Thursday, December 31, 2009

Banish these bad business habits

For my column this week, the editors of the Financial Post asked me to contribute to their “Out with the Aughts” series marking the end of the decade. I took this as a cue to talk about some of the bad habits that Canadian businesses have picked up since 2000.

Based on the comments I've received, a lot of people identify with these bad habits. So let’s all look forward to eliminating them in 2010.

If you build it, they will come: Simply setting up a website won't bring thousands of customers to your door.

Wilful blindness: The tendency to say, "We can get along perfectly well without..." (choose your innovation: Facebook, Twitter, colour printers, spreadsheets, profit-sharing, consultants, a sales rep in Red Deer).

Hire now, ask questions later: We are seeing a return to diligent resume (and reference)checking.

Low-dollar denial: Business owners understand that they have to reinvest in productivity or fall behind.

Take a number and wait: Businesses today have to run on customer time.

Competing on price: Clients today have more choices than ever, so you must create the best customer experience you can afford.

Exporting is for Experts: E-commerce makes exporting possible for just about everybody.

Treating customers as a mass: It takes only a moment, sometimes just a word, to make customers feel special.

Neglecting Trust: Say what you do, do what you say. Dance as if everyone's watching.

Negativity: We are privileged to live in a time of unremitting change. For resourceful, optimistic entrepreneurs, the next decade could be a perfect 10

For more details and the full story, click here.

I wish you a safe, healthy and prosperous new year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What did you learn in 2009?

What did you learn in 2009?

Kim Clausen of Ready2Go Marketing Solutions is offering these 15 take-aways from the year just past, to help you position for the business year about to begin.

Here's her list:

1. Make people feel special.
2. Be a person of high integrity.
3. Over-deliver.

4. Deliver quality or don't deliver at all.
5. Value yourself. Embrace who you are.
6. Always make time for you.

7. Make learning a priority.
8. Be prepared to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term gain.
9. Support your colleagues. Refer them, speak well of them, use their services.

10. Collaborate - Don't try to do it alone. It's harder and lonelier.
11. You have no competitors. Always adopt an abundance mentality.
12. Always be growing your list.

13. Don't wait for perfect - Perfection can be the enemy.
14. Action is the enemy of fear. Just do it.
15. Failure isn't fatal. The more risks you take, the more successes you will have.

Find more like this from Kim Clausen at her blog, at

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Please accept my best wishes for a safe, happy, warming and memorable holiday season.

May all your Christmas dreams (ie, key performing indicators) come true.

Best Business Tips of the Year

What’s the best way to control costs in your business? How should you always start a sales presentation? Can customer-focused “lists” help you sell more?

My column in this week’s Financial Post looks at seven of the best ideas I gleaned this year from the hundreds of email newsletters that arrived in my inbox. It’s an annual look back at expert tactics that most of us either don't know or have long since forgotten.


• Sell more by creating "lists" for customers. Toronto-based strategy consultant and speaker Donald Cooper wrote about the time he and his wife bought mountain bikes. The dealer was in such a hurry he failed to sell them the shoes, shorts, pullovers and panniers needed. They bought everything else from a rival retailer, who provided a handy list of the most popular accessories.
"Whatever business you're in, your customers are confused, overwhelmed and short of time," writes Cooper. "How could you pro-actively use simple lists to create confidence in your professionalism, help your customers save time, and have a complete and extraordinary experience ...and grow your bottom line?"

For the full story, click here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mission statement: It’s not about selling clothes

I understand why many companies struggle with creating their own set of vision, mission and value statements. It’s hard to instil personal values into a business context: What’s relevant? What’s appropriate?

How do we compress our complex corporate culture into a set of words on the page – without embarrassing ourselves, missing the point, boxing ourselves into a corner, or losing the whole spirit of the thing?

Yet getting it right is essential. Identifying a mission or vision is the essential first step to fully understanding it, nurturing it, communicating it to others and preserving (and extending) it.

And of course these days the best new employees judge a company as much by its values and culture as by old-fashioned concepts such as salary and location.

Here’s a great example of a Mission and Value statement for you to think about. It comes from legendary Vancouver-based retailer Please Mum.

It is packed with vibrant language, exciting concepts, and specific, daring intentions. It’s fun, inspiring, hopeful and empowering. It’s the sort of manifesto that would delight any potential employee and excite any potential customer.

Our Mission
Please Mum is a Canadian-based company rooted in a desire to make growing up fun for families.

Driven by customer feedback, we design and create a diverse selection of quality children's clothing that is fashionable, comfortable and easy care.

At the heart of our business is the experience we create for our customers, employees and their families. We strive to create a shopping experience for our customer that is easy and stress free and a work environment for our employees that is vibrant, challenging and provides a garden of opportunity.

Through living our values - Fun, Caring, Challenge, Creativity, Honesty, and Teamwork - we aspire to create an enjoyable experience for customers, employees and their families.

Values represent what is fundamentally important to our company - they guide our behaviour and decision-making. At Please Mum we aspire to 6 core values.

• We take our business seriously, but approach it in a light-hearted manner
• We find joy and excitement in our work

• We promote empathy and understanding to our employees, customers and community
• We strive to provide everyone with what they need to be successful

• We thrive by pushing boundaries and testing limits
• We seek to do great things and learn from our mistakes

• We value imagination and resourcefulness to help separate us from the competition
• We employ interesting and creative people who collaborate to get things done

• Trust is at the core of our foundation
• We are open and truthful with our co-workers and customers

• We foster a team environment by respecting the uniqueness each individual brings to the company
• We are excited to collaborate and share information to help make Please Mum as great as it can be

Rick again: What's your mission? What are your values?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

PROFIT's Top 10 Stories of the Year

PROFIT Magazine today sent out a newsletter promoting its Top 10 “Can’t Miss” stories of the year.

I was delighted to see they had chosen two of my stories in the Top 10 – a short, fun piece about business lessons from the new Star Trek film, and a first-person look at what went wrong that resulted in the death of one Canadian business earlier this year.

Beam to the Star Trek story here:
Attend the Post-Mortem here:

And here are the other 8 essential PROFIT stories of the year.

* Selling your baby : What to expect when you sell your company

* 5 simple ways to sell more : Tips from Canada's hotttest growth companies

* Become indispensable to your clients : How to get customers to admit they can't live without you

* Dragons' debate : A rousing roundtable of TV titans

* Cutthroat compassion : an aggressive approach to social responsibility.

* Sleep Country's Christine Magee shares her best business tips

* Given to distraction: Entrepreneurial Attention Deficit Disorder
* The four components of high-performance teams

Social Media Tipping Point

When three senior business people last week asked to pick my brains on social media, I realized marketing has reached a tipping point. People are moving away from mass media and starting to really come to grips with Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other marketing channels made possible by social media.

So in my Financial Post column this week, I tried to make sense of this burgeoning opportunity – with an 800-word guide to social media.

“The humble electronic newsletter may still be your best tool for informing and motivating clients. Easier, cheaper and quicker to produce than the paper-based version, e-newsletters build relationships with clients by providing company and product news, industry updates, and advice on how to get more from your products.

"They also leave a trail of statistics that indicate how many people opened your message, what they read and how many visited your website and did what you want (e. g., registered or made a purchase).”

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Power is never given"

Artist/writer Hugh MacLeod, who blogs at, has a list of business rules he says has "worked for me" over the years. The key ones are in the following chart.

There is much wisdom here, I believe. Plus bull, bluster and wishful thinking. What do you think?

Monday, December 14, 2009

"It was impossible to say 'no' to him"

David Pecaut, a tireless entrepreneur and activist for the City of Toronto, has died today of cancer. He was 54.

The founder of the Toronto City Summit Alliance and the arts festival Luminato, Pecaut was hailed in a Toronto Star online story today as "the greatest mayor we never had."

I was particularly intrigued by a comment in that story from Toronto mayor David Miller. He praised an ability of Pecaut's that we can all learn from - whether entrepreneurs or activists.

"He always finds ways to make things happen," said Miller. "It was impossible to say 'no' to him because he worked miracles to find common ground where the only answer was 'yes.'"

Finding common ground: surely the most important task facing any business executive, salesperson, entrepreneur or activist.

Thank you, David Pecaut, for showing us what can be.

PS: If you are interested in more, the Star last week published Pecaut's "love letter" to the city: his vision of what it could yet be. Here's an excerpt:

"We can be a city where collective leadership is the norm. A city where civic entrepreneurs are everywhere and the process of bringing all the parts of civil society together to solve a problem is really how the city defines its uniqueness - a city where this quality is the essence of what makes Toronto so special."

You can read Pecaut's last message here.

Globalive's Tony Lacavera: Teaming up with Goliath

It's great to see Industry Minister Tony Clement supporting Canadian entrepreneurship by ruling in favour of Toronto-based Globalive and its new WindMobile cellphone service.

Globalive is an innovative provider of a wide range of telecom services, from hotel-based long-distance to Yak phone and Internet services. Yet when founder Tony Lacavera decided two years ago to enter the bidding for wireless spectrum to help bring more competition to Canadian mobile industry, he couldn't raise any money in Canada or the U.S.

Lacavera called every contact he had in the financial business, as well as cold-calling wireless companies around the world in search of partners. He made all the calls himself, fuelled by equal parts aggression and humility. He knew Globalive couldn't pull off this coup on its own. “I don’t believe in ‘David and Goliath’ scenarios,” Lacavera told me last year. “If you hit big competitors in the eye, you’re going to lose.”

He finally found a Goliath partner in Orascom, the progressive Egyptian wireless company run by chairman and CEO Naguib Sawaris. In funding Globalive’s ramp-up, Sawaris agreed to a complex series of transactions and restrictions to satisfy Canada’s byzantine domestic ownership regulations. So everyone took a huge chance when Globalive bought $400 million of wireless spectrum last year.

And it’s good to see the federal government (which had approved the ownership structure prior to the CRTC’s questioning it) standing behind a gutsy Canadian innovator.

Wind has already hit the good running, with ads in major newspapers and today’s announcement that it will sell phone plans through kiosks in Blockbuster Video stores (in Toronto and Calgary, to start).

I interviewed Lacavera extensively late last year for a profile in PROFIT Magazine. Check out the story here for a look inside the mind of a great Canadian entrepreneur, and a peek at the future of telecom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tapping your fanbase

Does your business have loyal alumni, fans or other resources you could be making better use of?

My column in this week’s Financial Post looks at one entrepreneur who found a valuable resource of ideas and support under his very nose – once a year.

That entrepreneur is Vic Fedeli, mayor of North Bay, Ont., and my article explores how he meets every Boxing Day with young people who moved away from town – but still come home for Christmas. He asks them to brainstorm ways that North Bay, a city of 54,000, can develop a stronger economy, and what it would take to bring them back.

Result: he is leveraging a resource North Bay never knew it had – and getting lots of great ideas for strengthening the economy.

It's a good news story that reminds us of the human assets we may all be neglecting around us.

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Top Business Opportunities for 2010

Susan Ward of’s Small Business Canada has drawn up a list of the best Business Opportunities for 2010. If you're looking for a business to start or a new angle for your business, these are some of the most promising trends and opportunities she sees.

1) Green Construction: Green materials, green techniques, and green certifications are going to be the keys to success in construction this year.

2) Green Technologies: Both loans and grants are available from governments to fund projects that attempt to solve environmental challenges.

3) Dollar/Discount Stores: Consumers will continue to be frugal and look for bargains.

4) Senior Care: Opportunities range from opening your own senior-care home through providing in-home care or home services such as preparing meals, housekeeping or running errands.

5) Renovations for seniors: Seniors needing renovations to make their lives easier and stay in their own homes longer is a niche waiting to be exploited.

6) Heating and Cooling Products and Services: High energy prices combined with government tax breaks make this traditional industry a rich niche.

7) Local Food Suppliers: Knowing where your food comes from and how it was grown or raised is all the rage.

8) Nutrition Consulting: Consumers are looking for food information tailored to their lifestyle and health concerns. It will be a banner year for nutritionists and naturopaths.

9) Social Media Marketing/Management: If you can actually deliver actual effective social media marketing campaigns (blogs, Twitter, online video, etc.), the clients will follow.

10) Business Security: Businesses continue to beef up security investments, ranging from security guards to biometric identity systems.

“Taking into account the economy, consumer and business trends,” writes Ward, “these are businesses that should be profitable not just for 2010, but for years to come.”

To read her entire article, click here.

Rick adds: I like all these trends. But if you are looking for superior opportunities, why not look at where two trends converge (e.g., just as Ward did in identifying renovations for seniors)?

The intersection points of two growing trends can create opportunity squared. So why not think about specializing in social media for renovation contractors, cheap green products (to sell through dollar stores), or security systems focusing on agribusinesses? Ride the waves!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Marketing to small business

My Financial Post column this week offers 10 tips for marketing more effectively to small and medium-sized business.

The insights come from Jeff Berry of the Executive Council on Small Business, who shared his 10 points for making your marketing more "consumable” at a conference last week in Toronto.

The key, as in any market, is to better understand your target audience. When you know, for instance, that business owners are older than most people think, that they're more risk-avoiders than risk-takers, and that 60% are resolutely locally-oriented, then you can refine your marketing offers to match the actual mindset of your prospects.


"Tactic 2: Reduce perceived risk by offering samples and free trials, refund periods or money-back guarantees. The more you promote such offers in your ads or website, the more you overcome buyers' fears of making a wrong decision."

Click here to read the full story.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

One Free Ticket to marketing seminar

Want to learn how to market your business better? For free?

The American Marketing Association - Toronto chapter is holding a seminar on "How to Market Your Small or Mid-Sized Business (So it Doesn’t Look Like One!)". It's at the Toronto Board of Trade on Tues., Dec. 8, from 8 am to noon. (Or come at 7.30 for breakfast).

The organizers offered me a guest ticket ($79 value), so I decided to hand it out to one of my blog or Twitter readers.

If you would like to enter a random draw for a free pass to the seminar, email me at by noon (Eastern Time) Friday, Dec. 4. You don't even have to write anything in the email - just put in a title like AMA Ticket. (Try not to use the word Free. Spam filters are funny that way).

I will pick a name at random shortly after noon, and let you know if you have won. If you haven't heard by 1 pm (EST), please assume you didn't win.

The seminar includes sessions on marketing plans, prospecting, creating buzz and building relationships. Plus there's a panel of successful entrepreneurs, including Razor Suleman of I Love Rewards, an amazing marketer whom I wrote about recently in PROFIT Magazine.

For more information on the seminar, or to actually buy a ticket, click here.

Why Put the Customer First?

I’m a customer-first person. I believe that when marketers put their own needs ahead of those of their customers, they lose in a big way. They may make the one-off sale, but they sacrifice the opportunity to turn a single transaction into a relationship.

Are you a customer-first person?

One customer-first marketer is Toronto real-estate agent Farrell Macdonald, who gives an example in his most recent newsletter. In September 2008, he helped a couple buy a condo. A few months ago, they called Macdonald again to explore “trading up” to a town home.

Macdonald writes: “I quickly did up a calculation showing them what they could expect to net from their current place and what they would have to pay for a larger property - including the land transfer tax and other closing costs. It was apparent that their plans to trade up were a little premature. Although disappointed, they thanked me for setting them straight.”

In other words, Macdonald helped his clients realize their best move was not to move just now. By spending time helping them understand the market, Macdonald forfeited a deal that could have earned him a healthy fee.

That’s customer-first.

In a perfect world, this deal would only be deferred, not lost. Theoretically, after proving his objectivity and professionalism, Macdonald should get the business next time, and possibly every time this couple moves. That’s the power of building trust through customer-first service.

The real world doesn't always work that way. People lose touch, people forget, someone else might come along and lure those customers away. But in the long run, this is the only way to go.

Are you prepared to lose a deal in order to serve the customer?