Recent Posts by Learning Entrepreneurship

Image is everything

Don’t let packaging become a problem

Does your packaging provide a competitive advantage? Does it appeal to customers and enhance your brand name? Raise your corporate profile?

Or is it annoying and dysfunctional? Loud and obnoxious, attracting the wrong kind of attention.

The trick is to make packaging decisions in favour of the customer first. Not just for flashy presentation on the shelf or to prevent shoplifting. Think about those packages you hate and make sure you’re not among them. Like those giant colourful, appealing boxes of cereal that turn out to be only two-thirds full. Or Gillette razor-blades that are locked down and set off alarms if you want to take a closer look.

Is that really helping sales? Making it look overpriced and hard to buy?

Some packaging is all about presentation and not at all practical for consumers when they get it home. Buy a new shirt or pair of socks and you’ll ask yourself, “Why do they need all the paper and cardboard wrapping? And 27 pins buried in painfully hard to find places?”

heinz-ketchup-bottlesAnd then there’s Ketchup. Fifty years of impractical glass bottles that were a challenge to get the tomato paste out of. Was it really a branding strategy to build a cult following of unusually persistent dedicated buyers? Pissing people off is not usually a good sales tactic. Finally some genius at Heinz introduced the squeezable upside-down plastic container. Great! And much easier to consume large quantities. Now that has to be good for sales.

How good is your packaging?

Instead of wrapping up your stuff in flashy exaggerated marketing B.S. and tying it down tight so nobody can steal it, think about higher values of being functional, appealing, authentic and socially and environmentally responsible. Easy to open, but secure from tampering or inappropriate use. Non-polluting.

And stop worrying about people stealing it.

Try giving it away instead. Those people may just become loyal repeat customers and raving fans who tell everybody how wonderful you and your product are. Those giveaways may be your best-performing marketing initiative.

Be better. Do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson 

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Impressive, talented and tough

Business is like golf

henderson-brookeBrooke Henderson showed great skill and determination on the weekend as she dominated the strong winds and the world-class competitors at Ko Olina Golf Club in Hawaii to win the Lotte Championship for her sixth LPGA Tour victory.

After a disappointing round of shaky putting trouble in the third-round, Henderson finished strong at 12-under par for a four stroke victory. The 20-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont. is already within two victories of tying Sandra Post’s LPGA Tour career record for Canadians.

A charming young lady, she has talent and skill and the strength of character to push through against all obstacles. She also demonstrated her integrity and generosity with effusive praise for her supporting team, especially her caddy, sister Brittany, and a thoughtful tribute to the families of Humboldt, Saskatchewan after the tragic bus accident for the Broncos hockey team.

A great Canadian, athlete and inspiration.



Is your Bank a Welcome and Willing Partner in your Business?

Why not?

bankersBanks have their own version of what they want from you, in order to have a productive relationship.

Here are my own tips, based on decades of working with both sides:

 1. They will not get it.

 2. It's only about the money.

 3. They have a checklist.

 4. Reduce the risks.

 5. Think big.

 6. Get a second opinion.

 7. It's not a people business.

 8. Manage your numbers.

 9. No surprises, please. 

 10. People still matter.

For the full details on how to make your banker a welcome and willing partner in your business, here is the original article.

This article is an extract from Uncle Ralph's, "Don't Do It the Hard Way."

Entrepreneurs are usually quick to agree that banks are an obstacle to their success, rather than a key supporter. Most business owners certainly do not consider their bankers as welcome and willing partners in their business.

Yet it is an important relationship that will often affect your ability to grow and to survive periods of financial stress. It may very well be your most important strategic partnership. So give your banker the same priority and attention as your best customer. You do not want to have them become your worst supplier, instead. If they are not yet a key strategic partner, then something needs to change.

Working with your bank as an unwilling and unwelcome partner can be a destructive distraction from managing business growth and profitability.

My recommendations for a more effective partnership with your banker are built on understanding the following key principles of that relationship:

1. They will not get it.

Start by accepting that your bankers will never fully understand what you do for a living - your motivation, your challenges or your circumstances. But you do have to try to get them to understand enough about you and your business operations so that they can be confident that working with you will be good for them.

Remember the bank's primary role is not to lend you money; it's to earn a return on their investment for their shareholders and limit the risk of losing money.

2. It's only for the money.

You will need to prove that the money is all you need; because you have looked after everything else.

The banker does not want to worry about your customers, your management team, your sales and marketing efforts, your operating efficiencies, your health, your marriage or anything else except the financial services you need.

3. They have a checklist.

When you meet and fill in the forms, remember the banker wants to be satisfied on these five criteria:

  • Character – do you have a reputation of integrity and responsibility on prior financial obligations?
  • Capital – do you have enough invested in your business to be personally at risk?
  • Capacity – do you have good potential to support the cash flow requirements?
  • Collateral – if you cannot repay your loans, what assets are available to cover them?
  • Conditions – is your industry in good economic condition or in a downturn?

Good answers on all these points will give you the start to a good relationship with a confident and willing partner instead of tentative support from a cautious and reluctant partner.

4. Reduce the risk.

You may be stimulated by risk and reward; your banker is not.

Banking is a very conservative career choice. Regardless of how good you and your plans are, the banker will still want personal guarantees. That means he gets your house if you fail.

(Note: I have never met a banker who found it amusing to suggest that you should get his house, if you succeed.)

5. Think big.

The more you need, the more interested they'll be and you'll likely get better terms. (The only time I had no personal guarantees was when the loans were up to $4.8 million.) So, if you're starting small, be sure to describe your growth plans and your intention to build a strong, long-term banking relationship.

6. Get a second opinion.

Bankers love to win business away from other banks. That's good for their careers. (That’s how we got the $4.8 million with favourable terms.) So check out the competition anytime you need new financing or your current bank is not serving you well.

Just be sincere and be ready to change. One banker asked me directly, "If I meet all your requests will you move to my bank?" I said, "Yes". Then he delivered and so did we.

7. It's not a people business.

It's a numbers business and you cannot negotiate with a computer. That friendly, helpful person you're talking to does not make the decisions. Your numbers get fed into some obscure computer program and the answers (or more questions) pop out. They are not negotiable. A good banking relationship means that you will be told what numbers are required to get favourable answers.

8. Manage your numbers

Make sure your business plan computes and gives financial results that are attractive to lenders. Then manage the numbers to deliver the results and stay within the limits set by the bank. Read the fine print to be sure you don't miss any requirements to maintain financial ratios or any restrictions on payments to shareholders. Deliver financial reports as required, but also be sure to provide your own analysis and explanations before someone else does. You don't want that computer to set off the alarms.

9. No surprises, please.

Bad news is never well received, but the reaction will be much worse if it's also a surprise. And no news at all only makes them worry.

Keep your banker aware of what might go wrong and what you plan to do about it. Then keep them current as things evolve so they get used to your ever-changing circumstances and how you are handling them. (Hopefully, well.) Avoid going back with a new plan too soon or too often. And try to plan well ahead of any request for more financing. It is very hard to get the bank to help you out of a disaster when you’re in it.

10. People still matter.

The personal connection is still a very important part of a good relationship with your bank. Part of managing that relationship is to be sure that you are not entirely dependent on just one contact. If the relationship lasts, your contact person will change and you need to know someone else to maintain continuity of the relationship. Stay connected at several levels.

Your banking relationship needs to be strong to withstand the inevitable hard times that hit any business. A welcome and willing partner should help you weather those occasional storms.

I’m sure you have your own anecdotes of unsupportive bankers, but it is more important to get them onside with your other key strategic partners.

Happy banking!

Be better. Do better. 

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

Lessons from the Masters

Business is like Golf

Masters 2018Four days of exciting Masters Tournament golf in the 82nd year of its memorable history at the beautiful and challenging Augusta National Golf Course also delivered some lessons for us all.

The winner of a suspenseful round on Sunday for the Masters trophy, the traditional green jacket and $1.98 million in prize money was 27-year old, Patrick Reed. He prevailed with four excellent rounds against strong challenges from the best young golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and against the nostalgic hopes of the over-40 previous Masters winners Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer.

Here’s what we learned and why business is like golf:

  1. Young, new competitors are still most likely to win. Seven of the top ten finishers were under thirty years old. Younger, faster, stronger, and just as talented and tough, makes for very challenging contenders.
  2. Veterans can still do well.  If you stay fit, use current technology and maintain your commitment to getting results, then you can also share in the rewards. You don’t have to be best. Third place was worth $748,000. Four players, including two veterans, tied for fifth and won $386,000 each. Tiger Woods was back, but not at his best. He finished strong and remains a threat to the young guns.
  3. Consistent high performance is necessary to prevail.  Jordan Spieth had two record-breaking rounds and two ordinary rounds, he finished third. Rory McIlroy started in second place on Sunday, but lost his touch on the greens and finished fifth.
  4. Not every shot will be a good one.  It’s how you recover from your mistakes that matter. Fifty yards off the fairway and under the trees? Then hit it from the pine needles down the fairway and close to the pin.
  5. Even the good shots may end up badly.  A beautiful long curling 200-yard shot lands in the centre of the green, then rolls off the edge and into the water. Drop another ball and carry on.
  6. A good attitude, plus talent and hard work are necessary, but a little good luck also helps. Reed chipped too hard from the edge of the green and the ball was going fast across the green toward the water, but hit the flagstick and fell in the hole. Exactly what he intended!

Remember: Business is like golf.

Be better, do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

Read more articles like this one at: Business is Like Golf Blog


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Choose your critics

And maybe still ignore their input 

Somewhere in the process you are going to hear from the critics. You may even ask for it. For product development, customer satisfaction, or market testing, you'll be asking, how do you like me so far?

The first step in getting constructive feedback is to choose your critics wisely. Are they relevant to your target audience? Are they knowledgeable, perceptive and willing to contribute?

You still may not like all the answers. But you should not be asking people who are too complementary, kind and generous. You want to be surprised, or disappointed. To learn something you didn’t already know. Maybe you’re worrying about the wrong things. You can try to think like a customer, but it’s better to ask what they’re thinking.

To get valuable feedback from willing critics and retain the right to choose what you use, remember to make two requests at the start:

1) Please be honest, and

2) Please don’t be offended, if I choose to ignore your input.

Be better. Do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

Perfect enough

Time to expose the flaws

artist at work (2)Don’t let perfectionism become an excuse for procrastinating. You can continue making improvements, editing, revising, polishing, testing and tuning without ever releasing a final product. But at some point, you have to decide it’s perfect enough.

It’s time to let fans, readers, customers find the remaining flaws. Maybe they’ll love it as it is. They’ll never see the same imperfections that you’re obsessing over. They may find some that you never noticed.

Let it go. Share your work with the world.

Work on the next one. It will start closer to perfection based on what you’ve already done.

Good enough is too low a threshold, perfect enough is better.

Be better. Do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

Qualifying Questions

Is it Strategic or Operational?

train wreckedBefore leaping into action, it is important to ask yourself some qualifying questions and make better decisions about both the immediate and the long-term action required.

Entrepreneurs are inclined to act instinctively and “just do it” when they are presented with a new challenge, opportunity or problem. No time wasted. Let’s not make it complicated. Generally, that’s an important trait for making progress quickly. But often, a quick assessment of the strategic and operational issues will lead you to better long-term results.

Think about it. Your wagon was rolling smoothly down the track, but on the last curve it suddenly flew off the rails. It happens, right? Well, before you yank it out of the ditch, set it back on the rails and push it down the track, ask yourself some qualifying questions. First operational, then strategic.

Is there a flaw in the track or something broken on the wagon? Does it need to be fixed now? How can we prevent it happening again?

Then, are we on the right track? With the right wagon? Do we need to change direction? And most importantly, what have we learned that we can apply to the future.

Keep learning, to be better and do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

My first business novel, No Easy Money, is coming soon. Learn more at my Writing Blog.

Consultants: How to Choose, Use, and Not Abuse Them

sold!  Help them, help you

Since my first consulting project over thirty years ago, I have learned a lot about how to successfully manage consulting projects and the client/consultant relationship.

Here are some ideas that may help you with your consultants (and your lawyers, accountants and other professionals):

  1. Before you introduce consultants to the process, be sure you need what you want and want what you need. Beware of consultants that agree to do whatever you want, whether you need it or not.
  2. Look internally to confirm the three "C's" of consulting project readiness: Capacity in budget, time and resources; Commitment of management and staff affected by the process; and Capability to support the project and implement the conclusions.
  3. One more "C" – Compatibility. Select your consultants from an organisation that is compatible with yours - are you a corporate multinational or a local entrepreneurial business?
  4. Recognize whether your consulting needs are strategic: requiring outside expertise to inspire and facilitate your business planning process, or operational: bringing knowledge, skills and experience that are not available internally.
  5. Meet the operating consultant. It may not be the same charming, talented person that sold you the work.  And at those fee rates you don't want to train a recent MBA, who started last week and studied your industry yesterday.
  6. Test Drive: Check whether the consultant arrives with questions, not answers; will operate as neither boss nor employee; and will win the hearts and minds of your staff. Successful consultants will listen, understand, empathize, analyze, strategize and persuade better than normal people.
  7. Remember you are hiring a consultant to challenge and push you. You are not renting a friend to tell you how smart you are.
  8. Can you confidently expect a solution that will be yours not theirs?
  9. Ask for references.  Call them.
  10. Ask who is not on the reference list and why not.  Learn what they think causes a project to be unsuccessful.  And ask which list they expect you to be on when this is over.
  11. Ask for fee rates and a work plan with estimated hours. Then agree on a fixed fee for agreed deliverables with dates, documents and milestones.
  12. Don't let their progress reports interfere with your progress.  Get what you need, not what they need for internal "CYA" requirements.
  13. Check who else is billing time to your project.  Sometimes there is a very expensive partner back at the office who needs to keep his billing rate up. Your budget can be quickly consumed while he "supervises" from a distance.
  14. Avoid surprises.  Ask about additional expenses: travel, telephone and printing. Terms of payment?
  15. Do they have a satisfaction guarantee?
  16. Get the agreement in writing, read it before signing it.
  17. Watch for signs of trouble: such as, selling more work before the work is done; long delays between on-site visits; too much time spent "back at the office" and billed to you.
  18. And finally, remember consultants are people too. They want to boast about good work and satisfied clients.  You can help them help you.  Don't be difficult.

With all due respect and best regards to my favourite clients and consulting associates.

Be better. Do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

Deadlines can be deadly

Don’t overdo it

mistakesMost of us agree that deadlines are necessary. They help us to scope the work and make a plan.  Awareness of the deadline helps us to focus and get the work done on time.

But, the stated deadline may be entirely arbitrary or self-imposed and it may actually not be very important. Seldom is it absolutely necessary to be on time or don’t show up at all. (Except maybe to catch a flight, make a tee-time or deliver a keynote presentation.)

Deadlines can be helpful until they become an obsession. Then they become a distraction from focusing on the work quality and content. Time is running out and you’re not yet finished? You’re not yet proud of the work you've done? Re-negotiate the deadline.

Don’t obsess over deadlines. Make sure they’re real, not arbitrary or imaginary.

Be better. Do better.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson 



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