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November 2011

A Healthy Introduction

According to the National Mental Health Association/National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, one of the top 10 things you can do for your mental health is to surround yourself with good people. Those with strong social connections tend to be healthier than those who lack a support system.

That's good news for me. I am always interested in meeting new people, so it is nice to know its good for my health!

A month ago, I had the opportunity to meet an unusually large number of new people. I was struck by how much a person can convey through the act of introduction. A good introduction is a great opportunity to present oneself in a specific, deliberate manner to make a strong impression.

2011_nov28_connectionsHow you introduce yourself to someone new is how that person will “know” and remember you. A good introduction sets the stage for a relationship.

There are several things that you can do to prepare for future introductions and to familiarize yourself with the practice of introducing the best version of yourself.

1.Take a look at yourself

How do you determine what is most interesting about yourself? We all have natural traits, talents and skills; how do you determine what distinguishes you? Some people refer to this as having good personal brand, but I just call it self-awareness. Whatever you call it, the important thing is to analyze what you really have to offer others.

Do sort of a personal SWOT analysis. Honestly assess your personal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and potential threats to your success. This can help you to better determine how people see you in the future. Promote those aspects about yourself with which you are most happy. Let those strengths guide your introductions. It isn't boasting: it's enthusiasm, and that's contagious.

2. Prepare to meet

After you hone in on the personal strengths that you want to highlight when meeting others, it is important to do a few trial runs before utilizing this method with a new client, potential employer, etc. Use this introduction technique by practicing with new people that you encounter in your daily life. You can prepare yourself by practicing with strangers you will meet and greet for a very short time, such as cashiers, clerks or o. If it comes off wrong (and it usually won't), you won't have jeopardized a long-term relationship.

Practice introducing yourself in a way that highlights the skills and positive characteristics you possess.  This may sound phony or forced, but it isn't. People who practice their introductions are doing a favor for the new people they meet: they make it as easy as possible for strangers to become familiar with the authentic person. A good introduction avoids confusion and noise, and simply shows who you really are.

3. Practice what you Preach

Similar to any business that claims it offers great service or value, if you are all talk and no action, you will lose credibility, brand affinity and customers (or in your case people who believe in you). You must have the ability to deliver on the person you claim to be if you want to permanently transform others’ perceptions of you.
According to an August 2011 Forbes Top Brands study, people are more interested in what a brand stands for than what it produces or offers.

This same concept applies to introductions: at heart, people are more curious about who you are rather than what you do. So clearly introduce yourself and promote who you are, what you stand for and what value you provide.

Of course, you must be able to live up to your "brand’s" promise; whether you present yourself as charismatic, confident, passionate, detail-oriented, or results-producing you must you portray what is true in any first introductions.

- Bill Leaver

Marketing is about measuring

Bigstock_Home_Repairs_344034Okay, I will admit that one of the reasons I majored in journalism and psych was because they didn't involve math.  I don't like math one bit.  

But…if there's one thing I've learned in almost 20 years of owning and running a marketing agency -- math matters.  Actually, not all math matters, but measuring matters.

The idea of measuring marketing efforts or ROI is becoming widely accepted as a necessary business practice, but truth be told -- few do it well or consistently.

I think the reasons are pretty straightforward.

We don't know what to measure:  Believe it or not, many businesses aren't sure exactly what results or responses equate to business success.  Sure, it's easy to measure gross sales.  And that's the yardstick most businesses use to gauge their efforts.

But is a $5 million company successful?  The quick response is -- well, heck yes.  But if their costs of goods sold is $5.3 million, the answer is a big fat no.

Sales, profits etc. are pretty self explanatory.  But should a company be measuring percentage of repeat business?  Retention of key employees?  

For measurement to be effective, it has to align directly with the measurable objectives that you’ve set. (You've done that, right?) Those measurable objectives should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time specific (following the SMART methodology), and directly correlate to your organization’s big-picture goals.

If you haven't defined success -- it's pretty tough to measure how close you are to achieving it.

We don't consistently measure:  Another mistake many businesses make is that they talk up a big game in terms of benchmarking or tracking but in practice, they are sloppy, inconsistent or they get out of the gate going strong but three months into the effort, they get busy and all of a sudden, the metrics stop being gathered.  

Why?  Because it's not as important as ______.  Doesn't matter what you fill in the blank with -- if measuring your efforts isn't valued at your organization, you will not do it consistently or well.

We measure in silos:  Effective measurement rarely sits within the confines of a single metric, but rather in a combination of metrics that helps illustrate progress toward a goal. For example, website visits or the number of Facebook fans you have as stand alone data doesn't tell you much of value. Metrics gain meaning when they’re woven together to help you gain insights, not just excel chart fodder.

Odds are, no single marketing effort stands on its own.  If you're doing it right, they are constantly cross promoting and connecting to each other.  Your blog should encourage newsletter sign ups.  Your presentations should include a white paper download offer.  Your print ads should have a QR code that links to a YouTube video, demoing your product.

So don't just measure one thing.  Measure in bundles so you can see how your inter-related tactics are or are not working.

If you want to create effective marketing and you want to be able to document and defend your budget and how it is serving your organization - you'll need to make a commitment to measure what matters. 

Which of course requires you to:

  • Know what matters (match measurement metrics to organizational goals)
  • Measure every day (consistently measure to set your benchmark and truly monitor progress)
  • Measure in bundles (by measuring a blend of metrics -- you will see patterns, trends and upcoming opportunities)

So break out your calculator and get counting!

~ Drew

How secure is your password?

There has been a lot of discussion as of late about passwords, and in particular what makes a good one. I'll start with my previous view of what makes a good password for end users. It's probably similar to password policies that most readers are familiar with:

  • Minimum of six characters
  • A lowercase letter
  • An uppercase letter
  • A number
  • A special character (like !&@^)
  • Can't be the same as the username

Assuming random combinations this results in 8.4E73 (84,000 with 70 additional zeroes after it) combinations. If we assume one thousand guesses per second by a computer, we're talking about trillions of years to guess the password. Your password sounds secure.

I've never been a fan of frequent forced resets of passwords, primarily because the password is more likely to be written down, which immediately eliminates any sort of security that a password provides, as it can be copied without the user's knowledge. The alternate is that the user will create a variation of their previous password, which is easily defeatable if the previous password is already compromised.

The problem is that we don't remember random combinations well, so often we'll rely on a word to allow us to remember our password. Looking at a password dictionary results in about 1.7 million common passwords, add in another 170,000 standard words in the Oxford English Dictionary, and you have 2 million passwords. Figuring every word has 100 variations such as 's' being replaced by '5' and there are still 200 million easily calculated passwords. That's about 55 hours of a computer guessing at 1,000 guesses per second.

Your word-based password is insecure.

There is a lot of talk about not having dictionary words. This does two things:

First, it does make the password much much harder to crack, as we're back up to 8.4E73 combinations. Second, it makes the password impossible to remember, requiring the use of password managers, such as 1Password.

In light of this, I've started to talk with clients about a new policy:

xkcd: Password StrengthImage via xkcd

  • Minimum of 15 characters
  • Minimum of four words
  • Easy to remember

Having four easily remembered words results in a 8.5E20 different word combinations. We're back to talking about trillions of years to guess the password. That's assuming that there aren't upper case, special characters, or numbers. We're also able to remember four words.

The workflow I suggest for long passwords is to think of four words that aren't initially related and put them together in a sentence. There are tools online to help you create the word list

Once you have a long password, you need to practice it several times before you actually change it. This helps commit it to memory. Open a text editor, turn off your monitor, and type your password and hit return. Do this five times then turn on your monitor. If they're all the same, change your password. If you have variation, repeat the process until there isn't a variation.

Now you have a secure password. Provided you don't write it down or tell it to someone.

- Jon Thompson

An Interface with Carpet


The early 1980’s is when I met my first carpet tile.  Now nearly every job I do is carpet tile.   People replace carpet tile not because it wears out but because it “uglies” out!  The stuff won’t die.  I even know of a university dining hall where they cleaned the carpet tile by running it through the commercial dishwasher.  YIKES!!

The manufacture of carpet is not very sustainable since it is made of nylon which is made from petroleum.  In addition, the backing of carpet tile is also petroleum based.  It took a visionary and founder of Interface carpet, Ray Anderson, to question the long term sustainability of carpet tile.  After reading The Ecology of Commerce, Ray transformed his business from a linear model where carpet is made, used, and goes to the landfill, to a circular model.  The carpet goes from manufacture, used, and back to manufacture without any petroleum needed.


This sustainable paradigm required innovation.  There were no machines to take old carpet tile and separate the yarn from the backing so Interface built machines.  Nylon manufacturers partnered and figured out how to take harvested yarn and turn it into liquid nylon and spin new yarn.  As a result of this kind of thinking, last year over 350 million pounds of post-consumer carpet was diverted from the landfills and over 80% was recycled.  


Now recycling centers are sprouting up to get the recycled product back to manufacturers.  Many times the cost of recycling is cheaper than landfill fees.  In fact, companies like Interface are working with municipalities to increase landfill fees for carpet to ensure the circular model does not run out of product.

What’s in the future?  Already Interface uses no virgin raw materials in the manufacture of the carpet tile backing.  Their 2020 goal is to use no virgin raw materials in any part of the entire carpet tile, just recycled or bio based material.

Sustainable design is really about changing our paradigms and asking pretty simple questions.  Ray Anderson asked if there was another way for his business to make a product and not contribute to depleting a virgin material like petroleum.  He found a way and Interface is now the leading carpet company in the world.

The sacrifice of leadership

Leading a company of engaged employees requires sacrifice. For many leaders it is all about them, and what they will gain or what their immediate team may gain.

Article after article is written about the lack of engagement in the workforce today and the grotesque behaviors of leaders. These leaders have no concept of sacrifice and how their employees view this lack of sacrifice.

Sacrifice can and in some cases will be painful, be it physical or psychological. Enlightened leaders are prepared and step up to the sacrifices that may be required to support the organization. Here is a short list of leadership sacrifices examples:

  • First one to work, last one to leave
  • Spending the time to console an employee in need
  • Taking the pay cut in hard times
  • Filling in for a critical position when needed
  • Attending weddings and funerals
  • Admitting their mistakes
  • Laughing at themselves

Sacrifice requires leaders to be confident in themselves and the people they lead. The saying "The more you give the more you get" holds true for leaders that understand the power of sacrifice.

- Victor Aspengren

Just get up!

Vince Lombardi said, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."

Ever had a game plan that simply didn't work? Have there been days in which nothing seemed to go as you'd planned, no matter what you tried to accomplish or how you worked to move forward? How well did you handle your frustration and disappointment? Did you crumble in defeat or display resilience?

Do you make a practice of taking time to calm down, breathe deeply, reflect and develop a bounce-back strategy? A leader is not defeated or distracted by mistakes; a leader asks, "What can I learn from this? How can it empower me? How is this an opportunity to increase competency? What solutions am I not seeing?" A true leader is responsible for leading people out of disappointments and uses them as a way to rally and involve others in problem solving.

Vince Lombardi didn't say this, but he could have: Don't look to learn from those who win every game, go to the top, and then stay there. Look to learn from someone who has won, lost, and come back to win again. It's what you do when you don't win that helps you win in the end.

Try this: Identify someone you could learn from. If they're local, take them to lunch and ask them for tips and suggestions. If they're from elsewhere, or famous, read their blogs or books to gain some insight into their ability to get up when knocked down.

- Shirley Poertner

The staircase approach to building a business

Teutonic's grand staricaseLeImage via Wikipedia

Stand at the base of a set of stairs, 10 to 15 steps will do.  Now get ready and leap to the top!  That is what many entrepreneurs attempt to do when starting a business. Unfortunately most do not have the strength or skill to make it on the first leap. 

It is easy to convince yourself that you must have everything done the day you begin. Take the marketing for a new business.  While you may want to have all of your marketing in place before you begin, many of your best marketing ideas will come from the first few customers you serve.  Start with a simple approach of what you offer to the market.  Stick with the problem you solve and the value you provide.

That can be your first step. 

As you gain a couple clients, ask for a testimonial to use in future marketing, perhaps on your website or on your ads.  That is good second step. As you move forward, ask your clients what made them choose you.  Revise your ads and promotional copy to bring in some of the new things your customers told you as an additional step. Next, start to look for other businesses that are complimentary to your business and ask them to work with you in marketing each others businesses through referrals or working together.  Another step. 

Moving step-by-step through your marketing or any other area of your business will allow you to use your your funds more efficiently and stay focused.  It will also keep you from falling down from trying to leap to the top step.

- Mike Colwell
www.bizci.org
www.startupmodels.com

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Customer service rule number one

I've always taught Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) that the number one rule of Customer Service is "Do the best you can with what you have." Let me give you an example.

For several years, I've served on the Board of Directors for Pella's community theatre, Union Street Players. Many years ago, our group decided that we wanted to do something with our growing collection of costumes. So, the Union Street Players Costume Shop was started. It has been a labor of love for our members for many years. As a non-profit organization, we do not make a profit and our staff is made up entirely of volunteers. The shop is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon (if we the volunteers show up).

It is quite common for our customers to get frustrated and disgruntled. We often get phone calls from frantic individuals who are trying to throw together a last minute costume for a child's school project or an impromptu skit at the corporate business meeting. It's painful for me to apologize and explain that we simply do not have the staff or resources to accommodate every emergency costume need. I'm personally crushed when I see a long line of frustrated customers waiting in line while one of our volunteers fights with the ancient computer and quirky database at the desk. We continually try to make improvements. However, the fact that the shop is even open a few hours a week is due to the kindness of our members' hearts and their voluntary efforts.

Even a for profit business must sometimes make choices regarding what they can do, and are willing to do, with the limited resources available to them. Hopefully, we are equipped with a knowledge of what drives our customer's satisfaction and a sincere service attitude. We can't satisfy every customer. In some tragic situations we may not be able to satisfy most of our customers. But, at the end of the day every CSR can pat themselves on the back and sleep well if they can honestly say, "I did the best I could with the resources I had."

- Tom Vander Well

Aim for the top

The Healthiest State Initiative is a privately led public initiative to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. Ranked No. 19 in 2010, Iowa is challenged with moving up 18 spots in five years. 

The Healthiest State Initiative is a lofty goal for our state and will likely be the driving force behind several new programs and marketing campaigns. In the professional realm, setting challenging goals, such as being ranked at the top of your industry, gives focus to your organization’s efforts and can serve as a strong motivator for employees. 

Step 1: Align Goal with Company’s Mission

Think about what your organization could accomplish in five years and where you want to be ranked among your competitors. While the majority of companies already have an established mission, making a goal of being ranked for something can help bring greater tangibility to a company’s ideals.

If, for example, your mission was to provide quality healthcare at an affordable cost, a goal might be: become a Top 100 Hospital in America. To be included among the top tiers of hospitals, you would need to achieve excellence in clinical outcomes, patient safety, patient satisfaction, financial performance and operational efficiency. Each award criteria forces a hospital to improve strategies and perform better; the goal directly enhances the company’s mission.

Step 2: Communicate New Focus

Provide your employees with a clear understanding of where you currently are, where you want to be and how you are going to get there. It is important that all staff know the ultimate goal so they can approach every decision, action and interaction with it in mind.

There are several ways to publicize this new focus; what works best depends on corporate culture. Weekly e-newsletters, department meetings and open forums are a few ways to reach employees. Whichever method you choose, it is important to keep employees informed on progress made throughout the journey.

Step 3: Set Short-term, Measurable Goals

Iowa Well-Being ChartIf you are serious about making a change in your organization, you need to have everyone working to reach the goal and have measurable steps towards it.

Data collected by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index determines a state’s ranking for health and well-being. This data is gathered daily and available annually. It is a great way to measure and track Iowa’s progress to the top.

The Healthiest State Initiative launched with the Start Somewhere Walk on October 7th. Over 291,000 Iowans walked in support of this initiative. I was impressed by the number of participants from my office.

The walk was a symbolic first step on the journey to a healthier state. It is also a model for making progress at your own place of business. Take your first step by targeting a top ranking in your area of expertise. Together we can make strides towards improving business and health in Iowa!

- Bill Leaver

IRS offers $10,000 prize for filing new form!

Well, that's one way of putting it.  More accurately, the IRS will take $10,000 hard-earned dollars out of your pocket if you are don't file some forms related to international taxes.

Iabiz20111116You say "I'm in Des Moines, I don't have to worry about international tax forms!" Don't be so sure.  It's surprisingly easy to find yourself needing to file a form out of the IRS international tax series. Some common situations:

- You have a foreign financial account, or you have signature authority over one you don't own.

- You have loaned money to an offshore borrower.

- You have invested in an offshore venture. Many Iowans, for example, have been investing in Brazilian farm ventures.

The standard IRS fine for failing to file these forms is $10,000, and they assert the $10,000 penalty automatically.  The most common forms Iowans have encountered up to now include:

  • Form 5471, reporting investments in non-US corporations;
  • Form 8865, reporting investments in non-US partnerships;
  • Form 3520, reporting interests in non-US trusts or cross-border gifts, and
  • Form TD F 90.22-1, reporting interests in offshore financial accounts.

Now there is a new Form reporting broader classes of offshore financial instruments.  New Form 8938 requires you to report many offshore financial assets missed by other forms.  Unless the interest is held in a securities account, interests in partnerships, closely-held corporations and even public companies will have to be reported on 1040s filed for 2011.

Even if the interest is already reported on one of the old forms, the IRS is requiring a Form 8938 filing, if only to refer to the other form.  Examples we've seen of assets that would need to be reported are the Brazilian farm partnerships and shares of Canadian insurer Sun Life received as demutualization proceeds.  Single taxpayers will need to file if their holdings of foreign financial assets are $50,000 at the end of 2011 or $100,000 during the year; the thresholds are $100,000 and $200,000 for joint filers.

Except for Form TD F 90.22-1, these forms are all filed with your tax return.  Be sure you let your tax professional know about any Non-United States investments you have.  Unless you are happy to spare the $10,000, of course.

- Joe Kristan

Can you crowdsource a crowd pleaser?

 

 An example of crowdsourcing (see Old Spice story below)

One of the more interesting phenomenons that has come out of the social media space is a resurgence in crowdsourcing.  It's really a new tech way of brainstorming or group decision making.

Brands are using crowdsourcing in some pretty smart ways.  See if you can steal one of these models for your company.

Crowdsourcing to inspire word of mouth:  Colgate's Smile campaign was designed to get people sharing stories and pictures.  Faebook fans were invited to upload pictures of their "colgate Smile" which were then used in collages on outdoor boards across the country.

Who is not going to go looking for their picture and then show everyone they know the billboard they're on?

Crowdsourcing to influence opinion:  Dominos decided to live stream their consumer's comments on a billboard in New York City's Time Square.  They didn't sanitize or edit the comments so they were applauded for their bravery and bold efforts.

This coincided with their pizza turnaround campaign --which set out to make a tastier pizza.  People were impressed with Dominos willingness to actively seek feedback and sales increased by double digits as a result.

Crowdsourcing to get your audience emotionally invested: Old Spice decided to spice things up by introducing a new Old Spice guy -- Fabio.  People went nuts, protesting and then Old Spice invited consumers to vote between Fabio (new guy) and Isaiah (original model in the campaign).  Fabio lost by a huge margin but interestingly enough -- they're still going to make the switch.

Even more telling (and surprising) was that most of the flack against Fabio came from the men in the crowd.  Time will tell how consumers will react when Fabio nudges Isaiah aside.

So -- how could you leverage this idea of crowdsourcing to get your customers, prospects, employees or other stakeholders to play along with you to promote your product or service?

~ Drew McLellan

The three different types of server hosting

One of the most misconstrued aspects of computing is what exactly a server is. A server is nothing but another computer that is offering services (such as a website) that is accessed by one or more other computers.

With that said, there are three ways to host a server- self-hosted, hosted, and co-located. In reality, these have many options within each of them, but these three serve as the basis.Clouds over Pyrgos

Self Hosting

A self-hosted server means that you have it internally within your office. For instance, many organizations will have a file server that they utilize to share files between individuals, as well as consolidate data.

The benefits of this method are internal speed and control. The drawbacks are cost, in both labor and bandwidth, and reliability.

An internal office network is generally much faster than the internet bandwidth to the same office. If we look at a simple file transfer of a file between two desks in an office, it will take 1/10 the time to copy the file internally, rather than uploading the file externally, then downloading the file to the second computer. The file also never leaves the office, meaning there is a greater level of control over the access that is allowed to the data.

However, A self-hosted server must be routinely maintained, otherwise there is a risk of data loss or a security breach. Since a self-hosted server is often one of a few within a business, the cost of the maintenance is often higher than the cost of externally hosted options. The other aspect is that a small business often does not have the resources to offer redundancy at the level offered by other solutions.

Co-Located

A co-located server is one that a business sends to a host, usually a data center, where it will reside while it provides the services that are needed. At the data center, the server will have redundancies in power sources (often to the power plant level) and internet connections, as well as efficiency of scale for the facility and cooling.

However, a co-located server must still be maintained by the business, with the added caveat of fees associated if the host needs to perform actions on the device. The co-located server must be accessed through a business' internet connection, which is often a bottleneck in terms of speed.

Hosted

Hosted servers can take many forms, but the basis is that the hosting company provides and manages the hardware that the business' data is residing.

Because the hosting provider is providing this service to other companies as well, their management of each business' service is a fraction of the cost that the business would incur for the same performance.

The drawback is that the business' data is now on another business' hardware. Depending on how this is handled, and what data is hosted, the business may be in violation of HIPAA, PCI, or Sarbanes-Oxley. Issues may also arise due to other businesses being hosted on the same hardware.

Hosting companies are aware of these drawbacks, and have products to eliminate them. I'll discuss them in a future article.

- Jon Thompson

What does VOC mean to you?


I remember long ago when I was refinishing woodwork and would get dizzy. I did not know I was feeling the effect of a high amount of VOC's in the air. The varnish was comprised of Volatile Organic Compounds (usually carbon) and VOC’s were released into the air as varnish dried.

Today an important part of the green movement and LEED certification uses low VOC paints. Federal regulations cap the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter for flat finishes and 380 grams per liter for all other finishes.  LEED requires flat finish paints at 50g/l and others at 150g/l. Paint meeting these requirements is often referred to as “Green Seal Certified” paint.  You can also beat LEED requirements with zero VOC paint (really not zero but anything under 5 g/l).  Then there are “true zero VOC” paints to differentiate from zero VOC paints.  Confused yet?


The catch is, the base white color can be “green seal certified”, zero VOC, or true zero VOC but as soon as you add a colorant the VOC’s could go through the roof.  Be careful when you pay extra for zero VOC that you are getting what you paid for.  Zero VOC paints cost more because others use a less expensive petroleum base.


I called my friend Gordon Sterk, owner of Johnston Ace Hardware, who sells Benjamin Moore paints to get the scoop and found Natura by Benjamin Moore is a true zero VOC including the colorant.  The paint costs $69 per gallon and is available in an infinite number of colors.  Benjamin Moore also has several “Green Seal Certified” paints that cost between $39 and $59 per gallon.  Home Depot has a similar paint called FreshAire Choice but only comes in 65 colors and costs about $40 per gallon.

- Rob Smith

Your "Corporate Counsel": Part 1- Finding the one

Large companies reach a benchmark at which the company adds a full-time lawyer. But should you have an attorney before you get “big?" If so, how do you find that attorney? This blog addresses finding the best attorney for your business. My next blogs address:

  • Responsibilities of your business attorney before start up?
  • Responsibilities of your business attorney on an ongoing basis?
  • How to determine if your attorney is still the best for your business?

If you do not think that you need an attorney, talk to a successful CEO in a similar field. Ask that CEO if the business has an attorney and what that attorney does. If you believe that you need an attorney, the following steps may lead you to the right attorney for your business:

1.)    Look for firms or attorneys who represent similar businesses. Years ago, I represented a friend’s bar. When I walked in, the bartender would introduce me as the “bar lawyer.” The mixed compliment aside, within two years I obtained four bars as clients. I got to know the system and my clients benefited from this knowledge. I have a friend who is a “babysitter lawyer.” She knows exactly what it takes to set up a child care facility and keep it moving. Attorneys who represent multiple restaurants understand the compliance and HR issues that are unique to food service. Attorneys who represent multiple ag producers know environmental law and the changing legal landscape facing farmers. Attorneys who represent multiple cosmetologists are familiar with the applicable Iowa regulations. 

2.)    Get an opinion from your tax advisor. You want your "trusted advisors" to work well together.

3.)    Interview at least two attorneys. You would not hire a receptionist without an interview? You want a lawyer who is with your business for the long haul.

When interviewing a potential attorney, look for someone who is genuinely interested in what you do and wants to help you reach your objectives. An attorney does not have to ride to represent a motorcycle shop, but that attorney better know that a Hog is not a Kawasaki.

- Christine Branstad

Who's driving your bus?

Imagine this: you've got a window in your forehead, so you can look in and see what's going on. There in your brain is a steering wheel, a big ole leather seat, and even one of those hats with a badge on it -- just like a Greyhound bus driver wore in the old days.

My question to you is, "Who's driving?" And the answer we often have to give is, "I've got a hijacker driving my bus!" Every one of us has one kind of hijacker or another driving our bus, at least some of the time.

So who's driving your bus? These hijackers or phantom bus drivers are our old, dependable habits. What each one of us is today, for better or worse, is the result of behaviors that we have repeated again and again over months and years and it is the same method -- repetition and practice -- that we must use to replace the hijackers in our driver's seats with new habits. New habits that are more effective and satisfying and that will drive us to a new and better destination.

Scary as it may sound, what you are or will be at sixty is what you are at thirty -- doubled. Unless you decide to change drivers. Now. No other outcome is possible otherwise, for practice makes perfect. With thirty, forty, or more years to drive the same route hundreds of times, your bus driver will be able to do it blindfolded, without even thinking about it.

Want to adopt new habits? Then take these steps:

  1. Name the old habit you want to change or eliminate.
  2. Clearly describe the new habit you want to adopt.
  3. List the steps you will take to get started and keep going.
  4. Identify right now how you keep yourself from deviating from your new habit at the first bump in the road.
  5. Ask someone to help you stay on course and be specific about what you want them to do.

Wrestle the wheel away from your hijackers! Drive your own bus to where you really want to go, not just to the place you happen to be headed.

- Shirley Poertner

Square peg, round hole

2095574414_2eb8ab0ddb_tThere are many owners, leaders, and employees that are viewed as a square peg in their organizations. The square pegs have no definitive profile other than the fact of being the square peg. The plain and simple fact is that they are just not a great fit for the organization (round hole).

There are instances where individuals know fully well that they will not fit or do not fit. These situations are typically driven by the need of the job vs. the want of the job. They can be good or bad employees, but they will never be the engaged, productive employee that organizations dream of.

The vast majority of people that are considered square pegs have been put into a position that does not fit their profile, they may not have the skills, and in many cases it is a failure of those in power to make a tough decision. The people in these situations are the victims of poor decision making by organizations, leaders, and managers.

The saddest situation is where newly hired employees are a square peg from day one, but they have no idea themselves. The lack of a rigorous hiring process, the "selling" of the organization to the employee, and the focus on skills vs. fit, create organizations full of square pegs.

Organizations need to recognize if they are guilty of practicing the square peg syndrome then they need to take immediate action to correct it.  This also applies to those individuals that know they are square peg, correct it.  Round peg, round hole - it truly does make a wonderful fit.

- Victor Aspengren

Flickr photo by danstorey14

Don't act on your assumptions

Series of air conditioners at UNC-CH.Image via Wikipedia

It had to be right, right?

When we purchased our house in 2006, it was brand new. We had flown in from Seattle in April and bought the house from the builder then flew back to Seattle to finish the school year. When we arrived on the 5th of July the temperature was over 90 degrees. Our realtor had called me earlier in the day to tell me she had turned on the air conditioning so the house would be cool when we arrive.  It was a nice touch. 

Entering the house late that day, it was very warm inside.  I am fairly handy around the house so I did the usual, check the breaker, fan and thermostat. No luck. On the furnace was the sticker from the company that did the installation.  I gave them a call. This was during the building boom that led up to the crash of 2008 and HVAC contractors were working some unbelievable hours. I ended up talking to one of the general managers as everyone else was in the field. I explained the problem. He asked the usual questions, did I check the filter, the breaker etc. I could tell he was assuming that everything was fine and I was the problem. After all, it was a brand new house and they had installed the system. It had to be right, right?

I was finally able to convince him that he needed to send someone out. Since everyone was working hard, he came personally. When he arrived it was in the early evening and he looked like he had been having a bad day.  I could tell he was not happy about coming out to, he was sure, show me something simple. I walked with him as we first checked the thermostat, the furnace in the basement and finally the condenser outside.

He took one look at the condenser and said something to the effect that this was the problem as the fan was not blowing.  Closer inspection showed that the entire wiring harness had never been installed that connected the condenser to the electrical supply.  This is analogous to the car that won't start which turns out to have had no gasoline! 

Well, he was pretty embarrassed.  We both knew immediately that whoever had installed the system had never checked to make sure it worked.  To his credit, he corrected the problem that evening.

While it was not right to begin with as he had assumed, he made it right.  To this day I do business with this company.  They listened to me when they "knew" I was wrong.  They did not act on their assumptions. 

- Mike Colwell

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Providing great service can be its own reward

I chatted with my daughter on Skype this past Sunday. She is in a college program in Colorado Springs and recently got a job working at the local White House Black Market. Madison just got out of training and was excited to tell me that she'd booked her first client. She told me how her client was nice, earned her a nice little commission, and complimented her in front of the store manager. And, she clearly felt esteemed when the woman said she would only ask for Madison when she came into the store.

I am proud of my daughter. Having been raised in a home with a father who is a consultant in the art of good Customer Service, I know that she picked up a thing or two along the way. But a big part of it has nothing to do with lessons I might have taught her. Listening to my daughter's excitement and enthusiasm made me realize that she's learning one of the most important lessons through her own experience: Providing good service is its own reward.

Some people are motivated by making a lot of money and winning contests, and I have no problem with positive reinforcement. When I meet exceptional Customer Service Representatives (CSRs), however, almost all of them do it because of the intangible sense of worth and satisfaction they get by doing right by someone else. It feels good to hear a customer sincerely tell you that you made their day. You feel a sense of healthy pride when you walk away from a job knowing that you've helped someone out of a jam, eased a fear, solved a problem, and put a smile on someone's face.

A while back I heard an executive of John Deere say that he loved his job because he knew he was helping to feed the world. What a great way to be motivated to go to work each day. The exceptional CSRs I've had the privilege to know over the years have a similar take on their own jobs. It's more than dutiful labor for a paycheck. They find personal fulfillment in serving others well. My daughter is learning that delivering great service is a win-win-win for her client, her employer and herself.

- Tom Vander Well

Two months left to control your 2011 tax destiny

By now most of us have a pretty good idea how 2011 is going to come out for our businesses. That means now is the time to get serious about our tax planning. By the time you are gathering your information for your tax returns next year, most of the best tax-planning opportunities are behind us.  Now is the time to take charge of your 2011 year-end planning.

20111101iabizFirst, make sure you have a good idea of how your income is shaping up. Wrap up your October financials and make an estimate of how the last two months will go. Then get out a crystal ball and take a shot at estimating your 2012 income.

Then get together with your tax advisor to see how that translates to taxable income.  Many items have different tax treatment than financial statement treatment.  Once you have a good idea of where your taxable income is headed, ponder your options.

Your options might include:

  • Planning your cash-basis deductions:  If you are a cash-basis taxpayer, you can move many deductions between years just by choosing which year you write the check.
  • Take a close look at related party expenses:  When you are an accrual-basis taxpayer, you still are on a cash basis with expenses paid to cash-basis related parties.
  • Ponder fixed asset purchases:  If you are going to be purchasing fixed assets anyway, 2011 may be the year to buy them.  New business property is eligible for "100% bonus" depreciation in 2011, allowing you to deduct the entire cost in the year of purchase.  Usually fixed asset costs are capitalized and deducted as depreciation over a period of years.  Even if you are buying used equipment, you may be eligible to take a Section 179 deduction for up to $500,000 of business asset purchases.
  • Consider retirement plans:   If you have been looking to add a profit/sharing or 401(k) plan to your employee compensation package, you need it in place by year-end if you want to deduct contributions for 2011.

Last but not least,

  • Consider your tax payments:  It often is good to make your tax payments for the tax year during the tax year.  This helps you match your deductions for taxes paid to your income, and it may help you avoid Alternative Minimum Tax.  This is especially helpful when your income fluctuates from year to year.

The tax planning game is pretty much over at year-end.  After that, it's mostly just adding up the score.

- Joe Kristan

Flickr image by Baaker2009 under Creative Commons license.

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