Tax relief in Iowa -- what will that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· The repeal of the inheritance tax.

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

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

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

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

Time to prune?

 Tree pic 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try these four steps:

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

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

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

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

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

©Rita Perea, 2016

ciWeek 8 revealed!


Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters." His upcoming book, "A Quarter-Million Steps," will be available early next year.

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

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

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

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

Kevin Jorgeson, World-Renowned Free Climber                                   

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

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

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

Max Brooks, Best-Selling Author andZombie Expert”        

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

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

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

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

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

Kaila Mullady, Beatbox Champion and Artist

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

Greg Russell, Academy Award-Nominated Sound Engineer

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

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

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

©2016 Anthony D. Paustian

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


Cybersecurity due care for officers and directors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Through the Johari Window

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Please contact me for more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

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What’s a CMS, anyway?

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

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

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

Space Jam Website

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

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

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

Neat, huh?

Open source vs. proprietary CMS systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





Righting a mistake

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

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

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

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

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

Applications to leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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Reaching millennials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You soon won’t recognize your job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competing forces shaping the future of work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Contact Brent Willett:

515-360-1732 / / @brent_willett /

The secret to a winning PR strategy

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

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

Understand your customer and what they want from you.

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

Develop a Persona

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

Develop the Buyer Journey

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

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

Develop your Content Road Map

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

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

How to manage social media during a time of community crisis

Katie Patterson is founder and CEO of Happy Medium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Ryan Hanser is president of Hanser & Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation and wellness: Meet Kevin Vermeer

Kevin Vermeer is the president and CEO of UnityPoint Health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we can learn from a fallen Tax Court judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Other personal expenses ...

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

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

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

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

Franchising 101: Common terms explained

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

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


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


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

Area Developer

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

Franchise Disclosure Document

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

Initial Investment

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

Royalty and Marketing Fees

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

Profit & Loss (P&L) Statement

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

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


Vote with your ballot, not your portfolio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Source data from Morningstar Direct SM and

PLEASE NOTE LIMITATIONS: Please see Important Disclosure Information and the limitations of any ranking/recognitions, at The above discussion should be viewed in its entirety. The use of any portion thereof without reference to the remainder could result in a loss of context. Foster Group cannot be responsible for any resulting discrepancy. A copy of our current written disclosure statement as set forth on Part 2A of Form ADV is available at

Five questions to ask before transforming your hobby into a business

Michelle DeClerck is president of Conference Event Management.

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

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

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

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

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Heyward saw an opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Brent Willett: | 515-360-1732 | @brent_willett |


Goals: Are they worth it?

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

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

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

Does not achieving a goal equate to failure?

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

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

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

Did he fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An overview of marketing automation

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals.

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

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

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

Email marketing software

(MailChimp, ConstantContact)

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

Prospect nurturing software

(Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign)

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

Inbound marketing automation

(HubSpot, Marketo)

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

Relationship marketing automation

(Rocket Referrals)

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

Are you partnership material?

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

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

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

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

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

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

to have and to hold

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

from this day forward,

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

for better, for worse,

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

for richer, for poorer,

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

in sickness and in health,

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

until we are parted by death.

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

This is my solemn vow.

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

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

Who is overseeing your events?





Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

If you are an organization who has ever put on an event, I am sure you have run into some unforeseen details that nobody had on their radar. The result is an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, dry throat and the urge to run as fast as you can out of the building and into a dark cool place. Enter your event manager. This is your designated event boss, who ultimately makes everything go. Having a designated boss will ensure a successful event and spare you the heart palpitations that send you into a frenzy.

So who is the best person for the job? If you can’t quite pick him/her out, here are some qualities your event manager should most definitely possess:

Keen eye for detail: These people see everything coming and have the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes one. Yes, at times they can also be “Debbie Downers” who will discourage you from things strictly based on logistics, but their intentions are pure, having only the event’s best outcome on their mind.

Organizationally proficient: These people know where every correspondence between everyone ever is located and can recall details of the event quickly and confidently. This person will be your MVP when it comes to event day.

Nit-Picky: This may sound like a negative trait (and it can be in the right context), but when it comes to your event, you need a person who is not afraid to let someone know exactly what needs to be done and when (in the most charming way possible, naturally). After all, this event is a reflection of you and should be nothing less than spectacular!

Problem solvers: Every event comes with its 11th-hour hiccups; the key is to be prepared! These people possess survival skills and are able to act quickly using the resources at their exposure. In fact, these people are such good Houdinis that you never even noticed there was a problem.

Execution experts: These people not only talk a good game, they also possess a good game. They have follow-through and have been known to produce really quality work. Their main goal is to make you look good.

Find your event guru, whether he/she is in or outside of your office. Choose wisely, because the better the guru, the better the event turnout.

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at

Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website

Prometheus was right

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

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of relevance lately. Many of the groups I am working with or have worked with recently have been struggling with their identities. The origin of these existential questions stems from a number of factors: changing needs of their target demographic, scarcity of resources, and rising expectations of increased ROI by investors, volunteers or consumers.

In the traditional business model, market forces tend to drive toward an equilibrium point; what is being offered tends to balance out with what is desired. Due mostly to the vast influence and impact of technology in our lives, expectations are being redefined by our exposure to a larger base of knowledge about the world around us. Prometheus_Adam_Louvre_MR1745_edit_atoma

Creative destruction assumes the opposite of this framework. The speed at which product cycles turn over is so rapid that we have come expect that something new and more impressive (and therefore more desirable) is always just over the horizon. So we have become conditioned to expect things to come more quickly, turn over more frequently, and exist in spite of, not as a complement to, whatever previous version existed.


Planned obsolescence is not a new concept; our economy is rooted in the need to buy the same products again and again over discrete timelines. But the ripple effect that technology has had on our response to this planned obsolescence has created a paradoxical relationship with our expectations for strategic development within our organizations.


When an organization raises the question "How do we remain relevant?" all of the above starts to come into play. A common problem is engagement. Leadership in organizations wants to know how to keep members or employees engaged. And here is where creative destruction comes into play.


In this case, let’s do a bit of reverse engineering. The end result is that we have actively engaged members or employees. So the question is "What do we need to offer or produce to secure that outcome?" In a traditional model, you may simply survey your membership and align offerings with the results of the survey. Seems simple enough. Give the people what they ask for. Equilibrium reached. Supply meets demand. But this is a flawed assumption. Studies have shown that simply providing the exact thing that is being requested actually leads to a drop in employee satisfaction.


If we use the creative destruction model, we stand a better chance of meeting the needs of our ever-evolving group of constituents. There is now an expectation of innovation in the product mix being offered. In addition, there is an expectation that the solution or developmental framework be competitive with other similar offerings, as well as developed in such a way as to be conducive to manipulation by members of this constituent group. It also must be iterative, meaning that whatever version you are currently rolling out, there must be a promise of more to come; dynamic evolution.


The concept of relevance has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The past was dominated by a move toward finding stability within an organization. Rather than being mired in tradition or chained to standard practices, relevance means flexibility, adaptability and being nimble and responsive. To think that the creation of relevance is based in something called creative destruction seems counterintuitive, but these are the times in which we live. As Prometheus said, “To create, you must destroy.”

 Please contact me for more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

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The power of the web

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

The power of the web is not a discussion about the internet. I’m talking about networking. I’m talking about the 4.74 degrees of separation between you and everyone else on the planet (it used to be 6 degrees of separation). 

Businessman in suit reaching out handYou already know that most people find new jobs and opportunities because of connections through a network. Similarly, many leaders leverage networks to find talent for their teams.

While we all realize the importance of a strong web of network connections, many of us mistakenly think that the network connections closest to us are the most important. Interestingly, most of time, key connections are made through distant links – people who are not directly connected to you. 

In other words, the people who are most closely linked to you would probably help you with your goals. Our challenge as leaders is to make the more distant connections. That is, connections with people who have access to different networks.

Therefore, the goal of networking is not simply to make more connections to you. The goal is to make a web of connections, many among other people with no obvious link to you. 

The “work” in networking

At the center of the word "networking" is the word “work.” It is not enough to merely want a healthy, helpful network. It involves work.

Consider the example of a gardener. A good gardener carefully tills and seeds the garden. During the growing season, they weed and water it. In the fall they enjoy a bountiful harvest. What happens if the gardener simply throws some seed packets on the ground and doesn’t care for the garden? They have a bountiful crop of weeds. You can try this over and over again, and you’ll always get the same results. Do the work, and you’ll have a wonderful garden. Just toss some seeds on the ground, and you won’t.

So it is with networking. You cannot enjoy the achievement of your goals without doing the work. Like the skilled gardener, the skilled networker knows that the results are not immediate. Yet so many of us think we can harvest a healthy bounty from a network that has not been cultivated or cared for. When we are unsuccessful with our approach, we fix blame and complain rather than taking the actions called for.

Leaders who develop the skills of effective networking and do the work required enjoy many benefits. Like the gardener, the benefits are greatly multiplied when the work is done well. The gardener plants only one seed, but each successful seed produces a plant containing hundreds of seeds.

Networking Tips

If we can focus more on the other person and less on ourselves, we can cultivate the relationships that will ultimately form the critical links that make up our network. Our leadership success depends on it. View this short video clip for tips on how to build your network.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

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What immigrant business owners fear

Ying Sa, a Chinese national, owner of Community CPA and founder of Immigrant Entrepreneur Summit, writes about how to interact with immigrant business owners.
Fear of authorities is a normal life experience for new immigrants and immigrant business owners. They have a lot of reasons to be fearful. Many immigrants came to the United States through United Nations refugee programs. They survived oppression and danger in their home countries and lived in refugee camps for years, and were finally chosen to resettle in United States.
They are fearful of the Immigration Naturalization Service. Their American dreams could fall by the wayside, and friends and families could end up abandoned. The process of applying for the Green Card and getting it into the hand of an immigrant could easily take up another 10 years of someone’s life -- and at any time, it could be taken away.
So when Department of Labor auditors unexpectedly show up at an immigrant-owned business work site, it means nothing but fear to the immigrant. Even if it was just a noble and caring gesture from the DOL, it is hijacked by fear. 
When an immigrant taxpayer gets an audit notice from the IRS, instead of seeking professional help, some of them abandon their apartment and they move, leaving behind the growing pile of IRS letters.
The fearful minds of immigrants need a lot of education and care. It falls upon professionals to step up and help these immigrants address their issues with various government agencies, particularly when new immigrants are in business. We need to educate them and provide a road map for them to do things correctly from the beginning. I met an immigrant who was in business for almost 10 years without knowing he should be submitting sales tax regularly. He was so fearful that he did not seek professional help until his wife contacted me. She explained to me that her husband was terrified about their tax situation and was afraid of going to jail. So they were planning to move out of the U.S.
Of course, they do not have to move out of U.S. Their fear was misguided by their lack of knowledge regarding state and local taxes. With some guidance, they set up an installment plan with the state in less than two weeks and they could not believe how easy it was to correct their mistakes.
I remain open-minded when working with immigrants. I do not jump to conclusions and I do not rush to believe that they are hiding something. And when they tell me of their problems, I stop and praise them for being honest in business dealings. I know that most of them are good people but misguided by fear. So I tell my fellow immigrants that overcoming fear is the first step toward their American Dream.
To learn more about immigrant businesses, please register at and come to spend a Saturday at DMACC FAA building on Nov. 19, 2016.

The election's effect on the future of cybersecurity and privacy

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

The 2016 presidential election will have long-lasting implications for cybersecurity and information privacy. While Congress has its hands full debating adoption of or updates to legislation, such as updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the president will be influencing cybersecurity from other directions.

As commander in chief, the next president will provide significant direction to the Department of Defense and the national intelligence community in how to engage America’s enemies in cyberwarfare. Will America continue to develop a cyberwarfare capability within the Defense Department? What will the rules of engagement be during cyberattacks against information systems used by the U.S. military, government agencies or critical infrastructure providers? Should the U.S. unleash a fully offensive and pre-emptive cyber strike in an attempt to deter or prevent a war in the physical world? Are civilian cyber targets such as manufacturing, banking and critical infrastructure information systems fair game in order to attempt to prevent the need to send our troops into the field? 

The next president will also name at least one new justice to the Supreme Court, possibly more. How will those justices view privacy in an electronic world? Will they work to limit the types of information that can be collected by the public and private sectors? Will they work to ensure the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is applied to the new digital world we live in? Will the U.S. finally begin to be a leader in the digital privacy fight instead of following in the footsteps of Europe, Canada and even to some degree Russia?

While answers to these questions may not be looming as large as how to address health care, Social Security, the economy or gun control, they are nonetheless critical to the future of this great republic. We are just now beginning to see how decisions we made just 10 to 15 years ago are impacting cybersecurity and privacy of individuals and organizations. With the speed of technology innovation and adoption by governments, corporations and individuals, we can no longer sit on the sidelines and “wait to see how things play out.” Significant discussions must be had and decisions made on how we, as the leaders of the free world, view information security and privacy. Elected officials at all levels, including the local city leaders and school boards, are impacting your digital world and that of future generations.  So I encourage you to ask candidates questions on their stance on information security and use that information to help you decide who to cast a ballot for this November.

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

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Opening the door to social networking

Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection. 

It’s nerve-wracking stepping into the unknown. Unfamiliar with a place that is completely full of individuals you have never met before but have to introduce yourself to, and wanting to make a great first impression. The downside to social networking is having to step outside of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to the unknown. However, the upside is endless. Countless opportunities are waiting as soon as you open the door to social networking. So get ready to open that door! 


Relax. Get comfortable with the idea that there’s no perfect way to go about it, but that the people inside are just like you. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. It helps you grow, and gives you confidence when confronting that anxiety again.

Ask questions. When you get nervous, just ask about them -- the other people. Get to know the other person better. Not only will it take the spotlight off of you, but the person you’re trying to connect with will be much more interested in you and your business once you have shown interested in them.

Don’t talk about your job titles and the responsibilities that come along with it. There might be hundreds of individuals at an event, and the best way to stand out from the crowd is to not bore people by listing off your resume. People tend to gloss over job titles and responsibilities as easily as they might forget your name.

A good friend of mine, Danny Beyer, gave me a great piece of advice in saying, “Ask them what they are passionate about.” It sounds a bit personal, but it has worked countless times in my experience. People like talking about things they care about, and oftentimes it may not be their job. Don’t let yourself become “what’s his/her name.” Instead, when it’s your turn, talk about what you are passionate about and how those passions motivate you. Emotions resonate with individuals more than words do. When you mix emotions such as passion to your career, you will be well remembered. Take it from someone who is usually remembered as the young architect who enjoys talking transit and eats way too many tacos.

Open the door, be yourself, and success will follow. 


Email Cory at: 

Why strategic planning works

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

In Dan Ariely's book "Predictably Irrational," there is a chapter called “Why a 50-cent aspirin can do what a penny aspirin can’t.” If you haven’t read this book, you should. It calls into question a lot of the decisions we make and the root causes behind why we make them.

In many respects, planning is about developing a set of possible solutions. It isn’t our job to implement these solutions, but rather to present clients with frameworks for success and increases in capacity.

So, what of the 50-cent aspirin? The reason I began this post with that is because sometimes clients search for the 50-cent solution when the penny solution will do.

But isn’t the 50-cent solution always going to be better? The answer is no. I’m not talking about the actual price of the strategic planning services or even the cost of the implementation of the solution – what I am referring to lies in the amount of complexity in the solution framework presented as a result of the planning process. Irrationality-of-rationalism

It is easy to get caught up in a solution that seems to have many bells and whistles. A 50-cent solution. But is that what you need? Does it solve the core problem, make the improvement(s), or build capacity in a way that meets the baseline expectations? Or is it more bells and whistles than a framework for solutions? Activities and actions solving fringe issues rather than aimed at the core or critical?

Strategic planning works because it offers an opportunity for organizations to build a long-term vision for what they wish to accomplish. If this long-term vision is overwrought with complexity, or constructed around a framework that is not built on solid user data or analytics, then what appears to be a well-developed plan will disintegrate during the implementation phase.

We have a tendency to naturally assume that if something is more complex or more expensive, then it must be better. I’ve found that almost universally the opposite is true.

When a plan is too complex, it will seem too hard for stakeholders to get traction on any single area, which may cause a cascading effect on the entire plan, causing it to fail. During the planning phase, this complexity may have felt good by virtue of sheer volume of information – safety in numbers of a sort. But if you move into the tactical portion of the planning phase without properly winnowing, filtering and/or phasing this earlier raw data, the volume of information will work against successful implementation.

Successful strategic planning balances complexity with relativism and practicality. Strategic planning works because it allows these three ingredients to mix, based on the needs of the individual or organization. When this mix is optimized, the penny solution will feel like a 50-cent solution, because you will find success in implementation. If your headache only needs a penny aspirin, why waste the other 49 cents?

 Please contact me for more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

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Usability and your website

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

Have you ever thought about the usability of your website? Maybe the last time you launched a new website for your company, you sat down with members of your team and had them click through a few pages, making sure they understood how to use the site prior to launch. You probably caught a few dead links, and you might have thrown some feedback to your web design company, but you probably didn’t make any drastic changes at that point.

Why not? Probably because drastic edits would have meant hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars' worth of development adjustments. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’ve already invested a good chunk of change into the site to begin with.

Usability is defined by the Nielsen Norman Group as a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. Nielsen Norman Group also says that usability is defined by five quality components. I’m rather fond of how they break it down.

Five quality components of usability

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

If you’ve gone through the feedback process I mentioned earlier, you’re likely only getting observations on the “satisfaction” side of the scale. Errors pointed out are probably only regarding content, and learnability is only evaluated from the instructions given (which are not always the strongest).

A simple way to introduce usability testing

Although I’d love to say all of our clients take part in true usability testing, it simply isn’t true. Why? Because budgets are limited, and given the choice between a key feature or some hours spent on that testing, the feature will win almost every time.

Naturally, staff at a web design firm are thinking in terms of usability as they design the website, but that doesn't mean that it's a done deal. True usability is about getting your website in front of the right audience, and that's not always the individuals employed at that firm. 

Thank being said, an easy way to implement usability testing is to start in the design phase. Most web design contracts will allow one or two rounds of edits from the initial, proposed website design that they will ask you to review and sign off on. It can be easy to see that design, be drawn to the fun colors or bright photographs, and miss the opportunity to test site usability. But with this type of review, you’re only addressing the “satisfaction” the design presents.

How to use a design to test usability

  1. Source different people. It’s important that you present the design to people who aren’t overly familiar with your product, but would fall into one or more of your target audiences.
  2. Assign a task. Think about what you’d want someone in that audience to accomplish with your website, and ask them to do it.
  3. See how long it takes them to respond. Is it easy for them to make a decision about where to “click” on that home page? If not, you might have an issue.
  4. Ask for feedback. If your results weren’t positive, take the opportunity to ask the individual what they were really looking for, or why they were confused. Make edits with your team, designer or developer accordingly.

Obviously this works better if you’ve got a few designs that you can present a tester with, to help them understand page-to-page flow. But you can still get a good impression of how your home page is working with this simple test. If it doesn’t work on paper, putting code behind it won’t magically fix problems that are present.

Bonus: If you have glaring issues, fixing them in design is a lot less expensive than if you get through to development.

Extra bonus: If you’ve got two rounds of design revisions, you can take that new design back to the same tester and follow up with questions that help ensure there’s been improvement. To some extent, you can even look to test memorability and efficiency.

Not everyone has time to thoroughly test usability, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore it completely.

How are you testing your website’s usability?


Alex-Karei_YPFinalist2016Alex is the marketing & communications director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her via:





Pressure really blows


Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters." His upcoming book, "A Quarter-Million Steps," will be available early next year.

I recently saw the movie "Deepwater Horizon." Since the movie is based on actual events, I’m not spoiling anything by describing how it chronicles the 2010 oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that caused the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters. What struck me the most was how I could actually feel the gradual, yet massive buildup of pressure ultimately released from the ocean floor more than two and a half miles below the surface — pressure that literally blew apart the entire structure.

It got me thinking about how pressure can also affect our everyday lives. Except in a few scientific and engineering contexts, intense pressure is seldom a good thing. However, people often think they actually perform better under pressure, despite the research showing just the opposite: No one performs better under pressure.

“The idea that people perform better under pressure is a myth,” says psychologist Dr. Tim Pychyl, director of the Procrastination Research Group and author of "Solving the Procrastination Puzzle." To his knowledge, there is not one study that supports the claim that people perform better under pressure. The resulting stress makes it harder for your brain to function, basically overloading it.1

Often, this overload and the subsequent pressure created by it come from either trying to do too many things at once (multitasking) or from putting something off because we have too many things to do (procrastinating). And as with most things, an overload tends to burn out what’s being overloaded.

Our brains are complex organs. The average human brain uses the equivalent of 20 watts of power (enough to power a light bulb), and although the brain only makes up a mere 2 percent of our total body weight, it consumes more than 20 percent of our daily caloric intake — more than any other organ in the human body.2

Research has shown that our mental energy related to decision-making is finite, and once depleted, the quality of our thinking begins to dramatically suffer. As average people, we tend to spend a large percentage of our mental energy on relatively meaningless stuff that really doesn’t have any real impact on our lives, good or bad, like streaming through countless posts on Facebook and watching television. Once our brain has used its energy, we tend to miss the relevant stuff and other important details necessary to be more successful, creative thinkers within the limited time we are given.3

Studies of very efficient people show they rid themselves of distractions and the unnecessary, miscellaneous choices that deplete mental energy. They frequently eat and meet at the same places; they turn off their smartphone app notifications and look at their apps when they’re ready to see them; they stop dwelling on things that occurred in the past and don’t obsess on things that might happen since it’s impossible to actually do things in the past or future; they frequently wear the same clothes (think Steve Jobs); and they remove the clutter that surrounds them.4 This “freed-up” energy allows them to focus on what’s truly important.

Being at our creative best requires gas in the mental tank, gas that will only be available if we aren’t going full throttle every day. Also, as with any machine, the brain, or even an oil well, going full throttle for too long creates intense pressure that will be released, one way or another.

©2016 Anthony D. Paustian

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

How to find the perfect coach - Part 3

RitaPerea_17-web-2- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

If you are considering hiring a coach to help you zoom ahead to reach your goals, then you have come to the right place! Because business coaching is an unregulated industry, it is critical that consumers understand what they should expect to receive for their investment of time and money. This is the last article in a three-part series devoted to helping potential coaching clients get armed with important information to discern the type of coach they are searching for, identify the qualities found in a great coach, and, finally, determine if their potential coach is a great fit during their first meeting together.  

Big Decision One: Private pay or employer-funded?

One of your first decisions is to weigh the options to hire the services of a coach that you pay for out of your own pocket (private pay) or asking your workplace to pay for your sessions (employer-funded). There are advantages and disadvantages to consider in both payment arrangements. In my private coaching practice, I provide services to both types of clients. For some of my clients it is more advantageous for them to pay for my services without the knowledge of their workplace. Private pay affords the highest degree of  privacy and confidentiality for the coaching client. You can share anything with your private-pay coach, and it will be kept confidential. Another advantage of self-funded coaching is that you have an unrestricted selection of coaches and an unrestricted range of personal or professional goals to work on achieving. You aren’t restricted to the “flavor of the day” initiative at work.

An advantage with an employer-funded service is that there is no out-of-pocket expense to the client. However, a disadvantage may be that the number of coaching sessions may be limited to just one or two, and you may need more.  

Big Decision two: A coach who is outside or inside the organization?

The next big decision is to determine if you want a coach who owns a private practice and works independently (an external coach)  or if you want a coach who works for the same organization that you do (an internal coach). Many large organizations today have coaches on staff to work with their employees. Again, there are obvious cost advantages and privacy considerations when working with an internal coach. It may be difficult to work with someone who is your coach but also your co-worker. Oftentimes coaches who are also employees lack experience and credibility in working at the senior levels of an organization. They may have a limited perspective.

Engaging an “external” coach, someone who is an independent contractor or consultant, can be advantageous because they would naturally have an independent, outside perspective of your issues. They typically are highly skilled and have credibility at the senior management levels. And, a coach who is an independent consultant, and not an employee of your organization, is going to give you greater confidentiality and privacy.

In the end you will need to explore the pros and cons of paying for the coaching yourself or seeking funding from your employer. Will you use the services of an independent coaching professional or a co-worker? Carefully weigh the benefits of each choice and then decide.  

Completing your research

Maybe you have gathered the names of potential coaches by asking family or friends. Or perhaps you found them through a Google search. It is important to read each coach’s website information thoroughly to determine if they are a possible fit. 

Examine what types of clients the coach serves and what objectives they have achieved. Think about whether their approach would work with your personality. Consider whether you prefer someone with expertise in a particular industry or business setting. Also determine what meeting schedule and format would work best with your lifestyle and needs. Some people do best with just once-a-week, in-person sessions, while others prefer having 24-hour phone access to a coach. Some coaches only work via Skype or the telephone. It is all great, as long as it will meet your needs.

Also, look into the coaches’ training. When I hear about coaches hanging out their shingle after completing an online certification, it raises some red flags. The coaching process should be a warm, person-to-person interactive experience based on well-researched techniques, not a one-size-fits-all canned approach. Coaches’ in-depth knowledge and ability to customize their programs are what allow them to maximize clients’ growth. Personally, I think coaches who have undergone in-person training and have extensive background experiences offer superior services.

Scheduling the all-important first meeting

Your first meeting with a potential coach is much like interviewing someone for a job. Completing an initial consultation can help you determine which coach is the right fit for you. When you contact potential coaches, tell them how you heard about them and ask to set up time to talk. Clarify whether they charge for this meeting (many times it’s complimentary). Usually you will set up an appointment to speak over the phone, on Skype or in a face-to-face meeting.

When interviewing your coach, be sure to ask the right questions to find out the right information. Here are some you may want to jot down and bring to the meeting or refer to immediately following the consultation:

Questions to ask the coach:

  • What is your training?
  • Do you hold any special certifications?
  • What are your areas of expertise (e.g., executive, business, career)?
  • Could you supply client references?
  • Do you cap the number of clients you work with at any given time?  
  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What are your fees, and what do they include?
  • Do you include any special surveys or tools in your coaching process?
  • How long would each coaching session last? One hour? 90 minutes? Two hours?
  • How many coaching sessions do you recommend?
  • Do you offer evening or weekend times?
  • How do you measure results, and when should I start seeing them?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Does he or she make me feel comfortable?
  • Is this someone I could work with on a weekly basis for several months?  
  • Do I genuinely like this person?  
  • Do I feel like this coach listened to me and heard what I was saying?
  • Does the coach seem knowledgeable about the areas where I need assistance?
  • Does his or her coaching process and format work with my current schedule and commitments?

By the end of your initial consultation, you should clearly know what to expect if you decide to work with this coach. This includes the approach, format, methods, fees and billing structure. At the end of the first meeting, your coach may ask you to sign a letter of agreement. Please know that you don’t need to make a decision on the spot — if you’re not sure, take your time. You want to go into the coaching process with confidence and enthusiasm, not second guesses.

By getting clear about your goals, doing your homework and asking the right questions, you will be well on your way to finding your perfect coach and achieving at extraordinary levels.

© 2016 Rita Perea. All Rights Reserved.

Competing against your toughest competitor

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

It's no secret that competitive people want to win, love to win … need to win.

For some people, their competitive fire is fueled more by not losing than it is by winning. Very competitive people hate to lose more than anything.

So what does that have to do with specialty retailing, especially if you've positioned your business in such a niche that there is no real competition? The answer is plenty.

If I've learned anything as a runner, a competitive horse rider and a specialty retailer, it's that competing against myself is one of the most important things I can do to be successful.

That's not to say we don't need to be aware of what's going on around us. After all, we can't pretend that others aren't competing against us every day. But one way we can deal with those challenges is by challenging ourselves.

Like a lot of runners, I'm always measuring my results against previous efforts and looking for ways to gain a step here and a step there.

In competitive horse riding, nothing replaces focus and practice, practice, practice. Focus means you know what you need to do to win. Practicing the right things ensures that you react the right way. As a business owner, you can't afford to just react the right way when a situation just comes up. You have to be focused on the right things so that your energy goes to setting the agenda and winning each day, rather than reacting to external events as they pop up.

In specialty retailing, there are any number of places -- from a different product mix and even better customer service in the front of the store to employee training and new software in the back of the shop -- to up your game. You just have to put in the effort to find those advantages and make them work.

Competing against yourself is all about self-improvement. And that gives you an edge in several ways.

First, it's an antidote for complacency. If you're always working harder and smarter, your business is always going to keep getting better.

Second, any potential competitor will have second, third and fourth thoughts about trying to take you on when they see just how hard you strive to be the best.

Finally, top competitors always like to compete against the best. And shouldn't you really be your toughest competition by always being at the very top of your game?

What's on your life list?

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified and award-winning coach, author, speaker, and the founder of Spark. Learn more at MAP Professional Development Inc.

  • Background - Sunrise Lake w Coffee w websiteRide in a hot air balloon.
  • Visit all 50 states.
  • Write a book.
  • Run a marathon. 
  • Travel to Australia.

Do any of these appear on your list of dreams from time to time?

Wait ... do you have a list of dreams? 

You've probably heard of a bucket list (aka Life List): things you'd love to do, see or experience in your lifetime if you had no barriers whatsoever. I often coach my clients to create such a list, encouraging them to generate at least 101 items. Yes, 101! What may seem a daunting task at first becomes an excellent exercise in passion, purpose and authenticity.

When nudged to include so many dreams, you get below surface level and really begin to connect with what lights you up, what matters most and what brings you joy. You expand your sense of wonder. Not only a lot of fun, creating a Life List is also a deeply meaningful activity.

Your Life List can address all kinds of categories: places to travel, people to meet, books to read, crafts to try, classes to take, causes to support, you name it. One category to make sure you also include: your professional dreams. Again, if you had no limitations, what would you love to do in your career, leadership or business? Some responses I've heard over the years:

  • Take my team on a five-day retreat to Arizona.
  • Earn my advanced certification.
  • Present at our industry conference.
  • Give a TED Talk.
  • Get published in a respected magazine.

My challenge to you this month, which you'll see below, is to create your Life List -- and I urge you to include both personal and professional dreams. If you choose to accept this challenge, two helpful hints to keep in mind:

Focus On The What.

One of the biggest blocks when it comes to dreaming big is worrying about how you'd ever make the dream a reality. Don't even think about the "how" right now -- that comes later. For now, just focus on the "what": What would light you up, make you feel amazing, change the world? 

Have Fun.

You've likely kept quite busy with work, family, volunteer service and the myriad roles that constitute your life, so don't worry if you have a hard time generating ideas at first. That's completely common! Also, this is not a to-do list or agenda of "shoulds." Strike up dream conversations with others and watch them light up -- and likely inspire you with more ideas, too. 

Christi Hegstad headshot 0916 horizontal sunlight background necklace super-crop for blogCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

Write your Life List! Generate 101 items you'd love to do, see or experience in your lifetime -- personal, professional, family, service and every other category that matters to you. You don't need to generate the entire list in one sitting; get it started, then carry it around with you for a few days. You'll be surprised what ideas appear once it's on your mind!

For more ideas, check out my quick video on YouTube as well as Phil Keoghan's inspiring book, "No Opportunity Wasted (N.O.W.)." Here's to your dreams! 

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

Breaking down your breakdowns

- Jason Kiesau, leadership and talent development manager with Aureon HR, writes about success skills and is the author of FOCUSED - Your Future Starts Now! and Leading with Style for Senior Living Professionals.

Take a moment and think about the last conflict you had at work because of some breakdown.

Why did it happen?

Conflict in the workplace is normal, right? Even with all the Success Skills training, there is going to be conflict. Conflict is OK. Sometimes it's needed; most of the best solutions are the result of experiencing a little conflict and tension. And sometimes it's just simply unavoidable.

Though conflict doesn't scare me, I don't like it when it is unavoidable; and unfortunately a lot of it is unavoidable. When I was a business coach with E-Myth, a core skill we tried to support our clients in obtaining was the identification of root causes when problems occurred or things didn't go as planned. In my experience, when there is something that didn't go as planned, we look to see who did what or who didn't do what, rather than taking a step back to find the real cause of the breakdown.

Think back to the last conflict you had that I asked you to think about at the beginning of this post. Were you able to identify why it happened? Raise your hand if your answer came down to what someone did or didn't do.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Yes, sometimes people are going to screw up and make mistakes, but most of the time when things break down and things don't go as planned, it's the result of a lack of one of these four things:

  • Clear Goals - People aren't truly clear on objectives, goals and desired results.
  • Clear Roles - Roles and responsibilities aren't defined, so people aren't sure who is doing what.
  • Clear Communication - Important information isn't communicated clearly to people who need it.
  • Clear Processes - The best way to get the desired results has not been defined and documented.

A few months ago a member of my team came to me frustrated. He was frustrated because he and two other team leaders were planning 12 months' worth of webinars and it was going to require resources from multiple teams to successfully execute them. He was frustrated because he felt everything was on his shoulders and the other two leaders weren't giving it enough attention. Once we started talking, the root cause of this issue became clear. This wasn't a people issue.

All three parties agreed on the desired result of scheduling 12 months' worth of webinars. Each person knew resources were going to be needed from multiple teams; everyone was on board. This new problem was occurring because nobody really knew who was doing what. The roles and responsibilities weren't clear. My team member expected the team leaders to do more because they were involved. They were on board, they just didn't know what to do. The next time they met, my team member led the discussion, and together they identified and agreed on who was doing what and were able to move forward productively.

I have a client whose home office is in Alabama, with seven locations throughout the southeast United States. They needed to create a scorecard that would allow them to measure the success of each location fairly and consistently. This desired result materialized in the form of a one-page checklist that regional directors would use twice a year to ensure each location was in alignment with the corporate vision.

When I received the first draft of the checklist, I thought it was awesome. They had identified over 60 key success measurements that contribute to the overall success of the organization. One measurement was "Curb Appeal." Another measurement was "Greeting" customers upon arrival. Each location's attention toward and ability to satisfy each of the 60+ success measurements will determine this organizations overall success.

Let's take a closer look at this situation:

  • Clear Goals
    On the surface, objectives are clearly defined through the 60+ success measurements. Everybody in the organization will know what success looks like. I have encouraged them to take a step further and clearly define what each success measurement means. "What does curb appeal mean?" Though they have them outlined, right now each of the success measurements is left up to the interpretation of each person using them, which will lead to a breakdown. Defining each measurement keeps everyone on the same page.

  • Clear Roles
    They have done a nice job at defining clear roles at the corporate office. Regional directors will be responsible for facilitating this audit twice a year at each location. Now they need to make sure roles are clearly defined at each location for everyone to be successful.

  • Clear Communication
    Clear communication is going to be key to the success. They have clear goals and clear roles, knowing they need to make both a little clearer. To be successful they must create an intentional internal communication strategy that sets everyone up for success. Failure to do so will lead to a breakdown.

  • Clear Processes
    This checklist of success measurements is great example of a clear process that when followed will lead to more consistent and predictable results. They key word is WHEN followed. If the goals aren't clear, roles aren't defined and there is a lack of clear communication, the likelihood that this process will be used correctly and consistently goes down.

So, conflict isn't bad and breakdowns are going to happen. How we respond to a breakdown will determine our success moving forward. The next time things break down and conflict occurs, don't make it personal. Assess your situation to ensure there are clear goals, roles, communication and processes. If and when you find a gap, allow that to be the focal point of resolution, so everyone can agree and move forward on the same page.

Zeroing in on net zero

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Architects Smith Metzger

Many buildings are being touted as “net zero energy buildings.” Energy is still used but produced on site to offset usage; therefore, the net energy used is zero or less.

Justin Doyle, local developer and president of Modus Engineering, has delved into net zero on his Market One building on East Third Street.

Now that it has been up and running for over a year, how is it doing and what are the lessons learned from the process?

Justin says: “Net zero is not a destination but a journey. There are months that are net zero and some months that are not. We created design energy models based on assumptions. The trick is to operate the building in line with the assumptions.”

Over 750 measuring devices are located in the building, but someone has to analyze the info and determine why more energy is being used. 

Operational issues that have occurred to not reach net zero have been:

  • A bank of solar panels was turned off for maintenance and not turned back on. It took several weeks to realize it was not clouds reducing solar panel output. Two weeks of production were lost.
  • Space heaters under desks were left on 24/7 rather than turned off at night. Analysis of plug loads showed excess usage in one area, and the problem was tracked down.
  • The thermostat was adjusted because someone was hot or cold and not reset at 5:00.

Justin added, “Even though we have attracted like-minded tenants, the net zero journey is all about monitoring the usage of energy and being active in the operations on a weekly basis.”

Let me know if you are ready to go “net zero." Email me at

How to find the perfect coach - Part 2

RitaPerea_17-web-2- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

You are ready to move forward, stretch yourself, and invest in performing at the “top of your game” in business. You want to achieve, reach your potential and self-actualize as a leader. You know that you can inspire others to be all that they can be. And you are ready to hire a one-on-one professional coach to help you reach your goals. Now what? What is your next step?

In part one of this series I shared that coaching is an unregulated industry and that, because it is an investment of time and money, researching a coach’s background is a crucial step. It is important to be thoughtful in identifying both your needs and the specialization your potential coach brings to the table to help you reach your goals. Just as you would not see a family practice physician to fill a cavity in your tooth, you would not hire a business coach to help you sort out your personal relationship problems.  

If we are serious about hiring an outstanding coach, our next step in this process is to educate ourselves about the most important qualities that an exceptional and professional coach will possess. In contrast, we can also identify the indicators that a coach is not so great. Take this checklist with you when you interview your potential coach to determine if they possess these attributes.  

The Top 9 Qualities to Look for in an Exceptional Coach:

  1. A good questioner. Does this coach ask relevant, probing questions to move you forward? Great coaches will ask questions that may not be easy to answer but that will cause you to think about your behavior and the changes you want. Professionally trained coaches use specific questioning techniques to help you express your thoughts and feelings. Coaches who lack a solid technique will skip over the deep questioning to only tell you what you want to hear.
  1. An active listener. Good coaches have been professionally trained to use six levels of active listening and body language -- such as nodding their head, making eye contact, taking notes -- which helps you know that they are fully present and engaged in what they are hearing you say. On the contrary, not-so-good coaches engage in “autobiographical listening,” which turns your coaching session into a litany of stories that are all about them and their experiences, not all about you, as it should be. Not-so-good coaches appear distracted, unorganized and distant. Not-so-good coaches do not accurately remember the details of what you have shared with them.
  1. Highly intuitive. Coaches who provide wonderful experiences for their clients use their intuition as an inner compass to map the way. Astute coaches guide their clients and facilitate their growth in both the personal and professional arenas by always looking forward to identify and navigate through potential obstacles. Not-so-great coaches may tend to use the “one size fits all" approach, rationalizing that if the process worked for one person, it can be put it on auto-pilot and used with everyone.
  1. Organizationally adept. Excellent coaches are organized coaches. They show you, by their actions, that they have strong planning and goal-setting skills. They are all about helping you achieve the results that you are seeking. They model and help you learn the planning skills you need to reach your goals. Contrast a thorough and organized coach with one who breezes into a meeting late with papers flailing about from their notebook. Which one would you want to put your time and money into?
  1. Results-oriented mindset. How does your coach measure your progress toward your goals? Does your coach use surveys or profiles to establish baseline data? All great coaches will gather data in some way to help you determine and reach your goals in a timely manner. Not-so-great coaches believe that it's OK to hook you into their coaching program forever. Your coach is working for you, and you should get transformational results from the resources that you have invested in the process.  
  1. A pleasant, inspirational demeanor. Great coaches inspire growth and change in their clients. Professional coaches are pleasant and upbeat “people people." They are self-assured and confident without being egotistical. A good coach delights in your successes and motivates you to move forward. By contrast, not-so-good coaches may produce guilt or anxiety in their clients. Not-so-good coaches may be highly critical and undermine your self-confidence. Not-so-good coaches keep you stuck in the same place so you keep “coming back for more.”  
  1. Provides encouragement. Working with a coach is like having your own personal cheerleader in your court. Wonderful coaches provide encouragement by providing a check-in system between coaching sessions. They may phone you, email or send a note of encouragement your way to keep your motivation high as you are practicing your new skills. Likewise, they will want you to reach out to them when you need a little pep talk or booster shot.
  1. Practices confidentiality and builds trust. When you work with an excellent coach, you will feel safe and at ease. A great coach will work hard at building a trusting relationship that will be the bedrock of your work together. A great coach will go to great lengths to create a confidential, professional and safe coaching environment. A less-than-professional coach will hold their coaching sessions in a public setting where others may overhear the conversation. Or, worse, they may share too much information about another client with you, which leaves you wondering if your information has been shared too.
  1. Ability to provide follow-up resources. Does your coach give you ideas, book titles and connections to other people who may help you reach your goals? Does your coach check in with you between coaching sessions? Excellent coaches have outstanding, up-to-date resources that they can easily access and provide to their clients. They have the office support systems in place to do so easily and in a timely manner. Great coaches are impeccable with their word, do what they say they will do, and deliver what you need to keep you moving in the right direction.

The perfect professional coach is out there waiting to help you reach your goals and soar beyond your wildest dreams. While it involves a bit of research and heavy lifting on the front end of the process to find an exceptional coaching fit, the results and rewards are well worth it. In the third and final article of this series, I will help you discern if you want to hire an independent coach or use one provided by your employer.  I will also suggest some questions to use when you interview coaches for the job of becoming YOUR perfect coach.  

© 2016 Rita Perea. All Rights Reserved.

What can fantasy football teach us about succession planning?

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

Even though I played college football and for years have had numerous invitations to join various leagues, up until this year I had never played fantasy football.

This year, however, my second-grade son’s school had a “father-son league” fundraiser. So we signed up, and in the last few weeks I have learned a lot, to say the least – and there is surprisingly lots of crossover with succession planning. Here are a few similarities:

  1. Relevant experience matters. When we did our fantasy football draft at the church, I felt like I was walking into a room with NFL GMs. They knew obscure player names and how fantasy scoring worked. My son and I were total rookies in fantasy football even though I had played football in college. I had lots of “football experience” – but not relevant fantasy football experience.

        Similarly, it is likely you will only execute a succession plan once in your life (rookie), and if you sell your business, it will likely be to someone who has bought multiple businesses (relevant experience). As a result, you should surround yourself with advisers with relevant experience. This does not necessarily mean the         advisers with the most experience in general, or those you have worked with the longest, but rather those with M&A experience that as closely as possible matches the type of transaction you are endeavoring to do.

    2. Make a well-thought-out plan before you need it. In the draft room, everyone seemed to have laptops, fantasy football magazines, printouts, etc. As I sat there, I Googled “fantasy football mock draft” and used that, plus my son’s favorite players, as the basis for our picks.

        Readers of this column probably think I sound like a broken record, but one cannot emphasize the importance of having a succession plan for your business in place before you need it. The time, effort and money spent developing this plan will pay off when the big day comes -- expected or unexpected.

    3. Certain items are more valuable than others. I learned in fantasy football that wide receivers are the best way to score points. There are other important factors and positions, but if someone is able to draft a few good receivers, they will probably win more than they lose.

        When preparing a succession plan, the same is true. There are lots of factors to consider, but the most valuable is probably thinking through and answering the “W” questions. What do I want my company legacy to be? Why would I sell? Who do I want to run it? 

    4. Don’t make unforced errors. Even as a rookie, I am glad I have not made an unforced fantasy error yet. This would occur if I did not follow football news closely (likely) and ended up starting someone who is injured, has a bye week or is having a bad year.

       In a succession plan or business sale, there are controllable and uncontrollable factors. Do not make a careless omission or mistake on the controllable factors. Do you have clean financials? Do you have a good management team that can operate without you there? Is there proper buy/sell key man life insurance in place? Those are but a few examples. 

Customer service karma

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

Kauai Day 4 - 14Every once in a while I come across a businessperson who understands that there's a certain karma to customer service. I constantly hear customer service managers and representatives citing the Golden Rule as a foundational principle of customer service: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Treat customers the way you want to be treated as a customer. It's a great standard for all of us. It works.

There is however, a further principle that I occasionally hear customer service artisans cite. It's the "extra mile" principle:"If someone asks you to go one mile, go with them two." I don't hear this as often. It is a trickier principle. It requires discernment to hold the tension between "going the extra mile" and not "giving away the store." Those who do it well, however, know and experience the karma of customer service. Sometimes you have to give to receive. I recently met a businesswoman who knows this well.

I'm writing this post from Kauai, where I'm spending a little time on vacation with my wife. While preparing for our trip I had one thing I really wanted to do while in Kauai. I wanted to take my wife sailing on the ocean. I didn't want the commercial touristy sail excursion where they herd 50-100 people onto a giant vessel and pour pre-made Mai Tais from plastic pitchers as the "sailboat" is actually motoring along the coastline. I wanted to really go sailing on a small sailboat with a person who knows and loves sailing. So I started with a Google search.

As I scanned all of the common tourist sites I kept paging through, looking for someone who might help me find what I was looking for and wouldn't try to herd me into a prepackaged tour. Well down on the list of websites I found Kauai by Stephanie. Stephanie said right on her page that she wanted to help arrange what I wanted to do. So I emailed her with my challenge.

I had a reply within hours, and Stephanie made it very clear that my request was outside of what she could do business-wise. She is confined to working with all of the certified local tourist vendors, and there was no vendor who provided what I wanted. Having said that, she told me that she really wanted my wife and me to have the experience we desired. Despite saying that she would make no money on this deal, she said, "I'm working on it," adding "It will be my pleasure to help you have the experience you want." I asked Stephanie to go a mile for me. She offered to go two.

A few hours later Stephanie emailed me back with the name of a local who might be able help me. At that point, it was on me to make contact and negotiate a deal. Nevertheless, Stephanie even followed up with me after we'd arrived on the island to see how things were going. Long story short, my wife and I spent four hours on a 36-foot catamaran sailing through the ocean swells and watching the sun go down over the Na Pali coast. It was wonderful.

Stephanie went the extra mile for me. It wasn't business, it was her pleasure. And yet it was business. It was good business. Stephanie understands customer service karma. A few emails. A phone call. She simply took a few minutes of her time to connect me with the right person and to follow up. She went the extra mile, asking nothing in return. I have to believe that she trusts it will come back to her someday, in some way. And it will. That's the way the extra-mile principle works. I blogged about it on my personal blog. I've told others the story. I'm sharing it with you. That's word-of-mouth marketing.

If you're going to Kauai, give Stephanie a call. She'll do right by you.

Sour candy: How Skittles brilliantly handled a controversy they didn’t make

- Katie Patterson is CEO and Founder of Happy Medium.

Social media management is all about being alert. The immediacy of Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the channels allows for brands to weigh in on world events in real time, some that are planned, as when a brand tweets something they’ve prepared for the Oscars, and others that are unexpected, as when the lights go off at the Super Bowl and your brand is totally prepared. The conversations happening online happen quick and the brands that effectively join that conversation are the ones that are ready, thoughtful and fast.

That applies to PR crises as well. Brands that find that customers are talking negatively about them online need to act quickly to address the concerns and quell any doubts. Most times, PR situations are at least partially caused by the brand itself. Whether it’s an oil spill, a safety recall or a CEO who said something they shouldn't, brands need to get in front of it to show that the mistake was an anomaly that doesn’t represent the way they do business most of the time.

Last month, however, a mixture that was part real world events and part PR crisis landed on Skittles' doorstep through no action of their own. Donald Trump Jr., the son of the Republican nominee for president, tweeted a graphic that included a bowl of Skittles with the words, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Whether you think the sentiment of the graphic is right or wrong, the tweet caused a stir online with passionate arguments both defending and attacking it. Pretty soon, Skittles was trending in a way that must have made them uncomfortable.

Keep in mind, the idea of this graphic is not new, but now it’s being tweeted by the son of a major candidate in a heated election who also is someone who is a lightning rod for attention, online and otherwise. Rightly, Skittles, through its parent company Mars Inc., felt that they had to respond. A little more than four hours later, Mars tweeted this response; “Skittles are candy; refugees are people. It’s an inappropriate analogy. We respectfully refrain from further comment, as that could be misinterpreted as marketing.” The tweet went viral and was roundly praised by fellow tweeters and PR professionals. What is so effective about it?

  1. It neutralizes the crisis.

The controversy around Skittles wasn’t their fault, and I'm sure that there were some who wanted to avoid the whole conversation entirely, especially considering that the attacks online weren’t directed at Skittles, per se. But customers expect brands to be as aware of what's going on as they are, and there’s no denying that what was going on involved Skittles. In a simple statement, the brand acknowledged what happened, announced that they did not endorse the graphic and moved on.

  1. It takes a stand.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the meeting where this response was designed. It would have been easy enough to say, “Skittles and Mars Inc. do not endorse or speak for any candidate, nor do we authorize any use of our name in material disseminated by any campaign. Thank you,” and call it a day. I’m sure announcing a position caused a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing over at Mars. Political campaigns are nearly always divisive, and most brands want nothing to do with splitting their customer base up. However, Skittles found a way to give a response that was substantive, thoughtful and human without being overly controversial. The brand doesn’t weigh in on the refugee crisis; it only defends its name when used in a way it found to be inappropriate. They repeated what many users were saying online, that the refugee crisis is more complicated than a bowl of candy and that the two should have very little to do with each other.

  1. It doesn’t grandstand.

The best part of the response, to me, is the quick exit. The brand addresses the issue and then immediately turns the page. They understood that any sustained communication on their part could look thoughtless and crass, which would completely backfire in a situation in which the issue is insensitivity. Skittles pulled off the PR coup because, in their restraint, we are now talking about them positively. They seized an opportunity without seeming opportunistic, and in the process reminded us that a brand can be pretty human sometimes.

No brand wants to deal with a crisis, especially one that isn’t of their making, but things happen, and the way you distinguish yourself is by being alert, being a little daring and being decent. Skittles proved how sweet that can be.

I drove all my business miles backward that year!

20160907-1- Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C.

Remember how well those excuses we told our parents and teachers worked? They don't work any better when you use them for your taxes. 

The Tax Court judges have heard them all. Some of my favorites:

My wife kicked me out of the house, so I didn't report my S corporation income.

My house flooded. Three times.

My father-in-law made me do it.

All these excuses are fun to read, but a lot less fun to try to make to an IRS agent or a judge with a straight face. It's always better to not need an excuse. Keeping thorough records for your business is a great place to start, and keeping a secure backup copy somewhere is better. You need to keep those records long enough to get through all IRS exams. While the IRS usually can only go after you for three tax years, sometimes they get six, so keep your tax records for seven years.

Good recordkeeping is even more important if you have travel and entertainment expenses. While the tax law allows judges to estimate business expenses if they have some basis for doing so (don't count on this), this doesn't go for meals, entertainment and travel deductions. You have to maintain timely records that include the time, place, amount and business purpose of these expenses, and you have to keep your receipts. The records have to be "contemporaneous," meaning you have to keep them as you go. 

All right, fine. That's a hassle. If the IRS comes, I'll do my log then. That works, right? Well it didn't work for a Florida real estate agent, who said she kept track of her miles on a day planer. The Tax Court noted a discrepancy:

... the day planner included an order form which provided a convenient way for the owner to purchase a new day planner for the coming year. In this case, the order form was for the calendar year 2014, a fact that completely undermined [her] testimony that she recorded information in the day planner contemporaneously in 2008.

Maybe some people just like to order their day planners five years ahead.

Another taxpayer, a traveling salesman, showed up in Tax Court with mileage logs that showed some amazing driving habits:

The most serious problem came from discrepancies in his mileage logs. He operated four vehicles during the 2009 tax year: a truck, a 1999 Jeep, a 2002 Acura, and a 2007 Acura. Mr. G claimed at trial that he recorded his daily mileage by writing the starting and ending odometer readings for each trip on a Post-it note. After he recorded the number, he would stick the Post-it note in his Day-Timer. But the mileage log for the 1999 Jeep stated that its odometer read 118,905 miles on January 1, 2009, while a Carfax report on the same vehicle showed an odometer reading of 126,121 in November 2007. Mr. G said that after he had the Jeep’s dashboard replaced there was a “new starting mileage” on the Jeep. But we also spotted a similar problem in the logs for Mr. G’s 2002 Acura: In November 2008 the Acura had an odometer reading of 109,422, but by January 1, 2009, it had run backward to 103,723. This time, Mr. G admitted that he couldn’t account for the discrepancy.

There must have been a mechanical problem. The car was stuck in reverse, and he had to drive it that way until he got it fixed, maybe? Whatever happened, it didn't get the taxpayer out of extra tax and penalties.

If you are a road warrior, keep track of mileage as you go. Write down the miles, who you are visiting, and the reason for the visit in your day planner or a car log. If you want to keep it handy and backed up, use one of the many smartphone apps designed for tracking business mileage. And drive safely!

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