Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

1. I will respect everyone, regardless of status and circumstance, as individuals.

2. My business will contribute to construction communities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

3. We will have (serious) fun.

In the next few weeks, we'll provide some new resources to help construction businesses with media/public relations and marketing. Watch for my six tips on public relations in Thursday's newsletter.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

At Ground Zero

We're in New York City now, at a hotel just a stone's throw from Ground Zero -- in fact the building we are in today was used to billet rescue and recovery workers during those agonizing days after September 11, 2001.

Today, the Ground Zero site is bustling with construction activity and the drama and horror of five years ago seems a distant past. Work has started on the new Freedom Tower and the site is certainly alive.

So, for that matter, is the entire city. I took Eric to the Empire State Building Observatory (since the destruction of the World Trade Centre, this building, completed in 1931, is the city's tallest.) Allowing for the tourist-trap schlock and marketing gimicks, long lines and much hassle, the view from the top is incredible -- and there are many cranes (much lower) on the skyline.

Time to update now.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2005 remembered

Christmas Day, last year, starting on vacation I also had to deal with the serious consequences of some Internet fraud fighting. The bad guys set up a Joe Job (the link leads to a Wikipedia entry describing this form of identy theft-fraud), and on the start of our family vacation in Los Angeles, I spent hours on the phone with the technical support technician at my Internet Service Provider, clarifying the situation and preventing disruption of my own Internet service.

The roots of this crisis can be traced to my postings on where I investigated an Internet scam, called Reality Millions, where the fraudsters claimed the ability to turn 'investors' into millionaires for $49.00. If this seems absurd, so did it to me that hundreds and possibly thousands fell for the scam, sending their money to "Midas" and "Touch" at anonymous address.)

The research took me around the world by phone and email and taught me a whole lot about the Internet's less-than-honorable underside. But, in the end, I backed off the investigation when thousands of email bounces started flooding my in-box on Christmas Eve, just before my vacation.

Why this investigation? I was trying a form of Internet marketing to interest potential associate publishers, figuring passing the 'smell test' with scam fighters could only help my business. See this thread:

Did the scam-fighting work? Well, the bad guys appear to have succeeded in staying out of jail, at least for now, but the scam fighters are as strong as ever in their determination to thwart them, and some of the scamming techniques they used last year thankfully won't work any more. I also received some useful inquiries from prospective publishers. And I appreciated more than ever how communities and connections work in the Internet's global scale.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Survey observations

First, we didn't receive overwhelming results. I received more passionate replies proportionately on smaller lists when I asked for opinions of Toronto truck dealers, or the building permit administration in Ottawa. Nevertheless, within framework of the small survey sample size, I think it is representative of the industry. Respondents were fairly represented from large and small firms, over a large enough geographical area in North America.

The single most interesting result is that most people are not familiar with Google Adwords, and of those who are, an even smaller fraction use Pay Per Click advertising in thier marketing mix. This is impressive to me in that it suggests much untapped potential in the Google-style advertising approach. In Pay Per Click, results are directly meeasurable, and advertisers only pay if the ad at least draws traffic to their websites. Of course Pay Per Click is not quite the same as Pay per Order -- a marketer's dream (if the Pay Per Order price of course is low enough.)

Tomorrow we head on a vacation to New York City and then onwards to Vancouver. Of course I'll have the laptop with me and expect to post updates to this blog while travelling. The regular newsletter will resume in January.

Best wishes for the Holiday Season.

Monday, December 18, 2006


If you have arrived here upon completing our survey on internet marketing for the construction industry, thanks for participating. I'll post preliminary results soon.

If you came here without knowing about the survey, you can go to it at this location.

Please feel free to post your comments about the survey or Internet marketing issues for the construction industry.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Video revolution

Yesterday, I visited the elctronics store and purchased my first video camera for the computer. I spent the money because I realize that it is important to understand the impact of the video (and sound) revolution on the internet. With high-speed service now the rule rather than the exception, the capacity for video and audio communication takes the Internet in entirely new and exciting directions. It also has implications for the construction industry marketing practices.

Many websites of course now have construction progress photo sites. Other publishers have been touting the advantages of construction video -- in some cases using the supplier-relationship techniques that were until recently the main way we sold advertising. (The ads are not purchased in this model so much to attract new clients as to keep current clients happy.). You may find some insights in this article I published several months ago:

As in the case of the written word, the availability of the new technologies creates plenty of opportunities for the good, bad and downright awful. Previously entry costs for video production and distribution were so high that the only people playing the game were professionals. Now anyone can do it, and this results in some very bad stuff making it to air.

Nevertheless, I believe if you are serious about construction marketing you must be well aware of the new techniques and technologies, even when they don't immediately correlate. You may wish to review Ken Main's observations regarding print media and podcasting, here:

Within a few weeks you'll see my inagural video. I certainly am not going to show anyone my early test videos, but I don't expect my initial entry into the video world will win any awards for brilliance. Nevertheless, I appreciate that the media world and marketing is much more multi-faceted and comprehensive than it has ever been in the past; and being aware of what is possible in video is as important as understanding how a fax machine worked a few years ago.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The new 'press'

Ken Main, of Portland Maine, sent me this white paper outlining the challenges that the conventional daily newspapers are facing in the era of the interactive web-based media (with audio and video capacities). It is a good read.

I'm looking forward to speaking with him at greater length within the next few days. In my email to him in response, I noted that engagement can take many forms -- notably the success in selling Christmas greetings ads in the OCHBA Impact! (our local home builders' association newsletter), shows that the connection can come in different ways -- in the case of the association newsletter, the relationships within the group, and the acceptance of the newsletter as a valued part of this close-knit community -- justifies advertising rates that are definitely not on the low end if value is measured by Cost Per Thousands (CPM).

Conversely, I've seen many efforts launched with various AV and web based gimmicks that fail to connect the tools and resources to the actual readers and viewers. Sometimes just picking up the phone, or attending a community event, can do much good (of course, carrying a videocamera and writing blog entries about it-- or having other people at the event share their thoughts as well -- can create a much more effective connection than a distant and passive 'conventional' journalistic approach.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pacing the progress

How fast should we grow? In previous posts, I suggested that it is time to put the brakes on the ambitions, for now, but I still believe we will be ready much sooner than later to add products and markets to the business. The key issue is how well we can manage our resources, and also how people working within the company can assume their responsibilities and tasks.

Especially in expanding to new markets, where we have 'publishers in waiting' the question is, "are they readyfor their responsibilities." If we go ahead and blindly expand, without some real drive, initiative and contributions at the local end, we'll be trapped in a frustrating vortex. The last thing I want to be doing is travelling across the continent to prop up a business where the local co-ordinator isn't pulling his or her weight.

On the other hand, I don't want to deny those that are ready to grow, the opportunity to grow. So we've decided to set out a set of conditions -- an action plan -- that the local publishers will need to complete before we invest time and resources in 'opening' new publications. This makes the effort more balanced and complete, and gives us the capacity to truly help the people who are working hard (and smartly) to help themselves.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Growth and prudence

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been taking a hard look at the choices now that we have a talented sales team and rapidly improving buiness results. I listed the potential projects worthy of further consideration, and set out to determine which should get priority.

Yesterday, even though one key person was missing from the planning meeting to discuss the choices, we reached an understanding that we have a lot of work to do closer to home before we can think too much about expanding the business. And, in one of those 'insight flashes' for ideas that should have been obvious to me weeks ago, I realized that our staff and resource levels are actually lower now than when I carefully and cautiously deliberated expanding the last time around.

The difference is experience. And that is a two-edged sword. Experience indeed gives me confidence to act decisively and quickly; to realize that expansion ahead of schedule can create new opportunities and possibilities, and in any case, Iwould not really be expanding that far into unknown business territory because I have experience running a much larger business.

But I also know about the risks of cash flow problems, badly diverted resources, and the fact that growth for growth's sake has nothing to do with business viability and profitability.

Sure, we concluded yesterday, lets expand, but let us fix what we have at home first and give the people in more remote areas of the business the opportunity to show and develop their own realistic growth without forcing the issue. Things will progress soon enough.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I have found this blog posting from Michael Kempner, president and CEO of PR firm MWW Group to be revealing and useful in several ways.

His points about sloppiness and typos in resumes (and blogs, like this one) are well taken. I take his advice seriously, and will both watch future entries carefully and clean up some of the older ones here.

I think he also makes a point that reading between the lines for hidden evaluation processes is important for job-seekers, and if you are an employer looking for the best candidates, setting these processes in place will help you in your screening and candidate searching efforts.

For example, in our recent initiative to recruit new sales representatives, I used a multi-stage screening system. I only glanced at the resumes; instead sending an email questionnaire, coupled with links to this blog.

Candidates who failed to answer the questionnaire of course elminiated themselves from consideration. But you may be surprised that I also eliminated candidates who simply answered the questions without communicating/asking questions of me first.

(I provided my email address with the questionnaire; and told applicants they could ask questions and seek clarifications before responding.)

Sales success, of course, is built on the ability to build and develop relationships. The two candidates who bothered to communicate and request information before firing off responses to the questionnaire of course moved to the top of the list when I turned to looking at the resumes to decide whom to call for an initial phone interview.

In the end, we hired both representatives -- even though originally we only had the budget for one. But the candidates who dashed off a response, or who didn't care to follow the instructions at the outset, received no further consideration. Remember, if you are looking for work, read the guidelines and look beneath the surface for hidden tests -- and of course remember that if the answers don't come to you naturally, you are probably best suited for other opportunities.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Today, I dared to send out 'invites' to every name on my email list for the Ryze network. The success in doing this suggests both the strength and weakness of the Ryze system.

The strength: It is easy to enter, wide ranging in scope, and has many potentially useful connection.

The weakness: The ease of entry and lack of controls invites and encourages spammy type behaviours -- because there were no controls on 'volume' I dumped many potentially irrelevant names into the system; people who barely if at all know me.

Is this stuff for you? Maybe. Feel free to spend a few minutes looking around but I wouldn't push this as a primary marketing tool, just yet. See

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I'm taking a break from websites, insights and marketing ideas -- having produced a copious volume of material for our Canadian and North Carolina papers in the past two weeks, and integrated three new employees into our organization. As well, we must prepare for the major annual Canadian construction trade show in Toronto, Construct Canada, most of next week.

So, with a few moments to spare, I spent a while googling my past, and found this piece of student newspaper literature from January, 1979.

If you go to Page 7, you'll find where I formed my perceptions and insights as a young adult. I found employment as a sub-editor at a newspaper in Bulawayo, and stayed in the country through the end of the civil war and birth of the new Zimbabwe nation. Sadly, things have evolved just the way the racist whites predicted (though, no one should see that as a defence of racism -- if the whites hadn't fought so hard to preserve their privilege through military force and political power, the corrupt black warriors who eventually took control may never have assumed power and a more moderate, democratic government would have prevailed.)

It is ironic and impressive that the Intenet has brought to life material that would only otherwise be archieved in one dusty university library; to be seen only by the most determined and lucky scholars. Now, everything is there for everyone in the world to view.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This week, alas, I have very little time or 'writing energy' to update this blog or even to post some fresh stuff on the websites. I've been writing copious amounts of 'copy' to fill our Canadian and North Carolina papers, while overseeing the transition of the business with the arrival of our two new sales representatives.

Next week is the major Canadian construction show, involving travel, hotel stays, business meetings, and other stuff -- but I expect I'll be able to write and disstribute the newsletter on schedule.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I took some flack for my openness in the most recent edition of my email newsletter. While I'm not sure if I accept all of the criticisms, I certainly accept responsibility for my failure to observe the '24 hour delay' rule in writing and publishing the last e-letter.

This reference discusses one of the more unusual elements of sucess -- 'intention'.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Busy, busy . . .

We are now in the enviable (and challenging) business circumstance where rapid growth is likely. The first of our two new salespeople has been working just more than a week, and has sold thousands of dollars of advertising. The second new representative is chomping at the bit to get started.

My main problem right now is managing the limited staff and cash resources as the sales start coming in. The classic risk of rapidly growing businesses is a serious cash flow crunch. I have some 'emergency' credit resources that could be tapped in this situation, but must be certain we have the orders booked. Nevertheless, it is exhilerating and stressful, but in a good sort of way, as we prepare to add the additional resources required to keep the business running properly.

Once we have things somewhat stabilized, I'll do a more thorough evaluation, but I believe the key to our resurgence relates to the decisions made as things were not working so well. I always respected my limits -- when danger signs flashed, I did what I had to do when we reached the trip-wire point.

Eric's team took on their strong rivals in the hockey tournament finals and lost -- but only after battling the other team to a tie, and forcing an overtime period. Of course, they really won -- their skills have developed tremendously and in a relative sense, I think they are now the most improved team in the league.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. Our primary activity has been Hockey -- Eric's Atom hockey tournament. Hockey is a big deal in Ottawa and thousands of kids play in organized minor leagues, consuming huge amounts of time (and plenty of cash) for practice and games.

There are competitive tracks that lead a very few players to the dream of the National Hockey League. But most kids play in house leagues, set by district arenas, age, and skill level. At the beginning of each season, players are evaluated and placed in an A B or C team.

Last year, Eric played in B team that scored in the middle of the league standings. As the year progressed, he found himself often suited up as goalie, with some really great game saves. "He's going to be a goalie", other parents told us, and him. So we spent a few hundred dollars on specialized goalie gear, and a few hundred more on special goalie camp.

Three days into the week-long camp, Eric declared: "I don't want to be a goalie." Ultimately we'll recover most of the cost of the gear by selling it at a consignment store, but the bigger problem arose during evaluation. We had to miss a key practice session, and the evaluation planners had Eric marked as a goalie. When he got on the ice, he was very rusty.

He played much better on the second evaluation, but we got the shock of our 'competitive' lives -- Eric had been placed on the C team.

Think of the remedial class, or the slow readers' group, or the kids who are picked last in an athletic try-out, and you'll get the idea of what the C team designation could mean. Certainly, last year, we looked down on the C team players. That class thing, I know.

At first, I thought we should fight the injustice -- Eric doesn't belong on a C team, he is too good for this. But Eric didn't mind. In fact, a neighbour (playing hockey for the first time this year) was also on the team. And when I asked the coach about the possibility of a transfer, the coach made clear that he wouldn't object and that some kids need to have the competitive advantage of playing at a higher level, but others thrive if they are truly the best players on a less skilled team.

I know Eric isn't going to be an NHL player. So, instead of fighting it, why not embrace it -- I volunteered to be the team manager. This is the one job a non-hockey player can do -- I essentially keep the team's books, collect money, organize the tournaments, and so on.

This weekend, eric's team is participating in its first tournamnet. We've played two games so far. In both cases, the team started off poorly, with 2 or 3 points against in the first few minutes. But in both cases, the team clawed back and won -- by one point. Eric's team goes on to the finals tomorrow and may win the C championship.

I've enjoyed seeing the players' passion and energy -- their commitment and support for each other. At the C level, some players can barely stand on the ice, but others like Eric could play in a more advanced team -- here, however, they are more than supporting players. As parents, we all are saying we are finding these games far more satisfying and rewarding than the NHL events.

Eric, meanwhile, is having a great time. He and the neighbouring kid down the street are becoming very good friends -- in fact, they've spent the whole day together after the game.

What does this story have to do with construction marketing?

I think sometimes we can get lost on the trappings of status and class. Achievement comes in many forms and there are all sorts of roads to success. Sure, there are fundamental principals but the most important one is to respect the importance of passion and enjoyment. It is possible, indeed, to win well in the C group.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Intensity and growth.

I'm amazed at the speed and intensity of our business revitalization. New employees are starting work and bringing new sales, spirit, and life to the organization. My big vision -- of truly being the leader in regional construction news and information -- is starting to look more and more realistic, and I am seeing signs that we will experience incredible growth within the next few months.

Please feel free to comment. I especially would like your opinions on my 'openness' -- your comments of course can be anonymous.

How 'open' should I be?

One person I know commented to me: "I really think you should not be saying everything you are saying in your blog. There are things about your business you are saying that no one should know but you."

Another friend, after watching me with a relatively new employee, said: "I really think you shouldn't have said that (topic deleted) to him. You need to compartmentalize yourself and be very careful about what you say."

Are these two individuals right? The issue of how much information to share, and the best way to do it, is always an issue in business. Spreading your competitive secrets far and wide doesn't seem so wise; causing employees, customers, or others to think you are 'rich' also may not be particularily smart, especially if you speak with candor about a specific project and they do not see the whole picture.

Yet openness, in my opinion, has its value as well. If others can see where things are, they are able to contribute their own constructive ideas; and if they understand the big picture, they can connect their thoughts and resources to help solve the challenges and problems affecting the entire team.

Should these matters be aired in an open blog? Obviously, I must be careful here as I do not have any control over who actually will read these words. But I still, reflecting my nature and value, believe that more information is better than less -- if that information is useful, sincere, and effective in communicating the larger vision.

Friday, November 03, 2006

More good news. The pieces are indeed coming together for a three-way agreement with two (much larger) businesses to create a new and effective product for the Canadian market. And when I learned today why the deal I thought had been stalled would go through, I smiled. (I can't share all details here because matters are still very much confidential).

I will never forget that day in 1991 when my life turned around.

I had been struggling with the first real slump since going into buisness for myself in 1988, at age 35. Now, at 38, I surveyed my life, and it didn't look very good.

I was single, living alone in a virtually empty apartment in a less than opulent suburb. My 'wealth' was tied in a piece of real estate that could be compared to one of those purple squares on the Monopoly board. (I obtained an eviction order after one tenant, after a cocaine binge, fired a shotgun out the back yard. He denied it when police showed up. The next day, I asked him if he had fired the gun -- and he showed me the empty shotgun casings. When I told him I was going back to the police, he caught my neck in a choke-hold; a neighbour hearing the commotion, freed me and, indeed, I wasted no time heading to the police station.)

Now the property stood partly empty, with a big mortgage, that I couldn't pay.

I was single. No girlfriend. No money. And my small business was losing so much money I thought there was no way it could continue. Hopelessness.

That day, on returning home after telling my staff we would need to close the business, I recalled the advice of motivational guru Brian Tracy that I, and no one else, is responsible for my own problems. I can't blame my mother, my employees, even the drug crazed guy who tried to throttle me (though obviously he has his own problems to solve).

So I set out to pull myself up -- only to find, over the next year, even more angst and frustration.

My computer died, and I didn't have money to replace it. As I took the broken computer out of my car, a food bank truck slammed into the open door in the parking space next to me. The insurance rules deemed me 'responsible'.

Then, to add injury to pain, I encountered the con-artist

This guy had signed a full page advertising contract for an occupational health and safety service. Seemed okay to me. We were planning a theme on health and safety. Then I received a call from the credit department of one of the city's daily newspapers asking if I had checked the customer out. I said I hadn't, but would keep myeyes open.

Two months passed, without payment. My sixth sense told me something was wrong. So when I wrote the feature about occupational safety, I made a brief alusion that there may be something wrong with the advertiser's business.

The next day he sent me a registered letter accusing me of libel and demanding an immediate retraction. Without any money available, I visited the city's best known libel lawyers. "Do you have proof that he did something wrong," they asked. I said "no". They responded: "You may have a big problem."

So I arranged a meeting with him, again, ironically in the lobby of a luxury apartment building in a complex that would become my home just two years later. He said: "I know the laws about uttering death threats". "Don't think you can get away by skipping town because I have connections across the country." "I would like you to sign your business over to me."

Ugh. What to do. After a sleepless night, I decided to make an exit -- south. (It is a story for another edition of this blog, but I had secured just a few weeks earlier a U.S. immigrant visa, otherwise known as the Green Card.) First thing in the morning I went to the police station to file a report, just in case my body turned up with cement shoes at the bottom of the Ottawa River.

Then, at 10 am that morning, my world changed.

I picked up the phone. It was a reporter from the same daily newspaper whose credit manager had called me some days earlier. "Mr. Buckshon, do you have any comment about the arrest of Mr. (name removed here) this morning." The reporter faxed me the police press release. It seems the guy indeed had been charged just that morning for fraudulently representing himself as a government agency -- in other words, I 100 per cent correct in assuming he had been dishonest.

A few minutes later, as I was absorbing this news, the con artist had his secretary put a call through to me. Then he took the line. "Mr. Buckshon, have your reached a decision about our business discussions yesterday."

I enjoyed the sweet revenge by asking: "Mr. (blank), do you have any comment about the Police news release this morning saying you have been charged with five counts of fraud."

I called the libel lawyers. "You must have providence on your side," the surprised lawyer said. Indeed, I had reached what I now realize is the 'inflection point'. These times defy logic and predictability -- and I think are marked by suprising extremes that just don't logically fit into business plans or ordinary life. I knew my problems would soon be over, and they were.

Two years later, I married the woman of my dreams, who I had known for several years. She had some money, so my standard of living skyrocketed. She has taught me much about business, and I started growing the enterprise to the multinational dream of my visions.

Then the tmore recent business contraction, failure, losses, and that point arriving when it looked like we were nearing the end. "I accept responsibility for myself", I reminded myself as things continued their slide, realizing that things were in no way as bad as they were that time in 1991. (I now share my life with a wonderful woman and amazing nine year old boy, for example).

So, this inflection point doesn't have quite the drama of the last one, but it still feels wonderful. There are no guarantees, of course. But I know we have turned a very big corner.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I arrived at my office today to experience the moment only a few months ago that I dreaded. I was alone. No administrative support person; no salesperson, no editor, no-one but me. Quite a change from the time just a few years ago when we had five or six administrative employees in the home office, along with branches in three cities in the U.S. and Canada -- altogether, approximately 20 people on the payroll.

Yet, as the day progressed, I knew we had turned an important corner. There were some phone calls; returning calls from an excellent sales representative who had been in the office for a 'test day' of work yesterday. And a second representative was working from home, fielding her own calls. She said she would report in at the end of the day.

She did. She told me she had fun -- she certainly made some money for herself (and the company). We are arranging a weekend interview and we will offer her employment. I expect I will make an offer as well to the sales representative who worked so well yesterday.


Of course we still need to find an administrative support person -- the work is starting to pile up. And ultimately, I will need to hire an editor again; but right now I am enjoying my editorial responsibilities -- after all, my training, and passion, are in journalism and I enjoy digging out good stories and writing about them.

For example, we have been exploring issues and problems with the City of Ottawa's building permit department in Ottawa Construction News. This is not national news; it isn't even news for the daily newspaper, but it really matters to our readers. The feedback is incredible.

As the fall progresses, we'll tidy up our websites, build the potential for the many other regional markets in our scope, and build the business back to its fullest potential. Maybe we'll have 20 or even 50 employees in a year or two -- it doesn't matter, really, if the business is profitable and everyone is enjoying their work.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

We are indeed experiencing a business inflection point. I've seen this happen once before -- in 1992. That inflection had more real drama than than this one but I expect the current events will also be remembered far in the future.

Consider this unusual set of circumstances.

As noted previously, we posted career opportunities for two new employees, one clerical and the other in sales. Traditionally, the clerical work is the easiest position to fill -- finding a suitable sales representative, however, can be like finding a needle in the haystack.

Our screening process nevertheless narrowed down two finalists for the clerical opportunity. One came in for work on Monday, but at day's end, my intuition sent out strong warning signals.

The second candidate was supposed to come in for the work-test today. She didn't show.

So after our current administrative person leaves today, we are going to have no one in the office -- for a while. I am reposting the administrative position, redefining it somewhat, and will ultimately find the right candidate.

Meanwhile, we are in an interesting situation where two very qualified individuals have applied for the sales opportunity. Both took an online sales test, and both scored in the highest percentage responses, something I've never seen since I started using the test about two years ago. I describe the test in our bi-weekly electronic newsletter. If you aren't already a subscriber, you can start your free subscription through this weblink.

It is rare to find one competent and talented salesperson when placing a recruitment ad -- the fact that we have a competition with two truly capable representatives is indeed beyond the odds of probability.

Another inflection point signal: I opened today's mail and discovered two substantial mid-four-figure cheques, representing royalties from Canada's photocophy rights agency. We earned this money by filling in a simple form; the wonderful thing, is the money will come in like clockwork this time each year from here on in -- with no additional work required. It is income that feels like it comes from a fantasy world.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blogs have many uses, and this blog (and the most recent posting) has proven to be helpful in our recruiting/selection process for the new administrative and sales staff.

I sent everyone who applied an email with a link to this blog. On Friday, I reviewed the candidates who had completed the questionnaires.

As expected, only about 1/4 of the people who initially sent in their resumes bothered to answer the questions. I had 15 completed questionnaires from people looking for the administration/support position, and 5 from people wishing to apply for the sales opportunity.

It didn't take me long to narrow down the short list for phone interviews for the administration position. Many people, it seems, don't understand basic grammar or arithmetic (or know how to find the correct answers with some resourcefulness). Now, I only had four names on the phone list. One candidate declined the opportunity when I explained there were no 'benefits', and the other, unfortunately, had very poor spoken english (though she submitted perhaps with assistance an excellent written response).

This left two finalists for the admin opportunity. They will be coming in four four hour (paid) shifts, one today and the second tomorrow.

On the sales side, I had five responses, but two stood out for their thoughtfulness. Both communicated effectively with me by email BEFORE answering their questions -- the others, it seems, dashed off quick 'off the top' responses. Realistically, if you are going to have any chance at sales you are going to need to be able to build some sort of relationship. These two finalists will be working one day each this week on a really basic (again paid) telemarketing task -- the work I've asked them to do is not overly inspiring, but allows for a rapid evaluation.

Some observations so far about the recruitment process:

1. Financial cost -- zero for advertising (government-operated jobs site is free), but I will pay hourly pay for the four candidates, about equivalent in cost to a listing on one of the more expensive job boards.
2. Time cost -- really low. It took me three hours on Friday to review the resumes, conduct the pre-screen phone interviews, and set up the appointments. I will of course need to spend more time this week preparing for the working tests and being around while the work is done. (Then again, the temporary employees are doing useful work themselves!)
3. Process integrity. Developing a self-selection system really reduces management stress -- it also allows the prospective employee to decide if he or she wishes to work in our organization. It also avoids arbitrary and perhaps discriminatory screening practices.

Can the system be faked? To some extent, yes. One of the candidates said she used a little help from Google in answering the puzzler questions. I told her, "great, that shows you have the resourcefulness to solve the problems." I suspect the candidate who wrote a great written response but had serious trouble speaking clear English (she is a very recent immigrant) had help in completing the original questionnaire -- certainly I had hoped to find an equally articulate person when I followed up with a phone call. Still, the screening proved to be totally fair -- I didn't 'weed out' the resume as unqualified, and the candidate with poor English had a chance.

Will it work for everyone? I'm not sure how effective this approach would be to fill scarce, high demand and very skilled positions. But it certainly has merit for many other opportunities.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The inflection point....

All businesses experience critical points of change that can lead to incredible growth or undeniable failure. Sometimes these moments are manifested in an immediate crisis; in others, the 'turn' is almost invisible and the owner and staff don't really know what is happening. In either case, decisions and events long before the crisis, coupled with immediate responses and a certain amount of luck and fate, determine the ultimate outcome.

Our business is now experiencing one of these amazingly important moments; one which on the surface looks to be truly challenging, but really gives me great hope for the future.

Last Friday at 3:30 p.m., our number one salesperson, who had worked with the company on pure commission for more than a decade, phoned me, distraught. About three weeks previously, following a conflict where I mismanaged a file, she had given her notice effective in 60 days. In the Friday call, she said she would need to leave immediately to deal with a family health issue. (At the time of the original incident, I took full responsibility for my mistake, and remedied the problem, but I did not beg her to stay.)

Then, on Monday a.m., just before our regular weekly conference call with contractors and team members across North America, our able and recently hired administrative person told me she had news -- she would be leaving very soon for a government job in her field of training, and would need to leave in approximately one week.

Three years ago, we had approximately 20 employees on the payroll, working from home office in Canada and in the U.S. Now we are down to one. Me.

Yet I know that this time next year, the business will be around, vital and healthy, with a solid core of great employees and a continuing expansion of the network of suppliers and contractors.

Consider these points.

The great salesperson who left us would not touch a computer. We can now hire someone much more comfortable in the on-line world.

A few years ago we developed an inexpensive, rapid, fair and systematic method of hiring new employees. It is amazingly stress free, totally complies with human rights/employment fairness rules, and allows us to avoid the traps of fakery and time-wasting screening and interviews. In essense, our system creates a self-screening process; and our interviews, when we are ready, are actual paid work assignments on temporary one day agreements -- we see how the prospective employee actually works before offering anything more permanent. So we will be able to fill the vacancies reasonably quickly.

The effective use of technology, and some practical experience that correlates with my grey hairs, allows me to get a lot more done in a lot less time than before. Thus we are continuing to publish our papers in Canada and the U.S., but now that I am doing hands-on work rather than delegating the editorial stuff to someone else, I can see simple and exciting improvements, and I am implementing them. We are also building up our freelance network and soon will be able to offer steady work to the best (and least expensive) freelancers we know. And we are making good progress in our move to electronic publishing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I saw how the lessons learned over the past several years -- and enhanced by undersandings from corporate consultant Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company -- are expressed in our weekly Monday meeting. Contractors in Winnipeg, Vancouver and North Carolina, communicate effectively and keep posted about the business, its changes, and its plans. Despite all the changes around us, the business team is stronger and more cohesive than ever.

In a previous newsletter, I described the key pillars of success in business; passion, sincerity and respect. Today, as I temporarily wear the hats of human resources staffing officer, editor, publisher, IT manager, and business consultant, I am reminded of the importance of these values. Despite the stress, and the change, I am enjoying the experience and challenges. And there is a big difference from when we had 20 employees on the payroll -- we are profitable.

I welcome your comments, either through the comment function of this blog, or by email to You can also phone me toll free at 888-432-3555 ext 224.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Many new subscribers this week -- we have reached 424 subscribers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

This new blog, and the reduced frequency my e-letter, results from a survey of the approximately 350 readers (as of last week) of the letter. The survey, conducted for free using the site, resulted in 38 visits and 31 survey responses.

How close could you get in the results? Thirteen readers said "keep it weekly" and 14 replied that once a month is enough. Two of the remaining 5 'others' said that the newsletter should be published once every two weeks, and one suggested the solution I am implementing -- publish the e-letter every other week, with the blog updated at least weekly.

When I decided to survey the newsletter's readers, I went through some hoops. Googling for survey software initially led me to expensive commercial products. Then I found some open-source software that looked like it could do the job, but had trouble loading it on the server. Afer seeking bids from software developers on the web, I decided to see if my New Delhi based data entry contractor could handle the job. He said "sure' and the open source (free survey software is now loaded and ready to go for future use.

But while all this was going on, I remembered zoomerang, which markets its services effectively by offering a high quality free service augmented by various additional resources (which cost money). Zoomerang restricts the free access for 10 days from the start of the survey, and you can't download the results on the free version. For a simple, non-commercial resource, however it is fine.

I can't comment on the open source option, which I haven't tested yet, but it appears to have all the essential functionality of the more expensive products.