Wednesday, September 30, 2015

To Drone or Not to Drone?

This post is partly speculative in nature, since unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, colloquially known as “drones”) have yet to really proliferate in the business world. But at the very least, the evident trend toward employing drones for commercial purposes is one we all should keep an eye on. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even announced in 2013 that his company would contemplate using drones for deliveries. Given the relative novelty of the technology from a commercial standpoint, entrepreneurs and managers have a great opportunity right now to position themselves ahead of the curve.

Commercial drones probably won’t fill the sky tomorrow. Rules around drone use are evolving, and have yet to catch up to the real potential of drones to become ubiquitous denizens of our airspace. Regulators must strike a reasonable balance between legitimate concerns over privacy and public safety, and the obvious advantages of UAVs for undertakings like police investigations, search and rescue, and various business activities.

Consider the following issues as you mull the drone question.

What use might you have for a drone right now?

Amazon’s vision of drone deliveries is still in its embryonic phase, but many commercial enterprises in North America are making use of drones already. Camera-mounted UAVs have proven useful for land surveying, recording flyovers of golf courses, taking photos from perspectives that might otherwise be inaccessible, and filming short snippets for television advertisements. Cable news outlets have assigned drones to cover perilous or hard-to-reach locations at a comparatively low cost, and without endangering camera crews.

UAV technology is rapidly improving, with features like extended battery life, greater cargo capacity, and solar panels. We can expect further technological change to enhance the versatility of drones in the years to come.

There are several conditions you must meet in order to fly a drone in Canada.

As in many other countries, recreational drone users are generally entitled to fly light UAVs (2 kilograms or less) in Canada without seeking certification from government regulators, provided they fulfill certain safety obligations—like yielding the right of way to manned aircraft, and keeping their distance from airports and restricted airspace. However, a more stringent set of rules applies to drone operators who intend to use mid-size UAVs for work or research purposes, and for users of drones heavier than 25 kilograms.

The key take-away here is, do your research before acquiring a UAV, let alone launching it. Make sure you have fulfilled all the conditions required for an exemption from Transport Canada’s certification process. Otherwise, you’ll need to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

Steer clear of animals.

When human beings introduce new, synthetic elements into the natural environment, animals often react by associating the novel entity with a concept they already know and understand—sometimes with decidedly negative results. One reason why sharks occasionally attack surfers, is because the shape of a surfboard resembles the familiar, corpulent physique of a seal. An owl in Oregon achieved notoriety recently for swooping out of trees to steal joggers' hats.
Likewise, UAVs can face considerable perils once they enter into a complex ecosystem. For instance, eagles tend to be highly territorial during nesting season, and will vigorously defend their local airspace against any perceived threat. (A drone-mounted camera in Australia recently filmed a midair encounter between the UAV and a wedge-tailed eagle. Let’s just say the eagle won.)

Other creatures—including alligators, primates, bees, and dogs—have also reacted adversely to drones and attempted to bring them down. Thus, it’s probably wise to give animals a wide berth whenever possible.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Balancing Work and School

If you aim to expand your knowledge of an area that interests you, learn a new language, or enhance your repertoire of professional skills, you’ll need to dedicate time and effort to that endeavour in order to make significant progress. But if you work full hours, and particularly if you’re an entrepreneur looking to grow your startup, your spare time is probably scarce. Thus, you’ll need to focus on managing whatever time you do have, while always devoting your full attention to the task at hand.

Take the following considerations into account.

Don’t underestimate the time commitment.

Even part-time schooling often involves homework or extra-curricular assignments. When you’re considering night school or part-time skills training, be honest with yourself: depending on the frequency of the sessions, you may need to set aside 10 hours per week or more. Unless you’re confident that your schedule can accommodate that, you may want to hold off on your academic or vocational ambitions for now, or contemplate auditing a course rather than registering as a full-fledged student. Aim for one course at a time, especially if the experience of trying to balance work and school is new to you.

Online courses may be more opportune from a time perspective, although you’ll perhaps have to forgo the considerable benefit of discussion with instructors and fellow students.

Let your boss and/or team members know what you’re up to.

If your boss and/or colleagues in the office are aware of your situation, they may be sympathetic and enable you to adjust your work schedule around your studies. If the skill you hope to cultivate is relevant to your current position, your boss may even be willing to help you with tuition. (You shouldn’t count on this, though.)

Even if you are the boss, be sure to communicate proactively with your team so that they know when you’ll be away from the office and why. Your studies may require you to leave early or arrive late on certain days; identify a team member to whom you can delegate the responsibility of holding down the fort while you’re away.

Get the most out of your time by planning and organizing in advance.

Set aside dedicated blocks for homework assignments, and isolate yourself from distractions like social media and your smartphone during those periods. Make lists of the assignments you need to accomplish, and populate your homework-area in advance with all the tools and materials you need. This will save you the trouble of hunting around for the requisite items while you’re trying to get work done.

You may experience some late nights/early mornings, especially if you have an exam or deadline coming up. Even if your studies occasionally keep you up until the wee hours of the morning, make sure you still get enough sleep during the week to maintain your performance at work. Avoid procrastination (the midwife of all-nighters) by budgeting your time, and get cracking on major tasks right away.

Reach out to classmates and instructors.

One of the most effective ways to fully grasp and retain information is by discussing it with others; you have to have some awareness of a topic before you can have a serious conversation about it. Group discussions also afford you the opportunity to explore areas where you feel your knowledge is inadequate.

Make use of the resources at your disposal within the educational institution, including your instructor’s office hours and contact information. These tools can save you time and energy, and help to make the learning process more fruitful and enjoyable.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

To succeed, persevere.

In an enlightening 2013 TED talk, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth discussed some of the key personality traits that underly personal success. Duckworth’s research indicates that, while exceptional talent and measurable intelligence can help, neither factor is sufficient. More important is the combination of passion and perseverance that Duckworth calls grit. She concludes by recommending that parents and educators strive to instill this trait in children, but her findings are instructive for people of all ages.

However desirable it may be, perseverance is not necessarily easy to teach; it is equal parts skill and state of mind, and ultimately a quality that one must choose to embrace. In general, perseverant individuals hold the following beliefs:

  If I work hard enough at (name the activity or endeavour), I am capable of not only reaching the milestones I have set for myself, but exceeding them.

  (Name the activity or endeavour) is important and worthy of my time and dedication.

  The challenges I face at this moment are not guarantors of failure in the long term.

The role of faith.

By faith, I don’t necessarily mean religious convictions. Rather, faith in this context means the capacity to remain confident that the endeavour at which you aspire to succeed is not a waste of time. In other words, faith is a bulwark against the nagging voice of doubt that urges you to cut your losses and move on, particularly when you’re struggling.

Thomas Alva Edison—who patented the incandescent lightbulb in the 19th century after numerous unsuccessful attempts—once remarked that many people who accept failure don’t realize how close they were to success at the moment they decided to give up. Faith is neither rational nor irrational, but rather non-rational; it allows us to believe that our hard work will eventually bear fruit, even if an abundance of evidence suggests the contrary. It also produces a feedback effect: if you are convinced that you can succeed, you will tend to focus more intently on the steps that are necessary for success.

The power of dopamine.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is associated with alertness, cognitive and motor control, and motivation. A healthy level of dopamine in the brain is also a key driver of perseverance. Fortunately, the brain’s production of dopamine is responsive to external and internal stimuli, such as attitude, behaviour, and a healthy, balanced diet.

Regular exercise can both stimulate the brain’s production of dopamine and allow us to rehearse the feeling of perseverance. Over time, as our bodies and minds become accustomed to the sensation of physical activity, it tends to become an enjoyable habit rather than an unwelcome chore. The same is true of perseverance in other facets of our lives.

Dopamine is a central component of the brain’s reward circuit, and attitude plays a key role in determining whether we perceive the task before us as potentially rewarding. Instead of trying to grit your teeth and grind through a task by sheer force of will, set your sights on the satisfaction you will enjoy once it is finished, and then strive to attain that feeling.

Even mundane daily chores like flossing your teeth or unloading the dishwasher are opportunities to stimulate the release of dopamine.

Set and adhere to self-imposed deadlines.

Few things are less conducive to productivity than assignments with either no deadline, or a deadline that is too far in the future to have any discernible bearing on the present. The absence of an imminent deadline coincides with an absence of expectations, which for most people promotes a near-absence of effort. To overcome this problem, set a deadline for yourself, stick with it, and then reward yourself for exceeding expectations.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tips On Making a Video Go Viral

In the realm of online marketing, few objectives are more desirable or downright elusive than the viral video. Like the vicissitudes of the stock market, the popularity of any online video depends on the personal tastes and sentiments of millions of unique individuals, and is thus difficult to predict. However, there are a few tactics you can employ to improve your chances of achieving virality.

Insights from past viral video trends

According to research by marketing technology company Unruly, some of the most important factors that drive video sharing are

1)  social motivations, including the desire to start a conversation, seek friends’ opinions,  offer useful information, or support a good cause;

2)  a positive emotional response to the video;

3)  the participation of “super sharers”—a minority of internet users who are responsible for around 80 percent of total shares; and

4)  timing.

On average, the greater the total volume of shares a video receives in the first two days of its existence, the higher its viral peak, which typically arrives 48 to 72 hours post-launch. Unruly’s data suggest that most sharing activity occurs in the latter half of the work week, and that Wednesday is the optimal sharing day. Marketers hoping to ride this weekly wave should post their video by Wednesday or sooner. Avoid posting on weekends or holidays.

Combine entertainment with a message.

Mekanism, an advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco, has produced and marketed several viral videos. Among the most famous was the 2012 offering Hovercat, designed to encourage adoption of cats on behalf of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Mekanism sums up its philosophy on viral videos with the phrase “candy with the medicine”—in other words, entice viewers with the promise of entertainment, and complement that with a substantive message. In the case of Hovercat, Mekanism’s creative team began by identifying a theme they figured would make people smile (a zany cat often does the trick), and then developed their own creative take on a classic viral video genre. (Your feline companion may humorously knock items off tables or fend off alligators, but can it hover in the air like Superman?)

Hovercat concludes by noting that the cat in the video was adopted from the ASPCA, and links to the organization’s website.

Market and distribute the video actively

To achieve virality, you must fulfill two conditions: 1) content that viewers find engaging and worth sharing; and 2) widespread exposure.

Before you go through the technical process of recording a video, you should develop a clear marketing strategy, and consider how the video will help you reach your goal. Immediately after you post the video, intensify your marketing efforts.

Writing in Medium about her first big hit Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE), viral video specialist Karen X. Cheng explains: “I did a ton of marketing, and it started before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident—it was work.”

Cheng started by posting the video on Facebook and Twitter, then submitted it to Reddit and Hacker News. She asked friends and acquaintances to share it, and reached out to dancers and dance bloggers. Shortly thereafter, writers at Kottke, Mashable, Jezebel, and Huffington Post penned articles about the video. By day three, Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE) appeared on the front page of Youtube, and had achieved nearly 2 million views.

Cheng emphasizes the importance of a brief, catchy title, and—modern attention spans being what they are—recommends keeping the video short and sweet, preferably under two minutes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Practical Advice For Reducing EmployeeTurnover

Employee turnover is a fact of life in the business world, and not necessarily a bad thing—particularly if new entrants are exceptionally skilled and qualified, and the rate of turnover is manageable. But if you’ve experienced higher-than-normal employee turnover, you know how
disruptive it can be to the day-to-day operations of your business.

Regardless of their experience, credentials, and expertise, new hires require training and time to both become familiar with the workplace and integrate themselves successfully into its social milieu. Whereas employees who’ve been with the company for a while have had ample opportunity to learn by doing and develop automaticity with mundane tasks, newcomers initially tend to perform these duties more slowly and less sure-handedly. At least temporarily, this can cause friction, encumber productivity, and detract from the bottom line.

Much of the advice that follows can be encapsulated in a simple axiom: If you want your employees to stick around, give them good reasons to do so.

During the hiring process, favour candidates who seem compatible with your company culture.

Begin with a list of “must-have” qualities for candidates, and narrow the search down to individuals who meet those criteria. Include not only professional qualifications, but social skills and personality traits as well. Is this person equipped to handle the unique challenges of your business? Does s/he seem like s/he would get along well with the other staff, and customers/clients?

Do some research into the job market. What kind of compensation are employees in comparable positions receiving elsewhere?

Search online job boards for positions requiring a comparable skill set, and pay attention to the compensation and benefits that other companies offer—especially your competitors. If you can’t match other businesses in terms of salary, you’ll probably need to offer non-financial incentives—such as a flexible work schedule, greater convenience, shorter hours, or legitimate prospects for upward mobility—to convince employees to stay.

Praise good work, and offer specific constructive criticism of not-so-good work.

Everyone likes to hear that s/he has done a great job. By taking the time to provide positive feedback and congratulate employees on their successes, you will both enhance their positive feelings about the company and encourage desirable work habits.

Delivering criticism of less-than-stellar work in a diplomatic manner, without provoking defensiveness or resistance, is one of the most delicate tasks that managers face. Begin by mentioning at least one thing you appreciate about the recent efforts of the employee in question. When you arrive at the substance of the critique, be very specific about what you would like that person to do differently. Avoid accusatory statements; instead, favour phrases like “In future, it would be great if you could (specific instruction).”

Offer opportunities for growth and development.

Ideally, a relationship between employee and employer is mutually beneficial: the employer garners an opportunity to elevate h/er business to new heights with the help of a talented professional, while the employee enjoys the chance to grow, cultivate new skills, and experience success in a business environment. But an employee is in no way beholden to your organization; at some point, s/he will consider moving on in search of greener pastures, especially if s/he detects a risk of career stagnation. By offering reasonable opportunities for learning, growth, and career advancement, you increase the likelihood that employees will remain with your company over the long term.

A raise or bonus can be a powerful motivating tool.

Even a modest salary increase sends a psychological message to employees that the company’s managers value their hard work, and would like it to continue. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Decoding Business Buzzwords In 2015

If your goal is to convey a clear and comprehensible message to a diverse audience, then you should generally avoid using industry-specific jargon and buzzwords altogether. Esoteric terminology and acronyms tend to encumber communication, delay progress, and either bore or annoy audiences, according to Virgin Group founder and CEO Sir Richard Branson. Obviously, none of those outcomes is desirable.

However, a working knowledge of new buzzwords and jargon can prove useful for at least four reasons:

1)  If someone asks you “What does X mean?”, you’ll be able to offer a better answer than “I don’t know.”

2)  Many esoteric terms indicate trends in your industry of which you should be aware.

3)  If you receive communications that contain buzzwords and jargon, you’ll be able to decode them and translate them into plain English.

4)  Provided you know that your audience will understand precisely what you mean, buzzwords can occasionally spare you the time and effort of describing a complex idea in a roundabout way. Why use 150 words when one or two will suffice?

Here is a list of some popular business buzzwords you may have come across this year, and their definitions.

The Internet of Things (IoT): This term has a variety of definitions that range from concrete descriptions of our daily reality (the devices that gather, retain, and communicate information digitally, such as smartphones, tablets, servers, and computers) to speculative visions of the future (eventually, everyday physical objects will be integrated within our digital networks and capable of identifying themselves to other digital devices. Imagine your bedside lamp connecting wirelessly with your smartphone.) You’ll have to infer the appropriate definition from the context of the discussion.

The “it factor”: synonymous with familiar terms like “the X factor” or “the secret ingredient”. The “it factor” is the attribute or set of qualities that make(s) your enterprise special.

Momtrepreneur or Mompreneur: an enterprising businesswoman who balances the demands of founding a startup with the challenge of raising kids.

Conversation marketing: As opposed to content marketing, conversation marketing is an approach to attracting clients and customers that prioritizes interpersonal dialogue, rather than top-down communication.

H2H or Human-to-Human: the conceptualization of prospective clients or customers as fellow human beings with wants and needs that a business can help to satisfy, rather than as targets for one-way advertising messages. Effective H2H marketing involves tailored, audience-appropriate communication and encourages feedback. H2H is closely related to conversation marketing, and the two often go hand-in-hand.

Remarketing: a form of follow-up using automated text messages or e-mails to customers who have just left a business or website without following through on a deal. A remarketing message might try to entice a recently departed customer back to an e-commerce website after that customer has abandoned h/er shopping cart.

Freemium: a portmanteau of “free” and “premium”. This refers to pricing models in which a website offers a basic account with limited functionality for free, and a more versatile premium account for a monthly or annual fee. LinkedIn, for instance, features a freemium pricing model.

The suffixes -hack and -jack: By now, you’ve almost certainly encountered the term growth hacking, and you may be familiar with life-hacks (techniques or insights that can help you succeed at a particular facet of life). The suffix -jack—which implies stealing, hijacking, or piggybacking off of something that already exists—features in memes like newsjacking (leveraging a news item in order to communicate a marketing message) and brandjacking (appropriating or manipulating an existing brand to serve alternate ends). Environmental organization Greenpeace often employs brandjacking tactics in its campaigns.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to Make Your Startup Attractive to Angel Investors

Angel investment is one of the most common capital sources for both startups and relatively new companies looking to expand. But drawing high-net worth individuals toward an early-stage enterprise or business proposal requires well placed effort. First of all, angel investors can’t fund something unless they know it exists, which means you’ll need to focus on getting the word out in the right circles. Second, they’re unlikely to bet on a venture unless it offers a substantial return. So a sound business plan and credible growth and revenue strategies are key.

However, according to research by Shai Bernstein (Stanford Graduate School of Business), Arthur Korteweg (University of Southern California Marshall School of Business), and Kevin Laws (Chief Operating Officer of AngelList), arguably the most important factor is the quality of the personnel that the candidate organization has assembled.

Exceptional founders, and a reputable team.

Bernstein, Korteweg, and Laws’s analysis indicates that the presence of visionary founders and reputable staff on a startup’s team is a big draw for angel investors. The data further suggest that experienced angels are likelier than inexperienced ones to emphasize the importance of the people factor. Angels with a lot of investing background are also likelier to take a chance on a promising startup or fledgling enterprise than are newcomers to the profession, who may prefer to “play it safe” by betting on companies that already have some traction.

Seek out promising angels, and do research on them.

Many angels specialize in a particular industry or niche, and it’s a good idea to seek out individuals whose areas of interest or specialization accord with your own, particularly if your proposal is esoteric or technical. Find out what sort of endeavours those investors have funded in the past. You can even attempt to contact previous beneficiaries of the angels you’ve identified as prospective funders of your project, to ascertain what worked in the past and what those angels tend to look for.

A strong pitch.

If you’ve ever watched a full episode of the American network television program Shark Tank—or its Canadian counterpart, Dragons’ Den—you may already have a good idea of how to distinguish a high-quality funding pitch from a lousy one. If angel investors invite you to pitch to them, you need to be ready.

Aim for a duration of around ten minutes—enough time to cover all the essential information without rambling or rushing. If your presentation is in digital format and consists of slides, anticipate spending around one minute on each slide. However, make sure you also have an analog Plan B in case of technical difficulties, which have a nasty habit of cropping up unexpectedly right at the moment of truth.

Unconventional ideas can be powerful in the business world, but in the context of a funding pitch, a pair of conventions are worth observing. One is appropriate attire—you should strive to portray yourself as a consummate business professional and/or choose an outfit that’s suited to your line of work. Another is the hook—you should begin the pitch in a way that piques the investors’ interest. Present them with a problem or dilemma they can relate to, and offer them an innovative solution.

 Answer the following questions in your pitch:

  What have you and your team accomplished so far?

  What does your target market/demographic look like?

  Who are your competitors?

  What is your strategy for both marketing to customers and delivering your product or service to them?

  How do you generate revenue?

  What do you anticipate your revenue stream would look like over the next five years if you met your funding goals? Is your assessment realistic?

  How much money do you need from the investors to whom you’re pitching?

  What is your endgame? Do you plan to eventually take your business public, sell to an established firm, or something else? (Angel investors like to know how they will recover their investment.)

Finally, rehearse your pitch until you know it like the back of your hand. Run it by a trusted friend—if s/he would invest in your business or proposal, there’s a good chance that an angel would too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Best Practices For Your LinkedIn Profile

Most entrepreneurs and business professionals already have a LinkedIn profile, but not all of us have succeeded in getting the most out of it. A common tendency is to model one’s LinkedIn profile after one’s resume, but that is not necessarily the most effective approach to attracting visitors and potential contacts. After all, if your profile doesn’t stand out from the pack, why should anyone gravitate to it?

Instead of a rote summary of your qualifications, education, and experience, a compelling LinkedIn profile should demonstrate your unique personality, passions, and brand, and the practical applicability of your skill set.

A professional-looking photo engenders confidence.

This is really a no-brainer. People with LinkedIn profile photos tend to attract more page views than those without, and a professional-looking shot (in focus and with proper posing and lighting) conveys the impression that you’re both competent and attentive to details.

Try to portray yourself in a manner consistent with your professional brand and desired message. Consider whether a smile or a serious expression is more conducive to drawing the right people to your profile, whether you should wear a tie or a jacket, whether your sleeves should be fully extended or rolled up, what colour of outfit would be most appropriate. Even gestures that may seem inconsequential—like the interlocking-fingers pose made famous by German chancellor Angela Merkel—send body-language messages that can help to reinforce your personal brand.

What’s special about you?

Once people have seen your photo, they’ll move on to your profile summary—which should at least match the standard of the photo in terms of professional quality and attention to detail.

Of course, impeccable spelling, grammar, and syntax are indispensable here; if you have difficulty in any of these areas, you may want to enlist the proofreading skills of a trusted friend or associate. But there’s more to a great profile summary than just getting those elementary technical details right. You also need to communicate who you are and where you excel—preferably in a manner that’s engaging and memorable, but also informative. Use simple, comprehensible language, and be true to yourself.

Why are you passionate about the work you do? What professional achievements are you proudest of? And perhaps most importantly: what can you offer that would help others to achieve their goals?

Expand beyond the two-dimensional LinkedIn profile.

One of the great advantages that a website like LinkedIn offers over a traditional CV or job application, is the fact that it’s online. The dynamism of the Internet offers you the opportunity to go beyond a static photo and written summary, to not only describe what you can do, but to literally show people examples.

If you have YouTube videos, presentations, or multimedia files of which you’re especially proud, link to those from your LinkedIn page. You can even record a short introductory video in which you describe your strengths and passions.

Feel free to allude to your life outside the office—within reason.

Social factors often influence both hiring and client-relationship decisions. Most people prefer to work with others to whom they can relate, and with whom they get along. If you give the visitors to your profile an idea of your life circumstances, your personality, and the activities you enjoy away from the office, there’s a good chance that you’ll draw like-minded individuals to your LinkedIn page.

But use your discretion—the information you reveal will be visible to LinkedIn users everywhere for a very long time.

Don’t force people to hunt around for your contact information.

Prominently display your e-mail address, Twitter handle, links, and any other contact information you don’t mind sharing widely.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Ingredients of a Compelling Newsletter

If you’re on one or more online mailing lists, you probably receive periodic e-mail newsletters. You
may also find some of them more inviting than others—because the good ones feature engaging content, are relevant to your life, offer useful advice and information, or a combination of the foregoing. The others likely make their way posthaste to your deleted box.

Read on for practical advice on getting the most out of newsletters, and avoiding the epidemics of non-reading and auto-deletion.

Stay in touch with people on your mailing list. What do current and potential customers want to read about?

If you know any of your customers or clients personally, raise the subject of your business’s newsletter and solicit their opinion. Chances are that if one of more newsletter recipients is keen to hear more about a particular subject, product, or aspect of your business, other people on the mailing list will be interested in the same thing.

Once in a while, it may also be a good idea to include a brief survey in the newsletter, seeking feedback on particular items and articles. The results won’t necessarily illustrate what all of your readers are looking for (since those readers inclined to fill out surveys aren’t necessarily representative of your entire readership), but they should give you a good idea of what’s working and what isn’t.
Punchy subject line and title lines.

Seek out the most compelling piece of information from the newsletter to form your e-mail’s subject line. The titles that link to articles in the newsletter also need to be eye-catching in order to entice would-be readers to click on them. Aim for brevity and impact.

Quality content from elsewhere.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas, and in the blogosphere, there is no such thing as a monopoly on quality content. Keep an eye on blogs and news related to your industry, and share posts and information you feel will resonate with your readership and enhance your business’s reputation. If your company enjoys positive press coverage, link to that too. (However, keep descriptions short and avoid penning wordy, self-congratulatory articles. Most people won’t read past the first couple of sentences.)

Mobile compatibility.

The internet is evolving rapidly from a stationary medium to a roving one, and your newsletter must be versatile enough to accommodate the shift. Concentrate on economizing words, and developing content that delivers the core message without undue delay. Break lengthy paragraphs down into brief, digestible segments. Use a large font for titles and sub-headings, and aim to make each less than ten words long, if possible.

Finally, preview your newsletter on a computer and on a mobile device before you disseminate it. Make sure it reads well, and that there is no need to scroll horizontally in order to read all or most of the content in each article. The internet is full of well designed websites and online publications, and horizontal scrolling irritates some people enough that they may be tempted to move on after just a few seconds.

Consistent scheduling.

Choose a time of the month, week, or every two weeks to distribute the newsletter, and stick to it. If the content you offer is worth reading, then the people on the mailing list will look forward to the next issue, and some may even set aside a few minutes to peruse it when it comes out. You can show respect for their time by releasing new editions right on schedule.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Opportunity of a Low Loonie

If you’ve been following Canadian financial news lately, you’ll appreciate that the loonie has been slumping against the greenback. In mid-July, our currency fell to 77 cents U.S., its lowest level since 2009. A number of factors are contributing to this decline, but perhaps the most important is long-term weakness in certain commodities, especially crude oil.

Canada’s economy relies on the extraction of raw materials more than most others in the industrialized world. A slump in commodity prices diminishes the incentive for investment in those sectors from abroad, reducing demand for our currency. The sluggishness of the loonie also explains why we’ve seen a small pick-up in inflation across the country since June, even though Canada is in an economic downturn, the price of oil is still relatively low, and the Harper government has promised to balance its budget despite the slump (all of which tend to put a damper on inflation). A low loonie means that the price of imports into our country, including many food products and manufactures, has risen.

But as you may have inferred from the title of this post, there is good news too: namely, the returns on our exports will also tend to rise, since those exports will become less expensive (and thus more attractive) to foreign customers. Tourism and associated industries may also see fringe benefits, as the prospect of a Canadian vacation becomes more affordable to foreign travelers. In other words, a low loonie translates into business opportunities abroad. If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to concentrate on online marketing and distribution to foreign markets, particularly the U.S., China, Brazil, Germany, and Australia.

As with any new market, do your homework first.

Is there a demand for your product or service, or an unfulfilled need that you can help to satisfy? Are prospective customers with disposable income willing to shell out for whatever you have to offer? What do you bring to the table that incumbent firms do not?

Before you embark on a venture into overseas markets, you should be able to answer these questions definitively. Getting there simply requires due diligence. Start with some research on the internet, and identify organizations that can help you glean insight into the target market, including government data on income levels and spending habits. Aim to picture your typical client in the target market, the environment in which s/he lives and works, the amount of free time s/he has, and the recreational activities s/he enjoys.

Connect with foreign customers online.

Although overseas branches are nice to have, they’re also a luxury that most small and medium-sized firms don’t enjoy. This is where a robust online presence, including a website accessible in multiple languages, comes in handy. If you don’t have the budget to invest in a sleek, sophisticated website, there’s also a variety of existing online gateways—including eBay and other auction sites—that allow you to 1) broaden your international reach on a budget and 2) dip your toe into the waters of your target market before your dive in.

As the internet increasingly evolves from a stationary, plugged-in medium to a mobile, wireless one, more and more industries are prioritizing compatibility with mobile devices in their website design strategy. You’d be well advised to follow suit as you strive to reach foreign customers.

Choose distributors and payment processors wisely.

Select the most reputable, reliable distributor and most secure international payments system you can find. (Favour dependability even if the price is slightly higher, and investigate the record of candidate distributors and payments processors well in advance.) If customers know they can count on these aspects of your business, they’ll keep coming back, and recommend your company to their friends and associates. But if something goes wrong, even if a subcontractor is to blame, your business’ reputation could be in jeopardy.

For more on how you can take advantage of a feeble loonie, see this piece in the Globe and Mail’s business section by e-commerce expert Cameron Schmidt.