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June 2012

Sometimes you don't need the words

Bigstock-Grandpa-s-Hands-469721_optI have written before how a headline can make or break an ad

But that's only half of the one-two punch you use to get someone to read your marketing messages.

The visuals (photo, illustration, etc) that you use in your print ad, blog post or other marketing piece will also dramatically impact readership and memorability.  (what story does the photo on the right tell you?)

Here are some do’s and don’t of maximizing your visual's effectiveness.

  • Look for story appeal. The man with the eye patch added mystery to the Hathaway shirt advertising for over 20 years.
  • Be simple. One big picture works better than several smaller ones. Avoid clutter.
  • Show the result. One exception to the one picture rule would be before and after shots. This is a great way to demonstrate product superiority.
  • Don’t be afraid to caption your visual. Readership of captions scores very high. If you think adding a caption will really drive home your message – do it.

Your copy can really get into the nitty gritty of your product or service. But, first you have to entice the reader to your copy with headlines and visuals that grab their attention. Don’t waste good copy by mixing it with boring headlines or common visuals.

Instead, grab ‘em and keep ‘em!

What's the most striking visual you've ever seen on a marketing piece or advertisement?

 

~ Drew

ESOP myths

The baby boomers transitioning out of the business world could create a new platform for business. Instead of the traditional private sale, management buyout, or taking the company to market, an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) may be something to consider.

At the end of 2011, the number of companies that had ESOPs or equivalent plans was around 10,900 (NCEO data). Why are the numbers not higher? In many cases it is the fact that business owners and professional advisors are misinformed about how an ESOP works. Some of the myths that impede the implementation of an ESOP as a business transition strategy are as follows:

  • The owner has to leave the business
  • The owner has to give up control of the business
  • The employee owners now have the right to "know" everything
  • Employees now own stock in the company
  • Everyone is treated equally and there is no room for management incentives
  • The owner has to sell 100% of the company

All of these statements are false. ESOPs are not the answer to all business transitions, but they should be explored as an option. Make a point to get the correct information on how an ESOP works before the idea is disregarded.

-Victor Aspengren

Ventilation is costly

Ventilation - sick buildingOld mechanical systems provided minimal fresh outside air for the occupants of buildings. The sick building syndrome of the 70’s was caused to a great degree from not enough fresh air to flush out all the toxins. Nowadays, one of the key ingredients for a sustainable building design is providing adequate ventilation.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which recommends standards for mechanical systems, uses the number of people in a room and the size of the room to determine the ventilation rate.  For example, a 150-square foot office requires about 15-20 cubic feet of fresh air per minute. That’s a lot of fresh air.

Jared Bartell, a mechanical engineer at MODUS in Des Moines, says ventilation accounts for about 30% of the cost of heating and cooling a building. One of the reasons is during the summer the fresh air has to be dehumidified and during the winter heated.

Ventilation - co2 sensorThe typical mechanical system provides fresh air to a space all day long even if it is unoccupied. If your building has areas such as conference rooms or other spaces not used all the time, you might think about investing in a CO2 sensor. The sensors measure the CO2 rate of the outside to the rate inside the room. When a higher level is sensed in the room the ventilation system kicks on. Therefore, you might have a situation where ventilation in a large room is not needed for days, resulting in quite an energy savings.

See other blogs featuring sustainable design at IowaBiz sustainable design and construction.

-Rob Smith

Leadership, Part 1: Gathering the band

An energy surge. That's exactly what propelled me for several days following my company's recent annual Leadership Symposium. Held for executive and staff leaders throughout our regions in Iowa and Illinois, there is something about being in a room full of bright-minded, forward-thinking leaders that naturally provides a lift.

Even though it may seem to be outside of your 2012_june20_marchingband_LS1core daily mission, setting aside some time to get every leader together to focus on the big picture is a good way to spur collaboration and execute strategy. It provides the opportunity to grasp the tools necessary to succeed in an environment of change. After all, even the greatest conductor, with the most memorable musical score, won't make a sound without first gathering the necessary people and instruments to make a marching band!

In a constantly evolving environment with ever-updated regulations and demands for better results and lower costs, taking the time to break routine and bring an organization’s leaders together can refocus energy and give direction to what may seem like a chaotic phase.

At the 2012 Leadership Symposium, one of things we discussed at length were the changing tides in our industry and how much of the future is unknown. The time we spent on that one day, disconnected from those tides and instead connecting to each other, helped everyone to see that, even in a time of great uncertainty, we can still exercise control. In fact, it seems as if those who maintain their bearings during times of change are the ones who find themselves exercising even more control than they did when times were more placid.

Instead of reacting to outside change, the need to be internally prepared to seek a shared vision of coordination is great. Getting your organization’s leaders on the ‘same page,’ so to speak, will make it much easier to maneuver through tides of change.

Improving Coordination

Every organization has limited employees and resources; coordinating them is critical. Executing coordination does not happen on its own. Leaders must actively and constantly encourage coordination by having mechanisms in place to ensure that not only are the best people in the right place in the organization, but that they have the tools necessary to satisfy both the organizational objectives and their personal ones. Bringing those into alignment is the ongoing effort of coordination.  Organizing a leader's summit may seem like a lot of work for a one-day conference, but I believe that if you do it right, it won't be "just a one-day conference." It will be an investment in coordination. 

Leadership development and strategic planning are two pillars for every organization, large and small; taking the time to forge, acknowledge and inspire leaders will produce results.

In my next post, I'll write about the important steps necessary to develop an effective leadership conference.

If you could inspire the people of your organization to do one thing well, what would that be? How would you measure it?

-Bill Leaver

Negotiations in business - practice, practice, practice

Customers talking to a Relationship Manager du...Customers talking to a Relationship Manager during the Edelmetallmesse (Photo credit: GoldMoneyNews)

Doing business is a series of negotiations. From the moment you plan to start a business to serving your customer, you find yourself negotiating. For most people negotiations brings to mind price, but there are many other areas you must negotiate. 

For the service provider, the details of the service, the delivery time-frame and the definition of "complete" are some of the many items that must be determined. For the product company, delivery time-frame, extended warranty, financing options, product specifics (color, options, etc) all must be negotiated.

Negotiations is a required skill all business people must learn and refine. Many experienced business people will tell you they are still learning how to be a better negotiator. For those getting started, here are a few points to consider;

  • Some people like to negotiate. It is like a sport to them. Be prepared to spend the necessary time. It is not just about the end goal, it is the process these people enjoy. Don't hurry them. It will be harder to close the deal.
  • Many times a customer request for a price allowance may indicate you have not overcome product objections. Make sure you have dealt with any objections before negotiating price
  • Keep your emotions in check and do not make the process personal. This is not about you winning or losing, it is about taking care of the customer. Making the process a win/lose proposition immediately puts you in competition with the customer. 
  • If you must negotiate price, give up in very small increments. If the customer offers you 25% less, counter with 3% less or some similar amount. First, this lets the customer know you will not be giving up huge amounts. Second, you will quickly find out if the issue is price or product.
  • Finally, unlike some in politics, there is no room for absolutes in business. Bluntly stating there is no room for compromise is stating you are not open for business. Stay open to listening and considering offers. Some may be surprisingly beneficial. 

Practice your skills of negotiation every day. Not just with customers but with vendors, partners, employees and others you come in contact with. After each encounter, think through what you did, what worked and what you could have done better. This will pay off in the long run. 

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

 

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Why would a mobile user be searching for you?

Picture it -- a potential customer of yours is out and about. Suddenly, something strikes them and they reach for their smart phone and launch their browser, searching for your business.

Why?

  • Are they bored and wanting to read your team's bios?  I don't think so.
  • Are they wondering if they can download a PDF of your sales brochure? Nope, not on their phone.
  • Do they want to take your quiz, read your white paper or peruse you client list? No, no and no.

They need information. They want to know something specific. And it's probably specific to them being out and about. They might be looking for your phone number. Or your closest location or if you're even open.

Check out what this infographic is telling us. People are evolving how they access the web.  The desktop is losing ground while the mobile device is gaining.

They're on their phone, looking for you. What do they see?

Mobileweb

And they're doing this looking while cruising down the road at 45 mph or faster. So what they really want are big buttons that say Call us or Locations or Fast FAQs. They want to be able to quickly and easily find exactly what they need without having to sift through pages and pages of web copy that works perfectly well on your desktop site but just makes the mobile experience more frustrating,

Have you checked out what your website looks like on a smart phone? You really should.  

You should also look at your Google Analytics to see how many of your web hits are coming from a mobile device and how those those mobile devices are staying connected to your site.

If you don't like the news -- maybe it's time to realize that while responsive and adaptive design is easy on you -- it's hardly easy on your mobile visitor.  

You need a mobile optimized website that is built with the browser in mind. Actually....that's what your potential customer needs.

~ Drew

Credit:  Infographic created by Frederic Gonzalo 

Check it at the curb

 

CURB IT 1
via Google Images

The recycle industry starts with the stuff in the recycle container you put at the curb. Past blogs on products from glass countertops to plastic lumber rely on a stream of waste that starts with you.  

 

Robert Pickens, Vice President of the Midwest Region of Greenstar Recycling says “only 3%-5% of all the material put in recycle containers in the Des Moines area ends up in the landfill. Material is sorted by both machines and by hand into cardboard, newspaper, magazines, glass bottles, seven types of plastic, tin, and aluminum.”

 

Curb it 2
via Google Images

Greenstar then provides the raw material to processors who in turn prepare the material for the end user, such as a company that needs polyethylene pellets to make park benches.  Most of our local stuff goes to processors in the United States and Mexico. Some might even end up in China.

 

 

CURB IT 3
via Google Imges

The chemical makeup of some plastic makes the process pretty toxic to revert back to a raw material. As a result, Pickens says “Manufacturers are shifting their packaging so containers can be more readily returned to a raw material for reuse.” Wow, that means a ketchup bottle that used to end up in the landfill may cost a bit more at the grocery store but the bottle becomes a mayonaise bottle in a second life.

 

Pickens says we can we do three things so as much as possible gets recycled.

  • Rinse out your bottles. Even a recycler does not want dirty product.
  • No plastic bags from the grocery store. They just clog up the machinery.
  • No weird stuff like holiday lights or broken dishware.

-Rob Smith

From deliberation to execution

 

Screen Shot 2012-06-08 at 11.03.00 AM
The Time

Time can be your nemisis, or your BFF.

Getting thoughts discussed during meetings, conference calls or during those moments of brilliance in the shower typed onto paper to share with others is the first step toward execution. 

The "it's all in my head, I just need time to type it up" reasoning  - let's face it, excuse - is one of the biggest roadblocks to setting a social media or marketing plan into action. When we excuse the lack of action with the lack of time, time is empowered to become our nemisis. Once the plan gets on a screen or on paper, assignments are given, timelines set, editorial calendars written, content created and management put in place, i.e. execution commences. The first step is getting the thoughts from A. (inside your head) to B. (on paper for the rest of the team).

This is no new dilema. It is not unique to social media execution either. This is a widespread, relentless obstacle across industries and areas of practice. Many fantastic ideas with potential for great innovative new products, groundbreaking services, market shifts, and record-breaking funds raised fail to launch because they never convert from talk to action. It has been addressed by some of the greatest thought leaders in history:

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well done is better than well said. - Benjamin Franklin

You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action." - Tony Robbins

One of my favorites is the Chinese Proverb: Talk doesn't cook rice.

What's the remedy? For me, it is writing as soon after a discussion as possible. I build time into my calendar to write at the end of a scheduled meeting. I've begun forming a habit of note taking on my iPad or even iPhone during meetings. These notes become the outline afterward, then I flesh it out and share it with others. This is when time and I become best friends. When I'm writing I also find it necessary to shut off all distractions - email reminders, my tablet, cell phone and even close Firefox and Chrome. If I don't, inevitably I become distracted by things I would much rather be paying attention to like tweets, texts, posts, notices and updates.

When I do not take these steps, I regret it. The result of waiting even one day to come back to notes from a meeting is much more time to get it done. Time is added to recall what I was thinking during the discussion, make sense of my notes, get my head back into the specific strategy or ideas for the social media plan. It snowballs from there. When it comes to the constantly improving nature of social media, waiting to execute a social plan is likely to result in the strategy losing its relevance.

What do you do? Are there tips that help you translate words to action?

-- Christine Stineman -- 

What is an angel investor?

Following the launch of the Plains Angels this week, I have had several people ask me what an Angel Investor is. According to the Angel Capital Association:

An angel is a high net-worth individual who invests his or her own money in start-up companies in exchange for an equity share of the businesses. ACA recommends that entrepreneurs work with investors who are accredited investors (who meet requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission) and who can add value to the company via high quality mentoring and advice. Other important things to know about angels include:

  • Many angels are former entrepreneurs themselves
  • They make investments in order to gain a return on their money, to participate in the entrepreneurial process, and often to give back to their communities by catalyzing economic growth.
  • Angels make a return on their investment when the entrepreneur successfully grows the business and exits it, generally through a sale or merger
  • It is estimated that angels invested 19 billion in more than 55,000 start-up businesses in 2008 (Source: Center for Venture Research)
  • Angels tend to invest in companies that are located near them regionally (or to co-invest in a wider geography if a local investor they know and trust is involved)

The key thing to me at the end of the day is can the angel investor add value to the company. This is commonly referred to as "smart money", or money that comes with skills, connections, knowledge, or other valuable resources. 

Remember, if you take outside capital from angel investors or other sources, you need to plan in advance how you will return the capital with a good gain. As stated above, this generally occurs when the company is sold or merged with another company. 

Mike Colwell
www.bizci.com
www.startupmodels.com
www.plainsangels.com

Creative with a purpose

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

Digital communication channels provide countless opportunities to be inventive and tap into the creative ideas that come from those strategic communicators that make up the marketing, advertising and communications teams within any company.

A quick creativity assessment for marketers is to ask themselves about the digital strategy specific to Facebook Pages: Have you changed your strategy on Facebook in the past 3 months? Several updates, even during just the past 3-6 months, have taken place on Facebook alone for Brand Pages. There are inventive ways to utilize the Timeline beyond the historical reference to your company. A more organized approach for administrators managing Facebook Pages provided improvements that allow admins to schedule posts, highlight or make posts sticky similar to blogs, and promote posts. These new elements should be implemented into editorial calendars to establish a plan around marketing and advertising campaigns or events. 

Be creative within boundaries. Infusing your digital marketing approach with increased creativity does not (should not) mean abandoning the critical thought behind protecting your brand. One of the traits of creative marketing and communication is taking a risk, but it should be a calculated risk. Thousands of dollars, in some cases millions, go into your brand development annaually. It would be reckless to toss it out the window for the sake of getting a little attention. 

The creative new strategies need to make sense as well. Creative tactics on social media have a purpose at the end of the day. So reflect on the approach to see if it passes a few simple tests: How does it get out the specific messages about the brand, company or leader within the company? Does it reach the appropriate audience in the right way? Does it tie back to an overall objective?

Digital strategies will become increasingly complex as audiences become increasingly sophisticated. That, for creative communicators and marketers, is exciting news - embrace it!

-Christine Stineman

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Some people are cool and some are hot!

Freezing spaces 1Do you notice how many people go to a movie and carry a jacket or pull-over even when it's in the 90’s outside? Or people at a convention wearing sweaters in the summer? I am one of those people. Went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and began the trip to hypothermia when I sat in my chair. Don’t companies understand everything engineers do to make systems energy efficient goes out the window when the system is not operated correctly?

Freezing spaces 3 cropIt is estimated that, during the cooling season, a decrease in the setting of a thermostat by one degree adds one percent to your energy bill. Or a five degree decrease adds five percent. Engineers work hard to get a 40% savings in energy usage and the thermostat setting can give 5% right back. What gives?

Steve Alvine of Alvine Engineering shared some insight into the thermal comfort of people. He was updating a HVAC system in an office building and found two people sitting next to each other, one wrapped in a blanket and the other with a fan. “It comes down to making people comfortable and we are all different.” he says.

Freezing spaces 2 cropThe American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which recommends standards for mechanical systems, is based on making 80% of the occupants of a building comfortable. Basically, people are so different that a mechanical system is hard pressed to make everyone comfortable.

So why do places like movie theaters and convention centers keep it so cold? Perhaps places have learned people can put on more layers to be comfortable, but it is not acceptable to take off layers to keep cool. It's all about minimizing complaints.

So much for saving energy.

To deduct business expenses, start with a business

20120601iabiz"I don't use that corporation, but I keep it around so I can use more deductions."

"Everybody should have a schedule C to deduct more things."

These statements illustrate one of the most persistent 19th hole tax folk myths. People actually think that simply filing a corporation return, or having a purported business on a 1040 Schedule C, transforms the tax lead of nondeductible personal expenses to the gold of business deductions. This myth may be one of the pillars of the multi-level marketing industry. It really is a myth, as one tax practitioner learned in Tax Court last month.

The practitioner sold his tax businesses, but kept around a C corporation "management company." That corporation paid and deducted expenses for an airplane, for "rental" of an office in the practitioners home, and for other travel and meal expenses. Unfortunately, it didn't appear that the corporation "managed" anything but his tax liability. That meant there was no "trade or business," which the tax law for some reason says you need to have to deduct "trade or business expenses." 

Unfortunately for the taxpayer, using a C corporation caused him another problem: The funds spent on personal items were treated as "constructive dividends" to the taxpayer, taxable on his personal return. That meant he lost twice -- no corporate deduction, but taxable income on his 1040.

The Moral: Filing a business tax return doesn't turn a personal expense into a deduction.

-Joe Kristan

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