Business bootcamp is an invaluable tool for entrepreneurs

Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, April 2, 2008

There is a saying we’ve all heard “when opportunity knocks, answer.” This past week I was disappointed to see how few business people recognized the opportunity called Entrepreneurial Excellence: Business Bootcamp. My informal count was that less than 50 entrepreneurs were in attendance to improve their businesses knowledge.

In contrast, more than 90 high school students attended the event, as did eleven Algoma U BBA students. Perhaps this proves one of the speakers (Ben Barry) right; that youth are more creative, persistent and see opportunities differently, sometimes more clearly.

The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and Enterprise Centre brought in a group of business veterans and new experts, including Barry, who was featured on Oprah for his role in the Dove campaign for real beauty.

A conference like this in Ottawa would cost a minimum of $495 for participants, to recoup speakers’ fees. Through sponsorship, Business Bootcamp participants paid only $30 for the conference, including lunch and a hardcover bestselling business book (with a list price of $29.50). It was advertised wide (in print and online media) and narrow (directly to businesses).

People knew about the event, and the value for money couldn’t have been better unless the organizers had paid people to attend, so I remain baffled as to why it wasn’t a full house.

Lucky for those of us at the event, the turnout enabled face time with the speakers to address specific questions.

Here’s a snapshot of what you missed, attributed loosely to the presenters I saw (Derek Nighbor, Ben Barry, Sean Moffitt, Rick Spence, Kevin Graff):

  • You can’t manage what you don’t measure

Retailers need to know how many people come through their doors, track the conversion rate of browsers to buyers, and measure the average basket (sale per person). – Nighbor

  • Be specific about goal-setting

Increasing sales by 20 per cent may sound daunting, but if broken down into tactics to increase the three baseline numbers (people through the door, conversion rates, and average basket), it becomes manageable and actionable. – Graff

  • Be part of the new school

The Internet isn’t going away. Fifty-five percent of Canadians use the Internet to influence their purchase decision. Do you have an online presence? Can your older customers read the font size? Is it too slow to load for low-bandwidth customers? If your customers are on Facebook, you should know what it is. – Nighbor, Moffitt

  • Understand the market

Watch trends in the market to identify opportunities for your business. People are now buying high end or low end, the middle market is dropping away. There is a blurring of the retail sector (grocery, pharmacy, clothing, toys) with everyone trying to be everything to everyone. Often they end up serving many people poorly. There is a market for specialty stores that do not try to compete on price. – Nighbor, Spence

  • Youth has an edge

We can learn from the young and youthful because they are not pre-committed to past courses of action, and are not afraid to ask why or challenge the status quo. Their energy, persistence, courage, and idealism should be modeled (no pun intended – Ben Barry runs a modelling agency). – Barry

  • Tips for new businesses

Be creative in what you really need in terms of cash and office space to start a business. Ask yourself how can I get this? Borrow this? Get this in-kind? Find a mentor who knows the industry. Learn to speak the language of business. Do your research to understand a client’s business before you pitch them. Work hard to get your first big client, and then translate that success into a testimonial to champion for more wins. Making mistakes is a natural part of an evolving business. Rethink your business, innovate, and grow. – Barry

  • The customer is in control

In 1960, we were exposed to an average of 700 ads a day, now it is somewhere over 3,000 ads a day. The day after recall of advertising was 36 per cent in 1960 and only three per cent today. To stand out today, you need to break free of legacy thinking, open yourself up to a conversation with customers, be real, be human, find an edge to your brand, and tap the power of word of mouth (online and in person). Find out if customers would recommend you to a colleague or friend. – Moffitt

  • Fertile ground for business

If you tried to think of the ideal climate for being a successful entrepreneur, it wouldn’t be much different than the world we currently live in. Using today’s technology, you can reach global customers, source global suppliers and products, and be successful from any community. – Spence

On behalf of the Algoma U students in attendance, I’d like to thank the organizers, their sponsors, and the speakers. For us, the word of mouth on Business Bootcamp is highly favourable – and we would definitely recommend it to others.

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