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November 2016

'Your Business Is Important to Us' (NOT)


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

A month or so ago I ordered a clearance item from MLBshop.com. I have ordered things from the site in the past, though it had been a while. While checking out I entered my credit card number and billing address. I did not realize, however, that the shipping address on file was an old address. I honestly forgot about the order until a few weeks later when my package hadn't arrived. Tracking the item from the website I discovered that it had been rejected by the local post office for being a bad address and returned to the shipper.

Trying to find a phone number to call Customer Service was a veritable clicking adventure. I eventually tried chat, but after waiting far too long for a human being to answer the chat, I gave up and continued my clicking adventure until I found the customer service number. After some time in queue, I spoke to a pleasant young lady.

I've spent a quarter century in Customer Service, and I know that my problem was fairly simple. I hadn't updated the shipping address on my account. I simply asked for my address to be updated and the order resent. I was assured that it had been done and that I would receive an order confirmation in 1-2 days for the replacement order. I was also given $10 provisional credit for my trouble. Awesome. Just send me my order, please.

After 3-4 days I hadn't received anything. Customer Service was closed when I wanted to deal with it, so I decided to email through MLBshop.com's customer service portal. My inquiry was very simple, but the portal wanted to continually send me back to Frequently Asked Questions to try to self-serve rather than actually send an email. I spent some time running the gantlet they required and fired off the email.

I received a response a few days later confirming the correct shipping address and saying that the order would be placed and I'd get a confirmation. Again. This time I did get the order confirmation and an expected delivery date.

The delivery date came and went, so I checked the tracking number. Once again, it had been rejected by the post office as an invalid address and sent back to MLBshop.com. 

When I finally called and got a hold of a CSR, I explained that I was really frustrated and told my entire sordid story. The young man on the phone patiently investigated the situation, placing me on multiple holds. He finally confirmed with me that the replacement order had been sent to my old address despite being told (twice) it was being sent to my correct address. He asked if I wanted a refund.

"No!" I said. Why would I descend through the seven rings of customer service hell you've put me through just to get a refund? I just wanted the item, I explained to him.

The young man said, "Oh you're in luck! There's ONE left. Let me add this to your cart (insert 15 second pause). Oh shoot. We missed it. The item is no longer available." At that point I questioned whether he was telling the truth, or was lying the whole time knowing that the item was no longer available. Don't know which is more painful.

"What about the one that was sent to me, rejected by the Post Office, and is being sent back to you?" I asked. 

"Well," he said. "I don't know. It may go back into stock, but maybe not. You'll just have to keep checking the website to see if it shows up there again."

Really? You can't flag that return with the carrier or the returns department to be re-shipped to me? Guess not.

To recap ...

I made one simple mistake in ordering: I forgot to change my ship-to address.

I put forth every (frustrating) effort to try and rectify the situation:

I tracked and self-served.
I tried to find the phone number.
I tried to chat.
I called once.
I emailed once.
I emailed a second time.
I tracked and self-served.
I called a second time.

MLBshop.com dropped the ball several times:

They said they had updated my ship-to address (they hadn't).
They said they would re-ship the order (they didn't).
They confirmed that they had my ship-to address correct (they didn't).
They said they finally re-shipped it to my new address (they didn't).

MLBshop.com did give me a total of $20 in provisional credit, which I didn't consider worth my effort, frustration and ultimate disappointment.

In all of the communication with me they repeated a standard phrase: "Your business is very important to us." I've learned in my years measuring customer satisfaction and service quality that mission statements, value statements and catchphrases are easy to copy and paste. What's difficult is delivering on the promise. Our customer satisfaction research regularly reveals some common key drivers of customer satisfaction: 

  • One contact resolution (MLBshop.com failed).
  • Ease in finding the phone number (MLBshop.com failed).
  • Correctness of answer (MLBshop.com failed).
  • Timeliness of follow-up (MLBshop.com succeeded with auto-replies, but failed in addressing the real issue).
  • Courtesy and friendliness (MLBshop.com had courteous CSRs who repeatedly failed me as a customer).

     (Note: Key drivers of customer satisfaction are variable depending on customer population.)

My experience as a customer of MLBshop.com is that if things go right (which I'm sure they do most of the time), then you'll have a decent, if unremarkable experience. If things go wrong, then there are systemic problems with MLBshop.com's service delivery system that may make communication and resolution frustrating. They may say my business is important to them, but not important enough to invest in the things that would truly satisfy me as a customer.

Tax relief in Iowa -- what will that mean?

Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C.
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Big changes in Iowa tax are suddenly likely next year as a result of the election of a Republican Iowa Senate. Now that tax changes can pass without bipartisan agreement, the incoming Senate majority leader, Bill Dix of Shell Rock, promises "tax relief" legislation in the coming Iowa General Assembly session.

One approach to tax relief is a tax cut. While the new Legislature might like to cut taxes all around, they probably need to cut spending to do so. Under current revenue projections, the state isn't expected to be collecting much revenue that it won't be spending right away. Spending cuts are hard (though if I were king, I'm sure I'd find some), so straight-up tax cuts are hard.

Fortunately, reducing tax revenue isn't the only way to relieve burdens caused by the tax law. A simple tax system with low rates and a broad base is less burdensome than one with high rates and complex special breaks for the well-advised and well-lobbied. The Legislature could provide tax relief by improving the tax system itself.

Iowa taxes need fixing. Iowa's business tax system consistently rates poorly in the Tax Foundation's State Business Tax Climate Index. We have the highest corporation tax rate in the nation, and our individual income tax rate is no bargain, either. Meanwhile, the tax base is hollowed out by special-interest tax breaks and economic development incentives. That makes the system inefficient and costly to comply with. It also means similar taxpayers can end up with wildly different tax burdens.

The Legislature has a road map pointing the way to a better system. Earlier this year the Tax Foundation released "Iowa Tax Reform Options: Building a Tax System for the 21st Century." It is the result of extensive research into the Iowa tax system and dozens of interviews with Iowa taxpayers and tax policy figures. It provides a menu of tax policy options that would give Iowa a better tax system without reducing state revenues. 

My favorite set of proposals from the "Iowa Tax Reform Options" study is its "Option A":

· A 5.15 percent flat individual income tax made possible by the repeal of federal deductibility and business tax credits, which also has the effect of eliminating the marriage penalty. 

· The retention of the current standard deduction of $1,970 and the $40 personal exemption credit.

· The repeal of both individual and corporate alternative minimum taxes. These add much complexity to Iowa's tax law while collecting little revenue.

· A 6.5 percent flat corporate income tax with the repeal of federal deductibility and all business tax credits. 

· The restoration of a three-year net operating loss carryback.

· The exclusion of business inputs from the sales tax base.

· The repeal of the inheritance tax.

This would be a tremendous improvement over the current system. We now have an 8.98 percent federal top individual rate and a highest-in-the-nation 12 percent corporate tax rate. Option A would reduce rates, lower compliance costs and retain popular breaks such as the Section 179 deduction and the earned income credit. It would also raise as much revenue as the current system.

What about Kansas? Some commentators fear tax relief efforts because Kansas botched its tax reforms a few years ago. That state still is struggling to balance its budget because of an ill-considered tax cut package.

Fortunately, there are better examples. North Carolina recently enacted tax reforms largely informed by Tax Foundation analysis. The reforms improved the state's ranking in the Business Tax Climate Index by 28 places, to 16th place. The state's financial health has also improved, with cash reserves higher now than before the reforms were enacted.

Tax relief is hard when you can't get by with less revenue. Fortunately, the Legislature can reduce tax burdens and make Iowa a better place in which to do business while keeping the state financially sound.

Time to prune?

 Tree pic 

Rita Perea is President of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

During my first meeting with a new client I play the role of detective. It’s the time when I am trying to pinpoint what the client’s goals are and why they are seeking the support of an executive coach. I am also listening for clues to tell me how much frustration, anxiety, despair or, conversely, happiness they are experiencing in their personal or professional life. That first meeting is usually very telling.

Susan, a new director in a large organization, shared her frustrations with me: “I have this new position that I worked really hard to get. My company wants me to be involved in the community. I serve on 13 boards and I’m feeling so overwhelmed! I never get to see my family. My kids are in bed by the time I get home every night. I am not feeling effective anywhere -- my job, my personal life, my community involvement. I need time. Time is the thing I need more of!“

I always suspend judgement as I listen to my clients’ stories. But, you have to admit, volunteering for so many different, and demanding, board positions sounded less like community involvement and more like a full-time job as a volunteer. Is it any wonder that Sue felt that she needed more time in her life? Susan had all of the time that we all get to accomplish our important “to dos.” She just needed to take a little bit of that time to prune the deadwood, bundle it up and send it away.

The end of a calendar year is the perfect time to take stock of all of your activities during the past 12 months. It is a natural time to honestly assess if each commitment has gotten you closer to reaching your goals. It’s a great time to reflect on what worked well and what you think you might do differently to create a more healthy, balanced and productive professional and personal life. The end of the year is the perfect season to prune.

In the gardening and landscaping world there are seasons for planting seeds and watching them sprout; cultivating the new growth as plants are lovingly tended to; reaping the abundant harvest of the plants; and, finally, during the fallow season, clipping out the deadwood or the stalks that are no longer productive and, if left, could damage the plant. This phase of eliminating the plants that are spent or the branches that are no longer useful is called pruning. If a gardener does not prune, their plants, shrubs and trees will get overgrown and the landscape will become overwhelmed. It’s like that in our lives too, both at work and at home. If we don’t take the time to prune those things that are not necessary for our own growth and which may be taking too much time or dragging us down, then our interior landscape can become overgrown. Like Susan, we might feel frantic and as though life is out of control.

How do we survey our personal landscape, sharpen our saw and prune?

Try these four steps:

1. List: Compile a list of every group, organization, board, committee, work team you have been assigned to or committed your time to. In addition to those for your job, don’t forget your family roles, church and community activities. These are all a part of your personal landscape.

2. Reflect: Honestly and fearlessly review your list to decide which items are “absolute must dos” (include those activities that feed your soul) and which activities are not necessary but only “nice to dos.” At this point your ego may be jumping up and down saying, “but if I don't do it (serve on this board or be the Cub Scout leader), who will? No one can do it the way that I can!” While that may be true, if you hoard all of the board seats or leadership experiences for yourself, you are robbing others of the opportunity to grow. My new client Sue was actually preventing 13 other individuals from participating in a growth experience by saying yes to volunteering for 13 different boards.

3. Prune: Now get out your pruning shears (or red Magic Marker) and begin to mark items off of your “nice to do” but not absolutely necessary list. If this is hard at first, make an effort to cross off just one activity from your list. Maybe the group that you don’t really feel a connection to or the committee that ties your stomach into knots of anxiety before you attend? Notice if there are any feelings coming up as you consider crossing items off your list. Are you breathing a sigh of relief? Celebrate taking this first step toward freedom. Is guilt welling up inside? Are you telling yourself you “should” do something because “if you don’t, who will?” That is not a super great reason to continue to give your precious time away.

4. Repeat: Feeling better already? Try steps 1-3 again to continue trimming the activities down to a manageable size. You will continue to feel more balanced, peaceful, confident and less overwhelmed. When the boughs begin to break in our internal landscapes, we can lack the energy and focus to complete our obligations with effectiveness.

Thoughtfully trimming even one item from our long list of commitments can create a sense of freedom and open our awareness for greater innovation. Taking the time to prune what is not working in our lives gives us the courage and confidence to begin a new year with purpose and poise.

©Rita Perea, 2016

ciWeek 8 revealed!

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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." His upcoming book, "A Quarter-Million Steps," will be available early next year.
 

Celebrate! Innovation Week (ciWeek) was created in 2010 with one singular purpose: To Inspire.

One week each year is set aside at the Des Moines Area Community College West Des Moines campus to provide students and the community as a whole the opportunity to directly engage with people (some famous, all inspired) who have dreamed, created and accomplished. It’s a thought-provoking and highly interactive week that lets attendees listen, absorb and engage with people who they wouldn’t have the privilege to meet under normal circumstances. Through direct engagement with the “who behind the what,” stories come alive and can have a direct, emotional impact on those fortunate enough to hear them. The event is entirely paid for by a number of generous sponsors, making it free to all who attend.

Previous ciWeek presenters have included two of the 12 men who have walked on the moon; the father of the personal computer; television personalities who focus on science, invention and ideas; explorers who have been to the Titanic and the furthest depths of the ocean, all the way to the highest mountain peaks and most dense jungles; engineers who are developing the growing commercial space industry; inventors of incredible bionics, robotics and animatronics; Academy Award-winning visual effects creators and animators; No. 1 best-selling authors of both fiction and nonfiction; nationally known artists; and even connoisseurs and creators of wines and cheeses.

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the speakers for ciWeek 8 were unveiled during a special event at the offices of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. As the speakers, the new video trailer for the event and the fall issue of ciMagazine were all revealed, you could feel the energy and excitement in the room. From Feb. 27 to March 3, 2017, some of the speakers who will descend upon the Des Moines metro are:

Kevin Jorgeson, World-Renowned Free Climber                                   

In January 2015, Jorgeson stood atop El Capitan to mark the completion of a successful 19-day free climb up the Dawn Wall of the Yosemite National Park 3,000-foot-tall rock formation — one of the hardest rock climbs ever completed. The success was more than six years in the making as Jorgeson, along with climbing partner Tommy Caldwell, prepared, planned and imagined his way to the top of a dream that everyone else thought was impossible.                  

Alfred (Al) Worden, Test Pilot, Astronaut and Aerospace Engineer

Worden is a two-time world record-holding astronaut for having completed the first spacewalk in deep space and for being the most isolated human ever (at one point he was over 2,200 miles from the next closest person). Both were achieved during his mission as command module pilot to the moon on Apollo 15 in 1971.

Max Brooks, Best-Selling Author andZombie Expert”        

This New York Times best-selling author has sparked readers to discuss how to better prepare for crises and discover solutions around emergency responses in an unconventional way — through zombie-themed fiction. His books, The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, and The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, have established Brooks as a “zombie expert” and propelled the zombie trend forward in pop culture.

Dan Gable, Olympic Gold Medalist and University of Iowa Wrestling Head Coach

A native Iowan, Gable achieved unprecedented wrestling career highlights, including a prep and collegiate collective competition record of 182-1 and a 1972 Olympic gold medal. As a coach, Gable has personally inspired hundreds of other athletes to achieve their absolute best. While at the University of Iowa, he led his team to 15 NCAA national titles. Gable also served as the Olympic head coach three times, and was a six-time World Team head coach.

Thomas Kenneth (Ken) Mattingly II, Astronaut and Aerospace Innovator

Mattingly is not just an astronaut — he served as command module pilot to the moon for Apollo 16 — but also an innovative engineer. He’s responsible for the development of the lunar backpack and spacesuit. Mattingly’s leadership also qualified him as commander for the final orbital test flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS 4. He was played by actor Gary Sinise in the movie Apollo 13.

Kaila Mullady, Beatbox Champion and Artist

Catch beatboxer and multi-instrumentalist Mullady in action, and you’re in for a one-of-a-kind artistic performance that fuses beatboxing with poetry, rap, singing and theater. She’s the 2015 world beatbox champion, among other well-deserved national competition titles. Based in New York City, Mullady teaches creative workshops across the country.

Greg Russell, Academy Award-Nominated Sound Engineer

Russell is one of the most respected sound engineers in the film industry. He has worked on more than 200 films and blockbuster hits, along with numerous famous television shows, and has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards in the category of best sound. Russell won an Emmy for outstanding film sound mixing in 1984.

Thousands of people are touched each year by ciWeek, either in person or through the HD video simulcast. Any one of them could be inspired to create or invent something new to change our lives for the better. Isn’t one enough?

For a complete speaker listing and schedule, and to view the video trailer, please visit:

www.ciWeekExperience.com

©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

 

Cybersecurity due care for officers and directors

Dave Nelson, CISSP, is president and CEO of Integrity.

Individuals serving as officers or directors of an organization have a responsibility to investors and clients to ensure that the organization is being run well. This includes multiple facets of the organization’s operations such as finance, regulatory compliance, people management and risk management. There is so much responsibility placed on these individuals that an entire insurance market is devoted to protecting them through the sale of officer and director liability policies.  Evidently the roles of officers and directors are so important that a mistake in their judgment could create significant losses. Why is it, then, that so many in this role continue to allow a blind spot in their oversight to exist? This blind spot is information security.

Officers and directors need to take a more active role in assessing how well organizations are handling the threat of a data breach. Here are some practical examples of steps that can be taken to provide board-level visibility into cybersecurity preparedness.

  • Implement an IT risk management program to identify, classify, track and address technology risks within the organization. This not only helps identify risks but also provides a prioritized action list to ensure time and money are being spent on the largest risks, not just pet projects.
  • Require a quarterly or semiannual report on cybersecurity including any incidents, performance metrics or other data to ensure progress is being made toward your security goals, and that a positive return on investment is being realized for information security expenditures.
  • Ensure the individual responsible for information security has at least a dotted-line reporting structure outside of the technology group. This is extremely important to ensure that security voice is heard and not squashed by the very management it is reporting on.
  • Require that a robust incident response plan be generated with predefined team members, third-party experts and general counsel. The time to determine how to respond to a breach is not during the breach. Test the plan annually in order to continually adapt to changes in business practices or regulatory requirements.
  • Use a common information security framework such as NIST, ISO, HITRUST or PCI to guide security activities and expenditures. These frameworks have been fully vetted over the years and ensure a consistent approach to information security.
  • Consider using an external security firm to perform a security assessment to ensure the standard of due care and due diligence have been met.

Officers and directors will be called upon more frequently to defend an organization’s information security practices as legal proceedings increase due to data breaches. By requiring a basic level of protection and receiving regular updates on security activities, board members will be better prepared to answer questions about the maturity of their organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.comDave-Nelson-2015-resized

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: https://integritysrc.com

Through the Johari Window

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

Many of the posts I have written up until now have dealt with the externalities associated with strategic planning. Two books I have been reading recently have got me thinking a little more about the internal aspects of planning. One of these books is “The Second Self” by Sherry Turkle, the other is “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly. Both of these books deal with how our world is changing, and how our world is changing us. We are the product of our environment, and the electronic realm has impacted and accelerated our evolution in ways that we have yet to fully quantify.

Developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, the Johari Window is a mechanism to help individuals understand themselves and their interactions with other individuals better. I’ve included a couple of examples of a Johari Window in this post.

Johari-Window-Diagram-New

The way that one uses this heuristic device is to populate the boxes with words or phrases that help one self-actualize based on the quantifications listed on the X and Y axes. This exercise is meant to be difficult – the blind area (2) and unknown area (4) can be difficult to navigate and require trust from you and others to populate in ways that either will find useful.

The same difficulty applies to the hidden area (3). If you are not able to be honest in your self-assessment, then the exercise will not reap the benefit you are seeking to realize.

The most important lines on the diagram are arguably the “ask” and “tell” arrows in the blue diagram. Being able to manage feedback and balance that with adjustments to capacity for self-disclosure is incredibly important when working toward a balanced path of shared discovery.

The books I mentioned at the beginning of this post deal with different aspects of self-discovery. Turkle’s book makes the argument that computers have created a mechanism for establishing an extension of our own identities. That computers are no longer simply tools, but our way of exploring and experiencing the world around us. So this is the “ask” in our Johari Window.

Kelly’s book looks at the way technology is having an impact on the way we interact with our world, sort of the other end of the narrative that Turkle creates, or the “tell” portion of the window.

Our relationship to each other and to the world around us is dramatically impacted by the technology we use. Some aspects of Johari’s Window are easier to confront because of the protection that the digital world affords us, while some are more difficult to engage because of this same reason. Johari Window

So, back to strategic planning. As we have access to more and more of these mechanisms to convey information and interface with the world around us, we need to keep sight of the end state vision of our planning efforts and the value to working through a rigorous and honest process. Shared discovery involves trust, can reinforce the integrity of the working parties, and ultimately build engagement through learning facilitated by a vast array of available resources.

Strategic planning, like many efforts, is only as good as the pieces that it is built from. Both by external mechanisms and internal infrastructure. Doing well really is achieved by doing good – by yourself and by others – together.

 Please contact me for more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 joe@ingenuitycompany.com

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What’s a CMS, anyway?

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

When websites were “born” into existence, they looked pretty different from how they look today. Responsive web design wasn’t even a concept (probably because there were no devices to be responsive to), GIFs within web pages were all the rage, and font choices weren’t great. Oh, and we can’t forget Flash. Flash was everywhere.

For those who need a refresher, the Space Jam website is still living in 1996. You’re welcome.

Space Jam Website

In addition to the visual differences that we’re all trying desperately to forget about, the way websites were developed was quite different as well. Programming languages were various, and websites were “hardcoded,” meaning that every line of code was input by a programmer. These programmers had a specific set of skills, and those skills had to be made available for any change that a website needed -- from a single color change to a typo fix.

For those of us who run websites, that’s fortunately no longer the case. Many websites are now programmed with a CMS, otherwise known as a content management system. Wikipedia defines a content management system as “a computer application that supports the creation and modification of digital content using a simple interface to abstract away low-level details unless required, usually supporting multiple users working in a collaborative environment.”

As I briefly defined in a blog in April, a CMS is typically built of two parts, one being the content management application (CMA) and the other being the content delivery application (CDA). The CMA allows users who don’t know HTML to update their web page content. This is typically done within something called a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor that allows a user to update content as easily as they would type in Microsoft Word.

Neat, huh?

Open source vs. proprietary CMS systems

With that introduction comes the detail that you really need to think about: Which system is right for you and your business? Website CMS systems can be referred to within two buckets: “open source” vs. “proprietary” systems. My goal with this website isn’t to convince you which one is better -- they both have their advantages -- but to simply inform you of your options.

Open source CMS systems are built with source code that is freely available on the internet.

This may be the point where you’re saying, “Free? But then why did I pay someone $20,000 to build me a website based on WordPress last year?!”

When we say free, we mean the base code is free. This code can be used without paying a licensing fee, and it can be modified by anyone in the world to add capabilities. These additions are what you’re paying a developer for. I should also mention that free base code does not a website make. There are still things that need to be done to that base to set up a website and make it usable, and no one’s time is free.

Examples of open source CMS systems include WordPress, Drupal and Magento.

Proprietary CMS systems are referred to as such because the way their systems are built is a secret. A web design company may use a proprietary CMS system to build their websites with, or a company may have a proprietary internal system that they use. With these systems, there is still a base that is pulled from, but that base was built and maintained as a trade secret.

Regardless of whether you chose to utilize an open source or proprietary CMS system, nontechnical individuals will be able to update the website. Depending on the system, this may have more or less of a learning curve, but the key to CMS systems is that they are built for “the rest of us” to use. And for those who have paid attention to my previous articles, you know that since a website is never done, the easier it is to update, the better off everyone feels.

Alex-Karei_YPFinalist2016

Alex 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

Righting a mistake

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

“I have no anger towards Judge Aspen at all. ... He wrote a beautiful letter for me to the president of the United States. It means a whole lot to me, that letting me know that he was giving me the opportunity that he couldn’t have gave me the first time, this time. I would actually thank him for giving me a second chance at life.”

Prison-barsAlton Mills made these remarks when asked to comment about the U.S. federal judge who had sentenced him to a mandatory life sentence in prison for federal cocaine violations. After serving 22 years, President Barack Obama commuted his life sentence. 

Congress enacted sentencing laws that dramatically increased penalties for drug crimes in response to rising public concern about high crime rates in the 1980s and 1990s. The laws, intended to improve public safety, did not deliver those results as the availability and use of illegal drugs increased and recidivism rates remained largely unchanged. 

What did happen was the mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession resulted in thousands of low-level drug offenders serving more time in federal prisons for minor drug offenses than they would have for violent crimes like bank robbery, rape or even murder. Alton Mills was one example. The more serious drug traffickers, who were the focus of the laws, were largely unaffected. 

Applications to leadership

How does this story inform leadership in organizations? There are two insights:

  1. Leaders make mistakes. Leadership decisions, even those that are well-intentioned, sometimes have unintended negative consequences. As leaders, when we discover a mistake, even one we didn’t personally make, we are faced with an important choice. What do I do next? How do I correct the mistake? Federal Judge Marvin Aspen wrote to Obama, asking him to grant clemency to an inmate whose sentence did not match the crime. 
  1. People make mistakes. The low-level drug offenders who received the harsh sentences had knowingly committed a crime. They are also faced with an important choice. What do I do next? How do I correct the mistake? Alton Mills is committed to making the most of his second chance and proving to the president, who granted him clemency, that he was worthy of it. 

We all make mistakes. Our true character is revealed in what we do about a mistake. Take a moment to reflect on the mistakes you have made or discovered. What can you do to right the mistake -- even many years later?

This blog opened with Alton Mills’ responding to the question, “What would you say to the judge who sentenced you?” We’ll close with the response Judge Aspen provided when asked, “What would you say to Alton Mills?”

“I would say to him that I hope he can leave prison and have a positive attitude. I know that is difficult after all he’s been through. So many people have been concerned about him. I hope he can be a positive example to show that not only was a terrible mistake and injustice done to him, but that he can prove by the rest of his life that he was a worthwhile person and justify the confidence that all the people had in him, including myself.”

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Reaching millennials

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

There's an old saying that "everything old is new again."

Judging from a few recent stories in the national media, it seems one "old" idea that is new again is that millennials, an increasingly important market segment, have a growing appreciation for connecting to brands.

It should come as no surprise, really, and it fits right into a dominant philosophy that millennials would rather buy experiences than buy material goods.

While one writer described "selling experiences" as one of the hottest retail trends, that's old hat to small, specialty retailers. At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, we know our success depends on people having a very positive experience when they walk through our door or order products online.

Millennials' desire for exceptional experiences is great news for niche retailers. I'm not knocking big retailers, but shoppers don't go to the big-box stores for the experience or to create a connection. That always has been -- and always will be -- specialty retailers' opportunity to shine.

And, let's face it, not even the most frugal and determined millennial can live without some material goods.

If you're not already focused on the Millennial market -- and creating the kind of experience that will bring them through your doors or onto your website -- now is the best time to make it happen.

Because one thing I know for sure, extraordinary customer service never goes out of style. It's exciting to know that millennials recognize and appreciate that fact, too.

You soon won’t recognize your job

The definition of work is undergoing seismic change. That’s good news and bad news for job creators.

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

When Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, Robot it touched off a debate among Americans and Europeans alike about the institution of democracy and its future. Some of the work's most controversial assessments remain under debate today, but one of Tocqueville’s assertions stands unchallenged: that local government is fundamentally critical to the functioning of democracy and its contributions to jobs and prosperity.

Tocqueville’s contention that decisions made at the most local level possible are most desirable -- a version of the principle of subsidiarity, which suggests that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate level -- offers a framework for the way we should be thinking about the future of jobs in a period of seismic and unprecedented change in the way we all will work in the future.

By now, it’s baked into the discourse about the future of advanced economies that automation will continue to absorb market share of dangerous and redundant jobs, forcing more and more low- and middle-skilled workers to invest in retraining, in many cases several times over the course of a career. 

From 1991 to 2001, the number of secretaries declined by about 35 percent. The number of textile and apparel workers fell 37 percent in the same period. But it isn’t just low- and middle-skill jobs that are undergoing enormous and uncertain change. It’s your high-skilled, knowledge-based job, too. 

Today, industries with jobs requiring higher cognitive capabilities including computer programming, engineering, even medicine, face a hollowing out, thanks to automation and communications technology. McKinsey & Co. estimates that in coming years as much as $2 trillion worth of human economic activity could be automated away using existing technologies available today. That’s 45 percent of the activities humans are currently paid to perform.

Even those jobs that continue to demand human-level cognition and dexterity face tremendous upheaval, thanks both to advances in technology and emerging new models of work. Take surgery. The Narayana Hrudayalaya Cardiac Hospital in Bangalore today employs a fleet of junior medical staff and technicians who handle routine tasks like preparing the patient for surgery and immediate postoperative work previously reserved for highly skilled surgeons. The approach helps the hospital provide care at dramatically lower costs than U.S. providers while maintaining mortality and infection rates on level with U.S. peers.

Or take the legal profession. Fewer and fewer companies are willing to pay high hourly fees for routine legal work that can be done by junior or even contract employees making far less than high-fee attorneys. Law firms today are sending discovery-related and other client tasks to third-party contractors as the traditional full-service lawyer model of lawyers charging $400 an hour for their time regardless of task undergoes disruption back at the office.

Or insurance. Tyche Risk, a 2015 graduate of Des Moines-based Global Insurance Accelerator, uses legal, financial and social data to build predictive models of legal risk. The insights help insurance companies "understand and adapt to changing tort liability environments." If you’re an insurance company and have a disputed claim from a rainy day in Austin, Texas, Tyche’s product will search every piece of relevant case law and develop an actionable recommendation on whether to litigate or settle. This product exists today.

Competing forces shaping the future of work

As economic developers around the world debate what the future holds for the jobs and accompanying wealth and prosperity that they will be pursuing for their communities Tocqueville in the future, questions about how technology will shape not just individual jobs but the institutions that produce them abound. The attraction and growth of technology companies in regions around the country continue to represent the pinnacle of accomplishment for local economic developers, but there are serious questions about the disproportion between market share and job numbers the sector maintains today and is projected to in the future. 

Profits do not translate into jobs as they once did. Consider:

  • In 1990, the top three car manufacturers in the U.S. had a market capitalization of $36 billion and employed 1.2 million people. In 2014, the top three U.S. tech firms (Apple, Alphabet and Facebook) had a market cap of over $1 trillion. They employed 137,000 people.
  • In 2014, employee compensation in computer and electronic-parts making was equal to 49 percent of the value of the industry's output, according to the Commerce Department (link; paywall). That’s down 30 points from 79 percent in 1999. 
  • WhatsApp had about 450 million users when it sold itself to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. It had 55 employees.

Of course, technology is also a force for good. In his new book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, author Yuval Noah Harari offers this electrifying proclamation about the conquering of famine and war: “For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.” The future, Harari argues, will be about how to achieve some version of immortality as we learn to balance coming enhancements of our physical and cognitive abilities beyond the biological norm.

If living forever isn’t good enough news for you, in the more proximate -- and relatable -- future, there’s this: While technology may pose a longer-term threat to jobs, today the problem is of knowledge worker shortage, not surplus. McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2020 the worldwide shortage of highly skilled, college-educated workers could reach 40 million. That’s a whopping 13 percent of demand. And this: According to The Economist, technology and service companies are today providing Americans and Europeans with an estimated $280 billion worth of "free" services -- such as search and directions -- a year.

Don't call it a comeback: The return of geography

What will economic development professionals do to adapt to a new reality of accelerating change in what the definition of a job is and how to compete for them?  Amid a robustly global economy, we return to Tocqueville’s interest in the importance of local governance and decision-making. While geography in one sense was perhaps the first casualty of globalization, location still matters, which is good news for the vast majority of economic developers who still represent a specific geographic area -- at least for those willing to embrace a new site location decision-making reality. 

Companies today are supplementing traditional footprinting -- operating in a specific community for better or for worse -- with what Jeffrey Joerres, former CEO and chairman of ManpowerGroup, calls "micro footprinting." That's a nomadic approach to corporate site location that chases resources, primarily labor, and operates until they’re depleted or saturated, and leaves. More and more, Joerres argues, "companies will need to take a dual approach, establishing large locations and more-temporary, smaller operations at the same time."

The economic developer who understands the industries for which his or her community’s labor pool offers the highest value -- not the other way around -- will prosper. Joerres’ new age of micro footprinting offers exciting prospects for smaller, rural markets to compete for the site location assets of global corporations. If nothing else, the movement promises a new era of placing high value of local assets and leadership.

The definition of what work is has been evolving since the dawn of man, and the evolution has always resulted in generally improved welfare for the human condition. From hunter/gatherers planting row crops to the advent of the cotton gin to the ubiquity of email communication, technology has made work easier, more productive and more valuable with each advancement. There is no question that as we enter a new age of quantum computing, artificial intelligence and augmented reality, this premise will be rigorously tested as the jobs of millions of people are automated or eliminated. What is certain is that effective economic developers the world over will play a critical role in aiding and informing this transition -- they will be watching their jobs change as dramatically as the people and the institutions they are helping adapt.

 

Contact Brent Willett:

515-360-1732 / bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

The secret to a winning PR strategy

Dawn Buzynski, executive director of public relations at Strategic America, writes this guest opinion on public relations.

OK, I shouldn’t be telling you this — there is a secret sauce to effective public relations. It truly will determine if your PR efforts will bear the fruit you are hoping for. (I skipped breakfast, hence the food analogies here.) It requires a few extra steps and research, but — trust me — it will work.

Understand your customer and what they want from you.

Quite simply, public relations is about relationships. You can’t have a relationship with a demographic. You need to start envisioning a person with whom you want to communicate about your product or service. The best way to do this is to picture your ideal customer.

Develop a Persona

A persona is a snapshot of an individual with whom you want to do business. A persona document includes demographic information such as age, education, career path, as well as family, hobbies, etc. Most important, a persona will show behavioral information, such as content consumption, path to purchase and pain points. These are the important factors that guide your strategy and how you will influence that person to decide or continue to do business with you.

Develop the Buyer Journey

Now that you have a solid picture of your target customer, you need to determine their path to purchase (or choice). This takes time, discussion and research. However, when you have a full understanding of emotive drivers, you know where your key opportunities are to build trust and loyalty.

Simply, you need to determine what steps your customer takes in their decision-making process. What do they do first? If it’s visiting your company’s website, then you need to spend time developing quality content that is purposeful and not just promotional. If your customer reads online reviews, then you need to ensure you are monitoring those reviews and taking the necessary steps to correct any customer service issues that arise.  

Develop your Content Road Map

Once you have your audience persona and buyer’s journey documented, you have the tools necessary to start building a relationship with your audience. You do this by communicating with them in an authentic way that builds credibility for your company brand. This doesn’t mean you send email blasts with coupons or weekly promotions. In fact, a solid content strategy includes very little, if any, sales or promotional elements. The content you create needs to make sense to that customer persona. It needs to answer questions, provide solutions and entertain and relate to that customer on a very real level. It also takes time. Trust and loyalty don’t grow overnight, so be prepared to commit to your content development for an extended period of time.

So there you have it. The secret to effective PR is that it needs to be about them — not you.

How to manage social media during a time of community crisis

Katie Patterson is founder and CEO of Happy Medium

The recent events facing the Des Moines and Urbandale Police Departments have our entire community in mourning. We proudly stand in support alongside these valiant officers, keeping the families of the two fallen in our thoughts and prayers, and rally as a community toward a future where incidents like these are no longer a reality.

When a crisis faces a community, state, region, the country or the world, it’s important for social media managers to be ready for action. The everyday social media messaging can be interpreted as distasteful or insensitive by the mass public. Here’s some steps to consider:

  1. First and foremost, be in tune with what is happening in the news cycle.
    No one wants to be the last person to know, and you’d think with so much breaking news being initially cited across social media platforms, the social media community would be the first informed. But this is not always the case. It’s important for those in this industry to be in touch with what’s happening in their community especially in order to be timely and effective.

  2. When crisis hits, get out of the way.
    This is a sensitive time. If you use any scheduling tools to set up posts throughout the week, check here first. Make sure you delay those to a time when normal conversations are back in play across your various platforms. Most users are looking to Facebook or Twitter for news on what is happening, and they don’t want to see a post on a sales promotion as part of that search. It can be immediately off-putting and damaging to a brand’s reputation.

  3. Express your condolences.
    There is definitely an opportunity to stand beside those impacted from an incident to show support. These messages should be brief but thoughtful. This can be a great demonstration of joining together as a community, while also providing an unwritten explanation as to why your accounts may be quiet for a while.

  4. Be careful with trending hashtags.
    It can be an initial great thought to monitor hashtags that are trending and want to act accordingly for your brand to generate traction. However, make sure you know what the hashtags stand for. Look through timelines to see how users are putting them into content. As an example, in 2014, #WhyIStayed was trending and the DiGiorno Pizza team wanted to get in on the action and tweeted, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” Looking into this hashtag even quickly would have shown that this was a discussion about domestic abuse with those impacted telling their own stories, and the brand faced major backlash as a result.

  5. Don’t use a promotion strictly as a sales tactic.
    Like many of us as individuals, companies can often wonder, “What can I do?” The desire to help is a natural reaction. Be careful with this, though. If you offer a promotion, go all in. You don’t have to donate 100 percent of proceeds from your entire business, but positioning a benefit as a way to attract general traffic can be a turnoff to the general public. A good rule of thumb is to donate 100 percent of sales from one particular item in the honor of those impacted.

Social media teams have to be ready to act at a moment’s notice, and times of crisis can be tricky to navigate. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and examine how you would feel in this moment and use your best judgment for strategy moving forward.

Post-election: Two things you must do with your expertise

- Ryan Hanser is president of Hanser & Associates

What happens when people aren’t listening or don’t trust the answer? Who gets their attention? Who do they trust?

These are important questions to ask because attention and trust fuel business recommendations and purchases. These are also important questions because America appears to be witnessing the death of expertise and the collapse of institutional trust.

People researching declining trust reinforce that we still have knowledgeable specialists. The trouble is that people are rejecting the authority of expertise. Moreover, a majority of us do not have faith in institutions – government, business, nongovernmental organizations and media – to do what is right.

Instead, research says we live in a self-referential world where Google, Facebook and other online destinations are relied upon to soothe skepticism and affirm bias. Beyond our continued trust in friends and family, we increasingly seek out the people who resemble ourselves. Almost universally, we trust peer recommendations online.

The initial reactions to these trends – a push for transparency in all sorts of institutions and advocacy for ‘the marketplace of ideas’ where the important news will find you – held fast to the idea that the public cared about facts. However, data suggests that what people most care about is fulfilling our need to belong – to be accepted and connected.

Here are two key considerations for businesses navigating an information landscape where experts and institutions are viewed with increasing skepticism.

Fundamentally, remember that expertise remains vital in business, and people expect you to lead. Take a look at Edelman’s Trust Barometer that shows a 19-point gap in business trust between those who are and aren’t tuned into media and the growing position for business as a trusted American institution. 

Businesses have the social license to lead – a strong position to address issues that matter to commerce and society. Cause-related marketing will only go so far. Work to keep your organization’s value visible, and make your experts as human as possible.

Next, understand and harness word of mouth. You must give employees, partners and, especially, customers the permission and encouragement to talk about your company. Make sure your spokespeople closely resemble your customers.

Treat influence as an inverted pyramid, spreading across the population and an array of publishing platforms. Look at Ed Keller’s research on the rising share of online word of mouth; search and social media are major drivers of purchase consideration. It’s not all about the Internet either. Look at Paul Adams’ work on influence and social networks; he finds “the people who connect groups are not special” and suggests marketers focus on these small, connected groups.

You have a lot more customers than you do CEOs, and these customers have a large network to whom their opinion matters. When done correctly, word of mouth marketing is a measurable approach to building a business in the short and long term.

A public relations mentor long ago made my evergreen counsel clear and simple: First, do the right thing. Then, talk about it.

As we look to 2017 with scarcer attention and trust, I must reinforce the second point: make sure you have the right people talking.

Ryan Hanser is an accredited public relations professional delivering integrated communication services globally from his firm’s office in West Des Moines. You can reach him at 515.229.3737 and ryan@hanser.com 

Innovation and wellness: Meet Kevin Vermeer

Kevin Vermeer is the president and CEO of UnityPoint Health.

This past January, I filled Bill Leaver's shoes here at UnityPoint Health, transitioning to president and CEO. Though the position itself may have been new to me, I’m very familiar with the health care industry as a whole, having spent the past two decades working in this space.

But things are always changing. Every single day I show up to work, there is an opportunity for new approaches, growth and learning. I wish I could say that innovation comes easy; however, the reality involves a great deal of hard work, stress of the unexpected and fear of the unknown. Each can have a negative impact on one's health and general well-being, so it is important to know how to cope.

I recently shared with my teams an interview with Scott and Mark Kelly, two brothers who work as NASA astronauts. The Kelly brothers outlined seven steps for reaching huge goals, three of which stood out to me:

Execute in Small, Manageable Steps
As the old adage says, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Neither were you. Dream big, and then segment out step-by-step plans. Acknowledge the small wins along the way, knowing that good things take time. 

Take Risks and Challenge the Status Quo
An idea comes forth that's never been done before? Pursue it. Gently push against the status quo. Take risks, be bold and try things that may seem nonconventional. 

Do Things Because They Are Hard
Checking items off your to-do list just to get them done sometimes seems like the easiest way to keep moving forward. But just because it's easy doesn't make it right -- or the best way to propel yourself, your teams or your organization forward. Pushing through difficult situations ultimately makes everyone stronger.

When you're flexing your creative muscles, being creative or exploring new challenges, it's easy to get hung up on slow pacing, small failures and stress -- but don’t let it happen. We are all more capable and confident than we think.

What we can learn from a fallen Tax Court judge

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

Taxcourt-entrance-300x225You might think a Tax Court judge, of all people, would know not to commit tax crimes -- and would know how to get away with it if she did. That's why tax professionals are agog that former Tax Court Judge Diane Kroupa has pleaded guilty to tax evasion. 

It's almost disappointing how pedestrian her tax crimes are. No offshore cash stashes, no mysterious shell corporations. Along with her husband, with whom she filed joint returns, Judge Kroupa took personal expenses as business deductions.

You can't do that. There is a lot of magical thinking about the power of a business tax return to allow you to deduct personal expenses. You could argue that the multilevel marketing industry thrives on this thinking. But it only works if the IRS doesn't notice it. Judge Kroupa learned what happens when they do.

When you have an unincorporated, wholly owned business, you report the tax consequences on Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business. Any resulting income -- or loss -- is reported on your Form 1040.

The temptation arises to call everything you spend a business expense. After all, any income you have on the Schedule C starts out with a 15.3 percent self-employment tax. If you have a six-figure joint income, the regular tax on top of that starts out at 25 percent -- and that doesn't even include state taxes, which hit 8.98 percent in Iowa and 7.85 percent in Judge Kroupa's Minnesota.

Deductions gone wild. It's good to take deductions, as long as you know where to stop. It's easy to identify real business expenses -- say, a law license, or office supplies. But then you get into gray areas -- and suddenly gray is the new orange.

Judge Kroupa's husband, Robert Fackler, had a political consulting business that he reported on Schedule C on the couple's joint returns. The couple had a rather expansive view of what constituted "business" expenses, as laid out in the plea agreement:

KROUPA and Fackler fraudulently claimed the following personal expenses as Schedule C business expenses associated with the operation of Grassroots Consulting:

a. Various personal expenses associated with the Easton Residence including rent, utilities, Internet/cable service, garbage removal, and household cleaning;

b. Various personal expenses associated with the Plymouth Residence including household cleaning, bathroom remodeling, new windows, interior design fees, home repair, decorating, house painting, landscaping, plumbing repairs, washer/dryer, dishwasher, garbage removal, and Internet/cable service;

c. Personal expenses incurred for use of furniture to “stage” the Plymouth Residence when the defendants attempted to sell the house;

d. Limousine and taxi fees for travel by KROUPA for Tax Court business; and

e. Other personal expenses ...

The "other personal expenses" included Pilates classes, spa fees, jewelry and clothes. Oh, and vacations to Hawaii, Greece, China, Mexico, and Thailand. And music lessons, family photos, groceries ...

Encouraging the others. The IRS likes to publicize cases like this as a form of instruction -- sort of like the horrible car wreck movies they used to show in drivers-ed classes. But what are we to learn from the wreckage of a once-distinguished career? I can suggest a few things:

  • Not everything is deductible. Sometimes a busy entrepreneur will say, "I'm always on duty, so all my expenses are business expenses." It doesn't really work that way, despite books that invite the gullible to "deduct everything." 
  • A vacation doesn't become a business expense just because you have a business. There are times you can mix business with pleasure. If you are traveling for a business conference to Hawaii, you can also turn the trip into a vacation. But that doesn't make business expenses of your family's airfare to Oahu, or of your hotel expenses after the conference ends. And don't even think of appointing everyone in your family to your "board of directors" and calling the whole family vacation a deductible "directors' meeting." As I said, the IRS wasn't born yesterday.
  • The IRS looks for this stuff. There's nothing in this case that the IRS hasn't seen hundreds of times. The income tax is over 100 years old, giving the IRS plenty of time to figure out how to look for this sort of cheating. IRS business return examination programs have standard procedures to look for personal expenses run through the business, and they are pretty good at finding them.

By all means, deduct all of your real business expenses. A few expenses might be close calls. But not the trips to the day spa. 

Franchising 101: Common terms explained

Bryan and Andrea McGinness are CEO and COO of WineStyles Tasting Station and write quarterly about the world of franchising for IowaBiz.com.

If you’re new to the world of franchising, all of the industry terminology probably sounds like a foreign language to you. That was the case for us when we first decided to join the nation’s largest wine and craft beer boutique franchise. We recently shared some top items to consider before becoming a franchisee and thought it would be beneficial to go over some of the key industry terms for those who may be exploring the idea of franchise ownership.  

Franchisor

A franchisor is the company that grants the franchisee the right to use its business model and brand under the terms of the franchise agreement.

Franchisee

A franchisee is a person or group that obtains the rights from the franchisor to do business under the franchisor’s trademark or business name. 

Area Developer

In essence, an area developer is a “mini-franchisor.” This is a special relationship where the developer can recruit and train other franchisees who open units in their territory. They can act as mentors to new franchise owners and assist them with building their own successful franchise business. The developer would receive a percentage of the franchise fee for each new unit sold, as well as a percentage of the ongoing royalty stream. Every franchisor sets the terms for these types of relationships, which can vary contractually.

Franchise Disclosure Document

The Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) is a legal document that outlines the franchisee’s obligations to the franchisor and the costs and fees associated with committing to a franchise system, as well as the company’s history and other contractual obligations. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires all franchisors to provide this document to prospective franchisees during the pre-sales process. Reading the FDD is an essential step in the evaluation process, and we highly suggest studying the entire document before signing on the dotted line.

Initial Investment

Located on line item 7 on any FDD, the franchisor will provide an overview of the initial costs associated with the opening of its particular franchise. It is important to note that these costs will vary greatly depending on a number of variables, such as the industry, brand and the specific location where the business will operate.

Royalty and Marketing Fees

Costs and fees associated with being a franchisee of any system include paying ongoing royalty and national marketing fees to the franchisor. These fees give franchise owners the privilege of using the franchisor’s brand and are typically based on a percentage of the franchisee’s gross sales. In addition, franchisees benefit from access to marketing plans, business strategies and ongoing operational training and support.

Profit & Loss (P&L) Statement

A P&L statement predicts the amount of profit or loss a business can expect to generate over a period of time. This document is beneficial for monitoring the business and identifying areas where it is thriving and where it may be failing.

As you do your franchise research, remember to keep this cheat sheet of common franchise terms handy. You can thank us later. 

Cheers!

Vote with your ballot, not your portfolio

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

U.S. citizens have the privilege and responsibility of voting at polling stations on Nov. 8, or earlier via absentee ballots or early voting sites, for a variety of national, state and local officials and policy proposals. The collective will of the majority of voters will be reflected in who occupies the White House, the balance of power in Congress, as well as in state capitols, legislatures and more. The complexity of government in the U.S. can be frustrating at times, but as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

For investors, the run-up to the election always raises questions like, “What is going to happen to my investments if so-and-so wins (or loses)?” The implication is, “What should I do to protect myself from a bad electoral outcome?” A dangerous assumption in this line of thinking is the idea that a single signal or factor (e.g., who wins an election) is a direct and significant cause of stock market performance and people can position investment portfolios to take advantage of the expected outcome.

There is always so-called “evidence” presented that one outcome will be better than the other. Right now, the question du jour is which presidential candidate would be better for the stock market? Or, maybe more broadly, which political party would be better for investors?

In terms of which party’s presidents have enjoyed times of better stock market returns, (as measured by the S&P 500 stock index), since 1926 the numbers appear to heavily favor the Democratic office holder. The average yearly return for the 47 calendar years a Democrat occupied the White House was 15 percent through year-end 2015. The 43 Republican years averaged 8.6 percent. However, when a Democrat served as president alongside a Republican-controlled House and Senate (nine calendar years), the average return rises to 16.3 percent. If you compare total control years (one party controls president, House and Senate), Republicans (11 years) have the edge, 15.57 percent, over the Democrats at 14.52 percent (34 years). You can see where this is going; a creative politician can find what appears to be “evidence” for having Republicans or Democrats in control. It depends on how you measure “control.” *

Statistically, we have 90 years of data (90 calendar year data points), an extremely small sample from which to draw any conclusions. In a recent analysis by Dimensional Fund Advisors, they found when measuring monthly returns since 1926, those months in which presidential elections were held had returns (both positive and negative) that were “well within the typical range of returns regardless of which party won.” In other words, it didn’t make any difference.

In the book "Thinking Fast and Slow," Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman uses the acronym “WYSIATI” to describe a common thinking error that applies to our discussion. The acronym stands for “What you see is all there is.” In the case of whether a Democrat or Republican in the White House would be better for the stock market, an investor is focusing on one signal, or data point, as though it is the primary predictive influence. What you see (“Who occupies the White House”) is all there is. In reality, as we all know, the complexity of factors influencing stock market performance is myriad. By introducing one other data point, total control of the executive and legislative branch, we get a different result. So, which one is “right” or most predictive? There is no way of knowing with any statistical certainty.

While the idea of predicting stock market performance based on a single signal is a popular diversion for the media and conversation, investors always gain the most benefit when they structure their portfolios for long-term success based on their personal financial goals, rather than who they plan to vote for in November.

*Source data from Morningstar Direct SM and www.infoplease.com

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.

Five questions to ask before transforming your hobby into a business

Michelle DeClerck is president of Conference Event Management.

On a recent trip, I was invited for an after-dinner drink with a new acquaintance and couldn’t say no when I discovered she had an interest in starting her own jewelry business and we could therefore talk about business ownership for the evening.

I learned some of her friends had encouraged her to consider selling her jewelry instead of giving it away to friends for special occasions or donating it to high-end charity auctions in Los Angeles. I admired the pieces she was wearing and knew she could have a profitable product line. This was the moment I was waiting for, as I was able to share with her some wonderful resources — including the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Los Angeles chapter — that could help her jump-start her business.

During our enjoyable conversation, we deviated to other past business experiences, and I regret I didn’t ask all the right questions during our conversation to really get to know whether this was something she really wanted to do, or if her friends just thought she had a great product that others would want to buy. I’m curious how she is going to make that decision and what her deciding factor will be, as money is not her driving factor. 

If you’re thinking about converting your hobby into a business with a strong revenue stream, it’s essential to identify the real reason you want to go into business, and what it will look like for you and your family.

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I prepared to give up the “enjoyment” factor of my hobby and change my focus to filling orders and meeting deadlines?
  • Am I excited to handle the marketing/social media, order fulfillment, purchasing, sales AND accounting side of the work? If the answer to any of these is no, and the revenue won’t allow you to outsource it to others, you may quickly be able to determine that it’s best to stay in hobby mode.
  • Am I willing to invest the time and money necessary to market my product?
  • Do I have a plan for what will happen if I can’t sell enough product?
  • Am I prepared to invest the time necessary to create a strategic vision, seek input from others and listen to their constructive criticism?

While your hobby may be intriguing enough for small requests, do the market research to ensure you can take it to the next level. Friends are great at giving advice and even telling you why something won’t work when you tell them you are open to constructive feedback.

In many cases, if your hobby brings you complete enjoyment, I recommend that you keep it a hobby. But if you really want to take it to the next level, be sure to answer the hard questions first, to seriously probe whether transforming it into a business will deliver the results you desire.

When life gives you a rain delay, don’t waste it

You need another sports analogy like you need another meeting, but bear with me.

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

With the Cubs and the Indians knotted at six runs a piece entering the 10th inning of last night’s unassailable World Heyward Series Game 7, a steady lake-effect drizzle turned into a heavy rain. Umpire Crew Chief John Hirschbeck ordered players beginning to take the field for the extra frame back into their dugouts. Rain delay. 

As the Indians’ ground crew unrolled the tarp across the infield, 45,000 fans in the ballpark and 40 million television viewers groaned. 

Jason Heyward saw an opportunity.

Following the delay announcement, Cubs and Indians players initially settled in for their typical rain delay routines -- mostly waiting it out in the dugout, shooting the breeze. Heyward, the Cubs’ maligned right fielder, he of the giant contract ($184 million) and the underwhelming postseason performance (.200 batting average, including a benching), called a players-only meeting. As Indians players sat contentedly in their dugout, the Cubs dugout emptied. When word of the meeting reached the Cubs bullpen in the outfield, the full battery of Cubs pitchers and catchers sprinted across the field and down the stairs to join the meeting. 

The meeting has become an instant a piece of legend and lore for a sport with no shortage of it. What exactly Heyward, who is normally a quiet man and not known as a bombastic clubhouse leader type, said to his 24 teammates in the cramped weight room in the basement of Progressive Field is not totally clear. What is clear is that when a Cubs team that, in the previous inning, had watched its hitherto untouchable closer give up a game-tying, ballpark-shaking home run took the field about 25 minutes later, they were a different team than before the delay. 

The Cubs promptly scored two runs in the top of the 10th and held on for the victory in arguably the greatest baseball game ever played. While white-hot hitting Ben Zobrist deservedly won the MVP, a case can be made that the instrumental leadership role Heyward played was just as important, despite his dreadful on-field performance.

What’s the lesson here for economic and community development leaders and stakeholders? When life or circumstance gives us a rain delay, we mustn’t waste it. 

Economic development and community development work can be painfully tedious, delay-ridden and uncertain. While the men and women who work to attract new investment, people and amenities into our communities can control for much of what’s necessary from their city, state or region’s perspective to ensure project success, ultimately, they are playing in a game of reaction amid often rapidly changing circumstances. The gift of a pause disguised as an obstruction -- when a capital investment project slows as the company awaits board approval or an infrastructure project faces additional review -- allows the professionals working the project on the community or regional side to capitalize on the unexpected luxury of time to plot next steps and foment a plan to win.

While serving as White House chief of staff for President-elect Obama in 2008, now-Chicago Mayor Rahm Immanuel was credited with coining the phrase "Never let a crisis go to waste." While an economic or community development project rain delay may not necessarily represent a crisis, positively exploiting one can be the difference between success and failure for today’s jobs projects. The teams of economic and community development leaders who see opportunity for an injection of leadership and calm into a pause during an otherwise chaotic or fast-moving project’s life span position their communities to win more than those who choose to sit in the dugout.

Contact Brent Willett:

BrentWillett.org | 515-360-1732 bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org | @brent_willett | LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

 

Goals: Are they worth it?

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, president of the International Coach Federation Iowa, a Forbes Coaches Council member, and owner of MAP Professional Development Inc.


42 Days - Day 36 - 80s Country Run - adversity ward quote break recordsNothing quite compares to the thrill of achieving a challenging, meaningful goal. To this day, I can vividly recall crossing the finish line of the Portland marathon nearly 10 years ago – a huge and crazy-for-me goal that required extensive time, training and mindset shifts. While many marathoners set time goals, mine was to complete the event upright and smiling. Success felt amazing!

Just a year or so before that marathon, however, I spent a wild amount of time and energy writing a book proposal and sending it off to potential publishers. I can just as easily recall the sting of disappointment with every rejection letter I received; a sharp pang of defeat and a strong dose of self-doubt seemed to accompany every “Sorry, not interested.” I felt I had failed.

Does not achieving a goal equate to failure?

When I speak in workshops about goals, often someone will say, “I used to set goals, but I felt worse if I didn’t reach them than if I’d never set them in the first place. So I stopped.”

I get it – I really do. But I want to offer an alternative perspective.

Imagine your friend, who is overweight, sets a goal to lose 100 pounds over the next year. He works with a nutritionist, exercises regularly, completely shifts his lifestyle, and at the end of the year he has lost 95 pounds.

Did he fail?

Those same workshop participants I mentioned earlier respond with a hefty, “No way! He lost 95 pounds! That’s an amazing success!”

But he set the goal to lose 100. So, is it really success?

Yes. In my mind, yes. And here’s what goals ultimately come down to: It’s not so much about reaching the goal as it is about who you become in the process. The transformations you experience. The knowledge you gain. The stretching, the discipline, the connections, the growth.

Achieving the goal? That’s the icing on an already-delicious cake.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on goals is "Succeed" by Heidi Grant Halvorson. Along with numerous strategies based on her research on motivation, she writes, “Achieving a goal isn’t everything. What you want and why you want it matters just as much in the long run.”

It always, always comes back to your "why."

As we approach the wrap-up of another year, I encourage you to do three things:

  1. Celebrate the goals you’ve accomplished.
  2. Celebrate the progress, growth and learning you’ve experienced with all of your goals, achieved or not.
  3. Reconnect with your why, your purpose. Why did you set these goals in the first place? What’s your underlying motivation? Why was this important enough for you to turn into a goal?

Christi Hegstad headshot horizontal w leaves sun cropped - FB personalYou may just find that you’ve experienced success even in the goals you didn’t reach. My rejected book proposal? That turned out to be a blessing in disguise; I can see now that was not a book I was meant to write, and that experience taught me immensely, solidified my resolve and fueled future books, including the one I am writing right now.

So, celebrate your growth. Learn from your experience, and use that knowledge moving forward. Reconnect with your why. Then, look ahead to a new year and new goals with a deep sense of meaning, purpose and knowing you – yes, you – are successful.

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

An overview of marketing automation

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals.

Are you familiar with marketing automation? It’s certainly been a buzzword in the business world for the last half decade as companies search for more efficient ways to communicate with their prospects and existing clients. Put loosely, marketing automation refers to software platforms aimed at automating communication on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automating repetitive tasks.

Over the last decade the term ‘marketing automation’ has stretched into a catchall for any software product that aids a business in communicating with, well … other people. And although the semantics have blurred, there are indeed stark differences between products that fall within this category. At Rocket Referrals we found that many people were confusing our software with other programs on the market by using this broad interpretation of marketing automation. Therefore, we grouped products into four different categories – allowing businesses to better choose the software that fits their business and specific objectives.

At the end of the day it’s important to have a clear goal in mind before settling on a marketing automation platform. Oftentimes companies attempt to shoehorn the wrong system to meet their objectives rather than taking time to understand the nuances between them. Choosing the right one will depend on your overarching goal, marketing know-how, time, industry and budget, to name a few.

Email marketing software

(MailChimp, ConstantContact)

Sending and tracking batch emails to segmented lists of contacts. Email marketing was originally created as an alternative to sending groups of contacts blind carbon copied emails (bcc). This, combined with more advanced segmenting tools, allowed businesses to increase the personalization of their email campaigns.

Prospect nurturing software

(Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign)

Automates regular communication to groups of prospects in effort to convert them into sales. In addition to simple lists, prospect nurturing software has a more proactive approach of collecting leads by way of web forms and landing pages. It also facilitates multiple communication paths for each prospect, based on measureable behavior to increase lead conversion rates.

Inbound marketing automation

(HubSpot, Marketo)

Generates top-of-funnel leads by distributing unique content across email, social media and websites – then nurtures the leads with tailored communication based on profiles formed by their interactions with the content (clicks, likes, etc.).

Relationship marketing automation

(Rocket Referrals)

Automates highly personalized and meaningful communication to increase referrals, retention and online visibility. This is done by first evaluating the loyalty of individual clients, and then using psychology-driven content to influence desired behavior. Additionally, touch points are sent to existing clients that both maintain personal relationships and leverage them to increase sales.

Are you partnership material?

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

Many a parent worries about their children finding the right spouse. Singles think about their wedding day, the ceremony and the flowers. Unfortunately, nearly 50 percent of marriages end up in divorce because many people do not think about what kind of married person they will be. Are they marriage material?

Many of those same qualities go into being a business partner. If you are thinking about partnering with someone on a business as part of your succession plan, you should structure carefully and think about your personality. Otherwise you may face the equivalent of a business divorce with your partner. Are you partner material?

Let’s look at some traditional marriage vows and overlay them with some hard-earned truths we have learned about partnerships:

I, Jane, take you, Joe, to be my husband,

Depending on the type of organization, the rights of each party (Jane and Joe) are spelled out in the bylaws or an operating agreement. 

to have and to hold

There is a strong likelihood that you will spend more time with your business partner than you will with your actual spouse.

from this day forward,

Most often business agreements are written to last from the date of signage until “forever” or until some predetermined event occurs.

for better, for worse,

Business partnerships ALL have their ups and downs. Regardless of which stage the business is in, you are in it with your partner. They will have ideas you may not agree with, and vice versa.

for richer, for poorer,

Strains in partnerships often appear when a business is very successful or very unsuccessful. Money (or lack thereof) can make partners (and their families) act differently than they have in the past. 

in sickness and in health,

Business partners get sick. Spouses get sick. Children get sick. Elderly parents get sick. Life happens, and we cannot always control it and it is no one’s fault. Partners should consider what options they have for the unpredictable events that will occur.

until we are parted by death.

Partners go into business with each other, not with each other’s spouses or children. As a result, business agreements should be written to protect the business – typically with a buy/sell agreement and key-man insurance – in the event of an untimely death of one of the partners.

This is my solemn vow.

It is not a vow, but contractual law forming a partnership is binding and requires a significant undertaking to unwind.

Finding a partner to purchase and run part of your business is a good option for a succession plan. There are no right answers to partnerships, and there are millions of examples of successful ones and as many examples of unsuccessful ones. A common thread on successful ones is clear communication, level-setting expectations ahead of close of the transaction, and a well-defined set of "vows" to operate from.

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