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 BLOG >> December 2012

Cold climate entrepreneurship [Entrepreneurship
Posted on December 31, 2012 @ 09:12:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Winter is bearing down hard on me today. It is a blizzard outside and I'm finding it challenging to try to get anything done around the farm today. I'm closing it down until early spring. Draining the water from the lines, fixing a door sweep that was letting in excessive amounts of snow, adding lock bolts to the doors, and inspecting where snow is drifting and how the buildings are responding to the high winds. Inland winds hit fairly hard yesterday (Noreaster), now the oceans winds are showing whose boss (Southwester). High force winds are drifting snow over the lane on this grassy ridge top farm. I'll have to get the tractor out to plow myself out of here so I can head back to my Truro home when the driving is safe to do so. The power went out around 2 pm last night but was on when I awoke. It cycled twice today and if it fails, then my plans to drain the water will fail because I need a compressor to blow any remaining water out of the lines.

All of this makes me wonder about entrepreneuring up north and how the winter season affects entrepreneurship.

The snow plowing industry kicks into gear and employs alot of entrepreneurs. Lots of winter sports and winter getaways generate winter revenue for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneuring up north involves some costs that entrepreneurs in warmer climates do not have to pay for - winter tires, vehicle aging from road salts, snow days, freeze ups, access maintenance via plowing, cold weather clothing, etc... These might be viewed as productivity zappers relative to warm-climate competitors who do not face these business liabilities. Sometimes this is true (raising beef in Brazil is easier than in Canada), sometimes our warm climate entrepreneurs have their own list of productivity zappers.

Oil industry workers, loggers, lineman, and many other Canadians work outside in the most extreme weather conditions. Another large group of Canadians retreat into their offices and bear down to get the winter work done. They feel less distracted, less on-the-road, now that outside conditions are less inviting. Time to bare down and work. The Black Berry 10 is supposed to launch at the end of Jan 2013 perhaps because the pre and post launch is during the winter season when Canadian tech workers like to work the hardest in the office.

Cold-climate influences and defines the character of Canadian entrepreneurship.

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Do It Yourself in 2013 [Startups
Posted on December 30, 2012 @ 09:28:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One trend that I expect to become more pronounced in 2013 is the do-it-yourself trend. Also called the Maker movement. I have not read the manifestos but see it emerging in amateur electronics where technically-inclined people are experimenting with sensors, actuators, and microcontrollers in new ways. There are magazines, books, websites, forums, and a large number of electronics components distributors that are feeding this movement. More recently Raspberry Pi has been emerging as a powerful new microcontroller with all the input/output channels that make it easy to intregrate into your projects. You can listen to this Spark discussion of Raspberry Pi for more information.

The trend also reveals itself in technically oriented fine-arts programs where you can earn your degree by assembling electrical and visual elements together in novel ways. Or you might integrate electronics into your textiles - skills that might produce the next mass market clothing hit. Art embraces the technical to produce new art.

In my experience to date in a farm startup, the need to do-it-yourself is fairly obvious; otherwise you will need to hire someone to do your plumbing, roofing, construction, mechanical, mowing, plowing, baling, fencing, etc.. for you. Usually the capital is not there to pay for all the skilled professionals that you might need to do each job properly. I did hire skilled professionals to help me to do alot of the work that has been required so far; however, I have picked up alot of skills during this process by working with the people I hired and doing my own research. It is now time to increasingly do it myself with regards to managing farm operations.

Everyday we face the choice of whether we are going to get someone to renovate or repair something for us, or whether we should try to do it ourselves. Everyday we are confronted with the option of being a Maker or someone who funds a Maker to take care of the problem for us. What I expect to happen in 2013, is that North America will increasingly move towards a do-it-yourself mentality. They will do this for practical, educational, and entertainment reasons.

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Picking your preferred social media platform [Decision Making
Posted on December 24, 2012 @ 04:52:00 AM by Paul Meagher

If you read about using social media to promote your business, you get the sense that you need to create a presence in all of them in order to be successful. So work on your facebook, twitter, youtube, linkedin, pinterest, etc.. profiles so that people can find you in all these forms of social media. This advice might make sense if you are a bigger business and have resources to dedicate to using these different social media effectively. Even then I'm not sure it is advisible. My suggestion is to pick one on them and make that one your main social media outlet. I've been reluctant to engage the social media surge for fear of wasting time online - I already spend enough time online. Nevertheless, I think the time has come for me to pick my poison - for me I think that poison will be YouTube.

Why YouTube? Well, for one, I already have 4 videos on YouTube. I can't claim any real expertise at this point in using it; but I have started using it to host some videos for a rental vacation property I own. I'm also starting to look into video editing so I can develop more professional looking videos. I have some ideas for content; maybe I can record Skype interviews and post these to YouTube as a form in interesting/useful content. I want to learn and experiment more with video and am not that concerned about making mistakes and posting some amateur footage as I learn more. Conversely, I worry about wasting time on Facebook. I created a facebook account under a false name and get spammed on a regular basis with friend requests. I don't use twitter myself much and don't have a cell phone (by choice) so I haven't looked into that option. Linkedin might be worth using as it is not a big committment of time; or at least appears not to be.

So maybe this will be one of my resolutions in 2013 - to become more proficient in social media, by which I mean, picking one of them, YouTube, and using it more to promote my business.

I still like to write in the essay format so blogging might be considered the social media that I already use. I will continue to work on my blog as a primary communications tool; but this year don't be suprised if my blog contains embedded YouTube videos that I have created. In case you are not aware, a few months ago, we made it easy for entrepreneurs to include YouTube presentations in their investment proposals. Entrepreneurs need to opt for the Express Plus or Global Express Plus package in order to access this feature.

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Trial Balloons and the Mothership [Startups
Posted on December 21, 2012 @ 11:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Joel Salatin, his extended family, interns, and business associates run Polyface farms. Joel's role in this enterprise is to articulate, in his many books and speaking engagements, the entrepreneurial skills and abilities that successful collaborative and sustainable farming is all about. I enjoy his writings. Something he said in a recent Acres USA article entitled "Keys to Success" has continued to resonate with me and is the inspiration for this blog.

The context is that Joel is listing off the most important determinants of success in farming. Number one on that list was for the farm to distinguish between trial balloons and the mothership and investing your time and resources accordingly. In the context of farming, the idea of trial balloons equates to experimenting with growing new types of produce (e.g., carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, etc...), raising different types of animals (e.g., chickens, beef, sheep, horses, etc...), using different types of growing techniques (e.g., pasture fed versus confinement fed, till or no-till, etc...). The combinations are endless. At some point, however, it is time pick a trial balloon out of the mix that looks the most promising and to invest more of your time and resources into growing it. This is the mothership. Joel advises that a farmer that can't distinguish between the trial balloons and the mothership will have a hard time being successful in farming.

It is one thing for Joel to say this and it is another thing for him to enact it in his own practices. When you look at what Polyface farms does it is all over the map and that is because he runs the farm as hives of independent entrepreneurial activity spear-headed by different members of the extended family, interns, and business associates. Neverthess, Joel claims that it his his pastured poultry products that are his Mothership. He argues that if you can't indentify your mothership then the overall business will not thrive. Pastured poultry play a critical role in his farming methods while also generating significant revenue. Quality in poulty products is also a significant and distguishing part of the Polyface brand. This being said, there are other Polyface enterprises in the mature trial balloon category that might be making more money, but Pastured Poultry products is still Polyface's mothership because it is critical to the sustainable farming he wants his brand to represent.

Entrepreneurs need to be always launching trial balloons in the early stages of their business to see what idea has the most lift off and/or the right fit with your beliefs and motivations. You can't remain, however, in the mode of always launching new trial balloons. At some point, you have to locate the mothership amidst the trial balloons and invest more of your time and resources into guiding and inflating it. If you pick the wrong mothership, the consequences might be devastating; but perhaps less devastating than not picking any mothership at all.

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How to price your product or service [Decision Making
Posted on December 6, 2012 @ 09:03:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Entrepreneurs don't always have the luxury of setting a price for their product or service. If we are in a competitive market, the price of a product or service might already be determined by existing competitor prices. For example, it is difficult to price an oil change much higher than what local competitors charge (and expect to get a significant share of that business).

If you are in the fortunate situation where there is some elasticity in price setting, then the question arises as to what price you should charge for your product or service. Wikipedia offers a buffet of pricing strategies you might want to consider in such situations.

One pricing strategy that the Wikipedia article does not explicitly discuss is optimal pricing where we trade off volume for price in such a way as to maximize profit, which should not be confused with gross revenue. If we simply seek to sell as many units as possible so as to maximize gross revenue, then it is possible that our costs will start to go up once we hit a certain volume because we have to add more labor, equipment, buildings, traincars, etc... to the mix and these factors serve to reduce the overall profit such that our overall profit is less than if we sold fewer units.

You can't do optimal pricing if you don't know your fixed and variable costs and how they are affected when you increase production.

The next time you walk into Canadian Tire, you might ponder why they try to achieve the lowest pricing possible this time of year. If they are using an optimal pricing strategy, it could be because in the ramp up to xmas they can find economies of scale associated with significantly increased volumes of production that allow them to set prices lower and achieve the optimal level of profits possible over the forth quarter of 2012. Canadian Tire adverstises for pricing analysts whose job it is to find optimal pricing strategies for the products they carry. It might be a useful thought experiment to imagine yourself as a pricing analyst for Canadian Tire and then apply the same framework to figuring out how to price your own products or services.

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