Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Near the oil sands

FT. MCMURRAY, ALBERTA -- In this somewhat overpriced hotel room, I can smell, not so faintly, oil. This place is boom town, revisited.

In 1980, upon my return from Africa and despite some useful credentials and experience, there were no newspaper jobs available -- two major Canadian dailies had just closed their doors, flooding the job market. But I was offered a job at the Ft. McMurray Today.
I declined, knowing that living costs would be outrageous and if I had any real intent of meeting the woman of my dreams and starting a family with her, Ft. McMurray would be the last place to go. I ended up in Ottawa, instead, working as a PR person for the federal government, with good money and benefits, and a working environment that stifled my independence and entrepreneurial spirit. Still, I don't regret the Ottawa choice. Despite the efforts of some local boosters, Ft. McMurray is a place right now to visit, make some money, and leave. In many ways it is the same town it was in the late 70s -- just a whole lot larger.

After meetings with senior executives at PCL and Stantec in Edmonton-- I've written a story which, once editing is complete in the next day or two, I'll publish in our Canadian newspapers and post on the websites -- I took the bus to Ft. McMurray. The five hour bus ride turned out to be an experience, but not quite as dramatic as I thought it might be. The bus company has one simple rule it strictly enforces -- no drugs or alcohol are allowed on board. (The driver said he welcomes reports from any passengers noticing abuse; if it happens, the offender will be invited to leave the bus at a safe, lighted spot.)

Chugging northward, for five hours, we watched a couple of movies on tvs in the bus, checked in with our cell phones, and I spent a fair bit of time reviewing business strategies and issues on my laptop. Along and along the bus went, through the darkness and cold on a two-lane road. I could see other trucks and buses going both ways; the scale and distance impressed me. There were a few women on the bus, but as I thought, most were guys, and most got off in Ft. McMurray at the transfer point for local transit to the Oil Sands camps.

Then, dropped off at a desolate and dark bus station, I realized I didn't exactly know how to get to my hotel. "Do you know where the Raddison is," I asked the driver. "No," he said. "I know nothing about Fort McMurray except that it is a place I leave as soon as I arrive." Then he got in his bus and drove it, empty, back to Edmonton.

So I walked, and walked, along the cold Franklin Street, seeing buildings, schools, stores, and the like, before finding a gas station and convenience store. The person behind the cash register called a taxi for me, and I eventually got to the hotel.

The hotel desk clerk, the taxi driver, the person who helped call the cab for me; they are all from somewhere else -- the taxi driver said he is one of 2,000 Somalis in Ft. McMurray. Health services, schools and community facilities are limited; but if you wish to buy a pick-up truck and have bad credit, someone will be able to help you.

In a few minutes, I'll be heading to the airport for my flight back home via Toronto. The Fort McMurray Today is still a daily newspaper, but I think, indeed, I've had enough of this city for now.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the way to Alberta . . .

I'm keying this blog entry in the Maple Leaf Lounge in Ottawa, waiting for my (delayed) flight to Calgary, connecting to Edmonton. Will arrive at the hotel about 1:00 a.m. MST, some seven hours from now.

Tomorrow will be a busy day, as I investigate the story of how two Edmonton businesses became international construction industry giants, using very different business models, perhaps with a single common denominator -- ownership.

The PCL Group of Companies is a huge employee-owned business. Stantec is publicly traded. Their common point is they are based in Edmonton.

At 5 pm after my interviews at the two corporate giants, I'm going to behave like a person on a budget -- taking a seat on the evening bus to Ft. McMurray. It is a five hour ride. I'll take the so-called "luxury" bus with computer plug ins and the like, but I'm sure most business executives would fly, as I would, except, without taking the bus, I cannot soak in the experience of what it is like to head to this remote northern Alberta town at the centre of the oil sands boom (and, some would say, global warming).

My stay in Ft. McMurray is brief -- one night, and a few hours before I fly on the new non-stop Air Canada service to Toronto and on to Ottawa Tuesday night.

Why am I taking this brief trip?

First, I've always taken the view that family is more important than anything else, so overnight trips must have a very good business reason, and be as short as possible.

Second, the flights will be very inexpensive because of some arcane Air Canada promotions (no longer available).

Third, and the reason for the trip, I haven't been to Alberta since my youth, when I was a 24-year-old newspaper reporter at the Medicine Hat News in 1977-78. Fate intervened when I declined an employment offer at the Fort McMurray Today in 1980, upon my return from Africa. Instead, I gave up journalism temporarily for a rather rough and agonizing five years employment as a public relations person with the federal government. (Of course the move to Ottawa ultimately led to my meeting Vivian, and starting our family some years later.)

So when the plane lands in Calgary, I'll remember the flights through Calgary from Medicine Hat to Vancouver; and when the connection lands in Edmonton, I'll remember my visit to the Edmonton Journal, before shipping (myself) off to Africa.

And, in the hotel room in Ft. McMurray, under deadline pressure, I'll write the story about how a couple of Edmonton businesses became construction mega-stars. It will be a good and useful story.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The choices to make

Today, we ended a three week evaluation of a prospective salesperson for our organization. The process took many twists and turns; we have a fairly structured system, but adapt things to reflect individual circumstances. In the end, I decided we could not guarantee him a salary without further evidence of his effectiveness, and he could not wait any longer to establish a reliable income.

We certainly need a second full time salesperson to build the business base and begin growing again, but I know rushing the decision and hiring the wrong person will cost more than it benefits both the business and the candidate. So we've posted the opportunity again, in Ottawa, North Bay, and Toronto (where the market is, but where we've found we can often serve effectively from a distance).

The resumes are beginning to arrive in the 'in' box. Next week, we'll sort them and if they are reasonably suited for the work, we'll send a questionnaire and job description. Most of the people who send in resumes won't bother completing the questionnaire, and of those that do, most will fail at an important but subtle test. It is vitally important that candidate communicate with us BEFORE completing the questionnaire. We make it easy for them to do this -- it is important because after all, this is a sales opportunity and sales are built on creating relationships rather than filling in forms and questionnaires.

There are other stages to the process, of course. I've just given away one of our screening 'secrets'. Fortunately, the person looking for work with us who actually finds and reads this blog is showing he or she knows how to do some research -- and that is another sign of competency for this opportunity.

If you want to see the job posting, here it is:,%20Government&Student=No

Thursday, February 22, 2007

At work . . .

Today, I've primarily focused on current business operations and co-ordinating the March issues. Latest issue of the newsletter went out last night. If you are not on the list and wish to receive it, you can complete the form at the top of this blog.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

About pricing, technology and news

Today, I mixed some new processes into a very traditional business -- journalism. The challenge, to write a meaningful story for our Canadian publications.

Last week, at the Ottawa Construction Association's Annual General Meeting, a general contractor noted how frustrating it can be when bid requests require detailed breakdowns of cost for a diversity of elements, rather than the final price. He explained the challenge of gathering and publicizing all this information in a tight deadline invites errors, higher bids, and possible abuse (it sets the stage for potentially nasty bid shopping and 'revising' after the contract is supposedly 'won').

Good story, perhaps, but how could I put it together in a meaningful way before deadline. I decided to use our substantial email list and open source survey software; drafted up a survey asking about the topic, and set up a simple email inviting participation.

"Ping", the email survey responses and phone calls started arriving minutes after I posted the survey. Lots of responses from qualified people; lots of interest and comments. And of course the stuff of a good story for our newspapers and websites. The story will be ready for publication next week.

While I was fielding calls on this matter (and several other issues, it has been a busy day today), William "Dee" Giarratano phoned me with an update regarding progress of his, a rather innovative (and very inexpensive) resource for contractors wishing to co-ordinate job take offs and plans with sub trades and suppliers. His prices are very low (many services are free) but the idea is to produce a high volume with low operating overhead, and compete in the space of much more expensive 'electronic plans room' services. I'll post a story tomorrow on our Atlanta website and through the network.


Two days ago, Eric moved into his 'new' bedroom. It actually is the same room that has been his since he arrived just a week before we moved into our then-brand-new house about 9 and a half years ago. But things needed to be changed. Out went the cute balloon wallpaper; in (with Eric's participation) went the Hockey stars. And we cleared out the closet of old toys -- toys appropriate for a three or four year old, or maybe a five or six year old kid, but not someone almost 10 years old.

In couple of weeks that it took to set up the newly decorated room and while we waited for the room's air quality to improve from the new paints and varnishes (preceded by months of planning by Vivian), Eric chose to sleep on a mattress in the floor of our room. He enjoyed this stage, and so did we, despite the loss of privacy. We knew we were experiencing a change-point; not the type celebrated by ceremony or drama (the wedding, confirmation or bar mitzvah), but nonetheless, an important milestone from early to middle childhood that all healthy children experience.

I'm wistful about the change; as I am about my evolution from early to 'late' middle age -- now that I am well into my 50s. Not planning it for me, Vivian borrowed from the library "Younger Next Year -- Turn back your biological clock" by Chris Crowley and Henry S Lodge, MD. This book is actually written for late middle aged men rather than women, but the fundamental points apply to both genders. At this stage of our lives, we can choose to let our bodies fail us, or actively maintain our health through exercise, rational nutrition, and meaningful commitments and relationships. If we get it right, we can live well with a high quality of life until our mid 80s and possibly slightly longer.

There is a correlation here between these life-cycle experiences and construction industry marketing. Your business, undoubtedly, will grow, change and evolve and many of these changes will reflect your own changes as you age. Most businesses fail, I suspect, because they cannot manage the transitions effectively. These can be technological, or market related, or perhaps are simply age related -- as the original owner/founder gets older, he or she needs to move on at some point.

Of course, if I follow the guidance in Crowley and Lodge's book, it looks like I've got another 30 years to go at least. This means that we'll experience Eric becoming a middle-aged man, and this publishing business being around long enough that the Internet will be almost my current chronological age. It will be different, of course. But there will still be a real need for architects, engineers, general contractors and sub trades.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The newsletter preview

Today, I prepared the first draft of the bi-weekly newsletter for delivery Wednesday night or Thursday morning. The Constant Contact software has really simplified the process and allows me to put things together quite quickly, even though the newsletter now contains much more information. My first instinct was to hit 'send' and move the distribution date upwards -- then, thinking more carefully, I realized a couple of days to review and edit the copy will only improve its quality.

Sales and Marketing -- Would you rather receive than call? will be in the newsletter -- note you are seeing a sneak preview, and it will likely be revised before the newsletter is delivered.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Writing week

This week is a writing week for me, as I must prepare content for our newspapers, websites and the bi-weekly Construction Marketing Advice Newsletter which is to be delivered by Thursday morning. Compounding the challenges is the visit next Sunday/Tuesday to Alberta, days where I would normally do last minute deadline writing. I probably will -- but from the hotel room. This means that my blog entries are likely to be shorter and I may need to miss a day or two along the way. However, I certainly welcome your calls or emails to 888-432-3555 ext 224 or, epecially if you have suggestions or topics you would like to see covered in the newsletter.

Marketing consultant Bernie Siben has posted on his website some worthy material, including this piece that looks at the practicalities of completing RFP documentation: I enjoyed reading it, and think you will too.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Recreating Washington Construction News

Last night, in a flash of inspiration, I recreated Washington Construction News as an online publication. I took a portion of our old electronic readership list, and melded it with materials (both new and from recent archives) into a new e-letter, and sent it out. Using the Constant Contact software, the entire process took about 90 minutes. (The URL link here takes you to the website, not the actual newsletter, with its own distinct contact. For a sample of the actual electronic newsletter, you'll need to request it by emailing me.)

It is early to say whether this test will lead to something more significant and permanent. Reflecting the nature of the project, readers will find virtually no commercial messages and lots of original content. I'll measure feedback through reviewing the 'open' rates, click-throughs, and most important, any reader comments or assessments.

If you would like a sample copy of the experimental WCN newsletter (which may become a template for our other publications and market areas) please email me directly at

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Integrity, relationships, and marketing

There are cliches in business, and some of them are so obvious that they seem meaningless. "Say what you do, and do what you say" is one of them. Yesterday, I observed in action the practical importance of observing these principals.

Some weeks ago, I met someone who wanted to pitch a relatively minor 'first stage' joint venture initiative to me. I, meanwhile, was preparing for a more significant project and saw this person's company as a natural ally in pursuing it. So, at our meeting, after listening to him explaining some really wild big-picture dreams (that would require really incredible resources to achieve), I proposed my rather simple alliance.

He declined, saying he had a much bigger project under-way with the other organization. He represented to me that while my thoughts were really early stage, and not well developed, he had already developed high level relationships with the other organization, and I should not mess around with them. Frankly, he put some fear into me that maybe indeed he knew stuff that I didn't know.

Nevertheless, our business is independent, and I decided to move forward on my own with my plans -- carefully describing a strategy that would result in our expressing and implementing our core competencies, while building a (positive) place for the other organization who I believed had competences distinct but highly complementary to ours. As I prepared for the presentation, I made a final call to this individual. He didn't return my call.

We made our presentation. I provided a first draft of the proposal telling the other people in the room that things were rough around the edges and I welcomed feedback before proceeding. I emphasised that some of our demonstration material wasn't quite ready but would be fixed within the day. And I mentioned that a key part of the job could better be handled by other organizations, including possibly the one of the person who bragged about his relationships and failed to return my calls afterwards. I intended to show how our work would fit within the 'big plan' described to me by the person I had met a few weeks previously.

Wow. Did I ever get a mouthful. "He said he was going to do all these things, and never followed up, and never did them," I heard from the people in the room. It seems the big-shot's name was mud with this organization. Of course, I never had (and never will) say anything negative about the individual or his organization (which I still believe is a good and reputable business) but I certainly felt relief that I hadn't waited for his 'permission' to proceed with my own presentation.

Within 24 hours, as promised, we prepared our revised presentation. I quickly removed the positive references to the other person's company (without however saying anything negative), cleaned up the details, and improved things based on the feedback. We got it right -- sort of. As noted previously in this blog, our own business isn't free of its share of skeletons and previous mistakes -- and not everyone in the community thinks highly of me and our business.

Nevertheless, yesterday we were ready for a key stage in developing our project, and I received a go-ahead to move forward with that part of the initiative. I felt it right, then, to call the person who could have been a partner in the deal to give him a heads up about the situation. I explained candidly what the other people had told me about him, and the problems this was creating for his own interests and business. He thanked me for my frankness.

I could not of course solve the problems with his own relationships, but observed with interest his observations: "I tend to be a big picture guy and get beyond myself". Contrast this with the people we hope to do business with, whose leader told me: "We appreciate that you don't claim to do everything -- but what you propose fits right within our visions and plans."

In the end, selling and high-end marketing is all about the quality of your relationships, your integrity and your common sense. Say what you do, and do what you say. I'm glad, in this case at least, I followed that part of the Golden Rule.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sleeping on it

One of the most important elements in business decision-making is intuition -- the sixth sense based on gut feel, first impressions, subtle cues and seemingly irrational associations.
These can often be wrong -- many times they are framed on pre-existing prejudices and assumptions and, because these assumptions are so ingrained in our minds, they overtake fairer assessments.

Yet we ignore these feelings to our peril because, especially if we have specialized knowledge or experience, the sixth sense can in fact be the most subtle warning sign available to us. And that sixth sense is truly troubling me now on a decision I am about to make.

The economic cost of a wrong decision here is not that high (but it won't be insignificant). Theoretically the potential advantages are good. The person we are thinking of working with has passed all the tests in our evaluation cycle, but one. (And there can be good reasons external to the person for the seemingly poor results here.)

But, and here is the challenge, when I wake up, I keep hearing internal warning signs; the sixth sense is telling me, don't do this -- keep looking, be patient, don't rush it.

My conclusion: A compromise. Propose another very short term assignment with clear (and reasonable) goals and objectives. I realize this puts a lot of pressure in a short time on the candidate, and he can rightfully decline, but the test will determine whether it is right to carry forward -- and success with this extra test will validate both my intuition and the candidate's potential.

See this link from Fast Company magazine's website on the topic:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The real value of what we sell

Today, in discussing our business with a new salesperson, I explained that the value in what we sell is much more than it appears at first sight. Although we have a significant (and growing) online presence, almost all of our income is from conventional print advertising. Yes,, I explained to the new sales representative, conventional advertising continues to have a place in the marketplace even though alternative online media have significant competitive advantages.

I also explained the irony of our business model -- we are (as noted previously in this blog) able to sell season's greetings ads in a low-circulation association newsletter for several hundred dollars, each, minimum, while we struggled and ultimately dropped a market test where we offered a construction business leads service at a fraction of the cost of what others are paying for similar services.

So we have a paradox. How can we earn our way and deliver value to advertisers where measures such as "cost per thousand" or "cost per click" are common in the marketing world?
We create real value by helping clients leverage and enhance their business relationships by creating highly useful and truly inexpensive resources and providing extra free services.

For example, companies and organizations can arrange free editorial publicity in many special features and company profiles. The companies profiled in these features do not need to spend any money on advertising; they simply refer their suppliers to us, who purchase supporting ads.

The supporting advertisers generally choose to do business with us because they want to keep their current clients happy -- our challenge is to demonstrate to them that we regard them as our true clients, and will deliver service far beyond some ink on paper.

As an example, a storage tank manufacturer took up our offer for some free publicity after his company advertised in support of one of its clients projects. The sales representative sent me a very lengthy technical article; which we simply could not use. But I didn't throw it out. I called the sales rep back, learned more about the business, and the fact that his product saves between 10 and 30 per cent over the conventional alternative. I drafted a story and sent it for review/approval. Once it has cleared for publication, I'll write about the advertiser in this blog and post a link.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Double Payments, Publicity, and other ideas -- The North Carolina visit

My last of four flights yesterday landed in Ottawa about midnight. I'm happy I went. There is some irony in that the meeting about the Double Payments issue occurred in the RBC Center, home of last year's Stanley Cup winners, the Carolina Hurricanes. Now, Raleigh, NC is not a place one traditionally associates with championship hockey. But there we were, discussing Double Payments in the North Carolina construction industry, in a meeting room on the top floor of the hockey arena. (In part to make up for my absence yesterday, I'll be at another arena, the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, with Eric, watching the Senators take on Florida Panthers.) Editor's note -- the Sens won 4-0.

I thought the CAGC did okay in explaining the Double Payments issue to the attendees, but CAGC lobbyist Dave Simpson, after the meeting, told me he doesn't see much change in attitudes and the association is going to proceed cautiously. It doesn't want to introduce legislation until there is a consensus. I need to research and read through more documentation here but the message Simpson gave me is the story hasn't changed that much from when we wrote about it last. He suggests that general contractors will move and owners will move to other measures including construction management and tighter credit controls on their own part, to overcome the problem.

Bob Kruhm also co-ordinated meetings with some current and potential clients. As is always my approach, I don't look at the relationships here as a way to 'sell advertising' but instead on focusing on their marketing realities and needs. We are working on a public/media relations idea for one business that, if it goes as I expect it will, will result in prominent coverage in the News-Observer and local television. Obviously, it is best not to disclose right now the exact details of what we have in mind but it generally works within the media relations ideas outlined earlier in this blog.

On the flight home, I had an inspiration that needs to be checked out further. In many cases, I advocate to our clients that they should look more closely at how to manage their media relations so they can obtain news-section (or broadcast) publicity, rather than just purchase ads. I would like to give all our current and potential clients the kind of service I will be giving the new North Carolina client, but know I don't have the time for that.

Then I realized that the Ottawa Chapter of Construction Specifications Canada works with students in the local community college's public relations program to put on its annual Connections Cafe. Maybe I can make similar arrangements. We would pay the students a stipend for their work with our clients who requested the extra service -- and I would monitor and review the work of the student. This would provide valuable client service and training at the same time. Later on, when our business resources allow, we would put a PR specialist on staff to co-ordinate the program and provide the kind of extra service that clients rarely expect from a trade journal publisher. Aha, for the ideas and creativity generated during long hours on airplanes.

Today, I must catch up on work in Ottawa, review assignments for the next issue, evaluate a potential new sales representative, and prepare for my next trip, to Edmonton and Ft. McMurray Alberta, commencing this Sunday. And, yes, exercise and prepare for a hockey game tonight.

It is going to be a busy day. Lots of fun, I believe.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

At the airport

About to board flight to Raleigh, NC, so postings will be limited today (returning at 11:30 p.m. after meetings, and total of four flights).

Travel may be an 'ordeal' but it is also a time to reflect, review the business plan, and think.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The One Thing You Need to Know

Marcus Buckingham's book with the title of this posting is one of my most influential guides to meaningful success and happiness. His argument is that we should get away from the 'balanced life' to what he describes as intentional imbalance.

And he makes the point on his website,, " find out what you don’t like doing and stop doing it." Essentially, his perception is that some of us spend too much time trying to be 'okay' at things we really don't enjoy and aren't that good at, when we should focus our energy and resources at activities which we enjoy and where we have talent.

It is simple advice, but too often people find themselves in perceived traps; unable to understand there are simple things we can all do, every day, to make things better for ourselves.

* * *
Tomorrow I'm visiting North Carolina for the first time in more than a year. It will be a brief visit. I'm flying in to RDU about 11:30 a.m. and will catch my flight home about 6 pm. Yet the six or so hours in The Triangle will be important and intense, as I capture information at an American Subcontractors Association meeting, visit with publisher Bob Kruhm, and meet some current and potential clients.

If you are in NC and would like to speak with me directly, you can call my office at 888-432-3555 but instead of leaving a message on my extension, dial 114 (or zero) and speak with Amanda -- she'll put you through to my cell phone. (Briefly, in the spirt of openness that characterizes this blog, I thought of publishing my actual cellular number, but that might be asking for trouble!)

Hopefully we'll have some news to post on our North Carolina sites by Wednesday; in the meantime, you can visit;; and

Sunday, February 11, 2007

List moving, email marketing and referral compensation

With the new email system at, I've been amalgamating and organizing my lists from a variety of places into one system. The idea is to gain some cohesion and more effectively manage our email and newsletter campaigns. As a result, I've been sending out some one-time emails and if you have requested your name be removed from my list, it has been done.

I really like and would recommend them without any kind of referral fee or commission but since they pay it, might as well post the link here ....

They'll give me $30 if you sign up, it seems.

This raises an interesting question for the marketing process -- should your company have a referral fee or 'leads reward' program, internally for employees or externally for referral sources and the like?

Clearly, many businesses do it, so they appear to get some value from the process. I'm not sure if a formal referral compensation system is a good idea because, I sense, most people providing really good referrals don't require or want to be paid for the referral -- they are doing it because they really like the way you conducted your business.

Nevertheless, it is always wise to thank the people who are referring business your way, and (unless there are ethical guidelines prohibiting it), I don't see why you shouldn't recognize the thank-you with something more tangible such as a dinner out, some sports tickets, or the like. A softer (and really fair) way to compensate the person you are receiving referrals from is to go out of your way to refer business to them (if appropriate) or maybe give them some extra service or recognition if they wish it.

Does your business have a referral compensation program? I welcome your observations because there are a number of questions here. How many participants do these programs attract? Do they truly increase the volume of referrals, and their quality? And would these programs work in the business-to-business sector, or purely in the business-to-consumer (renovation market, and so on) environment? You can post a comment (anonymously if you wish), or email me at, phone 888-432-3555 ext 224.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A day at the rink

Our son Eric had a hockey tournament yesterday. His team won the championship. The effort and energy of his team truly inspired all of us as parents. The team is in a non-competitive house league; the kids are playing for passion and love of the sport rather than to be NHL players.

I'm learning a lot in my responsibilities as team manager, about passion, commitment, teamwork, and unifying elements. Junior hockey here (like baseball, soccer and other sports elsewhere) is a true unifying force within the community; the parents come from a true diversity of economic and social strata.

Of course, it was a productive day -- though with three tournament games and one semi-pro game (to watch) there wasn't much time to think about the specifics of construction industry marketing. On the other hand, I am reminded of the importance of balance and family activities in our lives, and am thankful that I could put 'work' aside for yesterday's moment when Eric's team carried the trophy of success.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Marketing the way it should be done

Last night, I attended the annual Connections Cafe, co-ordinated the Ottawa chapter of Construction Specifications Canada (CSC). CSC is affiliated with the U.S. based Construction Specifications Institute and represents the people in a variety of disciplines responsible for drafting construction documentation.

Spec writers, of course, are really important to building product manufacturers, as well as building technology and systems developers. They also are important to general and subtrades interested in learning about opportunities before they are openly posted (if the opportunities are publicly posted at all.)

The importance of the specification writers is magnified in Canada's capital (as it is in Washington D.C.) because several members of the local chapter are federal government employees with key responsibilities in the Defence Department or in writing and maintaining the Natioinal Master Specifications.

Not surprisingly, manufacturers representatives and technical sales people find local CSC or CSI good places to be near; and this is certainly the case in Ottawa.

So the Chapter, following a model originally developed in Winnipeg, has for the last six years organized an annual Connections Cafe. Guests pay for the meal and can bid on donated items in a silent auction. The revenue is shared between the local chapter, Habitat for Humanity and a local Ottawa charity (run by Dave Smith) that provides alcohol/drug rehabilitation services for young people.

We of course cover the event in our local construction newspaper. "Selling" here is unobtrusive, natural, and built on relationships and long-standing connections, but it works. This is community involvement and participation at its best.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What should you do when you hit a bump (or crater) in the business road?

Yesterday, I received an email from our consultants. They want to write in their newsletter about my observations that the business planning process makes sense, even when the reality diverges far from the actual plan.

We had developed a pretty good and comprehensive business plan approximately 10 months ago -- well-thought projections based on real experience, a good variety of options should one thing or another fail, and everything looked -- and stayed -- on track . . . For one month.

Then the whole planning edifice crumbled in changing circumstances, unexpected developments, and surprising events. The business we have today is nowhere near what we projected it would be.

Yet the business plan -- and its evolving incarnations as it has redefined itself to meet the changing environment -- continues to guide our direction and vision. When we have stepped outside the confines of the original plan, either to drop something that just doesn't work, or to try an alternative that just might work better, we've used the plan as a guidepost and reminder to be realistic and acknowledge the market before pressing ahead.

Today, for example, I went from high to low when a ghost from our past (and present) suddenly haunted a proposal we are making to a major construction association. I wish I could say I don't have any enemies, but unfortunately this is not true. And the person who doesn't like us very much just happens to have held senior positions on the boards of directors of several construction associations in our market area -- including the association to whom we had just submitted a proposal.

Our enemy, frankly, has some justification for his hostility -- a few years ago we stretched our business practices over the line in a matter involving his company. I certainly accept responsibility for the actions of my overzealous salesperson (who is no longer with us). We've made major revisions in our procedures to ensure that all of our clients receive respect and the highest consideration. I suppose we could bring the lawyers out -- I am satisfied our mistake some years ago does not justify the response of the person who is hostile to us -- but having fought one battle, with lawyers, to a satisfactory resolution, I realize that it is better to accommodate and respect than engage in serious fights, unless the principal or business needs justify that kind of energy-draining effort. And since we were indeed wrong in the matter involving the person who dislikes us, I can take my lumps and move on.

But what about our proposal today, and the business plan? The answer is we'll modify our model; we'll demonstrate our value, and resolve any concerns about our business practices. Our template is the publication we produce for another association -- this relationship has lasted 15 years, and is still going strong. New features and components in the proposal, incidentally, have absolutely nothing to do with what our enemy perceives us to be. He is living in the past -- at least as far as we are concerned.

Even these solutions may not work, of course, because an enemy with a grudge (and some power) is truly a formidable force. If need be, we'll take another road, the high road, cautiously, courageously, and with a healthy dose of imagination and creativity.

This is life . . . and business. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Recommended reading

Last year on the Ryze network, I posted a question: "Could you share the name of your most influential sales/marketing books and articles -- the ones that reshaped or drastically influenced the way you do things?" The responses are worthy of your consideration and can be found in this thread:

How important is it to read to be successful in business? One telling event happened at an Innovators Alliance gathering, where our group of CEOs observed we all read a lot -- but most of our employees don't. I realize now, however, that there are different ways to 'read' than simply picking up books. And I am a naturally fast reader and typist; others have equally important capacities in other areas (like sports and socializing).

Incidentally, the last poster recommends Michael Gerber's E-Myth materials. I can too, with a strong qualification. Gerber's concepts will especially resonate if you are a general or sub-contractor good in the trade but not terribly experienced at overall business managementconcepts. He advocates we systematize our operations and measure our progress. Good enough. So good, I decided on reading the book to pay a couple thousand dollars and fly business class to Northern California to participate in his Leadership Intensive program.

Did I get my money's worth? Partly. Certainly, the four-day program reinforced some basic principals , but the follow up service left a lot to be desired. We were sold on signing up for his multi-month, multi-part program, with a personal coach. As I got into my third month, I added up the costs and scratched my head: "Why was I paying what would ultimately amount to more than $10,000 for a cookie cutter McDonald's style consulting service, when I could use that money to hire a real consultant who actually delved into and understood my business. " (We eventually found just the consultant we needed, Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company -- CCC who rightfully adheres to the principle that consultants should be paid when they help their clients achieve success, not directly for their time.)

Nevertheless, having gone through a large part of Gerber's e-myth program, I can see general contractors and sub-tradeswho have successfully implemented his highly structured plan -- and know it works for them.

I have ordered the book recommended by the most recent Ryze poster, Maria Marsala. Jim Horan's "One Minute Business Plan" looks close to the 'napkin plan' simple one-page business plan concept that I believe is best -- as do others.

Do you have your own favorite business book recommendations? You can post a comment on this blog (anonymously if you wish) or email me at

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Some leads

I recommend you subscribe to consultant Michael Stone's Markup and Profit newsletter. The title is self-explanatory. Stone believes contractors often undersell their services; and in fialing to plan their jobs and businesses, waste time on 'free estimates' for people who will not buy (or are just low-ball prospects), and fail to hire and work with the best possible employees and suppliers. His focus is in the residential and direct-to-public rather than business-to-business sectors, but his advice still is as valid as ever. Stone publishes a truly useful newsletter even if you don't follow directly on its marketing intent of getting you to listen to him speak or become one of his consulting clients.

On the Internet side of the picture, I am enoying the free resource. This tool allows you to gather rather deep statistics about traffic to your blog and know where people are heading when they click off site. It also has potentially useful community/connection and cross referal resources. Like many web applications, the basic system is free -- you can choose to sign on for more advanced capacities if you need them, and your budget allows.

This weekend, we are putting our finishing touches on a proposal for an Ontario-based construction association. Preparing proposals of course takes time and effort, but we figured we would save some time and create greater value by building large segments of the mock-up document into our real, published product (of course receiving the association's approval in advance for any content to be published.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Making news

I gathered a whole stack of news last night at the annual general meeting of the General Contractors Association of Ottawa. While this is a purely local organization, it also happens to be in the Nation's capital, and last night, the federal minister of public works and government services made himself available for a brief speech and question and answer session.

However, things turned interesting about five minutes into Michael Fortier's presentation when he looked at me and told me to stop taking notes (I was typing notes about his speech live into my laptop). This caught me off guard. First, I had been invited as a member of the press by the association, and secondly, Mr. Fortier's assistant approached me before the speech to invite me to participate in a private interview with him after his presentation.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, and realizing it wasn't my place to disrupt the meeting, I closed the notebook and listened.

He said some things that definitely could stir up reaction, and were, in journalistic parlance, the stuff of national scoops. Perhaps the most suppressing remarks relate to Defence Construction Canada, a rather unusual Canadian crown corporation that handles construction for Canadian military bases.

This organization lives in its own unique space -- it has a rather nice looking website, but you won't find much about its inner workings there, or anywhere else. Fortier, in his remarks, suggested there was no need for this crown corporation; that its functions could easily be integrated within his Public Works ministry.

Fortunately for DCC, the reaction in the room to this idea was, well, less than enthusiastic. Ottawa's general contractors have had more than their share of frustrations with Public Works/Government Services bureaucrats who don't know about construction, and don't have authority to take a decision. DCC, on the other hand, runs a smooth and fair operation, at least as far as the contractors in the room related. They said the DCC people understand the construction business and work well with it.

This morning, I called DCC for comment about the minister's remarks. It didn't take their public relations person long to check things out -- staff called the minister's office, and learned no immediate changes are planned. The minister may have been putting out a trial balloon (in a semi-closed meeting) but he said his remarks about DCC after he clearly understood I was in the room, and answered a question about the topic in my brief interview post-meeting.

If you are wondering what all of this has to do with construction marketing, you should appreciate that our role in the industry is to provide news and information -- in doing that, we are read by the people who count. I was in a room with about 35 general contractors who together build hundreds of millions of dollars of projects a year. Having their attention-- and readership -- means that advertisers get value for their money.