Many Iowa public employees are better off in retirement than working

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

Iowa is a great place to retire. After an eight-year phase-out period, Iowa retirees now pay no state income tax on their Social Security income. Retirees also continue to receive a large exclusion of pension income that was first made available in the 1990s. These provisions encourage retirees to stay in Iowa and continue to contribute as volunteers, board members, community leaders, caregivers, mentors, and in all the other ways they contribute to Iowa’s quality of life.

It also reinforces how much has changed in the world of retirement planning since Iowa’s defined-benefit public employee retirement plans were created in the 1950s. Because of these changes, today, many Iowa public pension plan retirees are actually better off in retirement than when they were working. This is an outcome that certainly was never envisioned, but is enormously significant.

The Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) was created in the early 1950s, and counts among its 346,000 membership almost all public employees in Iowa (schools, cities, counties, state employees, and others). When this plan and other defined benefit plans like it were created, they no doubt made a lot of sense for the conditions of the time.

For example, people didn’t change jobs much, so they didn’t need portability. Members either made a career of public service or married, so the benefits were weighted heavily to the longest-tenured employees with short-term employees receiving little or nothing. The result today, arguably, is that long-term employees are over-compensated, while those who change jobs (outside the system) more often are not building the retirement savings they need.

Another difference is that in the 1950s public sector pay wasn’t as good as it is today, so back then benefits needed to be higher in order to attract employees. Today, that is no longer the case. At worst, public and private sector wages have evened out (after controlling for higher education levels in the public sector), but public sector health insurance and retirement benefits are still much higher. In fact, public pension benefits have increased substantially since the 1950s even as salaries have caught up.

Another obvious difference is longevity. Today, life expectancy at age 65 is five years longer than it was in the 1950s.

Further, when these plans were first created, investments (of which earnings help pay for benefit payouts) were limited to low-risk fixed income investments, which were well matched with the fact that benefits also had to be paid. Today, most of the portfolios are invested in higher risk equities and alternative investments.This means there’s a lot more risk in the system, and because benefits have to be paid, no matter what, vastly more impact on state and local budgets when the market tanks.

Finally, in the 1950s, Social Security contributions were much lower: 2 to 2.5 percent for the employee, compared with today’s 6.2 percent. Pension plan employee contributions were also lower – for IPERS, about 3.7 percent, while today they are nearly 6 percent. Today, when someone retires, because they no longer have to deduct these sizeable payroll contributions, their post-retirement take-home income feels that much higher.

The cumulative impact of all of these changes on the plans and especially on the pre- and post-retirement comparison is substantial.

We looked at comparisons of pre- and post-retirement net (take-home) income for IPERS members, retiring in fiscal year 2015. These individuals also receive Social Security income. We assumed no other income. It turns out that in our example a 65-year-old IPERS employee with average pre-retirement income who retired in fiscal year 2015 is in a better financial position retired than working, considering differences in required contributions and taxes. Longer-tenured employees do even better.

2015 Ipers Retirement

Sources: IPERS (and Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa estimates based on IPERS data) and Social Security On-Line Benefit Calculator, Age 66 Draw. 

The “average” reflects people who may have left the system long ago with a short tenure and with relatively low income at the time of separation, although they retired and began to draw benefits in 2015. It is also influenced by the extraordinarily high benefits enjoyed by those with the longest tenure. These longest-tenured employees are even better off in retirement than what is shown above. In fact, an  employee who worked more than 30 years with average salary nets 11 percent more take-home income in retirement than working. A 25- to 30-year employee nets 7 percent more in retirement. The average tenure for a 2015 retiree was 21.7 years.

It is doubtful that policy makers intended to create a situation where an employee is financially better off retired than working. In fact, public employees have typically been advised to not rely on Social Security and IPERS alone.

The more favorable tax treatment of retirees in Iowa is yet another reason for a comprehensive review of Iowa’s public employee retirement systems. We would not suggest that retirees should lose what they have already earned, nor what employees are expecting to earn in retirement, especially for those who are close to retirement. However, going forward there should be opportunity to build at least some retirement security for many more employees, while placing what most people would consider reasonable limits on post-retirement net income for those at the top end.

In any case, it’s time for a review to see what kind of plan best fits the world of today and into the future.



Preparing for a cyberattack or data breach

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity



In today’s world of nonstop cyberattacks, companies must prepare for when, not if, they are attacked. It is important to remember that these attacks come in various forms and severity. Your company may suffer multiple attacks this year. One may be in the form of a virus or malware outbreak; another could be significant compromise of intellectual property.

To minimize the impact of a cyberattack, it is vitally important that your organization have a well-defined incident response plan. 

This plan should be documented to ensure the process is repeatable in the event of an emergency. Team members who will be responding to the incident should be trained on using the plan. A good way to do this is to test or exercise the plan. This also helps identify weaknesses or gaps in the plan. The test can be in the form of a tabletop exercise where the plan is simply reviewed and discussed or an actual walk-through of a scenario in which each step of the plan is tested to ensure it provides accurate guidance.

A key area often overlooked when developing an incident response plan is to document the external parties you may need to call on in the event of a cyberattack.  Data breaches never announce the time and date they occur. They are always a surprise and can create a lot of confusion and anxiety. This is not the time to be trying to identify an attorney with cyberlaw experience or a security firm with digital forensic and incident response experience. Having a computer security incident response plan in place will help ensure you have the right resources at your fingertips.

Another common question during an incident is whether or not law enforcement should be notified of the incident. By defining the criteria which would dictate the need to contact law enforcement before a cyberattack occurs, you have the luxury of making these decisions in a low-stress environment. At Integrity, we often recommend contacting law enforcement at some point during a breach investigation, but there are valid reasons not to do this as well. Taking the emotion out of the decision can help ensure you make a rational choice that is in your best interest.

If you use an outsourced IT provider to help you manage your systems, you may or may not want to rely on them to drive your incident response plan.  In most cases we recommend that the business be the owner and driver of the incident response plan. This ensures that business decisions are made by the people with the knowledge and authority to make those decisions instead of a network engineer or account manager.  Often, IT providers are not experts in information security and leading incident response teams, and they may make decisions that are not in the best interest of your company. An incident response plan isn’t one of those things you hope you never use. It will be used and can help bring order during the chaos of a cyberattack.


Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 


Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


How much time do you spend on your mobile device?

Alex Karei

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

Returning from PubCon, a recent national online marketing conference, one of my coworkers shared a staggering statistic about mobile with me. Did you know that on average, we spend 177 minutes on our smartphones per day? So you don’t have to do the math, that’s nearly three hours. When that average was reported, it was shown to be a 15-minute increase in a nine-month period … and the statistic was calculated almost a year ago now.

So, think about it - do you spend three hours on your phone each day? Probably not that you’ve noticed. But start by thinking about the small bits of time you spend. Me, for example. Granted this isn’t a scientific study, but I've seen it to be a pretty regular pattern.

On my average morning, I might spend:

  • 5-10 minutes on Twitter while laying in bed after my alarm goes off.

  • 5 minutes checking the weather and my schedule for the day while brushing my teeth or drinking my first cup of joe.

  • 10-15 minutes messing with random apps or reading the news while eating breakfast.

  • 5 minutes catching up on Slack and email while waiting for my computer to boot up and my coffee to brew at work.

Adding it up, we're only at 9:00 a.m. and I have already potentially surpassed 30 minutes, depending on the day. Looking at it that way, it’s not that hard to see how quickly you could reach the average of three hours by the time you hit the hay at night. Granted, I could be on the high end of mobile use. After all, I am a millennial (at least one of you thought that) and that’s just our nature (which I would beg to differ - I know millennials not glued to their phones). Regardless, I would urge you to give some careful thought to what I’m saying, and think about your own mobile habits.

Then ask yourself: am I considering that potential clients may be accessing MY website during their 177 minutes? And if they are … what’s their experience with my content like?

It’s fair to say that mobile is on the rise, but also accurate to say that it’s already risen. Mobile is here - and if your website doesn’t take mobile users into consideration, visitors are probably struggling, at least mildly, with receiving your content. However, in some cases, you're probably losing them completely. 

Still not convinced? Open your website on your phone and do the following:

  1. View the site as a whole. Do you have to pinch and zoom to read the content? How many times?

  2. Try to click some buttons. Are you angling your finger or thumb to fit into a too-small box? Are you successful in clicking what you meant to click?

  3. Fill out a form or perform an action that's applicable to your site. Is there anything that doesn’t work as expected? 

Making the time or budget available to retrofit your site to be mobile-friendly can be difficult, but it’s a worthy investment.

And before you say that your 80-year old ideal clients don’t use mobile devices to access your current website, you should probably know that user experience isn’t the only reason you should be thinking about mobile. There's more to it than that! But we can talk about Google’s search preference for mobile-friendly websites another day.

Alex is the marketing director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her on:


LOCAL FEATURE: Road-tripping to Perry

- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.


This week we are taking a road trip out to Perry to explore what the Hotel Pattee has to offer for potential event venue spaces.


I know what you are thinking, “but it’s a 45 minute drive from Des Moines!” Although Perry might not be ideal for an afternoon corporate luncheon or a happy hour for a company located in Des Moines, venturing out to Perry for the right event can truly enrich the overall attendee experience.


As an event organizer you have the unique opportunity to build complete experiences for your attendees. Taking a little drive out of the confines of the city and into the beauty of Mother Nature can be the perfect vehicle (no pun intended) to set the tone for your meeting to come.  That said, what events work best here?

  • Full day or multi-day company events for mid-sized groups: 

The largest space can accommodate approximately (250) people banquet style and probably twice that stadium style.  So these spaces are not intended for massively huge groups to meet together at one time. The spaces available are great for events that are meant to fully immerse attendees in longer event programs filled with lots of new & rich content. The spaces are varied and unique so are perfect for planners looking for out-of- the-ordinary venue space to introduce to their attendees.

  • Unique experience events

Whether you are entertaining an important group of clients; showing someone from out of town the beauty that Iowa has to offer; or simply want to show your employees some appreciation with a high end and thoughtful experience, The Hotel Pattee has all the ingredients to make a truly memorable event.

  • Retreats

The hotel (and town itself) possesses a real sense of calm. Those looking to delve into more introspective ventures should take a trip out to the hotel to envision their retreat here.

  • Weddings & Other Social Events

The Hotel offers very elegant spaces that make the perfect backdrop for any photograph whether it be for a wedding, fundraiser or appreciation event. The added benefit of having such varied space options is that there is the ability to plan a versatile event that can transition flawlessly from one space to the next. The hotel landscape allows you to have an elegant cocktail hour in one room while simultaneously hosting a rowdy dance party in the next.


The renovated hotel (2014) has several meeting spaces that can accommodate a multitude of events as well as other amenities to keep your attendees busy including:

  • Over 4,000 square feet of meeting space
  • On-site A/V services
  • Full-service catering by Executive Chef Ben Ferguson (which is delicious, I can attest!)
  • On-site event planner 
  • On-site spa
  • Private bowling lanes
  • Stocked fitness center
  • Outdoor courtyard space


The quaint Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design is paired with modern updates that keep the hotel historically relevant while still being user-friendly. My favorite room by far is the Willis Library, right off the main lobby, a perfect room for a glass of red wine and some good conversation.

Need to stay overnight?  One of the (40) individually decorated and themed rooms will transport guests to Mexico, Italy, Japan or will illustrate unique aspects of Iowa including the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) or the Amana Colonies, a historic German settlement in eastern Iowa.


  • The residents are cordial and accommodating.                                                Visiting Perry is like being welcomed into a good friend’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s warm and welcoming and possesses a genuine sense of hospitality.  
  • Venue, food and beverage costs are more affordable than in Des Moines.         If you are looking to have a high-end experience but don't want to pay high end, venturing slightly out of Des Moines for your more intricate events might be just the ticket.                        


Need more space than the hotel can offer?Laposte

  • There are a number of city-owned spaces adjacent to the hotel that can accommodate smaller groups for different types of break-out sessions.
  • La Poste, a renovated post office that has become a beautiful “space to celebrate art, music, food and community.” The upstairs is a blank canvas displaying a rotating art show with pieces from world renowned artists that can be utilized for all sorts of different larger events. The cellar, is an intimate & cozy collection of spaces that can be rented for more intimate events.  Want to visit?  On Thursday nights they have live music and a speakeasy bar for your drink of choice.  Sneak on back to their Whiskey Room and get a little toasty by the fire.


Perry is a wonderful destination, rich in history, hospitality and awesome event venues.  Jay Hartz (owner of Hotel Pattee) has a true passion for hotel ownership and possesses a truly unique and innovative eye for detail. His plans for continued improvements to the hotel are exciting and sure to make Hotel Pattee a true destination for anyone looking for a little retreat from their busy lives.

As always, please chime in and let me know what YOU would like to hear about!  I would like the content of this blog to be user-driven, so let me know what is on your mind!  Also follow me on Facebook for daily event insights!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website  




Healthy mind, healthy attitude, healthy business

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

The holidays are creeping up on us fast. Along with the holiday season comes the rush of small business owners and employees trying to finish certain tasks and prepare for the next season while also preparing for another mean Iowa winter.

With all of the rush, it is important to stay healthy throughout this busy season and year round.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rush and forget about your health, but it’s also easier than ever to remind yourself to stay healthy and take a break every once in awhile.

My family and friends have invested in a Fitbit band that you wear on your wrist, and it counts your daily activity such as steps, miles, calories burned and even hours -- or minutes! -- slept. There are even applications that you can download on your Smartphone or tablet that remind you to drink water and stay active.

It’s always important from a personal standpoint to stay healthy year-round, but your business benefits when you do, too.

When you take a break from your hectic schedule, just for a few minutes, it opens up your thought process and allows you to see things in a different light. Some of your best business ideas may be the result of just a few minutes of break time.

As well as exercising regularly, keeping hydrated is another health tip we seem to skip when we don’t have the time. Staying hydrated affects our cognitive skills. Something as simple as drinking four glasses of water a day can greatly improve your health and your productivity.

Stop and smell the roses isn’t just a cliché. It’s essential for your health. When you take a moment to relax, you can lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, boost your memory, lower your risk of a stroke, and improve your happiness and positive thinking

With holiday season just around the corner, you're going to want -- and need -- all the energy you can get. Your customers and employees deserve nothing less.

Sweet dreams and the power within


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

I once took a long road trip with my college girlfriend. There was little that I didn’t like about her except for one irritating behavior. Whenever we took any kind of a long drive, she almost instantly fell asleep while I sat in silence listening to the radio.

It was spring break, and I happened to be in the middle of a very interesting psychology class where we were learning about the subconscious mind and how it affects our behavior. So, like any young, naive college kid trying to apply what he had learned, I decided to conduct an experiment.

I picked a random item –– in this case the color green –– turned down the radio, and softly whispered into her ear, “You HATE green. Green is EVIL. Green is BAD. Green causes PAIN.” I then turned the radio back up, waited a couple of minutes, and repeated the entire process.

After about thirty minutes, I changed the dialogue. “You DON’T LIKE green, green causes you immense PAIN, green is the favorite color of the DEVIL, green is UGLY.” Like before, this went on for about thirty minutes.

I then shifted the dialogue to something positive. I purposely picked a color I knew she would never pick on her own and probably didn’t even really know what it was––Indigo. “You LOVE the color indigo. Indigo is HAPPY. Indigo is SWEET. Indigo is PRETTY.” This went on until she awoke.

After giving her time to fully awaken, I decided to spark up a conversation. “Sweetie, when you were asleep, we drove by a ton of green grass.” She didn’t respond, but I could see a slight frown. I then followed by saying, “If you could pick any color for grass other than green, what would it be?” Without any hesitation and a smile, she responded, “Indigo.”

In my last post, Yellow is the New Blue, I discussed how conscious social influences affect decision-making and ultimately creativity. But what about something as simple as what enters your subconscious? When I asked why she chose that color, she had no idea why. My experiment, however twisted, was a success. I confirmed what I had learned in class––our subconscious never sleeps and picks up information 24/7.

Have you ever woken up to find someone standing over you who hadn’t made a sound in the process? If you consciously set your alarm to wake up the same time everyday, do you find yourself waking up on your own before the alarm sounds? Our subconscious serves as a protection mechanism. It’s aware of our internal clock. And it takes in information that affects our conscious thinking.

Have you ever been driving down the road listening to the radio, and a 20-year-old song comes on that sends you down memory lane? I believe our minds are like immense storage devices that retain everything –– every event, every smell, every sound, every feeling, everything. However, retention is not recall, and recalling past information can be a bit of a challenge.

Back when all of those events were taking place, odds are that particular song was frequently being played on the radio. Your subconscious connected the two, and the song became connected to the address in your brain where those memories are located. Those memories came flooding back because of the subconscious connection to the song. 

While the subconscious can have an unintentional influence on our thinking, it can also be a powerful tool to recall information and solve problems. After spending time trying to solve a problem without success, have you ever moved on, only to have a random “Aha” experience about it later? That’s your 24/7 subconscious working the problem behind the scenes.

Proactively using our subconscious mind not only helps with memory, it can also help create solutions to problems that our conscious thinking can’t address. Even Albert Einstein once said, “Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?”

Practice Challenge:  Your dreams are frequently the result of your subconscious trying to process both old and new information –– which is why the buzz of the alarm clock can be interpreted as a fire alarm in your dream. However, dreams also provide a place for great ideas to problems to come to the surface. To harness those ideas, try this: each morning when you awaken, immediately write down anything you can remember from your dreams. Over time –– and that time will vary among people –– you will train your mind to be able to freely recall the details of all the dreams and ideas you had the night before. It could be a game-changer for you.

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

My IRS is little

- Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates, Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 

The eighth annual Immigrant Entrepreneur Summit (IES) will be held Nov. 21 in Ankeny.

I always thought of IES as the IRS Jr., since the difference in the names is only one letter. In fact, the idea for IES came from a pile of IRS notices that landed on my desk back in 2007.

At that time, my business, Community CPA, was located on Second Avenue in Des Moines, next to Double Dragon Food Market. One day an Asian lady, who had just finished doing her shopping next door, came in carrying all of her groceries and asked to see me. She pulled out of her pocket a stack of letters from the IRS and handed them over to me. She then pointed at her grocery bags, opening one of them up to show me what was in it, and said: "This is all for my business."

Based on what she had just said, and after reviewing some of the letters, I figured she had a retail food business that had been operating for at least three years. I also noticed that she had a limited liability company (LLC) set up for that business. The IRS letters suggested that she had not filed tax returns for her LLC entity and they were assessing more than $50,000 in taxes due on her Schedule C. After about an hour or so, following a lot of effort in talking to the IRS, the solution was to dissolve her business entity, that had been formed but never used, and amend three years worth of federal and state income tax returns. On top of that, we needed to file her sales taxes for the past 3 years – "Really? More taxes?" She was in disbelief.  

It was all simple work, but something that she needed help with. Many immigrant-owned small businesses begin with a focus on just selling. The rest, such as an income statement, balance sheet and tax compliance, is sometimes unknown to them. So I explained everything to, slowly and with great detail, to my new client. She gave me a big hug before she left and said: "Ying, where can I go to learn this? My IRS is little."

I chuckled because I knew what she meant was that her IRS knowledge is limited. I replied: "IRS is not little!".  

The IRS is not, and it will never be ‘little’. The goal of IES is to educate and help entrepreneurs, like the lady with her grocery bags, in making tax and accounting compliance more streamlined and simple.

That’s why eight years ago Swallow Yan, who at the time was the Chinese Association President, Max Cardenas, a Grinnell graduate and Peru native, and myself decided to give this IES a try.

At the first summit in 2008, 208 eight business owners, representing more than 30 countries, showed up. IES has been growing by leaps and bounds since then. Each year more and more immigrant business men and women move from the "my IRS is little" stage and go on to accomplish great things.

IES educates folks about federal and state regulatory compliance as well as industry specific requirements, so no one will be surprised by how ‘big’ the IRS can be.

This year, we anticipate that more than 700 attendees at the IES event Nov. 21 at the FAA Enrichment Center on Des Moines Area Community College's Ankeny Campus. Join the event by registering at The IES mantra is: Let’s grow together.

Tiny houses

--Rob's guest blogger, Todd Campbell, is a registered architect at CMBA|smith metzger.  He has worked on the downtown YMCA and Josephs West Glen.  He would love to design someone a tiny house.

Tiny house 01Recently a friend introduced me to the tiny house movement; people downsizing and living in 400 square feet or less. Little footprints, simple roofs and every area designed to serve multiple purposes.  There are no dedicated rooms here - no walk-in closets. Just hidden little storage shelves - built into the stairs. And low ceilinged lofts just big enough for a bed.  You can’t live here without simplifying your life. 

Tiny house 02As I looked into this further, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the good old days.  Fresh out of ISU…degree in hand, I signed my first lease on a garden-level studio apartment.  For those who don’t know, or may have forgotten, “garden-level studio” is code for an apartment without a bedroom half-buried underground.  Barely 500 square feet, it had a living room, bathroom, galley kitchen and a large closet. It was so small. So tiny. Yet surprisingly warm and cozy too!

Fast forward 25 years and I now live in a four-bedroom, 2½-bath house with an office I only visit when my wireless router needs resetting and a finished basement I walk through to change my furnace         filter. Truth be told, I probably still live my life in 500 square feet.  The rest is just space I pass through…slowing accumulating items I feel I MAY need…someday. 

It certainly got me thinking. Could I live my life in 400 square feet? Is it even possible to streamline my life to that level? Probably not, but I’d sure like to try!

How about you? Contact me at

Creating a flourishing, values-based organization

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive & leadership coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc, and founder of the annual Spark event.

Book - Hsieh - Delivering Happiness w websiteMost people who engage in coaching do so with a desire to improve themselves. Passionate leaders, however, typically strive to enhance their teams, departments, and organizations as well. Wanting to create an engaging and flourishing culture, strong leaders know that they set the tone and are always on the lookout for ways to do that effectively.

As you surely know, success leaves clues and we can learn a lot from the experience of those we admire.

In that vein, when it comes to coaching around organizational culture, I often find myself referring to the book that captures Zappos’ experience so well: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. It’s a terrific case study of an organization that strives to wow its customers with service, empower employees to make decisions and lead with confidence, and create a fun, engaging, even weird place to work.

How does Zappos do it?

It starts with one foundational piece upon which everything else is built: core values.

“Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values define the company’s character and brand,” explains Hsieh, who goes on to share Zappos’ 10 core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service.
  2. Embrace and drive change.
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness.
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.
  5. Pursue growth and learning.
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication.
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit.
  8. Do more with less.
  9. Be passionate and determined.
  10. Be humble.

Defining your organizational core values can prove the guidepost for decisions, actions, and commitments. Once clarified, you can turn to your values when interviewing new hires, planning development goals, conducting staff meetings, and more. They become the touchstone of your entire organization.

The fear, and unfortunately, often the reality is that values become simply another item to put on the website or employee manual and then forget. You must work the values into your day-to-day operations for them to have any bearing, and Zappos does a terrific job of this.

In probably its most notable example, after their first weeks of training, all new hires are offered $2,000 to quit. Why? “We want employees that believe in our long-term vision and want to be a part of our culture,” says Hsieh. Fewer than 1 percent take the offer, and Zappos also boasts a retention rate not many can match. To take a phrase from author and researcher Jim Collins, Zappos takes extra measures to “get the right people on the bus,” and it works.

The “fun and weirdness” value is expressed in a variety of ways, from themed costume days to hot dog socials to on-campus petting zoos. And I love some of their strategies for value No. 7, such as “The Face Game”: In addition to a login and password to get into their computer, the photo of a randomly selected employee will also appear on their screen, and they must identify the person’s name. Once they do, a profile and bio of that employee appears to share a bit more insight.

“In the end, it turns out we’re all taking different paths in pursuit of the same goal: happiness,” writes Hsieh. Creating a positive culture will benefit everyone involved as well as the bottom line, and it all begins with clear values upon which everything else is built.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI’S CHALLENGE:

What are your organization’s core values? How do employees fulfill them on a day-to-day basis?

If you can’t easily answer these questions, take some time this month to read Delivering Happiness. 

Then, take the initiative to reevaluate your organization’s (as well as your own) values. Seek the necessary support to define clear, agreed-upon values that truly fuel your business. You can then design the path to ensure those values are honored and celebrated on a daily basis – and you, your employees, and your customers will reap the benefits!

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders and executives succeed in work that they love – and to help their employees do the same! Learn more at, on Facebook at, and via Twitter at

Hsieh, Tony. Delivering Happiness. Hachette Book Group. © 2010.

Tips to handling conflict

Boxing gloveA colleague takes credit for your idea. A manager sets an unrealistic deadline. A family member doesn’t perform the household chores as agreed. Your inability to stick with your diet and exercise program is frustrating you. Conflict takes many forms.

Whether it's with a co-worker, manager, loved one, or self, conflict takes a heavy toll on relationships and productivity. 

The ability to deal well with conflict is a rare skill. Hardwired at birth for fight or flight, we default to aggressive or passive behaviors that produce only losers and no winners. Is there another way?

The single biggest thing that characterizes conflict is heightened emotions. How can you manage your own emotions in the heat of a conflict? Here are two tips:

1. Find something to occupy your mind and distract you. Physical activity is always a good choice. Avoid activities that allow you to ruminate (i.e., driving or shopping) as you are unlikely to cool down and may get more worked up. 

2. If you can’t physically leave the environment, consciously change your emotional state. Silently say the alphabet or your social security number backwards. It is difficult to remain emotional when your mind is challenged with such a complex task.

With a cooler head, you are ready to address the conflict. Here are four tips to start:

1. Remember, people in conflicts get emotional. Although tempting, it is not productive to ignore emotions. 

2. Challenge your assumptions. Recognize that your evaluation of the situation is probably only one of several interpretations.

3. Be tactfully honest about your own interests and ask the other party to be clear about their needs. You might find that the conflict is only a symptom of a deeper issue.

4. Ask for a “do over” if things get off to a bad start. According to research, 96 percent of communications that start badly, end badly.    

Conflict resolution, when done well, is an important and inevitable part of progress.

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

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Tips about end-of-year performance reviews

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

Time-730x284The West Des Moines Chamber has a young professional’s group called New View that I coordinate. At the October New View event I thought it important to bring in an HR specialist who could help young professionals learn how to handle their year-end review along with negotiating their salary.

There was great interest in this topic and we sold out the event within days. Our expert, Sarah Charlier with Merit Resources, gave a 45-minute presentation. A lively question-and- answer period followed among attendees. I wanted to share some of the interesting tips that were given, both for those going through their first review and those on the other side of the table giving the review for a new employee:

  • Do your homework: 60 to 90 days out from your review you should be collecting information about what you have done in the past year. Using quantifiable numbers and percentages will put into perspective how much you’ve accomplished.
  • About 30 to 60 days out, you should be evaluating yourself. What goals have you met or exceeded?  Have you followed company policies?
  • Start the compensation discussion early. Do not surprise your boss with wanting a raise at your performance review. And if you are asking for a pay raise, make sure you have substantiated the amount you are asking for.  Be sure to also express your interest in taking on more opportunities along with the new salary.
  • The day of your review, be ready for any hard truths. Have a response ready for almost any answer your boss will give you. If you receive a no, don’t be afraid to say you are disappointed but then follow up with questions about how to get to the next level in your company.
  • Be confident by being prepared. People giving reviews do not want you to sit across from them giving one-word answers and appearing intimidated. You’ll be best served by making the meeting a conversation.
  • Ask for feedback on how you’re doing. You won’t grow personally or professionally without feedback and sometimes that may come in the form of criticism. 

These are just some of the excellent tips that we received that Tuesday morning. End of year reviews and salary negotiations don’t have to be terrible, terrifying experiences. Be prepared, confident, and use the opportunity of having your boss' full attention to your advantage. 


-Meridith Freese 

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

What in the world is Yahoo! Local thinking?

Here’s a little nugget of trivia for you: during the first year of its existence Yahoo! was called “Jerry and David's guide to the World Wide Web”.

I can barely get that out in a single breath. Well, that was back in 1994, and thankfully they’ve shortened their name to what we know today: Yahoo! It just rolls off the back of your throat better I guess.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 11.35.25 AMThe interesting thing about Yahoo! is that so many of us are familiar with the company, but so few of us actually use their search engine. By several statistics less than 11 percent of all online search as of July 2015 was performed on Yahoo! sites. It's a percentage that has been steadily decreasing over the years.

Despite its decline Yahoo! has managed to keep its head above water. In 2012 the company appointed the former head of Google Local, Marissa Mayer, in attempt to turn things around and set the company on a positive trajectory. In recent years it has also undergone extensive rebranding to bring a fresh look to a previously stagnant company. The future of Yahoo! is still uncertain, but since bringing on Mayer the stock price has more than doubled, so there are signs of life.

Which is one reason, as a business, you shouldn’t write off Yahoo! just yet. Things could get better.

If you follow the trends in the search engine world you surely know local search is on fire right now. All the big players have been changing their algorithms to give more weight to local businesses while simultaneously providing valuable reviews for their users.

At the moment Google is doing a remarkable job at integrating local business information and reviews into their search engine. With a single keyword search, e.g. ‘pizza’, you can get a list of nearby restaurants, photos of the business, their menu, online reviews, and even directions on how to get there.

Yet for some reason when the other major search engines turned left towards an improved user experience and local business autonomy, Yahoo! took a hard right.

Yahoo! Local is like an out-of-touch parent awkwardly trying to figure out Snapchat for the first time. I can see the effort, but their attempts have fallen flat.

On the consumer side they’ve tinkered with a partnership with Yelp while also offering their own review platform. I spent hours trying to wrap my head around their strategy, but at this point it just isn’t clear.

I performed that same search for ‘pizza’ on Yahoo! and instead of getting a list of restaurants I was shown the nutritional facts for a 14” cheese pizza. What? I mean, aside from the fact that I’m not counting calories, they didn’t even include the pepperoni.

To be fair the list of restaurants were hidden there somewhere, I just had to scroll halfway down the page. But the listings seemed sparse and incomplete.

As a business, if you would like to make any changes to your default listing (such as updating your address, phone number, description, or adding photos) on Yahoo! you have to pay money. And it isn’t cheap.

Yahoo! has signed an exclusive deal with a company called YEXT to manage its local online listings. But after digging into this further I did find one way around this, which I explain below.

YEXT is a ‘Digital Location Management’ software company. Basically they (for a fee) manage the local directory listings and content for businesses across various online sites. They tout their services by highlighting several online websites they work with. Fortunately they only have exclusive agreements with Yahoo!,, Mapquest, and a handful of less relevant directories.

Which leaves me wondering why a struggling search engine fighting for relevance would hamstring its local search, an area rapidly expanding in significance, by trying to force businesses to pay to keep their online listings accurate?

Now for that way around YEXT. Go to and claim your business online. This will allow you to update information which is sent, for free, to 97 percent of online search engines. Yahoo included. This includes all basic information which affects local SEO, but does not include business descriptions. Not to worry though, because on all the major search engines you can add photos and descriptions for free (excluding Yahoo! of course).


Be prepared for media interviews. Here's how.

Public relations seems to be a mystery to many corporate leaders. They are somewhat delusional about what constitutes "news" and how to tell a good story to the media. I often run into communications managers in companies who are trapped in a very "old-school" mentality of how to execute a public relations program, and stymied by their leaders who haven't spent any time with journalists and don't understand their world.

The way news is reported has changed dramatically over the past ten years, but the basic formula for an interesting story is the same. Whether the reporter calls you or whether you call them, it's good to know what to expect during the exchange.

Before participating in an interview, be sure you know the answer to these questions:

  1. What makes your company different, unique or trendy? Do you offer products or services that are better than the competition?
  2. Are you willing to be a true thought leader? Say something interesting, funny or groundbreaking.
  3. Are you ready to quickly respond to national stories that deal with your industry?
  4. Is your spokesperson trained? Do they know what to say and how to deal with tricky questions?
  5. Does everyone in your company know what to do if a reporter calls?

Journalists are motivated by a few things that you need to be aware of. Sometimes they are asked to create a controversial story where none exists. This is unfortunate, but it happens.

It's OK to ask them these questions so that you can be a better spokesperson:

  1. What is your deadline?
  2. Who else are you talking to for this story?
  3. What is your angle? (you may choose not to participate if the angle is controversial or shady)
  4. What do you know about our company? (Be prepared to provide some background information)

Reporters are people. Get to know them and help them do their jobs. Be prepared as best as you can to help them tell a compelling story and don't waste their time with mindless corporate jibber-jabber.

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



Cultivate gratitude

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

Today’s fast-paced business world results in a lot of us communicating via screens: text messages, emails and social media. Sometimes we forget, when we are pressed for time, that there is no substitute for showing appreciation to others.

Entrepreneur Magazine notes that the true purpose for communicating appreciation is that it “communicates a sense of respect and value for the person” – and is important for leadership. 

Research also indicates that belonging to a group or community gives us a sense of identity, and our relationships are crucial to our well-being and happiness. Both personally and professionally, our connections help us feel safe and supported, encourage us to learn and grow and serve as a source of help in times of trouble.

Below are some reminders of easy ways to show gratitude to your colleagues, mentors and teammates. 

  1. Say thank you. It’s that easy – actually say the words, “thank you.” Taking a few minutes out of your day to acknowledge employees and their contributions goes a long way in making them feel appreciated.
  2. Celebrate milestones. Remember that everyone else at work has lives outside of work. Make sure to celebrate moments such as work anniversaries, birthdays, life accomplishments like children or marriage, and work accomplishments like awards or certifications.
  3. Ask for feedback. When’s the last time you made sure you were meeting the needs of your coworkers? How can you help them better reach their goals? Do you help them feel empowered? What are their biggest problems at work, and how can you help to solve them? When your coworkers feel heard, they often feel appreciated – no matter the outcome of the issue at hand.

This November, I hope you’ll set aside time to cultivate gratitude with loved ones near and far – but be sure to make the effort to show appreciation and express a heartfelt thank you in the workplace as well.

Two bites at the apple: selling your business twice

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

Business owners are approached by private equity firms who suggest that they get “two bites at the apple” in a proposed transaction. Since when did selling a business have anything to do with produce?!? Let’s unpack this jargon. 

The “first bite” is a partial ownership sale by the business owner to the private equity fund. The amount of ownership sold can vary widely and is deal specific. The first bite gives the business owner immediate liquidity which allows him or her to diversify their net worth away from the business.

With the new-found liquidity and a capital partner to take prudent risk with, business owners may also find themselves willing to expand their business in ways they would not have had they had to “go it alone.” 

While the business owner no longer owns 100 percent of his business, he likely will remain in operational control of the business, so he can continue doing what he loves. He will also benefit from working with a private equity firm, who should have experience in the relevant industry and be able to provide value-added support from a board level. 

The “second bite” occurs when the business owner and the private equity fund decide it is time for them to sell all of the business. This typically occurs 5-7 years after the first bite.

By this time, the prudent shared risks taken by the business under joint ownership and the value-added support from the private equity fund have ideally created an entity that is worth a tremendous amount more than it was at the first bite. Because the private equity fund specializes in M&A, they can help with the sale process to maximize value.

The net result for the business owner is a greater financial realization of his life’s work. Often the proceeds to the business owner from the second bite for his partial ownership sale will vastly outweigh the proceeds he would have received from selling 100 percent of the business earlier – and this, of course, does not take into consideration the amount he received from the first bite.

 Maybe produce is not so bad after all!  

Balancing life and work: It’s all about energy management

Burn out image for Iowa Biz

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

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like you’ve hit a wall? Could you just sleep for months? Are you tired of being tired? Feel like you don’t have the time or the energy to do one more thing or take on one more project at work or at home?

You may be heading toward burnout. In the e-book series I’ve written, From Frantic to Fabulous: Transforming Your Work and Your World, I share that burnout is a form of being mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. When a person is burned-out and exhausted, they lack  joy, enthusiasm and motivation. There may also be deep feelings of ineffectiveness and frustration. Burnout can be caused by extreme stressors at home, at work, or both, which may be causing us to do too much, over-function and expend more energy than we have. 

At increased risk of feeling burned out are those in the “sandwich generation” -- still working demanding jobs, having elderly parents whose needs for care may be increasing, and having children or teenagers at home. With so many demands on their time and energy, these folks feel as though all of the responsibility falls on their shoulders and there is nowhere to turn for relief. They are constantly wondering when will things get back to normal again, not realizing that this is their “new normal” and they need new strategies to navigate through the exhaustion they feel. 

One of those strategies is something I call Energy Management or “EM.”  A bit different from time management, energy management recognizes the physical reality that a person really does have only so much physical, emotional and mental energy, called personal energy, to expend before they need to recharge their internal batteries through rest, sleep and alone time.

Think of it this way: your personal energy is like that cup of coffee you enjoy so much every morning. Once you drink all of the coffee in the cup, you have to refill the cup to enjoy more coffee. Likewise with your personal energy; once your energy is depleted you need to rest and recharge to restore yourself to maximum efficiency again. As with the batteries on our smartphones, if we don’t recharge the batteries, our device does not work. If we do not take the time to recharge our personal energy battery, we don’t perform the best in our work and our world. 

An EM strategy is on Sunday or first thing Monday morning, take a look ahead at your week. Ask yourself what are your goals and what do you want to achieve for the week.  Then begin to make thoughtful choices about the activities you will participate in and the actions you will take based on a projection of the amount of energy those activities or actions will use. The idea is to pace yourself each day so that your energy coffee cup lasts the entire day and you are not crawling home from work exhausted each night. 

 A real life example might be:

  1. Your goal is to get one sale closer to reaching your year-end numbers.  
  2. Looking at the week ahead, you know that you need to travel out of state for sales appointments on Tuesday and will return late on Wednesday evening.  On Thursday you have the opportunity to attend a power-packed breakfast event and on Thursday evening a community networking reception. Friday is a business as usual day with a gathering of friends after work.   
  3. Because you see that Tuesday and Wednesday will be long travel days, and your energy coffee cup will likely be empty both nights, you may zero in on Thursday’s schedule with the goal of conserving your energy. This is where making those important energy management choices comes in to keep your energy cup as full as possible.  
  4. You ask yourself- Is it crucial to reach my goals that I attend both an early morning event and an evening event on Thursday? Maybe the smartest choice is to call the event host (on Monday morning because a few days notice is polite) and extend your kindest regrets to acknowledge that you will be unable to attend the event.  
  5. Or, maybe you manage to attend both events on Thursday, because they are critical to your success, and then arrange for a day off on Friday so you can rest and recharge.  

By making thoughtful EM choices you aren’t “burning the candle at both ends.”  Instead you are wisely conserving the energy in your energy coffee cup while attending to your goals. Managing your energy leads to being more engaged and present, happy and healthy.   

And, just maybe, will have the energy to have a really fun weekend again! 


Marketing can be measured in inches not miles

Bigstock-Hand-Pinching-89048759Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

We talk a lot about going the extra mile for a customer but the truth is -- customers notice the inches even more.

Let me give you a recent example.

I own a Hyundai Santa Fe (which is still under warranty) that I bought from the Hyundai dealership that is now owned by Stew Hansen. I noticed that right after I filled up my gas tank, the gas gauge didn't change (it still said -- you have about a mile to drive before your tank is bone dry -- why do you put this off for so long?).

I was in a hurry so I didn't do anything about it but the next morning, my check engine light was on.  The combo of alerts had me concerned enough that I called the dealership's service center.

A perfectly polite and friendly service tech heard me out and then told me he couldn't get me in for five days.  I said, "so you are saying it's safe for me to drive for five days with this check engine light on?"

His reply was "Oh no, that light could be on for about 500 different reasons.  I can't promise you it's safe to drive."

I asked again, given that fact, if there wasn't anything they could do to get me in earlier.  He put me on hold so he could ask a supervisor and came back with a no.

My next call was to the guys at Iowa Auto in Urbandale, where I have all the rest of my family cars serviced, and I explained my issue.  The guy I talked to said, "we couldn't fit you in today to fix it, but swing by and I will at least hook it up to the computer to make sure it's safe for you to drive. It won't take more than five minutes and then at least we'll know if it's safe or not."

I swung by and 10 minutes later, I knew I was fine to drive. 

Did the Hyundai service guy do anything wrong? Not really. But he also didn't go out of his way to do anything right. He made it clear that he didn't really care if it was safe for me to drive or not. I'm pretty sure he has the same (if not better) computer gizmo that the Iowa Auto guys used to verify my safety.

Did the Iowa Auto folks offer to fix my truck for free? Nope. Did they offer to squeeze me in that day?  Nope. They simply went the extra inch.

And that's all it took to remind me why I have given them so much money over the years. It was another story I can tell about them when I refer people to them and it's why I wouldn't think of taking my vehicles anywhere else.

That's a lot of mileage from a single inch.


When the survey is worthless (Part 2)

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

How hard can it be to survey customers? It seems like such an easy thing. There are so many DIY websites out there. Ask a few questions, design the questionnaire and send it to the email list. The website will even calculate the responses for you.

DIY websites are great, and for many projects they are just perfect for the job. However, a company that needs information on which to make strategic or tactical business decisions, needs to be  careful. Many do-it-yourself surveys are enamored by the sheer numbers. Send out a survey to all your customers, offer a chance to win a gift card, and you're ecstatic to get 1,000 responses.  It seems like everything worked perfectly.

But it really didn't, and you had better be careful.

Let's say the 1,000 replies is 1 percent of the 100,000 customers to whom you e-mailed the survey. While it seems like 1,000 responses is a lot, the truth is that it's almost certain that those 1,000 customers are not representative of your entire customer population. You'll end up with good data about customers who are really happy, really angry, like to respond to e-mail surveys or who would really like to win a gift card, but it's almost a sure bet that they don't represent the other 99,000 customers as a whole.

Here in Iowa we are inundated with political polls leading up to next year's Iowa caucus and presidential election. On the news you'll see pollsters provide results for how America thinks by surveying a thousand or so people. It seems ludicrous to think that 1,000 people can provide an accurate picture of how a country of 300 million Americans are likely to vote if the election were held today. The truth is, they can. That's not to say that all polls are accurate, but if the survey is conducted properly you can actually get an accurate picture of how things are likely to shake out. But it has to be done properly by expert pollsters asking the right questions of a representative sample of likely voters. And that's where it gets complicated.

I am a firm believer in making strategic business decisions based on data. The data has to be accurate, however, or the decisions I make are worthless. Surveys are a great way to gather data, but be careful how you go about doing it. You may end up with a lot of impressive charts and graphs that have nothing to do with what your most important customers think.

Another reason to network

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Owning a small business comes with plenty of challenges and, yes, even aggravations. And, of course, it has its rewards, too.

I like just about everything that comes with growing my business, from creating the vision and leading employees to winning over new clients and creating a unique customer experience.

It's an experience I'd highly recommend, especially this month. October is National Women's Small Business Month, which has prompted me to look a little closer at the big picture of women in business.

One of the many wonderful things, the past few decades have brought us is the rise of equality. According to The American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, 29 percent of small business are owned by women. That number seemed low to me, but the promising point is that the number of women-owned business has increased by 50 percent since 1997 -- and that trend is likely to stay strong.

That's opened a lot of doors for women and it has boosted local, state and national economies. Millions of women-owned small businesses employ more than 7 million people and generate more than $1 trillion in revenue.

Unfortunately, while we are seeing a huge increase in women-owned businesses, we aren’t seeing progress across-the-board. That's because, according to some data, women-owned businesses make only about 25 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. That’s a much larger gap than the one that exists in the overall labor market, where the median earnings of women were about 83 percent of men's.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Iowa has ranked 49in growth of small businesses owned by women, and ranked 51st in revenue growth by women-owned businesses. Some believe that women are less likely to secure the start-up revenues and ongoing financial backing in our state.

There's a lesson in all those numbers and it comes down to three words: Network, network, network!

There are tremendous opportunities out there for any woman who owns -- or wants to own -- a small business, especially a niche retail store. But effective networking is an essential part of success.

Networking results in a steady flow of opportunities and customers. Opportunity and customers produce revenue. And revenue generates growth. Networking is also a two-way street where successful business owners can -- and should -- lend a helping hand to up-and-coming small business owners.

Networking can make Iowa a better place for the growth of women-owned small businesses. And, that's something we should encourage every month of the year.

Never stop inventing

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.

Throughout my childhood, the fact that I knew the United States was able to get to space via the space shuttle gave me comfort that we were still leading the world in manned space exploration. When the last shuttle landed in 2011, I felt like a part of what defined us as a country came to a close. I like to think of us as innovators, a nation full of individuals unafraid of risk, who set to work on doing impossible things and always seem to accomplish them.

When commencing organizational strategy or design, I think it is essential to keep this type of thinking in mind. There is a commonly used process for working through the steps in modern organizational frameworking or “design thinking”. This process is outlined below and may be helpful to catalyze the spirit of invention summarized above. The process is taught at the Stanford University Institute of Design, and I have used it as a process with many organizations I have worked with:


  1. Empathize. When you are planning, I cannot stress enough the importance of this. In order to achieve any sort of sustainability, you must employ techniques that take into account the stakeholders involved – as many voices as will create positive leverage for what you are trying to accomplish. The time when it was standard practice for the leader of an organization to set the singular vision of the organization with little or no input has passed, in both a generational and a practical sense.
  2. Define. Clarity is key to strategic successes. You must have a well-defined set of problems in order for your team to understand what they are trying to accomplish. Being unclear about your mission or objectives is a sure-fire way to be ineffective in the execution stage.
  3. Ideate. The synthesis of ideas or invention of new mechanisms, processes, or strategies is where solutions start to present themselves. As I have discussed previously, many people have a tendency to be very tactical; this stage is an opportunity to counterpoint this.
  4. Prototype. This is the formative stage of the process. The ideas from step 3 are built into a framework to address the outcomes of step 2. It starts to iterate and aggregate. You are starting to put together different plans, using the best of what you have created so far.
  5. Test. Using the plans put together in stage 4, it is time to bring the work product (so far) back to the users. These key stakeholders then have the opportunity to test, hack, or “break” the work product. Once these tests complete a cycle, you are able to decide what works, what does not, and either continue to prototype or implement the plans on a wider scale.

1280px-Skylab_(SL-4)Why did I start with the space program at the beginning of this blog? Because I see the five steps above as a framework for us to re-establish ourselves as the inventors we once were. Projects such as Skylab, the Shuttle, the Apollo missions - were rooted in our ability as individuals to invent, define, create, test, and achieve.

I have attached a sketch of what was to become Skylab (as well as a photo of the finished product), an example of how design thinking expanded our ability to explore space. The lab was actually built from the pieces of a modified Saturn V rocket, and how that came to be involved a process I imagine to have been very similar to that listed above.

Always remember that the energy within your organization is subject to the approach you take in improving what you do: for yourself, for your clients, and for your employees. The landing of that last shuttle mission may have closed a chapter of our national story, but it is incumbent on each of us to keep this spirit alive in the things we do as part of our organizations each day. Never stop inventing.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011


 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny


Understanding foreign students' worry

 - Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates, Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 

Twelve years ago, in the heat of the summer, when most accounting professionals were on vacation, a young man who had just graduated with a master’s degree in accounting kept calling my office and leaving long messages. For three days in a row the messages were the same. This young man was seeking employment at Community CPA and needed it urgently because his OPT (Optional Practical Training VISA) status was about to expire in 12 months.

In his mind, Community CPA could hire him and so he can stay. This set my employer alarm bells ringing, as I wondered who in his sane mind would hire someone just so he could stay in the United States party all night long? My initial instinct was to ignore him, so he would quit calling.

But I was wrong! This young man showed up at my office unexpectedly on the fourth day. He had driven all the way from Chicago. He delivered the same message he had been leaving the previous three days. He explained how he needed a job so badly so he could obtain sponsorship for his visa, or else he had to return to his native country.

I listened to him for 20 minutes without hearing one single word about how he would help the firm. Yet his transcript was excellent. One thing struck me as I walked him out and wished him good luck in job search. In the hallway, there was a recycling bin that, although not in his way, was crooked. On his way out, the young man took notice of that, stopped, walked towards the bin and squared it to the wall before leaving. Looking at the swinging door and hearing the loud, labored car engine starting sound, I made the decision to hire him against all orthodox sound management advice. I have never regretted that decision.

In 2003, I was in the same situation as this young man. I needed Wells Fargo to sponsor me so badly or else I would have to return to Canada. The company trusted me and sponsored my H1 visa. So this was payback time!

I checked out my worry about him appearing to be self-serving in talking so much about OPT and his visa and his desire to stay in U.S. I would have done the same. It is a real worry and it is a worry that is bigger than what he could personally handle. I thought to myself that the technical side of this young man is demonstrated in his transcript. I remember him saying he wanted to sit for his CPA exams, but did not have money for it. Clearly, he knew his career path.

Above everything, whether he needed the sponsorship or not, the bin incident was testimony of the fact that this young man has a caring spirit. The broken car, the loud engine, the travel all the way from Chicago to Des Moines… were all testimony of a young man with determination and drive, longing for a place to call home.

As an employer, I decided to understand the worry of the foreign students. I would not focus on their expression of urgency for their status. Instead I would work on bringing them home. I believe that providing foreign workers a job is like providing them a home. They will come to work like they are coming home.

Food and leadership

- Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor.  Follow him @brent_willett.

‘Without food…all other components of social justice are meaningless.’ – Dr. Norman Borlaug

Ask yourself whether you believe the United States is the world’s leader in agricultural research and innovation. We have to be, right? For a country that produces 2015.10.14_quote and exports more food than any other, a nation that has engineered historically consequential breakthrough technologies like genetically modified crops, the answer would seem to be obvious. We’re tops when it comes to ag research, yes?


In 2009, China surpassed the United States as the global leader in public spending on agricultural research, and they haven’t looked back. In fact, China is expected to surpass the U.S. in total sovereign R&D funding by 2020. The Chinese achieved this staggering coup by tripling their investment in ag research over the course of five years. Brazil and India have both dramatically increased their spending in the field, and other countries are following suit. Meanwhile, U.S. investments in ag research are down 16 percent in ten years.

This crisis of global leadership on the part of the U.S. was brought into stark relief recently -- if unintentionally -- when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released her policy paper on rural economic development, “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America”.  In it, Clinton advocates ‘strengthen[ing] USDA grant programs'. What’s missing in the paper -- and, more importantly, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign as a whole -- is a broader acknowledgement of enormous importance of federal investment in agricultural research and innovation in America and who’s got a plan to ensure our country can return to the forefront of ag innovation in the coming decades. 

For every federal dollar spent on agricultural research in the U.S., nearly $13 is spent on medical research. The USDA’s research budget is just shy of $2.4 billion. The National Institute for Health’s is more than $30 billion. From 1990 to 2012, NIH research funding rose 132 percent. National Science Foundation funding doubled in the same time period.  In those same two decades, USDA saw an increase of just 21 percent and its R&D budget today amounts to less than 10 percent of National Institutes of Health’s (NIH).

Of course, the work of the NIH and the National Science Foundation is incredibly important and they deserve every resource available. But a global population increase which will see 9.5 billion people on earth by 2050 demands that we produce more food in the next 35 years than we have in the last 10,000 combined. Shouldn’t we be talking about how the U.S. can and must again be the global center of innovation to meet these challenges? 

The Clinton proposal comes on the heels of a report issued by the Charles Valentine Riley 2015.10.14_quote3 Memorial Foundation titled ‘Pursuing a Unifying Message’, which summarizes an April 2015 discussion among 23 leaders of universities others on the need for reversing an alarming lack of federal investment in food, agricultural and natural resources research[1]. The report calls for investments in agricultural research to be ‘escalated tremendously’ at U.S.D.A. and suggests in sobering fashion that ‘[s]ome nonprofit entities…appear to be funding applied and basic science in food and agriculture at more aggressive levels than the nation’s investment [my emphasis].’

Come again?  NGAs alone are outpacing the world’s most advanced economy in terms of funding allocations for food research? What year is this? Next to defense, fewer responsibilities are more fundamental to a nation-state than its investment in and capability to feed its people today and in the future. Guns and butter indeed.

The enormous projected global population faces the threat of an inadequate food supply thanks in part to diminishing land and water resources. The amount of farmland available to feed each global citizen will degrade from more than an acre per person in 1990 to less than a third of an acre by 2050 and fully half of the world’s population is projected to face water scarcity inside 30 years. Half.

Global food supply is further imperiled by climate change; science-based evidence is indisputable that our planet’s climate is changing and climate change has already begun to affect crop outcomes in parts of the world.

We know that at the solution’s nexus of the massive challenges mankind faces in the next 50 years -- namely nutrition, energy and environmental sustainability in the face of a burgeoning global population -- is agricultural innovation. Crucially, agricultural and food innovation has historically and necessarily had a dancing partner in the federal government based on the high capital intensity and prolonged nature of much of the field’s research.

National governments will persist as partners in the field and will contribute to solving a pending food crisis which Iowa State University President Steven Leath has called the ‘greatest challenge in human history’. The question is whether the United States is one of those governments.

Three years ago, the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology recommended increasing federal agricultural research by $700 million. Almost nothing happened. The 2014 Farm Bill offered a pittance, just $200 million [which must be matched 2015.10.14_quote2new by other funds to be released] in increased funding. Talk about cognitive dissonance. 

In May, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recommended that the U.S. double its investment in agricultural and food research in ten years. This is an exceptionally important recommendation to Iowa. Since I’m supposed to be blogging about regional economic development and need to get back in my lane a bit, countless studies suggest that for every dollar spent on agricultural research, more than $20 in economic activity is created.

On October 14-16, the peerless World Food Prize Foundation brought leaders from around the globe to Des Moines to its Borlaug Dialogue to discuss food security and technology and to honor another deserving World Food Prize Laureate in Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of Bangladesh. 

The Dialogue, of course, is held in honor of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the man credited with saving a billion lives thanks to his pioneering research in plant genetics. This celebration of one of the most important men in world history and a model for future change agents compels us each year to consider the future. 

In the face of unnerving statistics about our country’s anemic and in-reverse investment in agricultural research, we must ask: will the next Norman Borlaug change the world from a lab in Iowa, or from one in Beijing?


[1] Iowa State University is a lead issuer of the report along with the Riley Foundation.   Dr. Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of the ISU College of Agriculture, was a key contributor to the report.


Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: / @brent_willett /



The risks of losing touch with reality




What would you do if someone came up to you and asked, am I half way to Chicago yet? 

If you’re like most people, you’d respond “where did you start?”

We must know not only our goal (vision) but also our starting point (current reality).  Without that, you have no idea where you are in your journey to reach your goal.

My husband accidentally burned a 14-inch ring into our carpet.  He was microwaving hay in a paper bag in an attempt to measure the moisture of the hay – an interesting story! DuPont was right – its carpet is fire resistant. Naturally, the carpet needed to be replaced. 

While I was contemplating the flooring options, I put a throw rug over the spot.  What was I doing?  I was disguising reality.  Without the ability to see current reality, I lost the creative drive and energy to fix the problem (my vision) and the damaged rug remained for nearly a year.

We do the same thing every time we pull a piece of furniture in front of a blemish on the wall. We close our eyes to reality. Without being able to clearly see reality, we lose the vision and the goal is never reached. 

If you want to earn an extra $500 per month and are currently broke you must hold both images (reality and vision) clearly in your mind. Seeing yourself with $500 extra per month while simultaneously seeing yourself broke will help you find the creative drive and energy to find the solution. If you borrow money from your credit card in the meantime, you lose sight of reality and never solve your problem.

This is also the reason support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous work (AA). That is a group all focused on a common goal (being free from alcohol). Their program requires its members to keep two images clearly in their minds. Reality, I AM an alcoholic; and Vision, I choose a healthy lifestyle for myself.

Similarly, leaders who set ambitious goals for the future but fail to assign metrics (current reality versus desired goal) are destined to have their goals remain in the future.

When has losing touch with reality happened in your life? What excuses have you been using to explain why you can’t achieve your goals?

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

For more professional development content: Rowena_Outside



Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Changing: seasons, business and content

- Alex Karei, marketing director, Webspec Design

Looking out my window, I can tell that the seasonal change is truly upon us. The colors are changing, leaves are falling and a fall chill has settled into the air. As the seasons change, we change as well. Sandals are exchanged for boots, bright decorations are exchanged for harvest themes and iced coffees are no longer as tempting as a cozy warm beverage (possibly, with some pumpkin).

Autumn leaves

In fact, we change as individuals with each season we encounter; and just like the seasons, our businesses are constantly in a state of change. Hopefully, the change comes in the form of growth or improvement, but regardless of what’s happening, a business is hardly stagnant.

That leads me to today’s point. As this change occurs, are you updating your website to reflect it?

At Webspec, this is an issue we run into a lot with clients. We build our clients their new, dream website – and they’re thrilled. But then, a month or so after launch, they get … busy. They’ve got a lot to do. The new website was fun, but they’ll update it later. Maybe next week. Well, maybe next month. That month turns to two months, turns to three – you get the picture. 

Just like you would never neglect pulling out your winter jacket, you shouldn’t neglect proper maintenance on your website. Depending on how many resources you have to work with, that can be a lot of work! However, there are some small things you can do to get yourself started on the right foot.

3 quick tips to maintain your company’s web presence:

  1. Go to your website at least once a week.
    This tip may be obvious to some, but it’s easy to overlook. Make sure that you visit your site each week and click around some, if not all, of your pages. Is everything looking like it should? Are page load times appropriate? This will take you less than five minutes, but is a good benchmark for noting anything out of the ordinary that you should report to your webmaster or add to your immediate to-do list.
  2. Make a schedule for reviewing content.
    Especially if you don’t have features (such as a blog) that you’re updating on a weekly basis, it’s a good idea to make a schedule for when you’ll review your website for any content updates. I would suggest making a monthly appointment on your calendar to do a thorough read-through, updating any content that may need to be changed. For example, updates on new staff members, current clients or upcoming events might have been missed when they happened, but your monthly review should catch these small mistakes.
  3. Give your website an “owner”.
    Some companies may feel it’s easiest to let multiple people update their website, and in a lot of cases, that’s probably true. However, if you put one person in charge of keeping track of what updates need to be done, you’re more likely to ensure things happen. The person in charge can plan to make updates themselves, or assign them out, but in general, they are responsible for keeping everyone on-track and your website looking as good as it should.

At the end of the day, remember that making small, ongoing updates will pay off when you don’t have to make a massive overhaul later. Plus, potential clients or customers will get the best, most accurate representation of your company or organization. Who doesn’t want that?

When's the last time you updated your website? 



Yellow is the new blue


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

I once taught a graduate class in marketing comprised of working adults who were somewhat older and wiser than typical college-aged students. There was one exception –– a 22-year-old who showed up to class at least 15 minutes late, week after week.

Jim (not his real name) always quietly came into class, sat at his regular seat, and attempted to determine what he missed, occasionally disrupting one of the students sitting next to him by asking questions.

We reached a point in the semester when it was time to discuss the psychological effects of product attributes and the power of influence. To illustrate the concepts, I brought in a large yellow boom box, sat it on the table in front, and explained to the class how the color blue affects perception, mood, and purchase choice. I explained that I wanted to use an entertainment-related product, but the only one I had available to show as a visible prop was in yellow. I asked the class to “pretend” and “imagine” the radio was actually blue. I told them the color was critical to our discussion and implored them to always refer to the radio as blue. They all agreed.

Our discussion began and everyone played along. Eventually, Jim arrived, late as usual. He sat down and began listening to the discussion. “Will the radio’s blue color have a positive net effect on sales?” “What shade of blue are people most drawn to for outside activities?” “What if the radio was a darker shade of blue?” I watched the expression on Jim’s face change as it quickly became apparent that what people were saying didn’t jive with the visual object before him.

Jim whispered to the student on his left. The student looked at him and said, “Shhhhh.” Jim looked puzzled, squinting his eyes at times. For a while he even looked angry, but that ultimately turned to concern. After an hour and a half of discussion, the class concluded.

The professor whose class was scheduled for the room next was standing in the doorway talking with a student. She knew what I was doing and was prepared for it. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Jim get out of his seat, walk over to the professor, and ask her about the color of the radio, to which she replied, “Blue.” Jim then walked over to me and asked, “Professor Paustian, if somebody is colorblind, how do they know?” I responded, “Why do you ask, Jim?” “Well, I’m not sure if I’m seeing blues correctly.”

I just smiled and explained to Jim how he was set-up as a result of being late to class. After we both laughed a bit, I told him I was going to use this as a teaching point related to the power of influence at the beginning of the next class. Jim was never late to class again.

Whether Jim truly believed he was colorblind or not, at the very least, he began doubting himself and what his eyes were telling him. People are constantly influenced by others, whether it’s advertisers trying to mold your views on a particular brand or product, a politician trying to gain your support, or just a friend or co-worker trying to sway you to their point of view. And unlike the conscious “Red Pill–Blue Pill” decisions we make (see my last post Red Pill or Blue?), these influencers frequently guide our decision-making without us even realizing it.

Sometimes it’s easier to just accept something as fact, rather than taking the time to verify its authenticity. And while I acknowledge there are some things we have to just accept on faith as there is no way to tangibly verify its truth –– such as a belief in God ––  the act of researching, studying and learning is an “opportunity” to build our mental databases. This ultimately provides more material from which we can make connections and become more creative. Also, influence is a two-way street. The more you know and learn, the more you will be able to influence and lead others toward desired outcomes and higher levels of success.

Practice Challenge:  Do you ever think about what you simply accept as truth or fact? Do you do any research to verify your beliefs? The more you dig into the basis of things, the more you will learn, which provides opportunities to make more connections resulting in greater creativity. How are you influencing others? Since creative thinking has been identified by leaders at all levels as one of the most important traits a worker can have, how are you influencing those around you to become better, more creative thinkers?

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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



Remote access can sink your business

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Providing the ability to access critical systems and data via remote locations is critical for most organizations today. Allowing employees to work from home if they have sick kids, employing remote office workers to attract and retain top talent, and enabling disaster recovery and business continuity procedures are all valid reasons that companies implement remote access.

If not implemented properly however, unauthorized users are just as likely to gain access to the crown jewels as your employees. One of the easiest ways to hack an organization is through the remote access provided to employees. 

Windows 2003 is still frequently used to provide remote access to employees, students, contractors and vendors. This operating system was released 12 years ago. Consider the following things that happened in 2003. Apple iTunes was released with just 200,000 songs. The movie "Finding Nemo" was released. LeBron James was an NBA rookie. And the first iPhone was still four years away.

Kind of makes 2003 seem like an eternity ago, doesn’t it? From a technology perspective it might as well have been a century ago.

Often we implement technology solutions which seem to continue to work well and serve their purpose. Because they are working, we leave them alone. What we fail to do is continually review the risks to our business as the technology matures and the threats evolve. Remote access is a perfect example.

It is not just Windows 2003 Terminal Services that are out of date. Firewalls, VPN concentrators, Citrix Remote Desktops, and other tools have had vulnerabilities discovered which need to be remediated. Not using two-factor authentication or not using application virtualization and proxies to deliver applications remotely are areas where organizations are assuming too much risk as well.

Two of the recent data breaches Integrity has investigated started with attacks against remote access. Once the hacker was able to control the remote access system, they had the opportunity to gain access to vital systems and data at the victim organization.  Because this was expected behavior and the systems weren’t closely monitored, the hacking activity went unnoticed for months.

Systems that haven’t been patched, or where the architecture hasn’t been updated to address the evolving threats of today’s world, are most at risk. The security event logs from these remote access systems must also be closely monitored to identify attacks and provide appropriate response times.

The risks to your business and customers from remote access is great. This is one area of technology that requires constant risk assessment, technology updates or upgrades, and thorough security monitoring. Protecting against hackers is often hard work, but sometimes it’s simply a matter reviewing what’s already being done to ensure those efforts are still yielding the results you expect.

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


Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Social media bandwagons…aka the worst things on the planet

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

If you spend anytime at all on Facebook, you’ve spotted a friend or two posting this little gem.

Facebook Blog Image

When you saw it you had two choices. Copy and paste as instructed, or assume it was a hoax and keep scrolling. I won’t judge you (too much) if you chose the first option of copying, pasting and posting. It happens to the best of us at some point. About 24 hours after you started seeing the post everywhere on your Facebook, then you probably started to see shared articles proving this was only a hoax.

Then there was this really awkward time when you’d see one person posting the privacy status then the next person on your feed posted the “it’s all a hoax” article. It was probably a confusing time for you. This was not the first privacy hoax to hit Facebook, and it likely won’t be the last.

In these types of situations, it’s probably best to go straight to the source, literally. Facebook is kind enough to offer up their terms here:

When it comes to your photos, here’s the truth about where Facebook stands: For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Before you get too upset that Facebook technically owns anything you put on it, it’s important to remember that you agreed to the terms when you signed up for an account. Further, posting something on your Facebook profile does not and will likely never make it an official legal anything. That’s like thinking Google’s Facebook page can answer your questions. It’s important to remember you are choosing to put your own photos on a platform that you pay nothing for. When you sign up for a social media platform, you are agreeing to be part of the conversation and that agreement means accepting their terms. You get what you pay for, and in this case you are paying nothing so it’s a bit presumptuous to expect privacy.

If you’re not comfortable with this, the best option would be to stop putting images and personal information on Facebook. No matter where you stand though, the next time you see a Facebook “statement” running rampant through your newsfeed. Be on the “in the know” team, do some research, and don’t repost it. 

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

Ask questions about your property taxes

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

With fall property tax payments due last month, property taxes are top-of-mind for many individuals and businesses.   

Whether you write a check directly, or whether it is paid by the bank or mortgage lender, every property owner or mortgagee receives a paper copy of their property tax statement. It's really important to take a careful look at the back side of the tax statement.

There (and only there, by the way, as it isn't available online) you will find the only source of information that the average taxpayer can use to hold their local governments accountable for the property taxes being levied. You can see not only which government authorities are levying what share of the total property taxes you pay, but also which ones are increasing or decreasing, and by how much, compared with last year. 

Often people are surprised when they look at the information. You may not realize you are supporting not only your city, county and school district, but also Broadlawns Medical Center, Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) and the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).

For instance, 8.6 percent of the property taxes my husband and I pay on our home are going to Broadlawns. The single largest percentage increase in our property taxes (and this would be the case for most everyone in Polk County) is for DART, a whopping 10.4 percent!  The taxes we pay to the city and school district (West Des Moines in both cases) are actually going down compared with last year. This, too, is good to know. 

Each year the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa prepares tax and spending summaries for local governments in central Iowa. This information allows taxpayers to see how their city and school district compare with others, and how they compare with the prior year.

FY 2015-16 City and School Property Tax Rates

Fiscal Year 2015 City Budget Comparisons

These comparisons do not explain why there are differences, so we would caution against drawing any conclusions based on this data alone. However, along with the information on your property tax statement, it may certainly prompt questions that are good entry points for conversation with your elected officials.

Make this be the year you become an active questioner!


- Gretchen Tegeler



Pick your battles

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

Everyone is faced with challenges at work. They can range from a disagreement with co-workers or having to deal with people who disagree with you on any given subject. It does not always matter who the battle is with. It’s more important which battles you choose to take on and how you fight them that matters. Work-argument-openanswer

The first thing you should ask yourself is how important is this issue? Sometimes we have the tendency to fly off the handle and get upset after an altercation. The best thing is to take a day or two to process the situation and then decide how you want to proceed.

If you have decided the situation is important enough, and you don’t want to leave it alone, the next step is deciding if you have the authority to bring the issue forward. If not, you need to find someone you can discuss the issue with and if they will help you bring it to light.

Another important thing to remember in the midst of a difficult situation is to avoid getting overly consumed with the negatives and instead to work toward a solution.

That brings me back to when I was growing up and getting advice from my parents. In a house of five children we often heard “Don’t tattle. I don’t want to hear a problem I want to hear a solution.”

This was an important life lesson. My parents were teaching us to work through situations where we could find logical answers to problems on our own. That is often times what your boss is challenging you to do. Bringing up a problem is not so difficult if it is followed up by a workable solution.

We will always face conflicts in our professional life. It’s how you deal with them that will set you apart.  171A6085

-Meridith Freese

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese


Importance of succession planning for privately held businesses

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

Many business owners do not properly plan for their business in the event of their retirement, disability, or death. Reasons vary, but they are often as simple as “It won’t happen to me” or “I will get around it eventually.”

In fact, this is one reason why only a third of family businesses successfully make a transition to the second generation.

Key decisions must be made about the future direction of the business. Those decisions include how ownership will be transferred, if the business should remain in the family or be sold to a third party, and how estate taxes can be minimized. Not only will this have an impact on your heirs' financial future but, perhaps more importantly, having a plan in place gives your loyal employees peace of mind. 

Midwest Growth Partners has seen the importance of succession planning first-hand in central Iowa businesses. We purchased a company in Adel last year from the estate of the founder. 

His adult daughters – who lived outside Iowa – inherited the company upon the unfortunate death of their father. While it was a wonderful asset for the daughters, they had no intention of being involved in day-to-day operations and were faced with the burden of figuring out what to do with the business and the future of its employees. They also had to navigate the complicated and time-consuming process of selling a business.

Ultimately this story had a happy ending and Midwest Growth Partners was able to partner with the company president and purchase the business. Unfortunatel, many stories end with company assets being liquidated and employees losing their jobs.

The sooner you can put a plan in place, the better. It is important to include those closest to you in the planning process, which can give insight into which family members would be willing to be a successor to the business. This can help with identifying those who need to be trained to carry on your business the way you want.

Attorneys, accountants, and others can also help you through the process. The end result of having a succession plan can smooth the ownership transition and make it easier for everyone involved. This will help ensure that the business you have been working to grow will have a lasting legacy after you are gone (which hopefully will not be for a long time!).

Planning a party? Introducing Amy Nebons

- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC. Amy Nebons

Hi, I’m Amy, an event planner in Des Moines and I am here to be your go-to resource for event planning tips, tricks, money-savers, venues, caterers, decorators…and so on.

A little about me:  I am an East Coast girl turned Midwest gal with a cultivated design eye and innate desire to create cool and compelling experiences for others. With a background in theater production and interior design, I possess a molecular make-up that is equal parts sensitive to general logistics and details and equal parts out-of-the box creativity and willingness to dream big. My blog will be structured to reflect that.

Maybe you're a professional event planner yourself, or are just in charge of pulling together and managing events at your company. Either way, this blog should provide you ideas and strategies for success.

You can expect me to rotate between four different categories. The goal is to provide meaningful and relevant content as well as variety to keep things interesting. Key topics will be:

Educate:  This category will either highlight a local event industry professional or business; highlight a new technology or trend; or simply highlight a successful event case study.

Create & Impact:  This category will demonstrate different ways an event can stand out to attendees -- highlighting different engagement tactics and uses of creativity and originality. This category will also demonstrate how event planners can positively impact their attendees to leave lasting impressions. 

What would I do?  This category will demonstrate real-life design problems in need of solutions and I will share what my approach would be to the problem.

Logistics:  This category will share money-saving ideas, tips and tricks and problem solves for unexpected things that might arise during an event. 

Finally, I want to hear from YOU!  What burning questions do you have about planning events? I would like this to be a resource for you. So please chime in with questions, problems, general inquiries or simply to say hi!  I love making new friends and would enjoy the chance to grab some coffee and learn about you!  Please contact me anytime, my email is always open! 

I look forward to sharing the exciting world of event planning with you!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website  

Inbox out of control?

- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.  Stressed man at desk

I am not sure about you, but when I have email that I have not processed in a timely manner it feels like a huge weight around my neck. Unprocessed email causes me stress, anxiety and sleepless nights worrying about what is in my inbox that I am not attending to. Does this sound familiar?

What is email? Webster defines this as “messages that are sent electronically from one computer to another.” It sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it?  Even kind of fun -- getting and receiving... just like Christmas.  Ha! 

Nothing shatters our illusion of balancing work and life quite like the state of panic that comes with feeling that you are buried under a pile of email messages. Its a stress-producing product of our modern age.  

The problem with email is that too many people are trying to communicate with you since it is such a cheap and easy way to do so. This creates mental clutter in your mind and physical clutter on your computer desktop. This clutter is a bunch of loose ends -- each email is a loose end hanging out there in cyberspace waiting for your response.

And, if we are honest about it, we contribute to piles of email in other people’s inboxes, too. All of these little innocent-looking pieces of clutter create physical and mental energy drains as your attention bounces around from one person’s communication and train of thought to the next. Too many email messages can steal time away from your other projects and can create chaos, both in your inbox and in your mind.

There are a few tricks to tame your inbox. Here are seven of my favorites: 

  • Email is not a substitute for actually meeting with people. Schedule a meeting!
  • Respond today to the emails you received in your inbox yesterday (not immediately as they enter your inbox). Decide that you will not respond to emails until the following day. This will slow down your temptation to watch your inbox.  This also gives you a bit of breathing space and allows you to focus your attention on project completion rather than answering email. Don't worry, most people are not critical of one-day delays in email replies. If something needs to be handled quickly, the person who needs it should call you. 
  • When you respond the next day, reply to people quickly but respectfully by: Reading the email and Responding with;
  1. A greeting
  2. Less than five sentences; Three lines are optimal
  3. A cordial closing
  4. Finish by placing the new item on your calendar or a new “to do” in your task management system. 
  • Use only one topic in the subject line. When the topic changes, change the subject line, too. Send separate emails for separate topics or separate questions. Your emails will feel less overwhelming to the recipient and will be easier to search later. 
  • One of my favorite tricks is to indicate the action requested in the subject line.  This will help the email recipient understand what you need before they read the email. For example, a subject line of “Conference Meeting- question” lets the reader know that there is a question about the conference meeting that you will be holding.  This simple step really helps the other person act upon what you are asking for. 
  • Use your “Out of Office” reply tool so people do not expect responses while you are away. In my auto-responder I thank the sender for their inquiry; tell them how long I will be gone; and suggest that if they need immediate assistance that they can reach me on my mobile phone number, which I include. This works well for me and the people who are trying to reach me.  
  • My very favorite tip is to NOT respond if I am only on the CC line. I avoid jamming up anyone else’s email inbox by NOT selecting “Reply All”. Does everyone on the list really need to see that you’ve said “Thanks” to the sender?  

Taming your inbox and getting dangling issues under control is crucial for your sense of accomplishment, well-being and stress reduction.

Maybe you have a favorite email tip or trick that you would like to share with IowaBiz readers? Just place it in the comment section below. Cheers to working toward a zero inbox and more free time for fun. 


Feel the fear - and lead anyway

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

At my high school graduation, I did something a bit unexpected. One of a handful of student speakers, I walked up to the podium, took a deep breath, and proceeded to sing a peppy little song I had written for my class. I am not a singer (not for lack of trying!) and who knows what possessed me to stand in the arena in Duluth, Minnesota and sing to my class. But I did.

Jeffers - Feel The FearAfterwards, people commented on my courage. (Alas, no one mentioned my singing prowess, but I digress.) “How on earth could you stand up there and sing your graduation speech?” they asked. “That took guts!”

But here’s the thing: Sometimes I think I’m the biggest chicken to ever walk the face of the earth.

I can stare at an email endlessly, stomach flipping the entire time, as I contemplate whether or not to click “send.” I can create public speaking scenarios far worse than simply tripping onstage. You think political debates seem endless? You should hear the ones I have in my head sometimes!

I remember being told we must be fearless if we are to live to our full potential. I heard it. I admired as I perceived it in others. Yet I’d still feel my cheeks heating up and my heart racing when I encountered a new or uncertain situation.

Then, like a gift, I read Dr. Susan Jeffers’ classic, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. I learned that everyone feels fear, and that we don’t need to fight or ignore our fear but rather learn to move forward with it. Just as the title suggests, we need to know how to acknowledge our fear and still take action.

This book prompted a turning point for me, and became one of the first books I had the ASPIRE Success Club read, too. Years later, we still bring up concepts we learned from this powerful resource. A few takeaways:

  • Embrace your inner Pollyanna. “It’s reported that over 90% of what we worry about never happens,” Jeffers wrote. “That means our negative worries have about a 10% chance of being correct. If this is so, isn’t it possible that being positive is more realistic than being negative?” In brief: Think positive!
  • Take responsibility. Staying in victim mode or living in blame serves no useful purpose. Of Susan’s seven definitions of taking responsibility, the one that resonated most with me: “Taking responsibility means figuring out what you want in life and acting on it. Set your goals – then go out and work toward them.”
  • Action is the key to success and the antidote to fear. I once had a client who understandably worried about her husband deployed in a war-torn country. She realized that while her worry did nothing, she could do a lot. She organized a group that made care packages, she got involved politically, and much more. Taking action changed her entire demeanor and outlook.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

Leadership can incite all kinds of fear – so much so that many shy away from a leadership role altogether. Whether you fear uncertainty, rejection, messing up, or the 80,000 other potential concerns that appear in any given situation, try this:

Check in with your values. Decide what’s best for the greater good. If you’re singing your high school graduation speech, perhaps consider voice coaching.

Then, feel the fear…and do it anyway.

What helps you move forward even in the midst of fear? Share your ideas below.

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders and executives to successfully do what they love – and to help their employees do the same! Learn more at, on Facebook at, and via Twitter at

Jeffers, Susan. © 1987. Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. New York: Fawcett Books. 

36,001 steps in the right direction

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

Earlier this month, Iowa State University reported another record year; 36,001 students are enrolled for the 2015-16 academic year. Of the six primary colleges on campus, only one reported a dip in undergraduate enrollment at all (and that dip was a total Beardshear_Hallof four students). The growth in enrollments at Iowa’s largest university has been dramatic -- it’s up by more than 7,300 students since 2010, a more than 20 percent increase in five years. 

The huge increase turns on its head a national trend which has seen a -3.5percent erosion of enrollments at ‘degree granting post-secondary institutions’ [which includes both four- and two-year institutions] in the same time period. 

Depending upon the research that you subscribe to, there are between 15-20 generally recognized ‘innovation clusters’ in the U.S. Harvard economist Michael Porter is perhaps most regularly credited with researching and memorializing the cluster model, and his US Cluster Mapping Project is one of the richest- and easiest to use- geographic cluster-based economic databases publicly available today. Innovation clusters are self-sustaining economic ecosystems with three key ingredients:

  1. A strong concentration of companies and capital oriented around an industry, or, “geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field” [Porter, 1998];
  2. A robust pipeline of qualified human capital supplying those institutions with talent to feed innovation and production; and
  3. At least on Tier I research institution that is a global leader in the field referenced in item #1.   

Silicon Valley is the country’s and the world’s best-known innovation cluster.  The North Carolina Research Triangle is another brand-name cluster.  But other lesser-known clusters are functioning at a high level in the Twin Cities [medical devices], Kansas City [animal sciences], New York/New Jersey [pharmaceuticals]- this list goes on. 

Yet- and this is the very premise of the Cultivation Corridor- no single region has firmly established itself as the US’ preferred destination for capital [see #1], talent [#2] and research [#3] in the field of agbioscience and agtechnology. And because of the unmatched research and instructional capabilities in the field offered at Iowa State as well as the innovation infrastructure represented by a rapidly-expanding ISU Research Park, we are positioned as well as any presumable competition to confirm Central Iowa as the agbio and agtech capital of the world. We believe strongly that as the university’s capabilities grow, so grows the competitiveness of Iowa communities seeking ag-based investment and talent.

Setting aside the cluster model and research institution fitness as one of its core asset drivers for a moment, the health and growth of a land grant institution for the economic region in which it sits is of vital importance to overall economic growth prospects for both its companies and economic institutions and for its residents. According to Brookings, individuals between the ages of 30 and 50 who did not attend college could expect to earn less than $30,000 per year. Those whose highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor’s degree earned just under $60,000 per year [an advanced degree-holder can expect over $80,000].

Too, the availability of quality two-year post-secondary education is of vital importance to a region’s economic institutions and its residents. Over a lifetime, the earnings of an associate’s degree recipient are roughly $170,000 higher than those of a high school graduate. [Brookings]

Prevailing discourse for at least the last 25 years stresses the university's place as a principal player in a global system increasingly driven by information, knowledge and ideas. We have said before that there will be winners and there will be losers in the battle for capital, talent and research in the burgeoning agricultural innovation era ahead. To possess one of the world’s finest schools in the field of agricultural bioscience and technology in our region -- and to witness that university grow in the past five years at a pace 11 times inflation and fully half as rapidly as the S&P 500 during one of the strongest bull markets in history -

Continue reading "36,001 steps in the right direction" »

Lessons from the campaign trail

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place.

It's the season for politics -- at least in Iowa -- and while some people would rather not discuss it, politicians and retailers do have a lot in common.

Being a candidate you have to know who you are and what you stand for. You have to be clear and concise with your message and where you stand on issues. Just like a candidate, a retailer must know what their business is and communicate -- loud and clear -- why it is relevant and valuable to customers. Your messaging and branding must be sharp to cut through the noise and clutter of the competition.

Just as a candidate must listen to their voters, a retailer must listen to his or her customers. Great feedback isn’t always positive feedback. Be sure to take in all feedback to learn what you can do to make your campaign better.

Candidates, even when they're unopposed, never win 100 percent of the vote. Specialty retailers need to remember that they shouldn't try to win 100 percent of shoppers, either. That's because your business loses what makes it special when you try to be all things to all people -- and that's a sure prescription for failure. Just as smart candidates know they just have to win 50 percent plus one vote, smart specialty retailers recognize that they just have to win the customers in their target audience. And, then they have to remember to work hard every day to keep those customers happy.

Once you identify your brand, message, and target audience, you will have to come up with a plan and strategies on how to execute your plan. Any specialty retailer's plan should include being the best in their niche. But you must be specific about the strategies and activities that will allow you to complete your plan. Your plan must also be adaptable to changing landscape. A good and adaptable plan will allow your business to come through down times strong and steady.

Finally, successful political campaigns know how to manage their resources well. Make sure your business has the necessary financial foundation and realistic budgeting to support it. Because you’re in it for the long haul and you have to make the right decisions day in and day out to be there when it counts. 

Watch out for your leadership biases

Dog and cat

The world is divided into two different types of people – dog people and cat people.

My husband and I share our farm with three horses, two dogs, a mule and 30 cats.  Yes, you read that right – 30 cats. I’m a cat person.

It wasn’t always that way. My two brothers and I begged our parents for a dog when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was our pleas or if our parents decided that a canine would be a welcome addition to the family, but at some point they relented and King joined our family. He came from the dog pound (I don’t remember it being called a shelter at that time). My brother Kevin named King. Since Kevin’s name started with a ‘K’, the dog’s name must as well. Interestingly, many years later, he named his daughter Kourtney. Perhaps for the same reason?! I digress. King became an instant member of the family and I was a “dog person”. I didn’t like cats. I had a bias that favored dogs – not cats.

The bias was understandable. I didn’t know any cats. All my friends had dogs. Cats, it seemed to me, didn’t become close members of the family. They were loners. The only thing I knew about cats was they chased mice. 

That would be a factoid that would become important to me years later.

I love country living – except for the mice. I had heard if you saw one mouse, there were 50. I don’t know if that is statistically correct but I did know we had more mice than I was comfortably cohabitating with. I recalled the knowledge from my youth – cats chase mice.  It turned out to be true. 

Our first three cats were barn cats – to keep the barn mouse-free. And they did. People advised me not to feed the cats or they wouldn’t hunt. It didn’t take long to realize that cats, even well fed ones, hunt mice. It’s what they do. If I fed them, they hunted closer to home. I liked that. And I liked the cats. The more I got to know them, the more I liked them. 

We challenge biases by expanding our knowledge and experiences

Biases and stereotypes are normal. We all have them. We hold biases about people, about careers, about our business competition, about industries, about products, about beliefs…about almost everything. As we expand our own knowledge and broaden our experiences, we naturally challenge our biases and stereotypes – usually with good outcomes.

As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is to ensure that our biases, and those of the people entrusted to our care, either consciously or unconsciously held, don’t prevent us from reaching our potential.

The more we are open to learning about a wide range of things, people and experiences, especially those unfamiliar to us, the more our leadership potential has a chance to fully mature and our own lives are enriched. 

What biases do you hold? Are they holding you back as a leader?

What biases hold sway in your team? In your department? In your organization? What can you do to positively challenge those biases and stereotypes?

Excuse me while I get some tuna for my house cat who is chirping at me.

Chasing the Tax Fairy

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

There is no Tax Fairy, but there are many believers. 

Tax-fairyTaxes hurt. It's human nature to want to believe in something that stops the pain. That's why clients regularly ask their tax pros why they haven't recommended some foolproof plan discovered at the gym, or on the golf course, or on Reddit. They really want their tax pros to introduce them to the Tax Fairy.

Belief in the Tax Fairy takes many forms. Let's cover some commonly-told Tax Fairy tales.

The ESOP Tax Fairy. Employee Stock Ownership Plans, done properly, can be a useful tax tool, though one with compliance risks and costs. But it isn't a Tax Fairy. You can't use an ESOP to hide all of the income of a profitable family-owned business and still keep the business all in the family. You certainly can't use an ESOP if for a business that isn't a corporation. You can't keep your personal investments in an ESOP. Nor can you keep your house, your cars, your snowmobiles, or your vacation cottage in an ESOP. If you are doing any of these things, you're looking for the Tax Fairy in the wrong place, and you need to talk to a specialist practitioner right away.

The Home-based Business Tax Fairy. We've all seen versions of this. My favorite was one from the 1990s based on selling golf equipment. It was touted as making all of one's golf costs -- tee times, new clubs, trips to nice courses in warm places -- tax deductible. Because you were in the golf business! It didn't much matter whether you made a profit from selling golf things, because the tax savings from your golf deductions made it pay.

In real life the tax authorities don't look at it that way. The tax law requires you to have an objective of making money before taxes. Deductions that look too much like fun come in for special scrutiny. If the tax man determines you aren't really in it for a pre-tax profit, there go your deductions, and here come penalties and interest. Whether it's golf gear, vitamins, or household cleaners, Uncle Sam doesn't want your tax refund to be your business plan. 

The Pennies-on-the-Dollar Tax Fairy. This particular Tax Fairy cult singlehandedly supported dozens of talk-radio shows and late-night TV reruns in the past decade. Celebrity tax practitioners promised to reduce your IRS debt to "pennies on the dollar." But despite the ads' promises and the up-front payments made by desperate or deluded tax debtors, the Tax Fairy never showed up. Big settlement firms like TaxMasters, Roni Deutch, and J.K. Harris collapsed in bankruptcy, and the only "pennies-on-the-dollar" settlements many customers received were their bankruptcy recoveries on fees paid to the settlement outfits. In real life, "pennies-on-the-dollar" settlements happen, but only when you convince the IRS that you really are too broke to pay what you owe. Whatever it accomplishes in reducing your tax debt, poverty has compelling non-tax drawbacks.

The "Classic 105" Tax Fairy. This apparition of the fairy emerges from the mists of fringe benefit law. Hank Stern of Insureblog saw it described this way:

My employer claims that signing up for this "105 Classic Plan" will allow me to make 30%+ of my income tax free. The jist [sic] of it is that they will take $560 per (bi-weekly) pay period out of my check, somehow "make it tax free" and refund most of it back through some vague "loan" that I apparently don't have to pay back.

This will reduce my income taxes pretty massively... but not only that, the company making my money untaxable claims it will pay 75% of all my out of pocket medical expenses up to $12,000

So: some employer really believes you can call part of what you pay to your employees a "loan," with no requirement to repay it, and therefore make it tax-free to the employee, while still getting a deduction? Rather than getting into the (many) technical reasons this doesn't work, let's just use common sense. The income tax has been around since 1913, and it funds the majority of a trillion-dollar federal budget. Do you think it would still work after over 100 years if it were this easy to avoid? Do you think they would wait 102 years to fix a loophole this big?

The Tax Fairy appears in multitudes of ways. We won't even talk about the VEBA Tax Fairy, The offshore employee leasing Tax Fairy, or the great Turn-of-the-century Tax Fairy Mania. But most versions of the Tax Fairy myth contain a few common elements. They promise an easy way to make your taxes go away. They tell you that your regular tax pro is a milquetoast or a charlatan for not embracing their wonderful tax-saving qualities. And if they ever get looked at by the IRS, they all fail.

If someone tells you that they have found the Tax Fairy, check with your tax pro. In the long run, it's a better bet than the Tax Fairy.

Are you procrastinating?

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

While we’re striving to maintain a healthy work/life balance, it seems there just isn’t enough time to get everything on the “to do” list done. Yours may look something like this:

  • Finish the living room project.
  • Conduct training for employees.
  • Lose those last 5 pounds.
  • Address concerns about outdated office equipment.
  • Talk to employees about improving time management.
  • Pay that bill.
  • Schedule a physical.

The list can feel a mile long some days, and it can be challenging to find the motivation to complete teach item on a timeline basis. Each task left undone may not evolve into a crisis, but eventually you’ll be faced with a professional, personal or medical situation that could have been avoided with a little more attention . . . and less procrastination.

I believe the key to success is maintaining focus to accomplish the most important tasks first. Gretchen Rubin, author of three recent books on habits and happiness, offers a few quick tips to “stop procrastinating, and get yourself to do something you don’t want to do.”

  • Ask for help.
  • Remember that most decisions don’t require extensive research.
  • Take a baby step. 
  • Suffer for 15 minutes. (“You can do anything for 15 minutes,” Rubin reasons.)
  • Do it first thing in the morning.
  • Protect yourself from interruption.
  • Remember that work itself can sometimes be a subtle, sneaky way of distracting yourself from another task needing done!

With only a couple of months left in the calendar year, revisit your “to-do list,” open your calendar and schedule time to get things done. You’ll enjoy increased productivity and have more time to focus on your personal and professional goals, resulting in a successful end of 2015.

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

 - Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Cyber-security-monthWould you like to know the single biggest weapon for cybersecurity? Awareness.

Think about all the other risks we face and the huge awareness campaigns designed to educate us on how to protect ourselves or others. We have Smokey the Bear for forest fire safety, Stop, Drop and Roll for fire safety, McGruff the Crime Dog, pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness. The list goes on and on.

Creating awareness for the risks that affect us is one of the best things we can do to help minimize the threats. That’s why Integrity is an official champion of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. This October, as we have in years past, Integrity will be working hard to bring cybersecurity awareness to people of all ages, in all walks of life.

Educating people about cybersecurity threats is foundational to creating a safer computing environment for everyone. What many don’t fully comprehend or at least consider is that our computing systems all coexist in one large digital ecosystem. What one person does at home or at school has profound impacts on what happens to a computer in a corporate data center or embedded in a medical device in a hospital. 

Cybersecurity isn’t just a work issue. It’s a life issue. Identity theft, fraud and financial crime can make life generally unpleasant for those affected by it. We can only protect the digital ecosystem if we begin to educate people about the risk they face wherever computers are used. Protecting passwords and having good cybersecurity practices at work are worthless if those same precautions are not used at home. Many people who use computers at work also have access to work resources from their home computers. However, if those employees don’t carry over the same information security best practices from work to home, those home computers are not protected and expose company data.  It also exposes personal bank or retirement accounts, Social Security numbers of dependent children and other critical information.

Think of cybersecurity best practices like you would general hygiene. Washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth when you cough protects not only you but others as well. Using good information security best practices whether you are using a home, work or public computer will protect you and everyone else as well. If we all get better at cybersecurity, the world becomes a safer computing environment for us all.

Integrity, along with Ankeny's Kirkendall Public Library, will be hosting the following events to celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness Month. We’d love for you to join us.

Topic: Internet Safety and Security Tips for Adults

Focus: Email Phishing, Online Banking and Identity Theft

Date: October 19, 2015
Location: Kirkendall Public Library - Ankeny, Iowa
Time: 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Age: Adult Program, 18 years + 

Topic: Social Media and Online Security for Students plus a discussion with high school students on cybersecurity career opportunities

Focus: Social Media (Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), Limiting Access, GPS, Truths about Deleting Items Online and Cybersecurity Career Opportunities

Date: October 19, 2015
Location: Kirkendall Public Library - Ankeny, Iowa


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


Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Another corner of the internet: Meet Alex Karei

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

I remember my first piece of the internet – it was a review website called “Alley Catz Reviews” that I painstakingly built in Microsoft Word during my middle school years.

I carefully exported each page and uploaded them to my school’s server, beaming with pride at reviews of my favorite boy band CDs, chick flick movies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels (yes, novels). I’m pretty sure I actually placed for a ribbon for the website at a local student technology fair. I do know the website is what allowed my acceptance to the Belin Blank Summer Institute, solidifying - or so I thought - my forever interest in being a graphic designer.

That website pushed me into some big things in my young life, but at the same time, I distinctly remember not caring what anyone thought of it. I thought it was well-written, high-tech and pretty much the coolest thing I had ever done.

I didn’t care that I had definitely broken some copyright laws by stealing images off the internet for visuals, that there was almost certainly no sitemap structure or that black text on a highly texturized, repeating background was in no way catering to accessibility needs.

Flash forward nearly 15 years? I’ve gained numerous graphic design classes from a wacky high school art teacher, hours of online research on how to use Photoshop and finally, a B.F.A. in graphic design. I’ve found my forever love of working in marketing (although really, I thought I was “forever” a graphic designer, so who knows what could happen, right?), and now, I’m working at Webspec Design, a web design and development, search engine optimization, and digital marketing firm in Urbandale. My job is a perfect mix of the web development and graphic design that I fell in love with and the marketing that I enjoy waking up to do each day.

As a new blogger for the IowaBiz blog, I now have another corner of the internet to reach people online; one of my favorite things to do. As I write to you here, my goal is to teach you the ins and outs of websites and the strategy behind them. The internet is changing every day, and it can be hard to keep up. So, although I won’t be able to cover everything that you need to know, I hope you can take a few things away that give you food for thought.

Here’s where you come in: I want to know what YOU want to know. I love meeting new people, online and in real life, and I hope that through this blog, I can. Email me, tweet me or find me at a networking event next week. But just tell me …

What do you want to know about websites or web strategy?


P.S. In case you were wondering, “Alley Catz” was a nickname my grandpa gave me as a kid. Although, I do wish I could bowl. 

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