Progress?

We live more and more in a technology driven world, supposedly to make our lives easier and more productive.  We enjoy the benefits of this in our entertainment giving us 300 channels of questionable content on our television, and the ability to connect with people around the world with ease.  Also we have been able to empty our bookshelves of encyclopedias and other reference materials because we now have Wikipedia.

If you are in business, you have point of sale software, mobile debit and credit card products, and bookkeeping systems that keep track of where you are at any given time.  If you have a fleet of vehicles you can track deliveries, and even with apps, allow customers to know when their products will arrive on their doorstep.  Many of us now shop online or at least check out products before buying.

When it works well, it can be a great help.  When it does not is not only is annoying, but it can be costly for businesses.  Things like setting up electronic equipment should be easy, but sometimes does not go as the instructions say.  This is when you phone or ‘chat’ with a tech to resolve the problem.  This is where the system makes you wish you had never bought the product in the first place!

Press 1, press 2, Press 1, press 2, “We are experiencing longer than usual wait times, You are number 149 on the wait list and the approximate wait time to talk to a tech is 35 – 45 minutes.”  They have a list of what seem like dumb questions they ask you and sometimes are able to resolve the situation quickly and efficiently.  Other times it is, “A tech will need to attend to your issue.  Our earliest appointment is in two weeks.  Will you be home on this date between 8.a.m and 10 a.m.?”

If you have a business and the equipment breaks down it is an inconvenience when the technical products break down.  Today, people rely on paying with credit or debit cards.  Very few pay with cash and even fewer with cheques.  Businesses are not set up to handle transactions when equipment breaks down or there are power failures.  Employees are not trained in dealing with cash as is evidenced when you receive your change.  Seldom does anyone count it out for you.  They read what the till says the change is, tell you, and dump it into your hand.

The average person is no longer in control of many things that affect their daily lives.  Basic skills that used to be taught in school are trusted to technical equipment.  Yes, sometimes these things save time, allowing us to devote time to the things we enjoy doing. Other times they are diversions that take us away from personal face-to-face contact with the important people in our lives.

One thing for certain, technical innovation in our lives is not going away and we will be amazed by the advancements in the future.  We need to be cautious that we are not robbed of basic life skills in the process.  Technology is putting the control of many in the hands of few.

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Smoke Gets in Your ………..

Recently we have been breathing, tasting, squinting, through the pall of smoke that has blanketed our province.  The children, elderly, and those with respiratory ailments are at risk.  Much as that has impacted our lives, there are many who have suffered much more as a result of the cause of the smoke.

Fire of any nature is scary and has to be respected.  Most of us have had a campfire or a burn pile at one time or another and most of us take precautions to keep them safe.  Wildfires are a different story.  They are unpredictable and many times only are extinguished when Mother Nature cooperates with water from above.  Wildfires create their own winds and can travel at high speed on the crowns of the forest.

People in the path are under the stress of an evacuation alert or worse, are evacuated and not sure if they will have a home to go back to.  Many lose their homes and have to start over having lost the possessions gathered over their lifetime.  Those who are on the front lines risk their lives to control the inferno and sadly some don’t return to their loved ones having paid the ultimate price for their heroism.

Most of the fires this year were caused by lightning, over which we have no control.  The ones that are human caused are a real tragedy as they could have been prevented.  Common sense, unfortunately for some, is not that common.  Discarded cigarettes and carelessly left campfires are usually the culprits.  Ashtrays are not part of today’s vehicles so drivers sometimes see it necessary to toss their butts out the window rather than using a solution such as a cup of water in the drink holder, which is standard equipment in today’s vehicles.

Hopefully the air is cooling down and we will have some moisture to aid in extinguishing the nearly 600 fires burning in the province.  Unlike last year, most are away from populated areas.  While this is a blessing, it affects the economy of the province as it is consuming our natural resources.

We can be thankful on the coast that we only have to put up with an orange sun and keeping the windows closed until it passes.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the fire crews and those whose homes and livelihood are affected.

We can put up with a little smoke!

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The Danger of Minimal Training

There is an old cartoon showing a foreman going to his boss and asking about training for an employee.  The boss says, “What if we spend the money and they leave?”  The foreman replies, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

The truth is, you will lose good employees if you do not provide the proper training so that they can do their job.  Any skills beyond that can be a negotiating point where there may be time given to upgrade their skills or partial reimbursement for tuition upon successful completion.

In the forest industry I saw employees upgrade their skills with company participation, leave and get broader experience with other firms, then return to our company and advance.  The way they were treated while with us benefited both of us in the end.

A recent experience with an insurance company employee demonstrated vividly how a lack of training can lose a client.  We had some different requirements and, instead of admitting she did not have that expertise, she persisted in trying to serve us.  Her approach and inability to react to something a little different resulted in a loss of a sale for the company she worked for, caused us delays and left us a bad taste for those she represented.

In the end we went with an insurance company that we had dealt with previously and they quickly and efficiently gave us the coverage we needed.  The person there not only had the training they provided options for us with different levels of coverage.

How well your employees can meet the needs of the customers or clients is a direct result of the training they have received.  They need not only the technical skills, they must also have the soft skills to interact with those they serve.

Pay attention, it’s important for the recruitment and retention of those who earn the money for your business!

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The Times They are a Changin’

It wasn’t that long ago that Nanaimo had trouble attracting visionaries who would invest in the economic well being of the city.  This has changed in the last few years partially due to the geographic location, improved transportation access through YCD, Helijet and Harbour Air, the availability of reasonable priced housing, and frankly, what better place to be!

In addition to the many choosing the lifestye here, there are businesses choosing to locate their business here and the quality of their offerings is attracting the monetary support as well.  Northern Biomass Consulting brought their business and employees here from Prince George.  High tech companies such as Inuktun Services, Real Estate Webmasters, Hyas Infosec, Indus Controls, are making inroads and attracting talent because of the affordability and lifestyle of the island.  Hyas has just received an infusion of capital from none other than Microsoft.

There are several developments on the horizon that indicate confidence in the area.  We have a conference hotel on the books, major apartment and condo projects including a downtown high rise.  There are apartments under constructions in the North-end for the first time.  The new retail spaces that have been created in the last couple of years are filling up bringing new offerings to the area.

The population growth serves to create not only new consumers, but also new vendors and the opportunity to bring in products and services that used to only be available in larger centres.  This is evidenced by the direct flights to Toronto by Air Canada and the Helijet service to Vancouver and Victoria.  While those additions are highly visible, there are many that do not readily show, but serve the marketplace and support even more products and services in the community and the rest of the island.

There are those who would like a bridge to the island and those who want to limit ferry sailings to keep the newcomers out.  Whether we like it or not, growth will come.  As citizens, it is our challenge to manage it.

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Posted in Business Coaching, Business Planning, Chamber of Commerce, Communication, Community Futures, Economy, Elephant in the Room, Elephants, Employment, Entrepreneurs, self-employment, Young Professionals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will it Change?

The housing market certainly is not what it used to be.  I remember buying our first house for $19,700 with a mortgage payment of $330 per month and thinking, “How will we ever pay for this!”  Homes today certainly have changed.  Lots have become smaller, houses bigger and more luxurious, to follow fashion and function.  The price of land has been driven up by development charges and environmental regulations. Add to this the rising taxation rate as the need arises for upgrading old infrastructure and extending services to new areas.

Large centres like Vancouver and Victoria have become very expensive due to lack of new land base.  Perfectly good single-family dwellings are being demolished to develop multi-level condominiums.  While this creates more accommodation, it does not necessarily create affordable accommodation.  This is the challenge for the economy of these centres as people, especially young people starting out, can no longer afford to live and work in them.  In many areas we have the working homeless.  There are no vacancies and even if there were, their wages would not cover the rent.

In the case of Victoria, we are seeing Langford, Sooke, Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake and Duncan becoming the bedroom communities for those working there.  This means more commuter traffic creating other issues.  Nanaimo has become a bedroom community for Vancouver.  While housing has increased dramatically in price over the past five years, it is about a third of the Vancouver prices.  Harbour to harbour it is only 20 minutes away.  With technology being what it is, many work from their homes in Nanaimo and only commute to their office in Vancouver once a week or every other week.

Ladysmith, Chemainus, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Comox, and Port Alberni are all benefiting from the high cost of housing in the major centres.  These are nice retirement communities and those selling in the high market can have a nice ‘nest egg’ to bring to the island and live comfortably.  This is evident in the economic growth that is happening in these communities.

Will it continue?  Personally, I think it might slow down, but I don’t think prices in the major centres are going to drop to a point where young people will be able to afford to live there and raise families so they will continue to leave to work in other communities.  We live in a very special part of the world and we have been discovered so people will continue to relocate here from other parts of Canada.

Can it crash?  Absolutely!  In 1981 we were living the high life, and some of us got a reality check in 1982 when the bottom fell out of the economy.  The personal debt load in Canada is too high according to economists so a 1% rise in interest rates can be devastating for some.  In 1982, mortgage interest rates hit 21%!

There are no crystal balls, only economists that can tell you what happened yesterday.  Be careful out there!

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The Business of Business

When some think of business men and women, they think of them as successful, they have a good life with all the money they could want.  Other’s think of fast food chains and the success that must go with it because of the traffic in their parking lots.

There is a reality here.  Most small businesses, even if profitable, only show a small return.  It is a labour of love for most, doing what they have a passion for, with independence.  Some get into business because of necessity.  There may be nothing in regular employment that matches their skill set, or they may have a medical reason they can no longer work in their occupation.  Others see an opportunity to bring something new to the community.

Yes, you can pay large sums of money for a fast food franchise and have line-ups the day you open the door, but there is a cost to this.  Franchises dictate the rules of the business and control when and where you get your product and your offerings to the customer.  There is an ongoing fee attached to the franchise as well as reporting obligations.  Also, you have staff to manage.  This is not to say it is not a good business model, but it is not for everyone.  As someone said to me, “If I had enough money to buy the franchise, I wouldn’t need to work!”

Owning your own business is not for everyone and it take a lot of work up front to ensure you have considered everything.  You need to know that there are enough customers in your geographic area to support the business.  You must determine pricing, suppliers, legal issues, licensing, regulations, marketing, promotion, and location.  You need to have the product or service knowledge and be able to deliver what your customers and clients want and need.

Most importantly, you must have a passion for what you do!

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Island Proud!

With a potential Trade War looming in the not to distant future, there have been Nationalistic movements on both sides of the US/Canada border.  The truth is we don’t realize how much we depend on the Global Marketplace for our everyday living.  Growing up in Nanaimo we didn’t see the array of fruits and vegetables that we see today in the supermarket.  If it was not in our garden, or on the Malkin’s truck, we didn’t have it.  Also, everything was organic because we did not know of pesticides and herbicides.  Manure and water were the two necessities for plant life at that time.

Before the talk of Trade Wars, the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance embarked on a project to heighten the knowledge of consumers on Vancouver Island to the food products produced locally.  In talking to consumers, most either had difficulty finding local products or were unaware of what was being produced.

‘Island Good’ point of sale campaign by VIEA was launched this spring to bring awareness and help shoppers identify locally sourced food products.  Thrifty Foods, Country Grocer, Quality Foods, and 49th Parallel Grocery all stepped up to the plate to help with the project.  In the end, the goal is to have every product ‘grown’ or ‘made’ on Vancouver Island identified by a label.

This is not about ‘Trade Wars’, it has a much deeper meaning.  It is about supporting the local economy and, wherever possible, choosing to support your neighbours.  The local economy pays local and provincial taxes, and employs local people, who also pay taxes.  In turn, these employees buy other local goods and services, and so on.

Look for the label, ‘Island Good’ and support the businesses who have stepped up to the plate to work on this project with VIEA, and the food producers on Vancouver Island.  Be Island Proud, you will be part of an extremely valuable initiative and enjoy the benefit of top quality products!

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