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July 2010

Behind the Scenes of Leadership

Now that we are officially in the second half of 2010 – perhaps between a period of planning and reflection – it’s a good time to talk about leadership, accomplishments and sustaining a high level of performance. We all have notions of the big contributions that high-profile leaders make. But these are not the only moments that make a business or any other group successful. Instead, it often is the sum of small but significant decisions leaders make away from the limelight.

Invisible_leaders

 

Joseph Badracco, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing, refers to the people who excel in this form of leadership as “quiet leaders.” They choose to be responsible and exercise behind-the-scenes action to resolve tough leadership challenges. According to Badracco, there are three significant traits quiet leaders posses:

 

1.   They see the world through a wide-angle lens:

o   Understand they don’t know everything

o   Expect to be surprised

o   Assume a host of mixed outcomes when working with people

2.   Their motives are mixed

o   Company objectives must be balanced by a personal investment to encourage frequent and effective action

3.   They are concerned with political capital

o   Weigh the risk and reward of acting

Another important aspect of behind-the-scenes leadership – because leaders in larger organizations cannot make all of the decisions – is getting the right people on board and making distinctions among team members. According to Barbara Kellerman,a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, leaders should determine and appreciate how their team members are different from one another in terms of the decisions they make.

She segments them into five types:

1.   Diehards – So engaged they're willing to go down with the ship

2.   Activists – Very much engaged, heavily invested in people and process and eager to demonstrate their support or opposition

3.   Participants – Engaged enough to invest their own time and money to make an impact

4.   Bystanders – Free riders who are somewhat detached, depending on their self-interests

5.   Isolates– Completely detached, they passively support the status quo with their inaction

The goal of this segmentation exercise is to make employment decisions and provide the right mix of direction and latitude, moving Participants up to Activists and so on.

Advancing employees up this type of ladder requires an environment that drives performance and enables employees to be leaders themselves. The Hay Group, in association with the Harvard Business Review suggests these tips for developing great leaders:

o   Make leadership a top priority

o   Encourage entrepreneurial creativity and experimentation

o   Reward them with opportunities for advancement

o   Create a modern, learning-oriented, fun environment

Together, taking on the daily challenges of “quiet leadership” and working to identify the current and potential leaders to share the leadership burden will deliver results - the hallmark of any proven leader. This approach also has important side effect, however, of reducing stress and the chance of burnout.An affliction that can happen to anyone in any profession or at any level, burnout costs American business an estimated $300 billion a year. According to Steven Berglas, member of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry and director of Executive Development Resource, the top two strategies of avoiding burnout, are:

1.   Constantly diversify your skills and focus

2.   Teach future leaders and develop your succession plan

These recommendations align directly with the idea of lead quietly and developing internal leaders put forth by Badracco and Kellerman. So stay fresh and open-minded. Lead consistently while constantly coaching your staff. Beyond building long-term results for your organization, these steps will add to your own success and longevity.

Let me do unto others

Screen shot 2010-07-28 at 3.57.50 PM Loyalty programs are the rage right now. 

As companies fight to get as much of our disposable income as possible -- they are wise to create incentives that reward and encourage repeat business.  But most of them are missing a key ingredient.

They don't let their customers share the wealth.  Let me show you what I mean.

The McLellans are a big fan of TGIFridays.  (part of that is because the West Des Moines location has the best waitress I've ever known...but that's a different blog post) 

So we're high frequency users of their Give Me More Stripes loyalty card.  It's a simple program.  Spend enough money over time and you get e-mailed a coupon for $8 off your next visit.

All well and good.  But here's the part they are missing.  The card holder has to use the $8 coupon.  I can't give it to a friend or co-worker.  As the card holder, I must redeem the coupon with the card in tow.  I can enjoy the reward...but it doesn't encourage word of mouth.  It doesn't give me a tool that I can use to help Friday's grow their business.

On the flip side, we have United Airlines.  Also a McLellan favorite.  United lets me rack up frequent flier miles and the more I fly, the higher my status.  As a Premiere Executive level member, I get lots of perks.  But United is smart enough to let me share those perks.  Here are some of my options:

  • I automatically get upgraded to first class if there's a seat available.  So does my flying companion (if I have one)
  • I can check 3 bags for free.  So can my flying companion.
  • I can use my miles to buy tickets or upgrades for anyone I choose
  • I can donate my miles to Make-A-Wish or other worthy charities

United lets me share the love.  It gives me ample opportunity to "show them off" or share them with someone else.   It makes my loyalty stretch to also influence other people.

Creating a loyalty program is smart.  Why not thank your best customers while encouraging them to come back yet again?  But...creating a loyalty program that is shareable is brilliant.  Not only do you earn the love of your best customers...but you also earn their word of mouth endorsement.  And that's golden!

~ Drew



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Follow through or I’ll spam you

(4/365) :: Golf ThursdaysImage by chispita_666 via Flickr

I'm not a great golfer. OK, let me rephrase that. I’m a terrible golfer.

But of the little I do know about the game, other than the fact that during the summer months more business deals may get done on the course than in the office, following through on your swing is pretty important.

And as our social networks grow, I’d like to suggest that following through is the most important thing one can do to stay ahead of the pack.

As media choices proliferate, messages are easily jumbled. E-mails are missed, voicemails are lost and feelings are hurt. And even when our message does get through, many times its significance is drowned out by a thousand other voices.

But in order to stay relevant in today’s digital world, we are expected to continually update our Facebook statuses, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn accounts, not to mention respond to e-mails and compose instant messages.

Then there’s that pesky telephone to consider.

I know it’s weird, but some folks actually still use the gadget, which was invented in 1876, the same year that the National League was founded in Chicago. (That one is to show all you sports fans that I’m cool and to illustrate that Wikipedia is the neatest thing since sardines were first canned that same year).

But I digress.

One popular twitterer, who has posted nearly 23,000 updates since October 2008, recently posted her take on all the various forms of electronic communication. She wrote: “Too many ways to be connected – text, IMs, emails, tweets, blah, blah. Yes, I get them confused sometimes. Deal with it ;).”

Nice.

So I guess until those geniuses over at BitMethod figure out a way for us to communicate telepathically, cutting out the need to develop technical skills or to meet people in person – wow, think of all the time I could spend watching “Mad Men” – I guess we’ll continue to spend our weekends memorizing passwords.

Heck, by the time I finish writing this post, some prodigy living in his mom’s basement will probably launch a new online social networking tool like Foursquare and I won’t have time to go outdoors anyway.

Ten years ago, a good rule of thumb was to give people three days to respond to an e-mail or telephone call before getting too worried. Today, if I don’t hear back from a friend, source or a professional contact within 24 hours, he or she had better be on vacation or in the hospital.

Then again, I’m coming from the perspective of a working journalist who this morning wrote a 1000-word article on deadline. And that was before breakfast.

So when I can’t get a local media “professional” to respond to an e-mail I sent on June 10 and a voicemail I left on July 21, I get cranky. It’s especially frustrating when I can see that he’s been active on Twitter.

Translation: My press credential says I’m entitled to immediate gratification and instant, unadulterated access to your company’s CEO. So deal with it.

Again, I digress.

Do I always manage to follow through? Nope. Do things sometimes fall through the cracks? Absolutely. Am I super busy? You bet. Is that a good excuse? Not really. Does blowing people off damage my reputation and credibility?

You had better believe it.

In the time it takes me to golf nine holes, a slightly above average athlete could probably run a marathon and still have time to eat breakfast. 

But I do know a thing or two about social networking.

If you want to build your brand, grow your business or advance your career, the best things you can do are play smart, play often, and play fair.

Did I get your attention? I hope so. Did you laugh? You’d better have or I’ll forward your home e-mail address to my friends in the pharmaceutical industry. You know. The ones who deliver those overnight e-mails so you won’t be disappointed when you wake up in the morning.

They will almost certainly follow through.

- Todd Razor

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Hedgehogs and Successful Sales

Young hedgehog out during the day. Karori, Wel...Image via Wikipedia

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox."

"Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are 'scattered and diffused, moving on many levels' never integrating their things into one overall concept or unifying vision."

"Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple hedgehog ideas."  Visit the Jim Collins Laboratory for a fuller explanation of the Hedgehog Concept.

Fox-like sales people and sales organizations are narrowly focused on the results of the quarter, month, week, or even the day. Their focus is so narrow in time they can't see what will consistently generate new sales. They try it one way and if they do not get quick results, they reorganize and change strategy and then start off in a new direction.  Coincidentally, their passion for their work, their emotions, and their faith in success all swing back and forth like a pendulum.

Successful sales organizations and sales people are like the hedgehog.

They create a relatively simple sales strategy and tactics and execute them in a deliberate, focused manner over time without getting too concerned about the immediate results or the ups and downs of business development. As time goes on, they tweak their strategy and tactics as necessary as they gain an understanding of what is working and what is not.

Is your organization like the fox constantly changing direction or like the hedgehog steadfastly moving in the same direction?


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Keep Our Jobs In Iowa

Finding a job is no easy task in this economic climate.  There is a lot of discussion on c2312948335_003ddae01a_treating new jobs, but in many cases the preservation of jobs is forgotten until there is a crisis.  Only then, do local communities and state agencies scramble for strategies to keep the business from closing.  This is a reactionary response instead of proactive one.

A proactive approach is selling the business to the employees.  It allows the owner to give something back to the employees and communities that helped build the business, if you are an owner you will work harder to grow the business and keep the business viable, and sharing ownership allows wealth to be accessed by a greater number of people. 

Iowa's local, regional, and state agencies should be well versed in the different forms of employee ownership as a proactive strategy to preserve jobs.  Let's hope that the strategies and discussions of employee ownership are alive and well in Iowa!

 Flickr photo by District Weekly

Be Unreasonable

Driving The VolvoImage by PhotoDu.de via Flickr

Sitting behind the steering wheel of a car seems to warp our thinking and thus, our behavior. Remember George Carlin's reflection, "Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac." What is it about driving that seems to suck all of the good sense out of us?

Take this scenario: you're driving down Interstate 80 in Central Iowa and you see an orange sign with a merge left symbol: "Road Construction. Five Miles Ahead." What do you do? Given the thinking of some drivers at this point, the reasonable thing to do is to start moving over into the left lane. So they do.

Three miles later, an orange sign appears: "Right lane closed two miles ahead." What do you do? Lots of drivers at this point definitely think the reasonable thing to do is to immediately move over into the left lane...now! So they do.

It must seem reasonable. But does it make sense? And what if, instead of being reasonable, they chose to be "unreasonable"?

You're at that second orange sign. Want to raise the ire of hundreds of fellow travelers? Just stay in the right lane and drive two more uninterrupted miles to the merge point. Now, you can expect a struggle to merge left at this point, and maybe even a few raised middle fingers. Because you've been "unreasonable" and somehow they think you've broken a law and are getting by with it!  That never sits well with the masses.

What's going on here? It doesn't make sense to start queuing-up two miles before you have to, leaving one whole lane devoid of traffic. And yet, because of some sort of herding instinct, people do just that, engaging in behavior that  to them seems reasonable. It must also seem reasonable -- and justified -- to punish others who've simply shown good sense.

I was in Minnesota a few weeks ago and notice that to counteract this herding tendency, the state's department of transportation actually posts signs several miles out from construction sites that say, "Use both lanes during backups." In other words, "Resist the urge to be reasonable. Don't merge now. Keep driving. DRIVE! DRIVE! DRIVE!"

I wonder if this phenomenon ever shows up in the workplace? As a leader in your organization, do you ever jump on board whatever is the popular position, at the first sign of a confrontation up ahead, rather than staying the course for a little while contemplating various courses of action and really considering whether being "reasonable" is what makes the most sense here? 

  • Not "what have we done before"?
  • Not "what do we assume our customers will expect of us"?
  • Not "what will keep our employees from being mad at us, and giving us the proverbial finger"?

"Reasonable people," said George Bernard Shaw, "adapt themselves to the world; the unreasonable ones persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable."

Be a true leader. Prepare to be unreasonable. And next time, keep driving!

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Finding Value in an Established Business

Invest jeans, clothes shop at ulica Starowiejs...Image via Wikipedia

If you are just beginning your investigation into finding a business, there is a lot more to consider than return on investment (ROI).

Not to mention ROOPM, or return on other people's money.

Advisers, relatives, friends, lenders and sellers each have their own formula that they use to arrive at an asking and selling price. And every buyer and buyer's relatives, advisers, friends, lenders, et cetera have their formulas too. Rarely, will everyone's formula agree.

Cash flow is cash flow. Are you willing to pay one time or five times? Do you want 100 percent return or is 20 percent reasonable? In addition to cash flow, what else are you purchasing? Unless you have started a business from zero, you won't understand the intrinsic values associated with an ongoing or failing business. Yes, even a failing business might be worth more than the face value of its assets. But, only to an educated buyer.


* Customer list. If there is an up to date customer list, what is the value? The seller may think that they only have hard assets to sell.  The buyer could be interested in growth and those customers who have purchased over the last two years. 
* Website and Yellow Page listing. If you can get a business (open or closed) and can take over its website, the phone number and yellow page contract is worth a small fortune. If you can't, you’ll need to figure out how you will get customers until you can get into the next directory or drive customers to your website.
* Accounts payable. If you are buying a business that buys merchandise at wholesale, then sells at retail, or assembles and resells, are they on a net 30, 60 or 90? Do you understand the value of someone fronting you merchandise and letting you sell it and earn a profit before you have even paid for it? (ROOPM) If you do not have those accounts, your shipments come in COD (bank check), or prepaid on a credit card, or you give money in advance to your supplier and they send you merchandise until your deposit is used up. This can go on for 6-24 months until they 'try' you at net 10-30.
* Procedure manuals. A business plan, operations manual, employee manual and independent contractor’s agreements all add value to a business. They all have a cost associated with them. And each good business has one.
* Supplier list. Arriving at a good supplier list is trial and error. Think profit and loss. Spend a few days price shopping with the telephone for whatever item you want to sell or service and see if you can see a value to having someone hand you years of research.
* Grandfather clauses. Call the building department of the city and county where you are thinking of opening and buying your business. Ask for a list of all the permits, inspections, zoning ordinances, allowed use, licenses, engineering requirements, architectural requirements, ADA requirements, sign ordinances...you get the idea. A savvy business buyer will buy a business with grandfathered use codes in order to not have to comply with today's more stringent codes. For example, a new business may only be allowed to have four square feet of signage per 1,000 square feet of occupied building space. A business that was established 10 years ago may be unlimited and using that billboard for the last 10years. Which one is more valuable?
* Equipment. Most any equipment older than 5 to 8 years is worth little if anything. Or is it? Equipment built today, is built to 'throw away' when you are done. Equipment built 20 years ago was built to last 100 years. They were built with bearings instead of bushings. (If you don't know, you won't understand or believe it!) When South Florida changed the building codes after Hurricane Andrew, it was more expensive to re-tool the newer equipment than the older equipment! Who on earth would spend eight hundred thousand dollars to re-tool equipment that was valued at $300,000 tops? The same person that saw sales jump from $3 million to $8 million while his competitors scrambled or closed their doors.

- Steve Sink

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The Customer Environment: Gaining the repeat customer

A Bar Bathroom in PhillyImage by voteprime via Flickr

Growing a business is often accomplished through repeat customers.  It is terribly expensive to attract a new customer to your business.  Advertising works but the cost is high.  Coupons, rebates and free offers all cost money.  Once you have spent that money, what can you do to keep the customer coming back?  After all, once they start coming back, your cost to "acquire" more revenue from that customer is close to zero.

In retail, the environment is a multifaceted issue.  The obvious but often overlooked are cleanliness, temperature and lighting appropriate to the product.  If you want customers to keep coming back, make sure your business is always clean, well lit and comfortable.  Want a simple example? Go into the bathrooms of the following convenience stores: Kum & Go, Casey's, and QuikTrip.  If a clean bathroom matters to you, the result is obvious and the level of difference is amazing given they are in the same business. 

But that is not enough.  One in six Americans suffer from tinnitus, a ringing in the ear.  I have personal experience as I suffer from this condition.  Loud sharp noises are very challenging to the point of debilitating.  Make sure the sound levels in your business are comfortable for your clientele.  For those in wheel chairs, it is not enough to just have a "accessible"  entrance.  How about a bathroom that is accessible? Or isles wide enough to navigate?  I am constantly amazed by retailers that stuff massive amounts of merchandise into the isles thereby blocking their customers from getting where they want to go.

How does the business owner come to understand and then deal with all of these issues?  Ask!  Ask your customers for feedback.  Ask what they think of the sound level, the lighting, the cleanliness?  Get a couple friends to give you critical feedback. Ask them to be truthful, not just nice.  Check up on your employees.  If you are often not present in your business, make sure someone you trust is checking up on your store.  I was in a bar / restaurant recently where the bartender was loudly proclaiming his theories on his perceived "failings" of the current administration. Several people became offended, got up and left.  It appeared the manager shared his views and did nothing about the issue.  I don't know about you but I was taught that politics was not a discussion topic with customers. 

You have a choice, you can spend time and money chasing new customers into your business or you can spend a portion of that money and time making sure you keep the customers you have.  Start asking!

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"Kind of" Immediately

Blindtarget I couldn't believe my ears.  I was on a phone call with the project stakeholders who were driving the requirements of our project. They were the only ones who could answer our questions and resolve our issues, and also the ones who were forcing the project in the first place to make us compliant with their regulations.

And when asked when they would get us a response on a critical issue, the barely-out-of-project-puberty spokesman on the other end of the conference phone squeaked, "Uh... we'll get on that kind of immediately."  (For the record, emphasis here ended up being more on the "kind of" and less on the "immediately.")

(NOTE: my wife loved it when I took up blogging, as it has become a form of therapy for the occasional silliness of project management.)

Let's take a step back here and look at date commitments. Simply put, when asked for a specific milestone date, here are some of the responses to avoid:

  • "I'll work on that as soon as possible."
  • "I'll get at it when I can."
  • "It's in my inbox." (Not even a real response here.)
  • "Who are you, and what do you want?"  (Trust me, it's happened.)

Instead, attempt to focus your stakeholders to give clear, unambiguous answers which involve dates:

  • "That will be started on Aug. 2 and will last two weeks."
  • "We will finish no later than Oct. 1."
  • "If no assumptions are violated, we expect a finish date the last working day of this month."
  • "We will release new versions of the software every other Wednesday between now and year end."
  • "That has to coincide with the quarterly sales meeting scheduled for Nov. 15."

Sometimes a date isn't possible because of other tasks or activities going on.  That's alright as long as those dependencies are clearly stated:

  • "We cannot start the requirements until Project Zebra's testing is complete." (Followed up by asking when that date is, so you can talk to Project Zebra's team.)
  • "This task has to coincide with the completion of unit testing." (Again, ask for dates, but you at least know what the dependency is.)

In the case of clear dates or dependencies, all should be tracked and communicated via project plans, communication plans, and/or issues logs.

And at no point in the management of your projects is the phrase "kind of immediately" ever acceptable.

Selling Through Service; Serving Through Sales

Logitech Clearchat Comfort USB headset mini reviewImage by Watchcaddy via Flickr

Our group will often perform third-party quality assessment projects (e.g. "Your call may be monitored for training purposes") for sales teams as well as service teams. There are a couple of lessons I've learned  about sales in the contact center over the past 16 years.

First of all, sales people and service people are generally different people. Great customer service representatives are usually those who like to fix things. They love solving peoples problems and are motivated by the emotional lift they get helping others out. Great sales people are motivated by competition, the hunt, the reward and the adrenaline rush of closing the sale. When you have a sales person in a primary service role or a service person in a primary sales role, you're going to have problems.

However, the other thing I've learned is that service people can learn to sell, and sales people can learn to serve. It's really a matter of motivation. Service people tend to sell when they are convinced that the product or service they are offering the customer could be a real benefit. Offering the add-on product or service is actually an additional way of serving the customer. With that motivation, a service person merely needs to learn the techniques of how to conversationally broach the subject with the customer at the appropriate time.

I've heard a lot of great sales people over the years. The best seem to understand that courteously and personably serving the customer is actually a viable means to increasing their sales. Customers tend to return to sales people and businesses with whom they feel they have a positive service relationship. When a sale person provides great service, the customer will generally respond over time with loyal, return business.

The sales person's motivation for serving may be different than the service person, but when they learn techniques of good service and understand how it will help their bottom line, they can usually be trained to do it well.

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Where is your social media starting line?

Logo for the Addicted to Social Media BlogImage via Wikipedia

You don't know how far you've come if you don't know where you started.

The same applies to social media. In order to have a real grip on the return on investment, it's critical to first have a social snapshot of where the organization is. Establishing a benchmark of the organization's current online presence, prior to executing on any significant changes, is an important piece of understanding the ROI.

Below are 5 things to consider when establishing a benchmark:

  • Are you capturing qualitative and quantitative information? Quantitative is easier to gather in terms of numbers and tangible results. It includes the number of people who make up the online community, the amount of participation, the amount of content sharing and creation, the demographic, and geographic make-up of the community.Qualitative information is key to understanding what motivates the community to take action, including the types of posts. Are they actively participating with likes and comments? And are they sharing content.
  • Does the information included in the benchmark establish measurement that is applicable to the goals? If the goals for your social media engagement are more focused on developing a deeper relationship with an existing community, then the benchmark should reflect that with the inclusion of more qualitative measurements.
  • Can the information that will be gathered for reports be easily measured against the benchmark upon execution? The benchmark serves as a point of measurement, the baseline.
  • Create a reporting mechanism to measure against that baseline. Is the benchmark comprehensive? Several statistics are built into social sites, such as website analytics and useful tools such as Hootsuite. These don't, however, provide a complete picture. Media monitoring tools that measure all digital conversations, mentions and sentiment should be included as part of the benchmark and tracked once the plan is executed.
  • Are all pieces of the social media plan covered? Every part of the social media plan will entail time, action and result.  Each anticipated result should be reflected to set the baseline, even if it's zero.

Starting blocks are used to put runners in position for optimal acceleration. Establishing the benchmark is like setting up your social media starting blocks.

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Getting your car expenses past the IRS auditor

A mechanical odometer with trip meter below.Image via Wikipedia

Entrepreneurs get around a lot, often in their cars. It's only fair that they get to deduct their business car expenses. Inconveniently, the tax law makes it your responsibility to document how much your auto use is business-related. What do you have to do to get your car deductions past an auditor?

Actual expense or standard mileage rate?

Taxpayers generally can choose between deducting their actual documented business expenses or their expenses using the IRS standard mileage rate. If you deduct actual expenses, you have to depreciate your car and save receipts for your gas, repairs, tires and so on; if you use the car for business and personal purposes, you have to document how many of your miles are business miles.

If you use the standard mileage rate, you only have to document the mileage.

How to document the miles?

The only sure way to get through an IRS audit unscathed is to maintain a current daily record of your business use. While specialized mileage logs exist, it's also acceptable to track your miles in your ordinary business calendar. It's very important to not your car's odometer reading at the beginning and end of the year, and preferably each month. In a pinch, you can go back to your appointment calendar to reconstruct your mileage, but this is a hassle, and your IRS agent may not be fully appeased.

Learn more about auto deductions at the IRS web site.

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Is social media right for your business?

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I know...blasphemy.  If you read the blogs and tweets of many social media proponents, they'll speak of social media like it is the holy grail.  Seek it...find it and all your marketing woes will be gone.

I don't think it's anywhere near that simple. 

Don't get me wrong -- I still believe in the value and power of social media.  But I also believe:

  • There are levels of involvement and not everyone should do a deep dive
  • It's no magic bullet -- we're talking a serious time commitment
  • It does not eliminate the need for traditional media efforts

If you look at this great diagram by Gary Hayes you'll see that there are degrees of involvement that correlate with different activities.

The Consumer:  This is the person/company who actively listens to what is being said online about themselves, their company, their industry etc.  This, I believe is the level that ALL people/companies need to be at.  (check out this great post by Jason Falls about listening)

The Sharer:  This is where you go from reading it to sharing it.  Maybe you tweeting great reads or you have one of those blogs where you just list other blog posts worthy of reading.  You might also be an association or company leader who wants to create word of mouth or keep your team current.  (Word of mouth elevates you as well as what you share.)

The Critic:  I take exception with Haye's label on this one.  Yes, at this level of activity, you might be criticizing something, but I think in most cases you are reacting to something that's been said.  You are adding additional facts, correcting a misperception or asking a follow up question.  (If you're doing a good job at level one (The consumer) you'll be able to respond quickly.)

The Editor:  There's nothing that says you have to create all new content if you want to deep dive into social media.  You could create a site like MarketingProfs that has many authors creating and re-purposing content  or perhaps you belong to a group (like my agency networking group) and everyone writes a little...which adds up to a lot.

The Creator:  This is where many will tell you that you need to be.  It's mandatory.  I think that's rubbish.  In fact, I think most people should not be here.  Why?  Because of the time commitment is huge.  Because there may not be any ROI for your company to be blogging/content creating.  And because most people will start...and then stall.  I'm not saying this isn't a smart strategy.  I'm just saying it's not for everyone.

I believe that everyone needs to be a consumer.  And as a result of actively listening...they can and should be sharing and critiquing when need be.  For many, that's where it should end.  And there's nothing wrong with stopping there.

What do you think?  Should everyone have a blog?  Are we all content creators at heart?

~ Drew McLellan

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Lessons Sports Can Teach Us

The 2010 Iowa Summer Games are in full swing, with athletes from every county in Iowa taking part. Each year, more than 15,500 Iowans participate in the annual sports festival featuring nearly 70 sports. Iowa Health System has been a sponsor for the last four years.2010-Summer-Iowa-Games 2

The games are not only a showcase of the state’s best amateur talent, but a reminder of how we can constantly raise the bar for our own performance, be it on a personal or organizational level.

Graham Jones, consultant for Olympic and world champions, contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes, and author of the book Thriving on Pressure: Mental Toughness for Real Leaders, provides these lessons business leaders or any individual can learn from sports:

  • Embrace the pressure – Remain calm in difficult situations, and view defeats as an  opportunity for growth.
  • Set small goals – Great change comes from small steps, so set moderate benchmarks and achieve them.
  • Change your mind – When a business is stuck in a rut, it is often due to mindset. Shift paradigms every once in a while to keep ideas fresh.
  • Celebrate victories – Give yourself a pat on the back when a goal is met to keep motivated.

Certainly, team sports and their dynamic of coach involvement offers another whole layer of lessons from which to draw. Tom Steitz took over as Head Coach for the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team when it was dead last in the world in 1988 and later went on to lead the team to gold and silver in this year’s Winter Olympics. Steitz, who is now a leadership consultant working for big companies like Johnson & Johnson and Hewlett-Packard, offers these points as they relate to leadership and teams:

· Create a positive team – Search for talented teammates with good team spirit. Your business will prosper if your employees support one another.

· Build up to large achievements – Require everyone to find a way to constantly improve, regardless of talent level. Tie that improvement to a larger goal and encourage employees to push toward it every day.

· Spend time together – Keep employees are in close contact. As a result they will be more committed to the business’s goals.

Get out and enjoy the Iowa Summer Games this month if you can. If not, there will be many more opportunities to be inspired by amateur sports when collegiate and high school athletics pick up again in the fall.  When you do, you may be inspired by what Jones and Steitz both generally agree on: success is dependent on mindset, taking risks and reaching for the next level.

Nine Random Thoughts About Selling in Small Business

Sales Trend2 As a business owner, you are going to have to ask people to buy from you. I know that is obvious, yet the truth is many businesses are started by people who are passionate about their product or services.

But they are not prepared emotionally, or organizationally, to sell.  Here are nine random thoughts about selling in small business.  

  1. Don't worry what people will think of you when you call to ask for a meeting.  People have too much to think about to sit around thinking about you.  So dial the phone and ask for a meeting.
  2. Make "no" OK.  First, if your prospects know that it is OK to no, they will be less defensive and more open to a conversation.  Open conversations generate solid ideas and improved sales results.  Second, when a prospect says no, instead of maybe, it saves you time and allows you to focus on others who might say yes.
  3. Plan.  Your sales activity may not be daily, but don't let it be random.  Plan what you are going to do, when, and how often.
  4. Prepare.  When you call or meet with a prospect, be prepared.  Script your phone calls and determine what outcomes you want from the meetings.  You don't want to spend 45 minutes of a 60 minute appointment in banter and then get to the "reason you are there."
  5. Rehearse. Your confidence will be much improved and things will go better if you practice with another person or rehearse in your head before phone calls and appointments.
  6. Track your activity and results. Know what you are doing, when you are doing it, and the outcomes. Keep the score, know the score, and the score will improve.
  7. Have realistic expectations. Know that sales can be hard. Rejection happens. Just say "next."
  8. Celebrate the execution of your plan regardless of results.  Too much planned sales activity does not get executed.  Executing the plan, when you planned to execute it, merits a little celebration.
  9. Be consistent.  Don't wait until you need business to go after business.  Plan and execute your sales activity to be done at lease weekly if not more.
What random thoughts would you add regarding selling in small business?
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It is Hereby Time to Use the "Replace" Function

Yes checkImage via Wikipedia

In 2003, I finally received a set of checks with a blank date line. After much crossing out of the 19___, my checks acknowledged the new millennium. In an attempt to save paper, business forms often are used well after they are obsolete.


The handiest tool to meet changing times is the word processing “replace” function. This year when you change dates, look at other aspects of your forms. Some governmental agencies have changed names. If your form requires INS compliance, you may be out of date AND vague. I recently received an application with a request for my wife’s name. A simple replace of “husband” to “spouse” and “wife” to “spouse” is a quick fix to sexist stereotypes and also acknowledges same-sex spouses.[1]


Look at contact information. If a telefax number is still requested, but there is no blank for an e-mail address, it may be time for an update. Also, look at all the locations where forms are stored. Oddly, the forms that are often out of date are the online forms. (I suspect this is because too many businesses outsource all Web content and have no means to update Web forms in-house.) Additional issues may arise if your online offer binds you to an out-of-date contract.


“Replace” is also a tool to trim legalese from your agreements. Words such as heretofore, thusly and aforesaid, and phrases such as "party of the first part" can be retired. UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh created a chart to interpret legalese which may help you expedite your simplification of these arcane obfuscations. As a rule, you can hereby eliminate hereby with no replacement.


I hereby say it is that easy.


I say it is that easy.

Christine Branstad


[1] If your forms also address domestic partners, you may need to gather additional information.


Until same-sex spouses are treated the same uniformly, be aware that tax implications and domestic partnership implications may vary.

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Work is What We Make It

Sungai Buloh's Gardening masters.Image via Wikipedia

Why do some people love to work in their gardens and others hate to garden? It's not about gardening, is it? The act of gardening -- in and of itself -- has no meaning. Each of us, when we think about the hobby of gardening, give that activity meaning. 

Same thing with work. On any work team, there are team members who enjoy the work and others who dread showing up each day. Same work, different reactions.

Do you think you could come to see your work -- your job, your position, you role -- differently? As a joy. Satisfying. Fun and fulfilling. Or are you like the old TV character, Dobie Gillis, who said, "I don't have anything against work. I just figure, why deprive somebody who really loves it?"

Do you know someone who has turned a routine, mundane procedure they have to do every day into an enjoyable event? We've all heard stories, or experienced for ourselves, what it's like to be on a flight with an attendant who sees his or her job as more than just handing out peanuts.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome aboard flight 458, direct from Miami to Philadelphia....Now that I have your attention, my name is Andrea and I'll be your first flight attendant today. Actually, we are en route to Denver so if you were not planning to go there, now would be a good time to get off the plane...In the event that we mistakenly land in a body of water, a decision must be made. You can either pray and swim like crazy or use your seat as a flotation device...We will be serving breakfast in flight this morning. On the menu I have eggs benedict and fruit crepes...not really, but they sound good to me. However, the flight attendants will be offering a choice of an omelette or cold cereal."

Andrea has connected meaning to her work. She's a comic-lite. She makes the chore of air travel a little more pleasurable. She makes people chuckle. And I bet she's laughing inside along with them.

  • If we can't do the same, we spend our eight to 10 hours every day at work in quiet desperation.
  • If we can, we keep ourselves recharged, fulfilled and satisfied.

What we do is not as important as how we see what we do. Check out Dave and Wendy Ulrich's newest book, The Why of Work. There's an article about their book in this month's Psychology Today. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts in heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

Notice that King didn't say, "If you're a street sweeper and don't like it, get out! Now! Find something to do that you like better." He didn't say you couldn't do that, but he did say to do well whatever it is that you're called to do at that moment. It's that "bloom where you're planted concept."

Remember the old-time comedian George Burns? He had the right attitude. He said, "Fall in love with what you are doing for a living. To be able to get out of bed and do what you love to do for the rest of the day is beyond words. I'd rather be a failure in something that I love than be successful in something that I hate."

Notice that Burns didn't say, "If you hate what you're doing, change jobs. Now! Find something to do that you like better." He said find meaning in what you're doing for a living right now. Whether that's sweeping streets, attending to air travelers or gardening. Work is what we make it.

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Creating ESOP Shelf Space

2275033486_cd4166bcc9 If you want someone to learn a new idea, then you have to give them a reason to want to learn the idea.  Yes, there are those that will automatically want to learn the new idea, but for most it will take time and patience. 

In the marketing world "creating shelf space" is a big part of creating success.  This concept is not associated with intense training or high pressured sales and marketing tactics.  It is about creating a mental space for an idea, concept or product to gestate.  This creates an opportunity that when the time is right, the person will "take the book off the shelf and start reading it". 

This technique lends itself to self development, which is the most efficient and effective style of learning and the bedrock for change.  What are you doing to create ESOP shelf space in the minds of your employee owners?  If there is no shelf space, then ESOP is just four capitalized letters.

Flickr photo by practicalowl

Securing an SBA Loan

SBA LoanImage by thekirbster via Flickr

Securing an Small Business Administration loan is often painted as an incredible frustrating task. 

This can be true when the borrower is using a lending institution which is not familiar with the process and has not informed the borrower of their lack of experience. Borrowers desiring an efficient process should always seek preferred SBA lenders or a loan broker specializing in securing SBA loans.

The nice thing about a loan broker is that they only get paid when they place your loan and will shop your application nationally.

While the SBA itself does not make loans, they guarantee up to 75 percent of a loan that a traditional lender will make under the SBA's 7(a) program. The maximum loan amounts change periodically and your lender can provide you with the current amounts. 

As I'm sure you can appreciate, there are numerous conditions attached to SBA loans and some points to note about them which are as follows. 

1.  The business must demonstrate that it can support the debt based upon prior year's tax returns (usually 3 to 4 years of returns).

2.  The buyer's required down payment can vary, but generally is around 20% to 40% depending upon the business.

3.  Almost all SBA loans will require the seller to participate in the financing and be in second position to the bank.

4.  The SBA wants to have as much security as possible for the loan through a combination of the business' and your personal assets including your house.

5.  Loan fees are quite steep; however, the SBA will finance them over the term of the loan (how nice!). Nevertheless, the fees are generally meaningless relative to getting the financing and completing the acquisition.

For more information, click here to visit the SBA's website.

 In summary, given our current economic conditions, almost all lenders, to protect themselves, are placing their business loans with the SBA.  In addition, while the SBA sets minimum loan standards, it does not mean that a lender can have a higher set of standards for a loan.

Good luck!

- Steve Sink

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How discerning are we?

Transparent Screen LaptopImage by FHKE via Flickr

Social networking has evolved far beyond the "let's do lunch" mentality of yesteryear as an ever-increasing number of individuals, businesses and organizations utilize inexpensive electronic publishing tools to reach new audiences.

But as the digital age leaps ahead, what questions are we asking ourselves to ensure that the norms traditionally associated with social interaction in the atom-based world are being carried over to the Internet?

I publish every day.

Whether in print or online via applications such as websites, electronic newsletters, Twitter and Facebook, producing and publishing content is not only a vital function of my job. It is a meaningful part of my life.

In recent months, while pausing from updating my blog on this site, I’ve had some interesting discussions on the ethics and etiquette of online publishing.

Here are a few questions I’ve been considering:

  • Has the blogosphere helped blur the lines between the hard-news articles, opinion pieces and paid advertising traditionally separated by credible media outlets?
  • How many companies shoot themselves in the proverbial foot with ceaseless self-promotion and clandestine sales tactics?
  • Do some people use their online prowess to bully, manipulate or silence those with differing opinions?
  • Does our ability to communicate electronically have any negative impact on real-world relationships?
  • Should our true personalities shine through online or should our avatars take on a life of their own?
  • How discerning are we, really?
On July 4, the Social Media Club, an international organization focused advancing social media literacy, celebrated “Freedom From Social Media Douchebaggery Day,” an event aimed at quelling self-promotional content.

I typically like to end my posts by asking HOW you are using social networking to build your brands, grow your businesses or advance your careers.

My penchant for consuming and sharing information goes far beyond my professional-development goals and regularly leads to fulfilling conversations that act as catalysts for personal growth.

Today, I’m asking WHY you use social networking to achieve your goals.

Regardless of the platforms we use to communicate – whether engaging with our peers and professional contacts at the lunch counter or on LinkedIn – we would do well to remember that it is our credibility – online and offline – that allows us to be taken seriously as we push out rich content to hungry audiences.

- Todd Razor
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Play To Your Strengths - Leverage the Brain Belt!

Des Moines Business DistrictImage by cwwycoff1 via Flickr

I am a firm believer that everyone in business needs to go through the Strength Finder 2.0 process.  For those who are not familiar with this book and assessment, simply put it is a way of understanding your strengths and leveraging them.  Older persons who were in management in the 1980s will remember that the dogma of the time was to assess your strengths and weaknesses then improve on those areas where you were weak.  Looking back, I now see how foolish that really was.  First, if you are weak in an area, it may be for a real reason.  Second, if you are really good at something, shouldn't you focus on being at least great or even the best at that strength? 

When I work with clients, I recommend the Strength Finder 2.0 process as a starting point for building a management team.  Based on the results, and by using this process with potential hires, the client can proactively build a team of people with a diverse set of strengths that are complimentary.  Along the way, the client also learns about the interaction of people with different strengths and weaknesses and why certain conflicts come about.  It is a powerful way to play to your strengths. 

For those starting out in business, there is another way to leverage our strengths here in the Midwest.  An acquaintance of mine via the blog world, Sean Murphy and I were discussing boot strapping businesses the other day when he mention a concept called the Brain Belt.  The Brain Belt is a play on the description of our area, the grain belt.  Sean told me about Joel Kotkin and a post he wrote called "Little Start-up on the Prairie".  In this, Kotkin talks about the Brain Belt to describe the highly educated youth here in the more rural areas. The post is rather long but very interesting.   If you want to skip right to the Brain Belt discussion you can check it out on this blog called Bootstrappers Breakfast which Sean participates in. 

If you are starting a business or looking to grow a business, you need to leverage your strengths and the strengths of the resources around you.  We have an amazing number of very intelligent young people here in Des Moines and in Iowa. How can you craft your business model in a way that leverages the strengths of your environment? How can you take advantage of the Brain Belt and perhaps even make it a key strategic advantage?

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Oh Say, Can You See?

Fireworks1 This Independence Day holiday has been an unfortunate weekend of fender-benders for our household.  On Friday, a minivan pulled out in front of my wife.  Yesterday, while driving the rental resulting from my wife's accident, I was rear-ended by an impatient teenager.  In both cases, the drivers appeared to be impatient, and both made bad decisions based on faulty assumptions.

This sometimes happens in project management as well.  I once worked with a consulting executive who practiced "hit-and-run" project management, as he would not bother with the details (even if they were shared with him), would make assumptions based on his reality of the project, get blindsided by his own bad assumptions, and then proceed to blame others.

Project management is primarily about communication, but occasionally assumptions must be made.  Assumptions cannot be made by sitting in one's cubicle or going out having long lunches or numerous off-site meetings.

Scott Johnson from the @task blog wrote a fascinating piece about the freshness of conversation in project management.  He said that data

"are good in that if they were accurate, you could make great decisions. They are not good in that people don't trust them. By the way, we have seen this same behavior with project management systems too. People have a lot of data; green yellow and red dots; projections, plans, variances, costs, potential revenues, efficiency metrics, trends, & etc. When it comes to executive review, one piece of data seems to decide whether a project or sales opportunity, a project manager, or a sales manager gets additional executive attention - that piece of data is the conversational status and it's freshness." 
Well said, Scott!.  If a project manager really has no clue what is going on, then no amount of statistical data can save his or her tail.  They need to be walking around, talking to team mates, listening to (and documenting issues), and generally communicating.  On one client,  I juggled three major initiatives.  The CIO asked me how I was able to do it, and I honestly told him I had amazing teams on all three, relied on them, and communicated with them.  I'm not a superman PM, and quite honestly, multi-tasking has never been a strong suit.  But I was really been lucky to have great teams who understood the power of conversation, of communication, and observation to get things done.

But maybe you're the type of project manager who enjoys seeing fireworks in an office setting on a regular basis.  If that's the case, sit in your cubicle, keep your head down, talk to nobody, and keep quiet.  You'll eventually have more fireworks than you can imagine.

On behalf of my fellow contributors, Happy Independence Day from all of us here at Iowabiz!

Oh the places you will go

Social Media Marketing Madness Cartoon by HubSpotImage by HubSpot via Flickr

It is not new advice to start with a plan.

Determine the objective before you take action. Look before you leap. The same approach applies to launching anything from a new product line to a marketing campaign and the same basic principal applies to social media. An easy concept to grasp and many are following through.

One question that seems to keep bubbling up with those clients making an entrance into social media and with those looking to beef up their engagement is: Which comes first?

Building a community to gain a better understanding of your audience before you launch an initiative or launching an initiative in order to build the right audience.

Bravo for understanding the importance of the audience! It’s a great question and it is telling about general attitude toward social media. It has rapidly shifted from the question of “to tweet or not to tweet” to deeper questions about timing, audiences and creative tactics. Even more revealing is the fact that businesses and organizations are beginning to recognize the fact that the audience plays a critical role in successful engagement in social media.
 
As to the question of whether to build up the audience first or develop the campaign to attract a broader audience, it is more complex and individualized than a simple answer can offer. A series of questions need to be answered first, including: Who is the current audience (online and offline)? Is the goal to reach a new kind of audience or a larger audience that meets the same demographic as the current audience? Is it a new product, business or initiative, or part of an existing effort? Are you aiming for a sustainable, long-term audience or one that is finite?  

Answering some of these fundamental questions internally will help customize social media to fit the needs of the organization and lead it down the path to success.

Oh the places you will go.

- Christine Stineman

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Avoid fighting even the little gorilla

A promotional image distributed by A Glass and...Image via Wikipedia

In case you haven’t heard, YouTube won its case against Viacom, who sued for copyright infringement based on thousands of Viacom videos that were uploaded to YouTube.

Now that YouTube escaped liability for piracy, you may post ANYTHING you like on your website, right?

To put the answer in legal terms: no, no, No, NO.

The 1000-pound gorilla just defeated the 800-pound gorilla. (800-pound gorilla has vowed to appeal.)

Before drastically changing the content policy for your website, consult your Intellectual Property attorney. Copyright law is old but evolving. At this point it may be better to stay the course and heed trusted advice for your online business.

Now may be the wrong time to mess with the 800-pound gorilla who is looking for the fight it can win.

- Christine Branstad

 

Shareholders held hostage

US Supreme Court building, front elevation, st...Image via Wikipedia

Limited liability companies and S corporations are popular ways to do business in Iowa. Income of both S corporations and LLCs is only tax once; C corporations, in contrast, can be taxed twice. 

Yet the single-tax format can cause problems.  The single tax is achieved by having the business income taxed on the returns of their owners, rather than to the business itself.  Business income taxed on the return can be distributed to owners without a second tax. Most LLCs and S corporations distribute some or all of their earnings - at least enough to let their owners pay the tax on the business income.  But what if they don't?

That problem came up in a case decided yesterday by the Iowa Court of Appeals. An S corporation was owned by a family. When the mother died in 2006, her son Joseph exercised an option to purchase her shares at a formula price. The mother's Estate and Joseph couldn't agree on how the formula should work (a good story in itself), and it's taken three years (so far) to sort that out. In the meantime, the Estate has still owned the shares, and the company has remained profitable. That means the Estate has had to pay tax on its share of corporate income. 

Joseph, however, had the S corporation stop making distributions. 

So - the Estate had to pay tax on the earnings, even though it wasn't receiving any distributions.  Meanwhile, the formula price was fixed at the date of death, so the Estate wasn't getting any benefit from the income that it was paying the tax on. Or at least that's the way Joseph wanted it to work. This had the perhaps intended effect of putting pressure on the estate to settle.

The Court of Appeals of Iowa didn't let that stand.  While it sided with Joseph on how the formula should work, it wouldn't let him hold the distributions hostage (my emphasis):

The Estate specifically alleged that Joseph's decision to have the corporation stop making distributions sufficient to cover the ongoing tax liabilities breached that duty. Joseph acknowledged in his testimony that he caused DLDC to cease paying distributions. We conclude that this conduct was in bad faith, since it had the purpose and effect of forcing the Estate to bear the tax liabilities while Joseph received the corresponding profits on the Estate's shares, with no apparent justification...

Joseph engaged in bad faith and oppressive conduct, and breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the buy-sell agreement, by discontinuing the longstanding practice of paying dividends during the pendency of this dispute. We agree with the Estate that the federal and state income taxes it was forced to pay on post-July 2006 profits without any distributions to pay them should be added to the compensation it receives from Joseph for its shares.

Unless this result is reversed by the Iowa Supreme Court, this case gives hope to minority owners of profitable LLCs and S corporations.  If a majority owner withholds income tax payment distributions, perhaps to force a sale, Iowa courts could well step in on behalf of the minority owners to force a payout.

But it would have been best to avoid this problem by including in the buy-sell option agreement a clause requiring a business to make distributions to cover taxes until the sale closes.

Note: Hat-tip to IowaBiz.com contributor Christine Branstad for her Twitter link to the case.

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