“I wish I had more time” is heard frequently especially around the busy holiday season. We all have the same amount of time so instead of wishing for more consider some methods that will help you use it more effectively. First and foremost accept how valuable ...Read More +
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Last Thursday evening I took part in a seminar we hosted at the Centre called “Use Online Content, Conversation, and Persuasion to Build Your Business”. The presenter, Kenton Larsen, was enthusiastic, engaged the audience, and was very knowledgeable about all kinds of social media platforms, issues, and trends.
We discussed the BIG question, “Should I be on-line?” Deep down we all know the answer is YES but many entrepreneurs continue to resist setting up a web page and using social media to promote their businesses. By doing so, they are missing out on opportunities and potential business.
The online business trend will continue to grow so the next question is where should you be on-line? There are so many options: your own webpage, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, along with a host of platforms I’d never heard of. The key is to figure out which platform your customers are using and engage with them there. Kenton suggested that you identify your five biggest clients. Are they on Facebook, do they Tweet, are they fully connected on LinkedIn? Find the top three sites they use, and start using those.
Content is so important. Once you know which platforms are most used by your customers, plan what you are going to say to them. LISTEN to what they are saying and respond accordingly. Find out what your customers care about, find out what they are up to and update them with what you are doing.
Two important questions came from the seminar participants:
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I was recently on the problem-solving website FixYa.com. This is a place where consumers can ask for help with problems they are having with a product. Like many forums, the question goes out to the readers who then submit suggestions. It is fascinating to see the energetic and clever solutions that come back – all free of charge.
I’ve been ruminating about why so many readers respond to the questions. Is it for the sheer joy of helping? While most people like to be helpful, I think there is more to it than that. There is a very structured and effective recognition component on FixYa.com. The more problems you solve the more points you earn. The more points you earn the higher you climb on the “expertise” ladder, resulting in growing respect within this on-line community.
Small business owners know that employee recognition is a powerful force. While they must be accompanied by monetary compensation that is competitive within the job market, recognition and respect always form part of a successful compensation package. Happy employees note that they are appreciated at work and are recognized for their contributions. The form of recognition depends on your organization but the continuum ranges from a gold star to front page headlines. (I don’t respond well to gold stars – I think it has something to do with a bad experience in Kindergarten.)
Staff Appreciation Day has become an annual event at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba. A few years ago, we each received an Appreciation Box. All of our staff is encouraged to place positive, hand-written notes into the boxes of their colleagues, explaining to them why they are appreciated. Throughout the year I hear comments like, “I need to pull out my Appreciation Box and read all those notes again”. It is immensely gratifying to see in writing the positive impact you have on your co-workers. In addition, there is great value in taking time to think carefully about your co-workers and crafting a genuine comment for each of them. The Appreciation Boxes have provided us with a simple mechanism for saying thank you to the people around us.
As an employer you have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of your employees. Small business owners can implement recognition programs that don’t have to be financially onerous. As you build a workplace with an appreciative culture you will undoubtedly see the rewards. While some rewards are intangible, others can make a significant impact on the bottom line. You may see lower hiring costs due to low employee turnover or your team may be more efficient and effective because they are highly engaged.
So back to the question about helpfulness. I think the answer lies in the respect and recognition it can generate from our colleagues and clients. I know that entrepreneurs are innovative. I encourage you to take the time to create an organizational culture that recognizes the contribution your staff makes to the success of your business.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
I am writing this as I wind down my summer job at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba. The last three months have been filled with learning, working hard, and lots of soup (we take turns bringing homemade soup for the staff lunch on Thursdays).
I was a little nervous before I started at the Centre. What if I wasn’t good at my job? What if I didn’t fit in? What will it be like working with a team comprised almost entirely of women? Will I know if my shirt goes with my shoes? Those were the questions rushing through my head as I walked in on the first day. But as I settled into my job, I realized:
With my early worries behind me, I have gone on to learn a lot: I have done research for many important projects; experienced the other side of the red pen by marking student business plans; conducted client surveys; chaired a staff meeting; and worked at the front desk (I’m still not quite sure how our client service coordinators keep the Centre running so smoothly). Along the way, I have grown both personally and professionally.
I came in with basic knowledge of business plans – that means I knew they existed. I am leaving knowing how important they are for demonstrating the feasibility and viability of a business idea. Over the last three months, I have gained a working knowledge of how to create a solid business plan from the concept and marketing to the operations and the financials. I have also learned what not to do when developing a business plan.
When it comes to research I have learned how to more effectively use various databases and search engines (including Google). A good part of this learning is the importance in word choice to optimize the search compatibility with expectations.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I learned how to function professionally in a workplace. I now have experience running a meeting, staffing a busy front desk, talking to clients, and interacting with coworkers. I was even advised that putting your hands in your pockets conveys a less-than-professional message. These are skills and lessons that are transferrable to any workplace.
I want to thank everybody at the Women’s Enterprise Centre for teaching me so much, for welcoming me into your workplace, and for supporting me in the development of my career.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
I have learned in my two years of attending the WEConnect/WBENC conference that it’s easy to spot those who have done a lot of networking and handshaking and those who have not. The difference is the ease they have in:
There is always the lure of landing that big contract with that big corporation that will propel your business to another level. However, these opportunities evolve from networking and building relationships.
Confidence shows in how you carry yourself and the ease with which you can talk about your business in a way that is relevant to the listener. If you find this challenging, you need to do more networking. Don’t be scared off. Instead embrace the challenge to improve. Networking is a bit like golf; every once in a while you make a near perfect shot, the rest of the time there are a few miss-hits but overall, you’re doing alright. The more you practice, the better you get.
Knowing your business’s unique value proposition is one thing; being able to articulate it, off-the-cuff, when the moments present themselves is quite another. Do you know how your business is different from every other one in that same industry…without taking five or more minutes of the listener’s time to explain it? Women often get caught up in explaining the details of their business before painting the big picture. Can you talk about and describe your business from the 35,000 foot perspective? Again, the more you practice this, the better you get.
It’s important to do your research on companies that may be interested in what you have to offer. When I teach marketing sessions at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, I often have participants introduce themselves, highlighting who they are, what their business is and why I, as the listener, should care. “Why the listener should care” is directly connected with hearing, processing and capitalizing on what the corporate representative or potential business connection is saying. What are the priorities of their company right now? What problems are they currently dealing with? What brought them to the conference? Focus on listening to what others are saying rather than preoccupying your mind with what you are going to say.
Networking and building relationships start with being there. You need to be there. So we’ll see you at Opening Doors, the 5th annual national WEConnect conference in Toronto on November 4 and 5, 2013.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Jonah Berger’s Contagious provides vital information on the way messages go viral. This Wharton School professor has done his homework and after years of research and experimentation, provides us with convincing examples of “why things catch on”, the book’s subtitle.
I don’t mean to make this a book review, although I suppose it is in a way, because I intend to give you some of the main themes and try to convince you to buy the book, or at least take it out of the library. Why it’s a blog rather than a review is because I intend to tell you what the book has meant to me and how it’s changed the way I look at marketing and communications.
I’m old school (which is, I guess, another way to say I haven’t been to school in a long while). I came from the traditional Promotion/Place/Product/Price generation. I have to do some merry twisting and re-learning to get my mind around social media and its core paradigm, that of community building. Berger’s book has helped me to make the leap. Not that the four Ps are wrong, but that they have been invested with a kind of new dimensionality not originally envisioned by their creator (Jerome McCarthy, 1960, made popular by Philip Kotler in Principles of Marketing in the late sixties).
Contagious gives us the “Six Principles of Contagiousness” (which should really be ‘contagion’ but that kind of quibbling is old school, too!): Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories. So the four Ps have been redefined: Place now can be everywhere and location is secondary to accessibility; Price is fluid in accordance with market, geography and product cycle; Product has a decidedly shorter lifespan and requires broader customizability; and Promotion better pick up its skirts and look, feel and be genuine. Underlying the new definitions of core marketing principles are the vehicles of distribution of the message which are much more engaged with customers and, in reality, much more dependent on people desiring to share information for a variety of very human reasons.
Contagious is an easy read, but that doesn’t mean it is simplistic. Berger’s ideas are well thought out, tested and proven. The examples he cites are all convincing revelations that help us to see how and why people share information that transforms often into exponential increases (or decreases) in sales. If you are interested in how social media can work for your business, this book is a must for your summer reading. For me (reminded once again that blogs aren’t supposed to be book reviews), I’m loving the sense of ‘aha’ that I got from the reading and the rechanneling of my marketing brain into new synaptic configurations. If you are 25 years old and your brain doesn’t need rechanneling (yet), Contagious will vindicate what you think you already know and will give you some great ideas on how to take advantage of that knowledge. For those of us who might be significantly more than 25, this has been a refreshing and revealing lesson on how we absolutely must be open to new concepts that reflect our changing world.
Monday, July 08, 2013
It’s on just about everyone’s list of desirable qualities for their employer, employees and friends - integrity.
I recently spoke with a business owner who was the victim of employee theft. Beside the financial damage that resulted, I was struck by the emotional toll that it took on the business. The whole organization felt the blow to morale.
It’s hard to imagine someone stealing from the very place that provides their livelihood. However, in some reading on the subject, it quickly became apparent that there are recurring themes and preventative actions that business owners can take.
Stephen O’Keefe, vice-president of operations for the Retail Council of Canada was quoted as saying that employee theft “boils down to need, greed or opportunity.” As a business owner, you may believe you can’t control the need factor but what if the employee’s need is to be appreciated? Certainly there are ways you can acknowledge their contribution to the business. If the motivation to steal is greed, were there employment and character references that you didn’t find time to check? Finally, have you eliminated the opportunity to steal?
When I talked to the business owner about this particular theft, we both spotted several ways to prevent it from happening again. We noted that there weren’t any checks and balances in place for handling money which gave the employee opportunity. A multitude of people were authorized to access the cash drawer. If there was a shortage at the end of the day, nobody tried very hard to figure out where the money went.
Additionally, there wasn’t a system for keeping an appropriate audit trail for cash invoices. This enabled the employee to make a cash sale but not record it in the system. The individual later admitted that they felt underappreciated and had convinced themself that they deserved this extra money to compensate for a lack of recognition.
This employer learned several lessons from the experience and while there was a cost to the company, the implications could have been disastrous. Consider what might happen in a small start-up business that is operating on very tight margins. Employee theft could mean the end.
Regardless of business size or stage, here are a few suggestions to help prevent internal theft:
In the words of Warren Buffet: “In looking for someone to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But the most important is integrity, because if they don’t have that, the other two qualities, intelligence and energy, are going to kill you.”
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
When a client comes in, seemingly rudderless in a sea of new business options, or bereft of an idea upon which to focus their energy and enthusiasm, I encourage them to not over think things. It’s possible the answer or, at minimum, the seeds of a very good idea are within reach given their personal experience and observations.
My role as Business Advisor is to help clients develop and refine their concepts into viable business propositions, and to provide them with tools to perform ongoing business assessment and monitoring. Increasingly, I see clients who are struggling with the “process” of identifying that one, great concept that will launch their entrepreneurial journey and take them out of the “I wish I could” vortex.
An entrepreneur has to be the author of their own Business Plan otherwise the resulting plan is just words on the page. The idea phase, however, is often far more fruitful when it’s undertaken as a group activity. Last week’s blog referenced the client who couldn’t focus in on what she should be doing or how she should narrow her field of possibilities for a business idea. Here are some of the steps we took to help spark clarity around her entrepreneurial dream:
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
In a recent conversation with a client, I was reminded of one of the biggest obstacles facing would-be entrepreneurs – it’s the characteristic that separates those who have ideas, but no way to execute them, from those who have the right team and need to validate their idea(s). You’ve got to have both to make your start-up a reality otherwise it’s a lot of smoke, mirrors and vivid dreaming!
How many people do you know who have said at one point or another, “I’ve always wanted to start my own business, but don’t know where to begin,” or, “I love what I do; if only I could make money doing what I love,” or “Okay, this is definitely the year I’m going to get my idea off the ground!”
The client who came in and subsequently sparked this blog, and the one following, wanted some direction (clarity, really) on why she couldn’t make the leap – she wondered what was holding her back from realizing her dream of business ownership. After a few moments of conversation, it was clear to me she had many things operating in her favour: several years working in a profession where she excelled; a positive and engaging personality; the intelligence and wherewithal to make good, reasoned decisions; and a couple of reasonably solid business options on which she’d done preliminary research. So, what’s the problem?
Marc Nager, the co-founder and author of Startup Weekend. How to Take a Company From Concept to Creation in 54 Hours defines a start-up as “entrepreneurs with an idea in search of a business model. Once you have a team and confirmation that you are solving a real problem and creating real value, then the longer road of building your business begins.”
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
I have found, from my perspective as an ex-New Yorker, that Canadians are for the most part much more genteel and self-effacing than their American counterparts. Now this may not come as news to you, but for many years I was considered to be a ‘pushy broad’ as one brilliant wag put it, given my US East Coast brassy approach to life in general and casual conversation in particular. I wasn’t shy about stating my opinion when I thought it mattered and calling people out when required. But most important, I wasn’t a wallflower when it came to recounting my own skills and competencies when applying for a job, chasing a project or pitching a client. It’s in my nature and my upbringing; I never saw it as a negative personal attribute, even though I may have been alone in that view this far north.
All this to say that I am struck each time I hear that organizations that provide awards to entrepreneurs and to businesses that have excelled in some way have to go begging to recruit nominees. What?! Here’s an offer of some degree of celebrity and recognition for all the hard work you’ve been doing and you have to be cajoled, persuaded, encouraged or guilted into the simple act of filling out the application? What are you thinking, Manitobans?
I’ve been on all three sides of this issue (wait a minute, how can there be three sides?) I’ve been an award winner, I’ve been an award nominator and I’ve been on selection committees and judging panels for a number of entrepreneurship awards over the years. It’s great! People come out and celebrate with you whether you are a nominee or a winner. People clap, they cry at your story, pictures are taken, food is eaten, lovely glass ‘thingies’ exchange hands and the media reports it all. This is not terrible! To be recognized by your peers, your customers, your stakeholders and supporters for having done something excellent, unique, difficult, challenging, or impossible, that’s pretty heady stuff.
So what if you have to fill out an application and justify your place in the winner’s circle. It’s a great exercise. It helps you to identify and consider all the things you are doing well or the distinctive nature of your business, your philosophy, your service approach, or your product evolution. By doing that, you force yourself to have a strategic overview of your own business. You climb out of the narrow chimney of your everyday operations and take the macro look at what makes you really good. How could this be bad?
Whether it’s the CAFÉ awards, Spirit of Winnipeg, RBC Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, WBO Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Venture Challenge, Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Manitoba Business Awards* or any other regional or national competition, you should really get out there and strut your stuff. Don’t make them come after you, you go to them and don’t leave it until the last minute either. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Get out there and shine.
*at this writing nominations are still being accepted for the Manitoba Business Awards.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Over the last few months, I have experienced some excellent customer service. Sadly, this is not a regular occurrence.
The first instance was with a federal government department. I had called and left a message around 4 pm one day and received a call the following morning around 9. The person was not able to help me directly but gave me the number of another department that should be able to assist. When I contacted the second department, a very cooperative woman advised me of the steps she would take to get me the necessary information. She also had suggestions should we not get the information hoped for.
The second instance happened later that same day. It was with the City’s 311 Information line. It didn’t take very long to get a live person, which was a good beginning and then the person who picked up my call was very helpful. In short, I was one of many Winnipeggers having an issue with garbage pick-up and have been in touch with the City a number of times. The 311 Operator was very patient and supportive of my “less than happy” attitude. He took the time to review all the information in my file and add my most recent situation. He seemed to understand my frustration. After speaking with him, I decided to put a note on my garbage can.
A few days later, I came across this article on LinkedIn which got me thinking further about good customer service. Both of my examples were over the telephone but when I think of good customer service, I also think of Ricki’s: Fashion That Works. When you walk into the store someone always greets you and asks if they can help you – and they do help you. My daughter found the same excellent service in Calgary which suggests it is a company approach. They inquire about what you are looking for and then proceed to offer up options which might fit the bill. In my daughter’s case they brought something she would never have chosen; it fit perfectly and looked wonderful.
What doesn’t work: staff that ignores you when you walk into a store. When I run into that scenario, I don’t hesitate for a moment, I just walk out. It used to frustrate me to no end when people on the phone were talking to others at the same time as they are talking to me – now I just hang up.
When I receive good service it makes me eager to return to the shop, use the service again and to recommend to others. I also think that I spend more money in stores and with people that provide good service.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Have you ever imagined what it might be like to be among 3,500 women who are business owners just like you? And to press flesh (the man-word for shaking hands) with women business owners who have achieved high levels of financial success in business…the level of financial success that you are hoping for and dreaming about?
If you want to meet these kinds of women business owners, you’ve got to go where they go. Many of them go to the annual WBENC/WEConnect conference, which this year, is being held in Minneapolis, June 23-26. At this event, you will meet all kinds of women business owners who own and operate companies in all kinds of industries, and who are at all levels of business financial success.
IMMEDIATE RESULTS OF ATTENDING WBENC/WEConnect: Connecting with Eagles.
At last year’s conference (in Orlando, Florida – the conference moves around), I met a woman who owns and operates one of the construction companies that was leading the process of rebuilding the World Trade Centre buildings. I met a woman whose company makes industrial fans for livestock barns. And another whose business produces sand paper products in large volume that she sells to multi-national corporations. I met a woman who has built a multi-million dollar business selling name badges. When would I have met these women business owners if I had not attended the WBENC/WEConnect conference? Probably never.
WBENC is designed for women business owners who want to increase their sales and grow their businesses by becoming a supplier to larger corporations. The woman whose company produces sand paper products took her company to the next level of business growth when she secured a contract with Wal-Mart.
Wanna know how she did it? Wanna press flesh with her? Wanna take her success strategies and apply them to your business? You’ve got to go where the eagles go, and the WBENC/WEConnect conference is one of those places.
In the U.S., many large corporations have supplier diversity programs which encourage the company’s executives to source products and supplies from women-owned businesses. In Canada, the supplier diversity program is in its infancy but momentum is building and you can get in on the early stages.
The Canadian version of WBENC is called WEConnect Canada. The WEConnect Canada organization will also be at the WBENC conference. In fact, WEConnect Canada is hosting WEConnect Canada networking and learning opportunities for the Canadian women business owners at WBENC, on Sunday evening and all day Monday (June 23 and 24). This is where you can connect with Canadian eagles – Canadian women business owners and Canadian corporations.
LONG TERMS RESULTS of WBENC/WEConnect: Contracts with corporations that take your business to the next level of financial success.
Expanding your business via supplier diversity is not easy and it does not happen with one meeting or even one conference. It’s a process. You need to learn how supplier diversity works; you need to build connections and relationships with corporate decision-makers. The first step to doing this is flying in the circles with the eagles – those women business owners who have gotten to that next level and the corporate decision-makers who can help get you there.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
When I come back from holiday, it takes me days to catch up with myself, even if I have kept track of what’s going on in the office from afar.
Here’s how my return to work unfolds: I receive about 30 emails each day which require some sort of response, add about 20 I’d like to read for information and another 30 that I have to consider before I dump. Usually, I check email while I’m gone and only respond to the urgent ones, maybe five to 10 each day. Now, if I’m gone for two weeks and only receive a modicum of mail on the weekends, that leaves more than 300 emails to which I have to respond, about 200 with relevant information and 200 more that I have to scroll through and give at least a moment’s thought. That’s about a day right there. Phone messages require another two to three hours to field. Mail takes another half day and general office catch up through meetings and drop-ins is two to three hours. That’s two and a half days to get to up to speed on what has happened in my absence so I am able to make informed decisions. I can cut that down to two days if I come in early and stay late.
That’s two days of very concentrated effort and significant cognitive engagement because I am ‘telescoping’ the past two weeks and injecting it directly into my brain – which isn’t really ready for the task. In fact, it took me a moment to figure out which key unlocked my office door after my last holiday. When you spend a significant portion of time in a totally different context you lose some of your automatic-pilot synaptic connections. That’s why I find that I need a vacation from my vacation.
Rather than never taking another holiday (a decision which would no doubt distress my colleagues), I have a plan for the next time I leave town. I will do all of my prep work leading up to holiday in a more organized fashion. I will schedule a one-day holiday BEFORE I leave, in order to create some distance between myself and work, pack in a rational and leisurely way, and prepare my mind to enjoy the time away. Hopefully this will avoid the two days required to get into holiday mode once I arrive at my destination.
Once back, my new plan is to schedule two concentrated days to catch up and then TAKE ONE MORE day off before I start back in full mode. This way, I’ll have dealt with the most urgent matters but will have the benefit of regenerating a bit so that the time away will not have been in vain, and I can approach work with a fresh mind and re-invigorated energies.
Doesn’t that sound like a plan? Now if I can only schedule accordingly, I’ll be able to get a better effect from the time away without the stressors that usually accompany absence from work. Somebody please remind me to give this a try next time around.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
The need to recruit a new employee may result from business growth, an employee promotion, termination, illness or any of a number of other reasons. This step-by-step process will help increase your success in the hiring process.
Before beginning the recruiting process, assess your business needs so that you can prepare a job description that fits your requirements. As you develop the job description, be sure to visit the National Occupational Classification (NOC) which provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. Job Descriptions: Employer’s Handbook can help you develop job descriptions to hire employees, evaluate employee performance and identify training needs.
Once you are satisfied with the final job description, advertise the position. The advertisement should clearly detail the education, background and experience required. There are a variety of ways to create awareness about the opening: send it out to your business and personal network, use LinkedIn and Facebook, advise Service Canada Job Bank, Monster, Workopolis, universities, colleges, technical schools, or placement agencies.
Depending on the position, the applications could pour in. Be prepared to effectively and efficiently screen them. Develop a rating sheet based on the criteria set out in the job posting and screen each resume using the same system. The next step is to develop a short list of candidates.
Set up interviews with qualified candidates and develop interview questions that will gather relevant information. Behavioural questions such as “What do you do if you disagree with someone at work?” will provide you with a sense of how an individual might react in a given situation.
Two heads are often better than one. Ask a colleague (perhaps the position supervisor or an employee who will work closely with the candidate) to take part in the interview. Be sure to take notes of applicant’s responses. Once all the interviews have been conducted, compare the candidates. There may be times when a second interview is necessary, particularly if you are having trouble selecting between a few qualified candidates. Once you have decided on the best candidate and offered them the position, the negotiation process may begin. Subsequent meetings may be required to come to an agreement on details such as start date and remuneration.
On-boarding is the process of introducing the new employee to the organization, their supervisors, co-workers, work areas and jobs, and sometimes to health and safety in general. Providing extra assistance during the initial period is as important as a good interview process. Develop an orientation checklist that is customized to your business and workplace. Provide an overview of the company – its history and culture, HR policies, procedures, performance management and on-going learning/training options. Provide coaching, peer support, information sessions, and meet with new employees regularly to ask how they are and what other resources, if any, they may need.
The process of hiring a new employee involves, preparation, recruitment, interviews, selection and orientation, which eventually leads to regular performance management and employee development. Investment in the recruitment process is well worth your time, effort and resources.
The process of hiring a new employee involves, preparation, recruitment, interviews, selection and orientation, which eventually leads to regular performance management and employee development. Investment in the recruitment process is well worth your time, effort and resources.
Monday, April 29, 2013
90 minutes. That’s it.
Apparently we only have about 90 minutes of good, productive time in the morning, where we are able to completely focus on a single project. The rest of the day is downhill from there. In the afternoons, we are easily distracted, and coincidentally, this is when people tend to make the most mistakes.
During the morning when you are still energized, it is important to get your priority work done first. Don’t sift through e-mails or surf the net while you still have a fresh, productive brain. This can be done later, when you are tired and after you’ve completed the important work.
Trust me it will take a lot of self-discipline not to dive into e-mails first thing. Interestingly, self-discipline is easier to exercise while the day is young. If you think about it, most people break their diet at the end of the day, once their will-power muscle has been exhausted.
My goal is to get my priority work done first thing; to make the action a strong habit or a ritual. Brushing my teeth has become a morning ritual; I don’t stand in front of the sink and argue with myself about whether or not I will brush. I just do it. This is how I’m going to tackle my important work first – just do it.
If your priority is to become more profitable or to grow your business, try spending some precious morning time on this goal, before the craziness of the day takes you in another direction.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba clients often remark to me about my work schedule; they are surprised to see me when they arrive for a morning or afternoon meeting with their business advisor, and when they attend one of our evening training sessions. I’m very quick – and happy - to let them know that it is through these flexible shifts that the Centre supports my academic goals.
We all know that life is busy: running our own businesses or working for someone else, fulfilling family obligations, fitting in studies and enjoying other pursuits. A Business Insider infographic shows how flexible work hours as well as working remotely, dramatically affect employee productivity and happiness. The 2009 study ‘Are Flexible Work Schedules Created for Business Reasons or to Assist Workers’ by researchers from McMaster University, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Guelph provided strong evidence that flexible work schedules help workers achieve work-life balance.
A new University of Manitoba study shows how alternate work arrangements help employees attain a degree of work-family balance and decrease absenteeism and turnover in the workplace. Among their findings was that flexible schedules, shift work and self-employment significantly increased women’s perception that their work and family lives were balanced. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, 87% of Boomers, 79% of Gen X'ers, and 89% of Millennials cite flexible work arrangements as important.
It took nine years, but this summer I will complete my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Reflecting on this near achievement, I realize that attaining my personal goal was in large part due to my employer’s recognition of the importance of providing me with a flexible schedule to achieve a degree of work/life balance.
Friday, April 12, 2013
I found a terrific graphic that visually answers the question we get often at the Centre which is, “Why do I need a business plan?”
My favourite design /philosophy /news/ interesting-stuff site, Co-Design, has an article about an artist who designs posters that are simple illustrations of complex paradigms. This one, designed by Joey Roth, shows the very concept that we struggle to impart to our clients regarding the power of the entrepreneurial dream vs. the need to dig in and work to make the dream happen.
Mark Wilson’s article in the most recent Co-Design shows some of Roth’s infographic work and quotes the artist as saying “the poster is inspired by my developing realization that the most valuable tool anyone has is their grind--represented in the poster as steps carved into an incline. I’m not talking about the ‘daily’ grind: doing work you don’t like or care about. By ‘grind’ I mean a combination of work ethic and improvised strategy that becomes a daily ritual, and ensures progression or improvement over time, regardless of an individual day or even week’s outcome… Dreaming about reaching the same goal is easier and faster in the beginning, but doesn’t provide the same ritualized framework. The more a dream is exposed to reality, the more it needs this framework: grind.”
‘Work ethic and improvised strategy.’ We couldn’t agree more. The poster illustrates the increasing difficulty of reaching your goal via the dream rather than the steady progression toward the objective that is planning, thinking and doing.
Certainly worth the $35 cost of the poster via Joey Roth’s website. Look for a large framed copy soon at your friendly downtown Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Whose fault is it? Is it mine? Is it society in general? Is it regional? Canadian? North American? Worldwide? When did it start?
I’m referring to what seems to be an overall loss of awareness of other people’s feelings, position or situation. Have individuals become so imbued with the sense of ‘me’ and what is important to ‘me and my schedule/desires’ that they forget there is a world outside of themselves? Am I just becoming more aware of perceived infractions against ordinary existence or are things becoming worse? Am I equally unaware? Have I offended/irritated others without thinking?
While drivers who use the transit lane to ‘beat the traffic’; litterbugs who feel it is ‘okay’ to discard their trash where they stand; and those people who forget to use please and thank you to acknowledge a service or kindness are among my top pet peeves, the lack of customer service wins hands down.
When did customer service become an inconvenient and irksome chore? From a business perspective, exceptional customer service is a given not an option. Non-listening, bored-faced client-service individuals seem more common these days. I’m sorry – maybe my expectations are falling into the ‘sense of entitlement’ area. To me, customer service via social media isn’t really customer service. While the app-savvy generation might be fine with a ‘cloud interaction’, those of us still trying to get our heads around Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Facetime, actually prefer interacting with another human; but lose the attitude and make interactions less stressful!
I recently read Aaron James’ book A*!@: A Theory. My inherent politeness prevents me from naming it fully in a public forum, but it does make you stop and think about why people behave the way they do, and why their bad behaviour disturbs us.
On the flip side, “Random Acts of Kindness” appears every week in the Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. The letters in this column always express appreciation for good deeds. What is worrisome is that these kindnesses are seen as an exception rather than common practice. So, to all those thoughtful and caring people who think of others and simply help out because they can, ‘thank-you’.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
If we had a nickel for every time that phrase was uttered when discussing the potential for business success…we’d all be millionaires. It’s hard to refute the thinking behind the adage; the ideal spot, with the right amenities, amid your target demographic, and secured at the right price…how can you lose? A recent discussion in one of our Business Plan Development workshops, however, got me thinking.
We were talking in general terms about positioning your business relative to your competition, about doing your due diligence in terms of market research, and undertaking a comprehensive SWOT analysis to inform decision-making. Following some healthy debate, most participants asserted that the best place to locate is as far away from the competition as possible. Mine was the lone contradictory voice in the classroom. Interestingly, research suggests I’m not alone in my thinking. When determining where your business should be located many experts agree that it’s more straightforward than a lot of entrepreneurs make it.
In an Entrepreneur.com article, Greg Kahn, founder and CEO of the U.S. based Kahn Research Group says, “Quite simply, the best place to be is as close to your biggest competitor as you can be." Kahn, a behavioral research veteran who has done location research for Arby's, Home Depot, Subway and other major and minor players continues, "Foot traffic is obviously important, but landing the 'perfect' customer is far more crucial.” That’s the crux of the matter; finding the best way to leverage the ideal customer, providing you have a quality product to back up your efforts. By being in close proximity to your real competitors you glean benefit from their already proven marketing efforts. "Why spend the money when they've already [spent it] for you?" asks Kahn.
Location is good; healthy competition is better!
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Take Pictures. Of everything. Whether it is someone purchasing items for an event you are organizing, a staff/team member having a meeting, some technology you are using, your space, the weather.
Take lots – with digital cameras it doesn’t cost anything to take many pictures and the more you take, the more likely there will be one great one among them.
Try out some of the options you have in the camera - play with settings, lighting, scenes, etc to see what you get. Have fun. Something great might turn out, but that isn’t the most important thing.
Save them on your computer
Whichever works best for you.
Share them – put them up on Facebook, add to a tweet, send to someone who’s in the picture.
You can easily make collages with something like Picasa which is a free program and can be a good place to store your pictures.
As you move forward you will have a visual reminder of things that have happened – in the store, your studio, your events. This will give you a great opportunity to add visuals to your printed/online documents and presentations.
Pictures can also help with how to’s for staff. They don’t have to be art, just a visual of things that have taken place. I often create procedure manuals and will take a picture of what the file looks like, or where something is located in the space.
Pictures are great addition to blogs, web pages, letters. I carry my camera with me and I also have the camera on my cell phone. Because I have it with me all the time, it is easy to just pull it out and snap a photo.
In the last few weeks I have taken pictures of a colleague who was writing a blog and needed a photo to put in it – she was doing yoga at her desk; a couple of locations we might be interested in using for events, so that we have a visual of what’s available; clients at a seminar, to put a picture up on our website; a photo of an item that was going out for a quote, so the person receiving my email could see what I was talking about; my computer screen regarding an issue I was having so that I could send it to our tech person without having to write it down on paper and then type into an email; the weather so that I could put something up on Facebook.
Make picture taking a part of your routine. So, get that camera out and start snapping, and remember to have fun!
Monday, March 04, 2013
Friday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. As the name suggests, it is a global acknowledgement of the economic, political and social achievements of women. While it began as an offshoot of labour unrest in the early 1900s, today it is marked by celebrations that range from parades and marches to concerts and galas. In some countries, it is a national holiday.
Every year since I joined the team at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, I have participated in IWD celebrations. I have been inspired by speakers of all ages, attended breakfasts and lunches, and enjoyed the entertainment that is part of most celebrations. I have seen both the progress that has been made by women in Canada and the work that still needs to be done.
This year, International Women’s Day has a truly international feel for me. In June 2012, we had the honour of hosting a delegation from the Ukraine at the Centre who wanted to learn what we do and how we do it. As a country that continues to face economic challenges, there is recognition that women entrepreneurs will play a huge role in creating jobs, alleviating poverty and moving the country toward economic prosperity.
Following that serendipitous first meeting, I had the opportunity to travel to the Ukraine in October and then again in December to share more about the Centre, our challenges and triumphs. In December, the Lviv Regional State Administration, which was so impressed by what they had seen in Winnipeg, announced that they would be establishing their own women’s enterprise centre. While there is still much work to be done in order to make that happen, the commitment by the state administration reinforces what women have always known and the wider community is now beginning to recognize: women-owned and managed businesses are a force. They are good listeners, wise decision-makers, skilled at aligning human, financial and operational resources; and generous community builders.
One thing leads to another. On Friday, March 8 as Canadians are marking International Women’s Day in their own unique way, I will be on an airplane heading for Vietnam to again share the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba story and hopefully plant a seed that inspires another community to recognize the value of women entrepreneurs.
Monday, February 25, 2013
If your house or office is anything like mine, you probably have a pile stacked on the floor (box, drawer, cabinet) that is comprised of books, papers and magazines that you fully intend to read ‘as soon as you have time’. My pile has now topped three feet and is beginning to have that tottering stance that tells me that it desperately needs my attention before the next person to breeze by creates a paper tsunami.
Step one is, of course, to do the usual quarterly sorting. Did I really want to read this and why? Lots of drawing paper for my friends’ kids results from that first cull. Then I generally cluster the material: this is work-related; these are good recipe/organizing/hobby/fashion ideas; these are self-help life changers (or purport to be); these I put aside for someone else but can’t remember who. Okay, I now have four or five smaller piles which, naturally, I prioritize and re-pile, but – vastly improved because now they have labels and I’ve had a chance to dust around the perimeter.
I find that each time I engage in this exercise, I come away with two or three must read selections that I actually do peruse. My most recent ‘find’ (if you can call it finding when it’s been within a five foot reach for the better part of seven months) is Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. I’m so loving this book! It was worth dancing with the dust bunnies to finally unearth it. Blink, among other thoughtful ideas, is about the good and bad decisions we make from the gut, and why and how that happens.
Gladwell’s ‘thin slice’ is the way that we take the whole of a situation using only the most minimal and immediate aspects of the experience, and are able to make perfect judgments and decisions. The premise is that there is so much expertise and experience from which our subconscious draws, that we are able to derive a fairly credible and solid instant foundation for immediate action. Naturally, there is a flip side to this which is the unintended biases and prejudices that also lurk in our hidden consciousness that is a reflection of our societal influences and which, despite our voluntary intentions, will impact or influence our actions. I recommend the book for its clear language, good stories and examples and thought-provoking ideas.
One further thing that emerged from my recent delving is information about the world’s most perfect app to help to avoid future piles. Both my conscious and unconscious mind jumped for joy when I understood its purpose. Instapaper is an inexpensive app that allows you to easily save links to sites that you come across but don’t have time to read. All you have to do is create a password and you can access those links on any of your mobile devices, thus creating an instant newspaper made up of articles generated by your web browsing. You can read them on your phone or tablet when you are waiting in the doctor’s office or on the bus or at lunch.
I’m hoping that between Instapaper and my good intentions, I can shrink that paper mountain down to nothing and save a good many trees in the process.
Friday, November 30, 2012
It’s strange how some old memories keep kicking around in your head. As a child, I lived in a suburb in the north part of Winnipeg. The main street was lined with homes on one side and small stores on the other. The businesses in this two-block stretch included a bakery, doughnut shop, butcher, haberdashery, hardware store, shoe repair, doctor’s office, barber shops, hair salons, two drugstores and a couple of five-and-dimes that sold the basics and had lunch counters.
I remember how the sidewalks were always bustling. Workmen would make the journey to the five-and-dime for lunch, and many times we would pick up fish and chips for a special treat at the end of the week (50 cents bought enough to feed a family of five!) There were lots of dogs and cats, too. This predated any by-laws preventing animals from roaming at will but no one seemed leery around them. Well okay – there was one Great Dane that made me nervous. He would take up his daily post in front of the butcher shop so as a six-year old on a mission for a carton of milk, I would take the long way around rather than pass a mild-mannered animal that was taller than me.
One of my lasting childhood memories is the pride the shop-keepers took in the exteriors of their businesses. Every morning, the sidewalks were swept and refuse went in the garbage bin behind the store. Litter and dirt were not swept into the street to blow around the neighbourhood. Weeds were pulled. Windows and doors were washed on a regular basis. Handles and door knobs were cleaned daily. Awnings were not allowed to become shredded or dirty. A quick rinse with the hose removed dust build-up from the awnings and made short work of mud splashes on the facade. In winter the sidewalks in front of the stores were completely shovelled – not just a path; and no one waited for the city to send out the plows.
In this competitive world where things change so quickly (many for the better) and businesses around the corner must compete with businesses around the world, why wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to put your best foot forward? We all know the old adage about first impressions, not to mention the importance of customer service. Spending a little time on the outside of your business sends a powerful message about your attitude to your customers and is a great way to help build your community.
Friday, November 16, 2012
When you apply for a loan, you are not just borrowing money. You are asking the potential lender to invest in you and your business. Whether it is a family member, friend, angel investor, bank or credit union, or a government supported business financing program such as the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, the lender is being asked to make an investment. As such, they will want to assess:
One of the measures that lenders use to assess if you are a low or not-so-low credit risk is your credit score which measures your risk of default at a specific point in time. It indicates the risk you represent for lenders. Your credit score is an actual number that can range from 280 to 850. If you have a high score, you will be considered a low risk to lenders. If you have a low score, you will be considered at high risk of not making payments and paying off the loan.
Your credit score is influenced by your payment history, the amounts you owe on your current credit sources or credit utilization, the length of your credit history, your new credit inquiries and activities, and the types of credit you have and have used.
In Canada, there are two main credit bureaus that collect data on your borrowing history – TransUnion and Equifax. When a financial institution does a credit check on you, it will obtain your credit history and your credit score from one or both of these bureaus.
You can improve your credit history and credit score by:
Friday, November 09, 2012
Entrepreneurs often encounter pitfalls when their desire to be first-to-the-gate prevents them from acquiring sufficient knowledge. There’s possibly only one thing that plays as much havoc with an entrepreneur’s ability to realize their goal(s)… analysis paralysis.
Serial entrepreneurs and experienced business professionals will attest – having passion, conviction, and a good idea isn’t enough to ensure a positive outcome when considering new ventures. You have to prepare yourself with sufficient background, data, and the stats that demonstrate your business is not only feasible, but viable and sustainable as well. In reality, there is virtually limitless information, scientific research, and conjecture about any industry, proposition, or undertaking you might be considering. While some of the research may be difficult to find, make no mistake, the likelihood is that there is no shortage of quantifiable evidence both FOR and AGAINST the business you’re considering.
The environment in which you plan to operate, your own experience and business acumen, economic and social factors, resources (human and financial), and a myriad of other considerations come into play. Depending on your personality and predisposition, you may be inclined to a more thorough analysis of existing facts than your competition. If you take the exploration, research and analysis stage too far, however, you run the very real risk of missing your window of opportunity.
That’s where good counsel, the advice of a seasoned veteran in the industry you’re considering, or a business analyst has a significant role to play. They can advise you where there are gaps in your thinking or research and they can challenge your assumptions and projections for revenue generation. Trust that there are people at WECM positioned to help you succeed!
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
In order to reach my goals of balancing work, studies, family, and even having “me-time”, I have worked to develop a healthy lifestyle built on proper rest, eating right, and physical activity. Sounds too good to be true, right? A large part of the credit goes to the Health and Wellness program at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba. The physical activities and wellness information available to the staff makes the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba one of about 13% of Canadian organizations offering group fitness activities on-site. What is even more exciting is that employees from two other workplaces are participating with us during our lunchtime sessions.
My own experience of creating a healthy and balanced lifestyle started me thinking about the clients that I serve each day: without a doubt, our clients (regardless of their business stage) share similar challenges in their attempts to maintain healthy lifestyles.
Delving deeper into the connection between health and entrepreneurship has led me to facts and stats on the Public Health Agency of Canada website, an inspirational story of an entrepreneur’s journey to regain her health, and the discovery of quick, practical and easy to follow yoga poses that can be accessed on your computer or mobile device. This research has given me an even greater appreciation for the connection between health and entrepreneurship and the creative ways in which entrepreneurs and businesses are working together to promote healthy lifestyles. In an entrepreneurial environment, it shows that the healthy individual and business reap the rewards and enjoy a competitive advantage.
What are your thoughts about health and entrepreneurship? Are you striking a balance? We would love to hear of your experiences and successes.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Employee development should include an annual performance review and can involve improving the employee’s skills in their current job, as well as developing them for future responsibilities and new positions. Managers can help to alleviate the anxiety and stress some employees experience when preparing for a bi-and/or annual employee reviews by taking a positive and respectful approach, and by preparing an employee well in advance.
A company that takes a positive consistent approach to employee review and development by conducting, at minimum, an annual review, is likely to have more satisfied employees.
Monday, October 01, 2012
My colleague Nancy and I recently had the pleasure of supporting a particularly delightful entrepreneur, whom I shall refer to as "Jane". My affinity toward Jane is rooted in her willingness to develop new skills that will benefit her business not only now, but also support her future growth plans.
One of the strategic objectives Jane identified is to provide exceptional customer service. To this end, she and I have been exploring technology solutions that make it as easy as possible for her clients to transact with her. Although Jane's specific services are unique, many entrepreneurs may relate to her as a solopreneur, and as such, benefit from exploring the web-based solution that Jane is implementing in her business.
SimplifyThis.com is an online billing and booking system that offers a 30 day free trial (no credit card required), and then starts as low as $9 per month. Although the application offers self-serve booking by clients, this function can be disabled with the click of a mouse if, like Jane's business, personal interaction is preferred in order to determine the specific service, time and location. If, however, services are offered on a regular schedule and for pre-established time periods, clients can book online from a widget embedded in an existing website.
For some of Jane's services, a deposit is required at the time of booking, with the balance due on or before the date that the service is provided. By using SimplifyThis, Jane is able to create a client contact record, send a booking confirmation that populates her own calendar, and then email an invoice which includes a link to online payment by credit card. SimplifyThis is tightly integrated with a number of payment processors, including PayPal, which means that Jane always has a current view of which clients have paid or still owe, and can send a reminder with a few mouse clicks.
Following are some of the features identified on the SimplifyThis website:
What are some of your challenges related to managing client scheduling, billing and client information?
Monday, September 10, 2012
Where has the summer gone? I had to check my calendar twice to ensure it really is September. I recall having great plans in the spring to be completely ready for fall activities, including the start to my Headliner’s Toastmasters meetings. I even fantasized about having a few speeches ready for September. Well back to reality…..
Even though I didn’t have any speeches prepared, it was great to reconnect with my group. We discussed our plans for the upcoming year, while munching on snacks and reminiscing about the summer.
Many people participate in Toastmasters to improve their public speaking skills. While this is an important benefit of Toastmasters, the greatest reward for me has been the improvement of my professional communication skills. I now recognize the importance of being prepared for meetings and don’t rely on my faulty memory to express important points. Appearing prepared and communicating in a professional manner builds creditability with your employer, colleagues, clients, and social groups.
I use to be the “umm” and “ah” queen. Now I express myself clearly using short pauses instead of torturing my listeners with long “ummmms”.
I will continue to participate in my weekly Headliner’s Toastmasters meetings to further polish and sharpen my communication and leadership skills. If you would like to see what a meeting is about and meet a friendly, supportive group for an hour each week, let me know (email@example.com or 204-988-1866).
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Onward from sunny Florida to the baking Big Apple in the grip of a heat wave. New York is complex and layered and difficult to describe if you haven’t been there. Some of it is simply overwhelming, stunning, towering, and magnificent while other aspects are just grungy and tacky. It is the broadest continuum imaginable from extraordinary feats of transcendent architecture to the archeology of gum layers pounded into broken sidewalks; from the neat boxed hedges of the Upper East Side to the hodgepodge of cheek-by-jowl ethnic restaurants and ancient apartment buildings of Lower Manhattan. I adore New York.
I was in ‘the City’ for the We Own It Summit, a gathering of successful women entrepreneurs and the organizations that work to support and enable their successes. There was an intimidating array of entrepreneurial heroes and champions and well known academics who appeared in workshops and informal networking sessions, did presentations and cheered each other’s accomplishments. Entrepreneurs, funders, supporters and researchers happily shared their knowledge and insights. I attended the conference for the purpose of gaining first-hand the critical success factors that enable women to leap to the high-growth stage. Many participants were either seeking or had found the kind of venture capital support that they needed to move their enterprises into high gear. I did garner great takeaways to share with our clients that came from conversations with successful women business owners in high growth companies and the venture capital community that provides fuel for their fire.
Some of their suggestions:
Some simple truths, but almost universal points in all of the answers I got to my questions.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
My odyssey started ten days ago and took me first to hot and humid Florida and the WBENC conference with the Canadian WEConnect delegation. I joined 3500 other individuals seeking to make connections between women entrepreneurs and corporations/government agencies seeking to diversify their supply chains. My job was to proudly accompany some of Manitoba's finest women entrepreneurs as they presented their expertise and product innovation to procurement executives representing some of the largest markets in North America. Our Saskatchewan colleague, Jade Gritzfeld has aptly captured the flavour of the WBENC conference in her blog series.
From any perspective, the conference was a grand success for the Canadian delegation. The women business owners who attended have already made invaluable contacts that will bring exciting new business opportunities. Some of these connections will take time coming to fruition, but well worthwhile once they do. Other meetings and discussions have had immediate and spectacular results.
For me, the event was incredibly valuable. Not only did I see, for the first time, the size and scope of this diversity initiative, but was even more aware of the need to prepare our clients to attend this event in future. I am more determined than ever to put our WECM resources behind the development of our growth-oriented women-owned businesses. There is so much opportunity out there for Manitoba women entrepreneurs. Working together, I believe that we can be even more successful in future in helping to build the capacity of our clients to be able to take advantage of these extraordinary diversity initiatives.
Now I've switched gears and am in New York City at a conference that serves highly successful women business owners. I'm hoping to network with this select group to see what I can bring back to the Centre in the way of knowledge and ideas for critical success factors that we can incorporate into our training and advisory activities. I’m just dashing off to the first roundtable now. More anon....
Monday, May 28, 2012
More than a decade ago, I had the great pleasure of wearing the wrist corsage at the VIP Reception and having my photo taken as a nominee for the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Awards (WEYA). It was truly one of the most exciting days of my life. My business partner at the time had secretly brought my brother to Canada to attend the awards banquet and his sudden appearance at lunch was a tremendous surprise. Having staff, friends and family in attendance at an event where one is honored, even just by being nominated, is breathtaking and unforgettable.
That’s why I know how the 30 nominees felt at the Women Business Owners’ WEYAevent last Thursday. It was, for each of them, their night, their moment of recognition and celebration of the hard work and dedication that they bring to their enterprises.
As sponsors of the event, many of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba staff attend the evening’s festivities and cheer at the great stories told in the nominee videos. We also weep a bit at the very moving words of the entrepreneurs who are pronounced as winners in their award category.
This year was particularly heady for us. Of the nine main awards, one was won by a good friend to the Centre and three were won by clients with whom we had worked to help to build their business plans or expand their markets. There is something so entirely gratifying for us when that happens. These aren’t the performance target numbers that we report to our board or our funders, these are real women entrepreneurs who have come through our doors and found something of value here that they turned into a success.
That’s why we do what we do and it’s the best return on our investment of time and resources that we could possibly get.
Congratulations to all of the nominees and to all of the winners from the managers, advisors, client service and loan staff and the CEO of the Women’s Enterprise Centre. We want nothing more than your continued success and good fortune!
Above: Majda Ficko, Hair Do Zoo and Olen Cosmetics, Lifetime Achievement Winner
Above: Majda Ficko, Hair Do Zoo and Olen Cosmetics, Lifetime Achievement Winner
Above: Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba staff
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Last week, we closed the Centre for two days so that our whole staff could participate in training for our new and improved (although intensely challenging) data management system. It was a great opportunity to tax our brains in a whole new way and all of us were exhausted after two full days of presentations and discussion.
At the end of it, we recognized that the real learning hadn’t started yet. We had gotten lots of information but hadn’t yet turned it into knowledge. That will come I expect (and hope) with a targeted program for each of our staff segments.
Learning job-related information while on the job is a bit different than being a full-time student. Sure we were getting paid to learn rather than paying to learn, but the nature of the training meant that work issues regularly crept into our thoughts; some folks had their smart phones and iPads handy and took breaks from time-to-time to catch up on client calls. Some of us interspersed our notes with little side lists and mind maps that captured fleeting ideas tangential but not directly connected to the information being imparted on our screen. Lots of right and left brain activity going on, lots of processing, absorbing, stretching of brain cells. The pressure is on -- none of what we learned was abstract and we have to be able to put this into practice in short order.
So this comes full circle because all this training to assist us managing information about our clients got me thinking about our clients and the training we deliver to them. It’s true that knowledge is power but if you don’t know how to use the knowledge it’s not very powerful. I won’t feel as if I know this new program until I get my hands on it and begin entering information. On the other hand, I don’t know enough to feel confident to actually DO anything until I’ve checked it in the manual! Who’s got time for this??
So where does this leave us? Learning is time-consuming, tiring and can be uncomfortable because it challenges what we think we know and makes us stretch in ways we might not think possible, or to places we don’t really want to go. Last week’s training confirmed two important lessons for me that had nothing at all to do with the software:
So often we hear from our clients that they simply don’t have time to attend a presentation or a class. We are going to continue to encourage them to learn as much as they can wherever they can. Last week our team realized the incredible value in dedicating a large block of time to learning, particularly in the area of technology adoption. Always good that we practice what we preach!
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
We loved getting out and about in rural Manitoba this past weekend. The Manitoba Chambers of Commerceheld their 81st AGM in Winklerand Morden and the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba sponsored the Chair’s reception. Deloitte’s Carol Paradine, was sworn in as the new Chair at Morden’s Access Centre Fossil Museum. I captured a photo of Alison next to one of the museum’s hungrier denizens who, luckily, did not compete with us in partaking of the shrimp appetizers.
We noticed the very obvious growth occurring in one of Manitoba’s most entrepreneurial communities. New construction, both commercial and residential, was evident throughout the Winkler and Morden area. While in the community, we made a point of visiting some women-owned businesses that were pretty impressive by any standard: Saban and Company, a large clothing shop in Morden provides shoes, accessories and jewellery that owner Gina Dyck noted would serve women aged 18 to 80 years. We also dropped into Ginger Wood Lane Tea Room and Gift Shop in Winkler and met Naomi Bergen. She has put her own spin on a charming tea room and gift boutique that she purchased a few years ago. These business owners appear to be as energetic and entrepreneurial as their Chambers of Commerce.
Some of the issues that Manitoba chambers are dealing with have large implications for the economic health of the province. Presentations by experts on healthcare and water stewardship at the Saturday meeting were interesting, educational and certainly opened my eyes to challenges, and potential solutions that are being discussed by our business communities.
What’s interesting to me in these journeys around Manitoba is the breadth and diversity of the province’s towns and regions, and how hard local business communities work to provide the foundation for an excellent quality of life for their citizens. On Saturday, we delivered a presentation about the resources offered by the Centre and had an opportunity to meet several women who are madly multi-tasking in their efforts to build their enterprises. One woman had a young family and was running two businesses. And still, here she was, at a Chamber event, bent on gaining knowledge about resources and ideas to keep her business fresh and growing.
I’m impressed, yet again, with the energy and verve found in the thriving centres across our province. I look forward to our next trip out the door and over the fence into our prairie landscape to see what’s growing, not only from the ground, but from the minds and hands of our businesses and enterprises.
Monday, April 23, 2012
I just got back from holiday and can personally vouch for the importance of taking time away from work to refresh and revitalize your life.
One of my outings down south was to a beautiful Japanese garden. It’s an extraordinary place that shows the evolution of the gardens in Japan though the ages with all of the flora and landscape designs relevant to the historical period.
The high point of a visit to Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, for me, is always the bamboo grove. If there is the slightest breeze, the trunks of the giant bamboo clack against each other, the branches whisper in counterpoint and the dappled light moves across the stone and moss in time to the music. It is my favourite thinking spot in North America and the place I go to in my mind when I am seeking peace and serenity in my thoughts.
So many ideas come to me in that space, thoughts about life and work and the paths that I might take, the things I might create.
I hope that you have a bamboo grove somewhere in your life where you can go to clear your mind and start again from a pure and uncluttered place to solve your challenges and create your successes.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Along with the serious work we do, we still know how to have fun here at the Women’s Enterprise Centre. We surround ourselves with great folks who not only know how to educate entrepreneurs (and teach us a thing or two as well) but can also be highly entertaining.
Last week we invited Liz Hover, local blog-guru, to spend part of an evening chatting with us about all things bloggish (and since part of the conversation was about her Shih Tzu Sadie’s blog, it was about things doggish too!).
Liz takes a somewhat revolutionary perspective on business blogs and believes that the blog should be the hub around which your website revolves, acting as a channel to some of the information that you want to send to the world.
She notes that one of the chief reasons to blog is that it gives you a chance to change your website frequently (thus incenting a greater degree of search-engine optimization (SEO) that gets more people to your site. Naturally, this is the desired outcome,
particularly if your site is set up to optimally show off your product/service and if you have a way of easily converting views into sales.
Liz asserts that a blog gives a company a human voice, as well as a chance to establish your expertise. It also allows you to build trusting relationships with your customers and promote some of your new products. Blogs are also attractive to other bloggers who may be looking for industry information or education about your offerings. That kind of blog networking can lead to collaboration and can give you a wider audience for your voice via other similar-thinking blog writers.
On the ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ side of things, while blogs are inexpensive to develop and post, they do require a high degree of commitment and consistency. It can take as long as a year’s solid application before you see any real results in your sales. The trick is to keep at it while you find your voice and build your community.
Check out Liz Hover’s great resourcesat her informative website.
Friday, October 07, 2011
I recently spoke at an entrepreneurship conference in Windsor, Ontario. The Canadian Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (CCSBE), built primarily on academic membership, is now encouraging attendance and input by non-academics, specifically business owners, policy makers, and practitioners who work to support entrepreneurs. The resulting mix at this year’s conference provided a rich offering of workshops and presentations that had some good application possibilities. As an entrepreneurship development organization, it’s clear what benefits this kind of gathering might have for the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, but for our entrepreneurial clients, what’s the payback for attending something like the CCSBE event? When I had my own business, I would often pick up a copy of one of the North American academic journals that can be found in any business school library. Whether its area of concentration was on management, marketing, entrepreneurship or organizational behavior, I always found something of interest that sparked an idea that I could use in my own business development. Granted, some of this stuff is really abstract and statistical, but it’s ok to skip over the more esoteric methodologies to get to the conclusion, the meat of the study, to see what the findings tell you. Similarly, reading the abstracts of articles, just getting the gist of what the research has been about, can inspire a wealth of creative thinking. Some brilliant people have spent countless hours studying entrepreneurs and their behavior. Having that kind of aggregate information can’t help but serve the forward thinking entrepreneur in his/her imperatives to reach target markets, act strategically, utilize financial tools, measure activity against benchmarks, and get a good sense of what the rest of the enterprise world is doing to reach success. In similar fashion, attending a conference can benefit the entrepreneur in many ways. Listening, learning, informing and networking are all ways to refresh the brain and get a new handle on how things might be done better to enhance the bottom line. Meanwhile, check out International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal if this idea resonates with you.
I recently spoke at an entrepreneurship conference in Windsor, Ontario. The Canadian Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (CCSBE), built primarily on academic membership, is now encouraging attendance and input by non-academics, specifically business owners, policy makers, and practitioners who work to support entrepreneurs. The resulting mix at this year’s conference provided a rich offering of workshops and presentations that had some good application possibilities.
As an entrepreneurship development organization, it’s clear what benefits this kind of gathering might have for the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, but for our entrepreneurial clients, what’s the payback for attending something like the CCSBE event?
When I had my own business, I would often pick up a copy of one of the North American academic journals that can be found in any business school library. Whether its area of concentration was on management, marketing, entrepreneurship or organizational behavior, I always found something of interest that sparked an idea that I could use in my own business development. Granted, some of this stuff is really abstract and statistical, but it’s ok to skip over the more esoteric methodologies to get to the conclusion, the meat of the study, to see what the findings tell you. Similarly, reading the abstracts of articles, just getting the gist of what the research has been about, can inspire a wealth of creative thinking.
Some brilliant people have spent countless hours studying entrepreneurs and their behavior. Having that kind of aggregate information can’t help but serve the forward thinking entrepreneur in his/her imperatives to reach target markets, act strategically, utilize financial tools, measure activity against benchmarks, and get a good sense of what the rest of the enterprise world is doing to reach success.
In similar fashion, attending a conference can benefit the entrepreneur in many ways. Listening, learning, informing and networking are all ways to refresh the brain and get a new handle on how things might be done better to enhance the bottom line.
Meanwhile, check out International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal if this idea resonates with you.
Friday, August 26, 2011
A story that caught my eye on one of my preferred RSS feed sites, McKinsey Quarterly, tells of recently conducted research into how Internet search has benefitted the global economy. This seemed to me a bit like trying to quantify the effect of sunshine on marriage proposals.
Measuring the Value of Search outlines the comprehensive computation of how billions of mouse clicks turn into economic value. But where do you even start to figure this out? McKinsey gave it the old college try and came up with some brilliant techniques to measure the immeasurable.
First, they estimated the overall value of Internet in 2009 at $780 billion based on the assumption that each search was worth about 50 cents.
They then figured that 69% ($540 billion) flowed directly to global GDP in the form of e-commerce and higher productivity. The remaining 31% is not captured in GDP numbers but is seen as benefits to people in the form of finding lower prices and the convenience of quick access to needed information. They estimated the value of these benefits to be about $20 per month for European and American consumers and up to $5 per month in countries with lower disposable incomes.
The research determined that the value of searches in 2009 translated to 2% of retail revenues in developed nations, reflected either in direct sales or online marketing that actually resulted in getting people to the bricks and mortar store.
Previous studies only measured the overall commercial value of Internet search. McKinsey points to the economic benefits of increased knowledge and informed decision making. Pretty amazing stuff, really. By the way, $780 billion is equivalent to the GDP of the Netherlands. And that was two years ago.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
After years of wishing, we finally took the plunge and brought on board not one but two (and a half) summer students this year. By accessing two different student employment programs we were able to cover some of the costs of extra hands and brains needed to carry out our summer projects.
One of our students, Jiajia Xu came to us from the Asper Cooperative Education Program. Jiajia is from China and her work was very challenging for someone whose first language is not English. We tasked her with a literature review that required her to identify and create abstracts for hundreds of articles pertinent to a program that is in the developmental stage. We are all extremely impressed with how Jiajia swung herself up the steep learning curve and provided us with high quality summations and a brilliant methodology for organizing the data she collected. Some support for Jiajia’s wages came to us through the Manitoba Career Focus Program.
Gabrielle Morrill came to us a couple of years ago as a 16 year-old volunteer who was just looking for some workplace experience. With her parents’ permission, we put Gabby to work on an environmental scan which she tackled like a pro. The Canada Summer Jobs program allowed us to have Gabby back this summer on her break from the University of Guelph where she is a business student. She assiduously applied herself to updating our Women’s Business Directory, no mean task. Gabby sent hundreds of e-mails and made countless phone calls to women-owned businesses, asking, begging, cajoling and ultimately winning, correct and current information from our province’s women-owned enterprises. Gabby also delivered some top notch specialized research for a unique course offering that will be on our agenda this year.
In early summer, we were approached by a former Board member who knew of a young woman majoring in economics and finance at the University of Western Ontario. She was looking for purely voluntary work experience that would keep her busy about 10 hours a week. This time, we were fortunate to meet Lauren Barker, a bright, organized, mature and very pleasant young woman who has been a great help to all of us as an extra pair of hands for some complex tasks.
These smart, willing, and energetic young women completely belie the picture of our Manitoba teens as want-it-all-have-it-all princesses slouching indolently through their summer holidays. And just as they have learned lots from working with us about teamwork, workplace culture, appropriate business language, work organization and documentation, so have we learned from them about diverse perspectives.
No word of a lie, I’m completely confident that we are in good hands with the next generation and can only hope that in years to come we will be as fortunate in our choices as we have been in the summer of 2011.
Friday, August 19, 2011
After we posted the Business Buyer Beware blog earlier this week, Colleen, one of our business advisors who had just returned from holidays, brought to my attention a couple of other caveats she thought should be mentioned.
My last blog caused a good bit of discussion around our staff meeting table with everyone contributing a sad story of lost savings, dishonest dealings or ‘finagled’ numbers. Our business advisors are very knowledgeable and capable professionals. One thing they can’t do is turn back the clock and prevent some questionable decisions that have caused such grief to somewhat naïve but well-intentioned business buyers.
That is not to say that there aren’t good honest business people with the intention of selling stable enterprises with good earning potential. Just that it always pays to do the homework to ensure that’s who you are dealing with and that’s the outcome you will achieve.
Some of Colleen’s suggestions:
· If you are taking over a lease or taking on a new one in rental premises, it’s worth paying a lawyer to check over the agreement. Pay special attention to: who covers the cost of maintenance/replacement of electrical, plumbing and HVAC components? How old are these elements and when were they last replaced? What is the average lifespan of each component?
· Verify that the numbers you are being shown are real. Ask to see a random sample of daily till tapes for various months so you can see how the totals were achieved. This will also assist you in confirming the incoming cash flow and business cycle which is useful in preparing financial projections.
· Get a complete listing of all assets that you will be purchasing along with the estimated fair market value and the age of the assets. If you are dealing with specialized equipment, it’s worth getting a competent technician to check that everything is in good working order.
· Will the current owner stay on for a period of training and introduction to existing clients? This can be a benefit where there are long-term owner/client relationships.
· If you are purchasing inventory, the day before the sale of the business, do a physical count of all that you are purchasing. You should also develop an aging report to ascertain the potential for those items to be sold at full price or the requirement for discounted pricing.
· Are there policies and procedures documented for all of the business systems, including human resources, technology, operations management, and customer relations management?
· Spend some time observing the daily operations and traffic flow of the business. Take a random sample and do some extrapolation to justify the financial documentation you have received.
· Take stock of how much time it will take you to get rolling if there are new systems to put in place, corporatel structures to develop, signing documentation, legal issues, new signage, new supplier relationships and credit applications.
We could probably go on for days on this subject, but hopefully this will provide you with some food for thought when you are considering this major and all-important expenditure.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Have you always wanted to be your own boss but are afraid of the risk of starting a new venture from scratch?
Many people in that situation think that buying an existing business will mitigate the risk of a start up. Please believe us when we say that there are a great many risks and caveats to consider when purchasing a business.
While it is not always so, we have had many people come through our doors who have made business purchase decisions without considering all of the important factors. The result is loss of hard-won savings, time, anguish and lost opportunity.
The Canada/Manitoba Business Service Centre has some good information available on evaluating and purchasing a business. Based on some of the heartbreaking mistakes we’ve seen, here are additional thoughts you may want to consider and red flags to watch for if you are considering taking on an existing enterprise:
· The current owner doesn’t want to share any of the financial data until you show that you are serious (i.e. put down a deposit);
· The financial statements you received are internally generated (i.e. they are accounting program print outs rather than accountant-prepared statements);
· The current owner only provided the current year’s statements without any history to show whether sales or profits have declined significantly;
· The seller tells you that the business actually does much better than the statements show but ‘that is just for tax purposes’;
· ‘Good Will’ is the largest asset on the balance sheet;
· You haven’t researched whether there will be major construction, road closures, water-main repair, etc. in the vicinity of your proposed place of business;
· You haven’t checked to see whether a major competitor is planning to open nearby;
· You haven’t talked to existing customers to assess whether there will be a change in relationship once the current owner departs;
· You haven’t checked to see if a near-by business with a strong draw is closing down, thereby affecting traffic to your establishment;
· If the business is in rented premises, what is the relationship with the landlord? How easy will it be to renegotiate the lease? Is the building owner thinking of selling the building? Is he/she cooperative when it comes to repairs and replacement of major equipment?
Believe it or not, we have heard stories about every single one of those points from clients who come to talk to us after they’ve made a major deposit or bought the business.
We recommend that you always talk to a professional accountant and a lawyer before making such a major purchase decision. And by all means, if you are a woman or a 50% woman-owned partnership, come to see us at the Women’s Enterprise Centre.
We’ve seen it all!
Friday, August 12, 2011
We were devastated by Kelly Hughes announcement that he was closing Aqua Books/EAT! Bistro, one of our favourite restaurants and browsing spots. We had the Centre Holiday party there in December and it’s a regular place for lunch meetings and friend gab fests, always followed by a rewarding wander through the stacks of great used books at terrific prices.
There are some good lessons to be learned from Kelly’s decision to close his enterprise. In today’s Free Press article about the downtown bookstore Kelly says, “People spend a lot of time now on their smartphones and accessing the Internet from anywhere in the world. That’s great, but it’s changed people’s habits and people don’t have the time like they used to to read.”
Kelly’s noting the effect of the move to electronic books is indicative of the need to recognize industry and market trends that should shape business decision making, whether it’s to move, expand, diversify, grow or move on. In fact, Aqua Books has made some valiant efforts in diversification, having become known not only for the restaurant and bookstore, but also as a centre of cultural and literary arts residencies.
Kenny Rogers had it right. You have to “know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em…” What’s true in poker, in this case, is true in business as well. A planned exit strategy, done with integrity and minimal harm to customers and clients, suppliers and staff, is always a class act that maintains a good reputation until the next time the entrepreneur has a good idea that fills a market need.
We’ll miss you Kelly and Candace. Good luck and our best wishes.
Friday, July 08, 2011
On a recent trip to Calgary for a Policy/Governance conference (I know, I lead such an exciting life!), I met an extraordinary woman.
The conference organizers were working on the theme of “The Art and Craft of Good Governance” so they took a big risk and had an artist present the opening keynote. It wasn’t just any artist, but a brightly clad Dominican nun who is, among other things, a ‘styro-artist’ turning Styrofoam cups, plates and doggy-bag containers into a kind of intricate cloisonné-type structures.
Sr. Joeann Daley’s purpose at the conference was to make a connection between the artist’s conceptual experience and the development of a balanced organizational experience based on the model of board governance known as Policy Governance developed by governance gurus, John and Miriam Carver.
This was not an easy task, you might say. Many of the ‘left-brain’ folks in the audience would agree, having found the whole exercise questionable at best.
On the other hand, a great many of us found interesting parallels in ‘Sister Joe’s’ presentation. There’s something about letting your mind make connections between what seem to be irreconcilably different concepts (apples and lamps for example) that is very liberating and leads to some really interesting synapse sparking.
Some of the things I gleaned from that 90-minute keynote were:
· Chaos is part of creativity – you have to learn to control your chaos.
· ‘Orrore lacunae’, an ancient art form predicated on the fear of empty spaces, thus leading to intricate designs and embellishment is prevalent in business relationships. Sometimes less is more. Know how you relate to the empty spaces.
· Take risks. You can always try again. Risks give hope, courage and inspire others to get involved.
· Every mark you make in a drawing changes the relationships of the other marks along with the boundaries or edges. Don’t be afraid of the marks you are making.
· Taking dreams into reality, the job of many organizations, is the same as the artistic process.
· Don’t recycle, but upcycle – give something a new incarnation and function.
· Doodling is good. It frees the mind to really listen at a higher level to what is being said.
· Do the equivalent of what Sister Joe tells her art pupils; break your crayons into pieces. If you are only using the point, you don’t know your tool.
During the three days of the conference, I asked 20 people how they felt about this unique approach to board development and organizational structure. The vast majority -- and we are talking here about chairs of boards, CEOs and governance consultants, not artists – found the experience enlightening and instructive.
I may forget to use some of the workshop material I heard during that the conference, but I think that a good part of Sister Joe’s simple wisdom and vision will influence me, for a long time to come.
Monday, July 04, 2011
Have you had the experience of working with an employee who becomes valuable to your company, not only through their own sense of responsibility and work ethic, but also because of what you have taught them to do and challenged them to accomplish? When someone like that leaves a small business, it can seem like a dark day. These staff members create value in whatever work they do and multiply that value in accordance with the training or teaching you have provided. When they leave, it changes the interface with customers/clients, changes the dynamic of the workplace and creates a shift in all of the work relationships. While it can difficult for those who remain, this isn’t always a bad thing.
An employee leaving because of a step up in a career or a great opportunity should go with your blessing and good wishes. Anything less than that would be small minded and would negate all of the good created in your previous working relationship. With the proper send off, that person becomes an ambassador for your business. He or she will likely continue to reflect the values and philosophy learned through working with you and will reflect the company culture you have created.
People evolve, businesses evolve, things change. It’s part of the life cycle of a business and, like any relationship, letting go without regret or rancour brings the greatest benefit.
And, hard to believe when you are experiencing it, often this is a change for the good. Someone new will be coming onboard and will bring new ideas and a fresh perspective that can be part of your own learning and development as a business owner.
Friday, June 10, 2011
A very effective, but simple problem solving tool is the probing question: ‘why’? Called by various names in the consulting industry (The Five Whys, Cause and Effect, Dispersion Analysis), asking this question gets you to the center of the problem without getting bogged down in history and blame.
Whether used by an individual facing an issue in her own business or a team trying to create a solution to a sticky organizational situation, asking ‘why’ to a series of questions often leads to a great revelation. The simple trick of the ‘why’ is that you get past symptoms to core problems and then dig a bit deeper to find what can sometimes be a universal cause to a number of problematic issues. It is important though, to be honest and accurate with the answers.
Here’s an example:
A business I worked with a number of years ago developed a new technology for skin care that was effective but labour intensive. They began recruiting and training young women in all the intricacies of the regime in order to provide the service to a slowly growing customer base. The company would train up to ten women at a time, over a period of two months. Very few (usually one or two) would complete the training. Those that did finish training usually left the program very soon after beginning delivery of the service.
In a series of exit interviews, we started to delve into the real issues. Of all of the answers given for leaving, two recurred with some frequency: “It’s way too complicated.” and; “I can’t see a future doing this.”
In working down the line with ‘whys’ in the first response, we recognized that there were problems with the recruitment side and the selection criteria for trainees had to reflect the need for some mechanical or technical competencies.
When respondents were asked why they couldn’t see a future in it, the answers were varied: the company couldn’t provide enough hours; not enough customers to go around; technology too new and market not proven or ready. We ended with the realization that as the trainees became familiar with the technology, they recognized that it would be a long time, if ever, before the demand for the service made their training a sure source of income.
The company was able to develop a core of competent and loyal service personnel through better recruitment criteria, base pay guarantees, and an incentive program that rewarded trainees for bringing in clients. In addition, a stepped up marketing program gave trainees faith that the company was putting resources into building up clientele.
While that’s a very simplified explanation of the technique, it provides a starting point for you to try the five ‘whys’ with your business issues to see if you can identify the core problems and apply solutions that make a difference.
Monday, June 06, 2011
I few years ago I served on the board of a non-profit organization with a fellow who believed that anything that worked well and smoothly should be shaken and stirred, just to keep things interesting. Naturally, this created a great deal of stress for the staff of the organization and no little worry for his fellow board members as well. Since that time, I’ve encountered several other people, on both sides of the board table, who believe similarly that when a healthy organization is sailing along, meeting its goals and delivering expected results, that is the time to “become the irritant that creates the pearl in the oyster”, as one woman put it.
Recently, I came across an interesting article about ‘disruptive hypotheses’ that triggered all of the old feelings about the two year period I spent helping to put out fires that my board colleague had cheerfully and purposefully set. It also gave me a new perspective. The piece was in my favourite on-line publication, Co-Design and is a condensed version of the first chapter of Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Businessby Luke Williams.
Mr. Williams stipulates that the disruptive hypothesis is a very important mechanism for creating innovation. It helps to ask the ‘what if’ questions that lead to visionary thinking and creativity. However, I believe that since the disruptive hypothesis is an intentionally unreasonable statement that is meant to get your creative juices flowing, if used at the wrong time, in the wrong way it can be a serious hindrance to the ongoing healthy development of an organization. It can serve to undermine or cast serious doubt on successes achieved and on those people who might be making every effort to reach their goals or carry out their mandates; it can be asking the impossible from workers/managers/directors who are already giving their all.
When is the optimal time to use the disruptive hypothesis? When there is a sticky problem to be solved that appears to be insoluble; when a business is mired in stasis and has no forward momentum; or when successful activities (or profits) are substantially below the potential that the business might have achieved. That’s when you really need to do some sideways thinking to get things moving in the right direction.
So for all of you wrench throwers out there, you can be a force for good or evil, just choose your time and playing field with care.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Wikipedia defines enterprise resource planning (ERP) as “a system that integrates internal and external management information across an entire organization embracing finance/accounting, sales and service, customer relations management, manufacturing, sales and service, etc…”, it’s purpose is “to facilitate the flow of information between all business functions inside…the organization and to manage the connections to outside stakeholders” (from Hossein Bidgoli, The Internet Encyclopedia). Another term for ERP would be Business Management Solutions.
Don’t think that the integration of all of your business functional areas – planning and scheduling, financial reporting, customer relationship management, inventory and supply chain management – is just for big business. The decreasing costs of technology have made these solutions available to everyone. These days, very affordable web-based options can reduce hardware investments and provide access to external team members, local or distant.
The value for any business using ERP is that there is one entry point for all data, which is then shared across the organization. This facilitates, among other things, order entry, speedy payment collection, and reductions in staffing costs, growth costs and data entry errors.
The reports that an ERP system can create, integrating all of the information in your organization, can lead to the development of management reports on which good strategic decisions are made. Which suppliers provide the best service, delivery and pricing? Which staff are the most productive and valuable to the business? What inventory lines cost the least in discounting? What effect do business cycles/seasons have on your bottom line? Which customers are the most profitable and which require the greatest time commitment, and are they the same ones?
Good ERP systems can be tailored to your specific business situations and needs. The automation of processes and workflow can offer advantages for your organization in saving time, increasing productivity and enhancing internal communications.
You might want to think about whether or not your business is ready for a version of ERP that takes into account your business imperatives. How much time are you wasting with redundant data inputs and ad hoc systems? What could you do with more planning/thinking time and good information outputs? It is certainly something to think about. Learn more about this at our Tech Tuesday lunch seminar on May 17.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Last Wednesday, the Women’s Enterprise Centre and the Women Lawyers’ Forum of the Manitoba Bar Association presented a ‘speed mentoring’ event at the Reh-Fit Centre.
More than 70 attendees were treated to a very entertaining and enlightening evening as they moved from table to table to listen to life-style experts in a kind of musical chairs manner – I know this because we were unintentionally one chair short and I found myself standing during the first exercise!
The purpose of the evening was to recognize and address the fact that busy entrepreneurial and career women often neglect important aspects of their own health and wellness because their time, and their energies, can only be stretched so far. The format where important and relevant information was delivered in concentrated sound bytes, included a very short period of questions and answers at each table before the bell rang and we were obliged to move on.
Eight tables were manned (or womanned!) by a host of experienced and articulate experts in a variety of fields. There were only six ten-minute snippets so participants had to choose their most-needed or most-desired topics from among the following:
Financial Clarity – Dr. Moira Somers
Office Organizing – Lorraine Mitchell
Wellness – Averill Stephenson
Healthy Eating - Dale Kornelson
Time Management – Lisa Lewis
Personal Training – Suzy Siemens
Home Organizing – Roberta Willits
Fitness – Shauna Watt
It was a fun, informative, and delicious (thanks to Prairie Ink Cafe!) evening. The fact that so many of our friends and clients took advantage of the event to bring balance back into their lives was a great big bonus for us.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
As managers and owners within our business organizations, we are always looking for ways to encourage and empower our employees to be creative both in problem solving and innovating products and services. A recent McKinsey Quarterly article speaks to the idea of sparking creativity in teams and how that can be accomplished.
The authors of ‘Sparking Creativity in Teams: An Executive’s Guide’, direct attention to the necessity for people to be exposed to methods of breaking free of pre-existing views and established paradigms. One of the ways to accomplish this would be to move people out of the office, store or workplace to look at successful efforts made in other realms that might have some applicability at ‘home’.
“These experiences were transformative for the employees, who watched, shopped, chatted with sales associates, took pictures and later shared observations with teammates in a more formal idea generation session. By visiting the other retailers and seeing firsthand how they operated, the retailer’s employees were able to relax their strongly held views about their own company’s operations…identify new retail concepts…and changing the design of stores…”
These methods of sideways thinking can help to kick off an innovation effort by challenging orthodoxies and assumptions about one’s own business. One executive noted that often innovation was simply “putting lipstick on a pig,” just making something look new cosmetically without really paying attention to any of the foundational elements.
Real creativity is sometimes about understanding and challenging core beliefs in order to see new opportunities. ‘Sparking Creativity in Teams’ cites a Harvard Business Review article which points to a number of techniques that can be used to get past deeply held opinions and ideas to discover innovation, particularly associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking.
An exercise I used years ago when I was teaching a creative problem solving course was to have teams find a solution to their problem by randomly selecting a word in the dictionary. Trying to tie this random selection to the problem generated amazing connections and out-of-the-box thinking. Some of the solutions were quite brilliant and surprising.
Another technique for creative thinking is to imagine artificial constraints (eg. What if you could only serve one consumer segment? What if the price of your product had to be cut in half?) to spur some adrenalized problem solving and idea creation.
Whatever your methods, it pays to bring your employees together for some of these thought fests. It is deeply enjoyable and can generate buy in, engagement and very creative output.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
We’ve been working with women entrepreneurs in Manitoba since our Centre was launched 16 years ago. We have learned how many small business owners look at the financial aspects of their enterprises. Too often they take the financial statements prepared by their accountants for tax purposes, send in the tax form, and file the whole shebang deep in a big gray metal drawer under the file name CRA 2010.
Sadly, they don’t know that they are burying treasure in that file, never again to see the light of day (unless they are audited for some reason).
So what’s in that big metal box that could turn into gold, if only it was discovered and mined?
Numbers. Beautiful numbers.
Numbers that tell the real story of how their businesses are doing; what’s being done right; where things are going wrong; which customers are buying what products at what time of year; how often the customers are buying; what percentage of which suppliers’ goods sell at full price and which are mostly discounted; which services bring in the greatest value in dollars, in repeat business, in word of mouth advertising. Numbers tell us about our inventory turns, our liquidity, our use of capital, our debt and leveraged dollars, our return on investment, and, ultimately, whether it’s all worthwhile.
If you aren’t speaking with your accountant about these things, or don’t know how to get the answers on your own, you are missing out on some essential knowledge – knowledge that you will need to sustain and grow your business.
Over the next few months, we will be doing research in the area of business acumen and financial literacy. We hope you will share your ideas and opinions on how you use your financial data. If you aren’t using it in a studied and thoughtful way, why? What are the barriers to your full understanding and use of your beautiful, golden numbers? Are they gathering dust in the back of your file cabinet or are they front and centre in your strategic planning?
Monday, February 28, 2011
Heather Stephens, WEC’s Loans Manager recently gave me a copy of The Globe and Mail article Can sitting too long really hurt my health? Heather and I are on the Centre’s Health and Wellness Committee and she thought it would provide some much-needed inspiration for the Manitoba Workplaces in Motion grant application I was working on.
I was skeptical. I was sure that the article would end with a promo for a gimmicky product or give advice that is unlikely to be followed; you know the kind that suggests you should keep your garbage can on the other side of the office so you have to get up from your desk every time you have to throw something away. Not only is it a time-waster, it is the kind of practice that never sticks for very long.
My attitude quickly changed. The article talked about recent studies that show that sitting for long periods carries health risks that can’t be erased even if you are exercising at other times of the day. It went on to say that even low intensity muscle contracting can mitigate those risks by increasing the levels of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase which is necessary to convert fat into fuel.
Aside from regular walking and yoga, I spend many hours sitting at my desk. After reading the story, I was motivated to find ways to decrease the damage that results from the type of work I do. Office de-cluttering and plant care, tasks that I was once saw as interruptions, are now welcome health breaks.
But what else can we do to get our muscles moving while at the office? Is the $30 foot-pedal that the author of the article recommends the way to go after all? What are you doing to keep moving? We would welcome your recommendations in the comment section of this blog.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Last night at the Centre we were treated to some real-life stories about how women entrepreneurs from different backgrounds are working to make their businesses a success.
Our panel consisted of Sara Hutniak from Sweatmarks, Nancy Vardalos Ginakes from Safe 2 Go Child Safety Harness and Pam Kirkpatrick of cake-ology fame. Each entrepreneur is at a different stage in her business, has a different view about her desired outcomes and has learned different lessons as she built and is building her enterprise.
Some of the valuable ‘lessons learned’:
It is important to have sufficient capital at start up to take you through the ups and downs of each business cycle.
Put processes and systems in place in order to manage business flow as well as to keep you focused on your core areas of competency so that you are better able to develop revenue.
Know what your ultimate goal is so that you can make better decisions about how to balance your business with your personal obligations.
Build your brand through concentration on customer relationships not just on logos and marketing materials.
Recognize the power of social marketing, but apply it consistently and in a way that is relevant to your target market.
Plan, plan, plan before you spend your money or take off on the wrong foot.
Sara provided the participants with a list of books that she has found to be valuable in the development of her business:
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
Cash Flow Quadrant by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Personality Plus by Florence Littauer
The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
Many thanks to our panelists for taking the time to share their visions and their stories with us. And thanks to our appreciative audience who came out on a cold and snowy night to learn something that we hope will make a big positive difference in their own entrepreneurial stories.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Now that we have successfully navigated the shoals of another Valentine’s Day, and have not foundered on the rocks of elevated expectation nor sunk into the whirlpool of lassitude and avoidance, we might want to consider the special relationships that exist between couples who live and work together.
A recent article in the Globe and Mail cites the pros and cons of the live/work relationship—and certainly both should be considered when the decision is made to start or purchase a business together.
The balance between the advantages of having a life partner who is involved in the day-to-day running of a business (shared concerns, understanding, convenience), with some of the disadvantages that come from life being a 24-hour-a-day business meeting, is something that should be planned for and considered carefully.
At the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, we recommend that couples develop a partnership agreement in addition to any formal Shareholder’s Agreement required for a corporate structure. It should spell out the roles each person will play and the decision-making authority that is relevant to each role. Don’t assume that all decisions will be made in tandem. Each person has expertise which should be reflected in the agreement. Expectations and deliverables should be cited: for example, the books will be brought up to date at the end of the month; the marketing plan must be complete by March 1; the merchandising must be freshened every week; the bills will be paid as due; the cash flow will be projected for each quarter, etc.
Some of the points we made in our August blog, Partnerships, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly are certainly pertinent to live/work partnerships as well. We recognize that this special kind of partnership can be a joy (building an enterprise together) or a terrible hardship (watching your relationship disintegrate as the demands of your business grow). The key is to think ahead, plan for all contingencies and, above all, know when to end the business meeting and just be a loving couple.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Like many organizations, the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba has waded into the social media pool. We have a Facebook page, and have been blogging for some time – much more regularly over the past six months than when we first started. The Centre has a LinkedIn page as do many of the staff. We’ve considered Twitter, but aren’t quite there.
We encourage everyone on staff to contribute to the blog. As the blog editor, I get pieces that are post-ready and those that are great ideas jotted down on paper but need a little more fleshing out. I’m very happy to say that everyone has contributed content. With 11 of us on staff, there are lots of ideas, experiences and expertise that can be shared. Everyone here is also very professional so there has never been any concern of inappropriate posts. We’ve been lucky.
Social media tools facilitate conversation often by the sharing of opinions. Just as there are human resource policies and board governance policies that outline appropriate conduct and provide structure, there should be a policy to guide your staff in the appropriate use of social media. For the past few months I have been looking for information on social media policies that fits with the Centre’s goals, communications strategy and culture.
On February 8, Matthew Shepherd, Online Marketing Director at Canada’s Web Shop delivered the session “Social Media and My Business – Making them Work Together” at the Centre. He covered lots of ground in just an hour and tucked into his presentation was a reference to Dave Fleet – 57 Social Media Policy Examples. I had hit the jackpot.
Fleet’s list (which now has 61 references) includes an international array of businesses, organizations and government entities. While none of the policies may be an exact fit for your business, there is information that can be gleaned from all of them and developed into a policy that is relevant for you and your employees.
So now that you have people sharing on line, how do you respond (or not) to their comments? Stay tuned for next week’s blog.
Friday, February 04, 2011
Last week I took the time to sit down, take a deep breath, and consider how I could improve my time management skills. As part of Thursday evening seminar seriesat the Women’s Enterprise Centre, Cec Hanec delivered ‘Time Management’ and I saw it as a great opportunity to brush up my skills.
Cec shared lots of great tips and tools, but there were a few that really resonated with me:
· We shouldn’t be focused so much on a Monday to Friday view of things but rather should take a 90 day overview! By having a larger picture, we are less inclined to get stuck in the bits and pieces that keep us running from this to that.
· It is imperative that you write down your goals for that 90-day time period so that you can assess what you need to accomplish and then determine if you achieved what you set out to do.
· You need to know yourself before you can find the time management strategies that work for you. Mastermind groups and mindmaps can help you learn more about yourself and will provide you with tools to help make decisions and solve problems.
· Regularly asking yourself “Is this the best use of my time?” is a great way to stay focused.
· Don’t treat everything as if it was at the highest level priority. Assess the priority of each task, job and project, then make a plan.
· Look for tools that help you manage your time in a way that works for you – I do love my Blackberry!
Not everyone works in the same way, learns in the same way or manages their time in the same way. It takes time to figure out what works best for you, but once you figure it out, you can increase your productivity and decrease your stress.
Friday, January 28, 2011
I visited United Way’s new digs yesterday and had a chat with Linda Brazier Lamoureux, Director of Learning and Innovation. United Way, like many of us non-profit organizations, is always seeking ways to develop revenue sources while continuing to serve the community. I was at United Way to see their Innovation Centre, also known as 580 Main – Hot Desks, because Linda thought it might provide some benefit to our women-in-business clientele.
The main floor of United Way has been designed as a shared space environment with an open section of desks and work spaces and a number of closed and private meeting rooms. These desks can be used on a reserved basis for a specified number of hours per month, or on a permanent, full-time basis, by small start-up businesses, social enterprises, not-for-profits, registered charities and artists who need an office away from home. What’s great for a new, small business is that the Innovation Centre can provide a place to meet with clients or have advisory board meetings. One of the major advantages is the benefit of a communal space rather than working on one’s own in a vacuum—which is often the downside of a home-based business.
I think it’s a good idea and could certainly see the utility for a new business that can’t afford a full office space in the downtown area. United Way offers free Wi-Fi, and low volume copier, printer and fax as part of the very reasonable rental fee. You can book meeting rooms, AV equipment, classrooms and have access to a kitchen. The Hot Desk area is staffed with a receptionist from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday to Friday.
I’m not trying to be an ad for UW, but if you find this appealing, it could be a good way to get your business rolling without making a long-term commitment to rental payments and equipment purchases. For prices, rules and regulations, and further information, call Linda at 924-4225.
Monday, January 24, 2011
In my on-line walkabouts I occasionally come across a real gem of an article or blog that is so straight-ahead instructive and informative that it begs to be shared.
Most recent of these pure-diamond finds is Mark Schaefer’s blog Are These the 10 Best Corporate Blogs in the World?
I’ve followed him on growand find his non-partisan, non-product, non-promotional offerings always entertaining and educational. There’s an innate humility but honest forthrightness that characterizes his writings, making them very engaging. This blog is a good example. He doesn’t purport to provide the world’s 10 best blogs, but puts forward the surmise that they might be, if you agree that they are.
Schafer’s big-company blog list illustrates what excellent blogs have and how they behave; information that can be easily transferred to small business use. Whole Foods blog exhibits how-to’s, best practices and product ideas; Patagonia, which sells adventure gear, tells customer stories; and a regional grocery chain talks about entertaining and recipes. Others make the list because of employee engagement, down-home problem-solving discussions, or encouragement and celebration of customer ideas.
Check out the list and be inspired to add value to your own blogs – making them more fun to both read and write.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Someone sent me a very funny U-Tube video describing a supposed new app that could alter your Facebook posts to make them ‘Mom friendly’. It could make you appear clothed if you had posted inappropriate photos of yourself, turn your major squeeze into a plush toy that you innocently clutched and other wonderful and amazing tricks that could save you from severe scolding or worse. What was once the province of the young has become a major communications phenomenon. Not only are parents of teenagers moving into the Facebook culture, a significant number of the over-60 crowd is using the site to be entertained, connect with friends and family, support their ‘likes’, and learn more about the world. My mom is on Facebook, too. My mother is in her 90s. Granted, she always was ahead of her time. An early email user, she was surfing the net and sending out multiple emails daily (mostly to me) before most of her contemporaries ever heard of the Internet. They thought she was making it up. “Your daughter writes to you twice a day? Who do you think you’re kidding?” Now this is really important from a business perspective. Social media marketing is no longer just to target youth. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you may be asleep at the switch.
Someone sent me a very funny U-Tube video describing a supposed new app that could alter your Facebook posts to make them ‘Mom friendly’. It could make you appear clothed if you had posted inappropriate photos of yourself, turn your major squeeze into a plush toy that you innocently clutched and other wonderful and amazing tricks that could save you from severe scolding or worse.
What was once the province of the young has become a major communications phenomenon. Not only are parents of teenagers moving into the Facebook culture, a significant number of the over-60 crowd is using the site to be entertained, connect with friends and family, support their ‘likes’, and learn more about the world.
My mom is on Facebook, too.
My mother is in her 90s. Granted, she always was ahead of her time. An early email user, she was surfing the net and sending out multiple emails daily (mostly to me) before most of her contemporaries ever heard of the Internet. They thought she was making it up. “Your daughter writes to you twice a day? Who do you think you’re kidding?”
Now this is really important from a business perspective. Social media marketing is no longer just to target youth. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you may be asleep at the switch.
My mother was born before television had been invented. Today she is on Facebook. I think she is a role model for the kind of minds we all need to develop; minds that embrace and celebrate new technology and use it to make our lives more meaningful and our work more productive.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Is it safe for me to use my credit card on a website?
I am often asked this question when people call to register for one of our seminars, workshops or events.
I can reassure them that our site is safe because it was built by a very reliable local website company with expertise in online sales. In addition, it is regularly evaluated by an outside organization that ensures we maintain Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance.
But how can you tell if other sites are secure? I did a little online research and found the following tips:
Verification - Shop at online merchants who indicate that they verify credit cards before allowing a purchase. Merchants verify the card by asking for the three digit code on the back. This is done to prove that the user actually has the card.
Secure Site - A secure website begins with "https" rather than just "http." Only give your credit card information on sites that are secure.
Research - Before giving your credit card information to an online vendor, take a few minutes to do an Internet search on the company to see if they have a history of fraud. The Better Business Bureau is a good resource for researching companies for fraud. You can contact the local office or use the Bureau's interactive website to research companies.
According to HowStuffWorks, you can defend yourself against identity theft by using virus protection software and a firewall on your computer. You should also make sure that you send your credit card information over a secure server, which is illustrated by a lock or key icon.
Hopefully these tips will allow you peace of mind when you conduct online transactions.
Friday, January 07, 2011
Thinking strategically requires that we understand the difference between strategies and tactics.
Strategies and strategic objectives imply long-term thinking. Sit back in a private place with a beverage and some music, or the sound of rain, or complete silence, and start your brain working to visualize where you want your business to be in five or ten years. That’s your ultimate and overarching goal. Some people call it a vision; it’s what you are aiming for across time – your business raison d’etre.
Now what are the five (three? seven?) most important things you need to accomplish before you are able to achieve that goal? Those are your strategic objectives.
Set those objectives in a priority or ranking system. Can they be achieved simultaneously or are they dependent on one leading to another. Now you have a bit of a longitudinal time component.
What is the environment like in which you wish to achieve your objectives? Here’s the time to do your SWOT analysis.
What paths will lead to the achievement of each of your strategic objectives? Ensure that they take advantage of opportunities, overcome threats, and take into account the internal strengths and weaknesses of your business enterprise. These are the tactical elements. What are the specific steps that you need to take to bring your tactics to bear on your objectives? Those are your tasks.
Add time lines. When should each task be performed – today, next week, next year? Attach tasks to the specific tactics to which they pertain.
Consider your resources. How can each of your tasks be accomplished? Ask yourself: What will I need in human and financial resources? What will I need in internal resources (strength, energy, attitude, education etc.)?
Now you have the beginning of a plan.
By ensuring that your tactical thinking has real-time tasks that you can do or delegate, you’ve turned your strategic plan into an action plan.
If you are a woman-owned or –partnered business in Manitoba, we can help you with this process through our advisory services.
Simplistic? You bet. But it’s a great way to get started. You’ll pick up what you need on the way.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Maurice McCarthy, a Business Advisor at the Centre, wrote a blog in early December about SWOT analysis and its important role in business decision making.
SWOT analysis is a key component of successful strategic planning, which I’ll bring up again in blogs-to-come. Right now though, being that it’s a new year and we are all thinking about new starts, I thought I’d go back to basics on this issue.
Consultants love to talk about strategic planning. I could spend a whole afternoon waxing almost eloquent about the advantages it gives your business, how you can’t get along without it, why you need to think about it at every step of your business development….blah blah. In fact, we did a piece on this in July.
Problem is there’s too much talk about strategic planning and not enough action. There are way too many folks charging big dollars and giving you formulas and templates without actually getting you involved in the process. In many cases you are left with a product you can’t actually use to chart your future and whose best function is that of a door stop.
A strategic plan shouldn’t be abstract or ambiguous or at such a high level that it doesn’t touch down at any point on what you actually need to be doing this afternoon to become a millionaire in ten years. A strategic plan, when it’s all said and done, should be a precious revelation, a treasure trove of both inspirational thought about what you want to do/be/have in your business as well as the map to get you to the doing/being/having in a timely fashion.
Interested? Stay tuned.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Seth Godin, one of the leading global marketing guru’s wrote in his recent blog The Inevitable Decline Due to Clutter, “Economics tells us that the right thing to do is run the factory until the last item produced is being sold at marginal cost. In other words, keep adding until it doesn't work anymore.” He goes on to say, “In fact, human behaviour tells us that this is a more permanent effect than we realize. Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention…” http://sethgodin.typepad.com/
As more and more entrepreneurs look to capitalize on the power of social media, are they too falling into ‘more is better’ trap? Is every Facebook update, Tweet, Blog or comment really adding value to your community, or is it just noise? Are you training your community to stop listening because the messages aren’t relevant enough or don’t provide enough value?
The traditional approach to marketing of placing strategy before tactics applies to online marketing. Before you engage in social media and online marketing, take the time to think about why you are using a particular tool and what you hope to accomplish – just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean we should.
Use your strategy as the meter stick to measure every engagement. More is not better. Before you click “update” or “post” ask yourself, is what I am offering to my community adding value or am I contributing to the noise?
Monday, November 29, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010