Saturday, November 27, 2010

Think Big, Shop Small

Happy “Small Business Saturday” to all our American friends. It’s so designated because, after the rush and crush of Black Friday, everyone is being encouraged today to shop with their local small businesses.

Perhaps you will find some gem that isn't advertised on TV, or discover a capacity for personal service that you didn't know existed any more. At any rate, the intention is that more of the money you spend will be retained and reinvested in your local community.

According to the statistics on, when you shop at a locally owned business, $73 of every $100 spent stays in the community. Apparently, when you shop at the big chains, only $43 of every $100 you spend stays in town to fund jobs and public services.

You can learn more about Small Business Saturday at

Sponsor American Express celebrated the occasion by awarding free Facebook advertising to 10,000 small businesses as part of Small Business Saturday. So I guess big business has its uses too.

The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario points out that the federally established Heritage Canada Foundation used to have a Main Street Promotion program with similar aims. According to the ACO, “it is time to bring it back.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Google Street View, or, This is no Place for Modesty

On a dark November night in Toronto, I cruised down the summery Trans-Canada Highway from Banff to the BC border... courtesy of my computer and Google's Street View. I find this addendum to Google Maps fascinating. It's a useful tool for previewing places I am headed to (eg, Saskatoon next week), or a fun way to explore foreign sites or to just look back at some favorite places.

It's remarkable how in just two years, Street View has expanded from not just Toronto and Montreal but to rural towns and highways right across Canada (not to mention all over the U.S. and Western Europe, and selected parts of Asia, Australia and major cities in South America -- see map).

You've probably gone looking for pictures of your own house or office - it's the first thing we did, and we found our daughter got in the picture when she was out weeding the front lawn. (She never noticed the Google car with the 9-lens camera mounted on top.)

But I think Google Street View will become recognized as an amazing way to explore the world. Main highways, back roads, even pathways (using something called Google Trikes).

For instance, I've always dreamed of driving the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik, NWT, almost to the Arctic Ocean. Yet I know the drive would be long, hazardous and boring. So how cool is it to follow along with Street View - their camera went to the very end, to a junkyard at the end of Navy Rd., just north of Inuvik. And here it is: the very end of driveable Canada.

(Looks like the Google cars travel in pairs. And sometimes they get very muddy.)

But how cool is to see some of the most famous places in Canada immortalized in candid shots in Google Street View? Remember, these aren't just still pictures - they are melded into amazing panoramas where you can pan, tilt, or zoom, and follow the road as far as you want just by clicking your mouse (I estimate maximum speed to be about 100 kph. But that's a lot of clicking!) So enjoy Peggy's Cove, Quebec City and Niagara Falls.

But here's my favourite view. Following the TransCanada west from Lake Louise, I climbed to the summit that marks the border between Alberta and BC. As you can see, they were just putting up a new "Welcome to Alberta" sign for eastbound drivers, promoting "Wild Rose Country" (a beautiful name, but what does it mean?).

Now look how BC takes advantage of the situation. It shouts to westbound motorists, "Welcome to British Columbia: The Best Place on Earth."

I guess they didn't get the memo about Canadians being modest, unassuming people. Good on them.
If you have an office or a prominent sign along a city street or stretch of highway, maybe you should be marketing to Google Street View - as well as to local passersby. Increasingly, the whole world is watching. So let's think big!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 34

"The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed."

Henry Ford, founder, Ford Motor Co. (1863-1947)

Speaking of imagination: just imagine how different the North American automobile industry might look today if it had held on to Henry Ford's vision.

Put value first, profit second.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are your missing out on Twitter feedback?

Last weekend I delivered a keynote on "Secrets from Canada's Top Entrepreneurs" to 200 student delegates at the Impact 2010 conference in Toronto. Little did I know that some members of the audience were Tweeting portions of my speech.

The cool thing about Twitter is that when people tweet about a topic, issue, person or place, they can place a hashtag (#) in front of the name and suddenly turn it into a trending topic for others to follow. Or if they put the "@" sign (not the asterisk, sorry about that mistake) in front of a person's Twitter name, that person (or anyone else) can follow that part of the conversation easily, because it will show up in a feed to that person or anyone else who wishes to follow it.

So today I discovered some of the things people Tweeted about me. Since you rarely get detailed feedback on specific parts of a speech, this is an interesting way to see what resonates with people - eg, local references, or an insight someone finds particularly useful.

Here's what people said about me on Saturday afternoon:

1. KLinked: @RickSpence definetely lived up to expectations! Great job selecting speakers #INC10 @GoDevMENTAL 4:40 PM Nov 13th

2. u_christine: When asked what is the major problem for young entrepreneurs today, @rickspence answers, "you don't have problems." We r at a huge advantage 4:25 PM Nov 13th

3. jadechoyy: @rickspence interesting and informative keynote about canadian entrpreneurs! #inc10 4:18 PM Nov 13th

4. DamiDina: "Become someone worth talking about." Inspirational and Great quote by speaker @rickspence at #INC10. 4:18 PM Nov 13th

5. lu_christine: So awesome to finally hear @rickspence speak! Thx for coming to share such inspiring stories #INC10 4:14 PM Nov 13th
6. summers_megan : @rickspence just mentioned the ottawa valley! aww yeah! #inc10 @impactorg 3:52 PM Nov 13th

What are people saying about you? Get a user account on Twitter and find out!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My List of Great Entrepreneurial Thinkers

I got an email recently from a budding business academic asking about my opinions on the best sources of academic information on entrepreneurship.

I had to tell him that I'm not an expert on the academics of entrepreneurship. Most of the academics I know who teach entrepreneurship do so with very subjective perspectives, and often use "texts" made up of photocopied articles rather than specific books or authors. I think the field of entrepreneurship is just moving too fast for the academics to keep up!

When there was an international conference of entrepreneurship academics held in Halifax a few years ago, I contacted the professor in charge of reviewing the research papers to be presented there, and asked him to point me to the most groundbreaking studies he had seen. I wrote a column about those papers, but they were a pretty undistinguished lot, to my layman's eyes.

For better or worse, here are the works I pointed my correspondent to:

“For me, the most significant thinker in entrepreneurship is Joseph Schumpeter, who came up with the notion of "creative destruction" - that entrepreneurs' role is to create progress by destroying what came before. A lot of people still talk about his work today, although "disruption" is the preferred term now for the impact of innovation.

Roger Martin at the U of T's Rotman School is certainly the most influential Canadian academic when it comes to disrupting and succeeding in business markets (not exactly entrepreneurship, but close). I only recently came to understand that his model, "integrative thinking", is really just code for all kinds of ideas and practices that don't fit into traditional management thinking, such as the importance of design, or innovative approaches to innovation. He seems to write a new book a year, mainly retailing anecdotes from his current favorite business success stories. So I think the state of the art in business scholarship is pretty flimsy.

However, I think the most respected thinker in entrepreneurship is Peter Drucker, who wrote many, many books on management, and settled on innovation and entrepreneurial thinking as the two priorities in business. Geoffrey Moore (Inside the Tornado, and Crossing the Chasm) is king of fast-growth entrepreneurship, focusing mainly on the problems faced by Silicon-Valley-type tech companies.

Jim Collins (Built to Last, and especially Good to Great) is by far the most quoted author I know. He's sort of a freelance academic who uses what seem to be legitimate, academically-oriented research teams to probe management problems that interest him.

At a lower, more operational level, the most influential thinker has been Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth and The E-Myth Revisited, among others. He created the concept that entrepreneurs should work "on the business, not in it," which I hear quoted back at me at least twice a week.

The other books most quoted by the entrepreneurs I know are layman works, especially by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, etc.) and Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat). Which tells you that the journalists are way ahead of the academics in distilling today's business trends."

How about you? What are you reading?
What thinkers do you admire?

Friday, November 12, 2010

150,000th visitor!

We interrupt your day to inform you that yesterday, around noon (Eastern Standard Time), this blog received its 150,000th visitor.

It's been just 13 months since we recorded our 100,000th visitor, so we're pleased to say that Canadian Entrepreneur is still growing faster than ever.

The fact that we hit our new milestone during a low-content period underscores the fundamental value of blogs: they stands as permanent content archives, attracting and informing new visitors whether they are being actively updated or not. That alone makes blogging an ideal tool for small businesses with short attention spans: your best messages can last forever (or at least a very long time).

Most of the information in this blog is intended to be of lasting value, so I am pleased that people are still finding it of use and interest. As you can see by the Flag Counter I added to the right-hand margin last year, we continue to attract readers from all over the world. Because capitalism works, and Canadians have a lot of entrepreneurial expertise to offer.

Next stop: 200,000!

Free Business Information Thursdays!

The Learning Enrichment Foundation, near the site of the former Kodak plant in west-end Toronto, is a fascinating place. Occupying a huge old World War II-era factory, it offers day care, skills training, business development, incubation services and on-the-job experience to anyone across the city looking for a hand up.

And for the next five Thursday afternoons they're offering some decent free programs for any entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their business.

Here’s the lineup:

November 18: Join Lisa Kember from Constant Contact as she talks about how to make Award-winning email marketing campaigns, and how to take advantage of online social marketing.

November 25: Business specialist Gerri Sefi talks about how to buy a franchise, and what you need to know before you buy. Gerri is a coach and facilitator who works closely with clients to ensure they get the franchise that bests suits them.

December 2: Join business expert Katherine Roos from Enterprise Toronto as she explains how the City of Toronto can help you do business. Learn about city-hosted workshops, training, networking, trade shows and clinics that can link you to expert help and advice.

December 9: Albert Peres and Marvin Greenberg from Toronto's Food Business Incubator explain what you need to know to get into a restaurant or catering business.

December 16: Everything you need to know about exporting and importing. Expert Maggie Weaver gives you the goods on running an export/import business. She writes the daily newsletter of I.E.Canada, the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.

For more information or to register, call 416.760.2566, ext. 2085 or 2083. Or email David Cohen at . He’s a great guy who will connect you to the help you need.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Pay per click hits the big time

Slowly getting back into blogging mode after a busy few weeks.
Here's a great article from the National Post on how a few entrepreneurial organizations use social media -- particularly Facebook ads and Google pay-per-click -- to promote their cutting-edge products. Lots of best practices here.

Click here for the full story by Denise Deveau.

More entrepreneurs need to use and experiment with these amazing marketing tools. If someone had told us 15 years ago we would soon have a no-risk advertising medium that lets us target our market precisely and pay only when prospects actually respond to our ads, we would have thought they were lying. Then we would have gone home and prayed for that day to arrive!