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December 2015

Where are all the economic development majors?

- Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor.  Follow him @brent_willett.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a college class taking a course on economic development. Afterward, I asked the professor what other courses in the field were available to students at the institution. He told me there aren't any; this was it.

Hurt my feelings a little bit. Mortar_board_word_map

When I attended college in the early 2000s, there were few if any undergraduate economic development major programs in the U.S.  Today, as universities and colleges race to create new curricula to entice students with more post-secondary choices than ever, a handful of non-online undergrad programs have emerged. As far as the Internet tells me, it’s still less than 25 programs.  Graduate programs are a bit more prevalent, but those dedicated to economic development specifically and not, for example, urban and regional planning, remain mostly scarce. 

Why so few programs dedicated to an industry which is more and more in demand of qualified professional leaders?  At first glance, we might blame the relative youth of the economic development industry. (I’ve written in this space about the 1970s origins of the economic development profession.)  But dozens, maybe hundreds of industries, have spawned wide-ranging academic programs in the past 40 years -- from personal computing to nanotechnology. So why so few programs dedicated to a profession which in the U.S. alone employs more than 500,000?

To be sure, half a million or so practitioners in a given profession does not a major make, but as global competition for investment and job creation in every community in the country grows, demand for qualified economic developers is expected to rise. Currently, the International Economic Development Council’s [IEDC] Certified Economic Developer [CEcD] designation stands as the recognized standard for certification of professional economic developers -- CEcDs must possess at least five years of experience and proceed through a four-year training program via either the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute or a sister program administered by IEDC before sitting for an exam and oral test. 

Will enough demand for entry-level economic development professionals motivate more undergraduate economic development major programs in American colleges and universities? Today the transient nature of so many economic development jobs -- especially in rural areas -- places pressure on local boards and commissions to simply find someone professionally capable who can learn on the job rather than a candidate with specific pedagogic qualifications. While more young people entering the workforce with economic development degrees may, in theory, increase the supply for rural economic development organizations to choose their leaders and staff from, I’m reminded of the well-chronicled challenges that rural communities have in recruiting other professionals like dentists and attorneys. I’m not sure that more degree-granting in the field would solve the staffing challenges these organizations face.

It’s a struggle the industry has dealt with for many years -- the multiplicity of academic and professional backgrounds that economic developers come from is huge and it contributes to structural challenges within the industry like leadership turnover, inconsistent professional development design and public policy deserts.  Certainly, a logical undergraduate and post-graduate academic path would contribute to an increased level of skillset consistency and a general improvement of the profession’s visibility. 

The University of Iowa offers a Music Therapy certification as part of its Bachelor of Music degree program.  Music therapists do incredible work; I have personally witnessed the impact these professionals have on the ailing and recovering. According to the Iowa Chapter of Music Therapy, there are 90 board certified music therapists in Iowa.

There are no economic developer undergraduate programs or certifications at Iowa colleges or universities. The Professional Developers of Iowa- the state’s largest economic development trade group- has more than 400 members and estimates suggest there are more than 2,000 practicing economic developers in Iowa.

How do we reconcile this? First, by resisting drawing any kind of direct comparison; music therapists and economic developers address vastly different issues in their communities. But the fact remains that we have in Iowa a profession with no undergraduate path with 20 times more practitioners than another with such a path. Such a dynamic suggests to economic developers in Iowa and beyond that work remains to be done to establish the sort of professional legitimacy and post-secondary instructional urgency necessary to inspire institutions of higher education to consider degree or certificate program offerings in the field.

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

Caring for the unhappy customer

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

We've just completed another holiday rush, complete with a few frantic customers who were obviously feeling the pressure of finding the right gifts as the clock ticked down to zero.

No matter how inviting a specialty retailer is or how well-trained its staff, there's going to come a time when a customer is unhappy about something. (Of course, that doesn't just happen during the holidays, but the odds certainly seem to increase then, especially because more people are shopping for someone other than themselves.)

This is an excellent time of the year to get together with your staff and go back over the best approaches to care for unhappy customers.

First, and foremost, listen to your customers and let them communicate how they feel. Sometimes an upset customer just wants to feel like their thoughts and feelings are understood. Asking them what is causing them frustration and getting the specifics will not only allow them to feel understood and valued, but also will allow them to blow off some steam. And, it will enable you to correct the situation properly.

Be respectful and empathetic. You can disagree with the customer's complaint, but respect and empathy go a long way toward defusing an unpleasant situation and, ultimately, keeping their respect, empathy -- and business.

Make sure your tone and body language reflect that you care about the customer's complaint and will do what it takes to make things right. Focusing all your attention on your customer will allow you to filter out any distractions and make the customer feel they’re getting the customer service that they deserve.  

If a customer is angry, it is best to be quiet while letting the customer explain their frustration. As the customer grows louder, make sure to be alert and lower your voice while talking slowly but firmly. Any sign of aggression or disagreement will only escalate things. Emotions are contagious, so stay cool, calm and collected while showing empathy.

While some customers may take out their frustration on you -- and even throw some jabs that get personal -- it's very important to remember their problem with you is business, not personal.

Finally, we all know actions speak louder than words. Back up your words by taking every necessary step to make things right. If possible, send the customer a handwritten, follow-up note to tell them how much you enjoy serving them and value their business.

Remember to be calm, patient and understanding, and your new year will be off to a great start! 

Single taxation versus double taxation and the Iowa LLC


PGP_1038-Matthew McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law.

As discussed in this prior post, Iowa Limited Liability Companies have the benefit of electing to have a single layer of tax.

When an LLC chooses a single layer of tax, LLCs are taxed as pass-through entities, meaning all earnings pass through to its members (i.e. owners) in the year they are earned and are not taxed at the corporatelevel. Comparatively, in a traditional corporation, the corporation is taxed on earnings and then its shareholders (i.e. owners) are taxed on any dividends when distributed - often referred to as double taxation.

For demonstration purposes, the following example helps illustrate the difference.

Assume ABC Entity, a new small business, sells 100,000 widgets for a net taxable income of $100,000. Assume that the tax rate for corporations on this income is 20 percent, and the personal income tax rate for the owner is 25 percent. ABC Entity and its owner would pay the taxes shown on the following table. 

 

Corporation

LLC Electing Pass-Through Taxation

Corporate Net Income (Revenue-Costs)

 $100,000

 $100,000

Corporate Tax @ 20%

 $20,000

 N/A  

Income Available To Distribute

 $80,000

 $100,000

Dividend Taxes @ 15%

 $12,000

 N/A

Personal Income Tax @ 25%

 N/A

 $25,000

Earnings After Taxes

 $68,000

 $75,000

Pass-through taxation can have significant advantages for small-business owners. In this hypothetical, ABC Entity's owner would save approximately $7,000 in taxes. Actual results will vary depending on the size of the business, the owner’s other income, and the marginal tax rates of the corporation and owner.

Christi's top 5 leadership books of 2015

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc., and leader of the ASPIRE Success Club.

Do you keep a book log? It can prove quite an enlightening way to learn about yourself and your “seasons” over time. As I look through mine from 2015, I’m struck by the themes that stand out: Apparently I had some learning to do in the areas of vulnerability, resiliency, and comfort zones!

Books Single Flower w quoteI’ve read a lot of excellent leadership books this year (and a few not-so-great ones, too), but these five top my list:

Quiet Leadership by David Rock

I first learned about Rock’s work while enrolled in my coaching certification program years ago and have been a fan ever since. He takes the fascinating, yet somewhat overwhelming, field of neuroscience and provides practical application to work, leadership, and life. Quiet Leadership offers an excellent framework for developing others by helping them think differently and from new perspectives (a key tenet of coaching, by the way), as well as sample dialogues and supporting stories. A great resource for any leader, coach, or individual passionate about helping others grow.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

It took me awhile to get into Brown’s work, but ever since I did (often to my dismay, as I write about here), I have been blown away by the power of her message. Her research has opened up a whole new level of conversation on topics like shame and vulnerability, both in the personal and professional realms. The ASPIRE Success Club has discussed her work in detail, with a resounding theme shared: “She makes me feel like I’m not alone in how I think/act/feel.” Proven research, powerful practices, and affirmation all in one.

The Happiness Of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

Every year, just as I’m finalizing my Top 5 list, a late contender sneaks onto my desk and subsequently onto the list! This year’s late entry is all about the power of quests – not goals, not adventures, but quests – and how they bring a greater level of meaning and purpose into our work and lives. Examples of quests highlighted in the book include: travel to every country in the world; take, edit, and publish one million photos; read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in one year; produce the world’s largest symphony performance; and more. A great read as you’re considering goals for a new year!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I have been a huge fan of decluttering for years and have read countless books on the topic – but none quite like Kondo’s. While certainly a bit unusual in parts, I love the simple decision-making power in the question: “Does it spark joy?” I have actually implemented her methodology not only with physical stuff in my office and home, but also with activities, opportunities, even food choices. Her book inspired me to conduct a major decluttering of my bookshelves – something I’ve never had success with until now – so it definitely spoke to me!

Living Big by Pam Grout

If I had to describe this book in a word: INSPIRATION. From beautiful stories of human potential to quick-and-easy kindness ideas to the transformation that comes with dreaming bigger, bolder, and higher, I devoured this book and felt uplifted each time I opened it. I particularly loved the stories of people who felt uncertain of their purpose and unsure of their leadership potential but remained open to possibility, took steps in the direction of their passions, and made a positive difference for others. Her assignments with each section had me thinking differently – and bigger – as well.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotWhat a terrific year for leadership books! Which ones would you add to the list? Share your suggestions in the comments below!

Want to add a few more to your to-read list? Check out some of my favorites from years past: 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders and executives succeed in work that they love – and to help their employees do the same! Learn more at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Quiet Leadership (HarperCollins, 2006); Rising Strong (Random House, 2015); The Happiness of Pursuit (Harmony Books, 2014); The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten Speed Press, 2014); Living Big (Conari Press, 2001).

He lost his food stamps!

- Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates, Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 

"Something went wrong and I lost my food stamps," Samuel cried out loud when he stormed in to my office.

His breathing was labored and he looked shocked and his big brown eyes were filled with fear. I immediately listened to his urgent issue. After five minutes of listening and searching into his tax returns, I smiled. I sat him down and explained to him how well he was doing with his business last year and that his adjusted gross income was high enough that he no longer qualified for food stamp anymore.

I shook his hand and congratulated him for disqualifying his family from government subsidized support. "You have done so well with your business that your family is no longer needing government help." He looked perplexed and I added" "That is a good thing!"

Samuel replied, "Really? But everyone else has it."

So I went on and calculated the economic status of everyone else who might have qualified for the food stamp program. Finally, he left my office with a big, confident grin and a proud look on his face – proud of his own accomplishments and business success.

Samuel came back every year. Four years went by so quickly.

Recently, I saw him at VonMaur with shopping bags in both of his hands. He was doing his Christmas shopping. "Ying" he called out.

"Samuel! How are you doing?"

With a big smile he said, "You mean my business? It is really good!" Then he added "I need to come to see you because I think this year I will pay a lot of taxes. I want to plan." His voice was sweet and happy and there were no traces of fear or worry. He had become a confident businessman!   

Many newcomers live their live and raise their children in a specific social environment. These social circles have had a huge benefit in terms of culture preservation, but it also has limitations. If the social group is lacking successful entrepreneurs, then a lifestyle on food stamps could be normalized.  When Samuel lost his food stamps due to his business income increase, he felt scared rather than accomplished because he had been living in a community using food stamps and didnt know what to do without them.

Watching him grow his business and helping him to celebrate his milestones such as outgrowing the economic need for food stamps and becoming a productive taxpayer is a rewarding experience to me. It helps me to realize that with proper guidance and influence, folks will learn and will thrive.

This is why your clients are leaving

- Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals.

At Rocket Referrals we work closely with service-based companies (e.g. insurance agents, doctors, plumbers) where ongoing relationships and repeat business are critical. An integral feature of our service is automating regular and meaningful communication to these businesses’ clients on their behalf. The goal: to improve relationships and ultimately lead to higher retention & referrals.

A great concept, but does regular and meaningful communication actually contribute to higher retention?

Most people we speak with — at least initially — believe that price is the largest contributing factor to whether their clients stick around or not. That’s the reason they’re usually given when their clients defect, anyway.

The preponderance of research and psychology we studied said otherwise, but we had to know for sure. So we conducted a study of our own. Over the past couple years we collected more than 20,000 Net Promoter Score (NPS) responses from more than 200 service-based companies. We sorted them anonymously by type (negative, neutral, positive) and looked specifically for comments that highlighted reasons for dissatisfaction — a forerunner of client attrition.

As we suspected, price isn’t the biggest culprit. It turns out that, when asked, clients only claim price is the reason, even though it’s likely not the case. This usually happens either because the person is looking to avoid conflict, or because another reason allowed price to become an issue.

Our research showed that, of those clients that eventually defect, 81 percent do so because they lack regular and meaningful communication from the business. This includes following up on questions or specific issues in a timely manner, periodic checkups, returning phone calls, and the overall access a client has to an actual person.

These gaps in communication are forming a perceived indifference; meaning they start to feel like the business doesn’t care much about them. This quickly degrades client loyalty and — like a weak immune system that begets sickness — clients defect at the first opportunity that presents itself. So, if a cheaper option pops up, they will certainly take it. But this doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the reason they leave.

We also found that the average service-based company is at risk of losing about 20 to 25 percent of its business each year. Of these at-risk clients well over half could be prevented from leaving if they were communicated with more frequently. But the occasional email or newsletter doesn’t cut it. The communication needs to be personal and meaningful. In other words, they need to know you care and have their back.

So what are you waiting for? Your clients are waiting to hear from you.

Forget April 15. Well, don't, actually, but Dec. 31 matters more.

Drinkbus-Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C

A bibulous friend told me long ago that New Years Day is for amateurs. The real drinkers' holiday is St. Patrick's Day. In the same way (well, not really, but bear with me), tax dilettantes focus on April 15, when Dec. 31 is where the real action is. You can do big things up through year-end. After that, it's mostly scorekeeping.

Let's assume you have a pretty good handle on where you stand tax-wise with your business income. If you don't, figure it out and come right back, we'll still be here. OK, good. Here are some things that have to be done this year to make a difference on your 2015 calendar-year tax return.

Are your new fixed assets "placed in service?" Congress has finally enacted the $500,000 maximum "Section 179" allowance permanently, effective for 2015. Section 179 lets you deduct the cost of qualified assets right away, rather than depreciating them over a period of years. They also have renewed "bonus depreciation" for 2015 through 2019. But these tax breaks only work when an asset is "placed in service" during the year. That means the asset is on the premises and ready to use. "Bought and paid for" isn't enough.

Many vehicle dealers are touting the purchase of a new car as a tax saver. That's fine, but you have to take delivery, and remember that there are restrictions on Section 179 and bonus depreciation for business vehicles.

Full-featured qualified pension or profit sharing plans have to be in place by the end of 2015 to accept deductible 2015 contributions. Yet if the plan is in place, the funding can wait until the due date of your 2015 return, including any extensions.

Expenses to related parties have to be paid by Dec. 31 to generate a deduction. For example, a law firm that is trying to bonus out its taxable income to its sole owner by the end of 2015 has to have the cash in the owner's hands by Dec. 31. And don't do something cute like loaning the money back to the company before the check clears, or endorsing the year-end bonus check back to the company without cashing it. That will go badly.

Sales of stock have to be made by Dec. 31. With exceptions that probably don't apply to you, sales of publicly-traded stocks are counted on the trade date, even if they settle after year-end. If you have recognized capital gains in 2015, you can sell loss shares as late as Dec. 31 and offset the gains. Long-term losses can offset short-term gains, and vice-versa. Naturally there are some catches -- you can't buy back the loss shares within 30 days before or after the sale, and you have to use a taxable account (rather than, say, a retirement account). And this doesn't work for short sales; they have to be settled to count.

You have to have basis in your S corporation at year-end to deduct losses that the S corporation generates. And don't even think of funding your S corporation on Dec. 31 to take losses and then pulling the money out the next day.

Take a credit card mulligan. Payments by credit cards are the same as cash, even if you don't pay your credit card balance until next year. Same goes with other deductible expenses financed by third-party debt.

As always, consult your tax pro to see how these ideas apply to you before you pull the trigger. There are limits -- for example, you can't buy 10 years worth of office supplies and expect to deduct it all this year. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

It's asking a lot of the last few days of the tax year to solve all of your tax problems, but there's a lot more you can do now than you will be able to do in April.

 

The flawed hero

RudolphDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

As I've been embracing the season with a big dose of Christmas movies, I have noticed an emerging theme.

With every movie -- we cheer for these flawed characters and celebrate when they overcome the odds and learn to be true to themselves. 

We don't discredit their abilities, or assume they aren't capable of achieving great things. In fact, their hearts and their flaws convince us that they're going to try a little harder, care a little more and deliver something remarkable.

There's a marketing lesson in there for us as well. We try so hard to hide our flaws. We mask our mistakes, cover up our worries and will do anything to keep our customers for seeing the human side of our work. I hate to break it to you -- but they know we're human. They know we make mistakes.

And they're ready to forgive us and give us another shot.

Smart marketing and branding is not hiding your humanity but preparing for it. When you mess up and aggravate a Bumble -- you need to apologize in a way that's consistent with your brand

It's when you try to disguise or deny that humanity that you get into trouble.

Remember that great branding is about connecting at an emotional level with our audience. It's tough to connect with perfection. But a flawed hero who will try harder, care more and deliver something remarkable?

That's a brand people want to do business with. So don't be afraid to show you human side.

Morning habits to recharge you and your business

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

Earlier this month, I was reading an article about nine daily routines that will help supercharge your metabolism. Some of them include a quick ten-minute workout in the morning and plenty of water. Just like a metabolism, our businesses can get dull and in desperate need of H2O to recharge and become more profitable.

Recharging begins from the very moment you wake up. I can't think of many things more exciting than owning a specialty retail business, so I'm eager to face the new day -- usually!

For some, though, it's tempting to hit the snooze button. Don't. It just leaves your body feeling tired and groggy. It can also cause stress if you snooze too much and eventually run late. Rushing around also leads to forgetfulness, and makes for a lousy start to the day.

Tackle the new day so it doesn't tackle you.

It's a fact that the most successful people are list makers. Write out the day's priority list every morning, and next to each goal write a timely deadline. Creating a checklist will ensure that you're focused, manage your time efficiently and get things accomplished.

I like to add a couple personal goals to the mix of professional goals too, so I maintain a solid work/home balance. Check your progress constantly and note what needs to be improved. There is always room for improvement.

If you don't organize your workspace at the end of each day, take five minutes at the start of the day to get things in order. Study after study shows people who work in a organized spaces outperform those in cluttered ones throughout the day. Your business is already be hectic enough, no need to add clutter to your day.

Get daily feedback. I can’t stress this point enough. Whether it’s from you, your employees or your customers, feedback is essential to keep your company growing.

Be sure to constantly ask questions to figure out what you can be doing to add value, improve the unique experience you provide to your customers and increase efficiency. All of those things increase top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability. As a bonus, asking questions will help employees stay engaged.

Just as you need to wind down for the night, properly winding up each morning is essential for growth and success.

Time for a reboot?

Surgical Boot photo

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

The end of the year is the perfect time to take stock... to ask ourselves the tough questions about what we wanted to accomplish in all areas of our work and personal lives this year. These aspirations are called our “ideal state.” What we really did achieve is called our “current state.” The end of the year is a great time to discern if there are any gaps between our ideal state and our current state. If so, it may be time for a reboot.

A reboot begins with honest and careful scrutiny of what is currently working for you and what is not moving the needle to propel you toward your goals. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Perhaps it’s an unhelpful habit, such as procrastination, that is getting in your way?
  • Maybe you have bitten off more than you can chew and have gotten involved in too many meetings? This can cause hectic rushing and an overwhelming feeling that works against clarity and poise.
  • Or maybe you are stuck in your comfort zone -- doing the same things you have always done? If so, you are probably getting the same results you have always gotten.

Wherever you’re stuck, a reboot can help you get unstuck.

To help you move to your ideal state, it might be time to revisit your personal marketing plan to determine the perceptions that others have of you after they interact with you. This could include many points of contact people have with you, from your voice message and the way that you answer the phone, to the clothes you choose to wear, to the photo you have on your social media accounts. Every interaction another person has with you is the opportunity to create a positive impression and enhance your personal brand.

Success expert Stephen Covey believes that with any project we should “Begin with the end in mind." A personal reboot should be no different. As I took stock of my goals at the end of last year, and turned an eye toward celebrating my 15th year of business this year, I determined that it was time to do a deep dive into updating my own business and executive presence plan.

There was no urgency -- I was reaching my goals. However, I believed I could achieve more if I focused on aligning my website, www.RitaPerea.com, and marketing materials with my long-established branding voice. The goal being exuding the positives that I am known for -- dynamic and inspirational professionalism, expertise and integrity. Let the reboot begin!

Reboots feel good. Like the feeling you get when you have cleaned out a closet or organized the files in your desk. Sure, all worthwhile endeavors do take a bit of time and effort, but at the end you get that great feeling of being organized, aligned and free of clutter. Here is my secret sauce for a successful reboot.

Step One: Our first order of business is to determine the three to five authentic words that we hope others will use to describe us after they have had an experience with us. This is called our “personal marketing voice.” Sometimes it is easier to determine how you want to be described if you also think about how you do not want to be described. For example: Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting IS solid, dynamic, inspirational, experienced, high-integrity and professional. It IS NOT fly-by-night, weak or gimmicky. You get the idea here. Contrast is a great informant.

Step Two: Use these words as a lens to look through when making daily choices. If I have a business meeting to attend and I want people who interact with me at that meeting to describe me as solid, dynamic, inspirational, experienced, high-integrity and professional, then I am going to dress and act in a manner that is congruent with those descriptive words in my personal marketing voice. Note to self: If your branding voice is authentic then you will be most comfortable looking like and acting like the descriptive words you have chosen to represent you.

Step Three: The next step of the reboot is the opportunity to integrate every experience point with our personal branding voice to spur others to have a positive perception and to take action. It is time to take our list of descriptive words and look at every activity we participate in through the lens of those words. At the end of each interaction we want to ask ourselves “How would that person describe me to others?” In addition to our website and social media interactions, as mentioned above, these interactions include:

  • Community involvement
  • Networking opportunities
  • Manners/ etiquette
  • Interactions with co-workers
  • Interactions with clients
  • Making cold calls
  • Making warm calls
  • Speaking in front of a group
  • Involvement in professional organizations/ associations

Step Four: Just as we reboot our computer each time we turn it on, every interaction with another person gives us the opportunity to be an honest and reflective practitioner. We can continually reflect and refine by asking ourselves “How did that go?” “What went well?” “What did not go so well?” and “What could I do differently next time to truly live my personal branding voice?”

While a reboot takes honesty, time, effort, and perhaps some monetary resources, your return on investment can be exponential. You will feel aligned, squeaky clean, shiny and brand new. What a wonderful way to begin a new year. Here’s to your success in 2016!

Be careful where you put your brand

SW_Collection_banner
When I was a kid I can remember my mom saying to me "you're judged by who you hang out with so choose your friends carefully." The adult equivalent to that is the advice that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. 

Believe it or not -- it's true for your brand as well. 

The frenzy around the new Star Wars movie is understandable. It's going to be huge and I fully understand the investment Disney has made in creating it. When you combine the hype of the franchise and the clout of the parent company (Disney) -- it's not a surprise that they've got a powerful promotional machine built. I am all for brand extension but come on. Of late -- I have seen:

While I suspect most of you don't manage a brand that rivals Star Wars -- I still think you need to be very careful about how you connect your brand to other products, organizations and services.  

Here are some tips:

The connection should make sense: Let's look at the Star Wars makeup. Not sure how you'd connect the dots on that one. Whether it's a charitable organization or a product extension or an ad campaign -- you need to make sure the connection is obvious to your audience.

It should serve the same audience: When you are thinking about brand extensions, think about the audience of the two separate entities. They should be the same. Otherwise, you're wasting that energy and connection. If your core audience is young moms, aligning yourself with something that is aimed at men 18-24 probably doesn't serve your purposes.  

The other brand should not dwarf yours: Yes, you want to borrow from the esteem of the other brand but you don't want to get lost in their shadow. It's okay to be the smaller fish but you don't want to be a minnow to their whale. 

I'm all for collaborating, partnering and building your brand by aligning with other brands. But do it wisely and don't overdo. Remember why you're making the effort and maximize your time/dollar investment by doing it sparingly and with the right partner.

Change is difficult, as failed suburban services merger showed

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

What we love best about our local government are sometimes the same things that are so expensive and difficult to change. Access to elected officials is direct and easy; voices are heard; decisions are responsive. Yet these same attributes can sometimes be used to block changes that may benefit the community as a whole.

This is our perception of what happened Nov. 2 when the Windsor Heights City Council voted unanimously to stick with the status quo rather than to join forces with a neighboring community to improve fire and emergency medical services (EMS).

Windsor Heights is a suburb with fewer than 5,000 residents. It is an older community filled with unique homes but with relatively little commercial development to help carry its high property tax burden. It’s hard for such a small, established community to continue to meet service expectations with so few property taxpayers to share ever-increasing costs. Windsor Heights' property tax rate for operations is already the highest among all cities in the metro area so it must continuously look for ways to become more efficient.

To its credit, Windsor Heights has already captured substantial economies of scale by contracting with surrounding communities for the delivery of many municipal services. However, the most expensive services (with the fastest growing costs) – police and fire/EMS – are still delivered independently by the city itself. Two years ago it began to explore collaboration opportunities in fire/EMS with neighboring Clive.

Both communities are small, and their fire/EMS units respond to few calls: an average of 1.4 per day (yes, just over one call per day) in Windsor Heights and about four per day in Clive. Both communities wanted to be able to provide professional (full-time) fire/EMS response capability 24/7, 365 days a year, but neither could afford to do so independently.

The concept that was eventually developed called for a combined fire/EMS district governed by a board with equal representation from both communities. There was good public reporting on it as the process moved along, and many Windsor Heights residents and interested outside observers considered it an obvious move. It certainly appeared to be a win/win opportunity.

In retrospect, though, perhaps it should have been obvious this would ultimately have been anything but a routine decision. Changing the status quo is always difficult. Speakers at the November City Council meeting  showed why.

Although there would have been no loss of jobs, the fire station building in Windsor Heights would have closed and staff would have relocated to a station just across the border in Clive. This was significant. Several residents said they would happily pay more in order to “keep our guys here.“

Next, the Windsor Heights Acting Fire Chief reported that service improvements had already been made (24/7, 2-person paramedic coverage and two new firefighters), and response times had already improved. They felt the community would be adequately, and perhaps better protected by keeping things the way they are. (In effect, this meant abandoning the original goal of 24/7, 365 days a year full-time professional fire and EMS coverage.)

From the union we heard about the many wonderful things the members do for the community: the pancake breakfast; the Easter egg hunt, the 4th of July parade; glow sticks at Halloween, to name just a few. (Were we to think they would discontinue this under a merged system?)

The coup de grace came when the mayor read a letter from the wife of the former “much beloved” fire chief. EMS had taken her to the emergency room the evening before, making it impossible for her to be there in person. Yet she wanted the council to know how important it was for them to do the right thing. This was personal.

Meanwhile, the few people who spoke in support of the proposal were not Windsor Heights residents. Residents who may have supported the concept were silent, assuming that based on what they’d read in the paper, it was a done deal. The council members did what, arguably, any reasonable people in their position would have done: they responded to the feedback they received and the perceptions they carried at that point in time.

So what should we (the taxpayers) learn from this experience?

First, never assume anything when it comes to change, even if it seems like reasonable change. Always expect active opposition. When change is contemplated, potential proponents must be as informed and organized as opponents will be. This is difficult because the general public typically isn’t organized. Change initiatives that may benefit the community at large but rock the boat for certain interests will have to be chosen carefully, and be worth the extra effort of informing and motivating the public to be active in support.

Second, good communication must continue throughout a collaboration process. When one party perceives a change in view among key stakeholders, this should be immediately communicated to the other, with reasons explained and opportunity for problem solving offered. The single most unfortunate aspect of this failed collaboration is the loss of trust between the two cities. It will take effort to rebuild, but it will be rebuilt because that’s how our public officials operate here in central Iowa.

Ultimately, communities have every right to make the choices they believe are best for them, and they do the best they can with the information they have. It’s up to us – the taxpayers – to effectively speak up, because others surely will.

Leading with self-talk

Businesswoman_thinking

What is your self-image? What are you good at? What are you not so good at? Don’t think about what others think of you. What do you think of yourself? 

You have many beliefs about yourself. These beliefs control your ability to realize your leadership potential. When you learn to change these beliefs, you can expand your skills and realize your potential. If you grew up thinking you were shy, then you are shy. If you believe that you are naturally overweight, then diets will only work for you for a short time—you will gain the weight back. 

How we talk to ourselves, our self-talk, has a powerful impact on our lives. Self-talk is the internal conversation we have with ourselves all day long, every day. The beliefs we hold about ourselves are what control the real use of our potential. Over the years we’ve been telling ourselves a lot with our self-talk. We’ve been telling ourselves we’re shy or outgoing, a warm person or a cold person, a high performer or a low performer.

We build and change our self-image through our self-talk. Many of our thoughts are constructive and others are debilitating. It is often said that if a friend talked to you the way you sometimes talk to yourself then the friendship would be over in a hurry. The greater our self-image or self-esteem, the easier it is to deal with new situations and new challenges. 

Affirmations

Don’t think about a steaming hot piece of apple pie. Don’t think about the big scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream melting on the top of it. Don’t think about the wonderful cinnamon smell. 

It’s hard not to think about it, isn’t it?

The message I just placed in your head was a powerful one and I did it by telling you what NOT to think about.  Your self-talk (negative or positive) is doing the same thing all day, every day for you.

Affirmations are positive self-talk that guides us toward our goals. It is important to affirm correctly or the desired results will not be achieved.

If we go through life focusing on the negative, we prevent ourselves from maximizing our personal potential — an insight Mother Teresa tried to pass on to a fervent group of antiwar protestors. The protestors asked Mother Teresa if she would be willing to lead a huge antiwar demonstration. “No”, said the wise nun. “I won’t march against war. If you ever hold a demonstration for peace, call me”. When your mode is anti, you have to use your creative energy in defense, leaving little to create what you want to do with your life.

Does this sound like some kind of crazy self-help technique like standing in front of a mirror and telling yourself that you are wonderful and that people like you? In some ways the answer is yes. The important thing to recognize is that it’s not a question of if you’re going to affirm — you already do. It’s whether you’re going to do it effectively.

Try this at Home

If you want to imprint your children with a good sense of self-esteem and a positive expectation for the future, try asking these two questions every night.  It will cause the young person to shift their self-talk.

What did you do today that you’re really proud of?

What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Stick with it. Your young person might think the questions are odd at first. Once they get used to the new pattern, you’ll find they talk positively about themselves every day.

Your Own Self-Talk

What conversation do you have with yourself at night before you go to sleep?

Are you telling yourself how proud you are of your performance? Probably not! If you’re like most of us, you’re probably berating yourself for not getting enough done during the day. This is self-talk and it’s negative. Shift to the positive.

As a Leadership Strategy

After practicing on yourself and your loved ones, try the technique out on your team. At your next staff meeting, invite each member of the team to respond to these two questions:

What are you proud of from your actions last week that moved us closer to our goals?

What are you looking forward to doing this week that will move us closer to our goals?

Make this a weekly routine and monitor the results.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Who are potential buyers for my business? Part 2

- John Mickelson, managing partner Midwest Growth Partners, is IowaBiz's blogger on succession planning. Read more about him here. 

Last column we learned about one specific type of buyer for your business – family. As we discussed, mixing business with family can make holidays awkward if something does not go smoothly.

This week we will learn about another possibility…a “strategic buyer.”

A strategic buyer is someone who is already operating in your industry. Many times they are a competitor. A strategic buyer will have a “strategic” reason for buying your business (often called “synergies”).

The strategic buyer is often the buyer willing to pay the most money for your business, but is also the buyer that is least likely to care about your legacy or your employees because they already have their own culture (which they want to keep) and their own employees (which they want to keep). Eliminating duplicative costs as well as broadening their products/services into your sales channel (or visa-versa) enables the strategic buyer to pay more than someone from outside the industry looking in.

As an example, a transaction I worked on several years ago was a successful family-owned company who had created a consumer product that had a cult-like customer following. The product was sold exclusively in independent retailers and not in national big box stores and that was part of the culture that the founders and the consumers embraced.

A large publicly traded consumer products company saw how loyal the customers of this product were and determined that since the large company already shipped product to thousands of big box stores, they could purchase the cult-like brand and have an immediate uptick in sales because of the larger distribution footprint (“if a truck is already going to Wal-Mart with our toothpaste on it, why not add this product too!?!”)

The public company (a “strategic”) paid an incredible amount of money for the company (all they wanted was the brand) and proceeded to lay off all of the company’s employees. (They already had their own sales people, accounting staff, HR, etc.)

The public company then started to sell the product into its existing sales channels (big box national retailers) thinking that more consumers would mean more sales.

Unfortunately for them, this was the exact opposite of the culture the company was founded on and all the cult-like followers who had purchased product from independent retailers quit buying because they felt the company had “sold out” – which, in fact, they had!

Moral of the story: if you want to get top dollar when you sell your business, a strategic buyer is a good way to go, but you need to be careful about the intentions and strategy of the buyer if you have concerns about your legacy.

Analytics: What to look at to prepare for 2016

- Alex Karei, marketing director for Webspec Design, blogs about web strategy.

Google-analytics-logoWhen you work in marketing, reviewing analytics of various types (especially at the end of the year) is part of the job. There are website analytics, Facebook Insights and Mailchimp reports to evaluate a whole year.

It’s a lot to cover, and it can certainly make your head spin. And, if you don’t have someone at your company with the time to spend on it, thinking through these analytics can be overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact … I know some of you just aren’t doing it. It’s okay - you’re not alone!

That being said, there are a lot of benefits to reviewing even just a few of your analytics. After all, what better way to improve your website then to look at the cold, hard data? If you're limited on time, here's three things to start with. 

All of the following can be found within your Google Analytics. If you don’t have this free tool from Google installed, there’s a little legwork involved, but I promise it’s worth your time. You’ll notice that I’m not telling you how to look up your analytics. Don’t worry, if you’re unsure, there are plenty of resources out there that do that already.

List Your Top Visited Pages

Are your most frequented pages the ones you’d like them to be? If not, it could be for a couple of reasons. One, what Google is seeing might not be what you thought it would. In that case, you’ll want to find some assistance with your search engine optimization (SEO). Two, your navigation may not be optimally structured on your website. Are you helping your user find the pages you want them to find? If not, you may want to reevaluate!

Evaluate How Long Visitors Are Staying On Each Page

You’ve got visitors to your website - awesome! But, how long are they staying? Time on page is a feature that can be easily reviewed within the Site Content section of your Google Analytics. It can tell you two things:

  1. Are people spending enough time on a page to read or review your content? If not, maybe you should revisit your content or page design to better engage them.
  2. Are people spending too much time on that page? This might mean the content or action items are unclear.

Review Drop-off Points

This topic is a little more complex, but I know you can keep up, so bear with me! Under the “Behavior Flow” section of your analytics, you’ll find a horizontal flow chart. If you analyze this, you’ll be able to see where people are entering your site (this is the far left column), where they're going (following the grey lines to the next green box) and leaving it (which is represented by a red block). This can clue you in on why your conversions aren’t as high as you think they should be, or why visitors never seem to find a crucial piece of information you’d like them to see. If they are “dropping off” one page into your site (for example, on your “About Us” page) they may not find out what they really need to know to complete a purchase. Once you know where a visitor is dropping off, you can make an action plan for preventing that in the future.

 

Whew! Thanks for sticking with me guys. I know when you’re new to analytics, it can be tough. But with a little elbow grease, I think you’ll be excited to see what you can learn about your user behavior and how you can improve it in the new year.

Alex Karei_124Alex is the marketing director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her on:

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

3 key differences between an Iowa LLC and a corporation

PGP_1038Matthew McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law.  

Whether you are looking to form a new business, or perhaps you are seeking personal liability protection by "upgrading" your existing business entity, you may find yourself wondering what is the difference between an Iowa Limited Liability Company (LLC) and a traditional Iowa Corporation (C-corp). Here are three key differences between an Iowa Company (LLC) and an Iowa Corporation (Inc.): 

  1. Single Taxation v. Double Taxation LLCs may be treated as "pass-through" entities at the election of its owners. In other words, the members (i.e. owners) of an LLC are allowed to pass their share of the company's profits to their personal income tax return. A corporation on the other hand has two layers of taxation. A corporation's first tax level occurs when the company files taxes as a business. The second tax occurs after dividends are paid to the corporation's shareholders, who are then required to pay taxes on dividends received from a corporation on their personal income tax return. In short, while members in an LLC can take advantage of a single layer of taxation, shareholders in a corporation cannot.  
  2. Legal Formalities Iowa business law requires corporations to follow many more formalities than their LLC counterparts. For example, corporations must maintain certain books and records of the corporation, including minutes from all director and shareholder meetings  Comparatively, LLCs are not required to maintain minutes from meetings that occur. Similarly, while a corporation is generally required to have an annual meeting, there is no such formal requirement for LLCs. Additionally, while LLCs are not required to create financial statements that detail the company's financial status, corporations are required to prepare annual financial statements for its shareholders.  
  3. Management Structure Members in an LLC can elect to manage the LLC's daily affairs. Alternatively, the members can also choose to hire non-member managers to oversee day-to-day activities. Such flexibility allows an LLC's owners to participate in managing the company. Comparatively, corporations have rigid management structures that must be followed and which consist of shareholders, directors, officers and employees. As a result of such rigid structures, unlike an LLC, the owners (i.e. shareholders) do not necessarily participate in managing the entity, which in a corporation is generally left to elected directors and officers.

A guide to planning successful events: Part 1

- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

 

So you're tasked with planning your company’s annual event and don’t know where to begin? Before we get too far into the specific details that go into planning a successful event, let’s have a high-level discussion on how to approach the general task of event planning. The best approach is to simplify it and break it down into manageable pieces.  

In an effort not to overwhelm you, this will be a 4-part series detailing the steps to effectively plan an event. Let's think of it like making an apple pie.

Phase 1: CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT:  “I want to make an apple pie.”

This is the single most important phase of event planning. This is where creativity comes out and you create your road map for the planning ahead. 

First, you must assemble your event team then find a quiet space with a door and large white board and allow your uninhibited ideas to flow. This is not the time to stifle yourself with logistics but rather this is the time to innovate. The point of this meeting is to share ideas and build objectives. Get to the true point and narrow down the: who, what, and why. 

Your goal for this meeting is to walk away with three to five clear and concise event objectives as well as a slew of innovative and engaging ideas for how you will achieve those. I cannot stress enough, that this is NOT the time to be reasonable. Allow your brain to dream BIG. You should close this phase of planning with lots of sketches, buzz words and diagrams; (save these, you will need them in phase 2). I should also mention, if you are planning to engage an event planner (out-of-house), you will want to include them at this time so they are privy to your thought processes. They can also be incredible catalysts in helping to brainstorm innovative ideas.

The objectives you create during this phase will drive every decision you make when it comes to planning. Some high-level objectives might be: Creating wider brand awareness; Educating attendees on your company's core mission and values; Demonstrating leadership in the industry...etc. OR you might choose very specific goals like:  Increasing sales by 10 percent; Signing at least (50) new clients; Recruiting (10) new donors...etc. The more specific you are about your event objectives, the more pointed you can become when you create your messaging. 

Below is an example of how I approach this brainstorming phase. Because I come from a design background, this phase for me is often often made up of quick and messy sketches that show ideas in space. I am not creating a specific plan at this point, but rather I am conveying ideas in a generic box to help me understand the components I want to be a part of the event. The key is to make this process your own. I am visual, so sketches work for me. Others might work better with buzz-words or quotes.  Allow the creative you to come out!

A        B    C

NOTE TO THE PLANNER:  If ever you find yourself going down a path that is not in alignment with one of your objectives, it is time to stop and reevaluate which path is right. Building a successful event is a process, so you can allow yourself to reevaluate the objectives you have created if that is what makes sense; but know when it is time to ditch ideas that do not work within the context of the overall purpose of this event.

So that concludes Phase 1, simple right? All you have to do is brainstorm!  Next time we will move into Phase 2: PROGRAMMING: “What ingredients do I need to make this apple pie?" In this phase we turn our ideas into working logistics. We will discuss developing a preliminary event program, assigning roles and responsibilities to team members and assigning tasks and setting deadlines.

How do you begin your event planning now? Visit my blog to learn a little more about the components that make up effective event strategy! As always, feedback is always welcome and encouraged!

 

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at anebons@blinkevents.net. Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website www.blinkevents.net.

Details can take your website over the top

- Alex Karei, marketing director for Webspec Design, blogs about web strategy.

When people hear I work in web, I often hear one question: “What makes a great website?”

There's not really one answer to that. The design, user experience, overall content and even the way the code is written can all contribute to a website that stands out from the rest. But when you drill down to it, the one thing that typically takes a website over the top - the thing that you can really pinpoint, in my opinion - is the level of detail in the final website development. This isn’t a feature that you can download a plugin and see, or an image you can purchase through a stock photo site. Detail is a result of analyzing each piece of a website and asking one question.

“How can this be better?”

Detail can come in different forms through a website, and serve different purposes. Some are self-serving for the site builder (to increase sales, for instance) and some are for the user (to make the visitor experience more enjoyable). Neither are inherently bad, and depending on your site, different types of detail can be appropriate.

Adding humor to website content

For some websites, detail comes in the form of humor. For instance, Mailchimp, a popular email marketing platform, is good at pinpointing areas where a normal task can be made more fun. For instance: if I try to make a new account with a username that’s already taken, Mailchimp suggests my evil twin has already beat me to the punch. This small detail is turning a potentially frustrating situation (picking a different username) into something that will make me chuckle.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.40.32 PM

React to visitor actions

Other website details react to the user’s actions. Google is known for showing images or special designs for different searches on its site, and those details are fairly well-documented if you search for them. But, one of my favorite examples is the popular social media website, Tumblr, and its concern for one of its target audiences. They serve, in general, a young demographic, and have chosen to react to those in that group who may search for  “thinspo” (an alarming term, short for “thin inspiration”, that young women with anorexia or bulimia may use to search for photos of bone-thin women to remind themselves of their goals to become thin). When the term is searched in Tumblr's bank of posts, a message pops up, asking the user if they need help.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.53.31 PM

Websites like Tumblr don’t have to pay attention to the user behavior to this level of detail to run a functioning website, but the details show they care - and make users remember them.

Increase overall usability

The last example I’ll share is one that adds to basic usability. Amazon.com has many examples of detail on their website, but a small piece of what they offer is the use of a number in the shopping cart icon that appears on every page, indicating how many items you’ve added thus far. This is especially helpful for those who may do a little window shopping from time to time. Forgot it in your cart? Amazon has your back.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.12.19 PM

Adding detail to your website

These are all creative uses of details on websites, but don’t let that discourage you. Even a small business owner can add unique details to their website. All it takes is a little extra care! Think about things like:

  • What is the “submit” button on my contact form? Could it show more of my brand personality - even with just the language?
  • Is there any way I can geographically cater website content to my users? (This may require the consultation of a developer, but it can be a really nice addition to a website!)
  • Am I doing everything I can to aid my user on their purchasing journey? Could any steps be more intuitive?

Remember, keep your users at the forefront, and don’t brush by the small decisions when it comes to pieces of your website. If you already have, it’s not too late to go back and make a few tweaks.

What are some of your favorite website details?

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

Never delegate understanding

- 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 title of this blog is a tenet attributed to Charles Eames (pictured below on the right), an architect and designer who practiced in the middle of the 20th century. I came across this in some research while I was working with an organization that had engaged me for strategic planning. It resonated with me.

The leadership team for this organization had been moving toward less “doing” and more “managing” in an operational sense. By delegating some of their tasks to committees and staff members, the leadership team expected it would be able to focus on being more strategic and less task-oriented. But the results, so far, had not proved this was occurring. Charles-and-Ray-Eames-documentary-1

In concept, it seemed simple enough – leadership had been completing task list “X” and generating outcome “Y”. So, why, when task list “X” was given to committee members and staff, was outcome “Z” being generated?

The leadership team had left out a critical component in their shift. They had not explained the reasoning or motivations behind task list “X”. They were the original authors of those tasks, so all the components were created by the leadership team and intrinsic to completing those tasks. They were not only known variables, but also fully understood components essential to generating outcome “Y”. The people who defined and understood those tasks were, at that time, the ones executing them. 

When task list “X” was transferred outside of the leadership team, the institutional knowledge, investiture, engagement, and background was not transferred with it. The team did not have the same knowledge, underlying motivations, or access to originating or contributing factors. They knew what they were expected to do, but did not understand why certain pieces were required to generate outcome “Y”. For them, outcome “Z” was no different than outcome “Y” and they were frustrated to hear that the leadership team was not happy with their result.

When I came across Eames' quote, it helped me understand what I felt would benefit the leadership team in realigning their team with the desired outcome. As much as we may try as leaders, there are many instances where we must carry the mission on behalf of our teams - at the very least philosophically - to allow it to permeate to the entire organization and to allow team members to unburden themselves from having to interpret what the mission means in their specific segment, freeing them up to maximize the potential of their role in the organization.

Team members often range from being fully invested to simply desiring to execute the tasks that are given to them. Both extremes and the range in between are all valid, but leaders should never delegate the full weight of mission and vision to their committees or staff members or leave it to them to holistically interpret them for themselves.

You or your leadership team understand the mission of what you are trying to accomplish; in this example, it’s the difference between getting to outcome “Y” or outcome “Z”. To allow your team to be successful, you can never fully offload the responsibility for understanding that to your team members. It isn't fair to you, or to them.

To the extent you are able to do that is by assigning accountability for achieving the desired outcome and helping the team understand how their efforts are supporting the mission and vision. Those two things work in a symbiotic fashion, fully dependent on each other for success.

The recommendation I made to the organization at the time was that the leadership team should always remain stewards of the mission and vision of the organization, and being able to answer the question “why?” They can let their team determine a tactical plan rooted in the strategy set at the leadership level.

The above framework allowed for an environment where outcome “Y” was achieved and the leaders were able to shift toward more strategic management while committees and staff met the expectations set out for them with a high level of engagement and success.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny

 

The human element of information security

 Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Human-element-info-sec

When most people talk about developing an information security program, they are referring to the administrative, physical or technical controls used to protect information. While no information security program can be effective without them, there is one key element that is often underestimated: the human element. The reality is that humans are responsible for designing, implementing and following all of the controls put in place to protect information. One failure in the human element can spell disaster in terms of information security. And the sad thing is that it often does.

The good news is we can make large gains in information security by simply providing effective training to our users. According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report nearly 1 in 3 successful cyberattacks has a social engineering component. Social engineering is nothing more than a hacker attacking a human rather than a computer.  They use their knowledge of human behavior to con a user into giving them information over the phone, clicking links in emails or giving them physical access to systems or data. If we can prevent more successful social engineering attacks, we can reduce the number of successful cyberattacks.

Targeted Attacks

Raise your hand if you took an information security awareness course for work this year. If that course explicitly trained you to spot and respond to specific social engineering attacks that would be targeted to you, keep your hand up. I’m guessing there aren’t many hands still in the air.

Traditional information security training is failing.

Attacks are becoming more targeted to companies and individuals. They are coming from groups that have done research into your organization’s people and practices. They have a specific target objective and have been designed specifically for this purpose.

Small but Mighty

The Verizon data breach investigation reports that 23 percent of users open phishing emails and more than one in 10 click on links in these emails. This may seem like a small number, but let me put this a different way. One of every 10 users in your company will take a single action which will allow a hacker to compromise your security when presented with the opportunity. In a company of 500 people, a hacker will have 50 or more people who will provide credentials or open a machine to compromise by clicking on a link in an email. Does this paint a different picture? 

Information security training has to be more than just a review of regulatory guidelines, company policies and good password selection. It has to show users examples of the types of attacks they are facing right now. It has to transcend computer use in the office and needs to show how our digital life is connected to both work and personal computer use. How can we expect people to combat digital con artists when they don’t even know how to spot them?  Security awareness training is a cost-effective method for fighting back against the onslaught of attacks against your organization.

Dave Nelson 2015 IowaBiz BlogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

When old school is new school

OldSchool

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 once had the opportunity to observe professional drag racing firsthand at the NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. As part of the experience, I got to walk the U.S. Army Top Fuel car to the starting line and stand behind it as it launched down the track. What I didn’t expect was to be physically knocked backwards by the shock wave created by the 8Gs of force generated when the car took off. I couldn’t see the shock wave, but I definitely felt its power.

Change, too, can be difficult to see, but its effects can have a profound impact. The ability to see either something that doesn’t yet exist or the oncoming effects of change requires imagination, or the ability to mentally visualize and elaborate on abstractions.

Someone once imagined a future where food is prepared in Star Trek-like replicators, humanoid robots walk and interact with people, and 13-year-old gamers work to cure cancer. As a result, 3D printers are now able to print edible food,1 and the Robotic Challenge through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has created androids that walk and move like humans.2 Speaking of DARPA, they run a public computer game through social media called Foldit where young gamers try to fold proteins, one of the most difficult biochemistry barriers to curing disease.3

Imagination is a fundamental trait of an effective leader. While history is loaded with people who lacked this invaluable trait, successful organizations are most often led by those who have vivid imaginations. These people are able to see where the world is heading and to develop products and services that anticipate the transformative change (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk).

While it’s often tempting to react to change and make rash moves to adapt to it, newer doesn’t always mean better. Change doesn’t always have to be transformative. For example, following the release of Windows 2000, it quickly became apparent the upgrade wasn’t an improvement and most people reverted back to Windows 98. As a child, I never had to wait for Gilligan’s Island to buffer; and the battery in my HP-12C calculator purchased in 1988 lasted for 25 years before it had to be changed. Today, I’m lucky to get a few hours of battery life out of my iPhone.

When new, “game-changing” ideas are introduced, companies are frequently quick to jump on the proverbial bandwagon, often with what seems like an adapt-or-die mentality. They incorporate the ideas into their own products with the hope of remaining competitive – easy to see when looking at the rapidly changing landscape of smartphones, tablets, app development, and content distribution over the last decade.

However, when the world does embrace change, it can leave opportunities behind.

Despite trying to fully utilize a Palm PDA in the early 2000s and then a smartphone, I’m still more efficient and successful using an old-fashioned paper planner – and new, stylish paper planners continue to line the shelves of most retailers. Speaking of paper, the tablet computer and eInk readers were supposed to mark the end of the traditional book, yet paper book sales are as high as ever. Despite desktop publishing and an array of high-quality, low-price color printers, print shops using archaic letterpress machines – those that use wood and steel type – are popping up all over. After years of improving food production through genetic engineering, food trends are giving way to organic and old-fashioned, farm-to-table production.

While I continue to be a huge advocate for the creation of new ideas and awareness of the possibilities those ideas bring, I believe it’s more important to stay true to your own values, core competencies, and the passion that ultimately fuels them. New and different isn’t always better. Sometimes, as those new ideas shape the world around you, it requires imagination to see how your old school ideas can become new school thinking.

Practice Challenge: Occasionally when the world around you shifts, it creates an opportunity. Can you reapply some “old school” ideas or practices that made your company or organization great in a new school way? Perhaps it was people-centered, very personal customer service as compared to using overseas or automated service, or perhaps it was the laborious, handcrafted approach to production used to make your products as compared to new state-of-the-art production techniques. Whatever it was that differentiated you and formed the basis of who you are today could become the new school idea that launches you into the future.

©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

 

1Doering, Christopher. (2015, June 24). “The New Dimension of Food.” Des Moines Register.

2McMahon, Bucky. (2015, November). “These are the Droids We’re Looking for.” GQ Magazine.

3Easton, Nina. (2012, January 16). “Fortune’s Guide to the Future.” Fortune.

Be straightforward

Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

For young professionals in the workplace it is often easier to sit in a meeting with upper management, people you might not know, or even with co-workers and just willingly agree EffectiveComm with everything that is said, (even if you think it is a lousy idea). It could be because you do not feel comfortable disagreeing with your boss or simply because you do not want to rock the boat.

On the other hand, if you do muster up the courage to speak your mind, you may beat around the bush or gently relay your feelings so as not to step on anyone’s toes.

Being straightforward is not a bad characteristic to have. In fact, many people appreciate a simple and easy to understand communication style. I know I do. Being a straightforward communicator can carry a stigma that you are too frank or too impatient. While I disagree with the stigma, I do believe that while being straightforward, you should still always be polite.

I am fortunate that when growing up, all my siblings were taught to “say what we mean and mean what we say.” My family members are all outspoken, straightforward people. I am just hardwired to be that way.

I was also extremely lucky to come into an organization where I was encouraged to speak my mind and bring in new ideas. But even if you are not hardwired like me or don’t work for a company that you feel you can be open with, do not be afraid to be straightforward with anyone.

If done the right way, being straightforward can make you look humble and sincere. Be genuine, be authentic, and be straightforward.

-Meridith Freese  171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Estimated tax payments: who needs to file quarterly.

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-Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C

When you leave the nest to start your own business, you leave behind the safe world of payroll withholding. No longer will your taxes magically disappear from your paycheck, only to show up when you file your tax return to get back some of that money the IRS has been sitting on for you (with no interest, thank you very much). Whether you are making your way in the sharing economy or starting a business where some or all of your income is reported on a Schedule C or a K-1, you have to satisfy the tax man without it all coming out of your paycheck.

But how? And what happens to me if I don’t pay estimated taxes?

Let’s start with the penalties. The tax law imposes a penalty for each quarter in which your taxes paid in -- taking into account both wage withholding and estimated tax payments -- fall short. The penalty is best understood at a non-deductible interest charge on the underpayment (no, they don’t pay interest if you pay in too much). The interest rate used is currently 3 percent, but it changes quarterly based on prevailing interest rates. So a taxpayer who is short $10,000 for a quarter, but makes it up in the next quarter, will pay $10,000 x 3 percent / 4, or $75, as a non-deductible penalty.

The penalty is assessed when you file your 1040 for the year in which the payments were due.

How do I pay? Most taxpayers use the old-fashioned paper quarterly vouchers, Form 1040-ES, but more taxpayers are using electronic means. Individuals can sign up for EFTPS, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or through IRS Direct Pay.. Iowa offers similar options. And, of course, payroll withholding also counts.

How much is enough? The easiest way to avoid an underpayment penalty is to base it on your prior year tax. If your four equal quarterly payments this year add up to at least as much as your computed tax from last year, your have no penalty. If you had adjusted gross income of at least $150,000 last year, the safe harbor is 110 percent of last year’s tax, instead of 100 percent.

Paying in based on last year sometimes isn’t a great idea. If you had a great year last year, but this year isn’t so hot, paying quarterly tax estimates based on last year's income might hurt. So if equal quarterly tax payments this year, plus withholding, equal at least 90 percent of the taxes computed when you file your tax return next April, you are OK, and you pay any shortfall on April 15 without penalty.

Business income can be volatile. If you keep good books, you can go quarter-by-quarter on your income. The formula can be a bit complicated, but the idea is simple enough: if you have a poor first quarter but a good second quarter, you pay the first quarter tax based on the poor first quarter and catch up without penalty in the second quarter.

When are quarterly payments due? The first quarter payment is due at the same time as your prior-year 1040, on April 15. Remaining installments are due June 15, Sept. 1, with the final payment due Jan. 15 of the next year. Iowa due dates are in the same months, but at month-end. Taxpayers often prepay the fourth installment in December to move up deductions for the payments to the prior tax year, but that’s something to discuss with your tax pro; if you are subject to alternative minimum tax, prepaying state taxes may do no good.

One weird trick! for taxpayers who realize they are behind on their estimates. Withholding taxes are considered to be paid pro-rata throughout the year. Taxpayers can boost their withholding for the last few paychecks of the year by giving their employers a new W-4. It also works with year-end bonus payments made during the year. It can work well for S corporation owners who draw a paycheck in addition to their K-1, and for married couples with one entrepreneur and one person earning a traditional paycheck. But don’t overdo it; if you try to pay in all of your taxes with one year-end withholding payment, you might get unwanted attention from the tax man. Hogs get slaughtered.

Remember states. Every state with an income tax has rules that are similar, but not always identical, to the IRS rules.

Corporations that pay their own taxes follow a different set of rules, and the rules for payment of payroll taxes are entirely different.

Work with your tax pro. Computing taxable income can be difficult, especially if your tax life is complicated. That’s why tax pros exist in the first place. Good records and a good tax professional can help you avoid underpayment penalties without letting the tax man use more of your hard-earned money than you have to.

Project Sunroof

--Rob's guest blogger, Todd Campbell, is a registered architect at CMBA|smith metzger.  He has worked on the downtown YMCA and Josephs West Glen.

Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Drive… it seems every time I turn around Google is releasing a wonderful new toy for me to play with. This time it’s called Project Sunroof, an online app that combines aerial 3D models from Google Maps with historical weather data, regional utility costs and any local solar incentives. All you have to do is plug in your address and information regarding your typical energy usage.

From this, the program computes how much sunlight hits your roof annually, recommending a solar installation size (in square feet & kilowatts) necessary to generate close to 100 percent of your electricity usage. It also provides information on purchasing or leasing panels, projected payback, and contact information for local installers. It gives you all the information necessary to make an informed decision.

As exciting as all of this sounds, we may have to wait a while. Project Sunroof is still in its infancy and has only been launched in Boston, San Francisco and Fresno to date. Having said that, Google plans to eventually expand nationally - even globally; depending upon the project’s success in these initial launch areas.

I for one, look forward to playing around with this program someday and seeing if solar is a viable option for my home.  How about you? Let me know at tcampbell@smithmetzger.com.

Todd_Campbell_2015_reduced

What's annoying them?

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

In today's world - marketing and customer service have become one. With online reviews, the power of social media referrals or bashing and the new consumer attitude of "I want what I want when I want it" we can't pretend that marketing has no place in customer care anymore.

One tool we often use with clients to help them really map out and improve the customer's journey is to ask "what are we doing today that annoys or frustrates our customers?"  

As you can see by the example to the right, that's what Hertz did. They know that at many of their locations their car pickups are off site and away from the airport. That means you have to take a bus to/from the airport.  

As you can imagine (or you know) that adds time, hassle and headaches to your travel day.

The Hertz folks asked that question and voila, came up with a new offering. And it's a new service that brings in new revenue.

So I'd like to suggest you spend some time asking yourself (or better yet, ask them) what annoys your customers.  Once you figure out that -- how can you fix it to make their experience friction free?

Economic development has an image problem

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor.  Follow him @brent_willett. 

Modern economic development - which tracks its origins to the formation of local industrial recruitment organizations in response to the economic downturn of the late 1970s - has always seen its practitioners grapple with persistent public controversy and Carrot_stick skepticism regarding the negotiation and application of publicly-funded incentives to secure jobs projects for communities. Economic developers have struggled since the early days of the profession to explain the role incentives play in the recruitment of human and financial capital. 

Incentives play a fundamental role in securing job- and wealth-creation projects for communities in every corner of this country and in many countries of the world. This is pure, unadulterated fact.

Public sector incentives are as principal to the decision-making process for most projects of size as is real estate and talent.  There is plenty to discuss about whether this should be the case, or whether some federal edict ought to materialize prohibiting states and communities from competing with each other with incentives - something some policy makers and lots of armchair quarterbacks in the media are calling for - but that’s a topic for another blog.  I will note what’s glaringly obvious: there is no national legislative cavalry coming.  Such a decree would be impossible to implement and enforce and would create an enormous macroeconomic disadvantage for the United States in a global economy.

Incentives used to get good deal done

Incentives are not boogeymen. Most economic developers subscribe to the sentiment that public financial inducements are designed to get a good deal done, not make a bad deal good. Put another way, incentives, when applied judiciously and as the result of a vigorous and transparent negotiation, have as central and appropriate a role in our public system of government as any basic government service. Incentives play a critical role in ensuring that millions of dollars of future tax base and thousands of jobs matriculate in our state or country rather than another, but the economic development profession has generally done a poor job of communicating this.  As a result, the public, fueled by a general distrust in government and distaste for corporate America, has grown increasingly indignant about the use of incentives to grow and retain jobs and capital in states like Iowa. Such indignation, and the predictable political posturing on the part of elected officials it spawns, poses real threats to future economic growth in our state and nation.

Judicious negotiators of incentives in Iowa and around the country have an image problem which is threefold. 

 

Impersonal impact of project

First, we’ve grown accustomed in economic development circles to communicating the substance of incentivized projects in banal, aggregate terms that mean nothing to the average person. When an economic developer or organization reports that a local employer has agreed to a $20 million expansion which will create 35 new jobs, it’s often a single-day news story, thanks to the two-dimensional nature of how the project’s human and financial community impact is framed [or ignored].  We’ve got to get better at personalizing these projects, communicating the human impact of each new job and what it means to your family and your community - a job which may offer a struggling single parent or determined ex-offender an opportunity to improve their lot in life.

Because most economic developers have our professional performance, at least in part, evaluated based on aggregate job and capital creation, we’ve convinced ourselves that those blocky cumulative figures - instead of broadly accessible accounts of how these projects improve lives in our communities - are what matter to citizens wearily observing the use of public funds to grow business in Iowa communities. Too often we report to the public through the lens of our performance metrics exclusively when the qualitative, human impact of our work is the most compelling.

Incentives fundamental to competition for projects

Second, we’ve been married to the ‘need-based’ narrative in incentives negotiation for far too long. While the concept of ‘need’ in negotiating incentives is sound - it suggests that public sector decision-makers only agree to incentivize a project to the absolute minimum extent necessary to vanquish our opponents and secure the project for our community and state - the word is a problem. Major companies do not, in a semantic sense, ‘need’ the financial allocations made available to them for most projects. The balance sheets of Fortune 500 companies do not see an impact as the result of, for example, a package of tax credits or forgivable loans from a state or community. What’s needed is an effective mechanism to quantitatively communicate the central role incentives play in adjudicating a complex sales process and leveling the competitive playing field upon which job and wealth creation projects are fought for. 

Let’s educate the public on the fact that in lieu of not-going-to-happen federal intervention, public incentives are a fundamental competitive component of any major project negotiation. We should find new ways to demonstrate this - to drive home the fact that failure to maintain and enhance a robust competitive incentives posture in Iowa is comparable with a business failing to reinvest in its own people and product. And when that happens, the business shrinks and dies.

We need to educate the public about the competitive field our communities are playing on for jobs projects and communicate the fact with more depth than our pat answer that ‘in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to use incentives.’  Of course not. I’ve never lived in a perfect world; have you?  We have an opportunity to elevate the discussion in Iowa and around the country to an informed one which considers the basic role incentives play in business decision-making today.

Incentives aren't all cash

Finally, economic developers like me have turned in woeful performances in clearly communicating the complexity of the incentive tools we use to land projects in our communities. The public is confused about what economic development incentives actually do, and what they cost. Fueled by media reporting which is at best inaccurate and at worse misleading and pronouncements by some policy-makers who have determined that being against incentives is good politics, incentives have been teed up, demagogued and reduced to a single, wholly erroneous narrative: incentives are all cash out of the taxpayer’s pocket. 

Not true.  While most communities and states maintain so-called ‘deal closing funds’ which provide governments the capability to include a certain amount of performance-based cash (Iowa has one of the smallest of these funds found anywhere in the country, and has for years) the vast majority of incentives awarded in Iowa are credits against future revenue, or tax credits.

Simply put, tax credits are instruments to provide a reduction in tax liability for future investments by a company- tax revenue we currently are not enjoying when agreeing to the incentive [because the project and its associated investment have not yet occurred]. Far too often, the total value of a tax credits package [which can include credits against state investment tax, local property tax and other tax streams] are represented to the public as cash, as, in effect, a check written by the government to the company. 

Couldn’t be further from the truth! In virtually all cases, tax credits are awarded not only after the company creates the tax liability, but after it physically creates the revenue by paying its taxes. Only after the new tax receipts are received by the state and local governments does a company receive a credit back. This is completely lost on most members of the public, and it’s on us as economic developers to find better ways to communicate the complexities of incentives packages so that their fiscal impact is truly understood. Tax credits are but one example in a roster of complex local, state and federal incentives programs most people don’t understand [why would they?] but which we have to get better at demystifying.

I suggest above the economic development image problem has three components, but realistically it has many more. Virtually all incentivized projects in Iowa carry with them stringent ‘clawback’ provisions which legally compel the awarded company to pay back all or some pro-rated portion of any incentives it receives should it fail to fulfill its obligations related to job creation, wage levels, capital investment and the like. Now consider the last time you read a detailed account of a successful clawback executed by a government from a company for failing to fulfill its obligations. Part of this is a volume issue - the men and women who negotiate incentives packages across this state are, by and large, excellent stewards of public funds and only recommend packages which have a high probability of success. So clawback scenarios are not particularly common.  But when they do happen, most economic development and other officials engaged in the process don’t court publicity for the process. I would submit that we can do a better job in the profession of educating the public when we do experience a clawback situation to make the public aware of the aggressive stewardship those responsible for overseeing compliance with economic development incentives demonstrate every day.

Another element of the economic development image problem?  New Iowa legislation in 2014 concerning how cities and counties report tax increment financing [TIF] activities now requires local governments to report their property tax credit-against-revenue figures at a ‘not to exceed’ level, which artificially makes project property tax incentives look enormous and is in most cases completely out of step with actual credit values.

I could go on. I will not. There is much work to do to better educate the public on what public sector incentives mean and how they are used. It is incumbent upon every stakeholder in the field of economic development - practitioners, elected officials, even companies utilizing the incentives - to find new ways to communicate the substance and the value behind such a controversial, and important, topic.

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

 

 

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