so busy that they have no time to deal with complex messages. If they can’t respond immediately with a snappy answer like “Yes,” “No,” or “Thursday at 2,” they have trouble processing the message in real time. So they put it off, recording the message on a scrap of paper or saving it in voice mail. Or they leave the unanswered e-mail in their Outlook “In” box – where it quickly (and conveniently) slips off the screen, never to annoy them again.

Either way, few people are organized – or professional – enough to either finish processing messages immediately, or maintain follow-up systems. (I’m working on both of those myself.)

To get my calls returned, lately I have had some success with calling or e-mailing people back (after waiting a week or so), acknowledging how busy they are, and simply asking them to confirm their receipt of my original message. That’s usually enough to get them to process the message and move it forward, since it gives people a non-committal, non-judgmental opportunity to pick up the ball.

The other thing I am working on is making it easier for people to respond immediately by reducing what I want to its simplest form. Example: asking for a short meeting if what I want is a million-dollar contract. The old KISS rule (Keep it Simple, Stupid) still rules!

I know the seasoned pros out there learned all this long ago, but for the rest of us, success in an era of shrinking attention spans is a ongoing journey of discovery.

If you have a system that works for you, please let us know in a comment. (Or if it's really powerful, send me an e-mail so only you and I know it.)