From the monthly archives: July 2011

It’s not the world it used to be. My backyard used to be the stuff inside my fence. Now, my backyard has no fence, no boundaries and virtually no limits.
Competing in the global market is a daunting prospect. It’s vast, and it’s always a little harder to know what’s real when it’s all coming from a computer screen.
Whatever we do online is how people see us, and it’s no longer just a community’s judgment that matters. It’s the whole globe. And it is a reputation after all. The adage that one wrong move can have a greater impact than 100 right moves is even more true today than it has ever been with scrutiny coming from so many sources.
I can remember when computers were the domains of scientists. It seems like yesterday when the notion that even children would have their own computers seemed laughable, but here we are.
While it matters what and how companies are presented online, the basic rules are not really much different than they were 10, 20, 50 or 100 years ago. Integrity, honesty, timely service and quality control are still at the root of a reputation.
I hear a lot of people tell me they have those qualities – whether they do or not. It used to be that a good recommendation from a neighbour or friend was never more than a few doors down. It might be a bigger pond but the same holds true today.
Take the time to ask the questions you would of someone you were inviting into your home. Can you trust them? That’s a pretty good yardstick. I hire contractors and while they don’t necessarily come into my home, they do come into my business or community or other places I care about.
Gratefully, the same dynamic that has opened the market up has also made it simple to ask the questions. Social networking has made that a realistic venture.
My backyard is so much bigger but it’s still my responsibility to maintain it in a condition I can deal with, my responsibility to keep it safe for guests and family and my responsibility to use care in what happens there. Not everything changes. Values should be a constant. It’s just how and where they are expressed that has changed.

 

The experts say that to have continued success in business you need to nurture innovation by building a culture that is open to new ideas. Every business needs a Don Quixote who is prepared to dream the impossible dream. But if innovators are dreamers, are they also problem solvers?
If we agree that the most effective innovators don’t wait for problems to arise but rather fix what isn’t broken and seek to improve on things that have no apparent deficit, then Alberta Einstein was correct when he said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
When we choose to explore rather than apply, these are the behaviours and choices that drive innovation. It would also be true then that business is about solving problems. Getting an education and developing professional expertise is therefore about learning how to solve problems.
So if you have a job, it means you solve some problem that business would have if you weren’t there. The ability to solve problems is certainly a high-value skill, and the more difficult the problems you can solve the more value you provide.
But innovation is about much more. Innovation is about providing products and services and capabilities people don’t even realize they lack. Think about the automobile, the airplane, the light bulb, the personal computer, the internet, the mobile phone, WiFi, Post-It Notes, ATM’s and i-Pads. None of these products addressed any widely recognized problem.
Rather than being solutions, these innovations are things that have enhanced our lives, enhancements so dramatic that we would now consider it a problem to be without them. Few of us would want to try to live without computers and cell phones and cars, but until someone dreamed them up and figured out how to make them real, we didn’t miss them.
Innovators do need to solve problems in order to create these breakthroughs. But if they waited for some problem to be recognized before pursuing their ideas, they might still be waiting. Henry Ford famously said that if he’d asked consumers what they wanted (i.e. what problem needed solving) they would have told him a faster horse.
Exactly what problem did Facebook solve? Yet look at its value today. Innovators are those who don’t have time to wait for problems to arise. They’re the dreamers who as George Bernard Shaw put it, “do not see things as they are, “…and say ‘Why?’ but…dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’”.
Problem solving is essential to innovation, just as it is to business. But if your approach to innovation is to first identify problems, and you’re dismissing ideas that don’t meet that limited criterion, innovation will be slow at best. You need to imagine possibilities beyond those tight parameters or you’ll soon find that you’re falling far behind those who do.
For more information on this article, or to contact The Centre for Research & Innovation call (780) 539-2807, toll free at 1-877-539-2808, email info@TheCRI.ca or visit our website at www.TheCRI.ca .

 

One of the most challenging aspects of running a successful safety program is the reporting of near misses and incidents.
Having run my own business for many years, I have come to find that most near misses, and even many incidents, are never reported. This has shown me loud and clear that the majority of people feel that honesty doesn’t pay. The challenge for me as an employer is to change this mind set in my employees. Besides initiating an incentives program, which can be expensive and complex to administer as well as having only limited success, begs the question, what options do I have?
I really believe it comes down to relationship.
Picture a young boy playing baseball with his friends. He winds up and throws an underhand whiz-ball so fast that the catcher misses, and the balls slams with an awesome bang into the side of grumpy old Mr. Wilsons’ car – the boys look at each other and scatter. They know what to expect, and fear overrides any sense of ownership to the incident!
Now take that same scenario, but this time it is the coach’s car – the coach that sticks with them come fair weather or foul, miserable loss or triumphant victory. The coach that gives them a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder when they are nervous, and sidelines them without hesitation when they get out of line. Respect. It’s accountability with fairness, admiration and affection.
Their first instinct may be to run, but they won’t get far. Their hearts won’t let them. It is really hard to be dishonest with someone who sees you as a person worth his or her time and respect. The boys would be nervous, but they would fess up. And they would know that while there would be some kind of consequence, it would be fair and that in the end, their coach would admire their honesty over any loss he felt over the damage their carelessness had caused.
I have a great respect for any employee that confesses to a near miss or incident when I know they could have gotten away with it. It shows they trust me enough to place themselves in a vulnerable position where they could be punished, humiliated and even fired.
I have encountered many situations where an employees’ carelessness, bad judgment or lack of attention has cost me considerable money and headache and the temptation is certainly there to react with disgust and anger.
This is especially true when their fear or embarrassment causes them to act like it was no big deal. However, just as it is difficult for the perpetrator to be dishonest with someone who genuinely values them, it is also difficult for the victim (or so it can feel at times) to dismiss someone that they value and have invested time and effort into. You want to believe the best in them.
Relational people always view the person as more important than the problem and this creates a culture of security. How secure do your employees feel?
Our reactions as employers and managers can either invite honest reporting, or be a huge deterrent.
The idea is not to punish people for near misses or accidents, but to learn from them so they are not repeated. This seems reasonable enough until you are in the heat of the moment and someone’s carelessness causes you a considerable loss.
In moments like this retribution seems fair enough, and even reasonable! To fire them on the spot, yell, threaten, or quietly show contempt are emotional responses that can be very tempting to unleash on your employee – but at what cost?
When there is a significant increase in unreported near misses and incidences, it is always a red flag to me that there is a lack of relationship and trust between employees and management.
This isn’t to say that there is never a time when firing an employee is the only responsible course of action. We have a strict drug and alcohol policy, and if it is violated the employment is terminated. Some things are not worth the risk of a second chance.
However, I am always careful to allow the person a chance to explain, apologize, defend, or whatever may be the case. If they had voluntarily come clean, or confessed when confronted, I always express appreciation for their honesty. Most of all, I have allowed them to leave with as much dignity and self respect as possible. You can be sure others are watching!
As a business owner, manager or supervisor, I am sure you have wrestled with the fine balance between accountability and reward in regards to reporting just as I have. You have probably tried many different approaches with varying success or failure, and have maybe even given up on it and let it slide.
If this is the case, perhaps you need to ask yourself whether your employees view you as grumpy old Mr. Wilson who only inspires fear, or more like the coach who has won their trust and respect!
We need to make sure that honesty DOES pay!
David Phibbs is the president of Alpha Safety Ltd. and Alpha Training Solutions.
For more information on this article or their services, contact 1-888-413-3477, 250-787-9315 or www.alphasafety.net.

 

Millions of entrepreneurs have utilized the Internet to expand their businesses. From the tiniest mom-and-pop garage-run endeavors, to the most prominent of multinational corporations countless individuals have made names for themselves simply by registering a domain name and putting up a shingle on the World Wide Web.

But how does one know when it’s time to make the jump and join the ranks of the millions who are distinguishing themselves on the Internet? When is the ‘right’ time to build a website and invest the time, energy and dollars into your business and how do you go about it? What are the main reasons to undertake a venture fraught with potential risks and complications and what are the most current and effective tools being incorporated by successful businesses?

THE TIME IS NOW
First and foremost, the right time to go online is now. Even the smallest of companies are reaping the benefits of the Internet simply due to the fact that they are attracting clients outside of their immediate region.
“Any company of any size should be on line whether it be a husband and wife team or a billion-dollar company” said Gordon Currie of Eldoren Consulting, Inc. “It’s important that every business should be online but if you’re a bigger business there’s a greater incentive there. Clients expect it.”
With over 25 years experience in Web design, marketing and innovative consulting, Currie and company have assisted businesses big and small to develop internet-based strategies designed to increase their visibility and viability in the community with current as well as prospective clients.

THE BEGINNING
Currie highlights three necessary steps for any business to take in moving towards developing an online presence. Number one: strategy.
Businesses need to define their needs and their long-term goals for creating a website. This sheds light on the concept of web analytics, which is the practice of gathering Internet data.
There are two types, offsite analytics that takes place before the web building process, which involves collecting market research data concerning potential business success. This is an especially important variety of analytics in the web-inception process as it can help a business to pinpoint who their potential audience might be, and give the designer logistical insight as to how the site should be designed.
Onsite analytics is the second variety and involves the measurement of important data such as web traffic density or the efficacy of lead capture or landing pages to bring people to your site. This information is then used to perform statistical analysis to help your company make strategic and informed decisions on present and future decisions about the website.
This process should be carried out continually though and not just in the planning phases in order to evaluate and reevaluate the effectiveness of the strategies being incorporated. Web analytics are an especially important part of forming a plan of action and will likely become some of the more costly expenditures that you incur over the long term.
The second step is to hit the ground running and establish as many connections as possible on the Internet.
“This is a multi-stage approach where the important thing is to develop an online presence and have a social media component. From that point they (businesses) can start to expand and develop relationships with the public and interact more via other forms of media like newsletters and video” said Curry.
This stage of the process relies on an outgoing and proactive stance as well as willingness to utilize any and all channels available.
The third step involves creating ongoing web strategies that are creative and distinguish your online business from others. The most important part of this phase is to build the foundation for the site and then adopt a mindset of flexibility in terms of expansion and modification. Paying attention to trends as well as the invaluable data from your web analytics will help you to make the changes necessary to stay cutting edge and profitable.

THE WHY OF ONLINE
Currie is quite outspoken and articulate concerning the reasons why every business should have an online presence. First and foremost: communication. “We’ve gone from the horse and carriage, direct mail and post office days to the World Wide Web where oil and gas companies use Internet, E-mail and more electronic means of communication,” said Currie.
Increasing the level and quality of connectedness with the world around can help a business to open up previously untapped lines of communication, and with all of the available networking websites we have at our fingertips, it can be done inexpensively. “It’s never been cheaper to communicate than now. It simply makes financial sense.”
Social networking is a growing part of the communication picture. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have introduced new and inexpensive options via colorful and informative profiles that virtually reach out into different corners of the world. Sites such as these are usually free to the consumer and allow business owners to establish valuable face time with potential customers who may simply be passing by and conducting other unrelated business.
In a sense, it’s as if you are attracting walk-by traffic to your establishment in cyberspace. “It’s simply another tool in your tool box for building an online presence,” added Currie.
Maintaining a higher level of communication on the web can serve another important purpose as well. Because the Internet has changed the way people communicate, it has also allowed many critics and naysayers to express themselves in relative anonymity, a facet that can sometimes be quite negative and damaging to a company. Consequently, it can be even more crucial that businesses monitor the net with vigilance and an eye towards self-preservation.
“Let’s say a $20-30 million oil company goes on-line, making them more accountable to the public, but also opening them up to public scrutiny. It’s critical that they have a strategy for monitoring their identity,” added Currie.
Forming an awareness of online chatter and blogging can help businesses maintain their favorable image in the public eye and perpetuate their success for years to come.
Differentiating prospective clients from lookie-loos is yet another important reason to develop and maintain an active website.
“The website serves as an initial screening process because the prospective client already knows about the business before we even establish voice contact,” said Ward Minifie, vice president of sales and the co-owner of Action Health and Safety Services. Minifie’s organization has almost 20 years in the business of implementing safety, security and first aid services to oil and gas companies in Western Canada and is just one of many that has benefited from taking their business global.
Action Health and Safety have been on line for over six years but have updated and improved their website since then, embracing the notion that an old and obsolete site could hurt business more than it helps.
“Having an outdated website is like not having a phone number, if you don’t have one you’re lost,” added Minifie. This is part of the process of web modification and developing ongoing and flexible web strategies. Maintaining a modern and attractive site consistent with trends in design and innovation will ultimately help you to keep your website current and on the cutting edge.
In addition to the most obvious reasons to take your business online are the intangibles, the potential outcomes that you may never have anticipated. “For example, when a company approaches me they have an initial idea of their expectations, but what they need to understand is that the site may deliver a completely different set of outcomes…they may end with the ultimate recruiting tool or attract valuable media attention that they didn’t expect,” said Currie.

THE COST
Of course there are initial start-up costs to building a website and this will depend on the size and characteristics of your project. The general rule though is that the bigger your company, the better value you will get out of your expenditure.
“For small mom-and-pop businesses, it’s almost the same as the cost for a bigger organization. The bigger you are the smaller the investment there is,” added Currie.
“The biggest expense is the web analytics, people resources to answer E-mails regularly, and somebody has to be there to monitor what’s happening with the business.”
Each company will need to evaluate and allocate their personnel needs, whether they designate someone within their organization or hire an independent to monitor and update the site as needed. There are also costs for designing and building the site itself, but the long-term expenses of attending to the system as well as other facets of attending to details and maintenance will amount to the majority of the expenditure.

HELPFUL TOOLS
There are numerous hand held tools as well as online features available to the savvy business person that can help to increase productivity, and reduce the amount of time and money spent in the process of conducting business.
Handy gadgets like smart phones, electronic tablets and laptop computers can all work in sync to allow individuals the freedom to conduct business wherever and whenever.
“I live online,” said Michael Dionne, owner and operator of Peace Country Filtration, Ltd. “I do all of my business on my smart phone.”
Dionne’s organization has been dedicated to thermal imaging, gas processing as well as process filtration and mass transfer equipment since 2007 in Dawson Creek and has had a website up and running since 2008. But he also recognizes the value of using and incorporating tools in the field.
“Brochures deteriorate over time when you’re driving around on rough roads, so I show clients a flier on my i-Pad and if they like it I email it to them” said Dionne. Using tools in conjunction with your website can increase the value of your Internet presence by allowing you the freedom to take your business on the road and reach out to customers who are in remote areas – a definite plus in the Peace Region.
Eliminating overhead costs like printing as well as the potential for outdated advertising materials can help companies reduce unnecessary expenditures to avoid wasting valuable funds.
Other tools that are proving to be invaluable are a little more fuzzy, so to speak. Cloud Computing is still ill defined due to its novelty in the Internet world but generally speaking it describes the process whereby businesses store, process, filter, compute, and communicate online.
The idea is not new but is evolving and expanding almost daily, becoming more and more prevalent amongst those seeking to expand and stay with current web-based trends.
“The cloud represents this huge storage area online,” said Currie. “You don’t have this huge expense to update software and you can run things much cheaper. In my opinion it’s one of the biggest fundamental shifts in technology in history.”
Cloud computing offers a wide array of services for budding businesses from simple data storage to what’s known as Software as a Service (SaaS) which allows users to utilize services over the Internet without the expense and stress of buying and updating the application.
Another form of SaaS helps businesses to build their own applications specific to their needs, and then run them on the provider’s infrastructure reducing overall operating costs.
There are many other services available, as well as limitations to doing business in the cloud so it’s important to thoroughly familiarize oneself with all of the parameters and restrictions so that you can make a wise and educated decision.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS
Clearly there are almost infinite ways to go about creating an online presence as well as paths that one can travel once you are established. But bear in mind that with over 100-million domain names currently registered world wide it may behoove you to develop your site with creativity and originality in mind so that you stand apart from the others.
“Companies that are truly innovative in their approaches to communicating online stand to gain the most,” said Currie.
But regardless of how you go about it and the decisions you make in the interim, time is of the essence and another day waiting to take your business online may be lost revenue in your pocket.

 

“Leadership: Providing guidance and making sure the people under me have a good role model and…setting up everyone under me for success. ”
~ Trevor Sopracolle

Responding is the name of the game for Trevor Sopracolle. Whether it’s responding to the dreams and wishes of his own life, the needs of his employees or the demands of a potentially dangerous job, Sopracolle is led by his sense of responsibility and in doing so, has become a leader himself.
About two and a half years ago, Sopracollo recognized that the needs of his family and those of his employer were at odds and since he knew exactly what he wanted, he decided to start Goliath Snubbing in partnership with Garrett Radchenko.
“I wanted to branch out and be better,” said Sopracolle.
He was 29 years old and carrying a huge responsibility with plans for starting a family and all the pressures of a new business and yet, a few years down the road, Sopracolle has been successful in both arenas.
The option to juggling the demands of his young son while doing the interview for this story is exactly what it was about, but Sopracolle told NWB:  “Before I started it seemed unattainable”. And yet he has attained it.
In two years, Goliath is now a growing business. Money for start up was of course a huge consideration in starting this business with snubbing rigs alone costing upwards of $70,000 a month for fuel and insurance but Sopracolle said that he found there were a lot of people out there willing to take risks and assist in that area. He just had to find them. When you consider they started out during a recession when many companies had to close their doors, they have to have done some things right.
That first year was rough said Sopracolle but they were able to tough it out to quadruple their revenue for 2010 and are projecting 50 per cent growth through 2011.
“If we had waited a couple of months longer, the banks probably wouldn’t have given us the money,” he said. Be that as it may, they have made it through the first few years, often the toughest time for people even without the economic challenges.
“When you actually start doing it and getting everything in place, for me, it’s not as bad as people say,” he added. “It’s still a lot of work; don’t get me wrong.”
Goliath took its 23 years of combined experience and put it to work in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan and was able to stay busy.
When it seemed a little overwhelming, Sopracolle said that he knew that he had a family counting on him and that kept him going. That same sense of responsibility has blanketed his employees as well.
One of the things that has been part of Goliath’s success is that the partners have taken the attitude that it’s important to respond to the individual needs of their staff members.
“We’re standing over top of a live well and…if there’s ever a spark or anything, it turns into a big flame thrower,” said Sopracolle. “ Say you…shook up a can of pop and put a straw into the can of pop – what’s going to happen to the straw? It’s a graphic description of the kind of work Goliath does. “You want the best people and equipment working for you,” said Sopracolle. From the start, they have invested in both equipment and people and that decision has worked for them.
The kind of work they do is risky enough and they need to count on the people out in the field. Treating them well is all part of the plan for success. Providing proper training, leadership and guidance is extremely important given what’s at stake and Sopracolle is determined to provide that to his people.
Part of his style of responding may have grown out of the experience that drove Sopracolle into starting Goliath in the first place, but it has contributed to his notion of leadership in some very practical ways.
One staff member needed some debt counseling and Goliath provided it. When a staff member needed a vehicle, Goliath arranged to lease it and in three years, if all goes well, that person will get the truck as a bonus.
They also have a profit sharing program where employees who have risen to a certain level of the company can buy into the equipment and share in the revenue that results from that piece of equipment.
Treating customers with equal consideration has also been a big part of their success and age it turns out, hasn’t been much of a hindrance for Sopracolle. While he admits that in the beginning, it posed a few challenges because of the critical nature of the work he does but that quickly changed.
“I think it’s a lot easier in my case just because…if we own the company and we’re working it people take you a lot more seriously because you’re actually out there doing the work,” he explained. And for the foreseeable future, that is where he will be – out there working.
His long-term goals are to continue to build Goliath Snubbing for the next 8-10 years and in two years, the goal is to be debt free.
For more information on snubbing, Goliath or Sopracolle, their website at www.goliathsnubbing.com.
A parting piece of advice from Sopracolle to others just starting out in business: “Work hard, do your research and you can pretty much do anything.”