Details can take your website over the top

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

When people hear I work in web, I often hear one question: “What makes a great website?”

There's not really one answer to that. The design, user experience, overall content and even the way the code is written can all contribute to a website that stands out from the rest. But when you drill down to it, the one thing that typically takes a website over the top - the thing that you can really pinpoint, in my opinion - is the level of detail in the final website development. This isn’t a feature that you can download a plugin and see, or an image you can purchase through a stock photo site. Detail is a result of analyzing each piece of a website and asking one question.

“How can this be better?”

Detail can come in different forms through a website, and serve different purposes. Some are self-serving for the site builder (to increase sales, for instance) and some are for the user (to make the visitor experience more enjoyable). Neither are inherently bad, and depending on your site, different types of detail can be appropriate.

Adding humor to website content

For some websites, detail comes in the form of humor. For instance, Mailchimp, a popular email marketing platform, is good at pinpointing areas where a normal task can be made more fun. For instance: if I try to make a new account with a username that’s already taken, Mailchimp suggests my evil twin has already beat me to the punch. This small detail is turning a potentially frustrating situation (picking a different username) into something that will make me chuckle.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.40.32 PM

React to visitor actions

Other website details react to the user’s actions. Google is known for showing images or special designs for different searches on its site, and those details are fairly well-documented if you search for them. But, one of my favorite examples is the popular social media website, Tumblr, and its concern for one of its target audiences. They serve, in general, a young demographic, and have chosen to react to those in that group who may search for  “thinspo” (an alarming term, short for “thin inspiration”, that young women with anorexia or bulimia may use to search for photos of bone-thin women to remind themselves of their goals to become thin). When the term is searched in Tumblr's bank of posts, a message pops up, asking the user if they need help.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.53.31 PM

Websites like Tumblr don’t have to pay attention to the user behavior to this level of detail to run a functioning website, but the details show they care - and make users remember them.

Increase overall usability

The last example I’ll share is one that adds to basic usability. Amazon.com has many examples of detail on their website, but a small piece of what they offer is the use of a number in the shopping cart icon that appears on every page, indicating how many items you’ve added thus far. This is especially helpful for those who may do a little window shopping from time to time. Forgot it in your cart? Amazon has your back.

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Adding detail to your website

These are all creative uses of details on websites, but don’t let that discourage you. Even a small business owner can add unique details to their website. All it takes is a little extra care! Think about things like:

  • What is the “submit” button on my contact form? Could it show more of my brand personality - even with just the language?
  • Is there any way I can geographically cater website content to my users? (This may require the consultation of a developer, but it can be a really nice addition to a website!)
  • Am I doing everything I can to aid my user on their purchasing journey? Could any steps be more intuitive?

Remember, keep your users at the forefront, and don’t brush by the small decisions when it comes to pieces of your website. If you already have, it’s not too late to go back and make a few tweaks.

What are some of your favorite website details?

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

Never delegate understanding

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

The title of this blog is a tenet attributed to Charles Eames (pictured below on the right), an architect and designer who practiced in the middle of the 20th century. I came across this in some research while I was working with an organization that had engaged me for strategic planning. It resonated with me.

The leadership team for this organization had been moving toward less “doing” and more “managing” in an operational sense. By delegating some of their tasks to committees and staff members, the leadership team expected it would be able to focus on being more strategic and less task-oriented. But the results, so far, had not proved this was occurring. Charles-and-Ray-Eames-documentary-1

In concept, it seemed simple enough – leadership had been completing task list “X” and generating outcome “Y”. So, why, when task list “X” was given to committee members and staff, was outcome “Z” being generated?

The leadership team had left out a critical component in their shift. They had not explained the reasoning or motivations behind task list “X”. They were the original authors of those tasks, so all the components were created by the leadership team and intrinsic to completing those tasks. They were not only known variables, but also fully understood components essential to generating outcome “Y”. The people who defined and understood those tasks were, at that time, the ones executing them. 

When task list “X” was transferred outside of the leadership team, the institutional knowledge, investiture, engagement, and background was not transferred with it. The team did not have the same knowledge, underlying motivations, or access to originating or contributing factors. They knew what they were expected to do, but did not understand why certain pieces were required to generate outcome “Y”. For them, outcome “Z” was no different than outcome “Y” and they were frustrated to hear that the leadership team was not happy with their result.

When I came across Eames' quote, it helped me understand what I felt would benefit the leadership team in realigning their team with the desired outcome. As much as we may try as leaders, there are many instances where we must carry the mission on behalf of our teams - at the very least philosophically - to allow it to permeate to the entire organization and to allow team members to unburden themselves from having to interpret what the mission means in their specific segment, freeing them up to maximize the potential of their role in the organization.

Team members often range from being fully invested to simply desiring to execute the tasks that are given to them. Both extremes and the range in between are all valid, but leaders should never delegate the full weight of mission and vision to their committees or staff members or leave it to them to holistically interpret them for themselves.

You or your leadership team understand the mission of what you are trying to accomplish; in this example, it’s the difference between getting to outcome “Y” or outcome “Z”. To allow your team to be successful, you can never fully offload the responsibility for understanding that to your team members. It isn't fair to you, or to them.

To the extent you are able to do that is by assigning accountability for achieving the desired outcome and helping the team understand how their efforts are supporting the mission and vision. Those two things work in a symbiotic fashion, fully dependent on each other for success.

The recommendation I made to the organization at the time was that the leadership team should always remain stewards of the mission and vision of the organization, and being able to answer the question “why?” They can let their team determine a tactical plan rooted in the strategy set at the leadership level.

The above framework allowed for an environment where outcome “Y” was achieved and the leaders were able to shift toward more strategic management while committees and staff met the expectations set out for them with a high level of engagement and success.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny

 

The human element of information security

 Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Human-element-info-sec

When most people talk about developing an information security program, they are referring to the administrative, physical or technical controls used to protect information. While no information security program can be effective without them, there is one key element that is often underestimated: the human element. The reality is that humans are responsible for designing, implementing and following all of the controls put in place to protect information. One failure in the human element can spell disaster in terms of information security. And the sad thing is that it often does.

The good news is we can make large gains in information security by simply providing effective training to our users. According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report nearly 1 in 3 successful cyberattacks has a social engineering component. Social engineering is nothing more than a hacker attacking a human rather than a computer.  They use their knowledge of human behavior to con a user into giving them information over the phone, clicking links in emails or giving them physical access to systems or data. If we can prevent more successful social engineering attacks, we can reduce the number of successful cyberattacks.

Targeted Attacks

Raise your hand if you took an information security awareness course for work this year. If that course explicitly trained you to spot and respond to specific social engineering attacks that would be targeted to you, keep your hand up. I’m guessing there aren’t many hands still in the air.

Traditional information security training is failing.

Attacks are becoming more targeted to companies and individuals. They are coming from groups that have done research into your organization’s people and practices. They have a specific target objective and have been designed specifically for this purpose.

Small but Mighty

The Verizon data breach investigation reports that 23 percent of users open phishing emails and more than one in 10 click on links in these emails. This may seem like a small number, but let me put this a different way. One of every 10 users in your company will take a single action which will allow a hacker to compromise your security when presented with the opportunity. In a company of 500 people, a hacker will have 50 or more people who will provide credentials or open a machine to compromise by clicking on a link in an email. Does this paint a different picture? 

Information security training has to be more than just a review of regulatory guidelines, company policies and good password selection. It has to show users examples of the types of attacks they are facing right now. It has to transcend computer use in the office and needs to show how our digital life is connected to both work and personal computer use. How can we expect people to combat digital con artists when they don’t even know how to spot them?  Security awareness training is a cost-effective method for fighting back against the onslaught of attacks against your organization.

Dave Nelson 2015 IowaBiz BlogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

When old school is new school

OldSchool

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

I once had the opportunity to observe professional drag racing firsthand at the NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. As part of the experience, I got to walk the U.S. Army Top Fuel car to the starting line and stand behind it as it launched down the track. What I didn’t expect was to be physically knocked backwards by the shock wave created by the 8Gs of force generated when the car took off. I couldn’t see the shock wave, but I definitely felt its power.

Change, too, can be difficult to see, but its effects can have a profound impact. The ability to see either something that doesn’t yet exist or the oncoming effects of change requires imagination, or the ability to mentally visualize and elaborate on abstractions.

Someone once imagined a future where food is prepared in Star Trek-like replicators, humanoid robots walk and interact with people, and 13-year-old gamers work to cure cancer. As a result, 3D printers are now able to print edible food,1 and the Robotic Challenge through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has created androids that walk and move like humans.2 Speaking of DARPA, they run a public computer game through social media called Foldit where young gamers try to fold proteins, one of the most difficult biochemistry barriers to curing disease.3

Imagination is a fundamental trait of an effective leader. While history is loaded with people who lacked this invaluable trait, successful organizations are most often led by those who have vivid imaginations. These people are able to see where the world is heading and to develop products and services that anticipate the transformative change (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk).

While it’s often tempting to react to change and make rash moves to adapt to it, newer doesn’t always mean better. Change doesn’t always have to be transformative. For example, following the release of Windows 2000, it quickly became apparent the upgrade wasn’t an improvement and most people reverted back to Windows 98. As a child, I never had to wait for Gilligan’s Island to buffer; and the battery in my HP-12C calculator purchased in 1988 lasted for 25 years before it had to be changed. Today, I’m lucky to get a few hours of battery life out of my iPhone.

When new, “game-changing” ideas are introduced, companies are frequently quick to jump on the proverbial bandwagon, often with what seems like an adapt-or-die mentality. They incorporate the ideas into their own products with the hope of remaining competitive – easy to see when looking at the rapidly changing landscape of smartphones, tablets, app development, and content distribution over the last decade.

However, when the world does embrace change, it can leave opportunities behind.

Despite trying to fully utilize a Palm PDA in the early 2000s and then a smartphone, I’m still more efficient and successful using an old-fashioned paper planner – and new, stylish paper planners continue to line the shelves of most retailers. Speaking of paper, the tablet computer and eInk readers were supposed to mark the end of the traditional book, yet paper book sales are as high as ever. Despite desktop publishing and an array of high-quality, low-price color printers, print shops using archaic letterpress machines – those that use wood and steel type – are popping up all over. After years of improving food production through genetic engineering, food trends are giving way to organic and old-fashioned, farm-to-table production.

While I continue to be a huge advocate for the creation of new ideas and awareness of the possibilities those ideas bring, I believe it’s more important to stay true to your own values, core competencies, and the passion that ultimately fuels them. New and different isn’t always better. Sometimes, as those new ideas shape the world around you, it requires imagination to see how your old school ideas can become new school thinking.

Practice Challenge: Occasionally when the world around you shifts, it creates an opportunity. Can you reapply some “old school” ideas or practices that made your company or organization great in a new school way? Perhaps it was people-centered, very personal customer service as compared to using overseas or automated service, or perhaps it was the laborious, handcrafted approach to production used to make your products as compared to new state-of-the-art production techniques. Whatever it was that differentiated you and formed the basis of who you are today could become the new school idea that launches you into the future.

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

 

1Doering, Christopher. (2015, June 24). “The New Dimension of Food.” Des Moines Register.

2McMahon, Bucky. (2015, November). “These are the Droids We’re Looking for.” GQ Magazine.

3Easton, Nina. (2012, January 16). “Fortune’s Guide to the Future.” Fortune.

Be straightforward

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

For young professionals in the workplace it is often easier to sit in a meeting with upper management, people you might not know, or even with co-workers and just willingly agree EffectiveComm with everything that is said, (even if you think it is a lousy idea). It could be because you do not feel comfortable disagreeing with your boss or simply because you do not want to rock the boat.

On the other hand, if you do muster up the courage to speak your mind, you may beat around the bush or gently relay your feelings so as not to step on anyone’s toes.

Being straightforward is not a bad characteristic to have. In fact, many people appreciate a simple and easy to understand communication style. I know I do. Being a straightforward communicator can carry a stigma that you are too frank or too impatient. While I disagree with the stigma, I do believe that while being straightforward, you should still always be polite.

I am fortunate that when growing up, all my siblings were taught to “say what we mean and mean what we say.” My family members are all outspoken, straightforward people. I am just hardwired to be that way.

I was also extremely lucky to come into an organization where I was encouraged to speak my mind and bring in new ideas. But even if you are not hardwired like me or don’t work for a company that you feel you can be open with, do not be afraid to be straightforward with anyone.

If done the right way, being straightforward can make you look humble and sincere. Be genuine, be authentic, and be straightforward.

-Meridith Freese  171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Estimated tax payments: who needs to file quarterly.

1040ES

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

When you leave the nest to start your own business, you leave behind the safe world of payroll withholding. No longer will your taxes magically disappear from your paycheck, only to show up when you file your tax return to get back some of that money the IRS has been sitting on for you (with no interest, thank you very much). Whether you are making your way in the sharing economy or starting a business where some or all of your income is reported on a Schedule C or a K-1, you have to satisfy the tax man without it all coming out of your paycheck.

But how? And what happens to me if I don’t pay estimated taxes?

Let’s start with the penalties. The tax law imposes a penalty for each quarter in which your taxes paid in -- taking into account both wage withholding and estimated tax payments -- fall short. The penalty is best understood at a non-deductible interest charge on the underpayment (no, they don’t pay interest if you pay in too much). The interest rate used is currently 3 percent, but it changes quarterly based on prevailing interest rates. So a taxpayer who is short $10,000 for a quarter, but makes it up in the next quarter, will pay $10,000 x 3 percent / 4, or $75, as a non-deductible penalty.

The penalty is assessed when you file your 1040 for the year in which the payments were due.

How do I pay? Most taxpayers use the old-fashioned paper quarterly vouchers, Form 1040-ES, but more taxpayers are using electronic means. Individuals can sign up for EFTPS, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or through IRS Direct Pay.. Iowa offers similar options. And, of course, payroll withholding also counts.

How much is enough? The easiest way to avoid an underpayment penalty is to base it on your prior year tax. If your four equal quarterly payments this year add up to at least as much as your computed tax from last year, your have no penalty. If you had adjusted gross income of at least $150,000 last year, the safe harbor is 110 percent of last year’s tax, instead of 100 percent.

Paying in based on last year sometimes isn’t a great idea. If you had a great year last year, but this year isn’t so hot, paying quarterly tax estimates based on last year's income might hurt. So if equal quarterly tax payments this year, plus withholding, equal at least 90 percent of the taxes computed when you file your tax return next April, you are OK, and you pay any shortfall on April 15 without penalty.

Business income can be volatile. If you keep good books, you can go quarter-by-quarter on your income. The formula can be a bit complicated, but the idea is simple enough: if you have a poor first quarter but a good second quarter, you pay the first quarter tax based on the poor first quarter and catch up without penalty in the second quarter.

When are quarterly payments due? The first quarter payment is due at the same time as your prior-year 1040, on April 15. Remaining installments are due June 15, Sept. 1, with the final payment due Jan. 15 of the next year. Iowa due dates are in the same months, but at month-end. Taxpayers often prepay the fourth installment in December to move up deductions for the payments to the prior tax year, but that’s something to discuss with your tax pro; if you are subject to alternative minimum tax, prepaying state taxes may do no good.

One weird trick! for taxpayers who realize they are behind on their estimates. Withholding taxes are considered to be paid pro-rata throughout the year. Taxpayers can boost their withholding for the last few paychecks of the year by giving their employers a new W-4. It also works with year-end bonus payments made during the year. It can work well for S corporation owners who draw a paycheck in addition to their K-1, and for married couples with one entrepreneur and one person earning a traditional paycheck. But don’t overdo it; if you try to pay in all of your taxes with one year-end withholding payment, you might get unwanted attention from the tax man. Hogs get slaughtered.

Remember states. Every state with an income tax has rules that are similar, but not always identical, to the IRS rules.

Corporations that pay their own taxes follow a different set of rules, and the rules for payment of payroll taxes are entirely different.

Work with your tax pro. Computing taxable income can be difficult, especially if your tax life is complicated. That’s why tax pros exist in the first place. Good records and a good tax professional can help you avoid underpayment penalties without letting the tax man use more of your hard-earned money than you have to.

Project Sunroof

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


Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Drive… it seems every time I turn around Google is releasing a wonderful new toy for me to play with. This time it’s called Project Sunroof, an online app that combines aerial 3D models from Google Maps with historical weather data, regional utility costs and any local solar incentives. All you have to do is plug in your address and information regarding your typical energy usage.

From this, the program computes how much sunlight hits your roof annually, recommending a solar installation size (in square feet & kilowatts) necessary to generate close to 100 percent of your electricity usage. It also provides information on purchasing or leasing panels, projected payback, and contact information for local installers. It gives you all the information necessary to make an informed decision.

As exciting as all of this sounds, we may have to wait a while. Project Sunroof is still in its infancy and has only been launched in Boston, San Francisco and Fresno to date. Having said that, Google plans to eventually expand nationally - even globally; depending upon the project’s success in these initial launch areas.

Project sunroof

I for one, look forward to playing around with this program someday and seeing if solar is a viable option for my home.  How about you? Let me know at tcampbell@smithmetzger.com.

Todd_Campbell_2015_reduced

What's annoying them?

IMG_5935

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

In today's world - marketing and customer service have become one. With online reviews, the power of social media referrals or bashing and the new consumer attitude of "I want what I want when I want it" we can't pretend that marketing has no place in customer care anymore.

One tool we often use with clients to help them really map out and improve the customer's journey is to ask "what are we doing today that annoys or frustrates our customers?"  

As you can see by the example to the right, that's what Hertz did. They know that at many of their locations their car pickups are off site and away from the airport. That means you have to take a bus to/from the airport.  

As you can imagine (or you know) that adds time, hassle and headaches to your travel day.

The Hertz folks asked that question and voila, came up with a new offering. And it's a new service that brings in new revenue.

So I'd like to suggest you spend some time asking yourself (or better yet, ask them) what annoys your customers.  Once you figure out that -- how can you fix it to make their experience friction free?

Economic development has an image problem

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

Modern economic development - which tracks its origins to the formation of local industrial recruitment organizations in response to the economic downturn of the late 1970s - has always seen its practitioners grapple with persistent public controversy and Carrot_stick skepticism regarding the negotiation and application of publicly-funded incentives to secure jobs projects for communities. Economic developers have struggled since the early days of the profession to explain the role incentives play in the recruitment of human and financial capital. 

Incentives play a fundamental role in securing job- and wealth-creation projects for communities in every corner of this country and in many countries of the world. This is pure, unadulterated fact.

Public sector incentives are as principal to the decision-making process for most projects of size as is real estate and talent.  There is plenty to discuss about whether this should be the case, or whether some federal edict ought to materialize prohibiting states and communities from competing with each other with incentives - something some policy makers and lots of armchair quarterbacks in the media are calling for - but that’s a topic for another blog.  I will note what’s glaringly obvious: there is no national legislative cavalry coming.  Such a decree would be impossible to implement and enforce and would create an enormous macroeconomic disadvantage for the United States in a global economy.

Incentives used to get good deal done

Incentives are not boogeymen. Most economic developers subscribe to the sentiment that public financial inducements are designed to get a good deal done, not make a bad deal good. Put another way, incentives, when applied judiciously and as the result of a vigorous and transparent negotiation, have as central and appropriate a role in our public system of government as any basic government service. Incentives play a critical role in ensuring that millions of dollars of future tax base and thousands of jobs matriculate in our state or country rather than another, but the economic development profession has generally done a poor job of communicating this.  As a result, the public, fueled by a general distrust in government and distaste for corporate America, has grown increasingly indignant about the use of incentives to grow and retain jobs and capital in states like Iowa. Such indignation, and the predictable political posturing on the part of elected officials it spawns, poses real threats to future economic growth in our state and nation.

Judicious negotiators of incentives in Iowa and around the country have an image problem which is threefold. 

 

Impersonal impact of project

First, we’ve grown accustomed in economic development circles to communicating the substance of incentivized projects in banal, aggregate terms that mean nothing to the average person. When an economic developer or organization reports that a local employer has agreed to a $20 million expansion which will create 35 new jobs, it’s often a single-day news story, thanks to the two-dimensional nature of how the project’s human and financial community impact is framed [or ignored].  We’ve got to get better at personalizing these projects, communicating the human impact of each new job and what it means to your family and your community - a job which may offer a struggling single parent or determined ex-offender an opportunity to improve their lot in life.

Because most economic developers have our professional performance, at least in part, evaluated based on aggregate job and capital creation, we’ve convinced ourselves that those blocky cumulative figures - instead of broadly accessible accounts of how these projects improve lives in our communities - are what matter to citizens wearily observing the use of public funds to grow business in Iowa communities. Too often we report to the public through the lens of our performance metrics exclusively when the qualitative, human impact of our work is the most compelling.

Incentives fundamental to competition for projects

Second, we’ve been married to the ‘need-based’ narrative in incentives negotiation for far too long. While the concept of ‘need’ in negotiating incentives is sound - it suggests that public sector decision-makers only agree to incentivize a project to the absolute minimum extent necessary to vanquish our opponents and secure the project for our community and state - the word is a problem. Major companies do not, in a semantic sense, ‘need’ the financial allocations made available to them for most projects. The balance sheets of Fortune 500 companies do not see an impact as the result of, for example, a package of tax credits or forgivable loans from a state or community. What’s needed is an effective mechanism to quantitatively communicate the central role incentives play in adjudicating a complex sales process and leveling the competitive playing field upon which job and wealth creation projects are fought for. 

Let’s educate the public on the fact that in lieu of not-going-to-happen federal intervention, public incentives are a fundamental competitive component of any major project negotiation. We should find new ways to demonstrate this - to drive home the fact that failure to maintain and enhance a robust competitive incentives posture in Iowa is comparable with a business failing to reinvest in its own people and product. And when that happens, the business shrinks and dies.

We need to educate the public about the competitive field our communities are playing on for jobs projects and communicate the fact with more depth than our pat answer that ‘in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to use incentives.’  Of course not. I’ve never lived in a perfect world; have you?  We have an opportunity to elevate the discussion in Iowa and around the country to an informed one which considers the basic role incentives play in business decision-making today.

Incentives aren't all cash

Finally, economic developers like me have turned in woeful performances in clearly communicating the complexity of the incentive tools we use to land projects in our communities. The public is confused about what economic development incentives actually do, and what they cost. Fueled by media reporting which is at best inaccurate and at worse misleading and pronouncements by some policy-makers who have determined that being against incentives is good politics, incentives have been teed up, demagogued and reduced to a single, wholly erroneous narrative: incentives are all cash out of the taxpayer’s pocket. 

Not true.  While most communities and states maintain so-called ‘deal closing funds’ which provide governments the capability to include a certain amount of performance-based cash (Iowa has one of the smallest of these funds found anywhere in the country, and has for years) the vast majority of incentives awarded in Iowa are credits against future revenue, or tax credits.

Simply put, tax credits are instruments to provide a reduction in tax liability for future investments by a company- tax revenue we currently are not enjoying when agreeing to the incentive [because the project and its associated investment have not yet occurred]. Far too often, the total value of a tax credits package [which can include credits against state investment tax, local property tax and other tax streams] are represented to the public as cash, as, in effect, a check written by the government to the company. 

Couldn’t be further from the truth! In virtually all cases, tax credits are awarded not only after the company creates the tax liability, but after it physically creates the revenue by paying its taxes. Only after the new tax receipts are received by the state and local governments does a company receive a credit back. This is completely lost on most members of the public, and it’s on us as economic developers to find better ways to communicate the complexities of incentives packages so that their fiscal impact is truly understood. Tax credits are but one example in a roster of complex local, state and federal incentives programs most people don’t understand [why would they?] but which we have to get better at demystifying.

I suggest above the economic development image problem has three components, but realistically it has many more. Virtually all incentivized projects in Iowa carry with them stringent ‘clawback’ provisions which legally compel the awarded company to pay back all or some pro-rated portion of any incentives it receives should it fail to fulfill its obligations related to job creation, wage levels, capital investment and the like. Now consider the last time you read a detailed account of a successful clawback executed by a government from a company for failing to fulfill its obligations. Part of this is a volume issue - the men and women who negotiate incentives packages across this state are, by and large, excellent stewards of public funds and only recommend packages which have a high probability of success. So clawback scenarios are not particularly common.  But when they do happen, most economic development and other officials engaged in the process don’t court publicity for the process. I would submit that we can do a better job in the profession of educating the public when we do experience a clawback situation to make the public aware of the aggressive stewardship those responsible for overseeing compliance with economic development incentives demonstrate every day.

Another element of the economic development image problem?  New Iowa legislation in 2014 concerning how cities and counties report tax increment financing [TIF] activities now requires local governments to report their property tax credit-against-revenue figures at a ‘not to exceed’ level, which artificially makes project property tax incentives look enormous and is in most cases completely out of step with actual credit values.

I could go on. I will not. There is much work to do to better educate the public on what public sector incentives mean and how they are used. It is incumbent upon every stakeholder in the field of economic development - practitioners, elected officials, even companies utilizing the incentives - to find new ways to communicate the substance and the value behind such a controversial, and important, topic.

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

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

 

 

Who are the potential buyers for my business?

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

Selling your business can be a full-time job in addition to your full-time job of running your business. Before the sale process begins, it is helpful to understand what kinds of buyers there are and the pros and cons of each.

In all circumstances, you should pre-qualify buyers to ensure they have actual capital before spending any time with them. Many will say they do, but do not.

Based upon all of this, you may target or avoid certain buyers. Over the next few weeks we look in depth at different types of buyers. Today we have the most obvious – your family!

Family

A family member may be interested in continuing your legacy by buying and operating your company. When this works out, it is often the best solution as company heritage will remain and the transaction structure and timing can be extremely flexible.

For these reasons, a business owner may be willing to exchange getting a “top dollar” value for their business from someone outside the family.

However, when things do not work out…look out!

Thanksgiving dinner can get awkward when siblings feel treated unfairly because of a sale. A son or a daughter may also feel like they have to buy/run the business and not pursue their own interests, which can create resentment. In-laws happen and divorces of children can happen.

Perhaps worst of all, because structures can be so flexible to accommodate the sale, the business owner may not fully financially “de-risk” because of seller-notes used to finance the purchase. This puts them in the precarious position of exiting the operational side of the business, but having their nest egg still in the business. 

One possible solution for this problem is to have a private equity fund financially back your family member. This gets liquidity to the business owner and gets ownership and operational control to the family member.

Next blog we will learn about other types of buyers: “strategics” and “financials”.

 

7 tips to push past your fear of public speaking

Rita Perea is president and CEO of  Podium photo for Iowa Biz blogRita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consultingspecializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Here it is... Your big chance to impress people. You’ve been given the amazing assignment of developing and delivering a “knock-their-socks-off” presentation to the entire North America team of directors in your company. If you hit this presentation out of the park you will be noticed for that promotion you've had your eye on.  There is a lot riding on the success of this golden opportunity. You are up for the challenge!

And then...When you mentally picture yourself standing at the podium delivering your message, alarm bells begin going off in your head. Your heart starts pounding.  You feel like you have been punched in the gut. The fear of public speaking is rearing its unwelcome head.  

The most important question to ask yourself is what do you do to regain your self confidence and hit a home run? 

I was asked to be part of a public discussion where the issue of “Presenting with Confidence” was the hot topic. Drawing on my 25-plus years of public speaking experience, and my business of coaching others in this area, I wanted to offer you seven tips to push past the fear of public speaking.  

1. Plan Your Content and Delivery

Another way to think about this is Message and Methods. First pinpoint how much time you will have at the podium. Step two: write down all of the critical, must-have information that you want share with your audience during the time you’ve been given to speak. Step three: Review your notes and determine the top three critical points in your message. Step four is the time to focus on how you will deliver your top three points to your audience. These are the methods you will use for your presentation. Powerpoint? Whiteboard notes? Graphs and charts to illustrate your critical points?  

Bonus tip:  This first step is the hard part. Do not wait until the day before the presentation to do this prep work! In the professional speaking world a good rule of thumb is 4 to 1: Four hours of planning for every one hour of presenting.  

2. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Now that you know what you are going to say and how you will say it, it’s time to practice the delivery. Many people find it helpful to record their voice as they are practicing their presentation. Videotaping yourself is also a great way to identify voice inflections, hand gestures or body language you may want to change. 

3. Warm up the audience

After weeks of planning, the day of the big presentation has finally arrived! Be sure to arrive at your event location as early as possible to check the technology set up and the microphone. After you are confident that you are all set up, and the audience begins to trickle into the room, give people a warm “hello” and shake their hands. This will help you build rapport with your audience before you begin the delivery of your message. This is also a secret weapon for fighting the butterflies you might be feeling in your stomach. 

4. The first 30 seconds

A surefire, no-fail way to calm your nerves and begin to maximize your impact is to walk up to the microphone, take a deep breath and smile! The combination of breath and the smile will help you gain control of your emotions and oxygenate your voice for better clarity. After smiling, begin building audience rapport by graciously thanking your event planners or hosts before launching into the presentation. 

5. Stories bring the point home

No one is asking you to be a comedian here. As you develop your content and presentation delivery strategy (tip #1), be sure to sprinkle in a few well-crafted, tasteful stories to help illustrate your critical points. Brain-based research shows that cognitively we use stories that drive an emotional response to learn new information.  You want to create stories that create emotion in the audience members so they will remember the points you are making. 

6. Actionable steps

Your presentation has inspired your audience to do something new or different - to find out more about the topic, change a thought or perception, persuade others, or have different behaviors.  Whatever those few actionable steps are that you want them to take, leave behind a reminder on a document, card, bookmark, etc. as the call to action in your presentation. 

7. Leave them wanting more!

There is never enough time to answer all of the questions that an audience may have. When it is time to end, tell the audience that you will be available to talk individually and answer questions after the presentation. Be sure to provide your phone number and email information so you can be contacted with follow-up questions.  

While public speaking is the #1 fear for most people, with preparation, practice and poise you can overcome your nerves and present with confidence. 

 ©Rita Perea, 2015

 

Irony and Mr. Heisenberg

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

A German physicist named Werner Heisenberg introduced a principal called the “observer effect” in the early part of the 20th century. The principle states that the act of observation or measurement actually changes what is being observed. An example of this would be if you wanted to determine (observe) if a pie was hot, you might stick your finger into the filling to determine the temperature. This observation changes the pie - it has a hole where you put your finger into it – but you have gathered the data you sought. Bundesarchiv_Bild183-R57262,_Werner_Heisenberg

There are several cycles in organizational development – the entrepreneurial phase, the management phase, the reorganization / recreative phase. Every successful organization goes through these cycles as they become fully integrated.

As you work to strategically manage development through these cycles, it is important to consider the observer effect. Certain organizational development cycles are more suited to different types of individuals – the most effective way to capitalize on the effect is to determine the best way to impact the organization as a function of what phase it is in.

This is where the leadership differentiates itself from management as a construct. In order to move through these cycles effectively and create sustainable growth (not only in size, but in capacity / capability), the C-suite must capitalize on the opportunity to show leadership by hiring or repurposing human resources to maximize the potential of the organization.

Related to the observer effect, there is another construct in quantum mechanics called the uncertainty principle. First published by Heisenberg in 1927, the principle basically states that in a pair of related variables or inequalities, the more information you are able to determine about one of these variables, the less you are able to determine about the other.

This is different than observer effect in key ways, but equally important. As you consider the cycles above, there may be a tendency in the C-suite to focus on specific types of employee profiles. For example, in the management cycle, there may be a tendency to target non-conformists because they may be considered outliers in this phase. The effect of this might be that lower performing conformist employees may be hired to produce more consistent results, while these high performing non-conformists are driven out.

It is difficult to look at both things at once with equal emphasis, but the entire cycle needs to be taken into account. While management might focus on these outliers as problem areas, the uncertainty principle would urge balance between these individuals and those who conform within that phase of the cycle, looking at the entire system in a holistic sense. These non-conformists may actually be the key to significant growth in other phases of organizational development.

In this case, it is actually possible to ruin things by trying to fix them; what you thought you were measuring got thrown off by trying to measure it – short-term corrections vs. long-term sustainability. It’s ironic, but the point is sound – while you are looking at one metric, you might become so focused on it that you may lose track of another. The most common example I have seen regarding this is the shift between wanting the best talent and wanting to produce the best results. Sometimes those things can be extraordinarily difficult to balance.

Transformative leadership can make itself evident in many ways as it relates to management. By calibrating the correct amount of nondestructive “observer effect” and by balancing all facets of the uncertainty principle as they relate to human or other resources in your organization, you can truly build a balanced system with dynamic capabilities. This translates to a culture of transparency, innovation, and respect for the diverse strengths and talents of employees, management, and engagement with your organizational mission, vision, and core values.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny

 

How your calendar might help you beat the IRS.

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

 

Professionals who charge by the hour are used to keeping track of how they spend their workdays. The tax law is making time-trackers of the rest of us. And tracking time made a five-figure difference in the tax life of a Brooklyn apartment owner who recently beat the IRS in Tax Court.

 

The “passive activity” rules (IRS offers free oxymorons, no extra charge) have made it worthwhile for taxpayers to keep track of hours worked since they were enacted in 1986. If your business income and loss is reported on your 1040, these rules apply to you. It matters for sole proprietorships reported on schedule C, partnerships and S corporation income reported on schedule E, and farm income reported on schedule F.

 

The rules keep you from deducting a loss when you are a “passive” investor in the “activity.” If your “passive losses” exceed your “passive income” for a year, you can’t deduct the net loss;  the disallowed loss carries forward until you either generate passive income, or until you sell the activity in a taxable sale.

 

For the most part, whether you are “passive” depends on how much time you spend on an activity. You have to meet one of these tests:

 

  • 500 hours worked in the activity in a tax year.

  • 100-500 hours worked in the activity in a tax year, and when combined with other 100-500 hour activities, you get over 500 hours. This is for people running multiple businesses.

  • Over 100 hours, and more than anyone else.

  • Substantially all of the activity in the business.

  • You have met one of the hours tests in five of the prior 10 years.

 

If you rent real estate, you also must prove that you are a “real estate professional" before you can deduct rental losses. It’s a test that’s hard to meet for taxpayers who aren’t involved in the real estate industry.

 

If you have a business loss in a year, these tests become a big deal. They might eliminate your taxes on your other income, or even give you a tax loss that you can carry back to prior years for a refund.

 

The IRS can be distrustful of taxpayers claiming losses, and they may ask you to prove your time spent. You aren’t required to keep a time sheet, but then you have to prove your involvement by other means. That may be easy if you have a full-time business you show up at and run, but it is harder for part-time side businesses. The best way is to keep a calendar of your time.

 

A Brooklyn, New York man with a full-time real estate job (a real estate professional) had to prove the IRS that he wasn’t passive in managing the two apartments above his home. Fortunately, he did keep a calendar of his time, and the Tax Court ruled that he showed that he spent over 500 hours managing his business. the record keeping saved the taxpayer $25,174.60 in taxes and penalties that the Tax Court overturned.

 

Many other taxpayers who weren’t so careful have lost their deductions, sometimes into six figures. And don’t count on preparing a time log retroactively if the IRS ever comes calling. The results can be embarassing.

 

So when it comes to your business losses, time really is money. Keep track of it. And get your tax professional involved to make sure your recordkeeping and reporting will get you through an IRS exam.

Many Iowa public employees are better off in retirement than working

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Ipers Retirement

Sources: IPERS (and Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa estimates based on IPERS data) and Social Security On-Line Benefit Calculator, Age 66 Draw. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/oact/quickcalc/ 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Preparing for a cyberattack or data breach

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Incident-response-plan

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blog

Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

How much time do you spend on your mobile device?

Alex Karei

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

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

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

On my average morning, I might spend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

LOCAL FEATURE: Road-tripping to Perry

- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Perrydrive
 

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

ENJOY THE RIDE:

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

WHAT SORT OF EVENTS ARE BEST FOR THIS LOCATION?

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

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

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

  • Unique experience events

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

  • Retreats

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

  • Weddings & Other Social Events

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

WHAT DOES THE HOTEL PATTEE HAVE TO OFFER?

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

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

OTHER HOTEL DESIGN ELEMENTS: Hotel-pattee

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

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

  ADDED BENEFITS TO VISITING PERRY:

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

OTHER COMPLEMENTARY SPACES FOR RENT IN PERRY:

Need more space than the hotel can offer?Laposte

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

TO SUM UP:

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

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

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at anebons@blinkevents.net. Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website www.blinkevents.net.  

 

 

 

Healthy mind, healthy attitude, healthy business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet dreams and the power within

BlueGrassThought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

My IRS is little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny houses

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

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

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

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

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

How about you? Contact me at tcampbell@smithmetzger.com.

Creating a flourishing, values-based organization

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

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

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

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

How does Zappos do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI’S CHALLENGE:

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

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

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

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders and executives succeed in work that they love – and to help their employees do the same! Learn more at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

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

Tips to handling conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Tips about end-of-year performance reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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-Meridith Freese 

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

What in the world is Yahoo! Local thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Be prepared for media interviews. Here's how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cultivate gratitude

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two bites at the apple: selling your business twice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Maybe produce is not so bad after all!  

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

Burn out image for Iowa Biz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A real life example might be:

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

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

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

 

Marketing can be measured in inches not miles

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

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

Let me give you a recent example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When the survey is worthless (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another reason to network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never stop inventing

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

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

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

Dr._von_Braun's_Sketch_of_the_Space_Station_8883912_original

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

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

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

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

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny

 

Understanding foreign students' worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food and leadership

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

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

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

 

 

The risks of losing touch with reality

 

 

Carpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more professional development content: Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Changing: seasons, business and content

- Alex Karei, marketing director, Webspec Design

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

Autumn leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When's the last time you updated your website? 

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei
Blog: www.alextriesitout.com

 

Yellow is the new blue

YellowBlueSlideB2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

 

 

Remote access can sink your business

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

Social media bandwagons…aka the worst things on the planet

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

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

Facebook Blog Image

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

http://www.ibtimes.com/facebook-privacy-policy-changes-dont-fall-hoax-again-2117504

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

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

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

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

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

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

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