Friday, January 29, 2010

2009 Entrepreneurs of the Year

I've been negligent in not congratulating Packers Plus Energy Services for being named Canada’s Entrepreneur of the Year last November by Ernst & Young.

Founded in 2000 by Dan Themig, Ken Paltzat and Peter Krabben, Packers Plus is a technology firm that helps oil and gas companies dramatically increase the amount of recoverable oil and natural gas from existing reserves, even those that were thought to be uneconomic. It’s a great reminder of the importance that non-IT technology plays in Canadian industries not normally considered “high-tech.”

“By challenging traditional thinking, Packers Plus has developed and proven brilliant new technology that is profoundly changing Canada’s energy sector,” said Colleen McMorrow, national director of E&Y’s EOY program. .

Themig, Paltzat and Krabben all worked at multinational oil-service companies before joining Packers Plus. They founded the company based on their common belief that innovative completion technologies would fundamentally change the oil and gas industry. Now, with almost 400 employees, Packers is expanding rapidly, with offices and operations in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Chile, Argentina. the Middle East and China.

One secret of Packers’ success may be its focus. According to its website, Packers creates value in three areas. It’s a vision I think all companies should work on:

Operational excellence – This is the foundation of our company and we strive to constantly improve, to deliver the very best each and every time.
Innovation – We look for new ideas and processes to develop products and services that meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.
Customer Intimacy – We know the value of understanding each individual client and their unique needs and we are able to cater to each client's specific requirements.

In an interview this month with The Globe and Mail, Packers CEO Dan Themig explained why the company has no plans to go public. “The three founders own most of the company. Schlumberger owns 30%, which took place five years ago, but that’s it. We want to be a privately-held company … It’s amazing when you focus on operational excellence, when you focus on no mistakes in the field and flawless execution, things like that – the financial things tend to take care of themselves.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Speak like Steve Jobs

Yesterday's release of the iPad reminds me that I forgot to point you to last week's Financial Post column, which looked at Steve Jobs' secrets of public speaking.

The starting point was a book I just read called The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.

The book is a useful review of standard speaking practices, with a dollop of passion and personality from the iconoclastic co-founder of Apple Computer. Author Carmine Gallo isn't a great writer, so the book rarely soars, but the general principles are worthwhile:

* "Answer the one question that matters most." Reduce complex situations to simple solutions.

* "Sell the benefit." Don't just describe your solution, explain why people should care (e.g., "Apple's Genius tool creates playlists from songs in your library that go great together, with just one click").

* "Create Twitter-like headlines." Examples: "Today Apple reinvents the phone!" "Keynote was built for me!"

* "One theme per slide." Focus on single images, not bullet points.

I was particularly pleased to see Gallo identify a story-telling device that I have seen Jobs use, but could never put a name to: “Introduce the Antagonist.” To make you see the world his way, Jobs sets out what’s wrong with the status quo before introducing his solution.

When he launched the new video-equipped Nano, for instance, one of his slides compellingly compared the ultra-thin Nano to today’s suddenly-bulky Flip camcorders (see pic at left).

You can detect the same technique in many Jobs quotes. He forces you to buy his arguments by painting a dismal picture of the alternatives.

We can all learn from this. Consider Job's famous pitch in wooing Pepsi executive John Sculley to join Apple: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Same device exactly.

To learn more about demolishing the status quo, read the full story here.

Finding a Strategic Partner

In a speech last week to a group of budding entrepreneurs, I mentioned that it’s wrong to think of entrepreneurs as lone wolves. “Lone wolves are losers. Lone wolves die alone in the cold and the dark. Successful wolves run in packs.”

My column in this week’s Financial Post illustrates this theme. It tells of Vancouver entrepreneur Traci Costa, whose children’s wear company Peekaboo Beans needed an injection of growth capital and mentorship. She found both in Darrel Kopke, former general manager of athletic apparel giant Lululemon.

The story explains how she wooed and won Kopke as a silent partner – and how other entrepreneurs can find similar strategic investors.

One secret is finding someone who already loves your brand. "I feel so blessed with Darrel," says Traci. "Our philosophies and core values are so similar. He felt my passion for the brand: I didn't have to explain it."

Read the full story here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Will entrepreneurs attend my seminar?

A consultant I know emailed me the other day to ask my opinion of a workshop he is thinking of holding for small business. I figure his success will all depend on how well he markets it: small-business owners are normally hard to draw out to attend seminars. They're just too busy.

Which is one reason I often warn that the SME community is a "heartbreak market"

Here is the text of my reply:

Hi Jim. Great to hear from you.
As for your workshop idea, I don't know what to tell you.

The idea is very worthy, and this service much needed.
But will business sign up for it? I have no idea. A lot of people have lost their shirts putting on information seminars that small and medium enterprises could really benefit from. It's so hard to get this audience to come out. Regarding the entrepreneurs, they are very busy, and resent paying out a nickel if they don't have to. If they can find an excuse not to attend, they will.

If you go ahead with this, you should consider ways to get around this universal roadblock. For instance:

- Could you pitch it not to the business owner themselves, but to their technology, finance, sales or operations leads? Many owners would pay for others to go if it means they don't have to.
- Could you round up some sponsors and put it on for free?
- Could you reduce this to a series of 2- or 3-hour webinars that people could access for free on video or on the Web?

Whatever you decide, you need a robust marketing budget. You have to work hard to get people out, no matter how good the product is.

Hope this helps.


Canadian Entrepreneurs, leave a comment below if you think I'm wrong.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Lone Wolves are Losers"

I think Friday was my busiest day ever for public speaking. In the morning I did two back-to-back 90-minute presentations at the conference for the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada: one on surviving and thriving in the “recovery” economy, and one on “Ten Trends that will rock your business.”

For the record, those 10 Trends are:
1. Increasing competition
2. Market Fragmentation
3. Customer First
4. Social Media and “Community”
5. Globalization and Trade
6. The Quest for Value: Quality and Price
7. The Quest for Values: Social Responsibility and Trust
8. Technology-based Innovation (especially nanotech)
9. The Generational Disconnect
10. The Experience Economy

In the late afternoon I popped over to the Learning Enrichment Foundation, in the old village of Weston, to address the graduating class of LEF’s latest entrepreneurship program. Lodged in a WWII-era factory building, the LEF is an amazing non-profit organization that conducts hundreds of training programs for thousands of displaced and underemployed workers throughout the GTA.

I was proud to speak to this group (a surprising number of whom hail from Colombia). Their business plans look very promising, from those of the organic lawncare guy to the photographer, the videographer, the Spanish website, and many others, including the beautifully designed invitations created by a former magazine designer.

(Those standing in the pic at right are among the new grads.)

I offered this group a few thoughts on “Staying Competitive in 2010.” My five key points for aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. Pick a niche and own it.
2. Always put the customer first.
3. Treat your employees as well as you do your customers.
4. Always watch your cash flow. Have backup financing in place long before you need it.
5. Surround yourself with smart peers.

My closing quote, related to point 5:
“Some people think of entrepreneurs as lone wolves. But lone wolves are losers. Lone wolves die alone in the cold and the dark. Successful wolves run in packs.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Lululemon Manifesto

Confession: I have never gone into a Lululemon store. So I have been woefully ignorant of the Lululemon manifesto (though I have seen many variants, without knowing it).

In case you haven't had a chance to read it, here is the meaning of life, according to the cool people who sell you stretchy athletic clothing. (Or as they describe their mission, “Creating components for people to live a longer, healthier, more fun life.”)

• Drink FRESH water and as much water as you can. Water flushes unwanted toxins from your body and keeps your brain sharp.
• A daily hit of athletic-induced endorphins gives you the power to make better decisions, helps you be at peace with yourself, and offsets stress.
• Do one thing a day that scares you.

• Listen, listen, listen, and then ask strategic questions.
• Write down your short and long-term GOALS four times a year. Two personal, two business and two health goals for the next 1, 5 and 10 years. Goal setting triggers your subconscious computer.
• Life is full of setbacks. Success is determined by how you handle setbacks.

• Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.
• That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least.
• Stress is related to 99% of all illness.

• Jealousy works the opposite way you want it to.
• The world is changing at such a rapid rate that waiting to implement changes will leave you 2 steps behind. DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW!
• Friends are more important than money.

• Breathe deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.
• Take various vitamins. You never know what small mineral can eliminate the bottleneck to everlasting health.
• Don’t trust that an old age pension will be sufficient.

• Visualize your eventual demise. It can have an amazing effect on how you live for the moment.
• The conscious brain can only hold one thought at a time. Choose a positive thought.
• Live near the ocean and inhale the pure salt air that flows over the water. Vancouver will do nicely.

• Observe a plant before and after watering and relate these benefits to your body and brain.
• Practice yoga so you can remain active in physical sports as you age.
• Dance, sing, floss and travel.

• Children are the orgasm of life. Just like you did not know what an orgasm was before you had one, nature does not let you know how great children are until you have them.
• Successful people replace the words “wish”, “should” and “try” with “I will”.
• Creativity is maximized when you’re living in the moment.

• Nature wants us to be mediocre because we have a greater chance to survive and reproduce. Mediocre is as close to the bottom as it is to the top, and will give you a lousy life.
• lululemon athletica creates components for people to live longer, healthier and more fun lives. If we can produce products to keep people active and stress-free, we believe the world will become a much better place.
• Do not use cleaning chemicals on your kitchen counters. Someone will inevitably make a sandwich on your counter.

• SWEAT once a day to regenerate your skin.
• Communication is COMPLICATED. We are all raised in a different family with slightly different definitions of every word. An agreement is an agreement only if each party knows the conditions for satisfaction and a time is set for satisfaction to occur.
• What we do to the earth we do to ourselves.

• The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.

Finally, I also love their “core value” around quality: “Our customers want to buy our product again.” What could be simpler, or more powerful?

You almost don't need a manifesto.

Top 10 Technologies for 2010

What are the top technologies that will have the most impact in 2010?

In a blogpost earlier this month on TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld offered 10 nominees. Here is an edited version of his list

1. The Tablet Computer: “Why do we need yet another computer in between a laptop and an iPhone? … the answer lies in the fact that increasingly the Web is all you need. As all of our apps and data and social lives move to the Web, the Tablet is the incarnation of the Web in device form, stripped down to its essentials.”

2. Geolocation: “The combination of GPS chips in mobile phones, social networks, and increasingly innovative mobile apps means that geolocation is increasingly becoming a necessary feature for any killer app.”

3. Realtime Search: Search engines that know when to return timely sources of information, such as blogposts and Twitter. “The key will be to combine realtime search with realtime filters so that people are delivered not only the most recent information but the most relevant and authoritative as well.”

4. Chrome OS: Google’s sleek, powerful Chrome operating system is expected to be released later this year.

5. HTML5: This new computer language standard “will reduce the need for Flash or Silverlight plug-ins to view videos, animations, or other rich applications… HTML5 also supports offline data storage, drag-and-drop, and other features which can make Web apps act more like desktop apps.”

6. Mobile Video: “Live video streaming apps are becoming more commonplace—both streaming from phones and to them.”
7. Augmented Reality: Augmented reality apps such as Sekai Camera, Layar, GraffitiGeo and even Yelp add a layer of data to reality by placing everything from photos to Tweets to business listings directly on top of live image captured by your camera.
8. Mobile Transactions: As mobile phones become full-fledged computers, mobile payments and transactions will finally take off.

9. Android: Android is Google’s answer to the iPhone. There are already more than 10,000 apps on Android, and that total is growing fast.
10. Social CRM: Twitter, Facebook and other real-time communication tools will penetrate deeper into the enterprise. “ is set to launch Chatter, its realtime stream of enterprise data which interfaces with Twitter and Facebook and turn them into business tools. Startups like Yammer and Bantam Live are also making business more social.”

Looks like it's going to be a busy year.
For the full story, click here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Meet our new Small Business Minister

Canada has a new minister of state for small business and tourism: a New Brunswick lawyer named Rob Moore.

Moore succeeds Diane Ablonczy. (Not that it ever seems to make much difference. She now becomes minister of state for seniors.)

Just yesterday, Moore (in the centre of the photo) was in Fairfield, NB, in his riding of Fundy Royal, to announce the feds are paying half the cost of a new $300,000 community centre. This is your infrastructure pork at work. (Why should Ottawa be paying for local town halls across Canada? No reason at all.)

Moore's riding runs from the outskirts of Saint John to the outskirts of Moncton, and includes Fundy National Park and the Hopewell Rocks, two of Atlantic Canada's best tourist sites.

Except that, according to a note on the Fundy Royal NDP blog, Moore opposed an expansion of Fundy National Park that would have preserved the entire watershed. The Moncton Times & Transcript called his stance "a Neanderthal attitude displaying little appreciation or understanding of environmental matters."

Moore, who was born in Gander, Nfld, is 35. He has been Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice since 2006. He has also served as Conservative critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food, and participated on the Justice Committee and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. He has a degree in business administration as well as a law degree from UNB.

Well, let's give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Bonus question: Why are the cabinet ministers like the sands at the Hopewell Rocks?
Now you see 'em, now you don't.

Entrepreneurs to meet in Fredericton, NB

I'm very excited about an entrepreneurial event being held in Fredericton May 1-2, 2010.

Rivers Corbett is a charming, outgoing chef whom I met 10 years ago at PROFIT Magazine’s first GrowthCamp, for emerging entrepreneurs. As CEO of what is now The Chef Group, he now loves helping other entrepreneurs succeed. And now he is organizing the first New Brunswick Entrepreneurs’ Summit to provide two full days of information, intelligence and motivation.

I'm delighted to be speaking at the conference, along with a who’s who of top NB entrepreneurs: Rivers himself, strategic planning consultant and coach Paula Morand, motivational expert Janice Butler, marketing whiz Jim Gilbert (“Canada’s most huggable car dealer”), Kara Hachey of Go-Go Gymnastics, Steve Palmer of The Safety Group, and many more.
The action gets underway at 10 am on Saturday, May 1, and doesn't let up till Sunday afternoon.
It’s an amazing two days for just $299. As Rivers told a local radio station the other day, “You will walk away from this thing feeling a good, good return on your investment of time and money.”

But wait – if you are one of the first 37 to sign up (as of today, 27 tickets have been sold), you can get in the door for $199. But you’d better hurry.

For more info or to register, visit
See you in Fredericton!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

FreshBooks World

A new online magazine on Toronto, YongeStreet, has launched with a story on FreshBooks, the online invoicing service that is becoming a boon to freelancers and consultants around the world.

Not a lot new in the story, but a good read if you haven't heard how founder Mike McDerment developed the product as an app for his own web-design business, and then saw the potential for selling it as a standalone monthly service.

The last time I visited FreshBooks, a few years ago, they had a staff of about 7. Today it’s 38.

Author Paul Gallant notes one reason for the company’s international success is that invoicing is one of the few business chores that take the same form around the world.

As McDerment says, "I never really thought about us as a Canadian company… People don't seem to care where you're located so long as you're able to communicate to them effectively.”

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Five Points About Social Media

Toronto-based social media company Sysomos (no, I don't know what that means) understands that many business owners are still confused about the potential of interactive Web marketing tools.

This week it published a great blogpost offering "Five Truths about Social Media" that should give business owners a better idea of where Twitter and blogging fit in to the marketing mix.

Here is my abbreviated version.

1. Social media is not about the tools and services such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Social media is how the tools and services are effectively married with great content, creative ideas, smart strategies and tactics.

2. Social media is not a silver bullet or elixir. Adding some social media into the mix won’t produce miracles if there are other issues such as mediocre products and services, bad customer service, ineffective marketing, or intense competition.

3. A company and its employees have to embrace social media and make it part of the corporate culture.

4. Social media is not a standalone activity. It complements and enhances a company’s other activities.

5. It’s still early days for social media. [But] companies better start thinking why, how and when they want to get into the game.

You can read the full article here.

Happy "Sir John A." Day

Canadian Entrepreneur wishes you a very Happy Birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister.

And a masterful tactician:
"The great reason why I have been able to beat Brown is that I have been able to look a little ahead, while he could on no occasion forego the temptation of a temporary triumph."
(From a letter to M.C. Cameron, January 1872)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Secrets of business in three little words

Boston-area entrepreneur Dharmesh Shah wrote a brilliant blogpost recently that draws on all of his near-20 years’ experience with technology startups.

He composed 47 “triplets” of advice for other startup entrepreneurs. Yep, each is just three words long. Yet together they capture the challenge, creativity and emotional rush of starting and running a business.

You can read the full list here. If you're tight for time, here are my 10 favourites:

1. Watch your cash.
2. Invest in culture.
3. Avoid tempting distractions.
4. Never fudge numbers.
5. Guard your time.
6. Defer renting space.
7. Start charging early.
8. Sell something today.
9. Say “NO” often.
10. Cancel unnecessary meetings.

(I also loved No. 43, for its broader and unselfish perspective: “Improve employees’ resumes.”)

Dharmesh also invited his blog visitors to make up their own “triplets.” Startup guru Guy Kawasaki offers theis plum: "Sales fixes everything."

Other readers contributed these gems, among many others:
Metrics reveal truth
Trust your instincts
Spend less money
Follow hot market
"Trust but verify"
Watch every dollar
Hire smart people
Pursue multiple strategies
Visualize your success.
Think like customer
Gut trumps advice
Fewer, better metrics
Deliver Above Expectations
Pay for Performance
Hire Decision Makers
Find your why
Question your motives
Keep It Simple
Share glory widely
Success breeds success.

To finish things off, here are three triplets of my own.
Seek experienced advisors.
Customer is boss.
Make the Call.

Check out Dharmesh’s post here.
(Thanks to Austin Hill for the tip.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

A little too transparent, Mr. Carnegie sir

I found a link this morning to a good article on “negotiating with difficult people” at the site.

As a consultant myself in content marketing, I think it imperative that businesses selling their smarts (AKA “thought leaders”) provide free content such as this to attract prospects’ attention and build respect for their expertise.

But that doesn't mean you broadcast what your intentions are. Letting people know they're just "leads" to you makes people feel they're being manipulated, rather than served.

Carnegie’s mistake? Look at the URL they choose for the page that hosts the story:

Maybe few people will notice the phrase “lead nurturing tips.” Nonetheless, this takes transparency too far.

Yes, providing relevant content is a marketing tactic. But most businesses use phrases that sound less mercantile. Examples: Free_stuff. Premium_content. Welcoming_wisdom.

Business should make customers and prospects feel they're being valued, and respected. Not hunted.

Talking to yourself isn't crazy if you listen

How do you pump yourself up, or stay motivated to meet your toughest challenges? Growth entrepreneur Jim Estill talks to himself – repeating certain “simple mantras” that give him the energy and will to succeed.

According to this article from last November that I just read on his blog, Jim repeats several key power statements when the stress starts to get to him. Here are a few:

"Successful People do Tough Things" – When I dread something but need to get through it regardless.

"What the heck, go for it anyway" – When negotiating, starting a project, or making new friends.

"I am very healthy, I heal very quickly" – Half the battle with regard to health is in the mind.

"Garbage in, garbage out" – Useful for poor eating habits, media garbage, bad TV.
"Back to Work" – Useful when distractions strike.

Read the full story here.

Also check out the comments following Jim’s blogpost. One commenter added another useful question you might ask yourself: "How can I do better?"

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Do you need an executive coach?

My column in this week’s Financial Post looks at executive coaching: what can it do for you?

The starting point was a coach I met in Vancouver, Mary Ellen Sanajko of Conduit Coaching, who was running a draw at the SOHO Cnnference a tradeshow offering one lucky winner a month of free coaching. I asked her to let me write about the experience once it was over, and that’s what we did.

The winner, Vancouver accountant Fiona Chan, got a lot of great advice for starting her business, although in three sessions she just scratched the surface of the benefits of a sustained coaching campaign.


"Chan is still spending more time dreading sales calls than making them. But she insists the project was a success: "Now, I know what to say. I have more confidence dealing with people."… Now Chan says she has become a convert to coaching: "I got more clear about myself," she says. "I'm not looking for perfection anymore."

You can read the full story here.

Feel free to leave a comment here if you have had any experience with business coaching.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

How innovative is your business?

These days, everyone is looking to innovation to solve common problems such as declining markets, excess competition, fickle customers and flat productivity.

But how innovative is your organization, really? How high a priority is innovation? And do you have the right systems in place to promote it, follow through and sustain it?

If you can't answer those questions, you're hardly alone. But there is help.

The Burlington, Ont.-based Innovators Alliance has a nine-question quiz that will help you better understand how to develop and manage a culture of innovation in your business. It includes informative qualitative answers that will direct your thinking and improve your innovation quotient.

To take the survey, click here to reach the IA home page, then scroll down the page to the
"Are You Innovative?" box. Click on the link to download the PDF.

And since it's a PDF document, you can save it to your own computer and share it with your people. After all, innovation is a team sport.

Sample question:
Of the following countries, which one is noted to have the weakest and most simplistic innovation patterns?
a. UK
b. Germany
c. China
d. Canada
e. India

I'll bet you can guess the answer.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Succeeding in world markets

Great story by Susan Down in today’s Toronto Star on Richard Magnussen, whose Waterloo, Ont.-area furniture company has responded to free-trade pressures by becoming an integrated international furniture producer.

It’s the sort of story we need to read more often to help us remember that every threat is also an opportunity – and that Canadians can succeed in world markets.

The money paragraph is here: after starting as a tiny producer of hand-crafted tables, Magnussen Home Furnishings moved into the U.S. market following the free-trade agreement with the U.S. in 1988. "We either had to compete or get out of business," says Richard.
Today the company has manufacturing centres in China, Vietnam and the Philippines. Why is this good news for Canadians? "When we went international, we actually employed more people locally than we did manufacturing," says Magnussen.

The U.S. market accounts for 75% of Magnussen Home's sales, and Canada has 20%. But the company’s promising new markets include the Middle East, New Zealand, Germany and Korea.

Of all his business skills, says Magnussen, "The thing that is most important is the ability to manage change."

This Friday, Magnussen will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Home Furnishings Alliance. Congratulations to a visionary Canadian entrepreneur.

You can read the full story here. It will restore your faith.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Free wifi for Canadian travelers

Going though some old papers as part of my new year's cleanup, I found a useful item in a weekend issue of the Financial Post from Nov. 28: a handy list of major Canadian airports offering free Wi-FI service.

You can hook up for free in the following airports:

Quebec City
St. John's
Saint John, NB

Let's hear it for the cities that know what customers want!