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January 2008

Better Than the Stock Market

302946050_b1f50ef2c9_mThe stock market is jumping all around and people are wondering what they should do with their investments.  For many people these investments are their retirement funds. 

The only true control you have is to take your money out or put more in.  The performance of the stock market or stocks you have invested in are controlled by others, not you.

Would you like to have some control?  There is a way to get some control and that is through employee ownership. When you have ownership in a company you can make a difference.

As an employee owner you do have some control over your investment.  You can add value through managing your customers, implementing new ideas, improving processes, and even just plain ol' hard work. 

That is just one individual, but consider that you could have a whole team or company of owners focused on building value.  Not all employee owned companies give that much control to their employee owners, but the ones that do to add value and help control the fear that most employees feel in tough times.  Employee ownership is a proactive means to give some control back to individuals.  It is not easy, but the rewards run broad and deep when ownership is shared.

Imagine if you could have that much influence on your stock market investments - you may just sleep a little better.  Ownership can take a lot of the uncertainty out of peoples lives and that my friends adds value beyond dollars.

Flickr photo by Checco

It's 2012... May I interview you about your freakishly cool life?

Recently... DMJuice came to me to ask how I helped people to set goals without being "too cheesy" or "Tony-Robbins-esque." 

They wanted their readers to think about their dreams and goals but they also wanted people to have some fun.

So I said, "How about an interview?"

They said, "Well that's why we're talking.  Right?  An interview with you about helping people set goals?"Interview

I corrected them and said, "No I'm talking about a strategy called 'the interview."'

Before the conversation escalated into a bad Abbott and Costello routine I explained that I often have new coaching clients go through a process that's fun but it also gets people thinking about their dreams and goals.

I call it simply 'the interview.'

What do you say?  Are you game?

So imagine that it's 2012 and a reporter is coming to interview you.  She's sent you the following questions to prepare you.

Now your job is to sit... relax... dream BIG and answer them as if your wildest dreams have some true.

Sound like fun?  Well, dig in.

1. I have heard you have a great workspace.  Describe what I'm going to see and experience when I come to see you.

2. I have heard it's been an amazing ride.  Tell me about where you started and what's happened over the past 5 years.

3. I have talked to some of your (employees/team mates) and they LOVE working (for/with) you.  How many people do you (employ/work with) and why is it such a great place to work?

4.  What products/services/offerings are you most excited about?

5. Looking back over the last 5 years, what would you say has brought you the most joy?

Okay, there are more questions but I'll stop there for now.

Dig in.  Take the challenge.  Get ready for the interview.

Oh and hey... maybe if you write it down and then put a little strategy behind your answers they might just play out by 2012! 

How cool would that be?

Maybe you'll hear an actual reporter say "Excuse me... May I interview you about your freakishly cool life?"

Photo credit and kudos to: newsphotog6801

Is Spiderman Covered Under Workers’ Compensation?

Spiderman_2_2 The visual that comes to mind is in Spiderman II when Peter Parker is having trouble with his powers. 

The doctor said, “Peter, have a clear mind and focus.”  That little conversation with the doctor leaves Peter sprinting across the top of a high rise building, jumping off, and yelling, “I’m back.”

Peter is descending very rapidly and slams into the side of a brick wall, bounces off a car, and hits the pavement. 

Still dressed in street clothes Peter Parker gets up and grabs his back.  He’s hurt pretty bad.  Good thing he’s Spiderman, because any normal human being would not have gotten up from a fall like that.

Spiderman is a volunteer who fights crime. And, under the standard workers’ compensation policy, would not be covered. Or would he? Could he have his day in court?

The city of New York could have placed an endorsement on their workers’ compensation policy to cover voluntary compensation and employers’ liability.  When workers sustain job-related injuries, they usually are compensated pursuant to the workers’ compensation laws of their state.  How would the people of New York view Spiderman?  Volunteer ….  Super Hero….

On a more serious note

We will leave Spiderman out of the picture and focus on the fact that volunteers can be valuable assets to special events and nonprofit organizations.  Out of good faith, it might be in the best interest of the organization to cover their volunteers. 

  • Have you ever held an event and used volunteers? 
  • What if one of the volunteers was a good friend and somehow suffered a severe injury?
  • How would you feel if they sued you?  Would you care, or brush it off and say they assumed the risk? 

Workers’ compensation laws are in effect in all 50 states.  Coverage can be found by using private insurers, state funds, or assigned risk plans.  There are some states that require you to purchase coverage exclusively through the state.

Iowa is not one of those states.

A great resource on workers compensation in Iowa is www.iowaworkforce.org

Flickr photo by Amadika

Office Politics And The Project Manager

Officepolitics You are a small business owner/manager.

You have a project you want done.

You've made assignments and set the vision.

So why isn't anything happening?  It might be that your organization is a victim of office politics, a case of passive-aggression in your company.  I've written numerous articles on my blog about office politics, and many people have used GUST in their career planning strategies.  Want to read more on the subject?  Check out www.office-politics.com.

The one constant problem with office politics is that 1) most people start the conflict themselves without realizing it and 2) most people don't realize that they are involved in a game until it is too late.  Celine over at the Pimp Your Work blog shared a great post about what to do when your team loses.  Office politics can cost your company thousands of dollars, and when it rears its ugly head on your projects, Celine shares some things to do to help your team cope:

  • Keep your spirits up
  • Find out what you could've done better
  • Show appreciation for everyone's efforts
  • Focus on how well the team worked
  • Look forward to the next challenge

As the business owner, if you have control over the circumstances that caused the loss, there are some additional things I'd like to suggest for you to do to mitigate the issue:

  • Determine the motives of the perpetrators - it may be that the office politics prevented you from doing something really stupid.
  • Figure out what can be salvaged - did office politics completely undermine your project?  Can anything be saved?
  • Establish safeguards for the future - determine how to leverage accountability to ensure that accomplishment can still occur.  Remove those who prevented your success earlier.

Carpe Factum!

Thanks for Your Loyalty - Now, Get to the Back of the Line!

Airlines_2Airlines are notorious for rewarding loyalty. If you fly the same airline long enough, you earn status. This means you get to board early, get priority seating and if you fly stand by you get put to the front of the line. The airlines will also give you award tickets which you can redeem for tickets. This is a reward for your customer loyalty.

A few weeks ago my wife and I redeemed our "loyalty award" to fly on United Airlines to a weekend conference in Colorado.

The weather was bad the morning of our departure and we missed our initial flight. I find it interesting that the airlines expect customers to understand that they are not responsible for delays because of weather (thus, they aren't going to do anything for you) but they don't extend the same courtesy when you, yourself are delayed by weather. We were late for our initial flight and then were put on stand by for our connecting flights.

Because we were using the ticket they gave us as a "reward" for our loyalty, we were treated like the least important passenger that day. Faced with the choice of paying for our own hotel and having "a chance" of getting out of Denver the following day or renting a car one-way and driving to our end destination we paid the price and drove.

Somehow, it doesn't make sense to "reward" your most loyal customers only to treat them like the least important.

What do you think?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Matt Hintsa.

Is Your Business Too Small for a Website?

Is your business too small to have a web presence?

In times past, if you weren't in the Yellow Pages (remember those?), you didn't exist. In this generation, if you're not findable on the Internet, you don't exist.

Several months ago, I wrote about a study showing 30% of small businesses still don't have a web presence. While I'd like to think that's changed -- it probably hasn't. Just check out your Chamber of Commerce directory.

Do you know a small business without a web site?  Maybe it's because of cost or because of hi-tech fear.  Blogs are one way to clear both of those hurdles.

Here are a few samples of Business Blogs doing it simple, but findable:

Aldo Coffee Company
Conference Calls Unlimited
Lightning Labels
Maine Stay Inn
Three Angels Gourmet
Two Maids and a Mop

Isn't it time you become findable?

What's your water level?

Boat People rise to expectations.  Or sink to them.  How high do you set the bar for your employees, peers and customers?

So often marketers create copy thinking that they have to live by the 3rd grade reading level rule.  I say that’s ridiculous.  Unless your product is for 3rd graders.

It’s okay to expect them to get clever.  It’s okay to treat them with respect.  It’s okay to expect them to make good choices.

I'm not suggesting that you pack your copy with insider jargon or huge words.  But it is okay to let your language set the expectation of what it's like to do business with you. 

When you read your print ad or brochure copy out loud -- does it sound like you and your employees talk?  Then you know you're on the right track.

You also do not have to write every and any possible contingency down -- just in case.  Give people some credit.  I just learned of a company that has “employees cannot sleep while working” in their employee manual.  Come on.  If you have to say that in writing, you need to revise your hiring policies.

Go ahead, expect a little more and watch your boat rise with the tide.

United States Now a Haven For Cyberstalkers

Cyberstalker While many countries have made cyberstalking illegal, the United States has not. Several states have passed various types of legislation addressing cyberstalking, but the resulting hodgepodge of cyberlaws typically requires proof of a plausible threat of violence toward the victim. Until the United States enacts federal legislation, criminalizing cyberstalking, most victims are left to fight cyberharassment on their own.

What Can You Do?

What you can do to protect yourself depends on the type of cyberstalking involved. Consider the following five factors when deciding how to proceed:

The Factors

Who? In any situation where a child is threatened (cyberbullying), immediate adult intervention is a necessity. If it is a child harassing the child, the harasser’s parents and, possibly, the school administration should be contacted. If it is an adult harassing the child, contact the authorities immediately.

What? Depending upon other factors, name-calling, disrespect, lewd remarks and/or ridicule may or may not constitute harassment. Personally directed hate speech and physical threats are much more serious, requiring immediate intervention.

Where? Cyberstalking can occur via email, hacking, message boards, text messaging, social networking, blogs, online gaming, photo sites like Flickr and video sites like YouTube.

When? Cyberstalking typically requires repeated incidents of harassment. Not only does a single rant about a lost eBay auction probably not constitute cyberstalking, taking action against the one-time ranter prior to a subsequent incident may simply be poking a sleeping bear.

How? Even most state laws do not require physical, person-to-person, to make a case for cyberstalking.  If cyberstalking does turn into real world contact, however, immediate intervention of the authorities is likely warranted.   

Additional Factors

While the foregoing five points lay out the groundwork for determining the severity of a cyberstalking situation, the analysis does not stop there.  If you are aware that the cyberstalker has a history of harassment or violence it is probably wise to contact the authorities. Conversely, if the cyberstalker is well-known in a particular forum for spreading harassment over a broad number of individuals, simply lying low and refusing to engage the cyberstalker may be the key to alleviating the problem. The last thing you want to do is make matters worse. If the problem persists, you may wish to contact the forum’s administrator to determine if the cyberstalker is violating the site’s terms of use. Alternatively, you might try to make a similar inquiry of the cyberstalker’s Internet Service Provider.

Trump Card

Every case is different. Any impression that you are in physical danger, however, should trump the foregoing criteria and prompt a call to your local authorities.   

Brett Trout

Defending your deductions

If a canceled check were all you needed to satisfy an IRS agent that you are entitled to a business deduction, audits would hold few terrors.  Unfortunately, it's not enough to just spend money to get a deduction.  You need to show that it is a business deduction.  Paperwork matters.

If you are in a regular profit-seeking business with a decent accounting system, most of this takes care of itself.  Your accounting records will generate the purchase orders, invoices and payroll records for most of your day-to-day deductions. (And if you don't have a good accounting system, you should get one, and tax is the least of the reasons you need to).  But some deductions require support beyond what you might normally get from your bookkeeping records. 

If you want to deduct travel or meals and entertainment expenses, the tax law requires you to keep20080122biz2 records that show:

  • the amount of the expense;
  • the time and place of the travel or entertainment;
  • the business purpose;
  • for business entertainment, the business relationship with the person being entertained.

If you want to deduct a charitable contribution, you at least need a canceled check or credit card statement for a gift up to $200.  For larger gifts, a written receipt from the recipient listing the amount of the gift and the value, if any, received for the donation is required.  Special rules apply when you make gifts of property; if you donate property worth over $5,000, other than publicly-traded securities, you need to get a qualified appraisal.

The IRS has more on documenting travel, meal and entertainment expenses.  To learn more about documenting your contributions, visit the Tax Girl.

Avoid A Stagnant Network

Team In my opinion, a network is only as strong as the depth of the people that are connected within it. 

By this, I mean that when you are in a situation that calls for an industry expert and your list of "go-to's" are not available; it is wise to have others in your network you know can pick up the slack.  That is why I'm firm believer in continuous networking even when you believe your network is complete/solid/strong enough.

In my line of work, I don't force a business owner to use any particular person in my network.  As a matter of fact, in any industry at any given time, I may have a list of 5 - 10 experts that I suggest the business owner choose from. 

These are usually based on the scope, price and most importantly the 'personality' of the situation.  How deep is your network?

If I stop adding to my networking list... I'm letting my network become stagnant.  With a stagnant network the odds of having the proper industry expert for a situation decrease.  Once your connections within your network decrease, you may be experiencing a failing network.  This is a common problem but one that can be fixed nonetheless.   

Golden Rule of Employee Relations: Fairness

Respect Employee lawsuits are continually on the rise.  So how do you keep your employees happy and stay out of court?

While it is technically not a "legal requirement" I have long suggested that treating employees with respect is the best way to avoid employee lawsuits.  Building on this thought I recently saw a couple of excellent posts from employment lawyers John Phillips and Jon Hyman concerning fairness as the Golden Rule of Employee Relations.

Treating others as you want to be treated is a concept that even young children understand.  But while the concept is easily understandable employers still have a difficult time being fair.  To this end, Phillips offers five areas of fairness where employers should concentrate their efforts:

  1. Appearance: does an employment action appear fair to an outside observer?
  2. Counseling: except in the most egregious of cases, was the employee told of a deficiency and given a chance to correct it?
  3. Consistency: are similar disciplinary problems handled similarly and to the same degree?
  4. Documentation: can you point to a performance review, written warning, a note in a personnel file, or some other contemporaneous piece of paper that supports the personnel decision?
  5. Rationale: was the employee given a reason for the decision, and was it the real reason?

As Hyman points out, juries are big on fairness.  It is critical to remember that in a jury trial your jurors are likely to be employees rather than employers.  Being fair will not only reduce the employment claims against you but increase your chances of success if you are sued.

So next time you deal with an employee disciplinary situation be sure to remember the Golden Rule of Employee Relations.  It will make a difference.

The Clueless Hold Clues

Clues You know that issue you're struggling with? There's another way of seeing it. In fact, there are dozens of other ways of seeing it.

One of the greatest gifts I give my executive coaching clients is another, totally different perspective. I owe it to them to jar them out of the rut they're in by making some pretty audacious observations sometimes.

Maybe you're in a rut somewhere with your business. You're stuck trying to get over or through a big issue that's looming down the road.

You've been carrying around this picture, this perspective, in your head about:

  • what it entails
  • why it's so big
  • when it started
  • who it impacts
  • where it's most prevalent

And the longer you carry it around, the more entrenched your perspective becomes.

I suggest you set it down in front of someone else and ask them to take a look. "Tell me what you see." Then listen really well. Especially for the subtleties.

Often that issue morphs into a totally different "animal" as you listen to that other person's perspective on your issue. And so often the way they see it provides an opening that you never noticed before. But inside that opening lies a new set of solutions.

Who to ask to take a look at your issue?

  1. Often we seek out the ones with the clues, the gurus, the gray haired sages who've been doing for eons what we're struggling to do this year. And that's okay. Their description of what they see will be heavy with decades of experience, perspectives, suggestions, and examples. And solutions.
  2. But also consider the accidental guru. The clueless. The guy at the dry cleaners that you say "thank you" to every week, but whose intellect you've never tapped. The woman who just happens to sit beside you on a plane, bus or coffee shop floor. Ask your teenager. Their description of what they see will be light with spontaneous insights, glimpses, clues and tweaks. And solutions.

Clueless-ness can result in unbridled objectivity...and entrepreneurial brilliance. I think about the shoe factory that years ago sent two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying,

  • SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES

The other scout writes back triumphantly,

  • GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES

Photo on flickr by rachel

A New Day in Employee Ownership

17726872_c7f520e14b_mMany of you may be contemplating the sale of your company.  One way to transition your company is through employee ownership, specifically an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan).

This transaction has tremendous tax advantages for the seller and for the company once the transaction is completed.  Another upside to employee ownership is that it spreads the wealth of the company to everyone who has helped build the company.

If these points appeal to you, I would encourage to explore the world of employee ownership.  The following websites will link you to organizations that offer information and education about employee ownership.  I encourage to explore these links and the information they contain.

Flickr photo by maco

what's your sweet spot outside of work?

Glee I get to coach a lot of people who want to be in the "SWEET SPOT" more.

You know... that place where everything seems to flow.  That place where it feels natural.  That place where more often than not... things just click.

Yeah... the "SWEET SPOT."

It's interesting though... because most people only think about the "SWEET SPOT" when it comes to being at work. 

But all to often we forget that the "SWEET SPOT" can be a goal outside of our work-life too.  For example, recently I had a conversation with client a who was thinking about his sweet spot. 

Now,he didn't realize that he was thinking about his sweet spot... he just thought he was complaining. 

In fact, that's how our conversation started.  He began by telling me about how his business was growing and that he was facing so many opportunities. 

He said, "Things were so good... they are almost too good."

After listening for a while I started to ask "sweet spot" questions to move him towards taking an inventory of his current situation.  I wanted to explore what aspects of his current situation were "sweet spot" and which weren't. 

(I've suggested things like the love/loath list as an exercise to help with this in the past.)

Interestingly enough... when I started asking about the things he loves to do... he blurted out something to the effect of "I'd love to sit on my couch and read a book!" 

But then he quickly backtracked.  I could tell he felt bad for admitting something so simple. 

I asked him, "How long has it been that you've been able to do that?"

He responded with "Way too long."

Since it's been a goal for him to move more into his sweet spot I asked him "Would it be okay if some of your sweet spot stuff didn't involve "producing" anything?  Or at least anything work-related?"

He said "Yeah.  I guess."

I said "So it would be okay if your sweet spot stuff included being a good dad or being an awesome husband or even being well rested or well read?"

He said "Hmmmmm.  Yeah.  I guess so... yeah... of course."

So then I asked him, "What are some one degree shifts that you could make to make time for those things too?  You know... Not sweeping changes... but some small but significant shifts... to make your sweet spot outside of work a priority too?"

(David B. Bohl has some additional questions to help with this process.)

So we started to generate some small but significant things he could do.

    • Set up protected time with his family. 
    • Dates with his wife. 
    • Even specific time to do nothing... or... to read a book... on his couch.

Simple changes.  Small tweaks.  But intentional time for the sweet spot stuff outside of work.

How about you? 

What if you gave yourself permission to explore your "sweet spot" outside of work too?

What would you do? 

What would you try?

What are some specific things... small but significant things... that you could do to make time for your sweet spot stuff outside of work?

Click on comments and join in the convo. 

Let us know.

Photo credits and kudos to: dreadfuldan

Going, going, gone - the case of the missing data

Frustrated It was over the holiday break and my son was doing his homework for school.  I thought something was wrong at first then I looked at the calendar.  School was back in session the next day.  My son, Gabe, is ten and was selected to create a powerpoint presentation that a group of four students had put down on paper. 

I would peek in on him every now and then and ask if everything was o.k. 

Response….  Yes Dad!  I could tell the pressure was getting to him just a little as the sky started to darken and the clock revealed it was two hours later.

When all of the sudden I heard screaming and crying and a possible word that I had to question. I ran into the office and found my son lying on the floor in tears. 

I asked, “What happened?”  Gabe revealed that he saved all the information to the CD and couldn’t find it now.  A good 20 minutes of trying to get him to calm down went by.  Then I spoke up as any proud and confident father would do in this particular situation and the words came out --  "Everything will be just fine; I guarantee it." 

This has now become an episode of "Home Improvement" with Tim Allen.  My only problem was, I didn’t have Wilson to turn to for advice.

Everything was lost and could not be found.

I’m sure there are many business owners out there who have experienced something very similar to this situation with crucial media that is needed for their permanent records. 

For the most part the information can be recreated but it is the cost of recreating it that most people don't consider.  In my case, with my son, we had to spend another two hours re-entering all the data that had already been entered.  This was human error and would not be covered under an insurance policy.

Risk management

I would like to make a suggestion. 

As a business owner, please backup all your data.  It should be done every night but make sure to take a copy off premise.  It does you no good to keep it at your place of business.  With offices going paperless and records being shredded it might make sense to have an offsite data storage facility as well.

Are you going to lose business income if you have to spend a week recreating your lost data?  My son should have been saving the information periodically to the hard drive or an external device like a jump drive.

Look at your policy

Many business owners’ policies (BOP) have the capability to add by endorsement some type of coverage for media.  It is usually an additional charge but every now and then it might be included in the policy. 

The question is at what value

It is important to pay close attention to this coverage if you are in a business that must keep records.  You just might be in a situation where you need to increase the limits.  Look at your exclusions first.  Then try and find the coverage in the policy language.

Are They Shooting At Me Yet?

Swat_mirror_training_2One of the areas where I volunteer my time is as a photographer for the local police SWAT team. 

It's a win-win relationship. 

I take pictures of them while they are in training scenarios and drills that their team leaders can use later for development purposes.  They are providing me with endless subject matter for my next book.  And, as volunteer opportunities go, I don't think I'll ever be too old to hang out with a bunch of guys in camo sporting heavy fire power.

Last week, I was observing the SWAT drill training on room entries.  One tool that the SWAT operators need is the mirror extension.  This allows them to see into a room before they enter (and if the mirror gets shot by the bad guy, at least it is replaceable).

Project management is a lot like that.  We're entering unknown territory, and we don't know what the consequences will be if we go through the door (i.e., complete the project). 

But we do have a mirror extension.  It's called "requirements and scope planning."  Just like my SWAT buddies have to measure and interpret what is going on around the corner, you have to measure and interpret what's going on at the end of your project.  But you have to be able to do it while you are still at the beginning.  And you have to be careful to aim your mirror correctly to ensure you are measuring the right things.  It takes a lot of foresight, as Rich Maltzman from the Scope Crepe blog states:

What I am saying is that it makes sense to be extremely thoughtful and careful when establishing the measurements and very important to consider the intangibles. I know that "you cannot fix what you don't measure", but you also must be aware of what you cannot measure and account for it in the mix.

In defining your requirements, you have to mentally go forward, then look in your rear view mirror and mentally drive backward through your project, define your route (plan your scope), and then actually drive forward.  Confusing?  You bet.  However, a lot of project managers and teams just rush forward through the door and that is where the "bad guys of project management" start shooting at them:  Scope Creep, Poor Leadership, Competing Resources, Unclear Objectives.

Think about what you want to accomplish, then stick your extension mirror out to see if it is a safe route to pursue.

Carpe Factum!

Cheap Labor Doesn't Stay Cheap

Bigstockphoto_customer_support_centI know a gentleman who owns a manufacturing company here in the U.S. His company makes a certain “widget” and years ago he needed a manufacturing facility.

He made the choice to build his plant in a rural area of the country where the economy was depressed and people needed work.

He went on to employ many people who valued the job and have stayed for years. Over time the workers required more and more money and the cost of the widget increased to make up for increasing cost of labor and production. The sales of widgets eventually declined as customers find more economical widgets of equal, or at least acceptable, quality. Now there's a dilemma.

Cheap labor is only cheap for a season.

A few years ago the customer service and call center industry flocked east to the song of cheap labor and big pay-offs to the bottom line. For some companies it was disastrous. Other companies have done arguably well, but now the call center labor force is maturing and demanding more money and benefits.

Call Center operation costs are rising as the exchange rates get worse. Call Center managers are getting squeezed to provide more service with fewer people.

Will the rising costs and difficulties of outsourcing customer service calls make the lure less attractive? Can outsourced call centers continue to provide acceptable levels of service with leaner staffing models and greater productivity demands?

Stay tuned. I think there are going to be business lessons, customer service lessons and life lessons for us all as we watch these trends continue to emerge.

Business Building Breakfast -- How to Avoid Legal Surprises in Your Company

Picture_7 Yes friends -- it's true. OnlyIowaBiz.com could make it happen!          

One hour of free consultation time with one of Iowa's best business attorneys -- Rush Nigut.  Join us for January's installment of the Business Building Breakfast series.                  

Wednesday, January 16th (yes, tomorrow!)

7:30 am - 8:30 am

14001 University Ave Clive, IA 50325

Please RSVP so we can have plenty of breakfast on hand. Want to know more? Read about the entire series.

New Shoes for Your Site - Social Bookmarks

A few months ago, I encouraged readers to have some Social Bookmark Intelligence. How did you do?

Here's a quick and simple video focusing on using Delicious as an example (RSS readers can also see the CommonCraft Social Bookmarking video:

At Social Bookmarking Script, you can generate code so that a series of buttons appears at the bottom of your pages

Social Bookmarking

Add to: Power Oldie Add to: Folkd Add to: Digg Add to: Del.icio.us Add to: StumbleUpon Add to: Netscape Add to: Furl Add to: Yahoo Add to: Spurl Add to: Google Add to: Blinklist Add to: Diigo Add to: Technorati Add to: Newsvine Add to: Netvouz


If that's too colorful for your site, at IceTag Generator, you can create text-based social bookmarks:

Related Articles:
- Don't Ignore Delicious and StumbleUpon at Web Strategy by Jeremiah

Newsletter No No's

Picture_3 Newsletters are a popular marketing tool. Done well, they can be incredibly effective.

Unfortunately, most people's efforts end up in the circular file before anyone has bothered to read it. Why?

Because they committed too many newsletter no no's.  If you're the editor-in-chief of your company's newsletter, be mindful to avoid these mistakes.

No grand plan:  Your newsletter needs to have a vision. Without it, it's just a hodge-podge of articles that has no continuity.

It's hard to build reader loyalty without it. Make sure you identify your key audiences and what you're trying to get them to do/know.

Too much ego: Sure, your newsletter is a sales tool. But be careful that you don't toot your own horn to the point of arrogance.

Celebrate your product/service's excellence but do it with case studies or client testimonials rather than in the first person.

Not providing value:  We live in a "what's in it for me" society.  Your newsletter is fighting for your audience's most precious asset - their time.  So make it worthwhile. 

Give them new information or insights so they look forward to receiving your newsletter.

Inconsistency:  Hitting deadlines is tough. It's easy to give yourself a pass when other projects are on fire. But, if you promise a quarterly or monthly newsletter, then it needs to come out on time.  Every time.

What do you think it says about your business if you don't keep your promise on newsletter deadlines?

Lack of interaction:  Give your readers a chance to talk back.  An e-mail address, a contest, a bounce back card, a URL that solicits feedback.  Make it a conversation rather than a monologue.

Newsletters are a lot of work.  Make sure all the effort you put into your publication pays off.  Avoid these newsletter no no's and you'll have loyal readers for life.

Net Neutrality - You'll Be Sorry

What is Net Neutrality?
There is probably no bigger issue, that you know less about, than Net Neutrality. Unfortunately, by the time you realize what a huge impact it has on your life, it will likely be too late. Net Neutrality refers to the idea that you should be allowed to access any portion of the Internet you like. Internet heavyweights like AT&T, Comcast and Cox cable, however, want to break the Internet up, pare it down and charge you extra to access its different parts. Kind of like cable TV. You want HBO? another $230 every year. NFL Sunday Ticket? Another $250 annually. Even worse, if Net Neutrality fails, most of the websites on the Internet, no having an Internet Service Provider (ISP) pimping them, will simply wither on the vine and die.  Your ISP, not you, will be in control of what websites you can visit.

Why Should I Care?
Want to watch YouTube? Sorry, that competes with Hulu, you either have to watch the approved shows on Hulu, or pay a separate access fee to watch YouTube. Just like cable or satellite, the elimination of Net Neutrality means your ISP can slice, dice and hold for ransom, any websites they want. So instead of the 150 million+ websites you have access to today, you might get maybe 1000, that is assuming you pay all the additional package fees your ISP charges for the "expanded" service.

Can't I Just Stick With My ISP?
What if I just stick with my current, Net Neutral ISP? The problem with that is that even if you do the right thing, others will not be able to resist low-cost (at least initially) non-Net Neutral ISPs. Other, less savvy web users than yourselves will not be able to resist getting their Internet fix at $5 less per month. For everyone that goes with a non-Net Neutral ISP, that is one less visitor for every potential new website. If you cut the market by 80%, or even in half, how does that affect an entrepreneur's, or even a blogger's decision to add new content? And for the content that is added, how likely are websites to post anything that goes against the ISP "approved" programming? We will all be stuck with one, extremely narrow, view of the world.

The End Game
The scenario goes like this. The ISPs offer low-cost, or even free, Internet access. The catch is that they eliminate access to 80% of the Internet. People drop their existing provider and go with the free service. Website owners, seeing most of their traffic directed away from their website and toward those competitor's in bed with the ISPs, millions of websites stop adding content to the web. Many millions more potential website developers will decide not to start that new website if no one is going to see it. As the number of alternatives to your ISP's hand picked selection of pay-per-view websites dwindles, the ISP can begin to increase the price of the service back near, or even above, prior Net Neutral prices.  So you end up paying the same, or more, as you do now, for 1/150,000 the selection you had before and no objectivity.

What Can You Do?
Obviously, not signing up with an ISP that denies you access to the entire Internet is critical. More importantly however, is mandating your Congressional representatives take immediate measures to ensure your continued access to ALL of the Internet.  In Iowa, Tom Harkin supports Net Neutrality, while Charles Grassley is undeclared. I can not believe I am siding with Harkin on something, but on this issue he clearly has the right idea. If you would like to urge Senator Grassley to get on track and protect your freedom, feel free to contact his office. For more information on what you can do, visit SaveTheInternet.com and The Open Internet Coalition. Do it now, because once Net Neutrality is gone, it will never return.

Brett Trout

Prepare to meet your (return) maker

200810102_3

2007 is over.  It's time to tally up the score.  Most businesses get help some sort of help with their year-end tax and accounting, but many of them make the project more painful and expensive than it needs to be. 

If you want keep your tax prep costs down, you need to do some homework.  The better prepared you are at tax time, the quicker your work gets done, and the smaller the tax prep bill.  Congress has enacted new rules that hold tax preparers to higher standards on returns they sign this year, so your accountant may have more questions for you this year.  That makes it more important to have things in order at tax time. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

- Have your financial information in order. 
If you prepare your own internal financial statements, make sure they are final before you see the preparer.  Don't be making adjusting entries after telling the tax guy that your numbers are "final."

-Don't forget the balance sheet.

Don't expect to give your preparer nothing more than a list of income and expense items.  Preparers like to see a businesses balance sheet, too.  The only way to make sure that you haven't missed income or expense items is to make sure the income ties out to the beginning and ending balance sheet.

- Answer all of the questions your preparer sends you ahead of time. 

Most preparers provide their clients with a checklist or "organizer" to help gather information.  Use it, or he'll run up the clock tracking down the information you didn't round up.

- What's new? 

Did you open a new line of business?  Did you start doing business in another state?  Did you make some big change in your operations?  All of these can affect your tax returns.  Beat your preparer to the punch by asking him what information he needs about this stuff.

-Have the details. 

Your preparer will need to know what fixed assets you've bought; have the detail of your fixed asset accounts ready.  Have business life insurance?  The preparer will need to know what you've spent on it, and whether it has built up.  Have the detail for your charitable giving and travel and entertainment ready.

-Has the government been in touch? 

You should let your tax preparer know right away when you hear from the IRS, but if you have been saving your notices in a drawer, dust them off and get them to your tax preparer pronto.

-Be ready when your preparer arrives. 

It doesn't help anybody if your tax team is sitting in your conference room waiting for you to get your information together.   If something comes up and you won't be ready, give your preparer as much notice as you can.

Remember, it's cheaper for you to be the detective.  When the preparer asks for something, you can say "oh, it's all in there, you find it," she will, but you're paying for the detective work at professional rates.

For more on preparing for your tax return preparation, visit this piece on Getting Ready to File Your Corporate Tax Return.

Networking Continues to Gain Momentum

Network Amanda Ripp of the Business Record wrote a wonderful article on the changes that our area is making in regards to networking. (View Here)

I happen to know each of the organizers of the networking groups referenced in the article.  They all recognize the need for relationships and see the value in making time to meet face to face.  Many of the meetings don't recognize an immediate output, but they all lay the ground work for future success.

Keep up the great work Central Iowa.  I'm excited to see us gaining momentum.

New Year's Resolutions for the Small Business Owner

New_years_eve_2 Happy New Year!  It's a time to reflect on changes we want to make and resolve to follow through on those changes.  It's a commitment to do better.  Here's three resolutions every Iowa small business owner may want to consider for 2008:

  1. 1.  Use good written agreements.  All your important business agreements should be in writing.  In Iowa, oral agreements are enforceable but often difficult to prove.  Why take a chance?  Make sure your contracts are well thought out and preferably in your favor.  AdamsDrafting blog is a great resource for anyone who is interested in how to draft effective agreements. 
  2. Draft or review your employment manual.  Do you have an employment manual?  If not, see your employment lawyer and draft an effective manual.  If you already have one be sure to review and analyze whether it needs updating.  There have been changes in Iowa law over the past year.  For example, if you are an Iowa employer it is important to review your handbooks to make sure your anti-discrimination policies now cover sexual orientation and gender identity.  Failing to include such provisions in your policies could result in increased liability.
  3. Keep proper corporate records.  Poor recording keeping could cause problems with the IRS and expose you to personal liability.  This year Iowa for-profit corporations and limited liability companies are required to file their biennial reports.  Every two years thousands of Iowa businesses fail to their reports and are administratively dissolved.  Don't forget to file your report.  You should also update your corporate minutes and other records.  For a list of corporate records to keep see here.

I wish you a prosperous 2008!

photo on flicker by happysnappr

Get a grip on your emotions.

Emotion Question #1. What was it that brought Howard Dean's political career to a screeching halt?

Question #2: What is one of the attributes that sets John McCain apart from his opponents?

Answer: Their emotions. Or more specifically, their capacity to control their emotions rather than being at the mercy of their emotions. (Undoubtedly, being a prisoner of war for five years has something to do with McCain's composure!)

We can't imagine a US President losing his cool, stomping his feet, or becoming unduly upset under stress and pressure. But having the "right stuff" is just as important for leaders at all levels within the for-profit and non-profit sectors. What IS that "right stuff?" 

Effective leaders everywhere are alike in one crucial way:  they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence, the capacity for recognizing their own feelings and those of others, for motivating themselves, and for managing emotions well in themselves and in their relationships. Daniel Goleman is the guru of EQ. He brought his research to the masses in the 90's with his book, Working With Emotional Intelligence

Check yourself. How do you stack up as a leader when it comes to the five components of emotional intelligence?

#1. How self-aware are you, with the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others?

#2. Can you control or redirect any disruptive impulses and moods, suspending judgment, thinking before acting?

#3. Are you motivated, with a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status, and pursue goals with energy and persistence?

#4. Are you empathetic, with the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people?

#5. Are you proficient in managing relationships and building networks, finding common ground and building rapport?

How'd you do? Regardless of your honest self-assessment, the good news is that emotional intelligence (EQ) can be learned. Its elements can be identified, assessed and upgraded. These skills are no longer "nice to have:" they are ingredients that business leaders "need to have." They are the "right stuff."

photo on flickr by cayusa

Don't Give Up!

1759541088_604b5d3455_m The key to any success is do not give up! 

Of all the challenges in the world, changing a company culture may be one of the most difficult.  When you consider that you are trying to get a group of human beings to shift their perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes, please realize this is more difficult than astro physics.

Think of number of questions, doubts, uncertainties, and perspectives you process in one day.  We can go from sad to glad in an instant and we may not even really know why it happened.  Have you ever tried to back track your thoughts?  What was the linkage that took you to thinking about a certain topic?  Try it - it is not easy.

Now multiply this by the number of people in your organization, the fact that you can be influenced by all of them, and then you wonder why people in organizations give up on change.

I guess maybe it really boils down to the fact that if you are the change agent - you believe there is a better way.  You may even say it is a blind belief, because the visible confirmation of organizational change is scarce and sometimes hidden from us.

If you are the change agent, find the small successes that allow you to not give up.  Remember that in most cases it has all ready been done, so you are not really trying to achieve the impossible.  Organizations have been changing for thousands of years, so we really have never been alone in our quest.

Flickr photo by -Teddy

When's your Sabbath?

Whether you believe in the guidance of the 10 commandments or not... Thou shalt rest on the seventh day just makes sense doesn't it?

Now... there are many reasons to observe a "Sabbath" day... but let's just take the concept of rest for a minute.

We need it... don't we?

But how often do we make time for resting?Sick

Let me ask a more personal question.

How often do we make time for resting without feeling guilty about it?

We know it's needed.  Don't we?

Snowboarders know it.

Artists know it.

Productivity Gurus know it.

So... why don't we do it?

Hmmmmm.

I think one of my favorite analogies on this matter comes from Gordan MacKenzie's book: Orbiting the Giant Hairball.

He talks about a picture that he saw. 

It was of a man standing across from a dairy cow in a field.  The man is yelling at the cow.  He's saying things like "PRODUCE MILK!"  "I want MILLLKKK!"

The cow just stands there... chewing.

The man doesn't recognize the fact that the cow... is in fact... producing milk.  It's just that the natural production process takes some "down time."

Yup.  That's a part of the natural process. 

Rest.

But... we don't always give ourselves that time.  Do we?

So... what's something you could try today... to intentionally rest?

Go ahead.  Give it a try.

You don't even have to start out with a full day.  Start with an hour or two.

Work up to the full day.

Over time... experience rest.  Yup.  Guilt free.  "Milk-producing" rest.

Then... join in the conversation. 

Click comments and let us know how YOU did it.  And... let us know how it felt!

Photo credit and kudos to: looli

Borrowed equipment

Crane What contractor doesn’t let someone else use a piece of machinery every now and then? 

Big Diesel Construction Company loaned its mobile crane to Bill, an independent contractor.  While Bill was driving the crane from a job site of Big Diesel Construction, he ran a stop light and struck a car, injuring its occupants.

Could It Get Worse?
The crane then swerved off the road and sliced and diced a few power lines and phone lines, which shut down the operation of a nearby telecommunications firm for a day.

What Kind Of Claim Would This Turn Out To Be?

  • Injured occupants of the car made claim against Bill for the obvious physical auto damage, medical expense, loss of personal income, and the ever most frequent pain and suffering.
  • Business income claim made by the telecommunications firm for an entire day.
  • Who needs to pay for the crane?  A claim will be brought against Bill for the damages to the crane by Big Diesel Construction.

This sounds like one big mess!

To make matters worse, Bill’s insurance had lapsed and was not in force during the time of the accident.

You Won’t Believe It
Bill is an insured under Big Diesel Construction’s policy because he was driving on a public road with Big Diesel Construction’s permission.  Big Diesel Construction’s policy will pay for the damages to the car and its occupants and the claim made by the telecommunications firm.

What It Won’t Cover
The crane!  The commercial general liability policy excludes damage to property owned by the named insured.

Caucus or Carcass

DefeatThe Iowa Caucuses of 2008 are now history.  Congratulations to Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee on their wins.

Chris Dodd and Joe Biden have already "left the building."  One can expect others to start dropping like flies, too, since there were quite a few "single digit" vote garnerers out there.  It will be interesting to see the "candidacy projects" begin to get cancelled as funds and support run out.

A lot of people don't understand how and when to cancel a project.  Some projects continue on for years and years without accountability or deterimination.  There are some projects in Iowa's largest employers that have gone on for years without ever producing a major deliverable.

A lot of the problem with this decision process is having the right information early enough in the project.  As Peter Stevens said in his blog:

You can react. You can identify the problem and make adjustments. Why is the development proceeding so slowly? Are there enough people? Are they the right people? Maybe you can reduce the scope and still achieve your business goals. Maybe your developers are being distracted by other tasks.

He continues by adding:

Once management has learned that they have control, can react and can prevent disaster long before it occurs, they will no longer be tempted to kill the messenger. In fact, they will welcome the messenger and appreciate the methodology, because early warnings will ensure that management looks good when the project comes to a successful and timely conclusion.

So cancelling a project is about having the right information at the right time to react appropriately... to determine whether corrective action can be taken.  Sort of like being the campaign manager for Duncan Hunter.  Using the information available to make intelligent decisions is critical.  Part of the problem is that the decision-makers have never been availed of the accurate information about the project.  That leads to a lack of accountability within the project.

So ask yourself if you have the following information available:

  • A list of key deliverables associated with the project
  • The target dates of major milestones
  • The budget (actual and planned) associated with the milestones and deliverables
  • The resources accountable for completing each deliverable.
  • The risks associated with each deliverable as well as the project as a whole.

If you can track this information, you will know whether your project is worth continuing.  It will keep you out of the "loser" category and help ensure your project is on the winning campaign trail.

Carpe Factum!

What do customers want?

Picture_3 My family frequents Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, where my parents own a little summer getaway. For several years there was a restaurant and bar down the lane that constantly struggled to get customers through the door. This past spring, a new owner took over. Shortly thereafter, cars and boats began lining up all day and night to frequent the establishment.

Same location. Same type of business. What made the difference? The new owner clearly understood what his customers wanted.

Customers want to frequent a clean, welcoming place. The unsightly, rusted out trailers that lined the entrance to the building began to disappear. The building and the grounds were cleaned up. Instead of getting barked at regarding where you could and couldn't park, a spacious parking area was provided.

The lake is a family getaway. The new owner added a small beach area with volleyball and lawn chairs where families could enjoy the water while they ate and drank the summer afternoon away.

People want a fun time. The grouchy, old cronies behind the bar were replaced with a young, friendly staff. Simple favorites like pizza were added to the menu. Multiple televisions for viewing a variety of sporting events were added. A gift shop with fun items for all ages was added.

Too often, businesses take a Field of Dreams attitude: "If you put out a blue and red 'OPEN' sign, they will come." But, you're only dreaming. If you want customers to come, you need to know what they want - then take a tip from another movie: Stand and Deliver!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Tribalicious

Web Strategies for 2008

Calendarcard Time to create or modify some of your web presence habits in 2008:

  • Social Media: Time to get engaged in the blogosphere. Comment or publish a blog; Start reading RSS Feeds; Publish content on YouTube or Scribd.
  • Social Networking: Get connected with LinkedIN, Facebook, or an industry-specific network.
  • Traffic Analysis: It's amazing how many business owners don't know how much traffic they get, where users comes from, what page they exit from, etc. Google Analytics is free and comprehensive.
  • e-Learning: Develop an e-learning strategy like the one Doug Mitchell recently wrote about. A great resource on this can be found at Rapid eLearning
  • Dump Flash: I still see sites being launched with all Flash - all the time. Of course, some have been saying this for years.
  • Study Up: Read Jeremiah Owyang, Lee Odden, and John Jantsch on a regular basis.

Want to brainstorm with others about these strategies?  Come to the monthly Central Iowa Blogger business breakfast on the First Friday of each month. 

Happy 2008!

All  of us at IowaBiz wish you a happy and healthy 2008!  We look forward to helping you grow your business in the upcoming year.

If there are topics you'd like to see us tackle over the course of 2008, please e-mail me and we'll do our best.


MySpace Happy New Year


If you could set one resolution for your business in 2008 -- what would it be?  What coudl you do this week to set it into motion?

Image courtesy of:  www.new-year.in
 

 

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