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February 2008

Building improvements - when your walls come tumbling down

Wall Congratulations! You are a new business owner. 

You have secured financing from your local bank and are ready to find that perfect location to operate your business.  You find out that retail space is very expensive and somewhat limited but decide on space in a new strip mall going in close to your residence and in an area that has great curb appeal.

You meet with the landlord and find out that your space is actually a rectangle consisting of 1200 square feet. 

“Where are the walls?” you ask. 

After a little more discussion, you find out that they can be put in to meet your specifications. The cost is $25,000.  Yes, this is your cost.  Let’s call it an improvement or betterment.

Although a tenant may have made or paid for improvements and betterments, they ordinarily become part of the property of the landlord as soon as they are attached to the building. 

Finally, things are in place and everything is running smoothly.  Customers are starting to notice your prime location and you are getting walk-in traffic.  Then the unexpected happens. 

There is a car accident involving two cars that occurs in the front of your building.  One car ends up in your store causing damage to your office by fire.  The owner of the car that went through your store is uninsured and has no assets.  Where do you turn for coverage?

You call the landlord and he says he carries insurance and will call his agent. 

Meanwhile you also call your agent because you have no place to work. 

Your agent files a claim as well. You have some business interruption and extra expense coverage that will soon be kicking in.  As time goes by you notice that reconstruction of your office is underway. 

You walk in but there is no ceiling, no walls, no fixtures.  Remember, this is a new building and your landlord did not add to his policy any work that you did to improve the location. 

When you called your agent, he came in and never asked about any improvements to the location.   They thought that was the way it was when you signed the lease.  Welcome to your 1200 square foot space again.

In past blogs I have spoken of business interruption and extra expense.  I have also mentioned it is in your best interest to read your lease and communicate with your landlord as much as possible. 

In this case, I want to point out a coverage that can help you.  The coverage is improvements and betterments. 

This category covers a tenants, "use interest"  in improvements and betterments that the tenant has added to the landlord’s building.  These improvements generally change the property and enhance its value and ordinarily become the property of the landlord as soon as they are attached to the building. This is where the term "use interest" comes from.

This leads into the Leasehold Interest Coverage Form that will be discussed in my next blog.

Eat Your Veggies; Enforce Your Tasks

Eat_your_veggiesOne of the most valuable lessons of project management came as a child at the dinner table. 

Let's face it:  very few children like to eat their vegetables in this McDrive-Up world of fast food.  Until I was married, I honestly thought the four food groups were grease, fat, sodium, and cholesterol.  But all too often, because she knew it was good for us, my mom would serve us vegetables.

Mind you, to the typical eight-year-old, vegetables of any variety in any quality are often perceived as ... well... gross, at best.  But I learned to eat them quickly and get them out of the way.  Why?  Because as unpleasant as they were piled piping hot on my plate, they were absolutely unbearable if they were allowed to grow cold.  There was truly nothing worse on this planet.

On projects, we all have tasks that are unpleasant.  Nobody wants to get them done.  They may involve filing government paperwork or filling out permit applications or sorting through historic data to find one minuscule fact.  Tedium!  But... if left unchecked, that same task could end up taking twice as long and costing four times as much due to penalties, estimate overruns, fines and interest, or lost opportunities.

How much of a stickler do you need to be at enforcing deadlines?  Well, it depends on whether you actually like cold and slimy asparagus, whether you want your eggplant looking like over-exposed road-kill.  (Sorry, but the imagery was too good to pass up... I hope you weren't reading this around dinner time.)  Really, it depends on your consequence-tolerance level should you let deadline after deadline pass without penalty.

People are people, regardless of age.  I found a great new blog post by a teacher where she talks about her mentor telling her that assignment due dates should never be enforced: 

Students are faced with deadlines all the time. "You can not play with your friends until you put on a coat." "You have to earn your allowance money before you can go shopping." They watch their heat being turned off in their apartment because mom or dad couldn't pay the gas bill by the 15th. Coach makes them run an extra lap because they were the last one to practice. Auntie burned the pie again because she didn't take it out when the timer beeped.  We are a culture of deadlines; when time lapses past the deadline and the task is not completed direct and indirect consequences happen. Middle school students understand this, perhaps what they have a harder time understanding is how to function without the deadline.

And so it goes with project teams and tasks.  There is one tool that I use consistently on projects that keeps the number of late tasks to a relative minimum:  The Late Task Report.  I create a report that shows which tasks are late, when they were due, and who is responsible for completing them.  Then I distribute the report far and wide:  the entire project team, project management team, company executives, CNN, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, The Weather Channel.  The result?  The team members HATE having it published to executives that they are behind on tasks.  They complete the task as quickly and accurately as they can, without much additional prompting from me.  The report itself works as a kind of "bad cop" to motivate behavior.

So... how are you doing at eating your veggies in a timely fashion?  Is it a project that you can stomach?

Carpe Factum!

Accentuate the Positive!

Hashmark_2Everyone who knows me knows that I can be a bit of an eccentric. In high school and college, while my friends were banging their heads and teasing their hair to new heights, I was listening to jazz and gaining an appreciation for big band standards. Perhaps that's why, on the heels of yesterday's post on QAQnA, I woke up this morning with the old Johnny Mercer classic going through my head...

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene


I'm constantly amazed at how we, as human beings, focus on the negative. I've been call coaching all week, and while the vast majority of sessions have gone well, I found myself brooding over a couple of the more challenging sessions rather than celebrating the many sessions that went really, really well. I likewise find that people expend all their mental and emotional energy focused on a few negative customers rather than celebrating all the wonderful interactions they've had that day.

Sometimes we need a visual reminder help adjust our thinking. Keep a scratch page next to your phone or next to your cash register. Put a hash mark down for every positive customer interaction and negative customer interaction you have. At the end of the day, look at the tally. I'm confident that, most days, the positives will far outweight the negatives. Walk away from your desk/counter recounting all the GREAT interactions you've had that day. (If the negatives outnumber the positivies, perhaps it's time to brush off your resume!)

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Dave.

Omgili & Google partnership combines objective and subjective search results

Omgili_logoWhen developing social media strategy for clients, I often talk about listening before talking. As with any marketing effort, it helps to know the general wants and needs of the customer first, before jumping in.

Traditionally this would take the form of consumer research, surveys or focus groups. Today, with all sorts of social mediums inviting peer-to-peer conversation (such as blogs, wikis, message boards and social networks) companies can listen to what's being said about them in real-time.

There are many listening / buzz trending tools online, ranging from the free (Google BlogSearch and Twitter) to the high-end (Radian6). One application that has emerged as particularly useful for me recently is the search partnership between Omgili and Google.

Omgili, to put it simply, is a search engine that tracks opinions, discussions and conversations, as opposed to individual websites and pages. At google.omgili.com, you can see how they've paired subjective search results (perception, arguments, opinion, sarcasm) with Google's objective results (facts, raw information).

It's a nice blend, especially for marketing and PR folk. Just type in your company's name and click "search both" to see what customers are saying, right now.

Consumer insight like this is invaluable, and it gives your organization an advantage in the long run. The best part: Omgili is a free application that you can start using today.

Link: Subjective + objective search results: google.omgili.com

Nathan T. Wright

Want buy in?

Huddle_2 This is the time of year when new marketing initiatives are being hatched and launched.   Many of you will be relying on your foot soldiers (read: front line employees, customer service representatives, sales force etc) to carry forth the plan and bring back the bounty. For most of us, our employees play a pivotal role in either our marketing success or our marketing failure. They're the ones who interface with our customers.

So why is it that when we're about to launch a new marketing effort, the employees are often the last to know?  Many times, they'll see your TV spot on the air or see a direct mail piece in their own mailbox and think, "hmm, I didn't know we were doing this!"  That's crazy but it happens every day. 

If your marketing team does not have a system in place to always introduce your efforts internally first, you need to create one.  Think of it as an informal training opportunity and pep rally rolled into one. 

Nothing feels better to an employee than when they're clued in - made to feel like an insider.  Once you make them feel included, they're going to be much more interested in learning what you need them to know, to deliver on your marketing promise.  Don't just show them the communications tool - explain the why's and how's behind the project.  Then, get them excited about it.  Help them see the potential results if you're all successful.  Most important, help them see how they can play a role in achieving the results you all want. 

This is a simple, no cost fix that will reap you many a reward.  Don't dismiss it. 

Who Owns Your Website, part two

Chains You Know What You Did
My last Who Owns Your Website post was very well received. The jist of that post was that unless your website was created by your employee in the course of employment OR you obtained a written assignment of all rights in the website, you probably do not own your website. That post covered those parts of your website that you honestly thought you owned, but as it turns out, you do not. This post covers things you probably knew you did not own, but thought you could use without getting caught.

Here are the excuses I hear when people get sued for infringing someone else's website design. I thought it was okay because:

They Gave Me an Inch
You paid a designer for work on a website. Now you want to replicate that design across several websites, and possibly even license it to others. Although you paid the designer for the work, you do not own the work. You merely have an implied license to use the work for its intended purpose. Whether that "purpose" includes use in other projects and/or sublicensing is a question for a judge or jury to decide. To avoid getting to that point, obtain an assignment of copyright up front, or at least detail in writing exactly what you can and cannot do with the design.

BadgerMan69 Said it Was Okay
Often an employee or a message board commenter will attest to the availability of design material for public consumption. "Fair use", "public domain" and/or "I am the author", are all common justifications. The problem is that the person authorizing the use typically has little or no knowledge about intellectual property laws. While you might possibly use this "authorization" to convince some judge you were an innocent infringer, this defense merely reduces the punitive damages and other side's attorney fees you might have to pay. Even an innocent infringer still has to pay compensatory damages and their own attorney fees.

All My Friends Jumped Off the Bridge . . .
A lot of website infringements stem from the perception that since everyone else is doing it, it must be okay. This can easily get out of hand. Say a website owner licenses a particular design. An unscrupulous competitor then sees the design and steals it for his or her own website. A third ethical, but non-intellectual property savvy, competitor sees the other two designs and assumes the design is fair game. The process continues until everyone but the original licensee is in federal court defending themselves against claims of copyright infringement. BTW/if you find yourself in this position, resist the strong temptation to explain to the judge that you only broke the law because everyone else was doing it too. 

I changed 25% of the Design
I have no idea from where these urban legends originate. There is no law which allows you to copy something if you change "x" percent of the design. If it is substantially similar, you better rethink using it. This can be a big concern in the situation where the designer based the design on a pre-existing copyrighted work, merely creating a "derivative" from the original. The designer truly believes he or she owns all rights in the new work when they subsequently license the work to you. To avoid this problem, stick with seasoned designers, more likely to know what they can and cannot do with other people's work.

It Did Not Have a Copyright Notice
In the past, if you published a work without proper copyright notice, the work went into the public domain. No longer. With the advent of the Internet, people are constantly stealing other people's works and posting them online without proper copyright notice. The absence of a copyright notice merely provides you the opportunity to throw yourself on the mercy of the court and claim innocent infringement. You still have to stop using the work and you still have to pay stiff  damages and your attorneys, you just might be able to avoid paying punitive for punitive damages and their attorneys.

I am Not Making Any Money From It\Giving the Author Free Publicity
I believe this line of thinking originates with a misunderstanding of Fair Use. While monetary gain on your part and loss of income on their part are indeed factors to be considered in rendering a determination of whether a use is indeed "fair use", the rules are much more complex and their application mercurial. Remove "fair use" from your mindset; act like it does not exist. If you absolutely need to use something in a manner you believe is fair use, obtain a written opinion from a copyright attorney first. Even if the attorney determines the use is not allowed, he or she might be able to suggest legal alternatives.

Now, go off and infringe no more.

Brett Trout

Rebates -- phooey. Take some real stimulus.

By now everybody's heard about the "stimulus" rebates - $300 to $600 checks from the Treasury to you to jump start the economy.  But that's chump change.  The real money in stimulus is for businesses.  Two parts of the stimulus plan are directed at business.

200802231 1. Increased Section 179 deduction.  When you purchase a piece of business equipment, you normally have to capitalize the cost and recover it through depreciation over a period of years.  For most non-rental, non-real estate assets, Internal Revenue Code Section 179 allows you to elect to immediately deduct some of your fixed asset purchases.

For 2007, taxpayers could use Section 179 to expense up to $125,000 of assets that would otherwise be capitalized and depreciated.  The stimulus law doubles that amount for the first tax year beginning after December 31, 2007.  If your purchases of qualifying assets exceed $800,000, the deduction gets cut back.

2. Bonus Depreciation.  Not everyone can use Section 179.  Some passive investors don't get to take advantage of the deduction; some taxpayers just buy too many assets. For them, there is "50-percent bonus depreciation."  This applies to new assets that are normally depreciated over periods up to 20 years. 

Bonus depreciation is simple: you get to deduct half of the cost of the asset in the year it's placed in service.  You depreciate the rest under the usual rules.  If you have a $100,000 asset with a five-year life, you would normally get to deduct $20,000 of the cost in the year it goes into service.  Using bonus depreciation, the first year deduction is $60,000: half of the cost ($50,000) is the bonus, and the remaining $50,000 is depreciated under the usual rules.

Bottom line: if you have a business, the stimulus doesn't stop at $600.

What is Yours is Ours

Networking I gave a presentation recently at PSIS.

I had a wonderful time and I've received awesome feedback from those who attended. (I've even got some feedback from others who weren't there) Another testament to a network?  I don't know.  It's a testament to the wonderful people that get up every day looking for ways to improve themselves and others.

As I reflect back and believe you me... I'm reflecting and refining as we speak! I can't get this thought out of my head... It's not MY network.  It's OUR network.

We live in an unbelievable community filled with unbelievable people, places & things.  The longer we spend cultivating each other, the quicker we will all achieve the successes we are seeking.

Department of Labor Proposes New FMLA Regulations

Pregnany_2 The Department of Labor recently released new proposed regulations concerning the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Since the proposed regulations are 477 pages, it is nice that Ohio employment lawyer Jon Hyman has provided a excellent overview.

Jon simply has one of most informative employment law blogs around.  Here are his highlights of the new regulations:

Except in emergency situations, employees will be required to follow the employer's policy for notification of FMLA leave, eliminating employees' ability under the old regulations to take up to 2 days after an absence begins to notify their employer that they intend to take FMLA leave. This change will greatly improve employers' ability to plan and schedule around employees' medical leaves.

  • Employers will be able to directly contact employees' doctors when employers have questions about FMLA medical certification forms that the doctors have filled out. Employers will no longer have to go through the employee as an intermediary, or retain their own doctor to contact the employee's doctor. While this change may have some effect on employee privacy, it will greatly improve the flow of information and streamline the ability of employers to make proper decisions based on full and complete medical information. This rule will also eliminate the expense and burden of companies having to retain their own doctors simply to ensure that a form is properly filled out.
  • To employers' dismay, the regulations do not change the time increments in which employees can take intermittent leave, but do require that an employee using intermittent leave use the employer's regular call in procedure except in emergencies. Thus, employees will still be able to take intermittent leave in very short increments, continuing for employers the administrative nightmare of intermittent leave, albeit with some additional notice.
  • Employers will be entitled to require employees to obtain certification of FMLA-eligible medical conditions twice a year instead of annually.
  • Currently, the clock under which employees accrue their 12 months of service for eligibility has no time limit, even after multiple breaks of service. Thus, if I work for 6 months for a company, and return 10 years later, I am eligible for FMLA leave after another 6 months. The new regulations place a 5-year cap on years of service for calculating eligibility, except for military or childrearing leaves, or where rehiring is covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Please note that I often find many small employers mistakenly believe they are subject to the FMLA regulations.  Generally, the FMLA covers employers with 50 or more employees, and employees must have worked for the employer for 12 months and for 1,250 hours of service during the previous year to be eligible for FMLA leave.  So be sure not to create a situation where you are responsible for FMLA leave if you are not required to do so.

As always, seek the advice of an employment lawyer in your particular situation.

flickr photo by mahalie

I'm Not Weird; I'm Just Not You

2_faces

How we act and interact with the people around us at work each day depends upon our personality types

It's a fact. People are different from each other and no amount of getting after them is going to change them. Nor is there any reason to change them, because the differences are probably good, not bad. People want different things. They have different values, motives, needs, drives and urges.

People believe different things.

They perceive, understand, conceptualize, and think differently.

So of course, people act differently, as a result of different wants and beliefs.

We get this. We accept it. And we talk a good game when it comes to being open, accepting others' differences, and looking for a diversity of individual styles on our work teams.

But accepting others' differences day-to-day, when one personality type rubs against the grain of another, is a difficult thing to do for even the most open-minded individual. We find ourselves putting labels on our co-workers as a way of coming to grips with, and thinking about, our differences.

  • He's a nit-picker.
  • She's a motor mouth.
  • He's a worry wart.

Ouch! What if we could talk openly about leveraging Bill's strengths as someone who's focused on the details --mitigating any analysis-paralysis-- rather than labeling Bill a nitpicker?

Or discuss the value of Sherry liking to talk more than Bruce does, without labeling her a motor mouth? Being analytical and verbal are not bad qualities but putting derogatory labels on them can make them seem so.

Personality profiling instruments -- like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index and scores of others -- help team members understand, talk about and learn to appreciate each other's differences. And this is important. Because if we aren't careful, we'll think about others' "different" behavior in terms of flaws or afflictions, and we find ourselves wanting to correct these flaws.

Our Pygmalion project then becomes to make all those near us just like us. You have never been guilty of trying to coerce a spouse or a child into being more like you, I assume. Yeah, right. The science of people differences and similarities is a fascinating one; there's always something new to learn and nuances to understand. And it's fun!

Think about the study of personality types and the US Presidential race that is shaping up. Politics is complex, and personality styles play an important role in our political decisions...whether we want to admit it or not. As a life-long student of leaders and their personality types, here's my take on the personality styles that win out when elections are fought out on TV over long periods of time:

  • Candidates whose preferences are for extroversion -- meaning they focus on external concerns and draw energy from connection and communication --have an advantage. Think Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton!
  • Candidates whose preferences are for feeling judgments -- meaning they make decisions based on empathic, circumstantial weighing of human-centered values, rather than logic and analysis -- have a leg up. Think George H. W. and George W. Bush!

Fun, huh, and a little weird.

photo on flickr by HeBeDeBe

Big News

1038660935_d9831fc922_mEmployee ownership has not always been a mainstream news item.  With the large numbers of businesses that will be experiencing ownership transition, this has changed in the last couple of years.

The Wall Street Journal just recently published a series of article in regards to employee ownership -follow this link http://online.wsj.com/small-business/small-business-link to review them.

One of the companies profiled is Van Meter Industrial based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  They are a shining example of how sharing ownership with the employees can drive performance.  This did not happen by chance.  They took the initiative to change their culture by involving their employee owners and elevating their communication and education programs.  I have had the opportunity to meet their employee owners on several occasions and I can attest to the fact that they are actively engaged at all levels in being owners.

Once again, Iowa companies are leading the way in business innovations.  Join the movement of employee ownership!

Flickr photo by tootdood

Come learn about the science of networking!

There's definitely an art to the science of networking.  Is your network all you want it to be?  What if there's more you could be doing to build and grow it?

47b0d9d09d63 Come hear what Adam Steen of Transition Capital Management has to say on the subject.  Join us for February's installment of the Business Building Breakfast series.

Wednesday, February 20th (Yes, this Wednesday!)
7:30 am - 8:30 am
14001 University Ave
Clive, IA 50325

map

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

Coach thyself.

As a coach, one of the things that I talk about as a goal with my clients is to get them to begin to coach themselves. 1562212838_dac92d91ed

I've found that if my peeps start coaching themselves throughout the week they can go so much further with their time.

Okay you might be saying, "So how does this work?"  Or "Give me an example."

Glad to.

One of my clients is working on time management.  You know, maximizing his time, productivity and job satisfaction.

A part of that has been to develop a daily schedule that allows him to do the things he needs to do as well as plan for the next day. 

For example he'll shut down everything between 4:00 and 4:30 each day and plan for the next day.  That's just a good system and one that he's continuing to perfect.

Now the self-coaching comes in two to three times a week when he adds a little time to his half-hour planning session.

He simply sets aside an additional 15 minutes to ask himself two questions:

  • What's working well with my planning system this week?
  • What's something that I need to tweak with the system this week?

Yes these are questions a coach would ask.  (Yup.  I ask 'em.)  But he's asking them of himself.  More importantly he's coming up with some good answers and he's implementing them.

He doesn't have to wait for his coach.  He can incorporate a change.  Experiment with something new.  Do more of something that's working.  Throw something out that isn't.

It's pretty simple.

It's also pretty powerful.

What if you tried this out this week?  Just once? 

What if you set aside 15 minutes to ask yourself what's working and what isn't? 

What if you tried one new thing because of it?

Hey, coach thyself and see what happens. 

Then come back and let us know how it went!  Just click "comments" and join in the conversation.

If you want some additional ideas... check out lifehack's ideas on the subject by clicking here.

Photo credit to: Noah Pippen

Your duties when a loss occurs

Unhappy_man_on_phone I know it might sound a little strange to some, but as an insured you still need to secure your property to the best of your ability when a loss occurs.

It is also the duty of the insured to cooperate with the insurer in the investigation and settlement of the claim. I will briefly touch on some important areas concerning this duty.

#1 Notice of Loss
You should notify your insurer promptly of the loss. In other words, as soon as reasonably possible, the insurer must also be given details of how, when, and where the loss occurred. Why collect such information, you ask?  It helps make an accurate determination as to whether the loss involved a covered location and a covered peril occurring during the policy period. With today's technology, I always suggest taking some digital pictures of your loss. A camera phone can be a great resource at the scene of an accident.

#2 Police Report
If a law has been broken, notify the police. This helps to assure that questionable circumstances are recorded.

#3 Preservation of Property
Let's take a roof loss for this example.  Suppose your roof was blown off in a windstorm and you had computers and electronic equipment in that room. As an insured, you must take all reasonable steps to protect the property from further damage. Remember, the costs of emergency and temporary repairs are included in the settlement of the claim, subject to the limit of insurance.

#4 Inventory Inspection
The insurer may require a complete inventory of damaged and undamaged goods.  The insured must allow the insurer to inspect the property and to examine the records proving the loss. This helps in applying the coinsurance clause. This will also reduce the number of fraudulent claims. 

#5 Proof of Loss
You might be required to sign a sworn proof of loss containing information requested by the insurer.  The insurer will give the insured 60 days to comply and if the insured does not comply within the 60 days, the company may invalidate the insured's claim. Sometimes an extension will be granted for the insured.

#6 Examination Under Oath
The policy requires any insured to submit to questioning under oath. If there is more than one insured they will be questioned while not in the presence of the other. This is a very effective tool to in discovering and/or combating fraud.

Review
This is a very brief explanation of what an insured should do in the event of a loss. Make sure your first calls are to your insurance agent - and the police (if necessary). They can help you through the next steps in getting back into business.

The Project Status Meeting

Project_meetingFor some reason, this recurring event seems to strike fear into the hearts of project managers everywhere.  What should be a relatively simple and straightforward activity becomes a fingernails-on-chalkboard, grind-to-a-screeching-halt, black-hole-of-time schedule vacuum.

Outside of the basic meeting management principles (communicating a firm agenda, holding dominating personalities at bay, or recording meaningful minutes), many project managers forget the basic purpose of the project status meeting:  to communicate project status.

But what does that mean, exactly?  I'm currently on a project, consulting with the project manager to keep things moving forward.  Our status meetings are a weekly 90-minute conference call (with a web-interface). 

We review two reports:  recently accomplished tasks (i.e., those done since the last status meeting) and the look-ahead report (those tasks slated to be started in the next three weeks).  We go through each report (which is sorted by work functions) line by line. 

The team manager gives a brief, non-redundant recap of the task, if necessary, updates any changes in date or status, and provides any additional issues.  Notes are captured and added back to the project plan for later reference.

In short, your status meeting should do three things:

  • Look back - what did we just do?
  • Look ahead - what are we about to do?
  • Look sideways - what can derail us?

Quick, simple, nobody gets hurt.  Are you running your project status meetings effectively?

Carpe Factum!

Flickr Photo credited to Tech2morrow

"I Don't Know" Too Often Means "I Don't Care"

Bigstockphoto_questioning_a_call_81My wife and I recently had to take our printer back to Best Buy to get it replaced. It had broken down three times and sent in for service before they finally agreed to replace the whole thing. We had the extended service package and so Best Buy told us to go to the store and pick it up.

The guy at the Geek Squad told us to take our paperwork to the computer guy who took us to the printers. Our model was not there. After checking the on-line inventory he shrugged his shoulders, "We don't have that model anymore. We just get what we get," he said. But it had far more features than any other model in that brand.

"Can we get another brand with the same features?"

"I guess. I don't know. I don't see why not," he said.

"Which printer would have the same features?"

"I don't know. What did yours have?" he asked.

"Why don't you pull it up on-line and see?" my wife suggested.

We found the printer that came closest. There were none in stock. "We should have some coming in later," he said.

"Can't we pick one up at another store?"

"I don't know. I don't think so," he said.

By this time I was so frustrated by the "I don't knows" that I was about to scream. Here was a young man who had been poorly trained. The problem wasn't that he didn't know the answer, the problem was that he had no desire, drive or initiative to find out. If he had simply said, "I'm not sure, but I'll be happy to check with my supervisor and we'll get you folks taken care of," I wouldn't have been so frustrated.

Don't just say, "I don't know." Say, "That's a great question. Let me find out!"

Why you should pay attention to the OpenSocial movement

OpensocialLast fall, Google announced the OpenSocial standard. Let me spend a few moments explaining what exactly that is, and why it will be important to your business in the future.

The OpenSocial movement is based on the belief that users should be able to distribute content across the Web's many manifestions (blogs, social networks, mobile phones, etc.), as opposed to accessing it only via one central website.

Lots of other companies have joined the movement along with Google: MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo and SixApart, to name a few.

We've always thought of the corporate website as THE one-stop destination for all of our prospects and existing customers. With the onset of embeddable YouTube videos and RSS feeds, we saw that if the content is good enough, others will distribute it. OpenSocial is simply the next step of this evolution.

Let's say you've created a little interactive Flash game on your website. It's branded with your identity, it's engaging, and you want your visitors to play around with it. Three years ago this was called "sticky" content, thinking that users should be given incentive to "stick around" and come back to websites. Today, OpenSocial allows you to offer that game for anyone to grab and post inside their blog or their personal Myspace/Facebook page. Remember, your customer can also be your distributor.

Another great thing about the OpenSocial movement: If you want your content to easily "snap in" to all of these various spaces, why should your developers have to learn programming languages that are specific to each platform? They could spend hours learning how to develop something inside Facebook, then duplicate that time by re-creating the same initiative for MySpace. That's a lot of wasted time. OpenSocial gives us a common set of tools - learn it once, apply it everywhere.

Don't feel like you need to go out and learn everything about the OpenSocial movement today. Just keep it in your web strategy toolbox as your company's web content evolves. In fact, if you've ever read a blog's RSS feed, embedded a YouTube video, or sent a link to your friend, you're already a pioneer in this movement!

Graphic credit: Google

A new kid at the plate

Newkid One of the remarkable things about Des Moines that we take for granted is how many incredibly talented and diverse professionals surround us every day. 

When we first launched IowaBiz.com we had the good fortune of putting together an All-Star roster of business experts to serve as our daily guides to all things small business.

When he first heard about the project, Mike Sansone quickly volunteered to join the team.  For the past 8 months, he's shared his expertise and passion for using technology to connect to our customers, prospects and peers.  Without a doubt, anyone who has read a Sansone post has learned a little something.

Mike's business model is evolving and he needs to turn his attention to those changes.  So, today we thank him for his generosity.  No doubt we'll see him in the comments section on a regular basis. 

It was really a no brainer when we knew Mike needed to move on, to extend an invitation and tap the talents of Nathan Wright of LavaRow.  Nathan's a many year veteran of the digital frontier and he brings impressive credentials to the IowaBiz.com team.

So while you never like to see a player leave the game, it's always exciting to see who comes off the bench.  Enjoy the new player!

Grab them fast or wave goodbye

Headline As a writer, I hate to admit this but if your headline doesn't grab the audience, they will probably never get to the body copy. 

The headline has one purpose - to grab the readers' attention and lure them into your ad, direct mail piece, article or letter.

One of the biggest mistakes some advertisers make is that their headline doesn't talk to the reader.  Remember, your ad is not about your business. It's about the customer and how your product or service can make a difference in their world.

One effective headline technique that will help you keep the customer front and center is the one/two punch. 

The headline calls attention to a problem or makes a statement.  A subhead delivers the solution.  The visual's one/two punch is based on humor and is very effective.  If humor isn't quite right, you have other options.

How about using the technique to ask and answer a question?

Headline: Tired of scrambling to make dinner after a long day at work?
Subhead: Let Mama's Cooking deliver homemade favorites right to your door!

Another reliable headline technique is to open the wound.  Let your headline expose your audiences' pain.  Appeal to their emotions so that they recognize themselves as being in need of your product or service.

Try something like:

Headline: It's 6:13 pm. Have you even thought about what's for dinner yet?

If you create a headline like this, make sure your ad's first sentence or two answers the question.  You might follow this headline with...With help from Mama's Cooking, you don't need to.  We'll deliver homemade favorites right to your door, for pennies a serving.

Considering that a strong headline can increase readership of your ad by over 50%, isn't it worth a little extra effort to make sure you are grabbing every reader you can?

Buy that domain name first

Domain Part of my job is registering trademarks for companies. I always find it surprising that even internet savvy companies proceed with trademark registration before investigating domain name availability. 

While registering a domain name is not a prerequisite to filing a trademark registration, once you file the publicly available trademark registration, domain namenappers will likely foreclose that option, absent a rather large "donation" to their International Me, Me, Me Charity. If you get to the domain name even seconds after someone perusing recent trademark applications, the cost of your $9 domain name registration can jump to $10,000 or more.

Even if you are unsure about which name you eventually want to protect, with trademark registrations running about $1,300 and domain name registration running about $9 a pop, it is worth grabbing ALL of the domain names under serious consideration.

One last caveat. With some domain name registrars betraying long-term trust for short term profit, it is advisable to purchase the domain name the first time you search it for availability. Otherwise, you may find, upon your return, that your trusted domain name registrar is not as far removed from the domain name extortion biz as you might otherwise have so naively considered. 

Brett Trout

Don't try this at home

Sometimes small businessmen must feel that they shouldn't so much as go to the bathroom without checking in with their professionals.  No, you don't have to raise your hand, just go.

But sometimes you should call your tax guy.   Anything involving the ownership of your business is one of those times.  200802081

An old friend called sometime back and told me he had put the ownership of his business in an S corporation.  And it's doing great, it really has increased in value, and it generated enough funds that he had his corporation invest in another venture.  Oh, and he gave an ownership interest in his corporation to a principal in that new venture.  What did he have to do to make sure that the co-owner didn't get any income from the old venture?

Short answer: it was too late.  Longer and more expensive answer: he has to undo what he did and restructure the ownership of his company, possibly incurring taxable gain to himself or his co-venturer. 

Sadly, it would have been easy to achieve my friend's goals by doing things right in the first place, either by having the S corporation make a tax-free distribution of funds for the new venture, or by structuring the new venture as a partnership with the co-owner as a partner.  But once the paperwork for the old corporation has been signed and checks have been cashed, suddenly there is potential tax all over the place when you try to undo it.

The moral?  When you mess with the ownership of your business, it's a lot cheaper to call a good business lawyer and a tax guy before you do the deal; it costs a lot more to repair a deal than to do it right in the first place.

We Must Have Ridden the same Bus to School

Bus Over the years, I've come to the realization that there are several Central Iowans that possess an unbelievable amount of talent, passion, and desire to create success in all aspects of their lives.

Sometimes, when I listen to them talk, I realize how similar our views are and how we seem to have grown up learning the same life lessons.

I've decided to do a short profile on one of those Iowans because during a coffee, his message really hit home.

Adam Carroll is the definition of an entrepreneur, but he also has a keen understanding the role of networking.  He has written a book and currently owns a mortgage company and financial education business.

That being said, as we had coffee I was discussing the presentation I have at Professional Solutions Insurance Services on the 20th.

He perked up and said, "POWER... Promoting Opportunities While Establishing Relationships; done right can lead to Profiting On What Everyone Refers."

And if you've had coffee with me before, you know that I said, "Interesting..."

Adam is right.  We as business people need to think in terms of providing connections to others that increase their chances for success.  If they aren't successful, the odds of success coming back to us are decreased.

Iowa Touch Play Settlements Happening Very Quietly

Slot_machines Have you noticed that the Iowa Lottery Touch Play settlements have been happening very quietly?  A total of $3.4 million has been paid thus far to settle lawsuits and more settlements are on the horizon.

Apparently this has set off a squabble among Iowa lawmakers about who should pay for the settlements. 

Senate Republican Brad Zaun believes it should fall on the back of the Iowa Lottery which is funded by ticket sales rather than taxpayers.  Others believe the legislature is responsible because of the vote in 2002 to bring in the games and then later deciding in 2006 to pull the plug after lawmakers received widespread criticism for allowing the resembled slot machines to show up in grocery stores and other retail locations.

I am not sure in the end whether it really matters where the money comes to settle the cases.  Either way, it likely comes out of the taxpayers' pockets because the profits from the Iowa Lottery are mixed into the Iowa General Fund and also state gambling treatment programs.

As you might imagine, passions can run high among political types.  But a legitimate question must be asked about whether the state should settle these cases at all.  Is there liability?  Were promises made and not kept or did these companies take a business risk knowing full well that the legislature could change their mind at any time?

The initial rulings on the injunctions went well for the state.  The court ruled the Plaintiffs were not likely to show that the legislature exceeded its authority. Further, the Court found there was nothing in any documents or agreements that bound the State of Iowa to maintain its business relationship with the TouchPlay vendors.  Is there any reason to believe that would be reversed in a trial on the merits? 

In business litigation, settlement eliminates risk.  It never hurts to explore settlement.  But taxpayer funded settlements deserve a little more attention than we are seeing thus far in the TouchPlay cases. 

photo on flickr by Jeff Kubina

 

Employee Problems and Problem Employees

Problem_employees No one's perfect. Not me. Not you. We can't expect our employees to be devoid of all the idiosyncrasies, attitudes, moods, and problems that each of us have.

People don't leave their problems at the door when they come to work; they bring them in with them. The challenge for leaders is to recognize and deal with the special needs, personalities, and problems of their staff so those issues don't impact productivity and morale.

What are some of the biggest people-problems you face day-to-day? Some of the most common ones are:

  • Absenteeism
  • Tardiness
  • Sensitive and negative co-workers

We can punish absenteeism. We can reward good attendance. Chances are we need to do some of both. But the current trend of offering paid-time-off (PTO) systems seems to work the best. Offering employees a "pool" of days to use for sickness, vacation or just personal time provides flexibility for them and reduces bureaucratic paperwork for us. It also treats adults like adults.

Getting to work on time is a struggle for some people. Unless being late is a standard you can live with, talk about it with a tardy employee as soon as it happens. Mention the importance of timeliness when orienting new employees and then enforce it. Be consistent. If flextime is an option, offer it. It works because it treats adults like adults.

Many managers have at least one staff member who makes life miserable for them -- or at least a constant challenge. They're what we call "high maintenance."

Overly sensitive people often have the expertise to do good work and make good decisions. But they need others' reassurance to help convert their thinking into action. Give them that reassurance. Often. It's a small price to pay for keeping a productive employee fully engaged.

Do you have someone on your team who is negative and always has a reason why what you want to accomplish can't be done? They resist change just for the sake of resisting. Listen to their objections. Ask them to express their ideas openly to the team. Genuinely acknowledge their concerns. Pledge to be on the lookout for evidence of their concerns AND, at the same time, ask them to get on-board with the team...and the change...until the team decides the change isn't working. In other words, treat these adults like adults, with the expectation that they will reciprocate by acting adult-like.

Photo on flickr by mio_pls

We Want Change!

2146031745_e765becf6d

The storyline...The leadership of the company decides that change is needed to provide growth and a better working environment. 

The employees, in their beautiful capacity of being human want to believe that the leadership means what they say.  A handful of the management group truly buys in to the concept.

In the early days the company initiates some fun and exciting events and speeches.  There are even a few significant steps taken that draw the employees even further into the belief that change can occur.  The chatter in the company starts to change, people are beginning to shift.  Change may not be so bad after all - it feels like a warm summer breeze.

Then the cold blast of inertia sets in.  The believers look around wild eyed at this sudden shift and they ponder - where does it come from?

It comes from the top dog.  They led the pack on the initial killing frenzy of change.  All the easy kills have been made and feeding the pack becomes a task of huge magnitude.  So what does the top dog (leader) do - they go back to the same old thing.  They retire back into their cozy world of routine and comfort.  The leadership that began the change pulls an about face and starts the retreat back to their cozy world. 

If you are a believer in change (it is worth following this link), please remember that if the leadership of the company does not believe, you are fighting a battle of insurmountable odds.  The energy that you put forth in creating change will most likely be lost and that my friend is a tragedy.  You may  recognize yourself in this description - a good person, but they have no stomach for change, and they have accepted the reality of what the leadership of their company has created.  They operate at a sustenance level.

To the leaders of change - follow through on your commitments and do not waste the energy of so many good people.

To those of you who stay and watch these cycles over and over - take the time to evaluate why do you continue to stay?  If you can not answer this question easily, then you have not spent enough time thinking about it. 

Flickr photo by lady[experiment...

Canada says... Turn off your BLACKBERRY!

The leadership of the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration recently issued an order for employees to turn off their Blackberries at night and on weekends.

They wanted to help restore more work-life balance in the great white North.Blackberry

How about that?  Could you do it? 

It would be tough.  Wouldn't it?

I'll be the first one to admit that my Treo is at my side at least... 18/7 if not 24/7. 

I love to check e-mail while I'm on the go.  It's great to have a mini-office whether I'm in a parking lot or at my desk.

But... this convenience can become a problem.  Can't it?

Maybe you are like me.  I got my smart phone to help balance things.  It allowed me to take my boys to the park more often... and just check on work... from the swing set.

Then a BIG project came down the pike and I needed to check on things more often.  My smart phone helped me to avert crisis... and even helped me to be a hero with my quick responses.

But I noticed something. 

After a few weeks... I started to get addicted to checking.  AND... I also set the expectation of "accessibility." 

Yup.  A trap was set.  And I walked right into it. 

And I'm not alone.  Now... it's tough to say "no" to checking in... all the time.

But... I think... I'm going with Canada on this one.

Yup.  Call me a conscientious objector to distraction but I'm going to shut down the phone on the weekends (at least the e-mail portion) and I'll do the same most nights.

Who's joining me and the mighty Ca-nooks?

Come on!  Take the Canadian challenge and simplify... at least at night and weekends!

Want some more ideas on taking your life back... check out lifehack's 12 step program.

What are some ways you simplify?  Click comments and join in the conversation. 

And hey... know that the Canadians might be listening!

Photo credit and kudos to: Gorian Anicic

Claims-made policies – a simple explanation

Injury As a policyholder, you can run into situations where you have a claims-made policy.  The claims-made policy was introduced because many insurers believed that the occurrence form was unsuitable for insuring certain types of risk.

For example, Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) covers risks such as hiring, firing, sexual allegations, and discrimination. The occurrence policy covers injury that occurs during its policy period, regardless of when the claim is made. 

A claims-made policy covers only claims first made against the insured during its policy period.  A claim, made after the policy expires is not covered by that policy unless the claim is made during an extended reporting period provided in the policy or by an endorsement.

Let’s see if I can clear things up for you.

XYZ Corporation purchased a one-year, claims-made commercial general liability (CGL) policy with an inception date of February 1, 2000. 

At the renewal, the retroactive date was changed to February 1, 2001.  On February 1, 2001, the policy was renewed for an additional year.  Remember, the retroactive date was changed to February 1, 2001 (which is not a recommended practice). This may occur if:

  • the insured wants to save money
  • if he feels that no claims would be made for the prior time period
  • if the insured changed carriers and it happened by mistake

On March 15, 2001 a claim was made against XYZ Corporation for an injury that actually occurred August 3, 2000.

In this particular situation the named insured, XYZ Corporation, does not have coverage for such a claim.  The claim occurred prior to the retroactive date.  XYZ Corporation may have saved a little money on premium but opened themselves up to losses that occurred during the 2000-2001 policy period.

The insurer is not allowed to advance the retroactive date without the consent of the insured, and then only if at least one of the following has occurred:

  • the insured has requested the change
  • the insured has changed insurers
  • the insured's operations have changed
  • the isnured failed to reveal certain material information

Always check your insurance policies for any type of retroactive date.  Many professional liability policies will be written on a claims-made policy.  Make sure you have a clear understanding of this concept when discussing your insurance coverages.

Your Wild Card Winners

Giants_patriots_2Go, New York Giants!  (I'm not a Patriots fan, as you may have read.)

Super Bowl XLII is now one for the history books.  The Manning Boys are both happy campers.

The question for you as a project manager is what to do with your unexpected wildcard projects.  Can they be turned into winners?  The answer, quite simply, is yes.  But it's a qualified yes.

As Harley Lovegrove writes in the Interim Manager's Forum Blog,

A well defined project that has its roots in good business sense, and that has only one objective to deliver: ‘real value to the client’, is the only project worth making space for. Cut back all the rest that pose the risk of getting in the way or interfering and give the good one all the attention and nourishment you can.

When it comes down to it, only the projects that were rigorously challenged before they were started, and where everyone gave 100% commitment to ensure their success, and were lead by a steering group that were resolute to sticking to the original objectives – are the only projects that turn out to be successful in the long term.

Easier said than done, right?  Not necessarily, it just means that (like the Giants' receivers) you as a leader have to keep your eye on the ball at all times. 

No absentee management.  No hit-and-run directions.  Those unexpected wildcard projects can be the sweetest wins of all for organizations.  I know that for me, the unexpected projects that come along that meet Harley's criteria above.  Focus.  Dedication.  Perseverence.  Winning.

It's a pretty cool formula for project (and football) victory.

Carpe Factum!

When "Protecting My Security" Makes No Sense

Angry_phone_2I've often written about the conflict between measuring metrics and measuring service quality. Upper management tends to manage by metrics (the most common one being - "Average Call Time"). It's easy to look at numbers and tell the CSR "get your call time down" with no regard for the impact on the service experience. The CSR says, "If average call time is all that my manager looks at or cares about - I'll hang up on the customer."

Another "metric" that has crept into the call pattern of every customer service call center is customer verification. In a world of identity theft and heightened security concerns, managers are putting thorough verification procedures in place and making sure that front-line Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) follow the procedures like lemmings following their leader off the customer service cliffs.

I heard one call recently in which a customer was ran through a gauntlet of security questions that took two minutes to complete. When the CSR finally asked, "and what can I do for you today?" the customer asked, "what's your fax number?"

Our blogosphere cohort at Indy Biz has another great example. Wanting to simply know what the little light on their printer meant, they called the HP help desk. The outsourced HP CSR ran the customer through the required questions only the customer didn't know what the serial number was. The CSR refused to answer any questions.

I understand that the serial number is required if you're setting up a trouble ticket or if you need to send the printer in for repair. However, to refuse to answer a simple question like "what does this light mean" because the customer doesn't have the serial number seems a little silly. The wasted time spent arguing why you won't answer the question is far less productive and efficient than simply answering the question, satisfying the customer and sending them on their way.

Managers are responsible to make sure their policies and procedures follow common sense

Do you have any examples of when a company's security procedures unnecessarily degraded the customer experience?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Blatch

Your Company Blog: A Tool or an Employee?

Is your company blog simply a tool - or should you treat it like an employee?

I started working when I was 14 years old. A dishwasher in a French-style restaurant. I think I made like $2.00 per hour and shared tips from the nicer waitresses.

My grandfather said I was overpaid. I didn't understand that - so I worked harder. After a few short weeks, I got my first raise (four bits) and proudly told my grandpa about it.

He told me that everyone begins a job overvalued and underworked. It's part of the learning process. In time, things even out. Eventually, the great workers are undervalued and overworked - and sometimes overlooked.

When you begin working with your company blog, think about it as training a new employee. You'll be investing a good amount of time in:

  • Finding your writing voice
  • Commenting on other sites
  • Searching for like-minded blogs
  • Learning some of the tools of the blogosphere

Eventually, your blog will be running smooth and returning value in readership. It will help extend your company's reach and voice. It will help you become findable in places you hadn't expected.

But don't neglect this employee (or any of them for that matter). Periodically, have a review. What kind of perks can you give your blog to assist them in doing their job?

  • A new design
  • Some widgets or navigation
  • A mention in your collateral materials
  • A company car (okay - maybe a bit much there)

Loving your employees will compel them to be better, loyal, contagious, enthusiastic... They will become an advocate for you and your company. Showing your blog a similar love will generate better returns as well.

How about your blog? Tool or employee?

Elsewhere:
- 5 Ways to Treat Your Website Like an Employee and Reap the Rewards

Be poster perfect

Poster_2 Sure mass media and the web are great marketing tools, but don't discount the golden oldie, the poster.  Here are some ways you can make that poster as effective and efficient as possible.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Where will it be displayed?  Will posting locations/style require it to be 2-sided?
  • Are there limitations on size and shape?  If it will not add to the effectiveness, design your poster to make best use of paper sheet sizes.  Less paper waste = less cost.
  • Is it going to be mailed?  How so?  Do they have to be folded or rolled?  (This impacts drying time and some ink choices) Does the weight of the poster matter?
  • How will it be mounted and/or hung?  Will it be put into a frame?  If so, what are the dimensions?  You don't want to lose part of your message under the frame.
  • Do you need to include logos or additional lines of type, legal notifications etc. at the bottom of the poster?
  • Will it be used inside or outside?  Do you need to coat it?

Like most marketing tools, posters look deceivingly simple.  Don't get caught missing a detail that might impact your success.


Flickr photo courtesy of riptheskull

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