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Alberta Outlook 2017

Snow covered winter berriesI was out for a beautiful walk in my neighbourhood recently and was surprised to see just how much fruit is still on the trees despite the snow. It made me think about the adversity we’ve faced in our province in the past year, and yet how much opportunity is still out there to be gathered by companies willing to reach for it.

The Economic Climate

Now, we’re not economists here, but this is our perspective based on having done business in Alberta for 20 years, seeing every peak and valley this province has to offer.

  1. We’re not Trumped yet.  Despite the fear that electing the Donald incited in Canadian sensibilities, so far America is still standing, and appears to be in economic recovery. Ultimately this will put some energy projects back on the plate, as it’s already beginning to do.
  2. Energy Recovery.  The layoffs that occurred in 2016 will make Alberta’s energy sector lean and mean, and ready to hire in the coming year. This should also be good news for entrepreneurs and contractors who can get part-time consulting work. In addition, recent pipeline approvals should work to open up new construction jobs and ultimately new overseas markets for Alberta’s energy.
  3. Renewables Stimulation.  The retirement of coal-based resources and introduction of carbon taxes will no doubt cause some suffering. But there is at least talk from the provincial government that these new revenues will be used to stimulate economic diversification into renewable energy. Change, while difficult, should ultimately mean some new entrepreneurial opportunities.
  4. Flexible Work.  I was reading about the 2016 trend from full-time work toward part-time work  in Alberta, and it was positioned as being a very bad thing… but is it? Without going deep into the data, we all know full-time people are only fractionally productive. As a business owner myself, I think that having two or more part-time employees might be better than having one full time job in some ways. From the employee’s viewpoint, your eggs aren’t all in one basket. Yes, you may have to fund your own benefits, but that can be attainable. In a company, there are very many roles that do not need to be full time; these could turn into consulting opportunities and new businesses as well, and even help to allow some workers to find a better life balance.

Taking Control Through Marketing

There are many things an organization can do to push growth forward despite economic challenges. I believe it is, to a great extent, about attitude. Most businesses tell me they are terrible at marketing, but yet fail to do anything about it. In fact, as I look back at 20 years in this business, I can count only two companies who were really great marketers (and they were both run by people who were extremely physically fit and active… maybe there is something here to be further studied?). With that in mind, here are some ways you can find growth, despite heavier tax burdens this year:

  • Broaden your skill sets.  For example, are you in the oil business, or are you in the energy business? Take some of those skills over into the renewables sector and see if you can come up with solutions that will facilitate the diversification our province and country needs. It might take some retraining, but it beats waiting for the phone to ring for months on end. You might also find some federal or provincial grants for your carbon-friendly ideas.
  • Look for new markets.  Need ideas on where to market for new clients? Try using some market research. Google Keyword Trends is an easy place to start. Enter keywords that are relevant to the services you offer, and then see what geographic areas are most interested in those terms. Once you have this starting point, you can delve in to the competition there, and see if you can match or beat their level of services and professionalism.
  • Sharpen your marketing approach.  When businesses are truly busy, they often let their marketing slide.  You may have developed completely new services, or hired exciting new talents in the past year, and yet fail to update such developments in all your online marketing. If you’re waiting for 2017’s rush to kick in, you might as well get after these tasks. Updates, new photography, and even a corporate video would be an excellent addition to your marketing program. If you have a website based in WordPress, take a little WordPress training to learn how to keep it updated yourself.
  • Get everybody selling.  At first glance, this advice might seem to be a little odd, since not everyone is going to be good at selling. But successful sales is comprised of a number of jobs: Attending trade shows, researching new leads (this is a great job for the introverts), cleaning and updating databases, and writing ongoing communications (such as helpful blogs) for prospects are all part of the selling function. Taking refresher sales training might even be a good idea for your existing sales team. As an owner/manager, you might also consider new sales incentives, such as a reward for whoever does the most outbound contacting in a given quarter.
  • Get input from the team.  Everyone on your team will have ideas about what you could be doing better, but they will never tell you unless you ask. Consider a team brainstorming session to find new client opportunities, new ways of improving your marketing tools, and even new services or products you could offer. If you share your situation, goals and struggles with your team, they can help you find ways to get to the next level.

So, will 2017 be easy or hard? We think it will be a year of recovery for many, at least for those willing to make the effort. Remember this– the economy affects your competition too. Only the most tenacious will bother to reach out under the snow and find those berries!

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Jacqueline Drew
About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm MBA is CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a Calgary-based marketing research and strategy firm. She loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win" and is also an energetic supermom, bandleader and songwriter.

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