Monday, June 17, 2013

Implementing Change and Making It Stick

Charles Darwin said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Could this be any truer in today’s business world than it was over 150 years ago when Mr. Darwin was speaking of the natural world? We have all witnessed giant companies that seemed impenetrable fail; and we have seen brilliant ideas that should have taken off miss the mark.

And we’ve also watched small businesses or “crazy” ideas that shouldn’t have grown do surprisingly well. At the turn of the millennium, some entrepreneurs could see that the rate of change in their industries was escalating; and they understood that adapting to change was quickly becoming the number one component in ensuring success. Rather than fighting it, they adapted. We know we resist change because it takes us out of our comfort zone, but change can be invigorating, profitable, and frankly, necessary to survival. Most of us now accept that the notion that things never stay the same for long; and we understand that the ability to lead in times of change is vital. That is why Dr. John Kotter’s Eight-Step Model to Implement Change, developed over 30 years of research, is such an important model for business leaders.

Kotter’s Eight-Step Model to Implement Change *

1. Create a Sense of Urgency - help others understand the need for change, now.

2. Enlist a Guiding Team – bring together a small, strong group of champions to steer the change.

3. Develop the Vision and Strategy for the New Reality - clarify how the future will be different from the past and the steps to get there.

4. Communicate Why – others have to understand why to buy in, or they won’t.

5. Empower Others to Act - remove all possible barriers so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6. Pick Some Low-Hanging Fruit – create some short-term wins as quickly as possible to demonstrate that this change is possible.

7. Don’t Let Up – keep the successes rolling without delay; press change with more change until the ultimate vision is achieved

8. Create a New Culture – reinforce the new ways of behaving to permanently replace old traditions and processes.

Your first challenge in becoming adaptable? You need to stop thinking of yourself as a t-shirt guy or a hair styling gal; you need to be a business guy or gal. And knowing the eight steps to implementing change is what will make you just that.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

12 Tips for Attracting Publicity

In last month’s column, I introduced readers to five steps in attracting publicity: 1. Research your customer and your media options. 2. Determine your unique offering. 3. Ensure you can support the statements you make. 4. Write the press release and 5. Distribute the release. It’s also important to understand the differences between various publicity tools.

Media Release: a brief outline of your captivating, unique, or entertaining situation/event that is newsworthy. Media Advisory: essentially, an invitation to the media to attend your event to take pictures and/or conduct interviews. Photo Release: a post-event re-cap of the situation with a compelling photo of the key people or activity involved. Each has its own purpose, so know your publicity objectives and choose accordingly.

Of course this is a simplified version of something that actually takes a fair amount of skill, experience and savvy; consider outsourcing to a professional if communications isn’t your forte. Since publicity is free, and free tends to be popular, be prepared for it being difficult to have your business message heard amidst competing messages. Here are 12 tips that will make your efforts rise above the rest.

Tips for Attracting Publicity:

• Be knowledgeable and genuinely excited about your offering

• Be creative – it takes ingenuity to come up with new angles on the same products or events

• Note that you may have to craft your message slightly differently for different media

• Keep your contacts list up-to-date; media contacts change often

• Start small by targeting community publications and stations with smaller reach; as your skills and confidence grow, you can add media with bigger reach

• Keep branding in mind at all times and be consistent when delivering your business name, contact information and tag line

• From one opportunity to the next, be consistent without being repetitive

• Be memorable – in a pleasing way.

• Be welcoming and engaging with media; thank them for their interest and prepare well for all interviews. Look for tie-ins with current news stories, seasonal occasions and community issues

• Track results; poll customers to determine if any heard about you because of publicity

• Media and Photo Releases control your messaging; media interviews take more communication skill and experience to ensure they are shaped the way you intend, but can also add dynamic effect and lengthier coverage.

• Be charming, humble and gracious when interviewed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Five Steps to Attracting Publicity

Advertising is when you pay to put a message in the paper that you think is interesting to your potential customers. Publicity is distinctly different: it is a reporter believing that you have something special to share, that is, “news”. A reporter’s interest translates to the reader/listener/viewer as an endorsement, which is very valuable. And, publicity is free, so every small business should be considering it as one of their marketing tools. Here are five steps to attracting publicity:

Step 1:  Smart business always starts with research! Know your customer demographics and where they like to get their news. Know your media; ensure their audience is your target customer. You can develop your own list of media outlets, or for a fee, use established newswires. Scour the media for editors’ names and contact info. Find out their preferred way of receiving press releases as well as when they go to press. What kinds of stories are they interested in?

Step 2:  Determine what you have to offer that is captivating, unique, or entertaining. Think like a journalist and find your story. Shape it to their interests.

Step 3:  Ensure your product quality and customer service will support the claims you make and reputation you intend to build.

Step 4:  Prepare a press release, or outsource this to a professional writer. Releases should be succinct and clear, with the most important information in the first paragraph. Reprintable quotes make the reporter’s job easier, and maintaining their interest beyond the first paragraph is desirable. Ensure your press release does not read like an advertisement. Finally, your contact information, should they wish more detail, should be clearly stated at the end.

Step 5:  Distribute the press release and, after giving plenty of time for the reporter to respond, follow up. After just a few attempts at follow-up, assume the story is not striking the right chord, and go back to Step 2; don’t make a nuisance of yourself.

You’ll need to persevere if you’re adding publicity to your marketing tool box. It's difficult to have your voice heard amidst competing messages. Getting that first response from the media may take many attempts, but when it happens, it can be transformational. Think of publicity as a long-term process and just one of many of your tactics, rather than a replacement for a comprehensive marketing strategy or a short-term solution to a sales slump.

(Check back next month for a follow up on this post: 12 tips to Attracting Publicity.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


This posting was authored by Brian Baker, Brampton SBEC's new Small Business Assistant

Thirty years ago the government offered grants to entrepreneurs to help start their business. Unfortunately all it did was give businesses the fish and they only ate for a day. In comes the idea of The Small Business Enterprise Centre, small centres located in towns and cities across Ontario with one purpose… to help others help themselves. They cropped up out of the need for small businesses to gain the knowledge to successfully start, strengthen and succeed. According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 Business Register, small businesses under 50 employees account for 95% of businesses across Ontario.

Each Enterprise Centre is filled with knowledgeable, like-minded individuals who are there for the greater good: to support business creation and job growth in our community. My five years of experience in franchising brings with it a vast knowledge of what to expect when opening and running a small business. The two key questions always on my mind are, “What are going to be possible road blocks?” and “What proactive steps can the entrepreneur take now to avoid them in the future?” Industry Canada states that about 49% of new businesses fail within the first 5 years. Throughout my years I’ve seen what barriers have led to this statistic. Fortunately the Brampton SBEC is working with clients to beat the odds and drop that number.

Located in Brampton City Hall, we are part of the City’s Economic Development Office and have links throughout the City to get you the answers you need or connect you with the right people. We all work together to see that aspiring entrepreneurs and local businesses get every advantage possible to succeed. We offer guidance, consultations, business plan reviews, seminars and a referral service to name a few. Best part is… it’s almost all free. Our jobs are to work with you to provide the resources, answer your questions and overall, just to help with removing the training wheels.

So to openly dispel the myth: No, we do not have bags of money available for people, but yes, we are here to help you. So don’t be afraid to come to us with all the fish you want to catch because we’ll teach you how to eat for life.


Brian works with aspiring entrepreneurs in Brampton to help them understand the full scope of business start-up so that they can prepare for a successful launch and early growth.  If you're thinking about launching a business venture, be sure to connect with Brian early in your exploration and planning for a wealth of knowledge and free resources.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Small and Steadfast

Rapid growth is often the ultimate goal that businesses aim for, yet, when it arrives the sudden surge can cause a company to struggle or even fail. When a business experiences suddenly success, the entrepreneur is typically operating with limited resources including a lack of capital, lack of management skills, lack of information about what may be propelling the recent growth, poor procedures, lack of a go-forward plan, lack of experience with change management and larger operations, not being able to identify risks, and – nothing new here – lack of time to deal with new issues.

Dramatic increases in sales can also come with dramatic increases in expenditures, bad debt, whittling of profit margin and other distasteful characteristics. Simply put, growth without profit leads to cash shortages and unpaid bills.

To avoid the perils of expansion, your objective should be to find a certain market niche and devise a business plan that propels your business ahead with a healthy and steady growth. Focus on:

• maintaining an appropriate profit margin

• analyzing key performance indicators

• building assets

• controlling debt

• managing cash flow

• standardizing operations

• developing leadership skills

Over-expansion is a leading cause of business failure; be proud of being small for now. Beware repressing growth though, since that means you’re missing opportunities. Establishing high growth as your only measure of success can lead to reckless decisions. Instead, develop a definition of success that includes steadfastness and lifestyle factors. Then, let your success lead you, rather than you forcing it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Add Sponsorship to your Marketing Toolbox

As a business owner, you understand that advertising is an investment in your business, not simply an expense that must be paid. Advertising budgets, no matter how robust, do need to stretch a long way – over 52 weeks a year, through a variety of tactics and platforms, and perhaps even across multiple target markets. Small businesses in particular are looking for very efficient uses of their marketing dollars. One of the valuable tactics that I see small businesses regularly overlook is sponsorship.

Sponsorship is often associated with charitable donations. Certainly your business can be a good corporate citizen and support worthy causes in sports, arts and the humanities by becoming a sponsor - in this case, the definition of sponsor really being “donor”. Sponsorship is also associated with big business – for example, McDonald’s sponsoring the London 2012 Olympics. It absolutely works for mega-ventures in the international market, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work in a small business context.

There are appropriate opportunities for small business owners to sponsor activities conducted by organizations with like interests and target markets, for mutual benefit. These are opportunities where your business name/logo will be plastered all over event invitations, signage, programmes etc., essentially advertising your business to all of the (potential) attendees. Many sponsorship opportunities allow you to make a personal appearance at the event with a trade show display, two minutes at the microphone, or simply getting face-to-face to network with their (your soon-to-be) clients. Many offer the flexibility to negotiate terms most suitable to you. Given the right organization, event and target participant, you can build a name for yourself as a business that is a leading expert in your field, personally interested in your customers’ satisfaction, and an active leader in your community. We’re talking here about building your brand. Few paid advertisements can accomplish all that!

Think about the demographics and behaviour of your target market(s). Where do they gather? How can you be in that space? Seek out the organizations that already bring customers together and investigate sponsoring their initiatives. Your industry association, your suppliers, your local networking associations (including The Brampton Board of Trade) etc. will likely have formal or even informal sponsorship opportunities. If they are not blatantly published, pitch your own ideas to those organizations you want to partner with!

If sponsorship is new to you, consider sponsoring SBEC’s “Pledge to Prosper” initiative as a gentle introduction; sponsorships start at the small business price of just $75! Visit for all the details and contact me to discuss.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Household Spending Stats

The results of the latest Statistics Canada survey of household spending have just been released. Canadian households spent an average of $53,016 on all types of goods and services in 2010. Of this total, shelter accounted for 28.3% of spending, transportation for 20.7%, and food, 14.0%. Spending on clothing represented 6.5% of the total, health care, 4.1%, and communications, 3.3%. This information might be key to understanding your customers’ buying behaviour. If your business doesn’t sell products or services in any of these “necessities”, you’ll be glad to know that, in Ontario, the spending in these categories tallies to just 71.2%, leaving 28.8% for “miscellaneous”, perhaps including the goods and services you offer.

It is important to note that distribution of spending by income group varies greatly. For example, shelter costs for the lowest income group represent 51.8% of spending (total spending is $28,583.) The group with the highest income spent $139,001, with just 29.5% going to food, shelter and clothing – with this group, “just 29%” is still a robust $41,005 though.

Canadian homeowners spent an average of $17,268 on shelter, but Ontario had the highest share at 30.4% of total spending; costs are related to the size of the population centre, so naturally the GTA’s average would be higher than rural and all other metropolitan areas elsewhere in Canada.

Ontario households spent an average of $11,529 on transportation in 2010, and couples with children spent three times what one-person households spend, not surprisingly.

Canadian households reported spending an average of $7,443 on food in 2010. This total consisted of $5,377 on average spent on food from stores and the remaining $2,066 for restaurant meals. Considering lifestyles, it is not surprising to find that seniors spend more on store purchases, while those under 30 years old have the highest share of spending at restaurants.

Consider your customers and their demographics. How might their consumer spending levels/habits impact your business? Study the newest report on Canadian Household Spending, available at and look at detailed spending by income group and province, to learn more about your customers.

Source:  The Daily, April 25/12