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Top 6 Qualities of Great Leaders

December 11, 2015 | Elsa W | Comments (0)


Image from Flickr's Creative Commons (Steve Depolo). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons, 2.0 Generic.

Consider some of the leaders you have admired, in the past and present, and you will likely see some common traits among them.

Here are some top traits that leaders have:

Integrity - Great leaders not only set the rules, but they live by them. People want to work with a leader they can trust, a leader with morals, values, and honesty. Ultimately, if a leader lacks integrity, they will not be respected, trusted or followed.

Compassion - Great leaders not only have great ambition but great humility. Instead of using their ambitions to inflate their ego, they use them for the greater good. These leaders, like the Dalai Lama, are very effective and inspiring.

Confidence - Having the confidence to make decisions is paramount. Confidence is also reassuring to the rest of the team and will help them feel confident in their leaders.

Creativity - Creative thinking allows leaders to think past the status quo. Also, creative leaders can potentially make the most of too little time, and too much to do with their out-of-the-box thinking.

Intuition - This trait requires a combination of great pattern recognition, wisdom, trend anticipation, personnel insight and confidence. These attributes ultimately lead to successful decision-making, a key skill for leaders.

Visionary - Inspiring the team to see the vision of the successes to come is vital. Visionary leaders are always charging ahead to where they want to be tomorrow.

Although some people just seem to be natural leaders, everyone can learn what it takes to be an effective leader. You can learn how to be a leader through the Library’s subscription to Lynda.com (available for free to TPL customers). Lynda.com offers over 3,500 video tutorial courses led by industry experts on topics including a leadership course. Log into Lynda.com through the library website with your library card to learn how to transform your leadership potential.

Also, check out your local Small Business Network. No two businesses and industries are alike, but successful leadership principles are largely universal. So, learn by emulating what successful business owners and leaders have done to succeed.

What are some other important leadership traits you think should have made this list?

Starting a Small Business in Canada

December 1, 2015 | Christina | Comments (0)

  Image1 

Starting a Small Business in Canada 

Toronto Public Library provides information in a variety of formats. These include downloads and ebooks, DVDs, articles and online research.  Additional help is available by consulting a librarian in the branch, calling Answerline (416-393-7131), using our email or online chat service, Ask a Librarian. You can also Book a Librarian (a 30 to 60 minute personal appointment with a librarian).

 
Getting Started  
The Business, Science and Technology Department of the Toronto Reference Library and the Business Department of the North York Central Library have many resources related to starting a small business in Canada.  For additional information please ask at their Information Desks.  


Searching the Library Catalogue

Suggested Subjects or Keywords:

Subjects

New business enterprises -- Canada -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Small business -- Canada -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Entrepreneurship -- Canada -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.

Keywords  

Small Business
           

Checking the Shelves

Relevant call numbers

658.022
658.041
658.11
658.15224
658.4012
658.8
 

Suggested Titles:

General Small Business 

The eventual millionaire: how anyone can be an entrepreneur and successfully grow their startup

Grow:  hot to take your DIY project & passion to the next level and quit your job

Grow regardless:  of your business's size, your industry or the economy--and despite the government!

Run your business, don't let it run you: learning and living professional management

Sell local, think global: 50 innovative ways to make a chunk of change and grow your business

The young entrepreneur's guide to starting and running a business: turn your ideas into money!
 

Business Plans

Business Plans Handbook: a compilation of actual business plans developed by small business throughout North America 

The one-hour business plan: the simple and practical way to start anything new 

Preparing effective business plans: an entrepreneurial approach 

Write your business plan: get your plan in place and your business off the ground

Writing a convincing business plan 


Using Online Sources

Toronto Public Library provides access to a wide range of online resources, such as downloads and eBooks, as well as articles and online research. Most of these resources can be accessed outside the library from the Library's website with a valid Toronto library card.

 
Find Your Way…Downloads & eBooks

Click on Downloads & eBooks from the FIND YOUR WAY section of the Library's homepage. Click on Downloads: Start Here to find Getting Started with Library eBooks and Help for new users. From the Downloads & eBooks page, select OverDrive eBooks and eAudiobooks. Our largest eBook collection, OverDrive includes current non-fiction, videos and audiobooks. Click on Business & Careers under eBook Nonfiction to browse all titles in this category.    


Find Your Way…Articles & Online Research

Click on Articles & Online Research from the FIND YOUR WAY section of the library’s homepage. Select Databases & Research Tools by Topic and then Business & Careers. (Or, just enter the title of the database in the main search box of the homepage, or browse using the A – Z List of All Databases).

Suggested Title:

Safari Tech and Business Books Online 


Find Your Way…Small Business    
                                  

Click on Small Business from the FIND YOUR WAY section of the library’s homepage to find Spaces to Meet and Work, Expert Staff Assistance, Specialized Business Resources, and business–related Programs and Seminars.


Recommended Websites 

To find websites on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, click on Books, Video, Research and More from the library’s homepage, select Recommended Websites, and then Business, Finance and Economics. 

Suggested Websites:


Demographic Information

Census Profile, 2011 Census

NHS Profile [National Household Survey], 2011 Census

Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada  


Business/Industry Performance/Company Information

Canadian Companies Capabilities

Financial Performance Data

Key Small Business Statistics

SEDAR Company Profiles

SME Research and Statistics

Toronto Industry Profiles


Additional Sources


Magazines/Newspapers

Canadian Business


Vertical Files – Industry Files

Located behind the Business, Science and Technology Department Information Desk at the Toronto Reference Library, they include recent printouts and clippings from various sources for Canadian industries. Press releases, pamphlets and other sources of information about industries may also be included.


See Also

Business Directories : City of Toronto and Area
Market Research with Library Resources  (to be published in the near future)
Researching a Canadian Company
Researching a Canadian Industry

 

Personal Budgeting – Tips for First Timers

November 21, 2015 | Raymond | Comments (2)

We’ve all been there; life gets tough financially and we somehow just have to make it work. Budgeting is a tool that helps manage these difficult times to ensure that all of your important priorities and obligations are met.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Understand why you are budgeting. Are your debt levels getting too high? Are you saving up to make a big ticket purchase? Do you expect your income to change significantly in the near future? Once you know why you need to budget, it’ll be easier to commit to it for the long term.
  2. Know what your current income sources are and calculate the appropriate amounts. Employment and investment income are subject to taxes. Use this Tax Calculator to see what your post-tax income is. Do you have other income on the side that fluctuates (tips from work, gifts from family/friends)? Try and calculate an average amount based on prior years.
  3. Be honest with your spending patterns and identify what could be considered luxuries. Look at some past receipts and credit card bills. Do you eat out at restaurants often? Do you enjoy going to the movies or splurging on new clothes? Get exact numbers and see where you could cut back without reducing your quality of life too much.
  4. Start simple. Use a pen and paper if you want. Or try Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. You could even put cash in labelled envelopes (groceries, clothes, etc.) and stop spending once that envelope is empty until your next refill date. More sophisticated software programs (Quicken, Microsoft Money) are available, but don’t feel obligated to use them until you’re ready.
  5. Don’t be afraid to adjust and start over. It’s ok to go over your first budget. Sometimes unexpected expenses or circumstances arise. When this happens, go back and investigate what went wrong so you can take it into consideration next time.

Keep at it and good luck! If you’re interested in reading more, check out some of these titles:

                     Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money Managing Money Cash and Credit Information For Teens                 The Everything Budgeting Book The Only Budgeting Book You'll Ever Need Budgeting and Banking Math                            Managing My Money Quicken 2015 The Official Guide 

 

ConsumerReports.org: Five Things You Need to Know and More...

November 18, 2015 | Tiziano | Comments (1)

It’s almost the holidays and that means shopping. Or maybe your fridge just stopped working or you can’t go any longer without a car now that you have kids. We can help. ConsumerReports.org and its parent magazine Consumer Reports remain one of the most important and frequently used publications available to Toronto Public Library customers.  This resource provides access to ratings of more than 7,000 products which have been tested in labs and testing sites by 140 researchers and technicians. 

Consumer Reports, the paper publication from which ConsumerReports.org originated, has a long history: it has been around since 1936 and has helped consumers evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of products as well as assess their potential dangers and health hazards. 

The following are some of ConsumerReports.org’s most important features:

1.    Search  capability

  • From the home page, you can search for a product (e.g. washing machines) by using the search box.
  • The result of the search will retrieve a page with an Overview of the product, its Ratings and Reliability and other key information.

Consumer report menu

2.    Filter Ratings and Reliability results

  • Select the Ratings and Reliability tab, you will then see a list that evaluates the product’s different brands and models with the ratings ranked from best to worst.
  • You can then filter the results and compare detailed ratings, features and specs of up to five brands or models. Select the box on the left of the model and click on Compare at the top of the screen.

  Ratings and Reliability resultsRatings 2

  • Select the box next to “Show only Recommended” on the left hand side of the screen and go directly to Ratings and Details for products recommended by ConsumerReports.org

3.    Choose Canadian Consumer Resources

        You can view Canadian product information by going to the bottom of the home page and selecting “Canada Extra” under “Our Site”.

4.    Access to videos with product overviews

        The “Buying Guide” section of each product contains short videos offering quick tips highlighting the importance of certain features when searching for the best model.  For in-depth  information, refer to written descriptions of the “Buying Guide” section. You can also access  Video clips from the “Video Index” link at the bottom of the home page under  “Our Site”.

5.    Browse

       From the home page, you can easily browse products:

  •         alphabetically
  •         which have been recently tested and
  •         from within broad categories such as Cars, Electronics, Appliances, etc. You find the broad categories at the top of the page.

Categories

ConsumerReports.org is one of the most trusted publications in the world. This publication empowers people to make better and informed choices about products and services.

You can always access ConsumerReports.org at a library computer, however, if you have a library card, you can also browse it and search it from the comfort of your home at your own computer. Should you have any question about this e-resource, do not hesitate to call or ask staff at any of Toronto Public Library branches or call Answerline at 416-393-7131.

Raising $$$ for Startups

November 13, 2015 | Christina | Comments (0)

2015 Entrepreneur in Residence at TPL

Mike Brcic

Mike Brcic

Mike Brcic, TPL's Entrepreneur in Residence and founder of Sacred Rides, leads a panel discussion and Q&A on fundraising options available to Canadian entrepreneurs, with experts from the crowdfunding, banking, and equity sectors.


This popular program will be offered twice:

Thursday, November 19, 2015
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Toronto Reference Library, Atrium - 1st Floor

Guest Speakers:
Ilana Ben-Ari, Twenty-One Toys
Pat Cook, Tormont Group
Susan Henry, Alterna Savings
Nena Kulakovska, Business Development Bank of Canada

and

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
North York Central Library, Auditorium

Guest Speakers:
To be announced.

These two events are free and all are welcome.


If unable to attend, visit the Business & Personal Finance blog for advice written by Mike.   Read his very interesting blog Starting a Business has never been Easier.   It is filled with many suggestions and links to useful tools and resources for entrepreneurs. 


Remember to check out the available resources for entrepreneurs and/or small businesses in relation to raising $$$ for your small business at the Toronto Public Library.  The Business & Personal Finance Blog Financing Your Business provides a summary of recent titles that are available.
 

For other Small Business programs throughout the Toronto Public Library system, visit the Small Business Programs & Seminars web page.

Intellectual Property for Small Business

November 11, 2015 | Elsa W | Comments (0)

Intellectual property (IP) refers to the creative products of the mind such as inventions, music and literary works which are protected by a set of laws and legal rights including copyright, trademark, patent, industrial design.

Intellectual property can:

  • Establish rights and ownership of intellectual creation, enabling IP owners to profit from their creative efforts.
  • Prevent competitors from copying a business' product or service.
  • Secure a business' unique identity and image.

For many start-ups, the only advantage they have is a better way of doing something. As a small business owner, you should consider your IP asset planning as an essential part of your business strategy. Learn more about what intellectual property is and its importance to entrepreneurs by attending this upcoming seminar at North York Central Library.

 

WHEN: Thursday, December 3, 6:30 pm

WHERE: North York Central Library, Auditorium

WHAT: Intellectual Property: What's In it For Me?

WHO: Mark Biernacki, Partner at Smart & Biggar

Registration is FREE. Click here to register.

 

If you cannot make it to this event, check out the following recent titles on intellectual property:

The inventor's bible : how to market and license your brilliant ideas Guide to intellectual property : what it is, how to protect it, how to exploit it The innovative entrepreneur

  The innovation handbook how to profit from your ideas, intellectual property and market knowledgeCanadian copyright lawWhat's wrong with copying?

The mom inventors, inc. handbookThe eureka myth : creators, innovators, and everyday intellectual propertyIntellectual property : the tough new realities that could make or break your business

Walk to Work with Scott's

October 29, 2015 | Ranald | Comments (0)

Scott's Directories has profiles of 190,000+ Canadian companies. Say you'd like to walk from home to work in one of them.

You live in Toronto, in the M4K postal code area; and you want to work in real estate.

Walk to work

Step 1. Reduce the list of 190,000+ companies to real estate companies:

  • click on “Product/Service” on the Firmographic menu on the left
  • tick in the radio button next to “Text Search,” type in “real estate” and click on “Run”
  • click on the service or services you want in the results under “Available Search Values,” e.g. “Real estate agents”
  • click on “Select” to move the service to the search window and click on “Search”

The first page of a list of real estate companies in Canada will appear on the screen.


Step 2.
Reduce this list to real estate companies in the M4K postal code area:

  • click on “Postal Code” on the Geographic menu on the left
  • select Ontario from the list of provinces
  • select M4K from the list of postal codes (or the first halves of postal codes), a long list, by clicking in the list and typing “m4k”
  • click on “Select” to move M4K to the search window and click on “Search”

A list of real estate companies in the M4K postal code will appear on the screen.


Click on the name of the company to get to the profile. In the profile, click on “Map it” at the top to see the location of the company on a map.

Scott's Directories (PDF), the guide, is a quick guide to accessing and using this resource.

Starting a Business Has Never Been Easier

October 27, 2015 | Mike Brcic | Comments (0)

We live in a golden age of entrepreneurship. 

Now, more than ever before, it's easier to start a business, and easier than ever to scale that business to stratospheric heights.

Witness Uber. The darling of Silicon Valley (if not the media or the taxi industry) is just 6 years old yet has managed to achieve a market capitalization (the total value of its stock) of over $50 billion. That's 50 billion dollars in just over 6 years. That's higher than the market capitalization of GM, which was founded in 1908.

Another comparison? It took GM 30 years to reach a market cap of 1 billion. Uber? Just over 3.

The technological tools that entrepreneurs have at their disposal now give them an unprecedented ability to build a business model, find customers, test their business model, and reach a large target market - just some of the activities that entrepreneurs need to undertake in order to get traction for their idea.

STARTING A BUSINESS - THE OLD WAY

Flash back 25 years or so. This is how you might have gone about starting a business back then:

  1. Come up with an idea.
  2. Spend 3-4 months writing a business plan.
  3. Go to a bank for financing.
  4. Get rejected by the bank.
  5. Approach another bank.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 several times. 
  7. Get financing.
  8. Spend 6-12 months building a prototype.
  9. Spend 3-6 months customer testing.
  10. Build the product.
  11. Approach the bank for production and marketing $$$.
  12. Repeat steps 4 and 5 again.
  13. Get 2nd round of financing.
  14. Launch your business.
  15. Pray.

By the time you felt like you had a product that's ready to go and were ready to launch, you'd have probably spent 2-4 years of your life, $50,000 to $500,000, and probably felt and looked something like this:

old guy with beard.png

STARTING A BUSINESS - TODAY

Contrast the method above with a new way to launch a business today, with minimal risk and maximum efficiency.

When I work with and advise startup entrepreneurs, I follow a well-defined method for clarifying, testing and validating the business model - before going to market and spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on prototyping and/or marketing. 

The method looks like this (I'll describe each step in detail):

  1. Discover a problem.
  2. Build the business model (not the business plan).
  3. Validate the business model.
  4. Test the business model. 
  5. Get some startup $$$.
  6. Launch a Minimum Viable Prototype.
  7. Get customer feedback.
  8. Improve the product.

This methodology is based around lean startup principles (for a great read on this topic, check out Ash Maurya's great book, Running Lean

Let's go through these steps in detail.

1. DISCOVER A PROBLEM

Instead of starting with an idea, start with a problem. Ask yourself these two questions:

What customers have a problem that needs solving?

Can I solve it for them?

If the answer to the 2nd question is yes, then learn everything you can about those customers and their problems. 

I've seen too many would-be entrepreneurs fail because they fell in love with their idea. Their whole business was so oriented around their idea, their product, and their vision that they forgot that the central goal of business is to solve a specific problem (or problems) and create value for its customers

To this day it amazes me how many entrepreneurs totally leave their customers out of the equation. 

So shift your thinking, and start thinking about who your customers will be, what problems they have, and how you will solve them better (cheaper, faster, more elegantly, etc.) than their status quo. If you can imagine that, then you have yourself the beginnings of a viable business.

2. BUILD THE BUSINESS MODEL

I'm not a fan of business plans. In fact, I think they're pretty much worthless, unless you need one to pull the wool over an investor or bank manager's eyes. 

They're worthless because:

a) they take a ton of time to put together, and then they gather dust on a shelf or hard drive and are rarely ever referred to on an ongoing basis

b) they're laden with assumptions, many of which are typically disproven once you actually launch. 

What's the alternative?

Build a business model, using one of the many modeling tools out there. 

I started using the Business Model Canvas (download available here) about 6 years ago, when I launched my first social enterprise incubator, Project Wildfire. 

A (mostly) completed Business Model Canvas.

A (mostly) completed Business Model Canvas.

It was, at the time, a revolutionary tool for describing the workings of a business, with 'blocks' that described the most important aspects of a business model, such as Customer Segments, Value Proposition, and Revenue Streams. 

Unlike a business plan, the canvas was and is meant to be a dynamic, living document of your business, adapting constantly to shifting conditions and new information. If you find, for instance, that a particular customer segment isn't responding to your Value Proposition, for instance, simply add another to the canvas and then get to work testing your business model with that new segment. 

A few years later, I discovered the Lean Canvas. I found this canvas more suitable to the entrepreneurs I was working with, most of whom were in startup (or pre-startup) mode and didn't have things like Key Partners or Key Resources (two of the blocks of the Business Model Canvas).

The Lean Canvas is a fantastic tool, but it was lacking some key information pieces that the entrepreneurs I worked with - most of whom were social entrepreneurs looking to achieve a societal benefit as well as profitability - needed to capture in their business model. 

Hence the Impact Canvas was born. This is a tool I developed in 2014 based on the Lean Canvas, but with modifications designed to capture the 'social good' aspect of the business.

The Impact Canvas is part of The Social Entrepreneur, a step-by-step online course for building, launching and scaling a social enterprise (launching Nov. 2015).

The Impact Canvas is part of The Social Entrepreneur, a step-by-step online course for building, launching and scaling a social enterprise (launching Nov. 2015).

These are but 3 of many tools in existence to help you capture your business model. Take a look at them, and others, and see which works for you, then use it to take your idea out of your head - or off the napkin - and into a full-fledged business model.

It's important to note that this stage simply involves capturing your Plan A - an initial draft of what your business might look like. As you get into the process further, testing and validating your business model, chances are that significant aspects of your model will change - and that's OK (and expected). 

 

3. VALIDATE THE BUSINESS MODEL

Now that you have captured your initial business model, you'll want to get some feedback on whether you're on the right track or not. This is where those all important people, customers, come in. 

In the beginning stages of developing your business, your focus needs to be squarely on customers: who they are, what makes them tick, and what their problems are (this should always be a significant focus of your business, but particularly during the modeling and validation phase. This is where good ol' fashioned sit-down-and-talk-to-people work comes in.

Start by identifying at least 3-5 people who fit the customer segment profile you outlined earlier in the 'Build The Business Model' phase. Perhaps you already know this people, but if not, use your network - identify the types of people you want to talk to as clearly as possible and with as much detail as possible, and then ask your networks (friends, social media contacts, etc.) if they can introduce you.

Once you've identified your first 3-5 people, you should be able to get referrals from them to more.

Schedule meetings (face to face whenever possible, or phone meetings if in-person meetings are not feasible) and get to know them. These are the questions you should keep in mind when talking to potential customers:

  1. Who are they? (ask demographic questions that are relevant to your idea)
  2. What are their wants/needs/fears? (what are the problems that keep them up at night?) 
  3. Is their problem worth solving? (how badly do they want to solve it?)
  4. What is their status quo - how do they solve the problem right now?
  5. What would convince them to switch to another solution (yours)? What would hold them back from doing so?

Your goal in this stage is not to sell people on your idea - this will turn them off and make them unlikely to open up to you - but to learn as much about them (in the context of your idea) as you can.

When you're done talking to people, ask them if they can recommend 2-3 other people that fit the same profile/have the same problems. This will allow you to quickly expand your network of interviewees.

At bare minimum you need to talk to at least 10 people, and have significant evidence from a majority of them that there is a problem worth solving - one that you can feasibly solve. 

10 is a bare minimum, but I recommend talking to at least 20 people. This may seem like a waste of time when all you want to do is get busy building your website and marketing to customers, butevery minute you spend talking to potential customers at this stage of the process is many minutesof time not wasted marketing and selling the wrong product to the wrong people.

Also, keep in mind that the people you talk to who validate your business model are also your first leads, for when you actually launch the business - so keep track of them in a spreadsheet or database tool.

4. TEST THE BUSINESS MODEL

Once you've gotten some initial validation from talking to customers (if you haven't gotten validation, it's time to revisit your business model), then it's time to actually test your business model.

This is where free and inexpensive tools really make the job of launching a business much easier. For a few hundred dollars, you can get real feedback on your business model. 

An example of a pre-launch landing page.

An example of a pre-launch landing page.

Here's how I test two of the most important parts of my business model, Customer Segments and Unique Value Proposition:

  1. I set up a landing page with a headline summarizing the Unique Value Proposition (also known as UVP - a concise summary of the value my product will create for my customers), a bit of descriptive text, and an email capture form. To do this I use landing page software such as Unbounce (they offer a free 30-day trial, more than enough time to test out a business idea).
     
  2. I then use Unbounce's split-testing feature (otherwise known as A/B testing). This allows me to set up an identical clone of the landing page, but change the headline and text to reflect a different Unique Value Proposition.

    The software will show version A to 50% of the visitors, and version B to the other 50%. After I've sent enough traffic to the page to get statistical significance, Unbounce will show me conversion data - the version with the higher conversion rate (the % of visitors who enter their email address) represents the winning UVP.
     
  3. I set up a mailing list in Mailchimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers) and integrate the landing pages with that list in Mailchimp (there's a pretty easy integration between Unbounce and Mailchimp). The bonus is that after I'm done testing my business model, I have a list of potential leads that I'll email when I've launched, with a special launch offer.
     
  4. To test Customer Segments, I'll use Facebook ads. I can easily test 2 customer segments against each other by creating 2 different ad sets, each targeted at a different audience. If I run the same ad to those 2 different audiences, both pointing to the same Unbounce landing page, I'll eventually get some good data telling me which audience is responding better to the ad and landing page. This will tell me which Customer Segment is more responsive to my idea!

    EXAMPLE: I had a woman in one of my workshops a few weeks ago who wanted to start a Jamaican restaurant. To help her avoid spending $100,000 opening a restaurant without any evidence of a need for another Jamaican restaurant in Toronto, I suggested she test her business model. We explored a couple of innovative ideas for a Jamaican fusion restaurant:

    1) Jamaican pasta (there's already a successful Jamaican pasta restaurant in Toronto called Rasta Pasta - and there's surely room for more) 

    2) Jamaican sushi (we were brainstorming quickly). 

    I suggested she could set up a landing page similar to the one above, with version A offering a headline like 'Love Jamaican food? Love pasta? Enter your email address below to be notified when we launch!' and version B offering the same but with 'sushi' instead of 'pasta'.  She could then target an ad on Facebook to 2 different customer segments, for example, people in Toronto who like 'foodie' type Facebook pages and people in Toronto who like Jamaican-themed Facebook pages.

    After spending a few hundred dollars on ads (typically you can expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $500 to get statistical significance), she should have a pretty good idea of which restaurant concept resonates most, and which customer segment (foodies vs Jamaica lovers) is more promising. This process can be repeated, of course, to test additional UVPs and additional customer segments.

5. GET SOME START UP $$$

Just 30 years ago, your main sources of funding would have been friends and family or a bank (equity investing of the type found in Silicon Valley was - and still is - not available to most of us). These days there is an explosion of innovative business financing tools. 

These include:

  • Crowdfunding
  • Crowd equity financing (coming soon to 
  • Community Bonds (CSI, where my office is based, is a pioneer in this field)
  • Microloans (if you live in Canada, check out Alterna Savings' microloan program)
  • Private loans (e.g. On Deck)
  • Peer-to-peer lending (e.g. Lending Loop
  • And many more coming online each month

Of all the many options available these days, crowdfunding remains my favourite, mainly because not only is it a source of potentially significant financing, a successful crowdfunding campaign is also a significant additional validation of your business model. People who are willing to pre-pay for your product are showing that there is a demand and willingness to pay for your product. 

For a great guide on crowdfunding, check out CSI and Hivewire's excellent Crowdfunding Guide for Nonprofits and Charities. Although it's targeted at nonprofits and charities, much of the advice is also applicable to for-profit businesses.

A friend's Kickstarter page that is already 150% over their funding goal, less than halfway through the campaign - funding and validation rolled up in one!

A friend's Kickstarter page that is already 150% over their funding goal, less than halfway through the campaign - funding and validation rolled up in one!

 

6. LAUNCH A MINIMUM VIABLE PROTOTYPE

Once you've validated and tested your business model and have raised some startup funds, it's time to launch an MVP. Note that my definition of MVP is not the standard 'Minimum Viable Product' but rather 'Minimum Viable Prototype'. I feel that this more accurately describes what you are looking to launch in those early days.

The simplest definition of an MVP is the most basic product/service I can launch that will solve my customer's #1 problem better than their status quo. 

It doesn't need to be way better than their status quo - just better enough that they can justify spending the money (and time and effort) to switch to your solution. 

Any time and money you spend on developing a better/more elaborate solution than the MVP is time and money you could have spent soliciting actual customers' feedback (and generating actual revenue) - rather than relying on your own intuition to build out a more advanced product/service (and spending more money).

These days it's cheaper and easier than ever to build a prototype. For actual physical products, technologies such as 3D printing have lowered the cost of prototyping exponentially. Self-publishing platforms such as Lulu allow you to self-publish a book cheaper than ever, allowing you to completely circumvent the publishing industry. Services such as InvisionApp allow you to prototype an app for free.

Once you've got the product/service figured out, you'll need to get set up with some basic digital tools:

WEBSITE

It used to cost $5000-$50,000 to pay a developer to build you a website, even a basic one. These days, you can build a beautiful website from a pre-designed template for as little as $8/month. My preferred options are Squarespace or a Bluehost managed Wordpress account.

ECOMMERCE

Nowadays you can quickly and cheaply set up an e-commerce system that will allow you to list products and take orders online. Both of the above options include e-commerce capability (Squarespace comes with it pre-loaded, while Wordpress offers plugins like WooCommerce), or you can launch a Shopify site. 

ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS

It used to be you had to apply to one of the major merchant credit card providers - with a lengthy and tedious application process - in order to be able to accept credit cards. These days, service providers such as Stripe and Square can get you up and running, and accepting credit cards, within minutes.

GET SITE TRAFFIC

When I work with startups with limited marketing budgets, my advice is almost always to start a blog.

Why?

A blog is a proven, and free, tool for getting targeted traffic to your website. Almost every website platform, from Squarespace to Wordpress, offers blog functionality built in. Once your blog is set up (and capturing leads via tools such as SumoMe), you can use it to write content that is useful and interesting to your target customer. This will draw visitors to your website and help you generate leads.

With the help of tools like BuzzSumo (what's with all the 'Sumo' tools?) you can find the content that's out there and already doing well, and use this as a starting point for writing your own content. You can also use BuzzSumo to help you connect with influencers in your industry - develop mutually beneficial relationships with them and you'll soon find them sharing and spreading your content, bringing thousands - or even hundreds of thousands - of visitors to your website, all for free.

TOTAL OUTLAY FOR ALL OF THE ABOVE: $8-$40/month

Contrast the above expenditures with the $50,000 or more - and hundreds of hours - you might have spent a decade ago to get set up with a website, ecommerce, credit card processing and marketing!

7. GET CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

Now that you've launched your MVP, you want to ensure that you are getting feedback that is going to allow you to improve the product (by product, I mean product or service). 

Build feedback into your product. Set up an autoresponder to email your customers a few days (or a few weeks, whatever's appropriate for your product) after they purchase your product with a link to a Surveymonkey survey. Ask them for feedback on your product - how are they using it? What do they like? What don't they like?

One of my favourite companies in this regard is Freshbooks. They offer their users a $100 gift certificate (of their choice) if they'll come in and spend some time (an hour, I think) with one of their staff, showing them how you use their service.

From these experiences Freshbooks staff get invaluable advice for how their users are using it, what frustrates them, what they love, and additional opportunities for features or services (i.e. additional revenue opportunities!) they might be missing.

Make customer feedback an integral part of the customer experience and your operations!

  This is the end-of-trip survey we use at my adventure travel company Sacred Rides, just one of 4 surveys (post-booking survey, pre-trip customer service survey, mid-trip survey, and end-of-trip survey) our customers get between booking their trip and the end of their trip.

 

This is the end-of-trip survey we use at my adventure travel company Sacred Rides, just one of 4 surveys (post-booking survey, pre-trip customer service survey, mid-trip survey, and end-of-trip survey) our customers get between booking their trip and the end of their trip.

8. IMPROVE THE PRODUCT

Now that you've got the feedback, keep iterating and improving the product, based on your customers' feedback. If you follow this process, you're sure to develop a devoted and loyal following.

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To your success,

Mike Brcic,
2015 TPL Entrepreneur-in-Residence


Connect with me on:

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Want some help starting or growing your business? Check out The Social Entrepreneur, a comprehensive online course I spent 8 months developing, to help entrepreneurs like you build, launch and scale businesses that change the world for the better.

The Social Entrepreneur is launching Nov. 2015 - enter your email address in the popup (wait 10s) to be notified when I launch (and to receive a special launch discount).

I also work with a limited number of entrepreneurs on a consulting basis. 

 

Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

October 17, 2015 | Christina | Comments (0)

 Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? 

Mike Brcic 
On Wednesday, October 21st, 2015, Mike Brcic, TPL's 2015 Entrepreneur in Residence & founder of Sacred Rides, and a panel of five 'real-life' entrepreneurs held a lively discussion on life as an entrepreneur; i.e. the struggles, successes, and failures.  

The five guest speakers were:

If you missed this event, check out the following recent titles on entrepreneurship or small business start-ups:

Passion into Profit Any-thing You Want Startup Opportunities
Passion into Profit Any-Thing You Want Startup Opportunities

For additional information, search the Toronto Public Library catalogue with the recommended subjects:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • New Business Enterprises
  • Small Business - Management

2015 Entrepreneur in Residence at TPL is Mike Brcic, Founder of Sacred Rides

September 1, 2015 | Christina | Comments (2)

Mike Brcic, founder of Sacred Rides, is this year's Entrepreneur in Residence at Toronto Public Library.

Mike Brcic

Sacred Rides is ranked the "#1 Mountain Bike Tour Operator on Earth" by National Geographic Adventure Magazine and the "World's #1 MTB Outfitter" by Outside MagazineSacred Rides has helped 10,000+ people live life to the fullest through mountain bike adventures in some of the most spectacular places on earth.

In 1996, Mike Brcic founded the company based on his passion for mountain biking and travel.  His company has expanded to over 50 adventures in 15 destinations around the world, pioneering the world of mountain bike travel.

Through his travels and work, Mike Brcic visited many rural areas in the developing world where lack of access to reliable transportation provided a significant barrier to escaping poverty. He has co-founded a charity, Bikes Without Borders, that uses bikes as a tool for development in communities in need. The charity does this both locally and internationally.  

As former Dean of Social Entrepreneurship at the Centre of Social Innovation, a role that ended in March 2015, Mike Brcic worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, "all striving to make change in the world while making money". Mike Brcic notes, "Success in the world of entrepreneurship is no easy feat, especially if your business also carries a social mandate that can often hinder profitability, but for those who can balance growth and social good, it's a compelling model." 

Moreover, Mike Brcic offers courses such as Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp. The course is described as being "the ultimate workshop/training for entrepreneurs looking to change the world". Online entrerpreneurship courses are likewise offered. 

This year, Toronto Public Library's Entrepreneur in Residence will conduct six entrepreneurial programs, meet one-on-one with entrepreneurs as well as blog about entrepreneurship

Visit the Entrepreneur in Residence web page to find out how to apply for free one-on-one advice regarding your small business idea or plan with Mike Brcic.

Come and meet Mike Brcic at the 2015 Entrepreneur-in-Residence Launch on:

Date:  Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Place:  Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium, 1st Floor, Toronto Reference Library
Time:  6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

All are welcome! 

Welcome! We are specialized librarians in our business department and we write about current issues for small business owners and those interested in personal finance matters. For more information and resources see our Small Business & Personal Finance page.