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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.