Selling your business yourself?

Phoenix logo only

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Many business owners plan to sell their business and are prepared to wait until they receive their price.  However, some risk issues to consider when playing the waiting game are:

  • The economy changes.
  • Another 9/11 happens.
  • There is a change in the technology.
  • A key employee(s) departs.
  • A key customer or vendor is lost.
  • The competition changes.
  • A targeted buyer is not willing or available to purchase the business.
  • The financials will not support a qualified buyer or the business may be too small to attract a qualified buyer.
  • The bank changes the requirements for loans.
  • There is a sudden requirement for a major capital expenditure.
  • The management team or the families lose all interest in a purchase. 

Good luck with your sale!

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

 

Social media for specialty retailers: Step 1

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

I have a confession to make. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of social media, and I personally think that every specialty retailer should be doing this as well. Social media has been a great outlet to show off the uniqueness and camaraderie of the Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Blue Frog Marketing is helping me map out a strategic plan on how to gain a social media presence.  Not only is social media a great way to connect with your customers, it’s also a smart and inexpensive way to show off your products. For specialty retailers like me, it’s very practical because you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to advertise new products every time your inventory is changed. 

“The advantage of using social media is that it sets up your own audience, so you can reach your current customers and also people that they know. It’s more of a way that small business owners can have online referrals,” said Raylee Melton, Blue Frog Marketing.

However, it does take a long time to build your audience, and that is why I’ve been working with Blue Frog Marketing to help.

A lot of specialty retailers might wonder why they should get started now. Is social media a fad like bell-bottom jeans, leisure suits and disco fever? Will its 15 minutes of fame be over just as you're diving in?

The answers are no and no. Social media has proved its influence. Believe me, it's here to stay. And, that's a good thing for specialty retailers  -- a very good thing, indeed. According to Blue Frog Marketing statistics, 27 percent of U.S. internet time is spent on social media.

Melton notes that people today are adapting to social media faster than people a generation ago adapted to watching television. “The rapid rates of which people are using social media has blown through any other trend,” she told me.

One thing to be aware of: social media does not automatically generate revenue. There is a big misunderstanding that a “like” on Facebook or a “follower” on Twitter means an instant increase in sales. Instead, social media is a means of awareness and a call to action. The more your “likes” and “followers” grow, the more awareness and potential customers. The next step is coming up with a plan to address your potential customers and draw them into your store.

Now that you know the pros and cons of climbing the social media ladder, stay tuned for Step Two: How does a specialty retailer begin the process of adapting to social media, and how to turn those likes into customers.

How green are food trucks?

FOOD TRUCKS AT SOCIAL CLUBThis past weekend the Des Moines Social Club hosted the Iowa Beverage Food Truck Throw Down. A successful event with more than 9,000 people attending according to its Facebook page.

That got me thinking. Des Moines has finally caught up with the rest of America on the food truck craze. But, how green is the idea?

Here are a couple of ideas on how food trucks can lower the energy footprint of your next meal.

  1. The energy usage is small compared to a restaurant with lights, air conditioning, and dish washing. Restaurants also take much energy to build. The food truck takes advantage of the open air.
  2. The locations are in the downtown core serving workers and fostering a walkable city. Sure the truck drove to the spot but everyone else didn’t. I can’t imagine driving to a food truck for a meal. If you think of it DON’T DO IT! 
  3. They provide a quick choice to get out of the office for some fresh air, which is great for your well-being. And think of the social benefits!
  4. No food truck wants to deal with waste. Food wrapped in paper means no water to wash all the dishes. If your favorite truck uses Styrofoam, tell them to use paper instead.

Food truckBut the best part for me as an architect are the designs of the food trucks.  I fell in love with CHEF because of the industrial food truck and great graphics.

Got a favorite food truck picture?  Send it to me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How states try to tax the visiting employee

When you get a good order from an out-of-state customer, you do what you need to do to make that customer happy. If that means you send employees to the customer location to make sure the customer is happy, off they go.

And that state wants your employees to pay taxes there.

IMG_1390It may seem ridiculous, but states can tax visiting employees who spend as little as a day there. Not all states do, but some states are very aggressive about taxing their business visitors. They don't vote, after all. And the states can also collect penalties from employers who fail to file payroll tax returns.

Many large employers are on top of this, issuing W-2s in the states their employees visit.

Smaller employers, lacking large HR departments, are sometimes less careful, taking their chances that their cross-border employee visits will go unnoticed.

This is becoming a riskier bet. As they get better at data-mining, states are getting better at identifying visitors.

It's not just temporary visits that can cause state tax hassles. Telecommuting brings its own set of complications for employers. Cara Griffith of Tax Analysts explains:

Employers may also forget that telecommuting can present significant issues for withholding. That is because the default is for employers to withhold income tax for the state in which an employee performs services. However, an employee may telecommute from State A but report to State B. In most instances, the employer will have to withhold from State A because that is where the services are performed. Various state rules, such as those in New York, have complicated the issues surrounding telecommuting.

If an employer fails to withhold and remit state payroll taxes, the penalties can add up. The "Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Fairness and Simplification Act" (S.386) would only allow states to tax traveling employees who spend more than 30 days in-state. It has been blocked by some states -- New York in particular -- that love to pick visitors' pockets.

Until something like this passes, employers need to monitor their employee travels and their telecommuters. They just may need to file state payroll returns in other states.

Contact your tax professional to learn more.

Leaders and change

Wooden arrows

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

-Woodrow Wilson

 

- Rowena Crosbie is president of Tero International

In modern times, most organizations are undergoing some type of significant change at any point in time. New product introductions, downsizings, acquisitions, divestments, restructuring, expansion, and so on… are just a few of the major change challenges organizations are tackling. 

How are they doing?

Change efforts in organizations fail at an astonishingly high rate. Failure estimates range from 66% to 75%.

Why?

There are a lot of reasons changes fail.

Each failed change has its own special blend of things gone wrong. The one common element to most failed change efforts is that leaders enter it without adequately understanding the process of change.

This is the first in a series of blogs designed to explore the subject of change from a variety of perspectives and provide leaders with useful tips and insights into how they can increase the likelihood of success when leading change.

Spoiler alert:

Commonly held beliefs on the subject of change are going to be challenged and debunked.  Stay tuned…

Mindfulness instead of multi-tasking

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.

Balance wheel imageA five-week trip to Australia a few years ago left a lasting impact on my life in so many unpredictable ways. 

During the adventure, which was funded as a cultural exchange by Rotary International, I was fortunate to stay in 11 different homes to experience life as an Aussie.  One of my most important takeaways from the sojourn was to learn how different the Australian relationship with time and with work are compared to ours in the U.S.

Research has shown us that when we multi-task it takes us 25 percent longer to accomplish a task. That’s right... instead of getting more done in a short period of time, multi-takings, doing two or more things at once, actually lengthens the time that it takes to complete something.  

Think about it. You are working away on an email when you remember that you forgot to pull the file for your next meeting. So, you stop working on the email, go over to the filing cabinet, find the file, return with the file to your desk, only to sit down and say to yourself, “What was I doing?  Oh, yeah, I remember now.”  You now have to re-read your half-composed email before finishing and sending it. You know in your gut that you aren’t accomplishing as much as you could.  You secretly wonder what is wrong with you and why you can’t get all of this work finished. 

The Aussies would say, “No worries, Mate!” and invite you slow down and do one thing at a time. Also called mindfulness, it is focusing on being present, really, really present, with the one task that you are trying to complete or the one thing that you are doing.

Have you ever had the experience of being so fully engaged and present in a project that you lost all track of time? This is the opposite of multi-tasking- that crazy randomness of doing several things at once. 

I learned from my Australian friends that they do what they can do at this moment and they do not worry about the rest. And they do this moment-by-moment.  This results in a more relaxed and easy going demeanor. They experience less stress. 

The Australians also know and understand the value of “taking a break, Mate.” 

I witnessed their practice of arriving at work around 9 AM and taking a coffee break around 10 AM.  Working a bit more until lunch time and then repeating the ritualistic break time in the afternoon.

The workday ended around 4 PM with a retreat home that would include a glass of white wine while preparing the evening meal.

This was followed by a glass of red wine while eating the evening meal. With few people eating at restaurants during the week, cooking dinner and eating it was viewed as a break from the work day.  It may feel counter-intuitive but the result is more mindful, focused and productive work time in between breaks.  

Work-life balance research supports taking breaks. It shows us that when we are most overwhelmed and feeling like we are buried in work, that is the time to loosen our death grip and take a break. We can go for a walk, or schedule a few days off. Whatever we need to do to let go, rejuvenate and return with a fresh pair of eyes and a new outlook.  That short break helps us be so much more productive but in an effortless, not effort-filled, way.

Let’s stop taking ourselves so darned seriously and, like our friends down under, begin to enjoy our workdays. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain- including a more efficient and fun way to live.

Cheers to better work-life balance!

 

Why Iowa needs to think like an oil company

- Brent Willett, CEcD is Executive Director of the Cultivation Corridor.

In its first quarter earnings rollout on April 30, oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. revealed that its refining and chemicals units- think lubricants and chemical compounds used to produce things like plastic- together represented 48% of its profits in the first three months of 2015.

In 2014 those units represented just 19 percent of profits [oil and gas production made up the rest]. Across the pond, France’s Total SA, Europe’s largest refiner, said its first quarter refining and chemicals income improved three-fold while production earnings plummeted 56%. Similar trends jumped off earnings pages of oil companies across the globe. 

What’s going on here?  And what does it have to do with economic development in Iowa?

As oil production earnings continue a not-so-slow-motion collapse- oil prices have lost half their value since August- an emerging bright spot for the industry has been the durability of its higher-margin refining and chemicals units. 

How big of a shift is this?  In 2012 ConocoPhillips, amid an industry rush to decommission a refinery inventory thought to be over capacity, decoupled its chemicals and refining businesses from its drilling businesses in a loud-and-clear bet on long-term profitability in the business of oil and gas production. 

It was a bad bet; the derivative business, Phillips 66, is now throwing off higher profits.  For decades, the petroleum industry has honed a refining/chemicals product diversification strategy which not only offers a hedge against intense commodity market pressures like it’s experiencing today, but one which has produced a expansion and diversification model that biofuel-producing states like Iowa have begun to take notice of.

Currently, less than 10% of the world’s chemical industry is bio-based, but estimates suggest that could adjust upwards to close to 25% by the end of the next decade [creating as many as 20,000 new jobs in the US in the process] as rapid biochemical innovation and commercialization begins to create cost parity with petroleum-based solutions. 

Iowa’s vast biofuels industry- and the biomass supply chain, physical infrastructure and research and human capital which has cropped up as a result- positions the state to capitalize on this growth industry more competitively than virtually any domestic peer. 

Iowa’s more than 40 ethanol and biodiesel facilities- many in rural communities- in many cases represent potential buyer/supplier opportunities for a biochemical industry which has been rapidly developing in Europe for years and is poised to grow its relatively small position in the North American market.  

In short, we’ve got a window to leverage Iowa’s dominant biofuels position to diversify into chemicals and materials derived from Iowa biomass.

That’s why economic development and industry groups like the Iowa Biotechnology Association, Iowa Chamber Alliance and the Cultivation Corridor are supporting a bill currently before the Iowa General Assembly to create a first-in-the-world economic development incentive specifically targeted at this nascent industry. 

House File 656 would create a tax credit program administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority to help support the growth of biochemical investment in Iowa over the coming years. 

The bill would create a tax incentive for the production of a prescribed set ‘building block’ biochemicals which are derived from biomass feedstock abundant in Iowa as either raw materials or co-products of a bioproduction fuel or other process like starch, sugar and lignin.

As the legislature debates the merits of a bill, research and economic development efforts to firmly establish Central Iowa as a global center of excellence in biochemical and biomaterial research and, ultimately, production are well underway. 

Take, for example, the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals [CBiRC] at Iowa State University in Ames, one of the nation’s largest multi-disciplinary and industry-led biochemical research installations, and the new Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites [CB2] at Iowa State, a pioneering research partnership with Washington State University and private industry.  Indexing these two superb research assets with the physical and supply chain assets already in place in Iowa and, potentially, a global first economic development incentive produces a compelling argument for Iowa to a new and important industry poised to expand.  

  

Everyone is and needs to be creative

CreativeversusStrategyDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I don't care what you do for a living, it requires a level of creativity. Lawyer, stay at home dad, mechanic, ad guy, marketing director, teller or veterinarian.  

Every professional needs fresh thinking, new ideas and the ability to see things a little differently.

Want to boost your ability to connect the dots for a whole new picture?  Check out the Iowa Creativity Summit on May 28th.

Registration includes:

  • Workshop
  • Collaboration Exercise 
  • Notebook
  • Name badge
  • Hors Devours + cash bar
  • New friends

Session 1: keynote / workshop with Nancy Lyons 
Nancy Lyons founded Clockwork in Minneapolis. Under her leadership, Clockwork has received more than 16 “Best Workplace” awards. Clockwork has also won the Psychologically Healthy Workplace and Best Women Owned Business awards. Nancy speaks all over the place including the inaugural White House Summit for Working Families in Washington, DC. Watch the NBC Nightly News Feature on Clockwork or read Nancy’s full bio.

Session 2: Creativity Collaboration Exercise
Tap the diverse, creative brain power of every attendee in a way you’ve never experienced. Have others solve your biggest challenges or solve someone else challenges. Questions are gathered anonymously and are then fielded to our “flash panel” assembled on the spot per question. Ask questions, be on the answering panel or do both.

It's being held at Sussman Auditorium, Olmsted Center, Drake University, 2875 University Ave., Des Moines.

If you'd like to goose your creativity -- register and soak it up!

Like 'em or not, the Duggars know how to give a mea culpa

- Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess

The Duggar Family (of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting Fame) had a carefully-buried bombshell explode Thursday. It seems though the eldest Duggar son, Josh, molested several minors when he was 14 years old.  Josh Duggar

The news is shocking on every level. The clean-scrubbed godly family has a squeaky image and receives a lot of attention for their quiver-full lifestyle. But the media statement they released when the new broke is really what caught my attention.

It was the most direct, to the point statement I've ever read. There was no equivocation. There was no blame. It was pure apology done right - no matter what you think of Josh Duggar or the allegations against him. Here is an excerpt: 

"Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends," Josh, 27, tells PEOPLE in a statement. "I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life." -Josh Duggar statement released May 21, 2015.

According to the police report and other documents coming to light, the oldest of 19 now-famous children apparently fondled his own sisters.

He also resigned from his position at the right-leaning Family Research Council - a job he left Arkansas to take, after moving his young family to Washington D.C.

Like him or not, he was very forthright in his statement, squarely took full responsibility for his actions, and apologized. That is the only way to truly begin to regain trust. There have been many celebrities that have botched their apologies by waiting too long, not seeming sorry enough, or equivocating their actions.

This apology was swift and did not seek to implicate others. No one can see into another person's heart to know if they are really "cured" or really "sorry," but taking on the firestorm head-on requires good counsel and conviction. This statement goes a long way - in my mind - to begin his long journey back from the brink.

Josh Duggar's behavior was inexcusable - there is no other way to say it. But he didn't duck his responsibility to take ownership and apologize. Whoever is advising him should be praised for recommending this strategy. It was the only way to go.

His parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar also released a statement which was equally apologetic. Read both full statements here.

It remains to be seen what the fallout for the Duggar clan will be. Josh Duggar's work at the Family Research Council included making very judgmental remarks about gay people. The backlash will surely be severe and sustained. But Josh Duggar did what many people take weeks or months to do - admit fault and apologize. Compared to the behavior of many other celebrities in the same situation, his apology was lightning fast and thorough.

Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess and communications consultant. Find out more about her company at clairecelsi.com

Using Net Promoter Score to influence client behavior

Screenshot 2015-05-06 13.41.16Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals

It was a 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled "The One Number you Need to Grow" that changed forever how we define client loyalty.

Business strategist and author, Fred Reichheld, set the framework for the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is used by many of the world's most successful companies.

The NPS is a no-­frills survey used to identify client behavior that is predictive of future growth. Unlike the typical drawn-­out customer satisfaction surveys, the NPS is laser focused on what really matters: client loyalty. So focused, in fact, that it asks only one question: How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?

At Rocket Referrals we put a lot of emphasis on the NPS—not only because it provides insightful information about our clients—it can also be used to directly influence client behavior.

Reichheld indicates that "the path to profitable growth may lie in a company's ability to get its loyal customer to become, in effect, its marketing department." But our research has shown that simply identifying "promoters" and "detractors" is not enough. After all, it doesn't make a difference if you don't actually do something with the data.

The answer lies in using the NPS as a vehicle to drive additional data and action from your clients.

Perhaps the best quality of the NPS is that, because of its simplicity, a high percentage of people actually respond to it. We have seen an average response rate of 50% across all companies using Rocket Referrals.

Here’s the trick: Directly following the NPS a fair number of the respondents are primed to keep feeding you. All you need to do is ask!

The key is in the process. Have you ever been faced with a big stack of papers on your desk? Sure you have. The hesitation to begin is because you can see the long dreadful task ahead of you.

Traditional satisfaction surveys with all their boring questions is kind of like this. But, if you step them along one question (one sheet) at a time, they are much more likely to continue.

Ask your clients for one minute of their time with the NPS.

Next, ask them to tell you why they answered how they did. Frame the question dynamically based on how they scored. For example, ask a detractor for specific ways you could improve.

A promoter on the other hand, ask what you did right ­and then see if you can share their response with others.

The NPS will provide you will useful information itself, but it is when it is used as a stepping stone to immediate action from your clients that it becomes very powerful. We have been able to gather hundreds of testimonials for our clients using this method.

But it doesn't stop here. Assuming your clients rate you highly on the NPS and provide you with a positive testimonial, the door is wide open to ask for just a little bit more. Immediately following the testimonial is your chance to ask for recommendations on social media. I call this the "put your money where your mouth is" stage.

Finally, for those of your clients that have given you raving testimonials, you know who to ask down the road for reviews on third­-party websites. As you can see, the NPS is like the first date in a long relationship with your clients. Ask the right question and take the right followup steps, and start to realize that growth Reichheld keeps raving about.


The NPS Process: NPS > Followup Question > Social Media Recommendation > Reviews

Organizational strategy : The Un-Markets

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.

Though I am generally fine with abstractions, there is one that consistently gets called into question when I hear it. The “markets”. I understand that there is no other way to quantify the meaning of this word (as it is used) in a better way. The barrier for me is that it is spoken about the same way you might talk about “the force” from Star Wars, which has likely led to some of the problems we have had throughout the financial crisis and still exists in many forms of modern economics today.

Economics and strategy are almost interchangeable in certain contexts and segmentations of their definitions. They both attempt to quantify organizational data, identify trends, and synthesize potential outcomes in meaningful ways. But there is a key difference and the extent of that difference is where I find things difficult to reconcile.

The markets are not a nebulous force; they are the product of direct and immediate human interaction. Decisions. Markets are actually a loose form of what strategists call groupthink, where the search for a common equilibrium point nullifies rational discourse by minimizing critical thinking to avoid conflict and insulates criteria around a set of discrete factors, free from external circumstances or stimuli. This represents a dangerous decoupling of accountability from decision making and critical analysis.

Groupthink is something I desperately try to keep groups from falling into when I facilitate planning sessions. Critical disagreement generally leads to more dynamic, robust outcomes. It also builds a high degree of ownership and engagement from the full group, as no opinions or viewpoints have been unnecessarily suppressed and a true equilibrium point has been identified.

Some economists have a habit of (and will freely admit to) creating a thought ecosystem that divorces itself from many factors that could improve the way we look at “markets” in the same way we look at organizations. They have to – the complexity of the market ecosystem demands it. But maybe we can build an analogy based on looking at an organization the way an economist might.

Let’s redefine the idea of an organization for a moment as a “market”. Successful “markets” would be ones that had a clear operational structure, mechanisms for addressing adverse circumstances or conflict, and ways of including the “right” information in a proactive rather than reactive way. In theory, it should take more than one person making a statement on TV to sway the success or failure of that “market”, meaning no one person should be able to bias the equilibrium point of a decision to that degree that it is altered substantially. No market crashes based on adverse selection, bad information, or panic sell-offs.

For me, a successful organization is represented by characteristics such as a willingness to take into consideration the maximum amount of relevant external factors, the use of true critical and non-biased analytics, inclusion of empathy toward the non-tangible, and providing a forum for all stakeholders to include their contribution in a collaborative way.

Please don’t think I have anything against economists. I really don’t. I happen to really like reading about the work of economists and enjoy their take on the way our world operates. But when it comes to strategy, it is important to remember that there are different ways agreement (equilibrium) is reached in an organization.

Based on the above, you could almost make the argument that the antecedent of strategy is how our economy works. That isn’t really true; but it is important to take into account the volatility of our financial system and how decisions play a part in market conditions; there are lessons to be learned there on how we operate our own businesses successfully and how functional systems interact based on the decisions we make. So, tracking back to abstractions again – the force may be strong with your organization, but remember – even in Star Wars it took a strategic plan to defeat the dark side.

Placing customers on hold without diminishing satisfaction

115111335_81f2613f6b_zCustomers don't like to be placed on hold. This is true.

With twenty years experience measuring customer satisfaction and expectations, I have the data to prove it to you. In general, a customers' ideal would be for a human being to answer the phone on the first ring and resolve all their questions or issues in one quick phone call without having to be placed on hold or transferred.

But, the ideal rarely happens in customer service operations. That's why it is an ideal.

I have had some clients who have reacted to the fact "customers don't like to be placed on hold" by forbidding use of the hold button. For some reason, I find agents who seem to equate use of the hold button with contracting the ebola virus. So let's be clear: Not using the hold button can be just as detrimental, if not more so, than actually placing a customer on hold.

Customers may not like to be placed on hold, but they also don't want to listen to dead air, background noise of your office (including office chit-chat that may not be appropriate), or your employees fumbling around looking for answers.

When done well, using good Hold Etiquette, placing customers on hold will have negligible detriment to customer satisfaction:

  1. Ask permission to place the customer on hold and wait for a response. Some customers may not want to be placed on hold. Giving them the option is always a win. If they choose not to be placed on hold, offer a call back or prepare them that there may be a few minutes of silence. Beware of the "ask/tell" method in which you ask if the caller can hold, but then hit the hold button before they have a chance to answer.
  2. Be aware of the time. One of the reasons customers don't like holds is when they feel as if they've been abandoned to customer service purgatory. There is a magic rule of three minutes. Any longer and you should be checking back to see if they want to keep holding or receive a call back (see below). Let customers decide what works best for them.
  3. Return with gratitude and empathy. Courteously expressing your gratitude for the time the customer was waiting and apologizing for the wait acknowledges customers' inconvenience and communicates a sense of care and concern for their time.
  4. Avoid multiple holds. The other pet peeve of customers is when they are placed on hold over and over and over again. Offering to call the customer back, providing a time frame when they can expect to hear from you, and then making good on your promise (even if it's to provide a status update) is preferable to continuously placing the caller on hold.

If you consistently follow these general guidelines your team can use the hold button without raising customer dissatisfaction.

(photo source: 60576602@N00 via Flickr)

One’s treasure can be another’s trash

PearsonImage

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."

Some time ago, I was watching an episode of History Channel’s American Pickers, where the pickers, Mike and Frank, were at a home in California. There was an incredible amount of junk strewn over the property. As I watched them climb through it, I noticed a tiny little sign nailed to a tree that said, “Trash is a lack of imagination.” 

That statement stuck with me. I’m sure it was meant to reference the growing repurposing industry where creative people take one’s junk and turn it into something new and unique. However, it got me thinking about origins, and how we have a tendency to give little thought to something once it has been “destined” for its future purpose. This applies to everything, whether it’s a tangible object or something as simple as an idea. 

For example, I wrote a book about creative thinking published by Prentice-Hall that went out of print in early 2002. Pearson, the parent company of Prentice-Hall, has a policy that states: “Pearson does not issue royalty checks if the amount due is under $25.00. Earnings under $25.00 will be carried forward to the next royalty statement.” I’m sure the intent was to minimize costs associated with issuing checks for small amounts, and it probably made perfect sense at the time the policy was put in place.

Since the book no longer generates royalties, I’ve been receiving the same monthly statement for over 13 years detailing how Pearson owes me 52¢. The statement consists of four sheets of multi-colored paper in a 9 x 12 inch envelope, which costs $1.19 in postage. Based on all of the costs involved, including the labor to stuff the envelope and mail it, I estimate they’ve spent approximately $600 to date telling me this. Unless someone within Pearson chooses to reimagine the current policy and create a new idea going forward, I estimate they will spend another $2500 (accounting for inflation) over the next 30 years telling me the same thing. Odds are I’m not the only author receiving statements like this.

In Imagine! (ironically, the book I just discussed), I wrote that imagination consists of two-part thinking: the ability to see an idea in the abstract and then be able to elaborate on the idea going forward. It’s the ability to visualize an idea in the mind before it becomes “real,” followed by the ability to visualize the effects and outcomes of the idea after it’s implemented. 

Imagination should never be a one-time process. Like with many tangible objects that end up in junkyards because they’ve “played out” their purpose, a great many intangible ideas solidified into plans, policies, procedures, instructions, guidelines, rules, and a litany of other “ways of doing” continue on into the future, with little imagination or consideration as to how they fit into changing contexts and environments.

At least on its surface, one would think it is fairly painless to consistently reimagine the “why?” behind the “what” each and every day. I believe that most people like the concept of change primarily because it makes us feel as if we have power or control over our life situations. But despite this “power to change,” we tend to continue behaving just as we always have because it’s hard to say goodbye to well-established patterns and habits. Combined with the overwhelming amount of daily minutia we all deal with thanks to technology, it’s easy to see how we might simply revert to our comfort zones and fail to take the time to reimagine anything that’s already in place.

The danger of failing to periodically reimagine an idea can range from a simple future inconvenience, to spending thousands of dollars to inform someone that you owe them 52¢, to something much worse. Imagination is a process that should be done daily––not in one day.

Practice Challenge: When was the last time you thought about the “why?” behind the “what,” either in your own personal life or in the organization where you work? Taking a look at how you spend your time is a good place to start; our biggest time-eaters tend to be ideas that were once good and have now grown stale. Try to reimagine those ideas and allow yourself the time to mentally elaborate on their ultimate outcomes.

©2014  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

PR rules for companies with odd names

We all know the companies. When we hear the name for the first time, we tip our heads to one side and say, "Could you say that again?" or "Could you please spell that?" or even "What the hell were they thinking when they named that company?" 

Shinola

Companies with funny names have very specific PR problems that "normal-sounding" companies do not. They have a tremendous hurdle to get over before they can even tell you about their products, services or wonderful employees. A funny name can be very off-putting for a potential customer.

I remember the summer of 1983 very well. I was going to be a senior in high school. My friend Pam's mom ran a phone bank for AID Insurance Company. It rebranded as Allied Insurance, and is now part of Nationwide. It was a solid P & C insurance provider, with thousands of customers all over the Midwest. The only problem is that some scientist named a new virus AIDS. That was the beginning of the end for AID Insurance's brand. It was too high a hurdle to cross with the customers.

I've tried to serve companies who have funny names. It's not easy. But I do have a few observations that may be helpful for those companies to break through the clutter...and the WHUT??? barrier.

  1. Use self-deprecating humor. A case in point? Kum and Go used to sell boxer shorts with it's somewhat eye-opening name emblazoned on it. Yes, they probably get the joke. And they have a good reason for being named Kum and Go. The K & G are in initials of the last names of the founders Krause and Gentle. So get over it, they are never changing their name. 
  2. Include a pronunciation guide within all media materials. There is a large insurance company that has a rather short name, but the phonetic pronunciation causes it to be pronounced incorrectly at least 90% of the time. It doesn't help that the name has no meaningful translation into any English word. Help people pronounce the name correctly right off the bat. 
  3. Use an abbreviation or acronym after the first mention in all print and digital materials. If your law firm is named Smith, Udall, Davis and Sanders, it's ok to refer to it as Smith Davis in the next reference. Or, if you have a sense of humor, SUDS.
  4. Get over yourself. Insisting that your ridiculously long name be pronounced and spelled correctly in every media mention will get you nowhere fast. The best you can do it make sure it's spelled correctly in all media materials, mention it once to the reporter or blogger, and then cross your fingers. 
  5. Change your name, already. If the name of your founder is long, cumbersome or hard to pronounce change the company name to something a bit more easy to pronounce. My friends at Strategic America did this more than ten years ago, with great success. The Schreurs (Shhreers) Brothers (Mike and John) are great guys - but they wanted the company to reflect their national footprint and be more approachable. Smart move.

One company that's doing great business despite a quirky name is the Shinola Company in Detroit. Despite the common (and somewhat derogatory) expression that is associated with its name, the company has managed to create a desirable luxury brand. 

Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess and communications consultant. Find out more about her company at clairecelsi.com.

Conversations on a plane

Danny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services

Plane

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a payroll convention in Phoenix, AZ on the power of selling through networking. 

It was my first speaking engagement outside of the state of Iowa and the first time I’ve felt nervous giving a presentation like this in a long time. 

Different thoughts ran through my mind as I boarded the plane Wednesday morning.  They were the same self-deprecating thoughts that made me question myself during my first networking event. 

“Would people enjoy the presentation?”
“Was I really qualified to do this?” 
“What should my opening story be?”

Then I took my seat next to Stacy.

Stacy and I started to chat about midway through the flight. 

We had each finished our book, taken a nap, and had nothing else to distract our minds as we drifted above the clouds. 

She asked me where I was headed. We talked about growing up in small towns east of Des Moines. We shared stories about our families, our hobbies, and compared experiences that only people who grew up in semi-rural Iowa can relate to.

Towards the end of the flight she asked me what I did for a living. 

I smiled and shared that I sold payroll. She gave me the same look the vast majority of the population does when I explain what I do. 

It’s a look of understanding that’s trying to hide the underlying confusion. I quickly offered some clarification, which helped make the situation more comfortable.  Then I explained that I was actually headed to Phoenix to speak about networking and building relationships.

This was much more interesting to her, and to me. 

Over the remaining thirty or so minutes we spoke about her role with a marketing and specialties business. She went into great detail about how her sales force works, what the great sales people do compared to the average ones.

We talked about the value of long-term client relationships and the power of building a brand. As the plane descended and the landing gears engaged she asked for my card.  It turned out she had a sales convention coming up and was beginning the process of finding a guest speaker to talk about networking.

As of this post I’m not sure if I’ll be hired to speak at Stacy’s convention but I can share that my nerves for the Phoenix speech evaporated as I left the plane.

That’s the power of networking.  Stacy and I made a real connection talking about things that mattered to each of us. 

We shared useful information instead of making small talk.  The next time you find yourself alone on a plane, waiting for friends at a coffee shop, or at a networking event try talking to someone new.

Talk about things that matter not just the weather.  You never know what connection, or opportunity, might happen next.

- Danny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for B&W HeadshotKabel Business Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.

How Starbucks is helping make the sustainable connection

CaptureRob Smith is principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I love it when over lunch I learn someone has connected the “SUSTAINABLE DOTS.” This is the magical connection between one’s sustainable efforts and the results.

Tom Bernau, a Des Moines business man, bought the $1.00 reusable cup from Starbucks and uses it once a day at his favorite Starbucks. One time he saw a barista loading the cup dispenser with a three-foot tall stack cradled between his outstretched hands. 

That’s when the “SUSTAINABLE CONNECTION’ hit him.

“If I use my reusable cup every day for a year, how many three foot stacks of cups is that?”

Tom plans on getting a peak into the back room to see what a stack of 300 cups looks like. 

That’s the connection we all need to make.  \And in this case Starbucks is helping.

STARBUCKS CUPStarbucks worldwide sold an estimated 4 billion cups of coffee last year. Unfortunately Tom’s story is not the norm! Since 1985 Starbucks has discounted their price if you bring in your own tumbler. THAT MADE NO DIFFERENCE!

So in 2013 the company made the goal to serve 5% of all coffee in personal tumblers by 2015 AFTER EXPERIENCING ONLY 1.8% IN 2013.

The $1.00 reusable cup was introduced to move the meter and serve more coffee in personal cups.

So let’s help Starbucks get to their goal.  Next time you are at Starbucks, buy the reusable cup or just bring your own personal tumbler. I would love to know if you do this. 

You can reach me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com.  Let me know of another SUSTAINABLE CONNECTION you have experienced.  Was it habit changing?

Using a private equity group & getting that second bite!

Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

If you are looking to sell your company, you may want to consider a private equity (PE) firm as a potential buyer. Most company owners are not familiar with PE firms and how they can help business owners realize their exit goals. This piece provides a general overview of PE firms, their investment philosophy, and how PE firms are compensated to determine if they are a good fit for you.

Phoenix logo only

A PE firm is a financial buyer that invests in private companies of all sizes, but usually with an EBITDA in excess of $2 million. Some firms invest across many industries, while others are focused on specific industries such as technology or energy services.

They are a good alternative if you want to sell your company without inflicting severe and immediate change.

Their funds come from general partnerships, institutional-type capital sources, endowment funds, family offices and high net-worth individuals.

The typical structure involves a limited partnership where the PE firm acts as the general partner and the investors are the limited partners. The partnership has a finite term, usually 10 years, at which time the PE firm will sell all of the investments in order to return the original capital plus gains to the limited partners.

In addition to capital, PE firms provide other resources to their investees such as access to customers, industry expertise, and strategic direction, which can be invaluable for company owners looking for support in a capital partner.

PE firms look for companies with:

1. Solid management teams. PE do not have the management team to run the business on a daily basis and one of their worst nightmares would be having to run the business!)
2. Recurring revenue streams.
3. Pricing power.
4. Strong balance sheets.
5. Free cash flow.
6. Growth 
7. High entry barriers.

PE firms may bolster the business by providing capital and expertise in specific areas.

PE firms will normally take a controlling position to ensure that the PE firm has control. PE firms may also use different equity instruments to invest, including non-voting preferred shares or subordinated debt with an equity kicker.

PE firms make money by several methods:

1. Charging their portfolio companies financing fees or an annual management fee. 
2. A success fee if returns exceed a certain number.
3. An exit fee when the fund is closed and the funds are distributed.

The main advantage for a Seller to use a PE is that “Second Bite of the Apple.” Owners who retain an equity position will often receive a higher payout than their compensation in the initial transaction. So, if you decide to use a PE, choose wisely.

Good Luck,

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Prepping for your own print catalog

Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

Last month, I wrote that a print catalog was marketing's equivalent of a golden oldie. The print catalog has been around forever, but the way it brings people into the store and onto a website is music to the ears of retailers.

As I wrote before, catalogs reinforce your brand. They're proactive. They take your products directly to customers rather than waiting for customers to come to you. In short, bulk mail can bulk up your website's muscle and, more importantly, your bottom line. That's especially true for niche retailers.

If you've never put together a catalog before, don't let fear, uncertainty or even the excuse of being too busy to do it stand in your way. The key is to invest in -- and rely on -- professionals who know what they're doing.

You may know your product line better than anyone else -- in fact, you should know it better than anyone else -- but a talented copywriter, skilled graphic artist and an experienced photographer can make it come to life on the printed page. All three are well worth the money.

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, this is the time of the year that we start working on our fall/winter catalog. The process starts with planning. What overall theme will connect with current and prospective customers? What are our best sellers? What new products do we want to introduce? What special offers will drive traffic to the store and the website?

This is also the point in the process when we set a budget and a schedule from first draft straight through mailing day. Then we stick to them.

Along the way, it's important to do justice to your products with high-quality, high-resolution photos but there's more than one way to get the job done, as Al Stewart of Demand Media suggests.

"If apparel items are to be included, use models who are consistent with your targeted consumer demographic. Include a photo of the brick and mortar store and pay special attention to images slated for the front and back covers. For a more budget-conscious approach, use file photos of the products or art furnished by the manufacturer," Stewart explains in "How to Make a Retail Catalog."

This is where a capable copywriter comes in, using a consistent style and exactly the right tone to accurately describe your product line in a voice that stirs your target audience to take action. As Stewart recommends, "Assign an item number to each product. Include an order form to facilitate easy ordering by mail or phone." And, of course, include your website.

Perhaps the most crucial step is the proofing process. Take your time to get every single detail correct. Check it, check it and check it again. Have your employees check every product description, every photo and every price. Then have them check everything again.

The result will not only be a publication you'll be proud of, but one that will make your business sing.

An obscure tax deadline that could cost you big

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

You're finished with your returns and extensions. No more deadlines until next year…

Maybe.

If you or your business has anything going on across the border, a big deadline looms.

Taxpayers with "foreign financial accounts” have a June 30 deadline to report the accounts on a so-called “FBAR” filing, on pain of severe fines.

And it’s not just owners – you have this filing requirement even if you only have signing authority – for example, on a business account where you work. 

This requirement applies both to U.S. residents and U.S. citizens and legal residents abroad. For example, an Iowan who opens a local bank account while on a posting overseas for paycheck direct deposit may find themselves with a filing requirement.

FBAR filings are required when a taxpayer has an interest in a foreign financial account with a value of $10,000 US or more at any time during the year. Financial accounts include bank accounts and brokerage accounts. They also include some things you might not expect – for example, retirement accounts in foreign countries and accounts at gaming web sites located offshore.

Not everything foreign is a foreign financial account requiring FBAR filing.

A U.S. brokerage account that owns foreign stocks doesn’t trigger the FBAR requirement. Nor does ownership of a U.S. mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks or bonds. And direct ownership of a foreign corporation, partnership or loan is not a financial account -- though such assets could trigger other IRS reporting requirements.

The FBAR report is filed on Form 114; this form can only be filed electronically.

The FBAR requirement has surprised many taxpayers over the years, and the IRS can assess penalties of up to 50% of the account balance for each year of willful failure to file. The severity of the penalties and the obscurity of these rules has led the Treasury to implement programs to allow non-filers to come in from the cold.

The success of these has been mixed, as the IRS agents sometimes fail to distinguish between an honest ignorance of the rules and tax evasion.

Still, for most taxpayers who have relatively small account balances and who have no tax liabilities, the process of catching up on filing has become relatively painless.

To learn more about the FBAR requirements, visit this IRS foreign asset disclosure page.  To learn more about the IRS relief programs, the “FAQ” on the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative is a good place to start.

If you think you may have back filings that need to be caught up, or if you have more questions, consult your tax advisor.

Moneyball at the Office: 4 Skills to Look for Within Your Staff

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

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A close friend of mine was let go from his job not too long ago due to the team choosing to “go in a different direction with the role." It was a huge blow to a number of people in the organization.

When he left, there was a gap on the team and a significant drop in morale. He was a high performer and a great motivator, yet the company chose to push forward without him.

This kind of story happens within companies every day, but what is omitted in this is the simple question asking: “What else could he do?"

It turns out this employee was versatile in a number of fields, but hired for marketing. The company made a crucial mistake when they let him go versus thinking through, “what else could we do with this great asset?”

A lot of us are sports fans, so it’s fitting to apply an analogy here. 

In our companies, we have the opportunity to play moneyball with the staff we have. It is the chance to rethink roles of those we have in house, regardless of what bucket they are currently placed in. 

Companies that allow for internal talent shifts and realignments are able to capitalize on a few things: 

-Lower turnover
-More engaged employees
-An adaptive workforce

Yet many firms choose to let good people go if a specific position is no longer needed. 

Instead of giving great talent the boot, companies should ask “what else can you do and what else do you want to do?” By opening the door to shifting talent around, especially in today’s consistently evolving work climate, we can learn about what else a person can bring to the table to help a company thrive. Oftentimes, what’s missing is the framework or the “stats” to identify if the player is worthy of having a key role on the team. 

Here are four skills that help us understand our strengths and weaknesses in the workplace: 

1. Shared skills: These are the skills we share on our resume, on LinkedIn and publicly present that we are experts in these fields. An example would be a marketing professional highlighting they are skilled in marketing.

2. Discovered skills: These are skills we learn on the job that we realize we have a knack for excelling with an unexpected talent. An example would be a marketing professional that finds out they actually thrive in a role creating new company products. 

3. Aspirational skills: These are skills that we aspire to be good at. Since we are always learning in all of our roles, we may highlight new skills we are actively developing for down the road. An example would be the marketing professional learning how to code to better create software. 

4. Delusional skills: These are the dangerous skills that people propose. This happens when someone shares they are “skilled” in one area, but history and results have continued to demonstrate otherwise. The reality check probably hasn’t hit yet. An example is a marketing professional that may think they are a great manager, but have an extremely disengaged team working with them. 

So how can we address this?

•Continue to challenge your team to address questions such as “what else do you want to do?”, “how do you want to grow?” and “how else could you add value to this team / organization”. Time and time again I see specialized skill sets pop up in companies. A recent find was an executive assistant that was truly a master event organizer. 

•Don’t shut the door on employees right away. It’s expensive to rehire and retrain employees. If the fix is simply shifting them to a different department or division, that could create waves of efficiency in an organization. 

•Give little experiments to evaluate these other possible skills. We don’t know until we try! So give interested staff a few small challenges to evaluate their ability to learn and execute in a new space.

Wrapping Up: 

At the end of the day, people are our most crucial asset, continuing to find ways to optimize that secret sauce in each organization will continue to be the difference maker. 

-------

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Retargeting does not mean rinse and repeat

Accurate_nicheDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

If you own a computer and have ever been on the internet, you've seen retargeting at work.  When you visit a website a cookie can be placed on your browser that allows ad 'bots to follow you around the internet and serve up ads related to that site you visited.

Here's an example of how it works. I visit www.mydisneyexperience.com to make arrangements for my next Disney World trip.

Then, later that day or week, I go to CNN.com and voila there in the sidebar is an ad for Disney Parks. How weird is it that CNN just "knew" I loved Disney and was planning a trip?

Back when retargeting was new -- we were all sort of astonished at how this worked but today, we don't even bat an eye because it is so commonplace.  Sadly -- doing it well is not so common.

Here are some of the usual mistakes:

  • We repeat the same content that was on the website itself
  • We don't change the ads often enough so we are bombarding people with the same message over and over again
  • We don't offer anything new to drive the audience to click/take some action
  • We think marketing, not sales so we don't package any offers, discounts or bundled opportunities

Want your retargeting to deliver prospects and move them a step further in your sales funnel? Why not offer:

  • Free content that will make them smarter (ebook, podcast, etc.)
  • Coupons, discount codes etc.
  • Special add ons or upgrades if they buy via a click on the ad
  • Emphasize scarcity or a time sensitive offer

Retargeting is a really cost effective, efficient marketing tool. But only if used well.

Otherwise...it's a little like that pesky mosquito that buzzes around your ear. And we all know what we do to those pests!

Do the Math: Negative Company Culture = Unhappy Employees

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates

When speaking to business leaders, the question I ask is “Was your company’s culture created by design or by default?”

I pose this question to evoke the realization that if a company is not being deliberate about designing and building the desired culture of the organization, then it is being created by default.

Employee engagement photo for blog post

Company culture is all around. It consists of the accomplishments and activities that are celebrated, reinforced and rewarded deliberately as well as unconsciously. The culture of an organization matters. How can you expect to retain your high performers and attract more like them if your company culture is less than sparkling?  

Along with managing the attraction and retention of great employees, companies also have to manage their brand as an employer.

Ms. or Mr. Business Leader, have you ever stopped to ask yourself how people outside of your company describe your organization?

What is your company’s reputation?
Is it a good company or a bad company to work for?
What makes it good or bad?
Are your employees happy or unhappy at their jobs? 
Do you, as a leader, value what every single employee contributes to the effort or do you exude an attitude of “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out?” 

We all know about the reputation of the company that people refer to as “The Cult.” This organization is run by a heavy-handed self-promoting owner.

This is a culture of rewards and punishments. In this organization people are expected and encouraged to work very long hours. Having a personal life outside of work is discouraged. The culture demands that, like the life of an alcoholic revolving around a drink, the lives of employees should revolve around their job.

Work-life balance is not valued. People are viewed as only widgets, a means to an end, as evidenced by the obscene pay disparity. You can imagine that the turnover rate at “The Cult” is high. Once the get in the door, the mission of top talent is to get out before they burn out.  

Another company that has a less-than-stellar reputation for a nasty culture is known as “The Cauldron.” In this organization, whispered gossip and character assassinations are fostered. “Stirring the pot” is unconsciously encouraged among employees through inappropriate humor with certain “problem” individuals becoming targets. 

Significant changes in the organization occur without employee warning or knowledge.  This keeps employees “off balance” and in fear. In addition to high staff turnover, there is also a high level of absence due to illness, both continually decreasing productivity.  Employees feel defeated and afraid. This culture is clearly unable to attract and retain high-performers.  When prospective top talent gets a whiff of the stinky cauldron, they run in the opposite direction. 

What can be done internally to change a company’s culture and enhance it’s brand to attract top talent?

The 30,000 foot answer sounds simplistic but it takes making the Golden Rule, “treat others as you wish to be treated”, well, golden.  Every minute of every day with every interaction, this becomes the mantra, the heartbeat of the organization.  Treat others as you wish to be treated. Learn that, model that, be that, live that... let it ooze from your pores. 

At the very core of a company whose cornerstone is the golden rule, is an organization built upon respect. Respect is the bedrock of productivity and stability. 

Everything else - the mission statements, employee handbooks, policies, procedures and decisions- are then deliberately crafted to design the desired workplace culture while looking through the lens of the golden rule.

Things shift and behaviors become aligned.  People begin to feel valued, not as machines just being used for capitalistic pursuits and then tossed aside, but as human beings respected for their contributions. Engaged and balanced employees attract other happy and engaged employees.

Isn’t that the kind of culture in a workplace that we want and deserve?

Let’s give it a try... If we all started to treat others as we wish to be treated, what a difference it would make - not only our workplaces, but also in our world.

Managing farmland for income, appreciation and sustainability

Steve Bruere is the president of Peoples Company

Northey-bruere-aronowitz-osceolaThe era of socially responsible land investing has dawned and is advancing in tandem with an institutional hunger for hard assets. It’s also being driven by the necessity of feeding a worldwide population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

Farmland is often viewed as a simple, low-risk investment that can act as a hedge against inflation. It can also be categorized as an asset class that has consistently beaten the U.S. stock market since the late 1990s.

U.S. farmers acquired approximately 80 percent of the land transactions in 2013 and 2014. Institutional investors or absentee landowners make up the other 20 percent. In 2013, non-farmer owners held about 60 percent of Iowa’s farmland, compared with 45 percent in 1982. Similar trends have been reported in neighboring states.

This influx of institutional types considering farmland as an investment has traditional media outlets buzzing with the opinions of some urban critics who attribute soil loss and water quality issues primarily to commercial farming operations. It’s no secret that poor soil conditions can lead to runoff, carrying costly nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus into Iowa’s rivers, and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Bill Stowe, the Des Moines Water Works Park CEO who in January began leading the municipality’s charge to sue three Iowa counties over the issue of nitrate levels in Iowa's rivers, told The Wall Street Journal that it’s a matter of “agricultural accountability.”

On the other side of the coin, it’s widely known that issues surrounding water and soil erosion are global ones that are by no means limited to rural areas.

Developers and homeowners downstream in Iowa’s cities acknowledged their own challenges last year amid the roll out of a 4-inch topsoil rule that’s intended to deal with poor stormwater absorption rates and reduce flooding. It’s also supposed to help mitigate the flow of chemical fertilizers and herbicides from poor quality lawns and into Iowa’s waterways.

With big questions on both sides of the farm field, owners and managers should be asking which systems will be required to satisfy the advancing expectations of socially responsible land investors – investors in search an annual income along with confidence in the long-term sustainability of their investment.

Simply put, socially responsible farmland investing means using multiple criteria to analyze and decide on a particular investment in farmland. The obvious challenge for a land manager is that maximizing present income – and maximizing asset value – can be viewed as opposing goals.

But this is short sighted. After helping owners and farm producers realize the competitive advantages of increasing a farm’s relative value – securing the goals of premium rent and maximum appreciation – the strategies and tactics should be tied back to the best practices in land conservation.

Traditional and accepted conservation practices such as terraces and waterways are frequently recommended and implemented to protect from soil and nutrient loss while maintaining productivity on tillable production acres. Conservation practices for cropped acres include native prairie restoration and the protection of riparian areas. 

The voluntary Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy program is aimed specifically at reducing the quantity of nutrients being delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf. The initiative was launched in 2013 and focuses in part on the design of targeted ag practices to reduce loads of nitrogen and phosphorus from non-point sources such as farm fields.

A winter cover crop is among examples of measures that could be recommended to improve the durability of a farm's soil. The enhancement of wildlife habitats or timber stand improvements on recreational land, as examples, could also come with a long-term financial benefit. Another approach is to restore as much native landscape as economically feasible. The idea is to practice due-diligence that goes beyond basic compliance.

Today’s land manager or farm operator has access to mapping tools, soil calculators, and aerial imaging technologies to assist owners in preserving organic matter and potentially boosting the profitability of the farm. Use of such incredible precision tools are already at work with a goal of improving soil health, fertility and yield. It also goes hand in hand with optimizing inputs while monitoring and measuring the impact of land management decisions.

Erosion and runoff are striking examples of what can be measured when weighing the cost-benefit of incorporating a soil-loss reduction strategy.

Take for example that a loss of three tons of topsoil per acre, per year is considered a moderate loss on a moderately sloping farm with typical crop management practices in place. At that rate, the loss from five acres would fill a typical 15-ton dump truck. Now imagine a dump truck full of topsoil that’s spread over five acres – a very thin layer of soil. On a 160-acre farm with 150 acres of tillable ground, a three-ton loss rate would equal out to 30 dump trucks of topsoil being lost annually. Along with the soils go the nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that were paid for.

By implementing and documenting the cost-benefit of a given soil-loss reduction strategy, landowners are presented with an opportunity to improve long-term farm profitability, along with the real estate’s “curb appeal.” For some, that could mean taking some environmentally sensitive acres out of production, and then analyzing the results.

Initiatives such as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy are based on a science-and-technology fueled approach centered on education, collaboration and building broader awareness of the issues. Historically, farmland has been managed primarily for a landowner’s expectations for cash rents. Today, owners are looking for not only a record rents paid, but yield histories, soil tests, fertilization records, soil-loss controls and more.

Great attention has been paid to ag real estate as an investment in recent years following an explosion in commodity prices and run-up to $8-a-bushel corn. The recent cooling in commodity prices and subsequent downturns cash rents or land vales are only intensifying the expectations of contemporary landowners.

The smart money for farmer-owners and institutional investors today is to consider how socially responsible land investing and diligent operational excellence could lead to a total return.

At the same time, limiting the runoff of nutrients and chemicals is becoming more essential in Midwest states such as Iowa, which will dig deep to produce enough corn, soybeans and animal proteins to feed 9 billion within the next 35 years.

Change: Start with small wins

Baby steps

“Things don't have to change the world to be important.” Steve Jobs

 

Rowena Crosbie is President of Tero International

Change is scary.  

It is easy to make excuses that the risks of failure are too high and reconcile ourselves to the comfort of the familiar (even if we don’t particularly like the familiar and don’t find it all that comfortable.)

Wise leaders know this and know that they will need to start small with recognizable, feasible steps toward the larger goal. Tackling the whole thing at once would be too overwhelming. The small, doable steps are called “small wins” and they are imperative for fueling the positive momentum toward the final goal.

In their seminal leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner provide a good example of a leader who knew about how to use small wins.

Charlie Mae Knight was the new superintendent of a dying school district in California. Fifty percent of the schools in the district were closed. Those that weren’t closed were run-down with broken windows, graffiti on the walls and rats running all over the yard. Worse yet, the teachers were demoralized, the drop-out rate was really high and 98% of the children that remained in school were performing in the lowest percentile for academic achievement in California.

Rather than marching in and suggesting that she was going to improve test scores and reduce drop-out rates, as the leaders she followed did, she started with small, observable wins.

She recruited volunteers to help her repaint the walls and got pellet guns to kill the rats. Soon people started noticing that the place looked nice and they began to believe that a change was taking place.

Eventually, test scores did improve and drop-out rates were reduced. Ms. Knight knew that to bring out positive change, she would have to start with small wins that would give people the hope and encouragement to keep going.

A small win is something a leader can do right away that will represent a baby step in the direction you want

Cleansing emails may muddy legals waters

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law 6a00d83452ceb069e201bb08175a84970d-320wi

Scrubbing emails has been the topic of conversation amongst political pundits over the past few weeks, but how, if at all, can cleansing emails create legal problems for your business?

One example... the Court system.

In short, Iowa law generally prohibits individuals and businesses from destroying evidence, such as emails, that would be relevant to an existing case or case that is reasonably anticipated. Importantly, this long-standing principle applies whether the matter is a criminal or civil case. 

Our Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that “[i]t is a well established legal principle that the intentional destruction of or the failure to produce documents or physical evidence relevant to the proof of an issue in a legal proceeding supports an inference [that a jury may be instructed about] that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the party responsible for its destruction or nonproduction.”  Phillips v. Covenant Clinic, 625 N.W.2d 714, 718 (Iowa 2001). 

Importantly, the inference is regarded “as an admission by conduct of the weakness of the party’s case,” and is based upon “the common sense observation that a party who destroys a document with knowledge that it is relevant to litigation is likely to have been threatened by the document.”  Id. 

Based upon the forgoing, when litigation is filed or even reasonably anticipated, parties are often advised they should institute what is commonly referred to as a “litigation hold,” and preserve relevant evidence, including emails. 

Consequently, before your business begins cleansing emails and shredding documents, you may want to think twice and consider whether such cleansing is truly beneficial or whether its the first step in muddying legal waters. 

How live-stream social media apps can change the world

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

You may not have an answer yet if someone asks you your Meerkat or Periscope handle but live stream social media apps have arrived. As with most new apps, now there is a combination of other similar apps with some new added twists. Since both are very similar I have done most of my experimenting with Periscope.

Periscope is Twitter’s official new live-streaming video app. Periscope is an app within an app, which means you need a Twitter login to get a Periscope account.

So how does it work?

When you log into your Periscope account you’re given the option to see if people you follow are doing any live streaming at that moment, or look into some popular feeds happening then of people you don’t follow. You also have the option of doing your own live stream.

To do so, you create a title of your stream and hit “start broadcast” – and just like that the entire world can and will see what you are up to. Once you’re finished with your broadcast, you end it and it will be left available for your followers to watch back. During a broadcast, anyone can join.

Often when I am doing a broadcast, I’ll have people chiming in with a “hello from Egypt” or “hi from Scotland.” 

It’s now the closest thing we have to teleportation. The people that have joined my broadcast can hear what I am saying, and are also able to type me questions. Anyone watching can see all the questions people type. Then you can answer them by just talking.

The first time I logged on I realized the power this type of media has to completely flip the way we get our news upside-down. The news, how they tell it and how we consume it is such an incredibly large part of each of our lives and the decisions we make daily.

Now when there is a house fire, the scanners go off in newsrooms, which send a photographer and reporter to get to the scene as soon as possible. Once they are there they will get set up, get video then go back to the newsroom, edit it and wait for the news to air it.

They might put it on their website in the meantime, but most local news still would wait for it to air then put it on their site. They might be live on the scene too but it would all still take a lot of time.

With Periscope, they could get to the scene, turn on their phone and everyone could watch immediately. The rest of the world has switched to real-time, why not our news consumption? It will be interesting to see how this becomes regulated over time, as this leaves a huge opportunity to see a lot of things that aren't necessarily allowed on TV. 

For example, the NHL recently successfully banned Meerkat and Periscope in their stadiums, claiming the footage would be in violation of the NHL’s Broadcast Guidelines. It will be interesting to see how other live entertainment venues react to the possibility of their product being posted immediately online.

http://mashable.com/2015/04/22/periscope-meerkat-banned-nhl/

I personally think the opportunities are endless. I love that I can jump on and see what someone in Costa Rica is doing live today. The world is your oyster and is now more available than ever for your viewing pleasure. Take advantage! Do you think you’ll use Periscope? I’d love to hear. Tweet me @klstocking or comment here. 

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. 

Disagreeing Isn’t always the smarter thing to do

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.

I was reading an article in an online publication recently centered on the “death of strategy”. I tried to stay as objective as possible, as my natural tendency is to reject the premise and move onto something else. What kept me engaged this time was a trend I see more and more in articles, in meetings, and online – disagreement as a mechanism to convey “smarts” about a specific subject.

My reaction is probably rooted in the flash-fad, click-bait ecosystem that we are trending toward at the moment. Click-bait, for those who don’t know, are those links with strange photos that demand attention at the bottom of many of the news sites we all visit…”Bad news for so and so…” or “Grocery stores fear him…” or the ever-present “iPhone Killer!” Our growing desensitization has caused an escalation in what it takes to maintain someone’s attention about a new product, subject, or bit of information, and so, from this, click-baiting was born.

Let’s go back to the “iPhone Killer!” click-bait for a moment. We are so intent on destroying the previous thing, or negating an old concept or offering as the only way to stress the benefit of the new concept or offering, that we have forgotten how to evolve an old concept or idea into a new one, or at least keep the parts that work well so we can build on them for the next generation. You don’t need to kill the iPhone to make the next phone or establish the next phone is better - even if it is better. There is room in the marketplace for multiple devices, all tailored to specific consumer preferences.

When I read that strategy was dead, I really wanted to know why that person felt that way. As I was reading, I found the author spent more time trying to disentangle them from what I would consider best practices in the strategy world than they did explaining what the next generation of strategic planning is. Making an argument should be for something, not simply pointing to something else and saying that it is wrong.

When you are working with a group, and that group has an established mission, vision, and series of objectives, being critical is essential to success. Being critical is structurally different than disagreeing in a few key ways:

  1. Being critical is constructive; feedback is meant to generate a positive outcome based on prior work.
  2. Being critical is assembling; that is it a rigorous and structured analysis of what is currently in place.
  3. Being critical is not emotional; it is rooted in objective, evidence-based reactions to data.
  4. Being critical should appeal to the analytical nature of re-design or implementation; not a knee-jerk headline or something designed to create a false sense of urgency.
  5. Being critical is based on a reason or reasons, with development beyond a visceral reaction to a concept.

Strategic planning is not dead and I saw no reason in the article to make me think that it was. I do believe that it is evolving based on the changing needs of those who choose to engage it as their process in finding greater organizational success. There is no “strategic planning killer!” on the horizon. Planning for an organization is not ever meant to be sensational – it is meant as an iterative process that aggregates and creates a solid framework for evolution, innovation, growth, and is able to adapt and react to the stresses of change. Disagreeing with something just for the sake of disagreeing doesn’t make your argument more valid; sometimes it only uncovers how little you understand about what it truly is.

Are you ready to dare greatly?

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

Brown, Brene - both books“Alright class, let’s get into our topics for today: Shame! Vulnerability! The fact that we will never, ever be perfect!”

So began our leadership sessions last week. You might think with an opening like that, my group would have turned and run for the hills. Quite the contrary: After an initial moment of “For real?” these professionals delved into our topics with honesty and great candor.

Afterwards, I think we all left the room feeling like a weight had lifted.

Professor and author Brene Brown has paved this path of conversation for us with The Gifts of Imperfection and, more recently, Daring Greatly. Her practical, down-to-earth warmth coupled with decades of research has opened floodgates of discussion. Once-taboo topics that deeply impact us all can now hold center stage.

So what place does vulnerability hold in leadership? How can the awareness of shame actually enhance our effectiveness at work? What does “wholehearted living” have to do with career success?

As it turns out, the leadership implications of Brene’s work are significant. Consider your own role, for example. Do you:

  • Engage openly in difficult conversations rather than tiptoeing around them?
  • Provide honest feedback, coming from a place of connection and growth?
  • Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and are o.k. with that?
  • Allow people to dare greatly - even though mistakes and failures may ensue?

And here’s a big one: Do you admit your own mistakes and failures? Even to those you lead?

In a group coaching session recently, a few of my clients were discussing failure, fear, and vulnerability. “I always thought admitting my failures would decrease others’ respect for me,” one courageous professional admitted. “When I shared my big flub-up last year though, I experienced an outpouring of support and a newfound level of respect because I was real. Now my team knows they can take risks – even if they mess up sometimes – because how else do you grow?”

Vulnerability isn’t letting it all hang out; rather, as Brene writes, it’s “sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.” A few other nuggets to bring into your leadership:

  • Be You. Whether your leadership style is charismatic joviality or quiet compassion, flow with your strengths. “Authenticity,” Brene shares, “is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
  • Quit Comparing. Seek mentors and role models, look for opportunities to grow, but don’t bother with comparison. We can all probably relate to Brene’s words here: “I can’t tell you how many times I’m feeling so good about myself and my life and my family, and then in a split second it’s gone because I consciously or unconsciously start comparing myself to other people.”
  • Make It Meaningful, whatever your profession or role. “When we cultivate our gifts and share them with the world,” she confirms, “we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.”

As a leader, be willing to dare greatly. Dare to take a stand. Dare to stand up for yourself. As Brene so eloquently writes, we all want to be brave.

We all want you to be brave, too.

 

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH’S CHALLENGE:

Commit to daring greatly this week. With the support of your coach or trusted adviser, explore where you’ve been holding back and decide how you can now take a step forward.

Can you share a story with your team about a time when you were less than perfect? Apply for the promotion that self-doubt has kept you from? Admit that past mistakes do not define your future?

Don’t just think about daring greatly – take an action that puts you into the arena, knowing that you’ll make a difference and come out stronger.

 

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches professionals who want to become strong, confident leaders that make a meaningful difference. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Gotham, 2012) written by Dr. Brene Brown. 

Kids can be so annoying

WhyImage
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."

Recently, I got to hold my grandson, Emmett, shortly after his birth. As I was looking into his little face while he slept, I thought about how absolutely beautiful he is with his tiny features and more hair than I’ve seen on my head in 15 years. It occurred to me that life really couldn’t be any more straightforward or simple.

As I looked into Emmett’s face, I suddenly realized he literally knew NOTHING, and it was only a matter of time until he started asking the most annoying question that a child could ask––“why?”

I imagined our conversation would go something like this. “Grandpa, why is grass green?” “Well Emmett, the green color allows plants like grass to help us breathe.” “Why?” “The green color is created by something called chlorophyll.” “Why?” “Well, chlorophyll is used during photosynthesis.” “Why?” “Photosynthesis allows plants to use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar, which the plant needs to live.” “Why?” “Well, when you breathe, you breathe out carbon dioxide which is poison to us, but the grass likes it and uses it to survive.” “Why?” “So we don’t die.” Long pause. “Grandpa, why is the sky blue?” Sigh. “Ask your mother.”

Although it can be frustrating to get the third degree about things we as adults might think are random (and if you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about), this is exactly how children learn, answer questions, and solve problems. This is how they begin to understand the world by making connections and sticking things together in ways that make sense to them. This is why children are so creative.

In the 1988 movie Big, Tom Hanks played a 12-year old boy named Josh who made a wish he was an adult. When he awoke the next morning, he had an adult body (played by Hanks) but his mind was still that of a 12-year old. He ultimately found himself working for the development department of a toy manufacturer. Unlike the adults who worked with him, he couldn't help but constantly ask “why?” That question not only caused the company to see great success, it caused the president of the company to show his pleasure with Josh while the other adults at the company took notice (and some became very annoyed).

Unfortunately, asking “why” is also how children learn the rules in life that ultimately kill the questioning that helped them be so creative in the first place. It’s rules like:

“Sit still and behave.”
“Don’t color outside of the lines.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be done.”
“There is no such thing.”
“Do it this way.”

It was one of those rules 45 years ago that put me on the path to writing Beware the Purple People Eaters. My first grade teacher told me to stop using a purple crayon to color people and instead use a “proper” one.         

As we age, asking “why” is discouraged, and over time people stop asking it, conform, and deal with the daily grind of their lives. Ironically, though, whenever we learn about a cool new product or great idea, this is exactly what the people behind them are doing––asking “why” just like a child. By repeatedly asking “why” we can get to the core of a problem or situation and true creativity can occur.

I once knew a chiropractor who was not only a professor at the Palmer College of Chiropractic, he was a master at asking “why?” He told me a story about a patient who came into his office complaining of having constant headaches. When he asked “why,” he found the headaches were a symptom of a shifted spinal column which was pinching some nerves.

When he asked “why” again, he found the shift in the spinal column was caused by an unconscious, natural adjustment in how the patient walked in order to compensate for having one leg slightly longer than the other. After being fitted for shoes with a built-in lift on the short side, he began to walk normally and the headaches disappeared. Most people today would have just handed him a bottle of ibuprofen, but it wouldn’t have solved the problem. Instead, he kept asking “why” until he got to the root cause of the problem.        

Perhaps it’s time we stop acting like “adults” and start acting like 12-year old kids. Maybe it’s time to start asking “why?” more frequently. People might think you’re a little annoying, but remember that the intent is to be more creative and strive for better results.

Practice Challenge: For the next week, ask “why?” about everything in your life. The answers may surprise you. Some inquiries (perhaps most of them) may end after the first answer. However, you may find yourself asking “why?” again and again until some long-term issue or problem gets resolved.

©2014  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

A better way to do email marketing

Twenty years ago Bill Gates was interviewed by David Letterman on the Late Show and spoke about the beginnings of the internet. It was 1995 and the majority of the country wasn’t yet online, nor did we really understand how big this “internet thing” would become.

 

This clip reinforces how differently we consume information today than we did in the mid 90s. With the advent of social media, mobile phones, tablets, and all sorts of gadgets and automation it would seem that we are almost a different breed today than two decades ago. Almost.

Movies and television often have a somewhat exaggerated view of what we will become in the future. You know; the flying cars, tinfoil getups, and cyborg-like personalities. I can see the tinfoil, but I’m reluctant to believe that our personalities will be so numbed by technology that we forget genuine relationships all together.

In similar fashion the internet and all its peripherals have not substituted for our need for meaningful communication. I don’t necessarily believe that most people believe so either. However, on a daily basis businesses communicate with us as if we were, in fact, cyborgs.

The problem is the lack of personalization. Most companies simply drop prospects and existing clients into simple drip email marketing campaigns. The goal is to “touch” the consumer with emails over time to “stay in front of them”.  This method of communicating is like pulling the string on the back of a talking doll. “Hi, I’m Chucky, and I’m your friend ‘till the end!” Does that resonate with you?

The alternative is to gain a unique profile for each contact, and communicate with them individually. Automation can still be leveraged, but it should be driven by the Net Promoter Score (NPS), demographics, previous interactions, products they’ve purchased, among other things. This portrait will ensure that automated communication can be specifically tailored to each of your clients.

Unlike drip communication, profile-driven strategies operate outside of linear planes. They use bits of information to form the most personalized content aimed at influencing action and shaping client behavior. Whether that be increasing referrals or just strengthening relationships and retention.

The profile can be shaped by the Net Promoter Score (NPS), demographics, previous interactions, products they’ve purchased, among other things. This portrait will ensure that automated communication can be specifically tailored to each of your clients.

There are also a couple ways of quickly boosting your reputation with contacts. One way is by substituting heavily branded emails for plain text ones. Emails that look like you actually opened your inbox and typed a message go a long way with contacts anymore. Secondly, consider sending handwritten cards for thank you’s or birthdays. There are tools available to help you automate much of this communication. Remember that it should have one key component: advanced personalization.

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

A Golden Oldie that's still a big hit

Some things never change.

I remember the radio dial being tuned to KIOA in a lot of places when I was growing up in Des Moines, and, even with all the choices we have for radio these days, 93.3 FM is still going strong.

When I'm putting together a marketing strategy for my specialty retail business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, a print catalog is the marketing equivalent of KIOA -- still there, still going strong and still making people happy.

That certainly may come as a surprise to some retailers, especially those who have grown up in the age of websites, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and a million different mobile phone apps. But the truth is still the truth: Print catalogs live on because print catalogs are effective.

I'm a big believer in the value of print catalogs. Our current customers enjoy them and value them. Prospective customers respond very positively to them. And, we're certainly not alone.

A U.S. Postal Service study from a few years back shows that direct mail and catalogs actually build stronger online sales.

"Catalog recipients purchased 28 percent more items and spent 28 percent more money than their non-catalog counterparts, with direct mail percentages trailing only slightly behind," a summary of the study reads.

The study also noted a revenue lift of 163 percent for web sites supported by catalogs as opposed to those that were not. Sending catalogs more than doubled online sales. And catalog-based revenue was also over two times than revenue realized from recipients of only online communications.

That same study found that 84 percent of catalog recipients "feel it's easier to shop online with a catalog in hand."

Catalogs reinforce your brand. They're proactive. They take your products directly to customers rather than waiting for customers to come to you. In short, bulk mail can bulk up your website's muscle and, more importantly, your bottom line.

The next time you're listening to the radio -- better yet, the next time you're thinking about how to effectively market your products -- keep in mind the print catalog. It may be the marketing world's version of an oldie, but it's definitely still a goodie.

In fact, on my charts, it's nothing less than a No. 1 hit.

Take credit where credit is due

Tax creditAnother tax day has come and gone! Hopefully you took advantage of the HUGE federal tax credit for renewable energy.

A whopping 30 percent federal with no limit and 18 percent state with a $5,000 limit. The credit is set to expire at the end of 2016.

The average residential geothermal system costs $25,000


That’s a tax credit of
$12,000. 

Another federal credit is the Non-business Energy Property Tax Credit. It's not as good as the renewable. You only get up to a maximum of $500 for all years combined. This credit covers things like adding insulation, better windows, or a high efficiency furnace.

GeothermalRod Olson, Financial Care Professionals, says three returns over the past several years out of 600 returns annually have filed for the renewable credit. However the credit on one was large enough to wipe out the entire federal tax and some left for the next year. On the other hand, one in twenty file for the nonbusiness tax credit.

Dan Schwarz of McGowen Hurst Clark & Smith in West Des Moines says “We don’t see people filing for the credit. Probably an opportunity more could take advantage.”

The Congressional Research Service reported in March of 2014 that nearly 12 percent of all tax returns filed in 2011 claimed the residential tax credit. Not surprising, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $100k (less than 3% of all returns) filed for more than half of the credits. The total tax credit claimed was $1.6 billion.

You can reach me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com and let me know if you will go for a credit next year. Or do you think it should be pay as you go?

How to finance your exit

There are numerous financing options for the business owner seeking to sell their business. For most business owners the key consideration is how to maximize the sale price. Some of the most common alternatives and issues are as follows:

Buyer Pays All Cash: This is the Seller’s dream. Buyer writes a check for the entire amount and the Seller goes to the beach. However, few Buyers have the cash and a sophisticated Buyer will not enter into this type of transaction. In addition, the Seller could be liable for significant tax obligations

Seller Financing:  Most transactions will have some form of Seller financing. And, in many cases banks will incorporate that requirement before they will do a loan. The banks logic is: “If you will not bet on the future of this business-why should we”? The issue for the Seller is making sure that they will get their money.  The Seller should demand at a minimum a financial statement from the Buyer(s) and require multiple signatures on the promissory note.

Traditional Bank Financing: Bank financing for a business loan typically comes with SBA participation for the loan. The bank will require 3 to 5 years of complete financial statements, collateral, appraisals, a business plan, often previous experience and possible performance requirements for the business and Buyer guarantees.

Private Lenders:  This is relatively new area for lending. It has many of the paper work requirements of a traditional lender but this type of lender is able to do loans which banks cannot do and does not require SBA participation. Interest rates are 1 to 2 percent higher than traditional lenders and the closing is usually quick.

Good Luck!

- Steve Sink | CBI and M&AMI | ss@phxaffilaites.com

Best practices vs. customer expectations

Wherever I go in the corporate world these days, everyone loves talking about "best practices." I will admit that they are great buzzwords, and there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to learn lessons from what others in your industry are doing.

Experience has taught me, however, that smart companies learn to discern the key differences between industry standards and their own customers' satisfaction.

Take one of our clients for example, a financial institution, who sent their customer service management team to a industry conference for customer service contact centers. The goal was to learn "best practices" and assess how they were doing against industry standards.

At the conference they learned that the industry "best practice" was to keep abandon rates (the percentage of customers who abandon the phone call while waiting in queue to speak with a live agent) in the 5-8% range.

The management team was mortified because their abandon rates were significantly higher. They returned from the conference embarrassed and determined to lower their abandon rates to acceptable levels of the industry best practice peer pressure.

Returning from the conference, the management team worked with the executive team to outline a major corporate strategy to lower their abandon rates. The strategy included systems upgrades, new software, increased staffing levels, and longer hours of operation. The price tag for all of it was easily into six-figures and would quickly add up into seven-figures over time.

Before the strategy was implemented, however, the company wisely surveyed their customers to find out if long queue times were as big a concern to them as they were to the industry.

Data revealed that this particular company's customers were an anomaly (or perhaps no one else in the industry bothered to ask their customers).

This company's customers tended to call on their cell phones periodically during the day and if they were put on hold for more than a minute they would hang up, shrug it off, and call back.

The abandon rate had an insignificant effect on overall customer satisfaction. The customers were far more concerned with what happened on the call when they actually got through to a live person.

In the end, this company abandoned their big ticket plans to meet industry best practices and funneled the earmarked resources into quality assessments, coaching, and training that would improve the customer experience within the actual phone calls.

The result? Their abandon rate metrics continue to make them look like industry lackeys, but their customers were increasingly satisfied and loyal.

Wise business leaders beware! Make sure that chasing after industry best practices doesn't leave you abandoning the things your customers truly care about.

Find balance by taking a time out

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.

Let’s face it. Executives, business owners, managers and directors are busy, busy people. Some days life can be a blur of meetings, commitments and fires to put out. With email, voice mail and snail mail all vying for our attention, things can pile up quickly until we feel like our personal and work lives are out of control.

Man meditating with computer

What can we do to get our lives under control again? To feel productive again? To feel less stressed and harried? Try taking a time out, also called meditation, during your day - every day.

More people than ever are doing some form of this stress-busting meditation, and researchers are discovering it has some quite extraordinary effects on the brains of those who do it regularly.

Time outs can last as little as five minutes or as long as an hour. The focus of a time out is to quiet your breathing, relax and rejuvenate your overworked mind and body.

I have been meditating regularly for over ten years with great results. I like to begin my day gently with an hour of meditation. The result that I’ve had with regular time to quiet my mind is that my days flow smoother, I am more creative and productive. I have found that if I do not make the time to meditate each day I feel frazzled, scattered and unorganized. I feel forgetful and distracted. Life presents speed bumps, not the open super highway. 

Neuroscience has now proven that just a few hours of quiet reflection each week can lead to an intriguing range of mental and physical effects. Consider that meditation is now accepted as a useful therapy for anxiety and depression.  

It’s being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units to enhance performance, and is showing promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic pain, too. 

So, now that we know why we should consider taking time for ourselves, and what the benefits could be, let’s talk about how to weave this into our already busy days to make this happen.

There are many different types of meditation postures a busy person can use. Depending on how you posture your body during your time out, you’ll be able to access different qualities of your inner guidance system- your subconscious mind.   recommend three different meditations and body postures that you can do in the office or at home.

 Sitting: The purpose of a sitting meditation is to call upon one’s inner wisdom. This posture is best used when you are grappling with a tough problem that you need guidance for. During this time out, sit comfortably either on the floor with your legs crossed, or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. If your office is not very private, you could even sit in your car. Allow you arms to rest with your hands palms up on your thighs. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Notice your breath coming in and going out at that spot near the tip of your nose. Ask for inner guidance and wisdom to solve the problem or to find a creative solution. If you have a thought, simply notice it and return to focusing on your breathing. Stay in this position for five minutes. Over time work your way up to 15 minutes.  

Standing: If you’re getting ready for a tough meeting and need to access your inner authority, then a standing meditation could be very helpful. This posture can assist you in dealing with things from a place of self-respect and self-confidence, setting limits without guilt. During this time out, simply stand with your arms and legs uncrossed, your feet flat on the floor and your eyes wide open. Focus on your breathing. Notice your breath coming in and going out. Ask for your inner strength and personal power to show itself in your tasks today. If you have a thought, simply notice it. Continue to focus on your breath. Stay in this position for five minutes. Work your way up to 15 minutes.

Moving: Sometimes we need some help getting our "creative juices" flowing. A moving meditation can do just that. During a moving time out you could be walking, jogging, biking, dancing, or taking part in any other activity that you choose to help you listen to your inner voice. My personal favorite is gardening.  During this time out, keep your body open and uncrossed. Focus on your breathing. Notice your breath coming in and going out. Ask for the ability to be more creative. Continue to focus on your breath. You’ll notice some intuitive insights and creative solutions that begin to appear spontaneously. Stay in this moving meditation for five minutes. Work your way up to 15 minutes.

So, what are you waiting for? Make the choice to begin to get up five minutes earlier tomorrow morning and just breathe. A happier, healthier, more productive life is waiting for you. All you have to do is take a time out.

What you stand for matters

Dove

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm a pretty low maintenance guy. My idea of a good shampoo was whichever one was on sale for a dollar. So why did I drop $6 on a bottle of Dove Men+ Care and spent twice as much as I normally would for some shaving gel?

Because I believe in what Dove's trying to do and I wanted to support their efforts.

Cause marketing has been around for decades but social media has breathed new life into the strategy.

Today, a brand stand truly stand for something and if they've built a community of consumers, they can quickly ignite that community to join them in their fight/cause.

Dove is doing it better than most -- and as their "Real Beauty" campaign turns 10, it's had a huge impact on every aspect of their business.

Ten years after the campaign started, the Campaign For Real Beauty is one of marketing's most talked-about success stories. The campaign has grown from just billboards to television ads and online videos. Their 2006 video, "Evolution," went viral and Dove's 2013 spot "Real Beauty Sketches," which shows women describing their appearances to a forensic sketch artist, became the most-watched video ad of all time.

What's interesting about the Dove campaign is that its had impact far beyond their target audience of women 25+.  I'm a perfect example. As a father of a young adult daughter, I find their work important and I hate the idea that my daughter or any woman can't see their real beauty because of our society's beliefs and air brushed realities.

I think the reason why Dove' campaign has been so successful is that it was borne out of market research Dove's agency did. It wasn't something they assumed they knew or a short term gimmick.  It was a tough truth worth telling and so it resonated with their core audience.

So the question is -- what tough truth or challenging reality could link what you do with your core audience? And are you brave enough to take it on?

If you follow in Dove's footprints, your willingness to take a stand might also ring the register.

 

There’s more to the story than tax rates

This is the time of year when local governments finalize their budgets for the coming year (starting July 1). One of the first things people look at is what’s happening with the property tax rate. Often a city will proudly announce its property tax rate is staying the same for the upcoming year. Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Holding the line on property taxes, right?

Well, it depends. 

Property taxes are a combination of the property tax rate, applied to the portion of a property’s assessed value that is taxable. Even if a city keeps a constant rate, it may be collecting a lot more property tax revenue (with property owners paying a lot more, too), if there’s more valuation to tax.

Increases in taxable value can come from new construction and revaluation of property, and/or from the operation of state formulas that control property taxes. While for the past several years there wasn’t much movement in taxable values (with actual declines in some cases), this year’s budgets are once again reflecting growth, in some cases significant growth. 

When this happens, cities face the question of whether to hold on to the additional dollars generated from a constant rate, to reduce rates and return some of it to taxpayers, or use some combination of the two approaches.

The approach an individual city chooses to take will be based on the unique circumstances in that city. Often there are good reasons for keeping the revenue in the city budget.  Perhaps the city wants to replenish reserves. Perhaps it has new debt for a recently completed building. Or maybe it held off on hiring during the downturn, and now wants to move forward.

Whatever the case, a city should not hesitate to explain what it plans to do with an extraordinarily large increase in property-based revenue.

The chart below shows the revenue increase that each city will see from property taxes, and the increases they will see when combined with “backfill” revenue from the State. As a part of the property tax reform that cut property taxes on commercial and industrial property, the State pledged to replace the property tax revenue that local governments would have otherwise collected. Even without backfill, most cities (Des Moines a notable exception) would have seen an increase in property tax revenue. When backfill is considered, the increases are even more pronounced. In fact, even the four cities that are reducing rates will see an increase in property tax-based revenue when backfill is considered.

There's More to the Story TableWith the Federal Reserve projecting inflation to be between 1 percent and 1.6 percent in 2015, every city but Windsor Heights will be working with property tax-based revenue growth that is above inflation. Some will be working with double-digit increases.

Why is this level of growth needed in local budgets?

Next time your local elected official talks about holding the line on property taxes, make sure you get all the facts. You may need to ask why the rate wasn't reduced, or why the rate wasn't reduced even more.

There’s usually much more to the story.

Breaking a brand

April 1 fell on a Wednesday this year. What does a guy who has built his brand on wearing a bow tie 6 days a week, especially on “Bow Tie Wednesday”, do when April Fool’s day falls on Wednesday?

He wears a regular necktie of course.

I woke up that morning and realized that it had been well over two years since the last time I wore a regular tie for an entire day.

I dug deep in the back of my closet, found a tie, pulled up a YouTube video to relearn how to tie it (yes, I had completely forgotten how to tie a necktie), and after some fumbling, got the thing around my neck with a decent looking knot.  In my mind it was just another fun and silly April Fool’s joke.

I quickly realized how much I was underestimating the impact my decision would make. 

My oldest daughter came out of her room, a sleepy haze still in her eyes, and gave me her usual morning smile. Then her expression changed.  She rubbed her eyes and blinked a couple times.

Tears started to well up as she choked out the words, “Daddy, what’s wrong? Where’s your bow tie?”  And the water works took over. I had to take off the tie just to get out of the house that morning. I brushed it off as an over the top reaction from a sensitive four-year-old who has no recollection of her dad in anything but a bow tie. Then I walked into Panera for a cup of coffee.

Barb Breeser, a good friend and mentor, was sitting in a side booth waiting for her first meeting of the day. I rounded the corner and greeted her. Her usual smile quickly disappeared as she noticed the tie.

“What are you doing?” she asked, the tone indicating the shock that had overcome her.  I explained my April Fool’s day ruse.

She grabbed her phone and asked if she could take a picture for Facebook.  I can still hear her words, “This is genius Danny.  It’s going to blow up, just wait and see.”  She posted the picture and my feed immediately began to react. 

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.07.57 AM

Reactions varied from anger, to surprise, to shock, to everything in between. A couple people asked if this was a sign of the approaching Armageddon.  Others, who realized what day it was, congratulated me on a job well done.  But it didn’t stop with social media.

People reacted everywhere I went that day, during meetings, on the street, and in my office. The necktie was so far from what people usually expected to see that they had to call me on it. 

This is the power of your personal brand and the expectations you set. We all have a personal brand thanks to the power of technology and communication. Once that brand has been established, through consistent behavior and creating perceptions, it’s very hard to go against it.

People get upset when they see a change or something that counters the established brand. They question it and try to justify the change. They are not afraid to voice their concerns and demand action be taken to rectify the conflict the change creates. 

This is why it is so essential to really think about the message you are conveying, and how it relates to your brand, whenever you’re engaging with people. 

The other insight I took from wearing a regular tie for a day is that changing a brand is hard.

Really hard. It’s uncomfortable and, at times, annoying. The tie kept getting in my way. 

It fell in my lunch plate, sat awkwardly on my desk while I was working, and got caught in my coat zipper. By the end of the day I just wanted to take the thing off because I was tired of dealing with the hassle. I walked in my house that night, tie undone, and vowed that it would be a long time before I ever wore a neck tie again. 

The next morning I put on my normal bow tie. My daughter smiled and hugged me.  “Welcome back daddy, I like your bow tie.”  Next time, I’ll give her reaction a little more consideration. 

B&W Headshot- Danny Beyer is the Director of Salss and Marketing for Kabel Business Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.

Don't talk to strangers

 Stranger
Most people go to conferences with two goals:

  • to further their education
  • to network

At a conference I attended, one concurrent session was facilitated by a blind presenter.

I laughed out loud when he described the pattern the seating had likely taken in the room. When we enter a room, we first look for someone we know to sit with. Locating no familiar faces, most of us choose to sit alone (usually along the aisle to allow for a quick exit or at least one seat away from the next person). If that is not an option in a crowded room, we look for someone like us (same gender, age, skin color) to sit next to.

He was right. A quick glance around the room by the sighted people revealed that exact pattern. People sitting with colleagues or friends, the seats along the aisles completely filled and the center sections dotted with individuals seated one, two or three seats apart.

Don’t talk to strangers! This phrase is a common refrain parents and teachers preach to children. Deeply engrained, it becomes our behavior. The result – it helps keep children safe from predators seeking to harm them by offering candy, pretending to locate a lost pet, or showing false kindness.

As we mature into adulthood the part of our brain responsible for judgment also matures.  We gain the capability to discern which strangers to avoid and which ones we should get to know. Or do we?

The imprinting in early childhood is so deep that we tend to carry it throughout our lifetimes. As a result, 76 percent of adults suffer from some level of social anxiety – the stress that prevents us from forging new relationships with strangers who might be valuable additions to our professional networks and social circles.

The age of social media has dawned along with the illusion that we are creating large networks. While technology allows quick access to information and facilitates speedy communication with people we know, it is a poor substitute for the face-to-face interactions that lead to building new relationships.

Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. Go to a networking function alone and introduce yourself to a stranger. Sit next to someone you don’t know at a conference and strike up a conversation. Attend a training workshop and learn the skills of rapport building that will help to reprogram the voice in your head telling you “don’t talk to strangers.”

Cybersecurity and your board of directors

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

A recent court opinion underscores the importance for a company's board of directors to assess cybersecurity. As we've explored in several prior posts, directors are charged with exercising fiduciary duties, including the duties of care, loyalty, and oversight.

It is this latter duty - the duty of oversight - that resulted in a plaintiff filing a lawsuit against against his corporation and the corporation's board of directors for failing to exercise proper oversight that purportedly harmed the company.

The opinion provides valuable insight into steps that directors may undertake to minimize potential liability (both to the company and personally) for such claims.  For instance, the court noted the asserted claims were potentially weak because the company implemented cybersecurity measures before the first data breach.  

Further, the board addressed security matters "numerous" times before the breach.  Moreover, the corporation took time to enact security policies, reviewed those policies, and even hired outside technology firms to issue recommendations on enhancing security.  Had the company not taken such proactive steps, including before the breach occurred, the outcome certainly could have been different.  

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data and cybersecurity, given the increasing threat such issues pose to companies, a board should at the very least consider data and cybersecurity in fulfilling it's fiduciary duties.  Such consideration may result in no action being taken, or it may result in consulting with privacy counsel, technical experts, or insurance professionals to insure against cyber-related liabilities (including costs related to forensic analysis, breach notification, business downtime, credit monitoring services, and third-party claims).

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