Monday, June 18, 2007

The Big Trip: One Year Off 2002

In 2002, my wife and I took one year off work, pulled the kids out of school, bought a trailer and spent the next 8 1/2 months driving around North America. It was without a doubt one of the best years of my life and something that we talk about years later. Here's a link to a google map I'm constructing on the trip.,-117.13623&spn=7.33247,14.80957&z=6&om=1

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Your Business in Trouble

Is your Business in trouble?

by Greg Fjetland

from Profit magazine

There are lots of obvious warning signs that a business may be in trouble. But how does your business fare with this checklist of less obvious trouble signs?

  1. Do you find your employee turn-over increasing, even among stalwarts who have helped grow the business from scratch?
  2. Do you find your banker increasingly cautious, and less receptive to increasing your access to credit?
  3. Do you find yourself spending less than you should on scheduled equipment and property maintenance, in effect robbing the future to pay for the present?
  4. Have you prepared a financial blueprint for the year and perform a variance analysis every month to make sure you’re on track, or do you find it increasingly impossible to work within its guidelines?
  5. Do you have a system in place to monitor customer satisfaction, or have you lost several key accounts lately and really have no idea why?
  6. Is your business so successful that you may have trouble meeting orders and paying for required additional materials, or have you implemented an Accounts Receivable system to reward customers for prompt payment?
  7. Do you re-evaluate your business assets annually, or do you risk having unrealistic evaluations on your balance sheet, disguising the reality of how healthy your business is?
  8. Have your stock levels grown, revealing that you’re not in touch with which products are in demand and which need updating, or do you assume that time and changing customer demand will take care of your overstock situation?
  9. Are you being forced to cut into your margins more and more by dropping prices, or are you able to increase sales by better positioning your products?
  10. If your customer complaints have increased, have you responded by calling them, holding focus groups and then acting on their feedback?
  11. Have you grown the company out of the range of your expertise and capability but find yourself resisting hiring the talent necessary to maintain the company at its peak performance?
  12. Do you dread coming to work in the morning and have you noticed a corresponding lack of enthusiasm in your employees?
  13. Has the loss of more than 5 percent market share per quarter in two consecutive quarters, and if so, have you determined why and taken remedial action?
  14. Have you found your business increasingly reliant on just one or two key customers and suppliers instead of being well-connected to numerous business partners?Has your business lost focus and broadened to include anything you can make a buck on, instead of zeroing in on its core products and services

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quiz: How well are you looking after your Finances?

Quiz: How well are you looking after your Finances?

from Profit magazine

If there is one lesson for us all to remember from the dot bomb implosion, it's the need to be prudent and vigilant in safeguarding our personal capital. All too regularly, the best laid plans do go astray, so planning for the worst case scenario is always a wise recourse. Financial planning need not be an expensive or time-consuming exercise, but it does need to be looked after, and the sooner, the better. Trying to plan for likely contingencies requires knowledge and foresight, so here's a quick quiz to give you a head start.

1. Have you increased the risk to your personal finances by investing all of your equity in your business, or is your portfolio safely diversified into other opportunities?

2. Have you remained current on business insurance options such as Segregated Funds, Key Person Insurance and Overhead Insurance that help to guarantee your business's continuing viability in the event of an unexpected crisis? MEANING YOU SHOULD INVESTIGATE, BUT NOT NECESSARILY BUY THESE PRODUCTS? I’m suggesting some of these options are relatively new and I think the question suggests these are good ideas for a business owner to consider. A rewrite that contains the answer is: Do you hold business insurance options such as Segregated Funds, Key Person Insurance and Overhead Insurance or are you willing to risk your business's continuing viability in the event of an unexpected crisis?

3. Have your planned a tax-efficient exit strategy for your eventual retirement, or will Revenue Canada be the chief beneficiary?

4. What measures have you taken, such as incorporation or spousal ownership of equity and capital, to minimize your personal liability in case of business bankruptcy?

5. Do you take maximum advantage every year of all tax-saving vehicles available to you such as RRSP and RESP?

6. Have you engaged the services of a certified financial planner to review your personal finances and provide the best advice on how to manage your investments?

7. Have you provided any personal guarantees for company loans, potentially placing your home and other assets at risk in the event of business bankruptcy.

8. Have you provided an adequate salary for yourself and your family commensurate with your level of responsibility and hours spent on the job?

9. Have you ignored the potentially tax saving tools of an Individual Pension Plan (IPP) or Retirement Compensation Arrangement (RCA) for both retirement and succession planning for you and your business?

10. Do you increase your savings as your takehome pay increases by following a budget, or do you spend all of your paycheque (and often more?)

Bonus question!

11. Do you practice sensible money management by automatic payroll deductions from your paycheque to a savings and/or retirement account, paying off your monthly credit card balances, and setting money aside for large purchases?

Alexandra Babbel:

Super Voice, Super Mom, Superwoman

By Greg Fjetland

Kelowna’s Alexandra Babbel finds perfect harmony in parenting and performing

Last fall Alexandra Babbel of Kelowna made an emotional return to her ancestral village in Ukraine. Accompanied by three family members, she visited her mother’s now empty house and searched the woods for the old bunker that sheltered her family during World War II. Alexandra’s journey has led her full circle from the Okanagan back to Ukraine. “Part of me felt like I really belonged there. The atmosphere was so familiar,” recollects Alexandra. Alexandra is a compassionate, articulate, spiritually fulfilled mother of three who balances a no nonsense approach to life with an infectious sense of humour. An acclaimed opera performer, she is a sterling example of the world class talent that the Okanagan Valley draws from around the globe.
This story really begins back in 1943, where crouched in their crude bunker in the woods, Anton Kosachuk and his family listened to the distant pounding of the artillery. When Russian and German forces collided in Ukraine during WWII, the Kosachuks and other terrified citizens of the village of Salomka fled the conflagration. After three months of living in their crude shelter, they left and headed straight towards Germany. On their incredible journey they overcame the many hardships of wartime, including hunger and crossing through a minefield.
En route, isolated from his family and apprehended by the Russian Army, Anton was thrown into a prison and scheduled for execution. He despaired. An old man who shared his cell asked him, ‘How can you give up hope. I am old yet I’m still full of hope.” Anton found the bars of his cell were rusted and he broke free that night. Later in a refugee camp, he met his future bride with whom he would one day emigrate to America.
After World War II, the Kosachuks settled in what was to become East Germany. Eighteen years later, the family came to the United States to live in Michigan. Little Alexandra was their sixth child. From an early age she loved to sing accompaniment with her father. When she was 17 she began private voice lessons and subsequently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Music.
In 1983 she moved to Edmonton to take her Master of Music. There she met John Babbel, an Okanagan resident. They married and moved to Chicago where Alexandra began her illustrious performing career, including her role in the world premiere of a major new opera. She sang with a variety of companies including the Lincoln Opera and Milwaukee Opera.
Additionally she sang with many symphonies as a featured soloist and toured extensively through the States, Europe and Russia. With her deepening experience and knowledge, Alexandra began to teach at universities in the United States and Canada. Her voice teaching produced several young singers who have gone on to enjoy careers in music. Meanwhile, her own career was taking off like a rocket.
But just before the birth of their first child, a new realization set in. “There are many performers to play the role of Mimi (in Puccini’s La Boheme) but only one person to be my kid’s mom,” says Alexandra. The young family moved straight to Kelowna from Chicago in 1991, a homecoming for her husband John and a new life for Alexandra. They now have three children.
Today, Alexandra balances her busy family life with an equally demanding professional schedule. She practices about two hours per day. “A Mozart a day keeps laryngitis away,” she laughs. She manages a reduced tour schedule. Trans World Radio International sponsored her recent trip to eastern Europe where she made 15 appearances in 11 days but still managed to visit her former family home in Ukraine. She professes to a deep love for eastern Europe. “The people own so little but they’re so happy,” she says. “Materialism and leisure are the two big kings here but they never satisfy our spiritual hunger.”
Alexandra continues to embody her father’s hopes for a future: “It is so important to maintain hope and do your best in pursuing your vision. While one must remain within one’s ability and resources, it is vital to listen to the dream inside. My parents never gave up in the pursuit of freedom. Nor shall I give up in pursuing what is in my heart for the young artists of this city.”

Competiive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence Quiz

first appeared in Profit magazine

One of the business catchphrases over the past few years has been Competitive Intelligence: the process that transforms information into relevant, accurate and usable strategic knowledge about competitors, position, performance, capabilities and intentions. CI, as it’s broadly known, doesn’t use illegal methods to accomplish its goals. Rather, CI uses publicly available databases to figure out your present and future business environment. Rate your Competitive Intelligence with the following quiz:

Have you assigned an employee - and given him or her a budget - for collecting and analyzing competitive intelligence?

Are your CI data collection efforts focused primarily on gathering historical competitive information from secondary sources, or are they mostly concentrated on soliciting future-oriented information from a well-developed network of internal and external sources?

Do you monitor the internet for blogs or other websites that may be posting disinformation that is injurious to your company’s reputation?

Do you confuse competitor watching - collecting data on your competition - with real CI i.e., developing an external focus that provides strategic early warnings about market shifts and risk control, and also to uncover new opportunities?

Does your CI team examine all aspects of your business: sales, marketing, product development, and strategic planning, or is it selectively focused to the exclusion of other areas of equal importance?

Is your CI distributed selectively and appropriately throughout the company such by email or intranet, or does the information languish on someone’s desktop?

Do you only rely on traditional CI or do you look at in broader market intelligence such as regulatory changes, technology trends, and other strategic scenarios within your industry?

Does your company waste time and money because your company lacks an enterprise-wide coordinated CI effort and so different departments are collecting the same information?

Are your CI efforts focused on growth opportunities of high interest to management, offering the best margins or growth potential? For example, is your CI group working with your market research group to identify customer segments that have high demand for your products or services and a limited choice of competitive offerings from which to choose?

When your CI group finishes collecting information, does it simply organize the information, or does the group generate value-added content, such as judgments, opinions, hypotheses, predictions, implications for your company, and strategic recommendations?

Does your CI group meet regularly with your senior executives to gather their intelligence needs and feedback on how it can improve the intelligence process and deliverables for these executives?

Are You Doing Enough to Prevent Internal Theft and Fraud?

Are You Doing Enough to Prevent Internal Theft and Fraud?
by Greg Fjetland

first appeared in Profit magazine

Employees steal from businesses more than shoplifters. Internal theft and fraud is widespread throughout every industry and represents a major challenge for business owners. Employee theft continues to be a source of bankruptcy and business failure. Take this quiz to see if you’re doing enough to safeguard your business.
1. Given that gambling and drug addiction is a major cause for employee theft, have you contracted with the services of a professional counselling agency and made their services available at no charge to your employees?
2. Since the best way to avoid employing a thief is not to hire him or her in the first place, do you conduct extensive pre-employment background checks that include examining of criminal records and calling references, and do you hire an external agency to do this if you’re too busy?
3. Do you tell new employee during orientation how important loss management is to the company and let new employees know that the company's theft prevention measures are tools to protect employees from false accusation.
4. Do you make company policies on theft, pilfering and misuse of company electronic resources - private emails, online games - well-known to all employees?
5. Do you develop a "culture of honesty" to preventing internal theft by building awareness about inventory shrinkage and theft issues, and do you provide a means for employees who observe illegal or inappropriate behaviour a way to report them?
6. Do you employ active loss prevention measures such as closed circuit cameras, and passive measures such as restricting access to certain areas and information?
7. Does your loss awareness and monitoring apply equally and appropriately to all employees, from casual employees to senior management?
8. Do you password protect your company computers and telephone accounts <<< TELEPHONE ACCOUNTS? CAN YOU TELL ME THE UNDERLYING RATIONALE HERE? (E.G., DO YOU WANT TO STOP PEOPLE FROM MAKING CALLS TO AUSTRALIA, OR LISTEN TO OTHERS’ VOICE MAILS? and have them changed frequently? Rationale is that hackers broke into my wife’s workplace 1-800 phone system (some workers hadn’t password protected their accounts and ran up thousands in long-distance bills. After the line was disconnected, phone calls came in for days afterward at the rate of two or three a minute.)
9. Do you monitor for “time theft” by noting times of arrival and departure, private telephone conversations, length of breaks and other sources of work loss?
10. Have you considered hiring a private investigator to deal with internal thefts instead of calling the police to minimize public disclosure?
11. Do you empty cash registers often so that there’s never more than sufficient cash in the till to cover purchases and have a drop safe system for depositing cash?
12. Because many thefts are done by ex-employees, do you have a key and alarm code control system that includes no-copy keys to allow for employee turn-over?
13. Do you require two signatures on all cheques, one of which is from a senior partner or officer?
14. Have you set up a system of internal controls that will deal with both receipts and payments to and from the company, such as having a senior company officer reconcile the bank statement monthly but somebody else sign the cheques?
15. Do you have your books audited annually by a certified accountant?

Master of the Accordion: Remi Picco

I wrote this story about my accordion instructor for the defunct Showcase magazine.

Remi Picco: Master of the Squeezebox

Christmas has come early for 76-year old Remi Picco. The Kelowna resident eagerly displays his new 10-track digital recording equipment. “It writes straight to CD,” he says in his studio, the walls lined with speakers, amplifiers, mixing board and a tremendous variety of electronics. Not surprisingly, a security system blinks in the corner of the room. Clearly at ease with this complex musical equipment, Remi says with confidence and a gentle smile, “It offers me unlimited musical possibilities.“
The heart of the equipment sits gleaming on a shelf. Gloss black and bejewelled in rhinestones, it’s a top-of-the-line, state of the art ”Petosa” accordion. Custom built in Italy, the 16-channel Petosa connects the studio equipment together as an electronic ensemble.
You could call Remi the Okanagan Grand Master of the Accordion, the Maestro of the Squeezebox, or a Virtuoso of Harmony. Trophies crowd a shelf in his studio; he has won an award every year he has competed at the famous Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Competition. This year he won the Diamond award, the first time its been offered. On another wall are signed photos of past and present giants of the accordion world. Remi knows each of them. “They’re all friends of mine,” he says.
Formerly much maligned as the instrument of schmaltz and geriatric waltz, the accordion has experienced a tremendous surge in popularity in recent years. Remi’s schedule is evidence of this growing appreciation; he’s playing 17 events this holiday season. “It’s my busiest ever, “ he says, “I’m already booking into next year.
The accordion is a difficult instrument to play well. The musician can see neither hand, and both hands must play independently to provide melody, harmony and rhythm. Though a keyboard is part of the instrument, the accordion, Remi points out, is really a wind instrument. The subtle skill of controlling the bellows breathes life into musical pieces. “When you wear the instrument, it becomes part of you, “ he says, “When you play a Strauss waltz, its your own expression.”
Remi is known throughout Kelowna for his many appearances. He plays at ethnic society dances, such as the German club, the Italian club, and the Sons of Norway. He also performs at innumerable weddings, banquets, anniversaries and events like OUC’s Career Fair. His success stems from his love of connecting with his audience through his toe-tapping dance music.
Remi remains a popular favourite at senior care homes such as Hawthorne Park and Three Links. At such venues his audience is often younger than he, something he attributes to his love of the accordion. “It’s bestowed the gift of youth on me, “ he professes. His youthfulness is apparent in the swift sureness of his strong fingers over the keyboard. “At 76 I’m playing better than when I was 25,” he says.
Remi only began playing in his teens after he immigrated to Canada from Italy. Living outside Cranbrook, he taught himself to play by ear on a model that he and his dad purchased for thirty dollars out of the Eaton’s catalogue.
After a variety of jobs in the resource industries, Remi attended teacher college in Victoria before returning to the Kootenays to teach. Later in Vancouver he ran began taking accordion lessons. He was 28 years old and his teacher “made me start from scratch.” In later years he moved to Kelowna and pursued the accordion fulltime. He now teaches, plays gigs and arranges music.
Remi’s life is full with other pursuits too. Earlier this year he played the role of a strolling accordionist in a CBC-TV French production. As well, he adjudicated a competition and conducted a 52-piece ensemble. And in July he and his daughter flew to Brazil where they drove to a remote countryside spiritual centre. “It was an enlightening unforgettable experience,” he.
Music remains his enduring passion. He plays hundreds of selections from memory and has a repertoire of thousands from written music. His cabinets hold uncounted volumes of accordion books and reams of sheet music. His collection of accordion music is outstanding, possibly the largest in Canada. “Oh, gee, I’ve got music coming out of the walls “ he says, “A fellow came from back east just to buy some from me.”
Remi’s musical range encompasses the range of his library. He easily demonstrates his musical virtuosity, playing the same piece in a variety of styles. His musical comfort zone extends from east European polka and waltz to Latin tango and rumba, from Scandinavian schottische to Italian tarantella, just to scratch the surface. Recently, says Remi, “I’ve become more interested in semi-classical music.
His knowledge of music theory is no less encyclopaedic. He discusses with ease the nuances of minor and major keys, discords, and intervals. “It makes me a better player,” he says. For Remi Picco, music constitutes part of his life, and the cultural life of the Okanagan is the richer for it.

King of the Valley: Ron Derrickson

This article first appeared in Canadian Business magazine.

King of the Valley

Ron Derrickson rules with an Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

Fly over B.C.’s Okanagan Lake and you look down on a valley of surpassing beauty. The sensibility of the place seems more European than Canadian, with its many wineries and upscale ski resorts. Such amenities attract new residents and the valley’s swelling population has ignited a sizzling real estate market, now among the most expensive in the country.
The real estate boom has created a lot of wealth and more than a few millionaires in the Okanagan. But no one has had a more dramatic and unlikely rise to riches and influence than local boy Ron Derrickson. His eponymously-named RMD Group of Companies consists of some 20 companies with properties including mobile home parks, a family theme park, a marina, apartments, dozens of leased industrial and commercial properties, substantial tracts of prime undeveloped land, and other residential and recreational developments including a brand-new executive golf course. All told, if sold lock, stock and barrel, Derrickson’s holdings could ring in at an estimated $100 million.
Pretty good for a guy with a Grade 8 education.
Ron Derrickson, 59, did graduate from the Business School of Hard Knocks. Must have been some school because Derrickson possesses the acumen and shrewdness to match the business wherewithal of any MBA or CEO. Rather than hindering him, he’s managed to exploit his First Nations (read income tax-free) status to maximum advantage.
Along the way, he has locked horns with politicians from the local to federal levels, been six-time chief of the Westbank Indian band, been the subject of numerous formal inquiries and a royal commission, won the largest libel suit ever in Canada and was badly beaten in a bloody murder attempt by a hired hitman. He’s a yacht skipper and former North American speedboat champion.
Today, Derrickson just laughs about most of it. He runs his business empire from a suite of small offices overlooking his Old McDonald’s Farm theme park. His jet black hair is slicked straight back and his heavy gold jewelery and diamond-encrusted ring look good against his copper-coloured skin. He presents as a man in full, without artifice, brimming with confidence and a practical “Let’s get at it” air. Derrickson laughs easily at his own jokes and others’. He tells a good story and is possessed of exceptional people skills. His emotional intelligence is way off the scale: A manager walks out of the office next to his. He looks at her and asks, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” she avers. “Yes, there is,” he says, “What is it?” “Well,” she says, and spills out her story.
Derrickson concurs. “One of my greatest strengths has been my ability to read people,” he says. “I can look at someone and tell if he’s lying.” Derrickson is direct with people, speaks bluntly and to the point always, and suffers no bullshit. This directness has earned the enmity of many in the valley.
Derrickson was born dirt poor, living in a tar paper shack. He and his brother became the first Indian babies to be born at Kelowna General Hospital. His father, Ted, was a farmer, and so Ron worked the land from a young age. (The family name was Tousawasket - pronounced chu-cha-wasket - but an Indian agent chose the Anglo name Derrickson out of a hat.) He and his brother attended school in Kelowna, again the first Indians to do so. The school dealt him his first experience with racism. “It was terrible, just horrible,” he says of the bullying, emphatically, now more than a half-century later. His parents pulled them out of the Kelowna school and sent them to a residential school in the Okanogan Valley across the line in Washington State.
Dropping out of school in grade nine, Derrickson picked onions and other farmwork before packing his bags and heading to Vancouver. He tried his luck at different low-paying service jobs before becoming a welder. He enjoyed the work and was good at it, working inside massive $10 million turbines and earning union wages.
Knowing the inherent value of land from his farming background, Derrickson returned to the Okanagan and bought a ranch, land that the Westbank shopping mall now sits on. Later he bought another, running a total of 700 head of cattle. “You know I worked very hard,” he says earnestly, “My wife left me because of my work. She expected me home at five and I got up at 4 in the morning and I wouldn’t be home till 11 o’clock at night. With the cattle business it was a 7-day a week operation. Those cows have to be fed…at 6:00 and they want to eat again at 6 in the evening. And I had two ranches to look after and an hour and a half drive between ranches.” He learned to artificially inseminate his cattle and turned that into a business. “Try handling 40 cows in heat” he said once, “and you’ll find out what work is.”
Derrickson steadily accumulated property on the reserve. Normally, Indian reserve land is owned by the band. But the Westbank Band, established in 1963, is an offshoot of the Okanagan Indians and its members were granted Certificates of Possession by the federal government. Individual band members can own, sell and purchase the Certificates. So the land was cheap; it was Indian property that whites couldn’t own and in the early 80’s an intractable recession gripped the B.C. economy.
“There’s no magic in what I’ve done,” says Derrickson. “I knew what my course was and I never wavered.” He adds, “I’m not no deep intellectual. I bought a little piece of land and got some income from it and bought another.” He purchased his last property some 20 years ago. In 1986 the Coquihalla Highway opened, providing a direct connection from Vancouver to the Interior. Land values soared. In the meantime, Derrickson pursued low-cost developments that provided a steady cash flow.
With his increasing wealth, Derrickson bought a speedboat and joined the racing circuit. He recalls driving 87,000 miles in 8 ½ months to compete. He returned to the business world after taking 126 wins and the North American championship.
In 1976 Derrickson became the elected chief of the Westbank Indian band, winning five consecutive two-year terms. His motivation to run for chief stemmed from a realization that “there were some things that needed to be done.” He moved quickly to put the books in order and raised the ire of some when he took a tough stance re-negotiating leases on Indian land. A few trailer park owners responded by taking out a contract on his life. In August 1982, when he answered the door at his home, a stranger struck him in the head with a sharp-edged steel bar. A second blow severed arteries in his wrist, spraying blood. Struck again and again, Derrickson finally managed to break free and smash open a gun cabinet to reach a handgun. He shot the assailant before collapsing. Derrickson ended up in hospital with 248 stitches and his would-be assassin with a bullet wound and in prison.
Under his leadership the Westbank band’s fortunes soared from squalor to one of the wealthiest reserves in Canada, an “entrepreneurial hothouse” with 12 profitable tribe businesses Derrickson helped to develop. But internal dissension from band members and their rumours of financial malfeasance saw Derrickson the subject of 17 separate Indian Affair inquiries, Justice department investigations and RCMP probes. (An independent audit found, according to the chartered accountant, “All the allegations proved false. Everything was clean, everything documented.”)
Derrickson was defeated in the 1986 band election and then became the focus of a 20-month royal commission into his band activities. His business dried up, staff walked out on him and banks cut off his line of credit. A low-point in his life, the damage to his reputation reportedly caused him to consider taking his own life. The investigation cleared Derrickson of any wrong-doing and he subsequently sued his detractors, winning (at the time) the largest libel settlement in Canada.
Derrickson has never been a stranger to the courts. The Kelowna Court Registry names him in 34 Supreme and Civil court actions and five disputed traffic tickets. He is known for his litigious nature. Says Lyle Brewer, a specialist in First Nations land management and development, “He is unmerciful if someone tries to screw him. He won’t take any crap. They’ll feel his wrath...” As for his traffic tickets, Derrickson says, “I always fight my speeding tickets.” Once in court to deal with two of them, he struck a deal with the judge to plead to one if the other were dismissed.
In 1998 after a 12-year absence he was re-elected chief for a final term. He soon negotiated a tough deal with provincial and federal governments for native logging rights, signed a self-government treaty with the federal government, banned a local TV station’s news crews from the reserve, fought tooth and nail against a unionizing effort and proposed the reserve as a tax-free zone like the Bahamas or Grand Caymans.
With his remaining substantial tracts of prime undeveloped land, Derrickson today is a lightning rod for developers. Its the reason he says he doesn’t like to dine out locally, complaining that people always pitch him with deals. But deals there are aplenty. He’s just struck a deal with property developer Rykon to develop 98 acres of land around his new golf course. And a hush-hush deal sees him bringing a major new auto dealership to the valley.
Derrickson now takes more time to enjoy the good life. He lives alone but keeps a housekeeper/cook and a handyman to look after his lakefront home and property. He’s having the lakefront home re-modeled, including a $50,000 custom kitchen and a touchless carwash added to his 3-car garage.” His home reportedly features a wine cellar, horse stables, a 30-meter covered dock, a tennis court, a collection of first-edition books signed by their authors (including Hemingway) and some 500-year old Ming vases.
Pretty good for a guy with a Grade 8 education.

One Year Off: Hitting the Road

This article first appeared in Moneysense magazine.

Hit the Road, Jack

Sage Advice on RVing around North America

Last summer our family completed a 40,000-kilometer, 8-month drive around North America. Our two boys learned to surf in the waves off beaches in Baja California. We prowled through bayous in Louisiana and swam in the astonishingly blue waters of springs in northern Florida. We watched icebergs in Newfoundland, and in Cape Breton, ventured down a coal mine.
Let me tell you, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. The trip proved to be an enormous family adventure. Part of our motivation stemmed from a desire to step off the day to day treadmill and share time and experiences with our sons Serge, 12, and Vaughn, 10, before they grew up. Our trip not only met but exceeded our hopes and expectations, and our sense of family togetherness has endured long after the trip ended. Whether you go for six days, six weeks or six months, spending time on the road with your family and seeing the incredible sights of North America is a world class adventure you’ll always remember. Plus the trip can be surprisingly inexpensive. If this interests you, here are words of advice from the road.
RVing is hugely popular in North America and not just because it can cost significantly less than other holiday options. Major benefits include being able to bring your pets and piles of personal gear, making friends at campgrounds on the road and, perhaps best of all, deciding your own schedule. The sense of freedom is truly exhilarating.
Choosing your vehicle presents your first and toughest decision. The category of Recreation Vehicle covers many different vehicle and towing combinations. RVs range in size and price from tent trailers to little Volkswagen Westphalia vans to enormous diesel buses with triple slide-outs. Choosing the right RV really depends on your trip. Says Al Shillington, the service manager of a major RV dealership in British Columbia, “What are you going to be doing? It all depends on what you’re planning to do and what you’re going to bring with you.” For overall comfort and room, Shillington recommends a motorhome. Trucks with fifth-wheel trailers, he says, are also popular because they’re dead easy to drive and back up Most trailers now feature two axles for safety and road stability. From white-knuckle experience I recommend avoiding a single-axle trailer.
People usually start out with something small, says Al Shillington. “I started out with a tent and worked my way up,” he says. Increasing size, however, has its drawbacks. Drivers of large rigs we met in Mexico complained bitterly of the price of gas and the narrowness of the roads. We chose a GMC Safari van for our tow vehicle and a small trailer because we liked the flexibility the combination offered. We were able to leave the trailer at a campsite and drive into town.
You might want to look into renting a RV. (Check out the rates at the RV rental website in the sidebar.) Renting for a long trip will prove more expensive than purchasing a RV and selling it afterwards, especially for a trailer. We sold ours for pretty much the purchase price. Trailer insurance is surprisingly inexpensive but pricey for the large rigs. And you can save plenty by buying your RV privately instead of from a RV Lot. Auto dealers who take RVs on trade-in sometimes offer them at firesale prices.
Whatever you choose, take plenty of short trips in your new RV before leaving on the big trip. You may find the size of the larger rigs daunting initially but all the drivers I spoke with said that they grew accustomed to driving them very quickly. No special driver’s license is required regardless of RV size. And attend to required purchases before you leave. We went out only a couple of times on short weekend hops and found we had to buy a new hitch and snow chains on the road. Searching for a RV shop in a strange city taxes your patience and takes the fun out of the day.
I’d also recommend purchasing a vehicle with a continent-wide warranty. It takes the stress out of breaking down on the road while you’re far from home. Our GMC Safari broke down in Moose Jaw. The 1-800 number instantly summoned a tow vehicle and the offer of overnight accommodation.
If you’re going south, an air conditioner is a great idea. We spent three months driving across the southern States, from San Diego to Key West. Though we loved Florida, especially the fresh water springs in the north and the Keys in the south, we suffered from the humidity. By April, it proved so acutely uncomfortable our two boys cried one night and I felt like joining them. Even tent trailers in Florida come with air cons and the owners run them 24 hours a day.
One concern every Canadian shares is the appalling (or lack of it) value of our dollar against the Yankee greenback: $1 U.S. = $1.60 Canadian. In other words, you’ll spend 60% more in the States than in Canada for equivalent services and goods. Fortunately we found camping in State Parks to be good value at about $15 U.S. a night. Obtain the best rates at private campgrounds by paying the monthly rate. By visiting in the winter off-season we never had a problem finding a good campground for the night except on holiday weekends. Depending on the state, gas is a bargain at about half the price in Canada, even with the exchange rate. All told –for gas, accommodation, and other expenses - we spent about $3,000 a month on the road.
Like us, you may be plagued with worries about taking to the road for an extended period. What about personal safety in Mexico and the U.S.? What about the children’s schooling? What about all the unknowns? Our fears proved baseless. Sure, we had close encounters with stingrays, riptides and alligators but that was part of the adventure. I recommend always talking to the locals for the best information. “Is it safe to swim here?” I asked a fellow in Louisiana. “Sure, as long as you don’t bring your dawg in the water, “ he replied. “The splishy-splashy brings the gators around.” You see, now that’s good advice!
Another concern that proved false was that the U.S. would prove to be a dull country full of malls and theme parks. On the contrary, many places proved to be unbelievably exotic. We especially enjoyed the snowy sequoia forests in California, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, a time-tripping Civil War Re-enactment in Virginia and the busy exciting streets of New York, New York.
We found Microsoft Streets and Trips software to be very useful. Before hitting a new town we’d turn on the laptop for directions to the next shopping mall, gas station, bank machine, whatever. Priceless. I strongly recommend checking out the state tourist information stations situated at the state line on all major highways. They’re valuable source of maps, brochures and discount coupons. Use public libraries to check your email.
If travelling through the United States or Mexico on your own sounds a bit daunting, check out joining a caravan. Different options abound from formal guided tours to friends travelling together. Check the sidebar for information. At any rate, however you choose and wherever you choose, taking to the long and open road can be a marvelous experience you’ll never regret.

Links you may useful in planning your own roadtrip
Mexican Auto Insurance

Information Pages on Baja California

Mexico Tourist Information

Free Camping in the U.S.A. Guide

RV Rentals

USA Tourist Information

Canada Tourist Information

Guided caravans across Canada and the U.S.

Guides caravans into Mexico and Central America

Excellent source of information on Rving

When Your Neighbours are Neighbourly

This article first appeared in Harrowsmith Magazine.

What can you do when your Neighbours aren’t Neighbourly?

Here’s how local organizations can help protect their lands from vulture loggers.

When you live in the country, it’s usually with the expectation of quiet solitude coupled with abundant natural beauty. So when a new property owner in the Shuswap watershed in the southern B.C. interior began clearcutting his recently acquired 4,000 acres last summer, naturally he ruffled a few feathers. “There was no warning. People woke up and the feller buncher machines were outside the windows and they went 24 hours a day,” says local resident and a regional district director Eugene Foisey. People in the area complained about the incessant noise and even called the police but the new owner, says Foisey “claimed he was a farmer working his land and so exempt (from noise abatement laws) under the Farm Act.” Foisey is no stranger to the logging industry - he’s a lifelong logger himself – but says of this logging, “This was particularly egregious.” The woods he says were totally clearcut, right down to the creeks.
Robert Frost famously wrote, “Good fences make good neighbours” and by that spoke to the importance of neighbours developing a good working relationship. But when land is appreciated only for its assessed value, relationships with the neighbours take a back seat. With the increasing demand for natural resources, coupled with ceaseless urban sprawl, land use conflicts abound across rural Canada.
We depend on our neighbours to act in a co-operative and considerate fashion but when they choose not to, we have to rely on local laws. Unlike say, Fisheries and Oceans, which is governed by federal law, crown land is a provincial responsibility and a patchwork of laws exists across the country. Commercial logging operations are governed by provincial laws. For example, loggers must leave a riparian buffer zone along creeks for watershed protection in British Columbia. Such laws don’t apply to private land owners. Will Horter is the executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, a non-profit group that advocates for sustainable land use. Of private land use laws controlling logging in British Columbia, says Horter, “They’re so generalized they’re useless. They’re pretty much of a joke. And they’re not enforced.”
A consequence is what some disparagingly call “vulture logging” – clearcutting by individuals who look for rural lots that they can purchase, log and resell for quick profit. Private land owners can choose to selectively log so that the log harvesting is hardly noticeable, or they can cut everything down as quickly as they like. They can sell off the barren land and move on.
That’s what Eugene Foisey and residents of the Shuswap watershed were up against after their own vulture logger moved in. Foisey and other residents in local Cherryville organized themselves into a group called Friends of Responsible Ecological Sustainable Timber (FOREST). The group began by trying to speak to the landowner. When that didn’t work, they began lobbying different levels of government, held protest rallys on the piles of left-over slash, videotaped the clearcut logging operations, held townhall meetings and raised as much media attention as they could.
On secluded Denman Island in B.C’s Gulf Islands, the same thing happened in 1997. Almost one-third of the island was purchased by logger/developer Mike Jenks through his company Jemi Holdings. (Currently Jemi owns about 25,000 acres in B.C. with interest in 106,000 acres in Ontario.) Clearcutting began within two weeks despite local protests. Wayne Quinn of the Islands Trust, a legislated council of trustees mandated to preserve the Gulf Islands, led a legal battle to stop the loggings. “We went through a trial and an appeal after that and we lost both times,” he says.
After seeing the loss of forests on Denman and other neighbouring Gulf Islands, residents of Saltspring Island were determined to the stop clearcutting there in November 2001. Again, large parcels of land had been purchased by an absentee landowner. But Saltspringers in a high-profile effort united to block the vulture logging, even going so far as to chain themselves to the logging trucks. They also campaigned to raise money to buy the land back. Local resident, author and well-known radio personality Arthur Black led a last minute fund-raiser featuring naked men and fig leaves. The provincial government added to the pot raising a total $16 million to purchase the land to be set aside for parks.
Chalk one up for the little guys.
Says Wayne Quinn today of future legal battles against private land clearcutting, “We have to use the tools available to us and those are limited to the development permits required for steep slopes, watershed or ecologically sensitive areas.”
It’s too late for some of the lands in the Shuswap but Foisey and FOREST carry on the fight. “We’re pushing for new bylaws with a bite but at the same time offer small landowners a carrot to preserve the forests,” he says.

The Raw Food Cookbook

Alive ‘N Raw
Elyse Nuff brings her uncooked message to the Okanagan

By Greg Fjetland

She hasn’t had a cooked meal in years, and Elyse Nuff says she feels great. The 60-year old woman is a passionate advocate for eating raw, uncooked meals. After a close encounter with a potentially fatal liver disease, she began searching, not for sources of illness but of wellness. Her journey has led her to challenge one of our modern customs, so prevalent as to be invisible: cooked food.
“Cooked foods are a poison to the body,” says Elyse flatly. “You are born with a warehouse of enzymes and you have to replace them with natural enzymes.” Cooking destroys the temperature-sensitive enzymes. The result is the onset of what our medical system views as age-related diseases, but which Elyse sees as a result of enzyme depletion. She presents herself as living proof; since abandoning cooked foods and eating strictly uncooked and organic foods, her health, energy and stamina have soared.
Though her face glows as she describes preparing raw foods and its nutritional benefits, Elyse Nuff is no starry-eyed dreamer. She’s a hard-edged, keen-eyed former newspaperwoman, realtor and alderman. She sat on the board of a regional district. Her political experience is apparent. She speaks her mind emphatically. “I’ll come after you if you misquote me,” she says to this reporter convincingly. Her skepticism stems from her experiences in running two newspapers, and recognition that many will dismiss her notion of a diet of raw foods as extremism and lacking in scientific basis or necessity.
Elyse now finds herself with an unexpected mission: to spread the word of the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. “Turn away from the stove to the refrigerator,” she says. She says she’s in vanguard of people who recognize the benefits of raw eating. She describes her occupation as health consultant. ‘I’m not a doctor, “ she notes. But more scientific research, she says, is backing up her viewpoint, and more people are choosing to eat uncooked foods.
She attributes the prevalence of chronic illness in our society to diet. “People have to become aware of what they’re eating,” she says. “Sooner or later they have to bite the bullet and take responsibility for their own health.” The consequence is ill health. “Pretty soon your body will lay you flat. That get your attention but by then you’re verging on a chronic or major illness.”
Elyse’s ardor and passion stems from her deeply held belief that this suffering is totally unnecessary. She holds without doubt that our food system is designed to maximize profit, not health. Elyse is convinced that given organic raw fruits and vegetables the body will heal itself, from aches and pains, even cancer.
Despite the skepticism her message meets with, Elyse welcomes the challenge because of the very tangible benefits. “Sure it’s a huge change,” she admits. “We change our habits very reluctantly.” The trick is to start small and make incremental changes. As the benefits become apparent, people will abandon cooked foods. “You have to be determined to be the best you can be,” she says. “You have to be determined to be well.”
A raw food diet should be a convenience, she says, not a hindrance. It saves time because you no longer have to stand at the stove and then scrub pots afterwards. It saves money, because cooked food, especially purchased prepared food, is expensive. She rarely shops. A local organic farmer delivers her fruits and veggies to her door.
Elyse is accompanied on her road to wellness by her husband Eldon. Though also committed to a raw food diet as well, he does admit to backsliding and eating cooked foods once in a while. For breakfast the couple might enjoy fresh juice and fruit salad, for lunch soup and crackers, and for supper, tossed green salad, sprouted grains and stuffed red peppers.
To help people change their eating habits, Elyse has written, designed and published a recipe book. “Alive ‘n Raw….As Nature Intended” contains information about raw food and recipes. The book serves as an introduction to the raw food approach and philosophy. “It’s for the greenhorn,” she says. “I’ve put my experiences into this guide for people without them having to poke around in the dark.” The recipes are simple, straightforward, surprisingly varied and tasty. The flaxseed crackers are excellent. Recipes range from salads and dressings to entrees and dessert. Elyse is currently presenting her recipe book at book-signings throughout the valley, scheduled for Nature’s Fair on March 1st and Chapters on March 8th.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Showcase magazine: The Redzone

Alan McTeer in the Red Zone
An interview with a charming adventurer turned novelist

By Greg Fjetland

“The cabin is rapidly filling with smoke. I force myself to think, to concentrate. How can I put out this fire? If I depressurize the cabin at this altitude, the fire can’t possibly burn. I look down to check the oxygen gauge on my emergency bottle and put on the mask. I push the depressurization toggle to the off position. The switch, which was probably never used before, breaks off in my hand.”
Excerpt from Red Zone

Alan McTeer laughs when he tells the story now but he says that at the time, his plane’s cabin fire was not in the least humorous. He survived the fire but was just beginning the misadventure that forms the story in his new novel “Red Zone.” Impressively, the Kelowna-based author, filmmaker and adventuring pilot swears that his novel is “90 percent true.”
Over coffee at a local Starbucks, McTeer, roguishly handsome with his close-cropped silver hair and flinty blue eyes, tells his tale. A natural raconteur, his stories flow effortlessly, convincingly and continuously. He talks about meeting CIA agents and key players in the Calli drug cartel of Columbia, smuggling planes out of South America, and mining gold in Bolivia. He worked with the U.S. Air Force and, after his arrest, with the Drug Enforcement Agency. Red Zone, his first novel, is the recounting of one business trip that went very badly askew.
This adventuring author has had a lifelong fascination with planes. He began flying with Air Cadets at the age of 12 in Rossland. But a renal aneurysm put him out of the running for flying for the Canadian Forces and he became a millwright at Cominco in Trail. When he was 26 he moved to Calgary and began selling Cessna airplanes. “That’s when the trouble started,” he says.
His dentist told how his plane had been impounded in Mexico. McTeer volunteered to retrieve it. At the Mexican airport he started a fire as a diversion while he tried to get the plane started. He flew it back all the way to Calgary, limping along on one magneto. “We were young, dumb and stupid,” he confesses.
Encouraged by his early success he started a business in Las Vegas called Flight Recovery Services of Nevada. Later he moved the business to Miami and began recovering confiscated planes for insurance companies. The planes he sought were in countries throughout the Caribbean and South America. The stakes were high but the money and business were good.
In 1984 a job offer led him to Bolivia. For four years, he worked as a broker selling planes and helicopters. But when one of the planes crashed, the pilot’s family threatened McTeer and his wife and their two children. He took off to the mountains to sluice for gold while his family returned to New York. When a flash flood wiped out his operations he moved back to United States to try to pick up where he left off.
But back in Florida with his many contacts, the easy money of drug smuggling attracted him. McTeer was caught and convicted but served only a few months for his full co-operation with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Although McTeer’s life had been exciting enough up till now, this is where Red Zone begins and things really heat up. Written in the terse style of Elmore Leonard and peopled by more bad guys than you’ll meet in a lifetime, the novel rings true with the authentic details that only someone who’s been there can provide. Anxiety, like the high-pitched note in a suspense movie, pervades the book as its protagonist, Alan Richards, and his sidekick Mario are inexorably drawn into increasingly dangerous situations. Red Zone is the fast-paced and relentless story of the crash-landing of Richard and Mario’s burning plane, their arrest, torture, imprisonment, release and subsequent reluctant and ultimately –thanks to Richards – unsuccessful drug smuggling. In desperate bids to stay alive, the unlikely companions make deals to escape bad situations only to find their next ones even worse. Mario, providing comic relief, manages to dig them in deeper and deeper with his overactive libido. Gradually, and by the barest of margins, Richards turns the outcome in his own favour. He returns safely to America leaving Mario behind.
Today, McTeer finds himself an unexpectedly successful author. “My relatives are saying to me, “Hey, I didn’t know you could write,” he laughs. Sales of Red Zone have been good, he says, with the book handled by Chapters in Canada and Barnes and Noble in the U.S. The book has been broadly and favourably reviewed and McTeer says a film deal is “definitely in the works.” For those of us readers who remain concerned with Mario’s well-being, McTeer says we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.

Profit: How well are you looking after your Finances?

Quiz: How well are you looking after your Finances?

If there is one lesson for us all to remember from the dot bomb implosion, it’s the need to be prudent and vigilant in safeguarding our personal capital. All too regularly, the best laid plans do go astray, so planning for the worst case scenario is always a wise recourse. Financial planning need not be an expensive or time-consuming exercise, but it does need to be looked after, and the sooner, the better. Trying to plan for likely contingencies requires knowledge and foresight, so here’s a quick quiz to give you a head start.

1. Have you become so wrapped up in the finances of your business that you have neglected your personal finances by not diversifying your investment portfolio and taking advantage of other financial tax-saving vehicles, such as RRSP and RESP?
2. Have you remained current on business insurance options such as Segregated Funds, Key Person Insurance and Overhead Insurance that help to guarantee your business’s continuing viability in the event of an unexpected crisis?
3. Given that only an estimated 10% of family-owned businesses survive to the 3rd generation, have your planned a tax-efficient exit strategy for your eventual retirement, or will Revenue Canada be the chief beneficiary?
4. What measures have you taken, such as incorporation or spousal ownership of equity and capital, to minimize your personal liability in case of business bankruptcy?
5. As a full or some time contractor, have you instituted a system to guarantee your sub-contractors carry WCB coverage and other liability insurance so that you’re not on the hook, perhaps years down the road, if problems develop as a result of their actions?
6. Have you engaged the services of a certified financial planner to review your personal finances and provide the best advice on how to manage your investments?
7. Have you provided any personal guarantees for company loans, potentially placing your home and other assets at risk in the event of business bankruptcy.
8. Have you provided an adequate salary for yourself and your family commensurate with your level of responsibility and hours spent on the job?
9. Have you considered the utility of an Individual Pension Plan (IPP) or Retirement Compensation Arrangement (RCA) as a both a retirement and succession planning tool for you and your business?
10. Are you aware that annual maximum initial IPP contribution rates are significantly higher than RRSP contributions rates for older individuals ($26,000 for a 60 year old in 2004 vs. RRSP maximum of $15,500)?
Bonus question!
11. Did you know that contributions made to, or benefits earned under, an RCA do not reduce any amounts you may contribute to an RRSP, spousal RRSP or IPP (or other registered pension plan)?

Moneysense magazine: How to get your stuff back.

Getting Your Stuff Back

Hiring a private detective may be the best solution to recovering stolen property.

By Greg Fjetland

Suffering the outrage and indignation of home break-in and property theft is a troubling fact of modern life for many Canadians. Police across Canada reported more than 1.2 million incidents of property crime in 2002. Almost 275,000 break-ins were reported, the majority of them residential. (Prince Edward Island reported the largest increase in break-in rates at 29%.) Unfortunately, overworked and understaffed police departments don't have the time or resources to track down all the thieves and their stolen goods.
The good news is that victims of crime can do quite a bit to help recover their goods as was my personal experience. When our family went on an extended trip two years ago (See MoneySense “Going Places” June/July 03) we decided to rent out our furnished home in our absence. We rented the house to a family we knew casually. They turned out to have no intention of paying the rent. Their cheques bounced and after two months we evicted them. We hired a property manager to look after the place and he promptly found us a new family that had no intention of paying the rent either. And when they finally moved out after 6 months they took our household furnishings with them.
We tracked down our first tenants through friends. They’d heard our tenants had moved to Calgary so we called long distance directory assistance for their number. Then with a court order for payment in hand we called a Calgary lawyer. After his phone call, our first tenants agreed to pay the outstanding rent.
Our second set of tenants had moved only across town but were now living under the wife’s maiden name. We learned her previous name from an old bill left behind in their garbage and then obtained their new address through the kindness of a clerk at the cable company. (People always pay their cable bills the clerk assured us.) Once we supplied the RCMP with the address, our officer promptly went to pick them up. And quite a scene it was too, the constable later told us, with the husband cursing and the wife crying, a new born baby in her arms, as the couple was bundled into separate cruisers. (He was later to claim our furnishings were mistakenly taken by the movers and the rent non-payment was an oversight!)
Another option is to hire a private investigator to assist in your search. This was the route chosen by Richard and Lois Soneff of Kelowna. The couple awoke one morning in November 2002 to find their new custom jetboat stolen out of the back yard. Richard had just finished helping to assemble the boat, took it out for its first run and brought it home on Friday. The crooks struck the next night. “I’ll never forget how I felt,” he says, when he discovered the boat gone. The appraised value of the uninsured boat was $60,000, a major financial blow to the couple.
The Soneffs contacted the RCMP but weren’t convinced that the police were going to devote the time or effort to track down their boat. Richard undertook the task of finding the boat himself by taking out newspapers advertisements in B.C., Alberta and Washington State offering a $5,000 reward. He also hired a private investigator to help research and track down leads, searching for his stolen boat. Together, he and their private investigator sent out thousands of emails and faxes to gas stations and boatyards.
More and more victims of property crime are relying on private investigators to recover their goods. As a result P.I.’s report that their business is booming. “We’re swamped,” says Suzanne Parisien, president of FBIG Investigations (Okanagan.) which employs 13 licensed private investigators. Parisien says some of their business is because the RCMP assign greater priority to crimes other than property theft. RCMP Media Liaison Constable Heather Macdonald disagrees, saying that, “All files are assigned to a member.” Parisien says that the FBIG Vancouver branch has a whole division concerned with property recovery.
In tracking down the culprits, says Parisien, any leads provided by the victim can be helpful. “Typically we’ll use reliable sources, which could be anyone from neighbours, friend, relatives and the authorities,” she says. She says FBIG investigators don’t use the Internet much because the information isn’t current.
But don’t expect to hire today’s Sam Spade for $100/day. Private investigators don’t come cheap. FBIG charges the industry standard: $65/hour and costs. Costs can include long distance phone bills and travel expenses. Clients can be into big money pretty quickly so Parisien says they usually only get called in on big ticket items, like the Soneff'’s boat or items with a strong sentimental value, like jewelry or other keepsakes.
Besides checking with directory assistance and, Constable MacDonald says to visit local pawnshops to see if you can recognize your belongings. She also advises to keep serial numbers and photos of items in a safe place to help identify and reclaim recovered items.
So we managed to get our stuff back and the back rent paid too. And the Soneffs, following a tip, hired a plane and spotted their boat on a farm one hour north of Prince George. The Soneffs called the cops who promptly went and arrested the bad guys and got them their boat back.

Profit magazine: Maximizing the value of your business

Are you doing the best things to maximize the value of your business and prepare it for sale?

Have you made sure that your succession-ownership transfer structure is tax-effective by discussing this with your accountant?

With the help of your realtor, have you identified potential buyers and a sent them a sales prospectus with enough information to elicit interest but no so detailed as to identify your business (and so turn off potential customers if word gets out your business is for sale?)

To attract interested buyers, along with a description of your business, does your sales prospectus list key financial figures such as profit, cashflow, value of assets and total debts, and compare these figures to previous years and any unique aspects such as market leader in a product?

If you are deeding your business to your family in your will, are you setting up a battle royale by not telling them, or have you all sat down together to talk about the arrangement and what works best for all parties (including a buy-out instead of a share in the business?)

Are you choosing a time to exit when the business is doing well and the market conditions are advantageous, or are you leaving when your hand is being forced and you may not realize all the value in your company?

Have you prepared a realistic three- to five-year business plan that will appeal to a potential buyer but is wholly truthful as well?

To appeal to buyers, have you ensured that when you leave that all of your expertise doesn’t walk out the door with you, by training and delegating your roles to others and helping to development the requisite management skills in-house?

Given that the succession planning process generally takes 12 to 18 months, with an orderly transition taking as long as three to five years, have you placed your own succession on the back-burner under the mistaken impression you can quickly take care of it later?

With the help of a succession professional who understands your business sector, have you formalized your succession plan by detailing through a document with whom, what, how and when the transition occurs?

Do you have a contingency plan in the event that something happens to the purchaser or that he or she doesn’t work out?

Have you determined a business valuation that establishes a realistic and fair dollar number business, based on assets, earnings, intellectual property, marketplace position and reputation?

Given the emotion that’s often involved and to help yourself to be clear on the sale, can you articulate why you’re selling the business: desire for personal liquidity; need of expansion capital; anxiety caused by personal liability and unreasonable risks; age and health; or simply need for a change?

Since the use of professional services is usually essential to the successful sale of a small business, have you consulted a lawyer, insurance broker, accountant and banker for advice and help?

Have you thought like a potential buyer and done the staging necessary to maximize the value of your business: increasing sales, reducing expenses and debt, cleaning up the property and other steps to increase the “curb appeal”?

Have you examined the possibility without emotional bias that your business may be worth more in pieces - assets, real estate, customer base- than sold as a whole?

Profit magazine: Are You Getting the Most of Your Networking?

Are You Getting the Most of Your Networking?

An unspoken yet critical component of business is trust. The people who know and trust you is essential to your enterprise. That’s why business networking has always been important to successful businesses. Good networking is more than just remembering names and faces; it’s also about developing real relationships. Take our quiz to see how you measure up.

For local contacts, have you joined a professional businessperson’s group like the Rotary Club, Downtown Business Association or an industry specific group to meet, discuss, share, brainstorm and network?
If you have joined a business club, are you willing to spend the time to develop real and sincere relationships, or is it all “just business” to you?
For international contacts, have you considered joining an internet-based networking site like or
Do you make it a point to go to at least one industry conference per year and meet enough other people to make it worth your while for the coming year?
Do you enhance the quality of your networking contacts by appropriately following up with a thank you note or email to genuinely extend your interest and appreciation in meeting that person?
Have you made networking part of your strategic plan by writing it down, assigning staff and a budget to join organizations and attend business functions to carry out relationship-building activities?
Have you practiced a 10-15 second “verbal business card” filled with benefits of doing business with you, or do you just wing it, hoping to create the best impression?
When working an event (and not just the room), do you tend to focus on just a few people – and so miss most people - or do you limit your interactions with any one person to 10 minutes maximum?
Do you consciously seek to create a positive first impression through your appearance, demeanour, posture, handshakes, eye contact and facial expressions?
Do you look to “Pay It Forward” by going out of your way to help other business people, even if no immediate payback is obvious, by introducing them to a possible partner or business opportunity?
When you network, do you speak your goals clearly, saying what it is that you do, who you do it for and how you might be able to help each other further?
Have you taken the time to read a few of the excellent (and entertaining) books on networking, such as The Frog and Prince: Secrets of Positive Networking To Change Your Life?
Have you used the three best questions "How did you get your start in the 'widget' business?", "What do you enjoy most about what you do?" and the key question, “How can I know if someone I meet would be a good prospect for YOU?"
Given that 2 out of 10 prospects make up 80% of your sales, do you know who those people are and do you go out of your way to network and keep in touch with them?
Have you considered starting your own industry-focussed blog or e-newsletter to create a buzz for yourself and so that clients and colleagues feel they know you even before they meet you?