Tuesday, February 16, 2010

6 Tips for getting Startup Funds

By Charles Moffat - February 2010.

There are lots of creative people out there who come up with great ideas for a business or a product. I know I come up with several ideas every week, but the key discriminating factors are availability of time and money. Whether the ideas are worthwhile and worth investing time and money in is the next factor.

If a person is able and willing to set aside their current career to run with their business idea, that conquers the issue of time but the question of startup money is critical.

Lets say they've made a new type of ant-farm, except instead of ants they used Fireflies. The Fireflies live inside a glass and plastic container, along with the necessary flowers (fireflies eat pollen and other organic material) needed to keep them alive and dirt so they can lay their eggs, reproduce and burrow underground.

Before attempting to market this product they first need to determine how many fireflies the need, how to build the containers, and which plants work best for feeding them. If their plan takes off it might be difficult to catch/breed enough fireflies to keep up with demand.

Getting the necessary funds to market and sell such an idea might be difficult however. Some people might just scratch their heads and go "Wait, you want to sell fireflies as pets?" and will evidently think you've lost your marbles. Others might respond with "Wow. I want one!" Some people just really like anything that glows.

A more reasonable business idea might be recycling gold and precious metals from trashed computer parts. Right now those electronics parts are sent overseas to Asia where they are ripped apart, melted down and then recycled. A single trashed PC contains more gold than 17 tons of ore. Researching how to recycle the metals, melt them down properly and then selling/recycling the gold is a more promising business plan than "selling fireflies" because gold is a highly valued commodity and unlike fireflies gold won't die by accident.

You could in theory take out a straight loan from the bank, but there are other ways to find financing.


Often when looking for an investment people will look to friends and family. "Love Money" comes with its own pros and cons. Your friends and family will want their money back eventually and you will have to put up with them occasionally bugging you about how the business is going and even offering advise, whether its wanted or not.


There are variety of hard to find companies out there who invest in startup companies, providing capital to pre-screened entrepreneurs. York Angel Investors Inc. in Toronto is an example of one such company. Their goal is to determine which startups are worth investing in and then they help provide their collective wisdom to make certain the company starts on the right foot. These investment groups don't like to advertise however and can be difficult to find.


Entrepreneurs often underestimate the costs of bringing a product to market. They don't realize the full extent of their costs, overestimate cash-flow projections and often make assumptions about how big their niche market is and how big they can grow. Keeping track of their budget means having a complete, fleshed-out strategic plan, not just cash-flow projections. Who are you hiring? When and why? What benefits or time off are they getting? What is the overall cost of staff, office supplies, new computers, IT support, photocopier repair, etc? What about emergencies? Does that match up with your spending projections?

Startup companies have a tendency to overspend, buying the best equipment and materials, thinking "Oh, we'll make it back later." But not immediately. Its a procrastination tactic. As such its important to have other people look over your costs and expenditures and see if you're missing anything.

"Wait, have you figured out how you're going to transport these fireflies?"

"Oh oh, I totally forgot about transportation costs."

"And what about insurance?"

Stunned silence.

"And have you determined your packaging?"

More stunned silence.

Knowing what your costs are is an important step for getting an investment. If your investors have doubts about your ability to stay on budget they will have serious second thoughts about giving you money.


How much is your company worth? Don't use projected revenues for the next year or 10 years, how much is your company worth RIGHT NOW. Don't assume that just because you've spent $100,000 on your business that is how much your business is worth. You've got debts, obligations and your cash flow must not be that good otherwise you wouldn't be looking for investments. Its probably worth a lot less, especially if you don't own any patents or copyrights.

When approaching potential business partners you want to downgrade your valuation in the event that your partnership will become "value added". For example if you have an exclusive deal to sell your product through a major chain store that adds to the value of your company.

What you want to avoid however is "depleted value", wherein you sign a deal where you can ONLY sell your product to that one business partner. If they already have a competing product (ie. ant farms and fish aquariums) they might decide they don't really want your product and will keep you on the sidelines, your product wasting away in storage.

Its all about who you want to work with at the end of the day. Some business partners might not fit right or be suitable. Some investors might have a lot more experience with your chosen market and you'd be foolish not to take advantage of that if they're willing to give a more hands-on approach.

If they don't know much about the market however their offers to help might become quite cumbersome and not really helpful.


If you're meeting with an investor you will want to know more about their personal beliefs. Are they a green company? Are they currently being sued or in litigation? Do they have lots of business partners / clients? How much experience do they have? What is their profit margins? Are they doing any questionable business practices that might result in future lawsuits? Did they lose money in a Ponzi scheme (or worse, are they operating a Ponzi scheme)?


If you start lying about your finances or exaggerating how big your market share is the company you are dealing with might do some background checks and find out you've been covering up some horrible warts (ie. your debts to your family and friends). This could backfire in your face horribly, wasting both money and time.

An eleventh-hour discovery that you've tried to hide a major flaw will kill the deal.

Be honest about the challenges facing your company. Investors don't expect you to have all the answers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Five Workplace Email Tips

When you write emails for work you have to treat them like any other professional document. They are a reflection on you and your business and once you've sent them you've lost all control over who sees them and how they are interpreted and used. THINK BEFORE YOU EMAIL.

#1. If you need a response only send to one person at a time.

Asking six people for help in an email will frequently result in none of them replying. ie. "We need to bring food to Friday's office meeting." Response? Nobody will bring food. Each person will see the 5 other recipients and assume one of them will bring food instead of them. To remedy this I recommend making the email more personal (as opposed to talking to an audience) and BCC it to everyone so each person thinks its just for them: "Can you bring some food to Friday's office meeting? I think it would be beneficial." Also this is pretty much a necessity when discussing anything confidential or potentially embarrassing. (If you want an immediate response you're better off just phoning the person.)

#2. Limit each email to one topic or idea.

If you've ever received an email with a list of different topics to respond to you know it takes significantly more time to answer such an email. Indeed you are much more likely to put it off until later because you want more time to think of a proper response. You immediately recognize writing a proper response will take an hour or more and if you already have a busy schedule it will have to wait until later. Thus when sending emails its better to send multiple emails which can be answered quickly and individually.

#3. Change the email's subject.

When emailing back and forth the subject you are discussing will sometimes change. When that happens its best to change the subject line, especially if you're deliberately changing the topic. This keeps the conversation clear and logical (and avoids confusion). This also makes it easier to find the email again later because you will remember the subject header of the email.

#4. If you wouldn't say it in person, don't put it in email.

If you're not sure if something is appropriate conversation (or important) ask yourself whether you'd ask it in person. Thus things like flirting or insulting your supervisor in a funny way is probably a bad idea. THINK BEFORE YOU EMAIL.

#5. Stop Laughing out Loud so much!

LOLs are actually annoying to many people, but more so are the people who use them repetitively. Try to avoid using it too much (or avoid it altogether). The same thing goes with smiley faces and other emoticons. ChatSpeak is not appropriate for professional documents. The same goes with slang and excessive foul language.

The Future of Facebook & Online Marketing

By Charles Moffat - February 2010.

It may be too soon to tell, but according to some industry insiders Facebook's days are numbered... and it could mean a world of difference to people looking to the popular social networking website as a source of internet marketing.

#1. Facebook Fatigue - More and more people are cutting back on the time they use on Facebook, claiming they are tired of the constant nonsense chatter. Some people have deleted their accounts altogether.

#2. Competition - With Twitter, Google Buzz, Orkut and the myriad other social networking groups out there the competition for attention is becoming pretty stiff. For now Facebook is the #2 most popular website out there (according to Alexa.com which tracks internet popularity), but its reached a plateau. Some industry insiders are now concerned a new upstart website will replace Facebook as the premiere social network.

#3. Facebook Profits - Unlike Google which has enjoyed huge profits since it first introduced AdWords, Facebook's profits have been almost non-existent in comparison. This is largely due to the problem that when people visit a social networking website the majority of the ads they see are either for weight loss or personals, which apparently are not being clicked on that often.

#4. Is Social Networking a Good Marketing Strategy? - Early on the youngsters and tech savvy were promoting their websites on Facebook and bragging about their websites to all their friends. Some of them even went so far as to start befriending lots of strangers in an effort to gain a larger audience to advertise too... but this backfires because many people have caught on to this ploy and are now much more cautious about who they allow on their friends list. The long and the short of it is that Facebook (and similar websites) aren't really effective advertising places. They're excellent tools for maintaining a fan base, a newsletter, posting updates... but its not a realistic way to advertise.

#5. Annoying Facebook Emails - Every time someone updates something or sends a message on Facebook you get these annoying messages... "Jane Doe sent you a message on Facebook..." Right now if I check my inbox I see 80 Facebook messages that I haven't got around to deleting yet, and if I check my trash there's 34 messages I've deleted in the last month. Thats about 120 messages per month, 4 per day, and the vast majority of them are completely unnecessary and useless. (Seriously, do I really need the extra email in my inbox every time someone responds with LOL?)

#6. Mark Zuckerberg - The creator of Facebook is still only 25 years old and while he does enjoy wealth and fame, his website is largely paid for by the American government and the American advertising industry which is using the website to determine what "trends" the American people are worried about. So far they seem to be worried about their weight and their love life, but thats statistically true for all human beings. The problem is Zuckerberg doesn't seem to know what to do with the company financially (he doesn't even have an official business model or a marketing plan) and he keeps getting in trouble with privacy concerns.

#7. The Privacy Debate - Facebook has accomplished what Geocities set out to do back in 1994. Geocities wanted everyone to have their own personal website, where they could do whatever they wanted (providing it was clean and legal), but required them to learn how to design a website. What Facebook has done however is standardize the approach by using lots of forms for people to fill out. You can list your real name, where you live, your phone number, your favourite colour, what kind of car you own, what things you like to drink/eat, and you can even post all sorts of embarrassing things you do on a minute to minute basis just like Twitter (which is another website that wastes your time). The problem is that this all becomes TOO MUCH INFORMATION and has led to a variety of problems like people having their identities stolen, their houses robbed when they are away on vacation and even complete strangers messing around with their love lives. And this totally ignores the problem that the US government is watching for terrorist activity and the American marketing industry is simultaneously watching for the best time to sell you a product. Thus while its obvious that Facebook is being used for marketing, when they actually try to sell it a product its rather disturbing that they are peaking through your xmas wish list that you posted for your family/friends only...

#8. The User Interface - Facebook keeps messing with the user interface... and making it worse. This annoys people every time they do it.

#9. Lots of Fluff, No Shopping - Facebook is full of clubs, groups (like Yahoo! Groups or Meetup.com) and lots of artists/musicians trying to make a name for themselves... but there's no marketplace like Amazon or eBay. It seems silly that a website dedicated towards market research doesn't even bother to have sections where people can order products... but then that would be self-directed, wouldn't it? Facebook's goal is to watch for trends, and then market to those trends directly through targeted advertising.

#10. Sleazy Ads - The ads on Facebook all seem to be from the bottom of the barrel. They're the king of ads you expect to see in your spam folder. Lose Weight. Find a Girlfriend. Buy Viagra. Get Rich Quick. These ads hardly suggest a company worth investing in. So even though the ads are targeted, the people/companies doing the targeting are less than desirable and it really makes you wonder how much of your profile info they can see, even though your privacy settings are the highest you can make them. Facebook seems to have attracted a lot of get-rich-quick schemers and their marketing tactics are dubious at best.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Facebook has plateaued and is now losing popularity, down approx. 1% over the last month. More importantly however is the fact that compared to 2 years ago individual users are now going to the website half as much as they used to, down 5% in the last month alone.

If these trends continue Facebook's time in the lime light will dwindle... in which case maybe then people will wake up to the fact that it was never a real viable option for marketing anyway. Too many LOLs, friendly pokes and twittery posts... its all just too much fluff.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Online Vs Offline Synergy Tips

By Charles Moffat - February 2010.

Synergy is all about about having things work together and promoting each other at the same time. I sometimes refer to it as a duality effect, especially online when you have two websites that link back and forth to each other.

Developing synergy between your online business and your offline business is important because it means clients you meet in real life will be able to check your website... and vice versa, clients who find your website will be able to phone or meet you in person.

I personally believe that nothing beats meeting a client face-to-face. So much so that I usually don't work for people unless I've met them in person or at least spoken to them on the phone, although situations are known to vary.

Building synergy between your online and offline business however is a process and an ongoing one, so here's some tips to get you started:

#1. If you're hosting some kind of sale or event, post it on the main page of your website. This will encourage people to come to the event and see you or your products in person. (This also boosts your Google PageRank for SEO purposes because they track how often you update your website.)

#2. Invite friends and colleagues to visit both your website and your business events. If you're having a sale, tell your friends about it. Maybe they can even give you positive feedback (free advice!) on how to improve it next time.

#3. Promote your website on all your offline marketing. Advertising, letterheads, stationary, leaflets, brochures, catalogues, directories should all have your website address and contact email.

#4. Likewise on your website, your mailing address and phone number are quite useful for clients who want an immediate response and don't want to wait for your email response. Such info should be easily viewable, on multiple pages of the website so its super easy to find.

#5. If you have your site listed or advertised on other websites, list your phone number & contact information on those websites too. Don't expect them to go to your website and contact you later, leap frog it to the next step.

#6. Don't be afraid of the mass media. The more reporters you know on a first name basis the better. Make sure they have your contact info and web address too. This can lead to more coverage both online and in newspapers.

#7. Form partnerships with other companies that operate both online and off, but are not in direct competition with you. Rub each other's backs from time to time and watch as your list of clients grows.

#8. If your business only serves the local community try to tailor your online and offline activities so that it speaks specifically to your target community. ie. If your business only operates within Ontario, your marketing strategy should incorporate that and your online presence should drop words like Ontario, Toronto, GTA like breadcrumbs so your customers can find you.

#9. If you have company cars or vans you need to invest in advertising on the company car. Some companies even go so far as to buy a car that looks outrageous or unique in an effort to attract attention. ie. A pizza company that uses a Carver (a Dutch vehicle with three wheels).

The same concept can applied to employee uniforms, hats and equipment.

#10. Keep track of reach methods are the most effective at reaching clients and augment those methods in an effort to improve them and increase the synergy.

According to market research the most effective means of advertising online are:
  1. Paid Keyword Advertising (ie. Google AdWords)
  2. Brand Sponsorship (ie. Sponsoring events)
  3. Referrals
  4. Video Ads (ie. YouTube)
  5. Podcasts
  6. Display Ads (general ads, non-targeted)
Some less reputable people out there believe in just contacting potential clients (telemarketing and such), but in this day and age people have developed such a hatred of telemarketers and similar tactics that it really is not effective advertising. Its too pushy and that causes most people to immediately reject it and can even cause them to boycott a company or product.

Remember the ultimate purpose of synergy is to get new clients to contact you. That is half the battle, the rest is up to you to keep the client happy and coming back for more.
"Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly." - Plato

"Pleasure in job puts perfection in the work." - Aristotle