Saturday, April 28, 2007

25 Questions to Ask an Entrepreneur

According to the analytics for this blog, a lot of people (presumably students?) come to this site using search terms such as “questions to ask an entrepreneur.”

So why not give the public what they want?

If you're interviewing an entrepreneur, for school or business, here are 25 key questions (plus a few supplementaries) that you might profitably ask:

How did you get started in this business?
Did you found the company?
Is this your first business? (If not, ask what the others were, and what happened to them.)
Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child (say, from family members or friends)?
How did you finance your business? What have been your most effective sources of financing over the years?

What are the revenues of the business? (They may or may not answer this.)
How many employees do you have? Full- or part-time? (This gives you some idea of the company size in case they didn't answer the revenue question.)
What is an average workday like for you?
Who are your customers? What are your most significant products or services?
How has your market changed in the past few years? How has your business changed to keep pace?

How have sales grown in the last few years? (gives you an idea of how successful the business is.)
Is the business profitable? What kind of profit margin does it have? Is that pre-tax or after-tax?
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
What plans do you have now to expand your business further?
What systems have you used to automate your business to give you more time for business planning and development?

What outsiders have been most important to your business success? (e.g., bankers, accountants, investors, customers, suppliers, mentors, etc.)
Do you have a business plan? A marketing plan? When was it last updated? (gives you some idea of how sophisticated their planning process is)
How do you market your products or services?
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today? (asking for three is a lot, but it forces your subject to dig deeper than just saying , “Just do it,” or “Hire good people.”
How long do you plan to keep operating this business? Do you have an “exit” strategy for getting out of the company?
If you were to start another business, what might it be?
Do you believe business has any obligation to make the world a better place?
How does your business “give back” to the community or to society?

(c) Rick Spence, Canadian Entrepreneur 2007

Note to students: Don't try to ask all these questions in one interview. Pick and choose.

Note to teachers: For permission to reprint this list at no charge, please e-mail me at rick (at)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Global Traders: You still have time!

I just found out that nominations for the Ontario Global Traders Awards close on May 4, 2007.

The Global Traders Awards salute Ontario’s best exporters (under $100 million in sales). Last year the Ontario government handed off the awards program to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which intends to run just one provincial-wide competition. (In its day, the province also hosted four regional awards events, which I was privileged to MC for the past two years.)

The awards categories this year are: Innovation and Market Expansion.

Click here for nomination information. Nominations should be submitted electronically to the Ontario Chamber.

Congrats to the Ontario Chamber for continuing these important awards. They have recognized some tremendous business successes (my favourite was the two southwestern Ontario apple farms, bitter rivals, who teamed up to export apples to the U.S.). And they have been remarkably motivational for any number of Ontario companies, especially in the North, which rarely receive any recognition for all their hard work and the jobs they've fought to create.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lassie vs Garfield

The latest issue of Marketing Magazine contains a great metaphor regarding how Web 2.0 interactivity (blogs, YouTube, wikis, that sort of stuff) will change the advertising world.

The cover story, Marketing 2.0, begins by quoting Alan Hallberg, Cisco's senior director of worldwide advertising and demand generation:

"Consumers have gone from being dogs, who are responsive, eager, needy and when you whistle they come running, to being cats, who have a life of their own, are not nearly as needy and come to you when they feel like it."

Advertisers, he says, have to learn to "rejig themselves when the audience is on stage and you're in the audience."

The rest of the story gets progressively duller. You can read it here if you want, but I mainly wanted you to think about that dog/cat image. It's great shorthand for approaching today's web-media shifts.

Consumers have been getting harder to reach for decades. Now marketers are finally realizing that not only do they have minds of their own, they expect to be heard, too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dealing with depression

A survey of more than 17,000 Australian workers has found that large numbers have symptoms of work-related depression, and many are turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with their stress, rather than talking to managers about problems. The study, by the Australian national depression initiative, Beyond Blue, urges employers to communicate more with their people and make them feel valued.

James Brown, editor of Melcrum's Source for Communicators, offers 5 tips to help you:

1. Acknowledge weaknesses, but play to people's strengths.

2. When people do something well, acknowledge it immediately.

3. Encourage staff to recognize their own achievements and then go public. Make sure employees don’t feel embarrassed about coming forward to say they've achieved something significant.

4. Help people identify and capitalize on their strengths. Shape their job around their skills.

5. Create small victories. "Small wins" encourage people not to be daunted by big tasks.

For the full story, click here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What NOT to put on your website

In an article this week at ConnectITNews, author Jeff Wuorio examines “Nine things not to have on your Web site."

1. Your photo on the home page. "Your Web site should be all about the viewer, not about you.”

2. Visual (and audio) overkill. "Technology needs to be there for a reason."

3. Too many confusing menu options. Keep your site structure simple. "People can hold between five and nine pieces of information in their memory at once.”

4. Information that could lead to privacy or security breaches. Have a security expert and perhaps even an attorney review your site to see if it offers any information that could be misused.

5. Information that could tip off competitors. "Think like thieves," says one Web security expert.

6. Undue jargon and techno-speak. Keep your copy and content straightforward. Have a non-expert review it for clarity.

7. Content that makes your business sound too good to be true. "Don't make your Web site an ad. Make it an interactive conversation with your audience."

8. Unsupervised chat boards. If you want a chat area, have a moderator approve every submission.

9. Bad links and outdated material. Review your site regularly for content and links that have gone the way of mood rings and pet rocks.
For the full article, click here.

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes Ever: Week 29

Here's your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"The first key to wisdom is constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth."

Peter Abelard, French philosopher, 1079 – April 21, 1142

An innovator and seeker of truth, Abelard and his young lover, Heloise, named their daughter Astrolabe, after the navigational instrument, newly imported from the Arab world, that dominated navigation and geographic discovery for the next 600 years.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What does marketing do?

Here's your smile for the weekend.

An interoffice softball game was held every year between the marketing department and the support staff of one company.

The support staff whipped the marketing department soundly.

To show just how the marketing department earns its keep, they posted this memo on the bulletin board after the game: "The Marketing Department is pleased to announce that for the 2006 Softball Season, we came in 2nd place, having lost but one game all year. The Support Department, however, had a rather dismal season, as they won only one game."

Straight Talk on Small Business PR

I just dashed off a few words of advice to a Canadian entrepreneur who was looking for coverage from the Canadian business media.

Since his company is fairly small and not publicly traded, I told him he faces an uphill battle. For the most part, the media aren't interested in good news about small businesses. It just doesn't fit into their shrinking news holes or their and two-dimensional views of what constitutes "news."

This entrepreneur was mentioned recently in PROFIT Magazine, so it encouraged him to look at other magazines. Here is what I told him.

I think you need a stronger news angle. [Certain unnamed other magazines] are not out to educate their readers or build a stronger business sector, like PROFIT; they're in the news business, which means they focus on conflict and controversy. If you could tie the book to something else that's going on - a big contract, a new campaign, some specific industry initiative you're working on or a big windmill you're fighting - they would be much more interested. In which case, you should try to contact the editor, and then deal with whoever they give you.

Sorry I can't be more helpful. But to get into the media, you have to think like the media. And it isn't always pretty.

The bottom line is just as marketing expert George Torok mentioned in his comment to my post last week on Dragons' Den: You have to think like your customers. And they're always asking: What's In It for Me?

When you're looking for PR, the media - as confused and contradictory as they are - become your customer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Year's End

Our sister blog, Selling to Small Business, has a post today about the end of the "Year of the Canadian Entrepreneur" intiative cited frequently in this space.

We give full credit to Roynat, which tried to do something big and bold in this marketplace, but found itself unsupported by other Canadian marketers.

Click here for the full post.

Just a reminder that here at Canadian Entrepreneur, it's always Your Year.

Entrepreneurs' biggest problems, solved!

Rail strikes? Street closures? Epidemics? War? There’s no predicting what obstacles fate will put in your way when you're running your own business. All you can do is be prepared for anything.

How do you do that? That’s the theme of a great article I found today on the Wall Street Journal Online.

Entrepreneurs' Biggest Problems -- And How They Solve Them,” by Paulette Thomas, says you can tell the companies who are able to overcome disasters from those who can't. She says the most robust, adaptable and ultimately successful companies have the following characteristics in common:

A clear strategy. A well-defined plan can keep a ship on course when the winds would otherwise blow it off the map.

Flexibility. Successful entrepreneurs have a plan, full of detail and rich in data. But they are willing to abandon it when the customers don't follow. They cut losses and retool fast.

A realistic view. Some entrepreneurs, enamored of their vision, swallow it whole and lose the dispassionate judgment they must exercise. "They have to be able to strip away the hype and be brutally honest with themselves and their backers," says a University of Chicago business prof.

Ethical behavior. Investors and government regulators are operating on Level Orange vigilance. Bad behavior has a way of catching up with a business.

A robust network. Successful entrepreneurs turn to their Rolodex in times of need. They make it a point to do favors when they can, because they know that their turn to ask for help will come.

Global perspective. International markets may provide solutions to problems that were unthinkable a decade or two ago. Shifting labor across borders or invading new markets can alter the course of a business.

Ability to deal with technology. Evolve or get left behind, says James Bird, a corporate-film producer in Cincinnati. He recently made the switch to high-definition video-production work to set his business apart from his competitors.

Passion. Not much can surpass the single-minded drive of an entrepreneur committed to solving a problem.

Check out the full story here for complete details and examples.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Have a happy day!

A classic marketing mistake by the National Post - presenting its product to me in a totally inappropriate and offensive manner. Why is there no policy to change their cheery little intro on very bad news days?

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Shy Inventor

A quick follow-up to my Dragons’ Den post of the other day.

While I was between “auditions” of potential Dragons’ Den participants, a young guy came up to me with a question. Pulling out the yellow legal form that all pitchers must sign, he asked if it was true that, if he signed it, anyone on the DD team could steal his idea and run with it themselves.

I hadn't read the contract, and said so, but I took the liberty of telling him that's the way the world works. Once you disclose your idea to anyone, you risk idea theft and knockoffs.

The question is, what’s your idea really worth? Few ideas are so original or brilliant that they need to be kept under lock and key. Instead of keeping everything secret, and fussing over patents and non-disclosures, I think most entrepreneurs should talk up their ideas and actively seek out feedback, criticism and help.

Very few people are going to drop everything to compete with you when you have a head start in time, effort and (presumably) relationships and planning. So yes, the CBC crew could steal his idea, but the chances of them doing so are just about nil; and the chances that they could do it better than he can are probably even less.

So would he tell me his idea? He smiled and said he’d think about it.

As I write this, I recall that I dealt with this subject a year ago in a post quoting tireless CEO blogger Jim Estill of Synnex Canada in Guelph, Ont. "It is not the ideas that will make a business successful, it is the implementation," Jim said.
"When EMJ (Jim's startup firm) was public, I was worried people would see our statements and public disclosures and copy what we were doing. Some tried. Over time I came to realize that implementation is hundreds of little things that tend to be almost impossible to copy..."

"Most entrepeneurs could be more successful by simply implementing now and faster rather than trying to keep everything a secret. I have seen more failures caused by inaction than caused by having ideas stolen."

BTW, as I was leaving the Dragons’ Den auditions Saturday, the shy inventor came up to me again. He said he’d decided to tell me his idea.

I won’t give it away, but it’s a big idea, visionary, and probably expensive. I doubt a single entrepreneur with limited financial resources could pull it off.

So I suggested he get in touch with established players in his industry and try to work with them to push the industry in the direction he wants to see it go. Strong, helpful relationships can do more to make your business competitor-proof than the best patent lawyer in town.

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes Ever: Week 28

Here's your creative and motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing."

Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
(as of last week, now merely the third richest man in the world)

Portfolio analysts and retirement planners are aghast at business owners who invest all their wealth and resources in a single asset: their business. The Oracle of Omaha suggests that may not be such a bad thing- so long as you know what you're doing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The India Factor

A story in the [Toronto] Sunday Star today got me thinking.

I believe the world is on the brink of stunning political, economic and social change as a result of the Rise of the East: the emergence of India and China, in particular, as world powers with influence that truly reflect the size of their populations, the richness of their cultures, and their potential.

Tectonic shifts such as this, of course, worry many people – especially those who never thought we would see an end of America’s world dominance as economic superpower and primary cultural influence.

But I’m excited by the potential for positive change created by the increasing influence of these ancient cultures, which have thrived for years while embracing sustainability, modesty, family and community. Is there not much that Western culture could learn?

The Star today interviewed Mira Kamdar, a New York-based writer of Danish-Indian descent. Her new book, Planet India, suggests that India’s ability to create a prosperous and stable 21st-century economy will go a long way to determining the future of the world.

“If India can't make it with all of its advantages – functioning democracy, rule of law, big economy with world-class institutions – then what is the hope for the rest of us? As goes India, so goes the world.”

But it was this next part that got me thinking:
"India must invent a new paradigm – inclusive capitalism – to move forward, she argues. That means not copying American-style "savage" capitalism, which exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots and depends on disproportionate consumption and pollution, according to Kamdar.

"The American system has proven it can create fast wealth, but it hasn't done it in a way that is environmentally sustainable or equitable."

That’s the exciting part. Like a kid who pretends to believe in Santa Claus long after she realizes reindeer can't fly, it’s rare that we in the West acknowledge the fundamental problem of our age: that the wealth, comfort and convenience we enjoy can’t possibly be shared with the rest of the world. Not without depleting the earth’s resources and the environment.

Kamdar, then, presents us with hope. With its unique approach to timeless problems of society and progress, perhaps India – and other rapidly developing countries – will provide perspectives that will help us solve these basic problems of economic inequality and resource depletion for which American and European economics have no answers.

India, says Kamdar, “has to figure out how to make development equitable and sustainable now. The theme is opportunity in adversity."

The good news is, she sees India as the America of the 21st century, a land of freedom and opportunity: "The vibe is, anything's possible. In India you have a multicultural, multireligious democracy in a developing country that is an open and free society that has embraced capitalism. It's exciting and scary to think of the possibilities of that."

It was Einstein who warned, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Perhaps India and the other emerging "tiger" economies will provide the new sparks we need.

The Making of a Dragon

I had great fun Saturday as an “armchair dragon.” But it was also frustrating, as I’ll explain.

Due to the number of pitchers expected at the Toronto audition for the new season of Dragons’ Den, the producers at CBC asked me to help interview applicants. My job was to stand beside the camera as each candidate made his or her two-minute pitch for funding from the show’s millionaire investors. Then I would ask qualifying questions in place of the absent dragons.

Hi,” I said trying to capture the sprit of the show, “My name is Rick and I’ll be your interrogator this afternoon.”

Overall people were very nice and understood that they were in for a grilling. Otherwise, it would be the family dinner table, not Dragons’ Den.

I heard some great opportunities this afternoon, but not many great pitches. You'd think that people who had watched the first season of DD would understand that the dragons are interested in the money they can make from the deal – not the intricate details of the product or service. But again and again people spent way too much time talking about the minutiae of the product, and not the language of the dragons: return on investment.

That forced me to play Bad Cop, trying to ask the questions that Laurence Lewin and Kevin O’Leary would ask if they’d been there: “What’s your vision? Who will buy this product? How big can this business get?”

In 20 years of working with entrepreneurs, I’ve asked questions like these a million times, but never at the pace of television. We had 5 minutes, max, for the whole interview. So after going too soft on the first few pitchers, I fine-tuned my introduction to help them make a better impression. “You've only got two minutes for the pitch,” I said. “Don't focus too much on your product. Get to the opportunity as soon as you can. How much money do you want from these dragons, and what will they get in return? How are they going to get their money out of your business, and how much will they make?”

Yes, I had turned into a Dragon.

Sadly, my advice came too late for many entrepreneurs, who had no idea how to answer those questions. Most stuck to their script, which was all about their product. Which forced me to interrupt more and more to focus on the heart of the matter: Why should investors of wealth and ambition invest in your company? Very few could answer that question.

One of the producers said later that they had learned over their career that you can't tell inventors anything – they're just too wedded to their own ideas. I hope that’s not true. Who wants a business partner who won’t listen?

Thanks to Netta, Sean and Tracie for a great day.
I’ll be back for the May 5 audition, so I hope to see you there. Properly prepared, of course.

For the schedule of upcoming auditions, please see my previous post.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Yet another accounting merger

For the last few years, as the Big 4 national accounting firms sought out ever-bigger corporate clients, BDO Dunwoody and Grant Thornton have been the standard-bearers for small and mid-sized companies in Canada.

Now comes news that the two firms are talking about merging.

According to a press release today, "preliminary discussions between Grant Thornton LLP and BDO Dunwoody LLP have indicated potential opportunity for both organizations including their respective clients, employees and partners. Over the next several months, representatives from both organizations will engage in a due diligence process to further assess the merits of a combined organization."

A decision is expected some time in July.

Together with Quebec-based Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton (RCGT), Grant Thornton has 370 partners and 2900 employees in 99 offices across Canada. BDO has over 315 partners and 1900 employees in 95 offices.

Gilles Chaput, CEO of BDO Dunwoody, said, "A combined firm would have enhanced strength, capacity, depth, and market credibility to compete in marketplaces across Canada, while at the same time maintaining a strong position in the local communities throughout Canada."

Yes, we've seen all this before.

While a merger seems likely to reduce competition (and raise prices) at some levels, this should be a boon for independent accountants - who will have one fewer national brand with which to contend.

Ask a Legendary Entrepreneur

PROFIT Magazine's "Ask the Legends" feature makes you feel like you're sitting down with top Canadian entrepreneurs and asking any questions you like.

This month's guest legend is Miles Nadal, a former sports photographer who has built his own communications empire. Miles, 49, is chairman & CEO of Toronto-based MDC Partners.

Click here to read the questions that PROFIT readers had for Miles. Alternatively, here are a few highlights.

With the marketing industry being so competitive, how do you maintain your edge over the competition?
Nadal: The limiting factor around business success today is not financial capital but human or "creative" capital. My constant message to our partner organizations is that access to talent is our competitive edge in a creative industry whose principal assets go up and down the elevator every day, and that we must be on a constant lookout for talent and acquire talent when it's available as opposed to when we need it. I also think we've created a unique network within MDC that's predicated on two fundamental principals. One is the empowerment of talent, and the other is wealth sharing.
If you were about to launch a new product to market with no marketing budget, how would you go about it?

Nadal: The benefit that exists with new media is you have instant access to chat rooms, blogs and all kinds of things. It's not hard to get a message out there today, if you're clever and innovative. The viral marketing campaigns we did [for Burger King] with Subservient Chicken, which cost us $40,000 and generated 500 million hits, show that the right idea launched in the right way can make a big impact for very little money.
When you are small and the banks offer you little if any financial assistance, how do you deal with the stress of financial uncertainty?

Nadal: Nobody ever has enough money to buy their first house, and nobody ever has enough money to build their first business. When you go into business for yourself, you need to expect that you will experience adversity and uncertainty. But I do think it's getting easier to finance a new business, because there are more capital sources available. And don't just look at the Canadian marketplace for capital. If I could go back and do things differently, I would have moved towards larger sources of capital earlier, and broadened my geographic reach to access those sources.
For more Miles, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How to win on Dragons' Den

Is it next year already?

CBC TV recently announced the renewal for a second season of Dragons’ Den, the show that enables budding entrepreneurs to pitch for investment cash to a panel of Canadian multimillionaires.

The result made for riveting television last season, a rare show that everyone in the family could watch, enjoy and learn from.

Auditions for “pitchers” (the entrepreneurs seeking funds for their companies or ideas) have already begun. The CBC team is meeting with prospective talent today in Kitchener-Waterloo, and tomorrow (April 12) in London, Ont.

The schedule thereafter:
April 14: Toronto
April 16: Fort McMurray (maybe someone will come up with affordable housing)
April 17: Halifax and Ottawa
April 18: Edmonton
April 18 & 19: Victoria, BC
April 20 & 21: Vancouver and Calgary
April 23: Winnipeg
April 24: Moncton
April 25: Summerside, PEI (huh?)
April 26: Charlottetown, PEI
April 27 & 28: St. John’s, Nfld
April 27 & 28: Montreal
May 5: Toronto.

You can walk in on the auditions, or apply online, or both. (I recommend both.)

A little advice: Practice, practice, practice. Last year’s contestants wasted a lot of precious time, taking way too long to explain their idea, the market, and why anyone else would be interested.

Remember, Rick’s No. 1 Rule of Communication applies: It’s not about you. Focus your presentation on the needs of your audience (ie, five greedy* investors who want to make six times their money back without working very hard). Don't boast about your long hours in the basement working on this stuff. Explain why they need to get in on this, and why you will work hard to make them a lot of money.

The most common mistake people made last year was thinking the dragons wanted to invest in small businesses. They don't. They want to invest in an idea that will become a big business. Unless your idea can offer real growth, don't waste your time. “This isn't a business,” they’ll say. “You're buying yourself a job.”

For more information, forms, and FAQs, see

* They're not such greedy people in real life, of course. They just play them on TV.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The High Cost of Data

Seems we were ahead of the curve with last week’s discussion of the high price of mobile data. (Click here to revisit.)

Basically, I was arguing that the cellular companies’ data rates are too high to be encouraging widespread adoption of broadband wireless. And that’s bad, not just because consumers are paying too much. In stalling the development of a wireless-Internet consumer market, it is also holding up Canadian innovations in this sphere, which has already emerged as a huge worldwide opportunity.

Toronto-based Web 2.0 marketer and consultant Thomas Purves, over at his blog, posted an article yesterday called “Canada Worse than 3rd World Countries when it comes to Mobile Data Access.” He posted a fabulous chart showing data-downloading rates in various countries – from the USA to Rwanda. Bottom line: Canadians are paying up to 20 times more than the Americans for a service that should be becoming a commodity.

But maybe things will change. In an update today, Thomas noted that his blog recorded 10,000 visitors in an hour, received 1300 Digg recommendations, and more than 60 comments. Canadians are getting angry about this.

Among the comments, one visitor said Rogers' new data plan seems to be leading prices downward. Big deal, said Thomas: “Note that this plan would take Rogers rates from 40x New Zealand prices to “only” 5x as expensive. Hooray…”

Another commenter urged anyone who cares to e-mail Maxime Bernier, Minister of Industry;
Plus, e-mail Prime Minister Harper:
Plus, Find and email your member of parliament.

Or, you can sign one of the petitions going around.

This is a job for you.

Six Impact Areas to help your business grow

The irony of entrepreneurship is that the skills you need to start a business (pitching, persistence and penny-pinching) are rarely the same skills (strategic and systematic) that you need to grow it.

B.C. entrepreneurs Barb Mowat of Impact Communications and Bill Erichson of Pacific Training Innovations have identified six critical areas you need to address if you want your business to grow in controlled and sustainable fashion.

I found their article on the RBC website, under the heading Women Entrepreneurs, but Mowat and Erichson’s brilliant to-do list applies to just about anyone in business:.

1. Strategic Planning: Noting that many small business owners abandon planning once they've survived startup, the authors claim strategic planning is the most important task any company can do. "You must develop a vision and have a model in mind, and then develop micro goals to make your long-term goal happen," says Mowat.

2. Competitive Positioning: You can't be all things to all people. Understand your competitive advantage and establish a clear identity in the marketplace.

3. Market Development: Look at new ways to expand your markets, whether it’s through broadening your product line, moving into new markets, or leveraging partnerships.

4. Human Resource Leadership: Many entrepreneurs find it difficult to move from owner to leader, delegater and role model. “Buy your weaknesses and sell your strengths,” says Mowat.

5. Financial Management: The key to profitable growth, says Erichson, is to build retained earnings so you can buy more assets.

6. Technological Advancement: You have to keep ahead of the competition in productivity, automation and innovation. It’s not easy – but if it were, everyone would do it.

Read the full article here. It’s well worth your while.
Note that this page includes about a dozen useful articles on business growth. You might want to copy and paste the whole darn thing. And refer to it often.

Monday, April 09, 2007

"You can do anything with enthusiasm"

Last week's quote of the week came from Canadian entrepreneur Russ Fearon of Throat Threads Apparel Inc., in Burlington, Ont.

Now you can read my profile of Russ in today's Financial Post by clicking here.

Throat Threads, a four-time PROFIT 100 company, started out selling funky ties for "office casual" markets and is now a major distributor of branded sportswear lines (eg, Swiss Army) across Canada.

How did Fearon pull it off? He says he owes it all to his personal passion for exceeding clients' expectations. "You can do anything with enthusiasm," he says. "It's the ultimate rocket fuel."

What's interesting is how he developed this insight at a very young age. He got his first job after high school, as shop helper at a local factory, by earnestly promising to show up every day and give it his all. And he kept his promise: "They'd never seen the floor swept so clean in their lives," he says.

The company's owner was so impressed by Russ's passion for perfection that he ended up sponsoring his further education, and later became the first (and only) outside investor in Throat Threads.

Forget Horatio Alger. Russ Fearon is a great role model for any young person today who wonders how they'll fit into the world of work. Take a keen interest in what you do, and unexpected doors will swing wide open.

Read the whole story here.

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes Ever: Week 27

Here's another creative and motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

This week, a seasonal salutation as the last snows (we hope!) melt in my backyard:

Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.
--Virgil A. Kraft, American author (When the North Wind Blows )

Of course, this quote also has entrepreneurial overtones. What spring does for this "drab and dirty world" is much like the role entrepreneurs play: mastering chaotic economic forces and transforming them into products, businesses and opportunities that benefit others.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

CEOs in the dark

A story yesterday on the Globe & Mail website underscores one more reason why small businesses can be more efficient and creative than big businesses: Because their key leaders are so much more in touch with the business and its customers.

The Globe’s Tavia Grant reported a global survey by Deloitte Touche that found CEOs are out of touch with the health of their companies because they lack detailed information about the non-financial side of their business.

Eight out of 10 executives complained that financial indicators alone do not fully capture their company's strengths and weaknesses – in part because they reflect only past performance. But the CEOs admit that their ability to monitor non-financial indicators, such as employee commitment, competitive performance and reputation risk, is “inadequate.”

Deloitte CEO William Parrett states that the survey, entitled "In the Dark II", reveals "a critical disconnect between rhetoric and reality in the boardrooms and management circles of some of the world's leading companies.”

Which won’t surprise too many people – customers or employees – who work regularly with big corporations. (It shouldn't surprise Deloitte, either, since they found much the same thing in a similar survey three years ago.)

With 57% of the companies surveyed saying they feel under increasing pressure to measure non-financial indicators, Parrett says the use of non-financial indicators will improve.

This will help them identify their edge over their competitors, improve performance, and ultimately contribute to an improved bottom line. It is a matter of understanding that a more balanced mix of financial and non-financial objectives can improve performance and even financial results.”

It’s nobody’s fault that big companies are so out of touch – managing big organizations with multiple agendas is hard. Which is why small-business owners should look at surveys such as this as more confirmation that they can succeed and win – because nobody knows their market and their mission like an entrepreneur.

For more information on the survey, or to download the study, click here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes Ever: Week 26

It's the half-year aniversary of our Quote of the Week feature, which presents timely motivational quotes personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

This week: insight into where success really comes from.

"People always say opportunity knocks, but opportunity doesn't knock. You knock and it answers."

Russ Fearon, founder and president, Throat Threads Apparel, Burlington, Ont.
(From a 2005 interview with the Hamilton Spectator)

Watch for my story on Russ in next week's Financial Post.