Monday, October 30, 2006

Fred Reichheld's occasional blog

Thanks to a comment left by a reader of the previous post, I have learned of the existence of a blog by Fred Reichheld.

He is a longtime Bain consultant who has become the guru of customer loyalty. His new book, The Ultimate Question, is a marvellous inquiry into the importance of loyalty and how you can make it work for you. And I know from meeting him a few years ago that he's a nice guy, too.

Unfortunately, he only seems to blog about once a month. (Memo to Fred: that's not a blog, it's an ugly newsletter!) But what he does write is choice.

I loved his August 29 post on "The True Source of Corporate Reputation and Profitable Growth." It's an apparently authentic reproduction of an email exchange with his son Chris over the summer as Chris grew tired of his bank's high fees and bad service and went looking for a new one. It's an interesting way to see Fred's theories at work. And it has a happy ending, because Chris found a bank with fabulous service and free chequing!

Worth reading for anyone interested in customer service and loyalty - or who's tired of paying bank fees for the privilege of being a customer.

Click here for that story, or check out Fred's latest posts here.

How likely are you to recommend us?

Is there one question you can ask that is most likely to help you calculate and monetize customer loyalty? Try this:

“How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”

That’s the key message from Boston-based loyalty guru Fred Reichheld, one of my favourite management pundits. He believes customer loyalty – based on instituting meticulous customer feedback systems – is the key to “good profits” (i.e., long-term) and sustained growth. You can find more about this in his recent book – short and easy to understand – The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth.

The latest issue of Rotman Magazine from the U of T Business School offers an interview with Reichheld that provides a great primer to his work – and how you can put his theories into practice at your business.

Reading the article on-screen is just a little complicated. You have to download the whole issue (a big file), so it could take some time. Click here and look for the Fall 2006 issue with Nelson Mandela on the cover. (The Reichheld story is on page 8 of the magazine, or on page 10 as counted by Adobe Reader.)

My favourite part:

Rotman: It’s been said that half of the frontline employees working today are actually undermining customer loyalty; what can be done about this?

Reichheld: This is a huge problem. Some of the loyalty leaders I study say that the first thing to do is focus on your own employees, and I think in many cases that’s right. Until you have frontline employees who are promoters, who are enthusiastic advocates for your product or service, there’s no way you’re going to turn customers into promoters.

And as we’ve seen in our research, there are more detractors amongst front-line employees than there are promoters. It seems obvious, but companies often ignore this, and they go on thinking, ‘we need to be more customer-focused in order to grow, so we’re going to send out a million surveys.’

That’s the wrong thing to do: the first thing to do is talk to your own employees, and figure out what it is that they aren’t happy about, and get their input to fix it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

All-Time Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, pt III

Here's the third instalment in our Friday series of best-ever motivational business quotes.

"Things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."

- John Wooden, celebrated UCLA basketball coach, named ‘Coach of the 20th Century’ by ESPN.

I like this quote because it's a reminder that attitude is more important than strength, intelligence, money or any other resource. It also has a catchy reverse symmetry.
And while it probably wasn't intended as a comment on business, I believe it represents the epitome of entrepreneurship.

If you have a favourite quote you'd like to share, just leave a Comment.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Telling good credit risks from bad.

I made a presentation yesterday to a group of credit managers wanting to know more about the challenges facing small business – and how to tell good credit risks from bad.

That’s pretty hard to do, since the future can’t be known, small businesses’ finances tend to be opaque to anyone from outside, and, of course, because there's often only a very thin line between success and failure.

But I took a shot at it. Based on my experience as a small-business writer, researcher, editor and consultant, I came up with a list of nine characteristics of a business (or its management) that tend to correlate with small business success. I’m sure there are many more (leave a Comment if you want to suggest some), but here is my list:

* having (and better still, actively revisiting) a current business plan
* access to outside capital
* the owner has a college, university or graduate degree, or substantial industry experience
* the owner has previously run a business
* support of a board of directors or advisory boards
* being founded or run by two or more partners who possess complementary (not duplicated) skills and experience
* exporting their products and services to at least one other country
* the company is actively adopting automated systems and proven processes to become more efficient – giving the owner more time to work ON the business rather than IN it.
* the company is involved at the intersection point of two or more fundamental trends (see earlier post: Where Trends Converge).

To get a feel for the owners’ commitment to the growth and success of their business, I proposed asking them these four questions:

- Tell me about your business plan. How often do you update it?
- What processes are you developing to make the business independent of you, day-to-day?
- Who are the key people in your organization, and what are you doing to make sure you retain them and keep them motivated?
- Do you have a succession plan to ensure that you develop key people, and that the business will be in good hands if something should happen to you?

When will Rick stop writing about Dragons' Den already?

I just read a great critique of the Dragons' Den format by Canadian entrepreneur Austin Hill, co-founder of Montreal-based TotalNet, Zero-Knowledge and a few other things.

Austin (more on him here) has just started blogging at Billions With Zero Knowledge. In a post called Puff the Magic Dragon, Lives on CBC, he questions the wisdom - or sense - of anyone agreeing to a venture investment (either buyer or seller) after as little communication as the Dragons and pitchers have had.

He was particularly skeptical of the deal, mentioned in my previous post, in which the four founders of Jobloft sold half their company to all five Dragons.

"Would you get married and give half your assets to someone you’ve known for five minutes, an hour? Now contemplate this - would you marry into a polygamous marriage with 5 co-wives/co-husbands after an hour-long meeting?"

I think Austin is both right and wrong. Right, because who can argue with more and better communication? And wrong, because this is a TV show, not a binding contract. A lot goes on after the taping of the show to make these deals legal, and it wouldn't be hard for either side to change their mind after doing their due diligence.

As an entrepreneur and an angel investor (at the ripe old age of 33), Austin also proposes a few questions that should be asked before deals such as these get too serious:

* What are the capital requirements of the business as it grows?
* How far the funds are going to take the company?
* Which milestones are the critical ones to get the company to the next risk reduction phase ?
* What kind of shareholder agreement will be required?
* What is the strategy for future financings?
* How large should the employee option pool be?
* What preferred rights if any do the dragons have?
* What will the management team look like as you grow?

Welcome to the blogworld, Austin. I look forward to reading your stuff.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Where Dragons Dare

Tonight is the fourth (and second last) episode of Dragons’ Den on CBC TV. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. It’s a fun show that also offers lots of useful business information.

(In fact, I gave a talk this morning on starting a business that referred to some of the most common startup mistakes. I was able to cite several recent examples seen this month on Dragons’ Den (e.g., the perils of fudging your numbers, or the high cost of not doing proper market research).

To see how the Dragons looks from the contestants’ angle, check out the blog at The four principals actually did a deal with the Dragons, and they recently blogged about it here. What’s amazing is they had to keep quiet about the deal and not tell anyone since the program was taped over two months ago!

As Sunny Mokha writes on the blog, “Imagine trying to keep this a secret from everyone you know, including your own parents.” (Funny – I always figured that keeping secrets from your parents was just part of being young.)

Jobloft is a location-based job-search application, aiming at low-end, entry-level jobs (eg retail, hospitality) where things like location and access to transit matter. Try it for free by inputting your postal code to see what jobs are available near you - it's pretty clever.)

I saw an early version of their pitch and it was interesting to see the Dragons’ inherent hostility (“How is this different from what Workopolis is doing?”) slowly turn to interest.

In the end, the five Dragons counter-offered for 50% of the company, rather than the 20% the four young co-founders were offering. The entrepreneurs had to go away and think about it, but eventually came to the right decision.

“The power of network, experience and business acumen is worth its weight in gold, far surpassing any monetary value,” blogs Sunny. “Not many 23-24 year olds out of university can say that their partners are Laurence Lewin, Robert Herjavec, Kevin O’Leary, Jim Treliving and Jennifer Wood.”

The drama continues tonight at 8. (8:30 in Newfoundland)

Monday, October 23, 2006

7 Steps to Excellence

Jim Estill, the blogging CEO of Synnex Canada, just finished his company’s sales retreat. It closed with his comments on “The 7 Steps to Excellence,” which he kindly summarizes today in his blog, Time Leadership.

1 – Excellence is a continuum.
2 - Be responsive. We need to be lightning fast.
3 - Always learn.
4 - Change is Opportunity. We need to embrace it.
5 - Help resellers win. The more we help our customers win, the more they will buy.
6 - Polish process. We need to look at all of our processes and always question how we can do them faster, better, more effectively.
7 - Do smart business. We need to make sure our business is sustainable long-term.

Jim is a smart guy who continually strives for excellence himself - especially that part about "always learning." You can read more details in his original post. Click here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sean's Video Magic

Dragons' Den Webisode 4 - The Red Carpet

Through the magic of YouTube, click on the screen to watch Sean Wise, the official blogger of Dragon's Den, give the show's cast the official Red Carpet (er, bathmat) treatment. It happened at the show's launch party on Oct. 4.
It's just 5 minutes, and very funny stuff - a good introduction to the show. Wait'll you hear Robert Herjavec's advice to Canadian entrepreneurs.

The Revolution will be Podcast

Listen up! Bank of Montreal has jumped into podcasting.

In conjunction with host Ian Portsmouth, editor of PROFIT Magazine, BMO this week released a half-hour audio program you can download or listen to on your PC.

“The Business Coach Podcast” features two guests. The first is BMO chief economist Rick Egleton, speaking about some of the core economic indicators that business owners should pay attention to, and offering a few predictions. On a lighter note, the second segment features Lara Dodo, vice-president of Robert Half International, speaking on the shrinking labour pool and key hiring and compensation trends.

On the economic front, Egleton sees economic growth slowing. But he expects few problems, partly because says he believes business and consumer balance sheets are in good shape. Still, he says it’s not a time to stand still.

“One of the key challenges in a globalized economic environment is you have to be internationally competitive - and the scale of firm that needs to be internationally competitive is shrinking all the time... It’s imperative that firms in an open economy like Canada continue to strive to be as competitive as possible.”

The good news: "Now is a good time to make [capital] investments. One of the benefits of the Canadian dollar being so strong is that much of the capital equipment that we buy and invest in in Canada is produced abroad, so the high Canadian dollar has significantly lowered the cost of capital spending relative to what it was three or four years ago.”

BMO's podcast is a good first try, and Ian did a great job of keeping the guests focussed on angles that interest small business. Although I confess I found 16 minutes on the economy just a bit thick.

But if ever you find yourself getting restless, you can drag the little button on the screen to fast-forward. Now if only Lloyd Robertson came with a button like that...

You can join the podcasting revolution by clicking here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Best Entrepreneurial Quotes

Part II of our new weekly series of The All-Time Best Entrepreneurial Quotes – most of which you will not find anywhere else.

“Decide what it is you want to do in life, then act as if it’s impossible to fail.”

Joyce Groote: CEO, Holey Soles, Vancouver.
(No. 1 company on PROFIT Magazine’s 2006 Hot 50 List of Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies.)
From her address to GrowthCamp, the Hot 50 conference hosted by PROFIT in Niagara on the Lake, Ont., on Sept. 30, 2006.

Dragons show some teeth

CBC sources tell me that Dragons' Den is picking up some traction after disapointing ratings the first week out. Particularly strong is the teen audience, which is not normally a strength for the CBC : Wednesday night's broadcast attracted the second highest number of teen viewers of any CBC show that day.

The number of comments (both good and bad) is also increasing at the CBC's DD website. A sample:
"I have just caught my first show this week, and am fascinated with the implications the show could have on students at-risk. If only we could find a way to package the enthusiasm and go-for-it attitudes shown by the panel for those youth who have just given up, or who think that their best hope of gaining wealth would be to buy a winning lottery ticket!"

Whether the show is renewed or not, it has helped redefine the notion of entrepreneurship for tens of thousands of Canadians. For those (such as I) who see entreprenurship as an antidote to not just creeping socialistic ennui but also the excesses of corporate stupidity and concentration, this has been a very good thing.

If you missed the show, it has two more weeks to run. It will also be rerun multiple times this weekend on CBC Newsworld. Best bets are 8 pm Friday and 9 am Saturday (Eastern time). See Newsworld for local times.

Three Keys to Business Success

It was my pleasure to introduce David Chalk today as the opening keynote speaker at the SOHO SME conference in Toronto.

Chalk is the wunderkind who became a commercial pilot at age 19 and owned what may have been North America’s first computer superstore, Doppler, in Vancouver. He now has a training company called Chalk Media, and you may have seen his computer-reporting TV show, on TV or on recent Air Canada flights.

What’s amazing is he accomplished all this (and more) despite having a severe form of dyslexia, which resulted in him being labeled as “retarded” in primary school and still leaves him with poor hearing, reading, analytical skills and memory. “I can see the movie Groundhog Day three times and not know I’ve watched it,” he says. Without his notebook on which he records where he is and what he’s doing, he could wake up in a hotel room and not know where he is or why he’s there.

So when David Chalk tells a group of Canadian entrepreneurs that they can achieve more than they think they can – he’s not blowing smoke. When he says, “Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% what we do about it,” that’s no longer just another motivational clichĂ©.

David credits his mother with believing in him and inspiring him to tap into the right side of his brain – the home of creativity and innovation. With his mom’s help, David discovered three keys to success:

Attitude: “Every day when you get up, look at the possibilities of the day.” One of his key themes is that “We are brought up to believe that the world is scarce, everything you want you have to work hard for…We don't realize we have the power to create the environment we want.”

Listening: “The one thing you have to change if you really want to be successful is how you listen,” says Chalk. Listen to understand, not just for a chance to interrupt. Listen with empathy. “Empathy is the magic that we never think about. And it comes from listening.”

Integrity: “Do what you said you would do. Do what you know you should do. Do what other people expect you to do.” Quoting a statistic that the average person lies 17 times a day, he encouraged the audience to “get their integrity back: stop the lying and live a life of integrity.” Honour your word and keep your word.

The key, says Chalk, is to open yourself up to others by not worrying about your ego. “If you let the ego go, you have absolute power to do anything.”

“When you create joy and happiness with another person, you feel good. And that feeling good is the magic that gives you the power to do the things you want to do.”

Magic in business? Today David Chalk made us believers.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Education Rant (feel free to skip)

In my spare (hah!) time, I serve as a voting member of the Parent Council for my daughter’s high school. I just started my third year on the council, and I am finally beginning to understand some of the dysfunctions that attend everything that schools do (and don’t do).

Our local school trustee dropped into last night’s parent council meeting to give us the lowdown on the only issue that seems to matter in Toronto education: the great budget squeeze. Essentially, if the 22 trustees on the TDSB don't get into the real world and agree to swallow some budget cuts to narrow the huge gap between its income and its spending, the province will appoint its own administrator to run the school board – for the second time in four years!

Our trustee is what I would call a fiscal conservative – he believes in toeing the line and making the necessary cuts. A number of counselors, standing on some sort of principle, seem to oppose any cuts at all. (You may remember that last month the publisher of the Los Angeles Times recently stood up to his corporate masters at Tribune Co. and refused to cut staff as he’d been ordered. Two weeks ago he was fired.)

The problem is that the various factions are so busy fighting over spending that they're not focused on the big problem, which is revenue. Provincial operating grants and the municipal property taxes that fund them don't come close to paying for today’s education. Not only does the province not pay for everyday necessities such as lunchroom monitors, they structurally underfund everything else: teachers’ salaries, maintenance, facilities repair, etc.

The result is a city full of schools that are physically falling apart. As I documented to the council and the trustee in a PowerPoint presentation last night, our school is a mess of peeling paint, crumbling concrete, rusting columns, poor drainage, and some sort of growth that could be mould.

I’m all for low taxes and governments that live within their means, but who asked the province to let our schools crumble? Our school system is based upon – in fact defined by – schools, classrooms and other physical facilities. Good stewardship demands that we maintain these facilities in proper shape that will let future generations get the most out of them too. Otherwise we are engaging in false economy – lying to ourselves about what clever budgeters we are, and cheating the next generation of students and taxpayers.

Yes, the system needs reforms. If principals were allowed to hire their own sub-contractors, they could fix things faster and cheaper than the centralized education bureaucracy can dream of. As it is, the school board’s hands are so tied into the building trades and unions that it can’t afford to undertake the projects that would actually create more work for the trades.

So yes, the whole system is dysfunctional. But education is a provincial responsibility, and Ontario has an election coming up next year. Time to make a little noise.

We owe it to the children.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Learn and Earn: The perfect sales letter

Alan Sharpe is a copywriter who specializes in direct mail. I have learned a lot through his e-mail newsletter, Sharpe and Direct.

How good is he? No one else has ever written a clearer formula than the following for writing the perfect direct-mail sales letter:

1. Grab the prospect's attention
2. Stimulate interest by identifying the prospect's problem
3. Describe how your product, service or company solves your prospect's problem
4. Offer proof to back up your claim
5. Present your offer early on, and at the end
6. Ask the reader to take action now
7. Address your letter to a person by name (plus a job title if writing to a business)
8. Craft a fresh, original opening sentence
9. Aim for authenticity (no fake handwriting in the margins)
10. Strive for readability (short sentences and paragraphs, subheads for scanning, strong topic sentences)
11. Keep the reader reading–use transitions that keep your prospect hanging
12. Strive for credibility–use facts
13. Re-state your offer in a new way in your PS

Pass this on to your marketing people. You'll be glad you did.

You'll find lots more great stuff from Alan at his website,

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When Bad Ads Attack

Just finished a marathon post (well, four of them, cause they're each 300 words long) on our sister site, Selling to Small Business.

I was reading through the National Post's special supplement on Small Business today, and found myself getting annoyed at the stupidity of the ads. I hadn't done any ad critiques on S2SB for a while, so I decided to annotate every ad in the supplement - about 10 in all - the good, the bad, and the ugly (and there were far more of the latter than the former).

Check it out at
(Start reading about four posts down, and work your way up. They're in reverse order.)

And in case you're allergic to linking, here's a sample of my scathing outrage.

I’m a big fan of Mastercard’s long-running “priceless” campaign. (“There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard.”) But the 1/3 page color ad on page 9 disrupts the usual rhythm and leaves me clueless.

It shows a young couple hanging a “Grand Opening” sign over a storefront. The headline reads: “New store: $0. Moving the business out of the basement: priceless.”

What does this mean? Nothing - until you look down to the bottom of the ad and read about MasterCard’s new contest offering you a chance to win a $50,000 “business building fund” every time you use your MC BusinessCard card. (Yes, it really said “BusinessCard card.” Wordsmithing is not dead, it’s merely starving in a forgotten storage room on Madison Avenue.)

That’s a pretty compelling benefit. Too bad they played coy. I bet very few people go from the puzzling headline to the explanatory copy; they’ll just shrug and move on.

Why not come out and say “Win $50,000 just for using your MasterCard.” Expecting people to read on when your copy confuses them is like expecting the rain to stop just because you've stepped out without an umbrella. Sorry: the world doesn't wait for you to explain yourself.

Read the rest here.

The new New Economy

I dropped by the University of Toronto yesterday for the Rotman business school’s annual “Entrepreneurship Forum,” co-sponsored by the Business Development Bank of Canada (gee, Small Business Week must be coming up).

The forum, on International Competitiveness, offered “lessons learned” from three Canadian entrepreneurs and exporters: Kathryn From, CEO, Bravado Designs Inc. (a maker, oops, designer of nursing bras); Mike Keilhauer, president of Keilhauer Furniture, which makes office chairs; and Les Mandelbaum, president of Umbra Ltd., a manufacturer and distributor of contemporay housewares and accessories.

Although they come from different industries, the entrepreneurs told three similar stories: of trying to survive and thrive as suppliers to the world from their home base in Canada. The long and short of it is: with our high wage rates, abetted by teh high dollar, they can only survive by moving more and more work overseas. They are three manufacturers now getting used to being design firms that create products in Canada, but more and more have them produced abroad.

As a group they pretty much agreed that manufacturing in Canada (for mass and consumer markets, anyway) is dead.

Rotman’s energetic dean, Roger Martin, has been talking for several years about the importance of design in business. Case studies such as these underscore that view. If they're careful, and very very good, Canadian entrepreneurs can survive in the global economy. But it likely won’t be as manufacturers.

Dragons in your Den (or living room)

I finally got around to seeing the second episode of CBC-TV’s Dragon’s Den last night, after taping the Sunday night repeat off Newsworld.

It stuck me as slightly less entertaining than the first week’s episode. The Dragons were more snarky, rude and impatient than clever and witty. One of the disappointed entrepreneurs whose pitch had been rejected told host Diane Buckner that he thought the Dragons were trying too hard to live up to their name – rather than acting like “angels,” which is what venture investors are called “in the real world.”

Still, there were a lot of nice moments. Kevin O’Leary forbidding a woman entrepreneur from spending any more time peddling her invention. Robert Herjavec’s emotional story of the vacuum cleaner salesman who nearly reduced Robert’s family to ruin by selling his mother a $500 contract. Laurence Lewin needling O’Leary. Jovial Jim Treliving turning downright nasty. And the entrepreneur who forgot to bring his prototype – and so lost his chance to make the deal of a lifetime.

Best Moment: two Dragons were about to make a deal with an entrepreneur when Herjavec swooped in and trumped them with a bigger, better offer. “Smell that?” he said to O’Leary. “Is it money?” Kevin asked. Yeah – the moolah Herjavec expects to make instead of O’Leary.

No one can accuse these Dragons of not taking the Den seriously.

Check it out for yourself Wednesday night. Only three shows left.

(PS: Watch it with your kids. It’s a great lesson in Business 101 – and family bonding.

(I talked to an entrepreneur today who’s kicking himself that he didn’t hear about the show in time to audition as a pitcher. He watches with his 11-year-old, who enjoyed it as much as he did. My daughter watched with me last night, and can’t wait for the next episode. How many other shows can parents and kids watch together?)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, um, Lenovo

Hard to believe, but the IBM PC is 25 years old. The IBM PC was the first “microcomputer” to take business computing seriously. It turned the personal computer from an isolated, incommunicative curiosity into an information system that changed business forever. (And inspired Dilbert.)

To celebrate this silver anniversary, PC World Canada has compiled a list of “The 25 greatest PCs of all time” – the 25 machines, going all the way back to 1975, that changed the way we look at computers.

My first thought was – someone can actually name 25 different models of PC? But when you go through the list and see Kaypros, Batgirl’s laptop, Apple’s groundbreaking second-generation iMac, and Radio Shack’s beloved TRS-80 (the Trash-80 to some), you recall just how much history the technology has made. And how we’ve all grown up together.

Who remembers the Amiga today? Yet who didn’t want one 20-odd years ago?

Catch the full list here. (No, the PC Junior didn't make the list.)

In case you're wondering, the No. 1 PC on the list is the Apple II. How very appropriate that on the 25th anniversary of IBM’s PC breakthrough, Apple takes the cake. IBM would probably be pissed – if it hadn’t sold out of the industry two years ago.

Friday, October 13, 2006

All-Time Best Entrepreneurial Quotes

Yes, we're inaugurating a new weekly series at Canadian Entrepreneur.
Come back every week for an inspiring, thought-provoking quotation that's relevant to your business challeneges.
And unless you're particularly well read, we'll do our best to make sure it's not one you've seen or heard before.

No. 1: "Leadership is action, not position.”

Donald H. McGannon (former CEO, Westinghouse Broadcasting Corp.)

Recommended dosage: This is a good quote to remember the next time you make a decision in your company and just expect the news to sort of leak out and spread around.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where Trends Converge

With computer industry prices (and margins) plunging, I had a chance to speak last week in Ottawa to a select group of IT resellers from across Canada. I offered them 10 ideas for growing their businesses in tight times.

Here’s an excerpt (edited for length).

Lesson 1: If you're developing new markets and products, Look for Opportunities Where Trends Converge. This is where you gain maximum leverage for new ideas and solutions.

The automobile didn’t take over the world simply because of the internal combustion engine. Cars took off when paved roads enabled people to go somewhere and get back safely. Similarly, there are numerous points where different trends and technologies combine today to create opportunities.

Here’s an example from the very top of the 2006 PROFIT 100 list.

Rutter Inc. of St. John’s, Nfld. was founded by a group of Newfoundland technologists to chase a new opportunity in marine technology: creating a black-box data recorder that would help ships track every detail of their voyage, just like the black boxes found on airplanes. The founders used their combined knowledge of electronics, software and ocean transport to create the world’s best Voyage Data Recorder.

But it was only when international shipping regulators required ocean-going ships to adopt the technology that sales took off. Rutter CEO Donald Clarke has now built the firm into a $70-million giant. And with increasing interest in the oceans as a cheap transportation medium – combined with the game-changing potential of new communication technologies – he’s aiming to push sales to $500 million.

Vancouver-based Angiotech Pharmaceuticals has become a huge force in biotechnology by bringing together two solitudes of medical research: medical devices and drugs. Oakville-based Pethealth Inc. has gone from zero to $14 million in seven years by combining two very different trends: pet ownership and information technology (RFID tags linked to databases containing Snoopy’s and Garfield’s heath records).

Are there similar opportunities in your field? Of course. The ongoing evolution of Internet technologies, computer security, storage, and processing power, combined with new software applications and ever-changing business needs, is creating huge convergence opportunities. I can think of few industries where change is coming faster, or the immediate need for solutions is greater.

When you get back home, why not sit down with the best tech and business brains in your company and brainstorm ideas for where convergence is going to affect your customers most? Look for areas of great pain or potential, and you'll find new opportunities.

Better still, you’ll have new reasons to call your customers and remind them of the great things you can do for them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

SOHO comes to town

Just a reminder that the (mostly free!) SOHO small business conference is coming up fast. In fact, if you live in Vancouver, it's on tomorrow at Canada Place.

The Toronto event runs next Thursday, Oct. 19, at the CNE trade centre.The keynote speakers (for which a fee is charged) are David Chalk, former computer retailer turned high-tech TV host, and Ron Buist, the former marketing director of Tim Hortons – and the guy who invented the oft-copied “Roll Up the Rim to Win” promotion. There are lots of other things going on: seminars, workshops, entrepreneur roundtables and a trade show. Admission to most activities is free if you pre-register.

Among the post-10 a.m. freebie speakers are economists from the TD Bank, Michael Hepworth on breakthrough marketing, “Book Yourself Solid” author Michael Port, and business coaches Jamie Cunningham, Sandy Kemp and Warren Coughlin.

For an extra fee you can get some peer counselling or attend the post-show party. Sounds like a great way to celebrate Small Business Week!

Click here to register or get more information.

Cheers to "UK Entrepreneur"

I don't accept just any invitation to exchange links with other blogs. When I add an "Outside Link" (lower right-hand column) to Canadian Entrepreneur, I expect it to be able to add value to your business every day.

Which is my way of welcoming UK-based "Seriously Business" to my blogroll (look under UK entrepreneur news & issues). It's a new blog that takes seriously its mandate to present small-business-related news, issues and ideas, from a UK perspective. In our globalized world we don't hear much about what's going on in the "Mother Country" very often, so check it out regularly for new approaches and ideas.

Case in point: a young British entrepreneur has just launched an ingenious new Web 2.0 idea:

It enables homeowners to rent out their driveways to commuters, theatre-goers, students, sportfans attending local matches, or attendees of all kinds of special events. It's one of these simple ideas, like Ebay, that matches buyers and sellers with complementary needs but no previous way of identifying each other and building trust. You can even locate the spot on a Google map. And the service is completely free!

For more on this story, visit Graduate Launches New Drive-Renting Scheme

Ironically, Anthony Eskinazi, aged 23, got the idea while attending a Giants' game in San Francisco.

Which just demonstrates the importance of getting out of your comfort zone and embracing new experiences in order to gain entrepreneurial perspective.

In other words, come back to "Seriously Business" often. A left-hand-drive view of the world may be just what the chemist ordered.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dragons Pre-Empt News?

If you missed Dragons' Den last Wednesday night on CBC, you have a second (and third, fourth, fifth and sixth) chance to catch Episode 1.

It's replaying all weekend on CBC Newsworld (in an attempt, I suppose, to compensate for the lack of advertising support CBC gave it).

According to Sean Wise, it's scheduled to run on Newsworld on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 1 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 p.m., Sundays at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., and Mondays at 4 a.m.

Give it a go. A lot of people (not just me) are saying great things about it. As I said in my review, "The interplay and tension between the five investors (dragons) and the pitchers is real, and it’s amusing as hell."

Episode two runs on CBC Wednesday at 8 pm. This time it won't be up against the NHL opening night.

10 Things Canadian Entrepreneurs should be Thankful For

1) Cellphones: how did people get things done in a day without them?

2) Internships: finally, it’s legal to pay people less than minimum wage because you're actually training them. Why don't more entrepreneurs take advantage of this?

3) Good to Great: Jim Collins’ leadership classic is the Harry Potter of entrepreneurship – it’s made reading business books cool again.

4) Loyal advertisers who support magazines (PROFIT, Report on Small Business, Enterprise, etc.) with great small business content that could never survive if they had to depend on Canadian readers actually paying to receive them (or else, without that support they would have to run too many fawning features on Paris Hilton and Johnny Depp and Oki printers).

5) Catherine Swift and the CFIB, for standing on guard against government waste, stupidity and bureaucracy

6) BDC and EDC, for banking with a social purpose.

7) E-mail: Imagine a free, instant communications medium where formality and grammar (remember learning to type out business letters when you were a kid? Yecch!) take second place to speed and convenience.

8) YPO, TEC, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, CAFÉ, Innovators' Alliance, and other business-mentoring organizations for the opportunity to share ideas, best practices and worst problems with fellow business owners in confidence. If you're not doing it, you should.

9) Larger-than-life, made-in-Canada role models, from Jimmy Pattison to Gerry Schwartz, Terry Matthews and Michael Cowpland, Christine Magee, Guy Laliberte, Ron Foxcroft and Ron Joyce, Michael Lee-Chin, Lise Watier, Ken Rowe, Gwyn Morgan, Remi Marcoux and Becky McKinnon.

10) And for that matter, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Jack Welch. Even though they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving till next month.

What are you thankful for?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Bring on the Prizes!

Congratulations to Roger Pierce and Andrew Patricio at BizLaunch, who have found a new platform for their business-boosting training courses. They have just announced an alliance with Staples Business Depot that will see them holding free small business seminars in Staples stores across the GTA.

It’s also a test. If they get the turnout they're looking for, Staples could be holding more in-store sessions right across Canada.

It’s a great deal for Andrew and Roger, who have been working very hard to promote small business through their courses for the past three or four years. It’s probably also a good deal for Staples, by showing it’s serious about helping its customers succeed.

The sessions include topics such as Your Business Plan in 10 Easy Steps, How to Market Your Business on the Internet, and How to Sell Like a Pro. Not exactly brain surgery - but it's exactly the solid, practical info most business owners need.

“Almost one million Canadians will start a small business during the next year,” says Roger Pierce. “There’s a huge thirst for small business learning and these in-store seminars will make it easy for entrepreneurs to get it.”

You’ll find the seminar schedule here.

Courses start Oct. 10 and run through Nov. 30 on weekday evenings (7-8:30 pm) at 13 GTA Staples stores. Best of all, according to the press release, “Seminar attendees also receive money-saving product offers and a chance to win prizes.”

Bring on the Easy Buttons!

Sign of the Apocalypse

The banks are throwing way too much money at small business.

On Wednesday morning I received two calls from banks that had rented a mailing list and wanting to give my business (which is mainly me and a couple of computers) big fat credit lines.

The first call came from Wells Fargo Bank, which occasionally chases Canadian business. A woman with a distinct deep-midwest drawl wanted to know if I was interested in a $50,000 credit line with an interest rate of 1.99%. (She didn't say so, but I presume that's a time-limited introductory rate). Although her accent is off-putting to Canadian ears, she was a pretty good salesperson - she very effectively rebuffed all my attempts to get off the phone.

In fact, they're a slick outfit. When it was clear I wasn't interested, she promised the offer would still be valid in case I changed my mind. With that she gave me Wells Fargo's web address and a special password. If nothing else, it's a good way to motivate people to visit their website - especially given that many entrepreneurs I know have never heard of Wells Fargo. (And most of them are too young to remember the grand old Wells Fargo TV show.)

(Can you imagine a TV series called Tales of the Toronto Dominion? Somebody call the CBC!)

A few hours later, CIBC called. They didn't quote an amount for the credit line they wanted to give me (which I think is much more responsible), but they did offer it to me at 5.5%, a half-point below prime. When I said their rate was a bit higher than my previous offer from Wells Fargo, the poor telemarketer didn't know what to say. She finally decided to stick with, "That's an American bank," as if that somehow settled the matter.

P.S. I got a new offer from AmEx today for a business card with a credit limit of up to $75,000 - with no annual fee. Plus, the letter said, "You can enjoy our competitive interest rate of 16.99%." Wells Fargo is looking better all the time.

What are you hearing from the banks?

10,000th Visitor!!!

Traffic on this blog is suddenly exploding. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each set new records for the number of visitors to this site. Traffic over the last month has been higher than ever, but a surge of interest in the Dragons' Den TV show has pushed things over the top.

Which means I am a little behind (since I was travelling yesterday) in announcing that yesterday, October 5, we recorded our landmark 10,000th visitor. My tracking sensors inform me that he or she (or at least their server) resides in the Wichita, Kansas area, and that they came here following a link from Sean Wise's blog, Insider the Dragons' Den.

Thanks to Sean for using public money to divert traffic to the private sector. And thank you for visiting.
Come back Saturday for a special holiday post, 10 Reasons for Canadian Entrepreneurs to be Thankful.
And have a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dragon's Seethe

Just a gripe about the CBC: Dragons' Den starts tonight (Wednesday) at 8 pm, and I have yet to see a single ad for it. The producers have been quite generous in supplying access to bloggers such as me, but the suits don't seem to be supporting it.

I don't watch a lot of TV, so maybe they're advertising it on the People's Network. But I didn't notice any promotion during the 20 minutes I gave to the Rick Mercer Report last night. And if they're advertising in print, I as a subscriber to two newspapers haven't noticed it yet.

Oh well. Watch anyway. It's only on for five weeks.

If we want TV to produce more sophisticated programs related to business, we really should support them when they do.

Link to Dragons' Den website:
Link to Sean Wise's Inside the Dragons' Den blog:
Click here to read PROFIT magazine's profiles of the five dragons.
Clik here to read my review of Episode 1.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Letter from GrowthCamp

I had a great time at PROFIT Magazine's GrowthCamp on the weekend. It's the annual conference/seminar/celebration for the entrepreneurs on PROFIT's Hot 50 list of Canada's Emerging Growth Companies.

I guess it's a sign of progress that it was held in the plush White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa in Niagara on the Lake - as opposed to the former Ontario Hydro training camp back when I was in charge. I miss the rugged, beers-'round-the-campfire atmosphere from those days, but I seem to be the only one. Everyone else - including the sponsors and the entrepreneurs who came from all over the country - seems delighted with the venue and the program.

I'll blog about some of the speeches and events when I have time. For now, here's some of the good advice from the finance specialists on the "Find the Capital You Crave" panel:

* If you want to raise capital for your business, "act like a public company," advised entrepreneur (and PROFIT columnist) Jeff Dennis. Form an advsitory board, get your statements audited, follow appropriate governance procedures. "So when you go looking for financing, you'll have the structure in place."

* "Have a clear vision of why you need the money and what you're going to do with it,” said Ungad Chadda of the TSX Venture Exchange. “Really knowing that cold is key.”

* Norm Stevenson of Roynat Capital says everyone looking for money should have a business plan. He recalled that one client asked why Roynat needed a business plan from him. “It’s not for me,” said Stevenson. “It’s for you.

Build a relationship with a banker and establish a line of credit, even if you're not going to use it for now,” said Rob Wilkes, a CA at BDO Dunwoody. “So that when you do need something, you're not coming to them out of the blue. They know you and your business, and what got you here.”

I’ll post s'more GrowthCamp treats as time permits.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Anniversary: Will Blog for Food

Sometime this week, Canadian Entrepreneur will welcome its 10,000th visitor.

Blogging, as you know, is not about numbers, but about conversations and community. I am delighted that so many visitors come back again and again to see what's new in the fertile world of Canadian entrepreneurship, and I implore you to keep reading, keep commenting, and keep the conversation going.

Ten thousand visitors may be a drop in the bucket for Amazon or eBay, but I think it's notable that half of these people have visited in the past six months. (We hit 5,000 on April 6th). It took us 14 months to reach the first 5,000 and just six months to hit the next 5,000, so the growth curve continues.

I should mention that I would love to spend more time on this blog, to improve the content and include a lot more first-person interviews, opinions and news coverage. If you know anyone who wants to sponsor a blog on Canadian small business and entrepreneurship, let 'em know I'm willing to talk.

Sponsor or no, I have a few ideas for improving the blog, making it even more personal and authoritative, and potentially even newsworthy, so please keep checking back. This ride is still just beginning.

The Fine Art of Delegating

For Canadian entrepreneurs and corporate executives alike, the biggest challenge is delegating: getting more time for strategic focus by handing off important tasks to others.

To my mind, there are two issues involved in delegating: developing the trust required to hand off to others, and then communicating your objectives and expectations well enough to ensure the project will be successful. Both of these are hard to do.

California-based business pundit and professor Tony Alessandra believes that the ability to delegate sets leaders apart from followers. In a recent newsletter, he offered six tips for delegation success.

Find the right person for the project. If none exists, find the most capable person and train him or her well.

Delegate authority and accountability. Don’t delegate a task and then tie a person's hands. If you have to minutely supervise the project, you have not truly delegated it.

Make the task perfectly clear. Answer all questions promptly and thoroughly.

Agree on a deadline. Don’t impose a deadline; determine a mutually acceptable date.

Review and coach. Agree on a system for progress reports. Periodically review the person's progress and offer additional coaching if needed.

Lay the groundwork for more delegation. As you gain experience you will find more opportunities to delegate. Train more people to assist you and you'll have more time to do what you do best.

Learn more about Tony Alessandra at