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The friendly dragon: Arlene Dickinson shares marketing wisdom

Arlene Dickinson shares her marketing wisdom with budding entrepreneurs

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Dragons' Den

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CBC Enlarge Image

Dragons' Den "dragons" (left to right) Jim Treliving, Kevin O'Leary, Arlene Dickinson, Bruce Croxon, Dianne Buckner and David Chilton.

Arlene Dickinson is another successful veteran entrepreneur who advises other budding entrepreneurs to stop worrying about work-life balance.

In a recent blog post on her entrepreneur's self-help social-media site, YouInc.com, Dickinson wrote, "This is what it means to be an entrepreneur. It means going all in. It means not worrying about balance but instead ensuring that you are living each moment to its fullest."

Kirstine Stewart, the new head of Twitter Canada, expressed the same sentiment in a recent public appearance in Winnipeg.

When asked about the lifestyle balance between business and family, Stewart asked: "What balance?"

Dickinson, the "nice" dragon on CBC's hit television show, Dragons' Den, is a veteran marketing entrepreneur and a tireless supporter of (and investor in) entrepreneurs. She's in Winnipeg next week to talk to senior business people about leadership.

As the owner of Venture Communications (a Calgary marketing firm) and a big-time television star with her own private-equity operation, Dickinson would be well within her rights to beg off regional-media interview requests.

But it's part of her commitment to the betterment of the small-business sector in Canada that she made time to talk to the Free Press before the start of a recent business day.

'I'm a strong believer

that marketing is

a huge part of

what makes

a business

successful.

You can't

separate the business from the market'

"I think it is important you make sure to support all the efforts going on out there to communicate about business," she said. "It's important for entrepreneurs to be heard and have a voice in the market."

As a self-confessed marketing junkie -- "I love it," she said -- she is more aware than most about the importance of, well, marketing.

"It's at the heart of who I am," she said. "I'm a strong believer that marketing is a huge part of what makes a business successful. You can't separate the business from the market."

She is also a testament to the fact marketing is all about hard work. In addition to Dragons' Den, which she joined in its second season in 2007, she co-starred with fellow Dragon Jim Treliving in two seasons of their own show, The Big Decision, continues to be active at Venture Communications and YouInc.com and heads her private investment firm, Arlene Dickinson Enterprises.

As with any successful business person, in addition to hard work there usually needs to be a dose of good fortune behind the financial fortune.

"I am so grateful for the opportunity to be on Dragons' Den," she said. "It is a real blessing. I've met all these great entrepreneurs and helped form the conversation about entrepreneurialism in the country. It's pretty cool."

It so happens that conversation is raging these days.

Dickinson will be in Winnipeg to speak at a couple of private events in conjunction with Scotiabank, with whom she's been associated for a couple of years as a Scotiabank Business Champion.

Like all the big banks, Scotiabank is always looking for ways to connect with the small-business person. Roughly 5.7 million Canadians, close to 40 per cent of the paid workforce, are employed in small businesses.

Her association with a hit TV show that caters to new entrepreneurs is happening at a time when the floodgates have opened for startups in Canada.

"It's a perfect storm as it relates to the opportunity cycle for entrepreneurialism," Dickinson said. "There are more people going into business for themselves than ever before... more women, more young people and more seniors."

As a marketing professional whose company had a new-media division almost 15 years ago when digital really was new media, she understands how the power of the Internet has changed everything.

"There's never been an easier time to start a business," she said. "Startup costs are low, the Internet allows companies to market opportunities globally, and you manufacture wherever you want all over the world less expensively."

As plugged into the current media world as she is, it's not to say she doesn't believe there's a chance to make money in old-fashioned product manufacturing.

She has said her favourite Dragons' Den investment was with a company led by an 82 year-old inventor from Duncan, B.C., who designed adjustable sawhorse brackets. (She's helped get Peak Products' 3D MultiHorse Brackets into Home Hardware stores.)

Her biggest and hopefully most lucrative investment has been with Winnipeg candy entrepreneurs Larry Finnson and Chris Emery.

The former owners of Krave's Candy, which was sold in 2006, are the inventors of Clodhoppers and have a new company called OMGs and another addictive candy of the same name which, like Clodhoppers, is also made in Winnipeg.

Dickinson invested $250,000 for a 50 per cent stake in the company in 2012, is on their board of directors and her famous face is featured on some OMGs packaging.

"It's a huge success story," she said. "It's just gone into Sam's Club. It's one of the best success stories that have come out of the Den. Those guys have worked super-hard. They have exemplified what a business growth curve is all about."

It may be that Dickinson was attracted to the Winnipeg candy crusaders because she saw some of her own relentless passion for business in them.

martin.cash@ freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 B6

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