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Friday, November 30, 2007

The common denominator of success

Sonny Lykos referenced me to an online version of this article (not from this source) quoting a 1940 speech by Albert A.N. Gray presumably to a group of life insurance salespeople. It is a timeless classic.

The message:

“The common denominator of success --- the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful --- lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don't like to do.”

Here is a link to the complete article:

Lykos referenced a source, a marketing consultant using free (non-copyrighted) web materials, and an ill-maintained blog to develop search engine traffic. I can't vouch for the actual reference source here (apparently a young student), but it seems much more genuine to me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cost, pricing and value

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Exhibitor parking is a bargain, but consider the cost of wireless Internet. Cost, pricing, value (and monopoly) all play roles here.

One thing I love and hate about trade shows is the objective lesson they provide that cost, pricing and value are really separate things, and that, when it comes down to the real world, value is in the eyes of the beholder (that is, the client). It is all about need, perception and sometimes monopoly.

Here are some examples.

We have excellent relationships with the Construct Canada show organizers and are able to offer them something they value -- promotional considerations. So, in exchange for some advertising, our booth is free. Great deal all around. No money changes hands but we both receive real value for a really good price -- zero. (The show also threw in free booth power and a carpet which would cost, if I had to pay, a few hundred dollars.)

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre offers exhibitors special multi-day parking passes at prices that are really low compared to anything you would usually find in downtown Toronto. And, because we arrive early, we get a great parking space near the entrance to the building, allowing us to load and unload our relatively small exhibit set-up conveniently. Great price and value.

Through Destination Toronto, the Hilton Toronto offers great rates. I have gold status with Hilton, meaning I receive free booze in the the "executive lounge" and free breakfast -- and more hotel stay credits -- great price, and value.

I found a bargain rental van at Enterprise, using a discount coupon on the Internet. For about $300, I have the van for a week, enough to haul myself and one of my employees to and from Toronto, along with our show stuff, saving shipping costs and wear and tear on my own car. Great price and value, again.

Compare these costs to:

I needed to 'borrow' one cheap table and two chairs for the show. Price: $220.00.

My breakfast might be free at the hotel, but if I wanted to bring a guest to the executive lounge, the fee would be $30. (Downstairs the cost for a simple breakfast is $26.00.)

For the special Toronto Construction Association "Christmas lunch" at the end of the show, I am paying for myself and my two employees at the show, $550.00.

My employees requested permission for reimbursement for a (small) round of drinks at the hotel bar last night, $82.00.

And, the best example, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre might charge $11 a day for parking, but if you want high speed Internet in the building, you can have the special "show rate" of $395 (for one computer hook-up).

How much does it really cost the convention centre to provide that high speed Internet? Does the lunch really cost -- for food and direct labour -- so much that you need to pay $175 a plate! And I think you could buy a table and two chairs (and own them forever) for a whole lot less than $220.00.

The clerk at the exhibitor services counter, where I signed away my $220, said, "Yes, they are expensive, but we provide convenience." I smiled, then made it clear that I understood she didn't set the pricing policy. I can't imagine her employer paying her $220 an hour. As for that expensive lunch, I've never paid for it before, but my salespeople set their own target goals and I could see they would reach them on the first day of the show. So the lunch is worth every cent of the $550 I am paying -- maybe more, if we meet some interesting people in the lunch area.

As for the high speed Internet, we don't absolutely need it, certainly not for our booth, so there is no need to pay the fee. But if your booth depended on the Internet to make the display effective, you'd pay, and I suppose the convention centre and its service providers indeed make a good profit (pricing their service at the level you might have had to reasonably pay when they would have had to run cabling direct to your booth at the show.)

Then there are the expense account expenses. Here, value and pricing of course depend on who is paying -- the employer or the employees. I advocate to my staff that we should all do our best to spend money as if it is our own; and lead by example. We don't have set limits or 'controls' on travel and entertainment costs (outside a key clause in employment contracts strictly limiting them without company approval, of course!) But as a rule, I advocate common sense.

For example, I discreetly invited one of my employees into the executive lounge on Tuesday night, and did not pay the $50 fee for his presence (but had him eat breakfast on his own downstairs the next morning.) We had an engaging conversation about value and pricing, as I explained to him why it is absolutely dangerous to start publicly offering "discounts' and announcing "save money by ordering now."

"If you do that sort of thing, you are inviting the client to think that they are not paying a fair price -- and you will be on a treadmill of either having dissatisfied customers, or, worse, a larger number seeking discounts," I said. "Our public promotional material should always be consistent, only offering price reductions for specific considerations, such as prompt payment."

I then explained how I apply our expense reimbursement policies for employee travel. "One trip, a couple of employees stayed at the cheapest hotel they could find -- it was a fleabag," I said. "So when they expensed a truly costly dinner, I didn't question their judgement." I hate hard and fast rules here -- though believe it is essential to build in controls and accountability for expense accounts and travel costs; so will delegate authority in these areas to someone well trusted only when our business is much larger.

In the end, the trade show costs are worthwhile if we receive value. Construct Canada is worth every cent because the networking and market development opportunities are so great (and with contra-trade, our costs are lower than most exhibitors). But $395 for wireless Internet. Give me a break!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Contributing to the journal

Today, I took an hour's break from the Construct Canada conference to participate for the first time in the editorial planning process for the SMPS Marketer -- the journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). I admit to feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the collective intellectual power here, as other team members shared observations, perspectives and insights.

Among issues of concern is the growing sense that we are heading into a recession -- and how we might help readers make it through. Speakers also discussed technology and the differing requirements of larger and smaller AEC practices. Editor Randy Pollock suggested the team also look into the growing application of Public Private Partnerships.

Even though interest in environmental issues is skyrocketing, the consensus seemed to be that the Marketer no longer needed to devote a special issue to the environmental theme.

Pollock and others define the Marketer as a journal, not a newsletter. The objective is to set high standards --Pollock says he receives many unsolicited proposals, but vets them to ensure they serve the industry and are not thinly disguised as sales ploys for the writers.

I felt somewhat humbled as I listened to, and sought to participate in the discussion; kind of like someone of ordinary intelligence in a room full of geniuses. On the other hand, by being with this group, some of others' intelligence will hopefully rub off on me.

My next project is to complete a story on Social Networking for the Marketer -- with a deadline of Dec. 15.

"Flipping Telemarketers"?

Amy S.Quinn sent me this email yesterday:

Hi Mark,

We just posted an article "Flip the Script: 34 Scripts and Ideas for Getting Back at Telemarketers " (
I thought I'd bring it to your attention just in case you think your readers would find it interesting. Either way, thanks for your time!"

Clearly, this article's writer spent some time gathering quite a collection of options designed to make a telemarketer's day less than inspiring And the reality is uninspired telemarketing is just that -- it is intrusive, offensive and irritating (and this leads to a spiral of negativity).

The challenge, for telemarketers, is not to "be" a telemarketer -- but to connect on a human level; the best can do this -- if they are working from a script, you don't know it!

(Meanwhile, I have another problem. Why is it that driving for seven hours to a three day trade-show where I won't have much time to sit at a phone and return calls, I receive six messages. I'll somehow find the time later today....) We're at Booth 117, and yes, you can phone me at 613-292-3973.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

To Toronto . . .

Today, we head to Toronto, to the annual national Construct Canada trade show. We'll be in the Home Builder and Reno Expo section, booth 117.

I'll be driving to Toronto with Daniel Smith. Chase is joining us there.

I've just posted the bi-weekly Construction Marketing Ideas newsletter, which includes the story about Change Orders.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ford Harding's blog

I've just discovered -- and permalinked -- Ford Harding's blog. Harding is the author of several important books including the classic Rain Making: The Professional's Guide to Attracting New Clients a staple of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) certification program.

I rediscovered Ford when I discovered that SMPS vice-president Lisa Bowman had a presence on When she accepted my invitation to link, I discovered she had one existing link --to Harding -- who is somewhat more advanced than either of us, with 216 connections and eight recommendations.

Defining quality

Image from "iPods are not machine washable". by Geoff Richards. Seems I had better luck than others (or simply let it dry out longer!)

Last week, Vivian thoroughly washed and dried Eric's inexpensive iPod in our new Miele Washer and Dryer. She chose the Miele after carefully evaluating the other brands -- and reading horror stories about machines that failed to deliver, or worse, broke down just after the short warranty period. We didn't research the I-Pod so thoroughly. We simply purchased the cheapest model on sale at Costco.

So, last weekend, imagine the dejection around our house when Vivian reported that the electronic device had been in Eric's pocket and (probably) had given it a truly thorough clean. We let it dry out, but nothing happened. Dead iPod?

Yesterday, I tried a long shot, plugging it into my laptop to see if it would recharge. Within minutes, the iPod came back to life.

Ah, for Brand Harmony. The washer and dryer that can thoroughly clean but not damage sensitive electronic equipment. And the cheap electronic device that can withstand serious tumbling, high pressure water, and intense heat from the best highest-grade domestic appliances on the market. Success.

Can we achieve the same standards in our own businesses, or something approaching that? Well, if our trades people care so much they insist on first-rate quality (but not super-high prices); if our architectural or engineering drawings are well executed and don't contain impossible inconsistencies, and if we can quickly find, resolve and co-ordinate problem solving issues, do you think our businesses would have trouble finding repeat customers, or receiving approval for valid change orders? (Yes, I know, sometimes we do everything right and still are screwed. This is the real world, not fantasy, after all.)

Open book business

In response to the previous posting, Ownership and Employees, Sonny Lykos emailed me with information about Springfield Remanufacturing and its "Open Book" business philosophy. See this article he referenced me from Inc. Magazine. See also The Great Game of Business site. I will probably attend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ownership and employees

PCL built Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, home of the Ottawa Senators hockey team. PCL has successfully adapted the employee ownership model

When and how should businesses share real shareholding equity with their employees? I am still unresolved about the best solution to this question, but know that how I answer it will shape and define the long-range viability of our business.

Businesses are usually started by sole owners or partnerships; sometimes partnerships work (especially if they are formed by mature people who know each others' strengths and weaknesses), but frequently they fail. At some point, the business hires its first non-equity employee, then a second, third, and fourth. As the company grows, a pecking order of managers and junior employees evolves.

Fair enough, but at some point the owner faces a key decision -- should any (or all) of the company's employees be invited to share in the company's ownership, or is there some better way to allocate ownership.

The business owner of course can say, "No, I'm the boss, its my business, and if any one owns it it will be my estate and children." And in fact many family owned businesses are able to pass control from one generation to the next.

Other businesses evolve over time into fully employee owned models -- I think one of the best construction industry examples is PCL Still others 'go public' allowing for employees to purchase shares in the corporation.

Finally, there are examples such as (out of industry) the Giant Tiger retail chain in Canada. Here, the business has grown by recruiting qualified retail managers to be franchise owners, while senior executives in the company's Ottawa head office are given shares in the business. This mixture of decentralized 'ownership' with some equity at the higher levels of the company creates a genuine ownership power among the executive ranks. But individual store clerks and cashiers are just that, employees (usually of the franchisee).

Now, here is why I am asking the question now. In my previous growth period, we had a hodge-podge of situations; we had employees on salary, commission, independent contractors, and one employee (in the U.S.) received the opportunity to acquire shares in the U.S. business. In the end, however, that employee behaved like an employee more than an owner -- interested in short term results, he pushed for activities that really didn't make sense in the larger business sense. Though I didn't realize it at the time, the only real solution was to have all of the employees and independent contractors leave (with one important exception, and it isn't me!) and rebuild from scratch. As things started falling apart, of course, employees fought each other, and lashed out at me. Yuck. I never wish to have a repeat experience.

So we've hired new employees, had them sign employment contracts, and with freshness and enthusiasm are now rebuilding the business. This is healthy, for now, but I am looking to the future. If we are going to build a business with adequate profitability and annual sales at least $10 to $50 million, we are going to need structures and a proper compensation/ownership structure reflecting the employees' contributions. Equally, I don't want to hand equity to employees only concerned about short term pay cheque-to-pay cheque values. We'll just give these employees fair pay cheques.

I'm sure some employees will contribute more than others; some will motivate themselves differently than others (no one can "create motivation" -- it is an internal process), and some could make great shareholding partners -- but when and how should this status evolve?

Maybe you have some thoughts or recommendations here.

Personality, business and opportunity

I'll go out on a limb and answer the question in my previous posting. The reason most AEC businesses don't have blogs is that blogs generally only happen when the person has the authority to produce a blog -- in other words, he or she is the CEO or the company is so decentralized in management, that a more junior person can feel free to speak his or her mind.

So, most construction and related professional companies are established by individuals talented in their trade or profession, coupled with some entrepreneurial instincts. They aren't writers, like me. As their businesses grow, they hire people to be responsible for business development and marketing -- but I sense most of these executives would not dare step out on a limb and publish a blog with their personal identity stamped all over the place. Therefore, blogging -- with all of its market and business-development potential -- remains the exception rather than the rule in the construction industry. (A rightful exception are consultants promoting their services to the industry -- here the individuality and expertise of the consultant, coupled with the practical advantages of blogging, result in worthy opportunities.) Look at Michael Stone's "Mark Up and Profit" blog, for example.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What is authority?

Chris Garrett of, has posted in his own blog this intriguing question, "What is authority?" The concept is that "authority" occurs where personality, visibility and expertise overlap -- and you can never rest on your laurels -- in essence, authority is a continuous improvement process.

Within his blog forum (he offers consulting services and resources which I may use later), bloggers are invited to post their blogs and receive suggestions and critiques. One poster suggested that my picture should be elevated in position in the blog -- this change is easy to execute within the blogger framework.

Authority, of course is closely related to branding -- and branding (done right) creates additional value by creating confidence and security among potential users/purchasers. With lower sales costs, and higher confidence, your business margins improve (and as an extra element, you attract great people to work with you, creating a virtuous cycle.)

I'm still intrigued that not many AEC businesses are making effective use of the blog resource because, indeed, a successful blog can provide your business with both authority and credibility within your market niche.

Marketing and remodeling contractors

Here is a useful article in Replacement Contractor Online. It quotes David Alpert, president of Continuum Marketing Group LLC, (whose graphic I use in the previous posting).

Marketing and sales -- the continuum

Image from Continuum Marketing Group LLC in Great Falls, VA. This company provides marketing support services for the remodeling sector throughout the U.S.

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, I returned a call. Someone in Western Canada wished to discuss a new product. Uhu, I thought. This is another person seeking some free editorial publicity (something you should always try to do -- anywhere but at my publishing company!) I explained briefly our policy that we really enjoy publishing product profiles and features, but these cost money. He said he understands he has to pay for promotion. So I said I would refer him to one of our salespeople.
I then sent two emails. One, to the prospective advertiser, outlining a couple of market touch points he did not know about; the other to the salesperson in our organization I thought most suitable to 'convert' the prospective client. I also asked the caller how he heard about me. "I saw you on the Internet," he said. I didn't press, with a further question "exactly where" but I'll get around to that one after we are doing some business.
My salesperson reported at days' end that the client appeared genuinely interested -- in other words, I had passed on a good lead.
I share this story because it reflects the successful transfer of marketing to sales -- marketing creates the opportunity, builds the receptivity, and attracts interest; sales takes the relationship through the actual purchasing decision-making process. Businesses which fail in this connection are wasting their resources and potential.
Note also some philosophical and practical applications here. I certainly respected the potential advertiser for calling me -- as I do for any commercial business seeking news-side publicity in our papers (and early next year in our revamped websites). But we are not giving away our most valuable resource for free. However, I'll always share observations and practical insights that would provide this prospective client some useful and actionable information, regardless of whether he wishes to do business with us. It feels right to do that -- and of course it doesn't harm in trust and relationship building. (Once clients have done business with us, of course, we turn on the tap for service -- if the person who called me had advertised at all in our papers, we would have found a way to help him more directly, without compromising our overall editorial integrity.)

Friday, November 23, 2007 leads service forum has set a new forum, Online Leads Services, to address the issues and report on alternatives in this important element of construction industry marketing.

The vital importance of relationships

You can access informaton about Merx/McGraw Hill leads in Canada here.
Yesterday, I met with Glen Wither, formerly responsible for McGraw-Hill Construction in Canada. We had worked together for years, ever since I made a cold call to the then McGraw-Hill office in Toronto as I was preparing to launch The GTA Construction Report in 1999. I had just met the senior staff and chair of The Toronto Construction Association to introduce myself and our planned new publication. To put it mildly, I received a frigid reception -- for good reason. The then association chair, Ian Hardy, also happened at the time to be publisher of the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record. At the risk of garbling the paraphrase of my decade-old recollection, I remember him or one of the executives in the room saying: "We would rather you leave town and not start this publication." In the course of this somewhat belligerent reception, someone in the room also said: "We would also rather McGraw-Hill leave town as well."

Now, at the time, I didn't entirely appreciate what was happening, being green in business, and all that. But clearly, the owners of DCN (Reed Elsevier, McGraw-Hill's major international competitor in the construction data marketplace) had built rather close relationships with the Toronto Construction Association!

I had hoped to introduce my new editor to the TCA executive, but he spent the meeting time cooling his heals in the reception area. When the meeting ended, I told him: "I want you to write a positive story about the TCA in every issue, regardless of whether or not they are interested in co-operating with us."

Then I placed a cold call to the Toronto McGraw-Hill offices. I knew absolutely no one there, but relayed my observation about the meeting in the TCA boardroom to the person who answered the phone. Within a few days, I met Glen Wither and we began a co-operative relationship that continues to this day.

We would provide promotional considerations and print media publicity for McGraw-Hill; in exchange they would allow us to publish a selection of their leads data, with complete actionable information. The McGraw-Hill data has enhanced our papers -- and provided our own salespeople with useful leads.

Our relationship with Wither and McGraw-Hill lasted through almost a decade; with our most recent initiative this time last year to see if we could enhance the McGraw-Hill leads service to serve smaller businesses through a user-friendly print project. The market test bombed, however. We couldn't find enough people willing to pay $50 a month f or useful leads; when they happily spend $500 for a one-time Christmas greeting ad in one of our publications circulating less than 500 copies. Why, I asked (and answered in this blog entry from last January)?

Last summer, I learned that McGraw-Hill had sold its Canadian construction research operation to Mediagrif Interactive Technologies, parent company of Merx. I felt saddened -- the long business relationship with Glen Wither had apparently come to an end; and I would be working with people I knew little. Nevertheless, we set the wheels in motion. Merx managers asked us to continue things largely as before; just changing a phone number here and there, and keeping the McGraw-Hill logo front and centre in our published material (reflecting the fact that the relationship between Merx/Mediagrif and McGraw-Hill is more of a joint venture than a pure purchase/sale transaction.

Then, I learned last week that Glen had moved over from McGraw-Hill to Mediagrif. We arranged a meeting, and among several things we discussed was how to market leads services data.

I told him that I felt that in most cases it is a challenge to sell leads services. Larger 'players' and well established businesses with solid market and business development departments of course are interested in these resources, especially if it can help them gain early insights into potential projects. Smaller businesses fall into two categories. Some are always scrounging for leads; because they cannot build great relationships; they also struggle to pay their bills and are looking for instant gratification -- leads that bring them business without any real effort. Other small businesses, the ones whose owners would have the cash for a good leads service, are not interested because they've built their market niche so well that business comes to them through ongoing relationships and connections. Hence, the failure of our market test for an inexpensive but comprehensive leads service last year.

Now, a decade into our relationship, I think of the importance as well of relationships in our own business. We of course really benefit from the McGraw-Hill/Merx data -- it provides invaluable early-stage data and insights, and I think growing businesses; even smaller businesses who appreciate the importance of business intelligence and competitive analysis -- should spend some money for these services. And there certainly is a place for cold calls -- my relationship with McGraw-Hill started with the coldest of cold calls! But what really gives a business its basis for growth and survival, is its ability to develop and sustain healthy business relationships, both internally and externally. Again, this is the cornerstone of effective marketing, and is more important than any of the marketing trips and techniques we discuss in these blog pages.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The hidden part of marketing

An important challenge/opportunity in marketing is standing out from the crowd. Sometimes the language is "What is your unique selling proposition?" -- but this belies the issue, to some extent. Some say you need to "break through the clutter" to get your marketing message out there, but do you?
So, why is it that, when you go to meetings of your local home builders' association, you can sit with successful contractors who say their biggest problem isn't finding enough work -- it is scheduling things so that clients who must wait months for service aren't too frustrated by the process.
Or, when you meet a successful local general contractor, their marketing materials are, well, out of the stone age. Worse, because of their apparent lack of marketing sophistication, they appear to be suckers for marketing 'garbage' -- overpriced advertising in "police journals", trashy pseudo charity telemarketing solicitations, and the like. (Of course, even better, these suckers have money -- and retained earnings -- to suck because their overall businesses are so successful.)
One answer -- and a good one from a marketers' perspective -- is these contractors have a great brand. They are so in tune with their market that it responds favourably, with powerful word-of-mouth recommendations, and an abundance of business. (As I noted earlier, you could argue these businesses simply need to look at pricing and operating systems -- if they get these parts right, as well, they can grow to huge enterprises or, if they wish to remain small, become even more profitable for their owners.)
So, does "standing out from the crowd" simply mean doing your work so well, and to such high quality, that your clients -- knowing all the crap and risks out there -- simply must have more? Maybe.
But what if you chose to evolve this quality standard into your employee/sub-contracting recruiting process, developed your marketing resources effectively using inexpensive services or truly high quality consultants, and build sustainable operating/management systems so you can liberate yourself from day-to-day headaches; instead doing the work you enjoy while having plenty of vacation and personal time?
Then, follow this strategy:
Read one of Michael Gerber's E-Myth books, and read it again. Just don't rush to sign up for any of his expensive programs. I'm not convinced they are of great value. His concepts are -- but he is so into systematization that he must use junior employees for the work. You will get McDonalds-type food/service from his organization -- it is "edible" but you can do better.
Review the free resources out there, looking at the marketing/entrepreneurial style of Seth Godin. This is the "give without worrying about receiving" philosophy; setting the stage for Permission Marketing.
Join relevant industry associations and participate in their chapter activities. This may be SMPS, your local home builders' association, or affiliated professional group. Look especially to the associations that link you closely to your existing client base.
Contract with a good consultant to help you. When we get our website redesigned (I'm using high quality but not overpriced local consultants for this) you might wish to use some of the ones I will recommend in a new permalink section -- and no, the recommended consultants won't be paying me for the recommendations! Alternatively, find a general local business consultant who you can work with. The challenge in choosing a consultant is to be sure that you are getting value -- not easy, there are a lot of BS artists out there! Finding a good consultant is much like finding a great general contractor or renovator -- you know you have it when you see the results! And that will be the topic for another column.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Readers Choice awards

Today, we started the search for nominees for Readers Choice Awards candidates in Ottawa and Toronto.

The new awards will recognize:

  • Outstanding Customer Service
  • Best Supplier Award
  • Best Equipment Rental Agent Award
  • Outstanding Architect Award
  • Best General Contractor Award
  • Best All-Around Residential Contractor Award
  • Most Effective Labour Agency Award
  • Best Sub Trade Contractor Award
in each of the two Canadian cities.

There is no charge to enter, but the prize for winning is truly valuable -- positive recognition; and an effective marketing resource that can help your business thrive in the years ahead. There's also some payoff in nominating businesses you think are worthy of recognition -- you'll support businesses and individuals worthy of special recognition.

To nominate candidates, you can go to either of these special websites:


We'll keep you posted on the results.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brand Harmony

I am truly enjoying Brand Harmony by Steve Yastrow. The author's primary point is that "brand" is defined by the granular, individual experiences between the business and its individual customers, not brute-force advertising and expensive public relations campaigns.
The irony is that many construction companies with the best brands don't even know they have a 'brand'. They simply treat their clients, suppliers, and community so well that they attract, retain, and obtain repeat business without fighting for it -- it seems to come naturally. I think an example of one business with an obviously successful brand is Reid and Deleye in Courtland,ON.
Now here is an interesting example of how we deliver extra value to an already-successful brand. I'm now tracking about two to three click-throughs a week from Google searches with the name "Reid and Deleye" to our blog and my posting about the business and the advertising feature we published earlier this year. Our posting is on Google's first page, a few spots below, rightfully, Reid and Deleye's own website. So, in effect, our publicity is supporting Reid and Deleye's brand and we are delivering value that transcends the original advertising feature by an order of magnitude.
But wait . . . this publicity only happened because I truly formed a strong positive impression about this business. My sales team will rag me: "Why don't you do the same for our other advertisers?" and in part they will be right -- many if not all of our clients are worthy businesses who deserve their moment in the spotlight. But if we are going in that direction, I'll have to open this blog to our editor, salespeople, and others with more direct relationships with individual clients -- or prospective clients will need to call me and say "can you (Mark) write the feature yourself." That is certainly going to create some interesting business challenges for me going forward.
The point is that branding these days is an individual, client-centric thing -- it is not some "marketing department" stuff, it is the sum total of interactions between the business and its clients. Get it right, and it will seem that marketing in the conventional sense is unnecessary; get it really right, and you'll have an amazingly profitable business with a great future.
Remember, your customers come first, and you earn their respect by delivering your service and product to a level that is both beyond reproach in integrity, and is a pleasure emotionally. If I were a general contractor wondering why my business isn't doing so well, I'd look to improve with examples like Reid and Deleye, and I hope my sales and editorial team will share similar stories of businesses which excite them in the months ahead.
Thanks to Sonny Lykos for referencing this book to me.

A news release

We'll be distributing this news release to media outlets across Canada tomorrow. Media publicity of course is one of the most powerful tools in the marketing arsenal -- the challenge is deciding when and how something is newsworthy.

Of course we can't predict the results here but my 'sixth sense' that this announcement is worthy enough to justify our spending a few hundred dollars on the news release distribution service (we perhaps could use less expensive web-based services, but for a one-time expense, I don't see much downside in using a credible and professional service here.)

I expect the announcement will 'hit the wire' about 9 a.m.

For immediate release

Construction publishing company becomes first in Canada to plant more trees than it consumes

OTTAWA—The publisher of a group of Ontario construction industry newspapers will plant at least 70 trees for every 11 it consumes, making it the first Canadian print publisher to produce more forest life than it consumes.
“We have made arrangements with Tree Canada to plant a tree for every advertiser in every issue of in our publications,” says Chase, who co-ordinates the initiative for the Construction News and Report Group of Companies(CNRG). “Our printers tell us we consume approximately 11 trees per month – we expect to plant 80 or more each month in return.”
The CNRG publishes Ottawa Construction News, The GTA Construction Report, Ontario Construction Report, as well as speciality publications under contract for associations such as the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA).
Tree Canada, established in 1993, has planted over 75 million urban and rural trees, potentially sequestering more than 58 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Further information about Tree Canada is available at
“We believe this initiative will make a significant contribution to improving forests and urban life – and make us ‘net positive’ with environmental and global warming issues,” said CNRG President Mark Buckshon. “We are hopeful that other businesses will follow this example for their own communities.”
For more information:
Construction News and Report Group of Companies
Chase, phone 888-432-3555 ext 211, email or
Mark Buckshon, phone 888-432-3555 ext 224, email
Tree Canada
Michael Rosen, phone 613-567-5545, email

"Socialist" capitalism

The House Un-American Activities Committee (from Wikipedia)

I am trying to get my head around this rather intriguing paradox. Many of the best and most successful businesses behave -- to a limited but crucial extent -- very much like communists, that is, everyone in the group is treated equally, with all rewards for the means of production shared.

Entrepreneur Seymour Schulich, for example, in his book describes how his executive team all received exactly the same compensation, not more, not less, regardless of their individual performance during the year. The idea of course is to r =ecognize that while we all have some ups and downs, if we can bridge the gap, co-operate, and work together without personal conflicts or internal competition, we'll all do much better (and take a longer-range view).

Consultants like Sonny Lykos, Michael Stone and Bill Caswell freely give away the core of their concepts without cheesy come-ons where you have to sign up and pay for services, books, tapes seminars, or private programs to get the 'real truth'. Now I agree you aren't going to get them to fly to your city and speak with you for a week without compensation -- but I'm sure they will return emails, phone calls, and the like, and you'll be hard pressed to find any commercial pushing here. Simply put, they aren't in it for the money (though of course the money flows to them as a beneficial side-product.)

Look at this blog, for example. Outside of one modest source of revenue (and the revenue is really modest, and the rules of service for this revenue are that I must not discuss it in these pages) it is all about sharing, not hoarding. (Wait, that doesn't sound very communist to me -- go to any real 'socialist' country, say Zimbabwe, and you won't find many people with much to share). My only failing is finding a way to effectively give value to some of the people who email or phone me each month wishing to advertise in markets where we don't currently have significant business operations. (Of course, I send relevant sales leads straight to our sales department; this is a business, after all.)

These observations may suggest why some communist countries -- such as China and now Vietnam -- are starting to do so well economically. Enough of the old-style sharing and communist values are overlayed with some pure (and relatively unregulated) capitalism to create the incredible energy and accomplishments necessary for success and achievement.

My point is that most truly successful businesses create within their organization an element of mini-communism; everyone is treated fairly, equally, and with respect and within reasonable limits, systems are designed to prevent anyone achieving a prima donna place in the organization (while allowing people with real talent to truly express, and be recognized, for their accomplishments and contributions.) And, externally, we reflect these values with a not-so-greedy approach to the marketplace.

(If I tried to write this in the late 1950s, would I have had to deal with the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy? Time changes things, even though I believe most of the essential principals of business and life are timeless.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Recognition is most important

Sonny Lykos shared this useful article "8 Sure-Fire Strategies for Boosting Productivity" though I balk at the leader headline "Motivating Employees", because, as noted below, we can't motivate anyone! Motivation is a self-directed process.
But it certainly doesn't hurt to listen, to treat everyone fairly, and to involve your employees in your decision-making.
And if you think this has nothing to do with "Construction Marketing" you are missing the whole point of this blog -- everything that you do in business; especially your employee's attitudes and 'connection' impacts your brand, your marketing, and your business.

"Backscratching" to generate leads

Michael Stone suggests in this recent Markup and Profit blog entry that general and sub contractors should look at their relationships/referral opportunities to generate additional business. Makes sense. Companies where you are doing business often have more to share. It helps to market to your suppliers, especially. The law of reciprocity really applies here.

Can it be this simple?

Consultant Bill Caswell in his latest newsletter outlines three essentials for leadership success. I think anyone concerned with construction marketing can find value in applying these principals. Here they are:

  1. Listen
  2. Learn to defuse emotions
  3. Gain from the power of the group
"I offer three simple lessons for leaders wishing to have a great company," Caswell writes. "It only took me 30 years, hundreds of books, thousands of hours in the company trenches, millions of dollars and zillions of air miles to figure it out. You can be a lot smarter."

Caswell has taught me that one of the key elements in achieving these three essentials is learning how to hold effective meetings. Properly conducted, meetings can help the business leader achieve the three vital points.

For a copy of the most recent CCC (Caswell Corporate Coaching) newsletter and a free subscription, email Upkar Bilkhu at


Motivation Training Videos? I'm not sure of their value, but hope Ideas and Training won't mind their trading their image for a link.

This article by Geofffrey James, "Getting Motivated: Here's How" is refreshing -- though of course I believe motivation is an internal thing, and no one can "motivate" someone else in any lasting way. We can provide information, insights, and perhaps encourage someone to connect with their passions, but we can't do it for 'them'.

Similarly, what do we do if our key employees seem to be "losing motivation". If it is an isolated situation, I would look to see if there are some external elements affecting the employee's life -- if the issue is becoming more general in the organization, the owner/CEO needs to look into him/herself. Something is wrong, clearly with the leadership and business structure. The paradox is that there many be many valid 'causes' masking the underlying real issue(s) or (more troubling) the causes set in motion a chain of events that lead to seemingly unintended consequences.

Having survived a rather major long-evolving business decline, however, I now believe you really need to be tuned into your organization's internal culture AND external market; don't rely on third-hand opinions (though consider them carefully). You have to remain in touch, and connected, and change course when you see signs of "demotivation" creeping into your environment.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Marketing vs sales

This article: Marketing or Sales: Which is most important? by C.J. Hayden is worth reading. She is addressing the interface between marketing and selling efforts -- and the importance of converting and 'closing' leads generated by the marketing process.

(This blog and my bi-weekly newsletter are 100 per cent marketing since we have nothing to sell on these pages. Is this stuff good for sales? Absolutely -- besides direct leads that are passed on to the sales team, I'm seeing plenty of signs that it is helpful in the recruitment process -- great candidates for sales careers in our organization read this blog before applying. But we still have to follow up, properly.)

Thanks to Sonny Lykos for referring me to for this article.

Gifts? (2)

I've decided to try an experiment, giving each of our company's full time employees a $100 budget to select gifts of their own. The restrictions are that the gifts must not be for friends or co-employees and that the employee must document who, what, and how much is spent to receive reimbursement. Employees are not required to spend the money -- any surplus will be donated to charity. Other than that, I am not putting any restrictions in place.
The thinking here is that gift giving is something that works best if based on real knowledge and connection; so it needs to be decentralized -- and that if we are building a healthy business culture, we should not put all of this in the sales department's hands. The budget is low enough (this year) that I don't need to justify it in the planning process/cycle.


Should we have a seasonal gift-giving program?

This question came up at a recent staff meeting. Chase proposed we obtain gifts for our contract advertisers. We briefly discussed costs; it looks like the expense would be $1,000 or so, obviously not a business-breaker; but (as it certainly is not in our annual planning budget) more than an impulse "yes". I deflected the decision on the matter, noting that we had never given significant gifts on the client side, and I wanted to be careful and thoughtful about it, and not rush the decision. Chase accepted the decision, but said he would use his own resources to purchase gifts for his key clients.

I've been thinking of this some more, as the Christmas Holiday season approaches. The more I think of it, the more challenging the issue becomes. The reason is that conventional one size-fits-all gifts are not necessarily effective, the wrong gift can do much more harm than good, and that you will have trouble finding empirical evidence of the value of gift giving.

But, ahh, the situation inverts when you consider the importance of reciprocity and the influential effect of a truly well thought and creative gift -- especially where one isn't expected.

For example, multi-millionaire Seymour Schulich describes in his book how he managed to obtain scarce library resources as a university student.

"The solution was to get the reading list ahead of time and reserve the books before everyone else, but how,?" he writes in Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons. "I hatched a plan with my then classmate Lawrence Bloomberg, a serious, persistent fellow (who grew to become my best friend.) We went to the Laura Secords store and bought the biggest box of fine chocolate we could find -- $5 for five pounds (the same box would probably cost about $50 today). We gave it to Miss Sears, the intimidating, no nonsense woman who ran the library.

"Now we didn't know what was going to be on the next MBA reading list, but Miss Sears sure did. So when the herd of nerds next appeared, they were told the books were reserved for Schulich and Bloomberg. Our classmates could never figure out how we always seemed to have our names at the top of the waiting list. . . .

"This small anecdote illustrates one of the most important concepts for a young person to learn, in business and in life: reciprocity. In simple terms, reciprocity is the idea that people have a very hard time saying no to someone who has done something even a small favour, for them."
Fair enough. And a good argument, you may say, for an effective gift-giving program. But here is the problem I'm having in implementing it. I'm simply not sure that a small business can effectively define what gift is right, to who, when the real element of gift giving -- and its true effectiveness -- is based on individual and intuitive decision-making.

For example, Schulich and Bloomberg appreciated that the often-unrecognized librarian would appreciate the gift but its scale and scope were not so excessive as to be seen as a bribe. (Gifts to school teachers can have a similar effect; Vivian says the small gifts she sends on behalf of Eric seem to do something positive in the way the teachers respond/return to her calls.)

Cultural sensitivities are challenging, a gift that is right to one person can be downright offensive to another. Bribery and 'influence peddling' rules also creep into the picture, especially if the gift is going to someone in the public sector where you are hoping to win further work. Gifts with promotional logos or messages on them may be appropriate (and of course the promotional gifts business is huge) but the payback from such unpersonalized gifts is debatable and I think hard to measure effectively.

So, what should we do? One of my good friends in business said he inverted the rules of gift giving and always made special efforts to be generous to his suppliers, not his clients. He said the inversion worked like a charm. My late father, at his drugstore, always took a more conventional approach. Bottles of perfume, chocolates, and other stuff were wrapped each year and distributed to nearby medical offices -- clearly a rational move for a pharmacy (even wiser, he provided low rent space to at least one medical group in a building he owned near the drugstore -- clearly this is an extreme but highly effective way to combine reciprocity and geography effectively.)

I have made it company policy that our sales reps should send out individualized thank you cards to clients (we of course pay for the cards and postage). Obviously it gets a whole lot more complicated however in setting a policy -- and budget -- for gifts. The reason may be that this issue defies centralized policy-setting. Effective gift-giving really works; but you need to be both thoughtful and careful in your decisions (and maybe a little spontaneous.)

Here are a few articles on the Web dealing with this topic.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Linkedin or facebook?

Daniel Smith has sent me this interesting blog entry discussing the relative advantages of and, the two 'social networking' sites that now appear to have the most relevance and traction in the adult/business community. Bernard Lunn in Linkedin and the Future of Business Networking speaks in favour of but I think both have real value, depending on how you apply and use the information.
I continue to believe the social networking sites are a supplement rather than replacement for the conventional process of building connections and relationships. They may accelerate the process and reduce trust barriers if conditions are already healthy. Facebook's somewhat graphical and comprehensive "out of work" element is useful in helping you understand the broader character and interactions of the person to whom you are connecting. is very much a business tool -- this 'seriousness' facilitates real-world business relationship development.

Neither is a substitute for treating your clients well, contributing to community and charitable organizations, and belonging to relevant trade organizations and contributing to them effectively. And while "networking" can appear to generate seemingly instantaneous results (you find the person you need to know has the right connections to make things happen within minutes, sometimes), in reality, it is a truly long-term process. If you are looking for fast transactional relationships this stuff won't work (but if you are good at construction industry marketing, it seems, the last thing you should be looking for is a quick hit-and-run relationship.)

Being first

The classic book "Positioning" by Al Ries and Jack Trout should be on your list if you know little about marketing. You can purchase it inexpensively in paperback at your local bookstore.

One of the cornerstones of marketing is you never want to be second (or certainly third, fourth or fifth) the market -- you will almost inevitably lose in "me too" games, even if your product/service is truly better than the competition.

I learned this lesson some years ago when I set out to publish a better local general business newspaper than the existing (and struggling) competitor. So I took my existing construction and real estate news titles, and turned them into sections within the new business publication, produced with much higher technical standards and content than the other guys. I even set out enhanced distribution to create real value for advertisers and readers alike.

It didn't take me too long to discover that I had created a very weak general business newspaper with a relatively strong construction and real estate section. I lacked 'position' -- this spot was owned by the general business publisher -- and nothing short of its failure would allow me to occupy the space (and even that didn't work, because someone in business too close to me for comfort swooped in and snapped up the title with a little creative accounting.)

Eventually, I gave up the ghost -- selling my business (with a couple of, in hindsight, truly major exceptions), to my former competitors for a pittance -- with a modest down payment and series of progress payments that would allow for a year or so's salary equivalent.

When I resumed my business less than a year later after an important (and restful) sabbatical, I set out to build the brands within my niches; and the construction title roared back to life.

Oh yes, what about the exceptions?

The purchaser of my existing business didn't want a title called the OCHBA Impact!, a tiny product for the local home builders' association (now named the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association). He also didn't want a small contract I then had with the precursor to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. These two little projects barely paid their way, but with a part time salesperson and contract production people, they allowed me to 'stay in business' and have the infrastructure when the purchasers of my business decided they didn't want to continue the modest payments to me and thus voided our non-compete agreement.

The Impact! now remains our longest-standing product; and represents an important area of business expansion potential. It provides a valuable and important connection to the industry.

We had fun with the Chamber of Commerce/Board of Trade publication when non-competition restrictions were voided. Suddenly, we grew the thing from 8 pages to 48 pages; packed with highly profitable ads; especially since we didn't try to circulate the publication to non-members. However, that experience taught me some things about litigation and court fights; topics for another set of stories.

Eventually, I realized that our business could best be focused within a specific niche -- regional construction industry publishing -- and that is where we are today.

So, you are a general contractor, a sub-trade, an architect, engineer, or consultant. You need to find a place where you are 'first', not just better. This isn't as hard to do as you may think. Just consider your strengths, and define your uniqueness, perhaps by geographical or topic speciality, or some special service offering. Focus is good -- the minute you say you can do everything for everyone, you lose. I recommend you not spend too much time thinking about your competition; think instead about your special strengths, and unique offer that will allow you to be first in your clients' minds.

This is generally the most important marketing lesson you can learn. Be first, in your potential clients' minds, be smart, and you'll retain the lead.

See this Wikipedia entry on "positioning".