Are You at Risk of Being “Uberized”?

If you’re like many Business Owners and Leaders you probably feel pretty good about the position you hold in your market… so did the taxi cab companies and drivers before Uber became a reality. Now they are scrambling and trying to find a way to survive… even to the point of trying to get political help in different cities to stay afloat.

Disruption and Commoditization have impacted virtually every industry today. There probably isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been impacted by a disruptive organization entering their market and stealing some of their market share. Uber is an excellent example but there are many others that have been equally disruptive. Companies such as LegalZoom have taken billions of dollars away from attorneys over the past several years. They captured and disrupted a document and transaction-based business and turned it into a commodity by substantially lowering the pricing of document preparation… impacting attorneys all over the country.

Amazon was an early disruptor to the entire book business… taking significant market share away from Barnes and Noble and Borders who were recognized giants in the book industry. And we certainly can’t forget about Blockbuster’s demise when Netflix entered the market. They were the unquestioned dominant leader in video rental and were virtually replaced overnight by an unknown company with a new disruptive business model that matched the needs of customers at substantial savings.

Even though these examples are in completely different industries there is one common thread that runs through all of them… they didn’t believe anyone could disrupt their dominance in their market. While it’s awesome to believe in your product or service, it’s dangerous to think there isn’t someone waiting in the wings to take away your position. Unlike any other time in history, we are now seeing new companies coming into traditional industries from many unrelated areas and establishing a disruptive model and capturing significant market share. This trend is only going to continue now that it has shown massive success over the past few years. So what can you do, as the leader of your business, to either avoid or minimize the impact of this potential disruption?

While commoditization is difficult to combat with products and services over a long period of time, there is at least one alternative that appears to withstand the test of time and delivers differentiation in the market… your CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

It is difficult to continually come up with new products and services to satisfy the ravenous appetite customers have today. Just when you think you have the best and leading edge product or newest service, someone comes in and “one-ups” you and takes away the leading spot. While you might remain there for some period of time, it is difficult to remain at the top for extended periods of time. Apple is one of the few that has been successful at this… but it took them many years of living in the shadow of Microsoft and others before they became the dominant leader. Today, Microsoft is in this unenviable position and trying to fight their way back to the top… especially in the race for the Cloud.

But these are behemoth companies… not the SMB market. They can throw billions of dollars at innovation and products and hope they find a winner. The small and mid-sized business (SMB) can’t be this frivolous with their cash and making too many product/service mistakes can wipe out a business before anything comes to fruition. The proven alternative to this madness is to focus on the ONE THING that is completely in their control to design and deliver… their CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

Customer Experience has both short and long term advantages. It is something that can be created and implemented within the year but last for many decades to come when implemented properly. And by properly I’m not talking about telling all your employees they need to be nicer to the customer… that never works for the long term… every company can be nice to their customers if they try. This isn’t the answer… this isn’t the differentiator… but it’s on the right track.

Creating a customized CUSTOMER JOURNEY that is built upon a very well defined Customer Experience Process (something we call Customer Experience Mapping) is what allows companies to reap these rewards for many years into the future. Think Disney… they created “the happiest place on earth” and continue to deliver this experience year after year after year. This didn’t happen by holding a meeting and telling all their employees and characters to be nicer to their guests… it happened because they have a very well defined Customer Journey that is built on a foundation of a well-designed and executed Customer Experience.

Nordstrom did the same thing many decades ago. They started selling shoes… then clothing… all at high prices. But they started with a very distinct process inside the organization for delivering an incredible customer experience day in and day out. Zappos followed this same model… sold shoes… one of the ultimate commodities in the clothing industry… and they dominate today. They don’t give discounts and silly things like “one day only” sales (every day)… they simply deliver a remarkable Customer Experience to every customer every day… and their customers love to buy from Zappos. And it has worked out pretty well when you consider they went from zero to over $1 Billion in revenues in less than 10 years and were sold to Amazon for more than a billion dollars. Not a bad model if you ask me.

One way to avoid being COMMODITIZED and losing customers is to design something even new entrants can’t copy… the experience you offer. If your Customer Experience is so incredibly amazing and remarkable… WOW… every single day with every interaction, this creates immediate differentiation and a long tail of success. It is the ultimate weapon against commoditization or even new entrants into a market. For a new disruptive entrant to take away market share they would need to be so much better and cheaper than anything you offered… which is difficult to do today. And for those of you that are saying to yourself right now, “Yea but we’re different, we do a good quality job and treat our customers well so we aren’t at risk,” I would offer you some instant advice… take the blinders off and get real with looking at your business. This is living in a fantasy world… this isn’t looking at your company from the eyes of your customer… they are seeing something very different. And if someone came into your market today and offered a completely different (and awesome) experience to your customers at or below your price they would be gone in a heartbeat.

Achieving long-term dominance doesn’t happen by “being nicer to your customers” and thinking you have created differentiation… you haven’t. Being CUSTOMER OBSESSED and creating a process based CUSTOMER JOURNEY that has a well laid out and documented CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE PROCESS at the heart of it is what will help you avoid being “Uberized.” This strategy gives you differentiation, uniqueness, and a special place in your customers heart and mind… it gives you the “long tail” of success.

I would strongly and passionately encourage you to learn more about why and how this is completely different than what you are probably doing today. If there was ONE THING TO FOCUS ON IN 2017 it would be to create a strategy based around a well-planned Customer Journey which incorporated an incredibly awesome Customer Experience by Mapping out all the experiences your customer will receive when they interact with your business (there are usually over 20 for most companies in the SMB market). If this is of interest and you want to learn more, let’s grab coffee and I can share how some of the best companies in the world have followed this path… for decades… and still dominate in their industries. I think you will find it a fascinating discussion…

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Whither the World’s Fair?

The moniker “Expo 2017” is currently being bandied about in North America. In the US, various optimists, often plain vanilla citizens like you and me, have launched web sites and forums promoting a return of the world’s fair–or Expo 2017 in this case–to America. In Canada, at least four cites and/or organizations have recently promoted the idea of an “expo”, with one of the first efforts publicly unveiled in Montreal in 2007.

In America, the idea of a world’s fair–an officially sanctioned one, that is, will conceivably remain a distant dream until Washington comes to its diplomatic senses and rejoins the Bureau of International Expositions, or BIE–the governing body in Paris which awards world’s fairs in much the same fashion as the IOC decides who gets to hold the next Olympic Games. Just like the Olympics, an aspiring world’s fair applicant is required to invest a considerable amount of energy and expense putting together a bid, and, of course, impressing the appropriate officials. Unless, perhaps, you’re the city of New York which, after a clash with French dignitaries, decided to hold its 1964/1965 World’s Fair without BIE approval. At the time, superpower America had enough clout that many of the nations who were subsequently prohibited by the BIE from participating decided to show up anyway, posing as trade and tourist organizations.

Right after New York, and only a skip across the border, the city of Montreal staged what is often considered to be the most successful (and BIE approved) world’s fair of all time. Set on a sprawling venue of two man-made islands and a peninsula in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, Expo 67 introduced a number of technological and cultural “firsts”–including the now ubiquitous moniker “expo” itself.

There are “expos” for everything now, from computers to kitty litter, while the mighty world’s fair that spawned these cheap imitations hasn’t been seen in North America for decades. Even if a city here managed to secure an official bid for “Expo 2017” it would be for a much smaller affair, a “recognized” expo limited by the BIE to 25 hectares exhibition area. That’s because there have always been two types of world’s fairs, a very large one (a “universal expo”) and, in-between, a smaller one (a “special expo”)–both of which are now, respectively, called “registered” and “recognized” fairs. In 2017, unfortunately, only the smaller recognized expo is allowed.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the world’s fair not only needs a major boost in North America, but that North America desperately needs another world’s fair. No other event has the collective potential to attract a huge audience to the latest cultural and scientific endeavours humankind has to offer. With our planet in the precarious state we have put it in, and North America no longer as influential and respected as it used to be, a world’s fair, properly staged and presented with the latest social and environmental initiatives, could be the political and technological beacon of hope this continent is yearning for. Of course, that might mean that Expo 2017 would need to encompass a great deal more than 25 hectares exhibition area and would need to address a lot more than the narrowly restricted theme (the fair’s purpose) officially allowed by the BIE for a smaller “recognized” expo. This could be done, with a little creative thinking (and without resorting to New York’s 1964 strategy), but that’s for another article to address.

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How to Get What You Want in 2017

It is almost 2017 and time to start thinking about those New Year’s resolutions but the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that so few people actually achieve them. Why is this and what can you do to make sure you actually get what you want in 2017?

1. Write Down Your New Year’s Resolutions and Set SMART goals

The first step towards achieving what you want is to actually write it down and turn resolutions into goals. An unwritten resolution is quickly forgotten and unless you have some written, specific goals chances are you are just going to be wandering. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. In other words, say exactly what you want to achieve, by when and have ways of measuring how you are getting along. 2. Develop Habits and Consistency

Another problem that often occurs with New Year’s resolutions is that people do not form habits and develop consistency in those actions that are going to get them there. For instance, if you want to lose weight, it needs to become a habit to exercise and eat healthy foods. They say it takes 21 days to develop a habit but it is actually better to consistently stick to it for 63 days to ensure that the habit is well entrenched into your lifestyle before taking any breaks. Not all habits need to be done every day but you do need to be consistent in doing those things that will get you towards your goal.

3. Track and Measure

Set smaller goals and ways of measuring how you are making progress towards your major goal and then track these. Start by tracking those habits that it will take to get you there – how many times have you exercised this week for example. As you are tracking you will see how even the small steps count and will be more motivated to keep moving towards your major goal.

4. Stay Positive

Your mindset has a huge role to play in whether you are going to achieve your goals or not. Always try to remain positive and think positively. Focus on what it is you want but don’t beat yourself up over setbacks or slip ups, you will get times where things don’t go perfectly or you may have a setback but just keep going and you will get there.

Instead of just setting some New Year’s Resolutions for this next year why not turn them into actionable goals, develop habits that will help you achieve them and track these consistently. Keep positive and all the best for achieving whatever it is you want to achieve in 2017.

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Stay Healthy and Wealthy

When you make those New Year’s resolutions, you’re thinking about fresh starts and the year ahead. What you might not realize is that some resolutions also could save money. Here are some popular resolutions that could help get you and your finances in shape in 2017.

Quit smoking: You can save money by stopping a pack-a-day habit, which can cost between $1,825 and $3,650 per year, depending on the cost of cigarettes in your area. Nationally, a pack-a-day smoker is going to spend an average of $2,000 annually on cigarette costs.

Set up and stick to a realistic budget: If you want to resolve to stick to a budget in 2017, you must start with a realistic plan. People tend to make financial resolutions the same way they do a weight loss plan. If you start with lofty goals they will be unachievable within a month. List your priorities for spending rather than restricting your spending. Focus on necessary expenses then include a certain amount for retirement savings. Then with the remaining money you have each month, set aside a little for enjoyment. It’s critical you have rewards in your budget.

Exercise regularly: You’ll save money in several ways with regular exercise. On average, Americans are spending $7,800 annually on health care, according to the National Association of Health Underwriters. But exercise brings real savings. “If people are eating right and exercising three times a week for 20 minutes a day, they see prescription costs decrease by 70 percent and medical costs decrease by 30 percent,” says Ric Edelman of Edelman Financial Services. Stop spending money recklessly: One of the best ways to stop spending your money recklessly is to track where it is going each month. Check with your credit union and download their free mobile budgeting app that shows expenditures by category so you can monitor your spending. A great way to get your spending under control is quit trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. If you want to fix your bad spending habits in 2017 start hanging out with other spendthrifts because you will likely become one yourself.

Eat healthier: A healthy eating plan can be as — or more — economical than fast food. It’s a total myth that eating healthy is expensive. Buy smaller but leaner cuts of meat, eat protein-rich beans and buy produce in season when it’s freshest and least expensive. A smaller amount of a leaner cut can slice your food bill and your bad cholesterol.

Build an emergency fund: Nothing takes the stress out of financial situation like spare cash. If you are among the millions of Americans that don’t have enough money set aside to cover unexpected expenses or emergencies, then you should resolve to build one in 2017. Experts recommend putting enough money in a savings account to cover six months’ worth of expenses in case of unexpected emergencies like job loss, maternity leave or medical issues. You can always apply a small amount of your paycheck towards this account, so you make sure it is hidden from you.

Pay off high-interest debt: Paying down credit card debt is one of the most popular short-term goals in 2017. Try focusing on paying off your high-interest credit card debt before other debts because it is more expensive. And, it you are motivated by seeing those results first hand, start by paying off your card with the lowest balance first so you can feel that sense of accomplishment. Create your estate plan: An important 2017 resolution would be to tie up any financial loose ends for your loved ones so they aren’t left trying to pick up the pieces. Make sure you have a will or trust that designates who’s in control of your assets. You certainly don’t want the state court system to make that decision for you. Don’t forget to designate a guardian for your children, and someone who will make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Develop common financial goals with your partner: Many times finances are the biggest source of conflict between couples. It’s important that couples sit down and create a financial plan. It doesn’t usually work to try and manage their finances separately.

Any of these resolutions can help improve your financial security in 2017. I suggest tackling one financial tip each month so you don’t get overwhelmed. Then as you get accustomed to the new approach to spending and saving, add another. By the time 2017 starts dwindling toward 2018, you will find you’ve made progress on achieving your financial goals.

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Tips for Developing Astute Investing Skills

Learn to discern conflicting analyses, reports, and data as you research investing opportunities

As an investor, you must make decisions based on your study, research, and personal opinions and beliefs. You should not depend solely on the research and opinions of others. There is much good advice and information available to you.

However, there’s also a lot of differing information that you must cut through to make informed investing decisions. Here’s what you can start doing now:

Understand decisions made by entities independent of publicly traded companies

General Electric (NYSE:GE), through its Power & Water division, GE Hitachi, offers advanced and sophisticated technology for the nuclear energy industry. The GE Hitachi nuclear alliance unites GE’s design expertise and history supplying reactors, fuels, and services worldwide with Hitachi’s proven experience in advanced modular construction. This is all well and good.

Nonetheless, previously, the Canadian Press noted that, “A Federal Court ruling has thrown out the preliminary approvals for a series of new nuclear power reactors in Ontario.” Therefore, this is a case of weighing company initiatives against the landscape and mindset of the jurisdiction in which they operate, or may wish to operate with new projects. You must be aware of this when you invest.Understand the difference between company outlooks and what’s going on in the marketplace

Cameco (TSX:CCO) (NYSE:CCJ), regarding its long-term prospects was very positive about its outlook and the outlook for the uranium industry in general. The company did say in its 2013 annual report that any development or expansion of its remaining projects would depend on how market conditions develop. Cameco’s intention is to build up Cigar Lake and to expand the McArthur River/Key Lake operation.

Commercial production commenced in May 2015 at Cigar Lake with a total of 11.3 million pounds (100% basis) produced by the end of the year. The expectation is that the build up to licensed capacity of 18 million pounds per year will be in 2017.

What’s’ happening in the marketplace? In 2014, Mining.com reported that poor markets caused Cameco to put its Millennium uranium mine on hold. The highly prospective Millennium deposit is on the shores of Slush Lake in Saskatchewan. Cameco had asked the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to postpone a hearing scheduled in June 2014 into a licence application for the Millennium Mine project. The estimation is that this project has in excess of 50 million pounds of uranium.

Consider company strategies and the new economy

Sears Canada (TSX:SCC) Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) never seemed to transform its operations as other retailers. Sears Canada dispensed some of its best stores and raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Sears Canada was a mainstay in Canadian downtowns and major shopping malls.

The Company’s Toronto Eaton Centre flagship store became a Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) store. Sears Canada has seen its target consumers taken away by bulk stores and higher-end retailers, not competing with them effectively.

Consider government reports

These are reports prepared by any level of government: federal, provincial/state, or regional or municipal. Oftentimes, federal government pronouncements paint a rosier picture than what is really happening in the economy. This is especially true at election time. You must look at what other government agencies are saying, not just the political figureheads of parties. Consider what U.S Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen said in the past. She told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that under present policies, the federal government’s deficits, “will rise to unsustainable levels.”

As an investor, you must consider what that will do to the U.S economy, the business environment, and businesses. By extension, what will this do in the coming years to Canada’s? When the U.S. rolls over, it typically nudges Canada who’s napping on its shoulder.

Due diligence means more than just studying the latest quarterly results of companies. It means studying and discerning between different government, economic, as well as marketplace reports that often are contradictory. It’s your responsibility to discern between the wheat and the chaff. If this means taking longer to make an investment decision, so be it. In the end, you will make a better investment decision.

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