The April 15 day-trader deadline

20130409-1Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

We usually think of April 15 as the deadline for settling up with the IRS for last year.  But for the nation’s doughty day traders — especially the unlucky ones — it’s an important deadline for this year. 

The tax law normally limits capital losses to capital gains, plus $3,000. That means many busy traders will have to hope for great advances in life extension technology to ever fully deduct their capital loss carryforwards.

There is an escape from the $3,000 treadmill for taxpayers who qualify as “traders.” The IRS explains what it means to be a “trader”:

 To be engaged in business as a trader in securities, you must meet all of the following conditions:

  • You must seek to profit from daily market movements in the prices of securities and not from dividends, interest, or capital appreciation.    
  • Your activity must be substantial, and    
  • You must carry on the activity with continuity and regularity.

The following facts and circumstances should be considered in determining if your activity is a securities trading business:

  • Typical holding periods for securities bought and sold.    
  • The frequency and dollar amount of your trades during the year.    
  • The extent to which you pursue the activity to produce income for a livelihood, and
  • The amount of time you devote to the activity.

If the nature of your trading activities does not qualify as a business, you are considered an investor, and not a trader.

These are pretty steep tests. You pretty much need to be trying to do it for a living; another day job is a bad fact, as in this case.  But if you pass these tests, you can make a “mark-to-market election” under Section 475(f) of the Internal Revenue Code to deduct trading losses as ordinary. If you make this election on time, it applies to 2014 taxes. It’s too late to make the election for 2013.

The Section 475(f) election comes at a price. If you make this election, gains are ordinary, too, and you have to mark your gains and losses on open positions to market at year-end — paying tax as if you had sold the positions on December 31. Yet if you are exclusively trading short-term, where you pay taxes on gains at ordinary rates anyway and have few open positions at any time, this may not be a great sacrifice.

This election cannot be extended, so traders need to make the election by next Monday.  You make the election for 2014 by attaching a statement to your 1040 or extension for 2013 with the following information:

1. That you are making an election under section 475(f) of the Internal Revenue Code;

2. The first tax year for which the election is effective; and

3. The trade or business for which you are making the election.

Happy trading!

Winning the networking race

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

In 2012, I ran and completed the Des Moines Marathon (don’t look up my time it’s kind of embarrassing.) My goal for that race wasn’t to come in first for my age division or even finish in the top 50; it was simply to finish. The race itself was brutal and exhausting, but I never would have been able to finish without the training. Those 12 weeks of running helped condition and tone my muscles and cardiovascular system to enable me to complete that run. I had to be willing to put in the time in order to achieve the end result.

There are a lot of similarities between completing a marathon and building a solid network. For starters, both take time. People continually share stories about how networking just doesn’t work for them. When I ask how long they’ve been networking I generally hear anything from a few weeks to a couple months. Most people want instant gratification and when they don’t see a return immediately they give up. The fact is a good network takes time to build. New connections need time and positive experiences to develop trust and refer business, just like human legs need time to adjust to long distance running.

Along with time, both activities require effort and follow through. Around the sixth week of marathon training I was ready to throw in the towel. The miles were piling up and my body was breaking down. At one point I simply wanted to give up. The same can be said for building a network. There are numerous times when I don’t feel like attending an event or meeting new people. It’s okay to take a day off now and again, as long as it stays at just a day or two. Relationships need to be fostered in order to grow and that can only be accomplished through effort and follow through by both parties.

Finally, both marathons and good networks start with that first step. No one ever completed a race from their couch just like no one built a great network sitting in their car or office. That first step doesn’t have to be a 10k or an event with 300+ people. It’s OK to start off small and go a lap around the block as long as you’re trying something new and giving yourself the opportunity to meet new people. I believe the following quote holds true whether you’re in to running or not –

“No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.” – unknown

So, who are you going to lap today?

They have to know how much you care…

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

I'm sure you've heard the John  C. Maxwell quote, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Of course, for specialty retailers, the first way to show how much you care about your customers -- and appreciate them -- is to offer a unique experience they can't get anywhere else, and to deliver exceptional service each and every time they do business with you.

One of the areas that has really helped my business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, grow, is the customization we do in our business-to-business program. Creating gifts just for our customers or branding it with their logos, colors and specific products.

We also do things that are outside the box or the typical scope of our business. For instance, we had a client that was already purchasing gifts from us for a party and they asked us if we could help them with centerpieces for the event. They wanted centerpieces for a party - they were already purchasing gifts from us and asked if we could help them. We did and had a lot of fun doing something that was different. By delivering that extra service, our customer didn't have to spend time finding another source -- and we were able to show how much we value that customer.

There are other ways, however, that you can and should show your appreciation to customers throughout the year. It can even be as simple as sending a quick but heartfelt thank you note or making a call to express your gratitude.

Frankly, it doesn't hurt to make a note in your planner every few months to remind yourself to show at least a few of your customers how much you care.

Consistently showing your customers that you appreciate them is a key to building solid, lasting relationships and solid relationships are a key to building a solid, lasting business.

To save Younkers or not? That is the question!

Younkers burned

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Many people have asked me since the Younkers fire if the building can be saved.  I have answered “Why sure. If 100 story buildings can be built, then Younkers can certainly be rebuilt.” I have no doubt technically it can be done even though looking down from the Hub Tower one can see steel beams twisted from the extreme temperatures. 

It would not be the first major change to the building. The east half started as a five story building and was renovated into a seven story building.


Younkers1 Younkers2 Younkers3

The elaborate cornice was removed when the shorter six story addition occurred and the building took on a more stream lined look. The flat arch windows were a poor gesture to the grand arched windows of the original building. The construction of the west half was obviously steel and concrete since it remains standing.

The sustainable thing to do is to rebuild the exterior and construct the inside with a steel and concrete structure with new exit stairs and mechanical shafts. The east exterior could even be a “reinterpretation” of the original building. That way Des Moines retains part of its history which seems the important thing to many.

The other viewpoint is to remove the building and start anew. Some have suggested green space. Other ideas are an iconic crystal court with grand stairs to the skywalk. Only time will tell which way the economic and political winds will blow.

Ah yes, it’s that sustainable dilemma knocking at the door again!

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Is your website built to be a marketing tool?

Bigstock-Technology-Internet-Websites-R-7414239Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Back when websites first came into being, they were little more than a digital brochure with some photos and text that validated your business' existance.

Today -- if your website isn't one of your most useful marketing/sales workhorses -- you're missing the boat. Want to know if you're maximizing the potential of your website?  

I can't do justice to that question here, but I can give you some food for thought. Answer these five questions to get an idea if your site is really serving you well.

Do you have a call to action "above the fold" on your website? In other words, without any scrolling? The Google algorithym gives priority to content above the fold. Don’t waste this valuable space on just a large header or image on pages within your site or blog articles. 

Do you talk about yourself all over your site or use the space to make your visitor smarter? Today's buyers do 60-70% of their shopping online, before they ever shoot you an email, pick up the phone or visit your store. They're coming to your site to learn and see if you're a good fit. Make them smarter by teaching them something useful to show them what it would be like to work with you.

Your goal is to get permission to stay in touch. How are you doing that? Most web visitors are potential customers. But they may not be ready to buy today. So you need to stay in touch until they are. How are you capturing their email address and what value are you offering for it?

What do your analytics tell you? Pay attention to the pages your visitors are spending time on. That should help you decide what to highlight on your home page and core navigation. It's clearly what they want to know more about.

Who are your voices of reason? People are skeptical and hate being sold to so why not use some testimonials from happy clients to reassure them that you're the real deal. Ideally those testimonials would be specific and give details about the value you brought.

So how'd you do?  Is your website doing all it should for you and your business?

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog of McLellan Marketing Group

 

Storytelling 101: The role of the sidekick

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

We've known it for centuries: Storytelling is an effective way to communicate information. A narrative with relatable characters engrosses us and makes us stick around to learn the ending. We become invested in the outcome of the story - and in the process - we're more likely to remember the moral of the story. Donkey-in-shrek-the-third_wallpaper

The sidekick - who typically has a lower station in life and has less power than the protagonist - often provides much needed logistical support, advice and even comedic relief. But don't let the sidekick's lowly status fool you. The storyteller can use the sidekick in meaningful ways to improve the storyline and highlight the main character (protagonist). Here are some ways the sidekick can help the story move along:

  1. Highlight the attributes of the main character: The main character in a story can have a cathartic change during the course of the story. Sometimes, using the sidekick as the "explainer" works as a way to highlight the internal struggles that the main character is facing. A perfect example of this is how Donkey humorously interpreted Shrek's ongoing struggle to regain control of his swamp.
  2. Provide the back story (history) of the main character: There are ways to show past events in visual stories and books - like the flashback - that can inform the reader or viewer of a past event that has shaped the main character. The sidekick can provide a convenient shortcut for the storyteller. Rafiki, the wise monkey in Lion King was often the one who reminded Simba the Lion of his lineage and responsibilities, influencing him to make the right decisons.
  3. Contribute complementary skill sets to those the main character lacks: In Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant intuition of Sherlock Holmes was complemented by Dr. Watson, who brought his brilliant analytical mind to the duo. Watson also becomes the person who makes sure Holmes' skills are recognized in the London press when a case is solved.

There is one very important thing to keep in mind when creating a sidekick character in a story. It may sound harsh, but the sidekick shouldn't have much of a life story of their own. The sidekick's role is to support the main character - not distract from the main storyline. If you develop the sidekick's life story too much, they lose that special "sidekick quality" and just become a co-equal actor in the story.

Sidekicks are readily seen in advertising, but also appear in PR and branding. (remember the lonely Maytag repairman and his apprentice?). Using a story with a sidekick in a PR pitch is smart, especially if trying to quickly build empathy for a cause. A good example is featuring the friend of a cancer survivor shaving their head to show support, while raising money for a good cause. Everyone can relate to the heartache that comes with being the friend of someone who is suffering.

Including a sidekick is a smart way to add dimension to a story and provide opportunities for extra insight into the main character. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Networking tips and tricks - Tip 4: Save business for the end

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

When I first started building my professional network I had one goal in mind – sell something.  Every interaction I had was dictated by the desire to sell payroll services to the person I was talking to directly or to someone they knew. The process was always the same: Tell them how great Kabel is, share all of the wonderful payroll knowledge I had obtained through training sessions and experience, then try and close a deal or get to a decision maker. The ABCs of selling – Always Be Closing, right? Wrong.

I quickly realized that people were not listening to me. They didn’t care about my great payroll service or the fact that we could save them money. Most of the time the person I was talking with wasn’t even the main decision maker anyway. Their eyes glossed over, they nodded their heads, and their mind wandered to their next meeting or what was for supper that evening. I was getting nowhere, fast. That’s when I changed my entire strategy and the sales door swung open.

The big change? I stopped talking about business. I started getting to know the person I was actually talking to. What they did for fun, where their kids went to school, how they spent their weekends, where they liked to eat, how many brothers or sisters they had – the stuff that truly matters to people. As soon as I put business at the end of the conversation, and made the meeting about the person I was actually talking to, business started to come my way.

So stop talking so much about business. Instead, get to know the person in front of you. The business will come. 

Spring cleaning for small retailers

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

When I thought about the topic of spring cleaning for small retailers, I had no idea that a marketing expert named Margaret Shrum had already tackled the topic. Nor did I know that Shrum goes by the moniker "The Lingerie Goddess."

But, it turns out that she and I share some of the same ideas on the topic and it's only right to give credit where credit is due.

For instance, we agree spring cleaning for retailers means moving out merchandise that's been sitting around awhile to make way for new product lines. Shrum notes that spring cleaning can "drive sales by creating a buzz about the surplus products that may have been hidden in back stock." That dovetails nicely with my preference for sampling products that haven't been moving. Sampling works.

I'm very big on knowing what inventory I have, what's selling and what's not. My business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, is very a focused specialty retailer -- we sell distinctly Iowa gift items and products -- but we've also had a few products that, for whatever reason, just didn't move.

It's hard for some small retailers to admit it, but if a product you thought was going to be a big seller isn't moving, get rid of it. Sell it as fast as you can to make room for products that will sell faster and at better margins. We all make mistakes. Admit it wasn't the right product for your store and move on.

Shrum recommends making sure your employees are well-versed in your spring-cleaning products and "have their own dialogue" to connect with clients. She suggests generating more sales by having store staff "mention the weekly promotion to their clients via email and phone and as they greet all walk in traffic."

Here's how I'd phrase it: "If you want to move a product, you've got to tell customers about it."

We're in agreement, too, on the value of social media to spread the word about featured sale items.

"Finally, spring cleaning is something that can go on throughout the year and help to decrease the end of season markdowns. Keep track of how well each campaign does and rotate the successful ones in between the seasons," Shrum says.

Amen to that!

I've never met Margaret Shrum but I already like her.

Leadership lessons learned from the Cyclone basketball team

Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

First of all, let me go on the record in saying this:

I love this year’s Iowa State Cyclones basketball team. Win or lose in tonight’s Sweet 16 game against the University of Connecticut, this team holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons.

Hilton vs. OSU

Now you know my (strong) bias.

One of the special things about these Cyclones is the leadership that its coaches and players have shown. As a young professional, I try to soak in leadership lessons however I can, and there have been plenty of opportunities while watching this team.

Here’s are a few strong leadership moments from this season:

Keep your cool: In the last few minutes of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina, Iowa State found itself trailing by five points during the last media timeout. The season was on the line, and the team had its back against the wall. What did coach Fred Hoiberg tell his team? Smile. It worked. The team went on a run and eventually won the game. Lesson learned: In trying circumstances, keep your cool and your team will follow suit.

Keep a good attitude: Of course, in that game against North Carolina, the Cyclones were playing without one of their best players, Georges Niang. Niang broke a bone in his foot during Iowa State’s first round game. It was a devastating turn of events for the Cyclones, but not only did Hoiberg find a way to adjust his game plan in less than two days, Niang actually called a team meeting on Saturday night before the game just to get everyone in the same room to talk as a team. The Cyclones could have easily folded, but instead they went out and earned one of the biggest wins in school history. Lesson learned: Adversity will hit, but with the right attitude you can overcome it.

Have confidence: In Iowa State’s final regular season game against Oklahoma State, Naz Long missed a three-pointer late in the game that would have given the Cyclones the lead. During a stoppage of play, Long told an Oklahoma State player “I’ll put any dollar that if I get this ball again, it’s going in.” He got it again, and put in a long three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game, sending Hilton Coliseum into the kind of frenzy I’ve rarely witnessed. Lesson learned: A little confidence goes a long way.

Be a team player: Melvin Ejim just does things the right way. A true student-athlete, Ejim is smart, well-spoken, and full of class. And the Big 12’s Player of the Year. He’s not flashy, and he’s not always the most talented player on the court. But he makes plays within the flow of the offense and often acts as the glue that pulls the Cyclones together. Lesson learned: It’s not always the most charismatic, or the most God-gifted, or the most outspoken person who is the best leader. Hard work and the desire to most-effectively help your team will pay off in the long run.

Learn from hardship: This team is full of guys that have gotten a second chance in some way and made the most of it. Lesson learned: People make mistakes, and sometimes just run into tough circumstances. What counts is how you learn, grow and respond.

Take advantage of the moment: Maybe my favorite story so far: There’s been some speculation that playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City will be a bit intimidating to the Cyclones, especially since their opponent has already played there twice this season. But according to a photo on the Iowa State Athletics Facebook page, Hoiberg gathered his players at midcourt during Thursday’s practice and said “See those bright lights up there? This is what we played for all year.” Lesson learned: Enjoy the moment. Don’t fear it.

Have some fun: Oh, I almost forgot. After Iowa State’s win Sunday, Hoiberg broke out his dance moves in the postgame locker room celebration. Let’s put it this way: The Mayor dances about like me, which is not a ringing endorsement. But he owned it, and his players loved it. Lesson learned: It’s OK to cut loose every once in awhile.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Hopefully I can learn a few more lessons, but whatever happens from here on out, I’ve enjoyed the ride.

Go Cyclones!

Improve content for better touch points

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

People develop their perceptions of businesses based on the overall quality of touchpoints they encounter. As impressions can be both positive and negative - it is the responsibility of a business to consider how their intended message is perceived. After all, not all contact with prospects and clients is constructive. Continually finding ways to put yourself in front of your customers so that you are fresh in their mind is a good thing. But keep in mind this will only strengthen your relationship (and lead to referrals) if the message is well thought out and its delivery fitting.

Some businesses spend more energy on finding ways to reach their audience than the message they are conveying. The result is often communication that is ill-received and does more harm than good. To better illustrate this I have attached a letter a friend of mine received after purchasing a new vehicle. It is clear with the example what the salesman was trying to achieve and where he fell (considerably) short.

In an attempt to reach out to the new customer and potentially reel in some referral business the salesman chose to send a generic thank you message. The first mistake is that it does not reference anything personal but the name of the buyer pulled from a list. The actual content of the letter is confusing and is an obvious attempt at gaining more referrals.

The problem? This is obviously an email template printout sent to a list of people. Keep in mind this letter was received in the mail - not electronically. I don’t believe you can click on links printed on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.

The salesman was thinking touchpoint and follow up. But the recipient was thinking mailmerge and cheap. You see this type of thing often. Newsletters with plastered with advertisements and flimsy content. Noisy pop ups on popular websites. The list goes on.

The alternative is to pay more attention to the content you are sending to your prospects and clients. At Rocket Referrals we believe in sending straightforward handwritten notes for example. People appreciate simplicity with communication. Keep it personal and classy, they will notice. Over time the positive touchpoints will serve as the foundation for your brand and sales will follow.

Dollars bills down the drain

Water drippingRob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

February 10 was a historic day for me. My office got new toilets! I took the plunge after years of replacing flappers and other fixes to old toilets.

What got me to pay $1,700 for FOUR TOILETS? My soaring water bill, that’s what! Staff would show up Monday morning and find a toilet running. I got to the point where I would do a toilet check before leaving for the weekend.  

You would not think a running toilet would amount to much, but it sure did.

The water bill was usually around $100 for 3,000 gallons of water. Then last summer things started to change. It went to 6,000 gallons, then 16,000, then in January it hit 55,000 gallons. I was embarrassed and decided it was time to do something. 

Drake IIBut what toilet to buy? Went with a Toto Drake II. Not only does it use 1.28 gallons per flush which is less than the high efficient models at 1.6 gpf, but it really flushes. My biggest worry was spending the savings on plungers.

About time someone figured out a better mousetrap. The hole from the tank is bigger so lots of water dumps into the toilet. Two jets create the “double cyclone” and flush with power I have never seen before.

My water bill for the first month with new toilets is the lowest it has been in three years. I figure the savings will easily pay for the toilets in one year.

The guy who knows more about these toilets is David Lekowsky at American Plumbing Supply Co., but beware: He gets really excited talking about these great toilets!

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How to manage nonprofit social media

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Managing social media for our clients is sometimes tough work, mostly a lot of fun, but everything has its challenges right? Managing social media for a nonprofit can be even tougher! I serve as a Bravo Greater Des Moines board member and was recently asked to discuss all things social media with some of the organizations we help fund. (On a side note, there are some really amazing and very cool cultural organizations around Des Moines – so get out and experience it, find them on Facebook!) Here are some tips we discussed which you could hopefully use to help out your favorite non-profit (if you don’t already work for one!)

Sometimes people just want to be in the loop: Maybe you don’t think the things you do everyday are very fancy, but really they kind of are! If you’re a food bank and you’re getting a load of food (hopefully something you do every day) take a picture, put it on your Facebook and give a shout out to whoever donated it (if they are ok with that). People will literally “like” it – I swear!

Commit: I totally get it, resources are especially limited in a non-profit environment. However, keeping in touch with the community of people who support your organization really should be made a top priority. Social media is a fantastic way to stay in touch for very low to no cost. Dedicate someone to your social media accounts to make sure there is accountability. Otherwise, you might look at your Facebook page and realize your last post was in July of 2013….oops!

Don’t beg: You need a lot of money to do all of the amazing things you’re doing to change the world. Everyone thinks that is awesome. However, the quickest way to lose engaged followers is to constantly be begging them for donations. If you’re doing a capital campaign, you should definitely announce it on your social media platforms (along with anywhere else you are announcing), but it would not be a good plan to discuss the capital campaign every single day from the announcement until the completion. Bring up when you hit big goals or had a large contribution you want to share. Other than that, find a place on your website people can contribute and it can live there every day!

Don’t try to be everywhere: If you’re already low on resources, don’t feel like you have to sign your organization up for every platform social media has to offer. Find one or two that make the most sense for you and work to make those the best they can be. You’ll have a much better chance of success and fresh content if you are running two platforms rather than fifteen.

There are a ton of other resources online for this, but a great start is getting a specific point person to manage this for you. Either someone internally or a volunteer would be perfect. The community deserves to know about all of the wonderful things you’re doing, and hopefully growing awareness will help grow your donations!

Tweet me your questions @klstocking.

--Katie

Networking tips and tricks - Tip 3: Leaving a conversation

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

I had the opportunity to lead a Networking 101 seminar for YPC a couple of weeks ago. During that event we covered a lot of topics. The most popular seemed to be the tips on how to exit a conversation. There was great feedback immediately following the event and I even received a couple emails mentioning how people have used these tips in the past week. Here’s a brief synopsis of what was covered. 

  • Use drinks to your advantage - it’s pretty simple. Drinks need refilled when they’re empty. When I find myself in the middle of a conversation that is either unproductive or needs to end, I simply excuse myself to refill my drink. The other party is free to join you in your refill or can continue networking.  
  • Introduce a useful connection – as the conversation progresses and reaches a natural ending, an easy transition is to introduce a useful connection or friend. I’m not recommending putting a friend in a situation you’re not enjoying, I’m recommending only introducing someone if it makes sense both parties meet. For example:  I would introduce a mortgage banker to a real estate agent I was talking to if the conversation was at a close but we couldn’t figure out how to end it. 
  • Do them the favor of ending the conversation – this is my personal favorite.  When a conversation is coming to a close I will use the following dialogue: “It was so nice to meet you this evening. I don’t want to monopolize all of your time tonight and I know you want to make other conversations. Let’s connect later. Thank you so much for your time and happy connecting!” This allows the other person to feel good about the meeting while ending the conversation on a high note.

The purpose of these tips is to make the end of the conversation as positive as possible. This way the relationship can continue and the opportunity for future conversations remains strong. Leave the other party feeling good and make sure to follow up when the conversation can truly be used to build a long term relationship.

What happens when a brand gets perspective

I love it when a brand develops enough confidence to stand for something bigger and more important than whatever it is they sell.

That sort of self-understanding and clear vision on who their audience is and how they can truly help them is rare. And it is branding at it's finest.

Check out this TV spot from Dove.  They've figured out that their brand is all about women and celebrating a woman's beauty -- true beauty.

 

Notice that you did not see or hear one Dove product's name or even its product category.  

When you can do this for your audience -- your brand has grown up and is really ready to own the marketplace.  

When you don't think your audience won't get it unless you club them over the head.  When you stop worrying about how many times you mention your product or show it within 30 seconds.  When you finally understand what it is you sell -- bravo, your brand is ready and so are you.

 

~ Drew McLellan, MMG's Top Dog

 

The future face of litigation in Iowa

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law.

Consistent with the “Rule of Threes,” litigation, including business litigation, may soon undergo further changes in Iowa. The first change, which is largely rolled out across the state, enables litigants to access important case documents and submit legal filings with the court online, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Second, litigants in Iowa’s most populous county, Polk, will soon “enjoy” litigating their cases in a new courthouse. And third, if the Iowa Supreme Court’s recently proposed rules are adopted, civil litigants (citizens and businesses alike) could soon find themselves sailing through the litigation process more quickly and at a lower cost.

More than 3,000,000 Iowans, but only 204 Civil Jury Trials in 2012

Statistics clearly show that Iowan’s are utilizing Iowa’s court system less and less. In fact, in just 10 years, civil cases tried to an Iowa jury dropped a staggering 63%. Indeed, in 2012, only 204 civil cases were tried to a jury. Many attorneys and legal commentators attribute the dramatic decline to the rising costs - both time and money - in litigating a case to trial. A 10-year snapshot of Iowa jury trials plainly depicts the drastic downward trend.  

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.32.39 AM

To address this significant slide, the Iowa Supreme Court established a Civil Justice Reform Task Force. The Task Force was charged with diagnosing weaknesses and prescribing improvements to Iowa’s civil justice system. More than four years and hours of work later, the Iowa Supreme Court incorporated the Task Force’s findings into two (2) proposed rules. As summarized briefly below, both rules aim to reduce costs and delays while simultaneously providing Iowan’s greater access to courts. Our Supreme Court promulgated the draft rules in late 2013 and is currently seeking comments from the public (the comment period closes March 17, 2014).

 First Rule - Expedited Civil Actions

The first proposed rule, titled “Expedited Civil Actions,” contains provisions that allows litigants seeking limited damages (generally $75,000 or less) to try their case in an expedited fashion. Specifically, the rule states cases must be tried within one year or less. Comparatively, today’s litigants often wait two or more years to try their case. To meet this accelerated timeframe, the rule contemplates several changes. For instance, the rule requires parties to voluntarily and timely disclose information to opponents. Currently, parties are not required to voluntarily disclose most information to their opponents. Further, the rule places significant constraints on the discovery a party may conduct by limiting the number of depositions, requests for production, and interrogatories a party may use. Lastly, the rule incorporates a six-hour trial limit and requires cases be submitted to a judge or jury in two business days or less (a far cry from the weeks of trial time that currently drag on in many civil cases).

To read the full text of this First Rule, including additional requirements, click here: http://www.iowacourts.gov/wfdata/frame3495-1263/File3.pdf

Second Rule - Discovery Amendments

The second rule, titled “Proposed Discovery Amendments,” contains broader reforms that would apply to most lawsuits filed in Iowa, including the expedited actions referenced above. Similar to the first rule, the second focuses on streamlining litigation by providing litigants and the court with a new “toolkit.” One of the new tools requires parties to promptly participate in mandatory conferences within two (2) weeks of first responding to a lawsuit. The mandatory meeting will facilitate early discussions between parties, including perhaps settlement discussions, and spur the parties to drive the litigation forward.  Additionally, the rule requires parties to voluntarily and in a timely manner turn over key information to opponents - yet another acceleration tool that is not available today. Finally, the rule imposes heightened obligations upon parties to fairly respond to discovery and timely resolve discovery disputes without involving the court. This latter tool addresses what many attorneys believe is the greatest cause of delay and cost in litigation.

To read the full text of this Second Rule, including additional requirements, click here: http://www.iowacourts.gov/wfdata/frame3495-1263/File2.pdf

As referenced above, the Iowa Supreme Court is seeking public comment on these proposed rules. Comments must be submitted prior to March 17, 2014 at 4:30 p.m.  According to this Supreme Court Order (link), comments may be submitted by emailing them to rules.comments@iowacourts.gov. The email must state “Discovery Rules” or “Expedited Civil Action” in the subject line of the email and the comments must be sent as an attachment to the email in Microsoft Word format. Comments may also be delivered in person or mailed to the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Judicial Branch Building, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa, 50319.

For more information on these or other rules, please consider contacting a licensed attorney.

Inspire referrals with the rule of the few

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Extensive investigation into human psychology continues to shape the marketing strategies that we are faced with daily. Sure, technology and changing trends in social relationships change the ways in which the messages are spread - yet the same underlying elements in psychology have been used for decades. First published in 1984, Robert Cialdini outlined in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion six principles of influence that are just as effective today. They have, however, been primarily used in traditional marketing tactics that have gradually lost their potency over time. Therefore, I continually think of ways Dr. Cialdini’s principles of influence could be incorporated into referral marketing - in attempt to spice things up a little bit. After all, recent studies show that today people trust recommendations from friends and family seven times more than traditional advertising.

GoldenticketScarcity

Today I am going to expand on Dr. Cialdini’s sixth principle of influence: scarcity. The idea behind this is that something is deemed more attractive when its availability is limited or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire it on favorable terms. In traditional marketing we see it daily with items offered in limited quantities or special offers that soon expire. Let’s not kid ourselves, it works. Not all the time, but the thought of losing an exclusive offer leads us to pull the emotional trigger more than you may realize.

As a business you can incorporate “the rule of the few” into your referral strategy with the help of your best clients. It starts by providing a unique offer that your current clients can give away to their friends and family. But here is the trick: it has to have exclusive value, and it must be for a limited time.

Exclusive value and limited time

For the offer to have value for your client to give away it must be exclusive to only one of their friends or family members. You want your client to feel like they are giving something special away - offering it out to all their buddies will belittle their social contribution. The offer must also have some actual value - such as a discount or extended service that they will not find elsewhere. If they can find the same coupon on your website it is not exclusive. Also, an offer for a free quote for a friend or family member is NOT a special offer. If you’re too frugal with the offer it will not be given away, let alone be redeemed by the referred individual. Finally, in honor of the principle of scarcity, the offer should have an expiration date. This will encourage the referred individual to take action.

 

Look back to look forward

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

Whether it's business or my favorite sport of running, we always hear about the benefits of consistency.

Quotes about consistency are everywhere. "Slow and steady wins the race," according to Aesop. Joe Paterno said, "You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That's the mark of a true professional." Jim Rohn says, "Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals." And there's even Doug Cooper's, “Variety may be the spice of life, but consistency pays the bills.”

Sometimes, though, consistency isn't such a virtue. Especially for specialty retailers.

Far too often, small business owners keep doing the same things over and over, never really stopping to see if there's a better way to do things.

After the busy holiday season I started to review which areas of operation at my business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, took a great deal of my time and the staff's time. We asked: Is there a way to make things more efficient?

One area that was very labor intensive was our shipping operation. There's nothing better for a small retailer than to have a client with a large number of orders. Our challenge, of course, was that those large orders took a lot of time and could be susceptible to errors.

By talking to our shipping vendor, we were able to streamline the process and directly upload addresses. We saved time and money and increased accuracy in the process. We were also able to add value for clients by providing tracking numbers and shipping timelines. Without breaking away of our consistent routine and stopping to review our day-to-day operations, we never would've been able to implement these valuable strategies.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Invite people you trust to come in and look at your operations. Encourage input from your employees, customers, vendors and other business owners you know. And, take time to think about doing things in different and better ways.

Doing that can save you a lot of time and money.

Which brings me to a final quote: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."

Stop doing what you've always done, and you may be pleasantly surprised at what you get.

 

Does anyone know my hosting information?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Sometimes clients can be pretty predictable – most of them, actually. At Happy Medium, when we begin a website project for a client, one of the first pieces of information we ask for is their current hosting information (site, logins etc…) Pretty much every time, the answer from the client is “can I get back to you?” Aka… I have no idea and I don’t honestly even know where to begin to find out. It’s really simple to not know actually. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you much about the itsahappymedium.com site hosting information either. What I can tell you, though, is where our password sheet is, and I know the information is on there.

It is really important to keep your website login and your hosting information in a place where it is easily accessible for a lot of reasons. Hopefully you’re using that website login (or someone is) to log into your site often and keep it up to date. (yes, checking your site weekly is important!)

If you own a company, or are in any way responsible for your company's website, I would suggest filling out this form today and posting it somewhere visible to anyone who might need it. Otherwise, it will be the year 2017, you’ll be ready for a new website and you’ll be wondering where the heck that email from 2014 from Hostgator is with your hosting login information. When you realize you don’t have it, you’ll get to spend quite a bit of time on the phone with someone you don’t know trying to get to the bottom of this mess. Or, you could just print and fill this out, post it and get to go to a happy hour instead when the time comes.

Good luck! 

-- @interactivekate

Is it a square peg in a square hole?

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

“The old Plex did not know it was really a YMCA in disguise” is what my partner, Daryl Metzger, said about the downtown YMCA moving into the abandoned Polk County Convention Center. Name one building in the downtown core you could put tape on the floor and play a game of basketball! Repurposing the Plex as a YMCA is a great fit and very sustainable.

It got me thinking about other buildings in downtown and what would be a great fit. Sometimes in building renovation I have tried to put a square peg in a round hole which makes the effort less sustainable.

YounkersMany premiere buildings like the Equitable, Des Moines, and Younkers are being transformed into housing. Is that the best fit? While the first two have smaller windows and seemingly more adaptable to housing, it will be interesting to see how the Younkers building deals with those monumental windows.


Parking garageCould the City garage on 5th between Court and Walnut be transformed into the year round farmers market you hear about? You could just walk past vendors as you go up the ramp. Enclosed and partially heated it could be an easy change. Or maybe the Brown Garage on Grand with its big south facing windows?

Insurance exchange buildingThe Insurance Exchange Building (the one with the Travelers umbrella) has always been one of those class B buildings in the downtown core. How about a fitness center piggy backing on the YMCA across the street? Full of trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and natural food restaurants. 

Let me know what you think would be a great fit for buildings waiting to be born again.

   

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzer.com

In PR — make it personal

RosenDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I receive a lot of email pitches from people who want me to write about some product, service, app, or book on my blog.

I can’t even imagine what journalists and popular blogs like the Huffington Post must get.

Most of them get a form “thank you but no” email from me. They haven’t done their research, don’t know what I write about and many times — it’s a form letter that I know I received along with about 200 other marketing bloggers. Many times, they don’t even address me by name.

But every once in awhile, someone does it well. Emanuel Rosen, who I’ve never met in person but we’ve interacted for a few years in social media circles, has written a new book called Absolute Value. He sent me a message on Facebook about his book, asking if he could send me a copy.

When I received the book, I saw that Emanuel took the time to jot me a note on the inside, even referencing that he knew I lived in Iowa. Now I am not suggesting that I was the only person he sent a book to or even the only one to receive a personalized copy. I know better. But he did invest some time and effort — which makes me much more likely to notice or want to be helpful.

Usually when I get a book in the mail, I had no idea it was coming and there’s nothing but a promotional flier inside. So I don’t even know if the publisher or author sent it. I’m a fast reader but there’s no way I could read them all. So I have to choose.

Emanuel’s book went to the top of my pile because he bothered to make a personal connection and demonstrate that I wasn’t just the 150th person on some list. In fairness, it also went to the top of my pile because his earlier book, The Anatomy of Buzz, was a great read so I was confident that his new book would be as well.

Turns out, I was right. It was very thought-provoking and raised some serious questions about how the power of branding may be shifting, which is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I wrote a review (read it here) and encouraged my blog readers to check it out.

So let’s look at the recipe card for how Emanuel got the results he wanted, because they’re the same steps you should take if you’re trying to get the media’s attention.

  • He established the connection between us before he needed to ask for the review
  • He stayed in touch periodically to keep the connection open (we’d occasionally comment on each other’s FB posts etc)
  • When he wanted me to help him promote his book, he made a personal ask
  • He made it easy for me — he sent me a copy of his book
  • He let me know I wasn’t just a cog in the wheel by personalizing the signature in the book
  • When I sent him an email saying that I liked the book and was going to write about it, he was genuinely appreciative
  • No doubt eventually he will comment on the blog post or shoot me a thank you on FB (I just posted the review tonight, so I am guessing on this one, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet)
  • He will promote the blog post — giving me some exposure to his list of contacts


That, my friends, is how it should be done. It’s not complicated, but it is human to human, not PR machine to the masses. And being the guy on the receiving end — I can tell you, that’s a difference you can feel.

 

~ Drew McLellan, MMG's Top Dog

In PR, timing is everything

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

The news cycle is a tireless beast. There are countless media outlets looking for stories and content - 24 hours a day. I always recommend that clients tell their own stories by starting a blog and using their website as a self-publishing tool. But, there are times when it's Images-1appropriate and even necessary to reach out to the media and entice them to help out by telling a compelling story on your behalf.

Interaction with the media is like a graceful dance routine. Timing is everything! Getting pushy and over-eager is like stepping on your partner's toes. Sitting around the edge of the dance floor doesn't work either. No one will notice you unless you take a chance and get our there and dance.

When sharing news with the media, it's important to remember that the timing of your outreach is crucial to success. Be sure to follow these recommendations to have a better chance of getting noticed:

  1. Give enough advance notice: When publicizing an event or something that has a shelf life - like an application deadline - don't send it to the media one day ahead of time. Unless it's breaking news, editors need a little time to fit it in the right spot in their newspaper or newscast.
  2. Seasonality: If launching a new product tied to the weather or time of year, make sure your pitch is delivered to the media when it makes sense to talk about it. For example, if you have a new line of kids backpacks, start talking about it in July when parents are shopping for back-to-school purchases.
  3. Pay attention to the reporter's schedule. Sending a news release on Sunday or the day before a holiday almost gurantees that no one will be there to read it. Even the time of day can make a big difference.
  4. Be cognizant of breaking news or other big stories. Trying to pitch a reporter during the Iowa State Fair is an uphill climb. The reporters are either at the fair or on vacation, so don't expect to get a response.
  5. Stories are cyclical, but if that reporter just wrote a piece about the same subject two weeks ago, don't expect them to write about your news. Wait a few months or come back with a fresh angle.

Having a great story to tell is very important. But it won't matter if you botch the timing.

Networking tips and tricks - Tip 2: Find people’s stories

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

I had the opportunity to go through Dale Carnegie when I was working at Hy-Vee. Up until that class I had always found it difficult to engage with strangers and make small talk. In fact, I hated it. Discussing the weather or the latest news headline always seemed so shallow. The best lesson I received from that entire course was the fact that everyone has a story to tell. The easiest to way to connect with people – find that story.

This goes hand in hand with my last blog about asking others what they’re passionate about. The next step is to listen and actively engage in whatever turn the conversation takes. Once someone starts telling their story, they must become the most important person in the room, no matter who walks in the door. It is only by making them the center point that you will truly engage in the current conversation and ask the questions that will continue the story.

The thing that I’ve realized over the years is that everyone, yes everyone, has an interesting story to tell. It’s finding that story that makes someone a great conversationalist. We all have our favorite vacation memory, best meal, favorite drink, or intriguing hobby. We’re also really good at telling that story to whoever is willing to listen. By sharing this passion, we develop a deeper connection and better relationship that ultimately builds trust. 

The next time you’re at a networking event and really not in the mood to be there, try finding a person’s story. We all have a great story to tell, if only someone would listen.

-Danny Beyer

The importance of public input in public projects

Court AvenueClaire Celsi is a public relations professional and social media strategist in West Des Moines, Iowa.

According to all the business rankings guides, Des Moines is where it's at. We have the best incomes, we're the best place to raise a family, best place to be a young professional, and one of the best places to get more value for your real estate dollar.

Still, the city of Des Moines has a lot to learn about public input on public initiatives. The most recent example is the Court Ave. project proposed by Knapp Properties and HyVee. Let me state loud and clear: I have no idea which project is best for the space proposed. But that is the point! Input from downtown residents is what counts - and what is missing from the debate.

Here is a quick checklist for organizations needing to gather public input for a project in which public funds will be spent. The main keys to success are TIME and TRANSPARENCY.

  1. Clearly communicate the timeline and the process for public input. The Court Ave. project does not meet this simple test, because the public comment period was not announced far enough ahead of time and the project is on a "fast track" to completion.
  2. Set public meetings in locations where downtown residents are likely to attend. Vary the times and days of the week the meetings are held to allow more residents to attend.
  3. Publicize the meetings ahead of time in the newspaper, websites, and using social media.
  4. Educate community leaders and use them to get the word out about public input opportunities. For example, member of the Downtown Chamber should be briefed by city leaders and prepared to answer questions from their associates.
  5. Gather input and comments into an easy-to-read document and disperse this information widely.

After public input is gathered and published, take the recommendations seriously. If downtown residents are the key to the success of the grocery store, then they are the people we should listen to. Public officials sometimes rush through this process - with disasterous results. Let's slow down this train and listen to public input.

-Claire Celsi

Make it easy for your clients to refer you

MakeiteasyCarl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

The best type of referral is that which finds its way to your doorstep after being screened and prepped by an existing customer. Isn’t it every businesses’ dream to have their phones constantly ringing with prospects verbally nodding yes? If the phone isn’t ringing off the hook the problem may not be that you’re not getting referred - but that the referrals have become lost in transmission. Therefore, as a business, the responsibility ultimately rests on you to make it as easy as possible for your referred customers to contact you.

Referrals emerge from conversation between friends and family. They happen at birthday parties, in parks, coffee shops, ... well, anywhere people talk (perhaps not so much in libraries). After a recommendation for a product or service is made there is a period of time before the prospect will contact the business. After all, people decide to perform business on their own time. This is where many referrals die. There are a couple easy things that you can do to prevent missed opportunities.

Collect email addresses

Regardless of what you sell, you should treat your customers as if they are yours for the long haul. Like any continued service, communication is paramount. But for some reason even today most businesses are not proactive in collecting email addresses. It is the best way to reach your customers for ongoing communication, conduct brief surveys, collect testimonials, and so on. It will give you a direct link to your customers and allow you to perform this next step that simplifies the referral process.

Send an informative introductory email

Immediately after you make a sale or acquire a new customer, send them an introductory email. The content should have the following elements:

  • Briefly thank them for their business and let them know you appreciate them

  • List some of the main services and products you offer

  • Provide a link to your website with additional information regarding your business

  • Include a phone number and email address and encourage them to call

  • Encourage them to forward the email to others that are interested in learning more

  • Recommend that they don’t delete the email so they can reference it later

  • Make sure that the email is from you - so that if replied to you will be able to respond

Having this content residing in customer’s inbox will make it easy for your customers to pick up their smartphone and forward to those they refer to you. It provides all the basics on your products and services, links for those that like to dig deeper, and contact information to find you. What’s more, after it is forwarded it will be conveniently sitting in the prospect’s inbox as a reminder the next day when they are in purchasing mode. So, quit playing broken telephone with your prospects and start capturing some more referral business!

The best employee review is a two-way street

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

When it comes to reviewing employees, specialty retailers should start the process with more than an evaluation form specific to their business. Their employee should bring the same evaluation form, which they've already filled out, to the meeting.

Following that approach, gives you a better understanding of how the employees feels they are doing and allows for more interaction during the review. It creates a great opportunity not only to talk about areas of improvement and whether they understand and support the company's vision, but where they'd like to grow in their own position.

The way I see it, little if anything in a review should come as a surprise to employees. If you're communicating effectively with your team throughout the year, your reviews should match up pretty closely.

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, my employees' performance is appraised on eight categories:

  • Productivity/Independence/Reliability -- The extent to which the employee produces a significant volume of work efficiently in a specific period of time, the ability to work independent with little or no direction, follow up to complete tasks and job assignments.
  • Job Knowledge -- The extent to which the employee possesses and demonstrates an understanding of work instructions, processes, equipment and materials required to perform the job and possesses the practical and technical knowledge required of the job.
  • Interpersonal Relationships/Cooperation/Commitment -- The extent to which the employee is willing and demonstrates the ability to cooperate, work and communicate with co-workers, supervisors, subordinates and outside contacts; accepts and responds to change in a positive manner; accepts job assignments and additional duties willingly; and takes responsibility for their own performance and job assignments.
  • Attendance -- The extent to which the employee is punctual, observes prescribed work break/meal periods and has an acceptable overall attendance record.
  • Initiative/Creativity -- The extent to which an employee seeks out new assignments; proposes improved work methods; suggest ideas to eliminate waste; and finds new and better ways of doing things.
  • Adherence to Policy -- The extent to which the employee follows company policies, procedures and work conduct rules; complies with and follows all safety rules and regulations; and wears required safety equipment.
  • Leadership -- The extent to which the employee demonstrates proper judgment and decision-making skills when directing others and directs work flow in assigned areas effectively to meet production and/or area goals.
  • Overall Performance

Each category is graded either "outstanding," "exceeds expectations," "meets expectations" or "improvement needed," and includes specific examples and comments.

Whether you're thinking of revising your employee review process or just getting around to creating one, I'd encourage you to try this approach.

NeighborGoods

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Now you can share or borrow stuff with NeighborGoods to get it done. So I had to try it.

I signed in with a user name and set up a password. At first I saw what I could borrow in Brooklyn (could have been operator error). I immediately edited my account and pinpointed where I live so I could be routed to people near me looking for something to borrow or that had something to share.

Neighborgoods log in screenThe site has you set up an inventory list of the stuff you would share. The great thing is you can establish the group you want to share with. I could set up a group of just close friends, actual neighbors, or all my Facebook friends. It was very easy to do.

I listed a hand truck and 8 foot ladder in my inventory. Now people can ask to borrow my ladder on-line.  Many categories allow easy searches to find what you need. I put the ladder in the tool category.

The video on the website made me smile. Neighbors are shown walking down the sidewalk with a blender and passing it on to someone at a coffee shop; or better yet, getting a cooler from someone at a park bench.

What will people think of next to use technology and make the planet more sustainable?

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzer.com

Keep Des Moines cool

Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

I am somewhat ashamed to say that I’ve never been to Austin, Texas but I’ve always heard good things.

Austin seems to be one of those small cities that everybody knows about for all the right reasons. In my reporting at the Business Record, I have heard people compare Des Moines to Austin and Madison, Wis. - as in, “we can be as cool as those cities.” Those are cities I have started to refer to often when I gush about how great Des Moines is becoming. We’re not a big city. We don’t have oceans or mountains. But we’ve got a lot going for us.

So when the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Mary Bontrager told the story of an Austin-native calling Des Moines “Austin-cool” at a recent Business Record Power Breakfast, I nearly did a fist-pump.

You see, even though I’ve never been to Austin, or Madison, I have a very positive connotation in my head for what those two cities represent. Those cities are cool, and everyone knows it. Why else would there be any reason that I know Austin’s slogan, “Keep Austin Weird?”

Well, in my opinion, Des Moines is cool. Everyone who lives here knows it. And those who don’t are starting to take notice. Did anyone see the “Today” show feature?

As Iowans, we’re a pretty humble group. We know we’ve got a good thing going here, but we haven’t always been the best at touting ourselves.

It’s time to change that.

We’ll have our opportunities. Bontrager made multiple mentions of the Partnership’s CarpeDM site, a forum for people to share what they love about Des Moines. That’s a pretty simple way to highlight our successes.

For perhaps a more complex way, think about this: The Iowa Caucuses will make a visit in early 2016, which means candidates and the national media will soon be making visits to our state. From what I’ve noticed, Iowa doesn’t always get the most, well, flattering national press (insert generic ‘B’-roll of cornfield). But guess what: Here in Iowa, we feed the world, and that’s really cool. Not only that, we have a world class city that has almost all of the amenities a person could want, with a fraction of the traffic, and maybe the nicest people you’ll find anywhere.

I’m not saying to bang our chests or let our heads get too inflated. What I’m saying is this: We’ve earned the right to brag. We don’t need to be “weird” like Austin, but Des Moines is cool. Tell your friends.

--

I welcome feedback and ideas. Email me, follow me on Twitter, or comment on this blog post.

Email: kyleoppenhuizen@bpcdm.com
Twitter: @KyleOppenhuizen

Content marketing at a glance

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

You can't read a marketing article or book without bumping into the phrase "content marketing." The truth is -- content marketing isn't new.  See if any of these marketing tactics look familiar:

  • Open a community forum
  • Generate a cause marketing effort
  • Encourage customer reviews
  • Give a keynote speech
  • Write a blog
  • Write an ebook
  • Publish some articles
  • Create an infographic
  • Generate media releases
  • Create guides or how to documents
  • Produce trend reports
  • Record a podcast
  • Send out an enewsletter
  • Host an event
  • Create some interactive demos
  • Put on a webinar
  • Create useful calculators or checklists
  • Share some case studies

See -- you've already been creating content, you just called it something different. But have you been doing it well?

Check out this infographic that the CMO Council created to make sure your efforts are well received.  (click on it to see a larger size.)

Content-impacts-b2b-graphic

 

The truth is -- the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to content marketing is not do it at all. With the tips on this infographic -- you can dodge the big mistakes and deliver content that delivers new customers!

~ Drew McLellan, MMG's Top Dog

Networking tips and tricks

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

Over the upcoming weeks, I’ll be sharing some insights on successful networking. These tips and tricks are things I’ve observed others do or have found useful in my own endeavors. Some topics will cover questions I’m routinely asked by people new to networking or people trying to feel more comfortable with it.  Remember, networking isn’t a science, and everyone has their own unique take on how to do it well. These are simply items that I’ve found useful over the years. 

Tip 1:  How to enter a conversation or do an introduction

This question has been posed multiple times: “I’m at an event or a party and only know the person I came with. How do I introduce myself or break into a conversation with people I don’t know?” This is one of the most intimidating moments of networking because of a couple different factors. 1. We don’t want to come off as abrasive or rude by interrupting a conversation. 2. What do we talk about after the introduction is made?

The simple answer is to always remember the surroundings. Most people attending networking events expect to be interrupted and are hoping to meet new people. The other secret – they’re probably just as nervous as you are. The easiest way to enter a conversation is to simply introduce yourself and then have at least one to two conversation starters ready to go.  Some common conversation starters include:

-          Talking about the event space or location. This is especially useful at fundraising events or community support events.

-          Asking why they’re attending the event, what they hope to get out of it.

-          Asking the usual, “What do you do for a living?”

-          My personal favorite, “What are you passionate about?”

I enjoy the “passionate” question because it gives the other person an opportunity to share about something they truly care about. It lets them set the stage by either talking about a professional topic or personal topic. Always try to avoid yes/no style questions that don’t require much follow up. Remember, the broader the question is the more opportunity the new acquaintance has to answer as they see fit and continue the conversation.  

Stay tuned in coming weeks for more tips.

-Danny Beyer

Personal PR: Why you need a personal brand

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Everyone is busy. Busy with everyday routines and tasks at work. Hauling the kids back and forth. Meeting daily obligations. Get up and do it again. Rinse, repeat. The daily grind is called the daily grind for a reason.

It's so easy to lose sight of the big picture. Everyone needs to build and maintain a personal brand. Over the course of a 40+ year career, you're bound to run into situations where it will come in handy. The best part of a personal brand is using it to help yourself during those times in your career where things may not have gone according to plan.

Being anonymous is foolhardy. It only works well for those who are in the witness protection program, the NSA, or perhaps a private investigator. Everyone else - guess what? Slap a smile on, grab a nametag and start shaking hands. The worst thing you can hear from another person is "Oh, I've heard of your company, but have never heard your name."

In fact, people who network and (dare I say) - promote themselves a bit - actually end up benefitting the companies they work for and contribute to the bottom line in concrete and measurable ways.

Networking can feel like a luxury (or a burden) if you're a busy person. Or just downright impossible if you don't have a good support system at work or at home. How do you build and maintain a personal brand slowly but surely? Here are some tips:

  1. Tell your spouse/kids/business partners what you're up to: If you set a goal to attend a networking event twice a month, let people know that you're trying to be more visible and meet some new people. That way, if you leave work a little early - or are late for dinner - they'll know what you're trying to accomplish.
  2. Use social media: Network 24-7 by building a strong digital presence. You can't go to every networking event, but you can create engaging profiles and content online that people will find when they simply Google your name.
  3. Set a goal: What's your ultimate goal? More friends? New business for your company? Meeting peers in your industry? Think about it ahead of time.
  4. Prioritize: Not every networking event will be equal, and most likely, there will be plenty to choose from. Pick the ones that will be most beneficial based on the goal that you've set.
  5. Shake it up a little. Find a fun friend and attend a social event together. Pick an event where neither one of you are likely to know anyone. Make a goal of meeting five new people each.

There are times in life to sit it out, and times to get in there and play. Networking is not a frivilous activity. It's a "must do" for every professional who cares about the way the public perceives them. Your "network" is the most important asset you have.

 

 

A director's call of duty

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law.

You may serve as a director on the board for a for-profit business, a nonprofit charity, or even a homeowners’ association, and whether you know it or not, Iowa law likely imposes upon you one the highest duties under the law: a Fiduciary Duty. While a fiduciary obligation is certainly not the most exciting topic in the business or legal world, it often tops the list as one of the most important. So what does this often-referenced but frequently misunderstood duty require of you and your fellow directors? To paraphrase the wise Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, one’s status as a fiduciary only begins the inquiry.

To fully answer the important inquiry, this post could go on ad nauseam cataloging fiduciary requirements imposed upon directors, but rather than lulling you to sleep with a dissertation, we’ll simply touch on a few high points.  A logical starting point is where Iowa’s legislature left off when it codified the concept of fiduciary duties in the Iowa Code. Pursuant to black-letter Iowa law (Iowa Code Section 490.830), each board member must abide by the following requirements when acting on behalf of the entity they serve: (1) they must act in good faith; and (2) in a manner the director reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the corporation. Additionally, when becoming informed in connection with the director's decision-making function or devoting attention to the director's oversight function, the director must discharge  his/her duties with “the care that a person in a like position would reasonably believe appropriate under similar circumstances.”  Id

The words above, while straightforward and upon first blush appear very clear, result in countless lawsuits against directors for allegedly breaching their fiduciary duty.  

Given the large volume of lawsuits on the matter, it’s not surprising that Iowa’s courts frequently interpret and apply the requirements above. In so doing, our courts have provided further direction as to fiduciary duty requirements in Iowa. For instance, in one often-cited case, Iowa’s Supreme Court boiled down the concept to two main duties, “consisting both of a duty of care and a duty of loyalty.” Cookies Food Products, Inc., by Rowedder v. Lakes Warehouse Distrib., Inc., 430 N.W.2d 447, 451 (Iowa 1988) (emphasis added). Iowa’s high court continued, opining “[t]he duty of care requires each director to ‘perform the duties of a director ... in good faith, in a manner such director reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the corporation, and with such care as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.” Id. (internal citations omitted). 

With respect to the duty of loyalty, Iowa’s court stated “[t]hat duty derives from the prohibition against self-dealing that inheres in the fiduciary relationship …  As a fiduciary, one may not secure for oneself a business opportunity that “in fairness belongs to the corporation.”  Id. (internal citations omitted). Failure to abide by these legal duties (e.g. failing to act in good faith, failing to become properly informed before making decisions, failing to exercise proper oversight, engaging in self-dealing) may not only result in damages to your organization, but may also result in personal liability (read, you are sued individually). 

In short, as a director in an organization (for-profit and non-profit alike) it is imperative to understand the duties that Iowa law imposes upon you. The foregoing is but just a glimpse into some of the requirements imposed upon directors in Iowa. For a more detailed explanation about fiduciary duties, consider checking out the following links:

Link:  Care, or Beware!  Iowa's Fiduciary Duty of Care

Link:  The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Fiduciary Duties in Small Businesses and Corporations.

 

How to use Facebook to get more referrals

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Social media has become a generic topic. Everywhere you turn there are bits of information stressing the significance of these dynamic platforms to reach audiences and grow your business. OK, so having just written that last sentence I realize that this post also conveys that message, but I promise it isn’t generic. So let’s take a different look at social media, namely Facebook, and explore how it can be used get you more referrals for your business.

Referrals_buttonI am not the expert on all things social media. Hashtags are relatively new for me too (yet I feel compelled to use them). But, I am knowledgeable on #referrals and I understand what type of content resonates with people. According to a study published last December, 71% of adults are using Facebook. People are spending time there, too. And because so many eyes are glued to the website, businesses are fervently combating for the coveted spot on the News Feed. But there is a problem. So many businesses are so fixed on being in the spotlight that they forget to consider how well the actual message will be received by their audience. There is an opportunity for businesses to leverage the obvious connections between their vocal ambassadors and their friends and they #fail to capture it.

People #dislike being sold to

Let’s take a step back and think about why people are on Facebook in the first place. A study by the Pew Research Center published this month lists the top reasons users log onto Facebook. A couple of these include receiving updates and comments and sharing experiences with friends and family. Getting advertised to didn’t make the list. An obvious observation, yet so many companies continue to flood the News Feed with unwanted (and ignored) content. OK, so people don’t drive on the interstate to read billboards or watch TV programs to see commercials (outside of the Super Bowl) either. The point is, whenever a person can easily #ignore an advertisement, they will, and this holds true for misplaced advertisements (sponsored posts) in a user’s Facebook timeline.

This way is much better

Rather than spending time and money advertising on Facebook, find creative ways of getting your vocal promoters to say good things about you via comments. Sure, when people like your Facebook page it is #cool but it doesn’t go very far with the people who have never heard of you. Positive comments, however, reach new audiences with a message that is as close to a positive referral that you will get on social media. It means so much more when a prospect hears how great you are from someone they know. It will significantly dilute the feeling of being advertised to online and transfer trust from your ambassadors directly to their friends and family. Also, considering that half of all Facebook users have more than 200 online friends, the reach of the message has quite the potential.

Ask to be shared and recommended 

An easy way to get started is to add a Share button or Recommend button to your website and ask your happiest customers to provide you with a quick comment online. This allows people to add a personalized message to a link to your website before sharing it on their timeline. An added bonus with the recommend button is every time a user clicks on it you will gain a Facebook like for your page. Just think how much better this message will be received by its intended audience - and unlike sponsored posts coming from you, it’s free! Also, it doesn’t work to simply repost testimonials that you gather from other sources to your personal Facebook page. That comes across as bragging and is #lame. If you are interested in learning more, at Rocket Referrals we have a unique approach to gathering more Facebook likes and comments.

Remember to evaluate employees

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

With everything else that retail entrepreneurs have to do every day, it's all-too-easy to overlook make-or-break details of one of the most important aspects of business: employees.

With few or no backstops available at larger companies, there's a big potential for small retailers to rush or even neglect virtually every step of the process from hiring to performance evaluations and appreciation to firing.

One obstacle for small retailers is that they spend so much time with employees that they feel they're too close to do formal performance evaluations.

Some small business owners don't do performance evaluations because they think they're too small, but those who do are focused on the wrong word. Instead of thinking "small," they need to think "business."

You're running a business, and everything about an employee's conduct -- from their interaction with customers to what they do when things are quiet -- directly influences your bottom line. If you're not conducting regular performance evaluations, you're doing yourself, your business and your employees a disservice.

Some employees naturally dread evaluations but they dislike the alternative -- being kept in the dark -- even more. A lack of feedback can lead to dissatisfied employees because they don't know where they stand. The fact is, employees want to know what's going on and how they're doing.

No matter how much you talk with them every day, they want to understand in a one-on-one setting with you what you think they do best, what things can they improve upon and also what new tasks might they take on.

Evaluations provide opportunities to do all that. They are a time to correct problems, set goals and clear-cut expectations and to reward employees for meeting previously set goals.

And, that's why it doesn't matter how big or small your business is, regular evaluations are essential.

Next blog: The nuts-and-bolts of a performance evaluations for specialty retail employees.

What is Facebook Paper?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Have you even heard of Facebook Paper? You might not have, it’s pretty new. Plus, it’s actually an entirely different app then the regular Facebook app. Working in media, I always wonder how long an actual printed paper version of newspapers is going to continue to happen. I’m not sure this is officially the end for printed newspaper, but as more companies try to create your newspaper experience online, it doesn’t look good for them. Adapting is the name of the game. Here’s what I thought about the app.

The App: Technically speaking, the app was released last week and from my perspective, is a combined way, as well as some new ways, to get your information. My initial thought was Facebook tried to combine Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook into one app. Smart or crazy is yet to be determined. Like any new layout or app, I’m in the middle of my adjustment period of trying to figure out if I love it or am sticking with my old secure ways. The app is set up to have a mash of your Facebook information along with other information you would find in a news-“paper”. There are different sections you can follow, starting with of course your own Facebook. Other options are Tech, Enterprise, Pop Life, Score, Exposure, Ideas, Equalize, Planet, All City, Well Lived, Cute, LOL, Glow, Pride Flavor, Family Matters, Headlines, Creators, and Home.

Biz Record Blog_FB Papers_1

Biz Record Blog_FB Papers_2

The Good: If you’re looking for one stop information gathering, this is it! When you’re in the Facebook section, you’re going to only get served updates from friends and pages you follow. It’s one swipe to the right and you can find streaming headlines. Your content is separated, but housed under one umbrella now. If visual is your thing, you’ll probably like this timeline much better than the white background current Facebook timeline. It also seems to be pretty user friendly. I like their concept of it functioning like an actual news paper would. As you listen to the tour they use words such as “fold down” and “turn the page” to really enhance your “paper” reading experience, and yet feel familiar all at the same time.

The Bad: As you can see in the pictures, each story bump is pretty small (or is that just what it looks like after you turn 30?!) Either way, it’s small. One click and it’s bigger, which isn’t terrible. I think the large amount of information feeding into this app could easily get overwhelming as well. We’re somewhat conditioned when these concepts are separate (i.e. pictures on pinterest, short sentences on Twitter) to handle them in their respective platforms. Once you combine the concepts – it’s almost impossible not to have information overload. That is, until we’re all used to it, and there will so be a day when even this amount of information is not enough for us…

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts @interactivekate.

--Katie

Concrete is getting more green

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Tilt walls

Tilt up concrete construction has been around since the 1920’s and is typically identified with big box stores such as Home Depot and warehouses. Basically, a form is made on the ground and filled with concrete and reinforcing. Once the concrete is cured, the panel is “tilted up” on top of the footing and fixed in place.

This simple construction process is being used on sustainable structures across the country. While you don’t see it much in Iowa because of our winters, architects are using the unique construction for sustainable reasons.

WarehouseFirst, concrete construction from the Romans is still intact so it is very durable.  Tilt up buildings from the 40’s have had very little maintenance and are still performing.

Second, each panel is made on site so shipping is nonexistent compared to brick or precast concrete which can come from hundreds of miles away. Ready mix plants are usually within a few miles in metro areas.

Third, systems have been manufactured so an insulated sandwich panel can be cast on site. The encapsulation of the insulation provides a very good air infiltration barrier.

Lastly, the massiveness of the concrete resists temperature migration from the outside.  Like the adobe homes with thick walls built by Native Americans, the heat of the summer sun is felt inside much later than when the sun has set. Some architects have even imbedded rubber tubing in south facing concrete walls and removed the heat during the winter for space heating.

Keep your eyes peeled for a tilt up project in Iowa.

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzer.com

Would your movie be all about you?

FBmovieDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

In celebration of their 10-year anniversary, Facebook surprised its users this week by allowing each user to create a one minute movie that looked back on their Facebook presence. It grabbed photos and status updates that had received a lot of likes and everyone has been sharing them in the newsfeed.

(To the right, you can see a screenshot of me sharing my movie with my FB friends)

It's been fun to look back at other people's public facing life and what they've shared.

Watching all of the videos got me thinking about how business Facebook pages would fare if we used the same app on them.  

If we did some sort of composite of the entries on your company's Facebook page -- what would we see?  Would we see you talking about your stuff, your sale, your awards and your employees?

I doubt it. You see -- the way the app selected what to show in the movie was based on how many likes and comments each entry received. So it wasn't what I, Drew McLellan, thought was most interesting or important -- it was what my friends took the time to enjoy.

So if your business page is littered with stuff about your company and it's more sales or self oriented... your movie might have been blank. (Wouldn't that have been embarrassing?)  

Seems like this movie gift was a very good reminder to all of us that Facebook (whether it is our personal page or a business page) is all about the audience and what they care about. As you put together your editorial calendar for Facebook (you have one, right?) ask yourself -- would this item show up in my movie because it engaged my page's audience or would they ignore this?

Be more purposeful about what goes on your page... and avoid sharing content that wouldn't make your movie.

 ~ Drew McLellan, McLellan Marketing Group 

The brilliant CVS no smokes decision: Great PR for years to come

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Health advocates across the country are hailing CVS Pharmacy's decision to stop selling tobacco products. The company admits that it will lose millions of dollars in revenue over time, but is mostly citing the obvious: Smoking is detrimental. Selling cigarettes is antithetical to good health. Conclusion? A business focused on helping people become healthier should not be in the business of selling a product which has a deadly track record and is the number one cause of preventable death. Makes perfect sense from a PR standpoint.  No smoking

If you dig a little deeper, there is another very compelling reason for CVS to go this route. It's going to be more beneficial financially in the long run. Health and wellness is big business and the implementation of Obamacare has created renewed opportunities for healthcare companies to provide healthy options for customers and patients. CVS is making a strategic move to align itself more closely with the wellness moverment and consequently, the money that comes with it.

From a PR standpoint, this is a triple win for CVS and its reputation:

  1. They get the lasting publicity value of being the FIRST major pharmacy to announce this strategy. Being a trendsetter is a powerful thing. Trust me, CVS's name will show up in news coverage on this issue for years to come.
  2. CVS will experience a flood of support from potential customers, vendors, and most importantly health partners who want to align themselves with a leader.
  3. CVS will eventually make more money on health and wellness programs - which has much more potential than income from cigarette sales.

As someone who has worked in the fight against tobacco, I admire CVS's courage to step out and be different, seemingly flying in the face of logic. As a PR practitioner, I see the move for what it is - a smart business decision that will pay dividends into the future.

Meet new blogger Danny Beyer

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

A good network takes time to build and grow. When I moved to Des Moines with my wife in Danny Beyer2008, I didn’t know anyone besides her and her immediate family. I took an office job and was pretty content with the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours and a Monday through Friday work routine. That all changed in August that year when a companywide meeting was called and we were all handed our termination paperwork. I found myself without a job and without many prospects. I resolved to never be in that situation again. 

My first sales job started with Kabel Business Service, a local payroll provider, a year later.  I was instructed that cold-calling would get me through my first year but that building a solid referral base would make the following years much easier. Not being a big fan of cold calling, I got to work contacting bankers and CPAs and really anyone who would listen to me tell my story of business development. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the groundwork was being laid for the network I now enjoy today. 

Through the next years I continued to meet people. I never said no to a cup of a coffee or a chance to connect with someone new. Everyone had an interesting story to tell whether it involved work or something personal. We shared dreams, successes, and failures. I’ve watched people’s careers take off and learned from veterans who enjoy sharing their wisdom. We’ve let our kids play together, celebrated births and mourned deaths. 

This is why I network and why I try to meet someone new every day. Networking is more than trying to close deals or chasing the next sale. Networking is building long-term partnerships and business relationships that benefit both parties. It involves not being afraid to pick up the phone and ask for a favor and expecting the phone to ring in return. Sometimes those relationships can turn personal, and lasting friendships form. In fact, some of my closest friends have come from the various network groups I currently belong to or belonged to in the past.

This blog will be a collection of stories from my past five years of building my professional and personal network. I’ll share how I helped create a nonprofit event that raised more than $7,000 with a couple of phone calls and coffee meetings. How I helped collaborate with two other young professional groups to pull off the first ever YP Leaders Symposium. I’ll also share the mistakes and tips/tricks I’ve learned through navigating hundreds of chamber and networking events. 

I simply love to connect with people, to hear their stories and learn about what makes them tick. I’d love to hear your story too. Let me know if you’d like to get coffee and connect.

-Danny Beyer

Take advantage of the moment in 2014

-Kyle Oppenhuizen is a Business Record reporter and the 2014 president-elect of the Young Professionals Connection (YPC). 

One of my favorite television shows is The West Wing, the fictional White House-based show starring Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet. I was recently re-watching an old episode that helped me identify my motto for 2014.

The scene that caught my attention was one in which President Bartlet is having a particularly tense dialogue with a senior White House official, Toby Ziegler, played by Richard Schiff. Ziegler tells the president that a charge against him is that he watches the pitch go by.

As a baseball fan, that made me think: What pitches do I watch go by when instead I should swing for the fences?

I recently had coffee with a Greater Des Moines leader (I won’t mention a name, since this conversation was off the record). This person mentioned an important lesson learned in leadership - take advantage of the moments worth taking advantage of.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I often try to set the tone for my year by setting a motto, one that seems particularly fitting to where I am in my life. This year that motto is “Take advantage of the moment.” In other words, don’t watch the pitch go by.

So what’s the “moment” that your business or organization could take advantage of this year? What pitch should you swing at?

Maybe it is finally time to launch that new product. Or is the moment right to plan that next big event in Des Moines? Perhaps it is something smaller, like picking your moment to recognize your team of employees or nonprofit volunteers for a job well done.

Whatever it is, find your moments and take them. You never know when you’ll get the moment again. And if you watch the pitch go by, you can’t expect your competitors to do the same.

-Kyle Oppenhuizen

Fear the Family (and other related parties)

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

Iabiz 20140129Judging by income tax law alone, Congress seems to think that "The Sopranos" provides the standard business model for family financial transactions. The tax code is full of special rules that punish transactions between family members, on the assumption that they can't do business without trying to pull a fast one on their tax filings. You can't accrue a deduction to a cash-basis relative, for example, and you can't deduct a loss on a sale to family

A Kansas City entrepreneur recently learned about another related party rule, good and hard.  

Gary Fish started a successful tech company, FishNet Security, described on its website as "the No. 1 provider of information security solutions that combine technology, services, support and training." From 1998 the company was operated as an S corporation, a common tax structure under which the earnings of the corporation are taxed directly on the owner's 1040.

In 2004, he got an opportunity to get some cash out of his investment.  While the technical details were a bit convoluted, for tax purposes it came down to having his S corporation contribute the operating business to a new corporation; a private equity group contributed cash.  Mr. Fish received some stock in the new corporation, along with $9,698,699 of the private equity cash. 

The formation of a new corporation is normally tax-free.  Internal Revenue Code Section 351 allows taxpayers to exchange appreciated assets for stock without recognizing gain, as long as the contributing parties own 80% or more of the company after the transaction. But the tax law triggers taxable gain to the extent a taxpayer receiving stock also receives "boot" -- cash or other non-stock property -- in the deal.  

As with many tech companies, the value of the business was mostly in its intangible assets -- its "goodwill." The new corporation was treated as buying goodwill. The tax law says purchased goodwill can be amortized for tax purposes over 15 years. And here is where things went bad for Mr. Fish.

When "goodwill" is sold, the tax law normally treats it as a capital gain. An obscure part of the Code, Section 1239, can change that result. If you sell anything that can be depreciated or amortized to a related party -- things like machinery, buildings, and, yes, goodwill -- Section 1239 makes the gain ordinary. The idea is to prevent a taxpayer from selling something to a relative at reduced capital gain rates and then getting depreciation deductions against ordinary income, which is taxed at higher rates. This would not be very a attractive trick for goodwill, where the capital gain tax is paid right away while the deductions are spread over 15 years, but nobody ever said the tax law has to make sense.

Among the related parties affected by Section 1239 are corporations where a taxpayer owns over 50% of the stock value. While the capital structure of the new corporation was complex, the Tax Court judge determined that Mr. Fish owned more than 50% of the value of its stock. As a result, the $9,698,699 of "boot" gain recognized on the goodwill transferred to the new corporation was ordinary income, not capital gain.

In 2005, capital gain was taxed at 15%, while the top ordinary income rate was 35% (current rates are 20% and 39.6%; if the Obamacare surtax applies, both rates are increased by another 3.8%). Using those rates, Section 1239 increases Mr. Fish's federal tax bill on the gain from $1,454,805 to $3,394,545 -- $1,939,740 of unhappiness, if it isn't overturned by a higher court.  

Does this mean you can never do business with relatives without, er, sleeping with the fishes, tax-wise? No. But, like Tony Soprano, you need to be very careful doing so. You should work very closely with your tax advisor when engaging in finance with friends and family, including friendly family-owned businesses. Mr. Fish could give you about $1,939,740 reasons why.  

Cite: Fish, T.C. Memo. 2013-270

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