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!

How to find the perfect coach - part one

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 know you’re ready for change. You want it! You need it! You’re revving your engines to move full speed ahead. But … you aren’t sure how to determine your destination, map out your journey and keep the gas flowing to get there. So you putter along, moving forward but not at a rapid pace.

I have fantastic news for you! You CAN zoom ahead. All you need is assistance from someone like me — a professional coach. Coaching is customized professional development offering accelerated, results-oriented change. I am a cheerleader and project manager all rolled into one. When someone like you comes into my office, I help you figure out what you want to achieve, map out a path for success, and then hold your hand and cheer you all the way across the finish line. I believe you can do it! I know you can do it! And I can help you make it happen!

Hiring a professional coach is an investment in your personal and professional self. It’s recognizing that something needs to change in order to exude the confidence and clarity that high performers experience. It is also reaching out for support and help to get there.

Coaching isn’t for people who have “hit rock bottom.” I have some people who come to me feeling overwhelmed, but in general, individuals who seek out coaching are truly the best and brightest. Their goal is to shine brighter. To that end, coaching provides customized professional development and heightened self-awareness as no other method can offer.

According to published study results from Manchester Inc., executives who received coaching services realized a sixfold return on those services. Wow! Imagine accomplishing almost as much in a single day as you previously did in an entire week — including the weekends. How could you not take advantage of these benefits? The most significant improvements came in the area of working relationships, up 77 percent; teamwork, up 67 percent; and productivity, up 53 percent. These results speak for themselves. Working with the right coach can truly give you the boost you need to experience the life you’ve always dreamed of both inside and outside of the office.

As a word of warning — coaching is not therapy! The point of coaching is to help you determine where you are currently at and how to move forward. If you need to delve through deep emotional issues from your past, a coach should refer you to the appropriate trained professional for that type of treatment. Please know that a qualified, reputable coach will not attempt to solve these types of psychological problems; instead they will help you define and accomplish objectives that can be achieved through setting goals and supporting you to achieve those goals.

Like any other improvement technique, results depend greatly on the quality of the service and the depth of your commitment. You need to be open and ready to challenge your old habits and patterns and replace them with new ones. Once you’ve prepared yourself, following an intentional process for hiring a wonderful coach will help you get the results you want.

Another word of warning: Buyer beware! Coaching is an unregulated industry. That means that anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a coach. It is very important to find a trusted adviser who will provide you with the professional service you are seeking. While the benefits can be exponentially positive, it's important to do your homework to find the right type of coach who has the correct training, background and experience to help you meet your business or personal goals.

Step One: What type of coach do you need?

Coaches specialize in different areas and should have had rigorous training, background and experiences to support their areas of expertise. The first step in finding the perfect coach is to determine the type of coach you are seeking, or the area of expertise that they need to have, to help you get the results you are looking for. Just like you wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix your car motor, you would not hire a life coach to help you unravel your business finances. Take a look at the list of coaching specialties below to begin to pinpoint your exact needs. Some talented coaches offer more than one type of coaching in their practice.

  • Life or personal coach. This is an adviser who focuses on supporting you as you make changes in your personal life with areas such as dealing with teenagers, aging parents, relationship strategies, household management, etc. Life coaches help you develop a solid self-awareness and foundation for changing habits that may be keeping you stuck.
  • Career coach. The function of a career coach is to help a client discern the type of job they are searching for, to create or polish up a resume, and to provide support through a successful job search. A career coach may also assist with helping a client make a successful career transition from one industry to another in a strategic and planned way.
  • Executive or leadership coach. An adviser who assists senior leaders (CEO, president, vice president-level), nonprofit executive directors, supervisors, managers, and program or department directors to strategically reach short-term and long-term goals. This may also include those who are aspiring to increasing levels of responsibility. Executive coaches tend to look at all aspects of a client's world, both personal and professional, to help them hyper-increase productivity and team performance, and to support them as they squeeze the juice out of life and work.
  • Business coach. If you are an entrepreneur or a business owner, a business coach can assist you with analyzing the structure and financial information of your business and help you decide where changes are recommended to help you reach your goals. A business coach can help you identify opportunities for all functions of your business, from personnel (getting the right people into the right positions), to exploring marketing plans, to increasing your sales.
  • Health coach. A relatively new category of coaching, health coaches support their clients in making nutritional and exercise changes to experience a more healthy lifestyle. The best health coaches are charging a fee for their health or medical expertise to help you achieve well-being. If a health coach is selling a product and offering advice for free with the purchase of that product, they are really just a glorified sales person. Knowing where your coach received their training to become a coach is important.
  • Spiritual coach (also known as a spiritual director). A spiritual coach offers support as clients discern their life purpose, their connection to that which is beyond, their spiritual beliefs, their spiritual traditions and practices, and explore their intuition and transcendence. A spiritual director may be steeped in only one religious tradition or may be “inter-Spiritual” — honoring all seekers, questioning agnostics and atheists.
  • Wealth or money coach. An adviser whose intention is not to sell financial products to make a commission, but rather to offer unbiased advice and recommendations about all aspects of your personal financial picture. This could include exploring budgeting, improving cash flow, analyzing purchases, shopping for insurances, and achieving financial short-term and long-term goals.
  • Time management and work-life balance coach. I have combined these two specialty areas because they both support a client in discerning their relationship with time and their habits or patterns that add to or detract from harmony and productivity at work and at home. While this may be a stand-alone professional development strategy, time management or work-life balance coaching is typically included under the umbrella of another type of coaching, life coaching, executive coaching, etc., to help a client become more productive.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of coaching services, just the most common list of offerings. It is a great first step in understanding what you, or one of your employees, may expect from a coach and why you might consider investing in one.

In part two and part three of this series I will help you discover the extraordinary qualities of a good coach and provide some interview questions that you can use when making a decision to move forward with a coach. This will help you be all set to zoom ahead and hire the perfect coach.

Why a successful event is like a perfect meatball


- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Being somewhat of a meatball connoisseur, I find it hard to eat a meatball without judging it on its texture and flavor before deciding whether it’s good or bad. Each component must be complementary of the next in order to achieve complete harmony. The same can be said about a well-executed event.

Who has ever been to an event and noticed the flaws? Perhaps a glitch in the sound during a keynote speaker or connection problems with the video?

How about when the food or service just isn’t good? Or when the decor is just ugly! Why is it we always remember when something goes wrong? Here are five ways to make sure your event isn’t a mushy meatball:


I have stressed this before but will do so again: It is imperative to have clear event objectives prior to any concrete planning. Start at the drawing board and return there if necessary at different stages in the process. Create an event “tagline” that sums up those objectives and always go back to that tagline when you are at a standstill in your process. Maintaining clear sight lines on your event objectives will contribute to a cohesive and well-received event.

HIRE AN EVENT PLANNER (shameless plug):

There are many reasons to hire a planner, but one of the most valuable is that they are experts. Not only do they possess the efficiency and know-how to plan an event from start to finish, they also possess vision, which could be more important than the actual skill of planning.

An event planner can serve as a creative partner to help you to think outside the box to create the “wow.” Interview a few planners before you hire one to make sure you have a good cosmic connection. Take them to dinner, buy them expensive wine to ensure you are a good fit for each other. ... Just kidding about the dinner. But really, you should feel totally confident in your planner’s abilities prior to hiring them.


Let’s be real, whose TV has ever said “no signal” and you thought to yourself, “There is no way I am ever going to figure this out; I should probably just go read a book?” If you are like me, I just simply cannot figure out (or want to figure out) how to trouble shoot electronics. That is why I always, always always hire an A/V Expert.

Not only are they able to quickly and effectively troubleshoot anything that may go awry, they will make sure no one ever notices there was a problem in the first place. More importantly, like your event planner, they have vision. Lean on them to execute your vision. Allow this creative partner the freedom to offer exciting suggestions on how to achieve a full, visually engaging experience.


Be smart in your choices; don’t just choose the cheapest options. Rely on your caterers to give suggestions and insight into menu size and options. But also have a vision strategy of your own that ties in to the event themes and objectives. Also, remember this is a health-conscious society, so be sensitive to a menu that can appeal to all attendees. Replace heavier starches and fats with lean carbohydrates and proteins to help sustain attendee engagement and protect the waistline.


Know your venue space and design the event flow thoughtfully and purposefully. When I say event flow, I am talking not only about the scheduling of the production itself, but also about the physical and visual flow through space.

Design a flow from the eyes of the attendee and guide their movement through space. Your flow strategy should be determined from your event objectives. If your event deems itself to be a little more structured or conservative, maybe you will want to guide your attendees in a specific way through space and program. Likewise, if your event is more casual, maybe your attendees are allowed the opportunity to wander the space and casually take everything in.

Make sure you are delivering the same messaging in a number of different ways so to increase the probability of retention. Also, get butts out of seats at least every 45 minutes to an hour to keep the blood and oxygen flowing through the room!

In conclusion, gather creative and capable experts who can work together seamlessly to create a harmonious event. Reconsider the “one-stop-shop” mentality for convenience' sake and seize the opportunity to shine by investing just a little bit more into your event.

Don’t get caught making bad meatballs!

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

Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website  

Are cybersecurity attacks on the rise?

ISSA-secure-iowa-2016- Dave Nelson, CISSP, is president and CEO at Integrity.

Information security professionals and business leaders from around the state will converge on Ankeny on Oct. 4 for the fifth annual Secure Iowa Conference. There will be sessions on digital forensics, developing information security programs, and everything in between. (Attendance is free and you can register at

A theme in many of the presentations will be the rise of specific attacks. Presenters will discuss the nature of current threats against companies and technology platforms. Attendees will hear from the FBI about the types of cybersecurity attacks they are seeing, specifically in Iowa.

What I wish we had, though, were better statistics. We’ve got data, statistics, analysis of big data and so on to prove any narrative we want to espouse. The problem is, we can’t believe all of it.

The reason isn’t that the data is faulty or inaccurate. The problem is that the data is incomplete. We are missing huge, and I mean huge, chunks of data about breaches.

The Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report has been published for a decade now. In the last report they even noted that some statistics may be skewed because a firm that participated in previous reports did not participate this year. That firm specializes in a certain type of breach, and therefore a lot of that data is missing from this year’s report.

Because of these large chunks of missing data, we don’t truly know how many unpatched servers were compromised or how many incidents actually resulted in a breach. The vast majority of incidents are never reported.

Think of it this way: Are you going to call the police every time you have a virus outbreak that takes a system offline or encrypts your files? Probably not, but it was a reportable security incident that would affect breach statistics. Are you going to call the FBI when someone sneaks a peek at personnel records to see what salary everyone on the team makes? Doubtful, but that’s still a security incident.

Millions of these events go unreported each year because they either don’t result in much if any monetary damage or you simply handled the issue in-house or you didn’t want the potential media exposure.

Don’t get me wrong, cybersecurity is absolutely a huge problem and we are under attack every minute of every day. The evidence we have suggests things are getting worse. I just hate to say for sure how much worse or in what ways when we don’t have all the data.

So I’m going to ask for your help. When you have a security incident, file a report with the FBI at Most of these cases will never be investigated. However, the information you provide will help us have better statistics about the types and source of attacks we are facing today. This will only help in determining the best way to overcome our adversaries.

Email: Dave-Nelson-2015-resized

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Embracing the challenges of a website

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

“Maintaining your website” can be such an ugly phrase. It really seems to have a negative connotation to most people I talk to. Website maintenance is the chore that they have to do after they get done with their brand-new, shiny website, and the maintenance part isn't nearly as fun. 

People ask me a lot what my job title means, and what I do on a daily basis. To me, updating our website might actually be one of the most enjoyable things that are part of my job description. I don’t see it as a pain or a nuisance, but rather a fun challenge. You might say I’m biased, working for a web firm, but I’ve enjoyed working on websites since I was young(er).

I don’t know that I ever realized how much I like working on websites until I observed how much others may not enjoy them. I’ve never found working on a website to be a pain or an annoyance, but rather a challenge to be taken on. A website is something that I can improve every day in order to stay ahead of our competitors. There’s always something new to learn, and some new idea to be discovered.

Why I love working on websites

I have a legitimate reason to love working on websites — and it may not be what you'd expect. The thing I've observed with most people's website complaints is that there’s almost always a silver lining of benefits underneath their supposed website chores. Next time you throw your website a snarky look, just remember …

“It’s so much work!”

This thing that is so much work is one of the most robust marketing tools you have the potential to get your hands on. You can have so much powerful information packed into one website, and that information can be targeted to different users. Think about how big a brochure would be if it had to include the same information your website does. Someone could be reading for hours!

“The website’s never done!”

Something I wish others would understand is that just because a website isn’t done doesn’t mean that it’s not acceptable to be on the internet. Sometimes having a “phase 1” and a “phase 2” means that you’re able to push your marketing out the door quicker, or with more robust features later. Not done is not the same as "bad," or "incorrect." The website just hasn't quite reached its full potential. But with a little extra work post-launch, don’t worry. You can get there!


“It’s hard to figure out how to update those images!”

I get it. Not truly knowing how to properly update your website can be a harder issue to deal with. However, I will still go back to a word I used earlier: challenge. Yes, it’s hard to figure out how to tackle a website issue when your main webmaster is on vacation and the handbook is, well, nowhere. But I would encourage you to not think of these issues as a nuisance, but rather as a challenge that you will overcome. Just try it! Even if the change is just a new head shot for your CEO, it can feel amazing to have conquered that assignment and have solved that problem. After all, the more challenges you take on, the better you’ll get at solving them (it’s inevitable).

How do you feel about updating your website?


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:





Why you (still) want international stocks

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

Suppose I offered you a choice between two broadly diversified, similarly volatile, well-known investments. Investment A had increased in value 23.8 percent over the past 10 years, while Investment B had grown 78.62 percent during the same time period. If that was all the information you had available, wouldn’t you be thinking Investment B sounds like the better deal?

This is the classic “past performance is no guarantee of future results” dilemma. We’ve read this kind of scenario so many times that we are just waiting to hear that the actual results over the next five years were just the reverse, and in this case they were. Investment A grew by 77.64 percent, while Investment B increased by only 7.78 percent. 

So what were (and are) the investment options? Investment A is a broad index of most U.S. stocks. Investment B is a very broad index of most non-U.S. stocks. The time periods? The first, 10-year, window was from 2001 through 2010. The second, five-year, time period was from 2011 through 2015.

What’s an investor in 2016 to do?

There are at least three good reasons for an investor to strongly consider including international stocks in their portfolio today: global opportunity, the relative lower prices of international stocks versus their U.S. counterparts, and broader diversification of risk.

Global Opportunity

As of the end of July, the value of all publicly traded companies worldwide totaled a little over $40.5 trillion, spread over 12,588 companies. Companies headquartered in the United States represented slightly over 53 percent of that total value.* For stock market investors, this means that approximately 47 percent of the opportunity for investment in publicly traded companies is located outside the United States, in places as diverse as the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Nigeria and Turkey, just to name a few. History indicates while not all will, there is a high likelihood some of these companies, and their country’s broad equity market, will succeed, potentially with higher returns than their U.S. counterparts.     

Stocks on Sale?

In today’s global financial environment, investment capital moves very freely across borders and between exchanges as technology links the entire world in a virtual real-time exchange of information and capital flows. This results in (among other things) stock prices that reflect the most current pooled information and expectations regarding risk and return for virtually every company in the world today. Professional investors from the most sophisticated institutions trade these stocks with each other every day in an attempt to add value to their portfolios. There must be an agreement on price that is deemed to be fair to both the buyer and the seller before any transaction is completed.

For companies (and countries) where the perceived risks are higher, buyers demand lower prices. These lower prices represent a demand for higher potential return on investment as compensation for taking on this risk of ownership.

One interesting measure used to gauge how expensive (or how cheap) a company’s stock price may be is the price-to-book (P/B) ratio. This ratio illustrates how much investors are willing to pay (price) for the underlying value (book) of a company. As of July 30, 2016, aggregate price-to-book ratios for non-U.S. stocks averaged 1.48, while price-to-book ratios for U.S. companies came in at 2.31.* This indicates global investors were demanding an approximate 36 percent discount in price to entice them to own the book value of non-U.S. companies. Investors sense many non-U.S. companies are operating in riskier financial and political environments and are, therefore, only willing to buy the shares of these companies at relative discounts (i.e., “on sale”). International investors are basically buying more book value per dollar than they can with U.S. stocks.

Diversification of Risk

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP prepares a Global Markets Overview at the end of each month. At the end of July, 2016, their overview identified 12,588 publicly traded companies with shares available to private investors. Just over 3,500 U.S. companies offered shares, while over 9,000 foreign companies offered shares. For investors wanting to spread their risk among a wide variety of competitively priced investments in economic and politically diverse markets, these numbers represent opportunity for risk management.

While there is never any guarantee regarding which investments will do well and when that may happen, there are reasonable steps investors can take, based on readily available information, to put themselves in a diversified, opportunistic position. Precisely what percentage of an investor’s portfolio should be devoted to international stocks (or U.S. stocks, for that matter) will vary and should be considered in view of an investor’s overall risk, return and liquidity preferences.

*Data from Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.

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

The not-so-secret secret


- 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."

Over the years, I’ve been asked a number of times how to creatively develop and maintain a competitive advantage in an environment marked by rapid changes in technology, fluid delivery systems, intense competition, real-time communication and instant (and often brutal) customer “experience” reports through social media.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear about someone bemoaning a poor customer service experience. In fact, I believe customer service has gotten so bad that some people generally seem to expect a bad experience. As a result, I believe we have lowered our bar to the point where we now just tolerate being treated poorly.

Although I do think it’s becoming more difficult to maintain an advantage, I believe there is a solution … perhaps even the solution. Here’s the “secret” competitive advantage solution, especially if you’re trying to build a positive personal or organizational image: Create a culture of above-and-beyond service. This will immediately place you ahead of most, if not all, of the competition.

Success comes by helping others get what they want. Go beyond the Golden Rule. In other words, treat people BETTER than you would want to be treated.

When I was a child, my father regularly told me that if you borrow something from someone, always return it in better condition than when you received it. Then others will be willing to help you again if you need it. When people come to you for what you provide, they are investing their time and possibly their money. Give them back something of greater value.

If people believe you truly care and will take care of them first and foremost, they will follow your leadership, believe in your ideas and give you their business, even if what you’re offering doesn’t have all of the latest bells and whistles. Bottom line: Regardless of anything else, people’s perception of an experience still comes down to how they feel.

Recently, my wife and I took a short vacation to Telluride, Colorado. We went there to relax, do a little hiking and enjoy the beautiful scenery (which was breathtaking). Without any prior experience, we booked a room at the Inn at Lost Creek in the adjacent town of Mountain Village. We chose this property only because they were pet-friendly, because we had our dog in tow. We knew nothing else about it.

From the moment we arrived, the staff was “over-the-top” friendly. They asked us for our names (including the dog’s), and NEVER forgot them. In fact, every time we walked by, they would say “hello” and address us by name. Whenever I walked the dog, they treated her like she was their own, also addressed her by name and offered her treats. (They even provided us a special pet basket at check-in full of treats, a mini-flashlight for night walking, and waste bags.)

A member of the staff provided us with a short tour of the property to ensure we knew where all of the amenities were located. He made sure we also knew that all snacks and bottled water were free and emphasized that if we ever needed more or anything else to let him know. The complimentary breakfast was incredible, and large, fresh-baked cookies were always available in the main lobby (something I overindulged on because, frankly, they were awesome).

Every time anyone saw us over the course of our three days there, we were asked how our stay was going and if we needed anything. And it didn’t matter who was working at the time. Everyone had the same exceptionally positive attitude and treated us with the same high level of care and respect. They even made sure we had bottled water, snacks and a package of dog treats for the road when we departed.

The staff made us feel extremely special – almost as if we were the only guests they had. We were so taken aback by the experience, we found ourselves talking about it the whole time we were there and even after we had left. It was incredible, and because of this level of service, this is now the ONLY place we will ever stay when we return. And, of course, we will now tell everyone we know about the Inn at Lost Creek and perhaps even blog about it.

People value most how you make them feel. They will ultimately act based on those feelings. So give them something worth their investment of support, time and money.

If you make them feel special, they will reward you with their long-term loyalty. By proactively building an image of service to others, you will create a sustainable competitive advantage, despite what others ­– including your competition – are doing.

©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

The road ahead for specialty retailers

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

I took some time off to travel out west last month and it got me thinking about the road ahead.

When we drive, even when we put the car on cruise control, we still have to pay attention to what's ahead -- the good as well the bad.

What's over that next hill? Is there going to be an obstacle in the road that poses a danger that we either have to go around or stop and rethink our course? And what about that unexpected curve or detour? Is it going to take us completely off track -- or lead us somewhere better?

It's very important for specialty retailers to think about the road ahead, too.

In fact, the top five defensive driving tips could just as easily be the top five strategic tips for small retailers:

·         Look Far Ahead. It sounds simple. It is simple. Unfortunately, simple things aren't always easy to do -- or they're easy to overlook. Set aside time on a regular basis to look far ahead. That leads us to the second tip.

·         Get the Big Picture. Should you focus most of your attention on your business, products and customer service and what you can do to make them better? Absolutely. But also take time to look at the big picture to see what's going on with other retailers that can benefit or hurt your business.

·         Have an Escape Plan. I don't mean bail out of your business at the first sign of trouble. But just like I've said before, if you have a product that's not selling, for instance, know when to avoid disaster. Don't keep hanging on to something because you hate to admit a mistake. Reduce its price, put out samples and get out of a bad situation as quickly as possible so you can move ahead on a better path.

·         Maintain a Proper Following Distance. OK, stay with me on this one. What happens when a pack of cars is following too closely? They crash, right? In the retail business, you need to know when to keep your distance. Don't run with the pack and try to be like everyone else. Keep your distance, chart your own course -- create your own niche -- and celebrate your uniqueness. Customers will appreciate it.

·         Reduce Distractions. We all know how texting, juggling a handful of French fries or sipping on that mocha latte can take your eyes and mind off the road with the disastrous consequences. (My favorite scary moment is when I see someone drinking a coffee, talking on their cellphone and putting on makeup all at the same time while driving on I-235 in the morning rush hour, but that's another story for another day.) The point is, success depends on focusing on the things that are going to cause your business to succeed, ignoring those things that aren't and knowing the difference between the two.

Keeping your eyes on what's ahead and following these steps will minimize unwanted surprises and guarantee to make your retail journey smoother and more profitable.

Less is more on your favorite restaurant menu

Jessica Dunker is president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

As I write this, I am lamenting the end of the premium grilled chicken wrap at McDonald's.

I liked it, and now it’s gone.

It was introduced by the quick-service giant as part of a strategy to compete with the various sub sandwich chains and to attract millennials who were “demanding healthier, fresher” menu items.

As the proud parent of three millennials, who spent a decade pushing apple slices in place of fries, I am pleased to know that this generation is demanding such things. But are they really? Sales numbers would say differently. People like what they like, and regardless of generation, restaurants rarely go wrong by offering fries in any form (shoestring, cottage, waffle, etc.).

Healthy stuff with your burger? Not so much.

But this isn’t an indictment of closet fry-eaters. Rather, it’s a recognition that restaurants, like all businesses, have to evolve — and that includes changing their menus — and dumping sales losers.

This methodical evaluation of a menu can be easier for chains than for locally owned restaurants. You’re not likely to find any sentimental value attached to “mom’s favorite flan” recipe in a national chain. Independent restaurateurs are much more likely to resist dumping an item on the off chance it is one of their regular patrons' (or their own) favorites. That’s why you may notice a local restaurant’s menu grow and grow, and grow some more.

But that’s rarely a good business decision. Restaurants, particularly those locally owned places, cannot be everything to everyone. And if the menu is too long, quality — of food and service — can suffer.

Thankfully for those owners who have trouble letting go, the move toward shorter restaurant menus is actually considered “trendy” these days, and that can make unloading a few rarely ordered menu items more palatable.

What’s more, research shows that today’s busy diner doesn’t want to be met with hundreds of options when eating out. They generally prefer easier-to-read menu formats — less is actually more.

Take a look at the relatively sparse menus from some of the Golden Circle’s newest restaurants, add to that the offerings from your favorite food truck, pop-up restaurant or single-item food venue, and you quickly realize that it isn’t a lack of ideas keeping these menus small. Rather, it’s a movement toward focused, specific menu items.

National brands like Chipotle figured this trend out early. In an effort to capture the dollars of diners who want to customize meals but not wade through large, confusing menus, Chipotle offers four main items. Customers then walk through and choose from 20-plus optional ingredients. It’s a short — but very customizable — menu.

Other chains (and independents) are following suit. A recent Washington Post article noted that the country’s 500 largest restaurant chains have cut more than 7 percent of their menu items this year. Small independent restaurants would be well served to follow suit.

In the past, restaurants tried to differentiate themselves with the breadth of their menu offerings. Today sharp owners recognize that too many choices make it hard for diners to choose anything at all. Diners don’t judge a restaurant on how many items it offers, but rather on how well it executes specific offerings.

So if you notice your favorite restaurant has shortened its menu, you can bet that the items that remain are likely winners and will consistently taste great. You win, and so does the operation. Flat out, that’s just good business.

5 ways to step up your corporate event game


'I throw lots of parties... But I insist on only serving canned pumpkin and crystal clear cola.'

 - Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Sure, a bunch of pop, water and beer in a cooler is an easy way to serve your attendees drinks, and in some cases this tactic is totally appropriate. However, there are other times where your attendees deserve a little bit more pampering. By investing a little bit more thought and moolah into your events, you will boost the quality of the experience you are creating for your attendees -- and they will notice and appreciate you for it. Here are five ways you can step up your corporate event game in a positive way.

1. Consider room layout and convenience for attendees.

Before you lay out your furniture, do a walk-through of the event space yourself. Start at the main entry and enter the space as if you were an attendee. Make sure the course of travel is clear and free of obstruction. Look for anything that might be confusing for attendees, making them feel awkward. Make your attendees feel welcome by stationing a greeter at the door. Beware of the possibility of traffic jams that may occur in the space. Place your food and beverage locations where they will not inhibit general flow of travel. Make sure restrooms are clearly marked and are made discreet so your attendees feel comfortable going in and out. Space planning should be a part of your initial event strategy (not an afterthought), so take care during the planning and develop a design that functions well.

2. Be conscious of food and beverage choices.

Be thoughtful about not only what you are serving your guests, but how you are serving them. As part of a health-conscious society, planners should be sensitive when creating event menus. It is important to choose items that are rich in proteins and complex carbs, while avoiding foods that are high in fats that leave your guests feeling bloated and lethargic. Choosing smart food options will boost your attendees' energy and attention span. These wise choices show your attendees that you promote healthy living, and that makes you look cool. Avoid foods that are messy to eat, for obvious reasons. If doing appetizers, make sure they are compact and bite-sized. If the food requires utensils, make sure you provide ample options for attendees to perch at tables to eat. It’s REALLY hard to cut something while holding a plate and a drink, so think about that. Paying for a bartender sometimes just makes sense. You can hire companies that will provide the bar and all its fixings for relatively cheap. They come with insurance and smiling faces and will set up and break down their bar without you having to lift a finger. You buy the booze, they bring the rest; no mess, no stress.

3. Create continuity in event design.

Determine what it is that you wish to gain by holding your event, and use those objectives to guide the course of your event. Deliver clear and consistent messaging across all elements of your design so your message is received by your attendees. This means from your initial invitation to your check-in process, to the food you provide, to your centerpieces, to the parting gift -- every element of your event should relate to the other elements. By developing some sort of underlying theme, it makes it easy to make choices on the different components of your event. If you are throwing a party to promote an expensive jewelry line, every element of your event design should speak to and demonstrate the concept of that jewelry line. Event planners are really good at creating continuity in event design. So if you feel lost in this area, find a qualified and stellar planner to assist in this creative process (wink, wink).

4.  Dress her up!

Add some flowers, drapes, interesting graphics … something that adds some interest to the space. Yeah, no one will really care if you don’t dress up the space, but if done well, people will notice if you do. Remember, this is your opportunity to create a positive experience for your attendees. Make them feel like you knew they were coming and prepared for their arrival. Don’t make your event seem like a frazzled afterthought; that will be noticed too.

5.  Give a little bit.

A thoughtful favor is always advised. Use this as an opportunity to leave a lasting impression and further hammer home your message. Be unique and impactful; avoid giving away junk. We all have a million coozies, pens and water bottles, so think outside the box. Creating a well-packaged and useful favor can really go a long way in differentiating your brand.

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

Don't worry; be happy

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

Since July 1, the news has been full of stories about the poor returns experienced by public pension plans for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016. The Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) earned just over 2 percent, and the Iowa Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System (MFPRSI) netted less than one percent -- both far short of the 7.5 percent annual average assumed by the plans.

This is the second year in a row for poor pension returns, and once again the standard refrain from the public pension industry is to downplay the results and emphasize the results over the long term. (See: Des Moines Register: IPERS Fund Facing $5 Billion Shortfall - Misses Investment Goal.)

The plans are justified in keeping a long-term perspective, and wise to avoid over-reaction in any given year. Returns are going to be more volatile than they once were because a larger share of plan assets are invested in higher return/higher risk classes. For example, in 2013 the IPERS portfolio earned +15.88 percent! We can expect this volatility to continue.

While volatility creates its own problems (such as a higher risk of another funding crisis), there’s also the big question of whether the returns experienced over the long-term past are actually indicative of what to expect over the long-term (30-year) future. More and more the answer is “no.”

IPERS’ own investment manager, Wilshire, expects the next ten years to return an annual average of 6.27 percent, more than a full point below the assumed 7.5 percent.

According to a May 2016 McKinsey & Company report, “returns on equities and fixed-income investments in the United States and Western Europe over the next two decades could be considerably lower than they have been in the past 30 years.” The McKinsey report cites a variety of causes including aging populations in the developed world and China, and low interest rates and inflation.

Another expert, Alice Munnell from the Center for Retirement Research, said last month: “The consensus among industry officials is that returns will continue to be lower in the future due to a number of factors, including low bond rates and the stock market being at an all-time high.” (See: Washington Budget Finance - Should States Lower Estimates for Pension Investment Returns.)

It turns out the past 30 years have been extraordinary, and unlikely to be repeated.

Some systems have recently been lowered or begun to lower their return assumptions below 7.5 percent. The California Public Employment Retirement System (CALPERS) announced last year it would lower its 7.5 percent rate gradually to 6.5 percent. The Illinois Teachers Retirement System, in a state not known for its fiscal prudence, reduced its rate of return assumption from 7.5 percent to 7 percent, which will precipitate an increase in contributions.

What would happen if IPERS were to reduce its return assumption from 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent?

Payments to erase the shortfall would need to go up by about 50 percent, or rise from around $400 million per year statewide to more than $600 million per year for the next 25 years. Those are big numbers (and they only cover the debt payments, not the cost that accrues with each new year of service) -- more than enough to fund a statewide water cleanup program, for instance.

Few wish to change the return assumption, because it requires more public money at a time when we already struggle to fund priorities like education.

It would make it more painfully obvious that we simply cannot sustain these plans, and that we should be talking about a new structure for future employees.

Instead, the plans hang on to the current assumptions and keep shifting their assets into riskier classes that offer the possibility of higher returns. Of course they also carry the same possibility of larger losses. The public takes on more risk without even knowing about it!

If we wait, and it turns out that 6.5 percent would have been a better number -- or if there is another financial crisis that hits at a time when the plans are already vulnerable -- it will be even more difficult, if not impossible, to dig out later. Then everyone loses.

Due diligence: A seller’s perspective

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


Years ago you mapped out exactly what you want to happen with your succession plan.

You have worked with your family and a team of professional advisers to execute that succession plan and therefore have put your company in the best possible position for a sale – achieving both the financial and the nonfinancial objectives that are important to you.

You identified the exact right type of buyer for your business and within that group identified the exact right buyer for your business. (Note: All of these subjects above are explored in previous articles.)

A letter of intent (LOI) has been signed by you and your buyer outlining the major pieces of the agreement (sale price, type of transaction, transition period, etc.), and now you and your buyer have 60 days to get the transaction closed – a time period often called “due diligence.”

The hard part is over, right? For a seller who has not previously been through a sell-side sale process or is unprepared for it, oftentimes the answer to this question is NO.

Remember, the business owner has often spent their entire life building up this company, and thus has not sold a company before, so this process is totally new to them.

On the flip side, the buyer has to make an educated risk-reward decision, and so identifying as many potential company surprises before close is important to them before they commit significant capital to buy the business. Many times they cannot “see everything” in a business until they have executed an LOI with the seller.

During diligence, the buyer will often:

  1. Send in third-party accounting experts to conduct an analysis of the company financials and cash management practices. This is often called a “Quality of Earnings.”
  2. With the seller’s permission, reach out directly and/or hire a third party to reach out to key customers and vendors to understand how they feel about their relationship with the company.
  3. Conduct environmental and title review of any company-owned real estate.
  4. Have an attorney draft definitive deal documents (which seem more excessive than necessary and take the terms of the LOI into infinite detail).
  5. Iron out employment agreements with remaining employees.
  6. Hire a third party to conduct personality tests on remaining employees.
  7. Identify the bank they intend to use after the transaction, which will have its own set of questions and requirements (may include a “field exam”).
  8. Identify the property and casualty insurance carrier and employee benefits carrier they intend to use after the transaction, and they will have their own set of questions.
  9. Do an underwriting process for key man life insurance.
  10. Conduct background checks on key personnel.

... Just to name a few.

To the unprepared seller, this will feel like a lot and like they have to answer the same questions over and over again.

To the prepared and organized seller, all this can be done efficiently and with little heartache within the roughly 60-day time period for diligence. After which, thanks to the seller's well-executed succession planning plan, they will be able to move to the next phase of their life under their own terms.

Making the case for community involvement

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

Today is the third of three posts on the value of community engagement. In the first post, Sharp let his friend Kim Hanken write about the value of being involved in your community. Yesterday, Sharp gave advice to millennials on how to find companies that share their community interests. Today, he writes about the benefits for companies to have a culture of community engagement. 

Being active in the Young Professionals Connection, I'm surrounded by millennials who are active in our community. But it's important for employers to recognize that it's not just the YPC crowd that wants to be involved in community causes through their work.


Hard evidence is all around us that millennials want to work for companies with a culture that encourages volunteerism.

From what I've seen, it honestly doesn't take too much explaining to the vast majority of business owners and bosses in the Des Moines metro because they already get it. But promoting that culture is important for employers to consider when thinking about how to encourage productivity, employee retention and healthy workplace morale.

For those few who still aren't convinced, it's easy for employees to make a persuasive case that community involvement is worth the investment. It starts, as I mentioned yesterday, with "building the business reputation, business recognition, networking opportunities, and opportunities to improve the community," according to a 2012 Dun and Bradstreet story, "Community Involvement Helps Generate Capital."

It definitely doesn't stop there. You can also cite a May 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research that 4 of 5  consumers -- 82 percent -- consider corporate social responsibility when deciding what companies they want to do business with, where they shop and what they buy.

And there's more. Like the 2013 article in Entrepreneur, "The Power of Giving Back: How Community Involvement Can Boost Your Bottom Line," that reinforces the case. In it, writer Lindsay Lavine quotes philanthropy consultant Erin Giles as saying, "I've found that customers really want to know how you're making the world a better place."

Having a strong community presence can set a business apart from the competition. And that's smart business.

Lavine contends that community service should be much more than an afterthought; it should be part of the company's business plan. (That makes it pretty important, in my book.) Her suggestion is to consider four things, in particular, when putting a community service plan on paper.

Step one is building relationships in the community by focusing on what groups or issues really need attention. The second step -- getting employees on board with community involvement -- builds a collaborative and inspired team by providing "leadership opportunities for employees, which leads to increased staff performance and fulfillment and, ultimately, increased productivity and sales," Lavine writes, citing Giles' expertise.

Bosses may feel more comfortable committing employees to community projects if they follow Step 3 -- creating a custom volunteer plan in which they weigh employees' strengths and choose activities based on their specific strengths.

And, finally, it seems counterintuitive because we're always told not to brag about our good deeds, but businesses shouldn't hide their community involvement. In fact, Giles recommends that companies put a dollar value on employees' volunteer activities based on the cost of their donated time. Doing that will make it much easier for existing and prospective clients to measure a company's charitable contributions to the community.

So, when you're making the case to your boss that he or she should let you get more involved in community causes through work, don't just take the word of an opinionated millennial like me. Go in to the boss well-armed with all the facts you can put together, and you'll be able to convince even the biggest skeptic that it's in the company's best interest for employees to roll up their sleeves and get involved in community causes.

If they still don't change their mind, it just might be time for you to find a boss who shares the same commitment to our community that you do.

Want a company that respects community involvement? Ask. Just ask.

Bizrec1- Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection

This is the second of three posts on the value of community engagement. In the first post, Sharp lets his friend Kim Hanken write about the value of being involved in your community. Today, Sharp gives advice to millennials on how to find companies that share their community interests. Tomorrow, he writes about the benefits for companies to have a culture of community engagement. 


It's the question on a lot of millennials' minds: How do I find the right company that encourages community involvement or convince my current boss that it's worthwhile for our company to let me be more involved?

Don't take my word for it. There's plenty of research to back that up. I don't have room here to share all the details with you but the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, sponsored by the Case Foundation, is a good read on this topic for employees and employees.

But here's the key part: Millennials' preferences in the workplace include "how they engage with their company and what they look for in corporate cause work, with 'cause work' meaning the programs and initiatives companies execute that help people and communities Companies increasingly approach employee culture and corporate responsibility as important assets that inspire retention, productivity and a variety of other organizational benefits. As companies and nonprofits work together more, and more employers include cause work in their values, research is needed to understand the next generation of employees, their attitudes and their preferences for company cause work."

Sounds great. But even if companies are more focused on creating the right culture to attract and retain millennials, how do you find the company that will respect and value the causes you believe in and support?

Ask. Yep, it's that simple. Ask.

Whether it's in a job interview, meeting a company employee at a reception or party, or even picking up the phone and calling the company with specific questions, ask:

  • What's the company policy on volunteering? Is it a new or longstanding policy, and is it likely to change anytime soon?
  • What has the company's experience been with employees who have been involved in the community?
  • What causes does the company support -- or not?
  • How much company time is an employee allowed to devote to cause-related activities? Is it all paid or just time off?
  • Does the company match charitable contributions? If so, which organizations are eligible?

If you work at a company that currently isn't big on community involvement, the case for letting you do it is very persuasive. It starts with "building the business reputation, business recognition, networking opportunities and opportunities to improve the community, according to a 2012 Dun & Bradstreet story, "Community Involvement Helps Generate Capital."

FEH Design, the architectural firm where I'm an associate, has really supported me being involved in areas that have fired my enthusiasm and allowed me to build a network of productive relationships, including the Young Professionals Connection, the DART 2035 Advisory Committee and the Greater Des Moines Partnership's Transit Future Work Group.

In return, my employer has realized benefits, including organizations that want to work with FEH Design because of its commitment to community involvement and emerging leaders. It may seem like a tiny difference to some, but small things can make a big difference in a competitive marketplace.

That's enough ammunition for now.

Tomorrow: I'll cover that topic in detail -- and then you'll have plenty of great arguments ready to make your case.

Ag Technology now, here

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

Central Iowa is a natural hub for one of agriculture’s most innovative sectors, but that's no guarantee

Iowa’s agriculture innovation ecosystem received an important upgrade in May this year when Iowa State University and a group of investors announced the creation Ag_Tech_Financing
of the Ag Startup Engine, a development program for agriculture technology companies. The Startup Engine will serve as a business acceleration resource for startups across the agricultural innovation spectrum, including biotechnology and ag technology (or what we used to call "precision agriculture"). The initiative will “provide mentoring services to agricultural entrepreneurs, as well as infrastructure for developing prototypes and products. It also will provide training in how to finance a business.”

Then, another upgrade. On Aug. 30, the Cultivation Corridor and the Greater Des Moines Partnership announced that John Deere, DuPont Pioneer, Farmers Mutual Hail and Peoples Company will invest in a new ag technology startup accelerator in Central Iowa that will further establish Central Iowa’s reputation as a global leader in cutting-edge agricultural technology. The accelerator is designed to build upon one of the state’s key industries of agriculture and the entrepreneurial activity that can advance technology in the industry. It is expected to welcome its first cohort of startups in Spring 2017 and continues to accept investors.

These two developments taken together represent a decisive announcement to the world that Iowa’s education, economic development and private sector leaders are committed in real monetary and organizational terms to establishing Central Iowa as a premier destination for capital and research in what is perhaps the fastest growing segment of an otherwise distressed ag sector. And it couldn’t have happened at a more important time. 

Work in ag technology, broadly termed to be research and innovation resulting in hardware, software and platform improvements in the agriculture sector, has exploded in the second decade of the 21st century. According to AgFunder, in 2010 the broader agriculture technology sector saw roughly $400 million in venture financing activity. Just five years later, that figure had grown 11-fold to $4.6 billion in 2015. As low commodity prices put more and more pressure on the sector, AgFunder reports $1.8 billion in activity for the first half of 2016. Still, the trend is real and growing -- exceptional volumes of venture and institutional capital are flowing toward the ag technology sector. 

As agriculture’s role increases in addressing the global challenges we all face in the coming decades related to nutrition, energy and environmental sustainability, the Ag_tech_states prominence that rapid technological innovation is taking in today’s agricultural companies is intensifying. Natural to such a cycle is the emergence of a startup class of companies that is growing in sophistication and value. And that’s where Central Iowa comes in.

Iowa has been a home of agricultural innovation for more than a century. Farmers, in addition to being some of America’s longest-standing small business owners, are perhaps our most pure professional innovators. And Iowa boasts more of these farm innovators than anyone else. Humble beginnings for Iowa farm innovators have produced spectacular economic, social and cultural returns for our state for many years -- be they seed breeding on the homestead (Harry Stine), solving equipment challenges on the farm (Gary Vermeer) or building a weed control empire from an Ankeny basement (Dennis Albaugh). 

Despite Iowa’s remarkable farm innovation pedigree, we of course possess no guarantee that the next generation of ag innovators will look to Iowa as a destination for the incubation and acceleration of their ideas. In fact, AgFunder’s data on investment in ag technology companies lists the top 15 states by dollars invested in startups for 2015. Hawaii is on the list. Alabama is on the list. Iowa is not. We cannot take for granted our longstanding reputation as leading agriculture state to presume Iowa will naturally attract investment in perhaps the most important emerging field of agriculture. We cannot, and so we must invest in programming and institutions like the Ag Startup Engine and the Ag Tech Accelerator to enhance our competitiveness as a destination for the next generation of ag technology capital and talent.

Since January, at least three other ag technology accelerators have been announced in the U.S. -- one at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, one in rural Washington and another in Memphis. Does this suggest that Central Iowa is late to the party and playing catch-up with is recent Ag Technology Accelerator announcement? Not at all; the rapid-fire emergence of accelerators pursuing startups in the ag space, if nothing else, reinforces the argument that the time is now to establish our region as a place of innovation in an industry sector that is growing rapidly. 

None of the people I am working with on the Ag Tech Accelerator would be surprised if four or five more ag-oriented accelerators are announced by year’s end. The market will saturate, but with the announcement of two startup support assets -- supported by major players in agriculture including John Deere, DuPont Pioneer and Summit Group -- to support startups in the space in the first half of 2016, Central Iowa has made clear that it intends to compete at the highest levels globally to attract agriculture startups to our state.

Contact Brent Willett:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: / @brent_willett /

Finding the right pace for growth

- by Michelle DeClerck, CMP

One major challenge of running a small business startup is growing it at the right pace. Many of those who start their own business probably think they will ramp it up slowly and deal with growth-related issues later. I thought the same thing, but I quickly had more work than I could handle. While I would have preferred that the business grow more slowly, I suddenly found myself in a position in which researching how to hire and employ staff members was as much a priority as handling my clients’ requests.

Because employing others can affect many of the reasons you went into business for yourself, it’s important to give it careful consideration before you take that step.

When the time comes to think about adding staff, I recommend being very mindful of how and when you start spreading the word, as your friends will likely be eager to help you find someone — perhaps even before you’re ready to do so. This could result in a hiring decision you may later regret.

Next, ask yourself the following important questions:

• Do I truly understand the ramifications of hiring a friend?

• What will the working arrangement look like? If the business is home-based, how can I discern whether someone is self-motivated and self-directed enough to handle the unique challenges of working from home?

• Will the work be consistent enough to ensure I won’t hire someone only to have to terminate them later due to lack of funding? Remember, your staff will be depending on your business to help them pay for things like their kids’ braces and soccer fees.

• Do the numbers really add up? After workers’ compensation insurance, bookkeeping, paperwork, mentoring, managing and everything that goes into a meaningful employment situation, am I really making enough money to cover both the addition of the staff member and the time it will take me away from the core work I was doing? (These things usually take more time than you would think.)

• What’s the real reason I’m adding staff? If it’s to grow the company based on your strategic objectives, you’re probably on the right track. If it’s because you don’t want to turn down business, first make sure it’s really the type of business you want your company to handle. Next, consider whether the client would be OK with your delegating the work to a staff member rather than handling it yourself. Clients often hire small businesses based on the business owners. A candid conversation with the client may be necessary and may help you with your hiring decision.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you discuss all of these considerations with other successful small business owners. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can from their experiences.

Deciding when and how much to grow is a challenge. However, if you give it the right type of forethought, you can grow at a pace at which you can continue to find the same level of enjoyment and fulfillment you originally sought when you decided to go into business for yourself.

Leadership isn't as easy as it looks

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


Tilt your head back, tucking in your chin until your mouth and esophagus align with your spine.

  • These are instructions for swallowing a sword.

As you take off, shift your weight backward by leaning back. This will make you spin.  

  • These are instructions to do a back flip in downhill skiing.

Be humble, communicate effectively and be emotionally intelligent.

  • These are instructions on becoming a leader.

What do these three sets of instructions have in common? 

They don’t reflect the complexity of the task or communicate the enormous amount of practice required to achieve mastery.

They certainly sound simple enough. In all three cases, it isn’t as easy as it looks.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

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Handling social media harassment and cyberbullies

Katie Patterson

CEO and Founder, Happy Medium

News reports recently alerted us to the cyberbullying that Gabby Douglas faced in Rio through social media. Her mother stated to journalists that the young gymnast felt she couldn’t do anything right and was criticized for everything from her hair to how she cheered on her teammates. The comments turned mean and ugly quite quickly, and Gabby turned away from her social channels as a result.

Brands are no strangers to this kind of backlash via social media channels as well. For some reason, people seem to have an easier time with complaints or negative comments when behind a screen and not face-to-face with an actual representative from your company. As stated in past blogs, social media is an extension of your customer service and no question, complaint or issue should be ignored. But every now and then, you’ll get someone who wants to stir the pot and leave negative comments repeatedly on your company posts. This can be a challenging time because instinct is often to delete the comments, but that can often make people angrier and backfire on the social efforts. A quick search of what to do turns up several recommendations that you never delete Facebook posts, so social media managers are often left wondering which is the lesser of two evils.

Here are some options to help detract the situation:

1. Set page guidelines to your company Facebook page. On your “about” page or through a Facebook note, you can set clear guidelines for commenting/posting on the company page. This oftentimes is as easy as no swearing, no spam, be respectful. It sets the precedent for what is accepted, and if anyone disputes why something was deleted, it’s easy to reference these guidelines as a benchmark for what will be allowed and those comments that are unacceptable.

2. Ask them to send more information privately. Taking the conversation into a private message allows you to get more details on the issue and also moves it to an area where the general public won’t be following along if the discussion gets heated on the customer's end.

3. Hear them out, and offer a solution. If the complaint is legitimate, offer a solution. Let them know you’re speaking with customer service or the employee who was involved in the issue. If it’s something that can easily be fixed, don’t be shy to repair the situation with a good gesture such as a complimentary experience or refund, if applicable.

4. Show appreciation for their feedback if a solution isn’t possible immediately. Oftentimes social media is where customers feel they can make suggestions for problems your team may already be working on but not have an answer to yet. At a minimum, thank them for their input. Most of the time, your fans just want to know their voice is being heard and acknowledged. 

5. Reply to reviews over individual posts to your page. Reviews are the more public-facing comments rather than posts to a page. Other viewers are more likely to look at your company reviews first, so make sure if a complaint is being left in multiple places, your response is focused on the review first. You can comment on other posts to say you have offered a solution on the review so other visitors are aware you didn’t leave the customer hanging with no response.

6. Hide their comments. If the conversation turns to a place where it is no longer productive, you can hide their comments. This allows the discussion to be hidden from your page but to the user who left it, it still appears as normal. This is a solution if you feel that deleting the comment will cause backfire.

7. Delete the comments or ban user if nothing else can be done. Some people simply cannot be reasoned with, and when the conversation turns down the path of no return, use your best judgment in deleting comments or banning the user from the page. Social media should be a place for productive discussion and engagement with your customers, and if the user refuses to be reasoned with or happy with any offering, this is the time when it’s OK to consider limiting future involvement on the page. This should be a last resort, but know that there are instances when this is the best option.

Avoid brain fatigue at your conferences



- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Did you know the average human attention span is less than that of a goldfish? According to a recent study done by Microsoft Corp. the average attention span for humans is less than eight seconds. Now obviously we are capable of sitting down and absorbing information for semi-lengthy periods of times when we are required.  However, as event planners it is imperative that we are cognizant to this fact and are not overwhelming our attendees.

Here are five tips for planning your conference that will keep your attendees engaged longer and increase the chances of your message being received.

  1. Change up scenery often. In other words, get your attendees out of their seats often! Variety is the spice of life, so take full advantage of that while planning out your event program. Choose a venue that has multiple spaces to choose from and move your attendees around often. Even having your attendees stand up and move across the room will incorporate enough variety to keep them engaged and keep your program interesting and on pace. Avoid long expanses in the same room; this will make your attendees yawn, and yawning is contagious!
  2. Limit your speakers and breakout sessions. Having more than two keynote speakers and three breakout sessions in a single-day conference is a surefire way to wear your attendees out and have them yearning for the end of the day so they can run home to their beds. Choose your speakers wisely and with purpose.  If done right, your message will be fully received without the need for adding superfluous speakers into the mix.
  3. Vary your message delivery. Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are kinesthetic learners -- but the point is, we all learn differently, so be mindful of that. Provide information to your attendees in varied ways. Creating a lineup of three back-to-back speakers is the perfect formula to build attendee irritation. Integrate mini-breakout exercises, videos or interesting interactive elements to vary up your message delivery; your attendees will thank you for the variety.
  4. Give me a break! Rule of thumb: Provide your attendees a break at least every 90 minutes. This offers them the opportunity to get up and get the blood flowing again. It also offers them a nice little mental break to let their brain breathe. In this digital age, we are just itching to check in with our email and make sure nothing pressing is in need of our attention. By providing ample breaks you can give your attendees designated time to take care of any issues during that time and not be tempted to do it during one of your speakers.
  5. Provide a Constant Stream of Brain Food. Providing access to food is a must for keeping the brain engaged. Whole grains, lean proteins and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies will keep your attendees alert longer. Avoid heavy carbs -- just because the pasta bar is cheaper doesn’t mean it’s better. Leave healthy, easy-to-grab-and-consume foods out on the table for consumption during your entire program. Your attendees will become very distracted and angry if hunger begins to creep on them, so avoid this potential problem by building snacks into your budget.

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

Myth Buster: 90% of new restaurants do NOT fail in first year

--Jessica Dunker  is president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

Ninety percent of restaurants do not fail in their first year.

If you read no farther, please commit that fact to memory and repeat it often.

As best I can tell, the restaurant industry has been dogged by this myth for more than a decade, thanks to the opening credits of one of the first restaurant “reality” programs called "The Restaurant”.

The show followed the launch of a restaurant in Manhattan called Rocco's on 22nd and each week as part of the opening, viewers would hear the show’s main character Celebrity Chef Rocco DiSpirito proclaim that while "90 percent of new restaurants fail in their first year,” he would “beat those odds.” NBC cancelled the program after one season, but for some reason that opening statistic about restaurant failure rates has lived on in perpetuity.

Perhaps it was our natural inclination to “cheer for the underdog” that made us cling to the 90 percent failure rate figure as fact while we watched this restaurateur face “overwhelming” odds as he chased his dream to open his own restaurant. And while his dreams may have been real, that 90 percent failure rate figure carries about as much truth as the claim that those two dozen hunky men being dropped at the front door of a Hollywood mansion are just “looking for true love” on the show "The Bachelorette".

Anyone in the restaurant industry will be quick to tell you it is a slim-profit, high-risk, time-consuming business with higher than average staff turnover rates and a constantly changing competitive landscape. Still, I’m perplexed that anyone who has gone through eighth grade math would not question such an exaggerated statistic. In my head, this is an algebra test question waiting to be answered: “If 100 new restaurants open every year and 90 percent fail in the first year and 50 percent of those who make it to month 13 fail in the next three years, how long will it take until there are no restaurants at all?”

Given that even in the worst economic times we did not see mass restaurant closings, the numbers never added up. In fact today, Iowa’s restaurant industry, while not setting sales records, is expected to post a relatively healthy 4.2 percent growth in sales this year over last. Not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means — but certainly not a doomsday scenario either.

Exact figures focusing exclusively on new restaurant failures aren’t easy to come by, but the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy has reported that the two-year failure rate for all small businesses is 31 percent.

Researchers at Cornell University and Michigan State University conducted a study of restaurants in three local markets and concluded that after the first year approximately 27 percent of new restaurants failed. An Ohio State University study also found there was no significant difference in the failure rate of restaurant startups and small business startups in general.

So given the evidence we have to work with, the best I can estimate is that about 70 percent of new restaurants will make it past the first year. Asserting that is not likely to land me a reality show of my own anytime soon.

However, the numbers do offer me and restaurant lovers throughout the metro and state some reassurance that our new-to-the-market favorite places are more likely than not going to be here next August.

It also shows that Iowa’s restaurant industry will continue to be an important part of the state’s economy. Given that Iowa's restaurant industry employs one in ten workers in the state and generates about $4.3 billion in sales each year—those are numbers I can live with.

Should public schools care about customer service?


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

It's back-to-school season, and just the other day I met with administrators of my local school district. We've been having discussions over the summer with regard to the administrative assistants who answer phones in the schools' offices and greet visitors.

The superintendent told me that, for some time, he has wanted to find a way to equip these admins with customer service skills and to find a way to deliver a consistent, positive experience for their constituents across the district.

"These individuals are often the first impression of our school district for a parent or community member," he told me. "We want that impression to be a positive one."

As the conversation continued the other administrator added some color commentary.

"When you visit schools in other districts they will often tell you what schools they don't want you to visit," he explained. "It's often about the secretary or administrative assistant who runs the school office. They know that your experience with that person is going to make your visit a less than positive experience."

I'm excited to get to work on a small project with the district's key impression makers.

I walked away from this fascinating conversation with a few key take-aways about customer service:

  • Customer service is not just an issue for retail business. I'm so impressed with school administrators who are thinking strategically about the service experience of their constituents. So often we confine our thinking about customer service to classic retail and service industries. My experience over the years is that investment in service experience has the greatest impact in markets and sectors not traditionally known for caring about good customer service.
  • First impressions matter. I believe it was Dale Carnegie who made popular the phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." For a new parent moving into a school district, that administrative assistant can make or break the parent's impression of the school district. Training and coaching on a few key service skills can make a huge difference in overall satisfaction with the school and the district.
  • Mission and value statements are useless without expectations and accountability. In my conversation with the district administrators I was informed that two of the three "pillars" that the district had defined were "pursuing excellence" and "building caring relationships." The administrator recognized that our project to define and implement a consistent service experience across the schools was simply acting on the values the district had already set as goals for themselves.

Are you in an industry or profession that isn't known for making customer service a high priority? Is so, you might find that it is the very thing that could set you apart from your competitors and build stronger levels of loyalty and retention from your customers or clients.

Introverts, extroverts, and the power of showing up

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 - Flowers Colorful w websiteQ: Why do extroverts have voicemail?

A: To never miss a call.

Q: Why do introverts have voicemail?

A: To never answer the phone.*

Which response resonates with you?

Whether you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between, one thing is for sure: To be of service, develop others, achieve our goals, and fulfill our purpose, we need to be in connection with people. Even my academic researcher client - whom you might think spends her days in scientific solitude - finds the majority of her workday involving others.

And if you have a message to get out into the world, you do a disservice to us all by keeping it - or yourself - hidden.

That being said, the idea of networking makes many people cringe. We often picture a room filled with people we don't know, everyone seemingly paired up and in gripping conversation, business cards flying, while we stand off to the side and secretly plan our escape.

I vividly remember attending my first conference as a working woman in the "real world." I focused on taking good notes, acting professional (read: grown up), and sneaking up to my hotel room during breaks in order to replenish my energy. I went home with great notes but little else: no sense of camaraderie with my fellow attendees, no new relationships to continue to build.

Since then, I've learned to balance my desire for connection with my need for rejuvenating time alone, and I've coached many clients - both introverts and extroverts alike - to make the infamous cocktail party environment meaningful and enjoyable. Here are a few tips you might find helpful:

Remember your WHY.

Part of my purpose is to serve others by inspiring positive action. If I think of networking in terms of what I might get, I'll feel awkward and inauthentic every time. But if I focus on being of service and fulfilling my purpose, I am much more gracious and open. What's your why? Connect with that and your networking experience will transform.

Adopt the role of host.

Ironic though it may seem, public speakers are often introverts; they feel fine if they have a role to fulfill (even speaking in front of thousands of people) but not as fine when left on their own. Even if it's not technically your event, imagine your job is to make others feel welcome and comfortable. Serving as pretend host gives you a role that benefits you as well as other guests.

Transform your vocabulary.

This may sound simplistic, but try replacing the word "networking" with a verb that feels more authentic: connecting, helping, building relationships, making friends, serving, learning. Feel free to adopt my view of networking as a way to fulfill your purpose.

Change your focus.

Let your guiding thought throughout your interaction be, "How might I help this person?" Maybe you can provide a resource, make an introduction, or simply be a good listener - a rare but valuable quality.

Show up. Fully.

"I'm always glad I went," a coaching client recently shared of functions, "it's getting myself to go that's difficult." Creating a mantra like "I joyfully show up," or remembering that honoring your commitments is a sign of integrity, can help. Don't overthink, just show up.

In her excellent book "Quiet", author Susan Cain discusses how many introverts have adapted to our noisy world by learning how to do extroverted things. Doing that, or what some might call "acting as if," doesn't mean being inauthentic; it's perhaps moving beyond your comfort zone to experience as rich a life as possible.

And as we've all probably learned by now, our greatest growth typically occurs beyond our comfort zone!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

First, make sure the events you say yes to support your vision and purpose.

Then, view your next event as an experiment. Choose one of these ideas, or another that comes to mind for you, and notice the difference it makes in your interactions, feelings toward the overall event, and sense of purpose!

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

* From Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2010).

Investors should care about fiduciary standard

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

Here’s why we care about a fiduciary standard and why all investors should as well. When receiving financial advice would you rather have a financial advisor guide you in way that is always in your best interest or something less?

The Department of Labor recently published a rule requiring financial professionals and companies who provide investment services to retirement plans to operate according to a fiduciary, or, in common language, a “best interest standard.” Why is this standard important to investors? Here’s an excerpt from the fact sheet issued by the DOL.

A White House Council of Economic Advisers analysis found that (these) conflicts of interest result in annual losses of about 1 percentage point for affected investors—or about $17 billion per year in total. To demonstrate how small differences can add up: A 1 percentage point lower return could reduce your savings by more than a quarter over 35 years. In other words, instead of a $10,000 retirement investment growing to more than $38,000 over that period after adjusting for inflation, it would be just over $27,500.

The point of the rule is to simply require financial advisors to act in the investor’s best interest and to disclose any and all compensation arrangements that may benefit the advisor (rather than the investor) in recommending one investment over another. It does not mean an advisor cannot receive reasonable compensation for their work.

The response to this rule has been varied, with a number of investment providers, lobbying groups and some politicians coming out against it, in its current form. While the implementation of the rule may need some clarification and/or modification, the goal should be embraced by industry and investors alike. All parties, investors, advisors and financial service companies will benefit by making this rule and standard easily understood and implemented.

So how would investors know today if their advisors are already operating according to this fiduciary, or “best interest” standard? Here are three standards provided by the DOL to certify compliance. The financial advisor and/or financial services firm should:

1. State in writing their firm commits to providing advice in the client’s best interest at all times.
2. State in writing their firm has adopted policies and procedures designed to mitigate conflicts of interest.
3. Clearly and prominently disclose any conflicts of interest, like hidden fees, and backdoor payments that might prevent (or provide a disincentive to) the advisor from providing advice in the client’s best interest.

While this rule currently applies to retirement plans only (e.g., Profit-sharing plans, 401(k), 403(b)), investors would be well-served to make certain all their financial advisors are operating according to this fiduciary, or best interest, standard. There will be many reasons offered by those who would rather not operate according to a fiduciary standard. When you hear this, just remember to go back to the main issue; would you rather have an advisor guide you in a way that is in your best interest or something less?


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



Think big, execute small


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."

Too often, people have a tendency to view the primary role of creative leadership as having and setting long-term direction, while letting others figure out how to get there. However, effective leaders are not only able to visualize which mountain to climb but also the individual steps necessary to climb it.

In the 1991 comedy What About Bob?, Bill Murray plays Bob Wiley, a character suffering from some serious “issues” (the clinical diagnosis given in the movie was an extreme case of multi-phobic personality characterized by acute separation anxiety).

When Bob’s current psychologist pawns him off on Dr. Leo Marvin, an egotistical psychologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, Bob shows up at Dr. Marvin’s office for an initial interview. As Dr. Marvin is getting ready to leave on vacation for a month, he shoves a copy of his new book, Baby Steps, into Bob’s hands and sends him on his way.

The premise of the book is to help people achieve larger goals by visualizing much smaller, reasonable goals and then take a series of successive baby steps to get there. To the eventual dismay of Dr. Marvin, Bob totally takes the doctor’s words to heart. He is able to visualize and take each necessary, yet very difficult, step towards “sharing” Dr. Marvin’s vacation with his family.

Bob’s actions include walking to the bus terminal, getting on the bus, riding the bus to Camp Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, finding Dr. Marvin by yelling for him in the middle of town, and then hijacking Dr. Marvin’s book interview with Good Morning America. Bob humorously “baby steps” his way into every aspect of Dr. Marvin’s life and psychotic breakdown.

Although they desire a different outcome, strong leaders are like Bob. They are able to “see” a big leap, some potential great outcome or challenging opportunity, and then visualize and implement each baby step necessary to achieve it. With laser-like focus, they accomplish each required step in sequence while keeping the big picture and ultimate outcome in mind the entire time.

They realize that 20 percent of their effort accounts for 80 percent of their success (Pareto’s Principle) so they don’t allow themselves to be overcome by distractions and irrelevant daily minutia. Able to manage many steps simultaneously while keeping the appropriate priority on each, leaders also recognize forward progress is a process. They are patient; sometimes great things may take considerable time to accomplish. In the Old Testament of the Bible, King Solomon says, “It is better to finish something than to start it. It is better to be patient than to be proud.”2

Strong leaders will assemble great teams of doers who are able to execute. They will find, and nurture, those who can work both individually and collaboratively. They know that individual effort impacts the outcome of the entire group, so leaders are willing to work with doers to improve individual performance. Effective leaders are also willing to reorganize tasks and people to gain maximum output or remove people altogether if necessary.

Imagine a snow globe. As long as each snowflake continues to fall, the desired effect is achieved. Sometimes, however, after the “snow” settles, the globe needs a good shake to reenergize it and keep things moving. Strong leaders are snow globe shakers. Have you shaken yours recently?

©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





  1. Ziskin, L. (Producer), Williams, B. (Producer), & Oz, F. (Director). (1991). What About Bob? [Motion Picture]. United States: Touchstone Pictures. Used with permission.
  2. Holy Bible, New Century Version. (2003). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

I ate a goldfish

- Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 
 “What? You ate a goldfish?“ I raised my voice and could not believe what I heard! 
“Yes, it had a bitter taste and was not good at all,” Wang said matter-of-the-factly in her slow and accented English.
When she was in her late 30s, she and her husband came to United State through Governor Ray's refugee settlement program. They settled in Iowa, raised three wonderful children, and all of whom were college educated and employed. On a monthly basis, for decades, Wang would come to visit me for sales tax filing. Today she brought her husband Phung with her too. They both were sitting across the desk from me.
Content and happy as always, they had seemed this way to me for as long as I could remember. Business was never hard for them; they always made money. They are not the wealthiest clients I have, but with the little profit they earned, they use it to love the world. From an accountant's point of view, they run a perfect small business; especially if you can add “contentment” into the equity portion of the balance sheet.
I was telling these two that I brought my mom three goldfish when I visited her last week. So Wang blurted out her dining experience with the goldfish. They were caught off guard by my explosive reaction, so Phung added, “That was the time when we would eat whatever was moving.” He looked at Wang and she agreed silently.
My hand was on the calculator. I was supposed to get their sales tax completed, but at that moment, everything stopped and my mind was wondering about my own reaction and pondering Phung’s words.
Why would I be surprised? Of course I knew how life could be for them when they lived in the refugee camps. Life is so good here in United States, that people like me do not always think about folks who were forced to eat anything that could be eaten.
Today, it is unthinkable for someone to eat goldfish. They might even be reported to the animal right groups for animal cruelty. My kids would certainly be advocating for animal rights!
Material wealth is available to all of us here in this country. Living in this country is like heaven on earth for those who lived in a refugee camp. This is why Wang and Phung are so happy, all the time, no matter what.
I am their accountant and I know that they did not make a fortune with their $15.00-per-piece sewing business. But the way they carry themselves makes you think that they are exceedingly successful with their business. They are so content with what they have.
When someone has experienced hunger and hardship, they can appreciate what this country offers them. The hardship made Wang and Phung develop a tough mentality. So facing difficulties and challenges in the beautiful state of Iowa becomes nothing more than embracing the wind.
Phung continued to explain that when they were in the refugee camp they had to hunt for their food each day for three long years. Life was tough for Wang and Phung back then. So now, neither have had reasons to complain. Nothing could stop them from having a great business and great life. Every win is big win and every penny they made is a bigger penny than the ones before.
They wanted to live, so they ate a goldfish.

Appreciating Philip Glass

- 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.

At the risk of writing an esoteric entry this month, I would like to explore something I discovered recently while watching a documentary on Netflix. Philip Glass is an American composer, arguably the one who has had the most impact on modern classical music in the later part of the 20th century. Both as a musician and an architect, I had, until recently, struggled with his music. Philipglass120206_560

Glass uses what he calls “repetitive structures” in his music. In fact, his compositions are very easy to identify as a result of this. I found the repetition somewhat unappealing, anticipating a more conventional musical structure to develop - surely there would be a change in melody or tempo – something to add interest or embedded mechanisms or cues to keep the listener engaged. The documentary opened my eyes to something that I had not considered. Glass’s music is meant as an exploration; not simply repetitive constructs and endless arpeggios, but manifestations of his minimalistic style.

I started really thinking about this. Many of the frustrations that organizations experience with strategy consultants resemble my initial frustrations with Mr. Glass. Organizations hire consultants to help with strategic conversations and often get the same results, from very similar processes, and start to get desensitized.

This creates an uphill battle for me as consultant. Inherently, those who have experienced the aforementioned fatigue with a common or standardized strategy process are skeptical of doing planning work at all. They might argue that the sessions are “soft” or “touchy-feely” and resist engaging in the process at all, citing “wasted time” or “useless results”. Much like how I felt about the music of Philip Glass.

I was wrong. I’m not advocating for the common and standardized processes mentioned above, but what I do think has value is being able to make the distinction between a strategy process that will yield implementable results and one that will not.

I have designed and used planning modules that may, at first glance, seem simple. But, like the “repetitive structures” of Philip Glass’s music, there is a lot more there. Data exist, in layers, brought out by the nuance of conversation, exchange of ideas, and a framework for collaborative iteration and aggregation of motivations, objectives, mission, and perspective. It is the job of the facilitator to be able to listen the right way, to the right “notes”, and piece together a composition that reflects a useful, purposeful, and readily accessible and implementable strategy document.


As I sit here and type this blog post out, I am still struck by the positive tension that was created by the additional layer of understanding that led to the newfound appreciation I have for Glass’s music. How the evolution of my perception moved from a lack of appreciation for a stylistic approach to one of admiration for the rigor and commitment to a specific art form.

Both as a strategy consultant (and for that matter, as an architect), my job vacillates between art and science. The workshop of ideas that is afforded by respect and adherence to a useful strategic development framework makes success possible where it would otherwise not be. It’s the difference between looking at a page of sheet music and seeing music instead of a collection of notes. You may not notice until someone tries to play them, but, when they do - the distinction will be obvious.

 Please contact me for more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

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Airbnb might get you extra cash, but it won't help your income tax bill.

20150810-2Renting your home out when you're away isn't new. An uncle who was an out-of-state high school track coach for years made an annual pilgrimage to Des Moines for the Drake Relays. He always rented the same house South of Grand, and the owner conveniently went to Florida for Relays Week to spend that rent.

What is new are services like Airbnb and that match up travelers and folks willing to rent their home, or maybe a spare bedroom. They makes it easier to earn a little side money out of the most expensive asset most people have.

Such rentals also mean new tax issues for the hosts.

While the tax law may allow real estate operators to deduct losses attributable to their rental properties under the right circumstances, things are different for taxpayers leasing their homes.

A special code Section, Sec. 280A, strictly limits deductions from a "residence." If you rent out a “residence,” you can’t deduct rental losses beyond the amount of rent you receive.

Worse, you have to allocate the property taxes and mortgage interest that you can deduct anyway to the time the property is rented before you can deduct anything else — say, utilities or depreciation. If the amount of interest and taxes allocated to rental exceeds rental income, you’re done — your other expenses aren’t deductible.

What is a "residence," anyway? One California taxpayer logically noted in Tax Court that if he was renting out the whole house while he was away, he certainly was not "residing" there that particular moment, so he wasn't subject to the Sec. 280A limits on residential losses. Nice try, that.

Section 280A(d) has a specific definition of "residence":

(1) In general For purposes of this section, a taxpayer uses a dwelling unit during the taxable year as a residence if he uses such unit (or portion thereof) for personal purposes for a number of days which exceeds the greater of—

(A) 14 days, or

(B) 10 percent of the number of days during such year for which such unit is rented at a fair rental.

For purposes of subparagraph (B), a unit shall not be treated as rented at a fair rental for any day for which it is used for personal purposes. 

So the computation is based on the use for the whole year. If you live in the house at least 10 percent of the number of days you rent it out during the year, or for at least 14 days if that's more than 10 percent of the rental days, it’s your residence, as far as the tax law is concerned. That means it applies to a lot of taxpayers with vacation homes.

Section 280A isn’t all bad news for taxpayers. It also provides that if you rent out a house for less than 15 days during the year, you don’t get to deduct any rental expenses, but you don’t have to include any rent you receive in income either.

Of course, the tax law isn't the only complication for would-be Airbnb hosts. West Des Moines strictly limits the ability of its residents to have paid house guests, and Waukee is considering similarly restrictions. That's too bad, as such restrictions needlessly interfere with the ability of homeowners to defray their ownership costs with rent-paying housesitters.

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