Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Most problems revolve around people"

A memorable quote in today's Globe & Mail from financial giant Claude Lamoureux, who retires tomorrow as boss of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.

The Globe's Gord Pitts says Lamoureux is "appalled" that would-be corporate leaders approach business as a narrow quantitative exercise, while ignoring the critical human element.

"Too many of them don't think that people are important," says Lamoureux. "They say, 'Let me learn analytical tools,' or 'Let me learn how to do present value and discounted cash flow and have all the buzz words,' when in fact, in business, most problems revolve around people."

A lesson most Canadian entrepreneurs - so often obsessed with their ideas, their products and their next sale - would do well to remember.

Don't Undersell Yourself!

I got some valuable feedback from a client recently on my speaking style. And I’m wondering if it could help you, too.

“Don't undersell yourself,” I was told. Essentially, her message was: You have good information. Don't back into it. Don't waste time explaining it. Just get into it.

Like many entrepreneurs, I’m a naturally modest type. It’s a habit hard to break. And to an extent, modesty is good. It implies the opposite of bombast and hype, which every Canadian entrepreneur can spot a mile (okay, 1.6 kilometres) away.

But sometimes – especially when you are speaking or presenting as an expert – a little hype is expected. It shows confidence in yourself and your material. It gets people revved for your information.

Of course, you don't want to oversell your message. But underselling it can be problematic, too.

You should already have a 10-second introduction about you and what you do that highlights why you are an expert in your field. Follow the same formula in your presentations: let people know what your information can do for them, and why you're the best person to present it to them. Don't brag.
Just make the truth sparkle.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who are the Top 11 Business blogs?

A while back I mentioned the list of Top 100 Business Blogs compiled by John Crickett, a UK-based consultant and entrepreneur.

It occurred to me that you might want to see what’s going on at some of the best business blogs in the world (not just at No. 87 here). So here is John’s Top 11 blog list (that's 11 and not the usual 10 because a Canadian blog placed 11th).

Business Opportunities Weblog T: 12 A: 16,213
Copy Blogger T: 36 A: 7,825
Seth Godin T: 47 A: 10,314
MicroPersuasion T: 169 A: 33,643
How To Change The World T: 180 A: 14,709
Duct Tape Marketing T: 215 A: 31,714
Freelance Switch T: 312 A: 10,638
A VC T: 1,226 A: 27,737
Rough Type T: 1,253 A: 69,429
Successful Blog T: 1,432 A: 44,935
Small Business Canada T: 1,517 A: N/A

The numbers refer to the blogs’ Technorati rankings (T), which were used to rank the top 100. The “A” score is the blog’s Alexa ranking. If you don't know what any of that means, don't worry.

Click to check out the rest of John’s Top 100 Business Blogs list.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Confronting Your Dragons

Canadian sales guru Kelley Robertson offers some good advice today to anyone trying to sell to senior business people – and he got the idea from watching TV!

“While watching a television show featuring several very successful business executives, I noticed how direct these individuals were in their communication. No skirting around issues. No hesitation to challenge others. And certainly no fear of asking direct questions.”

Doesn’t this sound like Dragons’ Den to you?

For Robertson, watching this unnamed show reinforced four points that all marketers should consider when selling to senior executives:

1. Ask tough questions. “Most sales people fail to probe deep enough when talking to C-level buyers.”

2. Focus on the big picture. “Shift your thinking to a macro view.”

3. Focus on ROI. “Skip the features and benefits” and focus on the tangible impact your product will have on the customer’s business.

4. Don't take it personally. “Don't be put off by what an executive says or how they say it."

I would add one another point: Know all you can about the individuals you are going to meet. Focus on their personal interests and needs. Some pitchers on Dragons' Den do better when they target just one or two dragons, rather than the whole group. After all, individuals make buying decisions.

You can listen to Robertson’s full article on his podcast here. (It's Episode 50.)
Or sign up for his free "59-Second Tip" e-newsletter here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 60

Here's another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotations, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

"Every decision you make is a mistake."
Edward Dahlberg, U.S. novelist and essayist, 1900-1977

I don't believe this is literally true. But what a liberating concept it is! No more agonizing over what-ifs and what-to-do. Since you have no idea whether your decision will be right or not, you just go ahead and make it.

Now the resources that might previously have gone toward checking and rechecking your assumptions before making the decision can now be directed to monitoring the result – and making the changes required to ensure that your decision becomes, over time, the best decision possible.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Winning the Space Race

Congrats to Encelium Technologies Inc., winner of the 2007 “Markham Space Race.”

And congratulations to the organizers – Town of Markham, Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham (ISCM), Great West Life Realty Advisors, FIT by Design, and Jim Brown of Colliers International – for creating a contest that promotes small business and actually helps promising companies achieve their potential.

Markham-based Encelium develops energy-management systems that help building managers control lighting and other building loads to dramatically reduce energy costs. Last March Encelium made the papers for selling its ECS system to Toronto’s Rogers Centre (SkyDome), which was expecting the system to save it $300,000 a year.

A panel of judges selected Encelium as the Ontario small business “most likely to grow” over the next year. The company wins a $63,100 prize package that includes use of a furnished, 1,000-square-foot Class A office space for a year in the Town of Markham, a telecommunications package from Telus Business Solutions, thousands of dollars in business, legal, accounting, financial and HR consulting services, and printing and furniture moving services.

Maple Lake Ltd. of Markham and Maxxian Integration Inc. of Thornhill placed second and third.

Telus was the contest's Title Sponsor, with Creechurch International Underwriters, Cushman & Wakefield LePage and PowerStream Inc. as gold sponsors.

The Markham Space Race was open to export-focused, entrepreneurial companies in Ontario that have been in business for at least two years and have at least three full-time employees. Participants submitted a growth plan demonstrating how their company is positioned for rapid growth.

This blog rarely quotes press releases, but this next paragraph from the official announcement rings true to me:
"[Innovation Synergy Centre CEO Bob] Glandfield emphasizes that every company that participated in the Markham Space Race comes out a winner, just by developing a growth plan – something many small businesses neglect. “Developing a plan that must face the scrutiny of a third party forces a sense of realism into the process. Entrepreneurs tend to overstate the opportunity, and understate the challenges and timelines, when moving to market. Creating and implementing a realistic plan for growth goes a long way in ensuring the future success of a small business,” he said.

Amen to that. And kudos to the winners and the sponsors for a rare win-win.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your Advisory Board is Waiting

There is no more powerful tool you can adopt to grow your business than to set up a board of advisors.

Part II of "Success Insurance," PROFIT Magazine's groundbreaking series on building boards of advisors (a collaboration of myself and outstanding entrepreneur Greig Clark) is now available. "Building Your Own Board" points out that there is no one right way to establish a board: how many people you select, how often it meets, what areas it will oversee, is all up to you. Whatever system you set up will work better than what you have now.

Here's an excerpt:

Some boards meet monthly, others twice yearly. Some never meet, and are really just loose coalitions of contacts for CEOs who want to tap them for advice without setting up a formal body. Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all. In our research, however, we found that regular, quarterly meetings are the most common among successful boards — with dates set out well in advance so everyone can make it.

Who should chair? A Queen’s University study identifies the chair as key to a board’s success. Some CEOs are reluctant to hand off authority, but I believe the more power you share, the better off you’ll be. I recommend appointing an outsider, perhaps the champion who helped set up the board, as chair. That person can prod you to prepare properly for meetings, which is the only way you’ll get full benefit from them. “You have to put work into your meetings up front,” says Lance Laking, president and CEO of Ottawa-based BTI Photonic Systems Inc. “You have to make a concrete effort to carve out some time and make it a priority.”

Chairs must also ensure meetings are productive. This includes preparing and distributing agendas and prep material, running effective meetings and knowing when to encourage discussion and when to shut it down. The chair can also follow up with the CEO between meetings, and generally ensure that the board is meeting its mandate.

For more information on how to build an effective board that will challenge you and help your business continuously improve, click here.

And if you missed Part I, it's still waiting for you to jump "on board." Just click here.

Part III comes out in just a few weeks: How to turbo-charge your board.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Market Research and the Entrepreneur

An ambitious Canadian entrepreneur in the market-research sector asked me recently if I thought that startup companies and new SMEs tend to make much use of market research to help with new product development or for general insight into their target markets.

While I haven’t formally studied this, I told him, I have made a few observations. My experience is that they trust their instincts first and foremost. Sometimes they do poll a few friends, though even a high-school student could tell you that's a pretty poor tactic, statistically speaking.

(Just watch an episode of Dragons’ Den to see how many entre-preneurs have poured years of effort into a product or project without ever really testing it against a market. Last night the Dragons sneered at an inflatable hoodie, a drinking game for fratboys, a card-based game to help families communicate, and a protective poncho for air travelers, among other things. They said they didn't think any of those would sell. And not one of the entrepreneurs appeared to have any market research with which to refute them.) (Or if they did, the CBC didn't show it.)

I totally believe that market research should be a line item in every entrepreneur's startup budget, but sadly, I don't think it often is.

Some startups I've talked to lately have moved forward based on viral Internet-based polls of 300 or 400 potential prospects, but I think they are looking more to confirm their own hunches rather than learn anything new or challenging.

Yet I think doing proper market research could save some of these people a lot of money - not to mention a year or two of their lives.

So there's probably a huge opportunity to provide this service to startups, although it would require a new approach to the industry and a much lower price structure.

Any ideas?

Worst Venture-Capital Deals of All Time

I’m always amazed by the continuing popularity of venture capital as a subject of interest to entrepreneurs. I’m amazed, because so few entrepreneurs qualify for venture capital – and even fewer ever receive any. I guess hope springs eternal.

But venture capitalists often make mistakes. If you’d like to learn from some of these errors, there’s a great story at Inside CRM on “The 20 Worst Venture Capital Investments of All Time.”

For the record, here are the top five:

Amp'd Mobile (raised $360 million, ended in bankruptcy: marketed to risky consumers and took too long to collect receivables);
Procket (networking company raised $272 million, eventually sold to Cisco Systems for $89 million);
Webvan (grocery-delivery business raised $800 million, was once valued at $1.2 billion; money burn caused bankruptcy in 2001);
Caspian Networks (formerly Packetcom) raised more than $300 million before shutting down in 2006); (you knew it would be on here, right? ) This online retailer of pet supplies, the official mascot of the dot-com bust, went from NASDAQ listing to liquidation in nine months.

Lots more good reading, bad examples and useful lessons here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 59

Here's another installment in our weekly series of motivational quotations, personally selected to get your week off to an inspiring start.

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer, but wish we didn't.”
Erica Jong, U.S. author (Fear of Flying) and social critic.

I like the cynical insight at the heart of this quote: the suggestion that we seek advice to avoid doing something we know we should do. Not always true, certainly, but often enough to make us question our own motives next time we go looking for a second opinion.

Two-for-One: I also like this quote of Jong’s: “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

The equivalent in entrepreneurship: Lots of people have good ideas. What makes a winner is the courage to endure the hardships that make it happen. I think most entrepreneurs can identify with the notion of “the dark place.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

New Customer-Service Nightmare

I’m reporting in from Florida, down here for a three-day break to visit my mother in sunny Dunedin.

On day one alone, I got enough customer service nightmare stories to keep most bloggers busy for a week.

So we are trying to set up my mother’s high-speed Internet account, which involves several calls to Verizon. In the brochure they promise customer help 24/7, but I think maybe those are just percentages.

1. When we called for support, they began shifting us around between billing, long distance, Internet, and billing again before we finally found someone to help us.

2. When we finally got the right technical support, “Paul” was able to identify quickly that are trouble was coming because of a broken DSL modem. No problem, he said: we could buy a new one at any Verizon store, or at Radio Shack or Best Buy. Then he asked us what day it was.
We soon found out he is located in the Philippines, so I guess that question is almost forgivable. He promised to connect us with Verizon customer service, so we could arrange to buy a new modem over the phone. We waited fifteen minutes for “service” to answer their phone before we decided to take our chances at retail.

3. Arrive at mall at 8:00 PM. Verizon store is closed. Fortunately, there’s a Radio Shack outlet right across the hall. But when I ask if they sell Verizon DSL modems, they laugh and laugh. I guess it’s old technology to them. It’s not funny to me.

4. Arrive at Best Buy. Yes, they sell DSL modems. They show me the empty shelf where they used to have one. They’ve sold it, and when they check the system, there are none on order. Fortunately, they can check to see what local stores have it. They suggest Destin or Panama City, which are more than 200 miles away.

5. On Saturday morning I go back to the mall. They have the modem and package it up for me, charging it to my mother’s account over three months. Good enough. Then I make the observation that I was surprised last night to find that they were the only store in the mall that closed at 7:00 PM. Chris laughs. “Sweet, isn’t it?” he says. “Union rules.” “It turns out that Verizon retail clerks belong to the same union as the guys who lay the telephone lines, and I guess they don’t work overtime in November. Chris couldn’t be happier. Over the next few weeks, he says, everyone else in the malls will work till 9, 10, 11 PM. “We’ll g0 home at seven.” But, he adds, that’s the only good thing the union does. I found it fascinating that he could so misunderstand customers' needs, and diss the union that enables him to, in the very same breath.

6. Making small talk, I ask Chris why a modem should break so soon. I was about tell him my mother only had it for two years when he said, “They only last about two years.” He said something along the lines that, if you could see what kind of components they use inside, you’d be surprised that it lasts that long. Whoever let this guy serve the public should be sentenced to six weeks manning the Verizon tech support line. Sure, his honesty was refreshing, but from a business point of view, it's got to be a firing offence.

6. When I got the modem home and unpacked, we found it came with filters and cables that we already had. It annoyed me that we had to pay for this complete kit when it was clear that we already had these components, and all we needed was a new modem. If this modem really needs to be replaced as often as Chris said, surely they should offer a less expensive package that doesn’t make us pay for a bunch of electronic components we don’t need and seem so wasteful to throw out.


One more story: on the way home from that shopping trip, I saw the dumbest advertising sign ever, outside a True Value hardware store. The sign said: “Only six more days till the greatest sale ever.”
I know that it’s trying to generate some buzz over the Friday-after-Thanksgiving retail blowout, but I can’t imagine a better way to say: “Don’t come in and buy anything today.” And in fact, on a very busy retail day, their parking lot was almost empty.

Sometimes, the sanity of small business, an entrepreneur’s ability to bring common sense to everyday life, is a huge competitive advantage.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Choosing your company name

I mentioned in a post the other day a lengthy conversation I had with a young Canadian entrepreneur planning her startup business.

Of all the feedback I offered her on her concept, she seemed to have the most problem with my questioning her choice of business name. I think she and her partner came up with a name that almost works. It’s the usual mash of two unrelated words (similar to last week’s BlueCat Networks, I guess, although I would argue that the technology sector is more accustomed to these word-collision names than most industries).

The name she chose makes sense – but really, only once you know what the company does. The partners have an intricate explanation for the name, but the name doesn't help you understand the company better until after you know what it does.

It was the second time in two weeks that I've had this conversation with a startup entrepreneur. The other company is also hoping to become a prominent Internet brand using a made-up name that most people wouldn't understand or retain long.

Now it’s easy to say that most brands don't describe what they do. But keep in mind that Inco started life as International Nickel, and Heinz began as Anchor Pickle & Vinegar Works. Just maybe, resource-short startups have different branding needs than do established companies.

But in the end, it doesn't really matter whether someone understands your name. The question is, will clients remember it? And how will it sound when they tell their boss they want to place their next order with FrogBog, or whatever Frankenword you’ve chosen?

Remember, as a startup your biggest problem will likely be credibility.

Sure, all the good dot-com names are long gone. But keep looking for the right name. Using an obscure and complex Frankenword, or an in-joke only you and your partners understand, just builds barriers between you and your customers – not bridges.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

7 Things You Should Know About Venture Capital

Montreal bloggger, marketing guru and tech entrepreneur Ben Yoskovitz posted a great article yesterday on 7 Things No One Ever Tells You About Raising Venture Capital Financing.

Ben's 7 Things:

* Signing a term sheet is only step one. Now the real work begins!
* Don't try to negotiate all the fine points of the deal at the term-sheet stage. "The term sheet is a letter of intent to invest, not a binding or absolute contract."
* For most entrepreneurs, "Due Diligence" is a completely foreign concept and a frustrating experience.
* The paperwork is extremely detailed and extensive. And heavy.
* Most of the final deal focuses on negative details. "Everyone’s excited and eager to turn the business into a success, but here you are negotiating what to do when the s--t hits the fan."
* You pay all the legal bills.
* Don’t focus only on how much you’re raising and what chunk of the company you’re giving up. There are other key issues to work on, such as the composition of the new board of directors.

Read the whole post here. There are lots more details worth reading, and good links to follow. Thanks for posting, Ben!And good luck with your journey.

(An eighth point might have been that a lot of deals fall apart even after the term sheet is signed.)

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 58

Here's another installmen in our weekly series of inspiring entrepreneurial quotations, personally selected to get your workweek off to a fabulous start.

This week: what's the job of a CEO?

"As CEO, your primary responsibilty is to ensure that the organization is commiting to move forward, to change, to innovate and to transform."

RBC Financial CEO Gordon Nixon, selected as Canada's outstanding CEO of the year, in the November issue of Financial Post Business.

Help from on High

Today I spent about an hour on the phone discussing a young entrepreneur's startup idea with her. Why would I do that?

Well, for one thing, she asked. Also, like most people, I enjoy helping people. Plus, I get a kick out of hearing people's business ideas. And it's great mental exercise to figure out worthwhile things to say that can either connect the entrepreneur to a new idea or valuable resource, or point out a potential obstacle that they haven't adequately foreseen.

The best thing she did, though, was ask for help. I believe it's essential that Canadian entrepreneurs ask for help more often. Running your own business is a multidisciplinary exercise: few entrepreneurs know all the roles they're expected to play, and fewer still (i.e., NOOBODY!!) is good at all of them. So how else are you going to get better except by asking for help?

Obviously, many entrepreneurs are good at recognizing what they don't know, and asking for the appropriate help. But many others seem shy about it: Why should anyone help them? If you ask me, they're pushing the stoic, lone-wolf stereotype too far. After all, if you ask someone for help, what's the worst thing they can do? Say no?

By some cosmic coincidence this is also the theme of my column today in the Financial Post. Inpsired by two panelists at the Vancouver SOHO conference, it's about the amazing good things that start happening when you ask for help. And the higher you go, the better.

Here's a sample:
Brian Scudamore [founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK) scours newspapers and magazines for stories of successful business people, adding them to his file of people to call when he faces challenges similar to theirs. That tactic landed him meetings with digital marketing expert Seth Godin, Subway founder Fred DeLuca, and Costco's Jim Sinegal. He has talked leadership with Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander and met with Bell Canada CEO George Cope to learn how Cope runs effective meetings.
The key to contacting VIPs is to target them precisely, know what answers you're looking for, and respect their time. The best way to approach them? "Sincerely," says Scudamore.
You can read the whole column here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

An Evening with Innovators (and one Dragon)

Here's an upcoming event that sounds like fun.
Innovators Alliance, a group of Ontario's fastest-growing companies, and the Ontario Ministry of Small Business and Entrepreneurship are hosting "An Evening with Innovators" at the Schulich Business School in Toronto on Dec. 4.
Things get underway at 4 pm with EDC economist Peter Hall leading a discussion on staying competitive in the global economy (sounds timely me). Then there's networking with other growth-oriented CEOs, then dinner. Then comes an address by technology entrepreneur Robert Herjavec, who has launched two fast-growth companies and is now turning heads as the most interesting (and occasionally compassionate) multimillionaire on CBC TV's Dragon's Den.
They'll probably also try to get you to join Innovators Alliance. And why not? They have lots of services, including peer groups, targeted at CEOs who want to grow their business smarter. It could be the best investment you ever make. (And it's not as expensive as you think.)
For more information on An Evening with Innovators, call Leytha Miles at 905-332-0340, ext. 24. (That's in Burlington, so it's long-distance from most of the GTA.)
I have to speak in Vancouver that day, but I will be with you in spirit.

In the News: RiM and Recession

A couple of items in the press caught my eye today.

In the Globe, Eric Reguly files a fascinating piece on how RiM retooled to make the BlackBerry a hit in status-conscious Italy. RiM worked with local cell provider Telecom Italia Mobile to change the pricing (apparently, Italians prefer pay-as-you-go), and founder Mike Lazaridis himself called on Milan designers Dolce & Gabbana to ask them to design BlackBerry carrying cases.

It's a great example of the fundamental (and oft-forgotten) need to know your market and customize your pitch. And of the rewards that can accrue for doing so. Read the story here.

The Financial Post today runs a little Reuters item titled "No U.S. Recession: Bernanke", in which U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke announced yesterday that the U.S. economy "does not appear headed for recession." But he warned growth could prove weaker than expected.

The economy is fueled by confidence. My experience is that when the authorities start trying to reassure us that there is no recession, it doesn't really matter: things are slowing down regardless, and businesses have to be ready.

Trim your sails, hoard your cash. Avoid investments that rely on customers continuing to spend stupidly. Our economy has been defying gravity long enough.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It's Not About You

I'm a big proponent of content marketing – which means using free information products (articles, speeches, books, comic strips, newsletters, podcasts, blogs, whatever) to build your brand and promote your professionalism and expertise.

People like to buy from people they know. People buy from people they trust. Content marketing helps you overcome these two fundamental obstacles – to get known and trusted. You show you know – and you show you care.

Anyone can do it. The photo at right, taken last month in Bellville, Ont., shows how easy it is.

Instead of promoting the company’s wares, or the latest half-price sale on cat-flavored doggy treats, Loyalist Veterinary Hospital used its roadside sign to offer passersby useful and timely information. Reminding prospects not to feed Rolos to Rover is a thoughtful thing to do – and shows that these vets are interested in something other than making a quick buck.

Because content marketing is about producing information that’s important to your customers – it’s not about you.

Success without Distress

My Financial Post column today focuses on an interview with Toronto technology entrepreneur Mchael Hyatt of BlueCat Networks. I met him at the dinner for the Deloitte Fast 50 a few weeks ago, where he challenged me to write a story about how he and his brother built two multi-million dollar companies without relying on venture capital.

As he complained in the interview, many company founders today are just "buying an employer... They give everything away because they don't have any money themselves. They give the reins of control to an investor that doesn't love the company, may not even understand the market space -- and will fire the founders as soon as the numbers aren't realized."

Hyatt's formula for success without bosses:

* Focus on the U.S. market from the start.
* Start cheap.
* Begin selling fast.
* Put your money into marketing: "Focus on doing fewer sales calls and more sales."

For the complete story, click here.

Best-Ever Entrepreneurship Quotes, week 57

Here's another installmen in our weekly series of inspiring quotations specially selected to get you and your business off to a fabulous week.

In honour of Week 57, here's a quotation from the founder of Heinz. Keep in mind that this quote dates back about 120 years, back when enlightened employers were few and far between:

"Heart power is better than horse power."
Henry John Heinz (1844-1919)

By all accounts, Mr Heinz was a remarkable man. Among other things, he invented the ambitious slogan, "57 Varieties." It taught consumers to think of Pittsburgh-based Heinz as a producer of a family of food products, not just pickles or ketchup. It was one of the first deliberate branding successes. Signs bearing that number aone could move Heinz product - even though at the time the slogan was adopted (1896), Heinz already offered more than 60 different products. (The number is now well over a thousand.)

Proof that marketing is not about literal truth, but creating impressions in customers' heads.

As for "heart power"? In a heartless Dickensian age of labour exploitation, Heinz chose to attract and motivate quality workers by treating them well. Known as the Prince of Paternalism, Heinz offered employees better conditions at work than most of them knew at home. (Women on the assembly line even received weekly manicures.)

In an age of substandard manufacturing practices, Heinz was dedicated to producing the best. "Quality is to a product what character is to a man," he said, and walked the walk by leading the fight for the controversial 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act - landmark legislation that first prescribed truth in food labelling.

A more famous version of Heinz's credo: "To do a common thing uncommonly well, brings success."

Friday, November 02, 2007

40,000th Visitor!

Today's a special day at Canadian Entrepreneur. This blog just recorded its 40,000th visitor.

Sure, it's taken 2 2/3 years to get here, but half of these vistors have arrived since we celebrated our 20,000th visitor at the end of February. We're now averaging well over 100 visitors a day, with October traffic up 20% over September, so things have really taken off.

40,000 doesn't mean much compared to the circulation, say, of my columns in the Monday Financial Post. But the connection on a blog is much deeper and more direct. Basic web conventions like embedded links allow you to learn more about the subject of most posts if you wish - while the "Comment" button makes it's easy for you to provide feedback or ask further questions. For comparison, most of my magazine columns - which reach 100,000 people or more - attract no feedback, whereas this blog's 40,000 visitors have contributed scores of comments over the years.

That's called "dialogue," and it's why the Web will edge out print publishing in the end.

Our 40,000th visitor comes from British Columbia. Fittingly, he or she is an employee or associate of a longtime PROFIT 100 firm, one of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. (I won't identify the firm, because it's spooky enough that web analytics allow me to know this much.)

Thanks to everyone for visiting and contributing to Canadian Entrepeneur.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Report from Vancouver

The SOHO/Small Business conference in Vancouver yesterday was a huge hit, with folks lining up for the trade show all day long, and standing-room-only in the seminar halls. People seemed really happy with SOHO's combination of motivation and information, and they gave closing speaker Peter Legge a standing ovation after he challenged everyone in the room to live their "Olympic dream."

[Speaking of which, probably few Canadians outside BC are paying attention, but the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are going to be huge. Most of the formal business opportunities (e.g. licensing and contracts) have long since been locked up, but there are many other niches - accommodation, hospitality, communications, security, etc. - for hungry entrepreneurs to fill. The opportunities are many and varied - London Drugs was even selling Hallowe'en-themed 2010 Winter Olympics pins! For $9.99, no less. )

Thanks to a sponsorship from Visa Canada, my contribution to the SOHO conference was a presentation on "10 Ways to Fix Your Business Now." I even cited some local case studies from BC firms I have studied recently (such as City Express, Coastal Contacts and MediaWave Communications).

For posterity's sake, here are my 10 Fixes:

No. 1. De-commoditize your business. Distinguish yourself from the competition by finding new opportunities to add value to your traditional products and services.

No. 2: Get out and talk to your market. Become the Ed ("How'm I doing?") Koch of your industry.

No. 3: Adapt to the Web 2.0 world of burgeoning communications technologies.

No. 4: Make the Internet work for you.

No. 5: Jump into pay-per-click advertising. Now.

No. 6: Set up an advisory board for your business.

No. 7: Invite your banker to lunch. If the economy weakens, you need someone at your bank on your side.

No. 8: Add creativity to your HR skills. Innovate with talent-focused techniques such as group interviews and Try Before You Buy.

No. 9: Leverage your resources by making constant and strategic use of partnerships.

No. 10: Well, I cheat a little here. I ask members of the audience to break into groups of two to share fixes they have made (or are thinking of making) in their business. It's very powerful - the buzz in the room almost raised the roof.

When I finally reasserted control, I asked the audience to share the fix stories they had just heard from their partners. (I figure most people would rather brag on behalf of someone else than for themselves.) Congratulations to Leanne, who told us about her partner's decision to involve his entire management team in strategic planning. What a great fix that will be!

For her contribution, Leanne won a rare copy of my (still available on Amazon) book, Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies.