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March 2013

Does your company handbook help you or hurt you?

*Editor's Note: Susan Jones is the president of JB Consulting, a human resources firm located in Central Iowa. Susan has more than 20 years of human resources experience in the industries of insurance, healthcare, accounting, retail and other small business. She is the newest addition to IowaBiz.

Most businesses are under the impression that because they have a handbook which covers the basics, they are covered in all situations. A correct handbook can be a great asset and tool for a business. However, if your business has changed anything -- from adding departments to benefits -- within a year, you need to update your handbook. Also, if you do not have someone who pays attention to new laws and legislation regarding employees, your handbook can get you into some serious trouble.

When putting a successful handbook together, one must be able to look at it from different perspectives. Each employee will read that handbook from their perspective and their situation. Not only does the owner need to put in the basic rules of hours, payroll, benefits, what to do in case of conflict and so on; in today’s society new issues need to be addressed, such as social media. 

A handbook can also be a great way to communicate information to employees. It can include where, how and why the business was started, and by whom. It can also include what is expected of each employee in and outside of work. For a smaller firm in a small town, how someone is perceived outside of work can influence how the public sees the entire firm. Some forward thinking companies also require some kind of volunteer or community service. 

One important thing to remember when putting an effective handbook together is that whatever is in there, you as the employer are expected to abide by. The rules you are willing to bend for your best employee are the rules you need to be willing to bend for your worst employee.

-Susan Jones, JB Consulting
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The Sustainability Index

Two of the largest retailers in the world, IKEA and Walmart, are independently developing a rating for the sustainability of their products. Walmart plans on sharing the product rating while IKEA will not.

Products will be rated on quality, recyclable content, and energy efficient production to mention a few key criteria. Walmart should roll out the rating soon so look for it at your favorite store.

Sounds to me like the greenwashing which has hit many other markets. Companies provide information to customers in an effort to sway a purchase such as putting a picture of a forest on a bottle of harsh cleaning solution for the home. 

Ikea shelving cropWhen I think of both IKEA and Walmart I do not think of long lasting and sustainable anyway. The tension lamp I bought at IKEA lasted about four months before it kept crashing to my desk with a thud. What if it had a high sustainability index because it was made at a plant utilizing renewable energy and was 75% recycled content? Unfortunately, it was made so poorly it didn’t work so I threw it away.

I think if we just use our intuition we could determine a sustainable index. Does it look like it will do the job for a long time? Does it exemplify quality or does it look like you could break it? Maybe just keeping something out of the landfill is the most sustainable thing one can do!

In the meantime, look for the sustainability index at your local Walmart. Let me know what you think!

-Rob Smith 

Facebook’s new 'Reply' button

If you are even somewhat active on Facebook, chances are you’ve seen a comment or two Facebook feature
that has initiated some strong opinions. In the old days, if you felt like you had to get your opinion in the mix, you had to reply at the bottom of a long thread to someone who was in the middle of that thread. Good news! Now you can just reply directly to the person who is driving you crazy and really hack it out with Facebook’s newly introduced “Reply” button.

The function does actually open a lot more doors than just getting your point across. Now admins and Facebook users are able to directly connect with specific commenters. This update really only helps encourage Facebook’s primary goals of getting people engaged. For example, as a business you will now be able to even further personalize response to your Facebook community members, therefore making your community stronger and message very tailored.

If you visit our client NewGov's page, you can see this already in action. Facebook actually just added it to their page a few months ago (we assume it was because the page has more than 20k "Likes") So far, people have really seemed to like the capability of replying to exactly who they want to and engaging with a specific user.

You will start seeing it on a lot of pages very soon though, and everyone should have the option by July 10. At this point, it is only going to be available on Facebook pages, not personal profiles. (All the more reason, if you’re still a person running your business page as a personal page – i.e. it still has the “add a friend” button – to switch it over to a business page!)

What do you think about this move? Are you excited to be able to respond to individuals? Tweet me at: @interactivekate or Follow me on Facebook at: facebook.com/kates3900 and let’s chat!

--Katie

What's on your shelves?

Sometimes, retailers get so attached to inventory they come to think of it as their baby. They want to hold on to it … and hold on to it … and hold on to it some more.

For some, they'll hold on to it while stubbornly believing they'll make their usual margin. They'll even pack it away for next year's season, holding on to it long after it looks old and unappealing. That's guaranteed formula to kill sales and profit beyond the product that isn't moving because it will hurt your brand.

For others, they'll hold on to it in hopes of just getting back their original investment. Understandable, yes. But, in the end, still not very practical if it's still not moving.

I don't look at inventory as my baby. I look at it like a teenager who's been planted in front of the television. And, if it's been there too long, I'm going to shout, "Don't just sit there! Get moving and get out of here!"

There's a reason mega-retailers have regular inventory clearance sales. It's just smart business.

Inventory that isn't moving is costing you money every day, every hour, every minute that it sits there doing nothing. You've already paid for it once. Don't keep paying for it. That money is gone and it's not coming back. The space that non-performing inventory is taking up is not allowing you to have space that will earn you dollars. Especially for small retail stores, your space is at a premium and every square foot of it needs to be making money. 

Cut the price to whatever level is necessary to get rid of it. Take your loss, change your inventory and get on with your business.

I've even donated non-performing inventory to charity just to clear space for something that will sell and boost my profit margins to where they need to be.

Take a look around your business. What's on your shelves that needs to get moving today?

-Kelly Sharp

Let’s talk about Iowa’s “brain gain”

The East Village in Des Moines, Iowa, a neighb...The East Village in Des Moines, Iowa, a neighborhood west of the Iowa State Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone’s heard about Iowa’s “brain drain.”

Educators, policy makers and business people have woefully cried for years that all of the state’s “best and brightest” are leaving Iowa for higher paying jobs on the coasts. They exclaim, “what have we done wrong?” and “we must do something about this!”

But what about those of us who’ve chosen to stay in Iowa?

I attended a YPC Civic Cafe luncheon a few weeks ago, and the topic was the history of YPC. Mary Bontrager of the Greater Des Moines Partnership was one of the panelists. Mary has an especially relevant perspective because she played a major part in the creation of YPC in 2000, when leaders in the Partnership realized that YPs were a growing segment of Des Moines’ population and deserved a voice in the community.

During the luncheon, Mary mentioned that YPC’s original founders had a big issue with this idea of the “brain drain.” And I agree!

Yes, it’s true that some students are leaving the state... but a lot of smart, talented and driven young professionals also choose to stay.

YPs throughout the state are bringing new ideas to the table, making a difference and doing big things. Need proof? Just check out the Register’s YP Spotlights or read about the Business Record’s 40 Under 40 class. Look around... I’m sure there are young people making a difference in your workplace or community.

What we realize is that Iowa is special. It’s a place where your big hairy audacious goals can become a reality, because there are people who will listen to and support the big ideas you have. Des Moines is a large metro area with the supportive community of a small town, and that’s just not something you can find on the coasts.

We recognize that. We’ve stayed here. We’re the “brain gain.”

-Emilee Richardson

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Don't bite the hand that feeds you, Mr. Wolfdog

Old Spice, a cologne from our grandfather's era that is sold in grocery stores was the media and marketing darling a couple years ago with the Old Spice Man -- the man your man could smell like.

It made actor Isaiah Mustafa a household regular...as he ran bare chested through scenario after scenario. Women swooned and men ran to their local grocery or drug store to pick up a bottle of the suddenly cool cologne.

I have to admit, as a marketing guy, I love watching someone rejuvinate a tired, old brand. So i was cheering for Old Spice and looking forward to seeing how they would spin/twist the concept.

 Sadly -- they've now launched Mr. Wolfdog.  Yes...Mr. Wolfdog.

 

 

 

I get that they're trying to be funny. But really -- marketing and a great viral campaign transformed them to cool in 2010 and now, in this new effort, they're basically calling the general public a fool for falling for it.

Not that Mr. Wolfman hasn't been putting in a lot of effort. He's been a flurry of activity all over the web. As noted in Adweek -- "He's posted YouTube videos; made a Pinterest page, and an album of inspirational business music; hosted Google+ Hangouts with his Twitter followers; posted a toll-free number (866-695-2407) to help those who need to look busy at work; played Call of Duty: Black Ops II on Xbox Live; made animated GIFs; and whipped up websites like worldsbiggestchart.com. In short, he's done everything (and much more) that a marketing director should do in social media—while inherently poking fun at how hollow and rote and mindless it all is."

 Is it funny? Yes. Will it got viral? Maybe. Both interesting questions but not the right question. The right question is:

Will it sell more Old Spice?

What made the old campaign so noteable is that it not only entertained us but it changed our opinion about a weary brand and breathed new meaning into it for millions of men who would have never considered wearing the time-tested cologne before The Old Spice man made it sexy to do so.

Don't ever lose sight of the fact that marketing's purpose is to generate sales, either directly or indirectly. Anything short of that is just entertainment. And I fear Mr. Wolfdog is just that. 

~ Drew McLellan

A more sustainable house

My wife and I are looking for our last home of our life. We have been through many homes lately and run into the same basic planning issues which make me want to remodel the house. That is not very sustainable, filling several dumpsters.   

Here are four basic planning issues that might make the next homeowner think about remodeling and being less sustainable.

Wide open entry. My first house was a little bungalow with a 6’x6’ entry hall which worked very nicely. House after house has double front doors for looks but open directly into the living room. Your friends come over and the whole room gets cold. 

More sustainable houseView into the master bedroom. Ten feet from the front door are double doors looking directly into the master bedroom. Sometimes the doors are even on an angle so you get a direct view of the bed.  

Hidden lower level stair. Basements are no longer dark and dismal spaces but spaces to entertain. On two houses I have looked at the drastic measure of moving the stair because you had to walk through too much of the house to get your guests downstairs. 

Ignore the sun. The sun warms your house in the winter and provides important daylight all year long. I have seen many south elevations of the house with one lonely bathroom window or a master bedroom that could have a south window but got west instead.

I guess I will be patient and wait for the south facing house with a private master bedroom and the stair near a shielded entry. Let me know if you think it is out there!

-Rob Smith

New customers, new rules

Are you doing business the way your customers want to or the way you want to?

Change can be tough. What can be tougher, though, is losing business because you won’tIPhone change to fit your customer’s needs. Remember them? The customer, yes – well I’m sure over the years you’ve noticed they like things how they like things. What about your new customers though? New customers can equal new rules.

I decided we needed to get our home tested for radon, so I went online and found a company. I submitted my request through their website, in the comments section, and mentioned I prefer to do business via email. Two weeks went by and I didn’t hear back. Finally, they asked for my address and told me someone will be calling me to set up the rest. FAIL. I get immediately frustrated. The next week, someone did call me and as usual it went to voicemail and was lost in the land of unreturned phone calls on my phone for at least 5 weeks.

So, I went back on their website and filled out their contact form again. I explained the back-story and asked to be emailed. I heard nothing again. Finally, after 11 weeks of trying to get a simple task completed which I was told should take about 4 days total, we had our radon tested. I knew I would be writing this blog or they would have lost my business long before 11 weeks! If someone would have just taken the two minutes to E-mail me the info and set up the time they could have closed the deal two-and-a-half months ago.

It’s the digital age, yes, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Many people are very familiar with email and use it as a main preference. It is very difficult to get me to answer the phone, and I know a lot of other people like myself. Check over your processes and make sure you’re making yourself available for people to make purchases from your business the way they want to, because they are much more likely to work with you if it’s easier on them, not you. So really nothing has changed, just the tools we use for customer service are different.

A friend was trying to book a cab the other day and the only option available was the dreaded automated phone system. An immediate turn-off for customers. It says you don’t even matter enough for us to hire a human to answer your calls, questions and concerns. Call Happy Medium during any business hours and I promise a person will answer the phone. It’s something that is very important to me. Email us through our website and I promise someone will respond to your email within a few hours. Change is good and in this case, it’s not really that hard. A lot of your competitors are not doing this well with the digital age and consumerism, so the first in wins. Jump on the bus. I promise – it will only make customers happier!

--Katie 

Has something like this happened to you? Tweet me your thoughts: @interactivekate.

Photo credit: FanAppic.com

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Kodak Moments

"A picture is worth a thousand words" is a quote that is used on a regular basis. The
VAZm5 lack of a picture during a significant event or situation has been labeled a "Kodak Moment". These Kodak Moments may not be recorded in a real picture, but the picture is stored in the mind of the observer.

Organizations create multiple Kodak Moments that are sadly locked inside people's heads. These pictures and the stories that are associated with them can be powerful tools in building a high performance culture. 

The key is to share the picture and story. It may be with an individual or the entire organization. The picture and story can cover acts of kindness, generosity, or celebrations, but they can also cover acts where people dropped the ball, lost control, or totally handled a situation incorrectly. 

Take the risk, overcome the fear and start the journey of sharing Kodak Moments   and building a high performance culture. 

Flickr photo by John McColgan

-Victor Aspengren

 

 

The Colonel knows why your business might have to file returns in other states

20130305-iabiz

Tax returns for other states are an expensive annoyance. It can be even more expensive and annoying if you don't file them.

State governments love to tax out-of-state businesses. It's very tempting for politicians to pick the pockets of taxpayers who don't vote in their elections. Aggressive taxing agencies with improved abilities to spot potential pockets to pick are making it harder for out-of-state businesses to ignore state filing requirements.

There are two sets of restrictions on states that want to tax your business. The first is the Constitution, which requires there to be some connection to a state before a business can be taxed. The Supreme Court's Quill decision of 1992 imposed a "physical presence" test. This limit has been eroded over the years by aggressive states that have asserted an "economic presence" limit. States using the "economic presence" test consider the presence of "intangible" assets in a state, like trademarks, to be enough to subject a business to tax. Iowa successfully taxed KFC Corporation under this argument even though KFC had no presence in Iowa other than franchisees using KFC trademarks for their chicken outlets in Iowa.

The second limit on states trying to impose income taxes is PL 86-272This law, enacted in 1959, prevents states from taxing income of some out-of-state companies even if they otherwise could tax them under the constitution. This law protects corporations whose only activity in a state is solicitation of orders that have to be approved and shipped from out-of-state. This protection only applies to income tax. That means businesses may be required to collect sales tax and pay "doing business" taxes in a state without being required to pay income tax. It provides no protection to businesses that do more than "solicit." Providing warranty or other services in a state is all it takes to put you over the line.

The inevitable question: Should I just ignore other states and wait for them to catch me?  That has always been hazardous, and it becomes a worse bet every year. If you don't file a return in a state where you are taxable, the statute of limitations never expires, and your potential tax liability never stops growing

States have more tools than ever to spot non-filers. "Data-mining" is the best gift to state revenue departments since the invention of the auditor. If you have an employee in a state, it's only a matter of time before they notice if you don't file business returns there. If you own property, they can match up property tax records with income tax filings. They can use building permits or other local licenses to identify people who should be filing. They can walk back customer Use Tax reports to you if you are a vendor.

The Moral: As your business grows, be sure to discuss with your tax pro your activities in other states. Otherwise state revenue departments may have expensive and unpleasant surprises for you down the road.

-Joe Kristan

More gift-giving opportunities to connect with clients than you may think

Pile of gorgeous giftsPile of gorgeous gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In business, it seems we're always encouraged to be aggressive. Getting there first has its advantages, but sometimes it really is best to be last -- or at least arrive at a different time than the pack.

For instance, several of our clients wanted to send holiday gifts to their top customers, and because they contacted us late in the season their gifts, would not have arrived until just before the holiday. 

Yes, the idea of giving gifts is to thank clients and show your heartfelt appreciation. But you're also making an investment in your relationship. And you want that investment to create the best return on investment possible. It just didn't make much sense to send the gift when the clients' tables were full of gifts from other customers and when half the employees traditionally are gone during the week of Christmas and New Years.

That's why our advice was to wait until later in January. It's a time of the year when people are tired of the winter weather, they're in the doldrums and the holiday treats are all gone. Sending a gift in late January to thank your client for their business the previous year certainly gets noticed. And, that's what you want to do -- get noticed.

That's not to say it's time for a whole new trend in business where you forget about sending the holiday gifts.

When it comes to holiday season gifts, the key to being noticed is to be first. Instead of a Christmas Gift, you might consider sending a gift out at Thanksgiving (Thank you for being our Customer) or Valentine’s Day (We “Love” our clients).

Just remember, you don’t have to wait to thank your clients, employees or others for their loyalty or business.  I know a tax firm that thanks its clients at the end of an audit (which is no fun for anyone!) and thanks its employees at the end of every tax preparation season. Your business has its own times of the year when saying thanks to your clients will be noticed and appreciated most, too.

That old saying about timing being everything is absolutely true. When it comes to connecting with clients, you have more times to do it effectively than you might think.

Kelly Sharp is the owner of the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction.

 

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How to build a Facebook page that’s sticky

Facebook-logo6With hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, it’s no wonder that businesses are flocking there to create a fan page for their organization. But what should that page contain? How should you use it to connect with your customers?

Here are 5 tips for creating a Facebook page that people won’t ignore.

Connected: Be sure you use your Facebook page as a launching point for learning more about your product or service. Link it to your website, a testimonials page or a third-party site that sells your product.

Be the resource: Know your audience well enough to anticipate what else they might want to know. If you sell business training, link to other HR and employee related sites or tools. Think beyond what you specifically sell and build a more well rounded resource center.

Let them talk: Don’t make the mistake of treating your Facebook page like a one way broadcast tool. One of the best elements of Facebook is that you can actually talk to your customers and prospects. Don’t turn off their ability to comment on your page.

Let the games begin: No matter how old we are chronologically, we like to play games. One great way to get Facebook page fans or to get them to keep coming back is to create contests and games that hook your audience and keep them coming back for more. Or, have a regular contest –like a weekly trivia game.

Serve with a smile: Use your Facebook page as your customer service portal. Let customers ask questions, post problems or give you feedback about your product or service.

Facebook is a very powerful tool. But just jumping on board and slapping up a page without a strategy will leave you and your page getting chilled from a lack of attention.

 

~ Drew

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