How to comply with Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL)

Canada Anti-Spam Laws - How to ComplyWe’re finishing up our HOW TO themed month with a very important topic; how to comply with CASL, Canada’s anti-spam law.

A business recently had to pay a $48 000 fine because it was guilty of not knowing about Canada’s anti-spam law. Be sure to read this post so that this doesn’t happen to YOU!

One year ago, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) appeared in the already-dense maze of red tape through which every business is supposed to navigate. Puzzled, troubled and in a state of fear, hundreds of entrepreneurs sought out information in order to be compliant with the new law.

What is CASL?

In short, as its title makes clear, this law is aimed at reducing – or better, stopping entirely – the amount of spam consumers receive each day in their inbox.

It is important to define the targets of the anti-spam law: think about emails, text messages, instant messages, or any other similar communication with clients (past, current or potential) in a business context.

The intended targets of CASL are not legitimate businesses who are simply trying to communicate to their customers, but rather professional spammers:

  • Organized spamming operations
  • Collectors of huge amounts of money through spamming operations
  • Distributors of malware
  • Identify thieves

How do I ensure I’m complying with CASL?

The key to complying with CASL is to make sure you obtain authorization before sending any communication, or can reasonably assume you have authorization. This is what is known as “consent.”You must also keep record of those authorizations.

There are two forms of consent that are relevant to CASL compliance: “express” consent and “implied” consent.

Implied consent

There are certain activities or relationships that are covered by CASL rules up to July 1, 2017, under “implied consent”:

  • A pre-CASL business relationship already exists; consent is also implied when customers have inquired about products or services before July 1, 2014.
  • Relationships with transactions within the past 24 months.
  • New customers for up to 6 months after inquiry.
  • Business-to-business marketing where the business address is published and the electronic message is related to work.

Implied consent can turn into express consent by request. Once express consent is given, it never expires unless the person who gives it withdraws their consent.

Express consent

Express consent means a person or organization gives you explicit permission to communicate with them electronically. While express consent is the “gold standard,” implied consent will be acceptable for most businesses. You may already have the consent, as long as you have the records to track your clients’ consents.

Unsubscribe mechanism

This is one of the most important parts of the law. Every message with any sort of commercial aspect to it must have an unsubscribe option for message recipients. This option must be easily accessible and free. If you do get an unsubscribe notice, you will have 10 days to act on it.

Email marketing software

Depending on how often you communicate with your clients, and if you send emails for different purposes, you may want to look into email marketing software. Doing a quick web search for the term will provide a list of options, many of which are free for small users.

More information

Given some of the changes required to your business’ publicity and networking practices, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has created a half-hour overview of Canada’s anti-spam law video and a thorough written overview of the CASL requirements.

Now that CASL has been in effect for a year, take a few moments and read up on these CASL compliance guidelines, just to ensure you know your responsibilities and you aren’t leaving yourself exposed to a fine for simply communicating with your customers!


How to Develop a Solid Business Idea

We are very lucky to have Bobby Umar Joining us today to offer valuable and insightful business building advice!

Small Business IdeasIdeas are everywhere! Some of the best and brightest business ideas have come from people just going about their daily lives and finding inspiration. People will say, “I wish this product or that company would do this,” and thus a new business is born.

So how do you develop a great idea?  Before you quit your day job and try desperately to get on Dragon’s Den, you may want to engage in a few gut-checks. Let’s examine some of the best guidelines to both generate and build great business ideas.

Focus on the Problem

Identify problems first and then come up with a clever way to solve them. What is the pain point that people or businesses (your potential customers) are feeling? Most great ideas came from a problem that required a quick fix. Focus on your own area of expertise or interest. You will save time and hopefully find a problem that you can get excited about.

Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

If you could transplant your brain into someone completely different, you can see the world in a whole new light. For example, you may walk around the house or do your laundry with ease, but a person with mobility issues will have challenges.  This new lens may help you discover new ideas for products or services.

Brainstorm Without Judgement

This is harder than it looks. No matter what industry or setting, the one thing that every group finds challenging is holding back on judgement and critical analysis. The beauty of free brainstorming is the way thoughts springboard to new areas, ideas and opportunities. Have patience with the process; perhaps invest in a facilitator or friend and spend that extra time with an open mind.

Think Laterally

Every problem or idea has multiple dimensions to it. For example, if you want to produce a new “orange,” you can play with the size, shape, colour, smell, taste, aftertaste, packaging, or to whom it is marketed. Try to find ways to innovate across every single aspect – like product, business model, position in market, manufacturing process and distribution – and then maybe think about how your product can be “green.”

Get Feedback

Are you so in love with your ideas you aren’t in a position to fairly criticize them? This is where other people can help. What you really want are people who are good listeners, well connected, accessible and with expertise. The more diverse your pool, the better they will critique and solidify your idea. This is also a clever tactic to get them invested in you and your idea. Your feedback team can then become the “buzz agents” for your idea to spread the word!

Do Your Research

Building a business case – and eventually building your business – takes a ton of homework. You need to be able to answer any question and defend against any critique. Make sure you research your idea and the benefits to your target market. Think about your company, your customers, your competitors and your collaborators. Will people really pay for this? Everything you do must have a strategic rationale behind it. This will help refine your concept and sell your idea more effectively.

Ask the Right Questions

This is one of the most important parts of the process. Is there a need for your idea? Can you make money fulfilling this need? Your idea doesn’t have to be a revolutionary game-changer that no one in the world has ever considered (although that would be nice!). It has to make sense and it has to have a market. So second-guess yourself and ask the big questions.

Use Social Media

Social media is a fantastic way to crowdsource and get information or feedback. You can test ideas, products, and more. Social media is a powerful tool to amplify your reach, create a voice and establish a brand promise. The effort will also help you build a community even before you launch your business idea.

Build the Story

The best business ideas have a story around them. You need some way to connect with your customer so everyone “gets it.” Imagine the first cell phone description – “It’s a phone that goes where you go.” It makes sense now, but that first person selling it was probably a great storyteller. This story will clearly outline the “unique selling proposition” – the reason people will buy from you and not the others. Customers invest in people and they do it because everyone has a story.

So find that inspiring idea, build the case for it and start selling the story!

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bobby umar bio picBobby Umar is a Toronto-based motivational speaker who has spoken at TEDx 4 times and was named one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership speakers. He is a Huffington Post contributor, author and a highly-regarded networking expert, as well as a social media and personal branding guru. Bobby founded the DYPB – Discover Your Personal Brand conference and recently launched a new 12-week program called “Networking Mastery: Turning ‘Lost Leaders’ into Thought Leaders“, focused on helping entrepreneurs ramp up their business.  Follow Bobby on Twitter @raehanbobby or visit his website, www.raeallan.com

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Register now for the DYPB – Discover Your Personal Brand conference, August 14-15,2015 at the University of Toronto. Join 450 delegates, 50+ experts featuring 8 keynotes, 8 panels and 8 workshops. www.dypb.ca.*

*My StartUp / CFIB members will receive discount pricing. Please email marketing@cfib.ca for your discount code. 


How to Write a Press Release for Your Small Business

In the month of July, we offered up a series of HOW TO’s. How to Write a Mission Statement for Your Small Biz, How to Deliver a Winning Sales Pitch, and How to Collaborate: The Benefits of Sharing Resources. Today we’d like to talk about how to write a press release for your small business.

hot to write a press releaseSmall business owners don’t always have the budget to spend on marketing campaigns to generate buzz around their startups, new products or services. Writing a press release is a great way to draw media attention to your business and generate publicity for free. Journalists at all levels and across all platforms are always looking for stories. Issuing a release lets them know that you have a story to tell.

However, just because you have a press release doesn’t mean you’re going to get press. Here are some pointers to make your press release pop!

What’s your news?

Just like you want to grab journalists’ attention with your release, so too do journalists want to grab readers with their article. In order to do both of these things, your release has to be newsworthy. It’s not enough that you are starting up a business, or have created a new product. You need to explain, clearly and concisely, why it matters to your target audience, whether this is other businesses, government officials or consumers. What makes your business unique? What does your product bring to the marketplace that others don’t? Finding your news element will determine the subject matter of your release. Also, remember to keep in mind who your release is aimed at. Community media outlets are much more likely to cover a local story than the big national outlets.

Give it a hook

As part of our How To in July

As with many things in life, timing is everything for a media release. It’s important to not only convince journalists why they should write a story, but why now? Tying your release to a current event or time of year helps frame its relevance. For example: a formal-wear retailer might tie their release to the beginning of wedding or prom season; a barber might encourage customers to come in and shave their beards after the NHL playoffs end; and an accounting firm might remind customers that tax season is just around the corner before launching into their specific offering. Anchoring your release to something timely encourages journalists to write about it, and write about it now.

The trick is in the title

The headline is the most important part of your press release. It’s the first thing journalists see, and if it doesn’t grab them, it’ll probably be the only thing they see. Make sure your headline is clear and to the point. Avoid using industry jargon: remember, you’re writing for journalists. There is such a thing as being too clever, so try to avoid puns or winking at the reader.  Always try to have a couple other people in your organization read it to make sure you didn’t use any unintended innuendo. It’s also a good idea to keep search engine optimization (SEO) practices in mind. You want to use keywords that are going to get picked up in searches.

Ledes (no, that’s not a typo)

The “lede” is the first sentence of your release. This is where you include the most important piece of information. Get straight to the point – include the who, what, where, why and when of the release. Moving downwards from the lede, the release should be shaped like an inverted pyramid, with the most newsworthy, broad information at the top, and the specific details at the bottom. This will help ensure that journalists will get the general idea quickly, rather than getting caught up in the small details before they understand what your release is about. The University of Waterloo has compiled several templates of press releases and media advisories that you may find helpful.

Once you have completed your release, be proactive about reaching out to media. Compile a list of local journalists who have written about small business, your industry and related topics and email them a copy along with a short pitch note that sums up why they should consider writing a story.

Like with any business interaction, relationship management is key. Developing good relationships with journalists will help to increase your coverage.


How to collaborate: the benefits of sharing resources

jennifer beale, networking professional

We are continuing our HOW TO in July theme with a guest post from Jennifer Beale on the topic of collaboration. Jennifer is an avid collaborator who produces two of Toronto’s largest business networking events. Visit www.SummerNetworkingBash.com and find business networking events at www.biznetworknews.com, @JenniferBeale.

How to collaborate: the benefits of sharing resources

Collaborating is a great way for small business owners to save money and time while expanding your network and tackling problems.

You can share resources and knowledge, save money by buying as a group, and even work together for a common project.

It’s unbelievably powerful. And it does not take a lot of time. By sharing resources, you work faster, safer, simpler, and smarter, and ultimately save money and time.

You can collaborate in person, but you don’t have to. With today’s apps, phones and social media platforms, you can connect with great flexibility.

The recent growth in co-working space allows people to share ideas while sharing a common workspace. You pay by the hour, day or through a monthly membership. You stay mobile and you avoid working alone.

There are limitless ways to collaborate. Here’s four easy ways to get started:

Co-Marketing

  • Swap special offers
  • Cross-promote
  • Share links and retweet on social media
  • Connect people by making an introduction
  • Create a referral network
  • Interview people and share with your network

Pool Resources

  • Purchase to get bulk rates on products and advertising
  • Join a co-working space
  • Share products and services

Common Projects

  • Co-host events
  • Combine product launches
  • Package products together

Share Ideas

  • Form a brainstorming group
  • Get together to critique marketing materials

At first, the competitive nature of business seems to defy collaboration. We live in a predominately win-lose world. But with the right mindset, you and your associates can create mutual benefit.

Focus on how you can benefit one another rather than on what you can each get. Healthy relationships are based on reciprocity. View everyone as someone who can share an idea that can spark something creative in you. Listen and learn from others.

View collaborators as allies. Ask for help and listen to their advice and opinions. Try their ideas and let them know how it works.

Usually a collaboration starts with a common vision or felt need. Be genuinely curious about others and ask what you can do better together than alone. Invite people who have a common vision or challenge to join you.

Assess one another’s skills and delegate roles based on strengths not weaknesses

Establish a structured system for discussing ideas and actions to achieve goals. Decide when you will meet, for how long, and when you will end the collaboration.

Let everyone participate. People will participate differently. When you meet, provide equal time for attendees to level the playing field.

Build an environment of trust without judgment. Each person is responsible for aligning their expectations and agreements with one another. If group issues appear, address them immediately with full respect of people.

Where to find collaborators:

  • Networking events
  • Business and industry associations
  • Competitors
  • Co-working locations
  • Interest groups
  • Social media

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How To Deliver a Winning Sales Pitch

best sales pitchTo kick off our month of HOW TO, we offered some tips and advice on how to create a mission statement. This week, we’d like to focus on crafting and delivering a winning sales pitch. No matter what type of business you’re in, you will need to explain to people why they should buy your product or service – and why they should buy it today. In other words, you need to develop your sales presentation, or “sales pitch.”

A sales presentation must clearly answer the core question that is on every customer’s mind: what’s in it for me? We call this the “WIIFM” (pronounced “wiffum”).

WIIFMs come in two basic flavours:

  • Hope of Gain (If you buy this, you will be happier, more successful, etc.); and,
  • Fear of Loss (If you buy this you will avoid something bad that could happen to you very soon.)

How to structure your sales presentation

Your sales presentation must answer these four questions, in this order:

Why should I trust you?

Before someone buys from you, they need to believe that your product or service will deliver the desired result. You can build trust with testimonials from other customers, third-party references, or your own experience, education or expertise. Free samples can work too. That’s why grocery stores hand out free samples all the time!

Do I really need this?

It sounds obvious, but establishing the need for your product or service early in your sales presentation is essential. Keep in mind that a customer may not even be aware that they need your product or service. In that case it is up to you to create the need. You can usually do this with a few simple questions. Take some time to figure out what those questions should be before approaching potential customers.

How will this help me? (WIIFM!)

Give practical examples as to how your product will save the customer time, money or headaches.  Note: It is not enough to just talk about the features of your product or service. You must explain the benefits! What is the difference between a feature and a benefit?

Feature: What it is or what it does…

Benefit: What this means to you is…

Why should I buy this today?

The last part of your sales presentation must give the customer a compelling reason to “act now.”  Examples of compelling reasons could be:

“The sale ends tomorrow.”

“It’s the last one I have in stock – and someone else is looking at it too.”

“Every day that goes by it is costing you money by not having this service.”

“For new customers, we offer a special welcome package of…”

If it is not the type of product or service that a customer would normally buy on the spot, give them a compelling reason to at least move ahead with the next step in the process, such as agreeing to meet with you again, etc.

Closing the sale

Once you have finished your sales presentation, you need to ask for the sale. If you don’t ask, you will miss a lot of opportunities to grow your business! Here are a few basic “closing questions”:

Does this make sense to you?

Does this look like the kind of thing that all (insert name of target market) should be doing?

Which one do you prefer: the red or the blue? (or both! J)

How many would you like?

When can we start?

Will that be cash, credit or debit?

If you prefer, we can do this on a “month to month” basis. Will it work better for you if we do it that way?

Once you have agreement from the customer, move immediately to complete the transaction and (if appropriate for your kind of business) ask for a referral.

TIP: Referrals are one of the best ways to make your next sale!

A wise man once said, “Nothing happens until somebody makes a sale.” It’s true! If you want to make things happen in your business, a structured and polished sales presentation is a great place to start.


How to Create a Mission Statement for Your Small Business

How to write a mission statement

Most people write a mission statement with the hope that they will impress the outside world. A mission statement, however, is not by definition a marketing tool as much as it is a definition of who you are as a company.

A mission statement should be a motivational and inspirational tool for yourself, your employees and those who will be working closely with your organization. A great mission statement is one that you will be able to visit and revisit when creating other items: your positioning statements, your marketing statements, when you’re evaluating your goals, and even planning your organizational future.

Mission statements should be short, clear and, most importantly, specific. You can’t go to a bank and get a loan simply by telling them you’re worth the risk because you plan to change the world. Likewise, you can’t attract the best talent and motivate them to move as a solitary unit toward a goal that is vague enough to be interpreted  10 different ways. Along with being specific, your mission statement needs to reflect your true goals. If you are a new company and your major focus is short-term goals, it’s okay for your mission statement to reflect that. Be brave, be bold and be AUTHENTIC. A mission statement is not a static thing that must stay with you throughout your company’s lifespan. It can and should change along with your goals.

Before you begin to formulate your mission statement, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself.

Q1 – Who are you writing your mission statement for? Define your audiences. Is it yourself, your employees, your stakeholders, or your partners who will be working closely with your company? Think hard about this and write down your answers.

Q2 – A mission statement needs to be clear, specific and inspirational, while also reflecting your value as an organization. What are some of the ways you think you can accomplish this in just two or three sentences?

Here are some suggestions for answering this question: avoid technical jargon, flowery words, industry speak, etc. Choose between long- and short-term goals. What other ways can you think of to ensure clarity and specificity?

Q3 – A mission statement, like most official communications, should be edited. Who do you think you should receive feedback from before making your mission statement official? Employees? Your mentor? Make a list of people who will offer honest and insightful feedback.

Q4 – Aside from a good edit and great feedback, what other value do you hope to get from sharing your mission statement with employees, etc.? I personally find that obtaining feedback ensures everyone is on the same page with the MS, thus making people feel more committed, inspired and empowered, as they will have had their say. Know what you’re looking for before you send out your requests for review and edits.