Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Economy is Screaming HELP

Some interesting things that I've seen lately is that as unemployment soars in some of the provinces, the government decides to increase taxes (they're going to start taxing me on food too. Gives me another excuse to go on a diet) and grant higher minimum wages.

First rant: The economy is going down the hole - WHY do you want to tax people on basic necessities? We HAVE to eat. As if we're not paying enough taxes already. Now when I buy $100 in food, I don't really get that amount, since $12 goes towards taxes. Adding a tax to previously PST exempt services it going to be great for businesses, it also means more restaurants are going to go out of business as fewer people eat out. Just great for the economy - what kind of geniuses are representing us now?

Second rant: Higher minimum wages. Great idea (NOT). Employers are already struggling to keep their companies ALIVE, and all you want to do is for us to pay higher wages? Do you know how much we PAY to the CRA for each employee? Employees only see the deductions on their paychecks and moan and groan about bringing home a paycheck that's been literally cut in half by CPP and EI deductions.

They may not know, or are oblivious to the fact that their employers are paying the CPP and 1.4 times the EI amount to the CRA. This is where employees think it's "unfair" when they're sitting in the office twirling their pens, going on facebook and leaving work at 4pm. Yes, employers know about that, we just don't have enough "cause" to fire all of the deadwood yet. This economy gives (or already gave) some employers the perfect reason to "downsize".

That's enough for now. Must be heat that's making me rant - 37 degrees outside right now. Enjoy the heat!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A BIG Thank You to our Customers

Over the past 2 months, we've seen transactions sizes grow from $400 to over $50,000. This is extremely encouraging and shows that our customer are developing a trust for us. We have tried our very best to be as diligent as possible in all aspects. Keeping in touch constantly with customers to let them know where their money is. Communicating all issues with our customers and recommending solutions fit for their needs.

Someone once told me that the business of forex isn't about competing on the lowest prices - it's about helping customer solve business problems. Cheesy but true. If you can provide the customized service and attention to each customer, it does help to build the long-term relationship needed for them to become advocates.

On the other hand, there's also the theory of "firing" your customers when they become too much of a burden and cram your customer service line. So it does require a delicate balance; and as you come in touch with more customers, you'll discover that some are sincerely trying to learn more about your business, rather than just calling to complain - try to identify them because they will start spreading the word for you, and they can be the "WORM" to their friends (Word of RESPECTED mouth).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pre-Authorized Debit

I just realized that we haven't actively been promoting the fact that our customers can sign up for a pre-authorized debit (PAD) agreement with us and have it make their lives so much easier.

When we first launched our service, we had required our customers to send in funds for their transactions using bill payment - which is the cheapest method (or it could be free depending on which bank you're with).

In May, we set up our system so that customers could select PAD as a payment option. This means all you need to do is book a transaction online, and PeerFX takes care of the rest. What do we mean by that?

Before: You book a transaction and you need to go to your online bank website to send a bill payment to us. The converted funds show up in your bank account after 4 business days.

AFTER: You book a transaction and see the money show up in your bank account after 4 business days.

Of course there's a reason why I have the before-after scenario, because I know that the AFTER scenario is much easier! Plus, it's not at an additional cost to the customer. Pretty sweet huh?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Establishing Trust

Since our official service launch, we've been steadily establishing trust with our first batch of customers. There are a couple things I find that are especially effective, and I think I may be stating the obvious:

  1. Provide efficient customer service: I actually give out my personal contact number to my clients, so if they have an issue they can wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me that burning question.
  2. Follow-up: Don't expect a client to keep chasing after you for their issue; that's YOUR job. You want to keep chasing after your clients until they are satisfied with the issue, don't leave your customers chasing you. It's much easier to see why when you put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Have you ever been frustrated when you called a company multiple times and you never get the problem fixed? YUP. You don't want your clients mumbling profanity about your company whenever they think of you.
  3. Keep Customers in the Loop: this applies especially for a service like ours, where we are dealing with people's money. There are customers that are trying online currency exchange for the first time, and we spend the time getting them on board with the service, even if it means we get on the phone with them at 6am in the morning. We reassure them that we know what we're doing and that we're always here to help.
It's so simple to write about it yet so hard to apply it. Customer service does consume a lot of our time and it makes sense, since as a new service to the industry we need to take the time to educate our customers on what makes us different, and customer service is a major component in the highly competitive forex industry.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Never QUITE the Same When You're Chatting with Someone Actually IN Your Shoes

So I had an awesome meeting with a friend of mine Sam Araki yesterday. It was definitely an interesting talk since both of our companies are in the forex industry and it's always different when you're chatting about someone truly passionate about their business.

As an entrepreneur, do you ever get the feeling that people working in the corporates or even your contractors/employees don't know the amount of stress you're going through on a daily basis? No one's to blame for this! Just like I mentioned in a previous post on Ruthless Management, as owners, we just have different priorities as employees. The priority list is totally different since owners sink, time, money and everything else they have into the business.

We also chatted about training people into jobs and making management decisions too late into the game. There's been times when we think we could help a person "develop" a skill set that we know is just non-existent for that person; don't get me wrong, I'm a strong believer that everybody has an awesome skill that they can contribute - whether it be the fastest shelf-stocker in North America or whatever - it's still a skill that an employer can use. When we find out that a person does not have the skill set to match the job description, we often struggle to keep them, train them and have our fingers-crossed that they would improve. I've learned the hard way that this is cruel for both parties, since I'm keeping them from moving onto a job that actually suits them and they would hate me for not letting go of them sooner (well they would "dislike" me despite the timing of my decision to let them go...)

Which is why if you find that a person isn't fitting into one "job", then figure out what their strengths are. Stop expecting people to be like yourself. I've fallen into that trap. I'm a numbers person who measures EVERYTHING in the business, and I can't expect the same business-oriented bean counting quality from my programmers, marketers, salespeople, etc. THEY WERE HIRED TO DO THINGS THAT I DON'T DO! So what good does it actually do when everybody I hire is a clone of me? Ask Julien, he would probably run away if there were more than one of me in the business :)

Tons of ideas just sprung up out of our conversation and this is how ideas are generated people - instead of you sitting at home and staring at 4 walls (or maybe you have more?)

I'm glad that I've progressed to a position where Sam and I could share ideas and help each other out...compared the initial time we met, where I was the one mostly asking for advice.

As a follow up to my post yesterday, this is what I would classify as good "networking". You maintain a long-term business relationship and help each other out as you are each building your businesses. I think many books have been written recently about how small businesses should create their own network and that's the only way they can compete? I'm not saying the theory is valid, but in my personal opinion it's the way that I work, and so far so good!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I think lately the whole craze has been about "networking" in the business world. Or maybe it was always like that and I've been camping out on Mars. Personally I've tried it a couple times and it seems to not really be my "thing". Maybe that's why I'm not doing the sales calls for my company right now :) [thank you Julien]

But I think when someone calls a meeting a networking event it instinctively tells me that it's rare to develop a real business relationship at the event. The thing about networking is you get a ton of follow up calls from people who don't really know what they want from you and what you can give them.

I've had meetings where I sat through most of them with my pen poised ready to write down whatever "synergies" were proposed by the person sitting across from me in the initial email to set up the meeting. Of course, most of the time the piece of paper remained blank.

It's partly my bad for not having clarified with the other party once I visited their website and realized there were probably minimal (read: ZERO) synergies to be realized. But who knows? I had attended those meetings with fingers-crossed hoping they saw something that I totally missed.

So...what are some effective tips that you use to make sure networking works?

I know that following-up with the right people at the right time is key. Julien and I probably got 500 phone calls from companies that saw us at a conference last month, when we told them it might be better to connect again in half a year. Maybe they interpreted that as..."let's keep calling them at 6am in the morning until the half year point". Oh great.

Another thing is to know what you want. How can they help you? How can you help them? If you have REAL answers to both of these questions (ie. the answers are tied with some money-making ideas/actions) THEN you can go ahead and set up a phone meeting first. Don't waste time meeting in person. I can't tell you how much time is wasted on commuting to and from meetings (plus all that caffeine intake from cafe meetings can't be healthy right? I once had 6 mochas in a day and I usually don't drink caffeine at all - I was wired).

If you have other tips you can share with our readers, do post it in our comments! :)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer = Vacation?

Just a thought. Why does it seem like everyone classifies summer as THE vacation months of the year? Why does everyone refuse to work during August? Why are these the 'quiet' months for businesses?

For all I know, IF it holds that summer is a vacation month, then businesses like mine should be BOOMING with business. Why? Because we're not targeting huge corporate sales, where everybody gets a summer vacation no matter how brief. We're targeting small businesses that probably won't trade off 2 months of business activity/$INCOME$ for 2 months on the beach. Seriously, unless small business owner CURRENT Bill, wants FUTURE Bill to be in a lot of trouble come September.

I wonder if there's a correlation between the theory of summer being a staple vacation period and third quarter sales? Because if these are the quiet months, then revenue should have slumped as well right? But I don't think people would want to write in their annual report something like this:
"Due to the massive amount of people that took a vacation during the summer months, our third quarter sales have plummeted by 30%."

On Reality - Dilbert

I'm glad that I still have a sense of humor - being busy 16 our of 24 hours a day with the business. I was reading the Dilbert book "Slapped Together - the Dilbert Business Anthology".

I think I get a kick out of reading this because this is what actually happens in those big corporate offices - or any offices with cubicles, many layers of unnecessary management, etc. You get the picture.

I've heard MANY stories from friends working in those types of companies complaining about these things:

  1. My boss doesn't know what they're doing (this is the no.1 complaint I hear; especially in tech companies)
  2. I waste most of my time in meetings to "recap" things. How about telling me what to do in this week instead?
  3. My boss loves to strategize but nothing ever gets done.
  4. If I ever hear the words "touch base", "moving forward", "let's shelve this for now", "strategic paradigm", I will literally start throwing up right here, right now.
  5. I came up with this great idea and my boss 'ran with it'. Sure enough, he always ran off with my credit for coming up with the idea.

Now in defense of these companies, the 'boss' of the tech department is probably a project manager and not a always a great developer. They are probably better as a project manager - ie. making sure things got done on time, people were accountable, etc. this is why their job isn't to develop now. Of course, developers hate to be managed by someone who isn't great at developing. I think this is where the frustration arises. I honestly do feel their pain but let's say one of the developers were promoted to the management position, would they do just as well as their current boss in managing the team? That's an unknown. (Most developer right now are probably banging their hands on the table yelling and screaming "Of course I can do a better job!" STILL. It's an unknown until you're promoted, so keep your fingers crossed.)

On meetings: You can make them more productive. Make it your goal to drive the meeting forward instead of chatting about one topic endlessly. Make sure the meeting ends in 15 minutes, if you see that the purpose of the meeting is to decide ONE thing - and then move on to do actual work. Use action items. My team and I have a running list of action items that we cross off as we complete them, so we track progress and add this week's action items during the weekly team meeting. It's up to YOU to make it efficient.

On Taking Credit: If your boss takes credit for having implemented the idea and you didn't actually participate in that, stop fuming. What your boss SHOULD do, is give you credit for having come up with the idea. That's fair. I'm a believer of the fact that implementation of an idea far outweighs just coming up with the idea.

Here's an example. I thought of the iPhone too. Way before Apple did. Now they're selling a gazillion of them. They definitely need to write a blogpost about me having come up with the idea before. It was MY idea!

As you can see, there's a reason WHY you're not sharing in the gazillion dollars they're making, you didn't take part in the actual implementation.

So, this is what Dilbert has inspired me to write. If you work at a company similar to the ones in this post, good luck. All I can suggest is to keep a level head when things like the above complaints happen to you and try to do something about it. I hear enough whining and complaining from supposedly 'helpless' employees but never heard of them taking any action to change the situation. What is causing the headaches you experience at work? It is a person? Is it a situation? Read the book The 48 Laws of Power and apply those principles to change things to YOUR way - every person in every position within a company holds SOME sort of power/value for the company or they would've been fired already; use that power to your advantage.