Customer service chat done right

 chat icon

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

I've been blogging for almost a decade both personally and professionally, and have published on at least three different blog platforms over the past 10 years. I'm savvy enough to be dangerous and can troubleshoot most basic problems, but there are times when I simply don't have the expertise to figure things out.

I've recently been doing some major rework to my personal blog which is on Wordpress. They utilize a chat service for premium users and over the past couple of months I have utilized chat to get pesky problems remedied and some sage advice on things I was trying to do.

Chat as a customer service tool has been around a long time, but the use of chat compared to voice and e-mail has been relatively small. That seems to be changing with the times as more and more users get used to it. My personal take is that chat customer service has become increasingly popular as mobile texting has grown to become the communication medium of choice for the coming generations.

I realized last week that I was extremely satisfied with the customer service chats I've had with Wordpress, and am increasingly willing to use the service for the most basic of questions that might strike me as I'm blogging.

Here are a couple of things they do well:

  • Real conversation. Many of the chats I've had with businesses in the past seem to be with agents for whom English is a second language as they clumsily switch between cut and paste answers and poor communication that are rife with spelling and grammatical errors. My experience with Wordpress has been that I've had actual, articulate, interpersonal chat conversations with knowledgable agents who express themselves clearly and well.
  • Focused Attention. Another age-old frustration with chat is that agents are sometimes carrying on multiple chats at the same time, so there's this lag time between responses in which you wonder if they've abandoned you. I always get the sense with Wordpress chat agents that they are totally focused on helping me. If they are going to take a few minutes to investigate and respond, they generally tell me ahead of time so that I'm prepared for the delay.
  • Expedience. The agents at Wordpress always have quick access to my site, can see what I'm doing or trying to do, and I never have to waste a lot of time providing them with account, site, or profile information before we get to the actual issue at hand.
  • Positive Attitude. One of the difficult things to do in chat is to convey a sense of courtesy and positive attitude. Voice allows for intonation and inflection, but text is a more difficult medium to quickly establish a feeling of rapport. Wordpress chat agents always greet me personally, phrase themselves courteously, and convey a willingness to serve in the way they welcome me to come back to them with any other questions or needs I might have. On occasion the agents have complimented my blog or acknowledged my years of regular posting, which they didn't have to do.

Many companies have tried and have given up on chat as a medium of Customer Service communication, and my previous experiences have led me to be thankful that companies have done so. Wordpress has changed my attitude. If more companies can do customer service chat with that level of quality and professionalism, then I believe that we will see some companies using chat as a key differentiator and a contributor to customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Let there be (natural) light!

Tom hanks

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m a sucker for movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  No, I’m not talking about “You’ve Got Mail” or “Sleepless in Seattle”…I’m going waaaay back to the 1990 cult classic “Joe Versus the Volcano”. 

Poor Joe Banks, played by Tom, develops a terminal “brain cloud” from years of slaving away in a windowless workplace - the flickering fluorescent lights casting a sickly blue-green hue as the electric ballasts hum and buzz.

Well, hopefully we don’t have those kinds of environments anymore. Large buildings are typically designed with broad spans of exterior windows, high ceilings and open workspaces -- and that’s great! We’ve all heard about the benefits of natural light by now; increased employee productivity, shortened patient recovery times, boosts in retail sales and decreased rate of absenteeism.

Just a few problems here. Natural light also brings with it intense heat and blinding glare, often resulting in blinds being drawn by those near the window, robbing all other occupants of the light’s benefits. Last year 3M introduced a product to solve the dilemma; a light redirecting film that is placed in the upper portion of exterior windows. 

To most it looks like little more than frosted glass. Instead the film has a series of micro-prisms that optically diffuse and redirect 80 percent of the daylight upward, washing across the ceiling and throwing natural light deep into the building for the benefit of all.

Office with natural lightMaybe…just maybe…if Joe had worked here, he wouldn’t have jumped into that volcano!

Phishing can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Here’s a scenario for you to consider. An accounting team member receives an email that appears to be from your CEO, and the email reads something like this:

Spear-phishing“Good Morning Mike, You may or may not know, but Mary (CFO) and I are in Atlanta working to close a deal with our partners XYZ Company and ABC Limited on a $70 million dollar contract with Our Big Payday, Inc. In order to get the contracts signed, I need for you to wire $85,620 to XYZ Company and $67,980 to ABC Limited. Mary says this should come from our Bank Name Here account number 123456789. The routing and account number for XYZ is 12345678 – 7788994455 and for ABC is 98765432 - 336699774411”

“Because Our Big Payday, Inc. is a publicly traded company, the terms of this agreement cannot be disclosed until they file their SEC reports for the quarter, so your absolute discretion is expected. Under no circumstances are you to discuss this transaction with anyone in the department. A leak could result in SEC fines or imprisonment for both of us for insider trading. If you have any questions about this, please respond to this email with your direct line and I’ll call you when I’m out of the negotiation meetings. I appreciate all you do for us, which is why I’m trusting you with this key project. Keep up the good work. Sandy (CEO)”

This is what we call a spear phishing email, an email sent to a selected individual in an organization. Information about the employee, the company, its executives, potential deals or partners they are working with and other timely, accurate information is included in the email, which lends to its apparent authenticity. The sent from address, reply to address and other properties such as logos and signatures may also appear to be authentic.

What’s an employee to do? The CEO and CFO specifically requested this transfer of funds and obviously know our bank account information. Nobody else would know that information, right? Wrong. Everything in this email could be public record or obtained from other legitimate or fraudulent practices. And the routing and account numbers are on the bottom of every check you send out.

If your employees are not trained to handle suspicious emails, they have been setup to fail, and an information security breach is much more likely to occur. Hackers using our humanity against us is called social engineering. We train employees to follow instructions and act in certain ways. Hackers know this and try to put employees in situations where they can predict the outcome. Social engineering attacks, including phishing, are on the rise. According the recent reports as much as 30 percent of all breaches have a social engineering component. We have to invest in employee education and awareness if we stand any chance of fending off information security breaches.

Oh, and if you are wondering, yes this is a real example, that worked.


Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 


Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Five minutes of absolute terror


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."

As someone with an intense fear of open-air heights, I’m not exactly sure how I rationalized standing, tethered to a “pilot,” in front of the open door of an aircraft 2 and 3/4 miles off the ground.  Although I took slight comfort knowing the pilot was one of the best in the world––a U.S. Golden Knight with over 9,000 jumps––I seriously questioned my decision in that moment. 

Perhaps I wanted to prove to myself I could let go of my fear.  Or, maybe, I felt baited into it by my Army friends who kept calling me a wimp, among other things. Whatever the reason, there I stood, terrified and mentally frozen, with my heart pumping like it would explode in my chest.

I had no choice but to trust my pilot, a man half my size. As I hung out the door while he held on to make final preparations, I resisted looking down for these few seconds as I had absolutely no control. I tried to ignore the sudden urge to clutch something––anything––to save my life; especially since grabbing something at this point could cause serious injury.

The pilot tapped my shoulder indicating we were about to jump.  After three forward lunges, we began our free-fall descent of 9,500 feet at about 120 miles per hour.  Breathing was difficult, and my cheeks flapped from the massive intake of air.  Because I was traveling so fast at such heights, I didn’t realize I had allowed myself to flap my arms like a large, prehistoric bird. Perhaps it was the lack of context. When I saw the curvature of the earth, the ground looked like a blurred mass of color and undefined features. At 5,000 feet, the pilot deployed the main chute. Our speed and descent slowed, which allowed us the freedom to circle, twist, and glide as the pilot wished.

Then came the most terrifying question I’d ever heard: “Would you like to take the controls and fly the chute?” 

When the main chute deployed, I had clenched my straps for dear life; the decreased speed and increased clarity of detail on the ground below reminded me of my fear of open-air heights.  No way was I going to let go and grab the steering controls.  Letting go of the straps would have meant abandoning my false feeling of security. I was convinced if I let go, I would certainly fall to my death.

Of course, that thought was ludicrous; I was skydiving with an expert. Yet we all struggle with “letting go” of what feels safe at times, whether we’re clinging to unnecessary fears, flawed thinking, insecurities, bad habits, or something as simple as a parachute harness. 

Creativity is about making connections––sticking things together in new ways that frequently deviate from the norm. At its very essence, creativity is typically at the center of change, which often brings about a variety of emotions in people, not the least of which is fear and all of the “what if?” scenarios that come with it. Fear is typically a function of the unknown, and our inability to let go of it keeps us from experiencing new things or taking advantage of positive opportunities––in this case the opportunity to control the chute and the direction we were taking. Once we are able to take a first step forward, however small, the unknown becomes a little less so, and each step thereafter builds confidence to take the next.

While the skydiving experience didn’t cure my fear of open-air heights, I did grow as a result. If nothing else, I took another step (albeit a 2 and 3/4-mile one) toward facing—and letting go of—my fears, one of many steps to come.

STAY TUNED! Over the next few blogs, I will be addressing the various aspects of change and its relationship to creative thinking.

Practice Challenge:  What do you fear? What keeps you up at night? The next time you find yourself up against it, take a baby step. Challenge your fears one at a time by continuously reducing the unknown surrounding it. The more you know and the more experience you have with it, the less you will fear it.

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

The value in values

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

In business school, we learn a lot about creating value for customers. You would think that would be enough – create a killer product and customers will come. If that is so -- and so many of us work so hard to create great and innovative products -- why do more than 50 percent of businesses fail in a year or less? Are those business owners misguided about their own product? Do they not understand their customer base or market segment?

My theory is that those questions are not at the root of the problem. They may be symptoms and in some cases cause the failure of the enterprise, but I think it’s something more intrinsic to the foundation of what makes a company successful.

When I talk about values, I think about the values of the companies I work for and how important those are to me. I think about the ways they are perceived outside of the company. I think about how employees, reports, and colleagues engage with those values.

When we started the Ingenuity Company, my partner and I spent (and still spend) a lot of time talking about the type of company we want to be. We discuss things that have happened to us, both positive and negative, and how we wish to replicate or avoid those practices as our company grows. We feel that this time is important; it allows us to think about the sustainability of our company in the long term, which is rooted in the value system we use to collaborate with new and existing clients.

For example, when we talk about offering services that are meant as transformational, we look inward first. What can we offer our clients that are built on our skills, knowledge, and abilities? Why would they want to work with us? How do we self-actualize in a way that allows us to adapt, be flexible, and provide the best possible service? Since our company is built on these types of values, we feel we are able to add value and build lasting and productive working relationships with our clients.

More broadly, I feel that any company that wishes to succeed can do so more fully by defining its own distinct set of values. I have worked with organizations that do not spend time developing their values structure, or feel that this type of exercise is not a worthwhile effort. These organizations tend to lose their way when adversity strikes, as they do not have those core principals to support them. This may seem daunting, but I think some simple questions can start this conversation and grow from there:

        What do we stand for as a company?

        What is something we will never do as a company?

        What is success defined as?

        What are we really good at?

        What makes us better than our competition?

        Who can we collaborate with - that will make both of our organizations better?

Knowing who you are as an organization and what things are at your unshakable core creates a business ecosystem that allows there to be belief as well as profitability. This belief, by you in what you stand for, and by your clients in their trust in you, will make your company what it is. This trust is the foundation for innovating in more robust and purposeful ways.

When I think about those 50 percent of businesses that fail, I always wonder if they took the time to ask themselves questions about who they were or how they were going to stay where they were once they got there. It’s easy to lose your way when you don’t take time to fully understand where you are going or why.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact :

 Please follow : @ingenuitycmpny


Iowa State Fair knows value of strong brand, unique experience

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

It’s that time of year again. Where tens of thousands of people gather each day to celebrate the great state in which we live -- and there's not a corn dog, pork chop or any other food on a stick that's safe from the happy horde that descends on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

What's not to love about the Iowa State Fair? There are rides, games, concerts, a cow sculpted out of butter and all the aforementioned, oddly satisfying foods on a stick. But the main reason I love going to the fair, is to because of what it represents about the value of community.

Growing up in Des Moines, I always made it to the State Fair. I still do. As an eastsider, I have a special love for the fair, and worked there in my teen years.

I can always get inspired by the energy, familiar and new sights and sounds of the fair and feel good about supporting my community and state. Niche businesses can benefit, too, from taking time to see how a niche venture like the Iowa State Fair also survives and thrives.

The State Fair is Iowa. It's rural and urban, business and fun, substance and style. The State Fair benefits from the strong brand it has created and its close bond with its target audience.

People who go to the fair do so year in and year out for a unique experience. Its staff knows what the fair is and what it means to Iowans. They know how to create excitement. They know the importance on consistent messaging. They know how to effectively market their product. And, they have a lot of fun while they do it.

In order to stand out from chain stores and other big retailers, it's more necessary than ever for specialty retailers to create strong brands for themselves and deliver extraordinary service and unique shopping experiences so that their bond with customers is unbreakable.

See you at the fair!

Slow down and stretch

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

Summer is typically a time when the office slows down a bit, and it’s a great opportunity to take stock of projects, goals and efforts. With increasing responsibilities and the need to “do more with less,” business leaders are finding ways to streamline their health and fitness activities and focus on the next project, deadline or crisis of the day.

When it comes to prioritizing, it’s easy to select the exercise options that yield noticeable results instead of stretching. However, stretching at least 20 to 30 minutes a week can provide lasting benefits, especially as you get older. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, we should stretch at least two days per week.

Stretching offers many perks, including improved flexibility, circulation, balance and coordination. If you need structure and encouragement, participating in a class is an excellent way to get started. Our own City of Des Moines can help with its free “Yoga in the Park” Saturday morning sessions at Gray’s Lake this summer.

Stretching also holds importance in today’s business world, and I think it’s time to revisit the “stretch goals” philosophy of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Stretch goals, by definition, seem beyond reach at the present time, and can be used to inspire employees and encourage innovative ideas.

Using Welch’s goal-setting theory, consider these questions when evaluating professional stretching:

1. How has the stretch goal helped improve performance relative to past performance?

2. What impact has the stretch goal had on your level of performance in comparison to your competitors’ performance?

3. If not yet achieved, how close have you come to the stretch goal? Was the progress meaningful?

Make time to stretch. As in exercise routines, striving for stretch goals may not be an immediate priority, but working toward them can have a tremendous positive benefit on your future.

Trump's breaking all the "PR rules" on his way to nomination

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

I've conducted media training sessions for clients for years. From nonprofits, to educational institutions to businesses, there are some PR constants that remain fixed no matter what. Tell the truth, be prepared, never insult people. Trump has destroyed these rules in his gold-plated shredder and adopted his own personal style in this campaign. There are several well-known PR platitudes that people spout when referring to publicity. PR Rules

I've seen Trump turn this conventional wisdom on its head. Perhaps you've heard of some of these rules.

  1. "There's no such thing as bad PR": This commonly-used platitude is actually quite false on its own, but Trump has taken it to a new level. His bombast on subjects like immigration have shined a bright light on his bigotry. Since his outrageous comments were recorded for posterity, chances are his views will bite him in the culata during the primaries.
  2. "Tell the truth": Surveys have indicated that people like Trump because he "tells the truth" about things that the other candidates are afraid to vocalize. This would probably be refreshing, but he also says things that are flatly false on a regular basis. If people like him for being bold - that is awesome. But liking him for making up stuff is a completely different story. I ran across this quote recently and it's my new mantra for this campaign. "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts."
  3. "Rise above the fray": Trump is the head of a large organization, and didn't get there by poking people in the eye. Since announcing his candidacy, he's much more interested in retaliation against those who criticize him than he should be. He's just calling attention to some of his most vile behavior, like name-calling.
  4. "Don't take the bait:" Until Trump's entry in the race, the only candidate who showed this flaw was Chris Christy, who can't resist telling hecklers to sit down and shut up. Much to Christy's relief, Trump has taken over in this area. He never misses an opportunity to insult, belittle or embarrass a rival - or even a complete stranger. My dad would diagnose this phenomena as "diarrhea of the mouth."
  5. "Credibility is key": Trump's credentials as a "business leader" seem to unduly impress a lot of people. Nevermind that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and was busy rollerskating at Studio 54 while John McCain was in the Hanoi Hilton. And his flip-flops on some key conservative issues will surely get more scrutiny as the race gets more serious. All that old footage of him saying he is pro-choice, supporting gun control and praising Hillary Clinton will definitely hold him back.

Trump's got some serious PR counsel on board - Hope Hicks - PR royalty from a swanky firm. She has wisely deleted all her social media accounts. And I'm sure she's tried to tame the Donald. But the Donald will do what the Donald wants to do. Rules be damned. Perhaps she can convince him to get a new hairdo.

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

Take the first meeting

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

Coffee-meetingAs a marketing manager, it is important for me to have relationships with people in the media industry, as it is my job to promote the West Des Moines chamber events and get the word out about all that we do. I wanted to expand my media circle but did not know where to start.

A friend of mine and fellow blogger, Danny Beyer, suggested that he was going to meet someone with the Business Record the following week and that I should be there when his meeting wrapped up so that I could meet them also.

I had just graduated college only a few weeks prior and this was going to be my first coffee meeting with a stranger. I was nervous. The introduction through Danny went very well and I was able to turn that new relationship into a productive one. This one casual after-coffee meeting ultimately turned into the opportunity I’ve been given to write this blog today.

In college you take classes about how to successfully manage your time, develop a professional persona, and how to work collaboratively. No matter how well you master these skills -- and they are all important -- there is nothing that will drive your success as a young professional more than going out and meeting people.

I was not an honor student while at Iowa State. I did not have a perfect attendance record. I did, however, have the ability to speak confidently to people face-to-face. Even if you are not naturally outgoing, the more you network and put yourself out there, the more comfortable you will become.

Meeting people and being interested in them is a great life skill, especially when you are beginning to build your professional circles. Never doubt that you have something to offer and always take that first meeting. You never know where the opportunity will take you.

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Small business for-sale listings reach 6-year high

BizBuySell recently released its Second Quarter 2015 Insight Report which shows small Phoenix logo onlybusiness financial performance on the rise, and more small business owners are ready to cash in by selling.

Some of the highlights of the report are:

1. The number of small businesses listed for sale grew more than 12 percent from the same time last year and has reached levels not seen since 2009.

2. The increasing number of owners ready to sell comes as revenue and cash flow are rising, allowing sellers to both ask for and receive more for their businesses.

3.  The median small business asking price grew 13 percent in the past year, while the median sale price increased 12 percent.

4.  Manufacturing businesses led the recent growth spurt with a 29 percent uptick from the same period last year. Business listings in the restaurant (12 percent), service (11 percent) and retail (9 percent) industries also experienced year-over-year supply growth.

5. The increase in small business listings this quarter correlates with a number of factors, most notably growing small business financial performance and resulting sales prices, as well as the volume of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age.

6. Owners are finding 2015 to be a good year to sell as median sales prices remain at high levels. The median sale price of a business in Q2 remained at $200,000, the same as in the first quarter and still the highest mark since mid-2008. Higher sale prices can be attributed to improving financials as well.

7. The median revenue of sold businesses increased to $450,000 this quarter (the highest on record since report inception in 2007), and the median cash flow rose slightly to 102,995 from $100,000 at the same time last year.

Note:  The full results are included in's Q2 2015 Insight Report, which aggregates statistics from business-for-sale transactions reported by participating business brokers nationwide.


Good Luck!

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

Mergers and Acquisition Master Intermediary


The value of a strong work culture

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

At Happy Medium, culture is a top priority for us. We not only think of it as an integral part of how we hire new employees but we work really hard to ensure that we are emulating an amazing culture on a daily basis. In this blog, I want to share what culture at Happy Medium means to us, some things we’ve learned along the way, our company values, and some feedback from the rest of the team on what the importance of strong work culture means to them.


We think culture is one of the most important pieces to a successful company. When specific focus is given to the happiness and well-being of a team, the outcome is a bright one. When you give to your employees they give back to the company. It’s really that simple. This starts at the hiring process and trickles all the way to the CEO of the company; everyone has to be a culture fit. Hiring based solely on skill is going to cost you a lot of time, money and unhappy employees. Don’t believe that’s the case? Check out a couple favorite articles here and here.


  • Nothing can ever be perfect and sometimes you have to roll with the punches. Striving to be the best is admirable, but being rigid and disappointed with anything less does not help.
  • Our Culture Team and I have both been hyper aware of everything going on in the office, trying to get a read on everyone and their situation. This has really helped us avoid issues before they turn into bigger issues. It also shows us what works and what doesn’t (this is especially helpful when we’re working on implementing something new in the office).
  • Communication is key. 
  • Onboarding is crucial to the success of a new employee.
  • Failure is always going to happen, but we’ve learned to fail quickly so it doesn’t have as big of an impact on everything else that's going on.
  • We’ve got to keep culture top-of-mind all the time. We reward people for going above and beyond, ring a bell when a new website launches, talk about wins (both professionally and personally) in our weekly and monthly meetings, and are constantly incorporating our values in our day-to-day life. These things help remind people who we are and why we work so hard every day. One of our values is happiness and we want to make sure everyone feels that way.


We recently sat down and defined our company values. These values are at the core of everything we do. I think it’s imperative that a company with any number of employees has a defined set of values. It has opened up some great team conversation and helped to make the whole HM Team think about if we’re living and breathing all of our values on a daily basis. Company culture exists whether you define it or not, so to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals, you have to put those values into words. Take the feeling of working somewhere every day and write it down.

Having a core set of values can also help with hiring decisions and ensure that you are hiring the right people every time. These are the four values that we live and breathe here at Happy Medium:





A strong work culture is essential for me and has always been a top priority since starting the company. What fun things go on around your office? Give us a shout, we love to hear new ideas! 

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

What's your positivity ratio - and why does it matter?

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc, and founder of the annual Spark event.

Think about your typical day. I know – “typical” probably doesn’t exist in these ever-changing times, but humor me for just a moment.

Fredrickson - Positivity bookOn a typical day, how many positive acknowledgments do you receive? Praise from your colleagues, sincere gratitude from your leader, “You’re the best parent in the world” from your kids, that kind of thing.

Now, on that same typical day, how many negative acknowledgments do you receive? Perhaps criticism, expressions of disappointment, “You’re the meanest parent in the world,” and the like.

Would you say your negative number is usually equal to or higher than your positive? On some days, the ones that have you reaching for your TV remote or vice of choice, the negative might really outweigh the positive.

But what can we do about it? And is it really necessary to do anything at all?

According to Barbara Fredrickson, researcher and author of the book Positivity, YES. The amount and quality of positivity in our lives impacts our relationships, well-being, even our physical health. We must consciously invite more positivity into our work and lives if we, and those we lead, are to flourish.

Positivity is more than simply replacing negative thoughts with positive ones or becoming more “Pollyanna-like,” asserts Fredrickson. It runs deeper, tapping into true joy, gratitude, hope, inspiration, and more. Just like a flurry of complaining and frustration can lead us into a negative spiral, conscious positivity creates an upward spiral that benefits not only you, but transfers to those around you as well.

I first learned about the book Positivity while attending an executive coach training in Santa Barbara, CA. After a few instructors mentioned it, I picked up a copy at a local bookstore and devoured it on my entire flight home. Even if you shy away from “researchy” books, Positivity is a rare breed: thoroughly based in science but also entertaining, engaging, and pertinent to anyone who wants to lead with joy and purpose.

Positivity shares powerful research and applicable tips on everything from boosting one’s own positivity to dealing with negative people to bouncing back from challenges. One of the most intriguing takeaways from the book involves the positivity ratio: Fredrickson encourages us to shoot for a positivity ratio of 3:1; in other words, three positive, uplifting experiences for every one negative or heart-wrenching experience. While the examples I offered in the opening sentences mostly include experiences that happen “to” you, keep in mind that you are the leader in your own positivity. You can create, seek out, and inspire positive experiences at any time, and you have a lot more power in this realm than you might think…especially as a leader!

You don’t have to be peppy, hyper, and happy-go-lucky all the time in order to experience the benefits of positivity; remember, the ratio is 3:1, not 100:0. You do, however, need to consciously cultivate positive moments into your daily experience. Check out Dr. Fredrickson’s quick online quiz to see how you presently fare:

Tipping the scales in favor of positivity is not always an easy thing to do, but your life will never be the same once you make this your habit!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI’S CHALLENGE:

This month, start every meeting – staff meetings, 1-on-1 meetings, performance reviews – on a positive note. My favorite way to do this is to allow each person to briefly share a win they’ve experienced since the previous meeting. Don’t let people off the hook; everyone shares something, even if it’s “I kept my tomato plants alive another week”!

By starting positively, you raise the energy and mindset of everyone in the room, which will prove helpful when delving into important topics and challenges later in the meeting. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

How else might you bring positivity to work? Share your ideas below.


Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders and executives to succeed beyond their expectations while bringing meaning and purpose to work. Learn more at, on Facebook at, and via Twitter at

Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. (Crown Publishing Group, 2009).

The emotional side of change

“Any change, even a change for the better,

is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”

Arnold Bennett


Man_changing expressionsYou’ve probably heard the saying “Leave your emotions at the door.” 

The saying implies a hierarchy of fact over emotion and further implies that the workplace is no place for emotions. Although it’s difficult to trace the exact roots of the saying, it’s possible that it arose during the Post-Enlightenment period of Taylorism—a time when theorist Frederick Taylor viewed employees as machines that could be studied for time and motion efficiency and tweaked or tuned to maximize output.  The view at the time was that the scientific method was absolute and would eventually perfect a process if applied consistently.

Since that time, management and leadership theory has evolved to incorporate the humanity of humans.  Some residual strains of the theory continue to prevail.  “Leaving one's emotions at the door” is one such strain. The truth is that the more we know about the science of the human brain, the more we’ve learned that it’s not only impossible to separate a human from his or her emotions, it’s not even desirable.  Eliminating the capacity for emotion would serve to destroy the same motivation, passion and interest that leaders covet and credit for success in reaching goals.

In the mid-sixties, researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe concluded that all change—good and bad—takes an emotional toll due to the transition it requires. They found that even when the change is a good thing (like the birth of a child or a promotion), letting go of old expectations, habits and patterns and moving through the uncertainty of transition can be frightening, confusing, and ultimately correlated to higher risk of illness.

Leaders who dismiss or underestimate the emotional response people have to change or believe that they need only provide the logic to “make the case” for the change are destined for change results that fall far short of goals. 

4 Tips for Handling the Emotional Impact of Change

The important thing to remember is that change does exact a significant emotional toll which cannot be underestimated or ignored. The type of emotions can run the gamut from anger to sadness to confusion to denial and everything in between.  As you build your skills for leading change, do the following:

1. Validate the emotional process of change. Reassure people that their emotions are normal. Model this by talking about your own emotional reactions to the transitions. It will speak volumes when they see that you too struggle with the feelings of sadness and loss.

2. Pay attention to the ways individuals deal with their emotions. Some people will want to talk about them over and over and over. For them, talking about their feelings helps make sense of them—as though getting them “out in the open” provides for a type of verbal organization process. Others will need time to retreat into their own reverie of solitude to think things through and process their feelings internally. Expect variety and provide opportunities for people to process their emotions in a variety of ways.

3. Recognize (and communicate to others) that energy and morale levels will be lower during the change process as people’s emotions get redirected toward assimilating the change. Energy and morale will return if you manage the process effectively. You will have to be patient.

4. Remember to take care of yourself (and others) before you and/or they think it’s necessary. Often, competent professionals report that they feel “fine” (and therefore not in need of pampering, decompression or relaxation) until they reach maximum stress levels that precipitate a crisis. 

What EXACTLY is private equity and how does it help with succession planning?

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

Outside of major financial centers, the image of private equity is usually associated with a pop culture reference and that connotation is typically negative. Think of Richard Gere in Pretty Woman breaking up a family business or political ads accusing Mitt Romney of cutting company health care. 

While the private equity industry has bad actors just like every industry, these perceptions are generally unfair and the private equity industry – especially the type of private equity funds in the Midwest – provide a critical function to orderly business succession planning. 

At its core, private equity is simply another asset class that investors can invest in to diversify their portfolio. Most private equity funds are a pool of capital made up of dollars from pensions, trade groups, foundations and, to a lesser extent, wealthy individuals. 

Through these vehicles, many people are invested in private equity and may not even know it. The pool of capital in a fund is managed by a fund manager who seeks out investment opportunities in private companies whereby the fund becomes the owner of part or all of that company. 

Private equity is different than venture capital and public equity. Unlike venture capital – which invests in start-up companies – private equity invests in established companies that are seeking capital for succession or growth.  As a result, private equity does not seek huge investment wins with the expectation of a majority of its investments failing.  Rather, private equity seeks stable, predictable cash flow. 

Likewise, unlike the publicly traded equity market (like buying a share of Principal), the market for private companies is illiquid and inefficient.  This creates challenges in finding good investment opportunities, but also a unique chance to own profitable private businesses that investors typically could not access with their own time or capital unless they invested via a fund.


The workforce generation that will save the world

- Brent Willett, CEcD is Executive Director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor

By now, the figures may be familiar.

  • The first: a global population of 9 or 10 billion by 2050, a 22 to 30 percent increase from today’s 7 billion.
  • A second: that in order to satisfy the skyrocketing protein and energy demands of this global population, we are going to have to produce more food in the next 35 years than we have as a human race in the last 10,000 combined.
  • A third: astonishing global energy challenges are in store as we face a two-fold increase in global energy demand, along with population growth trends as the three most powerful drivers of our energy today – demand, supply, and environment effects – undergo forecasted massive change
  • Fourth: environmental challenges which make the word 'unprecedented' somehow inadequate are in store as we experience and address the effects of global climate change in earnest as up to 5 billion of the 9 billion on earth potentially experience ‘an entirely new climate' by 2050.

As we stare down the monumental challenges facing the global community in the next 35 years, we agree as a global population on very little. From the indispensability of genetically modified crops to address coming nutrition challenges to the role of man in the changing climate, decision makers and everyday people across the planet are participating in an extraordinarily rigorous debate about the future of our world. It's enough to make you toss your head back and laugh -- or cry -- at the tenor and the levity of it all. 

However, in the midst of a ferocious debate, an emerging accord is coming into focus: agricultural science and technology lies at the solution’s nexus of each of the three major challenges we face moving forward -- food, energy and environmental sustainability. And that’s where young people come in.

This year, the millennial workforce generation [generally defined as those born between 1980 and 1997] will surpass the Baby Boomer generation as the largest in America at just over 75 million and growing. And they know what they want in a job.

If we join an emerging consensus that the role of agriculture in the coming decades is perhaps the most important in the world with what we are coming to know about the next workforce generation, something awfully promising pops up.

A 2015 study found that when it comes to careers, the top millennial priorities included their growth and development as an employee while -- and this is the key -- making a positive contribution to their local communities and society. Another report which surveyed more than 1,700 currently enrolled university students spanning three generations found that students consider making a positive social impact on the world as a result of their work more important than having children, a prestigious career, being wealthy or even being a community leader. 

The same report found that 45 percent of millennials would take a 15 percent pay cut for a job that makes a social or environmental impact.  Even taking the latter figure with a grain of salt -- we were all 22 and ready to vow poverty and solve the world’s problems once -- if it’s only half right: would a quarter of your generational colleagues spin off a significant chunk of change for social good?  It’s a bit of a new paradigm. 

Here’s a new generation whose members are deeply interested in food and where it comes from, who have been heavily influenced by technology since birth and who cares -- albeit a bit choppily -- about the future of environment. Enter the future of agriculture.

As the face of production agriculture continues to change, transformative social and economic opportunities are emerging. Technological innovation has helped spur farm consolidation -- far fewer people can now manage much larger production operations -- and helped create new ag jobs away from the proverbial growing field, a trend which many argue will more than offset the contraction in traditional farm jobs. Farmers are generally getting older; the average U.S. farmer is now 57 years old and over half of U.S. farmland is owned by those over the age of 55. Meantime, agbioscience and agtechnology job trends are skyrocketing. While the profile of those tending the land is expected to trend younger in the coming decades, most of the job growth in the ag sector will be in the office or laboratory.

From major companies like John Deere, DuPont Pioneer and Climate Corporation to successful start-ups like Ames-based AgSolver, high-value jobs in the agtechnology and agbioscience sectors are driving growth in the agriculture job market in exponential fashion relative to the previous generation of ag job creation.  Ag technology -- both hardware and software research and development and agbioscience, including plant science and biology -- are not only exploding fields of opportunity for today and tomorrow’s graduates, but they both possess those two characteristics so important to the millennial generation’s perception of a good job. 

Cross-pollinate technology and a positive role in addressing global food, energy and environmental challenges and what do you get? One in agriculture. And an ideal job profile for a many a millennial. 

Central Iowa is better positioned to leverage this looming trend into high-value ag job creation and young workforce interest in the field than many parts of the world, owing to the convergence of blossoming private sector opportunities in the industry in the region and Iowa State University’s position as a leading ag school globally.  It’s already happening; ISU reported job placement rates ranging from 98.6 percent to 100 percent in programs such as ag business, agronomy, ag systems tech and industrial technology. And the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences breaks enrollment records year after year.  DMACC, too, is spinning more and more graduates well-prepared for jobs in the ag field into the region's workforce.

We all stand on the precipice of a golden era of agricultural science and technology- one which, fortunately for them, offers fantastic career opportunities for millenials and fortunately for everyone else offers solutions to both global economic and social challenges we are staring down in the ensuing decades.

There will be winners and there will be losers in the chase for the investment, talent and research which simultaneously supports and follows advances in the field, and we are certainly not the only state and region jockeying for position, but I’d rather be us than them any day, thanks in no small part to the promise of the newest workforce generation which is beginning to see agriculture in a new light. 

Begin building team trust

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

Trust and people image for Iowa Biz blogWhen working with company leaders to build high-performing teams, I share my mantra, “Culture is created by default or by design.” This means that either a culture’s values and expectations are clearly defined, designed, lived and reinforced daily or the culture just sort of bubbles up from the depths of who-knows-where, creating itself. As leaders and managers I think that we can all agree that defining what we want our organization’s culture to be and then taking steps to achieve and reinforce that design is a much better alternative than leaving it up to chance. It is hard to manage chance. 

In our capitalistic society where we have seen a trend of greed-fueled profits being created at all costs, it is now more important than ever to deliberately add the value of trust to our teams. We have good teams but we want to make them really great high-performing teams. What makes the difference between good and great? Trust. It is hard for people to perform at their very best when there is an absence of trust and a feeling of always looking over your shoulder while working with team mates.  

Teams that lack trust tend to exhibit these behaviors:

  • Spreading gossip as truths with the intention of hurting others
  • Creating a scapegoat: someone to take the blame for the team problems
  • Creating a scapegoat: someone who becomes the center of team jokes
  • Deliberately hiding or misconstruing information
  • Showing a lack of respect for others demonstrated through words, actions or both

As a leader who wants a high-performing team, what is one step that you can take or one action you can model that will begin to build trust?  The answer is simple but not easy- “Be impeccable with your word.”  

“Be impeccable with your word” comes from the wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements. “Be impeccable with your word” means that as a leader you will model:

  • Speaking with sincerity  
  • Telling the truth as you know it  
  • Not elaborating, embellishing details but accurately portraying a situation
  • Saying only what you mean
  • Following through on what you promise
  • Avoid using words to devalue yourself or to gossip about others
  • Use the power of your word to move things in a positive direction, not tear things or people down or create negativity and fear 

Simple, right? To begin building trust, monitor and evaluate the words that you use and the things that you say. Can you honestly say that you are “impeccable” with your word and building trust with your team? If not, make a change. Reflect on the words you are choosing. Which words can you use instead to be more inspirational, motivational, respectful, truthful and trustworthy?  

Model being “impeccable with your word” with every interaction and you are well on your way to creating the high-performing team and trusting culture that will support exceeding goal expectations. 


How much indebtedness does Iowa really have?

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

The Governmental Standards Accounting Board (GASB) is a national organization that sets generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for state and local governments.  Among the reasons such standards are useful is for comparability (everyone’s financials can be compared) and transparency (we know what we’re getting).  

This year, new national standards for public pension reporting are being implemented following nearly ten years of development and much controversy. Now, for the first time, its share of total net pension liability (the amount by which liabilities exceed assets) will be reported on the face of the balance sheet of individual government entities as a long-term debt, right along with other long-term debt such as outstanding general obligation (GO) or revenue bonds. In addition, alternative estimates of net pension liability using different return assumptions will be provided. This is important because the estimated return on investment of pension assets has a huge impact on the calculation of total net pension liability.  A small downward adjustment in the assumed return results in a giant expansion in estimated net pension liability.

In requiring governments to disclose net pension liability as a long-term obligation, among other things, GASB hopes to help the public recognize that unfunded pension liability is much like any other kind of debt – it represents an obligation that must be paid off over a period of time in the future for something that has already been purchased/built/consumed, in this case retirement benefits earned for past service.

Not enough principal has been set aside to pay for benefits already earned in Iowa's four state pension plans: Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS), the Municipal Fire and Police (MFPRSI), the Peace Officers Retirement System (PORS) and Judicial Retirement System. The shortfall that must be made up through future annual payments into the pension funds amounts to $400 million per year.

In disclosing the sensitivity of pension debt to the choice of investment return, GASB hopes to help policy makers better understand the risk that goes with these plans. Unlike GO or revenue bonds, where the interest rate is known up front, pension debt can be larger or smaller than the estimate depending on whether the assumptions turn out to be correct. So it’s useful to see a range of estimates based upon different return assumptions. In Iowa, the big public pension models mostly assume a 7.5 percent return over the next 30 years. Under GASB rules, the calculation is now also made based on a 6.5 percent and an 8.5 percent return. (No one has suggested that pension models should use a rate higher than 7.5 percent, but many have suggested the use of a lower rate. While its pension model is based on 7.5 percent, the ten-year projection for IPERS’ current investment portfolio is 5.95 percent, meaning the 20 years after that would need an 8.3 percent average annual return.)

While the comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR’s) for fiscal year 2014 won’t be issued until December 2015, we are now beginning to see the data that each local government is being given regarding their share of total net pension liability. To put the information in perspective, we have made a comparison of these estimates to the total amount of all other indebtedness, or the total debt we thought we had, for a few local governments.


Comparison of Net Pension Liability With All Other Long-Term Obligations
(June 30, 2014, $ in Millions)




Treasurer’s Report of Outstanding Debt  
(Does Not Include Pension Debt)
Net Pension Liability
(Assumes 7.5% Return)*
Comparison of Net Pension Liability vs. All Other Debt (7.5%)  Net Pension Liability
 (Assumes 6.5% Return)*
Comparison of Net Pension Liability vs. All Other Debt (6.5%)
City of Ankeny 171.2 11.3 6.6% 21.4 12.5%
City of Des Moines 464.2 105.2 22.7% 200.6 43.2%
City of Urbandale 50.3 11.3 22.4% 21.4 42.6%
City of West Des Moines 75.8 20.3 26.8% 38.7 51.0%
Ankeny Community School District 145.0 35.2 24.3% 66.6 45.9%
Des Moines Indep. School District 196.0 121.0 61.7% 228.7 116.7%
Urbandale CSD 93.1 16.5 17.8% 31.2 33.6%
West Des Moines CSD 78.6 34.6 44.0% 65.5 83.2%
Total IPERS and MFPRSI (Statewide, Non-Regents)  13,365  4,328  32.4%  8,492  63.5%

Outstanding Debt: Treasurer of Iowa, Outstanding Obligations Report June 30, 2014
Pension Debt: Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) and Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa (MFPRSI)

* Pension debt calculations vary depending on the assumption made for average annual return on investment over the next 30 years.  Both systems assume 7.5%.  

Statewide, the total net pension liability for the two largest systems, the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) and the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa (MFPRSI) is $4.3 billion, representing 32.4 percent more than the total of all other outstanding debt for governments in these systems.  In other words, if we thought we had $13.4 billion in total debt, we really have 32.4 percent more than that. 

The chart also shows the net pension liability for the two largest systems assuming a rate of return of 6.5 percent rather than 7.5 percent. The result is nearly a doubling of the net pension liability, in which case it is a 63.5 percent increase compared with all other debt. So our actual level of indebtedness is more than 60 percent higher than what we thought it was.

Individual government entities are also shown in the chart. The figures range from a low of 12.5 percent in the City of Ankeny to a more than doubling of the long-term obligations in the Des Moines School District.

Iowans are traditionally very conservative when it comes to debt. It is typically used for long-lived assets, where the payments are spread into the future but they match the long service life of the asset. In the case of public pension debt, we are in effect borrowing from future generations to pay for past operating costs – services that were rendered in the past by employees of state and local government. And we have a lot more of it than we thought. 

The 5 reasons to take on a role

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies. Why-are-we-here-mystery-human-meaning-purpose-existence
We’ve all heard of the mid-life crisis (or quarter-life crisis for millennials like myself), but do we ever think about the mid-role crisis? To elaborate, this is the evaluation we put ourselves through based on the role we currently occupy. It’s asking that big question: “Why am I doing this?"
This is asked by leaders all the way down to the folks starting their careers. Whether for work or community efforts, it’s essential to periodically re-evaluate the roles we occupy and the benefits it brings to our personal and professional lives. But measuring it has always been tricky beyond “gut feeling”. 
I’ve been in this position as well, wanting to measure my effectiveness in a professional role mixed with my desire to continue in that role. Based on this evaluation we always give ourselves, I thought through the “boxes” we use to justify career decisions. Ultimately, I think there are 5 reasons why we fulfill a role, either in a company, as an entrepreneur, as a student or as a community member. 
Some tie directly to the traditional growth expectations of a role, others are more personal. Either way, I think you’ll find value asking yourself, “why do I occupy the role I’m in and what am I gaining from it?” Hopefully you can evaluate the roles you occupy based on the 5 reasons below: 
1. Financial gain - This is one of the most obvious reasons we pursue a role — we make money doing so. This reason could be because we want to pay down debt, care for our families, increase our savings or buy something desirable. Whatever the case, this kind of gain means we may be willing to sacrifice in the interest level we have with a role to roll up the sleeves and have a greater financial gain. 
2. Knowledge gain - Sometimes we want to learn in order to propel ourselves to the next level. This often takes form when we “go back to school” to pursue an MBA, but knowledge gain happens at offices every week. Have you ever taken on a task at work and treated it like a puzzle? Then you’ve probably sought knowledge gain. This sort of approach can help with other gains like financial or reputation, but a genuine curiosity has to be the initial guide. 
3. Reputation gain - In the midwest we’re humble, but it’s no secret many of us strive to do things to boost our reputation, our clout, our status or our ego. It’s why some of us take on board seats on non-profits or lead a less-desirable project at work. We want the recognition, as it can tie back to benefits beyond reputation. 
4. Network gain - I’ve heard “your network is your net worth”; it often holds true. Sometimes we do things to grow our network of connections (beyond just adding someone on LinkedIn). Before we can connect the dots (and add value to relationships), we have to collect the dots. Building an arsenal of good people that you can use to learn from or to do business with is essential in growing oneself. You need good people to take on tasks at a company, within an organization or in the community. 
5. Intrinsic gain - The final reason we take on a role is simply because it feels like the right thing to do. Many board seats are secured this way — it feels good to help out an organization with a worthy cause. Others may be serving as a mentor or advisor to a fledgling professional or project. Intrinsic gain is often used for personal satisfaction, but winds up having far reaching positive impact. 
The next time you’re thinking of taking on a new role or evaluating your own? Check the list above and evaluate whether you’re doing it for the right reasons or any reason at all. 

Do you think there are other reasons people take on roles? Share your thoughts below or by email: 


Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail:

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason



Do equal, 50/50 shareholders owe each other fiduciary duties?

SealIAMatt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

Fiduciary duties are often described as the highest duties recognized under the law. Their application, however, is often challenged by litigants in court.  In a recent case before Iowa's Business Court, the Honorable Judge John Telleen was tasked with determining whether equal, 50/50 shareholders in a corporation are charged with exercising fiduciary duties in their dealings with each other. 

Judge Telleen began the June 4, 2015 opinion by explaining Iowa's long history of applying fiduciary duties: (1) by directors and officers of a corporation to the corporation and its shareholders; (2) between a majority shareholder and a minority shareholder; (3) between joint venturers through the life of a venture and its dissolution; (4) between partners in a partnership; and (5) between shareholders in closely held corporations.  After reviewing and explaining Iowa's well-established history of applying fiduciary duties in numerous business settings, Judge Telleen concluded, "[e]qual shareholders owe each other a fiduciary duty" (emphasis added).  In support of this holding, the court explained

[i]f equal partners, joint venturers and shareholders in closely held corporations owe each other [sic] fiduciary duties, the Court sees little reason why those same duties should not be required of equal shareholders.  

Based upon the holding in this June 2015 opinion, 50/50 shareholders in Iowa corporations should consider exercising caution in their dealings with one another consistent with the fiduciary duty concepts adopted and imposed upon Iowa shareholders.

Click here to learn more about the who, what, when, where, and why of fiduciary duties.  

Download a copy of the June 4, 2015 Opinion.  A special thank you to Ben Weston, of Lederer, Weston, and Craig for providing a copy of the opinion.  

Marketing doesn't have to be rocket science

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Marketing gets more and more complicated every day. There's tools and science around tactics like marketing automation, drip sequences, digital personas, audience segmentation and the like.

All of that is very important and you need to understand it/leverage it for your business.  But sometimes -- marketing is just wearing your heart on your sleeve and communicating to the world that you're excited to help them with your expertise.

I flew back home this week and was struck by the messages sent by Southwest Airlines (their lost baggage counter) versus the big three (United, American and Delta).

Lost luggage counter at Southwest Airlines


Lost luggage counter for Delta, United & American

If you lost your luggage and had to approach one of these counters, which one would you feel a little better/more hopeful about approaching?  Which employee would you expect would greet you warmly and do everything they could to help you?

Amazing, isn't it? All of that emotion/commitment to customer and customer love was communicated to us through some inflatable pool toys and $1 flip flops.

How could you (for less than $100 by Southwest's example) visually shout out to the world that you're excited to be of service?

How do you wear your heart on your sleeve so customers and prospects KNOW that you're passionate about serving them?

I believe every business can do this through their bricks and mortar presence, the way their phone is answered, the front page message on their website etc. But I also believe that 95 percent of businesses never give it a thought.

You can see the difference when one company does and the other in the market do not. Challenge yourself to be one of the few.

Social media for retailers 3: Strategies and the bottom line

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

For the past two months, I've written about the importance of a specialty retailer having an online presence and how to start that process. In this final installment before we move on to other topics, let's talk about how to turn these “likes” on Facebook, or “followers” on Instagram and Twitter into real customers.

Hiring an expert in this area has been a huge help for me. My social media coach has explained social media strategies vary by the company and the audience. If you are a local retailer your strategy may be different than those for national retailers. 

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, we're focused on strategies to reach not only retail customers but also local business. We've followed a comprehensive, consistent approach to expand our online presence, get new customers and stay consistent. To show off many of our unique products, we will be highlighting our special gift baskets.

If you’re having trouble deciding on how much time to invest in your social media, try investing between 30 and 60 minutes a day managing your online presence.

Don’t be afraid to test out certain things. For example, Facebook allows you to check your progress in its insights section to see whether or not certain posts are gaining traffic.

One thing businesses often are afraid of is to add humor or personality to their pages. This can be very tricky. Too much can be harmful, but too little can make you impersonal and hard to relate to. You don’t want to seem too vanilla, but you also want to be cautious about what you put out there.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re not using social media, you need to start. Now.

It’s quick, easy and free to start. It’s a great way to connect with your customers, show off your brand, and it’s a relatively inexpensive way to advertise. There is no other time that gives specialty retailers an upper hand in marketing.

Give and take

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

I have always taken special notice of how different managers communicate with their reports. Managers run the gamut of styles, from command and control to leaving their team with complete freedom. How you choose to engage your reports will always have an enormous impact on how they respond and function in their roles.

When my team and I identify tasks for us to complete as part of a work plan, there are several strategic considerations to bear in mind – these early decisions can make or break the dynamics of the workflow and have a direct impact and bearing on the success rate of collaboration-based work.

The following is a brief compilation of considerations that may lead to greater team optimization and more open and transparent teamwork:

  1. Have a preliminary team meeting introducing the project and intended outcomes. Ask team members what they would like to work on to contribute to the success of the project, soliciting input from them, but not deciding at that time what tasks they will undertake. Also ask them what part they feel they would least like to work on.
  2. Following the meeting, develop a matrix of tasks to be performed by team members on one axis and team members of the other, and assign two tasks to each team members; one that they felt they would most enjoy and another they felt was less desirable. This is the first step in establishing a strong team communication dynamic – I will explain. Let’s call task “a” the desirable task and task “b” is the less desirable task.
  3. Schedule a follow-up meeting where you establish the hard metrics for the project, present the project schedule, and talk about roles. When you present roles to team members, a suggested approach is as follows:

             “David, I would like you to complete task ‘a’ and task ‘b’.”

Repeat for each team member, while presenting an overall picture of your work plan, using the matrix as your guide on how to move forward successfully, how tasks are distributed and how they are interdependent, and what each team member will be working on.

The strategy in this approach is multi-faceted. First, you have asked each team member what they would like to work on and what area they may need to improve. This allows the team member to focus on something they enjoy, while also focusing on development in an area that may need work.

When people are asked to work on things they wouldn’t necessarily choose or may need improvement in, they tend to communicate more – by asking questions, by seeking out teammates, or by calling consultants to help them work to solve the task at hand. Pairing tasks like this also allows team members to switch to something they really enjoy when/if their frustration level rises.

There is another layer of this strategy though – the way it is presented. When you ask someone “would you like to”, it is a “taking” question – meaning that you are leaving it to the report to determine if they are qualified to complete the task or in a position to self select; it abdicates responsibility on the management side, which actually can “take” the feeling of empowerment or confidence from the employee or report. It may feel like “giving” to the manager, but what it may transmit is that the manager is not truly invested in the project or the employee’s growth.

In step 1 above, the manager is asking what they would like to work on, but, in step 3, he or she is changing the dynamic to “giving” – meaning that by indicating that the manager is confident in the employee’s ability to complete the task. They are "giving" empowerment and building confidence by reframing to send the message: “I know you are capable of completing these tasks”. Often, the direct report is looking for direction so they can be effective - it is the manager's job to provide that direction.

Subtle changes can alter the course of a project. Sometimes these small changes can alter the dynamics of ownership, individual and team development, communication, and empowerment within teams and build the confidence, qualifications, and collaborative abilities of team members. 

Riding RAGBRAI and running a specialty retail business

A funny thing happens when a person rides the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which was just a few ticks over 462 miles this year as it wound its way from Sioux City to Davenport.

Actually, quite a few funny things happen but the funny thing I had in mind was just how much time you have to think while pedaling across the state. And, when I was doing all that thinking, I thought about how the skills needed to survive during RAGBRAI are quite a bit like those needed to thrive in the specialty retail market. Here are just a few of them:

A great team. On RAGBRAI and in business, you need a great team to succeed. Face it, no one does it alone. You need a great team. While it's important for the boss to be a strong leader, it's also good to remember that even the boss needs to be a good teammate. Others need to know they can count on you just as much as you need to count on them.

Communicate clearly. With more than 15,000 bicyclists in a pack, you have to make sure people around you know exactly where you're going and what you're doing to make sure everything turns out right. It's the same in business. Employees need to know where you're going and how you're going to get there in order for the journey to go right.

Talk to everyone. On RAGBRAI, you hear some incredible stories and meet amazing people by simply introducing yourself. Networking is invaluable to small retailer businesses. Talk to everyone. Always be marketing.

Share. I had a lot of fun sharing the story of my business, Heart of Iowa Market Place, in historic Valley Junction. But it would've been a better experience for everyone if I'd had some samples of our extraordinary homemade fudge with me.

Be prepared. The best way to be prepared is to think ahead. You can bet I'll remember to bring those samples next year.

Believe in yourself. While riding up one particularly challenging hill, a guy shouted encouragement to me, "Don't stop! You haven't walked yet! Keep going." Those well-timed words reminded me to believe in myself -- and to keep pedaling up that hill.

Give thanks. That guy also reminded me to thank those who encourage and support you. Enough said.

I know next year's RAGBRAI is going to be even better thanks to the lessons picked up along the route -- and so will my business.

Confessions of a Comic Con rookie


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

I first publicly admitted to being a “geek” during a keynote address on the concept of change. My speech served as an introduction to a presentation by LeVar Burton, who played the character of Geordi La Forge, Chief Engineer on the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also directed about 30 television episodes for the various Star Trek series.

A geek and Trekkie like myself has watched all 703 episodes of all six television series dating back to the '60s (multiple times), watched all 12 motion pictures (multiple times), read books like The Making of Star Trek and the Star Fleet Technical Manual, and even visited the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton back when it was a permanent exhibit.

Like a good Trekkie, I bought my ticket to Comic Con with only one purpose in mind: to meet William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk. I really wanted a nice picture with him. I wore a sport coat and a nice white button-down shirt––and I really stood out. In fact, I was asked eight different times if I was a security officer. I also realized I was surrounded by nerds.

Now, the difference between a “geek” and a “nerd” is that as a geek, I’m willing to dip my big toe or perhaps even sit poolside with my legs dangling in the water, but a nerd jumps in doing a full-on cannon ball. So while nerds have also done all things Star Trek, they do it while speaking Klingon and wearing a Star Fleet uniform.

A large percentage of Comic Con participants were deeply involved in cosplay (costume play). I saw one entire family dressed as crew from Star Trek: The Next Generation­­––the grandparents were admirals, dad was a captain, mom was a commander and the kids were lieutenants (the fact that I even know these rank insignias adds to my geekness). Bright colors abounded, merchandise changed hands at a furious pace, comic book illustrators had their works on full, brightly-lit display while they spontaneously created some of the most incredible “doodles” I’ve ever seen, active gaming was in play everywhere, and most of all…people were genuinely happy.

Like many people, I spend the bulk of my life in some very unproductive locations. Whether it’s my office at work, my office at home, or home in general, these locations tend to be ground zero for dealing with a constant stream of distractions. When I speak and write about the concept of focus, I discuss the need to work at a “sweet spot,” a secondary place where you can feel completely at ease, creative and energized in order to effectively focus on the task at hand. Attending Comic Con helped me see the same is also true when it comes to being inspired and allowing our imaginations to run wild.

While I typically prefer spending hours at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum studying and observing the artifacts from actual spaceflight and talking to real astronauts, I’ve come to realize that regardless of personal taste, the key to imagination is the ability to allow yourself to be absorbed into the essence of the moment, to be engaged with the context of your surroundings.

I began the weekend as an outsider to this world who had only ever engaged on its outer fringe. But I got a taste of what it’s like to completely immerse myself in a unique experience and subculture; one where the primary focus is imagination and the willingness to completely saturate yourself in worlds that don’t really exist anywhere except in the minds of the people who created them for comic books, television and movies. The event was so full of energy, motivation and excitement that by the end, I was sold. Imaginations did, in fact, run wild, and I, too, wanted to be a nerd.

I truly believe that people need to “get out of normal” in order to see things differently, and Comic Con was anything but normal. It was a giant playground of fantasy where you could become anyone you wanted to be, whether it was a superhero, Star Fleet officer, or even a security guard.

We all need a special place to “escape” to in order to open our minds to new things and inspire us to greater levels of imagination and creativity––whether it’s heading to Comic Con as a Klingon, jumping on a Harley and heading to Sturgis, or just allowing yourself to get lost in a good book. 

Practice Challenge:  Where and when do you feel most at ease and relaxed? Where and when do you feel most energized and motivated? Wherever those places are, whether real or not, go there and often. Whether you need to focus on a project, come up with new ideas, or solve a problem, the best place to do it is away from “normal.”

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

Security breaches happen all over the place

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Iowa-cyberattackSeveral Iowa based companies have suffered information security breaches in the past 12 months. They have been from the banking, financial services and non-profit sectors. One breach resulted in fraudulent ACH transactions of close to $250,000. Another resulted in cleanup costs approaching $100,000. These are just the data breaches that my incident response team has been tasked to investigate. There have been others.

Of course Iowa companies get attacked

“Really? Companies in Iowa are targets of cyberattacks?” This response never ceases to amaze me. People in Iowa whine and complain when the rest of the country portrays Iowa as a backward state full of farmers who don’t know anything about technology. (For the record, I’d be willing to bet that many farmers in Iowa use more advanced technology than an average office worker). Why then are these same people shocked that Iowa’s thriving manufacturing, technology, financial services and biotech companies are targeted by cybercriminals? Iowa companies big and small are competing on an international scale. Why wouldn’t they be targets?

One of the biggest myths about cybercrime is that it’s all about stealing cash or personal information such as credit card numbers. The reality is that health care records and intellectual property, such as research and development, product designs or sales and marketing strategies, are far more valuable to cybercriminals than a low-limit credit card. These criminals are looking for the long-term, major payoff, not a quick buck. Targeted cyberattacks, as a result of corporate or foreign espionage, is on the rise. Don’t believe me? Even Major League Baseball teams are hacking each other to get a competitive advantage.

Training and security awareness

There is good news though. Many of the data breaches that are discovered could have been prevented. Data breaches are often the result of a lack of employee training and security awareness or a breakdown in process and procedures. Take the employee angle for instance. We often find that employees fail email phishing tests at the rate of about 35 percent. The reason is simple. The vast majority haven’t been consistently trained on how to identify fraudulent emails. If they had been well trained, they would know what to look for and spot the fraudulent emails before clicking the links.

The other common breakdown is complacency: We have people, process and technology in place and simply assume that everything is working correctly. Several of the breaches we’ve investigated were related to failures of the anti-malware system. It may have worked correctly when first installed, but as time went on the systems were no longer receiving anti-malware updates or scans were not running or performing properly. This resulted in infections and led to the breach. If better anti-malware management had been in place, these failures could have been detected and the breach avoided.

The truth is that every company -- big or small, urban or rural -- is a target for cybercrime. There are simple ways to protect your organization. You can start by assessing your current information security activities and monitoring their effectiveness. 


Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 


Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Making the right cultural fit

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

One of the main reasons for failure in a merger or acquisition is the failure of the parties to take into consideration the cultures of the two companies. Management can alPhoenix logo onlyways make the numbers work on the spreadsheet but people are not spreadsheets. Management might want to consider the impact that the two cultures will have when mixing them together.  

In a merger or acquisition consideration for the following areas should be given:

1.  What is the culture of each company from the employee’s view?

2.  Are there subcultures in the company and if so, are they a positive or negative force?

3.  Who are the unofficial leaders and what will be their level of support?

4.  Are there opportunities to adopt new positive practices and remove the negatives?

5.  Will the key employees be involved in the transition?  If so, how will they be empowered?

6.  Would an outside third party be better suited to assist?

7.  Have the strengths and weakness of each organization been clearly identified and agreed to before moving forward?

8.  Are the objectives clear and understood?

Good Luck!

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

Merger and Acquisition Master Intermediary

Local group for customer service professionals

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

As a customer service professional in the Des Moines area, I have found few ongoing opportunities for networking and professional development over the years. The past few years a local group has been developing and I've enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of it. Originally part of the International Customer Service Association, the quarterly group met mostly at Homesteaders Life in West Des Moines for lunch, networking and professional presentations on various relevant topics.

Last year the group voted to switch their affiliation to become the Central Iowa chapter of the National Customer Service Association (NCSA) and have been mixing it up location-wise. Farmer's Mutual Rain and Hail have hosted the past few quarters. Topics have ranged from local interest to professional development. I had the privilege of addressing the group this past week at the quarterly meeting hosted by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. We discussed emerging trends in Customer Experience research and Quality Assessment.

The mix of members has been growing. While many of the golden circle's larger employers are represented, I've been pleased to meet customer service professionals from some very interesting small to mid-sized companies around central Iowa. The NCSA Board has made a real effort to allow for members to mix, network, share best practices, as well as to learn about local resources.

The Central Iowa Chapter of the NCSA has a website and a Facebook page with information about upcoming meetings. There is an annual membership fee which covers lunch at the quarterly meetings. Both individual and corporate memberships are available. If you're involved in customer service, this quarterly gathering could be a beneficial opportunity to be sharpened by fellow professionals and meet others in the field who can help you improve your serve.

The importance of collecting online reviews

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

Online reviews are hot right now. Every business knows they should be getting more of them, right?

Well, I’m asked daily “why” a business should collect online reviews, “how” they help, and “what” the process of collecting them entails. So, I figured I would just write a blog post about it for all the curious minds out there.

It’s easier for prospects to find you online

Most of you have heard of the term SEO (search engine optimization), as it tends to be a buzzword not only in the insurance industry, but just about everywhere you look. Simply put, SEO is the process of ensuring your website ranks high when people search for a related topic online.

Over the years SEO has become rather complex. The search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) offer different breeds of search and are constantly changing their algorithms in hopes of improving the user experience. Keep in mind that search engines are most interested in catering to the end-user (the guy or gal searching online) and not the businesses.

Just over 67 percent of all U.S. search results are from Google. Therefore most of what I discuss below, including examples, will relate to Google search.

At the end of the day, the businesses will pay to be where their prospects are – which provides Google with one of their highest revenue streams through Adwords (paid placement on search). In fact, advertisements account for nearly 90 percent of Google’s annual revenue at over $59 billion. So that’s how Google is making all that money!

Improving SEO traditionally meant finding ways to improve a business’ ranking on organic search results. Being “organic” means that the search results don’t include any pesticides or are genetically enhanced in any way. Nah, I’m joking. It means that websites appear higher in search rankings because of their relevance to the search terms, rather than being paid for.

For a business, showing up on organic search is much more productive than paid advertisements. One study showed that 94 percent of people click on organic search results over paid advertisements.

Ranking higher with organic search isn’t easy. So many factors go into how businesses are ranked including things like website keywords, number of external links to website, etc. There are thousands of companies out there that specialize on helping businesses rank higher in organic search. It is no easy task.

There is a new breed of search that is becoming increasingly relevant: local search results (essentially a subcategory of organic search). Google recently updated its algorithm (Pigeon) to rank local businesses higher in search – essentially giving them a free pass over most organic search results.

This is not to say that organic and local search aren’t related. They certainly are. Location of the business is a significant factor for organic search results. But local listings, which are tied directly to Google Maps, regularly appear at the top of the search – for example here when insurance related terms are searched for e.g. “home insurance”, or “car insurance des moines”.

Take a look at the example below of the different types of search results.


Screenshot 2015-06-29 15.17.22


Ultimately, as a business operating within a region, the goal is to rank higher in local search results. This way you will be placed in a prominent location with relevant searches.

According to Google, three factors influence Google local search rankings: Relevance (matches search), Distance, and Prominence (how well known the business is).

A significant component of “prominence” is online reputation from online reviews. Google will take reviews from many different online sites into consideration (including Yelp, Facebook, Google, etc.) which all influence the rankings on Google local search.

Reviews help you stand out

We’ve established that collecting online reviews help your business rank higher on organic (including local) search results. The next—perhaps obvious—benefit is that online reviews will help your business stand out from the crowd.

A 2014 study by BrightLocal suggests that the American consumer is increasingly using local reviews to make purchase decisions. Their latest survey shows that 88 percent of consumers use, at least occasionally, local online reviews during the buying decision process.


Screenshot 2015-06-29 15.20.14

The bottom line is that online reviews are an important tool for consumers to judge the quality of a business. There is currently a large opportunity for agents to stand out online. The vast majority of businesses have at most 1 or 2 reviews online. Many have none at all.

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer searching online for whatever service you offer. Would you rather chose a rather unknown establishment, or one that has a handful of positive reviews? Research, not to mention common sense, shows that online reviews provide social proof which impact purchase decisions.

So how do you do it?

  1. First things first, you want to ensure that your website is “with the times.” The better your website the higher you will rank on organic (including local) search.

  2. Claim your Google+ and Google Business Page and your Yelp Business Page.

  3. Identify who your best clients are using the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

  4. Collect testimonials from your best clients.

  5. Ask those clients that gave you a testimonial to review you online.

How do you sound in emails?

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

IStock_000041999824_LargeOne of my responsibilities for the West Des Moines Chamber is to send out weekly mailings to our membership. I enjoy being able to interact with our membership and this task has given me that opportunity. One email that I received last week, however, forced me to contemplate how I come across in email correspondence. Here is a portion of the email that I received:

“First it would be nice that the emails come from The Chamber.  Right now they say they are coming from Meridith Freese.  For the longest time I would not open them because I did not know who this was and thought it was spam or something. Also, I tried to reply to your email, but you made the background brown so when I typed my message you could not read it with that background.”

Right away I noticed that there was no cordial greeting in this letter, and no professional closing or signature at the end. Just a paragraph of criticism for me to read. While I do not mind getting constructive criticism, I do believe there is a way to give a critique in a respectful manner as opposed to an oppositional one. (And I wondered if I would I have received this email if the title of President was in my signature line? I will never know.) But what I do know is that even though this person could have been extremely sincere in their suggestions, trying to be helpful, I did not take it as such. The lack of conversational politeness felt disrespectful to me and it was difficult for me to get past that to “hear” the point.

Being able to understand how you sound in an email in this tech savvy world is critical to your success in your career.  Here are some suggestions that I urge you to consider before you push the send button:

  1. The subject line is crucial to summarizing your intent.
  2. Do not overuse capitalization or the exclamation point.
  3. Always, always, always use a personal greeting, and please take the extra few moments to make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.
  4. Keep your messages short and about the subject at hand.  Respect people’s time.
  5. If it will turn into a conversation, pick up the phone instead.
  6. Ask yourself, how I would feel about this email if it were sent to me?

Even though this may seem like common sense to some, it still is occurring frequently in the workplace. Take the time to make sure that what they "hear" is what you mean. 

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

It's not that easy….bein' green

Kermit being green

- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

 Or is it?  An associate in my office was flipping through a 645 page reference guide on green building design searching for a way to get a project from LEED SILVER to LEED GOLD, and he commented on the tremendous effort in the certification process to get the LEED badge.

He already took the “low hanging fruit” such as bike racks and low-flow faucets.  Other choices were either a mountain of paperwork to track a single credit or the option to buy energy credits. 

We couldn’t help but wonder how it came to this. All the added documentation and fees to be green.  Mr. Contractor, chase down the recycled content on every material in this project…yes, all of them!  And at the end of the day, there’s hundreds of hours spent analyzing energy usage. But that’s ok – that’s our job. Some clients feel the additional costs for these services are a small price to pay for a sustainable building, but some do not.

That’s when the light bulb went off. IT IS EASY BEING GREEN!!  What the green movement has done is make many things in designing a building “standard practice”.  Think of the things that most take for granted now.

You want low-emitting paints? No problem. The industry has those options now. How about a way to divert all that construction waste from landfills? Sure, there’s a company that will do all that now. Low-flow toilets are now a standard.  

So even if you don’t go for the badge, rest assured your building will still embrace many green principals and utilize all the fantastic new toys of the trade.

What do you think about green certification?  Let me know at

Harnessing the #FF network

PartyDanny Beyer is the director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services

A little over a year ago I started to notice a trend on my Facebook feed.  Every Friday morning a dear friend of mine, Christopher Maharry, would post a picture of what looked like some deep fried blob of goodness.  Along with this picture was the hashtag #FF. Over the next weeks I tried to decipher what this image and #FF meant together. 

My curiosity eventually got the best of me and I texted Christopher for an explanation. “What does #FF mean?!  Fatty Friday? Fried Food? Tell me!”  He responded that is simply stood for “Fritter Friday” and the fried blob that was pictured was his weekly treat – an apple fritter. I asked if I could join him the following week. “Of course” was his reply. 

The next Friday we met at Donut Hut on Douglas and enjoyed one of the best apple fritters I have ever tasted. It was fried to perfection with a light center.  Just enough apple pieces that it held together without being too doughy. Dunked in some coffee, it was breakfast perfection.  Over the next months we met on and off almost every Friday to catch up and share in the fried delicacy that is an apple fritter.  

We started posting pictures on Facebook every Friday, declaring it Fritter Friday to the world. That’s when the unexpected happened: we started to garner a following. Different individuals from our social circles began attending and enjoying fritters with us. People asked for updates, times, and where they could get a fritter. Others posted pictures of themselves from other states, even other countries, enjoying a fritter on Friday mornings. 

Late in 2014, after a rousing conversation about halfway through our fritter, Christopher looked at me and said, “Hey, what are we doing with this?  We both have huge networks here in Des Moines and with Facebook. Let’s have an open house at my place and raise some money for a good cause.” It sounded just crazy enough to work. After all, who doesn’t enjoy fried food and raising money for charity?

In May, Christopher held the first ever “Fritter Friday Open House” at his home in Des Moines. People came from all over the city, some in cars, others on bikes, still others walked. There were decorations and fritter selfies. We had coffee and other drinks. In the end, he went through 250 apple fritters and was able to raise $2,000 for the Chrysalis Foundation in two short hours. 

I love this simple story because it shows the impact one person with an idea can have. All it took was a couple posts to Facebook and a willingness to do something out of the ordinary. All of us have the ability to tap our networks and do something for the greater good. Share something you enjoy with those around you. You never know when a simple conversation over drinks, or fritters, may turn in to something great. 

B&W Headshot- Danny Beyer is the director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.


Ethics and the deal: When disaster creates an opportunity

  1. Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of the Cultivation Corridor

In 2008, the International Economic Development Council [IEDC] established a practitioner Code of Ethics "to ensure a high ethical standard for those involved in economic development."  Several years later, IEDC moved to require ethics training as a condition for all candidates for its industry certification and re-certification program, where it still stands as a certification condition.

It was an industry first. Modern professional economic development is a fairly young industry -- most point to the founding of local industrial recruitment organizations in response to a contraction of manufacturing expansion in the 1970s and the rolling bank savings and loan crises of the mid-1980s as the industry’s jumping off points. For a couple of decades, economic development was defined almost exclusively as a cutthroat industrial recruitment endeavor -- the aggressive courting of external capital and jobs into a defined local or regional jurisdiction. From where that capital and those jobs came -- whether from across the globe or in a neighboring community, and the corresponding ethical underpinnings of how the deal was done -- was less a topic of concern than today.

Today, most states, Iowa included, maintain policies for access to state economic development financial assistance which typically require that a project originate from outside the state or be an expansion of an existing facility in the company's current community. In other words, the state is fundamentally not interested in providing financial incentives for relocations from one Iowa community to another. This is extremely sound and extremely necessary policy. 

The state’s policy position has begun to trickle down to local incentives policy. A handful of regions, including the Des Moines region, maintain some level of anti-piracy protocol which typically requires the sign-off of the home community prior to any other community in the region's economic development organization approving of local assistance to a company considering a relocation from one regional community to another. The One Corridor Agreement by and between Cerro Gordo County, City of Clear Lake and City of Mason City -- the latter two communities which once considered themselves deep rivals for economic development projects despite their immediate geographic proximity, now provides for a clear and cooperative project management process for any project considering both communities or one involving a potential relocation from one community to the other. In another instance, leaders in Iowa’s Creative Corridor are working to craft an agreement by and between the communities in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City region.

But while intra-state competition is often governed by cooperative piracy policy in Iowa, at any level outside that, you had better believe competition is as fierce and ruthless as ever; and it should be. 

But where does an economic development organization or practitioner draw the competitive line, particularly as it relates to preying on weakened game?  The IEDC ethics code conspicuously avoids any mention of competitive behavior between local organizations or states, and probably for good reason. The dynamics and decision-making triggers for any multi-site project are so varied so as to be virtually infinite. Accounting for them all and providing behavior guidance would be virtually impossible. The closest IEDC gets to wading into competition ethics is a disclaimer attached to its ethics code: “There may be circumstances where the board may choose to interpret and apply this code to a particular event such as a man-made or natural disaster.” 

So where is the line? 

Am I within the boundaries of professional decorum if I make an inquiry to pitch my region to a company in a state currently under natural duress, like a hurricane, based on the impact such trauma has created on that state or region’s near- and mid-term competitiveness? No, probably not; acts of God affecting a competitive community are generally treated with a great deal of forbearance by economic developers.

Am I within those same boundaries of decorum if I embark on such an inquiry with a company in a state under man-made duress, like a debt or political crisis?  Yes, usually. 

Our friends in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Arkansas and South Carolina, to name a few, have created for themselves a handful of major man-made disasters of late. They have managed them in both effective and ineffective ways as it relates to the eventual impact on a state’s reputation for business-friendliness for the job creation projects and investments every state in the union is chasing. 

Illinois? A fiscal basket case with a dash of corruption. States like Iowa and regions like Central Iowa love to compete with Illinois. It is perfectly within the boundaries of professional competition to demonstrate to our clients considering the Land of Lincoln that the crushing debt load the state currently acknowledges, and the unfunded liability load it doesn't acknowledge, as a pronounced competitive disadvantage. More debt means more taxes, particularly corporate taxes, in the future. That ought to be considered a tremendous competitive disadvantage when compared to Iowa’s historically sound fiscal [and low, low debt per capita ranking] position.  And that’s before we even start talking about political corruption [four of the last seven [!] Illinois governors have gone to prison]. Oh, and a couple of weeks ago Illinois eliminated all economic development incentives for businesses as part of a plan to address a $3 billion budget deficit.

But what to do when the man-made disaster isn’t as cut and dried, from an ethical perspective, as a preventable state budget calamity?

Indiana, Michigan and Arkansas all have come under intense criticism from their own state’s businesses for social policies and policy proposals related how same-sex couples may or may not be treated both by the state tax code and by their fellow citizens [IEDC Ethics Code item #9: Professional economic developers shall assure that all economic development activities are conducted with equality of opportunity for all segments of the community without regard to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation, disability, age, marital status, or socioeconomic status].

In perhaps the most high-profile move, e-commerce giant Angie’s List announced in March it would shelve plans for a major expansion in Indianapolis over its opposition to an Indiana ‘religious freedom’ law which many interpreted to permit discrimination against LGBT individuals and couples. [After a national uproar, the law has been largely repealed, but Angie’s List has maintained that it will not expand in Indianapolis.]

Governors and legislative leaders in Michigan and Arkansas have also in recent months taken up controversial legislation relating to the treatment of same-sex individuals and couples, have been lambasted by their business lobbies for it, and largely have retreated with plenty of damage done to their states' relationships with some of their largest employers.  

What’s an economic developer in another state to do in a case like this?  [Hypothetically] Pick up the phone to Angie’s List and those businesses like it?  Probably so. Political disasters are by definition man-made, and almost always by definition avoidable. While in most cases it is largely unproductive to craft a pitch to a company focused on a narrow piece of state social policy, controversy over such a policy could create an opening for a broader conversation calling into question one state’s responsiveness to the needs of its business community and its ability to manage its national and global reputation as a place to live and work when compared to my state. 

Occasionally, man-made political disasters which hold the potential to affect investment and job creation decision-making in another state demand a measured approach. Take, for example, the controversy leaders in South Carolina are currently embroiled in over the display of the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of that state’s Capitol.  Certainly, were this a confined issue founded on a purely political grounds, it would be ripe for inclusion in a state-to-state social/cultural comparison.  But it isn’t; while controversy has swirled around South Carolina’s Confederate flag for years [in 2000, the was moved from flying atop the Capitol to a war memorial on its grounds- something only a superlegislative majority can compel], the current controversy has at its basis the unthinkable mass shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.  Any decent economic developer- or human being- wouldn’t fathom exploiting a controversy with such a tragedy at its nexus. 

And so, as in most industries, gray area abounds for economic developers all over the country and the world as it relates to capitalizing on the competition’s weakness.  With so much at stake -- jobs, capital, tax base, community pride -- the actions of a local, regional or state-level economic developer in navigating complex ethical challenges are pronounced and are broadly relevant to the community he or she represents.

Powering down: Take the technology detox challenge

Technology and coffee photo for Iowa Biz July 2015Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

It has become fashionable in our American culture of sanctioned and celebrated workaholism to tell people how busy we are.  How many times a week does this conversation happen... Person #1 asks, “Hi! How are you?”  Person #2 responds with, “OMG!  I am SOOOO busy, you just cannot believe it!”  Unfortunately Person #2 is displaying their busyness like a badge of honor. Sadly, most of us are in this same camp of feeling overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to do it either at work or at home. 

Busyness is often confused with our 24/7 connectedness -- the control that electronic devices have over our lives -- which can wreak havoc on any semblance of work-life balance we may be trying to find. Research shows us that at the very moment we feel we are at the height of overwhelming busyness and that we simply cannot add one more project or detail, this is the very time that it’s beneficial to power down and take a technology diet.

The reason is simple: all of the information we are receiving can overload our brain circuitry making us feel distracted, scattered and ineffective. If we take a break for 24 or 48 or 72 hours we allow our brains to rest and hit the “reset” button. When we return to our busyness we feel much more focused and efficient and not so overwhelmed. 

You may be thinking, “Give up my phone and email for 24 hours?  Are you CRAZY?”  

No, I’m not crazy. I am concerned about people’s mental, emotional and physical health, though. I am concerned about the health of our society. I actually know people who regularly implement a technology detox as part of their work-life balance routines.  Many people in senior leadership positions are simply and routinely unavailable. Research aside, they swear by the benefit of feeling more peaceful and less stressed during and after their technology-free time. 

Personally, I power down my computer every Friday at 4 p.m. and do not power up again until 8 a.m. on Monday morning. I put my email auto-responder on to alert important senders that I am unavailable. My executive coaching clients know how to contact me on the weekends if an issue cannot wait until Monday morning but in 15 years of business this has only happened once.

I do leave my mobile phone on during weekend daytime hours but do not use it for social media updates, to search the web or sneak a peek at email. I love creating the time on the weekend to read a book, putter in my garden or socialize in person with family and friends without the interference of being distracted by technology. When I return to business on Monday morning, I do so with enthusiasm, clarity, focus and renewed energy. Weekend detoxing from the technological drain has made such a difference in my life.  I am confident that it can bring some balance back to yours too.

Give it a try! Take the technology diet challenge this weekend. Make a commitment to power down for only 24 hours. Only 24 hours!  You can do it! When you emerge from the device detox you will feel vibrant, focused and balanced like a brand-new person. And you will have reclaimed some much needed time for yourself and your family.  What could be better than that? 


If you create content or talk about brands online, you disclose -- no, ifs ands or buts

FTC-Disclosure-Flow-Chart-400Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

A few years ago the FTC came out with some very specific language aimed primarily at bloggers who were endorsing, reviewing or talking about other companies and their products and/or services.

But today -- with so many companies creating content, sharing reviews, reaching out to influencers to get them to endorse products and the like -- the rule pertains to just about everyone who posts anything online from a Facebook status update to a travel blogger who reviews high-end spas.

Last month the FTC updated its “What People are Asking” PDF document to answer some of the more common questions and be very clear that they're not happy with some of the ways that  brands, bloggers and influencers have been dealing with endorsements, sponsored content and the like.

Bottom line -- the FTC is getting serious and basically is saying, "enough of the wrist slaps.  It's time to issue penalties, fines and fees."

Here's a quick look at some of the rules that probably impact you.

Clarity: You need to be crystal clear about your relationship with the company/product. You can't hint around -- if you received some compensation, from a free sample to a trip to tour the plant -- you must share that clearly in your content. No matter how small the consideration (a coupon, a mention on their blog of you/your product etc.) -- be safe and disclose.

No connection = no disclosure: If you bought the product or tried the service on your own just because you wanted to -- you don't need to say a word.  

Videos require more: Here's a special reminder if you are talking about a company, product or service in a video. Your disclosure must come at the front end of the video. And that disclosure needs to be included in both the video and the written description.

Break ups don't absolve you: Former relationships count too. Even if they are no longer a client or the sponsorship has ended -- you have to declare it. Or if you're doing a series -- you can't just include the disclosure on the first piece. It has to be included in every one.

No secret clients: When you or your employees post on social sites about a client or vendor -- you must disclose the relationship, even if you didn't get asked or compensated for talking about them.

To keep yourself safe -- just go out of your way to always tell the whole story. Ask yourself before you (or your teammate) posts anything -- do we have any sort of relationship with this company that isn't very evident in what we've written. If there's any doubt -- disclose.

You don't want to be the one writing the "what I learned from FTC prison" post!

Graphic from Kerry O'Shea Gorgone (and you can read her thoughts on the topic at the link as well)

Are you sleeping enough?

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

Sleep is essential for an individual’s health and well-being. Yet according to the National Sleep Foundation, millions of people don’t get enough, and many suffer from a lack of sleep.

Several research studies examined the impacts of sleep deprivation, and the results are cause for concern. Insufficient sleep is associated with several chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. It can have the same effect as alcohol on our minds.

In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (the organization responsible for medical training programs across the county) took a step in standardizing the importance of sleep in the workplace by implementing standards for resident-training programs. They limited the residents’ hours to no more than 80 per week, averaged over four weeks, and included one day in seven away from work. The requirements produced positive results, including benefits for medical residents and reduced errors.

Consider your team and their schedules, as well as your own personal sleep habit: is everyone getting enough rest? While personal needs vary, the experts recommend an average of eight hours of sleep each night to stay alert and productive.

Sufficient sleep is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of chronic disease prevention and health promotion. I suggest adding sleeping tips to your organization’s employee wellness program, including:

  • Establish a regular bed and wake time.
  • Avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly (but complete the workout at least three hours before bedtime).
  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Discuss the appropriate way to take any sleep aid with a health care professional.

These steps can help your team members reduce mistakes and on-the-job injuries while enjoying peaceful nights and healthier lives.

Resistance to change

Business person_resisting


“Progress is impossible without change,

and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw


There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding change and none so pervasive or dangerous to the ultimate success of change efforts than the mistaken assumption that people resist change.

To state that “people resist change” is not only to assume that all people are alike, it's close to suggesting that they are still infants. Simply growing up requires many changes that most of us have gotten through with reasonable success.

Click here to watch a video clip that debunks the commonly held notion that people resist change by using an example that almost all of us can relate to. It challenges leaders to address the real stopper to successful change efforts – people resist the unknown.

Common complaints about leaders during change

Why aren’t our leaders communicating?  What aren’t they telling us what is going to happen?

Leaders are often accused of not caring about people when changes are introduced in an organization. Interestingly, the evidence is overwhelmingly against that theory. 

Leaders typically spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about employee morale and how change (especially major change) will impact people.  Sadly, they do this among their own peers, usually behind closed doors.

What they fail to do is to communicate the change early and frequently enough that people can more successfully navigate the inevitable emotions that accompany change and the fear of the unknown that is illustrated in the video clip.

There are countless examples of employees finding out about major changes in their organizations by reading about them on the internet or hearing about them on the news.

When leaders do try to prepare employees for change, they often do it in the form of a one-time formal communication (speech during a staff meeting or a carefully crafted email) that does little to help people process the emotions of the change they will experience or get their questions answered.

They comfort themselves by calling what they did “communication.” We know from our research at Tero that one-way communication is a very narrow definition of communication. To be effective, it must be kinesthetic, visual and auditory.  It must involve opportunities for questions and answers. And when the change is a large one, it must be frequent. 

Simply telling people one time does not satisfactorily prepare people to experience the change any more than announcing kindergarten in the car on the way to school is going to be the best approach to prepare a young person for such a major transition in their life.

How much communication is appropriate? It depends. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Receptivity depends upon several factors.

  • Some personality types embrace change more easily than others.
  • Our receptivity increases when it was our idea or we clearly see our role and responsibilities.
  • Change is easier to accept if it doesn’t impact me personally.
  • Timing – what else is going on at the same time?
  • Have I seen this change before? For example, people who have been through acquisitions in their past experience have an easier time in future acquisitions (if their experience was positive).
  • Trust.

Sometimes, as a leader, trust is the only thing we can impact. Frequently we can’t disclose information about a change well in advance of the change unfolding. If people trust us, they will follow. Take a moment to think of people you will willingly follow.  Do you trust them?

Protecting your trade secret in a court of law

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law   Matthew McKinney Iowa Attorney

Savvy business owners understand the value of protecting proprietary information, especially when the information provides a competitive advantage in the marketplace (commonly referred to as a trade secret).  What happens, however, when your business is unexpectedly defending claims in our public court system or protecting itself by filing a lawsuit in open court?  Will your business trade secrets be publicly exposed?  Will a competitor have access to the court's public records (now online statewide) and the ability to review proprietary practices, pricing, or customer lists revealed through litigation?  Fortunately, Iowa's courts are empowered to protect your business' trade secrets.  

A recent Iowa Supreme Court opinion, filed June 26, 2015, identifies several protections that Iowa's courts may employ to preserve trade secrets, including:

  1. Closing court proceedings to the public;
  2. Sequestering witnesses during testimony of other witnesses;
  3. Excluding parties from the courtroom when trade secrets are presented;
  4. Restricting attendance at trial; 
  5. Sealing transcripts of court proceedings.
Our high court also recognized “[i]t would be of little practical value to file a lawsuit to protect the confidentiality of a trade secret if the secret became part of the publicly available court record and was thereby lost.” In short, while our court system is open and public by design, sophisticated parties can and do protect their trade secrets in the court of law.  
Click here to learn more about whether your information may qualify as a trade secret in Iowa.

Why being disruptive is a good thing

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

The theory of disruptive innovation has been around since around 1995; coined by a Harvard Business Review article by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor. The theory states that “firms that introduce rudimentary products can eventually overrun the established players by systematically improving the products until they meet the needs of mainstream customers.” (HBR, May 2015)

When I work with organizations, I notice there is dichotomy that seems to emerge more often than not. There is a general acknowledgement that a change in strategy is needed. But the next step is where is gets complicated; once the types of changes indicated are moved from strategies toward implementation, there is a pull to move back toward old systems, usually those already in place.

That makes sense from a human perspective; change is hard, and perhaps the existing way isn’t so bad. But look at the metrics – if growth or innovation has stopped, the time has come to do something new.

The word “disruptive” itself has a visceral impact. And please understand - only in very specific and rare instances would I advocate for an extreme shift in organizational strategy. If you look at Christensen’s definition, it is clear that the disruption he is referring to is incremental and iterative.

In most cases, new systems should build on old ones - most organizations don’t generally change what they are doing or how they do it wholesale. Working within existing frameworks and making the right changes will lead to a positive disruption, culminating in a shift in the product or service that the organization offers. This, in turn, provides a competitive advantage or market offering that has done the following:

  • Illustrated the obsolesence of the existing internal system or external offering
  • Reshaped or “disrupted” the marketplace (this can be internal or external) to respond the new product, process or service as the accepted standard bearer
  • Demonstrated to the customer base (or to internal employees) that the company is committed to innovation and/or providing relevant services or products

Understanding that the above outcomes lead to a greater chance of long-term success and growth, leadership can start to build confidence around small shifts from existing processes or strategies.

I have witnessed, on many occasions, the resistance to disruptive strategy first-hand. It , often manifests itself as skepticism, with questions like “How do you know this will work?” The short answer is that you don’t. That’s why phrases like “We will wait and see what happens” start to be introduced into the lexicon of the conversation about strategy. This is the pull-back talking; the aversion to risk rearing up and urging everyone to make the safe play.

There may be no way of knowing for sure that something will work, but success can be inherently embedded into the idea of adapting disruptive innovation into a strategy framework. Successfully addressing risk aversion starts by identifying small things to change, in small, manageable groups or segments. Then test these changes. If they seem to work, try the next set. Test those. Start to introduce and recognize interdependencies in the changes and build on those successes.

Successful strategic planning is evidenced by the positive change it creates, including overcoming adversity that you may find in trying to implement it. But being disruptive, a little at a time, constructs a sound and reasonable strategy, with clear objectives, built on data, that will allow your organization to outpace your competition.

How to recognize and adapt to tipping points

Two recent national events - the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds and the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling - got me thinking about the factors that cause a "Tipping Point." Both seemed to happen very quickly. But if you examine the underlying factors and circumstances surrounding these moments in time, you'll quickly find that the events don't happen in a vacuum. Beans spilling

In the United States, tipping points tend to have a few things in common:

  1. National support
  2. Powerful and influential supporters
  3. Groups working on behalf of the cause - even when it's not in the news
  4. People who have been on the "other side" and convert to the "Tipping side"
  5. Some sort of legal action or political consequences

Both the Confederate flag and the marriage equality issues certainly have all of these characteristics. Marriage equality advocates have been diligently working their legal strategy, state by state. This tipping point definitely was years in the making. Many, many small legal victories and setbacks happened along the way. The Supreme Court ruling was the "last bean on the pile."

The Confederate flag's removal was also years in the making, but had a different kind of tipping point. The massive "change of heart" caused by the murder of nine people in a Charleston church tipped the political climate in the state. State leaders who could not politically utter the words "take the flag down" before the tragedy now found themselves on the wrong side of the issue. Taking advantage of the new public awareness and sentiment, they ran to the other side of the seesaw.

It always feels great to be vindicated and be on the "winning" side of a tipping point. But what if you're on the "losing" side?

Here's some advice:

  1. Prepare: If at all possible, have a discussion about what is happening and discuss ways to respond. Don't shut down people who disagree with your viewpoint. Let everyone have a chance to contribute.
  2. Pivot: This requires specific words that you will use to communicate to your constituencies. In Alabama and Louisiana, it's apparent to me that many county marriage licensing clerks have not had any leadership on this matter. Their willingness to break the law and embarrass themselves and their state is not a sign of good communication.
  3. Be gracious: It's not a good idea to pout. A tipping point is just like a game of Spill the Beans. Once the beans are spilled - they don't have a chance of going back. Our society changes slowly over time, but occasionally it's punctuated by memorable events that forever change the landscape.

Always remember - the one thing that remains constant is change. Be prepared. Use your words.

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

Check your email netiquette

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

We’ve all done it — you click send on an email, you watch it go from draft to sent and you noticed there’s a typo, or a date is wrong, or a sentence that makes no sense or, worse, that you’ve replied all and now Karen is going to know you hated her Bundt cake. It’s a terrible feeling.

All you want to do is snatch that email back and now, the people at Google have made that possible. After working on it for six years, Gmail now allows you to unsend an email. You only have 30 seconds to turn back the hands of time but this little feature could save a lot of embarrassment (now if Apple could only allow me to retrieve sent text messages #AutoCorrectFail).

As exciting as this new option is, 30 seconds isn’t a lot of time and doesn’t provide too much of a get out of jail free card if you’ve sent an email with a mistake. It’s still a good idea to practice sound email etiquette (or netiquette) before pressing send. As someone who does a lot of emailing (I send about 120 a day—sigh), I’ve come to a few conclusions on best practices.

1. Never Email Angry:
There are times when you get an email that makes you so furious that all you want to do is send the electronic version of an atomic bomb. A couple of truths about sending a scathing email; it never feels as satisfying as you want it to and, more importantly, burning bridges is a bad idea both online and in conversation (and, now that I think of it, it’s not a great idea at all because it’s arson).

Frustration through email is natural but let me introduce you to the drafts folder, which can be your little private bank of all the nasty things you so desperately want to say but, because you’re a good person, know that you shouldn’t.

2. Know your Audience:
I try to introduce myself in almost every email. There are times, of course, when the receiver will obviously know who you are, but an email should be helpful and you don’t want the reader trying to place how they know you instead of reading what you’ve written.

I love emojis and acronyms and excessive exclamation points but there’s a place for that, it’s the green icon at the bottom of your phone screen. They don’t often belong in an inbox. If I receive an email reading “OMG, Katie, we should totes meet up 2 talk biz opportunities!!!” I know I’m not dealing with a professional. Also, sarcasm and in-jokes are great for in-person conversation but are really difficult to pull off in an email. Do it wrong and your gentle ribbing ends up hurting someone’s feelings because they didn’t receive it in the nature in which it was intended and guess what, that’s your fault, not theirs.

3. Should the conversation be offline?
If you have a difficult email to send or a complicated problem you need to work out, it may be better to set up a meeting or a call. Sometimes a long email is great so the reader can use it as a reference, but other times they are confusing and inefficient. Email is supposed to save time but using one at the wrong time and creating rounds of back-and-forth emails when a quick call would clear up everything is a fail. Knowing when an email makes sense and when an in-person conversation is better is the hallmark of a great communicator.

As a marketer, sending emails is no different than creating a great ad; it’s all about tying the right message to the right audience. A great emailer needs to keep that in mind. There are literally hundreds of wonderful emailing tips; these were just a few of mine. What are some of yours? How about email pet-peeves or frustrations? Let me hear them! E-mail me!

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

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