Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Want to Run a Successful Business? Be There for Your Customers

Just this weekend, the girlfriend and I were discussing where we wanted to go for dinner. We had a pleasant day out and about, and wanted to close it out with a nice big meal.

Problem – it was about 10:30pm.

I figured we could go to a local bar – part of a chain of bars – and grab a nice meal. Bars are open late, especially on a Saturday night. It’s date night – Saturday night.

I called the bar to double check.

“Sorry, the kitchen is already closing, but we’re open for another hour,” said the voice on the phone.

What? Closing before last call? Last call here is not until 1:30am.

We called around to a bunch of places, bars, restaurants – most were already closed, or closing.

Finally, we ended up going to Pizza Hut. Pizza places are always open.

Not the most romantic dinner for two, but still a very enjoyable experience. Good food, prompt service, and they were there when we needed them.

Perhaps it is the never-ending recession we’ve been in, but I remember a time when restaurants and bars were open late on Friday and Saturday nights, because those were the night's people went out.

All the places we called previously lost our business, simply because they weren’t open.
Want to run a successful business, here’s a tip – be there for your customers.

It’s not rocket science, just be there when your customers are most likely to be looking for you.

This goes for ALL companies, big and small alike. You don’t have to be on call 24-seven, just be there when your customers are most likely to be.

That’s it.

Nothing complex.

No fancy, deep thinking, mind blowing strategy.

Just be open for business when your customers are in need of your services.

You’d think bars, restaurants and clubs would be open until the wee hours of the morning on Friday and Saturday nights.

When I was a kid in university, Thursday night was bar night – and nothing ever closed until last call.

I'd like to think I'm not THAT old, and times haven't changed that much that people don't go out anymore.

And it's not like we were in a third-world country, or living in the back woods of a small town either.

My girlfriend and I were shocked and bewildered by the lack of places to grab a nice meal and some drinks in one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities of the world – Toronto.

Toronto, is like New York -- only smaller, cleaner and safer. 

No, it wasn’t busy in the Pizza Hut. But it wasn’t deathly quiet either – there were a couple of young families with their kids, some teenagers, and us.
When you’re in business, any business is good business.

So it pays to be there for your customers.

Sure, have a skeleton staff, close off a section, or even tell customers that you might take a little longer to get something done, because it’s late.

That’s fine – we’ll understand.

Just don’t leave us stranded with nowhere to go.

That’s far worse customer service than not being there at all.

Because if you want to run a successful business, you have to be there for your customers.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Has Linkedin Become Just Like Every Other Social Network?

Social media is a great addiction of mine.

I enjoy checking out my Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Instagram . . . you see why it’s so addictive?

When each one of these first started, people actually posted quality, interesting things that might be useful.

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was more than celebrities getting themselves into hot water, useless quotes from long since dead famous people, pictures of gorgeous women in skimpy outfits, and cat photos dominating the social networks.

As each of the social networks matured, they unfortunately deteriorated into much of the above – don’t believe me?

Skim through the trending content on any given day, and you’ll see pretty much all the above mindless drivel.
There still are some jewels in the rough on social media. Great infographics that turn complex processes into easy to follow steps. Sometimes even the latest news breaks first online, instead of CNN, BBC or CBC.

However, Linkedin – that’s always been the professional network, where people only post content relevant to their career or business, and use it to connect with those business people.

That may be changing, sadly.

Oh, I have yet to see the mindless crap that passes for content on the other social networks appear on Linkedin.

However, Linkedin is very different from just a handful of years ago.

When Linkedin began, it was a great place for professionals to network, to build connections, to reach out to one another for legitimate career or business opportunities.

I’d send out an Inmail, or email to one of my Linkedin contacts, and receive a response, which would lead to a discussion, and possibly an opportunity.

Recently I noticed, my Inmails and emails to my contacts were being ignored.

Now, that doesn’t seem to professional to me.

At the very least, a professional would send a polite response back saying “not interested.”
To be clear, I wasn’t selling anything. I’m an entrepreneur, and as I build a business, I often explore Linkedin, and reach out to people whose profiles may be a good fit with the business I’m building. I may be looking for business partners, employees, or even someone that might be interested in working for us on a contractual basis.

I’m not recruiting others for some borderline legal Multi Level Marketing (MLM) scam, nor am I asking for any investment.

I’m just reaching out to people whose profiles match with what I’m doing, to have a professional chat and see if there is a good fit.

That’s all.

And I thought I was expressing that in my communications.

But still, out of a handful of Inmails and emails sent, only a couple generated any response.

So, I began asking people why they don’t respond to messages on Linkedin.

I asked people who responded to my messages. And I asked people that I actually know over the phone, if they too ignore messages from others on Linkedin.

The results of my informal survey were sadly stunning – there is so much SPAM, scam and other junk communications coming across Linkedin, that most people treat it just like any other social network.

They post stuff, hoping it gets lots of traction, but ignore anything directed at them from anyone they don’t actually know.

That's beyond tragic.

Because, if everyone is being bombarded with so much crap, they ignore everything from anyone they don’t really know, then the one good thing about Linkedin is gone forever – the ability to really connect with others professionally.

Linkedin has become nothing more than another Facebook. They might as well add the option to poke people on it, because it’s so dominated by SPAM, what’s another annoyance?

Perhaps this great social media experiment we’ve all been participants in has taught us one lesson. If you want to really get to know someone, pick up the phone, and call them.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Why You Don’t Know What You Need to Know Right Now and Ways to Fix That in a Hurry

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was supposed to do that. . . “

“What do you mean I overstepped my authority? You told me to do what I thought best.”

“You did WHAT?!?!”

Funny, sad, ironic – we live in an era where we can reach out to anyone, at anytime, anywhere across the globe – yet we don’t talk to those working for us, with us, or among us, be it around the corner, down the hall, or even standing next to each other in the same room.

It’s why you don’t know what you need to know right now.


Or, rather – lack of communication – is why we’re constantly apologizing to our staff, our colleagues, our business partners, even our better halves.

It’s why arguments, disagreements, anger, and frustration with each other happens.

It can turn a positive, fun, and enjoyable corporate culture into a living hell.

And it’s dangerous.

I met with a young person recently, that began as an intern, and was now charged with the task of building the business by his bosses – the owners of the business.

He told me he doesn’t use contracts, but if I wanted one, that I should just “send me anything, and I’ll sign it.”

That kind of attitude could easily cost not only this person his job, but his bosses their company.

Luckily, I’m a nice guy, and just walked away from the company.

I don’t do business on a hand-shake alone.

Though, it’s an example – a blatantly serious example – of how dangerous lack of communications in business is.

The former intern, now business developer, should have been given clear expectations of what is expected in his new role. And, you’d hope that he’d be bright enough to communicate with his boss anything that wasn’t covered, BEFORE taking action.

Because, if I wasn’t such a nice guy, I could have easily given him a lengthy contract, filled with page after page of legal mumble jumble, which he’d sign, giving me some outrageous thing that could easily bankrupt the business.

Think that never happens in business?

Years ago, investigative journalism television show “60 Minutes” did a piece about various male executives in the auto sector, taking clients to strip clubs on the day the “big deal” was to be signed. They did this, because the other male executives would be so caught up with the naked chicks, they wouldn’t notice the last minute changes made to the contracts they just signed.

Granted, this is a form of distraction – not a lack of communications. However, it paints a nasty picture of how low corporate ethics and values may be at some companies.

So low, that a lack of communications could be a fatal blow to a business’s bottom-line.

Which brings us back to why you don’t know what you need to know right now.

Because you’ve been doing what most people do at work these days – NOT talking to your staff, your teams, your colleagues or even your boss.

Here’s how you fix that – right now.

Get to Know Your Colleagues Communication Styles

Think about who you’re communicating with and how they communicate with you. Introverts think through things on their own – so email with a follow-up call after they’ve had chance to absorb and think about it works best. 

Extroverts like to talk through a solution, so a face-to-face meeting, where you mention the issue, and let them talk, probably is the best course of action. They may also enjoy using a whiteboard, to work out their problems in a mind map.

Meet More Often, But For Less Time

Finding time when everyone can get together is tough enough, but don’t waste precious time. Shorter meetings provide a definitive end time to the meeting, making everyone focus on what needs to be done. Having more frequent short meetings – say a 10-minute checkup the next day – sets the expectation as to what everyone should be accomplishing by the next meeting, and this pattern connects people, while improving the overall workflow process.

Get Out of the Office

I’ve been known as a coffee shop fiend, for constantly taking people out to grab a coffee to discuss important and even mundane tasks. It’s a great way to break the ice, get to know your colleagues, and to establish an open communications dialogue between you and those you work with. Going out for drinks after work, grabbing lunch together, even walking to the parking lot or subway are also great ways to connect with colleagues, and open the doors of communications.

Be Mindful of How You Respond

Quick – your colleague is yelling and screaming at you. Do you:
  1.  Yell and scream back
  2. Try to talk loudly over their yelling to drown them out
  3. Talk softly, slowly, and deliberately in between their outbursts
  4. Walk away, ignore them – how dare they yell at you!

The correct answer is 3 – talk softly, slowly and deliberately in between their outbursts. By lowering your speaking voice, you take the passive stand, and force them to listen to you. By slowing your speaking style, you send out a wave of calm, over their angered storm. And by waiting for them to stop talking, before you talk, you are showing you are listening to them – instead of just brushing them off.

If the yeller is relatively normal, they’ll calm down, so you can both work through the problem, rather than getting into a yelling match, or worse, a fistfight.

Be aware of how your responses can improve the situation, or make matters worse. Try to aim for a calm collaboration, rather than heated debates. Think about what your body language is saying, your tone of voice, your level of volume – all can be just as important as what is actually said.

The main thing from all of this is to get you to communicate with each other. Because not knowing what you need to know right now, is killing your business.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Entrepreneur or Employee? Survey Says Employees Earn at Least 50% Less

Most of us were taught go to school, get a job, work hard, you’ll be rewarded.

The mere thought about doing anything else is so foreign to us, that we often shun those that have chosen another path, despite their success.

However, that latest statistics are in, and if you stay with the same employer for over two-years, you’ll earn an whopping fifty percent less in your lifetime than you would if you had job-hopped to bigger bucks, every year – which isn’t always possible – or – gulp – had you made your own wealth as an entrepreneur.

That figure – fifty percent less in your employment lifetime – is a conservative number, based on average annual three percent wage increases employers give their full-time employees.

However, looking at current rates of inflation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), that average annual raise is actually less than one percent.

That’s an alarming wake-up call to anyone sitting in their corporate cubicle, thinking that their employer actually values their work.

Put another way, it’s like renting versus owning your home.

If you rent, you don’t own the land and anything built on the land, so you don’t have any equity. And you are at the mercy of the landlord, in terms of what is and is not acceptable use of that land and anything built on it.

If you own your home, you OWN it – you can spruce it up to add value to it. Use it as you please. Even sell it when it’s worth more than you purchased it, and have more money in your pocket.

You can start with a small home. Fix it up, add some landscaping, maybe a deck, even a fresh coat of paint. That increases it’s value, so you can sell it for more than you originally paid.

Then, you can “flip” it – sell it at the new, higher value price – and purchase a bigger, and better home. Fix that up, maybe add an addition, widen the driveway, whatever – it increases it’s value.

Then you flip that house, and get another one, this one even bigger and better than the previous two.

Being an employee is like renting – you don’t have a say in the business, and you certainly don’t have any equity in the business.

Being an entrepreneur is like owning your home. You have a say in every aspect of the business – from the initial vision, to how you treat your customers, your staff, and your suppliers.
You can build up a great business, until it’s at the right “sweet spot” where it’s earning substantial revenues, or starting to actually catch the eyes of your competitors. So, you sell it, at a higher valuation than what it was worth when you started it.

In a way, you can flip businesses just like you flip houses.

So, you take all the money you made from selling your business, and build another one.
You take that business to the right sweet spot, and eventually sell that too.

Or, you can keep growing the same business – so long as it is a growing business.

Either way, being an entrepreneur is so much more rewarding than being an employee.

Entrepreneurs shape their companies, much like home owners personalize their homes. Entrepreneurs add value to their businesses, much as home owners do by renovations.

Employees are just renting their jobs from their entrepreneurial employers – and losing fifty percent – or more – of their wages as a result.

Don’t rent your career, make it your own.

Be an entrepreneur.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

We Need International Entrepreneurs Day

Last week, I received a tweet ( @jordanhgreen ) asking for my support for National Entrepreneur Day -- or NED for short.

I was awe-struck.

I was taken back.

I almost had a twitter-gasim.

Then I discovered, it was an American-led initiative.


Aren't entrepreneurs everywhere?

Why is only the United States trying to create a day to celebrate the innovators that drive our world forward?

Okay, by now, you're probably asking yourself: "What is National Entrepreneur Day?"

According to their website at :

We're a country made of entrepreneurs. Men and women who built something from nothing. Created jobs. Made America what it is today. Our present was built by them. Our future depends on them. Isn't it time we honor them?
National Entrepreneurs' Day celebrates the entrepreneurs who are the foundation of our country. House Resolution 401 aims to make the third Tuesday of every November National Entrepreneurs Day. Once the House passes the resolution, the Senate will have a chance to approve it so it makes an official U.S. Day.
That's right, it's a resolution in the American House of Representatives, to honor those that built the country.

This got me thinking, don't we need something that spans America's borders?

Sure, there are amazing entrepreneurs in the States -- like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and even Elon Musk.

But what of the United Kingdom's Richard Branson?

Or Canada's Frank Stronach?

Even Jack Fitzgerald's Ship 2 Anywhere, places him in a top entrepreneurial spot in Australia.

The point is, entrepreneurship isn't geographically limited to one country or another.

Without entrepreneurs all over the globe, nothing would have ever got done. Because entrepreneurs solve the problems we're all going through, wherever you are on Earth.

That's the short definition of being an entrepreneur -- exploring the pain points of a society, and then coming up with a clever way to solve them, and in turn offer that solution for a fair price.

Where would any of us be, without a world of entrepreneurs?

We'd probably all still be scribbling our thoughts on cave walls, chasing animals with spears, capturing our mates, and making love under the stars.


That last part doesn't sound all that bad.

Hmmm. . .


We're all better off thanks to the genius of human innovation, imagination, and inspiration. The hallmarks, of all the great entrepreneurs.

From the inventor of the modern telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, to Apple founder Steve Jobs that took the basic cell phone, and changed it -- and the world -- with his iPhone -- entrepreneurship beats being a caveman -- cavewoman -- caveperson -- or other -- hands down.

You could even be an entrepreneur!

You don't need to go to some posh sounding post-secondary school, and get an MBA. 


You just need to have an idea.

That's it.

Well, okay, you need to develop your idea, turn it into a product, or a service. Figure out a costing structure, revenue streams, customer channels, market research . . . 

Okay, there's more to it than just an idea.

But all great entrepreneurs, began, with just an idea.

National Entrepreneur Day -- great idea.

But like all entrepreneurs, I think I can do better.

How about INTERNATIONAL Entrepreneur Day?

Sure, it doesn't have a cool name, like NED, that reminds me of some geeky nerd from high school I once knew named Ned -- sorry Ned if you're reading this.

IED sounds more like some funky birth control device than a hip and trendy day to celebrate the greatest achievements of our time.

But names can be changed.

We'll work on it.

International Entrepreneur Day -- or whatever it may be so named -- think about it.

If you believe we need a day to celebrate entrepreneurship globally, please leave your comments below. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Starting a Business? Five Things to Put Your Start-Up Funds in First

Let’s face it, when you start a business, money is tight. So where do you put your limited amount of funds to get the ball rolling?

Here are my top five places to invest whatever money you have at the beginning, because without them your business may never fly.

1. Name Search and Incorporation

What’s in a name?
Plenty if you’re running a business. Names are more than a way of branding your business, they are legally required for tax purposes. Incorporating your business is a small price to pay at the beginning, rather than personally be wiped out financially by a law suit which holds you personally accountable for your business, instead of your incorporated business.

On the flip side of this, I actually find it hard to start a company without a name. I suppose it’s just my logical brain in action.

Take time to brainstorm several possible names for your new business, and then conduct a corporate names search to ensure no one else has a similar name. In most North American jurisdictions, it’s illegal for you to operate a business under a name which is currently in use within the same business sector or industry. Though it’s usually best to make sure no one currently uses that name in any business or industry sector – I often make up words for my company names.

Once you establish a name for your business – that isn’t already in use – register it so no one else can use it. Then get a good business lawyer that specializes in start-ups, and incorporate that business.

This way, you have your name, and the legal paperwork to back everything up.

2. Logo and Slogan

Starting a business really can be a fun and creative process – first you have to brainstorm a name – now you get to go all artsy and design a logo and even a slogan.

Many people don’t think they need a logo for their new venture right away. Who’s going to see it, as I’m still developing the business plan?

However, a good logo separates you from your competition, gives you a professional image, and both are extremely important elements in the ultimate goal for our first five places to spend money on your new venture – networking. If you don’t have a logo, a catchy one-line slogan that summarizes what you do, and the rest of my top five list here, you’ll be constantly struggling to tell people who you are, and what you do at networking events. And when you start out, networking is really important, because real entrepreneurs help each other.

3. Website and Email

You don’t need a fancy website with all the bells and whistles when you’re starting out. But you do need one that at least has some basic info – like your logo, slogan, and how to contact you.

Getting a website forces you to register your company’s name for a domain name – which is really important. Some people I know run their chosen company names through the WHOIS database to ensure they can secure the matching domain name. If the domain name is already taken, they won’t name their company that.

I’m old fashioned, and love the dot-com domain extension. To me, that’s the one most people are going to try first on Google and the other search engines if they don’t have it in front of them. 

However, if you have the money, it doesn’t hurt to register the most popular domains for your company – the “dot” org, net, biz, info, and co. If you’re in Canada, you might also add .ca to that list, or .us for American-based companies.

This protects your business from copycats, or worse, others using your company’s names, or even ones really close to it, and just creating a different dot-something or other using your company’s good name.

Once you have your web domain setup, and a basic website, you can also get a professional email address. Although Google’s gmail is a fantastic program, when I see I just know I’m dealing with an amateur. There’s no harm in looking like a big impressive company, so use as your email address – or whatever your professional domain is.

Remember, an email address and domain name aren’t just for communications – but for PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS.

4. Office Phone and PO BOX

Unless you want your customers and everyone you do business with to call you at home, I’d get a separate phone number and a PO Box for the mailing address. This way, you protect your family and yourself from anyone that happens on your business contact info. A separate phone line is important, even if you’re running your start-up from your home, because the last thing anyone that is going to do business with you wants to hear, is your kid answer the phone, and yell: “Dad, phone!”

5. Business Cards

Once you have your registered legally incorporated business name, a logo and a slogan, a website, email address, phone number and a PO. Box, you’ve got all the basics to put it on a slick business card, so you can hand it out to potential customers, business partners, or anyone that you want to take you seriously as a professional.

Even in start-up mode, business cards with all the correct professional information are very important – what else are you going to give someone at a networking function that might be able to help you get your business off the ground?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Fear That Someone Will Steal Your Business Idea Actually Leading Cause to Start-Up Failure

I enjoy helping entrepreneurs of all stripes.

It's something I really excel at, and I learn so much from the experience.

However, it's really hard -- if not impossible -- to help someone fearful that their next big thing will be copied or stolen before they get it off the ground.

Rookie entrepreneurs stumble upon their one great, awesome, Earth-shattering business idea, and spend so much time cloaking it under a veil of secrecy I sometimes wonder if they have spent any time actually building their business.

Because it's hard to work under a veil of secrecy, constantly looking over your shoulder, worrying you are being followed, or worse, that your phones are 'bugged' and Big Brother is watching.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a tad.

But if you can't tell me what you're working on, I can't help you.

And if you can't tell me what you are working on, you probably won't tell potential customers either -- so you'll never get the feedback you need from them to validate your business idea, and prove it to be a viable and sustainable business.

Validation of a business idea is really important, without it, you'll never know if all the sweat, blood and tears you're putting into your business will actually pay off.

And there's lots of ways to validate a business, the quickest and easiest is just to talk to potential customers. Find out if they are willing to pay for your product or service, and if they are, how much they are willing to spend.

Validation also comes from fellow entrepreneurs, that help each other.

Not just in winning us over with your idea, but in learning how to overcome your challenges as you grow your business.

Real entrepreneurs help each other. They reach out to each other, offer guidance, advice, even a shoulder to cry on in some cases.

It's sort of the unwritten rule of entrepreneurship -- to help your fellow business pioneers. 

When I meetup with rookie entrepreneurs, that tell me they are struggling with a problem, and I offer to help, their eyes light up like the Sun breaking through the storm clouds.

As they explain their challenge, they stumble to explain their problem, using vague language, or simply leaving out important parts of the problem, as they fear I'm "fishing" for my next big thing.

Relax newbie.

No one is going to steal your idea.

Why would I even attempt to do something when you've already put in the initial legwork? I'd have to start from scratch, and that's just too time consuming -- not too mention I'd be well behind you, that already has a lot more work in the game.

Fear that someone will steal your business idea is one of the leading causes of start-up failure, because no one can help you, if you can't explain to someone what it is you are doing.

So put your fear behind you. You'll have a better chance of communicating your problems to those that can really help you, and you're business will have a far better chance of success because of it.