Quality Management in Solo Canadian Businesses

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I used to be a recruiter for management level professional candidates working within the US healthcare system. We recruited for managers and directors in several key hospital departments in particular, one of which was Quality Management.

Through my work talking with these high-powered professionals actively engaged in measuring quality goals against standards set both internally and externally for mostly for-profit hospitals, I learned all kinds of systems from LEAN process improvement (non-value add is waste), the Baldridge Award, JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations), Six Sigma and others.

Eight years later I am 12 years into the business of self-publishing web directories/magazines and providing web design services to a local market, and I am just beginning the process of examining my own systems, measurement tools, gap analysis, and go-forward process improvements. I need to point out that this process is happening in a business that is self-owned and operating singlehandedly with the exception of the billing and A/R processes, which are handled by my fabulous contract bookkeeper.

Through my involvement in the E-Myth Group Mastery Impact program - a one year business leadership/management/coaching program in a group format that includes international participants; E-Myth Revisited is a must-read book by author Michael Gerber  - I am learning not only that I need to do these things like implementing a quality control program to ensure the success of my business, I need to change the underlying thinking and language of everything I do.

Today I'm learning to think strategically even when I'm acting as a technician. I'm learning that if I say my business is chaotic, I am pointing myself towards that reality, when in fact things are considerably more ordered than the 'great disorder or confusion'. Even the fact that I have taken one step back to look at the word chaos implies a sense of perspective that chaos does not allow.

Where I struggle in my business is figuring how to implement systems and forms of measurement inherent in quality control, when I am both the quality system designer AND the technician applying the program. I am honest enough with myself to know that I have become adept at 'lying' to myself about things I need to address, to the point where it happens subconsciously, thereby undermining every tool or system I seek to implement.

Strategies to deal with this myopia and framework manipulation I have discovered are:

  • Gaining a clear understanding of what my customers' expectations are of my business
  • Understanding what my 'promise is' and what happens if I fail to deliver it - QUANTIFY!
  • Creating a Board of Advisors to whom I can turn for truly frank discussions of what is working and what is not
  • Finding mentors with significant business PROCESS experience, preferably even outside of my industry - that way I am implementing tactical changes that are about business structures regardless of what technical tasks are happening inside it
  • Talking with peers who also run more or less solo operations to see how they are managing quality

So I'd like to ask you, how are you monitoring and implementing quality initiatives in your business? What tools do you use? What courses have you taken that have made a positive (or negative) impact?

Laurie McConnell, owner/operator of:

www.Bigpacificmedia.com
www.bigpacific.com
www.bigpacific.ORG
www.baddogdesign.com

RELATED READING ABOUT E-MYTH:

I heartily endorse the E-Myth Group Mastery Impact Program to anyone serious about not only being and staying in business, because that's simply a baseline of survival. E-Myth will help you understand WHY you are in business, and assist you with creating the underlying structure of thinking and processes that will enable you to truly be successful, whether that's growing your company, selling it, franchising it, or even finding a new path uniquely suited to who you are in the world and what's important to YOU.

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Medalling in Olympic mobile power management

Vancouver, February 2010 - I have learned a lot over the past 7 days of taking part in cultural and sporting events at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Some of it I learned the hard way, and now you don't have to. It is possible to be well-prepared for long days away from opportunities to recharge devices like the battery-gulping iPhone, palm-sized HD video recorders, and even digital SLR cameras. Believe me, there is nothing more aggravating than lugging a 'real' camera through long walks, lineups and security only to find the battery is near dead, a problem exacerbated by cold temperatures.

So here's my tips for preparation, power conservation, and emergency backup measures:

MOBILE PHONES:

  • Turn off 'Ask to Join Networks' on iPhones, Blackberries and other smartphones.
  • Turn down brightness on display or put on auto-brightness.
  • Turn on airplane mode and enable access only when you can group your posts, social network updates, and uploads
  • Turn off GPS location based features
  • Turn off Bluetooth unless it is in use - most people forget and leave it on when they don't need hands-free access
  • For the iPhone consider a charging skin/case, such as the Mophie, which can double battery time
  • Avoid games and long calls, and writing lengthy emails, which can cause the screen to stay lit for long periods of time
  • Buy a regular battery powered phone charger, such as the one sold by Energizer, the Energi to Go. Use rechargables in the Energizer device to reduce toxic waste.
  • On the iPhone turn off audible sound effects for key clicks etc.
  • Turn off push notifications for applications
  • Turn off 3G if not available
  • Minimize auto-lock time so the screen darkens as fast as possible after use
  • Turn off camera apps when the shot is complete! The camera will stay on even if it's in a dark pocket.
  • Shut down apps before locking on the iPhone, by pressing the home button. Otherwise the app is still running in sleep mode, drawing power.
  • Turn off vibrate setting - vibration takes a lot of juice. Just check your phone visually more regularly.
  • Turn off the equalizer on iPhones in the music settings.
  • Bring a power charger and plan a coffee break in a wireless enabled cafe that is plugin friendly. Starbucks and Blenz are two chains in Vancouver where mobile users are frequently seen availing themselves of this tool. Better yet, bring a 4-plug power plugin - if all the plugs are taken by other users they'll happily share if you have the hardware.
  • Special note: BC Ferries has cubicles on board with power outlets for laptop and mobile charging use, and they're free. No wireless coverage yet however; there's a black hole lasting about 20 minutes on the Horseshoe Bay/Langdale run for example.
  • Update the firmware for your phone. We all hate this chore, but developers are always making improvements to the code that runs our phones, and often in the areas of battery usage and conservation.

CAMERAS

  • Invest in a double or triple set of rechargeable batteries for small HD video cameras. Have two differently marked bags for keeping hot/good or cold/dead batteries so you don't have the wrong ones in for that important part you absolutely have to cover. Turn off the camera between shoots as keeping the display lit drains the batteries quickly. Don't review the footage on site unless you have to - better to do reviews, edits, purges at home with a card in a reader or with all footage downloaded to a computer and wiped off the device.
  • Have a second lithium ion battery charged for any digital SLR cameras that use them. Bring it with you, even if you're sure the one in the camera is also charged. Better to have it than be gnashing your teeth in the middle of an event with a paperweight around your neck.
  • Double-check your camera before departure to ensure the memory card and battery are actually IN IT. I once hiked up a brutal trail in a scratchy forest, lugging my Nikon D70 - with its spare lens - and got to the top only to discover the battery wasn't even in it. Turn the power on and off and take a test picture before you leave in case there's any problems with the card.
  • Bring a spare memory card, and don't go more than 4gb in size unless you're a professional shooting in RAW mode. Better to split your shots on multiple cards in case one gets damaged or fails. Carry them in a proper case - especially the small and easy-to-damage SD cards.
  • If you're covering something truly epic, bring a storage device you can download images into to keep space open on your cards, and your images backed up.  You can either go with a standard portable hard drive of 500gb - 1 terrabyte, or you can invest into an actual photography-specific storage device, such as the Epson P-6000 Multimedia Photo Viewer, which offers instant shoot and save, RAW file support, and a large viewer so you don't have to port them into a computer just to review them.
  • Take every opportunity to do this kind of housekeeping and charging whenever you can, and even ask at restaurants or hotels if they provide such a service either for free, for a fee, or with your meal.

GENERAL TIPS AND TRICKS:

  • Research your transportation route on a computer before you leave home so you're not looking things up on your phone
  • Know where the closest electronics stores are relational to the route you'll be traveling
  • Be prepared to spring some cash if you don't do your preparation beforehand. My camera battery died en-route to the Olympic hockey venue for the much-anticipated Canada/Sweden womens hockey game, and we happened to see a Best Buy along the skytrain route. Hopped out and $60 later were back on board with the exact lithium ion battery my Nikon needed, and it was pre-charged to half strength. I guess I can take comfort from the fact that there's enough people like me to constitute a market for this product.
  • FREE BUT PRICELESS TIP: label all your chargers with white tags that denote the device it's for and store accessories by device and not by type (ie. charger, spare battery, extra lens for camera all together; charger and mophie pack for iPhone together - NOT all chargers together - that's a recipe for a distastrous mixup.

If you have some tips to share, please send them along. As for me, on day 7 of the Vancouver Winter Olympics I finally feel properly prepared to take in all the sights, sounds and events with my gear.

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Old loyalties crumble: I’m going Mac

I've done it. I stopped in at Simply Computing on Broadway in Vancouver last week to get an uber-cool skin/case/battery pack by Konnet for my iPhone, which has quickly become as integral to my work habits as my desktop and laptop, and came out with a 27" quad core iMac on order for Friday.

This is not my first time with Macs, it must be pointed out. The first time was at a college newspaper, putting out a 16 page paper every week on the ridiculously small screened MacPlus. You haven't lived unless you were doing 5 college courses and working until 4 am with Pagemaker on a screen the size of an appetizer plate.

The second time was an absolutely brutal week in the community newspaper industry, when we switched from PC to Mac - platform, software, recreation of all standing ads and classifieds, in one 100+ hour workweek. I literally slept with my eyes open learning Quark on a totally new platform.

The last time was on the newer generation iMac of the early 2000s, the cute G4 with the half globe foot and swinging monitor that was simply a colossal waste of money as it was almost useless for anything Internet related and quickly became a really expensive paperweight.

Three bad experiences have kept me away from Macs ever since, but three compensating factors have finally overcome the bad memories:

  1. New functionality on the Mac combined with big screens and great resolution makes the Adobe CS environment I work much more productive
  2. A growing market share means as a web designer and online publisher I need to be experiencing business online on both platforms
  3. I can run Windows and PC programs on a Mac without having to reboot - critical factor to save time & money in replacing software

Plus the iMac is just plain a gorgeous machine and can double as a media centre. Add to that increasing piggy and sluggish anti-virus management and program freezes on the PC and the Mac looks like a prescription for some really bad business headaches.

So follow me on this blog as I go through the metamorphosis to becoming a Mac user, chronicling the improvements, pitfalls, time investment and more.

Use this information to look hard at your own business platform decisions. Just because you've had the same system for a decade or more doesn't mean you're stuck with it... and that goes for converting in either direction.

Tips for reviewing your own business platform needs:

  • Track your time from a computing efficiency perspective. How long to boot? How many crashes and what kind? How much time spent in installing operating system updates? (PC fans say my computer is stable if I religiously install updates; considering it can take an hour or more and I need to be present and the machine can't be used for anything else = a lot of lost billable time). I've discovered through this kind of intelligence gathering that time savings can pay for my monthly leasing costs.
  • Track functionality. What do you have in your current platform environment that you can't live without? What does the other platform have that would have a significant positive impact on how you do business? (I've spent about 25 hours searching for and evaluating flash movie creators for the PC when iLife comes resident on the Mac.)
  • Total cost of upgrading. How many computers are in your small business network? Does everyone need to change or can you do it slowly? Do you have to make any software upgrades at the same time? Do you need to buy a standalone Windows or Mac OS (your copy of Windows OS that came pre-installed on a machine won't work for Windows-within-Mac computing)?

Next post: inventory your existing machine, back up, disaster management recovery planning.

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SM and the weird small business bondage

by Laurie McConnell,
BigpacificMedia.com

Social Media: Is It For You?

Social media/social networking (SM) has moved from being a fun way to keep up with friends that most could ignore to a business tool that seems as ubiquitous as the proverbial blade of grass. I can't look at a publication, business directory or advertisements without seeing numerous calls to follow and interact. It's like the Pied Piper, on crack, for small businesses. There's so many tunes whistling out at us we seem to be spinning in circles.

I keep running into business owners who talk about being bewildered, even overwhelmed, by the amount of information coming at them. Especially in smaller, rural communities where - it seems almost unbelievable given the constant learning required at this point in technological history - we are slower to adapt and adopt. While in major urban areas social media applications are in widespread and diverse use and have already achieved a certain level of critical mass, in the small outlying communities, some businesses are still waiting for high speed Internet to arrive. I even know a few sorry souls still on dial-up. There's no cell coverage, or no 3Gs coverage, rendering these discussions moot for some.

For the rest of us we're left with a bewildering array of marketing and communication web sites and apps that seems to be proliferating faster than we can even imagine, never mind keep up with. Even for those of us working in the technology sector, the amount of available time for evaluating and benchmarking these tools is but a single blade of wheat in a vast acreage of it.

So how do you know if social media is right for your business?

First, what IS it?

Wikipedia defines it as: "Social media uses Internet and web-based [and increasingly, mobile/cellphone-based - my note] technologies to transform broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many)."

This in itself marks a fundamental change in business practices. The expectations of the consumer regarding your business bears about as much resemblance to the established way of doing things as a current cell phone does to the old shoe-sized monolith we used to hold up and shout into. This is the post-meltdown era, where if we can't have job security, have trouble making our mortgages, and are experiencing a real fear of the future, at least we can be recognized.

These days it's all about personalized customer service and proactive selling. These days you're not just competing with the big box store that recently moved into your community; you're vying for customers with businesses from around the world. People will still buy locally, but increasingly their expectations for the relationship are getting more and more refined.

The hallmarks of the typical modern consumer:

  • High expectations for service standards
  • Willingness to shop around with easily available tools online
  • Enjoys the game of finding the best prices
  • Desires a personal relationship with the companies they buy from
  • Communicates in real time about their experiences
  • Provides access to their peer group at a nominal cost if their expectations are met or exceeded
  • Enjoys novelty, finding new and different things, experiencing them in surprising ways
  • Much more sophisticated than consumers of the past
  • Makes a connection between the money they spend in your business and your personal benefit from it
  • Much less loyal, constantly wooed by your competitors

The hallmarks of businesses aggressively capitalizing from these shifts in relationship:

  • Actively seeks input from consumers, via in-store data collection, online surveys, newsletters, instant media
  • Finds ways to personalize service
  • Responds hyperfast to complaints, often apologizing publicly for the consumer's experience
  • Offers many ways for consumers to connect
  • If traditional in approach (standard/shortened hours of opening, traditional marketing), ups the in-store service through careful retention of key employees and a strong company culture that focuses on personal relationships with customers
  • Develops, adopts and measures on a regular basis customer service, including developing operations manuals for all positions and standardizing delivery regardless of individuals involved (the same experience every time for the consumer)
  • Looks for innovative - and measurable - ways to interact with customers

The bad news is a customer can walk into your store, have a bad experience with one of your staffers - or even you - and literally while you are watching they can post their experience to multiple channels in their personal (and often public) networks. Worse still, if you're not participating in social media, you won't even be aware of it, never mind take steps to address it. (Read a recent story in Inc. for one small business owner's nightmare with the Yelp social network. )

The good news is that you have access to some incredible intelligence about your products, service and reputation that can transform your business. Out of that chaff can come new product or service ideas, the opportunity to see and hear what's being said about you and your business, in real time, and to respond proactively before long-term damage has been done. You can test product ideas and have customers vote on what you should sell, driving your buying decisions and leading to reduced inventory and returns. You can keep an eye on your competitors.

For these reasons I weigh in as a 'Yes' on businesses participating on Social Media, and here's some tips for how you can do it without getting hopelessly tied up with information or tied into technology.

If all you do as a small businesses in a rural area is these 5 things, you will be ahead of most of your competitors.

  1. Sign up for free accounts on Twitter.com and Facebook.com, the two largest and most active social networks.
  2. Set up a free account at Google.com/accounts.
  3. Search for your business or niche on Twitter and listen to what's being said about you and respond directly.
  4. Collect some friends on Facebook and watch how people interact and what/how they share
  5. Set up a Google Alert at Google.com/alerts and get emails of links that include your business name or industry

Set yourself a goal of 1-3 months of perhaps 5-10 minutes per day to watch and learn, and when you feel ready, start participating. Make sure you do this BEFORE you hire someone to run a social media campaign for you, and be sure to ask them what tools they use to track campaigns and what kind of reporting you can expect to receive. Once you understand social media's purpose and behavior you're more likely to pick the right service provider.

Sign up for the Bigpacific Media Connections Blog to learn more about how your business can benefit from participating in these and other technologies.

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Business Building Events Jan/Feb 2010

icon_bpm_change

Wow. 2010 is NOT getting a sleepy start when it comes to building opportunities through marketing, networking, courses and public events. If you're not registered or participating in some kind of course, seminar, webcast, or local initiative I have to ask... why not? Remember the great and simple adage: If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got.

It's time to take some risks, make some new investment - even if it's just a hypodermic of adrenalin into your business - and start looking at things with a fresh outlook. Do something you've never done before, or something you've previously written off as a time-waster unlikely to show benefit. Ask a business that IS demonstrating new energy how and where they got it, and follow suit.

Here's what's on in the next 4-6 weeks that can help you build your business for 2010 and beyond:

  • January 14, Capilano University Sechelt Campus, 3 hours morning session: E-Leadership. Leading by example, creating community, including an element of altruism, developing role as expert, online presence, social media, dos and don'ts + hands on lab work with Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Google Analytics, Google Adwords/Adsense.
  • January 15, World Host training in Customer Service Excellence for Olympic guests. Welcome and cultural protocol for different languages and cultures, tips, highlights, promoting accessibility for disabled visitors. If this seminar doesn't sell out (there's one Saturday morning - 16th - at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt) we are missing out on a fantastic opportunity to be the best we can be, and what does that say about us by extension. Book NOW. There are limited spaces available. Contact the Gibsons Chamber for routing through to organizers. 604-886-2325.
  • January 27,  5:30 - 7:30 Magellan's Sechelt (next to the Lighthouse Pub): Infusion 2010 Media Mixer. Meeting marketing experts from every discipline - bring your questions for some great free advice, network with other business owners, create marketing synergy and learn from two well-known Coast professionals about how to approach your 'marketing plan'. $20 networking & nibbles; cash bar.
  • January 28th, 7-9pm Lower Gibsons: Enterprising Moms Network Monthly Speaker Meeting. Laurie McConnell will be talking about tracking the success of your online marketing.
  • January 29th, Ceillis Irish Pub 670 Smithe Street Vancouver 6pm: ByzHub.com Meetup. For small business owners and entrepreneurs, including Sunshine Coast and Vancouver businesses.
  • February 4th, Sechelt's Spirit Square, 9:30 am: Olympic Torch Relay Event. While not being a business event per se, most Sunshine Coast businesses will benefit either directly or indirectly from the Olympics, whether its in the games period running from Feb through the Paralympics in March or beyond. Be there, be enthusiastic, get an infusion of Olympic Spirit to take into your business. Gibsons event begins at 1pm.
  • February 11th, Robson Square Vancouver, evening: Sunshine Coast Tourism tells the story of the Coast in HD video and introduces Media to our regional cuisines in a partnered evening event with Tourism Vancouver Island. Make sure you are a member of Sunshine Coast Tourism so your story is part of the message.
  • Duration of Olympics, Richmond's BC Street and O Zone: Sunshine Coast Tourism engages visitors and media about the Sunshine Coast. Very exciting. Booth Volunteers needed.
  • Duration of Olympics, BC Ferries Langdale/Horseshoe Bay Run: Additional Travel Ambassadors needed for one 4 hour shift per week. Learn on the job with an experienced partner, and have a blast welcoming the world. Contact the Gibsons Chamber of Commerce.
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What does a skunk have to do with customer service? Everything!

asshatI'm going to share a story with you about an interesting company with a fantastic product... and a business-killing marketing and fulfillment side that is keeping them from being a great company. Then I'll give you 6 tips you can use to avoid repeating these sadly common mistakes.

Over the holiday season, I made a wonderful discovery of a very cool knit hat company. They make 'critter' toques of all varieties of animals: donkeys, raccoons, tigers, cats, dogs, floppy dogs... even skunks! Their hats sport a signature, unique look, and come with available matching mittens. Think sock monkey zoo.

These hats are crazy, fun, attention-getting, hilarious, and inexpensive to boot. I was immediately smitten and emerged from one of my favorite Vancouver shops - Bang On, on Robson Street - having metamorphosed into... what else? An ass. A donkey for you folks who get the other word confused with swearing.

My toque (interestingly, according to Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, it can also be spelled as 'tuque') proved a magnificent purchase right from the start. It prompted conversation with strangers. It triggered smiles from passers by. It entertained many small children. Imagine my delight, strolling the Robsonstrasse, wearing the ass hat.

There was only one small problem. I was heartbroken.

Why, you ask? Why, because I really really really wanted the skunk hat the store fellow was wearing, having snagged the one and only out of the mixed box sent by the hat company.

I begged him to sell it to me. I offered to pay more, even though it was pre-worn, in fact, more skunky. All to no avail. It's the first time I've ever considered mugging someone for an article of clothing, Ed Hardy be damned.

There I was, standing amid masses of people, feeling exactly like I looked: an ass.

And then it occurred to me! The hat had a label, identifying it as a Knit Wit creation. AHA! I could google the company, and maybe order my favorite hat online! The first available opportunity I checked it out. And got my first disappointment.

Man, were they hard to find. I could find some of their distributors - barely... it seems there's a lot of knitwits around these days - but not the corporate site. I'm normally a 2 minutes or less searching kind of gal so they had me flummoxed for a bit. Through much ferreting around I discovered there was a secret handshake required for Google: Delux Knitwit. Finally.

There they were, if you really looked and didn't skip right past it:
knitwit2009
d e L u x. knitwits.
www.knitwits.com

Useless title, strange capitalization, no description, no keywords, nothing. Wow, even their SEO person is a nitwit, I thought to myself.

I clicked on the link. You should too.

Cute little faces in squares, sort of like Hollywood Squares, without the famous people and funny lines. Or the KnitWit Brady Bunch. NOTHING that said or showed what the company does on the front page. Not even an email address.

I thought, Oh! Maybe that's what those other links are. I clicked on 'About'.

Nope, nothing that says what they ARE or what their company DOES. It says what these mysterious somethings are made from, and the wonderful qualities of the whatever-they-ares, but not one word about toques, hats, chapeaus, or any other manner of calling an ass an ass HAT.

Oh well. I still LOVED my toque, and still desperately wanted a skunk toque, and still wanted to tell these KnitWits about how cool I thought their company was, how I wanted to blog about them, how I had a dozen Bang On cards in my pocket to hand out to anyone who asked about why I was (wearing) an ass for a hat, and maybe could I give out their cards too?

I found their email address and wrote them a short but passionate letter including the above. I asked if they had ever considered making some West Coast animals, like seals, or otters or even octopi. I raved about KnitWits. I WAS a nitwit about their product. I begged them to sell me a skunk knitwit directly, since Bang On told me they just got a mixed box and it would be hard to tell if any store had one in stock as the types weren't 'ordered' per se.

And here was the second, and much bigger disappointment. Someone named Sabrina wrote me back and perfunctorily pointed out that no, they don't drop-ship, and hey, here's a pdf list of the stores that carry the hats. No hi, nice to meet you, thanks for writing, we're so glad you love our crazy hats. No response to the other parts of my message.

No job title or contact information. Was this an assistant knitwit, or was I dealing with the Grand Poohbah Delux Knitwit? No way of telling, and I usually have my wits about me.

It was deflating to say the least. My ass hat felt more like an Eeyore than a jaunty heel-kicking happy-go-lucky kind of ass.

I still love it. Deep in my heart of hearts, I still yearn for the skunk hat (which in retrospect seems a strangely symbiotic illustration of KnitWit's customer service and marketing model). I confess I still want to love this company... to be a raving fan, to be a joyful knitwit as it were, but that sentiment is languishing somewhere along with Sabrina's email.

And that is the story of how a company with a great product missed out on being a great company.


WHAT YOU CAN DO TO AVOID THESE MISTAKES:

  • Make sure your web site has a good title, description and keywords and that you can be easily found.
  • Describe what you do for us ordinary folk. Don't make us guess. It's also good for your search engine rankings.
  • Have a clear policy on your site for how people can buy your products. Don't make them ask for the list of stores via email... have the list there and downloadable NOW.
  • RESPOND fast to any passionate communication. That customer is just dying to buy your product and tell everyone they know that they did or is a raging inferno only you can transform into a cheery little hearth fire.
  • Include your job title and contact information in your signature. Make it easy for people to talk with you.
  • Thank the writer for their interest in your product. How about "We're so glad you love our hats!" It starts the conversation off on the right foot.
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Canadian Businesses Slow to Move Online

canadianbusonlineIf you are already online as a small business in Canada, congratulations. You are in the minority! According to Statistics Canada, only 41% of businesses had a web site by 2007 (the latest available data). This accounts for only a 5% jump in Internet adoption for businesses since 2003.

Thus, despite Canada's strong statistical showing in personal use of the Internet (only Scandinavian countries exceed our usage of the Internet), our businesses are astoundingly slow to move online, even with the equivalent of a brochureware web site.

The highest percentage sector using a web site? Education, followed by Information and Cultural Industries. No surprise given the Web's early start as a research and teaching tool, but where is retail, or tourism?

According to the research, despite tremendous gains in online reservations, only 44% of accommodation businesses have a web site. The same for restaurants/food services. 46% of Canadian retail businesses are online.

It's time for this to change. Web sites, for most small businesses in Canada, are ridiculously inexpensive in comparison to what they provide in terms of 24/7 information, connection with consumers or trade partners, and web traffic/usage statistics that are critical to measuring marketing and other strategies.

According to the Canadian Internet Project, "sixty-two percent of users rank the Internet as their highest source of information, with magazines and radio being the lowest. It has also been shown that Internet users spend less time with traditional media, meaning that an online presence is that much more effective."

Next post: Bumping the percentages and moving into the future

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Taking Twitter Too Far – Twitter Take-Out

I couldn't believe my eyes this morning. Pizza Hut, home to what I believe is the worst pizza in the known universe, has created a position for a summer intern, or 'twittern' to tweet about The Hut and troll the Internet for all things weird and wonderful of interest to Pizza Hut fans.

Of course this begs the question: Pizza Hut has fans?

The last time I darkened the door of a Pizza Hut was when I stopped in at the franchise in Richmond British Columbia, hoping to rekindle the nostalgia of my youth, when we used to pool our allowance and ride en masse to the hut for double-cheese and pepperoni. I recalled the great crust, the real cheese, the sense of gut power ramping up for the ride home, fueled by saturated fat and Coca-Cola.

All I can say as a 46 year old is: iiicccckkkk. I could have used the grease that pooled atop the cheapo cheese for womens oiled wrestling. The pizza dough was nothing but dough - no crunch, no 'crust', just lard and flour, like an anvil rocketing down to my stomach. The pepperoni was reminiscent of tire shavings - and not nice tires either, but the kind that come from trucks working in the abbatoirs. I kid you not. The pop was flat and had too much syrup in it; it was a better example of why one shouldn't drink soda than all the dieticians' tomes in the known universe.

So I've been trying to think what this college intern is going to do all summer. Talk about a good gig if you can get it! Given that the maximum character count on a message is 140 and that there is a limit, hypothetically, of just how many twitter messages about bad pizza or anything remotely related even the most rabid fratboy with no taste can manage, this job would account for what, say 2 hours a day if we are being generous?

What else could happen in the twittersphere to dominate this non-announcement? Well, acting just like its moniker, Dominos has thrown down the funny little pockmarked rectangle and plans to twitter too.

Now that all the major brands (companies and people) have seen the twitter light, we can all look forward to the mindless consumerist surge finding its next path of least resistance and littering up what equates to the Internet's bicycle lane with enough billboards to create a stairway to the moon.

Time for a new frontier, again!

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Free Internet Radio – The Next Generation

Wow, I'm pumped. I haven't forayed into Internet radio for quite a long time, ever since I bored myself to tears listening to the same stuff over and over with live365.com - which incidentally cost me $4.95 USD a month. Once I'd topped up on it to the point of overflow I went away from listening to music while I work altogether, except for the occasional listen to the righteously revolutionary National Public Radio in the US (I'm in Canada).

I got a note from John Chow today asking me to check out the new online radio offering: OnlineRadioStations.com. What the heck, I thought, I've got a few minutes and could use some new music to listen to.

20 minutes later I've got several favorites happening, my speakers are pumping, and I feel energized for the day of work ahead. I'm also happy to be learning about a service that can benefit my customers and readers... discovering a great new offering is always a high point in the day.

As an added incentive to check out ORS, John Chow dot Com, a blog that helps you make money is giving away more cash through another wild radio contest. They are giving away up to $4,000 cash! The contest is sponsored by OnlineRadioStations.com.

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So what are my favorite stations after noodling around in the site as a member?

  • Global Beats FM Ambient Music - high energy, great tempos
  • DI FM Ambient Music out of NYC - mellower, very electronic and spacey
  • 1 FM Chill Out Lounge Music out of the Southeast USA - great mix of electronic and classic instrumentation
  • This is wild... my little hometown has a radio station listed in the International listings:  CVUE 105.9 Variety Radio
  • I can listen to stations from all over Canada, in small cities and towns, like:  CKRW 96.1 Adult Contemporary (listening to a guy doing a radio ad for his honda generator for sale on 'Trader Time' in Whitehorse Yukon!
  • Classic 102.7 Afrikaans.., from Johannesburg, South Africa

I have to stop myself from looking around now - work to be done. I thoroughly recommend OnlineRadioStations.com, not only for the incredible diversity of stations but also for the gorgeous design and useability of the site. It's attractive, contemporary, and compelling.

My only criticism at this early point is that if I select a station to listen to and navigate away from the page, the music stops if I'm on the OR player. I keep looking for a button that says 'play this on top' or something similar. There's also some icons at the top and if you pass your mouse over them they light up, but there's no alt tags that I can see and I don't know what half of them are.

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Oh, and don't forget this page - it's like Gadget Smack.

Follow me on Twitter...

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The Basics of Social Networking

social networking for beginners

Here's a brief description of each of the three major ways to conduct social networking and how it benefits you and your customers:

  • Twitter, or 'micro-blogging' (journaling)
  • Facebook
  • Blogging (journaling)

TWITTER:

Twitter is just like it sounds - short, socializing messages (tweets) whistled out to the universe much like the birds do it in spring. These messages are 140 characters or less, and can be sent through your account at Twitter, via a special email address to Twitter from your personal cell phone (or related downloadable application, like TwitterBerry), or through 3rd party software that you install on your computer to help you organize the twitters based on groupings of friends and contacts. Twitters can keep people informed about changing weather conditions, sale pricing on merchandise, special events, and small items of interest that keep you communicating with your customers. Tweets are public to anyone following you and your permission is not required for them to do so.

FACEBOOK:

Facebook is a free-access social networking website where users can post photos and videos, share links, show event calendars, start or join groups around a specific topic, etc. You set the level of privacy for your information on Facebook, ie. only approved friends can see your information, friends of friends can see it, or it's public. Most social facebook pages are friends only, and businesses tend to set it at friends-of- friends for broader reach. Politicians would be an example of someone who would choose the public setting.

The benefits of Facebook are that you can share a LOT of information with a LOT of people very easily and with a minimum amount of work, you can keep track of what your 'friends' are doing via their status updates, and you can advertise events and track RSVPs through the invitation function.

Remember that when you give access to someone they can post publicly on YOUR wall of comments, so be careful about what level of access you provide. Kids and people with poor social skills are prone to posting content that at best can be trivial and annoying, and at worst, harmful to your business. You may wish to have one facebook page for you personally and one for your business (though I must advise that violates Facebook's terms of use - however, millions do it!).

BLOGGING:

Blogging, or online journaling, is the most commonly known tool for networking and communicating with customers and customers-to-be. I use WordPress for all my blogging - WordPress has achieved critical mass and there are so many great add-ons, hosting setups, and tips and tutorials that's it's just my favourite tool.

Blogging is not private - the very function of it is to push your content out into the Internet and get it passed around, syndicated (RSS = Really Simple Syndication), linked to, even excerpted and linked to. Blogging is where you tell the story of you and your business, because blogging is a one-to- one connection and it's about the human contact.

People not only want to know about what you're selling, sales, specials, getaways etc.... they want to know that you had to stop cleaning your accommodation early this morning to simply stare out the window at the gorgeousness of your little corner of the coast. They want to know that you've been kayaking for 10 years and still, every day, you want to be out on the water because that's where you feel free.

BUILD IT FOR ME

What if you want all of these powerful traffic-building tools added to your business, but you don't have time to figure it all out?

Bad Dog Design offers a one-stop development program that includes:

  • wordpress site setup, as a 'static' web site, or blog, or combination of both, using free or for-purchase designed themes, plugin/widget installation, and set up with a self-hosted version with your own domain name and hosting
  • twitter setup, with customization of your background to match your business
  • facebook setup, with uploading of your basic data and installation of up to 6 Facebook plug-in applications

Call 604.885.5913 and request an information packet for more details - please leave the name of your business and email address, or write webmaster@bigpacific.com. This is a custom process, so please allow for 2-4 weeks for discussions and setup. Pricing starts at $999. Twitter and/or Facebook can be setup without a site/blog, approximately $299.

For UNIQUE, fully-customized blogs - capable of being your entire online presence and not template designed - we'll refer you to a top-notch online company with a range of packages from blog-add-on to full comprehensive site development. Prices start at $1999 for the basic branding package.

Bad Dog Design Inc.: Designing for Small Business and the Internet Since 1997.

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