Thursday, February 26, 2015

Learn from the new startups

Proto by Adamr @

Remember when you started your business?  Did you have a formal business plan?  Did you keep your plans to yourself until you were ready to launch?  Did you want it to be perfect, with all your ducks in a row before you started?

Guess what, that’s not how it’s done these days.  According to Sean Wise, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University, as small business owners we could benefit and learn by adopting some of the strategies used by today’s startups.

At a recent event, he outlined six ways startups are different today.

1.       Startups share, don’t keep it a secret

In the past, a new startup was hush-hush.  Everything about it was kept secret and under wraps until the owner was ready to launch.

Well, not anymore.  As part of the customer development process, the startup lets the customers try it.  In other words, as Wise said, “they get out of the building” and ask what’s working or not.

2.       Startups fail fast and often

The end product or service doesn’t need to be perfect, and so the start up is quite comfortable testing things out, and through this hypothesis testing learn what to do next.  It’s no coincidence, for example, that Amazon sends suggestions to regular customers.  They’ve tested this strategy and found out what is effective. 

Wise’s advice – Let action not assumptions drive your business.

3.       Startups don’t write business plans

Remember that lengthy document – your business plan - that you sweated over before you started your business?  Well no more.  Instead startups now use a business model canvas to scope out their plans.

Using a white board and post-it notes, the “plan” has a fluidity to it which seems appropriate given how much your initial plans can change when starting out, and later down the road.  Samples of the model can be found at

4.   Startups get ready, fire and then aim

They don’t try to be perfect, and instead measure the results of their “launch” and adjust according to feedback.

5.   Startups co create with customers

Instead of approaching the traditional sources of funding – banks, venture capitalists, etc… these startups use crowdfunding as a way to get the necessary funds to start up. This process also involves buy-in from their potential customers, creating a better outcome for their end product/service.

6.   Startups are innovative looking at ways to deliver   

A great example of this innovation, is Netflix.  Instead of going to Blockbuster, picking up a movie, returning it and likely paying the late fees, Netflix came up with the idea of streaming movies and TV series into your home.  You don’t have to go anywhere, and if you want, can binge watch your favourite series for the same price.

Letting go of the need to be perfect seems integral to this new approach to starting a business and it’s a good outlook to have whether you are in startup mode or more seasoned in business.

So often we get hung up on everything being just right before we launch, when reality is, there is always something to learn, change and tweak.

What you would differently if you were starting up now instead of when you did?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Business lessons from the kitchen

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsule
Do you like to cook?  How you operate in the kitchen can be an indicator of how you run your business.  

 For example, if you stick to the letter of the law in your recipes, it is quite likely that you are not so comfortable with risks. Whereas on the other hand, if you always tweaking a recipe or making up your own, going with the flow is more your comfort zone, which means you may not always stick to the tried and true.

I’ve written about this before, but recently I came to a couple of new conclusions.  Being the long weekend, and loving to cook, I decided to try some new recipes, which my husband will be quick to tell you, with mixed results.

First a disclaimer, when you live on a farm, miles from the local grocery store, 
improvising on ingredients becomes a way 
of life.  So when I decided to cook a Thai side dish that required molasses, I knew I was stumped. 

But guess what – you just have to google what can replace molasses in a recipe, and your question is answered.  How cool is that?  All of which shows that there is never one right way to do something.

However, having said that, the meal itself was not a great success.  It tasted good, don’t get me wrong, but I cooked too much.  I guess I still haven’t got used to cooking for two, instead of four. 

Not wanting to waste it, I plunked most of the food on my husband’s plate.  Now, we can do this in business when we give our clients too many options or too much information – the end result is the same – overwhelm. 

Just too much to take in or eat in one sitting.  So note to self, think about the amount of information/food is sufficient and enough to whet someone’s appetite, so they are ready for the next course.

My second lesson is when I decided to follow a recipe – a new experience for me – but I misread it.  I did it wrong.  However, quickly realizing what I’d done, I went with the flow, improvised and the end result was tasty. 

The same is true in business.  You can be told what is required and try to do it by the book, but if you goof or it doesn’t feel right, all is not lost, you can do it differently.

When my children were little, putting food on the table was frankly more of a chore.  Just making sure they ate, liked the meals was challenge enough.  A bit like when you start your business – you make do, accepting what works to keep your clients happy.

Twelve years into my business, I have come to realize that I can actually shape the menu – at work and at home. I no longer have to offer the basics, I can afford to take risks and elaborate.

I know my ingredients and I am not scared to mix them up – be it in the kitchen or in my business.  What about you? 

For further reading - What's Your Recipe for Success

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reaching for the light

There is a tree that stands next to the extension we built at the farm.  I am sure originally it was upright, reaching to the sky, but with the new building, it now bends away so it can still capture the light and continue to grow.

It makes me think of what we have to do to stay relevant in our business – lean towards the light, listen to what the market is saying it wants.  The tree’s roots are strong, so it is not in danger of falling over and if you have built your business on a strong foundation, your company won’t be pushed over either.

But the key is to stay flexible; to stay current and nimble enough to adapt and change to what the new marketplace wants and needs.  So often we get stuck in our ways. “We’ve always done it this way.  People have always loved this program.”  Well, maybe yes, but as the song goes ‘times are a changing’ and to stay alive, you may find you have to change your offering too.

I find that when we are insistent in offering what we want to offer, rather than what our customers want, we really run the risk of getting it wrong.  Keeping our ear to the ground, listening to what people are saying (and not saying), helps us to stay on track.

Changing it up, making it fun is one way to keep your clients happy.  Truth is, the same old, same old – is just that, and personally I find that boring.   I am always looking for new light, and like the tree I am willing to bend to find it.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Leadership - sometimes it's about letting go of control

Recently I wrote a blog about there being strength in numbers and at the time I was thinking more about women linking up and supporting one another.

This week, I am looking at the big picture and how organizations, rather than individuals,  can work together and partner up to make it a win-win for both.

I am on this path because Company of Women has just joined up with the Holistic Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver.  Now that may seem a long way off from our Ontario-based organization, but for several months I have been debating whether to expand our health practitioners network to Vancouver.

When I was out there a couple of years ago, I met with some of the movers and shakers about actually starting a chapter of Company of Women in Vancouver.  Their advice?  That there were more than enough women’s groups, and another one wasn’t needed.  And I suspect what they didn’t say was and not one from out east, from Toronto.

So I let that idea go, but one leader did suggest I look at replicating our Health Practitioners Network and so I have been been working with someone in Vancouver who was equally keen and we were gingerly building our plans.

However, last week I was introduced to the new Vancouver chapter of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce, and as I talked with their energetic president, it became clear to me that there was little point in reinventing the wheel and far better to get behind their efforts to recruit health practitioners and offer programming to support them.

So that is exactly what we are doing.  When you share similar goals and similar audiences, it makes sense.  Yes, I was hoping to recruit more members in BC, but if I dig deeper on my ‘why,’ the underlying drive was, as it always is, to support women in their businesses.   So we’re not the lead, but really does that matter?  When you let go of your ego, and your need to be front and centre, so much more is achieved.  It is the end result that counts.

I have confidence that this fledgling partnership will blossom and in the end, it will be a win-win for both groups. 

So ask yourself, is there someone I could partner with?  Think about it, because when it works, it is a thing of beauty. 

And when it doesn’t – well check out my other blogs on the topicJ

Related blogs

Collaboration gone wrong: How to get it back on track

Partnership?  Date first.