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December 2014

2015 social media resolutions

Katie Stocking is the founder and President at Happy Medium LLC.

The other day the strangest thing happened. We were expecting Santa to stop by the Happy Medium office when, instead, the Grinch showed up! As you know, he now has a heart three times the size it used to be so he was in pretty good glee, that is until we started talking about social media.

He snarled and sneered a bit, so his notes we writ.

We promised we would not, do these things in 2015 (at least not a lot):

1. Your business set up as a personal Facebook profile (aka a page someone has to “add friend” for your business). Enough is enough. Let’s get things on track since you don’t want the Zuck all over your back!

2. Not responding to comments or questions. You wouldn’t stare at someone in your store and not answer a question, so don’t do it on your social media platforms. If you can’t get to it, do the same thing you’d do in your store, get some help!

3. Over-hashtagging and wrong hashtagging: let's make something clear—#this#is#not#the#appropriate#way#to#hashtag #neitheristhisdoyouhear?

4. Vague-booking is the worst—it makes us want to burst. Just be open with the thoughts you’re posting or get yourself prepared for roasting.

5. Auto-posting from one platform to all the rest of your platforms—just make it go away, it ruins our day!

So do the Grinch a favor and pay great attention, we do not want to cause further tension! 2015 will be the best year yet, no sweat!

Business exit strategy

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.  Logo only for phoenix

Prior to the sale and as part of a successful exit strategy from a family-owned business, the owner should have satisfactorily addressed these six critical questions.

  1. How can I provide for an equitable distribution of my estate among my children?
  2. Who should control and eventually own the family business?
  3. How can I use my business to fuel the growth of my estate outside of my business interests?
  4. How do I provide for my family’s income needs, especially those of my spouse and dependent children, after my death?
  5. How can I help preserve my assets from the claims of creditors during my lifetime and at my death?
  6. How can I minimize estate taxes?

An owner’s thoughtful answers to these questions will provide a smoother business transition for all parties involved and may well prevent/avoid a very difficult family situation.  Owners with questions about creating an estate plan prior to their business exit should contact an estate planning professional.

Happy Holidays!

Steve Sink CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

A New Year's resolution you can keep

HelpDanny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker who often speaks about networking to groups.

It's that time of year again. The time when we all look back at the prior year and decide what we need to change or improve about ourselves in the upcoming twelve months. 

We vow that "this will be the year" we lose that extra 15 pounds, run Dam to Dam, write that memoir, or take that trip. During the first few weeks of January we stick to this resolution with the fortitude of Ralphie trying to get the Red Rider BB gun in "A Christmas Story". By the end of Febraury most of us have forgetton about the goals we set just a couple of months earlier. The year goes by and the cycle repeats itself. 

I think we can break this cycle this year because I have a resolution almost anyone can keep. It's so simple but the impact it will have on you, and others around you, will make it worth your time. It will help make our community a better place while also helping you in ways you can't imagine right now.  So, what is this resolution? I want everyone reading this blog to vow to ask the following question to at least one different person a week during 2015 - "How can I help you?" And then do whatever is in your power to help the person with his or her request. 

I started asking this question to every person I had coffee with or met during 2014. It's been amazing to hear what people need when they're finally given the opportunity to tell someone who will listen.  The requests have ranged from helping with fundraisers, to finding a babysitter, to listening for potential job openings. The best part of asking "How can I help you?" is the unlimited potential that resides on the other side of the question.  It also gives you the opportunity to be someone's hero. I have tried to help with any request given to the best of my ability with varying levels of success.  

It's also surprising what happens to you when you help someone else acheive a goal. Doors begin to open to opportunities you never knew existed. I've been able to speak to college campuses, develop classes, and raise tens of thousands of dollars for charities all because I asked others how I could help them. 

So, starting January 1, ask one person a week "How can I help you?" and then share your stories with me at danny@dannybeyer.com.  I'll share the best stories through this blog throughout 2015 so readers can see what differences are being made in our great community because of one simple question. Good luck and happy 2015 everyone!  Let's change the world, one person at a time. 

The entertainment factor isn't enough

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

We all love funny advertising.  Heck -- it's why have the country watches the Super Bowl. Surprisingly -- one of the companies that has produced some very memorable TV ads over the past couple years is Kmart.  

Based on their category and their financial woes, you wouldn't really expect Kmart to be all that funny, but's definitely been their goal.  Who can forget the infamous Ship My Pants spots?

Last Christmas, they brought us the Show Your Joe spot, which had boxer clad men ringing in the holiday cheer.  These spots have earned Kmart a lot of public exposure and conversation because while some think they're funny, others find them offensive.  

This year, Kmart continued the Joe Boxer spots with Jingle Bellies (below) and Santa Baby.

 

The spots are memborable, funny/offensive depending on your take, and clearly promoting a specific product.  But do they work?

"I want to be in the conversation," says Diane Vaccaro, chief marketing officer at Kmart Apparel. "I want to be part of the conversation in a disruptive and authentic way."

Last year's controversial spot "forced folks to consider Kmart," says Vaccaro. "A number told us that they hadn't been in Kmart for years but the ad made them go back. We struck a chord."

Most importantly, it boosted the store's Joe Boxer sales last year. Now the question is -- will it work again this year?  Kmart has had a terrible year and needs a huge uptick over the holiday season to try to balance those results.

These spots are a huge risk for Kmart...but if the results begin to heal their financial woes, it was a risk worth taking.

Here's the real (and only) question. Would these spots change your buying patterns?  Would you go to Kmart because of them?  If your answer is yes -- they win. If you're answer is no, then they just paid millions of dollars to make a non-customer laugh.

We market to sell.  That's it -- the only measure that truly matters is did the cash register ring.

 

Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees & entrepreneurs

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive employee engagement. 

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Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees and entrepreneurs -- they don’t usually go together, but in the world of business they oddly can.

Squirrel suits (often known as wingsuits) are suits worn when one wants to “fly” as they skydive or jump off of a high cliff or building.

Golf clubs are used in the game many of us play for leisure and even for relationship building.

Both provide a good time and serve as enjoyment for a specific crowd. In addition, both cost about the same. However one comes with a much higher risk (skydiving) vs. the easy-going game of golf.

So why does this matter in business?

It helps define the experiences of entrepreneurs versus employees.

Entrepreneurs are the ones who strap on the squirrel suit for the high risk/reward of launching a new venture. Most will fail, but the rush will be a surreal one in pursuit of success.

Employees are the golfers. They want to enjoy the game, develop their skills (as we all do in our careers) and have a consistent game to go play.

Both activities are a blast and both cost roughly the same financially. But a key thing to think about, is that they both take up the same amount of time.

With time as a consistent variable as well, why don’t more people strap on the squirrel suit? Most would say it’s the risk. The uncertainty. The fear.

As of 2012, 13 percent of the U.S. workforce was launching or running a business.* The data shows that the majority of us will build on something existing.

There are a lot more golf players out there, but the rush of being around the entrepreneurial experience is certainly tempting for many of us.

It’s no secret there’s a rise in the number of startup companies, the number of entrepreneurs (or wantrepreneurs) and the number of people clamoring to work in a startup/innovative company. Millennials are demanding more from their work experience than any generation before and are wanting an active part in shaping their team and company’s future.

So how can you capture that entrepreneurial energy inside your own organization?

Engaging employees using innovation is a great start. Every employee can add value beyond their current role to better the organization. Many of these employees have the ability to be “intrapreneurs” - entrepreneurs inside the company or internal innovators, but they need the framework or “permission” to make it a reality.

Jumpstarting intrepreneurs inside a team, a business unit or an entire organization can seem daunting. Luckily, it’s not at all. Companies around the globe run simple innovation experiences where employees are asked to share ways to better the organization, flesh out new concepts and map out how to bring them to life.

These experiences can be in the form of brainstorming sessions, internal hackathons, code jams, creation jams or any other short-term experience that sparks a newfound approach internally.

The majority of us don’t put on squirrel suits, but it doesn’t mean we can’t experience the same rush when we work.

-----

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

*Babson Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013

When the rush is over

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place.

With Christmas still a week away, it’s pretty difficult for small retailers to start thinking about what to do when the rush is over. The truth is, every owner and employee of a small retail business should be more focused than ever on delivering quality customer service right up to the minute the lights go out on Christmas Eve.   

When the lights come back on next Friday morning, though, smart retailers are going to have an eye on the year ahead even as they handle the usual number of returns and welcome post-Christmas bargain hunters. They're also going to be focused on the year that's almost over.

The weeks right after Christmas are the perfect time to evaluate the five P’s – products, people, pricing, planning and process.

Which products sold? And which ones didn’t? Which ones sold out? And did you lose revenue by not having enough of those items in stock? Take some time to pinpoint the reasons why certain products sold or didn’t. Did you overstock or under-stock? Do you make the most effective use of sampling?

Did you price products too low or too high? Did your pricing provide you with a solid profit margin? Did you actually make any money?

Did your people meet or exceed your expectations? Do they need more training? Or do they deserve a bonus?

Did you have the right plan for the holiday season? And did you execute it properly with the right ordering, marketing, display, packaging and staffing processes?

Take time as you go along the next few weeks to write down what worked, what didn’t and why. A year from now you may remember what you did, but you may not remember if it was a success or not. Get rid of any inventory that’s just taking up space by sampling it and putting it on clearance as quickly possible.

It’s also the right time to follow up with key clients and new customers so you can thank them for their business.

And, finally, when that’s all done – take a deep breath and relax. You’ve earned it.

It might sound crazy...what I'm about to say

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Okay, I admit it!  I am addicted to "The Voice."  I even cast my vote on Tuesday morning for Matt McAndrew. When I started watching I knew nothing about the judges but now am a big fan of Pharrell Williams.

Most think of Pharrell as the singer of "Happy" but the animals of the oceans are happy because of his collaboration with the Vortex Project. The Vortex Project is all about recycling nearly 40 million tons of plastic that ends up in the ocean.  The plastic blows into the ocean or is dumped by ships directly into the ocean. Nothing degrades plastic except sunlight. Small pieces are digested by wildlife or sea life become entangled in a web of plastic. Another problem is that the toxins in the plastic reside inside fish that we end up eating.

The Vortex Project is named from five massive ocean vortexes that swirl and slowly collect massive amounts of plastic. Much of it also shows up on our beaches. What do you do with tons of recycled plastic? Find a rock star to incorporate the waste into high fashion.

Along comes Pharrell. He is creative director of Bionic Yarn which produces denim from recycled materials. The clothing line is called Raw for the Oceans and features jeans and other clothing made exclusively out of recycled plastic from the ocean.  I checked online and you can get jeans from $110 to $210 a pair.  I know what you are thinking but think of the baby turtles you saved.

I would be happy to know what you think of Pharrell’s venture.  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Year-end business deductions: the two-minute drill.

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

While April 15 gets all the glamor, tax-savvy folks know that December 31 is where the real action is. While you add up the score in April, December is when you run the two-minute drill.

You can't run a good two-minute offense if you don't know the rules of the game (to continue the sports theme at least one paragraph too far). It doesn't help that with last-minute legislative tax law changes, year-end planning this year is like running a two-minute drill in a game of Calvinball. Yet we have to plan with the tax law we have, not the one we would prefer, so here are some notes you can write on your wrist as you call your year-end tax plays.

100_0438Figure out where you are on the field. The quarterback running a two-minute drill will call different plays on one ten-yard line than he will on the other. You need to pencil out your taxable income to-date for any year-end planning moves to succeed other than by accident. When you run the numbers, you may find that your deductions will end up being more valuable next year.

If you are planning for your business, figure out whether you are a cash-basis or an accrual-basis taxpayer. The rules to get a deduction are different.

Cash-basis businesses record their income when they receive the check. The tax law says you can't defer income by letting uncashed checks accumulate; if you can deposit a check, you've earned it, as far as the IRS is concerned.

Cash basis taxpayers generally deduct an expense when it is "paid." When does that happen?

- If the item is paid for with a credit card, it is "paid" when it is charged to the card, even if the card balance isn't paid until a later year.

- If the item is paid with a check, it is "paid" when the check is mailed (postmarked), even if the check isn't cashed until a later year.

There are limits on cash-basis deductions. For example, you can't prepay items for more than a year at a time, and there are other rules that can apply to deal with taxpayers that try to do too much of a good thing.

Accrual basis taxpayers pick up income when they have earned the income, even if they haven't been paid yet. For example, a wholesaler will normally record income when it ships the goods, even on credit. Accrual taxpayers generally get their deductions when they meet the "all events" test: all events have occurred to fix the liability, and it can be determined with reasonable accuracy. 

The tax law applies some special limits to expense accruals. For example, the tax law has an "economic performance" requirement that limits accruals until "economic performance" of the activity giving rise to the deduction take place.

You can't just accrue an expense and never pay it if you want to deduct it. Accrued compansation has to be paid within 2 1/2 months of year-end to be deductible. Most other expenses need to be paid no later than 8 1/2 months after year-end.

The related party rules are the biggest practical limit on accrual-method deductions. An accrual basis taxpayer can't deduct an amount accrued to a cash-basis "related party" -- such as a bonus accrued to an owner -- until the related party has to include the payment in income. Whether you are "related" depends a lot on what entity you use to run your business. For example, a person owning 10 percent of a corporation would not be related to a corporation taxed as a C corporation, but would be related if the same corporation were an S corporation. You might even be related to an entity that you don't own at all if a relative is an owner.

Of course, being cash-basis or accrual-basis does nothing to help you deduct an expense that isn't deductible in the first place. Not everything your business can write a check for gets you an immediate deduction, or a deduction at all. Payments for salary have to be "reasonable," so writing a "salary" check to Grandma in Florida whose service to the business consists of monitoring her bingo card isn't going to work. If you buy a car for the business, you face annual deduction limits for vehicles. Owner life insurance premiums are rarely deductible. You get the idea.

With the likely re-enactment of the $500,000 Section 179 expense and 50 percent bonus depreciation for 2014, many owners are tempted to buy a new depreciable asset by year-end to get a big deduction. Be careful. It's not enough to pay for a fixed asset by year end; it has to be "placed in service" by then to be deductible this year. That means the asset has to be on-site and set up and ready to operate. A new machine in a crate on the loading dock at year-end isn't "in service" and won't give you a deduction.

And be sure to consult your tax professional. Even the best quarterback needs a good coach. Every taxpayer is different, and a move that might score for Jill might be a distance and loss-of-down penalty for Jane.

 

Golfing with bananas

GolfingWithBananasImage

Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership."

After his college wrestling career ended, my uncle, Terry Paustian, became a high school teacher and coached wrestling for 17 years. Two-years after what he thought was the end of his coaching career, the high school athletic director asked if he would consider becoming the coach for the boys' golf team, a decision that was likely driven by desperation (the previous coach had suddenly resigned). 

My uncle wasn’t a golfer. He knew very little about the sport, and he had a wrestler’s mentality––a mindset which is 180 degrees different from those who golf. Reluctantly, he accepted the position.

After selecting the team following tryouts (which he did by simply selecting the 16 players with the best scores), Terry began to watch and observe them during practice. He could tell that many of the players had already established their games through private coaching and the help of others far more qualified. That was a good thing; he didn’t feel he had anything of “real value” to teach them that would improve their swing or putt.

But through simple observation, he came to the realization that golf is a mental game as much as it is a physical one, and his sole job as coach was to teach these kids to keep their minds out of the way of their performance. He decided to apply some of the same psychological techniques he had once used with his wrestlers.

As the team prepared to play for the conference championship––an event the school had not won in over a decade––Terry could see they were all quite nervous. When they stood up and grabbed their clubs to exit the bus, he yelled, “Hey! Who told you to get out? Sit down!” The boys immediately sat. He then reminded them that the school had not won this event in a very long time, but he knew why.

My uncle paused, and said, “In the past, this team has been in it to win right up to the last few holes, and then everyone’s game starts to slide. It’s not that anyone lacked the talent or desire to win. Your bodies just started giving out after 15 holes. What you need,” he paused again for dramatic effect, “…is potassium! It will lift you up, and I guarantee you will play great for the last three holes.” He held up a bunch of bananas, began tossing them at each player, and said, “Bananas, full of potassium and natural steroids; you won’t believe how this works. Trust me!”

Throughout the match he continued to toss bananas to his players. Before his golfers began teeing off on the 16th hole, Terry looked at them and said, “Banana.” They would look at him and nod.

The boys’ golf team won the conference championship. They finished undefeated in duals. They won three additional tournaments and the district match. But they only finished second at state. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that my uncle forgot the bananas for that particular meet. 

Sticky Thinking (or creativity) is frequently the result of a question, in this case the question of how to best coach. By sticking with an approach used to help his wrestlers with the need to distract his golfers, my uncle was able to help his team overcome a huge psychological barrier to success––themselves.

A simple question led to the sticky thinking behind the invention of the Polaroid camera, after a 3-year-old girl asked to see a photo of her that had just been taken. A simple question also led a group of watermelon farmers in Zentsuji, Japan, to come up with a more efficient way to ship and store them––the creation of the square watermelon.

Let’s get sticky and start asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:

- What would the company look like that had the ability to put me out of business?

- What words would I use to describe myself? What words would others use?

- If I wasn’t already doing this, what field would I go into today?

- What do people really care about today?

- Is there a better way of doing this?

- What if I were to challenge all of the assumptions in this field (or business) and do something that sounds truly crazy?

Practice Challenge:  A key to sticky thinking is the natural ability to continually ask questions. Like a little kid to an adult, ask again and again. Question the why or what behind everything. Practice makes permanent.

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianLargeHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

Arson and organizational management

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

Whether you’re working within the C-suite, board of directors, or a community group, there is often a common factor: an “arsonist” in your midst. This person or group is easy to identify – they are the ones who may raise objections to what seems like everything and anything. They may appear, to the balance of the group, an impediment to progress or moving forward, but I would argue that tapping into the spirit of this group may actually lead to more robust success and greater buy-in for your organization.

There are many mechanisms for dealing with conflict, some collaborative, some individual. There is also a lot of value in bringing up opposing viewpoints within the framework of productive discussion. Let’s use the context of a board of directors to better explain how to address and integrate what, on the surface, appears to be a negative:

The Problem: A board of directors is trying to make a decision about taking on a new program. No matter what perspectives are presented, there remains a single individual who needs more information, needs the information formatted differently, or feels like they were left out of this discussion.

Potential Solution 1: Address the problem with this person directly and on an individual basis. Make sure the person understands their contribution about the program is important, and that they should keep collaboration in mind when bringing up opposing viewpoints. This strategy allows you to indicate that the person’s contribution is valuable, and that the board desires them to work with the remainder of the team to develop solutions together.

Potential Solution 2: Structure a task force or a small work group, including this person, with a mission-supported project to work on related to the program. This will allow the person to take the lead on efforts central to the organization’s success and channel their energy toward being productive in a more focused environment. This also provides the opportunity for the person to develop shared experiences with other board members, which can temper the sharing of disagreements with the board as a whole. This is not meant to eliminate the alternate viewpoint; it is meant to change the culture and process of how it is shared.

Both of the above solutions above afford the chance for the "arsonist" in question to use a more positive construct. Redirecting negative or questioning energy into momentum forward demonstrates the commitment that the organization has to the individual, provides a forum for that person’s thoughts and opinions, and illustrates to the rest of the board that there are positive ways to be inclusive.

There is a Latin phrase from Virgil that goes “flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo” which translates to “if I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” If the natural tendency of the arsonist is to set small proverbial fires or even to burn the whole thing down, the organization must try and mitigate this by giving the individual opportunities to redirect their energy into making a contribution to the success of the full group. A little fire is good – it builds passion and engagement in an organization. The key is to not let the flames get out of control.

Your business’s year-end, legal checklist

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

From reassessing your business insurance policies, to reviewing your employee handbook and updating permits and licenses, the holiday season can serve as an annual reminder to prepare your organization for the new year. The list below could easily double or triple in length, but these three items capture fundamental business law issues that many organizations face.

Incorporate or change your business’s legal structure.  Whether you run a startup and hope to seek venture capital in 2015 or you are a partner in a partnership seeking greater liability protection, now is a great time to reassess your business’s legal structure to ensure it will meet your needs and expectations in 2015. A proper legal structure can not only help alleviate many liability concerns, but it can substantially impact tax consequences and help attract savvy employees and future investors. 

Secure authority to transact business in another state.  If business is booming or you are otherwise expanding in 2015 to transact business across state lines, ring in the new year on the right legal foot by securing a Certificate of Authority (if the new state’s law requires).  Some states, like Iowa, require certain out-of-state businesses to obtain a Certificate of Authority before transacting business in the state. Failing to obtain such approval may result in hefty fines and other legal ramifications. The ease and minimal cost of securing such a Certificate, if required, makes this item easy to checkoff your legal list.

Comply with corporate formalities.  Whether you overlooked holding an annual meeting for your corporation or failed to file a biennial report for your limited liability company, keep your business in good standing with the state and the law by complying with corporate formalities by year end.  Following corporate formalities may seem trivial, but doing so can help avoid significant legal headaches down the road.

Leading in matters of principle

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

What qualities do employees look for in their leaders? 

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity. Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

Ethics_wood

How do these qualities translate into actions we observe? When and how do leaders learn these behaviors? Great leaders learn them long before they are leaders. They practice them in situations, all day every day, not merely when called upon to lead. While these leaders realize that they may need to adjust their approach based on a unique situation—what some experts call situational leadership—they also realize that there is no place in leadership for situational ethics.  

Like Thomas Jefferson who cautioned “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current”, these leaders know that the only thing not subject to change is one’s principles.

Consider the following three examples:

1. The media is full of stories of business leaders who have left us all shaking our heads at their careless disregard of ethics and principles. The consequences of their actions have had a major negative impact for both their businesses and the people employed by them.  The names WorldCom, Enron, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are just a sampling of companies whose leaders were involved in corporate collapses and major scandals. Even those organizations that survive the scandal struggle to emerge from the shadow of the leader’s missteps – consider Tyco, BP and AIG. Today, the General Motors’ story continues to unfold as we examine the GM leaders’ handling of major safety issues that are viewed by many as unethical.

2. I do not object to hunting. Like 75 percent of adults in this country, I support legal, responsible hunting. What I object to is the disregard some hunters have for personal property. When my husband or I come across a hunter trespassing on our farm (with a gun; near our horses) we marvel at how the hunter’s story changes to fit the new situation. First the hunter claims to have permission to hunt. Then, the story changes to a claim of following a blood trail (to the uninitiated, a blood trail means that the hunter is tracking a wounded deer). Then, when help is offered to track the wounded deer, the story changes once again with a confession that the (alleged) trail is now lost.

Is the misuse of property by hunters any different than the misuse of resources by corporate leaders? While the consequences are certainly different, it could be argued that the (un)ethical behavior of the parties is the same.

3. I met two friends for a glass of wine after work. Charges for only two of the three glasses of wine were reflected on the bill.  My friend, who wasn’t charged for her glass, could have easily considered the oversight her good fortune. She didn’t. She pointed out the error. A $5 glass of wine—was it a big deal?  Absolutely!

What qualities do leaders look for in their employees

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity.  Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

In other words, the qualities that employees look for in their leaders are the same qualities that leaders look for in their employees. 

Shouldn’t they also be the same qualities we look for in our mirrors every day? Every day we all make ethical choices. Can I get away with misusing company assets? Can I trespass without being caught? Should I point out an error on a bill I received? 

Perhaps Shakespeare, as is so often the case, said it best. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”.  

Content marketing is a sales machine for your business

The average company spends a fair amount of time each year trying to convey its value and benefits to potential customers. What assets are you deploying in your quest to win the hearts and minds of your ideal customer?

Consider this: Most people investigate a purchase by searching online for ideas, information, prices and even your corporate values. What do people find when they Google your company's name, or the name of what you sell? If the answer is "not much," then you are in trouble. Content is king

For example, if you are a home building expert in Central Iowa, and someone Googles "Central Iowa home builder" and you don't come up on page 1 of Google results, then you have some work to do. Nobody will be able to find you. If your Google result is on page 2 of Google results, the chances of someone finding you decreases more than 88 percent. That means less than 12 percent of your potential customers will stumble upon your site and even fewer will click on the link to your website.

How do you get attention without paying for ads? The answer is content marketing. Here are some ways to use the content you may already produce to attract the ideal buyer right to your business.

  1. Optimize your website with fresh content: When a potential customer comes to your site, does the page reflect the latest information about your company? Is the content engaging? Is there a specific call to action or next step the visitor is encouraged to take? Besides engagement - search engines love fresh content and rank it higher.
  2. Keep social media interactions current and engaging: Like it or not, people expect to be able to reach you on social channels. They'll be asking questions, seeking customer service interaction, and hoping you notice their latest complaint. Are you ready to interact in real time?
  3. Add a newsroom and keep it up to date: If you have a positive public relations success, you can put that story to work for your sales team indefinitely by posting it to the newsroom on your site. Over time, your newsroom will be filled with information that your customers can find and read when they discover your site. It's like creating your own media channel, except you don't have to ask anyone for help. The messages are yours to define and you can publish whatever you want.
  4. Seek customer testimonials: Nothing is more powerful than a third-party endorsement. Use your imagination - don't just post text to your site. Add photos and video to create a richer viewer and more impactful experience.
  5. Show your employee's faces and let them be spokespeople for your brand. Many websites don't feature the names and faces of their employees, and that is a mistake. Employees are brand ambassadors - let them tell your story in their own way and on their own social platforms, too.

Digital content marketing is a very effective way to tell get positive messages into the public sphere without breaking the bank. All it takes is a little planning, knowing what you want to promote, and the time it takes to write and post the content to your digital properties. It's an extremely authentic and enduring way to get noticed.

Claire Celsi is a public relations professional in West Des Moines, Iowa. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Extremely high-frequency referrals

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Extremely high-frequency (EHF) radio band is perhaps the next ‘big thing’ in the sphere of technology. Admittedly, it sounds like something you wouldn’t give a second glance at while wading through your kid’s science fair. But supposedly this technology is going to change the way large amounts of data (movies, photos) are transferred between devices. It is kind of like the near-field communication (NFC) that Apple Pay relies on - with one significant difference. EHF clocks at around 6 gigabytes per second whereas NFC is capable of about 400 kilobits a second. So, rather than tapping phones to transfer contact information or credit card details, you can instantly share entire photo albums. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Screenshot 2014-12-07 21.45.40We’ve known about EHF radio band for a long time - but it is the application which is changing. The biggest challenge is overcoming atmospheric attenuation. Now, I know you didn’t come here to read a science paper, so bear with me. Simply put, particles in our atmosphere interfere with the radio waves, so the greater the distance, the weaker the signal. As a result, two devices must be held closely together to transfer data. Not nearly as convenient as Wi-Fi (top speed of 1.35 gigabits per second), but much quicker.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, I rely on it every day to connect to the internet to share information with thousands of people. I like to compare it to traditional marketing; the bread and butter of reaching new prospects for any business. Establishing your brand, creating content, paying for advertisements on Facebook, really whatever tactic one uses to reach out to new prospects. And it works, but there are often several hurdles you must overcome to convince someone new to buy your product or services.

Casting a wide net is important to set the foundation for a marketing strategy. It builds your brand and supports your ability to close. But don’t forget about looking inward, to your existing client base, for new business. Often times companies are so busy attracting new clients that they forget to leverage promoters for referrals. One of the greatest advantages of referral marketing is the speed of closing the deal. Like EHF radio band, referrals result in lightning quick transfer of trust from a happy client to a new prospect.

Studies also show that people regularly rely on people close to them to make purchase decisions. The Nielsen Company surveyed more than 29,000 respondents and found that the advice of family and friends (77 percent) is the most persuasive when looking for information about new products or services. It seems that the more personal the product or service, the more people rely on their loved one for direction. According to a 2014 report performed by the Hinge Research Institute 87 percent of prospects begin their search for insurance by turning to friends and family.

I don’t recommend that you eschew a traditional marketing strategy and rely solely on referrals. But I do believe most businesses should give a close look to referral marketing when exploring ways to increase sales. Like EHF, referrals are nothing new. It is what you do to increase them that makes the difference.

Christi's top 5 leadership books of 2014

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive & leadership coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc., and leader of the ASPIRE Success Club.

If you are an avid reader, you know the pressure surrounding the question, “What’s your #1 book recommendation?” What?! Just one? It feels a little like being asked to choose your favorite child!

Books - 2014 Top PicksBut difficult as it is, this year – as I do every year – I will embrace the challenge and share my favorite leadership reads. These five books made it onto my reading list in 2014 (though not all were published this year) and have affected my and many of my clients’ work, leadership, and life in profound ways.

(One caveat: This list does not include books about which I’ve already blogged; if it did, It’s Your Ship by D. Michael Abrashoff and It Worked For Me by Colin Powell easily would have made the cut.)

My Top 5 Leadership Books In 2014:

Fearless Leadership by Carey Lohrenz 

A former F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Lohrenz shares an extraordinary story of perseverance, passion, and not letting obstacles keep you from your dreams. The lessons she learned easily translate to the business context, reminding us that the fundamentals of leadership apply whether we work in an office, from our homes, or in the cockpit of a jet. I found the chapter on vision particularly compelling: “No matter how much time we spend developing a strategic plan,” writes Carey, “if the vision is not clear, the strategy will not matter.”

Repacking Your Bags by Richard Leider and David Shapiro 

With so many adults (more than 70 percent, according to Gallup) dissatisfied or disengaged at work, Leider and Shapiro’s book helps readers define – then begin achieving – meaning and purpose at work and in life. Their formula for the good life: “Living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” If you feel the need to do something different with your days but aren’t sure exactly what, this book can help you start to uncover the answers.

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman 

A fascinating and extremely helpful resource for an area that weighs heavily on our success: confidence. The authors interview leaders from sports, politics, psychology, and more to share why so many of us struggle with confidence and what we can do to increase it. The main message? Take action. “Action separates the timid from the bold” is a line I highlighted, underlined, and starred. Terrific practical suggestions throughout this excellent book.

Before Happiness by Shawn Achor 

If you are unfamiliar with Achor, start by watching his TED Talk, “The Happy Secret To Better Work.” This Harvard scholar teaches us, in a hilarious but research-based way, how to stop waiting for happiness and instead create it for ourselves – and why this is so important to workplace success and emotional well-being. He poses a terrific question I’d encourage leaders to ask regularly: “What are you doing to help people at work fall in love with your company?”

Life By The Cup by Zhena Muzyka 

This one just snuck into my reading pile last month and quickly made this list. Zhena created her tea business out of passion and necessity (to pay medical bills for her young son). Her story is a fantastic testament to the power of designing work around clear values and a compelling mission, as well as demonstrating how significantly that clarity helps with challenges, enticing but questionable requests, and a company’s bottom line. “Each of us is born with a particular genius,” writes Muzyka. “Our job in life, our purpose, is to uncover and use it.” I adore coffee but this book has even inspired me to drink more tea!

It’s been an incredible year for books; several others nearly made this list, but these five stand out as truly exceptional. (Feel free to check out my 2012 and 2013 selections, too.) Oh, and for the record, all three of my children are my favorites!

What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Share your recommendations below!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotLearn more about Dr. Christi Hegstad's coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Fearless Leadership (Greenleaf, 2014); Repacking Your Bags (Berrett-Koehler, 2012); The Confidence Code (HarperCollins, 2014); Before Happiness (Crown, 2013); Life By The Cup (Atria, 2014).

Techno-data-lust: A fresh perspective

Tom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.

For the past year or two I have been on a self-imposed hiatus from the business blogging world. I took the hiatus for a number of reasons, but chief among them was a desire to step back, look around, and get some perspective on a rapidly changing marketplace.

One of the largest trends I've seen in recent years is what I like to call techno-data-lust.

For over twenty years I've been involved in the contact center industry, and I have attended my share of mega-global-exposition-conferences. I've even been asked to speak at a few of them. Even in conferences and workshops that are about serving customers, I began to notice a trend. Big technology firms drive the conference. They pay for the conference with their sponsorship and effectively purchase the keynote sessions to hawk their latest suite of bolted-together software telephony package which they promise will increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, tell you anything you ever wanted to know about your customers, and provide enough big data to make Edward Snowden blush in his Russian dacha.

Then, each week I step into a client's office and watch the trickle down effect of techno-data-lust:

  • IT departments become the tail that wags the corporate dog as they have the power to procure, install, configure, and roll-out the technology.
  • Operations find that the really cool technology creates as many obstacles as it does solutions in serving customers in moments of truth when the customer reaches out for help.
  • Customers wait 14 minutes while it takes two agents to locate a tracking number in the cool, new, state-of-the-art system (I actually analyzed that call).
  • The voice-analysis software that was going to replace the QA department and provide much better results than actually listening to calls becomes a quagmire. Instead of listening to calls and coaching agents the FTEs spend their days programming searches, key words, and inquiries and then weed through a plethora of false positives. When I talked to my client a year after implementation they were still trying to make it work. "It cost so much money," the mantra went, "we have to use it."
  • Managers often get a ton of data out of the system. They just don't have time to sort through the gigabytes of it and find anything useful. I love it when I ask for a simple list of customers who called the previous day with their contact information, and receive blank looks and the scratching of heads.
  • You know that really cool feature the salesman told you about in the presentation? That's actually not part of the basic suite you purchased, but for an additional $10,000 they can turn that feature on.
  • Oh, and by the way, the state-of-the-art software you just implemented is already obsolete. You should see the new technology they introduced at last week's expo in Las Vegas!

Please don't read what I'm not typing. My hiatus has given me fresh perspective, but I'm no David Thoreau (though I find sitting, unplugged, by the lake a good thing). I'm not advocating abandoning the world and all that technology can do for us.

I am, however, advocating that we admit that technology can't do everything for us. Technology is a tool, not an answer. Sometimes we spend so much time chasing after the latest technology that we miss the bus.

At the end of the day, I find that our greatest need is a human one. We need people to communicate, work together, and utilize our human gifts, intelligence, and creativity to connect vision with implementation, problems with solutions, and customers with exceptional products/services. I'm finding that clients who learn to moderate their techno-data-lust are healthier that the ones who try to satiate it.

Selling your business? Questions to ask a lawyer

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Before you start to sell your business, consider that you might want to discuss the following points with an attorney:

1.    Are you truly ready to sell?

2.    How many business transactions has the attorney done?

3.    What is the chemistry between the two of you?

4.    What is the level of the negotiating skill?

5.    Do they understand the current market?

6.    Do they have a thorough understanding of your objectives and are in agreement?

7.    Will they work with your other advisers?

8.    Are they focused on getting a deal done?

9.    Have they provided you with an estimated cost to complete the transaction?

10.  Are you confident that they will be as competent, or more so, than the other party’s   attorney?

11.  Do they understand who they work for?

 

Good Luck,

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Web summit: The world talks about tech

Katie Stocking is the founder and President at Happy Medium LLC.

I recently attended Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland. In just five years, Web Summit has grown to be one of the largest tech conferences in the world. This year, more than 20,000 people gathered together from all around the world, turning Dublin into the international tech capital for three days.

Speakers included Dropbox founder, Drew Houston; Tinder Founder & CEO, Sean Rad; Evernote CEO, Phil Libin;  former Apple CEO, John Sculley; Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer, Padmasree Warrior; Eva Longoria and many more. Women in tech, the future of media and digital advertising, and the Internet of things were hot topics amongst speakers and attendees. 

One presentation that stuck out to me the most was a quick, ten-minute talk called “Digital Marketing is Dead”. The title alone got me in the room and riled up to hear what this crank had to say about my livelihood. The “crank’ was Cillian Kieran, founder & CEO at CKSK, and he was incredibly inspiring.  What he meant by “Digital Marketing is Dead” is that digital should not be confined to just marketing, we should all be focused on becoming digital businesses.

So how do we become digital businesses? Primarily, we must stop thinking in silos. Digital permeates and transforms everything including manufacturing, logistics, distribution, IT, sales and, of course, marketing. We must develop digital technology horizontally across all business units and it starts at the very top of the organization.

Kieran provided seven observations for digital transformation, all of which are extremely important:

  1. Never fear failure. Be willing to break with your industry’s best practices.
  2. Assume nothing. Remember to question everything around you.
  3. Forget about consumers. Instead, remember real people.
  4. Solve a problem. Remember to be an engineer and make truly useful things.
  5. User experience is like fairy dust. Liberally sprinkle it on everything.
  6. Test and learn. Fast. Think of it as rinse, wash, repeat.
  7. Take (small) smart risks. Take 10 percent of your budget for agile experimentation.

Challenge yourself to go digital in your entire business, including marketing, and tweet me your thoughts @klstocking.

--Katie

 

Does your 2015 plan take the social compass into account?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm hoping that you've started on your 2015 marketing plan. Brian Solis created a very interesting infographic to help marketers think through their communications strategy from a very different perspective.  

As Brian said on his own blog, "Inspired by a moral compass, The Social Compass serves as our value system when defining our program activities. It points a brand in a physical and experiential direction to genuinely and effectively connect with customers, peers, and influencers, where they interact and seek guidance online.

It was designed to guide us from the center outward. However, it can also impact how a business learns and adapts by reversing the process and listening to customers and influencers through each channel from the outside in."

Take a look at the infographic he created and use it to identify holes or missing pieces in your own plan for the upcoming year. While it's called a social marketing compass, it actually includes both on and offline elements.

This would also be a great tool to stimulate a brainstorming session for you and your team.

Socialmediacompass

 

 

My 4-year-old is a better networker than me

IMG_1196Danny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

One of the greatest things about having kids, especially little kids, are the life lessons they inadvertently reteach us.

We unlearn so many crucial skills in dealing with people as we are taught about political correctness or the history of underwater basket weaving in school. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for higher education and learning, my wife is a teacher after all.  However, most of the time the skills that people find the most difficult to learn (soft skills, people skills) are simply forgotten as all of this new information is presented. 

Don’t believe me? Sit back and watch a group of 4-year-olds. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is for them to meet new people, build quick bonds, and get to know someone with no actual effort on their part. 

Why is it so easy for kids to do this? I think it comes down to three simple things: 

  1. They smile, a lot. Kids are typically pretty happy and all they want to do is have fun. They play, they run, they tell ridiculous jokes that make no sense, and, most of all, they smile.They are happy to meet new people and are even happier when old friends return. Their smile is genuine and heartfelt. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when the person you are with is constantly happy and smiling. 
  2. They notice the little things and are quick to compliment. My daughters notice when I get a haircut before anyone else and they tell me how nice it looks every time. All of the little things I take for granted, they notice. New socks get as much attention as if I just brought home a puppy. Their praise may be over the top but they mean every word.  
  3. They have a real curiosity about each person they meet. Young kids haven’t discovered the urge or desire to talk about themselves. They are much more interested in what everyone else around them is doing or saying to let their egos get in the way. And if they don’t understand something they are quick to ask “why” for clarification. The more they know about you, the better.

The next time you think networking isn’t for you or it’s too hard to meet new people, think back to that group of kids interacting on the playground. We all used to be really good at getting to know strangers until the world got in the way. We are all built to build relationships. Put a smile on your face, give a genuine compliment, and listen more than you talk.  It really is that simple. 

Journeys, destinations, and other adventures

Joe Benesh is a Senior Architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

One of the most familiar tag lines out there is that success is a journey, not a destination. I usually try and steer clear of tag lines, except when I feel they truly do capture an important point efficiently. In a previous blog, we explored the differences between strategies and tactics. In this blog, I’d like to talk a little about the third part of the strategy ecosystem: goals.

Goals are the most challenging thing faced by any facilitator. In theory, they are the destination statement. This organization will do “X”. But that question can and should be more complicated than that. Keeping in mind the distinction between strategies, tactics, and goals, I would like to expand our definition of what a goal truly is within the context of success metrics.

Managing a team creatively often involves being a bit less clear about what the end result should be. A proximal goal is one that I feel is more journey-based – “do your best work” or “invent something new”. Those are goals to be sure, but the emphasis is on what happens in getting there - the innovation – rather than the end point.

This is a valuable argument in favor of the 20 percent time used by aerospace industries during the space age of the 1960s, which is still in use today at many software companies. This "free" time has produced products ranging from magnetic space boots to Gmail. Those inventions were not set as goals; they came as a result of an innovative process that was put in place.

But it’s not fair to completely discount the end result. The process must lead somewhere and it’s not always fair to put so much pressure on process. Sometimes clearly established goals can also lead to innovative thought. As someone who really enjoys movies, I’ve always found movies like “All Is Lost” and “Apollo 13” interesting in the context of how a clearly distal goal - in those cases the goal being survival – creates a de facto state of innovation to reach that goal. Necessity is the mother of invention in practice.

Distal and proximal goals are different things and depend on the situation and circumstances, but both are important parts of organizational growth. Organizations or groups can also use combinations of these types of goals to better define the other. Setting a proximal goal can help form a distal goal more clearly, and the reverse is true. Both are different tools for different outcomes.

Proximal goals, when used in helping formulate distal goals are generally more effective in establishing process-based or qualitative criteria, whereas distal goals, when used to clarify proximal goals, will tend to focus more on quantitative outcomes. In both instances, you can see that success is defined by the journey and the destination. In fact, how you define the journey and how you define the destination is at the very core of how you can define what success looks like for your organization.

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