« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »

December 2007

Celebrate Everyday

230667906_890147988b_m_2The holiday season gives us many things to celebrate - family, faith, and the completion of another year.  I believe that celebrations need to happen more often than they do.

How often do you take the time to celebrate at your place of work? 

If companies spent half the time they waste on focusing on what does not work and put it towards celebrating what does work, they could see a huge impact on their bottom line.

I know of companies that are finishing their best year ever.  They hand out bonuses, say thank you , and in a blink of an eye they are scrutinizing and complaining about individuals, departments, and the woes of the company. 

This type of behavior permeates the business world today and is one of the reasons that 38% of the workforce is disengaged.  Disengaged workers suck the profits out of companies.

I encourage you to sit down and create a list of what your company does well.  Then take that list and devise a plan that reinforces the items on your list.  In that plan include time for celebration - we only have one life to live! 

Flickr photo by lorenzodom

Try stepping out of the sweet spot once and a while

It's ironic.

I spend most of my time coaching people to find their sweet spot.

You know?  A place where things just flow.  A job or biz opportunity that fits like a glove.  Something they are passionate about.  Something they'd do, even if no one paid them.

Yup.  The sweet spot.

But this past week... I attended an event that intentionally took its participants out of their sweet spots.

And guess what?  It was a beautiful thing.

The event?101_0626

East Village Books (located in Des Moines' historic East Village) hosted 'The Art Fusion Experiment.'

Part of the experiment was to take four artists out of their various sweet spots and have them work only with charcoal and white paper.

So, for example my wife Melissa who is an artist who's sweet spot is working with LARGE canvases and acrylic paints had to shift to charcoal.

Then there was Brent Houzenga who does AMAZING things with spray paint.  He also had to make the switch to charcoal.

The third... Darren McKeag... an incredible tattoo artist, also had to step out of the sweet spot.

Then... there was Allison Schneider

Her passion?  Graphic design.  And yes she had to step up the plate and work with the black on white palate too.

The next aspect of the experiment?101_0614

There were 4 pieces of white paper hung on the wall and each artist started by facing one of the blank white sheets.

Then, the clock started and they were given 15 minutes to work.

At the end of the 15 minutes they had to switch to one of the other pieces of paper.  And they repeated this process 3 times!

So not only were they working with a medium they weren't comfortable with. 

They also had to switch and restart with someone else's art work, not once but 3 times!

It was amazing to watch. 

And it was also amazing to debrief with the artists afterwords because they talked about wanting to both respect what their fellow artists had done, while also incorporating their own style into each piece.

They said that it stretched them to try new things. 

It forced them to look at their own style in new ways. 

Yup.  It forced them out of their sweet spot and out of their comfort zone.

I started to wonder. 

What are some ways... whether we're 100% in our sweet spot or not, that we could step out and be forced to experiment with some new things?

Take a class in wine tasting?  Maybe try a sport that we've never tried before?  Maybe even ask to shadow someone for a day that's in a completely different profession than us? 

What would stretch you?  Where might it take you?

Still need some convincing to step out of the sweet spot... out of your comfort zone?

Well,  I know for these artists they couldn't wait to bring back what they'd learned and incorporate the new ideas to their sweet spot work. 

How could that work for you?  What could you learn?

Okay, need one more piece of evidence to push you to try something new?

101_0629 Well one of the other elements of the Art Fusion Experiment was to take the metal band freaklabel and force them to play an unplugged acoustic set.

The band was quick to admit this was a first for them but they delivered. 

During a 45 minute set, they displayed some truly impressive musical chops and some amazing heart even though they were completely out of their sweet spot.

The band's lead singer told us afterwords that the event had forced them to sit down, write some new songs, look at their music differently, and stretch. 

Heck they even generated some new fans who were demanding that their next CD be an acoustic compilation.  How about that?

Yup, proof positive that it's good to step out of the sweet spot once a while.

How about you?

How could you step out this week? 

How could you stretch in 2008?

Lastly, thanks to Teri and Andy at East Village Books for hosting another incredible event.  It was another example of the value of trying something outside the comfort zone!

See more pictures... including the final versions of art by clicking here.

A sad tale of cold weather and work exclusion

First_aid_kit With the recent bad weather we have been having, you may have experienced the need for insurance. 

~ It could have been a recent slip on the ice requiring you to visit the emergency room.
~ Maybe you had a branch that came crashing down on top of your home causing roof damage.   
~ You may own the innocent car on the side of the road that was used like the side bumper of a billiards table.

Let’s look at a recent situation 

Mike, a sole proprietor operating a sign installation business, erected a sign on a tall steel pole for a convenience store.  Mike provided both the sign and the tall steel pole.  The next day, freezing rain came down and ice accumulated on the sign that Mike had installed.  Bob, the owner of the convenience store, noticed his sign was starting to resemble what looked like a very large popsicle.  And with each gust of wind, the sign would start to sway back and forth.   

Later that day, the sign fell on the convenience store and injured a worker.  Bob, had damage to the store, a worker, and a very expensive sign.

What is Bob going to do?

  • File an insurance claim
  • Sue Mike
  • Worry about his worker

An investigation of the accident revealed that the sign and the steel pole were blown down because Mike had failed to secure them properly.

Bob sued Mike for the damage to the building and resulting business interruption.  The worker sued Mike for medical expenses, income loss, and pain and suffering.

What damages would Mike’s policy cover?

Mike’s policy would cover all damages claimed except the cost of replacing the sign and steel pole which were “his work.”

Pay close attention to the damage in your work exclusion.  It eliminates coverage for property damage to “your work” arising out of that work or any part of it.  It prevents the insurer from replacing faulty work of the named insured.

If you have not checked with you insurance carrier -- now is the time.  Some carriers are allowing you to buy this very important coverage.

Are Your Projects Ready For Year-End?

HNew_years_toastave you returned all of your gifts?  Has your indigestion from over-eating cleared up yet?  Are your Christmas Decorations stored away for another year?  Have you made your New Year's Eve plans?  Are your projects ready?

Projects?  Year-end?

Yes, especially at year-end.  This is a great time to assess the health and status of your organization's projects.  It's an opportunity to set New Year's resolutions for the sake of your company's accomplishments.

Chrissy over at the Executive Assistant's Toolbox posted a great article about preparing for your annual review.  There are some useful year-end checklist points which can be extrapolated to doing an annual review on your projects as well.

At the Project Level:

  1. For completed projects, did they end on time, within budget, and with a significant number of the promised features?  (If not, find out WHY.  See if there are repeating trends across projects.)
  2. For current projects, is it on track (same criteria as above)?  Again, dig a little deeper if the answer is no.  Take corrective action on the problems that are preventing your projects from being successful (and it may mean removing people, as unpleasant as that may sound).
  3. For current projects, is regular communication occurring?  If 70-90% of a project manager's job is communication, are you as the business owner receiving meaningful status reports?  Is the team playing nice in the sandbox?  Do your clients and suppliers know what is going on?
  4. For current projects, is there a baselined and actively updated PROJECT PLAN?  If not, stop work until there is one.
  5. For pending projects, is there a BUSINESS CASE (or project charter or statement of work or whatever you want to call it)?  Bottom line, is some document being created which outlines why this idea should be a project?

At the Portfolio Level

  1. Are all of the projects being tracked collectively as well as individually?  Do you know how much of your annual budget is going toward project activity?
  2. Do you have a dashboard in place which gives you a quick-at-a-glance visual of the project activity and performance?
  3. Are your resources aligned to the right projects at the right times?  How many stops-and-starts are occurring across your project portfolio?
  4. Are you tracking cancelled and rejected projects, and the reasons for them?
  5. Are you identifying and tracking trends in project success and rewarding those responsible?

As you approach 2008, assess your project activity regularly to avoid surprises when it's time to look at 2009.

Carpe Factum!

Customer Service Lessons in the Checkout Line

CheckoutLike most of us, I spent a lot more time than usual in the checkout lines this past month. I'm a generally patient person by nature, and I spent almost ten years working retail, so I'm fairly sympathetic towards the poor person working the cash register.

Some shoppers are very tactical in planning their trips to the checkout line. They have a playbook to rival Bill Belichick and have their families trained to scout the shortest lines, then divide and conquer. I'm admittedly your basic lemming when it comes to checkout lines, but I still expect a few common service practices from the retail customer service representatives.

While at Wal-Mart one early morning a few weeks ago I stood in the only open checkout lane. The person at the cash register was embroiled in a strange exchange situation that had escalated into a confused mess on the order of nuclear proliferation. I and a couple of people behind me sat in witness like poor citizens doomed to grand jury duty. Just a few feet away stood a handful of Wal-Mart employees. They were chatting. They were laughing. They were standing around shooting the breeze. They paid no attention to their struggling teammate and they refused to acknowledge the growing line of disgruntled customers. When I finally checked out and left about ten minutes later they were still standing there.

A few days later I found myself at Panera standing in what appeared to be the only open check-out line. I was behind two ladies who had all sorts of time to figure out what they wanted and insisted on turning their ordering experience into a real-life episode of Deal or No Deal. Behind the counter stood two other check-out people in their Santa hats. They stood leaning against the counter chatting with each other.

Pretty soon a manager-looking person walked out of the kitchen and joined the obviously social conversation. More customers began to queue behind me, but it made no difference. They were as oblivious to us as a teenager is to dirty clothes on the floor of their bedroom.

Call centers are all about getting customers out of queue and getting the issue resolved. Each moment the customer sits on hold is money out of the company's pocket. Retail doesn't seem to have that sense of urgency, and I don't forsee any tangible means of charging them for my time in line.

Nevertheless, I can choose to patronize businesses who train their front-line employees to:

  1. Observe. Learn to be aware of the big picture. Look outside of your own checkout line. What are customers experiencing around you? Where do we need reinforcements?
  2. Acknowledge. You can see the impatience in the customers. You know that this growing mess of an exchange situation is going to delay things for everyone. Acknowledge this to the customers in line with a, "I'm very sorry for the delay. We'll get this resolved as quickly as possible." Better yet, "I'm very sorry for the delay, let me get one of my teammates to open another register."

A little acknowledgment. A little empathy. A little communication with the customer. Three little things that are already on my wish list for 2008.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Zeetz Jones.

Smart Surfing Stocking Stuffers for Your Browser

A lot of folks ask me how they can start paying attention to what's being said about them in blogs, if anything is being said, and how users are sharing information that is important to their company.

While Search Once and Subscribe tells us the "when" something is said, There are three buttons I use often to give me a glimpse to "what" is being said, and "who" is saying it.

When a blog that mentions us, I have these three "surf smarter" buttons right in my browser:

  • Google Blog Search This
  • Technorati This
  • del.icio.us History

Researchbuttons_2

As an example, let's look at KitchenAid (random choice)

I have these buttons on both my Explorer 6.0 and Firefox browsers. The links below are the scripts that create the buttons mentioned here.

  • For Firefox users, simply click and drag the link into your Bookmarks toolbar (or bookmark in your Bookmark Toolbar).
  • For IE 6.0 users, right click and Add to Favorites in the LINKS folder.

Think of these quick and easy tools as extendable ears. People might be talking about you or your company on the web. And if they aren't, you should be reading more of this section.

Here's to smarter surfing. Remember to Search Once and Subscribe. You never know when you might say, "We Wuz Blogged!"

 

Peace on Earth

Peace

 

From all of us at IowaBiz and our sponsor, Professional Solutions Insurance Services -- we wish you a holiday season filled with love, laughter and peace.

We thank you for your time and we look forward to sharing 2008 with you.

Did Your Lawyer Sell You an Old Shoe?

Shoe Old Shoes
Did you just pay a lawyer to draft you a contract? Where did it come from? Historically, lawyers have always used old templates, updated and customized to address your specific transaction. Because clients never had access to the templates, you never knew how much customization your lawyer actually did. In large part, that is still true today.

Google Your Shoes
In the field of information technology (IT) related contracts (software licensing, terms of use, privacy policies) however, clients now have some ability to track down the provenance of their expensive compact. An interesting exercise you might try with your own IT or software contracts is to look over the contract for a unique string of words. Put those words in quotes and search them on Google. In who else's contracts do these words appear?

Whose Shoes are These?
Just because your contract language appears somewhere else does not necessarily mean there is a problem.  Someone could have stolen the contracts from your website or from another of your attorney's clients.

Another explanation might be that their attorney may be using the same form book as your attorney. Take a closer look. Are the contracts nearly identical or are only a few phrases the same? Depending upon the type of contracts at issue, the language may be very similar. Sometimes there are only so many ways to skin a cat.

Knock-off Nike's
While similar language, and even very similar contracts, might be justified in many circumstances, you should not be paying premium rates for online forms you could have cut and pasted for much less (I know my kid only charges $120/hr for cutting and pasting).

Granted there is some truth to the joke about the plumber charging $1 to hit the pipe and $99 to know where to hit it. Sometimes even small changes can take an experienced cyberlaw attorney considerable time to draft, especially if the differences between your contract and the one you found online relate to complex or unique aspects of your business.

Even in this case, there should at least be some marks where the the plumber hit it.   

Old or New Shoes
Sometimes simple "cookie cutter" language at a reasonable price may be sufficient to do the job.

Other times you need the magic only an expert scrivener can provide. What you do not need is to be paying Prada prices for an ill-fitting pair of used sneakers.

If you have questions about your "custom" contract that shows up on your competitor's feet, talk to your lawyer about it. More than likely, he or she will be able to explain the unique or complex aspects of your situation that merited the time behind the invoice you received.

If they cannot, or if it obvious that your "custom" contract was merely lifted in its entirety directly off of the Internet, it might be time to consider putting your shoes to use. 

Brett Trout

Should you prepay your 2007 income tax liability?

More and more small businesses operate as S corporations or Limited Liability Companies nowadays. 

As the income from these entities passes through to their owners, that makes personal tax planning hard to separate from business tax planning.  One of the most common tricks in the tax planning bag is prepaying your income tax liability that would otherwise be due the next year.  Does that make sense?

Sometimes.

State and local individual income tax payments are deductible as itemized deductions for regular tax, but not for alternative minimum tax, in the year paid.  Federal individual tax payments are deductible on the Iowa return in the year paid, regardless of AMT status.

There are some important questions you should ask before you send money to the State of Iowa, or to Uncle Sam, before you would otherwise.

Am I subject to Alternative Minimum Tax this year?  If you are, then you won't benefit from paying any more state and local taxes this year.  You might as well keep the money in your pocket until the payment deadline.

20071222iabiz_2

What will my tax situation be next year?  If you are going to be in a much higher tax bracket next year, your deduction for tax payments will be more valuable then.  If this is your big income year, then paying this year might give you a better deduction. 

If your income is subject to big yearly swings, you usually want to get your tax payments for your high-income years made before year-end; if you pay the tax for a high-income year in a subsequent low-income year, you might get only a low-bracket benefit, or in an extreme case no benefit at all.

Is the benefit of getting the deduction one year earlier worth it?  Iowa taxes for 2007 are due April 30, 2008.   If you pay your Iowa tax on December 31, 2007 you accelerate your deduction by one whole year, but you give up the use of the money for four months.   

If you are a top-bracket taxpayer, that deduction is worth at most 35 cents for a top bracket payer.  Is it worth getting 35 cents a year sooner to give up the use of a whole dollar for four months?  Probably. 

If you are in the 25% bracket, though, the answer is probably different.  It will almost always be worth it if it's just a matter of accelerating your fourth quarter estimated tax payment from January 2008 to December 2007.

So the question of prepaying taxes isn't always easy.  Unless you run the numbers, you're just guessing.  And it's always wise to check with your tax advisor before writing any big checks.

Who Is Maintaining Your Network?

Connected A business is only as good as the people it employs... we've all heard it and most likely experienced situations that support that statement.

I'm going to change the statement slightly and say, 'A business is only as good as the network that its employees can maintain.'

My reasoning is fairly transparent.  If a business spends the majority of it's monetary resources on creating an image that portrays today's 'buzz words' but doesn't support those words within its people... why spend the money?

In today's marketplace, business is done through relationships and relationship building. 

Some of these relationships are 'time-tested', some continue to evolve, some are still in the discovery stage.  My point is... If you or your employees cannot maintain a network with those around you, then it may be wise to re-look at the focus of the image you are trying to portray.

Legal Checklist for Starting a Business in Iowa

American_dream With 2008 fast approaching perhaps you are considering the pursuit of the American Dream to own your own business.  But where do you start?  Here are some helpful legal tips to consider before you start your Iowa business:

1. Find out the availability of your proposed business name. You can do a quick search on the Iowa Secretary of State Web site to see whether your name is available. If the name is available you may want to reserve the name through the Secretary of State but you are not required to do so before forming your business entity. You may also want to consider whether any company outside Iowa has your business name. You can conduct a free search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or use a paid service to research trademarks nationwide. It is also a good idea to check whether someone has your proposed Internet domain name.  An intellectual property attorney could also be very helpful in this process.

2. Pick a Place to Incorporate or Form a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I am sometimes asked whether an Iowa company should incorporate or form an LLC in another state such as Delaware or Nevada. In general, an Iowa small business is probably better off incorporating or forming an LLC here in Iowa. The filing fees are low and the ongoing fees for registering the business in Iowa are among the lowest in the country. (Only $30.00 every two years if you file your biennial report online).

3. Choose the Shareholders and Directors. If you are forming a corporation who will be the shareholders in the company?  If it's an LLC, who are the members? These are the owners of the company.  Determine how much capital you will need. Do you have enough capital or access to capital in order to start the business on your own? If not you may need to consider other investors.

In most cases the shareholders of the small business are also the directors. Do you want outside directors? There may be good reasons to have outside directors but think this over carefully before you elect to do so.  Electing outside directors may limit your control over the business.

3. Create your Articles of Incorporation or Organization. The articles of incorporation (corp) or organization (LLC) act as a charter to start your new business in Iowa. The filing fee with the Secretary of State is currently $50.00. It is generally a good idea to have an Iowa business lawyer prepare your Articles of Incorporation or Organization and other corporate documents.

4. Prepare corporate bylaws or operating agreement. The bylaws (corp) or operating agreement (LLC) set out the operating standards and procedures the business company will follow.

5.Create meeting minutes, resolutions and agreements. It is a good idea to document the initial meeting minutes of the company including the meetings of the shareholders and directors or the members. At this time, you will elect the officers of the company including the president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. You will also issue stock (corp) or membership (LLC) certificates at this stage. If you have multiple shareholders or members you will also likely need a buy-sell agreement.

6. Obtain your employer identification number (EIN). Your corporation or LLC will need to obtain an employer identification number from the IRS. This can be done through a convenient online application process.

7. Elect your tax status.  There are several different options for how your corporation or LLC could be taxed.  Make sure to talk with both your accountant and lawyer about which form of business entity is the most advantageous for your situation.

8. Open a bank account. You will typically need the EIN and a banking resolution in order to do this.

9. Obtain any licenses and permits. You will need to check the federal, state and local regulations to determine whether you need and licenses or permits to operate your business.

10. Follow the corporate formalties of running a business. In Iowa, this includes registering your business every two years with the Secretary of State's office. You also need to do corporate minutes at least on an annual basis including the election of officers and directors. Sign all documentation using your title as a corporate officer. You will also want to minimize or avoid situations where limited liability is not an absolute.

* Be sure to visit your business lawyer and accountant for advice in your particular situation. 

photo on flickr by MargaretFun.

Culture: the Glue for Business Building

CultureCulture is the glue that holds an organization together. It's "what it feels like to work  around here." It's "how we do things in this company." Culture helps employees understand what to do in a variety of situations where specific policies and practices may not exist.

Without a strong culture, inconsistency's the norm. And inconsistency leads to inefficiencies, or worst case scenario -- chaos. Human beings generally like to know what to expect, what the norms are...even if some people like to buck them at every turn! Culture helps define the norms. And it's norms that make one company feel good to us and another, a place we can't wait to exit.

As leaders, we strive to build a positive culture for our businesses. And yet, in spite of our best efforts, a culture is something that evolves. When a manager tells a new employee that "we start work here at 8:00, not 8:05" but the new employee notices in the first couple of weeks on the job that employees show up anywhere from 7:30 to 8:30, what time do you think the new employee thinks is "starting" time? Yea, right. Anytime before about 8:30 is starting time. I say about because if someone had a good enough excuse, chances are even 8:45 or 9:00 would be ok. That's culture.

The story goes that Walt Disney was walking through Disney World before its completion with a small group of his department heads. Suddenly he stopped, pointed to a specific area and said, "I want 10,000 fireflies over there!"

The head of construction asked, "When?"

Not, "But where could I possibly find 10,000 fireflies?" Or, "Wouldn't 5,000 do?"

In the culture that Disney was building, only perfection and top quality was acceptable. Everyone knew that. No second guessing. No debating. It's a value that was at the core of the culture and everyone bought in to it. Otherwise, they didn't stick around. 

How do we build that kind of culture? So that when someone takes a job in our company, they are signing on for what goes with it -- the norms, rules of behavior, preferred way of doing things, and values.

  • First of all, identify your own values as a leader. What's important to you?
  • Discover what important to those who are key to your company's future.
  • Define a mutual vision based on shared values.
  • Articulate "what's important around here" in order to live out your values and vision.

Do you want employees to stick with you through the ups and downs of business cycles? Invite them to help you build a culture that they can embrace and count on, one that they describe to others with pride and passion.

Photo on flickr by ashotaway

The Christmas Ham

1764656170_fac268415c_mThe holidays arrive and soon all of the goodies from vendors and customers start pouring in.  I am sure that many of your people wait with anticipation for that "special something" that comes every year from certain people.

I believe for some it actually turns into an unwritten law that they will partake in the feast of these items.  There is a certain group that makes sure they get the goods, but what about the rest?

If I am a part of this company, why do I not get an opportunity to savor the goodies - sound familiar.  Sure some companies send out what is left to the rest of the staff - very generous to share your leftovers.  Yes - leftovers - that is how it is viewed.

If you want to start changing culture, take a stab at dealing with the holiday gifts that come into your company.  I am in a company that has practiced self indulgence and the giving of leftovers.  This year I suggested that the "Christmas ham" that they get every year (that was shared with only a few) be given away.  We are employee owned so why not?

There was resistance, there was selfishness from those who had always devoured the ham, it was viewed as what is the big deal.  Well, I can tell you for a fact what happened when the ham was eligible to be received by all.  There was shock and appreciation by all who had not been part of the "Christmas ham" feast.  The message went out that maybe things are changing and we are part of team that works together for success.

Remember that the little things are sometimes the biggest things when you are trying to change culture.  It is the season for giving, so why not try a different approach to giving in your company.

Flickr photo by Cindy's World

How do you balance things during the holidays?

Christmas_2I realize that it might have been appropriate to post about simplifying the holidays a few weeks ago, but I'm figuring that the peeps that REALLY need to hear the "SIMPLIFY" message... still have a lot left to do!

How 'bout you?  How are you doing?

I'll be the first to admit it.  I'm not done with my shopping.

It's okay though.  I'm determined to relax and enjoy the most important aspects of the season. 

How?  Well, as I've explained before, I'm a huge fan of asking questions. 

What questions am I asking of myself and others this time of year?  Well, I'll list a few.

Since my family celebrates Christmas... I'm asking:

  • What's really important as I celebrate Christmas with my family?
  • What can I do beyond freakishly cool gifts to make it a remarkable Christmas for my family?

For folks that don't celebrate Christmas... but still need to relax this time of year, I'll ask:

  • What would make it a really relaxing, memorable holiday season?
  • What are some of your favorite memories from this time of year? 
  • If you could reach out to anyone... who would you love to reconnect with before the end of the year?

How about you?  Did you already start to think of some responses to these questions?

I know I did.

For me, as I ponder these questions I realize that I don't tend to remember stories of elaborate gifts or expensive trips. 

Nope. The memories usually involve time with friends laughing or time with my family really relaxing.  You know, finding pockets of quiet within the busy schedule to really laugh, love and connect. 

How do you do it? 

How do you stay focused on the 'good stuff' and stay balanced during this time of year?

Lastly... in addition to giving you some questions to ponder... I also want to provide some 'brass tacks' advice to help navigate the last few days as well. 

So here are some great ideas to balance things, simplify your approach, and have some fun in the process.

Take Julie's advice over at the Cottage Crafts Blog and grab a Christmas Journal and keep things organized.

You can take Mary's advice over at the RelevantBlog and try her 5 Tips to Simplify Christmas.  My favorite?  She lists a number of questions to ponder with your family as you are making your decisions about gift buying... spending time... and what to focus on.

Lastly, check out Rod's recommendations on gift-giving to your adult friends at the Simplify Christmas blog. He has some great ideas whether you are shopping for friends, employees or clients.

Enjoy... and Happy Holidays!

Photo credit and kudos to Caterpillers

That's an expensive cup of coffee

Coffee How many times have you been the first one to arrive at the office and you venture to the break room and find the coffee machine has been on all night and the glass coffee pot is caked with burnt coffee.  Just what you wanted to do -- clean the coffee pot.

With winter upon us now I’m sure the consumption of this hot beverage is up.  By now you are probably scratching your head trying to figure out how coffee and insurance go together. 

It might resemble a very similar relationship between a police officer and a doughnut. 

I’m not sure of a business owner or a business out there that does not have a coffee pot sitting somewhere.  Maybe even a hot plate on a desk sitting next to a stack of past reports.  Whatever the case may be, you should pay close attention to those items before you leave for the night.

Why?

Because of Fire Legal Liability Coverage.

To give you a visual, Penelope Quick Print leases and occupies the first floor of a multi-tenant building valued at $1,000,000. Through the negligence of Penelope Quick Print’s employee who left the coffee pot on, a fire started in Penelope Quick Print’s premises. 

The fire did $300,000 worth of damage to Penelope Quick Print’s premise and also caused $400,000 worth of damage to other parts of the building.

If the fire damage limit for Penelope Quick Print was $50,000 the insurer would only pay that part of the $300,000 in damage to the part of the building occupied by Penelope Quick Print. 

Penelope Quick Print needs a higher fire damage limit. 

A lot of small business owners ask what this coverage is for.  What needs to be understood is the fire legal liability coverage is subject to a separate limit.  Insured’s have a tendency to think this is covered under property damage and it is not. 

You will find that it is typical to see only $50,000 in coverage unless you and your insurance agent discuss the value of the amount of space you occupy.

Here is a simple formula to consider:

You occupy 5,000 square feet of a 30,000 square foot building valued at $3,000,000.  In other words, you occupy 1/6 of the building. 

Using this simple formula would give you a minimum value of $500,000 needed for insurance coverage.  Once the fire leaves the space you lease or rent, any subsequent damage would be covered under the Per Occurrence Limit of your policy.  You also have the ability to insure against perils other than just fire. 

All of this over a cup of coffee.

The Reject Gift of Project Management

Ugly_sweaterThe ugly (as in "should be arrested for wearing it in public") sweater

The 100-pack of sausages from around the globe

The autographed autobiography of Britney Spears

Tube socks and Old Spice

So, do we have any other nominations for re-gifting?  Or should we do society a favor and make sure these things make it to the nearest dumpster, never to see the light of day again?  They are officially known as the undesirable Christmas present.  The first year I was married, my wife's grandmother sent me some very "interesting" underwear that was two sizes too small.  Suffice it to say, I was thankful that there was a gift receipt that came with them.

Unfortunately, projects do not come with gift receipts.  Some of them should.  We tend to lock our projects down with constraints the way we lock our friends and family down with Aunt Maude's Fruit Cake (which is actually the same cake that was baked in 1947, the year she was married, and has been regifted for the past 60 years).

The trick with project management is the same as in giving the "perfect" gift.  Find the general range of preference and just go for it.  Set some general parameters or boundaries.  Think of it as giving the project manager a gift card to his or her favorite store.  You've set up some boundaries for where they need to shop, but you've allowed them to decide what they want to get.  Instead of micromanaging the project manager, and forcing them to wear the light-up sweatshirt that blinks "I brake for reindeer," why not allow them to find their own way to a solution?

Kimberly Stevens of the WealthRing blog suggests creating a "How We Work Together" document at the BEGINNING of a client engagement that creates appropriate parameters and boundaries, setting expectations for all concerned.  If 90% of a project manager's time should be spent in communication, then setting expectations up front on boundaries, scope, and parameters will be critical to creating a relevant and meaningful business case.  It's like the all-desirable "gift card of project management."  It allows you to give the project manager room to breathe, room to select the meaningful answers right for the project (yet also that fits with the PM's comfort level as well as what is right for the project).

What about you?  What do you do to ensure boundaries are defined and maintained appropriately?  How do you prevent receiving the project equivalent of the hand-knitted Santa Claus tissue-cozy?

Carpe Factum!

Disney Magic Doesn't Rub Off Easily

Disney_2  Last month I read a post that linked to an interesting article about how airports were trying to implement a Disney-style service model. The article has sort of stuck with me for the past few weeks, as I pondered all of the companies and professionals (myself included) who have attended the Disney Institute to study the Disney way, as well as all the companies who have hired former Disney executives hoping that a little magic will rub off on them. But the magic doesn't rub off so easily.

How many companies can you name that deliver a customer experience like the Magic Kingdom?

Has the Disney Institute failed? Have we failed?

Here's a couple of thoughts I've been mulling over...

  • It's harder to change a corporate culture than it is to grow one. One of the lessons I've learned in the call center business is that it's easier to get new employees to embrace a service attitude than the crusty old veterans. Culture is hard to change, and the larger the company the more difficult it becomes. You're fighting years of baggage and branding. Your great Disney-esque ideas are easily perceived to be the latest in a series of fad initiatives that employees have seen come and go.
  • Disney's core business is entertainment. All of the businesses, merchandise, and services are wrapped around the reality that we were entertained by Walt every Sunday night growing up. Now, our children and grandchildren have been entertained by endless DVDs and the Disney Channel. Disney is pleasure. Disney is leisure. Disney is fond childhood memories. The widgets I'm hawking B2B in Hoboken and Fargo just don't engender the same warm fuzzies from the stressed out plant manager who's next on my cold call list.
  • If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Even Disney didn't get there overnight. One of the things I did pick up at the Disney Institute was the major hurdles even Disney has had to overcome. In 14 years of doing Quality Assessment with companies all over the country, I've learned that consistent, quality customer experiences are less about magic and more about hard work.

I'm not trying to have a glass-half empty mindset here. I'm a glass-half full kinda guy. I have come to believe, however, that there is only one Disney. While we can all learn nuggets of wisdom from Disney's experience, we must ultimately do the work to create our own magic.

Tell us about the magic you've created in your company.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and d4rr3ll.

Practicing the P's of Social Media

Map If you're looking at the Social Media terrain like a lost country boy in downtown Manhattan, SusanGetgood at Marketing Roadmaps offers concise direction in engaging the Social Media landscape with The 4 P's of Social Media Engagement.

  1. Prepare - find out what your customers are saying and what they care about by listening. I'll add a 1.5 here and say that after careful attention is paid, define your Purpose.
  2. Participate - engage in the conversation. Be it by commenting on blogs or having a Twitter presence, get out from behind the counter and be part of the community.
  3. Publish - Blogging, Podcasting, Slideshare, Instructables...something.
  4. Pitch - As Susan says, preparation should always come before promotion.

Passion would probably be good additive here to fuel your trip. Being bland (aka trying to please everyone) will leave you on the side of the road flat.

Another great resource for beginning (or continuing) your Social Media journey is Chris Brogan's Social Media Starter Pack

Behold the power of questions

Qmark I have long believed that one telltale sign of a great marketing mind is someone who asks a lot of questions.  And not just a lot...but questions that you've never been asked or thought about before.

Questions open new doors.  Questions clean up assumptions.  Questions inspire.

So, as you wrap up the new year...what one question can you ask yourself about your business, your customers or your product that will leapfrog you into 2008?

Speaking of questions...next week is the 4th installment of the Business Building Breakfast series.  IowaBiz expert blogger on Life/Work balance, Mitch Matthews will talk about how the questions we ask ourselves create the life we lead.

Our brains work in the same just like Google. We ask it a question and it gives us a list of responses, beliefs and memories.

The question becomes...what kind of questions are you asking?

Be sure to join us at the IowaBiz Business Building Breakfast on December 19th.  Mitch will help us discover how to ask questions that will encourage, motivate and inspire.

Please RSVP so we know how many to expect.

Is Your Marketing Firm Looking Out For You?

Picture_1 Sounds Great
I have a great marketing plan for your company. You can choose one of these options:

A) I jump my motorcycle over the fountain at Caesar's Palace with your corporate logo emblazoned across the back of my leathers; OR

B) YOU jump your motorcycle over the fountain at Caesar's Palace with your corporate logo emblazoned across the back of YOUR leathers.

Excitedly, you sign up for A, comfortable in the knowledge that whether I make it or not, it is great PR.

Unfortunately, the next thing you know, you wake up in a hospital bed, with everything but your left pinkie toe snapped like an old wishbone. What happened?

The Problem
I often run into this scenario when a company hires a marketing firm. If the marketing firm does not have a handle on trademarks problems can arise.

More often than not, when a problem does arise, the company thought the marketing firm was handling the trademark clearance and the marketing firm thought the company was handling the clearance. Thankfully, most of the time they both get lucky and neither gets sued over an uncleared trademark. When a company does get sued, it often gets a highlighted portion of the marketing firm contract shoved back in its face showing that all of the liability is with the company.

Not only that, but the company often has agreed to indemnify the marketing firm in the even the marketing firm gets drawn into the fray. Not only does the company have to change the name and destroy all of its marketing materials, but it may end up with writer's cramp from writing checks for infringement, indemnification, punitive damages and attorney fees.

The Solution
The most important step to take to avoid spending the next couple years in court, or emptying your corporate bank account, is to make sure you and your marketing firm are in written agreement as to who is clearing all of the intellectual property (issues of domain names and copyright clearance are also important).

If the marketing firm is taking care of the clearance, be sure that they are doing a national trademark clearance search. Google searches and state trademark searches are simply not going to to cut it. If they have a trademark attorney provide a written opinion of trademark non-infringement to you, you can also avoid liability for punitive damages and attorney fees in the event you are sued.

Cost/Benefit
The value of the trademark does not always justify the cost of a full written opinion. In some circumstances, it is worth a small amount of risk to avoid the additional up-front costs of a full search.

Under these circumstances, however, it is still advisable to conduct a low cost knock-out trademark search to identify any obvious problems. While the knock-out search will not insulate you from liability, it may offer you the opportunity to choose a different trademark before you find yourself shredding thousands of dollars worth of marketing materials and begging a registered trademark owner not to sue you.

Build Your Portfolio
If you plan on using a trademark for a long time, it is probably worth investing in a federal trademark registration. After five years, you can make your federal registration incontestable. Incontestability substantially reduces the chance you may get sued for trademark infringement.

Additionally, if someone else starts using your federally registered trademark on similar goods or services, you have the potential of obtaining triple damages AND attorney fees. Having one or more federally registered trademarks in your portfolio can add appreciably to your bottom line. 

Bottom Line
It does not matter if you do a simple knock out search or end up registering your trademark.  The important thing is to determine whether you or your marketing firm is responsible for trademark clearance. Once you know who is responsible, you can decide how much risk you want to undertake, how likely it is you might run into an infringement situation and how much you are willing to spend to avoid litigation.

Brett Trout

Year-end taxes: what to do when there's no silver bullet

Clients often ask if there is "something big" they can do before year end to drastically reduce their tax liability.  Sadly, the "silver bullet" is a myth.  Fortunately, we have some real tax planning tools.  They may not slay the tax vampire, but they will make it much less scary.

20071211ib3_2 BE SURE HAVE ENOUGH BASIS TO TAKE ANY LOSSES.  Most businesses nowadays are "pass-through entities" -- S corporations or partnerships (including LLCs), where the earnings are taxed on the owner's individual tax return.  In order to deduct any losses from your business, your need to have enough basis in your stock or partnership interest to cover your loss.  Basis starts with your investment in the business, and it increases for undistributed earnings and declines with losses.  Sometimes basis can also include loans to the business.  Putting a little cash into your business at year-end might help your cash flow a great deal in April.

20071211ib4 IS IT TIME TO BUY SOME ASSETS?  The tax law allows most businesses to deduct purchases of up to $125,000 of assets that would otherwise be depreciated.  This so-called "Section 179 Deduction" is fully available for businesses that purchase up to $500,000 of depreciable assets.  If you need some equipment or software in your business, and you aren't a rental real estate operation, a purchase by year-end could make a nice dent in your tax bill next April.

20071211ib2 SHOULD YOU LOOK AT A QUALIFIED PLAN?  Some of the best tax deductions for retirement plans are reserved for "qualified" pension and profit sharing plans.  For example, if you are a sole proprietor with no employees, you may be able to deduct up to $45,000 in a contribution to a 401(k) plan for yourself.  It's a great deal - you are taking money from one pocket and putting it in the other, and taking money from Uncle Sam in the process.  In order to deduct a contribution to such a plan, the plan itself needs to be in place by year-end.

FIRST, FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU STAND.  You can't do any tax planning unless you have a pretty good idea what your income looks like for the year.  Get your bookkeeping in order, then get thee to your tax advisor and set yourself up for Happy New (tax) Year.

No, you won't find a silver bullet for your tax problems.  With the right tools and some help from your tax advisor, though, you can take care of your year-end business tax planning.

Access Your Network for Results

Netework I often hear the question, "When should I use my network?"

My first reaction is to try and shift the tone of the question too 'When should you access your network?'

The fact of the matter is, that we build networks for a purpose and that purpose should be to produce output.  I like to call it economic output.  If we aren't accessing our networks to produce economic output, then our networks may be static.  Here are 3 times to consider accessing your network:

  • When you know (or even think) you can introduce someone into your network and cause success for them.  Success can be measured in many ways.
  • When you need to 'vet' an idea to determine its validity in the marketplace. Vetting can lead to time/cost/relationship savings.
  • When you meet someone that is exiting a corporate job and wants to get plugged into a more private sector world.  In a world of seemingly increasing corporate lay-offs, it is important to provide a relationship net for those in need of new opportunity.

Of course there are several other times to access your network, but start small and begin to plant seeds within your network to produce economic results.

How to Avoid the Business Divorce

"If we are together nothing is impossible.  If we are divided all will fail." - Winston Churchill

Handshake_3 Partnerships.  I often tell people that it is not a matter of IF . . . it's a matter of WHEN it will end. 

Call me cynical but unfortunately I have seen too many business partnerships break up and end in the dreaded business divorce.  Amazingly, many partnerships seem to survive the lean years.  But when success happens that's when people change and strange things start to happen.

So how do you prepare yourself to avoid the pain, expense and aggravation of the business divorce? 

Every business partnership (whether in a corporation, LLC or true partnership) should consider a buy-sell agreement from the outset.  As Central Iowa financial planner Art Dinkin says, Begin with the End in Mind.

A buy-sell generally covers how an owner can sell shares and how to value those shares.  Further, a good buy-sell agreement sets forth what happens in the event of death, disability, retirement, divorce, bankruptcy or other considerations. 

Effective buy-sell agreements will generally require a right of first refusal.  This means if one owner finds an outside buyer for his shares the owner must first offer those shares to the other existing owners.  This protects the owners from suddenly running the business with someone they did not intend to have as a partner.

The time to enter into a buy-sell agreement is at the beginning of the business relationship when everyone is excited and getting along.  It is often very difficult to negotiate a deal when something has gone wrong.  Without a buy-sell agreement, owners may end up in court and the business may suffer.

And amazingly, with an effective buy-sell, a strange phenomenon often occurs.  People actually get along and the business prospers. 

photo on flickr by oooh.oooh

Get your hand in the air!

Creative_kids Do you know who Gordon MacKenzie was?

You know...the longtime creative guru at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. (He wrote Orbiting the Giant Hairball.) I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon MacKenzie about 15 years ago when he spoke to employees in the magazine group at Meredith Corporation.

I'll never forget the classic-MacKenzie story he told.

He said he spoke to kids at lots of schools about his profession. He'd open each talk by telling the students that he was an artist. And then he'd stop and look around the classroom, notice the artwork on the walls, and wonder aloud who created the masterpieces.

He'd ask, "How many artists are there in the room? Raise your hands."

The same thing always happened he said.

  • In kindergarten and first-grade classes, every kid strained to raise their hand the highest.
  • In second-grade classes, about three-fourths of the kids raised their hands, though not nearly as high and with as much conviction.
  • In third grade, only a few kids held up their hands at all.
  • And, you guessed it... by the sixth grade, often not a single hand went up. And the kids would look around to see if anybody was going to be foolish enough to admit they were that "weird."

Why did Gordon MacKenzie find sixth-graders looking to set apart, or label, a kid who saw herself as intuitive and creative?

Because there has been a strong tilt in our society, since the dawning of the Information Age, towards the kid -- or adult -- who is more logical than intuitive, more sequential than nonlinear, and whose reasoning is more computer-like and less holistic.

We've tended to prize left-brained thinking more than its counterpart, taking the logical approach more seriously, seeing the alternative as "nice-to-have," but secondary.

You're wondering what this has to do with leadership, right? Well, being logical and rational as a leader is no longer sufficient. Our success as leaders of thriving businesses in the emerging era of what Daniel Pink -- in A Whole New Mind --calls "high concept high touch," depends on having artists in the room.

Not necessarily cartoonists or people who paint in water colors, but people who have an "artistic sensibility." Who have the essential abilities to solve problems, see patterns, understand the subtleties of human interaction, empathize with others and appreciate the world around them. Can access the right side of their brain as well as the left. Can think in unique ways...and like to...and don't mind raising their hands, as high as they can get them, even if their hand is the only hand in the air.

photo on flickr by tamersalama

Why Try Harder?

215097528_33a77810a8You read how engaged employees improve profits.  You are bombarded by your employees to communicate better and create a better work environment.  Even your family and close friends tell you that you should do more for your employees at work.

So being the benevolent leader and owner that you are, you take this input to heart and begin the process of organizational change.  You are full of energy and ready to make great things happen.

Then it begins, the slow drain, the unappreciative employees, the never ending battles.  It seems that every time you make a little progress people are complaining about the next thing that needs to be fixed.  Soon you could care less and start to ponder of just letting things go back to the way they were.  Why try any harder?

The answer lies within your own beliefs.  Look at this way - what are willing to do for your children, parents, or grandparents?  Why not take these same beliefs and apply them to your employees.  Can you imagine the impact that you will have on the people who you spend most of your life with?  This is your opportunity to create change in our world.  Your opportunity to provide ideas, encouragement, and resources to people who may never have the opportunities you have. 

You can set the example of how to "Pay it Forward".  To give hope that there is a better way to conduct business and build a better future for those who make your business successful.

Flickr photo by Andrizes

E-mail 101

Computer_stress I have been traveling quite a bit lately and I have to admit that it's tougher to keep up with e-mail when I'm on the road.  Can you identify?

There are some days when I feel so behind that I'd like to chuck the whole system and just go back to pens and paper... or maybe even smoke signals. 

Again... can you relate?

Well, even though I get frustrated from time to time... I love to hear about how people manage things like their e-mail. 

I love to hear about systems that work.

For example, I was working with a client yesterday. 

I know that she is very effective at managing her daily tasks so I asked her about her "system." 

She says that she follows a modified "Getting Things Done" system.  She says that she spends 2 hours each morning, clipping through her daily e-mails and to-do lists.  She swears by the system and says that everyone who e-mails her hears back within 24 hours and her in-box is always empty at the end of the morning session.

Read how the Brazen Careerist followed some of the same strategies to take her in-box to zero.

Sounding good?

Need more stories and specifics?  Click here to read one more example... just to keep you motivated.

So, how do you do it? 

Do you struggle too?

Do you have a system that works?

Share your successes or your challenges.

And... remember... we're in this together!

Click comments and join in the conversation.

Photo credit: Zniper 02

Tis the season ... update your equipment

Computer_desk As you look around the office, you might notice you are in need of updating some of your equipment. 

  • Are your computer monitors the size of your desk?
  • Do you need to shake the cartridges to your photo copy machine every time you wish to make a dark copy?
  • Are you still operating with a standard typewriter?  (Yes, they still exist.)

It could be your systems are outdated, running slow, needing continuous maintenance, and it is time to make that upgrade before the New Year.   What will cause you to jump and make the purchase?

  • A sale sign in the local retail shop
  • Equipment that malfunctions during a major presentation

Electronic Data Processing (EDP) Coverage

If you make a purchase - new or upgrade, be sure to talk to your agent about EDP coverage. Why is this important coverage to consider? 

  • Because you are going to pick up some broader coverage like mechanical or electrical breakdown. 
  • It also covers property while in transit. 
  • Usually it includes some extra expense coverage as well. 
  • It might offer some business income coverage.
  • Typically, you are going to get coverage for equipment, data, and media.

Equipment
A typical policy definition is “your electronic data processing equipment, word processing equipment, and telecommunication equipment, including their component parts.  This definition includes but is not limited to mainframe computers, minicomputers, terminal, monitors, printers, disk drives, and modems.

Data and Media
Data is information that has been converted to a form usable in EDP equipment.  Data includes both computer programs, which direct the processing of data and data files like your customer mailing lists or inventory.

Media are the material on which data is stored, like discs and tapes.  Media can be very valuable because of the information they contain.

What Else
If you were to glance around your office what else might be covered under this type of policy?  You might notice your:

  • heating systems
  • ventilation systems
  • cooling systems
  • alarm systems

Don't forget:

  • fax machines
  • telephone systems
  • switchboards
  • word processors
  • related surge protections devices and their component parts
  • computerized production equipment and related software

Are You Aware
An EDP policy is very broad and can cover a number of items you may have never thought of.  Sure, you do have some coverage under business personal property and building coverage forms but it could be limited. 

Take time to discuss with your agent the benefits of an EDP policy – including the valuation of your items. It doesn’t take long for most equipment to become outdated.  An EDP policy could save you some headaches. 

The Romper Room of Hell

Birthday_party_2 Sunday, I observed a great metaphor for projects:  my eight-year-old's birthday party. 

We were at one of those kid-oriented places at the intersection of Demolition Derby and Wild Kingdom.  You know... the type of place that other species use as justification for eating their young.  Complete and utter chaos reigned.

It reminded me of some of the projects I've observed (primarily at the larger employers).  The project team and executives behave like a crowd of eight-year-olds on a Mountain Dew, ice-cream-and-birthday-cake sugar high.  They scurry from deliverable to deliverable, from issue to issue, from crisis to crisis... with no real agenda or direction.

I liked Jordan's Daily blog recently.  He's been working on one of those "client from hell" projects and shared some of his insights:

My manager says I can adapt to this lack of project management system they have in place. She even claims she has books which discuss it.

That really surprised me, because most MBAs would tell you project management is the only acceptable way to run an effective and efficient business. Without project management, you have – well – you have what I experience every day.

Chaos. Confusion. Frustration. Exceptionally high levels of stress – and a never ending pile of work which just gets dumped in your lap, despite already being overloaded with more work than one person should be reasonably expected to complete.

So, one of the big questions I have been exploring is this – is it possible to adapt to a chaotic, unmanaged system of running a business, or is just those that choose to work under such a system have other reasons to give up the methods used in most successful businesses?

ChaosdespairIf one must work under conditions generally found at the average Chuck E. Cheese franchise, is it possible to bring order out of chaos?  The answer is yes; however, the decision-makers must see the pain associated with the chaos and want to make the change. 

In Jordan's case, the lip service probably won't cut it, so his concerns are warranted.  But if you and your management want to right the course and get the project back on track, try stopping the project altogether to regroup. 

That's always a good start to allow people some breathing room to assess what the project is really about. 

As I found out yesterday, it is much easier to corral eight-year-olds when nobody is moving.  I can count them and line them up and get them back into the hands of their adoring parents much faster when they are not tearing around through inflatable obstacle courses.

Is your project in utter chaos?  Make stopping your great accomplishment.  You may reach the finish line faster.

Carpe Factum!

Do you exercise your freedom, your right, to choose?

Picture_5Do you exercise your freedom, your right, to choose?

I do.

Businesses that don't listen to customer concerns or to feeds will eventually have to listen to a loss of revenue. Businesses that do a great job deserve the reward of our loyalty.

Only when we choose with our feet and our pocketbooks will some companies hear the message.

Have you exercised your choice? Post a comment and tell us about a business you've chosen to reward with your loyalty, or a company you've chosen to avoid.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and KTPupp

Did You Hear What They Said About You?

Blogged Do you know when bloggers talk about your company or offering?  You should. And it's as simple as Search Once and Subscribe.

Now before you show your...blind spot, know that bloggers can be a strong ally in spreading your good word (or its opposite). Whether you call it viral marketing or word-of-mouth (and there's a difference), it's foolish to ignore something so simple to track.

Let's say the folks at Beaverdale Books do a Google Blog Search on their store. Do they reward the compliments? Do they reach out to the complaints?

You don't have to be adept at using a Feed Aggregator. Simply do the search and subscribe to a Google Alert via email. If nobody blogs about you (another problem altogether), then you won't get anything in your email. But if they do blog about you, you'll know about it!

Our own Tom Vander Well writes how Understanding RSS/Feeds Might Change Your Life & Business.

Short and sweet!

Picture_1 It's hard to argue with the power of three-dimensional mailings.  They're attention getting, memorable, and yield great recall and results.  If you want to make a big splash and have a small target audience - dimensional mailings are a potent solution.

But there are also times when it makes sense to rely on a simple postcard.

Retailers have this down to a science. 

There's no envelope or extra clutter.  Just a straightforward postcard that cuts right to the chase.  "All DVDs 20% off.  Sales ends January 30th." They know that even if their audience only gives them a fragment of their attention as the postcard floats towards the trash can - they'll be hard pressed to miss the message.

How can you use the mighty postcard?

  • Drive traffic to your website to encourage subscriptions to your online e-newsletter
  • Announce a prestigious new client or staff member
  • Announce a private sale for a select audience
  • Showcase a new product or service
  • Create mini testimonials from your best customers
  • Contact dormant clients and create a reason for them to come back
  • Tease the audience about an upcoming event/offer

Just because the solution is simple, doesn't mean it can't be effective.

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.