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September 2016

Are cybersecurity attacks on the rise?

ISSA-secure-iowa-2016- Dave Nelson, CISSP, is president and CEO at Integrity.

Information security professionals and business leaders from around the state will converge on Ankeny on Oct. 4 for the fifth annual Secure Iowa Conference. There will be sessions on digital forensics, developing information security programs, and everything in between. (Attendance is free and you can register at www.secureiowaconference.com.)

A theme in many of the presentations will be the rise of specific attacks. Presenters will discuss the nature of current threats against companies and technology platforms. Attendees will hear from the FBI about the types of cybersecurity attacks they are seeing, specifically in Iowa.

What I wish we had, though, were better statistics. We’ve got data, statistics, analysis of big data and so on to prove any narrative we want to espouse. The problem is, we can’t believe all of it.

The reason isn’t that the data is faulty or inaccurate. The problem is that the data is incomplete. We are missing huge, and I mean huge, chunks of data about breaches.

The Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report has been published for a decade now. In the last report they even noted that some statistics may be skewed because a firm that participated in previous reports did not participate this year. That firm specializes in a certain type of breach, and therefore a lot of that data is missing from this year’s report.

Because of these large chunks of missing data, we don’t truly know how many unpatched servers were compromised or how many incidents actually resulted in a breach. The vast majority of incidents are never reported.

Think of it this way: Are you going to call the police every time you have a virus outbreak that takes a system offline or encrypts your files? Probably not, but it was a reportable security incident that would affect breach statistics. Are you going to call the FBI when someone sneaks a peek at personnel records to see what salary everyone on the team makes? Doubtful, but that’s still a security incident.

Millions of these events go unreported each year because they either don’t result in much if any monetary damage or you simply handled the issue in-house or you didn’t want the potential media exposure.

Don’t get me wrong, cybersecurity is absolutely a huge problem and we are under attack every minute of every day. The evidence we have suggests things are getting worse. I just hate to say for sure how much worse or in what ways when we don’t have all the data.

So I’m going to ask for your help. When you have a security incident, file a report with the FBI at www.ic3.gov. Most of these cases will never be investigated. However, the information you provide will help us have better statistics about the types and source of attacks we are facing today. This will only help in determining the best way to overcome our adversaries.

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com Dave-Nelson-2015-resized

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: https://integritysrc.com

Embracing the challenges of a website

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

“Maintaining your website” can be such an ugly phrase. It really seems to have a negative connotation to most people I talk to. Website maintenance is the chore that they have to do after they get done with their brand-new, shiny website, and the maintenance part isn't nearly as fun. 

People ask me a lot what my job title means, and what I do on a daily basis. To me, updating our website might actually be one of the most enjoyable things that are part of my job description. I don’t see it as a pain or a nuisance, but rather a fun challenge. You might say I’m biased, working for a web firm, but I’ve enjoyed working on websites since I was young(er).

I don’t know that I ever realized how much I like working on websites until I observed how much others may not enjoy them. I’ve never found working on a website to be a pain or an annoyance, but rather a challenge to be taken on. A website is something that I can improve every day in order to stay ahead of our competitors. There’s always something new to learn, and some new idea to be discovered.

Why I love working on websites

I have a legitimate reason to love working on websites — and it may not be what you'd expect. The thing I've observed with most people's website complaints is that there’s almost always a silver lining of benefits underneath their supposed website chores. Next time you throw your website a snarky look, just remember …

“It’s so much work!”

This thing that is so much work is one of the most robust marketing tools you have the potential to get your hands on. You can have so much powerful information packed into one website, and that information can be targeted to different users. Think about how big a brochure would be if it had to include the same information your website does. Someone could be reading for hours!

“The website’s never done!”

Something I wish others would understand is that just because a website isn’t done doesn’t mean that it’s not acceptable to be on the internet. Sometimes having a “phase 1” and a “phase 2” means that you’re able to push your marketing out the door quicker, or with more robust features later. Not done is not the same as "bad," or "incorrect." The website just hasn't quite reached its full potential. But with a little extra work post-launch, don’t worry. You can get there!

Websiteneverdone

“It’s hard to figure out how to update those images!”

I get it. Not truly knowing how to properly update your website can be a harder issue to deal with. However, I will still go back to a word I used earlier: challenge. Yes, it’s hard to figure out how to tackle a website issue when your main webmaster is on vacation and the handbook is, well, nowhere. But I would encourage you to not think of these issues as a nuisance, but rather as a challenge that you will overcome. Just try it! Even if the change is just a new head shot for your CEO, it can feel amazing to have conquered that assignment and have solved that problem. After all, the more challenges you take on, the better you’ll get at solving them (it’s inevitable).

How do you feel about updating your website?

 

Alex-Karei_YPFinalist2016Alex is the marketing & communications director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her via:

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/alex_karei

Instagram: www.instagram.com/alex_karei

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

Why you (still) want international stocks

- Kent Kramer, CFP, AIF, is chief investment officer/lead adviser at Foster Group. He writes about investing for IowaBiz.com

Suppose I offered you a choice between two broadly diversified, similarly volatile, well-known investments. Investment A had increased in value 23.8 percent over the past 10 years, while Investment B had grown 78.62 percent during the same time period. If that was all the information you had available, wouldn’t you be thinking Investment B sounds like the better deal?

This is the classic “past performance is no guarantee of future results” dilemma. We’ve read this kind of scenario so many times that we are just waiting to hear that the actual results over the next five years were just the reverse, and in this case they were. Investment A grew by 77.64 percent, while Investment B increased by only 7.78 percent. 

So what were (and are) the investment options? Investment A is a broad index of most U.S. stocks. Investment B is a very broad index of most non-U.S. stocks. The time periods? The first, 10-year, window was from 2001 through 2010. The second, five-year, time period was from 2011 through 2015.

What’s an investor in 2016 to do?

There are at least three good reasons for an investor to strongly consider including international stocks in their portfolio today: global opportunity, the relative lower prices of international stocks versus their U.S. counterparts, and broader diversification of risk.

Global Opportunity

As of the end of July, the value of all publicly traded companies worldwide totaled a little over $40.5 trillion, spread over 12,588 companies. Companies headquartered in the United States represented slightly over 53 percent of that total value.* For stock market investors, this means that approximately 47 percent of the opportunity for investment in publicly traded companies is located outside the United States, in places as diverse as the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Nigeria and Turkey, just to name a few. History indicates while not all will, there is a high likelihood some of these companies, and their country’s broad equity market, will succeed, potentially with higher returns than their U.S. counterparts.     

Stocks on Sale?

In today’s global financial environment, investment capital moves very freely across borders and between exchanges as technology links the entire world in a virtual real-time exchange of information and capital flows. This results in (among other things) stock prices that reflect the most current pooled information and expectations regarding risk and return for virtually every company in the world today. Professional investors from the most sophisticated institutions trade these stocks with each other every day in an attempt to add value to their portfolios. There must be an agreement on price that is deemed to be fair to both the buyer and the seller before any transaction is completed.

For companies (and countries) where the perceived risks are higher, buyers demand lower prices. These lower prices represent a demand for higher potential return on investment as compensation for taking on this risk of ownership.

One interesting measure used to gauge how expensive (or how cheap) a company’s stock price may be is the price-to-book (P/B) ratio. This ratio illustrates how much investors are willing to pay (price) for the underlying value (book) of a company. As of July 30, 2016, aggregate price-to-book ratios for non-U.S. stocks averaged 1.48, while price-to-book ratios for U.S. companies came in at 2.31.* This indicates global investors were demanding an approximate 36 percent discount in price to entice them to own the book value of non-U.S. companies. Investors sense many non-U.S. companies are operating in riskier financial and political environments and are, therefore, only willing to buy the shares of these companies at relative discounts (i.e., “on sale”). International investors are basically buying more book value per dollar than they can with U.S. stocks.

Diversification of Risk

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP prepares a Global Markets Overview at the end of each month. At the end of July, 2016, their overview identified 12,588 publicly traded companies with shares available to private investors. Just over 3,500 U.S. companies offered shares, while over 9,000 foreign companies offered shares. For investors wanting to spread their risk among a wide variety of competitively priced investments in economic and politically diverse markets, these numbers represent opportunity for risk management.

While there is never any guarantee regarding which investments will do well and when that may happen, there are reasonable steps investors can take, based on readily available information, to put themselves in a diversified, opportunistic position. Precisely what percentage of an investor’s portfolio should be devoted to international stocks (or U.S. stocks, for that matter) will vary and should be considered in view of an investor’s overall risk, return and liquidity preferences.

*Data from Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.

PLEASE NOTE LIMITATIONS: Please see important disclosure information and the limitations of any ranking/recognitions at www.fostergrp.com/disclosures. The above discussion should be viewed in its entirety. The use of any portion thereof without reference to the remainder could result in a loss of context. Foster Group cannot be responsible for any resulting discrepancy. A copy of our current written disclosure statement as set forth on Part 2A of Form ADV is available at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

The not-so-secret secret

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- 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."
 

Over the years, I’ve been asked a number of times how to creatively develop and maintain a competitive advantage in an environment marked by rapid changes in technology, fluid delivery systems, intense competition, real-time communication and instant (and often brutal) customer “experience” reports through social media.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear about someone bemoaning a poor customer service experience. In fact, I believe customer service has gotten so bad that some people generally seem to expect a bad experience. As a result, I believe we have lowered our bar to the point where we now just tolerate being treated poorly.

Although I do think it’s becoming more difficult to maintain an advantage, I believe there is a solution … perhaps even the solution. Here’s the “secret” competitive advantage solution, especially if you’re trying to build a positive personal or organizational image: Create a culture of above-and-beyond service. This will immediately place you ahead of most, if not all, of the competition.

Success comes by helping others get what they want. Go beyond the Golden Rule. In other words, treat people BETTER than you would want to be treated.

When I was a child, my father regularly told me that if you borrow something from someone, always return it in better condition than when you received it. Then others will be willing to help you again if you need it. When people come to you for what you provide, they are investing their time and possibly their money. Give them back something of greater value.

If people believe you truly care and will take care of them first and foremost, they will follow your leadership, believe in your ideas and give you their business, even if what you’re offering doesn’t have all of the latest bells and whistles. Bottom line: Regardless of anything else, people’s perception of an experience still comes down to how they feel.

Recently, my wife and I took a short vacation to Telluride, Colorado. We went there to relax, do a little hiking and enjoy the beautiful scenery (which was breathtaking). Without any prior experience, we booked a room at the Inn at Lost Creek in the adjacent town of Mountain Village. We chose this property only because they were pet-friendly, because we had our dog in tow. We knew nothing else about it.

From the moment we arrived, the staff was “over-the-top” friendly. They asked us for our names (including the dog’s), and NEVER forgot them. In fact, every time we walked by, they would say “hello” and address us by name. Whenever I walked the dog, they treated her like she was their own, also addressed her by name and offered her treats. (They even provided us a special pet basket at check-in full of treats, a mini-flashlight for night walking, and waste bags.)

A member of the staff provided us with a short tour of the property to ensure we knew where all of the amenities were located. He made sure we also knew that all snacks and bottled water were free and emphasized that if we ever needed more or anything else to let him know. The complimentary breakfast was incredible, and large, fresh-baked cookies were always available in the main lobby (something I overindulged on because, frankly, they were awesome).

Every time anyone saw us over the course of our three days there, we were asked how our stay was going and if we needed anything. And it didn’t matter who was working at the time. Everyone had the same exceptionally positive attitude and treated us with the same high level of care and respect. They even made sure we had bottled water, snacks and a package of dog treats for the road when we departed.

The staff made us feel extremely special – almost as if we were the only guests they had. We were so taken aback by the experience, we found ourselves talking about it the whole time we were there and even after we had left. It was incredible, and because of this level of service, this is now the ONLY place we will ever stay when we return. And, of course, we will now tell everyone we know about the Inn at Lost Creek and perhaps even blog about it.

People value most how you make them feel. They will ultimately act based on those feelings. So give them something worth their investment of support, time and money.

If you make them feel special, they will reward you with their long-term loyalty. By proactively building an image of service to others, you will create a sustainable competitive advantage, despite what others ­– including your competition – are doing.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian


PaustianHeadFor 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

The road ahead for specialty retailers

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

I took some time off to travel out west last month and it got me thinking about the road ahead.

When we drive, even when we put the car on cruise control, we still have to pay attention to what's ahead -- the good as well the bad.

What's over that next hill? Is there going to be an obstacle in the road that poses a danger that we either have to go around or stop and rethink our course? And what about that unexpected curve or detour? Is it going to take us completely off track -- or lead us somewhere better?

It's very important for specialty retailers to think about the road ahead, too.

In fact, the top five defensive driving tips could just as easily be the top five strategic tips for small retailers:

·         Look Far Ahead. It sounds simple. It is simple. Unfortunately, simple things aren't always easy to do -- or they're easy to overlook. Set aside time on a regular basis to look far ahead. That leads us to the second tip.

·         Get the Big Picture. Should you focus most of your attention on your business, products and customer service and what you can do to make them better? Absolutely. But also take time to look at the big picture to see what's going on with other retailers that can benefit or hurt your business.

·         Have an Escape Plan. I don't mean bail out of your business at the first sign of trouble. But just like I've said before, if you have a product that's not selling, for instance, know when to avoid disaster. Don't keep hanging on to something because you hate to admit a mistake. Reduce its price, put out samples and get out of a bad situation as quickly as possible so you can move ahead on a better path.

·         Maintain a Proper Following Distance. OK, stay with me on this one. What happens when a pack of cars is following too closely? They crash, right? In the retail business, you need to know when to keep your distance. Don't run with the pack and try to be like everyone else. Keep your distance, chart your own course -- create your own niche -- and celebrate your uniqueness. Customers will appreciate it.

·         Reduce Distractions. We all know how texting, juggling a handful of French fries or sipping on that mocha latte can take your eyes and mind off the road with the disastrous consequences. (My favorite scary moment is when I see someone drinking a coffee, talking on their cellphone and putting on makeup all at the same time while driving on I-235 in the morning rush hour, but that's another story for another day.) The point is, success depends on focusing on the things that are going to cause your business to succeed, ignoring those things that aren't and knowing the difference between the two.

Keeping your eyes on what's ahead and following these steps will minimize unwanted surprises and guarantee to make your retail journey smoother and more profitable.

Less is more on your favorite restaurant menu

Jessica Dunker is president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

As I write this, I am lamenting the end of the premium grilled chicken wrap at McDonald's.

I liked it, and now it’s gone.

It was introduced by the quick-service giant as part of a strategy to compete with the various sub sandwich chains and to attract millennials who were “demanding healthier, fresher” menu items.

As the proud parent of three millennials, who spent a decade pushing apple slices in place of fries, I am pleased to know that this generation is demanding such things. But are they really? Sales numbers would say differently. People like what they like, and regardless of generation, restaurants rarely go wrong by offering fries in any form (shoestring, cottage, waffle, etc.).

Healthy stuff with your burger? Not so much.

But this isn’t an indictment of closet fry-eaters. Rather, it’s a recognition that restaurants, like all businesses, have to evolve — and that includes changing their menus — and dumping sales losers.

This methodical evaluation of a menu can be easier for chains than for locally owned restaurants. You’re not likely to find any sentimental value attached to “mom’s favorite flan” recipe in a national chain. Independent restaurateurs are much more likely to resist dumping an item on the off chance it is one of their regular patrons' (or their own) favorites. That’s why you may notice a local restaurant’s menu grow and grow, and grow some more.

But that’s rarely a good business decision. Restaurants, particularly those locally owned places, cannot be everything to everyone. And if the menu is too long, quality — of food and service — can suffer.

Thankfully for those owners who have trouble letting go, the move toward shorter restaurant menus is actually considered “trendy” these days, and that can make unloading a few rarely ordered menu items more palatable.

What’s more, research shows that today’s busy diner doesn’t want to be met with hundreds of options when eating out. They generally prefer easier-to-read menu formats — less is actually more.

Take a look at the relatively sparse menus from some of the Golden Circle’s newest restaurants, add to that the offerings from your favorite food truck, pop-up restaurant or single-item food venue, and you quickly realize that it isn’t a lack of ideas keeping these menus small. Rather, it’s a movement toward focused, specific menu items.

National brands like Chipotle figured this trend out early. In an effort to capture the dollars of diners who want to customize meals but not wade through large, confusing menus, Chipotle offers four main items. Customers then walk through and choose from 20-plus optional ingredients. It’s a short — but very customizable — menu.

Other chains (and independents) are following suit. A recent Washington Post article noted that the country’s 500 largest restaurant chains have cut more than 7 percent of their menu items this year. Small independent restaurants would be well served to follow suit.

In the past, restaurants tried to differentiate themselves with the breadth of their menu offerings. Today sharp owners recognize that too many choices make it hard for diners to choose anything at all. Diners don’t judge a restaurant on how many items it offers, but rather on how well it executes specific offerings.

So if you notice your favorite restaurant has shortened its menu, you can bet that the items that remain are likely winners and will consistently taste great. You win, and so does the operation. Flat out, that’s just good business.

5 ways to step up your corporate event game

 

'I throw lots of parties... But I insist on only serving canned pumpkin and crystal clear cola.'

 - Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Sure, a bunch of pop, water and beer in a cooler is an easy way to serve your attendees drinks, and in some cases this tactic is totally appropriate. However, there are other times where your attendees deserve a little bit more pampering. By investing a little bit more thought and moolah into your events, you will boost the quality of the experience you are creating for your attendees -- and they will notice and appreciate you for it. Here are five ways you can step up your corporate event game in a positive way.

1. Consider room layout and convenience for attendees.

Before you lay out your furniture, do a walk-through of the event space yourself. Start at the main entry and enter the space as if you were an attendee. Make sure the course of travel is clear and free of obstruction. Look for anything that might be confusing for attendees, making them feel awkward. Make your attendees feel welcome by stationing a greeter at the door. Beware of the possibility of traffic jams that may occur in the space. Place your food and beverage locations where they will not inhibit general flow of travel. Make sure restrooms are clearly marked and are made discreet so your attendees feel comfortable going in and out. Space planning should be a part of your initial event strategy (not an afterthought), so take care during the planning and develop a design that functions well.

2. Be conscious of food and beverage choices.

Be thoughtful about not only what you are serving your guests, but how you are serving them. As part of a health-conscious society, planners should be sensitive when creating event menus. It is important to choose items that are rich in proteins and complex carbs, while avoiding foods that are high in fats that leave your guests feeling bloated and lethargic. Choosing smart food options will boost your attendees' energy and attention span. These wise choices show your attendees that you promote healthy living, and that makes you look cool. Avoid foods that are messy to eat, for obvious reasons. If doing appetizers, make sure they are compact and bite-sized. If the food requires utensils, make sure you provide ample options for attendees to perch at tables to eat. It’s REALLY hard to cut something while holding a plate and a drink, so think about that. Paying for a bartender sometimes just makes sense. You can hire companies that will provide the bar and all its fixings for relatively cheap. They come with insurance and smiling faces and will set up and break down their bar without you having to lift a finger. You buy the booze, they bring the rest; no mess, no stress.

3. Create continuity in event design.

Determine what it is that you wish to gain by holding your event, and use those objectives to guide the course of your event. Deliver clear and consistent messaging across all elements of your design so your message is received by your attendees. This means from your initial invitation to your check-in process, to the food you provide, to your centerpieces, to the parting gift -- every element of your event should relate to the other elements. By developing some sort of underlying theme, it makes it easy to make choices on the different components of your event. If you are throwing a party to promote an expensive jewelry line, every element of your event design should speak to and demonstrate the concept of that jewelry line. Event planners are really good at creating continuity in event design. So if you feel lost in this area, find a qualified and stellar planner to assist in this creative process (wink, wink).

4.  Dress her up!

Add some flowers, drapes, interesting graphics … something that adds some interest to the space. Yeah, no one will really care if you don’t dress up the space, but if done well, people will notice if you do. Remember, this is your opportunity to create a positive experience for your attendees. Make them feel like you knew they were coming and prepared for their arrival. Don’t make your event seem like a frazzled afterthought; that will be noticed too.

5.  Give a little bit.

A thoughtful favor is always advised. Use this as an opportunity to leave a lasting impression and further hammer home your message. Be unique and impactful; avoid giving away junk. We all have a million coozies, pens and water bottles, so think outside the box. Creating a well-packaged and useful favor can really go a long way in differentiating your brand.

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.  

Don't worry; be happy

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

Since July 1, the news has been full of stories about the poor returns experienced by public pension plans for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016. The Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) earned just over 2 percent, and the Iowa Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System (MFPRSI) netted less than one percent -- both far short of the 7.5 percent annual average assumed by the plans.

This is the second year in a row for poor pension returns, and once again the standard refrain from the public pension industry is to downplay the results and emphasize the results over the long term. (See: Des Moines Register: IPERS Fund Facing $5 Billion Shortfall - Misses Investment Goal.)

The plans are justified in keeping a long-term perspective, and wise to avoid over-reaction in any given year. Returns are going to be more volatile than they once were because a larger share of plan assets are invested in higher return/higher risk classes. For example, in 2013 the IPERS portfolio earned +15.88 percent! We can expect this volatility to continue.

While volatility creates its own problems (such as a higher risk of another funding crisis), there’s also the big question of whether the returns experienced over the long-term past are actually indicative of what to expect over the long-term (30-year) future. More and more the answer is “no.”

IPERS’ own investment manager, Wilshire, expects the next ten years to return an annual average of 6.27 percent, more than a full point below the assumed 7.5 percent.

According to a May 2016 McKinsey & Company report, “returns on equities and fixed-income investments in the United States and Western Europe over the next two decades could be considerably lower than they have been in the past 30 years.” The McKinsey report cites a variety of causes including aging populations in the developed world and China, and low interest rates and inflation.

Another expert, Alice Munnell from the Center for Retirement Research, said last month: “The consensus among industry officials is that returns will continue to be lower in the future due to a number of factors, including low bond rates and the stock market being at an all-time high.” (See: Washington Budget Finance - Should States Lower Estimates for Pension Investment Returns.)

It turns out the past 30 years have been extraordinary, and unlikely to be repeated.

Some systems have recently been lowered or begun to lower their return assumptions below 7.5 percent. The California Public Employment Retirement System (CALPERS) announced last year it would lower its 7.5 percent rate gradually to 6.5 percent. The Illinois Teachers Retirement System, in a state not known for its fiscal prudence, reduced its rate of return assumption from 7.5 percent to 7 percent, which will precipitate an increase in contributions.

What would happen if IPERS were to reduce its return assumption from 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent?

Payments to erase the shortfall would need to go up by about 50 percent, or rise from around $400 million per year statewide to more than $600 million per year for the next 25 years. Those are big numbers (and they only cover the debt payments, not the cost that accrues with each new year of service) -- more than enough to fund a statewide water cleanup program, for instance.

Few wish to change the return assumption, because it requires more public money at a time when we already struggle to fund priorities like education.

It would make it more painfully obvious that we simply cannot sustain these plans, and that we should be talking about a new structure for future employees.

Instead, the plans hang on to the current assumptions and keep shifting their assets into riskier classes that offer the possibility of higher returns. Of course they also carry the same possibility of larger losses. The public takes on more risk without even knowing about it!

If we wait, and it turns out that 6.5 percent would have been a better number -- or if there is another financial crisis that hits at a time when the plans are already vulnerable -- it will be even more difficult, if not impossible, to dig out later. Then everyone loses.

Due diligence: A seller’s perspective

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

Congratulations!

Years ago you mapped out exactly what you want to happen with your succession plan.

You have worked with your family and a team of professional advisers to execute that succession plan and therefore have put your company in the best possible position for a sale – achieving both the financial and the nonfinancial objectives that are important to you.

You identified the exact right type of buyer for your business and within that group identified the exact right buyer for your business. (Note: All of these subjects above are explored in previous articles.)

A letter of intent (LOI) has been signed by you and your buyer outlining the major pieces of the agreement (sale price, type of transaction, transition period, etc.), and now you and your buyer have 60 days to get the transaction closed – a time period often called “due diligence.”

The hard part is over, right? For a seller who has not previously been through a sell-side sale process or is unprepared for it, oftentimes the answer to this question is NO.

Remember, the business owner has often spent their entire life building up this company, and thus has not sold a company before, so this process is totally new to them.

On the flip side, the buyer has to make an educated risk-reward decision, and so identifying as many potential company surprises before close is important to them before they commit significant capital to buy the business. Many times they cannot “see everything” in a business until they have executed an LOI with the seller.

During diligence, the buyer will often:

  1. Send in third-party accounting experts to conduct an analysis of the company financials and cash management practices. This is often called a “Quality of Earnings.”
  2. With the seller’s permission, reach out directly and/or hire a third party to reach out to key customers and vendors to understand how they feel about their relationship with the company.
  3. Conduct environmental and title review of any company-owned real estate.
  4. Have an attorney draft definitive deal documents (which seem more excessive than necessary and take the terms of the LOI into infinite detail).
  5. Iron out employment agreements with remaining employees.
  6. Hire a third party to conduct personality tests on remaining employees.
  7. Identify the bank they intend to use after the transaction, which will have its own set of questions and requirements (may include a “field exam”).
  8. Identify the property and casualty insurance carrier and employee benefits carrier they intend to use after the transaction, and they will have their own set of questions.
  9. Do an underwriting process for key man life insurance.
  10. Conduct background checks on key personnel.

... Just to name a few.

To the unprepared seller, this will feel like a lot and like they have to answer the same questions over and over again.

To the prepared and organized seller, all this can be done efficiently and with little heartache within the roughly 60-day time period for diligence. After which, thanks to the seller's well-executed succession planning plan, they will be able to move to the next phase of their life under their own terms.

Making the case for community involvement

- Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection. 

Today is the third of three posts on the value of community engagement. In the first post, Sharp let his friend Kim Hanken write about the value of being involved in your community. Yesterday, Sharp gave advice to millennials on how to find companies that share their community interests. Today, he writes about the benefits for companies to have a culture of community engagement. 

Being active in the Young Professionals Connection, I'm surrounded by millennials who are active in our community. But it's important for employers to recognize that it's not just the YPC crowd that wants to be involved in community causes through their work.

Bizrec1

Hard evidence is all around us that millennials want to work for companies with a culture that encourages volunteerism.

From what I've seen, it honestly doesn't take too much explaining to the vast majority of business owners and bosses in the Des Moines metro because they already get it. But promoting that culture is important for employers to consider when thinking about how to encourage productivity, employee retention and healthy workplace morale.

For those few who still aren't convinced, it's easy for employees to make a persuasive case that community involvement is worth the investment. It starts, as I mentioned yesterday, with "building the business reputation, business recognition, networking opportunities, and opportunities to improve the community," according to a 2012 Dun and Bradstreet story, "Community Involvement Helps Generate Capital."

It definitely doesn't stop there. You can also cite a May 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research that 4 of 5  consumers -- 82 percent -- consider corporate social responsibility when deciding what companies they want to do business with, where they shop and what they buy.

And there's more. Like the 2013 article in Entrepreneur, "The Power of Giving Back: How Community Involvement Can Boost Your Bottom Line," that reinforces the case. In it, writer Lindsay Lavine quotes philanthropy consultant Erin Giles as saying, "I've found that customers really want to know how you're making the world a better place."

Having a strong community presence can set a business apart from the competition. And that's smart business.

Lavine contends that community service should be much more than an afterthought; it should be part of the company's business plan. (That makes it pretty important, in my book.) Her suggestion is to consider four things, in particular, when putting a community service plan on paper.

Step one is building relationships in the community by focusing on what groups or issues really need attention. The second step -- getting employees on board with community involvement -- builds a collaborative and inspired team by providing "leadership opportunities for employees, which leads to increased staff performance and fulfillment and, ultimately, increased productivity and sales," Lavine writes, citing Giles' expertise.

Bosses may feel more comfortable committing employees to community projects if they follow Step 3 -- creating a custom volunteer plan in which they weigh employees' strengths and choose activities based on their specific strengths.

And, finally, it seems counterintuitive because we're always told not to brag about our good deeds, but businesses shouldn't hide their community involvement. In fact, Giles recommends that companies put a dollar value on employees' volunteer activities based on the cost of their donated time. Doing that will make it much easier for existing and prospective clients to measure a company's charitable contributions to the community.

So, when you're making the case to your boss that he or she should let you get more involved in community causes through work, don't just take the word of an opinionated millennial like me. Go in to the boss well-armed with all the facts you can put together, and you'll be able to convince even the biggest skeptic that it's in the company's best interest for employees to roll up their sleeves and get involved in community causes.

If they still don't change their mind, it just might be time for you to find a boss who shares the same commitment to our community that you do.

Want a company that respects community involvement? Ask. Just ask.

Bizrec1- Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection

This is the second of three posts on the value of community engagement. In the first post, Sharp lets his friend Kim Hanken write about the value of being involved in your community. Today, Sharp gives advice to millennials on how to find companies that share their community interests. Tomorrow, he writes about the benefits for companies to have a culture of community engagement. 

 

It's the question on a lot of millennials' minds: How do I find the right company that encourages community involvement or convince my current boss that it's worthwhile for our company to let me be more involved?

Don't take my word for it. There's plenty of research to back that up. I don't have room here to share all the details with you but the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, sponsored by the Case Foundation, is a good read on this topic for employees and employees.

But here's the key part: Millennials' preferences in the workplace include "how they engage with their company and what they look for in corporate cause work, with 'cause work' meaning the programs and initiatives companies execute that help people and communities Companies increasingly approach employee culture and corporate responsibility as important assets that inspire retention, productivity and a variety of other organizational benefits. As companies and nonprofits work together more, and more employers include cause work in their values, research is needed to understand the next generation of employees, their attitudes and their preferences for company cause work."

Sounds great. But even if companies are more focused on creating the right culture to attract and retain millennials, how do you find the company that will respect and value the causes you believe in and support?

Ask. Yep, it's that simple. Ask.

Whether it's in a job interview, meeting a company employee at a reception or party, or even picking up the phone and calling the company with specific questions, ask:

  • What's the company policy on volunteering? Is it a new or longstanding policy, and is it likely to change anytime soon?
  • What has the company's experience been with employees who have been involved in the community?
  • What causes does the company support -- or not?
  • How much company time is an employee allowed to devote to cause-related activities? Is it all paid or just time off?
  • Does the company match charitable contributions? If so, which organizations are eligible?

If you work at a company that currently isn't big on community involvement, the case for letting you do it is very persuasive. It starts with "building the business reputation, business recognition, networking opportunities and opportunities to improve the community, according to a 2012 Dun & Bradstreet story, "Community Involvement Helps Generate Capital."

FEH Design, the architectural firm where I'm an associate, has really supported me being involved in areas that have fired my enthusiasm and allowed me to build a network of productive relationships, including the Young Professionals Connection, the DART 2035 Advisory Committee and the Greater Des Moines Partnership's Transit Future Work Group.

In return, my employer has realized benefits, including organizations that want to work with FEH Design because of its commitment to community involvement and emerging leaders. It may seem like a tiny difference to some, but small things can make a big difference in a competitive marketplace.

That's enough ammunition for now.

Tomorrow: I'll cover that topic in detail -- and then you'll have plenty of great arguments ready to make your case.

Ag Technology now, here

- Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor. 

Central Iowa is a natural hub for one of agriculture’s most innovative sectors, but that's no guarantee

Iowa’s agriculture innovation ecosystem received an important upgrade in May this year when Iowa State University and a group of investors announced the creation Ag_Tech_Financing
of the Ag Startup Engine, a development program for agriculture technology companies. The Startup Engine will serve as a business acceleration resource for startups across the agricultural innovation spectrum, including biotechnology and ag technology (or what we used to call "precision agriculture"). The initiative will “provide mentoring services to agricultural entrepreneurs, as well as infrastructure for developing prototypes and products. It also will provide training in how to finance a business.”

Then, another upgrade. On Aug. 30, the Cultivation Corridor and the Greater Des Moines Partnership announced that John Deere, DuPont Pioneer, Farmers Mutual Hail and Peoples Company will invest in a new ag technology startup accelerator in Central Iowa that will further establish Central Iowa’s reputation as a global leader in cutting-edge agricultural technology. The accelerator is designed to build upon one of the state’s key industries of agriculture and the entrepreneurial activity that can advance technology in the industry. It is expected to welcome its first cohort of startups in Spring 2017 and continues to accept investors.

These two developments taken together represent a decisive announcement to the world that Iowa’s education, economic development and private sector leaders are committed in real monetary and organizational terms to establishing Central Iowa as a premier destination for capital and research in what is perhaps the fastest growing segment of an otherwise distressed ag sector. And it couldn’t have happened at a more important time. 

Work in ag technology, broadly termed to be research and innovation resulting in hardware, software and platform improvements in the agriculture sector, has exploded in the second decade of the 21st century. According to AgFunder, in 2010 the broader agriculture technology sector saw roughly $400 million in venture financing activity. Just five years later, that figure had grown 11-fold to $4.6 billion in 2015. As low commodity prices put more and more pressure on the sector, AgFunder reports $1.8 billion in activity for the first half of 2016. Still, the trend is real and growing -- exceptional volumes of venture and institutional capital are flowing toward the ag technology sector. 

As agriculture’s role increases in addressing the global challenges we all face in the coming decades related to nutrition, energy and environmental sustainability, the Ag_tech_states prominence that rapid technological innovation is taking in today’s agricultural companies is intensifying. Natural to such a cycle is the emergence of a startup class of companies that is growing in sophistication and value. And that’s where Central Iowa comes in.

Iowa has been a home of agricultural innovation for more than a century. Farmers, in addition to being some of America’s longest-standing small business owners, are perhaps our most pure professional innovators. And Iowa boasts more of these farm innovators than anyone else. Humble beginnings for Iowa farm innovators have produced spectacular economic, social and cultural returns for our state for many years -- be they seed breeding on the homestead (Harry Stine), solving equipment challenges on the farm (Gary Vermeer) or building a weed control empire from an Ankeny basement (Dennis Albaugh). 

Despite Iowa’s remarkable farm innovation pedigree, we of course possess no guarantee that the next generation of ag innovators will look to Iowa as a destination for the incubation and acceleration of their ideas. In fact, AgFunder’s data on investment in ag technology companies lists the top 15 states by dollars invested in startups for 2015. Hawaii is on the list. Alabama is on the list. Iowa is not. We cannot take for granted our longstanding reputation as leading agriculture state to presume Iowa will naturally attract investment in perhaps the most important emerging field of agriculture. We cannot, and so we must invest in programming and institutions like the Ag Startup Engine and the Ag Tech Accelerator to enhance our competitiveness as a destination for the next generation of ag technology capital and talent.

Since January, at least three other ag technology accelerators have been announced in the U.S. -- one at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, one in rural Washington and another in Memphis. Does this suggest that Central Iowa is late to the party and playing catch-up with is recent Ag Technology Accelerator announcement? Not at all; the rapid-fire emergence of accelerators pursuing startups in the ag space, if nothing else, reinforces the argument that the time is now to establish our region as a place of innovation in an industry sector that is growing rapidly. 

None of the people I am working with on the Ag Tech Accelerator would be surprised if four or five more ag-oriented accelerators are announced by year’s end. The market will saturate, but with the announcement of two startup support assets -- supported by major players in agriculture including John Deere, DuPont Pioneer and Summit Group -- to support startups in the space in the first half of 2016, Central Iowa has made clear that it intends to compete at the highest levels globally to attract agriculture startups to our state.

Contact Brent Willett:

Human: 515-360-1732

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

Finding the right pace for growth

- by Michelle DeClerck, CMP

One major challenge of running a small business startup is growing it at the right pace. Many of those who start their own business probably think they will ramp it up slowly and deal with growth-related issues later. I thought the same thing, but I quickly had more work than I could handle. While I would have preferred that the business grow more slowly, I suddenly found myself in a position in which researching how to hire and employ staff members was as much a priority as handling my clients’ requests.

Because employing others can affect many of the reasons you went into business for yourself, it’s important to give it careful consideration before you take that step.

When the time comes to think about adding staff, I recommend being very mindful of how and when you start spreading the word, as your friends will likely be eager to help you find someone — perhaps even before you’re ready to do so. This could result in a hiring decision you may later regret.

Next, ask yourself the following important questions:

• Do I truly understand the ramifications of hiring a friend?

• What will the working arrangement look like? If the business is home-based, how can I discern whether someone is self-motivated and self-directed enough to handle the unique challenges of working from home?

• Will the work be consistent enough to ensure I won’t hire someone only to have to terminate them later due to lack of funding? Remember, your staff will be depending on your business to help them pay for things like their kids’ braces and soccer fees.

• Do the numbers really add up? After workers’ compensation insurance, bookkeeping, paperwork, mentoring, managing and everything that goes into a meaningful employment situation, am I really making enough money to cover both the addition of the staff member and the time it will take me away from the core work I was doing? (These things usually take more time than you would think.)

• What’s the real reason I’m adding staff? If it’s to grow the company based on your strategic objectives, you’re probably on the right track. If it’s because you don’t want to turn down business, first make sure it’s really the type of business you want your company to handle. Next, consider whether the client would be OK with your delegating the work to a staff member rather than handling it yourself. Clients often hire small businesses based on the business owners. A candid conversation with the client may be necessary and may help you with your hiring decision.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you discuss all of these considerations with other successful small business owners. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can from their experiences.

Deciding when and how much to grow is a challenge. However, if you give it the right type of forethought, you can grow at a pace at which you can continue to find the same level of enjoyment and fulfillment you originally sought when you decided to go into business for yourself.

Leadership isn't as easy as it looks

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

Leader-holding-meeting-with-team

Tilt your head back, tucking in your chin until your mouth and esophagus align with your spine.

  • These are instructions for swallowing a sword.

As you take off, shift your weight backward by leaning back. This will make you spin.  

  • These are instructions to do a back flip in downhill skiing.

Be humble, communicate effectively and be emotionally intelligent.

  • These are instructions on becoming a leader.

What do these three sets of instructions have in common? 

They don’t reflect the complexity of the task or communicate the enormous amount of practice required to achieve mastery.

They certainly sound simple enough. In all three cases, it isn’t as easy as it looks.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

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Website: www.tero.com

Handling social media harassment and cyberbullies

Katie Patterson

CEO and Founder, Happy Medium

News reports recently alerted us to the cyberbullying that Gabby Douglas faced in Rio through social media. Her mother stated to journalists that the young gymnast felt she couldn’t do anything right and was criticized for everything from her hair to how she cheered on her teammates. The comments turned mean and ugly quite quickly, and Gabby turned away from her social channels as a result.

Brands are no strangers to this kind of backlash via social media channels as well. For some reason, people seem to have an easier time with complaints or negative comments when behind a screen and not face-to-face with an actual representative from your company. As stated in past blogs, social media is an extension of your customer service and no question, complaint or issue should be ignored. But every now and then, you’ll get someone who wants to stir the pot and leave negative comments repeatedly on your company posts. This can be a challenging time because instinct is often to delete the comments, but that can often make people angrier and backfire on the social efforts. A quick search of what to do turns up several recommendations that you never delete Facebook posts, so social media managers are often left wondering which is the lesser of two evils.

Here are some options to help detract the situation:

1. Set page guidelines to your company Facebook page. On your “about” page or through a Facebook note, you can set clear guidelines for commenting/posting on the company page. This oftentimes is as easy as no swearing, no spam, be respectful. It sets the precedent for what is accepted, and if anyone disputes why something was deleted, it’s easy to reference these guidelines as a benchmark for what will be allowed and those comments that are unacceptable.

2. Ask them to send more information privately. Taking the conversation into a private message allows you to get more details on the issue and also moves it to an area where the general public won’t be following along if the discussion gets heated on the customer's end.

3. Hear them out, and offer a solution. If the complaint is legitimate, offer a solution. Let them know you’re speaking with customer service or the employee who was involved in the issue. If it’s something that can easily be fixed, don’t be shy to repair the situation with a good gesture such as a complimentary experience or refund, if applicable.

4. Show appreciation for their feedback if a solution isn’t possible immediately. Oftentimes social media is where customers feel they can make suggestions for problems your team may already be working on but not have an answer to yet. At a minimum, thank them for their input. Most of the time, your fans just want to know their voice is being heard and acknowledged. 

5. Reply to reviews over individual posts to your page. Reviews are the more public-facing comments rather than posts to a page. Other viewers are more likely to look at your company reviews first, so make sure if a complaint is being left in multiple places, your response is focused on the review first. You can comment on other posts to say you have offered a solution on the review so other visitors are aware you didn’t leave the customer hanging with no response.

6. Hide their comments. If the conversation turns to a place where it is no longer productive, you can hide their comments. This allows the discussion to be hidden from your page but to the user who left it, it still appears as normal. This is a solution if you feel that deleting the comment will cause backfire.

7. Delete the comments or ban user if nothing else can be done. Some people simply cannot be reasoned with, and when the conversation turns down the path of no return, use your best judgment in deleting comments or banning the user from the page. Social media should be a place for productive discussion and engagement with your customers, and if the user refuses to be reasoned with or happy with any offering, this is the time when it’s OK to consider limiting future involvement on the page. This should be a last resort, but know that there are instances when this is the best option.

Avoid brain fatigue at your conferences

 

goldfish

- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Did you know the average human attention span is less than that of a goldfish? According to a recent study done by Microsoft Corp. the average attention span for humans is less than eight seconds. Now obviously we are capable of sitting down and absorbing information for semi-lengthy periods of times when we are required.  However, as event planners it is imperative that we are cognizant to this fact and are not overwhelming our attendees.

Here are five tips for planning your conference that will keep your attendees engaged longer and increase the chances of your message being received.

  1. Change up scenery often. In other words, get your attendees out of their seats often! Variety is the spice of life, so take full advantage of that while planning out your event program. Choose a venue that has multiple spaces to choose from and move your attendees around often. Even having your attendees stand up and move across the room will incorporate enough variety to keep them engaged and keep your program interesting and on pace. Avoid long expanses in the same room; this will make your attendees yawn, and yawning is contagious!
  2. Limit your speakers and breakout sessions. Having more than two keynote speakers and three breakout sessions in a single-day conference is a surefire way to wear your attendees out and have them yearning for the end of the day so they can run home to their beds. Choose your speakers wisely and with purpose.  If done right, your message will be fully received without the need for adding superfluous speakers into the mix.
  3. Vary your message delivery. Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are kinesthetic learners -- but the point is, we all learn differently, so be mindful of that. Provide information to your attendees in varied ways. Creating a lineup of three back-to-back speakers is the perfect formula to build attendee irritation. Integrate mini-breakout exercises, videos or interesting interactive elements to vary up your message delivery; your attendees will thank you for the variety.
  4. Give me a break! Rule of thumb: Provide your attendees a break at least every 90 minutes. This offers them the opportunity to get up and get the blood flowing again. It also offers them a nice little mental break to let their brain breathe. In this digital age, we are just itching to check in with our email and make sure nothing pressing is in need of our attention. By providing ample breaks you can give your attendees designated time to take care of any issues during that time and not be tempted to do it during one of your speakers.
  5. Provide a Constant Stream of Brain Food. Providing access to food is a must for keeping the brain engaged. Whole grains, lean proteins and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies will keep your attendees alert longer. Avoid heavy carbs -- just because the pasta bar is cheaper doesn’t mean it’s better. Leave healthy, easy-to-grab-and-consume foods out on the table for consumption during your entire program. Your attendees will become very distracted and angry if hunger begins to creep on them, so avoid this potential problem by building snacks into your budget.

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.  

Myth Buster: 90% of new restaurants do NOT fail in first year

--Jessica Dunker  is president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

Ninety percent of restaurants do not fail in their first year.

If you read no farther, please commit that fact to memory and repeat it often.

As best I can tell, the restaurant industry has been dogged by this myth for more than a decade, thanks to the opening credits of one of the first restaurant “reality” programs called "The Restaurant”.

The show followed the launch of a restaurant in Manhattan called Rocco's on 22nd and each week as part of the opening, viewers would hear the show’s main character Celebrity Chef Rocco DiSpirito proclaim that while "90 percent of new restaurants fail in their first year,” he would “beat those odds.” NBC cancelled the program after one season, but for some reason that opening statistic about restaurant failure rates has lived on in perpetuity.

Perhaps it was our natural inclination to “cheer for the underdog” that made us cling to the 90 percent failure rate figure as fact while we watched this restaurateur face “overwhelming” odds as he chased his dream to open his own restaurant. And while his dreams may have been real, that 90 percent failure rate figure carries about as much truth as the claim that those two dozen hunky men being dropped at the front door of a Hollywood mansion are just “looking for true love” on the show "The Bachelorette".

Anyone in the restaurant industry will be quick to tell you it is a slim-profit, high-risk, time-consuming business with higher than average staff turnover rates and a constantly changing competitive landscape. Still, I’m perplexed that anyone who has gone through eighth grade math would not question such an exaggerated statistic. In my head, this is an algebra test question waiting to be answered: “If 100 new restaurants open every year and 90 percent fail in the first year and 50 percent of those who make it to month 13 fail in the next three years, how long will it take until there are no restaurants at all?”

Given that even in the worst economic times we did not see mass restaurant closings, the numbers never added up. In fact today, Iowa’s restaurant industry, while not setting sales records, is expected to post a relatively healthy 4.2 percent growth in sales this year over last. Not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means — but certainly not a doomsday scenario either.

Exact figures focusing exclusively on new restaurant failures aren’t easy to come by, but the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy has reported that the two-year failure rate for all small businesses is 31 percent.

Researchers at Cornell University and Michigan State University conducted a study of restaurants in three local markets and concluded that after the first year approximately 27 percent of new restaurants failed. An Ohio State University study also found there was no significant difference in the failure rate of restaurant startups and small business startups in general.

So given the evidence we have to work with, the best I can estimate is that about 70 percent of new restaurants will make it past the first year. Asserting that is not likely to land me a reality show of my own anytime soon.

However, the numbers do offer me and restaurant lovers throughout the metro and state some reassurance that our new-to-the-market favorite places are more likely than not going to be here next August.

It also shows that Iowa’s restaurant industry will continue to be an important part of the state’s economy. Given that Iowa's restaurant industry employs one in ten workers in the state and generates about $4.3 billion in sales each year—those are numbers I can live with.

Should public schools care about customer service?

Red-school-blur-door

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

It's back-to-school season, and just the other day I met with administrators of my local school district. We've been having discussions over the summer with regard to the administrative assistants who answer phones in the schools' offices and greet visitors.

The superintendent told me that, for some time, he has wanted to find a way to equip these admins with customer service skills and to find a way to deliver a consistent, positive experience for their constituents across the district.

"These individuals are often the first impression of our school district for a parent or community member," he told me. "We want that impression to be a positive one."

As the conversation continued the other administrator added some color commentary.

"When you visit schools in other districts they will often tell you what schools they don't want you to visit," he explained. "It's often about the secretary or administrative assistant who runs the school office. They know that your experience with that person is going to make your visit a less than positive experience."

I'm excited to get to work on a small project with the district's key impression makers.

I walked away from this fascinating conversation with a few key take-aways about customer service:

  • Customer service is not just an issue for retail business. I'm so impressed with school administrators who are thinking strategically about the service experience of their constituents. So often we confine our thinking about customer service to classic retail and service industries. My experience over the years is that investment in service experience has the greatest impact in markets and sectors not traditionally known for caring about good customer service.
  • First impressions matter. I believe it was Dale Carnegie who made popular the phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." For a new parent moving into a school district, that administrative assistant can make or break the parent's impression of the school district. Training and coaching on a few key service skills can make a huge difference in overall satisfaction with the school and the district.
  • Mission and value statements are useless without expectations and accountability. In my conversation with the district administrators I was informed that two of the three "pillars" that the district had defined were "pursuing excellence" and "building caring relationships." The administrator recognized that our project to define and implement a consistent service experience across the schools was simply acting on the values the district had already set as goals for themselves.

Are you in an industry or profession that isn't known for making customer service a high priority? Is so, you might find that it is the very thing that could set you apart from your competitors and build stronger levels of loyalty and retention from your customers or clients.

Introverts, extroverts, and the power of showing up

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified and award-winning coach, author, speaker, and the founder of Spark. Learn more at MAP Professional Development Inc.

Background - Flowers Colorful w websiteQ: Why do extroverts have voicemail?

A: To never miss a call.

Q: Why do introverts have voicemail?

A: To never answer the phone.*

Which response resonates with you?

Whether you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between, one thing is for sure: To be of service, develop others, achieve our goals, and fulfill our purpose, we need to be in connection with people. Even my academic researcher client - whom you might think spends her days in scientific solitude - finds the majority of her workday involving others.

And if you have a message to get out into the world, you do a disservice to us all by keeping it - or yourself - hidden.

That being said, the idea of networking makes many people cringe. We often picture a room filled with people we don't know, everyone seemingly paired up and in gripping conversation, business cards flying, while we stand off to the side and secretly plan our escape.

I vividly remember attending my first conference as a working woman in the "real world." I focused on taking good notes, acting professional (read: grown up), and sneaking up to my hotel room during breaks in order to replenish my energy. I went home with great notes but little else: no sense of camaraderie with my fellow attendees, no new relationships to continue to build.

Since then, I've learned to balance my desire for connection with my need for rejuvenating time alone, and I've coached many clients - both introverts and extroverts alike - to make the infamous cocktail party environment meaningful and enjoyable. Here are a few tips you might find helpful:

Remember your WHY.

Part of my purpose is to serve others by inspiring positive action. If I think of networking in terms of what I might get, I'll feel awkward and inauthentic every time. But if I focus on being of service and fulfilling my purpose, I am much more gracious and open. What's your why? Connect with that and your networking experience will transform.

Adopt the role of host.

Ironic though it may seem, public speakers are often introverts; they feel fine if they have a role to fulfill (even speaking in front of thousands of people) but not as fine when left on their own. Even if it's not technically your event, imagine your job is to make others feel welcome and comfortable. Serving as pretend host gives you a role that benefits you as well as other guests.

Transform your vocabulary.

This may sound simplistic, but try replacing the word "networking" with a verb that feels more authentic: connecting, helping, building relationships, making friends, serving, learning. Feel free to adopt my view of networking as a way to fulfill your purpose.

Change your focus.

Let your guiding thought throughout your interaction be, "How might I help this person?" Maybe you can provide a resource, make an introduction, or simply be a good listener - a rare but valuable quality.

Show up. Fully.

"I'm always glad I went," a coaching client recently shared of functions, "it's getting myself to go that's difficult." Creating a mantra like "I joyfully show up," or remembering that honoring your commitments is a sign of integrity, can help. Don't overthink, just show up.

In her excellent book "Quiet", author Susan Cain discusses how many introverts have adapted to our noisy world by learning how to do extroverted things. Doing that, or what some might call "acting as if," doesn't mean being inauthentic; it's perhaps moving beyond your comfort zone to experience as rich a life as possible.

And as we've all probably learned by now, our greatest growth typically occurs beyond our comfort zone!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

First, make sure the events you say yes to support your vision and purpose.

Then, view your next event as an experiment. Choose one of these ideas, or another that comes to mind for you, and notice the difference it makes in your interactions, feelings toward the overall event, and sense of purpose!

Dr. Christi Hegstad helps you bring meaning to work and purpose to life! Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all @ChristiHegstad.

* From Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2010).

Investors should care about fiduciary standard

- Kent Kramer, CFP, AIF, is chief investment officer/lead adviser at Foster Group. He writes about investing for IowaBiz.com

Here’s why we care about a fiduciary standard and why all investors should as well. When receiving financial advice would you rather have a financial advisor guide you in way that is always in your best interest or something less?

The Department of Labor recently published a rule requiring financial professionals and companies who provide investment services to retirement plans to operate according to a fiduciary, or, in common language, a “best interest standard.” Why is this standard important to investors? Here’s an excerpt from the fact sheet issued by the DOL.

A White House Council of Economic Advisers analysis found that (these) conflicts of interest result in annual losses of about 1 percentage point for affected investors—or about $17 billion per year in total. To demonstrate how small differences can add up: A 1 percentage point lower return could reduce your savings by more than a quarter over 35 years. In other words, instead of a $10,000 retirement investment growing to more than $38,000 over that period after adjusting for inflation, it would be just over $27,500.

The point of the rule is to simply require financial advisors to act in the investor’s best interest and to disclose any and all compensation arrangements that may benefit the advisor (rather than the investor) in recommending one investment over another. It does not mean an advisor cannot receive reasonable compensation for their work.

The response to this rule has been varied, with a number of investment providers, lobbying groups and some politicians coming out against it, in its current form. While the implementation of the rule may need some clarification and/or modification, the goal should be embraced by industry and investors alike. All parties, investors, advisors and financial service companies will benefit by making this rule and standard easily understood and implemented.

So how would investors know today if their advisors are already operating according to this fiduciary, or “best interest” standard? Here are three standards provided by the DOL to certify compliance. The financial advisor and/or financial services firm should:

1. State in writing their firm commits to providing advice in the client’s best interest at all times.
2. State in writing their firm has adopted policies and procedures designed to mitigate conflicts of interest.
3. Clearly and prominently disclose any conflicts of interest, like hidden fees, and backdoor payments that might prevent (or provide a disincentive to) the advisor from providing advice in the client’s best interest.

While this rule currently applies to retirement plans only (e.g., Profit-sharing plans, 401(k), 403(b)), investors would be well-served to make certain all their financial advisors are operating according to this fiduciary, or best interest, standard. There will be many reasons offered by those who would rather not operate according to a fiduciary standard. When you hear this, just remember to go back to the main issue; would you rather have an advisor guide you in a way that is in your best interest or something less?

 

PLEASE NOTE LIMITATIONS: Please see Important Disclosure Information and the limitations of any ranking/recognitions, at www.fostergrp.com/disclosures. The above discussion should be viewed in its entirety. The use of any portion thereof without reference to the remainder could result in a loss of context. Foster Group cannot be responsible for any resulting discrepancy. A copy of our current written disclosure statement as set forth on Part 2A of Form ADV is available at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

 

 

Think big, execute small

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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."
 

Too often, people have a tendency to view the primary role of creative leadership as having and setting long-term direction, while letting others figure out how to get there. However, effective leaders are not only able to visualize which mountain to climb but also the individual steps necessary to climb it.

In the 1991 comedy What About Bob?, Bill Murray plays Bob Wiley, a character suffering from some serious “issues” (the clinical diagnosis given in the movie was an extreme case of multi-phobic personality characterized by acute separation anxiety).

When Bob’s current psychologist pawns him off on Dr. Leo Marvin, an egotistical psychologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, Bob shows up at Dr. Marvin’s office for an initial interview. As Dr. Marvin is getting ready to leave on vacation for a month, he shoves a copy of his new book, Baby Steps, into Bob’s hands and sends him on his way.

The premise of the book is to help people achieve larger goals by visualizing much smaller, reasonable goals and then take a series of successive baby steps to get there. To the eventual dismay of Dr. Marvin, Bob totally takes the doctor’s words to heart. He is able to visualize and take each necessary, yet very difficult, step towards “sharing” Dr. Marvin’s vacation with his family.

Bob’s actions include walking to the bus terminal, getting on the bus, riding the bus to Camp Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, finding Dr. Marvin by yelling for him in the middle of town, and then hijacking Dr. Marvin’s book interview with Good Morning America. Bob humorously “baby steps” his way into every aspect of Dr. Marvin’s life and psychotic breakdown.

Although they desire a different outcome, strong leaders are like Bob. They are able to “see” a big leap, some potential great outcome or challenging opportunity, and then visualize and implement each baby step necessary to achieve it. With laser-like focus, they accomplish each required step in sequence while keeping the big picture and ultimate outcome in mind the entire time.

They realize that 20 percent of their effort accounts for 80 percent of their success (Pareto’s Principle) so they don’t allow themselves to be overcome by distractions and irrelevant daily minutia. Able to manage many steps simultaneously while keeping the appropriate priority on each, leaders also recognize forward progress is a process. They are patient; sometimes great things may take considerable time to accomplish. In the Old Testament of the Bible, King Solomon says, “It is better to finish something than to start it. It is better to be patient than to be proud.”2

Strong leaders will assemble great teams of doers who are able to execute. They will find, and nurture, those who can work both individually and collaboratively. They know that individual effort impacts the outcome of the entire group, so leaders are willing to work with doers to improve individual performance. Effective leaders are also willing to reorganize tasks and people to gain maximum output or remove people altogether if necessary.

Imagine a snow globe. As long as each snowflake continues to fall, the desired effect is achieved. Sometimes, however, after the “snow” settles, the globe needs a good shake to reenergize it and keep things moving. Strong leaders are snow globe shakers. Have you shaken yours recently?

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian


PaustianHeadFor 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

 

 

 

 

  1. Ziskin, L. (Producer), Williams, B. (Producer), & Oz, F. (Director). (1991). What About Bob? [Motion Picture]. United States: Touchstone Pictures. Used with permission.
  2. Holy Bible, New Century Version. (2003). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

I ate a goldfish

- Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 
 
 “What? You ate a goldfish?“ I raised my voice and could not believe what I heard! 
 
“Yes, it had a bitter taste and was not good at all,” Wang said matter-of-the-factly in her slow and accented English.
 
When she was in her late 30s, she and her husband came to United State through Governor Ray's refugee settlement program. They settled in Iowa, raised three wonderful children, and all of whom were college educated and employed. On a monthly basis, for decades, Wang would come to visit me for sales tax filing. Today she brought her husband Phung with her too. They both were sitting across the desk from me.
 
Content and happy as always, they had seemed this way to me for as long as I could remember. Business was never hard for them; they always made money. They are not the wealthiest clients I have, but with the little profit they earned, they use it to love the world. From an accountant's point of view, they run a perfect small business; especially if you can add “contentment” into the equity portion of the balance sheet.
 
I was telling these two that I brought my mom three goldfish when I visited her last week. So Wang blurted out her dining experience with the goldfish. They were caught off guard by my explosive reaction, so Phung added, “That was the time when we would eat whatever was moving.” He looked at Wang and she agreed silently.
 
My hand was on the calculator. I was supposed to get their sales tax completed, but at that moment, everything stopped and my mind was wondering about my own reaction and pondering Phung’s words.
 
Why would I be surprised? Of course I knew how life could be for them when they lived in the refugee camps. Life is so good here in United States, that people like me do not always think about folks who were forced to eat anything that could be eaten.
 
Today, it is unthinkable for someone to eat goldfish. They might even be reported to the animal right groups for animal cruelty. My kids would certainly be advocating for animal rights!
 
Material wealth is available to all of us here in this country. Living in this country is like heaven on earth for those who lived in a refugee camp. This is why Wang and Phung are so happy, all the time, no matter what.
 
I am their accountant and I know that they did not make a fortune with their $15.00-per-piece sewing business. But the way they carry themselves makes you think that they are exceedingly successful with their business. They are so content with what they have.
 
When someone has experienced hunger and hardship, they can appreciate what this country offers them. The hardship made Wang and Phung develop a tough mentality. So facing difficulties and challenges in the beautiful state of Iowa becomes nothing more than embracing the wind.
 
Phung continued to explain that when they were in the refugee camp they had to hunt for their food each day for three long years. Life was tough for Wang and Phung back then. So now, neither have had reasons to complain. Nothing could stop them from having a great business and great life. Every win is big win and every penny they made is a bigger penny than the ones before.
 
They wanted to live, so they ate a goldfish.

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