The art of networking

Many good things, can truly be “lost” unless they are continually practiced and exercised.  I believe that there is an art in the practice of business networking and referring business. Once a business owner learns to do this well that skill can turn into increased sales.

Networking and referring business may be one of the most important things you do, especially in the face of a market with intense competition.

Several years ago I worked as an independent financing specialist. For about 8 years, my business was a sole proprietor under the authority of a licensed mortgage brokerage. It was my responsibility to advertise my services and generate my own leads. Advertising and marketing were outsourced while I used my relational personality to network and build business contacts.

Not only did I grow my customer base, but I continually invested time and energy in meeting network partners with whom I could cultivate reciprocal business. Each year, as I continued to build the business, I added more contacts to a database which grew to over 750 people including: prospects, clients, lawyers, appraisers, lenders, realtors, professional trades, and other service providers. I began to see a direct correlation between the referrals that I gave out to others and the referrals that I received back from others. A steady stream of referral business, along with constant networking and relationship building, allowed me to grow annual sales from $0 to almost $10 million by my third year of business.

While diligent efforts to promote oneself with advertising are certainly beneficial, be careful not to underestimate the growth power that comes with intentional networking and referral business. If you want to reap the reward of constant referred business coming your way, follow the basic rule: give if you expect to receive. What a straightforward concept, but yet so difficult for many to put into practice.

There are great structured networking programs out there that help motivate members to refer business so use these opportunities to learn more about others. Don’t simply promote yourself. Here are some local networking opportunities that you can explore. The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce posts regular networking opportunities, for members, on their websiteThe Medicine Hat Women in Business is another group that hosts three annual networking events for local professional women.  The local Rotary Club of Medicine Hat also offers opportunities to network and serve the community. There are also many other small service groups that meet throughout the city.

Does your business allow you to get out of your office, meet people for coffee, and learn about other businesses that can connect you with excellent leads? Focus on building an established network of businesses and professionals that you believe in and would endorse.

Take time to practice the art of networking and discover how this skill can lead to growth for your business.

Community Futures Entre-Corp has been supporting small business since 1988. We provide the tools and guidance you need to run your business. For more information about our programs and how we can connect you with helpful resources, please call Community Futures at 403-528-2824.

Elizabeth Blair is the regional innovation network coordinator for APEX Alberta. APEX Alberta supports the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta. APEX Alberta is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-Corp, Medicine Hat College and Alberta Innovates

Competitive Bidding: Current opportunities and how to participate

You may have heard:  Southeast Alberta is transitioning to renewables. Several construction projects are already underway in our region, and this presents a significant opportunity for local businesses to grow their revenue through the provision of goods, services and resources to these projects.

Under Round 1 of the Government of Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program (REP), four projects were approved in December 2017 as part of a total 26 projects being considered.  

The four projects approved are:

1.The Whitla Wind Farm, awarded to Capital Power Corporation

2.Phase 2 of Castle Rock Ridge Wind Power Plant, awarded to Enel Green Power Canada, Inc.

3.Riverview Wind Farm, awarded to Enel Green Power Canada, Inc.

4.Sharp Hill Wind Farm, awarded to EDP Renewables Canada Ltd. 

The remaining projects will be considered during REP Rounds 2 and 3, which officially started on April 4, 2018 with an intention to announce remaining awards by December 31, 2018.

Each of these companies will be releasing procurement packages with the goal of securing subcontractors who will perform the work. 

Capital Power Corporation has placed three public bid opportunities onto MERX for the construction of the Whitla Wind Farm. The three Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are listed on the Capital Power website. They are:

1.LIDAR:      Light Imaging Detection and Ranging is the surveying method that will be used at the site.

2.Shamrock 1071S Substation Engineering, Procurement and Construction: this would require the bidder to engineer, procure materials according to project specific requirements and complete the entire construction of the substation.

3.Operations & Maintenance Building: this could include the repair and maintenance of the complete electrical of the building and replacement of defective or damaged materials.

For companies that are looking for direction on how to participate in these current bid opportunities, here are some important things you need to know:

Become a pre-qualified supplier.   You will need to go through a process to become a “pre-qualified supplier”.  Capital Power pre-qualifies their suppliers using the services of ISNetworld. By completing the registration process with ISNetworld and fulfilling all of the listed requirements, you may become a pre-qualified supplier, allowing you to bid on their procurement packages.

Obtain the bid packages.  Register at the MERX website to access the bid packages.

Get ready to submit your response to the Request for Proposal (RFP).  Here are some important tips to consider when submitting a response to an RFP:

1.Read and follow the Instructions to Bidders. There should be no shortcuts in this review. These are the rules of the bidding process and will be enforced by the courts in the event of a conflict.

2. Attend the pre-bid meeting if one is scheduled, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

3. Send in questions throughout the bid period with the understanding that all bidders will likely get answers to your questions as well.

4. Review and understand the bid evaluation criteria.

5. Review and understand the mandatory requirements.

6. If you do not have the experience, consider partnering with others who do.

7. Ensure you have the capacity to carry the project financially for a few months until you get your first payment. If you don’t, then consider requesting an advance payment. Recognize however that that may disqualify you.

8. Seek a line of credit from your financial organization.

9. Get your mandatory insurance requirements in place. The RFP will tell you what those are.

10. Review the RFP forms and always fill them out completely. 

11. Highlight areas where you differentiate yourself.

12. Keep it simple.

13. If your safety record is not optimal, explain what your company has done to address the concerns.

14. Identify the risks which you will be responsible to cover and ensure your bid pricing ensures sufficient dollars to cover those risks.

15. Be prepared to walk away from the RFP if you can’t profit.

16. Recognize that if you submit a bid and the work is awarded to you, unless there are specific extenuating circumstances, you have to accept it.

17. Check and double-check your pricing. If you make a mistake, you may have to live with it.

18. Ensure your bid is on time and meets the deadline to the minute.

19. Read the model terms and conditions provided with the bid. It is better to walk away from a bad contract before submitting a proposal rather than damaging or losing your business through excessive risk. The time to express concern or suggest alternate approaches is in your proposal, recognizing however that that may disqualify an otherwise qualified bid.

20. Take a course in competitive bidding or have an experienced lawyer explain the obligations of bidders and owners in the competitive bidding process.  Understand competitive bidding law in Canada, especially the unique situation that has resulted from Ron Engineering and Bid Contract A and Award Contract B. By submitting a bid in response to an RFP, a bidder will be held to certain obligations. An owner will be held to the obligation of treating all bidders fairly and to follow the rules outlined in the Instructions to Bidders. Privilege clauses may or may not be upheld in the event an owner does not treat all bidders fairly and ethically. If a bidder makes an error in a bid and that bid is accepted, by virtue of the Bid Contract A they may have to perform. That is the sanctity of the bidding process affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Ron Engineering case.

APEX Alberta in partnership with the Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a full-day seminar to help business owners navigate the competitive bidding process. Speakers attending this session include the City of Medicine HatGovernment of AlbertaGovernment of CanadaDefence Construction CanadaCity of Brooks, and a presentation by 9Dot Collective on how to write an effective response to a Request for Proposal. The session will be held at the Medicine Hat College on Thursday, May 31, 2018. If you are interested in attending this free session, please contact Elizabeth Blair at the Community Futures office by calling 403-528-2824.

Elizabeth Blair worked in the procurement industry for 11 years as a buyer and a construction contracts administrator. She currently serves as the regional innovation network coordinator for APEX. APEX supports the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta. APEX Alberta is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-CorpMedicine Hat College and Alberta Innovates

Time management strategies for aspiring entrepreneurs

There never seems to be enough time in the day to achieve all the tasks needed to move a business idea forward.  Aspiring entrepreneurs often struggle with managing the demands of building a new business with a limited amount of time and resources.   

There are though, a few simple ways to make your time and achieving the goals of the business a priority without feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  Here are four tactics to help better allocate your time and energy, and put a big focus on outcomes rather than simply getting work done. 

#1 Identify the top 3 must-do’s of your day, get them done - and forget about the rest.   

Over-scheduling is a common time management mistake often made by entrepreneurs.  When building a business it is important to define what really matters to the success of your venture, the same is true with task management.  The process of identifying a few key things to complete each day and finishing them, is more effective than creating massive lists of tasks that are impossible to achieve. 

#2 Schedule dead space in your calendar– block out meetings first thing in the day – mornings are everything. 

Setting time aside to organize yourself might seem counter-intuitive, but this is a skill and a strategy employed by many successful entrepreneurs and CEO’s.  Blocking a bank of time in your calendar as ‘busy’ on Monday mornings for example - even if only for 1 hour – is a great way to allow for increased organization for the entire week, allows for making personal wellness a priority and is a good way to organize your thoughts and strategy for the week ahead. 

#3 Start your day with a simple task – work down your task list by checking off an easily achievable chore first.  

Entrepreneurs have a range of tasks facing them each day consisting of those that are very easy to challenging.  A great way to build confidence and optimism into a busy schedule is getting something done quickly at the beginning of your day.  It’s always best to look at your task list, and start with a few easily achievable undertakings and then hit the tougher responsibilities next. 

#4 Create a routine work schedule and stick with – even if it means losing a bit of freedom. 

As an entrepreneur it is tempting to work when and where you want, but often this creates an environment where distractions and ‘busy work’ can enter in.   Starting at the same time each day, and structuring your schedule into blocks around client meetings, building the business, and administration time can help you be more effective and organized. 

So get organized - making time management and organization a priority is an important factor in building a successful business and maintaining personal wellness.  You and your business are worth it. 

The MHC Entrepreneur Development Centre helps student and alumni bring their entrepreneurship dreams to life.  We offer 1-1 coaching, training, mentorship and access to a diverse network of startup funding.  To connect into our network email or call 403.502.8433.

Christie Dick is the Entrepreneur Advisor at Medicine Hat College.

Market research can help your business

As a small business, there are many factors that are outside of your control and these things can affect your operation and profit. How can a business stay on top of industry trends and changes?  

A business needs to be constantly assessing their market.  By following market trends, you can have better success in understanding what is going on in your market, who are your customers, where are your customers, what are their buying patterns and what is your competition doing?   

What tools and resources do you currently use to help guide you in your business operations especially as you make decisions for the future of your business? Do you monitor market trends and asses how that information could help guide your operations today and in the future? Better decisions today will allow you to make better decisions and investments to drive future profitability.

Market research can help you identify potential new markets and new customers and even help direct you as you are assessing your product pricing, competitiveness and the promotion of new products in existing and new markets. Credible market research can provide you with strategic insight on industry trends and will give you the confidence to make informed decisions. This information can assist you with your business planning and decision making now and in the future. You can obtain information on growing, emerging and shrinking markets, latest industry intelligence to guide your marketing and, as well as information to benchmark your performance against other competitors in the industry.

APEX Alberta has access to industry research reports. We subscribe to a database that contains published industry research reports spreading across 5 major economies:  Canada, United States, United Kingdom, China and Australia.   The market research reports contain information on operating risk and opportunities, statistics and analysis on market characteristics, operating conditions, current and future trends.  The reports are updated regularly to ensure you can access the latest data so that you can assess the state of your industry and its direction considering current and future trends.  

To find out more about our industry market research reports, please contact Community Futures Entre-Corp to find out whether there is a report available within the market that you operate. Here is a short list of some of the market reports we have provided to businesses in the past: Electronic & Computer Repair Services in Canada, Bottled Water Production in Canada, Tax Preparation Services in Canada, Office Staffing & Temp Agencies in Canada, Renewable Power in Canada, Transmission Line Construction in Canada and many more.

A local company has utilized our market research services and was willing to explain how they utilized a market research report which was provided by Community Futures Entre-Corp. Hyperion Research Ltd. is a local company that provides water sample analysis and research support to private industry and government. Most of its work is out of province so local advertising and market research isn’t useful but industry trends are crucial.   The few competitors that Hyperion has for its core business are much larger companies who compete in a very small marketplace. That leaves the company vulnerable to price squeeze as larger labs look to diversify their client base and service offerings. Reports on market conditions, future outlook and future trends are a great help when decisions affecting the bottom line need to be made. Regulatory issues that affect laboratory operation and water quality monitoring are particularly important and up-to-date information is always welcome because the company can’t afford to do extensive market research.

APEX Alberta will also be hosting a free business event called “Do it yourself market research: assessing industry and market information” on October 19, 2017. If you would like to register for this free event, please call Elizabeth Blair at 403-528-2824.

This article was written by Elizabeth Blair. Elizabeth is the regional innovation network (RIN) coordinator at Community Futures Entre-Corp and works to oversee activities with APEX. APEX is a Regional Innovation Network that supports the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta.

APEX is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-Corp Business Development, Medicine Hat College; and Alberta Innovates. APEX strives to support local entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized enterprises to develop and adopt new technologies, commercialize innovative new products, improve productivity, and get connected to Alberta’s Innovation System.