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June 2015

Social media for retailers 2: selection and content

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

Last month, I wrote about the indisputable value of a social media presence for a specialty retailer to generate online interest and strengthen connections with existing customers.

Hopefully, you're convinced that a social media presence is the right thing for your business. Once you're there, the next step is to decide how to begin the process of adapting to social media, and how to turn those likes into customers.

The array of social media platforms can make your head spin, especially if you're old enough to remember anything before 1990! There's Facebook, of course. And Twitter. Pinterest. Instagram. LinkedIn. Google+ Vine. Snapchat. Flickr. Vimeo. YouTube. And the list doesn't stop there. So, where does a specialty retailer begin?

According to the folks at Blue Frog Marketing, local firm that handles the Heart of Iowa Market Place's social media, Facebook is the preferred platform for Des Moines' adult internet users. I prefer using Facebook over any other platform because you can have more content and describe the product.

Other platforms are limited. Instagram and Flickr only allow you to post pictures, and Twitter limits you to only 142 characters. These are great platforms to use for certain retailers, but I like to describe my products with a little more detail.

Once you choose the platform or platforms that are right for your business, how do you manage things? The best part about social media is that anyone can operate it. No, you don’t need your knuckle-headed teenage nephew to help you get started. Most sites guide you through the first couple of steps.

After you get started, you’ll want to set up a strategic plan on the content you want to post and how often you want to post it. The plan created for my business involves posting content to my Facebook page about two or three times a week, and then “boosting” my post. Boosting a post is a way to advertise on Facebook, and allows more people to view your post which will drive traffic to your page.

It will cost you to boost your posts, but Blue Frog's Raylee Melton says that recent changes by Facebook make it a worthwhile strategy.  “In January 2015, Facebook changed its algorithm which is called edgeranker. Before, any of your fans or friends would organically see your post. Since Facebook has taken off, they have been changing the algorithm, and this year they lowered it so that only 2 to 3 percent of your fans will see your post without boosting it."

Although it does cost to place a Facebook ad, it is still the most inexpensive way, I think, that a specialty retailer can advertise.

Next month: Making social meeting work

Pedal to the metal


- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

It is a beautiful June day in downtown Des Moines. You have the idea to grab lunch at one of the food trucks parked at the Western Gateway Park, but want to avoid the energy consumption of driving and the hassle of parking downtown.

Des Moines B-Cycle has your solution.  Purchase a membership to Des Moines B-Cycle, choose a bike from one of the many B-Cycle stations located throughout downtown Des Moines and cycle to your lunch destination.

It works like this:

  1. Purchase a membership online.  Memberships are good for 24 hours, 30 days or one year. You can also purchase a membership at a kiosk for 24 hours.
  2. Check out one of the bikes at any of the Des Moines B-Stations.
  3. Enjoy your ride.
  4. Return your bike to any B-Station. 

To encourage usage and bike availability, the first 60 minutes of every ride is free, but if a ride lasts over 60 minutes, a $2.50 usage fee will be added for each additional 30 minutes of use.

Des Moines B-Cycle memberships are inexpensive. From a 24-hour pass for $6 to an annual membership of $40 (offered through June 30), a person has access to bike checkouts from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 1 to Nov. 30. 

B-Cycles provide an easy transportation alternative to driving, and the B-cycles' internal GPS tracks the miles each member rode on each bike, estimates the number of calories burned, and estimates the carbon emissions avoided.

So follow this link to the Des Moines B-Cycle website then get out there and pedal!

https://desmoines.bcycle.com/top-nav-pages/home

 

Change begins with an ending

- Rowena Crosbie is president of Tero International  

 Typewriter_the end

 

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy;

for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves;

we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France

 

Reflect on the major changes in your life. It could be a career change, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, marriage, divorce… 

Did the changes involve an element of loss? 

All changes, both positive and negative, begin with a loss. They first begin with letting go of the old.

William Bridges wrote about this intuitively logical notion in his book Managing Transitions. As Bridges describes it, transition is the emotional process we go through to get from something old to something new. Before you arrive at the new location, you must leave home, travel through what Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone” which is neither home nor the intended destination.

Leaders, not surprisingly, are notoriously focused on the new. They are victims of the erroneous thinking that change begins with something new. While, it’s tempting to think of change as the beginning of something new, this mistake in thinking is a leading cause of change failures.

In reality, or at least in our emotional reality (which tends to take precedence over “objective reality”); change begins with an ending. Before we can move into the new, we must first leave the old. Leaders who fail to recognize reality this lead change at their peril.

Leaving the old behind

Consider moving houses. To be sure, there is a day when the moving van (or your friends and a truck) transfer your possessions from the old to the new. However, the change, as anyone who has made it knows, involves more than the physical move. 

You begin with letting go of the old. Mourning the loss of the familiar. Thinking about the memories (even if they aren’t fond ones). Once you actually move, things don’t quickly fall into place. You wake up in the middle of the night in a slightly unconscious state in search of a glass of water and walk into a wall because the old house didn’t have a wall in that location. 

You miss the old, familiar place. 

You have to find a new route to work. You realize how challenging this is when one evening you are on your way home and unconsciously find yourself driving to the old house. You have to find a new grocery store and the new one doesn’t arrange their shelves like the old one. It takes more time.   

You miss the old, familiar place. 

If you made your move with a family, not only are you dealing with the process of change, you are also leading others on the journey. They miss friends and neighbors at the old location, the old school, the favorite hairdresser, dry cleaner, banker, physician. 

You miss the old, familiar place. 

Some people find the process of leaving the end behind so challenging that they will go to great lengths to hang on to the old. Consider people who drive a couple of hours to keep their relationship with their hairdresser, banker or doctor.

Even a positive change like the birth of a child requires us to give up the way things were.  Countless new mothers and fathers experience tremendous guilt as they know societal norms demand that they be euphoric at this wonderful new change. While they love the new life entrusted to their care, they also suffer in silence wondering if there is something wrong with them as they grieve the simplicity of the life left behind. Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard this was going to be?  Am I the only one feeling like this? 

Even in the case of a planned, positive change, you miss the old, familiar place. 

In the workplace

New processes and systems, technological advances, new teams, new leaders, new products, growth, down-sizings, acquisitions, restructurings… the change itself doesn’t seem to matter much. The one thing they all have in common is that, like the personal changes we make, individuals in the workplace first must leave the old comfort zone behind before moving to the new.

Leadership strategy

What can leaders do to address this reality?  Stop, pause and dignify the ending.  Celebrate where we came from and what we’ve achieved before we run too fast into the change ahead.  Mourn the past – even the parts we are happy to leave behind.

Some ideas include:

  • Celebration
  • Themed luncheons
  • Tell stories (do you remember when…)
  • Validate the old
  • Thank people for their contributions
  • Allow time for grieving

Dignifying the ending is an important tradition when someone has died. It is the purpose of funerals and celebrations of life. It is critical to dignify the ending before we can move into the new. Retirement parties are designed for the same purpose.

Leaders can learn lessons on leading change from contemplating these important traditions. 

Don't use the "L" word in your marketing

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group 

    Luxury Market Faces a Drought in the USA as Affluents Choose Conscious Consumption, rather than Conspicuous Brands, according to Marketing in New Luxury Style in 2015: What Affluents Buy, How They Spend, Where They Shop & How They Feel about their Wealth & Finances. 

    In plain English — there’s a whole new trend in how people buy what might be perceived as luxury items. Today, people still want high-quality brands, but they aren’t willing to pay a premium any more.

    The recession has passed but for people with affluence, the values/behaviors that were triggered during the recession seem to have taken hold. Which is spelling trouble for luxury brands that have been hoping the market would rebound. That's not likely.

    In Unity Marketing’s latest survey among high-income consumers (who had an average income of more than $250K), affluent consumers demonstrated a definite increase in their consumer confidence but that was paired with a spending decline of 26.5 percent from the previous quarter.

    In the good old days as people felt wealthier, they tended to spend more money on consumer goods and services. But today a very different trend is taking hold. With people still stinging from the effects of the recession and the damage it did to their investments and home values, the affluent are sticking with their recession spending hold even though their wealth is holding steady or back on the increase.

    So what is a marketer to do? 

    You have to find the balance between demonstrating your product/service’s high quality but without giving it “the luxury stink.”  Talk about the value of what you offer, how long it will last, the importance of buying smart, etc. But do not use the “L” word. 

    Here’s another aspect of this new trend. The affluent are a little embarrassed that they’re affluent. They don’t want to flaunt it the way they might have enjoyed in the past.  Suddenly, it’s embarrassing if you’re well off.  

    So again, in your marketing — you have to emphasize the intelligence and practicality of the buy rather than spotlighting the exclusivity of the purchase.

    As the report states: “conspicuous consumption has turned to conscientious consumption in a new style of luxury.”

 

 

Are you genuine?

Genuine-quotes-5 Danny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services

    A few years ago I was attending a networking dinner. It was a typical event where everyone mingles for a happy hour and gradually takes a seat so the staff can take orders. I found myself sitting next to someone I didn’t know. We started the usual small talk, “Where are you from?”  “What do you do?” and so on.  It turned out he owned his own business in telephone lines. I tried asking some questions to get him to talk about what he did but the responses all seemed to be one-word answers.

    After 15 minutes I was bored and convinced that this person just couldn’t hold a conversation.  I turned to the person on my other side and promptly forgot everything I had been discussing prior.

    About six month later I found myself at another event with the same telephone line guy. We exchanged greetings and I made sure to sit at different table from him. One of my friends ended up sitting next to him. The evening went on and I occasionally glanced at their table. It struck me by how engaged she was in conversation with him. They were exchanging stories. She laughed. He laughed. It was completely opposite from the experience I had six months earlier. 

    The event ended and I rushed over to ask her how she did it. What did they talk about?  How did she get him to open up? Was he really that interesting? What did I do wrong? She looked at me and said, “Danny, everyone has a story. Everyone has something that makes them interesting. Everyone has something to teach or something I can learn. It’s my job to find that information.” That response changed my life.

    The biggest difference in her approach and mine was genuineness. She was genuinely interested in what the telephone guy was saying. I was trying to cover the basics, expecting him to just open up like a book. I wasn’t actually interested in what he was saying and he could tell. That’s why every question received the shortest answer possible.  She cared, I didn’t. She had a conversation and learned something. I got frustrated and gave up. 

    I followed up with telephone guy and asked for a one-on-one meeting the following week. We had a great conversation and I learned so much more about who he is and what he does. We've built a relationship and have done business together since that meeting.  Everyone has a story. Everyone has something they want to share. Something you can learn. It’s up to you to find that story and to have those great conversations. Be in the moment and be genuine.  

- Danny Beyer is the director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel

B&W HeadshotBusiness Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.

UX - 2 letters that are vital to your website

- Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

As the digital world continues to constantly evolve, I have to adapt to trends that are integral for myself and our clients. One area rising in interest and importance is User Experience (UX), a concept that involves the development, measurement and implementation of a product to best fit the end user. In the digital world, this can apply specifically to websites.

I asked Happy Medium web developer Jonna Buse, to write about what UX is and why it is vital to a website's success. Please enjoy her blog post - A lesson from "UX task #3":

A few years ago, I attended my first formal UX conference. If you have never heard of UX before, you are not alone. UX stands for User eXperience, and at that time, my department had only been using the term (and the processes that accompany it) for a couple of years.

I expected to meet a variety of people at the conference but went in with an assumption that most of them would come from comparable educational backgrounds as me (computer engineering and design studies). Only an hour into a networking happy hour, however, and I had met a former artist, patent lawyer, entrepreneur, behavioral psychologist, industrial designer, writer and astronaut. (Ok, I made that last one up, but that would have been cool.) I hadn’t even made it to a workshop yet and I had learned two valuable lessons: UX is a big field, and do not assume you know about people.

You may be wondering how all of those differing backgrounds at a single conference could fit under one UX industry umbrella. At the time, it seemed like an overwhelming amount of information to learn, but as I became more experienced in the field, I realized that most of the techniques and tools used by UX folks can be categorized into three basic areas: user research, design, and usability. Essentially, finding out who your users are and what they need, creating it and making sure it works.

On a recent Happy Medium website redesign project, we iterated through this whole research/design/usability cycle. We used a card-sort activity and survey to learn how users mentally organized the content on the site and what was important to them. We used that data to influence the visual design and direction of our early prototype. We then planned for the first round of usability testing. The design of the site seemed solid, and I confidently took our prototype down to our local business client and watched users as they performed some basic tasks.

Then “Task #3“ happened. The first user I tested with clicked an area of the site and just stared at the screen, eventually saying, “I think your prototype is broken.” Nope, it wasn’t. This particular interaction was not intuitive for this user, nor as it turned out, any of the subsequent users. Back to the lesson I learned a few years back – you are not the user. Often times usability testing can feel like watching a child put his shoes on backwards, but for a designer or developer, something may seem easy to use, but that is no guarantee that it will be easy for the target audience.

That’s why research and usability testing is so important – to discover and solve problems before they make it out the door. For customers to want to use your service/site/product again, it needs to let them get something done easily and efficiently. Ideally they will have a little fun while they’re at it. Because at the end of the day, that’s what focusing on UX is all about.

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @klstocking

Starting a business: Where is the money?

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Many of us have a dream of owning our own business. However, that dream often will vanish because you cannot get the cash or don’t know how to get it. However, there is an alternative for those who are willing to take the risk by betting on themselves and their ability to sell.

Phoenix logo only

Pay In Advance: The cash comes from their customers. Owners can sell a service or product, using various enticements to secure a partial or full payment upfront. This model typically applies to service-based businesses.

Advance Deposits: Customers are requested to provide deposits in advance for services or products.

Subscriptions: Customers pay in advance or a product or service which will be delivered at a later date. This is usually used when selling a consumable.

Broker: Act as an intermediary between two parties.

 

The Good and Bad:

1. These approaches do not typically apply to brick-and-mortar situations,  which are much, more capital intensive.

2. These approaches have limited growth potential and will require a model change and capital for sustainability.

3. They rely on the owner’s reputation and integrity.

 

Good Luck,

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com 

One is the loneliest number

Brent Willett, CEcD is Executive Director of the Cultivation Corridor.

Last month Iowa’s economic development community gathered for the SMART Economic Development Conference in Des Moines, an annual event organized by Iowa’s investor-owned utilities which attracts economic development, government, business and political leaders to discuss job creation and retention efforts in our state.

So what? Every industry has a must-attend annual conference or two. What makes SMART unique are the collegial dynamics which comprise the industry it represents. 

It’s a small industry, economic development. That claim may seem far-fetched at face value, considering that estimates suggest there are between 7,500 and 10,000 economic development organizations operating in the US today- but broken down, that’s 150 to 200 groups per state before adjusting for population – and Iowa is 30th at 3,090,016 [2013 US Census]. 

The 99-county math is easy: there are, on average, just a handful of economic development professionals for miles around in most parts of Iowa. Join this weak density of practitioners with the transient nature of many rural economic development jobs - figures are hard to come by, but in many small communities the local economic development job is turned over regularly as qualified practitioners find better hours and better money in the private sector - and you’ve got a perfect storm of conditions conducive to a challenging sense of isolation felt by many in the industry. 

Economic development in Iowa is a field in which many practitioners are one of only a small handful [or, in very small communities, the only] person administering professional job attraction and retention services in a city, county, or even cluster of counties. 

What if you were the only person doing your job for 50 miles? Who would you lean on, learn from and engage with to assuage the challenges of a project or stresses of time management? Who would you contact in times of crisis and celebrate with in times of achievement? How would you find your industry mentor? For economic developers throughout the state and across the country, the answer is often counterintuitive: with a competitor.

The field’s diminutive size requires that not only must small community economic developers often function without benefit of an industry colleague nearby, but all practitioners must rely on complex mutual relationships which involve at-times intense competition as well as collegial dynamics. In order to engage in true peer-to-peer exchanges of ideas and challenges, economic developers must often look to an industry colleague elsewhere who, at the end of the day, is fundamentally a professional competitor. It all adds up to a profoundly complicated yet exceedingly tight-knit professional network for Iowa’s economic developers.   

Many of us report to or serve on boards and commissions comprised of competitors, and we know it works. Board ethics [not to mention common courtesy] suggests that you check your competitive fire for your board colleague at the door and find common ground to work together on, relative to the organization or project at hand.

Economic developers are forced to simply accelerate this dynamic. Take, for example, the Professional Developers of Iowa board of directors, a group I was privileged to lead as president in 2012. PDI is a consortium of more than 300 economic developers throughout Iowa and its board is comprised of practitioners from throughout the state- all of whom, on one level or another, are fierce competitors for the same prize: investment and jobs in Iowa. Despite such a unique board room dynamic, PDI has been the premier issues, education and networking organization for economic developers in Iowa thanks to effective volunteer leadership for decades. 

Central Iowa practitioners are a bit more fortunate in terms of colleague access. Concentrated population dynamics make collegial density much higher in the Cultivation Corridor region.  For example, the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Metro Practioners Group meets six times a year and routinely has 40-50 economic developers in attendance from throughout the region discussing issues and generally commiserating with each other about resources, opportunities and projects. While many in the room are technically competitors, the convergence of government, higher education, workforce and other practitioners who are a part of a larger economic development ecosystem in the Corridor helps produce a well-rounded discussion and group resource.

As within many industries, commonalities abound in the economic development peer-to-peer relationship - common public policy priorities, infrastructure needs, community college workforce development programming and much more binds the industry together.  But it is where natural ties that bind begin to break down that the industry finds a way to support its own- even from a county or two over.

The magic 30

Clock photo- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life. 

    Readers of my recent blog posts have sent some great questions and I have been asked to share more about a specific work-life balance technique in a previous post. Today's post responds to those questions. 

    Has this ever happened to you? You are driving home after work wondering what the heck you accomplished that day and feeling overwhelmed that your projects are now a full day further behind than they were yesterday. You panic. Then you let out a heavy sigh, knowing that you will not enjoy your evening because your mind will be focused on the work waiting for you in the morning. This makes you even more anxious and focused on the projects waiting on your desk. Pretty soon you realize that your thoughts are in a downward spiral and you begin to wonder what you can do differently to be sure that the work drama and interruptions do not gobble up your day. 

    Enter the “magic 30”...  Creating 30 minutes of uninterrupted and distraction-free time  in your schedule each morning. This six-step strategy can work incredibly well to help you regain the feeling of accomplishment each day, which leads to less work anxiety and better work-life balance.  

    Step One: When you arrive at work, do not automatically turn on your computer to scan your email or pick up your phone to check for voice messages.  (I can hear the gasps and objections right now. Stay with me, here. It will be well worth it, I promise!)  Instead, and this is important, close your office door.  If you are in an open space sharing situation, politely let those  seated next to you know that you are working on a critical project and need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.  

    Step Two: Take out your highest priority project and place it on your desk.  Or open your computer to print out your highest priority project. (Caution- Do not sneak a peek at your email while printing out your project!) 

    Step Three: Set the alarm on your mobile phone to ring in 30 minutes. (Caution- Do not sneak a look at your email while setting your phone alarm!)

    Step Four: Work on your project for 30 blissful, uninterrupted minutes until your phone alarm signals that you can stop. 

    Step Five: Decide if you want to continue to work on your priority project for a few more minutes or not. Once you get started it is easy to keep going. If you want to keep working, set your alarm for an additional 15 minutes or more. 

    Step Six: When your alarm signals the end of your uninterrupted time, move away from your desk. Open your office door. Signal to your space sharing friends that you are at a stopping point on your critical project. Bask (really bask) in the feeling of accomplishment you now have from making progress on that priority project.  

    When you emerge from your 30-minute cocoon of uninterrupted time, give yourself permission to turn on your computer, check your email, check your voice mail.  Finally, the addictive itch to see what’ s up with others can be scratched. 

    Revel in the fact that no matter which fires you are tasked with putting out, you will leave work with the feeling that you have accomplished something today. You can enjoy your evening participating in activities that you enjoy instead of being anxious about unfinished work projects.  

    Make a promise to yourself to repeat the “magic 30” again tomorrow, and then for the rest of the week. You are developing a new habit. Keep it going. 

    There now, doesn’t that deep sense of accomplishment feel amazing? You bet it does!

 

"Immunize" your organization

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that vaccinations are to protect “our future.” As kids go back to school and organizations gear up for a busy fall, take the time to make sure you and your family’s shots are up-to-date and then initiate steps to protect the future health of your organization.

Much like vaccinations are an important shield against health threats for humans, business leaders can defend their organizations against internal and external threats by "immunizations" that take the form of careful planning. Some great tips include:

  1. Focus on what you can control – and let go of what you can’t.
  2. Hold regular team meetings so that you and your team can stay connected on any issues or potential problems.
  3. Establish a “Plan B.”
  4. Teach leaders to remain calm during a crisis, to set a solution-oriented tone in place.
  5. Create teamwork whenever possible.
  6. Be open and ready to reinvent.

A crisis management plan also is essential for organizations. But if you aren’t reviewing and updating it on a regular basis, the plan will be far less effective. In order for your plan to work, all key players need to know their part. Take time to review your plan regularly and make any necessary updates.

Although situations may arise you did not expect during an actual crisis, having a plan in place and practicing your response provides a great foundation to begin to repair the situation.

Along with “immunizing” against external threats, pay attention to internal threats as well, including your employees. Unhappy staff members can bring down the morale of your organization and significantly decrease productivity. Success Performance Solutions found that 17 percent of employers experienced decreased productivity because of unhappy employees. Take time to evaluate your employees’ satisfaction with surveys and use their feedback to create a better work environment.

It’s always important to stay proactive against threats. The important thing is to be aware of what real ones exist in both your personal and professional lives and develop an action plan to put yourself in position for the best outcomes.

Hillary's smart media relations strategy

- Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess

Hillary Clinton and her team have a different media relations strategy this time around - and if driving the national mainstream media crazy is a measure of success, then she's achieved that goal. This time around, her focus is on meeting people one-on-one, limiting the number of huge rallies, and hand-picking interviews with local media outlets. It has relegated national outlets like CNN to reporting on local interviews.

Hillary Clinton in Iowa
Hillary Clinton meeting with activists before her June 14, 2015 rally - photo shot by Claire Celsi

From a PR standpoint, it's good to be driving the strategy and keeping national reporters at bay by being less available and less predictable. Especially when you're Hillary Clinton and have been around so long - and are asked the same questions over and over again - it's best just to limit media interviews to local outlets - for now.

When I worked on the Gore caucus campaign in 1999-2000, their campaign adopted a similar strategy and it was effective. Al Gore was being asked repetitive questions about Bill Clinton at the time - so he tuned out the national media and allowed local outlets more access. Predictably, they stuck to issue-related questions and not the hot-button issue of President Clinton's status.

As much as possible - Hillary has taken herself out of the fray, which for her is a good thing. Local media outlets tend to ask questions that are important to their readers, like her stance on being the first female with a real shot of winning the presidency, tweaking Obamacare so it works better for families, early childhood education and Iowa's caucus process. There were no questions about Benghazi or her email server - questions that have already been asked and answered many times.

The fewer gaffes and fumbles a candidate makes (and they ALL eventually make those) the less fodder for campaign ads in the future. For example, Jeb Bush was being interviewed by a reporter recently and ending up conveying that it was not a mistake to invade Iraq. He quickly retreated on the position and said just the opposite in subsequent interviews.

Then-candidate, now Senator Joni Ernst took this strategy one step further in her 2014 campaign by simply refusing all but the most favorable interviews toward the end of her campaign. It worked!

We should also remember that it is still VERY early in the caucus campaign. For reference, Al Gore didn't even have an office open in Iowa until July 1999. Clinton already has at least five Iowa offices and is still planning to open a lot more. Even though she is in her "listening" phase, she is a lot more present than some candidates in years past.

Now that she has some Democratic challengers, she has definitely stepped up the "position" announcements. Minimum wage, immigration and women's pay equality have all been covered in recent statements. And she's finally embracing the "first female president" dream that so many of her supporters are hungry to hear.

It's great to be in Iowa during caucus season! Full disclosure: I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. 

Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. 

 

 

 

The 2015 Iowa Legislative session - By the numbers

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  6a00d83452ceb069e201b7c77f9c7f970b-320wi

The 2015 Iowa legislative session ended June 5, a little over one month longer than originally scheduled (May 1), but  earlier than June 30 date that some had projected.

Here is a look at some stats for the 2015 session:

  • 145 calendar days in which legislature was convened (January 12 - June 5).
  • 1832 bills introduced.
  • 98 of those bills, to date, have passed the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate and have been signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad.  An up-to-date list of all bills signed into law by Gov. Branstad can be found here.  
  • 30 days. The governor has 30 days to sign a bill passed by the legislature or it is effectively vetoed.  Considering that a number of bills were sent to Branstad in the past 30 days, many will wait until July, 5 to learn the fate of all bills.  
  • Jan. 11, 2016: The date the legislature will reconvene unless a special session is convened.
  • Of the 1832 bills introduced, the Iowa House and Iowa Senate Judiciary Committees saw the most. The tables below identify the respective committees and number of bills in each chamber:
House Committees# Bills 
Judiciary 86  
Education 66  
State Government 49  
Human Resources 44  
Ways and Means 40  

 

Senate Committees# Bills 
Judiciary 77  
Education 59  
Ways and Means 57  
State Government 53  
Human Resources 34

 

 

I'll take door No. 2

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.

The “Monty Hall” problem has always fascinated me. It’s a probability puzzle based on "Let’s Make a Deal", a game show from the golden age of game shows. Basically it involves the following:

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice? (Parade Magazine, vos Savant, 1990)

The answer is yes. I’ll leave it to you to research why this is the case, but for the purposes of talking about strategy, I want to focus on one aspect of the solution to this problem – the assumption that most people make seems reasonable (not to switch), but it proves out as incorrect. The expectation of a certain result generated by the assumption you have made (not to switch) is flawed, therefore you arrive at the wrong answer.

When working within strategy frameworks, this is a common problem. Assumptions are always made, leading to expectations based on those assumptions. What “feels right”. The flaw in this is that these assumptions are often not based on preset user group expectations, namely, alignment with mission or set strategic objectives in a leveraged way. Assumptions in this setting also tend not to rely on substantiating data. That leads to additional problems – assumptions always need to be tested.

The expectation of getting a car in the example above is rooted in the assumption that staying with the same door is the success tactic. In this case the expectation is correct, but the lack of data or rigor in analyzing the assumption leads to failure.

Clearly define your expectations. Then work with the stakeholders to develop the assumptions based on a set rigor and minimum defined definition of what a legitimate contributing presumption would be to lead to overall success. Again, it is never wise to “go with your gut” unless there is data that can be used to substantiate that feeling.

John Henry is the legend of a steel driver who challenged a mechanical steel drill to a race to the finish. It’s generally accepted as the origin of the modern "man vs. machine" debate. The expectation in this case was that the machine would readily beat John in the race. This was based on the assumption that the drill was clearly superior; there was no way a man could beat a machine in this contest. But, again, this did not prove out. That John Henry had some quality that the machine did not was not taken into consideration when the expectation was set. The expectation was set incorrectly, because the assumptions leading up to the expected outcome proved to be incorrect.

In defining the expectations or intended outcomes for your organization, work with the key stakeholders in advance to filter and refine assumptions before you start the planning process. It helps to eliminate biases and creates an ecosystem conducive to the production of successful structural assumptions as a baseline to build a framework from. This is another pillar of defining strategy, goals, and engagement around meaningful tactical steps to fulfill the mission and vision of your organization.

It is important to bear in mind and to take into consideration – sometimes there are internal factors, like in the case of John Henry, that will overcome seemingly overwhelming opposition – and – sometimes something as simple as switching the choice of a door can increase your chances of success significantly.

Todayland

Todayland2

Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

I recently saw Tomorrowland, a movie loosely based on the Disney attraction that dates back to 1955. There was a scene in the movie that took place at the 1964 New York World’s Fair (a place where Walt Disney featured a number of his new rides and concepts) that got me thinking about the nature of today and what inspires people to expand their minds.

Truly imaginative and creative people were once heralded as the rock stars of their eras. People travelled from great distances to get a glimpse of Edison’s latest invention, the Wright Flyer, one of Tesla’s experiments in electro-magnetism, or one of America’s first astronauts. They visited World’s Fairs (prevalent from 1851-1960s) that were long, two-year events designed to inspire, enlighten, and entertain people from all walks of life. In a single location, a World’s Fair showcased and celebrated the world’s new ideas and innovations. Compare that with our own state fair, where the primary focus seems to be the various types of food one can get “on a stick.”

Today, people seldom travel just to see an idea or new invention, and the luster of the World’s Fair has diminished along with its frequency and attendance. The last fair held in the U.S. was the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984, more than 30 years ago. Attendance at this fair was less than spectacular––7.3 million compared to the 51.6 million that attended the World’s Fair in New York twenty years earlier.1  While World’s Fairs have declined, a growing emphasis is now placed on the tabloid exploits of celebrities, athletes, and the current winner of the “How Can I Be the Most Bizarre and Obnoxious Award” in both music and reality television.

A short time ago I had the opportunity to converse with Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon during Apollo 17. During the discussion, he talked about the one thing he was most proud of…and it wasn’t having walked on the moon. He was most proud of how he helped to inspire countless young people. Because of his time in the space program, those he inspired went on to accomplish a great many things. However, shortly after expressing his pride in how his efforts had a direct, positive impact on people’s lives, he went on to express his sadness that having gone to the moon no longer inspires young people today. In fact, he sees little else that does, especially in the long-term.

I believe that for a large and growing number of people the words “imagination” and “creativity” are at risk of becoming nothing more than just words. They frequently appear in media, schools, television commercials and presidential campaign speeches, but do they truly inspire someone to action? The Internet is incredible in its ability to make information readily available and often accelerates the rate of new advances. But it has also resulted in people becoming just a little more lazy in their thinking. Why memorize something when you can just look it up?

Imagination and creativity have always been game-changers. They change how people communicate. They change how people travel. They change how homes and businesses operate. They allow people to visit other worlds. They ushered in the atomic age and provide the potential for unlimited energy. They provide food for the growing masses. They add convenience and improve the standard of living for many.

Our society requires more than just words to grow, flourish and lead. It requires direct calls to action that both motivate and drive people to think differently. We are all responsible for creativity and the subsequent innovation that serve as driving forces for our future, both collectively and as individuals. And for those who have come before us, the spirit of their imaginations and creative efforts should be celebrated, and their stories shared again and again to inspire future generations to new creative thought and action.

What inspires you to think creatively and then actually do something with it? How do you help others? In 1955, Walt Disney dedicated Tomorrowland by saying, “A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man’s achievements…A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.”

Tomorrowland needs to become Todayland.

Practice Challenge:  When do you feel the most inspired to use your imagination and be creative? Where do you feel it? For me, it’s when I visit the Smithsonian, Kennedy Space Center or the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry. Sometimes, it’s just watching a great documentary about how something was made or done at the IMAX or on History Channel. Wherever it is, try to do that more often. Sometimes, helping and supporting others’ activities may have an even greater impact on developing new ideas. Is there someone you can mentor or support?

1World’s Fair History.  Retrieved January 27, 2011, from the EXPO Museum website: http://www.expomuseum.com

©2015  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

Public sector health plans are costly for taxpayers

Gretchen Tegeler is president of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa.

In Iowa, state law (Chapter 20) provides that public salaries, health insurance benefits and various work rules be set through collective bargaining agreements negotiated between employers and employee representatives (unions), where they exist. 

Most of the cities in central Iowa have at least one employee organization, and larger cities such as Des Moines have up to nine different organizations. Each one negotiates a different set of salary, health and work-rule provisions for contracts that extend from one to five years.

Through this process, in place since the 1970s, benefits have gradually expanded.  Once benefit provisions are in place, they cannot be changed or removed except explicitly through a trade for salary or other benefits deemed to be of equal or greater value.  Health care inflation has fallen almost entirely on the employer (taxpayer) because employees typically pay such a low share of the premium charge.

What do these plans look like today? How do they compare with yours?  How do they compare with the plans available to the general public via the new health insurance exchange?

The Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa surveyed local governments to acquire some basic information about the most popular health plan in each jurisdiction and here’s what it shows:

There have been some inroads in terms of employees paying a share of the premium cost. These shares are still very small (from 2.5 percent in Des Moines for a single plan to 11 percent in West Des Moines for a family plan), but at least they are not zero. Employees subscribing to the most popular plan in state government still contribute nothing for their premium (nor for services, for that matter).

For plans purchased on the insurance exchange, the federal government subsidizes premium payments based on income. All purchasers pay something, and some pay 100 percent.

As the table shows, the biggest difference between a public employer plan and a health exchange plan has to do with what employees pay when they actually use services.  Health exchange plans try to encourage members to be conscious of the cost of services.  They require subscribers to pay 100 percent of the cost of nearly everything, up to the deductible. The deductibles are set deliberately high -- $3,750 for a single plan and $7,500 for a family plan in our example. Public employee plans, on the other hand, which already cost employees very little in premiums, tend to have extremely low co-pays and deductibles. So employees have minimal exposure to the actual cost of services, and minimal incentive to stay healthy.

Of course, this aspect of the Affordable Care Act intentionally aims to make people more attentive to their health and health care, which is by and large a good thing. On the other hand, Iowa’s collective bargaining laws are set up to protect the status quo. Employee organizations may think they have done a great service for their members by keeping health care essentially free. But when the world changes, and public employees are locked in an alternate universe, does anyone really win?  FiscalYear201415HealthPlans

Social media is the new customer service

- Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

As a marketing agency that offers social media implementation services, Happy Medium hears from clients and potential clients about what scares them about social. “We don’t want our customers to have access to us 24 hours a day,” “If we get a complaint, we want to deal with it privately, not give the complainer a megaphone,” or “We can’t give our customers a public forum for voicing their frustrations.”

We understand the sentiment, but we think their perspective is backwards. If a client could affordably run an ad to their customers for 24 hours a day, they’d want to do it, right? If the good things you do as a company had the potential to be shouted out on a megaphone, you’d go for that, wouldn’t you? That’s what social media is; it’s a place to make negatives a positive. It’s all about customer service.

The fact is, customers will sometimes get disappointed in the goods or services they purchase. This hasn’t changed since the dawn of social media, but too many brands think of social only as a place to give company information and share aspects of their culture. It’s a wonderful tool for that, but it’s even more effective as a customer service aid. It’s no different from an over-the-phone or in-person customer service experience.

If a customer came into your storefront or business and openly complained, you wouldn’t ignore that person. It works the same way on Facebook and other social media platforms. More than half of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes of reaching out to a company on social media (and they expect the same regardless of whether it’s after business hours or a weekend) but the average response time on Facebook for the Top 100 retailers in the United States is 24 hours. Thirty minutes goes by really fast and, depending on the complaint and a company’s compliance, standards and practices, etc., it can be difficult to respond that quickly. Nearly every company can respond quicker than an entire day, though. Would you let the phone ring that long?

It may be scary to think that a customer can air his or her dirty laundry about your company at any time for all of the world to see, but you have to remember that the entire world can see your response too. If you are timely and polite, even if your response directs the customer to a phone number or email address, the rest of the world can see you cared and did the right thing.

Only 36 percent of consumers think that their service requests on social media are being resolved quickly and effectively, but 71 percent of people who have received that effective response will recommend your brand to others. So here’s something that the majority of your competitors aren’t doing well but that turns consumers into advocates who will spend, on average, 20 percent to 40 percent more with companies that engage and respond to them on social media. A 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits by 125 percent, and all you have to do is treat your customers online like they were on the phone or in your store or business. Are you losing customers on social media? It’s time to respond.

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @klstocking

Want innovation? 5 steps to invest in and empower employees

- Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

There’s a great office argument that I’m sure many of you have come across: Investing-in-employees

CEO - “Why are we spending all this money on training if people will likely leave?”

VP - “Because what if we don’t train them and they stay?”

It’s a new era in our working world. The average employee only stays 4.5 years now. For millennials it’s 18 month to 36 months on average. Permanent employment is dead.

This same dilemma applies when tackling new, unexplored initiatives and products for organizations. 

What if we don’t give ourselves time to think or a chance to venture into unexplored areas?

The hard truth is that in 2015, markets and customer demands evolve faster than we can high five over our recently polished products.

And this isn’t just true for businesses, this is true for nonprofits too.

Many of us are volunteers or board members for some fantastic nonprofits, but even they have to keep on their toes as donor dollars can rapidly shift to new organizations.

So here’s the big question:

What are you doing today so your company will thrive in five years, let alone one year?

Many companies will quickly retort — “we’ve got a brilliant strategy”.

But the world changes faster than we’re comfortable with.

How can you set a strategy for the next five years if your team doesn’t have the tools to innovate today?

The biggest decisions and the brilliant concepts will not always come from the top, which is why I think now is one of the most exciting times to be an employee within an established company.

Talented individuals have the opportunity to be the intrapreneurs (internal entrepreneurs) and the change agents that steer great companies to stay great. 

How can you make it happen?

1. Get senior leaders to “give permission” for staff to bring ideas to life. You can never underestimate the power of simply sharing the notion that you need support to help the company thrive.

2. Showcase that senior leaders believe the initiative is important. It’s one thing to say innovation is important, but we have to show that it’s a key company initiative. This can be in the form of internal idea pitch competitions, continued mention in company communication or innovation events. Ripples turn to waves.

3. Have a process to facilitate bringing new ideas to life. Brainstorming sessions aren’t the solution, but they’re a start. There need to be steps for what to do with good ideas and a process to kill bad ideas.

4. Make sure to bring at least one new initiative to life with this focus. The excitement for innovation can die quickly if no results come to life.

5. Celebrate like crazy! Instilling a culture of innovation requires continuous reinforcement of the initiatives. Boasting wins is a great way to do this.

To close:

I really like an article from Patrick Kalaher of Frog Design for his take on the future of work:

“Forward-thinking businesses must hire for flexibility and then provide tools that enable their employees to act in a variety of contexts.”

We’ve got awesome opportunities in front of us to rethink work. It’s gonna be a fun ride.

-------

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

3 authors who helped shape my business

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, Trainer, and the President of MAP Professional Development Inc.

Books That Shaped MAP IncAbout 13 years ago when I made the decision to start a business, I knew I needed to reach out to experts, small business resources, and other entrepreneurs. Before making those important connections, however, I turned to books. Not so much for business expertise, but to help me refine what exactly I intended to do and for whom.

Several of my executive coaching clients have asked what books helped shape my business in those early years and beyond. Three authors quickly come to mind and, along with them, a one-word summary of what I took away from their work:

Stephen Covey

While most known for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it was his later book, First Things First, that proved an even bigger game-changer for me. With this book’s guidance, I wrote my personal mission statement, clearly defined my values and priorities, and made the conscious decision to design my business – and my life – around what matters most. Covey’s approach to personal leadership and time management have truly stood the test of time.

One-Word Summary: Values

Favorite Line: “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.”

Also Recommended: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Principle-Centered Leadership.

Marcus Buckingham

When marketing experts talk about raving fans, I would qualify as one of Marcus Buckingham’s. I’ve led book club discussions around his work, purchased his Strengths Essentials Kits and other products, and invested in coaching from his company. Now, Discover Your Strengths reiterates that when we focus on strengths, we become more productive, heighten our engagement, and are able to flourish with meaning and purpose.

One-Word Summary: Strengths

Favorite Line: “Look inside yourself, try to identify your strongest threads, reinforce them with practice and learning, and then either find or carve out a role that draws on those strengths every day. When you do, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful.”

Also Recommended: First, Break All The Rules; Go Put Your Strengths To Work; Find Your Strongest Life.

Mary Kay Ash

My first introduction to Mary Kay came at a young age when my mom sold the products; I can still picture Mom’s pink notepad with “The 6 Most Important Things I Must Do” at the top of each page. What I appreciate most about Mary Kay – and what she lays out beautifully in The Mary Kay Way – is her clarity and focus on priorities, not only for herself but for her entire company. Personally and in her business, she defined her top three priorities as 1) God, 2) Family, and 3) Career – in that order, without question.

One-Word Summary: Priorities.

Favorite Line: “Whenever I meet someone, I try to imagine him or her wearing an invisible sign that says, ‘Make me feel important.’”

Also Recommended: More Than A Pink Cadillac by Jim Underwood; any of Mary Kay’s early material.

 

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH’S CHALLENGE:

Choose your leadership legacy. If you wrote a book, what would the “one-word summary” be? What word or phrase do you want to come to mind when people think of you?

Decide how you want to be remembered as a leader – what I call your leadership legacy. Then, intentionally start living, working, and leading in alignment with your legacy.

Remember: You choose your leadership legacy by how you choose to lead each and every day.

What’s your leadership legacy word or one-word summary? Share in the comments below!

 

Dr. Christi Hegstad develops strong, confident leaders who make a meaningful difference. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

First Things First by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, & Rebecca R. Merrill (Free Press, 1994); Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001); The Mary Kay Way by Mary Kay Ash (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Meet new blogger Meridith Freese

171A6085I graduated from Iowa State University in December of last year and I was primed and ready.  I knew it all. I had my college degree in hand and I was ready to take on this so-called “real” world. 

I was, after all, an event management major and who wouldn’t want to bring me on as an employee to change the course of business going forward. Well, perhaps a slight miscalculation on my part. Maybe I was not as ready to change the face of American business as I thought. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now and that’s why I’m writing this blog.

My goal is to soothe the transition for the recent grad and provide some wisdom for those in the first stage of their career who are getting ready to move on to phase II. Everything from gaining that all important first job to dealing with college loans, to generational issues, to taking appropriate credit for your work, to career guidance – mentorship, and on and on. Are you kidding me, you didn’t get all of this in college?? And what do you mean there are no more summer vacations??

With each blog I want to provide you with great insight into this strange world we now find ourselves in. We don’t want to just survive, we want to thrive. We want to make a difference with our employer and we want to make a difference in the community where we live.  We want it all and we’re not going apologize for that.

This transition may have been a little scary at the start, but now I look at it a lot differently. This new world needs the talent, energy and passion we bring every day.  And, each day we can learn a little from our surroundings that will only help us prepare to be effective leaders for many years to come. Get on board, it’s going to be a great ride!

I want to write about things that matter to you! Reach out to me, I would love to get to know you and make a difference for any young professional.

Facebook : meridith.freese

Twitter : @MertFreese

Email : Meridith@wdmchamber.org

Blog : The-Write-Of-Passage.com 

-Meridith Freese

Selling your business yourself?

Phoenix logo only

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Many business owners plan to sell their business and are prepared to wait until they receive their price.  However, some risk issues to consider when playing the waiting game are:

  • The economy changes.
  • Another 9/11 happens.
  • There is a change in the technology.
  • A key employee(s) departs.
  • A key customer or vendor is lost.
  • The competition changes.
  • A targeted buyer is not willing or available to purchase the business.
  • The financials will not support a qualified buyer or the business may be too small to attract a qualified buyer.
  • The bank changes the requirements for loans.
  • There is a sudden requirement for a major capital expenditure.
  • The management team or the families lose all interest in a purchase. 

Good luck with your sale!

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

 

Social media for specialty retailers: Step 1

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

I have a confession to make. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of social media, and I personally think that every specialty retailer should be doing this as well. Social media has been a great outlet to show off the uniqueness and camaraderie of the Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Blue Frog Marketing is helping me map out a strategic plan on how to gain a social media presence.  Not only is social media a great way to connect with your customers, it’s also a smart and inexpensive way to show off your products. For specialty retailers like me, it’s very practical because you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to advertise new products every time your inventory is changed. 

“The advantage of using social media is that it sets up your own audience, so you can reach your current customers and also people that they know. It’s more of a way that small business owners can have online referrals,” said Raylee Melton, Blue Frog Marketing.

However, it does take a long time to build your audience, and that is why I’ve been working with Blue Frog Marketing to help.

A lot of specialty retailers might wonder why they should get started now. Is social media a fad like bell-bottom jeans, leisure suits and disco fever? Will its 15 minutes of fame be over just as you're diving in?

The answers are no and no. Social media has proved its influence. Believe me, it's here to stay. And, that's a good thing for specialty retailers  -- a very good thing, indeed. According to Blue Frog Marketing statistics, 27 percent of U.S. internet time is spent on social media.

Melton notes that people today are adapting to social media faster than people a generation ago adapted to watching television. “The rapid rates of which people are using social media has blown through any other trend,” she told me.

One thing to be aware of: social media does not automatically generate revenue. There is a big misunderstanding that a “like” on Facebook or a “follower” on Twitter means an instant increase in sales. Instead, social media is a means of awareness and a call to action. The more your “likes” and “followers” grow, the more awareness and potential customers. The next step is coming up with a plan to address your potential customers and draw them into your store.

Now that you know the pros and cons of climbing the social media ladder, stay tuned for Step Two: How does a specialty retailer begin the process of adapting to social media, and how to turn those likes into customers.

How green are food trucks?


This past weekend the Des Moines Social Club hosted the Iowa Beverage Food Truck Throw Down. A successful event with more than 9,000 people attending according to its Facebook page.

That got me thinking. Des Moines has finally caught up with the rest of America on the food truck craze. But, how green is the idea?

Here are a couple of ideas on how food trucks can lower the energy footprint of your next meal.

  1. The energy usage is small compared to a restaurant with lights, air conditioning, and dish washing. Restaurants also take much energy to build. The food truck takes advantage of the open air.
  2. The locations are in the downtown core serving workers and fostering a walkable city. Sure the truck drove to the spot but everyone else didn’t. I can’t imagine driving to a food truck for a meal. If you think of it DON’T DO IT! 
  3. They provide a quick choice to get out of the office for some fresh air, which is great for your well-being. And think of the social benefits!
  4. No food truck wants to deal with waste. Food wrapped in paper means no water to wash all the dishes. If your favorite truck uses Styrofoam, tell them to use paper instead.

But the best part for me as an architect are the designs of the food trucks.  I fell in love with CHEF because of the industrial food truck and great graphics.

Got a favorite food truck picture?  Send it to me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How states try to tax the visiting employee

When you get a good order from an out-of-state customer, you do what you need to do to make that customer happy. If that means you send employees to the customer location to make sure the customer is happy, off they go.

And that state wants your employees to pay taxes there.

IMG_1390It may seem ridiculous, but states can tax visiting employees who spend as little as a day there. Not all states do, but some states are very aggressive about taxing their business visitors. They don't vote, after all. And the states can also collect penalties from employers who fail to file payroll tax returns.

Many large employers are on top of this, issuing W-2s in the states their employees visit.

Smaller employers, lacking large HR departments, are sometimes less careful, taking their chances that their cross-border employee visits will go unnoticed.

This is becoming a riskier bet. As they get better at data-mining, states are getting better at identifying visitors.

It's not just temporary visits that can cause state tax hassles. Telecommuting brings its own set of complications for employers. Cara Griffith of Tax Analysts explains:

Employers may also forget that telecommuting can present significant issues for withholding. That is because the default is for employers to withhold income tax for the state in which an employee performs services. However, an employee may telecommute from State A but report to State B. In most instances, the employer will have to withhold from State A because that is where the services are performed. Various state rules, such as those in New York, have complicated the issues surrounding telecommuting.

If an employer fails to withhold and remit state payroll taxes, the penalties can add up. The "Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Fairness and Simplification Act" (S.386) would only allow states to tax traveling employees who spend more than 30 days in-state. It has been blocked by some states -- New York in particular -- that love to pick visitors' pockets.

Until something like this passes, employers need to monitor their employee travels and their telecommuters. They just may need to file state payroll returns in other states.

Contact your tax professional to learn more.

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.