Can I force my Iowa corporation to buy my stock?

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

PGP_1038Minority shareholders seeking to exit an Iowa corporation frequently ask, “can I force my closely-held Iowa corporation to purchase my stock.” A great question, but one that is frequently met with a variety of answers. On January 21, 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court published an opinion on this very topic. And while the case applies Delaware law (not Iowa law) and each case is factually unique, the opinion illustrates how other courts, including Iowa courts, may decide a similar case involving a shareholder seeking to force their corporation to purchase stock. The FULL OPINION can be read here.

In short, the Delaware Supreme Court applied Delaware law and held that “[u]nder common law, directors of a closely held corporation have no general fiduciary duty to repurchase the stock of a minority stockholder.” The court went on to find, “[a]n investor must rely on contractual protections if liquidity is a matter of concern … [the shareholder] has no inherent right to sell her stock to the company at ‘full value,’ or any other price. It follows that she has no right to insist on the formation of an independent board committee to negotiate with her.” Upon concluding that Delaware common law did not permit the shareholder to force the company to purchase her stock, the court turned to the corporation’s governing documents, and in particular a shareholder agreement. The court opined:

[t]he Shareholders’ Agreement provides the only protection available to [the shareholder] … But the relevant provision, Paragraph 7(d), gives the stockholder and the company discretion as to whether to engage in a transaction, and as to the price. It does not impose any affirmative duty on either party to consider or negotiate any repurchase proposal.

Clearly, if the corporation’s governing documents contained additional language concerning a mandatory obligation to purchase stock from shareholders, the case would likely have turned out different.

Interestingly, the court did not address the merits of the shareholder’s derivative claim against the directors for breach of the duty of loyalty. The shareholder alleged the directors harmed the corporation and breached their duty of loyalty to the corporation by not “faithfully” considering an investment opportunity (i.e. purchasing her stock). She further alleged they did not consider the investment opportunity because they were concerned about “preserving their personal tax planning interests.” As stated, the court did not consider the merits of this intriguing claim. The court reasoned it did not need to consider the merits because the shareholder failed to make a required derivative demand and otherwise properly plead the claim. Consequently, the merits of proceeding upon such a claim based upon the case facts are still uncertain and warrant consideration.

If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about how you can exit your Iowa corporation, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney.

Evidence-Based Strategy and Peter and the Wolf

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

When I was a kid, my father bought me a cassette of a recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Dad enjoyed classical music and that rubbed off of me; Aaron Copland especially. Lincoln Portrait is one of my all-time favorite works. Peter and the Wolf came up in a playlist that I was listening to recently while I happened to be reading an article about evidence based strategy and my mind started to wonder if there were overlaps between one and the other.

I read up on trends in strategic planning. It seems like every year there is a hot new thing people want to try as an emerging thought on how to make organizations work more efficiently. Some seem to work, others do not. Evidence based strategy seems obvious – base decisions and actions on information that exists in some sort of reference format. Recently though, I have noticed that this is not the norm.

“Blue Sky” strategy is actually the most common thing I see emerge in planning sessions. The tendency to want to start from scratch or “think outside the box” can be so overwhelming at critical moments when strategy is being developed, but that can lead to very important and relevant historical data being neglected or omitted completely.

This leads to several problems that can have adverse effects on planning efforts. The first of which is that there are really very few original ideas out there in terms of organizational development. This isn’t because of a lack of innovation or anything negative, it’s just that some really smart people have established some best practices that work, and there is a good chance that even within your organization that things have been tried and have either worked or failed. Remember what your organization excels at, and don’t succumb to new and completely untested (or worse yet - tested and failed) ideas, based solely on enthusiasm.

It’s important not to fall to the “new blood, old idea” model that a lot of groups fall into. New enthusiasm for an idea that has already been tried and has not been successful should not re-enter the conversation unless there is some critical variable that has changed or new information has emerged that makes the failed model viable. Thinking outside of the box is important, but sometimes it’s more important to remember what is actually in the box to begin with.

Peter’s observations in Prokofiev’s work are based on what he sees – what already exists; the bird escapes the cat, the duck, frustrated by the interaction with the bird, is eaten by the wolf. Peter ultimately disregards his grandfather’s warning and catches the wolf with the aid of the bird. So, what does any of that have to do with evidence based strategy?

The initial steps in the story are about trial and error and what resources exist. Peter’s grandfather sets the initial parameter (don’t go into the meadow, or the wolf will eat you) and peter observes interactions between the animals and determines what resources he can use to ultimately formulate and execute his end goals. The experience of seeing how the animals in the story interact and based on what he determines is the best course of action forward, he executes a successful plan. From Peter’s perspective, maybe he initially thought that running out into the meadow was just fine – blue sky strategy - but later decided that line of thinking would have likely led to a much shorter story, with a far more negative ending. As for his grandfather, with the benefit of his experiences, likely knew of many other boys who ran out into the meadow and were eaten - Peter seems to have taken this evidence into account in his final plan.

When you set out on formulating a strategy, remember to base decisions on observations and evidence. Best practices and established norms can ultimately build a robust, well-conceived path forward, allowing for innovation, increased efficiency, and bolstered effectiveness.

Back to basics

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

What do a new horse and running a specialty retail business have in common?

Quite a bit, actually, I concluded after recently buying a horse.

Any experienced horse owner knows that whenever you have a new horse you have to go back to the basics. You have to remember the basics in riding technique and mechanics because each horse is different.  You have to return to the basics of working and interacting with the horse, too.

The new horse reminds me, too, of the importance of proper training. Success in the horse arena -- or the business arena -- requires the right training.

With my new horse, I'll be getting training from my riding instructor on how to put him through the proper paces. At my business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction, I need to make sure I seek competent, qualified instructors who keep me up to speed with new technology, software and compliance regulations -- to name a few.

Training is especially important in relating to and working with employees. And that goes both ways. Just as employers benefit from the right instruction in employee relations, employees also benefit from knowing what's expected of them.

And, just like riding requires the proper equipment -- a good bridle, right saddle, correct reins and so on -- I'm reminded that we also need to provide employees with the right tools for them to succeed and the right rewards when they do.

In the end, returning to the basics every now and then can provide tremendous benefits to even the best retail operation. Rather than taking things back to square one, such an approach can move your business, staff and you well forward. Give it a try.

Psychology, aliens, and testimonials

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

Psychology

It is no secret that marketers have been using psychology on us for years to get us to buy stuff. That’s right, these mind ninjas aren’t just pulling tricks out of their hat. The best marketing techniques are based on in-depth studies that explain human behavior.

So let’s assume that you have clients with ongoing relationships with you. You already convinced them to buy - now your energy shifts to customer retention: an area that many companies unknowingly neglect. Unfortunately, customer satisfaction alone is not enough. In fact, the consulting and research firm Bain & Company found that in business after business, 60 to 80 percent of customers said they were satisfied before defecting to a competitor.

The good news is that a tidbit of psychology will make a big difference in retaining those clients - cognitive dissonance. This is the nerdy term for the uneasy feeling people experience when one belief conflicts with a pre-existing one.

Aliens

FlyingsaucerYou may have heard about that doomsday cult in the ‘50s that believed the world was going to blow up from some super alien ray gun, or something. The leader of the cult convinced her followers that, if they were believers, the aliens would scoop them up in their flying saucer in the nick of time. Not surprisingly the world never blew up. So the cult leader told her followers that the martians decided to allow them to live after all.

Those who sold all their belongings and kissed their loved ones goodbye were in an awkward position. So, rather than face reality (that their leader was a fraud) they convinced themselves that she was a prophet, and they became even stronger believers. Like a smoker who makes up excuses, they avoided the dissonance caused by conflicting beliefs.

Testimonials

As a business you can also use this as a technique to increase customer retention. Of course I am not suggestion that you make up false prophecies - but, have customers make an additional commitment to you. This is as simple as actively gathering customer testimonials.

Especially when they are shared publically, testimonials will strengthen the bond between the client and business. After they make the commitment to promote a business to others it becomes part of their self-image. When asked to further show their commitment (sticking around) they will be far more likely to do so - rather than conflicting with this shared belief and developing a dissonant state.

Turns out collecting testimonials has benefits outside of convincing prospects with social proof. So, even if you aren’t posting them on your website, consider collecting as many as you possible.

Exploring tours of duty inside companies

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a company that inspires entrepreneurship inside larger organizations. 

Tour of duty image

Tours of duty are often associated with the military, but as it turns out, the authors of “The Alliance” address the idea that “tours of duty” can exist and thrive inside workplaces.

To briefly highlight the concept: regardless of whether you’re joining a company, shifting into a new role internally, or operating in a senior role, all team members should be on a tour of duty that is a specific, finite mission the employee and employer agree on. This function is a specific mission and realistic timeline.

If the concept seems strange, it’s one that’s been applied in something many of us are familiar with: sports.

The “tour of duty” in the NBA:

The Miami Heat (before LeBron jumped to the Cleveland Cavaliers again) embody the concept of people coming together for a finite period of time to complete a specific mission: win NBA titles. They accomplished this goal twice — mission accomplished.

In the workplace, The Alliance encourages companies to embrace this philosophy —people aren’t going to stay on your “team” forever, so you might as well rally around some goals that can realistically be accomplished while you all are a unit.

The “tour of duty” with the coaching carousel of college football:

College football coaching also has a well documented “tour of duty” history — now more than ever. A graduate assistant (new hire) gets his foot in the door however possible. After getting a grip on what path to pursue (offense / defense / strength coach etc.) he may have to hop to another school to become a position coach (manager/director). After a few years at position coach (and possibly a few different schools), they may get called to a new school to become a coordinator (VP), and may hop around a few different schools in this role as well. Finally they may get a head coaching gig (CEO), but likely at a Sun Belt school to polish their chops as a leader. Then, several years down the line they may get the “dream job” coaching in the SEC / Big Ten.

We can all think about our own careers in line with the coaching carousel. Some people may be content as a manager at a company or as an expert in a specific field. Others may take the more ambitious route of scratching / clawing / hustling their way to the top. The top looks different to almost everyone, which is why some people are happy as a small business owner (Division III head coach) vs. CEO of a Fortune 500 company (head coach of a dynasty).

Regardless of what tours we work towards, we rarely stay in the same jobs / organizations now for more than 4.4 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is important to strive for what realistic goals are achievable in the time given for a team to collaborate, as it keeps all of us more authentic and striving for mutual benefit when working together.

To read more about the Tour of Duty concept, check out this slide show.

Photo Credit: Reid Hoffman, "The Alliance: A Visual Summary"

 

Let’s connect!

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Email: max@createreason.com

Practice makes perfect

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

“We’ve never spent so much time and money to be so bad at anything.”

Golf_leadershipblog

That’s the phrase my husband uses to describe our collective attempt to master the game of golf.

He is referring to hours at the driving range, more hours on the course and years of membership at a private golf club. We were convinced that if we simply practiced enough, our game would improve. I should point out that by mastery we didn’t have any illusions of playing on the pro circuit. For us, simply not embarrassing ourselves on the golf course qualified as mastery.

Countless hours of practice and payments every month to the Club and our game never sufficiently improved.

What was missing? Did it require even more time on the golf course? This was already a time-consuming activity and we couldn’t imagine devoting even more time to it.

Maestro, mentor and polio survivor Itzhak Perlman had the following wisdom to share on the subject of practice. 

“As a child, I hated to practice.  But practicing is an art; it’s not just about putting in the time.  A lot of kids are too young to immediately get that.  They say, well, I’m going to do my four or five hours a day, and I’m going to keep repeating everything and it’s going to be good.  And sometimes they wonder why it’s not working. You need to organize practice; you need a goal. You need to ask yourself, 'Why am I practicing and what is it for?'  Sometimes the repetition without thinking can be counterproductive. If you practice something wrong – without knowing it – then you have to undo it by practicing even more.  If you practice slowly and with a brain, you will save a lot of time. You can accomplish in an hour what could take a week.”

Does practice make perfect? It is more accurate to say that practice makes permanent. 

This is an insight embraced by the greatest leaders. They acquire skills, set specific goals and practice those. That, not mindlessly repeating the way you’ve always done it, is the intelligent approach to mastery. They help those entrusted to their care to do the same.

How did the golf saga progress? Training helped. Videotaping helped. Small shifts in grip, swing and line of sight all contributed to improving the game. Now we know what to practice.

Digital marketing is a huge part of public relations

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Public relations is still an essential ingredient to any good marketing plan. That has not changed. But HOW public relations is practiced has changed a lot since the digital revolution began. Will it Blend screenshot

Two factors really play into this trend.

  1. It used to be that mass media outlets (TV, radio, magazines, newspapers) held all the power. They were the gatekeepers of information that was eventually shared with the public.
  2. People did not have options. Everyone watched the same channels. There was no internet, no NetFlix, no cable TV, no Sirius radio. We all had very similar media "intake" experiences.

Now, each of us have our own personal media intake system. We wake up to our Facebook and Twitter feeds and then move on to our favorite news outlet. There are now hundreds of options thanks to the specialty websites, cable outlets, YouTube and radio channels. 

Public relations professionals are faced with a dilemna. How do we help our clients get their news out to all the new channels? OR...how do we help clients get their OWN messages out? Many companies have figured out that its easier and much more effective to create their own content marketing, and use their website and social channels to get the information out to the public - skipping the media entirely.

How does this work in practical terms? My favorite example of digital content marketing is BlendTec. They've used digital marketing to promote a relatively unsexy product and made it fun, findable and viral. A relatively unknown company with a small marketing budget has turned a series of funny videos into marketing gold. Check out one of my favorites - blending a few iPhone 5s into mobile dust.

BlendTec learned that if you create valuable content on a regular basis - people will seek out the content over and over. That is PR flipped on its head. No reporter needed.

Yes, you'll still need old school public relations to get your message out. But in the meantime, start creating great content and attract your customers (like a magnet) straight to your website.

The C corporation dilemma and how not to solve it.

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

One big reason the business world has moved away from using "regular" corporations is because they pay two taxes on their income. These "C corporations," as tax geeks call them, pay taxes on their income as it is earned. If they distribute the after-tax earnings to their shareholders as dividends, the owners pay tax on their 1040s. If the owners sell their shares, they pay capital gain tax on the undistributed earnings embedded in the stock price.

100_0263When it comes time to sell, C corporation owners face this issue in a big way. Buyers usually want to buy assets. That way they get to amortize or depreciate the purchased assets at their fair value, rather than their historical cost. They also don't have to buy any hidden sins that would come with corporate stock.

The sellers are less excited about an asset sale. It means they have to pay tax on all of the gains at the corporate level, and another capital gain tax when they liquidate the corporation. A prompt liquidation is usually done to avoid "personal holding company tax" problems.

It would sure be nice if you could find an accommodator to buy your stock,  who could then sell the assets to the real buyer -- an accommodator who has a bunch of tax losses they could use to make the gain go away. That was the thinking of a Texan who ended up in Tax Court recently.

The Texan got in touch with a company that promised just such benefits. They worked out a deal. A recent Tax Court decision describes how such deals are set up:

"Midco transactions" or "intermediary transactions" are structured to allow the parties to have it both ways: letting the seller engage in a stock sale and the buyer engage in an asset purchase. In such a transaction, the selling shareholders sell their C Corp stock to an intermediary entity (or "Midco") at a purchase price that does not discount for the built-in gain tax liability, as a stock sale to the ultimate purchaser would. The Midco then sells the assets of the C Corp to the buyer, who gets a purchase price basis in the assets. The Midco keeps the difference between the asset sale price and the stock purchase price as its fee. The Midco's willingness to allow both buyer and seller to avoid the tax consequences inherent in holding appreciated assets in a C Corp is based on a claimed tax-exempt status or supposed tax attributes, such as losses, that allow it to absorb the built-in gain tax liability.

The IRS has never liked this, and back in 2001 (Notice 2001-16) they warned taxpayers off of these "Midco" deals. The courts have sided with the IRS.

But what if you liquidate and there is no corporation to collect from? You're not out of the woods. The Tax Court found that the Texan had "transferee liability" for the corporation's tax on its sale because he ended up with the cash out of the company.

The moral? The potential for C corporation double tax is most easily dealt with by not being a C corporation in the first place. That's why so many businesses are set up as LLCs or S corporations, where the income is taxed only once -- on the owner's returns.

Many C corporations set up in the past few years may end up qualifying for a special tax exemption for sales of their stock. If held for more than five years, "Section 1202 stock" is 50 percent to 100 percent tax free on sale; it can apply to stock purchased from February 18, 2009 through December 31, 2013. Congress is likely (but not certain) to further extend this break with legislation later this year. This doesn't solve all C corporation problems -- benefits are usually limited to the original owners of the stock, for example -- but it sure is handy when it does apply.

If you are stuck with the double-tax problem, planning might make it hurt less, but as the Texan learned, there are no easy off-the-shelf solutions.

Cite: Cullifer, T.C. Memo 2014-208.

 

Sunlight good. Blue light bad.

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Melatonin is the hormone which makes us sleepy. Sunlight reduces the production of melatonin and therefore we are not sleepy during the daytime. Diminishing daylight in the evening increases the production of melatonin and makes us sleepy. 

Blue light on the other hand does not have the same effect as sunlight. Blue light diminishes the production of melatonin.  Unfortunately, the drive to get more light for less watts has been attained on the back of blue light.

 

Blue light at bedtimeOur homes are bathed in blue light. Just go to buy light bulbs and the push is for compact fluorescent and LED, both which emit blue light. Then we have all the blue light emitting gadgets such as cell phones, tablets, computer screens, and TVs.  Just look at the blue glow as you drive through your neighborhood.

What’s a sustainable person to do?

  • Make sure to buy a full spectrum lamp which provides light closer to daylight.
  • Install Drift light in your house which over 37 minutes (the average length of sunsets) dims and helps the body with the shift from light to darkness for a better sleep.
  • Turn off the TV and tablet. Recommendations are a full 2 to 3 hours before you hit the pillow. I bet that does not happen often but many also sleep poorly.

Let’s take a test together.  No TV, phone, or tablet 2 hours before bed.  Let me know if you sleep better. May be better for your marriage too!  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Century-old lesson on referrals

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

I am going to assume that, if you are reading this blog post, you have heard of the concept of six degrees of separation. You know, the idea that everyone (and everything) on this planet is separated by at most six steps, by way of introduction.

The theory was popularized in the '90s by a play written by John Guare and a film starring Will Smith,but the origin dates all the way back to 1929, and a Hungarian author named Frigyes Karinthy. It is quite interesting when you compare how someone nearly a century ago predicted the earth’s rapid increase in interconnectedness, or “small world phenomenon” by way of new technology. And this was way before the internet.

It is an obvious topic for a business referral blog, wouldn’t you say? When you consider how connected the entire planet is today it is difficult not to consider how companies can use this to their advantage - to reach new clients. But first, I want to take a step back and shed light on the cradle of this theory. Stick with me here, I bet you learn something new.

InterconnectedIn 1929 Karinthy wrote a short story entitled ‘Chain-Links’ in which he discusses the evolution of the world - quickly shrinking in size due to the “quickening pulse of physical and verbal communication.” Keep in mind that this was during the interwar economy of the Hungarian empire - not long after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled following WWI. The ripples of the Roaring Twenties through Great Britain and the U.S. was felt across the world. This included great leaps in technology and lifestyles.

But, there still was no internet. (Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet.) Nonetheless, Karinthy challenges that, using no more than five connections, anyone on the planet could find a link to anyone, or anything else. Interestingly enough, he attributes this ability through the global expansion of Europe across the world, and rapid changing technology. This is obvious as he states:

“Was there ever a time in human history when this would have been impossible? Julius Caesar, for instance, was a popular man, but if he had got it into his head to try and contact a priest from one of the Mayan or Aztec tribes that lived in the Americas at that time, he could not have succeeded - not in five steps, not even in three hundred. Europeans in those days knew less about America and its inhabitants than we now know about Mars and its inhabitants.”

This is a powerful observation. Outside of the philosophical viewpoint - it has ramifications in the business world. So often businesses rely on traditional marketing to obtain new clients. Yet frequently they rely on acquiring new blood and forget to leverage their network of clients.

In 1929 there were 1.5 billion people on the planet. Today there are 7.1 billion. Perhaps this poses a new challenge, but more inhabitants means more connections. Consider social media. In 2011 a Facebook study indicated that 99.91 percent of users were interconnected by 69 billion friendship links - with the average distance between any random 2 people was only 4.7 friends. Similarly, Twitter has an average degree of separation of 3.43 between two random users.

When you consider these numbers it is no surprise that the New York Times claims that an average of 65 percent of new business comes from referrals. Also, Nielsen _- a global information company - observed that people are four times more likely to buy when referred.

Simply put, consider how connected we all are, especially today. Referrals are a powerful, and often less expensive, way to acquire new business. When considering your marketing strategy moving forward, I suggest keeping referrals top of mind.

“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.” ― Nadeem Aslam

Why user-generated content is a good thing

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Lets start first with the definition of user-generated content.

User-generated content is exactly what it sounds like—content on the web (photo, video, reviews, etc.) created by social media users (a brand or company’s fans or followers).

I personally think it's somewhat surprising people constantly take pictures of themselves with their Big Macs or share their love for their favorite electronic brand, but they do. All. The. Time. So why should you as the brand manager or owner/founder of a company care? 

Because it’s easy

It’s easy for you and it’s easy for your fans (if you let it be). It can be as simple as encouraging fans to use a specific hashtag with photos or commenting on a Facebook post to get testimonials or positive feedback snippets.

Because it’s already out there

Users are already sharing content about your brand, with your products and at your stores, so why not tap into the content they’re already sharing and make it work for you.

Because it’s real

The entire goal of social media is to connect with customers in a personal way and create real content for them. And there’s nothing more real than content created by your own customers. When used correctly…

Because people want to see it

30 percent of millennials’ media time is spent with content created and curated by their peers.

And because some brands are already rocking it.

 

Wawa - #sizzlitime

Sizzle Bagel FB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warby Parker - at home try-

Warby Parker FB

JamesDroll FB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starbucks

StarbucksFB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now is a great time to consider how you can encourage your brand fans to get busy talking about your brand. Embrace it! Then retweet, regram or share it!

--Katie

What's your business worth? It depends...

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

What is your company worth? The answer is a function of many factors, including historic and Phoenix logo onlyfuture financial performance, industry risks, market timing, method of sale and the nature of the buyer.

Value becomes an absolute only at the very instant a knowledgeable buyer under no compulsion to purchase, authorizes the wire transfer of funds to the bank account of a knowledgeable seller under no compulsion to sell. Otherwise, different people with different needs, resources and limitations will perceive value of the same asset in differing ways. As the business owner, you can use this knowledge to your benefit by specifically grooming the business to fit the probable requirements of the eventual new owners. History indicates that value runs from lowest multiples (sale to insiders) to the highest (sale to outsiders).

Sale Options include:

Sell to Employees

Sales to employees usually are at market value and require Seller financing because employees tend not to have enough for a down payment or the Seller feels guilty. The key is to have a number of key employees who are trained and capable of running the business.  

Sell to Relatives

These sales generally provide the Seller with the lowest sale price and the potential for the most problems. Sellers must be very careful to remove themselves from the sale process and future entangling obligations, while insuring that they will receive all payments due to them.

Put the Business on the Market

A sale to an outsider typically will be a negotiated transaction. The deal structure usually requires performance payments to ensure a smooth management transition and full transfer of customer and vendor loyalties. Other value drivers include a strong management team, disciplined internal and financial controls, and solid vendor and customer relationships. Patents and/or proprietary products or other barriers to entry are a big boost to value, as is the absence of customer concentration. Curiously, “curb appeal” and good housekeeping are also very important in making a solid first impression, as most corporate-trained buyers regard this as a quick indicator of sound management practice.

Sell but Stay

This type of deal allows for the transfer of ownership but the Seller stays.  In this situation, the Buyer wants the Seller to facilitate the transfer of ownership and success of the acquisition. This is a great exit strategy for the Seller who is not ready to retire but wants to secure their financial future. A typical buyer in this situation would be larger company seeking an add-on acquisition. In addition, the Seller will retain an equity position which should have a significant upside.

In Conclusion:

Value is driven by process, perception and facts. Sellers should determine what the goal is for their exit strategy (charity, gifting to family, sale to employees, maximize value, etc.) That, in turn, will point them to a category of buyers (insiders vs. outsiders), value and deal structuring expectations. Those buyers’ probable requirements will suggest how best to groom your company for sale. Your preparedness for sale and prevailing market conditions will dictate when you should undertake the process.

Good Selling

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com 

How do you talk to your employees?

Treasure-Map_optDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Do you know where you want your company to be in five years?  If I asked you to describe it in detail -- could you?

(If you can't -- you need to spend a little time creating that vision.  Read this Inc. article for the 8 steps to get it done)

Let's assume that you've already done that work and you have a clear picture in your head.  How often do you get it out of your own head and share it with your team?

Every day you ask them to work hard. Do they understand why and what your ultimate destination is?  

You don't get to a five year destination without stopping along the way. Do they even understand the journey itself?  That this year's goals get you a little closer to that big, hairy, audacious goal that you've set?

Business owners and leaders need to remember that they can't be the only keeper of the vision. The truth is -- you can't get there without your team, whether you have five employees or 500.  And to help you get there -- they need to be constantly reminded.  You can't just tell them once and then assume they'll keep it top of mind.

Like you -- your team has plenty on their plate and it's tough to keep the big picture front and center.  That's your job. You need to find ways to get your crew excited about where you're going.  You need to create milestones for them to shoot for and celebrations for when they do.

Your job -- your responsibility is to be both aspirational and inspirational.  I know you have to spend a lot of your day just getting the work done.  But make sure that's not the only thing you're talking to them about.

Why not schedule an all company meeting to remind them where you're heading and why it matters?

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

What's your purpose? Insights from Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why"

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc.

“I feel like a cog in a wheel. All I do is enter data. I never even talk with customers unless they’re upset. I feel so replaceable.”

As a leadership coach, I’ve heard this sentiment from many clients over the years. Does one of your employees feel this way?

Start W Why - SinekChances are, more than one does. Gallup studies tell us that 70 percent of employees are dissatisfied and/or disengaged at work, even top performers. A big reason for this – the motivator for starting my company, in fact – is that people feel disconnected from the bigger picture, the purpose. We long for meaning and purpose at work but often struggle to find it, and the results can be devastating to our economy, our relationships, and our human psyche.

Simon Sinek wrote his bestselling book "Start With Why" around the concept of knowing your purpose. “People don’t buy WHAT you do,” he argues fervently, “they buy WHY you do it.”

Inspiring leaders know that they must first clarify the why – the purpose – behind an initiative, product, or action. Once the why becomes clear, then the details (how, what) can take the front seat.

If you believe in inspiring people into action rather than manipulating, valuing people over numbers (including those with a dollar sign in front), and building a successful business with heart, you will devour this book.

In addition to offering practical tools for discerning your organization’s why, Sinek shares thought-provoking examples of purposeful organizations achieving extraordinary measures of success. Imagine working for a financial firm, for example, that awards its agents bonuses not based on production numbers but on the number of thank-you cards they send out!

While reading "Start With Why" I found myself often thinking back to one of Patrick Lencioni’s statements in his excellent resource, "The Advantage": “All organizations exist to make people’s lives better… Every organization must contribute in some way to a better world for some group of people, because if it doesn’t, it will, and should, go out of business.”

Purposeful organizations don’t just happen by chance – they are intentionally built. A few questions, inspired by "Start With Why", to help you move towards purpose:

  • Why are you in business? Hint: “To make money” is not a purpose, it’s a result.
  • How does your organization make lives better? Knowing how you contribute to a better world strengthens every aspect of your business, from marketing to HR to product design and everything in between.
  • Do your employees know why you are in business? We all want to know our work matters. Understanding how you, as one individual, contribute to the bigger picture increases engagement, trust, and passion for the work.
  • How safe do your employees feel with you? As a leader, you set the tone. When people feel protected, your organizational culture exudes a sense of belonging, support, and the space to innovate.
  • Do you hire primarily for skill, or for passion/cultural fit? “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them,” asserts Sinek, “they hire already motivated people and inspire them.”

Once you know your why, you can make decisions – including hiring choices – using purpose as your anchor. As Sinek writes, “When you fill an organization with good fits, those who believe what you believe, success just happens.”

This month, make clarifying your why a top priority. When you know your purpose, you have the foundation to become much more productive, streamlined, meaningful, and successful.

Start with why!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotDr. Christi Hegstad is Certified Executive & Leadership Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc. Gain more leadership tips from Dr. Christi via Facebook and Twitter.

Website: www.meaning-and-purpose.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan

Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach

Do you agree that knowing your purpose is crucial to success? What’s YOUR why? Share your thoughts below.

Eating a Snickers bar (and other vast oversimplifications)

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

The most common problem I find when I work with organizations is the transition that happens between strategy and tactics. Actually, it’s the differentiation between strategy and tactics that is the source of the most frequent misunderstandings and problems with the implementation of a strategic plan.

It’s not that organizations do not understand that you need both of these things to work in concert with one another; it’s more a function of how these two very different things work together to enhance an organization’s mission and vision.

I think it’s unfair to think about strategy and tactics without a third variable: goals. The meaning and function of three things together are the source of endless debate, but once understood and segmented, are extremely powerful tools that organizations can use to be incredibly efficient and effective.

At this very moment, I have a Snickers bar sitting on my desk. OK. Before I eat, let’s decide what the strategy was leading up to this very critical moment. Now, I make this analogy with the full knowledge that I gave this blog a somewhat snarky title with “oversimplification” in it. I know I run the risk of doing that by defining these complex concepts in the context of eating a candy bar (and everything leading up to it), but bear with me – I promise I have a point.

The strategy includes everything that the marketing folks at Mars candy company did to get that Snickers bar to me. They have told me that it “really satisfies,” and I tend to believe them. Mars dedicated considerable resources to making me feel that way, and it worked. So there is an external strategy at work here – the folks at Mars want me to be successful at eating this Snickers bar.

A more specific internal strategy developed from the one above is simple – me thinking that a Snickers bar is what I want. It’s fun to think about, right? But I haven’t dedicated any time or resources to reaching my goal, which is to get the candy bar and eat it. I’m in the analysis stage – nothing is off the table in terms of me procuring that Snickers.

So, using the sum of my past experiences, I know the following things need to happen: get change from my desk, walk to the machine, punch in the numbers, etc…those are tactics. I’m dedicating resources. These tactics are used to achieve my broader goal of being “really satisfied” by this Snickers bar.

This distinction seems simple enough, but it is by far the most complex transition in the planning process.

Facilitating a strategy session is often marked by the exuberant sharing of ideas; nothing seems too hard or too vast. Nothing seems out of reach. But developing a strong tactical plan is hard – it involves dedicating resources (human and/or financial) and becomes much harder to conceptualize. It’s where things become a little more somber and it becomes less clear how goals are reached. That’s because you have to specifically explain how you’re going reach them.

I urge you to think about the process in terms of that Snickers bar. You know what the goal is. It’s clearly defined, based on internal strategy and the influence of external factors – you developed the strategy yourself when you got excited about that Snickers bar. Now it’s just a matter of thinking through the steps, dedicating resources, being diligent about acting on them, and holding yourself accountable for each step of implementing your resources dedicated to accomplishing that goal.

The biggest challenge organizations face is failing to recognize that these three pieces work together in a complex and interdependent way. But, when they are used to reinforce each other, success is easier to both conceptualize and execute.

 

Networking and introverts

Introvert-Career-FairDanny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

The title of this blog will probably come as a shock to those who know me because I am the farthest thing from an introvert by the standard definition.  I get a lot of my energy from being around people and I generally enjoy group settings.  I also have a basic belief that anyone can network and most of us are networking, or relying on our network in some fashion, all of the time.  So the premise that networking doesn’t work for introverts, or even more forceful – can’t work for introverts, bothers me.  It’s the reason I read over a dozen articles on networking for introverts and why I decided to write this post.  

Many of the tips I discovered fit within the framework that I describe as good networking but three stood out in my readings. 

  1. Build real relationships with one-on-one interaction:  Most networking events can be intimidating due to the sheer size of attendees.  I remember being terrified of my first larger event because hundreds of strangers would be in the same room with me.  The event came and instead of trying to meet everyone in the room I focused my attention on finding one interesting person with whom I could have a truly meaningful conversation and schedule a follow-up meeting.  It happened to be the first person I met and it made the entire event much more enjoyable.  That one-on-one time proved beneficial and created a relationship I value to this day.
  2. Ask questions:  Allow the person you’re talking with to do most of the talking by asking questions.  This goes with a previous blog I wrote about finding people’s stories.  By asking questions we allow the other person to talk about something he loves more than anything else – himself.  
  3. Allow yourself time to recharge:  I love this point because I think it affects almost anyone no matter how introverted or extroverted they are.  I always try to schedule down time after an event to simply be alone for a while and reflect on the event or refocus on the next part of my day. Don’t be afraid to allow yourself some down time and don’t overschedule yourself. Being a good networker doesn’t mean you have to attend every event. 

Additional resources can be found at the end of this article.  What do you think?  Are there tips that are more important than these three to networking as an introvert?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Resources

  1. http://cupcakesandcashmere.com/series-stories/networking-for-introverts
  2. http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/01/the-introverts-guide-to-networ/
  3. http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/08/networking-for-introverts/

Predicting the future

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Employees look to their leaders to paint an inspiring picture of the future.  How good are your predictions about the future?  How open are you to unforeseen changes?  How confident are you in your forecasts? Future_leadership

Following are actual quotes taken from a university marketing textbook.

Can you guess who made these now-famous blunders forever recorded in history? (Correct answers follow).

  1. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” 
  2. “This Telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us.”
  3. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value.  Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
  4. “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.”
  5. “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
  6. “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
  7. “Can’t act.  Slightly bald.  Can dance a little.”

  Answer Key:

  1. Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM 1943.
  2. Western Union internal memo, 1876.
  3. David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urging for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  4. A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service (Smith went on to found Federal Express).
  5. H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
  6. Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  7. 1933 memo from MGM testing director about Fred Astaire’s first screen test.  (Astaire kept that memo over the fireplace in his Beverly Hills home).

 


 

Distracted driving doesn’t just happen in a car

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

 

Anyone who drives a car has had it happen to them. Take your mind off your driving, your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel for even a moment and trouble happens fast. If you’re lucky, you narrowly avoid disaster. If not, you can end up in a serious crash.

 

Distracted driving doesn’t just happen in your car. When it comes to guiding a company, especially a small retail business, bad things can happen fast when you take your mind, eyes or hands off your operations.

 

Whether in your car or in your business, the first step has always been the same: You have to know where you’re going to know to be headed in the right direction.
 
Your company must have clear monthly, annual and long-term goals or you might as well be going around in circles. If you don’t have well-defined goals or haven’t looked at them in a while, take some time this weekend to either create them or make sure they are up-to-date, realistic and actionable.
 

Once you know where you’re going, make sure you keep your mind, eyes and hands on the right things:

  • Hiring the right people and training, coaching, evaluating and encouraging them so they are always enthusiastic ambassadors for your business;
  • Remembering that the true measurement of financial well-being is profit, not cash flow, and doing everything within a strong ethical framework to see that your business is profitable;
  • Creating a unique retail experience for your customers through products and customer service that set you apart from the pack, and;
  • Actively managing your time instead of letting everyday events overtake you.
Distracted driving doesn’t just happen on the road. It’s far too easy for us to be distracted by the urgent instead of remaining focused on the important.
 
Keep your mind, eyes and hands on your business, though, and you’ll be on the road to long-term success.

Bringing in the social media pros

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

When it comes to events, “social hour” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Long gone are the days of registering for an event a few days beforehand, attending for a couple hours and then going home. Now, because of social media, events have become more long-term and interactive, giving attendees an entirely new experience. However, integrating social media into the promotion, execution and aftermath of an event can be harder than it looks. Read on to find out why it’s often best to call in the professionals when using social media during your event.

Strategy

What are your goals for the event? How will social media help you achieve those goals? What will your strategy be, and what type of content will you post to your social networks?

These are just a few of the questions a professional can help you answer when setting up a social strategy for your event. In order to reach your goals, a plan of action is necessary and a professional can help you take the correct steps to develop it.

Engagement

During the event you’ll be very busy actually running the event, so how will you possibly have time to manage your social media in addition to everything else? This is where the pros take over.

Art Center Photo

To give you a better visualization of what this entails, a great example is when the Happy Medium team worked with the Des Moines Art Center to help manage their social media presence during Art Meets Fashion week. Our social media team was responsible for taking photos, creating live posts and engaging with fans during the events throughout the week.

Through our efforts, we saw engagement increase across all platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A few highlights from our engagement statistics from Art Meets Fashion week include the Art Center’s Instagram growing from 58 total photo likes to 1,907, increasing Twitter replies by 60 percent, and 86 likes on the top performing Facebook post.

With the help of Happy Medium, the Art Center employees and volunteers were able to focus on making sure the event ran smoothly while the brand was still interacting with fans on social media.

ROI

The whole point of integrating social media into your overall event strategy is to better achieve your goals, which is why it is extremely important to analyze your efforts after the event. Art center Facebook post

When Happy Medium partnered with the Art Center for Art Meets Fashion week, we performed an initial analytics report before the events began and created a post-event report to showcase the changes that occurred over the week. Through the use of professional analytics reports, we were able to demonstrate the value social media provided during this weeklong event, as well as provide insights on how to plan future events.

Social media can greatly benefit your event and its attendees when done correctly. To ensure social media success during your next event, call in the pros!

 

--Katie 

Are business cards dead?

Blank-business-card01Danny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

Believe it or not, in this age of high technology, smart phones, LinkedIn, Facebook, and hundreds of other apps, the business card is still alive and well.  It is still a universally accepted tool that allows for quick information sharing with little to no pressure.  I will admit that I typically only use the business card to get the contact information into my database or connect with the individual on LinkedIn but without it this task would be a lot harder.  The business card is succinct, it is simple, and it allows for a quick exchange of information. 

I have read dozens of articles from influencers in various industries explaining how they no longer use business cards because they rely on the new connection to have one.  They will ask for a card and then email all relevant contact information to the person they met.  I have been guilty of this myself when I forget to bring cards to an event.  I do not like this approach because there have been countless instances when the person I met did not have a card.  I went ahead and gave them my card and asked for an email with their contact information.  The email never came.  A few weeks would go by and I would see them again and ask about getting their email.  Time and time again I experience the same reaction.  A sheepish smile followed by an apology for forgetting.  “I’ve been so busy, I must have forgotten.” 

The fact is we're all busy.  Why leave it up to chance that the new connection will send that email they promised?  Why not have a card to ensure that follow up calls or meetings can happen without a lot of added pressure or waiting for an email that may or may not come?  The business card is an inexpensive extension of your personal branding and marketing.  It is also one of the easiest tools to encourage follow up appointments and ensure that the time spent networking is valuable.

I still give out business cards without receiving them all of the time.  They may end up in the trash but they also may result in a great appointment.  One example – I happened to enter a CPAs office one hot afternoon during a busy day of cold calling.  It was the middle of summer and the CPA was working on tax returns for customers he had filed extensions for earlier in the year.  I apologized for bothering him while he was busy.  He smiled and said he appreciated the break.  We talked briefly on how his business was doing and I gave him a brief overview of the company I was working for.  Five minutes went by and he explained that he had better get back to work.  I thanked him for his time, gave him my card and left the building. 

Two weeks later my phone rang.  It was the same CPA, whom I had met for five minutes, passing on one of his clients for my services. Since that time he has sent me over ten referrals, resulting in business totalling more than $30,000 for my business.  He had no other way to contact me besides my card and I never received his contact information before we worked on the first client together. Imagine the outcome had I not been carrying cards that day. 

In the end, it all comes down to making sure you have collected some type of way to follow up and meet with the new connection after the event has concluded.  A business card is typically the easiest way to achieve this goal and can be received simply by asking for it.  As times change and we continue to rely more and more on digital communication, be willing to adapt and offer to connect however is easiest for your new connection.  Get the other person’s number and be sure to use it.

 

Don't Put Your Staff to Sleep

Recent studies show natural daylight in the workplace has more benefits than we thought.   Productivity has been tied to natural light but now extends to other health benefits. 

Colorado-mountain-biking-bicyclingA Northwestern University School of Medicine study was reported in the June Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicating people exposed to natural daylight in the workplace also get more sleep, are more active, and overall have a higher quality of life.

“There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day --particularly in the morning -- is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism,” says senior study author Phyllis Zee, Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist.

How much more sunlight did they get?  About 175% more daylight or nearly double the amount. The study also shows people have to be within 20-25 feet of the windows or else you might as well not have windows.

The results on sleeping showed those with natural daylight got 46 minutes more sleep than those without windows. The interesting thing is that when you are not near windows the artificial lighting is many times “blue light” which reduces the production of a sleep inducing hormone but that’s another blog.

My next blog will focus on conflict between low cost artificial blue light and your health. Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Brand versus branding

DisneyBrandsDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I attended the Disney Institute's workshop (thanks to the local chapter of the Association of Talent Development for bringing it here) this week and there were a lot of takeaways as we talked about how one of the world's most iconic and profitable brands does business. 

Looking at the graphic to the right, considering all of the incredible brands that are under the Disney Companies umbrella -- they know a thing or two about the subject.

One of the great disctinctions that they talked about was the difference between brand and branding.  Here's how they described it:

Brand is the perceptions and substantive experience that consumers have with your company, product, service or people.

Branding is the activities and tactics you undertake to affect the stories, experiences, and perceptions that consumers have with your company, product, service or people.

In other words -- brand is what you and your team bring to life every day.  The other is how you communicate the promise of what that experience will be like.  Sadly, what most organizations do is branding.  But they don't invest the time and resources into making sure that the brand actually matches the branding.

When that doesn't happen (think of all the times you'd have bad or mediocre service from a company who promised you were their #1 priority) to the consumer, it feels like you've been lying to them and worse -- they were a fool for believing you.

One of the key elements in gaining/keeping someone's trust is making a promise and repeatedly keeping that promise. That's what initially gets you a new customer and eventually turns that customer into a brand zealot.

Undrstanding the symbiosis of brand and branding and doing whatever needs to be done (training, secret shopping, employee rewards based on customer satisfaction, etc.) to make sure that the brand experience lives up to the promise is what allows Disney, Apple and Harley Davidson to all charge a premium.

We'll pay more for the brands we love because they keep their promises to us.

I challenge all of you to look at what you promise and make sure it's actually what you consistently deliver.  If not -- it's time to invest in that brand.

 

DrewTop Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Using a Visual Listener to Change the Conversation

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

You probably think this is an easy topic for me. As an architect, I rely on my drawing skills to convey ideas. Translating the thoughts of others into built forms. In many ways, strategic planning is a lot like architecture – you’re building something from an intangible to a tangible – but there are distinct differences in how you process, synthesize, and deliver the information.

When I work with organizations, the first thing I do is ask if I can come and listen to them. I observe their processes and communication dynamics, getting a sense of the personalities that make up their identity. Once this has been established, we start to talk about ideas.

Ideas take many shapes and forms – there are ways to create visual representations of many things that make up the group’s mission and vision, and, through further discussion relationships start to appear. These relationships become a framework. 

Using a visual listening facilitator allows these frameworks to become clear, especially during strategic planning. I have used this technique in developing ideas – every single person I have worked with has a set of really great ideas, and creating a diagram of how these ideas become a system short circuits what can otherwise be a very linear process. The short circuit comes from the dynamic jump forward that happens when you can “see” your ideas and how they relate.

An example of this is when I was asked to create a systems diagram for various services and organizations and how they relate. I started by meeting with a few key stakeholders and letting them download every bit of information they could to me while I furiously sketched and took notes. I listened to their conversation and took in all of the characteristic data that they took great care and rigor in explaining to me.

The system was confusing, complex, and there were many, many interrelationships – but the ecosystem started to emerge, the longer they spoke. As we were speaking, drafts of the diagram became a living part of the conversation, triggering thoughts and structuring adjacencies.

Even as a series of small, rough sketches – lines and shapes on a page, really – the conversation took leaps forward. I left our session with a robust understanding of business sectors and offerings I only had superficial knowledge of prior to the meeting, and I set to work building a diagram that this community and series of organizations could use collaboratively.

When I completed the diagram, the ideas we spoke about all fit together. You could see the flow between sectors, identify processes, establish common collaterals, and track ROI factors in a meaningful way. Pain questions about what areas could stand improvement became clear, and the diagram could be used by groups internally and by groups external to the particulars. His diagram truly became a tool intended for collaboration.

Turning ideas into graphical representations allows for a dramatic positive turn in conversational dynamics. As you develop your thoughts on how to address strategic planning within your organization, think of engaging a visual facilitator to push the conversation to a completely new level.

Buyer Beware!

Buyer Beware is a fundamental principle that governs business transactions.  It’s a reminder that the buyer of goods or services must exercise caution and diligence in investigating the purchase, and the seller is not responsible for ensuring the buyer’s satisfaction.

Of course, there are many circumstances in which “Buyer Beware” is not the only rule at play. For example, professionals are held to certain standards of performance within their professions. Real estate agents are required to discover and disclose to buyers material defects in a property they are representing. In transactions involving securities or franchises, the buyer is entitled to receive certain disclosures and information prior to making an investment. However, in the commercial context, it is generally the buyer’s responsibility to ask questions, obtain information and protect himself contractually.

It is simply impossible to discover every potential problem with a business through inspections and due diligence. A motivated seller will always be able to hide a problem. It is the professional responsibility a Business Broker has to not to participate in seller duplicity. At times, a Business Broker must rely on their instincts and advice caution when a seller or buyer just does not seem trustworthy.  Business Brokers must also, provide advice to their clients based on our experiences.

 

 Here some examples of situations which you should be prepared to handle:

1.  Investigate your Seller.  What is their reputation and personal integrity?

2.  Understand the documents.  What is that they say and do not say?

3.  Have qualified professional representation (Attorneys, CPA, CFP, Business Broker etc.)

 

Good Selling!

 

Steve Sink  CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

 

The changing environment

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Are you positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented by change in the business environment?   Change_1

As my husband and I bounced through our woods on ATVs, I observed, with some sadness, all of the trees that had fallen by the strong storms this summer.  The mature and now struggling oak savannah reminded me of a question posed by scholar and futurist, Joel Barker.  Which plant species is best positioned to take advantage of the prime real estate that comes available when a large tree falls and opens the canopy to new sunlight?

According to Barker, the common thinking was that the most competitive plant would prevail.  Like many things, modern research has brought a change to that thinking.  It turns out that it is not the most competitive, but the plant(s) in the best position to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself that win the battle for the coveted niche.

Of course, that makes sense.  If the most competitive plant won every battle then the entire forest would be populated by the same species.  In nature, as in business, diversity is the spice of life.  Small, sometimes extremely fragile plants are able to find a niche in which they don’t just survive, but thrive, despite competitive pressures from all around.  This is also true of many businesses. 

This insight from the natural world is both excellent news and concerning news for us all.  It provides great hope that the changes that are constant in the marketplace, if properly prepared for, may present great opportunities for the future.  It also provides evidence that enjoying market leadership may be short-lived if preparation for the changes of the future doesn’t remain at the forefront of leader’s strategic agendas.  

How quickly do changes happen?  In high-tech industries, the changes can happen multiple times in a single year.  Although they experience change more slowly, in other markets, such as the funeral industry, leaders are facing new challenges they’ve never seen at any time in the past that are reshaping business models. New technology introduces new possibilities to memorializing a loved one.  Rising social interest in concerns about land use is leading people to make different choices around their final decisions.     

Whether at the cellular level, the personal level, the organizational level, the national level or the international level, everything is changing.   

Is your organization positioned to take advantage of opportunities presented when the landscape of your business environment changes?

 

11 ways to increase referral business (in no particular order)

Here we go - you spot your name card at the corner of a long table in a candlelit restaurant. The waiting staff partitioned off a generous section for you and other business leaders in Iowa. Appletini in tow, you sit nestled into your chair and anxiously await the tone of the bell. Ding! You are officially a participant of referral speed dating. Each referral tip has 3 sentences or less to tell you why they deserve your undivided attention.

'I think I can, I think I can' referral mindset

TouchpointsThe key to referral business is setting the tone for your business, and your clients, that referrals are important. Understand the your best clients want to refer you, but that recommendations don’t always happen without a little push. Using language that conveys the significance of referrals for your agency- subtly, yet consistently, will ensure that you’re referred when the time is right.

Change how you ask where people heard about you

Like the roast beef at a cheap buffet, “Where did you hear about us” is overdone. Instead, ask your new customers (or prospects) “Who was it that referred you to us?” This question is much more explicit and yields more precise information for you to act on - while also setting the tone for future referrals.

Make it about them

Too often businesses communicate the topic of referrals with their clients in a selfish way. By saying “we would really appreciate if you referred your friends to us” you are basically asking for them to make a sale for you. Saying “we really want to help your friends and family” targets the reasons they refer their loved ones.

Refer other businesses

Tit for tat, reciprocity - it does wonders. If a prospect is not right for you, or you know businesses in adjacent industries, refer people to them. Set the precedent and they will almost always return the favor when the time is right.

Make it easy

When a client is feeling saucy and wants to refer your business it shouldn’t be difficult to do. To be most effective make sure your contact information is readily available. Send introductory emails, be easy to find online, and keep your social media pages up-to-date.

Improve your website

If you still have it, remove that counter at the bottom of your webpage. Even after a referral happens the vast majority of prospects will check you out online. Get a modern, easy to navigate, and solid website to convert referrals into sales.

Gather testimonials

Written validation dramatically improves your likelihood to capture referral business. Actively gathering testimonials makes your clients comfortable with referring you. They also serve as social proof for prospects.

Touchpoints

Reach out to your clients regularly with newsletters, loyalty cards, etc. Don’t reserve communication for when payment is due or your services are rendered. Keep an ongoing relationship to stay top of mind and to show your continued commitment.

Be interesting

By golly, give your clients something to talk about! If you share interesting stories with them they will be more compelled to discuss you with others. Sneak into as many conversations as possible by being fun and thought-provoking.

What do you say?

Thank you! Yeah, that’s right, let your clients know that you appreciate them recommending you to their loved ones. They are more likely to do it again, and they will appreciate the recognition.

Track your progress

A referral strategy is not a one and done kinda thing. Stay consistent with your strategy and stick with it! Track your results and adjust your strategy if needed.

So whaddya think? So many compelling referral tips to choose from. Start with one and go from there - they aren’t the jealous type!

Potential partners you shouldn't overlook

            When I talk to fellow retailers, I notice from time to time that there's one set of potential partners that can be easily overlooked or dismissed.

            Many small business owners recognize the real value and potential that comes with partnering with their neighborhood associations, local chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureau. Unfortunately, some still don't.

            What they often see are burdens. Membership dues are viewed as just another expense; meetings are seen as just another demand on an already overcrowded calendar.

            What I see, as the owner of the Heart of Iowa Market Place, are opportunities to work with people who share the same philosophy about the importance of networking, making their community better and doing what it takes to make their business grow.

            That's why I'm thrilled to serve as the business improvement chair on the Historic Valley Junction Foundation and why I absolutely love to participate in activities like the Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau's upcoming FAM trips in which motorcoach planners are hosted to "FAMiliarize" themselves with visitor-friendly spots in our metro area.

            Your local chamber of commerce is a great resource. Chambers create and foster a growing business community by promoting members' interests; providing invaluable educational resources, research and demographical data; and developing relationships between members. It's been said that a chamber of commerce is the door to an active, profitable role in the community. What a great partner for a small business!

            When you're involved in business organizations, you're in tune with local business trends, new companies and expansions. You meet new people. You create opportunities to make your business stronger, more innovative and relevant.

            That kind of involvement is also yet another example of actions speaking louder than words. People are naturally inspired and impressed when they see you're active and committed to success -- and that's a great recommendation for your business.

            One more thing. The results of being involved in your local chamber or business association are just like volunteering for your favorite cause: You get a lot more out of it than you put in.

Try something new

Keep-calm-and-meet-new-people-9It is incredibly easy to become stagnant at networking.  It is easy to attend the same functions, put on by the same organizations and continue to shake the same hands, month after month and year after year. We become comfortable because, after some time, we know most of the people in the room and the conversations are easy.  Relationships have been built and the nerves of meeting new people have worn off.

Do not fall into this trap.

I try to attend at least one new event each quarter where I may only know one or two of the attendees.  This forces me to be on my toes and to meet new people, which helps to expand my network.  It also ensures that I will continue to meet individuals who may add value to the people I already know.  By attending new events and meeting new people I never get completely comfortable and complacent in my networking efforts. 

New events are not hard to come by.  Hundreds of organizations are putting on networking events all of the time.  It simply takes a little effort to find a new function or the recommendation of a good friend.  One such recommendation came when a close friend was going through a leadership program.  He invited me to the kickoff party for their class project - a massive fundraiser to help a local nonprofit with their strategic plan. 

Through the course of the night I met many new individuals of various backgrounds who were in completely different circles than the ones I typically associate with. Towards the end of the evening I was introduced to the executive director of the nonprofit.  We hit it off and scheduled a coffee for the following week.  During our coffee she asked if I would be willing to serve on their advisory committee, a group of individuals who would help fundraise and work with the board of directors to further the nonprofit’s cause.  I jumped at the opportunity.

The appointment to the advisory committee of Amanda the Panda has allowed me to help many individuals who are grieving the loss of someone close to them in the community I call home.  I have seen this organization touch so many people and help them through one of the hardest times in anyone’s life.  It has also allowed me to connect with a whole new group of individuals and build friendships with people I would have never met if not for that event. 

Do not become complacent by attending the same events.  Meet new people and get out of your comfort zone once in a while.  Find a new event to try or sample what another group is doing.  This will allow you to continue to grow you network and expand your influence.  After all, you never know what other opportunities may exist.

How social media won summer 2014

The weather wasn’t the only thing heating up this summer! It was a season full of updates, changes and trends in the world of social media.

Best Moments

  • The 2014 FIFA World Cup made history as the biggest social media event of all time. More than 300 million tweets related to the World Cup were sent out over the course of the event. During the championship match there were over 618,000 tweets sent out per minute (source: http://www.eyeflow.com/world-cup-social-media-statistics/). Check out more incredible stats about social media usage during the World Cup here: http://www.eyeflow.com/world-cup-social-media-statistics/.

  • Social media was also a hit this summer with a craze known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. For this challenge, people were nominated to either donate $100 to ALS or dump a bucket of ice water on their head. Most people decided to both donate and receive the freezing shower while posting videos of it on social media. The Happy Medium team even took on the challenge! Check it out here: http://youtu.be/uhl4wDZjPzk. As of Sept. 5, over 2.4 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos have been uploaded to Facebook, and the ALS Association has received a 3,000% increase year-over-year during this same time period in donations because of the viral hit.


Trends

  • Temporary messaging is becoming more and more popular through apps like Snapchat and Slingshot, which is a recently released app.

  • The selfie trend is still incredibly popular, reaching new ridiculous heights this summer with several new phones and apps coming out that are designed to specifically help you take a better selfie. Looks like it will be a while until your news feed is selfie-free again!

Changes


It’s safe to say social media was the MVP of summer 2014, so now bring on fall!

--Katie

Time to boot bottled water

Water in a glassI go to meetings and am offered bottled water. What do I do if I don’t finish? Take it with me? Leave it and hope it will be recycled? Then I fell into “well if everyone else does it then I will have bottled water at my office.” 

No more! If you come to my office you will be offered something to drink and if you choose water it will be in a clear glass tumbler.  If you don’t drink it all we can use it to water the plants!

You can do the same for three good reasons.

First, bottled water produces 1.5 million tons of trash a year. While a good candidate for recycling, experts say 80% goes to the landfill.  Besides it took oil to produce the plastic, nearly 50 million gallons.

Bottled water 1

Second, the cost is more than fifty times the cost of tap water.  The cost for a gallon of Des Moines tap water to my office is $0.03.  Costco has a pallet of bottled water at $320 and it still costs $1.32 per gallon.  Which is a better deal?  $320 for the pallet of water or $7.25 for tap water?

Third, most bottled water is just purified tap water so we are drinking the SAME THING! Costco sells Nestle “Pure Life Purified Water”.  What the heck is that? Sure does not sound like city tap water but is!

Join me and stop buying bottle water for your office and home.

Questions or feedback? Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

It should convert or why bother?

SalesFunnel_optDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

It's not very often that I disagree with Seth Godin. But in his blog post on Friday, he was talking about websites and said "but don't beat yourself up that it's not converting. By real-life definitions, nothing online converts."

Boy, when Seth gets it wrong, he gets it really wrong. One of the best things about the web is it's measurable.  Finally -- we marketing types can measure our work and can tell what's working and what isn't.  

We can literally calculate the sales results based on a simple equation and then triggering certain marketing tactics that influence those results.

Whether you actually sell something online or not -- your website can and should lead to sales.  You just have to understand how people move through your sales cycle and then build the site to be sales funnel shaped... making it easy for people to find the information they need to make a purchase.

Now -- there are some exceptions to this rule.  Some people, consciously or not, have decided they don't want their site to sell.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this decision. It's just a different choice.

Are you one of those people? You might recognize yourself if you...

Built your site to showcase your work visually and have very little text: In today's search driven rule, a photo heavy site has a tough time competing with a site with lots of SEO enhanced text.

Never change or add to the content on your site: Stale content doesn't bring people back or keep their interest for long.

Your site doesn't help web visitors: Using your expertise to both help the visitor and demonstrate your knowledge is a smart way to keep them coming back for more and sooner or later, some of them will be ready to buy.

Aren't driving people back to your core site with your social media efforts: Are you a frequent re-tweeter but rarely share your own helpful content? Are your social posts stand alone efforts?

Again -- it's absolutely fine to opt for a site that doesn't sell.  Just make sure it's a choice, not a mistake.

 

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

Optimistic leadership: what works for Colin Powell

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, President of MAP Professional Development Inc., and Founder of Spark!

“High-performing, successful organizations build cultures of introspection and trust and never lose sight of their purpose,” writes Colin Powell in his latest book, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership. This outstanding resource is packed with simple but poignant leadership lessons, which Powell brings to life with stories from his extraordinary career path.

Powell - It Worked For MeIt Worked For Me, which I would describe as part memoir/part leadership guide, opens with Powell’s “Thirteen Rules” – the overarching principles that have guided arguably one of the most influential leaders of our time. From “Share Credit” to “Get Mad, Then Get Over It,” he offers the guidelines that served him as he rose to four-star general in the U.S. Army and eventually to Secretary of State, with many other notable milestones.

Throughout the book, Powell places a hefty emphasis on one critical, but often overlooked, leadership principle: Optimism. “I have always tried to keep my confidence and optimism up,” says Powell, “no matter how difficult the situation.” Sharing stories from his military experience, he demonstrates how “perpetual optimism” strengthens the success of individuals as well as an overall organization, which research by Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, and others clearly supports.

Yet although Powell clearly favors hoping for the best, he doesn’t suggest putting on blinders and ignoring realities. With characteristic wit he writes, “I try to be an optimist, but I try not to be stupid.”

I wore out a highlighter on It Worked For Me, so narrowing down to three takeaways proved quite challenging! Here are key guidelines that you can apply to your current leadership role as well as build upon for future roles:

1. Insist on clarity.

Powell always held high, specific expectations of his team but also insisted on making those expectations extremely clear. He describes conversations with new staff, warning them that the first few weeks will include continuous correction and nitpicking but will ultimately lead to success. Leadership experts consistently emphasize this need for clarity; in her outstanding bestseller Reality-Based Leadership, Cy Wakeman goes so far as to state that ambiguity is the source of all conflict. Have high expectations, but make them very clear. Set up your team for success

2. Hire for potential, not just performance.

While past performance offers the backdrop, it doesn’t necessarily predict future success. Powell lists several characteristics he would look for in new hires including competence, intelligence, and previous accomplishments but also qualities like “toughness with empathy” and “ability to inspire.” Look for a superb track record of success, but gauge for future potential.

3. Always be kind.

Kindness, this decorated military leader explains, isn’t “being soft or a wuss,” nor is it a weakness. On the contrary, kindness shows confidence.“Taking care of employees is perhaps the best form of kindness,” Powell concludes. Choose kindness. Always.

I found Powell’s thoughts on moral courage, true victory, getting over failure, and servant leadership especially fascinating, and his unique positions throughout his career offer a perspective most of us wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.

While you won’t necessarily agree with all of his strategies, the title of the book clearly explains that is not his expectation. Extraordinary leadership stems from influencing authentically: take pointers from those you admire but don’t attempt to mimic them.

Perhaps the most significant point reminds us that although leading others is important, your most important leadership role is that of being the leader in your own life:

Always do your very best. Even if no one else is looking, you always are. Don’t disappoint yourself.

 

What do you believe has made Colin Powell such a celebrated leader? Share your comments below.

Dr. Christi Hegstad, Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, President of MAP Professional Development Inc., and Founder of Spark! Gain more leadership tips from Dr. Christi via Facebook and Twitter.

Hack Attack - New Iowa Law Governing Data Security Breaches

Matthew McKinneyMatt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

From Iowa State University and P.F. Chang's to your town's smallest businesses, hackers are indiscriminate when it comes to attacking computers and networks to access and obtain sensitive consumer data.

Against this very alarming and real backdrop, it is important for businesses of all shapes and sizes to not only take steps to proactively protect consumer data, but also understand the legal requirements and ramifications if they do not act timely and properly following a data security breach.  

On April 3, 2014, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a new breach notification requirement (amending a prior law) that includes a provision requiring businesses to not only timely notify consumers whose data was accessed as part of a security breach, but it also requires businesses to notify the Iowa Attorney General's office when just 500 or more Iowa residents are impacted by the security breach. Of particular note, failure to comply with Iowa's new breach notification requirement can result in significant monetary and non-monetary penalties being levied against the business.  Considering how often these breaches occur, the indiscriminate nature of the attacks, as well as the relatively low threshold under Iowa's new law to trigger legal requirements and liability, it's not surprising that many savvy businesses (large and small) are now consider policies, procedures, or protocols for how to handle their affairs if they suddenly learn they suffered a hack attack. 

In short, while taking steps to protect and prepare yourself in advance of a data security breach is critical, it is just as important - if not more so - that following a data security breach your business promptly takes proper steps, including seeking trusted technical and legal advice, to determine the scope of a breach and what, if any, additional action your business must legally take.  If you have any questions regarding the issues outlined above you should contact a licensed attorney or certified security adviser.

How does image influence leadership?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the last in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters.” 

To judge content, whether found in the pages of a book or in the character of a person, we must assign the powerful thinking center of our brain to the task. 

In the case of the book, that occurs when we find the cover engaging enough to open the book and then choose to explore the content. 

In the case of the individual, it occurs when we find our perceptions of the person favorable enough to ask questions, listen, and engage in a healthy interpersonal exchange.  Alas, in an increasingly busy existence we rely more heavily, not less, on shortcuts and first impressions.

Harvard says we form an impression in two seconds, hardly enough time for someone to gauge your competence and capabilities.  What are they forming that impression on?

Ample research shows that people size you up very quickly and make inferences about your competence based on visual qualities such as your height, weight, age, skin color, gender, etc.  The things on this list are not easily changed or influenced yet they have a large impact on how you are perceived by others.

Consider research that reveals:

  • We perceive tall people to be more credible than short people. 
  • We perceive men to be more capable in crisis (particularly a physical crisis) than women. 

There is good news. Your grooming and attire also make a powerful first impression and are completely within your control. Becky Rupiper-Greene_edited-2 

Let’s ask an expert to weigh in with advice.  Becky Rupiper-Greene is Senior Training and Image Consultant for Tero International.  Leaders from diverse industries and geographies look to Becky to help them sharpen their professional images to ensure that a visual misstep doesn’t lead to a career misstep. 

Question:  Shouldn’t business leaders be able to wear whatever they want without being judged on appearance?

Becky says:  Absolutely.  Research continues to clearly indicate, however, that both men and women are judged by their appearance. We’ve all seen talented professionals lose out on a promotion to a seemingly less qualified individual who exudes executive presence – from entry level to C-suite positions. What I have found to be much more effective than focusing on what we should wear and what we should not wear, is to instead commit to looking like an expert in your industry. That will, of course, look completely different for someone working at a creative marketing firm compared to someone at a conservative financial institution.  When you look like an expert at what you do, you will visually command and convey respect.

Question:  Do you believe that women are judged more critically than men on their appearance?

Becky says:  The question itself indicates that we are aware of the unfair reality. Sadly, research done by the Center for Talent Innovation also shows that not only are women judged more harshly, women actually judge other women more harshly on appearance faux pas such as tight clothing.  

We perceive ourselves in our best light. We judge ourselves by our good intentions. Others can’t see our good intentions. They first see the visual image we broadcast to the world and that plays a huge role in how they judge us. Is your visual presence communicating positively for you?  

Content marketing with a referral twist

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

In several of my previous posts on IowaBiz I talk about general concepts around referral marketing. Along the way I have offered tips on ways to increase the likelihood that your clients will pull the trigger and send their friends and family your way. I try my darndest to put a unique spin on my content and support it with research and studies in psychology. And let me tell you, the biggest challenge I have is providing content that not only inspires people to look critically at the subject, but also offers actionable steps to increase referral business. That is my goal on this post - and I would really enjoy hearing your feedback on this particular subject.

ReferraldogJust this week I finished an eBook tailored to referral marketing for insurance agents (my company’s target market). Talk about the epitome of content marketing - and boy was it a lot of work. And for those of you who don’t know exactly what this is, content marketing is creating and distributing valuable and consistent content to attract a clearly defined audience. Blog posts, white papers, eBooks, etc. Anything your prospects will find value in reading. I then thought about ways that I could use much of what I learned about referral marketing and use it to promote my eBook, and this is what I came up with.

Inherently, content marketing is designed to supplement all types of marketing - SEO, inbound, PPC, social media, etc. The bottom line, in order for it to be most effective it needs to find its way to a lot of people in your target market (your defined audience). Now, encouraging people to share content is nothing new. I mean, you can’t even buy something online anymore without being asked to share it on Facebook. But, in my opinion, there is a clear distinction between sharing your casual blog post and a more in depth white paper or eBook.

Here’s why. People are used to paying for books and businesses often shell out money for in-depth research. If you spend the time to create this type of content you have a valid claim that it is worth something. That is, of course, if it is not just marketing material packed as useful information.

So here is my thought. Write an eBook and pack it full of valuable and relevant information (branded to your company, of course). Put a monetary value on it, say $29, but don’t sell it. Give it away to your current clients for free as a ‘thank you’ for their loyalty. They will appreciate this. Now, you want to inspire them to share it with others. But, rather than just encouraging them to forward the PDF, provide them with a link where they can only send the eBook to one person (whoever would most benefit from it) and include this link inside the eBook (think viral). And, in return the referrer will receive an email or link to an exclusive discount that they can only find if they submit the share through your form (say, 50% off the next month of service).

This is a soft referral. Your clients know who could likely benefit from your service and are sharing your content with that individual and making an introduction to your company. Allowing them to share the eBook with only one individual, and the waved price tag, will give them something of value to share. Now - for those that forward the PDF to multiple people. That’s fine! After all it is branded to your company and should include a soft call to action and the exclusive offer to share it with others. Before you know it your book will find its way into many different inboxes. As long as you are following up with the leads generated by your online forms, you can start to include drip marketing into the equation.

For an example landing page click here. Again, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

PR is like pork scraps and pickle juice

Claire Celsi is the director of public relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

When I was growing up, my grandma Celsi lived next door to us. My grandma and Mom took turns making a traditional Sunday pasta dinner. When it was Grandma’s turn to cook, all we had to do is keep the kitchen window open to hear her sweet little voice yell, “Reeeaaddddyyyy” toward our house. We’d drop the Sunday comics section and high-tail it over there.  Pickle juice

For some reason, Grandma’s pasta sauce was always slightly better than my mom’s. It was thicker, richer, meatier and just had that extra va-va-voom. Her meatballs were also better – more tender, flavorful and delicious. Try as she might, Mom could never quite replicate it, no matter how hard she tried.

Years after grandma died, Mom stumbled upon a grocery list my Dad had written for her. It was obviously the ingredients for her magic Sunday pasta sauce. There was one surprise on the list – pork scraps. Apparently, Grandma used to take pork scraps and fry them, then she browned the meatballs in the same pan before throwing them in the sauce. The resulting extra flavor was the missing ingredient. (Side note: Here's a fun little video of me and my mom rolling meatballs for a lasagne-like dish called pastachina (pronounced "pasta keen-uh")

Mom’s specialty is German potato salad. She carefully follows her great-grandmother’s recipe – which called for chopped baby gherkin pickles. And even though it was not in the recipe – I noticed that Mom always throws in a substantial splash of pickle juice. However, when I went to look up Mom’s potato salad recipe in the church cookbook - she had left out the splash of pickle juice. Apparently, she has learned a little trick from Grandma.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with PR.

Some companies just have a little pork scraps and pickle juice in their marketing mix. Using PR throughout the year is a smart way to keep ahead of the competition, yet it’s often not the first thing marketers think of when compiling their list of things to do for the year. Here are a few things to add to your marketing recipe:

  1. Know what makes your company different and special – this is your pickle juice and pork scraps. Every company has a special recipe.
  2. Make a list of newspapers, trade pubs or other media outlets your customers will likely be paying attention to. The list doesn’t have to be extensive. In fact, honing a short list of really interested media outlets is smart.
  3. Don’t forget digital journalists. There are many bloggers and thought leaders in the digital space. Many of them have “crossed over” from traditional journalism, so they have a foot in each world. They are real journalists too – so treat them exactly the way you would a “regular” reporter.
  4. Reach out to the media outlets every week or every month, depending on your resources. I call this “heartbeat” PR.  Like the steady thump of your heartbeat, news and tidbits of information should be shared with your media targets on a regular basis.
  5. Make an annual plan. Whether your PR is being handled in-house or you have an agency helping out, spend some time thinking about your initiatives, special projects, new product releases or anniversaries.
  6. Allocate resources. Figure out how much time or money you should allocate. If you’re having trouble finding the money to pay for PR, add up all the money you’ve spent on marketing in the last year, and spend a fourth of it on PR next year. I guarantee you that your audiences will pay more attention to positive media coverage than an ad.

PR is the pork scraps missing from your pasta sauce and the pickle juice missing from your potato salad. Add a little PR to your marketing mix for the extra bit of va-va-voom.

Getting outside

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

Being an avid runner, I like to get outside. And, I often strongly recommend other small retailers do so often as a way to reduce stress, clear their minds and maintain good health so they can perform at peak levels.

But specialty retailers should also think about getting outside in another way that's good for their businesses. That is, they should get outside of their comfort zone from time to time as a way to make good things happen.

For instance, I'm currently working on project for a client at the Heart of Iowa Market Place that is outside of the things we've normally done at our store. The reason: It's much larger and much more diverse than the sort of gift baskets we normally create and it requires items beyond our "all things Iowa" inventory.

Rather than saying, "This isn't something we do" and turning away business, we took the time to research the ins and outs of getting the job done in a way that will exceed our client's expectations. And, we decided the best way to do it is by working with other vendors we've not normally worked with before.

The benefits are already numerous: a satisfied client and the likelihood of repeat business, the fun of working with new partners, the certain prospect of handling larger projects that would have been out of our reach, more word-of-mouth marketing for my business, and the likelihood that our new partners will also direct business our way. Not only does my business grow, but we help other small businesses grow and thrive.

Those positives are all on top of stronger bottom-line revenues, which are the lifeblood of any company.

Going outside our comfort zone has given us the inside track for greater success. And, in the end, that's very comforting.

Tatooine on Earth

Tataouine 1Remember that scene from Star Wars at Tatooine?  Adobe-like buildings with odd pinnacles.  Well, on our planet that place is called Earthship.  Started by Michael Reynolds in the 1970’s, it looked like nothing I have seen.

Michael was on a quest to build a different type of home that would do three things.  First, homes would be built from natural or recycled materials.  Second, would use natural energy sources and be off the “grid” whenever possible.  Third, could be economically constructed by the typical home owner.

Tataouine 2Earthship Biotecture is the company that designs and builds homes around the globe.  One of the trademarks of the buildings is the use of auto tires for walls.  Tires are stacked one on top of another and rammed with earth.  This simple and inexpensive method provides the mass needed to sustain even temperatures.

Another distinctive feature was the use of pop cans and bottles to construct walls.  The tops of two bottles were cut off and the bottoms taped together.  A mortar wall was laid up using the bottles and a light filled room was the result.  Cans were used in a similar manner for interior walls that were lightweight.

Tataouine 3Solar panels generate electricity and waste water is treated on site.  In fact, your sink water either flushes the toilet or waters the plants in the greenhouse.

Let me know if you would like get together and build one across from Jordan Creek.  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Snapchat for business…

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

As I was writing this blog, I started by thinking about how to describe Snapchat for those that aren’t quite sure what it is. I think it’s somewhat difficult to describe, especially to those who might not be all that familiar with social media. So, I did what pretty much everyone does when they are stumped, I Googled it!

Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by Evan Spiegel and Jonathan May, then Stanford University students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. 

I am a Snapchat user (find me @klstocking if you’re interested in snapping me), but I think a few things are missing from this very basic definition that might help you understand this platform a little better.

One of the biggest ways Snapchat is unique from its social media competitors is the basis of its platform. When users send a picture, video or “snap” to their friends, they can only view it for a limited amount of seconds (to be set by the sender). Once the image or video is viewed for the set time limit, the picture “disappears” –- to where is an entirely different blog, but for these purposes it basically disappears and the recipient no longer has access to it. In order to view a snap, the recipient also has to be touching the image on the screen to get it to continue playing, which somewhat eliminates the ability to take a screen shot. However, if the recipient is crafty and can sneak a screen shot, the sender is notified a screen shot has been taken. Pretty neat, huh?

The million-dollar question though, as with most social media platforms, is what can this do for my business? This is definitely an interesting platform for business. The best account I follow that is doing a fantastic job is Mashable (@mashable). They are primarily using Snapchat the same way their business is set up, as an educational platform and by showcasing themselves as an industry leader for new and relevant information.

Happy Medium just launched our Snapchat account this week (@itsahappymedium), and we’ll be testing and sharing snaps over the next few months! I will be sure to update you on our journey to see what Snapchat can do for your business. I suspect we’ll have some fun and do some educating, which is what we do a lot in our regular day-to-day agency life. These same concepts will just be translated to Snapchat and dissolved after a few seconds of our viewer’s time. Don’t be afraid, try Snapchat out today!

Katie

 

ALS ice bucket challenge brings out the best and worst in social media

 

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

If you haven't heard about the ALS ice bucket challenge, you have clearly been living in a cave or hibernating.

The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness.  People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or do both.

Beverly, Mass. resident Pete Frates, along with his family, helped to make the “Ice Bucket Challenge” go viral on the social sites Facebook and Twitter.  Frates, 29, has lived with ALS since 2012, and he has worked with The ALS Association’s Massachusetts Chapter.  A former Division 1 college athlete with Boston College Baseball, Frates tirelessly spreads awareness of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

This viral sensation, which has used the hash tag #IceBucketChallenge, has attracted thousands of followers, including Boston Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Torey Krug, who willingly dropped frozen ice on themselves and issued the challenge to others.

On Wednesday, former President George W. Bush joined thousands of others who got doused for a good cause. He challenged Bill Clinton to do the same.  

Now that's going viral.  On top of the crazy videos being posted every few seconds -- ALS has raised more than $31 million dollars, as of 8/20/2014.

Hard to argue with the success of this home-grown promotion.  Along with the $31 million in donations and videos of everyone from Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik to Michael Jordan to Bill Gates and even Oprah Winfrey, the campaign has brought out the worst and best of social media.

The worst -- many so-called social media experts and jealous non-profits are complaining about the campaign, saying everything from 'you are wasting water' to 'someone is going to have a heart attack' from how cold the water is.

Others are upset because the campaign is working so well that they think everyone is forgetting about all the other non-profits out there.  Interestingly, people who have ALS are also demanding (some more rudely than others) documentation on where the donated funds are being spent.  

As with any successful endeavor, it brings out people who want to take the discussion to all sorts of sidebar issues.

Lots of sour grapes, some legitimate questions and people trying to steal a little of the spotlight.  

On the flip side -- this is one of those crazy, luck-of-the-draw situations that is putting ALS on everyone's lips and wallets.  It's also a great study in why viral can't be contrived or orchestrated.  

If I'd said to you -- do you think we can get everyone from President Bush to Oprah to all videotape themselves being doused with a bucket of ice cold water and share it online -- what would you have said?  It's tough to get people to click LIKE or share a story, let alone go to the elaborate measures that some of the bucket challenge participants have undertaken.

I'm sure that the folks at ALS had absolutely NO idea this was going to get so big, so successful and so out of their control.  While I am sure they're thrilled, they must also be a little freaked out.

They're doing a great job of fielding questions, keeping the spotlight on the families who are dealing with ALS and using the global stage to educate people about ALS and their fight for a cure.  They're not allowing all of the negative buzz to pull them off message.

They are creating specific web pages to deal with some of the common topics like "you're wasting water" to "where is the money going" and everytime someone repeats the same issue -- they point to the same resource. 

A huge hat tip to the ALS Association for handling this uproar in a best practices sort of way.  They are:

  • Staying true to their mission
  • Educating and advocating
  • Being consistent in all their messaging
  • Not letting the naysayers derail their efforts
  • Grabbing the tiger by the tail and promoting the famous and not-so-famous as they take the challenge
  • Looking ahead and planning for what's next

Whether your own marketing/social efforts go this big or deliver a more modest rush of attention -- these best practices will still serve you well.

 

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

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