Thursday, March 31, 2011

Finding customers: The Game's Afoot

Reading an old story recently from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I found a unique description of what I call "entrepreneurial inertia."

The story, written more than a century ago, is called "The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb." In it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tells the sad tale of Victor Hatherley, a hydraulic engineer who recently started his own practice. Mr. Tatherley then got into a spot of trouble; he should have Googled his mysterious new client. Afterwards, he came running to Sherlock Holmes for help. Here's how he starts his explanation:

"Two years ago, having come into affair sum of money through my poor father’s death, I determined to start a business for myself and took professional chambers in Victoria Street.

“I suppose that everyone finds his first independent start in business a dreary experience. To me it has been exceptionally so. During two years I have had three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my profession has brought me. My gross takings amount to 27 pounds, 10 shillings. Every day, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my little den, until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should never have any practice at all.”

It's no mystery why this man had such a dreary experience. He didn't even try to market his business. He sat around and waited for customers to find him!

Sadly, a lot of business owners still do the same thing; sit around and wait for business to find them.

What about you? What have you done this week to attract new clients and get a "sure lock" on your market?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Searching for Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies

If you run a fast-growth company, or know someone who does, time is running out.

You have just a week to apply for a listing on the PROFIT 200, Canada's authoritative listing of hyper-growth heroes.

For 23 years, the PROFIT 100 has turned successful entrepreneurs into the heroes of Canadian business. Now you can be one of them!

This year, PROFIT magazine is expanding its ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies to recognize 200 of the nation’s most entrepreneurial enterprises. If you qualify for the list, you’ll join such notable alumni as Research in Motion, Globalive Communications and WestJet Airlines.

You’ll enjoy many great benefits as a PROFIT 200 company, including coverage in the June 2011 issue of PROFIT Magazine and online at PROFIT 200 leaders also receive an exclusive invitation to the PROFIT 200 CEO Summit, Canada’s most rewarding conference for entrepreneurial achievers. 

Your PROFIT 200 ranking can also attract new customers, employees and business partners—and lead to higher sales.

The entry deadline is March 31, 2011.

Apply now at
For more info, visit

Where I'm Spending My Time

I'm afraid I've been under-serving this blog lately. I even missed celebrating its sixth anniversary, four weeks ago. Yet traffic remains very high, and March 2011 will probably set a record for most visitors in a single month.

Which just shows the power of online content. It keeps working for you even when you’re not working for it.

I will try to blog here more often. But keep in mind that I am also blogging for PROFITguide and the Financial Post (in addition to writing regular columns for both). So if I'm not updating here frequently enough for you, you can always find me there.

And feel free to follow me on Twitter. I've been spending a lot more time on Twitter lately. This free short-messaging service takes the idea of blogging and turbocharges it to match today’s faster pace (and shrinking attention spans). You can follow your favorite people’s blog-like musings in a few minutes, since no single post can be longer than 140 characters, or about 20 to 25 words. Keeping insights so short is a challenge, but it makes the overall learning experience more fun, for writers and readers both.

If you haven't signed up for Twitter, you should do so now. You don't have to “Tweet” if you don't want to. Just follow people you know or admire. It’s a great way to get regular exposure to your favorite writers and thinkers. It’ll open your eyes and mind to new ideas, business news, people, opportunities and events. I liken it to reading people’s minds – you get to see what a whole lot of bright people are thinking about every day.

And keep checking this blog. We're not done yet.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

How to Annoy Your Dragons

In February I took part in the opening auditions for the next season of  Dragons' Den. It kicked off more than a month of auditions all across the country. They're now going on, and you can find more details here:

My column for the National Post  summed up my experiences auditioning "pitchers" who want a chance to sell their business ideas to the Dragons on national TV next year. As I wrote, "If you want to make it on Dragons' Den — or impress any kind of real-life investor -- you had better not make the kinds of mistakes I saw during my deputy day."
Here's the short version:

Misunderstanding investors' motives The Dragons, like most venture-capital investors, only want to invest in scalable businesses. If you don't know what that means, you haven't got one.

Not knowing your market How many people will buy your product? When? These are essential calculations, even if they're mainly guesswork.

Never confuse a capitalist Keep your pitch clear and simple.

Not understanding your customers Don't wait to talk to customers till your product or business plan is picture-perfect — make them consultative partners from Day 1.

Being afraid to give up equity A venture investor won't make any money unless you do, too.

Neglecting to tell a coherent story Let investors know (briefly) where your idea or product came from, why this opportunity is huge, and why you're the best partner to pull all this off.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Puncturing the Low-Price Myth

My column in this week's Financial Post looks at a common myth: that you should never market your business or product based on price alone. Business and consumers alike are looking for more value today than ever: if you can sustain that advantage over time, why wouldn't you promote it?

The column focuses on U.S. entrepreneur Jerry McLaughlin and his company – a promotional-products retailer that restructured itself to be the low-price leader in its niche. It has never looked back.

Excerpt: Immediately after reducing its prices across the board,

“the percent of website visitors who made purchases shot up to 65% from 15%. McLaughlin says profits on the additional sales more than made up for the lower profit margins: ‘That means we should have done it anyway, whether it was our long-term strategy or not.’"