Friday, November 28, 2008

"Meaningless business quotes"

A number of readers have told me they enjoy the posts where I sum up the latest search terms that readers have been using to get to the Canadian Entrepreneur blog. So here we go again: here are a few search terms people have used in the past 24 hours.

I should emphasize that these are not the regular readers of this blog (you know who you are): these are people who conducted a Web search that led them to an article on this site. (After nearly four years of blogging, you can find almost anything in my archives)

This list may even inspire you to start a blog. Once you start blogging, each single article you post becomes a content archive that can draw people to your site forever. This is why blogging is so powerful: people come to the Net to find relevant content, and every bit of content you have never stops selling itself. Thanks, Google!

Herewith, today’s search terms (with dull ones and repeats omitted):

canadian women entrepreneurs entering industries speech
bowater employee loses leg
top entrepreneur movies
meaningless business quotes
questions to ask a successful entrepreneur and the answers for them
goal-setting skills for entrepreneurs
top new canadian company
westjet gallup organization
ten point of selling
great new companies Canada
top canadian entrepreneurs
dragons den meet the entrepreneurs
problem of focussing on mistake
mortgage lending ethics case
godbout towing
life and times of a canadian entrepreneur
canadian fortune hunters
working canadian entrepreneur
GM's invisible corporate jet
canada's fastest growing companies
top brands, Canada
who's who in canadian business kevin o'leary
project management for entrepreneurs
question before signing a contract IT
7 skills students need to succeed
ed Mirvish quotes

I should note that 4% of the 100 most recent search terms revolved around “questions to ask an entrepreneur.” Two years ago I noticed that that was a constantly recurring search term, so I wrote up a post to match it. That one article has generated at least one or two hits a day to this site ever since.

When you know what your customers want, you both win.

Getting the most from business presentations

U.S. blogger Shama Hyder, a marketing evangelist who does a lot of public speaking, wrote a great post recently on how to get the most out of any speech, talk or presentation when you're in the audience.

(We all know that, within an hour, most people forget everything the speaker said.)

I found three of her points five especially useful.

* Walk away with 1 DO IT point: Every time she leaves a talk or a panel, Hyder chooses one specific action to follow up on and implement. “If you don’t think you can walk away from a talk with at least 1 to-do item, then skip it!”

* Ask for examples: “If the speaker is speaking in theory, ask for solid examples” that will make his or her points more useful or relevant to your business. “Not all points require an example, but when in doubt, ask.”

* Avoid the “I know this” Syndrome: So many people think they already understand a speaker’s message, or that they've heard it before, as if that somehow reduces the importance (and applicability) of the speech. Usually you’ll get a lot more benefit by acting on the things you already know you should do than by looking around for new ideas or a silver bullet cure-all. Never tune out a speaker because you think you've heard it all before: you may be missing a key idea or nuance that will make it all new and doable.

As Hyder says, “If you don’t think you will get anything fresh from a talk, skip it. If you end up there, keep your mind open. An open attitude makes a big difference.”

You can read her full post here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

5 Steps to Messaging Success

How do you make your business writing more businesslike? How can you personally become more convincing and influential?

Try following Toronto-based communication consultant Mark Bowden's five-step Penta-Point system. As described in my Financial Post column this week, Bowden's system is designed to help you decide what matters to your audience and then structure your messaging for maximum effectiveness.

In barest outline, here's how Bowden suggests you plan your next pitch (whether it's a sales conversation, a motivational message to the troops or a plea to your board of directors):

Step 1. Where are we now?
Step 2. Why are we here?
Step 3. Where do we want to be?
Step 4. How do we get there?
Step 5. What exactly are we going to do?

Click here for the full story.
Learn more about Mark Bowden at his website.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On the Radio

How are Canadian entrepreneurs surviving the recession?

On Wednesday night, tune into CBC Radio’s flagship newscast, The World at Six, for an in-depth report. The story will include a couple of CBC TV’s Dragons, from Dragons’ Den, as well as an entrepreneur or two, and possibly me.

CBC Radio reporter Neil Herland came out to interview me today to get a few pointers on how business owners can beat the slump. If I said anything intelligent, it might even get on the air.

See you on the radio!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bring on the Concussion Grenades

Quel coincidence!
As I blogged yesterday, in this week's Post column I interviewed a cartoonist. I asked Norm Feuti, creator of the comic strip Retail, to offer business tips to Canada's beleaguered shopkeepers on the eve of the Xmas shopping season. (You can read that article here.)

Now, more evidence that cartoonists know what's goin' on. Here is today's Retail strip.

And now read the opening lines of this Reuters news article commenting on today's launch in New York City of the new BlackBerry Storm: it's RiM's first touch-screen device.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of people lined up at some Verizon Wireless stores on Friday to buy the BlackBerry Storm, the first touch-screen phone from Research In Motion that aims to compete with Apple's iPhone.

More than 200 people had waited at a Verizon store in mid-town Manhattan early in the morning, many of whom were turned away after it ran out of the new phones less than an hour after opening at 8 a.m. The angry customers caused a ruckus and police came to restore order.

(Read the complete story here, for as long as it lasts.)

I guess "uprising" wasn't so outrageous a concept after all.

Still, it's nice to see a Canadian product creating such a fuss, isn't it?

Actually, given the current economic climate, it's good to see any product doing well. Consumers still have a pulse!

When the Truth Hurts

A recent episode of CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den addressed a pain point of mine regarding entrepreneurship: the tendency of people’s friends and families to not speak the truth about their business ideas.

I am as big an optimist as anyone. I know business miracles can happen, and outrageous successes can come from unlikely products and organizations. But they don't happen often. So when someone describes a business idea they want to pursue that I don't think makes sense, I usually tell them what I really think. Because I believe that people need fair and objective feedback, not uncritical cheerleading.

But not everyone agrees. Many friends and family members seem to believe in nonjudgmental encouragement. And that’s probably okay for peewee hockey players, aspiring ballerinas, and other people who are clearly willing to invest their time and commitment to master a discipline.

Businesses, however, are different. Achieving a business dream can cost years and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. If you join the swim team and don't make the nationals, you can still say it’s been a tremendous experience: you've learned a lot, met great people, and you're in great physical shape. In business, if you run up the bills mucking around with unpractical prototypes and ideas, you risk piling up debts that you’ll never pay off. And you probably won't have learned much except what didn't work.

The Dragons were generally supportive of a women who had created a harmless, if dull, board game – until they found out that she had spent tens of thousands developing the idea and ordering inventory. Maybe she had never heard of product testing. Or maybe nobody had wanted to hurt her feelings. But somebody in her life should have had the guts to tell her this was a dumb idea, not worth wasting another cent on. (If I recall correctly, the money came from mortgaging a home, so the loss could turn out to be devastating.)

How do you tell a friend or loved one their idea stinks? Very carefully. Consider cloaking your comment in the language of business: “Where is your business plan? Have you done market testing? Did you have any industry experts look at this? Who are your customers? Have you talked to any of them about whether they would be willing to buy your product/service once it’s ready? How much would they pay for it?”

Startup experts I've consulted on this topic admit that 50% to 75% of entrepreneurs skip the market-testing stage. They feel it’s too expensive, or will take too long. Or maybe they just don't want to hear the feedback.

Maybe pilots should skip their pre-flight checklists for the same reasons. Perhaps I should try to drve from Toronto to Winnipeg without stopping to buy gas, ’cause that would just slow me down and cost me money. Proper preparation (including market research) is always essential, because the cost is so high if you get it wrong.

Dragon Kevin O’Leary is great at telling people, “I forbid you to work any more on this business.” We may change the words a little, but that's a skill we should all develop.

What do you think? Leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail (

12 reasons to get smarter

WebPreneur blogger Sarah Scrafford has witten an intriguing post on the “Top 20 iPhone Apps for Entrepreneurs.” I’m not posting it here just for Macheads who are now on their second iPhone. I’m hoping it will inspire people who aren't using smartphones (like me; I barely use my cellphone to call people) to think about all the new applications out there for managing information and messages more easily and effectively.

Your competitors are using some of these tools. Shouldn't you?

Here are Sarah’s Top 12 apps. (You can click through to her blog for the rest.)

OmniFocus: makes it easy to track your tasks and get things done.
Twitteriffic: Stay on top of your Twitter connections from anywhere.
30Boxes: Establish a calendar for your events and tasks, and share it with others.
Mocha VNC Lite: Control your Windows, Mac or Linux computer remotely.
NetNewsWire: News feed for staying informed while you're moving around.
Mobile Translator: Make sense of a number of popular languages.
Urban Spoon: Find a restaurant you like, or choose one at random.
QuickVoice: Make notes or record by recording voice transmissions.
Harvest Time & Expense Tracker: Know where all your time and money go.
iBillTo: Keep track of client billing information on the go.
Traffic1: Real-time traffic reports for major U.S. cities.
Mileage Counter: Track mileage on your vehicle, and calculate your vehicle’s fuel consumption. Gas won't stay at 76 cents a litre forever.

Read the whole report here.
(Includes additional details on each app.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Caring Enough to Care

For my Financial Post column this week, I called up Massachusetts-based cartoonist Norm Feuti, the creator of the popular new comic strip Retail. Every day he pokes fun at the foibles of working in retail - especially unmotivated staff and neglectful bosses.

Norm is a longtime worker (both employee and boss) in the retail wars, so I asked him what quick fixes Canadian retailers could make to ensure their stores are in top shape for the Christmas shopping season.

Here's an excerpt:

Stop pretending the customer is always right: There's no faster way to demotivate employees than by overruling the people who have defended your store's policies (especially on returns and refunds).

"I've had many instances where customers expected me to break the rules for them," Mr. Feuti says. When he says no, "they call somebody at the corporate office and pound their fists, and the next day the boss says, 'just give the guy what he wants.' Once you say it's okay for customers to do whatever they want, you're telling your employees they don't really matter."

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Entrepreneurship Week

Did I mention that it's Entrepreneurship Week in Canada?
And Global Entrepreneurship Week all over the world?

Um, probably not. I've been a bit busy lately to understand what it all means. Still, entrepreneurship conferences and programs are being held around the world this week to empower people, encourage them to become self-reliant, and make them more successful.
How cool is that?

Especially given what's going on at the other end of the economy (in big business).

I've always said that entrepreneurship is the only excuse for capitalism. And I have a feeling that the new generation of young people will be the one to prove it - globally!

Click here for more information about Entrepreneurship Week in Canada.

And remember: here at Canadian Entrepreneur, every week is Entrepreneurship Week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where's the Crunch?

My column this week in the Financial Post investigates the credit crunch: How has the financial meltdown affected small business access to capital in Canada?

My mini-survey found that even the experts are confused about how serious the problem is. But at the same time, it’s clear that there are specific actions that entrepreneurs should be taking to protect their access to credit, and position themselves to prosper when things turn up again.

Here’s an excerpt:

"The CFIB's Ted Mallett says the banks are trying hard not to repeat the mistakes of the 1990 recession, when they pulled credit from strong and weak companies alike. "Way too much homogenization of debt went on," he says. "The banks cut back everyone. And it made the recession worse, because many successful businesses were cut off from their lifeline."

This time around, the banks say they understand the small business sector much better, and are being more sensitive in working out problem accounts.

"It's too early to tell if the banks are doing a good job," Mr. Mallett says. But he warns the banks they are being watched. "Any signs that they're returning to their 1990 behaviour will meet with pretty strong resistance from us."

Read the whole story here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

75,000 Visitors!*

Break out the maple syrup: Today this blog received its 75,000th visitor!

According to the blog stats, our 75,000th visitor hails from Manila, in the Philippines. He or she arrived at the site early this morning (or about 5 pm, Manila time) via a Google search for "give the four words to identify entrepreneur." That brought him or her to a 2007 post we did about a speech by Toronto menswear mogul Larry Rosen, which was entitled, "Four words I never thought you'd read in this blog: Top 10 Fashion Tips."

(Google works in mysterious ways.)

That might not have been what the visitor was looking for, but nonethless he or she liked the site well enough to hang around for 9 1/2 minutes. Which is a long time on the Internet.

Thanks to all who read and enjoy this blog. Next landmark: 100,000!

(*Let's keep 75,000 in perspective. It's the population of Chilliwack, BC.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Towing the Line

My Financial Post column this week looks at Godbout Towing, a remarkable towing/parts/accident recovery firm based in Kenora, Ont.

Nathan and Anna Godbout have revitalized a family business and turned it into a first-class service provider with 25 employees and more than 30 vehicles. I heard Anna speak at a conference in Dryden last month and decided I had to know more about her business.

The towing industry gets a lot of criticism in this country, and there are a lot of fly-by-night operators, but it's great to see two young people (both under 30) doing it right.

Here's an excerpt from my article:

Flexibility is key. If an accident closes the Trans-Canada Highway, there is no other route. With its new rotator, Godbout can pull an 18-wheeler out of the ditch from the side of the road, rather than block the whole road. That lets police reopen highways faster, making Godbout a preferred supplier.

Service is another critical factor. You have to be fast on the scene (Godbout is on call 24-7), and prepared for anything. "You're always dealing with the worst case scenario," Anna says. "The client is distraught, and the weather is never in your favour."

Find out how the best do their stuff. You can read the full story here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Business Lessons from the Squad Car

Mandie Crawford, founder of Calgary-based Roaring Women, has a pretty unusual background for running an association of women entrepreneurs – she’s a former cop.

In a recent speech, she talked about the lessons she learned as a police officer - and how they apply to business.

* Never make a decision when the pressure is on:
Crawford learned long ago that when the pressure is on, she would often experience a sort of “emotional hijack.” When we feel stressed or afraid, she says, “our brains do not process information correctly.” She learned to fall back on her training when judgment deserted her.

Since then, she says, she has seen many business owners make rash decisions under pressure. When you feel stressed, she says, “take longer to make your decisions. Make them when you are feeling happy and excited about life.”

* When the going gets tough - the tough support each other!
When times are tough, police officers back each other up. “There was no room for self-preservation thinking - we were all in it together.”

When times get tough in business, she says, “we need to take time to support one another. This is not a time for gathering everything you have a little closer. This is a time when paying it forward and supporting others really pays off.”

* Never quit.
“This was key to everything we did in policing,” says Crawford. “We all wanted to go home safely at the end of the day. Giving up or quitting was never an option. Those who gave up did not last long in the community of brothers and sisters.”

When things aren’t working in your business, she says, use that opportunity to make changes that will help your business work better. If you don’t know how to improve things, ask for help. Never quit: “Your problems are really not that unique.”

For more information on Mandie, click here.
For more on Roaring Women, go this way.

And be careful out there.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Secrets of Better Selling

Here's a quick lesson in effective selling.

Today’s case study comes from Linked-In Answers, where members of the business-networking site ask each other questions and hope for helpful responses.

A video/media entrepreneur named John recently posted his email sales letter to the site, asking Linked In members if they'd be likely to respond to his pitch. The result was a unique lesson in how to address prospects and hold customers’ attention – courtesy of the members of LinkedIn.

(This is the occasional genius of Web 2.0 – tapping user-generated content for the wisdom that you can't normally access in everyday life.)

So here’s John’s pitch, intended for prospects whom he has already (briefly) met:

"Would like the opportunity to schedule a 15-20 minute online Webex presentation of our services. {My company} provides you with an arsenal of powerful tools that will help reduce costs, improve productivity and ultimately increase your profits.
Pls visit our site….look forward to hearing from you"

What do you think? Would you respond to that email, or just delete it?

Most commentators offered lots of suggestions for improvement. Here are some samples.

“I think it would be far more compelling if you focused on specific benefits as opposed to your more general platitude statement of value… Be specific. Tell the prospect what they can expect by involvement.”

“The answer is maybe. The fact that you claim that you can deliver the holy trinity (reduce cost, improve productivity, and increase profits) does not get my attention – because everyone says that.

“Don't start with a question, because I don't have 15-20 minutes. No one does. Start with a benefit to the reader. Do you save time? Can this make my personal life better? Will I see my kids more often? Will the boss love me and give me a raise?”

“Introduce yourself and what you do in the first line. State the specific benefit to the prospect in the second line. Then ask for time.”

“This sounds like a sales email, and no one has time for sales people. As my boss always says: ‘SHOW ME, don't TELL me.’ SHOW me how you are going to save me time/money in your email in 3 sentences.”

There’s lots more. Check out the original post and all the answers here.

It’s like having your own private sales coach. Free!