Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Emotions Just Can't Be Transferred to an Ad

I really, really wanted to let this one go but it has seriously been bothering me for more than 2 days now.

I was driving in my car the other day and this ad comes on the radio. I believe it was an ad for where they had new regulations for credit card fine print and terms and conditions changes.

The radio ad had one man pleading for the credit card holder to give him another chance, much like when a husband is found guilty of something by his wife. Amongst his pleas there were lines such as "I will really change this time, please give me another chance" etc. I wish I had a copy of the ad but this radio ad wanted to leverage off an emotional connection that credit card holders usually DO NOT have for their credit cards.

How can you transfer feelings of a husband/wife relationship to a user/credit card relationship? Plus, there is a negative connotation to the whole ad, since when a husband (I only use husband here because they used a male voice in the ad, it could very well be the wife pleading for forgiveness as well) does something wrong and they say things like this, the person on the receiving end knows that:

  1. You say those things because you know that's what we want to hear
  2. You promise that you will change but you really aren't sure if you can; again, it's something you know we want to hear
  3. We forgive you because we love you, not because you gave us the facts.
The third reason above, is precisely why an ad like this is not going to work; rarely do we experience the same emotions with a credit card. 

Enough of me blasting this ad - I will provide an example of what works well. Have you seen Ally ads on TV? The theme is that fine print in credit cards' terms and conditions are a silly thing to have, and they illustrate it with children wanting to do certain activities and the salesperson saying no, the fine print says you can't. 

Now this is an emotion/feeling we can ALL relate to, because at one point or another, we have all been screwed by credit cards and their fine print. 

What?! I didn't know they changed to charging a 30% annual rate!
What?! I didn't know international usage would cost me 6% of my purchase!
What?! I didn't know that this offer is only valid for new customers that have never had this credit card and live in Shanghai.

You get the idea. We've all been there. Point is, when you are trying to arouse emotions to associate with your brand, make sure that it does transfer, in the right way.

A Customer Experience Story (Part 2)

So I got the new Macbook Air - the totally decked out version. This was half a functional decision and the other half totally irrational (as with all of our purchases).

Following up on my last post, where my supposedly "fixed" macbook air decided to black out on me again after I replaced its hard drive for two hundred dollars plus, I called and left a message where I worked hard to repress my frustration.

I got a call early in the morning, before their store opened at Richmond Centre, from their business manager. I am going to mention her name here because I am going to give her props here for handling my anger so well. She told me that she had received my message, was sorry about my "loss", and understood that I needed to get my computer fixed right away. She booked me in for the first appointment time available at the genius bar and I told her I would be there.

I was down with a cold that morning so I had to groggily pull myself out of bed, get dressed, put on my glasses (which I rarely ever wear in public), and dragged myself over to Richmond Centre. 

I was like a woman on a mission beelining into the store and headed straight for the genius bar at the back. "I am here to see Christine, she booked in me in for an appointment." 

The helper with an iPad called for her via iPad (at least that's what I think happened) and she showed up, we shook hands, and I proceeded with throwing a fit. It went something like me wanting to throw my computer against the wall when it shut down on me again after I was told that it was fixed. OK, that was the only "angry" comment that I made and then having someone immediately attend to my broken computer and saying they understood my pain suddenly made me feel better. Let's face it, as customers, we all just want a little genuine lovin' from these companies.

I told Brody (who was the genius who was going to fix my computer) and Christine that I did need another new computer given that I can't go into meetings with a computer that may die on me any second. We went around and I got to take a look at the new Macbook Air models (11" and 13") and even the new Macbook Pros. Considering that I needed my computer to handle mostly web surfing, word processing and simple photo rendering tasks, the Macbook Air would be more than sufficient. Seriously, with 4GB ram and 280 GB storage I think I am good to go.

Of course they also credited me for the amount that I spent the day before trying to fix my old computer. That made me feel better because I felt that they were fair with me. That's all it takes to satisfy a customer, don't try to rip us off. A lot of you might ask why I decided to buy another Mac, and I will tell you the reasoning is threefold.

  1. Functionality wise I have tried out many different laptop brands, including Fujitsu, Acer, HP, Toshiba and Mac. My Mac never got the blue screen of death and didn't have constant crashes happening. Plus, the system is just so user friendly. Even small things like searching for a file on my computer is 100 times faster. Have you tried searching for a file on a PC? WOW, it really seems like there is somebody inside the computer slowly going through the folders.
  2. They have been SO good with servicing broken stuff on my Macbook Air. Last time the little piece that held my laptop screen and the keyboard together broke off a little bit and they replaced my ENTIRE SCREEN for FREE - I was not under applecare and they helped me simply out of the goodness of their heart (at least this is how it appeared to me). Even when they replaced my hard drive they reduced their labor charge down to $39 from $159. 
  3. Again, totally irrational. This is what customer purchases are like. We buy things that makes us feel good. I know I bought the Macbook Air because it is the thinnest laptop in the world - which really makes me feel quite awesome. My feet will also thank me because I am not lugging around a 10-pound IBM.
I would say that Mac has redeemed itself in this customer experience story. Wouldn't you?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Customer Service Experience Story

It happened this morning when I woke up.

My Macbook Air had mysteriously put itself to sleep, or rather, turned itself off entirely, refusing to start.

I did not freak out because of a data loss, since everything important had already been backed up, but I needed my computer to work on things, and not being able to work on things when I want to drives me insane. I booked an appointment to bring my laptop in to the Apple store to get it checked out.

I show up on time, and a 'genius' diagnoses my laptop and tells me that the hard drive is fried. I ask whether I could fix it and the genius states that it can be done and it will last me another 2 years (looking back at the conversation now I really, really should have recorded it). Since I trusted the brand, the technical expertise of their geniuses, I agreed to replace my hard drive for two hundred dollars.

I was more than overjoyed when they called me later in the day to tell me that it had already been done - I seriously thought this was impressive, considering how all other electronics dealers would take days to fix something. I happily paid for and retrieved my laptop, carrying it back home and tried it out. I left my computer on and idle for half an hour while I had something to eat.

Seating myself back at my work desk after dinner, I fiddled with the keyboard and found that my computer had fallen asleep again. I shut it down and tried to restart it but to my horror, it failed to boot again.

This meant that the 'genius' had made a recommendation, made me spend two hundred dollars, gave me false hope that my computer is going to last me another two years, and very frustrated that I am still dealing with a problem that should have been resolved.

Despite having a great brand, strong customer following and supposedly a technical team that is extremely qualified to handle issues like mine, I am disappointed this time. I hope Apple will show me tomorrow, when I bring my computer back in, that they can treat me right as a customer, because this really hurt the trust I had in their brand. It really did.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A LARGE audience doesn't equate to a captive audience

First off, it's been a long, long time since I've posted and I might even consider myself a bit rusty, so bear with me.

I recently started to use Twitter to promote for a hobby website of mine that I started on the side.  It's totally unrelated to the finance industry so I won't go into detail about it. The point of this post is to discuss the use of Twitter.

I have noticed the majority of people on Twitter have the following things in common:

  1. They rarely generate their own content, they are "retweeting" other people's content (this can be done by a "bot", so the person isn't even manually checking for what they retweet);
  2. They follow hundreds, if not thousands of people in hopes that those people would follow them back;
  3. If those people do not follow them back, they can have their Twitter settings set up so that they automatically "unfollow" those people.
Judging by the above set of prevalent behaviors in the Twitter community, I would believe that close to 90% of your followers aren't even paying attention to your tweets. What are the implications of this to businesses that are hoping to use Twitter to mass distribute their company news, events, etc?

  1. You don't have a captive audience - less than 10% are actually listening;
  2. You have followers because you are also following thousands of people who feel like they should reciprocate by following you back but not necessarily follow your news;
  3. When spending money on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, make sure it makes sense for you; this means you KNOW your target audience is there and that they will also be receptive and responsive to your ads through those channels - or you might get better results by throwing money from the top of a building and courting passerby with your product as they scramble to pick up free money.
  4. This doesn't apply to well-known brands and celebrities because their fans are crazy about them and can be considered a captive audience.
It seems like everyone is crazy about using social media to advertise, but if you audience isn't listening, or not even relevant to your product (as in they won't use it!) then why are you throwing away money? 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Winners Don't Quit (Part 2)

Since my post on Winners Don't Quit a couple days ago I've gotten quite a few emails asking whether I'm OK and what's going on. 

My only response at this time is that I"m handling the change in the business quite well and actually love the fact that we'll be able to reconnect with our roots and original goals of Changing Exchanging for the better.  I'm really living the entrepreneurial life, with things changing constantly.  After a few years doing this you no longer worry too much about tomorrow, because you never know what's going to happen tomorrow!  It's great to have an idea of what you would LIKE to see, but 100% of the time it turns out to be not what you expected...which is PERFECT because it means every day you're creating something on the fly.

That being said - we're in the midst of switching stay tuned.

So I say...bring it on industry!

We're not about to be stopped yet...not. just. yet.

PS.  For those of you that cared enough to send me an email, phone call of encouragement - this is another reason why I continue to fight to make things happen - because of my great support network!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Winners Never Quit

I've hit so many roadblocks since day 1 in this business that it doesn't come as a surprise to me anymore when I hear this line: "We can't work with you because you are in the financial industry and are a Money Service Business." 

I can't help but think that the big boys are influencing the regulations so that the growing businesses like PeerFX, that actually want to do something for the everyday consumer instead of ripping them off, cease to be on the playing field. 

Of course, I still think rules were made to be broken :)

I've spent most of my morning trying to get on board with some potential new partners with no luck.  I keep hearing that damned line - "We can't work with you because you are a Money Service Business". 
After being in the industry for 2 years now it's FRUSTRATING!  Seriously, the rules you put in place lock out everybody EXCEPT the criminals.  Would a real criminal tell you that they are a forex broker or that they are trying to launder money?  I don't think so.

If they do then they should be on the show World's Dumbest Criminals.  Plus, we know that the "successful" criminals cannot be barred out by these regulations anyway, so who are we kidding? 

Hitting 5000 walls has not stopped me from building this business and though this wall seems larger than the ones before, I'm determined to break you down.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How Employers Think

I'm on the verge of spitting blood going through tons of resumes coming in for our PR and Brand Management position.  I think the job description really captures how fun and awesome this position will be, and its a job that I would have jumped at to do some real hands-on marketing if I wasn't already doing my job as President with PeerFX :)

Here are a couple things I noticed that grinds my gears:

  1. If you can't write a good cover letter that tells me why you will do an awesome job at THIS particular job - don't apply.
  2. If your skills aren't relevant to what's required in the job description - don't apply.
  3. If you have grammar mistakes in your cover letter - don't apply.
  4. I gave each resume a 30 second scan - because the candidate has to contribute to blogs and gain PR focus was on the cover letter.  Are you engaging to read about?  Can you communicate to me why you should be part of the PeerFX team and not just part of any team because you are a "driven, self-motivated, results-oriented" individual?  
  5. You have a hotmail account as your contact email - I would not want the media contacting our PR person at their hotmail address.
  6. If you can't recall where you saw PeerFX before, don't make something up - I do most of the PR so I would know if you actually saw us.
  7. Certifications and other abbreviations behind your name on your business card does not impress employers - we think it comes standard.  Now if you tell us you went on a trip around the world, or built a school in a third world country...let's talk.  Don't email me now trying to convince me that you did those things...what I actually mean is - what makes YOU special?  
That's it for now - I have to go back to shortlisting...I hope the above helps those of you that are looking for jobs right now :)
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Friday, July 9, 2010

Dear Employer, I am a fantastic candidate for this job...


1) are sending in generic cover letters?

Blows me away how most if not all of the applicants to our PR and Brand Management position send in cover letters that sound like they just changed the name of the company. 

I tuned out immediately after I read the first line.  "Dear Employer/who it may concern/hiring manager, I am a fantastic candidate for this job (because I have this degree). 

Guess what?  Another 10,000 people have this degree as well!  What have YOU done that makes YOU stand out as an individual?  Did you exceed sales quotas by 100%?  200%?  Did you drive tons of additional traffic to your company's website?  Did you get your company President on the cover of prominent business magazines? 

Be specific.  Identify yourself. 

OR....are you a fantastic candidate because...

2) are not researching the company or reading the job description?

You know...we include certain tasks and responsibilities in the job description because its part of the job.  It doesn't say: "well, it would be great if you could do this, but it's ok if you don't."
So if you don't have all that we're looking for in that job, your time is better spent applying for jobs that actually fit your skill set.  That's where you can make a positive impact with your skills; not in a job where you can't shoulder the responsibilities required.   
Some people do manage to get past the first screening and we give them a call.  We usually ask them so...why PeerFX?  Amazingly we get awkward silence on the other side of the line or the attempt to make it sound like they went to the website.

"Umm...I went to your website, you guys do currency exchange right?"


Please. Please. PUH-lease.  My mom has always told me that opportunities come to those who are prepared to capture them; how are you going to capture any opportunities if you don't put any effort in up front?

Think about it.  Come more prepared and then you can stop wondering why you are unemployed.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This is a Test

Earlier this week when I just got back from LA I was faced with some Monday morning crisis. I say crisis because it was unexpected news that was delivered to me with one week's notice to do something about it.  Usually getting your entire operations set up again takes more than a week.

If I didn't find an alternative solution this crisis could put me out of business.

This is a TEST.

Did it ever make me efficient.  I basically set up an alternative within the same day, sought out several other options to work on and took care of my best customers so service to them wouldn't be interrupted. 

Situations like this test your ability to think clearly in times of crises and I was actually quite happy that I didn't fall into panic mode.  Building the business over the past 2 years I realize that I am a person that freaks over the minute details and thinks clearly when "stuff" hits the fan.

What was my thought process when I got the news?
  1. Can something still be done to maintain the business relationship? Is there someone above this person I'm talking to that can change the decision?   [It's not over until it's over!]
  2. What are my alternatives?
  3. Which one is the easiest, fastest to implement to take care of the short term? Use this to buy time to set up the long-term option.
  4. What options exist in the long-term?
Decide on it then figure out who to call, what steps are required to set up and the time to finishing the set up (getting fully up and running).

I have to say, I was asked how I felt about this test, and frankly at that moment I wanted to say it was fun.  Seriously.  It was something out of the blue and got my blood pumping.

Of course, too much of that leads to heart attacks but once in a while - I can handle it :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No Other Business Does What I Do - BS!

Complete BS.

If you seriously think whatever you're doing has not been done or is not being done by someone else right now - let me tell you, it WILL be done by someone else SOON, really soon.

Or for those that say other businesses can't do what they do - again - BS.
Have you thought about the number of substitutes out there that do exactly what you do?

Example:  Need: Quench Thirst
Substitutes: Coke, Water, Tea, Icetea, Nestea, Sprite, 7-UP, Beer(sssssssssss), Lemonade, the list goes on for about 5 million other choices

Example 2: Need: Foreign Exchange
Substitutes for PFX: Banks, Foreign exchange houses, online brokerages, online banking platforms, foreign exchange booths at airports, MoneyMart, Western Union, etc. the list goes on for another 5 million other choices.

TOKYO - MARCH 17:  Traders monitor stocks at G...
Example 3: Want/need: Staying connected with friends

Substitutes: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad, Blackberry Messenger, Whatsapp, MSN Messenger, Skype, etc.  This list also goes on for another 5 million choices.

SO....if you still think you are the ONLY ONE satisfying a consumer need/want, then you seriously must be from another planet.  Unless you've discovered a new need/want that we don't know about yet - which I must ask that you kindly share with us what it is and why it's so "new".

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Sunday, June 27, 2010


...because it limits your creativity for what you can do with your business.

IMO, and this is similar to one of those theories that Dilbert makes up, the word should was not in our dictionary when we came into this world (yeah yeah, neither were the other 10 billion words we would soon learn). 

As soon as we learned the word should, here's what happened. should eat your vegetables. should not try to fly - somebody gonna hurt real bad. should not stay up late. should word hard at your academics. should this, that, you get the idea.

Same goes for business. should build your business this way because it's been proven. should cater to this group of customers because according to research this group has the most money. should hire so and so. should fire so and so. should get senior people on the team. should not badmouth the banks. should not take a stand early in your business to be "under the radar".

I think I've hit a spot where I am seriously sick and tired of the word should and how I have been running my business by it.  SO. Everything needs to get put back in its place. 

Who cares if that customer group has the most money?!  If they don't love what we have to offer, then they're not going to pay us!

Who cares if so and so is a superstar in the industry?!  If they don't love selling what we have to offer, they're not going to generate results!

Who cares if we upset some people out there by positioning ourselves as an anti-something?!  If we don't upset some people then we're neutral to everybody and the business might as well be dead.  I take a stand for what I believe in. It's time I let my business do that too.

So how is the word should screwing over your business or even your life?  Delete it from your vocabulary.  One book I recently read suggests replacing it with the word want.  Works if it's something that you need to get done.

For example:
I want to hire so and so.
I want to spend on marketing.
I want the company to be positioned like this. 

YOU. YOU. YOU.  You own and run the business.  Once you start using the word 'should' you are letting other things that exist determine what you should do.  That ties your hands, and feet, from doing and creating whatever awesomeness will come out of your business. 
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Friday, June 25, 2010

We Humans are Social Animals

The herd crowd questions Mark EarlsImage by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten via Flickr
According to the new book titled "Herd" that I've picked up and just started the first few pages.  It'll have to wait until I finish "Rework" today :)
Caught this excerpt from one of the blogs that I follow by Max Chafkin.

Social networking? Feels kinda like falling in love. Over at Fast Company, Adam Penenberg talks to neuroeconomist Paul Zak who discovered that social networking--much like falling in love--triggers our brains to release of a "generosity-trust" chemical. Says Penenberg, "That should be a wake-up call for every company." In Zak's lab, Penenberg subjects himself to various experiments to find out why humans are "compelled to be social animals online and off" and what that could mean for brands, companies, and marketers.
This is a similar concept that I'm reading about in the book "Herd" and it is interesting that though we all insist on being individuals and having our own style, values, opinions...often times we see crowds of people sharing the same interest, activities, values, opinions.  Kind of makes sense, since if we were true "individuals", and no one shared our opinions and activities, etc. we would have no one to talk to about them - pretty boring I would say.

I'll give an update on my thoughts on this after finishing "Herd".  Stay tuned.
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Planning Extremes - ZERO or 5 years out?

37Signals Rework BookImage by adria.richards via Flickr
I started reading "Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.  I picked it up because on its front cover it said "Ignore this book at your own peril." - Seth Godin.

Just kidding.  I flipped through and it did appear to be written by founders of businesses and not some businessperson who has never built a business before themselves lecturing us on theories and what not.  Looked like it was in plain English :)

I started it yesterday and noticed that they basically said "Screw Planning Anything!" (at least that was the feeling I got) and I think to myself, well, I agree that for a start up you do have to do things differently as you go...I think we can all agree that the so-called business plan in the initial phases is like what the authors call business "guesses".  Sure. Since we all know that it definitely never goes according to plan with these things.  I also agree that it's silly to plan ahead for 5 years because you can't account for all the extraneous factors that will effect your business outcomes.

Here's the other side of the coin.

The business plan should be considered as business thoughts.  I use it as a place where I put down my thoughts on the who, what, when, where, how given the current situation.  It also makes you think about what you would do if sh*t hit the fan.  That's the key word - THINK.  If you stick to going through your day-to-day operations without ever THINKING about this how do you figure out your end game and how to get there?

Planning is almost a dirty word for entrepreneurs/starters/doers whatever you want to call start up business founders.  Why?  We want to be creative, innovative, whatever, that planning gives us the perception it inhibits our creativity.  This is why business plans are a pain - because of how we think of planning.

What if I told you that business planning as just taking a piece of paper out and jotting your thoughts down on how to get things done towards a specific goal?  Not so hard now is it?

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The G20 - Ground Level Woes?

G20Image by roch lasalle (farinn veiĆ°a) via Flickr
I've just returned from Toronto and luckily avoided the G20 that's happening starting this weekend. 
There hasn't been a lot of positive press for the G20 happening in Toronto, especially on the point where many are criticizing us for the large sums we've spent on the event to date.  Here's what The Economist had to say about it in their online feed:
LEADERS of the G8 group of rich countries gather in Muskoka, a Canadian holiday resort, for a two-day summit starting on Friday June 25th. The meeting overlaps with the two-day G20 summit that begins the next day in Toronto. Both get-togethers will give the opportunity to world leaders to discuss global financial regulation, reforming international financial institutions and responses to the crisis in the euro zone. The Canadian hosts have been criticised at home for the vast cost of the summit, in particular on the creation of a huge artificial lake for the media centre in a country with more real lakes than anywhere else in the world.
 What about the people that are actually in the middle of all this?   Residents of Toronto downtown that are discovering that the G20, which is supposed to boost the economy and bring in additional revenues, is transforming the downtown core into a tourist town, but ironically with no restaurants or services open?  Here are a couple things I heard at the ground level speaking to people around town.
  • Waiter was saying if he knew that his restaurant would be closing during the G20 period, he would have taken more shifts outside of the downtown core.
  • Person working at CIBC said that her company is transferring a lot of employees to either work from home or work from Mississauga - definitely increased expenses for the company since they have to pay for transport; also takes a toll on the employees, who now have to wake up extra early to get out of the downtown core
  • Restaurants have said that they will be closed for fear that they will incur damages to their property due to expected protests in the downtown area
  • Residents down by Queen's Quay, which is pretty much center of the G20 action (and road closures) are renting out their apartments for $1500 a day 
So what we have are companies that are cutting back/relocating their services and an influx of tourists that would need services.  Great.  Would like to see how it plays out in over the next couple weeks for those living in Toronto.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

CTV News Website - Florence's article "Learn Lessons from Failure, but Do it Fast"

So a while ago Darren Dahl from the Sauder School of Business asked me to chat with him about some lessons that every start up owner should know or may have experienced and be able to relate to.

I had just gone through an entire revamp of my website and made a decision to severe our ties with our old system, essentially incurring significant sunk costs.  It was worth it though, and a lot of times entrepreneurs hang on to poor decisions just because they feel like they've vested time into the process.  Doesn't work that way - you can't turn a poor decision into a great one by sinking more time and effort into it. 

Here's the article where Darren and I discuss some key things about mistakes in business and how to make sure you keep getting up when you hit your face on the pavement in business.

Learn Lessons from Failure, but Do it Fast
(Source: CTV News)

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Three Roles of Great Entrepreneurs

I've shared this link on Facebook already (see below) and when I read it I can agree with the fact that our list of to-dos just pile up everyday, but entrepreneurs start out getting all frustrated about why they can't finish everything on the day that they planned for it. THEN, we realized that out of all of our to-dos, there are multiple ways to deal with it, I think my different categories just off the top of my head include:

1) Priority - if I don't do this today it's the end of the world
2) Leave this end of day in my one hour of time to work through it at superman speed
3) Get someone else on the time capable of doing an awesome job to handle it
4) Not worth my time right now - this includes spam emails, emails that have no point, bad sales pitches, etc. You know what I mean

The article's a quick read and summarizes, as it states, the 3 roles of great entrepreneurs. Rarely is an entrepreneur good at everything, so use this as a quick moment to reflect on what you're good at. Just because you are the leader does not mean you're Superman/Superwoman - often times it means you are SUPER at picking out great people that can do amazing things - ie. Joe is great at managing financial ops, Susan is spectacular at customer service and sales, Mark handles the entire company's treasury operations in the morning within 10 minutes before the breakfast meeting (all fictitious names but I wish these people existed my company right now!)

So have a read, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, realize yours - and realizing it isn't enough - DO SOMETHING about it.

The Three Roles of Great Entrepreneurs

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"How to Give the Best Performance Reviews to Your Team and Employees" - a PeerFX Power Tuesdays Webinar

Here we go again! 

Our team has been traveling the country to bring on board quality salespeople, and met some interesting businesses that I thought we could feature in our webinar series. 

I came across Rypple, and I see it as an online collaborative platform that makes performance reviews, an exercise that most managers dread and most employees hate because it's vague and fluffy, easier and more cost efficient. 

It's not just for large corporations, Rypple has actually tailored its platform to small teams and growing businesses as well.  This fits right in with PeerFX's user base, and that's why their Head of Community and Sales will be sharing some tips on how to give better performance reviews, what trends are in the market today and a quick demo of the Rypple platform to show you how they can make your life easier.  It's free to try so WHY NOT?

Register for your seat today at this link:

We look forward to seeing you online next Tuesday!
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Positive "Networking" = GIVING FIRST

I think within over the past 2 days I've had this same conversation with 4 different people.  How do you network?  How do you build your network?

I have to say that I rarely think about how I'm expanding my network, because I think what I do is build relationships instead.  Some people still like to tie it to the word networking, hence the term positive networking. 

The way to do it is just find out about the other person's business, what they are involved in, and how you can help them with your services or connect them to other people within your own network.  GIVE something first and don't expect that they will or can reciprocate right away.  Just know that when they do come across something that relates to your business, they will think of your first.  The power of building business relationships instead of just having a network of acquaintances is so, so, SO important in business.

I found all of my advisors, employees and investors through this type of relationship.  If you don't genuinely care about the other person's business, why should they care about yours and want to help you?

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Writing Your Business Plan - Make it Modern?

Many of us learned how to write our first business plan in business school.  My first business plan, was a whopping 120 pages of...fluff, diagrams, thousands of pages of projections, etc.  Read like a textbook - BORING.

How does yours look like?  The longer I've been running PeerFX, the more I find that everybody is constrained on time, and usually a 20 slides slide deck or an exec summary is sufficient for an investor to decide if they want to see you.  Then it's your performance during your meeting that gets you the money.

What is a business plan for anyway?  As Seth Godin puts it - for us to think through the actual implementation.  Write it so that after reading it, YOU would be convinced to put money into it.  Seriously, if you can't communicate how your business is going to make a gazillion dollars in less than 20 pages (including appendixes!) then I question whether you've nailed down your business details enough.

I say that the business plan components have to be continually revisited - anyone that has gone beyond just writing the plan would know that it never happens just like it.  If it does, please go buy a lottery ticket because you're seriously super lucky.

So what components are in a Modern Business Plan?  5 things
  1. The TRUTH - look all around you, how does the environment affect your business - be realistic - you have competitors, existing alternatives, the economy...
  2. Assertions - How do you propose to change the way things are done?
  3. Alternatives - like I said, never happens like you want it - so what do you do for plan B, C and D?
  4. MONEY - money, money, money - without money either in the form of revenue or investment, you don't have a business.  Figure out your finances!

Read more about Seth's push for writing a modern business plan here.  THEN WRITE ONE.  Reading without doing you learn nothing.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

American Express Accepted Everywhere

Over the years I grew up with American Express being positioned as a prestigious, high status credit card brand.  They worked so hard on it that they made sure their cards were accepted only at places of high status - luxury restaurants, hotels, etc.

Then I saw this at Eaton's Centre in Toronto the other day.  Made me think: "Burger and American Express?  Really?" 

An Amex black card may even have been a goal for some aspiring businesspeople out there, but now that they can use the Amex card at the local burger joint, what does this do to the brand?

I wonder why Amex made the decision to go mainstream and compete for the same customers that are currently catered to by Visa and MasterCard.  They had a nice little niche - is it because the high status, high spending group is shrinking?  Or they feel like they've saturated that market?

What do you think is the reason for this switch in brand positioning?
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Mirror Test Book Review + Interview with Kodak's CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett

Image representing Jeffrey Hayzlett as depicte...Image by via CrunchBase
Jeffrey Hayzlett's book "The Mirror Test" is a hands-on guide for small business owners and entrepreneurs that are looking to start a business or are reevaluating their current way of doing business.  After reading it I actually think it's a wake up call for business owners and start ups that are getting too comfortable with what they're doing.  Jeff says that his job involves creating tension in his company, to challenge the way things are currently being done in order to get innovation.

I was fortunate enough to meet Jeff at an SMEI presentation where he was the keynote speaker.  I bought his book and asked him to do a book review - surprisingly he said "Sure."

So here are the 10 questions that I asked Jeff in 20 minutes.

F: Florence
J: Jeff

F: In your book, The Mirror Test, there are 3 mirror tests, with the first one being Proof of Life.  How about for businesses like Google, where they spent years developing in the garage before they ever turned revenue?  Wouldn't they think that they fail the first mirror test?

J: That's the key portion they anticipated that over a period of X number of years they knew they would be losing money before they give up; if they're not meeting their objectives; so that's the key thing in mind - you can still lose money the first couple years - but you need to figure out if you're hitting your set milestones and whether you're generating enough traction.

For entrepreneurs that hang on for way too long - you know when things are goin south and you see the writing on the wall - with enough experience you know when it's time to get out of the business, experience showed me that I can do a lot better than staying with what I was doing.

F: On Leadership - you say that we should fire ourselves from jobs that we aren't good at and focus on our strengths.  This is what small business owner struggle with; we have limited resources that don't allow us to fire ourselves.

J: There's an evolution for small businesses.  You start out as a one man band, doing everything.  You gotta do what you gotta do.  Paint the walls, clean the bathroom.  In the second phase you develop followers that join your business because they believe in what you are doing.  The third phase is where you start adding skilled technicians and experts; this is the step that people don't make the transition to and it kills the business.

To actually transition from the second to the third phase, it is understanding that I don't have all the answers and look beyond just myself for the answer; some people find it hard to do that and they get comfortable.  My belief as a leader, I have to create tension, continue to ask people whether I want to do it this way or that way, more innovative.  Not resting on your behind so to speak.

F: You say that we should get everyone involved in the process, but how realistic is it to show employees our roller coaster cash flows if we're running a start up business?

J: They know it anyways if you don't have money to pay them tomorrow; if that's the case, being transparent that they start seeing that things are coming in on credit.  You're better off having transparency so they can help you speed up collection and make sure you don't make an over commitment to a supplier and vendor.  They know when things are good when the business owner is taking more trips, afternoons off for golf and buying a new Mercedes.

F: I agree that a small business should never compete on price, like what you said "people can go anywhere for price but can't go anywhere for happy".  Can small businesses scale enough to compete on price with the big boys if they initially focus on providing quality?  

J:  I don't think it's possible to do both or even to do a switch strategy - I say you have to pick and choose - stick with one strategy, either high quality or low price.  It's like you're on a seesaw, you pushed down the other way had to give.

F: The story of Mike, your copier technician.  You paid for him and his family to stay at the hotel across from your print shop so you would have access to a technician in the middle of the night.  Looking at this buyer/supplier relationship, do small businesses have to treat our suppliers better because of our lower buyer power?

J: In a lot of cases yeah you can't have the scale of the big boys and you don't have leverage to pull on but there are things you can do better.  You can be more agile than the other guy and you don't have to go through all the steps to make decisions.  For example there was a customer in store A that told store A owner about the low prices offered by the big box competitor.  So store owner A picks up the phone and dials the service line for the big box competitor, only to be put on hold for the duration of his entire conversation with the customer standing in his store.  He then called his own service line, which was picked up immediately - this is a very good way to show how small businesses can be more responsive than the big guys.

F: You like to refer to ROI as Return-on-Ignoring, but even though you're not a huge fan of using tons of performance metrics, you still have to measure something in business right?

I measure 3 key things:
  1. Increase in sales;
  2. Increase in margins;
  3. Increase in customer satisfaction.
These are the three most important things to measure.  I know whether things are working or not just by looking at the bottom line.  You don't need a lot of fancy tools to tell whether it's working or not.  I've worked in companies where they use predictive modeling to see where things are going - I just don't think I need to spend tens of millions of dollars when I can look at the results very quickly with these three metrics.
...then we get to know Jeff

F: You strike me as being high on intuition and your book says that people shouldn't be afraid of a little bit of Ready, Fire, Aim.  Is this a correct view of who you are?

J: Yes - but it's deeply grounded in a lot of experience; I'm shooting from the hip and some people think there's no process behind my madness.  My decisions are based on a lot of what I've been through - it's based on experience.  It's my gut telling me and it's also my head telling me.  To do what I do you have to go out there and TRY doing things yourself, not just go out and learn.

F: What's the biggest mistake you've ever made in business?

J: I think in business we're always going to be making mistake and I think I have yet to make my largest one.  If I'm running an innovative business I want to keep making mistakes because I gain a great deal from them.

F: I read the press release on your resignation from Kodak as their CMO 2 days from now - what's in store for you after this?

J: I am pursuing another book, some television projects, and probably do something more entrepreneurial - I have an idea of what I'm going to do but I'm not ready to announce it.  

F: You like hunting - does that affect the way you do business?

J: There's a soft side to me too.  Some people are just more aggressive than others and it's just more my style.

Thank you Jeff for spending your valauble time with me for this interview and I'm sure all of you reading this interview knows Jeff better now.  I would strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Jeff's book The Mirror Test if you haven't already.  It is in your face but is a much-needed wake up call for some of us who are getting too comfortable in our business.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Can Superb Service Exist with Scale?

I am sitting here in Timothy's World Coffee at the corner of Bay St and College St. The service is one of the best out of all the coffee shops I've been to, in many different countries including Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Canada and the US.

The service was friendly, and it looked like the owner was manning the cashier today. They also heated up my sandwich and brought it out for me. I saw other customers come in and the owner recognized them by name and remembered their usual drinks with a side of yogurt. I have to say that my sandwich was just OK but the superb service has definitely made me a repeat customer.  Their offer was $5.99 for the sandwich and it also came with a drink - usually I pay extra for the drink. So I would say this coffee shop also wants to offer their customers good deals (low prices).

Is it possible for companies with hundreds, even thousands or millions of customers to do this on a large scale?  To provide superb service and low prices at the same time?

If I think of companies that are attempting to do this, Flight Centre comes to mind with their travel manager services for small businesses, and I wonder how profitable that is.

As for other larger companies like Dell, their low price offer is based on the fact that there is low to no customer service (they do have Dell Kiosks in some places but limited number) and customers are expected to take care of themselves.  This makes sense, since deliverables should also be adjusted as your revenues go down, you deliver less - in this case, it's lower levels of customer service.

What would happen if one day out of the blue that Timothy's World Coffee generated so much goodwill and word of mouth that their lineup wrapped around the corner?  Will the owner still recognize everybody by name?  Will the staff be bringing out the customers' orders to their tables each and every time?  Will the coffee and blended drinks still taste as good given that they must increase the speed of their operations to decrease wait times?

Most start ups start out focusing on getting great word of mouth going for their businesses by totally babying their customers and I think PeerFX is doing this to a good extent as well - we want our customers to spread the word about our service.  What happens when we suddenly hit a point where word of mouth brings in tons of customers and we can't treat them all the same way we treated our initial group of early adopting customers?  The same way that this coffee shop is running itself based on great customer service and low prices, PeerFX aims to provide a 24/7 service at the best exchange rates for small to medium sized businesses.

Time to start planning ahead!

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just Do It

Every moment spent whining, worrying, talking about a problem is one extra moment that you are NOT DOING ANYTHING. So just get off your behind and make things happen!

Rant of the day.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Are You Guilty?

For not doing things you said you would for your business?  For not being your best self everyday?

Here are some key points that would tell you if you are guilty:

  1. You list out your agenda items for the day, don't end up completing them and push some items to next day (huge backlog)
  2. You are busy putting out fires and make up some excuse for not calling a customer/sales lead/advisor/investor/your mom back.  Guess what?  You're not too busy to take a few moments to read this now right?  So you have a few moments to call them back.
  3. You identify the problem and think GREAT! We're halfway there already.  Well, GREAT, you're ONLY halfway there, so get on it!
  4. You offload all the tasks that you don't want to do to your employees.  Hey, I'm not saying that's wrong, because if you're not good at something, I don't want you working in that job either.  Try setting an example though, and try the task yourself - this small thing you do will win the respect of your employees.
  5. You don't put your foot down when you say you would.  You have mistaken the part of being "nice" with your contractors and employees and are now getting pushed around by them. I have to admit it's an art to being firm with and respected by your employees and people you work with.  Or you might be on the other end of the spectrum where people call you nasty names for being bonehead aggressive.
I'm sure that there are many other items that you would come up with upon reflection - now write those down and tell yourself you'll NEVER do that again or else...make sure there's a consequence too or else without a downside you likely won't enforce this on yourself.

Here's my kick in the derriere for myself - I am too involved in the day-to-day of the business and not prioritizing correctly.  Ever had that feeling that you worked 100% but only accomplished 50% of what you intended?  Yup - that's what I feel right now.

I think there could be more structure to my day - it's great that everyday I'm challenged with a new problem and meeting new people, so what I mean is structuring my day so that there are specific time slots for each of these activities.  It seriously does enhance productivity.

I'm starting to understand why people need gatekeepers.  I run a small business and get tons of calls not only from customers, people seeking advice, people wanting to sell me stuff, that it's hard to take all of these calls personally.  Apologies but this is the truth - I still give out my direct contact but chances of me picking up on the first try is slim because I'm either in a meeting, on another call or concentrating on doing what I should be doing - running the business.

Let's face it, there are things I love doing and things I hate doing (I am quite extreme like that).  I tend to push things I hate doing, like endless hours of market research and reviewing 500 pages of our patent to the end of my day, and sometimes I push it to next day - GUILTY.  I'm going to stop doing that.  I'm going to stick to the schedule down to the minute and make sure I leave some time at the end of my day to put out fires - deal?  Yes, deal.

This is my shortlist of things I do that is hindering my productivity right now and that I am promising myself to change.  What are yours?
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What People THINK They Want

I find it funny - that most people perceive an office with tons of people bustling around to be a sign of stability, efficiency and hard work. 

Contrary to this belief, most of the time these offices are overstaffed, people are looking busy on Facebook and expensing their friend's dinner gathering on the company's tab :)

What's the problem with having a small staff base if things are functioning fine?  Do I really need a CTO, CFO, CMO, CXO, etc. to make it look like we are a credible company?  Sure, I can add an admin person and more salespeople to generate more sales...but then you want me to maintain a store front and incur additional fixed expenses when that isn't your real objection to not signing up - you actually want better prices, faster turnarounds, freebies, insurance, blah blah blah.  Yes. What you are telling us with words really don't match your actions.  If I gave you what you really wanted (if you were kind enough to let us know) then you would buy the service/product; but why throw false objections our way when it doesn't solve the problem? 

Which brings us to how good is traditional market research?  Where we ask people what they want?  Are they really telling us the truth or telling us some BS reason that they know isn't the real reason why they're not putting money where their mouth is. 

I did some work in traditional market research before and now after having run my own business for a 2 years I think these methods need to be modified to reveal the real truth.  Just take for example when we did our initial primary survey, all these students and travelers told us they would buy the service; when we launched we got small businesses and self employed individuals swarming us.  I would say almost zero correlation between the results we got through primary research and actual purchase behavior.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PeerFX Webinar Series - Successful Online Marketing for Small Businesses

Today's webinar was a great success and we actually went overtime with questions from our audience. Definitely check out the presentation if you weren't able to attend!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

PeerFX Webinar Series - Successful Online Marketing for Small Businesses

Since you guys liked the first webinar we decided to share more ideas with you through our webinar series - this time it's will be on successful online marketing for small businesses.

Most people don't know where to start since there are 500 different tools they can use to measure different things such as website traffic.  Where should you put your money so that it generates the best returns for you?  What type of content should you be writing so that people actually bother reading?

That's what we're going to tell you and you will get your chance to ask questions to our online marketing and SEO specialist Damon Holowchak.  Damon has generated tens of thousands of hits for budding businesses and increased web traffic to millions of hits for growing companies in industries such as sports betting and news. 

Register for your seat today - right here!
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Monday, May 3, 2010

PeerFX HR Article on Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

As a teaser for our upcoming webinar tomorrow, we have put together an HR article that goes over 4 key questions for small businesses and of course included the answers from Raymond To, Founder and managing partner at Go Recruitment. 

If you haven't signed up for our webinar tomorrow yet now is your chance!  RSVP by emailing!  Our next webinar will be on online marketing for small businesses on May 10th. 

The full HR article is here.  Enjoy!
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Monday, April 26, 2010

PeerFX Power Tuesdays - May 4th!

We're starting a webinar series sharing knowledge for small and medium sized business owners and key management personnel.  Our range of topics run from recruiting the right people, managing your finances, online marketing and more - everything you need to know if you plan on getting your hands dirty and getting things done for your business.

Our first session is set for May 4th (Tuesday) and will be hosted by Raymond To, Founder and Managing Partner at Go Recruitment.  Raymond has specialized in IT recruitment for the past 18 years and was one of Business in Vancouver's Top 40 Under 40.  His company has sustained a high retention rate for all of their clients and Raymond is looking to share some key points on how you can attract, engage, manage and motivate your employees.  Join us at 11am on May 4th for this half hour session and register for it by emailing today!

2 Cent Ideas can Boost Business Performance

I've started reading the new book by Tom Peters called The Little Big Things.  In the first couple pages he mentions that little things that cost you 2 cents can be worth much more to your business.  Such as candy on the counter top of your receptionist's desk.

Yesterday I saw my own version of this.  I went for a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant that served value lunch meals so the price point matched with the quality of the food they served.  I ordered and had to go to the restroom; I noticed one distinctive difference that was out of place for the restaurant in the restroom - they had three-ply tissue rolls in there.  THREE.  When other restaurants with the same package of benefits (price, promo, place and product) were offering their customers one-ply tissue, here they were giving us three-ply.  Seems like a very, very small thing that they could have gotten away with.  They chose to offer something slightly better and I'm sure it does not go unnoticed every time a customer goes to their restroom.

Interesting to actually see the concept at work.  Small ideas can make your business stand out and even retain or attract new customers.  Have you seen any 2 cent ideas in action? 
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Are you an Expense or an Income Stream?

When a business is in its early stages of growth, I say that we should spend our resources focusing on generating MORE money inflow for the business. 

What this means is we shouldn't be spending money on things that are an expense not directly related to generating more sales. Expenses related to generating more sales are salespeople, client lists, marketing efforts, etc.

Expenses that add no value right now include: redesigning your business cards just because, adding/fixing minor details on your system/software that you can do without and are nice to haves, hiring on more developers than you need, hiring more of anything that you don't need...the list goes on.

So when we have consultants or other service providers approaching us to sell us stuff, the first thing I ask is whether they are an expense or an income stream for my business.  Usually its the former, and I send them on their way. 

I'm also constantly surprised by the quality of work provided by tech developers and designers.  I say I'm surprised because sometimes a really good one goes for cheap (ie.$40 or $50 an hour) and then you find one that really sucks and they are charging $80 an hour.  Yet there's still a market for them.  Totally got sidetracked there.

Point is, in an early growth phase I am only interested in growing sales.  What things do you worry about as a start up owner?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Leader Who Had No Title Book Review

I did promise that I would summarize the book by Robin Sharma, but I also found myself literally 3/4 of the way through the book and despite my commitment to finishing the book, I didn't.  I wasn't about to put myself through another 1/4 of the same theme and message which Robin already made blindingly clear in the first 3/4 of the book. 

Here's my 2 cents on what I think the book wanted me to take away: Don't mind the title, just concentrate on being the best in the world for your position, and your life will change drastically with this minor change in your mindset.  Set a good example to show others that greatness can be achieved in every role in this world, no role is too small to make a difference. 

I know 2 sentences makes it seem like I'm downplaying a lot of the content in the book, and maybe some of you have already read and the book and can contribute to this post by adding your thoughts in the comments section. 
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Using FREE to Market Your Business

I think most people have heard of Seth Godin and maybe most of you have seen/heard/read the book Free Prize Inside!  written by Seth.  We are aware of these marketing tactics and Seth does a good job of bringing it to top of mind, so that we remember that "oh hey, this worked on ME before, so I should try out this tactic for my own business."
Soon enough there were a ton of different businesses trying this tactic.  Free trial, samples, sign-up, giveaways, etc.  You've probably been suckered into this yourself a couple times. 
Today I was on LinkedIn checking out one of the groups that I had joined for Treasury Management and noticed that a lot of people postings were for these free ebooks.  The thing is there was less than 5 views for most of these postings and even fewer downloads. 
What does this mean?  That everybody has caught on to this trend of handing out FREE stuff, and this has caused a huge backlog of FREE stuff that customers/consumers have to absorb/read/take their pick. 
So many things are FREE right now that after narrowing down from the original list of product/service offerings, a customer then has to filter out all the FREE stuff.  Decisions, decisions. 

I don't have an answer that solves this issue but it's something to think about; if you have any suggestions please leave a comment on this post!

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