Monday, October 23, 2006

How not to create a small business report

Since I spent so much time last week critiquing the ads in the Financial Post’s Special Report on Small Business, I thought it might be interesting to review the editorial content as well. What does it tell us about the state of small business in Canada today?

Here, according to the Post, are the key issues facing small business:

Pg. 1: Rising fuel prices. Hmm… the story itself says business optimism is nearing all-time highs. It even concludes that high energy prices have “just become part of doing business in today’s global marketplace.” (Yawn-inducing cliché alert.) They put this story on the front page?

Pg 1: Tips for taking advantage of the strong Loonie. Ya gotta love this sentence: “According to one expert, Canadian small businesses tend to be less exposed to currency fluctuations than larger ones because many, particularly service-oriented businesses such as barbershops and snow-removal contractors, do not deal in global markets.”

2. Looking for early-stage “angel” investors. Quote: “The challenge is to maintain the energy, cohesion and motivation that they’ve created while accreting.”

2. Tapping private equity (mainly for entrepreneurs looking to get out).

So far I would say this material would appeal to about 1% of the entrepreneurs in Canada. But let’s keep going.

3. SME survey results indicate entrepreneurs want more startup help from government and feel they spend too much time finding new customers. Plus: few small businesses have document-management strategies!

4. The infamous article on cross-border shipping entitled “Customs broker helps slow border tie-ups.” The bottom line: invest in compliance systems. Who do they think will read this bilge?

5. Managing the dynamics of a family business. An OK story addressing real-life problems many entrepreneurs will identify with. Marred by a reference to a “recent” CFIB study that came out a year and a half ago.

8. “Where to start on IT solutions for your startup.” A random review of business technologies, from integrated information systems to instant messaging and Skype. A conversation starter for absolute newbies.

9. How to keep hackers and computer viruses out of your information systems. This story might have attracted readers if the writer had described the problem before prescribing all these solutions. Journalism is like sales: Pain first, solution second.

10. “Moms make good entrepreneurs.” It’s an American story from the NY Times News Service. Too bad the Post didn’t think it worth talking to Canadian women entrepreneurs for this section.

11. “Don’t stress about time,” a story on time management. This would be very useful if it contained time-management tips. Instead, it’s about how entrepreneurs should manage their time better, but often don't. Another gem from the NY Times News Service.

12. A bootstrap marketing story on networking and word of mouth. A good topic, though too theoretical: don't they know that entrepreneurs want short, punchy ideas they can use?
Note: In the second paragraph a business prof advises entrepreneurs to “fling themselves into a crowd and start making noise.” No wonder (see pg. 3) they're spending too much time finding new customers.

12. A story on international trade courses offered by the Forum for International Trade Training. Useful but dullll.

14. “Making a success of a family affair.” I thought this back-page story might be the exciting profile of a dynamic Canadian entrepreneur that I expect in sections like this. Except that the story was written in New York about a Portland, Oregon company and reprinted from London’s Financial Times.

CONCLUSION: Small business is an exciting, dynamic force in Canada for innovation and growth. The Post's tribute to Small Business Week misses everything.

(Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on the advertisers, since the editors themselves were barely trying.)

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