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August 2008

Networking Sept. 2 - Sept. 10

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to further your career and business? Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.                                                                Blog_pic

Urbandale luncheon
Friday, Sept. 5
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce will host a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the first floor meeting room at Merle Hay Mall. Barb Tapscott will discuss “Supervision and the Law.” The cost is $20 for members and $30 for non-members. Register at www.uniquelyurbandale.com.

Golf outing
Wednesday, Sept. 10
The Windsor Heights Chamber of Commerce will host a golf outing from noon to 6 p.m. at Terrace Hill Golf Course. Call 279-3618 for more information.

Social at The Stadium
Tuesday, Sept. 9
The Downtown Neighborhood Association will sponsor a social from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at The Stadium, Kaleidoscope at the Hub, 555 Walnut St., Second Floor, Suite #214, Des Moines. Enjoy drinks and appetizers with downtown neighbors and network with other professionals. For more information visit www.desmoinesdna.com.

Job fair and multicultural reception
Wednesday, Sept. 10
The Greater Des Moines Partnership will host a mini job fair and multicultural reception from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Principal Financial Group Inc., Corporate 4 Building, 600 Seventh St., Des Moines. To register or for more information, go to www.desmoinesmetro.com and click on “calendar” on the left-hand side.

Is Des Moines becoming a media darling?

You expect it around caucus time, but we're way past that and yet, Des Moines seems to be a media darling of late.

We've gotten high praise in many national publications like Family Circle/Parents.com, Forbes, Kiplinger and New York Times.  Those well-placed stories are aimed at the world outside of Iowa, who still looks at us as hicks with cows in our backyards.

But there are also efforts to market Des Moines to Des Moines.  One of the big pushes right now is downtown living.  Here's a video aimed at us...to get us to consider living downtown. (It will also be sent to prospective residents)



What do you think?  Did the video change your perception about living downtown?  Peak your interest?  Answer any of your questions?  Would you/did you visit the website as a result of the video?

If you were going to market downtown Des Moines, how would you go about it?

(A hat tip to Des Moines is Not Boring for leading me to the video and to BlueGate Media for producing the piece for the Downtown Community Alliance.)


~ Drew McLellan

Internet Fraud

Not your grandfather's Internet fraud

When most people think of Internet fraud, they picture a grammatically-challenged Nigerian stuck in a boiler room emailing you that he is actually a preternaturally endowed and scantily clad young woman. Interestingly, this young woman is interested in paying you an enormously large stipend for your unique ability to send checks and merchandise through the mail. In actuality, while the Nigerian scam is still finding its share of patsies, it is getting so long in the tooth that scam-baiting Nigerian scammers has become its own cottage industry.

eBay's dirty little secret28710467

So what is the most prevalent form of Internet fraud. Well, you might be surprised to learn that online auction fraud accounts for 44.9 percent of Internet fraud complaints referred to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

This is more than twice the number of complaints received for the next highest category, check fraud (19 percent).  While it comes as no shock that most scammers are male, it might surprise you to know that the majority of Internet fraudsters reported to the FBI are from the United States, with more than half of the bad guys residing in one of seven states: California, Florida, New York, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Georgia. 

While the number of complaints is decreasing, the overall dollar loss from Internet fraud is increasing, totaling nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in 2007 alone. And that is just counting reported cases.

Types of auction fraud

A comprehensive list of online auction fraud schemes would fill its own book - and be out of date as soon as it hit the shelves. One of the most prevalent scams is of course taking your money and not sending the merchandise. While this type of scam is often associated with new sellers, seasoned scammers may "hijack" the legitimate account of a reputable seller.

Scammers hijack accounts through random emails asking you to pay for an item. The hope is that you may have coincidentally won an auction and do not notice the Web site linked from the email is a fake. You type in your password and voila. 

More than money

Other scams include selling bootleg or grey market goods.  Big ticket items, such as vehicles, may come with expensive to repair hidden defects.  Shill bidding and fine art fakes are two other types of online auction fraud, which may cost you thousands of dollars. Most importantly, if you resell bootleg, stolen, or fake items, you may find yourself in criminal trouble as well.   

Protecting yourself

Although eBay does have a buyer protection policy, unless you have been scammed for exactly $200, it is probably not going to turn your frown upside down.

Since eBay charges a $25 processing fee for the "service," all auctions under $25 are immediately excluded and auctions from $25 to $50 are probably not worth jumping through all the reimbursement hoops. eBay's policy will also only pay you a maximum of $175. So if you just got ripped off on that new car, $175 is probably not going to do a lot to ease the pain. eBay is simply not in the business of helping people who have been scammed.

Jumping through hoops

PayPal also has a rather complicated counter-intuitive dispute resolution policy. While eBay encourages you to contact your credit card company if you suspect fraud, PayPal will void your PayPal claim if you contact your credit card company before the PayPal claim process is completed. This is especially strange since eBay owns PayPal.

Checklist

The key is that if you are bidding more money on an online auction than you would be willing to lose, examine the online auction's fraud and buyer protection policies very carefully.

Also, if the seller has a ridiculously low "buy it now" price, is located out of the country, and/or suggests a strange payment method, you might want to pass on the auction altogether.

For all other auctions, check the seller's percentage of positive feedback and the length of time the seller has been registered with eBay. Even if you win an auction NEVER click on hyperlinks in auction emails you receive. If you have won an auction, log directly into your online auction account.

Other options

Most importantly, trust your intuition. If something does not seem right, or looks too good to be true, it probably is.

There is simply no way to ensure your online auction transaction will be 100 percent safe. You may also want to check out the possibility of  purchasing a similar item from a reputable online or local retailer.

Although the cost may be slightly higher (and sometimes even less), a direct purchase with the full protection of your credit card company may outweigh the risk associated with rolling the dice with our country's most commonly reported type of Internet fraud.

Brett Trout

Help with New Research for Recruiting and Retaining Iowa's Young Professionals

Generation_logo Last year, the governor and the Legislature approved and funded the Generation Iowa Commission in an effort to  tackle the issue of post college-age individuals leaving the state. The commission was charged with studying why they were leaving, the impact on the state of Iowa and what could be done to reverse that trend. The commission concluded the top five factors young professionals use in determining where they will work:

1. High paying job and low cost of living
2. A place compatible with their skill set and growth of those skills
3. Quality of life, vitality, uniqueness and diversity of community
4. Geography and ease of travel
5. Career advancement and leadership

Research had indicated that the first two factors far outweighed the other factors, which are more properly considered “tiebreakers" and that emphasis on the bottom three factors should always be in conjunction with the first two.

Based on those factors, and general research on generational behavior, the commission recommended that businesses should engage in the following strategies to assist in recruiting and retaining young professionals:

  1. Be community focused and engaging
  2. Emphasize both an internship program and a mentoring program
  3. Utilize the relationships of employees that are alumnus to key educational institutions that provide the types of employees the company needs
  4. Continue to find ways to focus on total compensation packages that add additional value to salaries, particularly for critical needs areas, as well as offer clear and flexible career pathways

The commission is now beginning its second year and is actively collecting data to be used to develop an updated report. The report will include new findings and recommendations of the commission regarding the status of efforts to attract and retain the young adult population in the state, career opportunities and educational needs of young adults, and the movement of the young adult population between rural areas and urban areas and between Iowa and other states. They are encouraging young post college-age Iowans to complete the survey here.

This primary research should serve well to compare to their research from last year. It will be interesting to see if the data matches well with past research or national data and it should be interesting to see if it will change the or magnify the recommendations from the commission. A report is expected at the end of the year.

What Are You Doing Today?

Seriously. What are you doing today? Have you thought about it? You've had your two jugs of coffee. You've sifted through your email. You may have even gone over your fantasy football scores to start your day. If you are in sales it's now time to pick up the phone to begin calling your prospects. So...what are you doing today? Who are you going to call? Are you prepared?

If you haven't  created your daily sales plan then you might as well go back to the coffee shop. I would argue the number one reason sales people fail is due to lack of daily planning.
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I've been involved in sales and recruiting for fifteen years and a guy named Peter Leffkowitz, President of the Morgan Consulting Group, taught me one of the greatest lesson I've ever learned...plan your work, work your plan. Sales is a career that involves both art and science. The people that study and practice both are by far the most successful of all their peers.

My suggestion is that you plan for tomorrow before you walk out of the office today. Don't "wing it". If you plan before you leave, you don't have to think about it. You can walk in ready to go and all the time that's typically wasted trying to figure out where you should start is behind you. I've noticed my day typically ends the way it started. If I come out of the gates sluggish and unprepared, that's how it ends. But if I start my day running...

Jim Meisenheimer at the Start Selling More Blog has a very basic and no-nonsense approach to being prepared. 

So, are you in control of your day or is it in control of you?

No Billable Hours? A New Wave in Hiring Outside Law Firms

Clock_pieces_2 Old View: Time is a lawyer's commodity. Billable hours are our product.

New View: A lawyer sells intellectual capital. The true value of which is not measured by time at all.

Scott Turow, famed author and lawyer, wrote in the ABA Journal last year that the billable hour must die.  Turow says the billable hour rewards inefficiency and it makes clients suspicious.  Well, it appears Turow's sentiment is picking up steam, although I wouldn't expect the billable hour to die any time soon.

Pfizer, Inc. recently announced that it hired just one outside law firm for all its employment work over the next two years.  The law firm's fees are capped and the law firm's is paid one-twelfth of its annual fee each month.  At the end of the year a reconciliation occurs and Pfizer has the ability to recoup any unused fees.  Other large companies have similar arrangements with law firms including Tyco International and Honeywell. 

At least one law firm, Exemplar Law Partners of Boston, has embraced the no billable hour concept completely.  Exemplar says it is the first corporate law firm in the nation to exclusively adopt a fixed price designed to align its interest with its customers while enabling businesses to better manage their legal budgets.   

Another firm, ConvergentGC, operates from the premise that most entrepreneurs really need in-house counsel but few can afford it.  The firm is an outside general counsel firm that essentially adds a senior-level attorney to the management staff.  The firm has no hourly rates, no bills for phone calls and no bills for overhead costs such as faxes.

When I had my house painted this past month I hired a contractor that gave me a fixed price.  I had a certain budget and I appreciated knowing exactly how much his services would cost.  I can't imagine I would have hired this painting contractor had he told me he would bill by the hour with an open-ended price.  And I doubt you would either.

So the next time you hire a lawyer be sure to ask at least two questions,

  1. "How much am I willing to pay for the services I need?"
  2. "Can I find a competent lawyer to handle it for that price?" 

It seems the best way to hire a lawyer is to determine how much you are willing to pay for particular services and then hire a competent attorney who is willing to do so for that price.  Now that doesn't mean that a lawyer should necessarily be cheap.  But usually there is a competent lawyer out there for you if you set a reasonable budget.

So I encourage you to discuss fixed billing with your lawyer.  You just might find the lawyer is surprisingly receptive to it.  After all, no one likes to be a slave to a timeclock.

- Rush on Business

photo on flickr by col_adamson

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

How do those at the top of their game get there? Someone like Olympian gymnast Shawn Johnson. Or up-and-comer COO David Stark at Iowa Health-Des Moines. They practice. Perfectly.Practice

For most of us --most of the time--we reach our highest level of proficiency after about 50 hours of practicing something new, such as driving, golf, tennis, or keyboarding. Because it's working for us, we stop trying to get better and our development stalls out. Once you learned how to do a decent PowerPoint presentation on your laptop, did you tease out all the hundreds of options available, or did "good enough" become good enough? Usually it's the latter. And that's OK. The added effort it would take to become a presentation expert often isn't worth it.

But what about your level of proficiency as a manager? Or the technical aspects of your profession or career? As a manager, did your coaching, interviewing and delegating skills reach an acceptable level and then plateau? Studies show that many professionals --software engineers, teachers, brain surgeons, etc. --peak somewhere around five years after entering the profession. From then on, there's often little correlation between time in the profession and performance levels. That's not good.

Want to be the best of the best in your field? Then practice what Dr. Anders Ericsson calls "deliberate" practice. Here's what it looks like to practice perfectly:

1.) Concentrate hard on what you're doing: what's working, what isn't and why. Turn off the autopilot. Really focus.

2.) Get clear, frequent and rapid feedback about how you're doing. Stop thinking negatively about tests...how else will you know you're making progress?

3.) Set "mini" goals that are behavior-based, not outcome-based. Mastery will come when behaviors have been mastered.

4.) Prepare for setbacks. See them as "guides," not barriers.

Supposedly, Pablo Picasso was walking down the street in Paris one day when a woman recognized and approached him. After introducing herself and praising his work, she asked him if he would consider drawing her portrait and offered to pay him for the piece.

Picasso agreed and sat the woman down right there on the side of the street, brought out a sketchbook and pencil, and began to draw the woman. A small crowd of spectators gathered very quickly, but in only a handful of minutes Picasso had finished the drawing, and as he handed it to the woman said, "That will be five thousand francs." Surprised at the price, the woman objected saying, "But Mr. Picasso, it took you only a few minutes." Picasso smiled and replied, "No, my dear woman, you are mistaken; it took me a whole lifetime."

Picasso became the famed Picasso not because he practiced his whole life, but because he practiced perfectly.

Death by Committee

Many companies utilize committees to involve employees in giving input or making decisions about the business.  Unfortunately, it is to prevalent that these committees produce few results and a lot of frustration. 

I would recommend that you ask yourself "Why create a committee?".  I believe it boils to a few key points.                                                                        Commitee_3

  • Increased profits/stock value
  • Supports strategic thinking                                                 
  • Reinforces the culture you have or want to create
  • Opportunity for personal/professional growth
  • Allows top leadership/management to focus on critical business functions

Focusing on these key points will give a clearer purpose for any committee and potentially get better results.  I say potentially for three reasons.  First, leadership must fully support the committees.  Second, there needs to be a high level of organizational trust.  Third, be sure the members of the committees have been trained in running a meeting (at minimum the committee leader).

When creating committees, take the time needed to create success.  One last comment - once they are up and running be sure that you have a system in place to measure results.

Networking Aug. 22 - Aug. 29

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to further your career and business? Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.

Leadership Pursuit meeting                                                                     Photo_2
Tuesday, Aug. 26
Manpower, 25 Connections, YPlowa and Leadership Pursuit will sponsor Creative Leadership: The Innovative Path to Outcomes from 6 to 7 p.m. at Hy-Vee Conference Center, 5820 Westown Parkway, West Des Moines. Mike Wagner, president of White Rabbit Group will be presenting. RSVP at rsvpnow@leadershippursuit.com.

Clive Business After Hours
Wednesday, Aug. 27
The Clive Chamber of Commerce will host a Business After Hours event from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cosi Cucina Italian Grill, 1975 N.W. 86th St. Bring business cards and wear a Hawaiian shirt to be eligible for door prize drawings.

Young Professionals mini golf outing
Thursday, Aug. 28
The first annual Young Professionals Connection Mini Golf Madness will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at West Grand Golf, 6450 Raccoon River Drive, West Des Moines. Registration is not required.

Are you exhausted from going for the gold?

So... are you exhausted?Sj_balance

Admit it.  Have you been staying up late to get a dose of Michael, LoLo or Shawn?

I've seen some droopy eyes lately. 

Many folks that I talk to can't tell me the last time they got eight hours of sleep, but they can tell me the color of Bob Costas' tie from last night!

I've also been hearing from people who work from home.  It sounds like these past few weeks have been especially hard to stay focused... as they've wanted to dash to their TV's for a quick hit from Beijing. 

How about you?

Can you relate?

I sure can.

So, I thought it might be helpful to do a quick refresher course on balancing work, life and major events like the Olympics.

Miss Bliss at Blissfully Domestic has some recommendations for staying focused while working from home.  She suggests making sure you are making time for personal tasks (like catching up on the Olympics or exercising), instead of trying to squeeze them in through out the day.

Karin Stewart recommends cutting out all distractions (yes... even your cell phone, e-mail and texts) for one hour a day.  She says it's amazing to experience what an uncluttered mind can achieve in a short period of time!  Yup.  That's right.  That also means not checking in on the USA's gold medal count during that time too!

Time Management Guru, Dave Crenshaw, takes a different angle and suggests promoting things like watching the Olympics.  He says, "Companies are not only wise to allow the inevitable when it comes to their employees sneaking on line peaks at the Games, but if managed the right way, it can actually improve productivity." 

So whether your sport is gymnastics, swimming or water polo... take some time.  Watch in moderation.  Root for the home team.  And still get your work done on time!

By the way... join in the conversation.  How do you balance things during big events like the Olympics?  Click on comments and share your secrets!

And lastly... go Team USA!

- Mitch

Picture credit and kudos to: jodfevic

Are you protecting your customer's identity?

Computer_and_man_2Do you have protective measures in place to guard your customer’s information?

Just recently, the Department of Justice “busted” one of the largest identity theft cases they have ever prosecuted – 40 million credit card numbers were stolen from nine major U.S. retailers.

Now, you might think this type of thing only happens to small retailers.

It doesn’t. In this particular case Office Max, Sports Authority, Barnes & Noble, Forever 21 and DSW Inc. were among the companies targeted.

Maybe you think this can only happen to large companies.

Well, hackers do not discriminate. If they find a weakness, they will capitalize on it regardless of the size of your business.

So what can you do?

For the business owner:

  1. Make sure your Data Security Standards are compliant with the PCI Standards.
  2. Test your computer systems (several companies specialize in computer security).
  3. Do business with companies you know and trust.
  4. Educate your employees about avoiding scams.
  5. Complete background checks on your employees. Many cases of identity theft come from employees.
  6. Review your insurance policy. I know, I know, no one wants to read it – however, the information you will find can be extremely pertinent should you have a situation occur. Insurance companies have different interpretations of what electronic data means and policies have limitations on coverage for employee dishonesty as well as exclusions.

On a personal level:

  • Monitor your checking accounts and credit card balances regularly.
  • Shred documents you no longer need. Thieves will go through your trash.
  • Guard your personal information - don't give information out over the phone in an unsolicited call.
  • Request a copy of your credit report at least annually.

For added protection, you can also purchase some identity theft insurance. This can be a separate policy, or simply added on to your homeowner’s insurance policy. Contact your local insurance agent for more information.

The limits of an Identity Theft insurance policy can vary among carriers and will typically include:

  • Lost wages reimbursement
  • Help pay for attorney fees
  • Costs incurred to repair credit
  • Costs for certified mail to law enforcement, et cetera

How is the government helping you?

In 1999, The Justice Department established its Internet Fraud Initiative. In 2006 the president formed an Identity Theft Task Force and directed it to develop a coordinated strategic plan to combat identity theft. This includes ways to improve the awareness, prevention, detection and prosecution.

Check out their website - there is a ton of information available.

On the local front – Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has enacted several policies and procedures that provide solid resources to the public:

  • A free guide to victims of identity theft.
  • One free credit report per year from each of the credit bureaus.
  • Consumers can now freeze their credit reports.

For more information check out their website.

The Summer Games: 14X40 Vacation Relay

OlympicringsI love the Olympics (summer or winter games).  Regardless of my schedule, I take time to watch and cheer as the world comes together.  The variety of games and the diversity of skill to excel amazes me as I watch the peak of athletic prowess in action.  (By the way, a gigantic Iowabiz CONGRATS to Shawn Johnson - you've made your state proud of you, both by your performance and by your gracious integrity.)

Vacation_calendar In our offices, there is a different kind of summer game, and it seems to bring most projects to an excruciating halt in the 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I refer to it as the 14X40 Vacation Relay.  The 40 hours a week you get are about as productive as a sloth at a relaxation clinic.  You can't see it directly, but some of the color commentary sound like the following:

  • "Sorry, but we can't sign off on the deliverable.  The executives on the Steering Committee won't all be back in the office at one time until September."
  • "What do you mean Fred is unavailable?  A three week fishing trip?!  He's supposed to be working on this critical path task due this week!"
  • "I can appreciate the fact that Andrea's kids are home on summer vacation, but we need her subject matter expertise, or we can't move forward."
  • "I know you're waiting on a hiring decision from us, but we can't sync up all of interviewers calendars for a couple of months."

How do you combat this phenomenon, short of shutting down every project in your organization for three months each year?  Keep everyone from taking a vacation?  Hmmm, that seems a little intense (as well as counter-productive, according to Andrew Trent).  There are a few simple strategies to help you mitigate this problem:

  1. Revisit your project plan at the beginning of summer - what major deliverables are due in June, July and August?  Who is assigned to them?  What are the risks associated with getting them done on time?  Do they really need to be completed during these months or can they be delayed.
  2. Block off "high volume vacation weeks" on your plan - I generally will block off the entire weeks of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day so in my plan, no work is scheduled.  But I don't tell my team this (so don't let my secret out, OK?).  During these weeks, where so many are gone anyway, it allows those still in the office to play catch-up on behind tasks.
  3. Have critical resources assign proxies - if there is a resource on your project who might be unavailable when critical deliverable or hiring decisions need to be made, ask them to assign a back-up who will be there when they aren't.  Allow them to negotiate what level of authority the proxy has, but allow enough leeway to keep the project moving forward.
  4. Touch base proactively - I provide my teams with a 3-week look-ahead report (generated directly from the project plan) so everybody knows what is due in the immediate future.  We talk about these upcoming tasks weekly, so I know early if there are resource availability issues and can mitigate schedule risks.
  5. Compare your end-of-summer plan with your start-of-summer plan - use variances as a "lesson learned" along with explanations of what caused the variance.

Again, the 14X40 vacation relay does not need to be a "summer game event" which shuts down the entire organization.  With some project planning and a lot of proactive communication, you can make summer as productive as the other nine months of the year.

Carpe Factum!

Great Customer Service is Personal

On a recent business trip, I found myself standing at a remote gate in the far reaches of Denver International Airport. The Des Moines flight is often at B95, a gate that is within a stone's throw of Canada. I was hoping to get on as a stand-by flier, so I showed up plenty early and waited.30902626

As I was waiting, I watched as a girl was pushed to the gate in a wheel chair. I surmised that she had a bum leg from some sort of athletic injury and she was accompanied by, what appeared to be, her mother and sister. The wheelchair was being pushed by a small woman who was obviously not a native of the United States. If you spend any time in airports, you know that pushing passengers in wheelchairs is a menial job that is commonly performed by immigrants. I imagine that it is an entry-level position for people entering the workforce. The pay must be low and the hours must be long.

As the girl with the bum leg got out of the wheel chair, she intentionally turned to the little woman and gave her a big, long hug. Then the sister and mother gave the little woman hugs, in turn. I could tell from the body language that they were truly grateful and appreciative of this woman who was half their height and spoke broken English.

What does a diminutive woman who barely speaks English bring to her job to make these girls and their mother shower her with hugs? I have watched many wheelchairs getting pushed in airports. I don't see passengers smiling and doling out hugs very often.

The woman made a personal connection with her customers. They weren't just another "passenger," another "pick up," or another "drop off." In the time that she picked them up at their arrival gate and pushed them to B95 (Granted, it's a long hike. Plenty of time to chat.) she had become a friend.

Great Customer Service requires that you serve people. You can't serve a number in line, a phone call, an order, or a transaction. While your interaction may last seconds or minutes, you should treat each customer as a human being with a name and a worthwhile story. You should approach each customer as a person of inherent worth.

When you serve people your job begins to make a difference, even if a minor one, in a person's day. Your monotonous tasks take on new meaning. You're not just pushing passengers, you're lifting spirits. You're not just getting a tip, you're getting a hug along with it.

I didn't make my flight that afternoon, but for once the wait at the gate was worth it. I was blessed to watch a woman getting hugs from her customers. I was reminded of what great customer service is all about.

Making your digital content shareable

In previous posts I've talked a lot about how the Web is now distributed, and the days of referring to websites as "destinations" are over. With RSS feeds, embeddable content, widgets and social networks, your content can be everywhere at once. Here are a few tips on how your company can take some basic steps to enter the world of shareable content. Best of all - they're all free.   
                                                      

  1. RSS feeds                                                                                  Nates_blog_2
    RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication - this is basically a feed of information that gets exported from web content you update regularly (blog posts, news articles, press releases, et cetera.). Your readers can subscribe to this feed and receive your content via their news aggregator of choice. If you are currently using blog software or any sort of content management system (CMS) application to update your website, chances are you have an RSS feed already. Make sure that you prominently include an RSS feed button on your website to alert your readers to its existence.
  2. Embeddable Content
    If you're posting rich media (photos, audio and video) to your website, why not use popular media-sharing networks to host the content? You can use Flickr for your photos, any sort of podcasting network for your audio, and YouTube or Blip.tv for your video. These networks make it extremely simple to embed the content into your own site, as well as empowering your readers to grab it and share it on their own. this saves your company the dollars in doing custom development and programming, and also reduces bandwidth on your web server.
  3. Widgets
    Services like Clearspring, Sprout and WidgetBox make it easy to take almost any piece of content from your website and turn it into a "widget" that your site visitors can take a distribute on their own.
  4. AddThis Sharing Button
    You can create a customized AddThis button by visiting AddThis.com and stick it on any page of your website or blog. Readers will then have one-click access for sharing your stuff on a variety of social bookmarking websites like del.icio.us and Technorati, as well as Digg and StumbleUpon.

Taking these basic steps will empower your website visitors to distribute your content for you - how great is that?

Nathan T. Wright

Iowa to hedge fund industry: go away.

When most people think "Iowa," they think "corn and beans."  They don't think "financial services."  That's a mistake.  Our financial services economy dwarfs our ag economy:

20080816biz

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.  Full chart here.

Sadly, the Iowa Department of Revenue hasn't gotten the memo.  An obscure tax policy decision at the Department guarantees that a big part of the financial services industry will stay away from Iowa.

In the last 20 years the financial service industry has embraced investment partnerships (often in the form of Limited Liability Companies) for private equity investments and for private investment pools.  A hedge fund is one brand of investment partnership.  The fund doesn't pay its own taxes; the income passes through to the tax returns of its owners.  Hedge fund income is typically interest, dividends and capital gain.  Very few states try to tax non-resident partners on investment income - so-called "non-business income" -- from partnerships with in-state headquarters.  Unfortunately, Iowa is one of them.

The Iowa Department of Revenue takes the position that investment income of non-resident partners of Iowa investment partnerships is fully taxable in Iowa as "business" income. That means a Florida investor in an Iowa investment partnership is expected to pay Iowa tax of up to 8.98 percent on dividends, interest and capital gains earned through an Iowa partnership - income that would be free of state income taxes if he earned the money directly.

There is nothing in Iowa's tax law that requires the department to take this view.  Iowa's statute that distinguishes "business" and "non-business" income is virtually identical to the New York statute, and New York doesn't try to tax non-resident partners on income earned from New York partnerships.  Not coincidentally, New York has a dynamic financial services industry that includes world-class private equity and hedge funds.  Until the Department of Revenue or the legislature make some changes, Iowa never will.

Just because you can, does it mean you should?

Fedex For years we had Kinkos. They established a very strong brand and dominated their category. 

At the same time, we had FedEx. They were so dominant in their category that their name became our default verb for sending an overnight package. We don't overnight something, we FedEx it. Even when we're not using FedEx. (I call this the Kleenex phenom and wiikipedia calls it a genericized trademark).

Then, in 2004 FedEx forked over $2.4 billion dollars and bought Kinkos. They quickly (relatively speaking) shifted the Kinkos' name to FedEx Kinko's and we got used to it.

When you walk into a Kinkos (or a FedEx Kinko's) the storefront is 95 percent Kinkos and 5 percent FedEx. But...FedEx is the parent company so you can see why they wanted to link the two names. After all, it was a calculated effort to compete with the UPS stores, which are 95 percent UPS shipping and 5 percent copying, etc.

So....in June, FedEx announces they are going to re-name the Kinkos = FedEx Kinkos.  The new name?  FedEx Office.

Hmm.

What do you think? Should they have left it Kinkos? FedEx Kinko's? Or do you think FedEx Office was the way to go?

It's hard to deny that both FedEx and Kinkos had powerful brands long before they were blended together. Does the re-naming solidify them into one brand? Do they give away part of the equity each company had built separately?

Networking Aug. 14 - Aug. 20

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to further your career and business? Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.Blog_image

South Des Moines luncheon
Tuesday, Aug. 19
The South Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host a membership luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wakonda Club, 3915 Fleur Drive, Des Moines. The event is $20. Register by e-mailing Megan Shields at mshields@desmoinesmetor.com.

Entrepreneur potluck
Tuesday, Aug. 19
The New Iowa Entrepreneurs' Coalition will host a potluck at 6 p.m. at the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center, 1200 Grand Ave., Des Moines. To learn more or register, go to www.new-iowa.biz.

Business Innovations and networking luncheon
Wednesday, Aug. 20
Tom Vander Well, partner and vice president of c wenger group, will give a presentation about how companies can improve their customer service. The event will begin at 11:30 a.m. at Des Moines Partnership, 700 Locust St., Suite #100, Des Moines. To register or for more information email Cathy Spencer at caspencer@dmacc.edu.

Document Retention Road Kill

Is Your Company Road Kill Waiting to Happen?
In my last post I explained many of the dangers Cyberlaws pose to your company. Given the complexity of these laws, many companies choose a deer in the headlights approach. Fortunately, most of the time the strategy works. Unfortunately, when it doesn't, it ends up turning your company into so many tiny puzzle parts of corporate road kill.Shredder_4

That First Step
The hardest step for any company to take is that first one. Fears of being overwhelmed, of throwing money down the drain, or of starting in the wrong place all paralyze companies into inaction. So, where to start? Every company is different. Companies with a primarily online presence may be see the biggest return on investment investing in intellectual property protection. Other companies may be better advised to invest in areas which have proven to be problems for competitors.

Document Retention/Destruction
If you are unsure of where to begin, one of the areas where nearly every established company can benefit is in the area of document retention, or more precisely, document destruction. Now before you start getting all CIETC on your old documents, take a minute to determine how long your company needs to keep different types of documents. Your company may decide to destroy some documents, like text messages, after 30 days. Others, like information relating to corporate formation, you may need to keep forever.

Conservatives and Consistent
If you are not sure where to keep a certain type of document three years or five years, start with five. You can always adjust the term to be shorter at a later time. Avoid giving employees the incentive to archive documents outside of the system. Corporate packrats will not only add thousands of dollars and man hours to the cost of litigation, but the ongoing violation of the company's document retention policy may, in light of the new, more stringent, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, lead a judge to fine and/or rule against your company in court.

Smashcomputer Conscripting a document retention committee to draft a conservative document retention policy at least provides your company the opportunity to get rid of those Commodore 64 floppy disks your board has been using as retro coasters. Trust me, the cost of tracking down hardware to read this obsolete media far outweighs any potential benefit your high score on Moon Patrol might otherwise provide. Even for more recent data, the potential the data will hurt your company is typically greater than the potential it will help.

Most importantly, be consistent. Start off with only those policies you can police effectively. Having a policy which employees consistently violate is worse than having no policy at all. As employees adopt a rigorous approach to policy adherence, increase the scope of the policy until it becomes comprehensive. Once you have a comprehensive policy, revisit it periodically to accommodate changes to the law, your company and your methods of storing and retrieving documents. 

The Downside of Delay
Savvy lawyers are leveraging new rules on the production of electronic documents. Rather than have to find hardware to read, search and sort through millions of out-dated electronic files, companies without do cement retention policies often resort to paying settlements far in excess of what they might have paid before the implementation of the new rules. Worse,  your company's lack of a "legal hold" provision in its document retention policy may lead to enormous fines and/or prison sentences for destroying documents AFTER your company is sued. 

Form a document retention committee today. Have them put together a formal document retention policy. Start small. You can probably get rid of most corrupted storage media as well as media for which you no longer have the hardware to read. As noted above, there are few types of old electronic documents your company needs to keep forever. For the other 99%, it is better to get rid of it now. The other option would be to keep it until you get to take the witness stand staring at 2x3 foot cork board blow-ups of the documents while a somewhat less than cordial lawyer implements a much more well-conceived witness destruction plan.

Brett Trout

Is casual dress dying?

It's summer, so the last thing people are thinking about is wearing a three piece suit and tie,Young_prof_3 but one of the things I've been lately amazed at is the attire of young professionals. It is not uncommon for emerging young professionals to dress in colorful shirts and ties, or sports coats with no tie, For the young professional the suit and tie is dead. This has to be driving their boomer managers crazy, they grew up in a world where their parents expected work attire to essentially be dark suit, white shirt, unobtrusive tie.

If you wanted to rebel against that, you could ,but don't expect to work in the professional world. The trend softened up slightly in the 80's and 90's but not by much. Young professionals have always rebelled in dress style relative to their older generations, but what makes this newest "rebellion" interesting is that it has crept into the hours of 9 to 5.  The idea is that casual dress makes happier employees and happier employees are more productive.

It's interesting to note that this is becoming more widely accepted, a new workforce study by the executive search firm FPC indicated that 60% of Managers, Directors, VPs and above think that going back to corporate dress would be taking a step backward, while only 40% thought casual dress was hurting productivity. On the flip side, 51% of entry and mid-level employees feel it would be taking a step backward, while 49% think it hurts productivity. Note that these younger professionals appear to be stricter more conflicted then their older managers.

Is this evidence that some of these best practices for recruiting millennial is working? Next time you have a business lunch or walking around business sector, take a look at the dress style of the young folks around you.

Bending the Rules

22474175 I'm not exactly a rebel or a trouble maker. Sure, I spent my fair share of time in Principal Miller's office in elementary school. I also was occasionally called out of class in middle school to visit the guidance counselor. But I rarely did anything to cause anyone harm. It was usually a case of me not following a certain process or a slight bending of the rules. Those meetings usually ended up in nice conversation with a few laughs and the advice "keep your nose clean" or "do better next time". The way I look at it is rather than being embarrassed that I had to go to the principal's office, I was building my relationship with the administration of my illustrious learning institution.

As long as I can remember this has been my goal. Whether it be with friends, clients, strangers or teachers. Always work to advance the relationship!

I understand and believe in the need to have a sequential sales process. But as Tom Peters points out in his recent post on sales goals, what often times will happen is that salespeople are so focused on getting to the next step that they miss the chance to have a great encounter during the meeting they are in at the moment.

Good salespeople
know that getting to the next step is essential in the sales process. But Peters goes on to mention that what great salespeople know is that the sequential sales process is subservient to the current meeting. They know that the best way to get to the next step in the process is to create a relationship-building encounter in the present.

Have you ever developed a true friendship with a prospect before they became a client?

Will Iowa Need a "Business" Court to Compete?

Polk_county_courthouse_2 Business people often express frustration about our court system.  Litigation costs have skyrocketed, cases take too long to resolve and overworked judges don't have the time to adequately concentrate on certain complex business cases when the courts are clogged with foreclosures, family law and criminal law cases.  One solution that may help reduce those frustrations is the implementation of a specialized "business" court. 

As discussed in a blog post by Ohio business lawyer Terri Rasmussen the driving force behind the trend is the belief that a specialized business court is instrumental in retaining and attracting businesses to the state.  Ohio is trying a four-year pilot program and New Hampshire recently passed legislation to implement its own business court. 

The most historic of business courts is the Delaware Court of Chancery.  As a result, Delaware's Division of Corporations boasts that more than a half a million business entities make their legal home in Delaware including more than 50% of all U.S. publicly-traded companies and 60% of the Fortune 500.  Most observers say it is because of the predictability in Delaware's business courts. 

Rasmussen points out that Chicago, Manhattan, and North Carolina have had such courts for more than a decade and Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Las Vegas, Reno, Atlanta, Boston, and Pittsburgh have also instituted business courts in some form. Most recently Maine and South Carolina have implemented programs. Colorado and Michigan are currently giving serious consideration to the possibility.

I am a proponent of a specialized business court here in Iowa.  As Gov. Lynch of New Hampshire said when the approved his state's legislation this past month, "It is very important that our judicial system is equipped to handle efficiently the complexity of business statutes and conflicts..."  Businesses need to have courts that will resolve their cases quicker and with greater efficiency especially when litigation costs are so significant.  The way other states are moving on this it appears Iowa should consider a business court soon or face yet another hurdle in retaining and attracting good businesses.

- Rush on Business

photo on flickr by turtlemoon

Turn Around & Lead

It's been said, "No one leads the orchestra without turning his back on the crowd."Lead

Leading is many times standing alone. And standing alone is a whole lot riskier than following along in the midst of a crowd. It's easy to see why so few of us make the grade. It's lonely and scary out there on a limb, all by ourselves. You know the wisecrack: "Yeah, but that's why you get the big bucks!"

Sure. The big bucks -- even the consistent paycheck -- makes the buffeting that can come from staking out a tough position a little less traumatic. But we're talking bravery here. You'll know the degree to which you are authentically a leader at your very core, regardless of your leadership style, by:

  • how comfortable you are with the inherent conflict that comes with taking a stand.
  • how willing you are to speak against an idea when everyone else on the team is for it.
  • how confident you are with yourself, i.e. the strength of your self concept

Think about Obama and McCain. Any political figure really...mayor, governor, school board member. We may not agree with their stand many times, but you have to give them one thing. They are willing to take the heat for taking that stand. They're OK with being out front, in the spotlight, an easy target for the critics.

And there are always critics. You could be the most competent and beloved leader in your business unit or organization and trust me, some people will still find fault. Not everyone's going to like you. Or agree with you. Ever. So you may as well be true to yourself, to what you believe is right. Step up, state it, and accept the consequences. If it turns out you're wrong, admit it, and move on. (And like most politicians, run again!)

What's it take to be brave like that?

  • Be OK with being wrong. Successful managers often get promoted because they have the guts to stand alone, not because they are always right. (Studies show they're only right about 65% of the time.)
  • Know what it is you really want when difficult situations arise. I mean long term. Not this instant. Then keep that long-term goal in front of you as you work through the situation. Do this and you'll be amazed at the positive impact it has on your emotions, especially fear.
  • The more passionate you are about something, the easier it is to bravely take a stand, to be a champion for an idea. Pick your battles wisely.

Remember, life is not a popularity contest. Neither is being a leader. So turn around, face the orchestra and lead.

Document, Document, Document

Companies with employee-friendly cultures have mastered the art of documentation.  This may sound odd, but documentation is a counter balance to human emotion and the abuses of power.  Sound odd, read on.Br_blog_5

Have you ever been told that you do a great job, are important to the company, et cetera. and then when it comes to a pay increase you get a pittance.  Without documentation of performance and how it relates to pay, there is no proof and it is tough to argue for that raise.

The problem employee that disrupts the workplace and lowers productivity.  They should be gone, you want them gone, and finally with a red face and high blood pressure they are terminated.  In a couple of days you are notified of lawsuit.  Without documentation of how you handled this employee's performance, the opposing attorney is going to eat your lunch.

Your excited about your new job.  The potential for growth, money, and power has you giddy!  When the honeymoon is over and you start to ask why these things are not happening you get hollow promises and are told to be patient.  Without a documented employee agreement, you will be waiting for what may never happen.

The employees moral is low, business is suffering, and gossip abounds.  The daily grind of work and the potential of layoffs and job elimination is aging you like being in bottle of vinegar.  Without documentation of how the company will handle a down cycle in business, you will loose your star employees, take years to recover, and potentially close your doors.

No one likes surprises and that is why documentation is critical to profitable business and an employee friendly culture.  Documentation is the road map that will get you where you want to be.

Networking July 7 - Aug. 5

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to further your business and career?  Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.                                                                            Br_blog_4

Urbandale Connections                                                                                                          
Thursday, August 7
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce will host a Connections event from 4 to 6 p.m. at Plaza Florist, 6656 Douglas Ave. Participants will have the chance to give a 60-second presentation on their product or service. Learn more at www.johnstonchamber.com.

Intern networking
Thursday, August 7
The final Do More in the City Intern Event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Iowa State Fair. For more information, call Jessica Walter at 286-4924.

Business After Hours
Tuesday, August 7
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce is bringing back Business After Hours in 2008, which will allow members the opportunity to network in a social setting on a quarterly basis. Sponsored by Marriott Execustay, the event will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at 3201 99th St., Urbandale.

New Member Reception
Wednesday, August 13
The Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce will host a new member reception from 12 to 1 p.m. at 210 S. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny.

Picnic in the Park
Wednesday, August 13
The Norwalk Area Chamber of Commerce will hold a charter membership lunch to welcome new teachers and school administrators at Norwalk City Park, 907 North Ave., from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Need a little help with your bounce?

I recently volunteered during a summer festival my church was hosting.  It included all things BBQ and inflatable!

On that hot July evening, I found myself at the base of one of those Velcro walls. 

Yup.  The kind of amusements where kids and adults zip into a jumpsuit made of VelcroVelcro_wall, climb up on to a big pillow of air, jump a few times and then try to STICK themselves as high as they can to a equally Velcroed wall. 

It's a lot of fun.  But I have to admit that for most folks... the pillow of air and the jump didn't always work well together.  So most participants looked more like Chevy Chase than Shawn Johnson as they tried to touch the sky!

The problem was that I was the volunteer up next to the wall.  So, I stood on that same pillow of air... trying to remain upright... helping the kids go in the right direction and attach themselves to the wall.

It took me a little while to figure out my "system," but as the evening progressed I developed a way to help the kids get as high as they could.  (I'll admit that I passed on helping the heavy-set middle-aged man that stepped up and looked at me with expectant eyes!) 

As they'd step up to the wall, I'd have the kids practice jumping a couple of times.  That would let them get a feel for their own "bounce."  Then, I'd tell them on their third bounce that'd I'd give 'em a boost if they wanted it.

99.9995% of the kids accepted my offer.

So, first, I'd ask, "How high do you want to go?"

Some kids would look at me with eyes of caution and some with the eyes of Evil Knievel!

Then, once we got clear on "middle-high," "high-high" or "over-the-top," then I'd explain the next step in the process.

I'd say, "We're going to bounce three times and on the third bounce I'm going to give you a boost.  But I still need you to jump as high and as hard as you can.  I'll just help you up the wall."

Once we made our adventurous pact, I'd grab the back of their Velcro suit.  We'd bounce three times.  Then they'd jump with all their might and I'd toss with all mine. 

And they would wind up either "middle-high" or "high-high" depending on their request.  (NO, we didn't have any make it over the top, although my own 8-year-old came dangerously close!)

It was fun. 

The kids would "stick." They'd laugh or look around in wide-eyed-amazement.  Some of the parents even offered me bribes to "keep their kids on the wall" for extra five minutes! 

Yup.  It was fun. 

After the night was over, I thought about the experience some more.  I realized that the Velcro wall is a picture for life.  Isn't it?

I mean.  We all can practice our "jump."  You know... walk out our daily lives.  Try new things, learn new things, work, et cetera.

Some days looking like Chevy and some days looking like Shawn.

But when it comes down to it, in order to get to any kind of "middle-high" or "high-high" goals, we need help.  Don't we?

We need to jump as hard as we can, but it helps exponentially to have someone there to give us a "boost" and help us up the "wall."  So we "stick." 

Then, we'll be able to see things we never thought possible.

So, here's my "Velcro wall challenge" to you today... and really give it some thought.

Who could you give a "boost" to today? 

Who could you ask about their goals (either at home or at work)? 

Is it a co-worker?  A friend?  A neighbor?  Your significant other?

Ask 'em about what they want to do.  Where they want to go.  How high they want to jump.

Then ask 'em how you might be able to give 'em a boost. 

Maybe it's through some connections.  Maybe it's through giving some time on a Saturday afternoon.  Maybe it's just calling with some encouragement for that goal once a week.

Try it. 

Not with everyone, but with whomever comes to mind.  And then see what happens.

Maybe you even want to take it a step further and create a Mastermind Group of like-minded people... to take this challenge together.

And just watch... as you give some help... when you offer a little "boost" to someone else... just see what that does for you.

It might take some effort.  It might take some time.  But... as you see your friend... your co-worker... your spouse...  "stick" to heights they didn't think were possible... I'm betting it will feel great!

And don't be surprised to feel someone else grab the back of your own "Velcro suit" in the process and start to count down... 3... 2... 1... JUMP!

Take the challenge.  Keep dreaming BIG.  Let me know how it goes!

Mitch M

Photo credit and kudos: Mandy-Gill

Are you hiring?

Help_wanted_2Whether you need a full-time employee, part-time employee or someone to work on a special project or two … there’s more to know about hiring than you may think.

One of the most important things a business owner needs to know is the difference between an employee and an independent contractor … especially as it pertains to your insurance coverage.

This is how the IRS defines it:

The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if you, the person for whom the services are performed, have the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result.

Consider this example from the IRS:

Vera Elm, an electrician, submitted a job estimate to a housing complex for electrical work at $16 per hour for 400 hours. She is to receive $1,280 every 2 weeks for the next 10 weeks. This is not considered payment by the hour. Even if she works more or less than 400 hours to complete the work, Vera Elm will receive $6,400. She also performs additional electrical installations under contracts with other companies that she obtained through advertisements. Vera is an independent contractor.
How can this affect your insurance?

It can affect your insurance in several ways:

  • Risk classification.  Most General Liability policies for contractors are classified on a payroll basis as well as the percentage (%) of sales paid to subcontractors.
  • Workers Compensation premiums. Since premiums are payroll based, if you are using Independent Contractors (i.e. subcontractors), they are not eligible for Workers Compensation benefits.
  • Certificates of Insurance.  Many insurance companies require the general contractor to obtain copies of the Certificate of Insurance from the subcontractor. They often require the same limits of liability and the General Contractor must be listed as an additional insured. This is probably the most important step that is overlooked when it comes to protecting the business owner from liability.
  • Audits. Insurance companies typically conduct annual audits to check for proper classifications and review certificates of insurance. If this information is not accurate, you may be subject to pay a substantial amount of back premium.

So what is happening in the industry?

Well according to inc.com’s recent article, Governor Culver has recently created a task force to gauge the extent of employee misclassification and report back with recommendations within 60 days. Iowa lawmakers are cracking down on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes and benefits.

So if you are a business owner who makes it a practice to use independent contractors, make sure you educate yourself on this definition and review your policies for proper classification.

It is typically less expensive to make any necessary adjustments now rather than later and be subject to any additional fees or fines.

It's Decision-Making - Don't Blow It

Native_american_fluteThis summer, I've sought a few relaxation techniques to add balance and equilibrium to the life of this dad/husband/project manager/writer/speaker/college professor/other duties as assigned.  One such pursuit has been the Native American flute.  Keep in mind, I'm not very musically inclined.  With the Native American flute, I don't really have to be.  It works on a pentatonic scale (i.e., 5 notes) as opposed to the 7-note scale of other traditional instruments (not to mention all the requisite sharps and flats which add complexity).  Five notes.  That's it.  Hit any one of the five, and it sounds hauntingly beautiful.  The concert tour will be scheduled any day now.  OK, maybe not.

The Native American flute can teach us some lessons about decision-making when selecting a solution for our project.  Often, we encourage our teams to brainstorm and believe the sky is the limit.  However, when it comes to presenting solutions to the decision-makers, one is never enough, but it is also possible to have too many solutions.  Why not use the approach of the Native Americans?  A maximum of five alternatives.  Any one (or any combination) of those five will sound good.  Providing only one alternative gives decision-makers (usually attention-deprived executives) the chance to dislike it and send you back to the drawing board (and who would want to listen to only one note?).  Provide them with too many alternatives and their eyes glaze over (along with more chances to get it wrong).

I found a blog post with some good pointers on brainstorming and problem-solving techniques.  Their eight steps are in about every management 101 textbook you'll find:

  1. Look for the reason. Specify the problem and identify the reason, why it must be solved.
  2. Look for all available information relating to the problem and list them.
  3. Define the judgment criteria. What principles or standards should be met for one of the alternative solutions to emerge as the best solution?
  4. List as many possible choices as possible through discussions and brainstorming sessions. The more ideas you generate, the closer you move to the optimal solution.
  5. Examine each choice on the yardstick of standards and judgment criteria that you have defined. Determine the pros and cons of each alternative.
  6. Identify the best alternative. This is relatively an easy step, once you have sequentially followed the above steps.
  7. Initiate the plan of action. The decision you have just taken must be transformed into action. In absence of the execution of plan, the very reason for making decision will be nullified.
  8. Finally the consequences of your decision and the steps leading to it must be examined and evaluated so as to learn the valuable lessons. This hones up your decision making skills further.

However, there are probably a couple of steps missing in the 5-6 range.  My additions would be as follows:

  • (5.1) Narrow down the alternatives to no more than five possible ones.  Just like the notes at either end of the scale are the hardes to hit, put the least favorable alternatives at the start and finish.  (Working from the middle is a great rhetoric technique.)
  • (5.2) Present to the decision-makers and get their commitment to your solution, securing you resources and support as you prepare for steps 6 and 7.

Any project solution you present should then be a lot easier if you just ensure your project is solving the right problem.  Then you'll be making beautiful music for your organization!

Carpe Factum!

Can You Measure Service Quality in Time?

Car_rental_2Bill Hogg, author of the blog Customer Service that Astonishes recently posted about a new initiative by Avis to provide rental service in three minutes or less. The program, launched in Europe, provides preferred customers with a stop watch when they enter the door. If Avis doesn't complete the rental in three minutes the customer receives an apology followed by a discount voucher for a future rental in the mail.

Bill's went on to ask the question, "Can you reduce service quality into a time equation?"

It's a worthwhile question, as many companies measure quality in their contact centers based on the average call time. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are often held accountable to a number of "quality" metrics including average call time, number of holds, average hold time, or calls per hour. Service quality, however, can't be reduced to a simple set of metrics.

A client recently hired our group to provide an objective assessment of service quality in their contact center. However, they wanted to limit the assessment to calls between five to seven minutes in length. To agree to the request would undermine the legitimacy of providing an objective assessment of the customer's experience because it would eliminate a significant number of customer experiences that fell outside the time constraint.

I have regularly witnessed client's internal quality teams who will not listen to calls that are less than a minute in length or longer than ten minutes. However, a 30 second call could have been a significant customer experience if the CSR had hung up on the customer to reduce their average call time. A call that went on for fifteen minutes may be time consuming to assess, but it could be an important call to analyze to find out why it took so long to resolve the customer's issue.

Quality customer service must be measured by more than just an element of time or a numeric metric. Avis might rent me a car in three minutes, but if the Avis agent is rude, they give me the wrong class of car, or I am overcharged then I am certainly not going to be satisfied. Make sure you are measuring all of the service elements that are important to your customer.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Elliott Cable

Add social features to your website with Facebook Connect

Facebook_270x101 Last week at the F8 developer conference, Facebook announced the Fall 2008 roll-out of Facebook Connect, which will allow third-party developers to integrate the popular social network's features into their own websites.

So, imagine this scenario: Facebook users engaging with each other and updating their content (photos, wall, etc.) from your web property - without ever visiting Facebook.com. Ideally, integration should be a snap: Facebook Connect will let you grab snippets of code and bolt these features directly into your website.

Why is this important? So many times I've seen clients spend thousands of dollars developing custom build-outs of social features for their sites, often resulting in little to no activity among their visitors. The "build-it-and-they-will-come" motto doesn't fly online - currently, we all have social networking fatigue and the last thing we want to do is set up another user profile on yet another website.

This is where Facebook Connect could come in handy. Facebook has already perfected digital social interactivity between millions of users - why not integrate pieces of what they've already built into your web presence? This makes even more sense if the majority of your visitors are already Facebook users. Why re-create the wheel?

If your demographic doesn't include Facebook users, then (like any social media marketing effort) you need to concentrate more on the channel that does fit your visitor.

Facebook Connect is just another example of an emerging trend online: Content has become so decentralized. We used to think of websites as being be-all, end-all "destinations," but we're now seeing content and interaction spread out across hundreds of networks and sites.

An in-depth, detailed breakdown of the technical aspects behind Facebook Connect can be found here.

Nathan T. Wright

Don't be on the hook for unpaid payroll taxes

Times are getting tough for many businesses.  When you need to pay for some crucial inventory, it's very tempting to "borrow" from the IRS by not remitting withholding and payroll taxes. 

Don't.

0801blogteasejpg As a Louisville optometrist discovered last month, the IRS has a long memory for unpaid payroll taxes and powerful tools to collect them.  If your business fails to remit its payroll taxes, the IRS can collect them from any "responsible person."  Having the business in a corporation or LLC doesn't help.   Even if you aren't the owner, the IRS will go after you if they decide you stiffed the IRS to pay other creditors.

The Louisville optometrist, Larry Joel, had invested in a chain of optometry stores.  They began to struggle and they stopped remitting their payroll taxes in 1994.  By the time the bank took the store away, they were behind over $1 million on payroll taxes. 

The IRS targeted Mr. Joel as a "responsible person" for the payroll tax based on his majority ownership, his signing of payroll tax returns, and his authority to sign checks.  He claimed that he wasn't involved in the day-to-day operations, and that he wasn't an officer, so he wasn't responsible.  Unfortunately for Mr. Joel, the judge sided with the IRS, saying "the government cannot be made an unwilling partner in a floundering business."

The bottom line?  Mr. Joel is personally liable for unpaid taxes of $1,275,140.57.  Or so.

Keep in mind that there can be more than one responsible person.  For example, in a case involving the old Access Air the IRS tried to tag three people as "responsible persons" for unpaid taxes, including a controller. 

The Moral?  If you are thinking about stiffing the IRS to pay somebody else, think again, or you might still be trying to clean up the mess long after your business is forgotten.  If you have a financial function for a company and you are told to stop remitting payroll taxes by your boss, it's time to polish up the resume before you end up on the hook yourself.

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