Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Enough with the Recession!

Out with the old, in with the new.
This week's Financial Post column offers "Ten tips to survive the recession."
Here's an excerpt:

Reward your most effective, loyal employees: Some people don't like secret bonuses, but there's no law that says you have to treat good and bad employees equally. If you've had to impose a general wage freeze, for example, you might offer your best (and most at-risk) employees a one-time cash bonus, or even a certificate for dinner at a nice restaurant. Little things mean a lot, especially when they're unexpected.

You can read the rest of the story here: http://www.financialpost.com/small_business/story.html?id=1121371

My column in PROFIT Magazine this month goes a step further. It's called "And now, the Recovery," and includes a number of useful tips designed to help you get your business in shape for growth and success post-recession.
Click here to read this story.

Finally, here's more cheery economic tidings, courtesy of the Financial Post's interview this past weekend with RBC chair Gord Nixon:

FP: How is Canada positioned for 2009?

Gord Nixon: We go into this recession fiscally in a very different position than we went into previous recessions over the last 40 or 50 years. Unemployment is at historically low levels, interest rates are much lower, you've got a strong banking system. There are a whole bunch of factors that I do think put Canada in a much stronger relative position to weather this storm than we have been historically.

On that note, best wishes for a very happy and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

As we head into the holidays and the New year, don't let the bad economy get you down. A 1% drop in economic growth is not the end of the world: there is growth and opportunity throughout the economy.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as over-reacting to recession: cutting back too much, silencing your marketing, letting go your best people, or simply filling them with pessimism. Actions such as these only inhibit your company's ability to bounce back.

For a glimpse at a brighter future, read my column in this month's PROFIT Magazine: And Now, The Recovery. (You can even vote on the topic of next month's column.)

In the meantime, please avoid the mistake made by this Canadian entrepreneur:

Thank you for visiting Canadian Entrepreneur this year. Please accept my best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

Timely Tips for Business Leaders

This week’s National Post column presents a year-end grab-bag of business tips, on everything from making the most of holiday downtime to five low-cost ways to generate new business. (I plundered scores of unread email newsletters in my inbox to find relevant, easy-to-implement tactics and tips. )

Adjust product portfolios
Consumers in a weakening economy will trade down to products that emphasize value. Reappraise demand for each item in your product line. Focus on multi-purpose goods rather than specialized products. In grocery categories, quality house brands will eclipse national brands. Industrial customers prefer to see products and services unbundled and priced separately.
Source: Business Bulletin, from Toronto accountants Bennett Gold

Read the full story here.

It's easy, lazy reading for the ho-ho-holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alternatives to layoffs

Tidings of comfort and joy: here’s an intriguing seasonal message. In these tough economic times, a U.S.-based business advisory group is suggesting that business owners look at alternatives to layoffs in order to cut their labour costs.

The Alternative Board, an organization that facilitates monthly peer advisory boards for entrepreneurs, says its member companies have found creative alternatives to letting employees go.

· Reduce the work week from five days to four.

· Increase employees' time off. Instead of two to three weeks vacation, offer people five weeks, with two of those weeks unpaid. (Alternative Board president Jason Zickerman says many younger workers like this tactic: they never expected to get so much time off again.)

· Offer staff sabbaticals, with reductions in pay. Their time off could involve seeking out training or other experiences that will eventually benefit the company.

· Loan out employees to other businesses that may need extra hands temporarily for project work or as seasonal help.

"If these ideas are presented and communicated properly, you are absolutely able to develop increased loyalty," says Zickerman. "[Employees] will see that you are fighting for them and to stay in business so when things turn around, they will still have a job."

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Catching Up

It’s low-content week here at Canadian Entrepreneur, as I try to get some work done after spending last week with the family in Cancun.

Cancun was the freebie trip I won last January by scoring the most points on Test the Nation, the CBC’s occasional trivia quiz TV show. It was our first trip to Mexico, and while the weather wasn't the best (high of just 78F most days, and a lot of wind) the hotel and food were great, the Maya ruins magnificent, and the salsa and sailing exhilarating.

Enjoy the pics.

A few business links for those looking for rational, informative, non-festive reading material:

This week’s Financial Post column is about the myths of innovation, and how to encourage new ideas and products in your organization. Click here for more.

Charles Ruecker thinks his "virtual manufacturing" business model will be the salvation for North American industry. Click here to read about RH Colletts’ bold growth plans, from the November issue of PROFIT.

Also in PROFIT, Brian Scudamore, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, reveals why the recession is good for some firms – and how you can make the most of the slowdown. Click here for more.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Clarifying Your Positioning Statement

A friend of mine sent me some notes today outlining a new positioning statement he's seeking for his company. I thought he did a pretty good job, but I wanted him to take it further. Here are the comments I sent back to him, in case they can help you express your own competitive message.

1. With positioning statements, it often helps to do a comparison early on. eg, Pepsi is like Coke, except it tastes better. or, Amazon.com is the Wal-Mart of online retailing.

So what comparison can we use to better communicate how your company helps its clients? e.g., maybe YourFirm does for independent contractors what Alfred the Butler does for Batman: it looks after all their administration and systems needs so they have more time to do what they do best. And it pays for itself in 12 months!

2. Use numbers where possible. How much money does your product or service save me (or, as above, how long does is the payback?)? How long does your process take to learn (for my staff or for our customers)?

3. Sometimes clients hit the nail on the head for you when they give you feedback. The wording they use can be very powerful, since their perspective (as users) is so different from yours - but may match the words used by your prospects. Do you have any comments, testimonials or fan letters that you could include in this exercise as a way of helping you find the most effective ways to express customers' needs and benefits?

4. I like to boil down the positioning statement to its essentials. Here it is:

We do __________ for _____________ so that they can __________.

In your case, that might become: "We provide easy-to-use web tools that enable independent contractors and other sole proprietors to eliminate time-wasting administration and focus more on servicing their customers and achieving their goals."

Please let me know if you find any of this helpful.

Political Crisis: It's so simple

I believe former Governor-General Ed Schreyer has the best take on Canada's current political crisis.

In an interview yesterday he said that granting a request from Stephen Harper for the prorogation of Parliament would constitute an evasion of the process of Parliament and should not be done.

“I'll put it this way and I will make this a plain-spoken sentence," said Schreyer. "Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament. I think one can stop there. It's about as basic as that.”

Democracy isn't pretty. But it's about pressuring elites in power, not protecting them.

The folks who accuse the coalition of being undemocratic should take another look at any Canadian majority government (Liberal, Tory, doesn't matter). The unfettered power of a prime minister with a majority is the very definition of undemocratic.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Death of a Dealership

As the continent obsesses over automotive bailouts, interesting things are happening at the nation’s auto dealerships. After years of abuse from customers and the carmakers whose names they bear, Canada’s domestic auto dealers are struggling – and some are giving up.

The Toronto Star’s Tony Van Alphen recently wrote a detailed, touching story on the bankruptcy of Scarborough-based Davidson Chrysler, a 60-year-old, second-generation family business that did all the right things – but went bust nonetheless this October.

Over the past few years, owner Roger Davidson has faced a lot more problems than just slumping car and truck sales: Chrysler factory representatives pressing for more deliveries than dealers needed (one winter, Davidson stored 60 cars in a farmer’s field, where they were damaged by horses); incentives-based promotions that proved hard to switch off; shifty marketing tactics by rival Chrysler dealers; the automaker's exit from the leasing business, which left willing customers out in the cold; the tightening credit crunch; and finally, Chrysler’s exercise of an option forbidding Davidson to pass the business on to anyone but an existing franchisee – shutting out Davidson’s son.

Davidson calls bankruptcy “the toughest decision I've ever made in my life…. It was just an absolute heartbreak.”

Read the full story here.

Click here to watch a short video interview with Roger Davidson on the Toronto Sun website, in which he reveals one unexpected consequence of declaring bankruptcy: being unable to sleep at night.

Ted Rogers saw things no one else did

Writing in the Financial Post this morning, sportswriter Bruce Arthur had the definitive one-sentence take on the life and career of the late media mogul:

“Ted Rogers saw things that nobody around him saw and got to them first.”

Not a bad legacy. And a savvy summation of what entrepreneurship is all about.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ted Rogers' Glorious Adventure

One of Canada’s most visionary and formidable entrepreneurs died last night in Toronto.

Ted Rogers, founder and chief executive of Rogers Communications Inc., was 75. The company says he was surrounded by family and friends when he died at his home in Toronto of congestive heart failure.

Long before Rogers bought the company I worked for (Maclean Hunter), I had identified Ted as one of Canada’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Not just in terms of building an empire, which he assuredly did, but in having a coherent vision and a plan – and the guts to stick to it over the years. He took crazy risks, freely admitted his own mistakes, worked every day, and enjoyed every minute.

I first met Ted Rogers when he was just an FM radio and cable-TV pioneer – and I was a summer student managing his radio stations’ booth at the Canadian National Exhibition. It was a weird booth with a mockup of a radio studio, the cabinet with his father’s prized collection of historic radio tubes, and a display selling “Candlelight and Wine” records from easy-listening station CHFI. Ted was very gracious to the students working his booth and we knew we had met someone special.

Ted and I shared a podium at the very first PROFIT 100 award event in Toronto, back in 1990. (We attached our awards program to an existing meeting of the Markham Board of Trade, where Ted had already been signed as guest speaker.) I found him much more engaging as a dinner companion than as the after-dinner speaker, where he mainly promoted his new cellphone services. But I believe that single-minded purposefulness was one of the foundations of his success.

My admiration for Mr. Rogers was dimmed by the fact that he mainly built his empire on monopolies, such as radio stations and cable empires. But when the smoke cleared, he was the last man standing, and you can't argue with that.

Rogers bought PROFIT Magazine (and the rest of Maclean Hunter, mainly for its cable assets) in the mid-1990s, and he became my boss. By this time he was a distant, closeted tycoon, working through intermediaries who possessed little of his grace, charm or vision. This was the period when Ted dedicated himself to turning his debt-riddled company into an investment-grade corporation – and he succeeded, without sacrificing his personal entrepreneurial instincts.

You may question the customer friendliness of the Rogers companies today, or Ted’s interests in the Blue Jays, SkyDome, and NFL football. But there’s no doubt he was a catalyst for change and a whirlwind of energy. Canada could use many more people like him.

The National Post has assembled a great package of stories on Ted’s life and death and unique accomplishments. Click here to enter Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood one more time.

Monday, December 01, 2008

These BC entrepreneurs will "ace the next test"

Here's your motivational moment for the week.

In a recent column for the Vancouver Sun, B.C. journalist Malcolm Perry reflected on a few of the inspiring entrepreneurs who have led British Columbia's entrepreneurial revolution, and suggested that even in tough times, the province is in safe hands.

Among the entrepreneurs whose legends he recaps: Brian Scudamore of 1-800-GOT-JUNK; Richard Jaffray, founder of the now $100-million Cactus Club; Pasquale Cusano, the Florentine farm boy who launched the Montecristo jewelry firm; Helen Zhao, a teetotalling bookkeeper who talked China's Zhujiang brewery into making her their Canadian rep; Judson Beaumont, founder of Straight Line Design Ltd.; and music legends Bruce Allen and Sam Feldman (producers of Bryan Adams, Michael Buble, Diana Krall, etc.).

Perry says the current recession won't mark the end of the line for these creative visionaries. "The inspired among them will view a recession as school children do recess -- a time to get outside, relish the fresh air, mingle with others, share some ideas, come back refreshed, and ace the next test."

Read the full article here.

Leading to the Future

Here's an example of leadership for you.
Brian Burke is a moderately successful NHL executive who just signed a deal to become president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's obviously a tough job, but expectations are high. How do you come into this kind of situation and establish your personal leadership brand?

Here's how Burke handled it in Sunday's Toronto Star when he was asked about the future of key Leafs' front-office staff such as Cliff Fletcher, Joe Nieuwendyk and Jeff Jackson:

"I believe in giving people an opportunity to prove themselves," said Burke. "Cliff has a job here as long as he wants one, as far as I'm concerned.... I have a lot of time and respect for Joe. The rest of the front office, the same thing. Everyone is going to get a chance here to show that they want to be part of things and do it my way and be part of the future here."

This is how you take over leadership of a team. Emphasize your respect for everyone who's there, promise to give everyone a chance to prove themselves, and point to a better future.

But leave no doubt that things are going to change. Your way.