Who owns my website, anyway?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

When you buy something from a vendor or company it’s yours automatically, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to a website, the answer isn’t always black and white. This is why it is very important at the beginning of your website design and development process for you and the company you’re working with to have this conversation.

Under U.S. copyright law, the creator of a work automatically holds the exclusive copyright to it. Therefore, the only way that copyright may be transferred to a customer is in a signed contract.

There are many pieces involved in a website both on the design and development side. You should take the website copy and photography into consideration as well. When you hire someone (an advertising agency, web firm etc…) to build your new website, first consider what you would like to be able to do with the site after it is launched. If you’re looking for a long-term partner and feel confident with the company you hired (hopefully!) you might feel very comfortable not having any administrator rights (full control) over your website. Generally speaking though, even if you feel comfortable with the company you hired, it is best to at least have the option to have full access to your site. You always want to protect yourself and you never know when you might want to work with someone else, or possibly have someone in-house that is able to make updates to not only copy and photos, but also the actual code or content management system of the site.

As an example, at the end of all of our website projects at Happy Medium, our clients have full rights to their website and own it outright. We often continue to work with them on periodic updates, but if they wanted to do those updates on their own they could. It’s their website. This is outlined in the language of our contract, and communicated at the beginning of relationships with new clients. Don’t be afraid to ask this question because it’s very important!

Often we’ll try to help a client with a project or an update to their website and they find out they actually don’t even have full access to their site. Then, their only option is to sometimes pay additional fees to be granted the access, or worse, it’s just not possible. They are stuck with the option to either keep the same, stagnant site (which is never good), or to pay to start over again. Consider your website an asset to your company like all others. Confirm your ownership and ask questions until you fully understand. Then, get it in writing. Good luck! 

Questions? Tweet me at @klstocking

--Katie

The art of the follow-up: We're not dating...

Follow upDanny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

There is no point to networking without the follow-up. It's the most important aspect of the entire process and it's something that most of us tend to mess up. I want to be absolutely clear right now - networking is not dating. There is no 24 or 48 hour rule, no guideline about who should call first, no risk of sounding desperate with an immediate meeting request. In short, networking is typically about getting things done. The only way to do that is to follow-up.  

As I wrote in my last blog, I typically try to set at least one follow-up meeting at each event I attend. It's pretty easy because all of us tend to carry our calendar in our pockets through our smart phones. If this isn't your style don't be afraid to connect or email the person you'd like to meet as soon as you get back to your office. It's usually easier to set appointments with people you've just met because you're still fresh on their mind.  

The final piece is being persistent. Don't give up after one email or one voicemail message. There have been multiple times that I've had to email or call a person more than 10 times to set an appointment. When I finally got the person on the phone I apologized for leaving so many messages. Their response kind of surprised me - "No need to apologize. I kept meaning to call you back but things kept coming up. Thank you for the follow-up because I really did want to have this meeting." They thanked me for my persistence.  

Getting good at following-up doesn't take an overly complicated calendar or call strategy. It takes the willingness to be persistent and a desire to truly connect with people. Always remember that without a good follow-up plan, there is no point to attending all of those networking events. After all, I just want to go out for a cup of coffee, not on a date.  

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

One of the most enduring myths around time management is that multi-tasking saves time. Evidence that we are surrounded by this myth comes from the more than six million web pages offering strategies about how to multi-task.  

Leaders covet this quality in employees and interview candidates brag about high multi-tasking abilities. People proudly credit multi-tasking for their ability to get many things done. After all, doing two things at once must be better than doing one thing at a time. Or is it? Multi-tasking

The Research

In his book, The One Thing, author Gary Keller cites a 2009 study designed to reveal the qualities that make for a great multi-tasker. Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass, divided 262 test subjects into two groups. 

The group of high multi-taskers were outperformed on every measure by their low multi-tasker counterparts. Despite their own convictions about their capacity to do two things at once, the research was clear. Multi-tasking is a recipe for losing efficiency and effectiveness. When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or you won’t do either task as well.

Why? 

Our brains are hard-wired to focus. 

Can I walk and talk at the same time? Yes. You use different parts of your brain for those activities and one of them (walking) is unconscious. If you are walking over treacherous terrain, the conversation would stop so you could concentrate (become conscious) on the walking. Similarly, you can drive your car and listen to the radio. That is, until you find yourself driving in a blinding Iowa snow storm and then the radio becomes a distraction. Driving has necessarily become conscious and you must focus.

Many of the things we try to do at the same time use the same part of our brain. For example, the activities of emailing and talking on the phone both use the communication center of your brain. When you try to do both activities at the same time, you miss something. When you try to read the scrolling updates at the bottom of the television screen while also listening to the media interview, your attempts at multi-tasking fail you and you miss something. When you are working on an expense report and your colleague drops by to interrupt you to talk about a business problem, the relative complexity of those two tasks makes it difficult to jump back and forth and it takes a toll on our productivity.

The Cost

What do multi-tasking and interruptions cost? It depends on the complexity of the tasks. Researchers estimate that the time lost can range from 25% on simple tasks to more than 100% on complex tasks. 

Multi-tasking also exacts a toll on relationships. When you are attempting to listen to someone while also checking your Smartphone, the other party realizes that they don’t have your full attention and the cost goes beyond lost efficiency – relationships also suffer.

Leaders can quickly enjoy improvements in productivity, decreases in errors and reductions in stress by applying this insight to their workplaces.

Consider referral marketing

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

Before there were billboards, or neon signs, or quirky insurance commercials disrupting our TV shows, there was only word-of-mouth. Businesses thrived or collapsed base on their reputation. People relied on their family and neighbors to separate the trustworthy from the snake oil salesmen. But anymore, marketing has evolved into an overly complicated science propagated by new sources of media. Have companies forgotten the value of referrals?

SnakeoilThis may be the digital age, but humans still rely heavily on fellow humans for advice on how to spend their money. In fact, recent studies show that people trust recommendations from close relations seven times more than typical, traditional advertising. Yes, most trust their close friend over a lizard on where to shop for auto insurance. Interesting as this is, not much research has been conducted on referral marketing over the last century. The prevailing belief remains that referrals are important to increasing business - especially in those industries that offer services and ongoing relationships with clients. But the idea of fitting referrals into sphere of marketing seems to be uncharted territory.

Unfortunately, many people think that referrals are things that just happen. The problem with this belief is the error of doing nothing to obtain more. This results in missed opportunities. Referral marketing begins with the understanding that there are proactive approaches to capturing more referrals - by implementing a consistent and targeted plan.

Although referral marketing is still in its infancy, companies are beginning to take notice of its viability of realizing new business. There are two conflicting theories currently battling in the market: Those that believe in the tit-for-tat mentality, and those that are relationship driven.

Tit-for-tat

You-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours. Those businesses offering incentive-based referral programs that offer cash and prizes for recommending a friend. The idea here is founded on a business transaction opposed to a relationship. That if a business provides great service, an incentive will nudge their promoters just enough to get them to recommend their friends and family. The problem, however, is such incentives make the customer feel like a source of income for the business. Introducing money into the equation cheapens the relationship and shifts the customer away from social norms.

Relationship driven

This idea promotes establishing authentic relationships with clients. These companies believe relationships are key to successful branding and generating referral business. They understand that when a client refers them they are further investing themselves in the brand. Therefore, the company will find ways to build a sense of community with their clients. By bringing someone new in they are becoming part of the family and the incentive is based solely on the service they will receive. This is accomplished by establishing the referral mindset early on with clients and shying away from the monetary side of things. Creating a network of referrals is like building a community. Make people feel as if they are part of the team - that they are going to bat for you - and you for them.

Remember that referrals are not a knee-jerk reaction to great service and products. Leveraging loyal customers takes a proactive approach of incorporating referrals into the overall marketing strategy.

"Christmas in July" is too late

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

When I was growing up, I remember a lot of retailers holding Christmas in July sales. The tradition got started mainly because there are no holidays between the Fourth of July and Labor Day so retailers needed to create an event to stir up a little business.

When I think of Christmas around this time of the year, it's definitely too late to wait until the dog days of summer. In fact, just forget all about a Christmas in July sale. The time to start planning for the 2014 holiday shopping rush is now.

Start with this checklist now and you'll put yourself ahead of the game:

  • Have you reviewed last year's staffing process? Did you have enough people? Did you have too many people? How many will you need this year and where will you find them?
  • What product trends are going to be hot? What will you do to make sure you're not behind the curve when meeting your customers' wants and needs?
  • What's your marketing strategy not just during the holiday season but in the weeks and months leading up to it so that you make sure you stay top of mind with your customers?
  • What promotions can you do to keep clients coming back?
  • How can you make it easier for them to shop this holiday season?

It's never too early to start planning. And that's especially true when it comes to getting ready for a strong Christmas sales season.

Plan wisely now so you can reap the benefits later.

Do it right the first time

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I remember a story a friend who travelled through Ireland told me. He came upon a grumbling man repairing a stone fence. The Irish man said “If my great grandfather had done a better job the first time I would not have to fix this fence.” Sustainability often starts with doing it right the first time!

Brick wallBrick walls with brick caps do not work in our climate. Great for Phoenix, but the freeze-thaw cycle here rips them apart. Water gets into the wall through the joints on the top and slowly breaks the brick. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the top is stone or concrete and slopes to drain. You should also put flashing under the cap.

Rusting lintelsEvery window in a brick wall usually gets a steel angle lintel to support the brick. Problem is most of the time they rust and fall apart. Almost impossible to keep painted and the fix is costly. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the lintel is galvanized and you will never have to worry about it. You don’t even have to paint it!

Corners of gypsum board walls are susceptible to damage as they get banged from carts and other things. Some of my clients want to use those big ugly vinyl guards used at hospitals. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the drywall forms a solid corner before the metal corner goes on. The metal is only as good as the solid backing behind it.

Got any do it right the first time tips? Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com.

Allocation of the sale price when buying or selling a business

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Picture of Steve

Most businesses are made up of different types of assets, and those assets get different treatment for tax purposes. How those items are identified at the time of the sale/purchase can have a significant tax impact on both the buyer and the seller. A seller will, of course, want to designate items into classes that will yield a long-term capital gain on sale and thus provide the best tax result from the sale. Whereas the buyer will generally want to designate the purchased items into classes that provide the biggest up front write-offs.

The IRS generally does not care how the class allocations are made so long as both the buyer and the seller use consistent treatment and use GAAP as a guide. That is where IRS Form 8594 comes in. The form allocates the entire purchase/sale price of the business into the various classes of assets; both the buyer and the seller are required to file the form with their tax returns. It is also very important that allocations be spelled out in the sale/purchase agreement and the treatment must be consistent between the buyer and seller.

Generally, assets are divided into the seven categories very briefly described below:

> Cash and Bank Deposits
> Actively Traded Personal Property & Certificates of Deposit
> Debt Instruments
> Stock in Trade (Inventory)
> Furniture, Fixtures, Vehicles, etc.
> Intangibles (Including Covenant Not to Compete)
> Goodwill of a Going Concern
 
A seller would prefer to designate the major portion of the sales price to goodwill and minimize any allocation to furnishings and equipment. Why, you ask? Because goodwill is a capital asset, which for federal purposes will be taxed at a maximum rate of 15%, while the furnishings and equipment can be taxed as high as 35%. On the other hand, the buyer would prefer to have as much as possible designated as furnishings and equipment, since they can be expensed or written off over a short period of time (usually 5 or 7 years) as opposed to a 15-year amortized write-off of the goodwill. 

Whether you are the buyer or the seller, don’t leave the asset allocations to chance. Negotiate the allocation as part of the sales agreement. If you don’t, you could easily end up with inconsistent treatment and potential adjustments by the IRS. 

If you are anticipating a sale, please contact your CPA to assist you in structuring the transaction to your best benefit.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Do you have an ebook in you?

BooksOnlineDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Ebooks are smart marketing. Here are some of the benefits of creating one:

  • Attract prospects
  • Share your expertise
  • Builds a mailing list
  • Establish your thought leadership
  • Help potential and existing customers
  • Stand out from your competitors
  • Generate word of mouth marketing

And the best news is…. if you want to, you can create it completely on your own. Many companies use their ebook as a lead generation tool, trading helpful content for a prospect’s email address. Others will sell their ebook on their own website or places like Amazon.

Whether you give it away or sell it, the key is creating something of value. Here are some tips for making that happen.

Write what you know: The whole point of creating an ebook is to share what you know to demonstrate your expertise. So don’t stray from your expertise. Pick a topic that is in your sweet spot.

Don’t be stingy with the insights: I know it goes against your grain to give away what you sell but I promise, they’ll still come to buy even if you give away the goods. But if you don’t give away the goods, your ebook will be a flop.

Make it pretty: One of the things that separates a good ebook from a white paper or just a plain old PDF report is how it looks. Use visuals and a sense of design to lay out the book so it reflects your company’s brand and the content. Don’t forget how many of us are visual learners so infographics, charts and other visual teaching tools are a nice addition.

Break it up: If the idea of writing a book is daunting (remember, an ebook can be any length) then break it up. Write the sections or chapters as blog posts or stand alone articles and then weave them together. Or assign different people in your organization to write different sections.

Maybe it’s already written: You’ve probably written many reports, proposals, blog posts and presentations. It could be that the germ or most of the contents of your ebook are in one or more of them. Re-purposing content is a great way to save time and emphasize some of your time-honored wisdom.

Promote it and promote it some more: The internet is definitely not a world where if you build it, they will come. Once you have the ebook online and available for download or purchase — you need to tell the world. Use both digital and traditional methods of driving traffic to your masterpiece.

I know there's an ebook or two in you.  Why not start it today?

 

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

 

Meetings are better than cards

470Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

When I first started building my professional network I used something called the "shotgun" approach.  

The rules were simple. Put fifteen business cards in a shirt or suit pocket and stay at the event until all fifteen cards were gone. The additional challenge was to try and collect as close to fifteen cards from other people attending the event as possible. The event was deemed a "success" by getting rid of all of my cards and collecting those of others. Any count over 10 was a good use of time. Any count under five and the event was a complete waste of time, or so I was taught.  

It was easy for me to approach people and trade cards. I happily came back to my office each afternoon with a stack of business card and carefully entered them into my database. At the end of my first month I marveled at the collection of business cards and the "success" I had with networking. But there was one problem. Sure, I had a great stack of cards and hundreds of individuals in my database, but I had no sales. I had no meetings. I had no prospects. I had no relationships.

That's when I realized that shotgun networking simply wasn't going to work for me.  

The next event I attended I made it a point to meet one person that I could set a meeting with before I left the event. I was apprehensive and a little nervous because up to that point my entire strategy had focused on getting in and out of conversations as quickly as possible. Now I had to sustain conversations and ask for a meeting before entertaining a new contact. To my surprise, it was easier than I thought. The first person I talked to agreed to have coffee with me the next day. Turns out people really do want to connect and get to know others. Who knew?

Since that time I've had hundreds of meetings scheduled during networking events, some of which have ended in business and others that haven't.  

I challenge any business card collectors or "shotgun" networkers out there to give this approach a try. Try to meet someone and set a follow-up meeting during the event. In the end it's a lot more fun to actually connect with people than stare a desk full of business cards.

Loyalty! The new Customer Satisfaction

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

In business we are told that customer satisfaction is paramount to the success of a company. The customer is always right (within reason) and if they leave with a smile you have done your job. They will surely come back, and bring their friends with them, right? Sadly that is not the case - in fact, although customer satisfaction is important, it does not guarantee more sales. The truth is happy customers are merely precursors to what is really important - customer loyalty.

So what is customer loyalty, anyway? Harvard Business School defines it as customer behaviors, rather than attitudes. Collectively, it is interpreted as the three Rs: retention, repeat business, and referrals. In layman's terms– loyal customers make your company more money.

CustomerLoyaltySo what’s wrong with customer satisfaction?

Known loyalty expert Fred Reichheld reported in a Harvard Business Review article that between 65% and 85% of customers who defect said they were “satisfied or very satisfied” with their former supplier.

Don’t get me wrong: customer satisfaction is important. But it alone does not yield dollars. I like to think of it as a prerequisite to customer loyalty. Like your Philosophy 101 class in college. Whereas by achieving customer loyalty you have progressed through the 300 level courses and are well on your way to becoming the next Descartes.

I think, therefore I am

Unfortunately, in business, you cannot simply will your loyal customers into existence. In regard to referrals, studies show that the vast majority of “satisfied” customers reported a willingness to recommend services to others. But guess what? Most don’t. The responsibility lays on the company to make sure their customers refer them.

It starts by making your customers smile. Next is the proactive approach of converting those beaming comrades into devoted advocates.

Ask for testimonials

We all know that testimonials serve as written validations and promote social proof for a company. “Come on, everyone’s doing it!” But those testimonials you have scrolling on your website actually have quite the impact on the author as well. First, people like to stay consistent with what they have said. And by writing a testimonial for the world to see, they have formally stood behind your company. This promotes customer retention. It would seem pretty silly for someone to leave a great company based on a nominal price increase. Pretty shallow, wouldn’t you say?

Testimonials also serve as a rehearsal for verbal referrals. Get them used to talking good about your company - it doesn’t matter who sees it. Chances are they will recall their charming words during a fitting conversation.

Here’s how. Email your customers and ask that they provide you with a testimonial. Yes, it’s that easy. Increase response rates with a witty subject line. I’ve seen a 40% response rate with “John, we have 2 questions for you”. Timing is also important. Follow a positive experience, interaction, or ask new customers for best results.

Do something extra

Providing satisfactory service may yield customer satisfaction. Going beyond expectations will likely yield customer loyalty. Apple Inc. does this consistently by innovating products that wow their customers. A computer is supposed to compute. I can check email on a vintage PC in a small town library (you know, the ones with the old flip-down monitor protectors). I can leave feeling satisfied, but I am not going to rave about it to my friends. But when my MacBook allows me to sign a PDF document using my webcam? Now that’s cool.

It doesn’t matter if you offer designer jeans or insurance policies. Exceed expectations to the point that people can’t shut up about you. This requires doing the unexpected by offering surprises and service outside the scope of your product. It doesn’t take a big change. It could be as simple as writing a handwritten note saying thank you. The good news is that even the unexpected can be automated. At Rocket Referrals we developed realistic handwriting tech for this purpose. The point is, if they don’t see it coming it will have a memorable impact - such an effect that they tell others about it.

Develop relationships

Business with the customer extends past the transaction. Exchanging currency for products or services alone establishes a superficial relationship based on, well, money. Companies that stop here are easily forgotten. Create an ongoing relationship with the customer. By serving as a loyal provider to the customer you can expect the same in return.

This is accomplished by doing what you can to avoid offering monetary offers outside the initial sale. Enticing customers with coupons and incentives for referrals, for example, will make your customers feel like you are buying their love. Communicate with them as people, not dollar signs. Ask how you can help them - or their friends and family? Continue the relationship with followup communication. Touch them periodically and ask how you can help - not how you can profit from them.

Again, the goal is to establish ongoing relationships with your customers. They will reward you by sticking around and going to bat for you in the form of referrals.

Leaders and Relationships

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Do you miss Canada? The answer is the same today as it was when I immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago. I miss the people.

This is probably the same answer you provide when asked if you miss your hometown. Your previous job. Your college days.  Leadership_shake hands

Relationships matter. Whether at work or at home, it is the quality of our relationships that shapes our lives – for better or for worse. Our personal experience testifies to the importance of relationships and independent research confirms it. Harvard University, Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Institute all showed that 85% of professional success is related to people skills.

Here are five leadership activities to help improve your relationships this week.

  1. Look up from your computer when interacting with someone. Many of us are so preoccupied with email that we fail to honor the human interaction in front of us.
  2. Turn your smartphone off when meeting or dining with someone.
  3. Make eye contact and smile when you greet others. 
  4. Write five thank you notes in the next five days.
  5. Provide others with tips on how to effectively interact with you. 

Relationships are a practical matter for leaders. While many people join organizations because of inspiring missions, great benefit packages and world-class training opportunities, research reveals that they stay for one reason – their relationships. 

The bottom line: People don’t leave organizations, they leave relationships. One of the most important relationships people have at work is the one with their direct supervisor.

Tending to your product garden

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

When it comes to everyday business decisions, I always do my best to avoid jargon and keep things simple.

Every now and then, though, a term is so important that there's no getting around it. And, "product life cycle" is one of those terms.

A product life cycle is a great way to map the lifespan of every product in your business. I like to think of the cycle like a garden, which flourishes when given the right combination of seeding, nourishment, time and care.

The same is true for products. (For the record, the formal stages of a product life cycle are: introduction, growth, maturity and decline.)

At my business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, I sometimes have an easier task with the seeding or introduction because we have a very specific niche that is "all things Iowa."

The introduction stage is the most important step in the process. It requires some real thought and even market research in the form of asking your customers what they think to make sure that you're putting the right products on your shelves.

Once a product has taken root, it's time for it to grow. You do that through proper product placement, consistent marketing and -- my favorite -- a smart sampling strategy. When you get the growth process right, a product achieves its next level -- maturity. A product reaches maturity when it becomes a customer favorite and generates strong margins.

The final stage -- decline -- is one that isn't necessarily inevitable. However, there's not a retailer anywhere who hasn't had a product that, for one reason or another, just fails to take root and blossom. I treat products like that just like I would treat a weed in the garden; I get rid of it as fast as I can. I may do it through sampling or discounting or I may even donate it to a worthy charity, but I get rid of it as fast as I can so I can start the product life cycle all over again with something that holds a higher promise of stronger returns.

Think of your product line as a garden and you, too, can keep sales and profits growing strong all year round.

Summertime and the Livin is Easy

Ella Fitzgerald sang George Gershwin’s hit “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess and you could just sense the heavy heat of summer.  This summer take a few steps to beat the heat of summer and be more sustainable.

Summertime 1My office mini blinds stay in one position pretty much year round.  Now that summer is here adjust blinds so more of the summer sun is reflected outward to save on air conditioning.  It’s great to have the winter sun warm up a space but not the summer sun.  I just climbed up on my credenza and closed down the blinds.

Turn off your lights during peak times of the day.  My window faces south so I get plenty of mid-day sun.  I turn off my lights when the sun shines brightly.  Right now I am typing this blog with the lights off (some would say I am in the dark most of the time) which saves electricity and reduces air conditioning because of the heat that lights emit.

Summertime 2Turn up the thermostat a few degrees to save energy.  I am surprised when I tour buildings the amount of people who have sweaters on or heaters running during the summer.  Tell the guy with the thermostat in his office wearing a sport coat all day to take the coat off and turn up the thermostat.

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Selling Your Business: For Sale by Owner?

 

The fact is when you decide to sell your business you must enlist other professionals. It will be expensive, but the investment you make will lead to a greater payoff. Consider the following when you think you can do it yourself:

·      Confidentiality: This is your number one concern.  You cannot put up a For Sale   sign.  You will need to screen and pre-qualify the buyers while controlling the confidentiality requirements and managing your business.

·         Emotions: When it comes to your little slice of the American pie, you’re bound to be emotional.

·         Judgment: There is no way you can view your business objectively, it is too much of you and you either under price or overprice it.

·         Time: Do you have enough time to run your business and sell it at the same time?  It will typically take one year and will eat-up much of your “free” time.

·         Special Knowledge, Skill and Experience:  Your skills are in running a business not in selling a business.

·         Adversarial Relationships:  You want more and the buyer wants to pay less. And-after the sale you will have to work the buyer.   Your representative needs to be the go-between and keep the deal moving forward.

All business owners have a dislike of paying professional fees. You will reluctantly engage their services only when it is absolutely critical. For most owners, the sale of their business will determine their future lifestyle.  You will need to have a team made up of a: Business Intermediary (the deal maker), an Attorney (legal protection) and your CPA (tax avoidance).

Remember: “The person who represents himself has a fool for a client”.

Good Selling!

 

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

So what the heck is Snapchat?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

There’s been a lot of buzz this past year over Snapchat, but what is it about this app that has everyone talking?

Snapchat is a photo-sharing app with a unique twist: the photos you send disappear. Once a “snap” (photo) is opened, it will disappear within seconds and is deleted from the company’s servers. Users can no longer access the images after they have disappeared.

Once downloaded, you can use the app to send out pictures to as many friends as you like. Some special features include the ability to draw on your photos, caption your photos and set how long - between one and 10 seconds - the image will be visible to those receiving it. You can also view when your snaps were opening by the receiver. Snapchat also added a few new features recently, including the ability to text inside the app, where messages will disappear once you leave the conversation. A new video call feature was also recently added.

When you receive a snap, you simply press and hold your thumb on the image to keep looking at it until the designated time runs out. While there is no public timeline, there is the ability to add photos or videos to your “story” which can be viewed by all of your contacts.

Basically, Snapchat is a light-hearted, visual way to have a conversation. The “disappearing” aspect and spontaneous nature of the app are what makes it different and more appealing to a younger generation than texting. With no signs of slowing down, it will be interesting to see how Snapchat grows in the future and how it will continue to change the way we communicate with each other.  

Is advertising becoming just a punchline?

Screenshot 2014-05-21 22.48.28Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

JDate, the Jewish dating service, has a new ad campaign running and they launched it with billboards in Tme Square.  

The headline reads "Find Mr. Right to Left" as the company shifts its messaging away from "someone else's romantic success stories" to more of a "me right now" vibe that's aimed at millennials.

The next two ads in the series will feature headlines like "Because Dating Shouldn't Be as Hard As Parting the Red Sea" and "Matzah Ball Recipes Don’t Survive on Their Own."

What most people will find interesting about this campaign is that JDate didn't hire an agency to create this campaign -- they crowdsourced the lines. At this point in time, I find the crowdsourcing angle to be old news -- seems like half the SuperBowl ads were crowdsourced over the past couple years.

Here's what has my attention and concern. Good, effective advertising used to be well crafted from a strategy that made sense in every medium and to each of your key target audiences. But as our attention spans shorten and companies like JDate take short cuts to creating their campaigns -- everything is reduced to a funny bit or clever punchline.

In some ways, that works for the bigger consumer products. We don't really have to be told how they work or why they're useful -- we know what beer does ("Bud" "Weiser" frogs). We get what a Wendy's hamburger is for (Where's the beef?"). And no one has to think too hard to figure out why someone would go on JDate's website.

But for most businesses -- that method does not work. You're not a household name and what you sell isn't as obvious as beer, burgers or insurance. Your marketing needs to be built around a strategically sound plan that moves a prospect through the necessary steps of the know • like • trust = sales model that we've talked about before.

You can't rely on a funny line or sight gag to actually get someone to want to learn more or to wonder if they need what you sell. 

Don't get fooled by all these punchline ads all around you. You're going to actually have to do the hard work of understanding your customers and why they would be interested in what you have to say.

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

5 Things to get more out of LinkedIn now

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

LinkedIn is one of the most useful networking tools currently available as a “social media” platform. It allows user to connect professionally, share great content, and generate business. Unfortunately, it is also very underutilized. I’ve given several talks to students and professionals about the power of social media. It seems like most people have Facebook and Twitter figured out but LinkedIn is a different story. Here are five quick tips anyone can do to start seeing real value from their LinkedIn profile.

  1. Make sure the email address associated with the account is up to date: LinkedIn uses that email address to communicate when new messages are received, when connection requests have been sent, and when group conversations are happening. There will be no communication if the email address on record is from an old job or an AOL account that doesn’t get attention anymore.
  2. Use the “Recommended for You” section of the profile editor to add valuable content to your profile: The recommended for you piece is a wizard that forces users to enter information that will complete their profile. It covers things like education, work experience, non-profit volunteering, certifications, special projects, and more. Remember, the more information you provide on your LinkedIn profile the easier it is for others to find you and your services.
  3. Find great content on Pulse: Pulse is LinkedIn’s news and headlines channel. It allows users to customize the news the want to see based on hobbies, professions, and interests. The content and articles that are available through Pulse are from industry leaders. It’s a free way to keep up on current trends both professionally and personally.
  4. Use the “inshare” button to share content outside of Linkedin to your page:  The inshare button is the same things as the “like” button or “share” button for Facebook. When you read an interesting article share it to your LinkedIn page by simply clicking the inshare button. By sharing great content you provide valuable resources to your network and position yourself as an expert in the industry. 
  5. Connect with weak or lost connections with the messaging service: LinkedIn provides a fantastic messaging service that people feel compelled to respond to. I have had a 100% success rate when using the messaging service through LinkedIn. It has more clout and attracts more attention than traditional emails or other forms of digital communication. 

These tips can be implemented is as little as five minutes and results can be instant. Try making some new connections through LinkedIn today to grow your professional network and expand your influence.

Developing key messages for your business

Claire Celsi is the director of public relations at Spindustry Digital.

Key messages are essential to an effective communications strategy. Here’s the process I’ve used and recommended to my clients over the years. This is a shortened version, but it’s a good roadmap to writing key messages that can be used in news releases, web copy or sales materials. Key messages

The first key message you should develop is a master narrative. This is your "elevator speech," the three sentences that define your company and what it does. It is sometimes tough to boil this down into a short statement, but sometimes you only have a very short time to impart this important information. Every company should have one. If written out, this message should be short enough to fit on the back of a business card.

A reporter will often ask a very generic question, such as, "tell me about your company," to start off an interview. Sometimes, it's just as much for their own information as for the interview. The Master Narrative is a good answer to that question. One quick tip: You are who you say you are. You're the expert about your own business. Let your master narrative reflect that.

After the master narrative is solidified, the next step is developing three memorable key messages. These will be the cornerstone of media relations efforts as well as sales and marketing materials. The first key message should address the quality of the products or service offered. Here's an example:

"Acme Pencils are manufactured with the highest grade of wood and are quality-controlled to assure each pencil meets our strict standards."

The second key message should delve a little further into the workings of the company itself. What is the central passion that inspires or drives the company's owner or its employees? Here is an example:

"Acme Pencils is dedicated to preserving the environment by using only recycled packaging and a no-waste manufacturing process."

The third key message should be about your customers: "Acme Pencils are preferred by school districts in the United States, and our company has more repeat customers than our competition."

Of course, not all of these messages will apply in every situation. That is why you need to develop message categories based on likely interview subjects. There is a great technique for doing this. Sit down and think of the top five things that are likely to affect your business this year. Then write a key message that addresses each situation.

After you have your key messages written, go back and write at least three supporting points for each. For example:

Key Message: Acme Pencils are manufactured with the highest grade of wood and are quality-controlled to assure each pencil meets our strict standards.

Supporting Point # 1: Acme Pencils have a money-back, no-questions-asked guarantee.

Supporting Point # 2: Our associates average 15 years with the company and have a combined 150 years experience manufacturing pencils.

Supporting Point # 3: Acme Pencils win accolades year after year – we’re recognized by American Pencil Magazine as the industry leader.

One very important caveat about supporting points: Use numbers, use facts and use third-party endorsements.

After you've developed the master narrative and main key messages, you can even go a step further and define a tag line or write a boilerplate for your website or news releases.

The key messaging process is a collaborative effort. A facilitator (who ideally is familiar with the company, but has outside perspective) can help identify key message themes and write the messages. The process works best when all stakeholders are present for the initial work session. It’s important to get their perspective, and especially their endorsement.

Most turn to friends before Google for advice

When strategizing about how to acquire new customers businesses should pay close attention to the purchasing behavior of their target market. Where are they lurking? What influences their buying decisions?

As a business it is easy to assume that prospects opt for Google to guide their research. However, in service-related industries - those that operate on trust and relationships - prospects depend on positive recommendations to find their candidates.

In fact, according to a 2014 report by the Hinge Research Institute, 87 percent of buyers turn to friends or colleagues first for recommendations when shopping for financial services, while only about 1 out of every 10 shoppers start their research online. This may be the digital age, but humans still rely heavily on fellow humans for advice on how to spend their coin.

Although search engine optimization (SEO), inbound marketing, and AdWords are important to online and local retailers - service related businesses may be better off leveraging their existing loyal customers for growth.

LemonpicAlthough referrals are important they do not guarantee prospects will sign on the dotted line. The Hinge Research Institute also noted that 81 percent of referred buyers end up judging a business by researching its website. If the website is a lemon the referral dies on the vine.

Therefore a professional website goes a long way to closing the deal. Compare it to the days of old when companies were judged on the appearance of their storefront, cleanliness of their office, and credentials hanging on the walls. Sure, those are still important but today people nearly always begin their assessment online.

Having processes in place aimed directly at increasing referrals will get the ball rolling for service companies - buyers simply turn to friends and family first. But a professional and informational website is vital in converting those referrals into sales.

Don't Forget About Mother Nature On Mother's Day

I would hate to guess how many Mother’s Day gifts end up in the trash.  Cards, pots, flowers and more.  Not trying to be a scrooge here but how can special time spent with mom be more sustainable?

Gardening with momMost moms have a garden and like flowers.  How about being a brute and helping to restore a neglected garden.  Lots of mulch is easy to spread and helps retain moisture rather than watering all the time.  Over time the mulch decays and makes for better soil.

A live plant is a gift that keeps on giving.  Make sure they are native so mom does not have to water in the hot sweltering August sun.  Day lilies, peonies, hydrangeas, and many types of hostas flourish in Iowa.  Read the label about preference for sun and remember most hostas like shade.

Mothers day 2An old fashioned bike ride and picnic are a good choice.  You don’t have to bike far to enjoy the outdoors.  Water Works park should be especially beautiful this Mother’s Day.  Pick out a quiet place and talk about life.  Still a good idea if mom is older and has to be driven there for a picnic.

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

The Power of Inner Motivation

What motivates you to do a good job? Leadership_motivate

Most of us have seen examples of passionate people who outperform individuals with greater technical qualifications or skills.  Without passion, individuals can lose their knowledge advantage through complacency.  Leaders who match individuals to jobs they are not only skilled in, but also motivated to do, will thrive in the face of today’s rapid changes.

External Motivation

A common approach to motivating people is to reward them for the behaviors you want to see and punish those you don’t want to see.  Hence the common saying, “What gets rewarded gets done.” 

Motivation theorist Frederick Herzberg describes external rewards like pay and benefits as hygiene factors.  They are like temperature.  When the room temperature is comfortable, we don’t think about it.  When it is too hot or too cold, we are unhappy and think about little else.  Similarly, the absence of rewards can be de-motivating.  The presence of rewards is not, in isolation, motivating.  

Inner Motivation

Inner motivation is something that motivates people to want to do something without expecting a reward.  According to study after study, people report feeling motivated by things like:  a sense of accomplishment, pride in good work, sense of growth, being challenged and working with great colleagues.

If we don’t tap into the emotion and passion of others, we are unlikely to achieve much more than short-term, limited success.  Competent leaders do not underestimate this challenge.  They know they cannot force someone to be passionate, and they understand the difference between external and internal motivation.  They devote energy to creating an environment that fosters and naturally promotes inner motivation.

Does this mean leaders shouldn’t reward people?  Rewards are important when they are given as recognition rather than bribe.  When rewards recognize the intrinsic motivation already in play, people cherish them for what they symbolize. 

Stephen Covey, author of the seminal book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People once said, “You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart.  You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain.  His heart is where his enthusiasm is; his brain is where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”

If you’re frustrated that you can’t offer greater rewards to your team, reflect on the tireless efforts that people devote in the spirit of volunteerism and ask yourself why?  You’ll probably reach the same conclusion the motivation studies report.  Tapping inner motivation doesn’t require a larger budget.  It requires leadership.

Is Your Internet Front Door Open and Inviting?

You might think by now that every business in the country has its own website. If you do, you'd be wrong.

According to Dex Media earlier this year, only about 40 percent of small businesses had their own website last year. Experts predict that number to double in 2014.

What's that mean for you? More challenges to your business but also more opportunity.

The challenges come, obviously, in the form of more competition. If your business hasn't carved out its own niche, odds are fairly good that one of those new websites will be promoting a competitor.

In fact, I'm in the process of updating my website at the Heart of Iowa Market Place and it's a smart time to take a long, fresh look at your website, too. Is it tired? Outdated? Boring? Is everything spelled correctly? How about its grammar? Is all your contact information easy to find? Is it truly as good as it can be in the way it showcases your services and products?

Those are basics -- and you can't afford to overlook them. When you get them wrong, you come out on the losing end of sharper competition.

However, a real opportunity for your business comes from the recognition that this is the perfect time to step up your game. When you think about it, a website is like opening another location for your small business; it allows you to be less reliant on walk-in traffic. It also helps you reach and build a bigger audience for very little money. And, after the winter we just had, it's no surprise that you can still make sales to people who don't want to venture out into the cold and snow.

Go beyond the basics by reaching out to a smart, creative web designer who can make your website everything it should be -- and that includes designing it so you can make updates yourself without spending lots of dollars. And, don't forget to create a mobile site, too.

Remember, your website is your company's face and front door to many, many people. Some of those folks will never walk through your doors. Just make sure your website is so inviting and easy to use that the only reason they don't come to you in person is because they're able to buy everything from you online.

Get over being nice

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

A little over two years ago, Scott Siepker made a splash when his YouTube video, Iowa Nice, went viral. It was a scathing rant to all of those people who assumed Iowa was simply a flyover state good for nothing more than producing pork and corn. I remembered laughing so hard I cried, feeling a deep sense of pride in my home state, and quickly forwarding it on to about a dozen people. The video showed a new side of Iowa while hitting home the message that yes, we are nice.

While I will never knock someone for being nice, there is a time when one can be “too nice.” Over and over I hear people tell me that they don’t want to ask favors of their connections or seek help because they don’t want others to feel they’re using them. We don’t want to come off salesy, or conceited, or self-serving. In short, we want to be nice.

My best piece of advice – get over it. People genuinely want to help and the only way they can do that is if we let them know what we want. We have to share our goals, our dreams, and let others know how they can help make those dreams a reality. If you suffer from being too nice think of it like this: Imagine if a friend came to you and asked for the same favor you’re too nervous to talk to them about. Would you assist in any way you could? If the answer is yes than you should feel comfortable asking your friend to help. It really is that simple.

A network, both professionally and personally, really can help all of us achieve our dreams and desires, no matter how large or small. In the end it all comes down to sharing those desires with anyone who will listen. The more people who know what you want the better your chances are for success. Start sharing those dreams and get over being too nice. After all, we’re Iowans, according to YouTube we’re already nice enough.  

Leaders and delegation

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Clean your room. Please, clean your room. I’ll pay you to clean your room. You can’t go out until you clean your room…

Rewards, punishments, begging, nagging... Why is it so challenging to get people to do things?

Leadership_blog

Delegation, whether at work or at home, is an area where many leaders struggle. Many times it seems simpler and more expedient to do the work ourselves. 

When done well, delegation benefits everyone. Leaders free up time for other activities. Followers grow and contribute.  Organizations achieve more. Sadly, many of us have never learned how to delegate well and we stress over whether the delegated task will get done right, or at all. Here are some fast tips.

Leaders must correctly diagnose two areas: skills and interest. If someone knows how to do the task and likes it, delegation is appropriate.  If one of those two variables is lacking, a different leadership action is needed.

1.     Skills and Knowledge

As leaders, we often make too many assumptions about what people can do and what they know (or should know). It is further complicated by employees who underestimate the task or overestimate their own skills and abilities. When someone lacks skills or knowledge in any measure, delegation is risky.

Let’s return to the “clean your room” example. It is common for parents to believe that their young person already possesses the necessary skills for this job. Do they? Really?

Why would a young person know how to clean a room well? Why would they share the same definition of “clean” that a parent does? If you have ever been met with the response “I did clean it” and the result doesn’t meet your standards, chances are there is a skill or knowledge gap. Delegation wasn’t appropriate.

Leader Action: Training and coaching.

2.     Interest and Motivation

If they have the skills and knowledge, can the leader delegate? It depends. Do they also possess sufficient interest and motivation?

All of us have things to do that we are skilled in but lack interest. We procrastinate. We make excuses. Does the individual find the task itself motivating? If yes, delegation is appropriate. If not, delegation may fail. You may find this is true of the exercise program you keep delegating yourself to do. You know what to do – you just don’t want to do it.

Leader Action:  Support and encouragement.

The who, what, when, where, and why of fiduciary duties in small businesses

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at LawMatt McKinney

What is a fiduciary duty?

A fiduciary duty is often regarded as the highest duty recognized by the law. In simplistic terms, a person charged with exercising fiduciary duties (commonly referred to as a fiduciary) must discharge their duties with the utmost good faith, care, and the finest loyalty.

More specifically, the term “fiduciary duty” is often used as an umbrella term describing a number of duties that are collectively referred to as fiduciary duties.  For example, “fiduciary duties” frequently encompass duties such as (1) the duty of care - generally to act with diligence and with the care an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would exercise; (2) the duty of informed judgment - the process of gaining sufficient familiarity with the background facts and circumstances to make an informed judgment before acting; (3) the duty of disclosure - commonly interpreted as a duty to disclose certain information to shareholders or members; including, conflicts of interest; (4) the duty of confidentiality - to protect confidential and non-public information; and (5) the duty of loyalty - customarily meaning to act in the best interests of the corporation, company, partnership, etc...

Who is charged with exercising fiduciary duties?

Generally speaking, persons who exercise control over a corporation, company, partnership or similar entity are held to this higher, fiduciary duty standard. Therefore, and not surprisingly, directors and officers of corporations, who by their very nature exercise control over a corporation, are held to this higher, fiduciary duty standard. Importantly, however, directors and officers are not the only persons held to this higher standard.  In fact, in addition to directors and officers, majority shareholders are also often held to this higher, fiduciary duty standard.  Consequently, even if you do not serve as a director or officer of a corporation, be alert, because if you hold an interest in the business, you may nonetheless be held to this higher, fiduciary duty standard.

Business owners in different business entities are also held to this higher, fiduciary duty standard. For example, partners in both general and limited partnerships are ordinarily required to discharge their duties in a fiduciary manner. And, depending upon applicable laws in different states, members and managers in limited liability companies (LLCs) may also be required to discharge their duties in a fiduciary manner.

When do fiduciary duties apply?

Principally, fiduciary duties apply when a fiduciary takes action or declines to take action that relates to or that could otherwise effect the business entity; including, potential business opportunities not yet realized.

Fiduciary duties are generally not extinguished until the fiduciary is relieved or removed from the position that created the fiduciary duties to begin with. It is important to note, however, that in many jurisdictions fiduciary duties can extend beyond the point in time in which a person is relieved from their position within the business entity.

Where do fiduciary duties come from?

Fiduciary duties were developed through the common law - a body of law originally developed in England and later shaped by our courts. Today, fiduciary duties arise from both the common law and state statutes. For example, the Code of Iowa imposes statutory standards of conduct upon officers and directors in Iowa corporations. As explained above and setforth within Iowa Code Section 490.830, the Iowa Code generally requires directors to act in good faith and in the best interest of the corporation. These statutes often form the basis of a claim or defense for breach of fiduciary duty.

Why do you need to be aware of these fiduciary duties?

Whether you know it or not, if you are a part of a business entity (as a director, officer, member, manager, partner, or majority shareholder) you will likely be held to this higher standard when taking action with or relating to the business entity. Failure to comply with fiduciary duties can result in liability to both the business entity and you.  In fact, failing to fulfill fiduciary duties can be considered oppressive conduct, which can result in the dissolution (termination) of the business entity.

It is important to note that this article serves as an introduction to a legal concept and that fiduciary duties can and do differ from state to state and entity to entity. If you have questions or concerns regarding fiduciary duties, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney.  

For additional reading on the topic of fiduciary duties, visit the following links:

Care, or Beware! Iowa’s Fiduciary Duty of Care

A Deeper Dive into a Director’s Duty to Become Informed

A Director’s Duty to Remain Silent

Oppression, Breach of Fiduciary Duties, Freeze Out, and Judicial Dissolution – An Iowa Court of Appeals 2011 Analysis

Referral marketing versus marketing automation

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

While exiting the Des Moines downtown YMCA last week, I caught glimpse of a lady searching through a phone book. I was flooded with nostalgia and left thinking of my childhood - the last time I remember using one of those (to look up a number anyway). It also left me considering the ways businesses are discovered by new customers. There are those that are searching for you, and those that are referred to you by others. In both cases businesses should consider ways in which they can improve their ability to be found (marketing automation) - and ways of encouraging referrals (referral marketing).

Marketing automation

Marketing automation platforms seek to streamline sales by replacing high-touch, repetitive manual processes with automated solutions. They accomplish this by taking advantage of the internet to reach new customers - or more specifically allow them to be discovered by qualified leads. In terms of the phone book, think of it as finding ways to be first in line for those people thumbing through the pages - only doing so on the internet.

 

But again, the days of Yellow Pages are limited so marketing automation uses search engine optimization (SEO), inbound marketing, drip marketing, and tracking/analytics to drive customers to your website and improve conversion rates. Google has some complicated algorithms which decide which website to be listed when someone searches for “car insurance” for example. Companies such as HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, and others specialize in ways of driving those prospects to your door and using email marketing to convert them into sales.

Referral marketing

Marketing automation is important to capture those prospects that are searching for you online. But what about those prospects that rely on recommendation from friends for services or are not yet searching for you? That is where referral marketing fits in.

PhonebookA referral is the bridge that connects a company to a new client by means of an existing customer. Because of this direct link between the company, customer, and prospect, trust transfers. Therefore the barriers that exist with a typical prospect and the company are broken down by way of the active promoter. As the trust transfers, the resistance is diminished, and sales are much easier to obtain.

Science in the field of social network theory describes the pre-existing connection between current customers (A), companies (B), and prospects (C) as triadic closure. According to sociologist Georg Simmel “if a strong tie exists between A-B and A-C, there is a weak or strong tie between B-C”. In other words, a link between a company and prospects already exists via current customers. Referral marketing aims at exploiting the relationship between your customers and prospects - as it yields a much higher conversion rate and research shows it brings better fitting and higher profitable customers.

Referral marketing is rapidly evolving online with some companies offering incentive based programs. I recommend choosing a referral strategy that is not based on monetary incentives (as I outline here). After all, people refer friends and family for many reasons (reciprocity, social status, obligation, homophily, exclusivity, etc.) but generally not for personal gain.

Again, both marketing automation and referral marketing are important strategies for businesses to effectively compete in today’s market. Optimizing your ability to be found and leveraging your current customer base are separate, but important components to any marketing plan.

 

There's a bargain and then there's...

Bigstock-Stretched-Money-12016097_opt...ridiculous.  

As you might imagine -- good marketing is all about walking that fine line.

If your customer base is cost conscious, one of the ways you can make them feel like they're not only getting a good deal but that they're also in control of their buying decision is to give them choices.

The key is knowing when you've stomped all over the fine line.

I thought Allegiant went too far when they announced they were going to start charging for sodas. But Frontier Airline makes that foolishness look like reasoned thinking with their announcement today that they're going to start charging for the overhead bin space.

Depending on when you book your overhead bin space -- it could cost you anywhere from $25-$50 per bag.  Add to that -- if you want to actually select your seat (meaning anything but the middle seat) you'll have to pay for that too.  $3 for reserving a seat in advance if you do it while booking online and $8 if you choose it at the airport.

Most people already feel like they're part of a cattle herd when they fly. These additional fees and changes continue to de-value the experience and make the customers feel less valued and less important.  That's not exactly marketing 101.

In fact, there's a few marketing caveats that seem in danger here.

Don't give someone too many choices:  It's been proven that too many choices can actually paralyze a buyer -- leaving their wallet frozen in place.  While consumer do like to feel in control, they don't like to feel overwhelmed.

Economical is one thing, cheap is another: Most people enjoy saving money but they also want to believe they are spending their money on something of value.  You don't want your customers to feel nickeled and dimed on their way to saving a couple pennies.

Understand your reputation: If you're in an industry that consumers are already pretty disgusted with -- you might want to keep your eye on the customer service aspect of your choices. In fact, out of 43 industries, airlines rank 40th in terms of satisfaction (the only industries consumers hate more are Internet service providers, Internet social media companies, and subscription TV services), according to data released Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Serve your best customers best:  I think these airlines are aiming for the occasional budget conscious flier, not a frequent traveler. I'm not so sure it makes a lot of sense to build your product to capture your least frequent customers.

Only time will tell if airlines like Frontier and Allegiant are making a smart play or if it's going to cost them marketshare. But they are certainly playing with fire.  

Would these new changes and charges influence your buying decision one way or the other?

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

Planting the seeds for others' success

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

I recently spoke to the Young Professionals Connection about the value of building relationships to grow business and was reminded it's that time of the year when college students are looking for internships. I was also reminded that any time of the year is a good time to mentor young professionals.

While students gravitate to a variety of companies, it seems like retailers --particularly specialty retailers -- are left out of that mix. Young people tend to look to us strictly for summer jobs, but students and retailers miss a golden opportunity when they do. Honestly, it surprises me, too, that more marketing students don't look to the niche retailers to learn more about their chosen profession.

It's only logical that we retailers focus the bulk of our time and energy on peer-to-peer relationships and marketing. After all, businesses run on profits -- and profits only come through sales.

But, just like in other areas of business, tunnel vision is a dangerous thing. A laser focus on sales, sales and more sales makes it very easy to overlook chances to be a mentor to up-and-coming retail talent. That oversight not only does a disservice to young people, but it can be a real missed opportunity for us, too.

Mentoring interns or young professional can re-energize us as we pick up on the excitement of young people who are learning. It helps us to look at our own profession and business in new ways as we answer questions we might not have even thought of asking ourselves. It can give us new ideas and the latest thinking coming out of our universities.

Mentoring can create a talent pool and even broaden our own marketing base by introducing our business to a new and younger audience.

Whether you decide to work with a college intern or a young professional with an entrepreneurial spirit, mentoring is a tremendously rewarding opportunity that shouldn't be overlooked.

You'll grow. They'll grow. And, for years to come, they'll remember how important you were to starting them on a path to success.

Email marketing – leave it to the experts

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

I got an astounding email this week that stopped me dead in my tracks. How could a company send out an email to a list of customers that was this bad?


First of all, it was clear the company was using a regular email client and blind carbon-copying all the recipients. This meant they weren’t getting any analytics or tracking, and their email servers were limited to sending to a certain number of people.

Content-wise, it was supposed to be giving the “Top 5” of something and only listed three things. So then the company sent out a second email with the rest of the list. Not the most professional or effective, right?

This may be a seriously horrendous example of email marketing gone wrong, but I see mistakes and missed opportunities in e-newsletters by brands and companies every single day. And my response is: just let someone help you!

There are a number of important things that should be given attention when creating an email marketing campaign. Subject line, timing, design, layout, contact information and list management are all crucial to the success of an e-newsletter.

All of those things plus the message you’re trying to get across plus dealing with all of this while running your business is a lot to deal with. It can take a lot of your very limited time and end up costing you in the long run. Your time can be better spent elsewhere and that’s why you should let a professional manage your email marketing for you.

Letting an expert help with your email marketing will not only provide cohesive branding (so your emails recognizable by customers), organized content (so your message is easy to understand), perfectly executed send (so no information is left out), and reporting on how many people opened your email and who they were (so you know that it’s working). The return on your minimal investment will be exponential.

Email marketing isn’t going away anytime soon so now more than ever is the time to get it right!

Tweet me your thoughts @klstocking!

--Katie

What Will They Think of Nest?

An amazing 90% of programmable thermostats are not programmed!!!  Can you believe it?  When I got a new furnace I immediately programmed my thermostats.  There were oddities even with a programmable thermostat.  Like what, you ask?

I set the thermostat to vacation mode, but when I return from the Mexican beach it is like an IGLOO in my house for hours.  Or I work out early in the morning except Wednesday but cannot program day by day.

NEST 1Then voila.  The inventor of the iPod comes up with the NEST thermostat which can save up to 20% on your energy bill.  It learns your habits and sets a schedule over time to meet your lifestyle.  For the first week you adjust the temperature manually and the NEST learns what time you get up each day and when you go to bed.  It sees the routine in your life and sets a schedule.

It’s even got an ‘auto away’ feature that goes into energy saving mode if it senses no activity for 90 minutes.  Better yet, if it sees a regular pattern it goes into energy saving mode in 30 minutes.

NEST 2Away on vacation?  No problem.  Just use your tablet or phone to connect with your nest.  When you return to the Iowa tundra wearing flip flops your house will be warm and toasty.

Best part?  It sends you an email once a month to review your energy usage and makes suggestions on how to save energy.  Like having a building engineer in your closet!  What will they think of nest?

Want more info?   Who could explain it simpler than Ellen DeGeneres.

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

M&A Trends for 2014

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Picture of Steve
The opportunity for strong M&A activity is set for 2014 and the coming years. The key drivers are:

1.  Many M&A funds (Private Equity Groups) are scheduled to exit from previous acquisitions, freeing up funds for new acquisitions. 
2.  In anticipation of higher interest rates, forward-looking M&A funds will be forced to focus on increasing the long-term value of their current holdings, if they are to achieve their sales goal.
3.  Low interest rates (cheap capital) currently support the ability to do deals now and the urgency to do deals before the increase in interest rates.
4.  Banking regulations have had a negative impact on M&A and thereby created a lending opportunity in the private sector for capital.
5. There is a growing confidence in forward earnings. This confidence is somewhat motivated by the anticipated change in the administration.
6.  Companies can recapitalize at very favorable terms and rates -- at much lower costs than an IPO.
7.  Higher confidence levels will lead to sale higher multiples.
8.  Government regulations are the main reason for creating uncertainty and the ability to make capital investments with confidence.

Steve Sink
Certified Business Intermediary
Merger and Acquisition Master Intermediary
ss@phxaffiliates.com


Leadership – An introduction

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is her first IowaBiz blog post.

Leadership is all around us. In our businesses, governments, sports teams, homes, schools andRowena Crosbie
communities. Many of us are called to lead formally. All of us are called to lead informally. 

What is leadership? Who is qualified to lead? What are the qualities of leaders? How do leaders bring out the best in others? What role does hard work play? What about ethics and values? Where does motivation and emotional intelligence fit in?

The definitions of leadership are numerous and the theories about what makes an effective leader are mixed. We do know that leadership is learned and that most leadership happens on a small-scale in everyday situations.   

This blog is dedicated to the subject of leadership and will be published twice a month. Stories, research studies and theories will be presented here. 

Why a leadership blog?

In 1993, I started Tero International with an idea and $200 that the bank required to open a business account. The first Tero office was a spare bedroom in our home. I named two house cats vice presidents of the company. They were my constant companions (at least as constant as you can be when you sleep 16 hours a day). Leadership was simple.

The idea: To provide presentation skills training to professionals who believed that competitive advantage was due, at least in part, to the ability to communicate persuasively and confidently.  It was a good idea in 1993 and corporate education is even more critical two decades later. 

Today the cats are retired, the business has grown and my role has changed. I am privileged to lead a team of professionals committed to helping clients build leadership and interpersonal skills. Like most of us, I have been a work-in-progress in developing my own leadership capacity. Unlike most of us, my job allows me to immerse myself in leadership research, a time-consuming luxury few leaders enjoy. This blog will share insights from both vantage points.

We hope that in this blog you will find ideas, inspiration and a community to help you develop your leadership capacity and improve things in whatever context you lead. For Tero graduates, we hope this blog is a valuable resource to further your professional development.

Learning leadership is a journey that happens over the course of a lifetime and in partnership with others. I look forward to our travels together and welcome your comments, suggestions and questions.

Asking for referrals doesn't work

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

Needless to say I discuss the topic of referrals on a daily basis. I meet with individuals working in service industries mainly- those where close relationships with clients is common and referrals are important to growing their business. And just as I sink into the adjacent chair and initiate conversation I am met with this: “You’re right, I need to be better about asking for them.” At first I wanted to stop the agents, lawyers, advisors, realtors, doctors, (you name it) in their tracks and shout “you don’t need to ask!” But anymore I don’t even wince at this widely held misconception. I simply lean back in my chair and explain that, not only is there no need to ask for referrals - but doing so is remarkably ineffective, and there is research to back it up.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 3.25.06 PMWithout doubt this will turn the notion of referrals upside down for many people. But, the most effective referral strategies are proven to include tactics that do not include asking for referrals. A study by Advisor Impact, which focused on customer loyalty and referrals, surveyed over 1,000 clients and asked the reasons why they referred a service to others. An overwhelming 98% cited reasons that included helping their friends and family. Only 2% of the cases did clients say they referred because the business asked them for a name of a friend. This research proved that by not first identifying customers likely to refer, businesses were asking the wrong people to give a referral. Also, by asking for names, they were not effectively leveraging the reasons why people refer, and thus yielding scanty results.

Avoiding asking for referrals doesn’t mean you should let your referral strategy take care of itself. Doing nothing at all just as ineffective. Unfortunately, customer satisfaction alone doesn’t translate into referrals - it is merely a prerequisite. So, asking for referrals is a no-no, and sitting back relying on happy customers to speak up also doesn’t work. Here’s what you can do to increase referrals, and it doesn’t involve uncomfortably asking your clients for names.

Identify your most loyal & disgruntled clients

By finding your most loyal and engaged customers you are able to refine your communication - making your content more effective, personalized, and cost efficient. Also, by identifying your disgruntled clients will also not only increase customer retention, but converting frowns into smiles is a prime opportunity to capture referrals. For more info on how to gauge customer loyalty see the Net Promoter Score system.

Convey the importance of referrals

Let your clients know that you value referrals. Tell them that you would love to help their friends and family. This is accomplished by developing the referral mindset which I discuss in an earlier post. By doing so you will teach your clients that referring you is not only welcomed, but appreciated.

Coach your referral sources

Provide your most loyal customers with content that will encourage more referrals. In other words, enable your referral sources so that when they are motivated to refer you they know what to say, and to whom. Educate them on who your most ideal customers are. Inform them on the wide breadth of services you offer. Describe the triggers (life events) to look for that indicate a good person to refer. Make it easy to pass on your contact information. Tell stories that so that you are more easily introduced into conversation.

Touch your customers

I’m not asking that you invade their personal space here, just to make use of important touchpoints. Send loyalty cards, birthday cards, anniversary cards, National Pigs-In-A-Blanket Day cards (yes it’s real, and this month!). The goal is to keep you top-of-mind. The more personalized and special the better. I recommend sending handwritten cards. It is also a good idea to have an informative newsletter. Let your customers know that you are here for them and appreciate their loyalty! They will think more of you, and of you more often.

Now, I am glad we cleared up the subject of asking for referrals. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy knowing that perhaps less people will ask for names and start obtaining the referrals they deserve!

It's Tax Day and a New Iowa Law Will Govern Shareholder Access to Corporate Financial Records

11442312365_4bee5b592c_z

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law.

Given that this post is being published on tax day, I thought it would be fitting to dicsuss new legislation signed into law just days ago that changes how shareholders in Iowa corporations receive and access corporate financial recrods. On March 26, Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad, signed a new bill (Senate File 2200) into law that modifies the manner in which Iowa corporations are required to provide financial information to their shareholders.

Previous Iowa law required most Iowa corporations to deliver certain financial information to their shareholders within 120 days of the corporation's fiscal year end.

Such information inlcluded providing shareholders with a balance sheet, an income statement, and a statement of changes in shareholders’ equity. The new Iowa law provides that many Iowa corporations, including those with less than 100 shareholders, are no longer required to deliver financial statements to shareholders if they meet certain minimum standards. Additionally and in an apparent effort to further modernize Iowa's corporate laws and save a few trees, Iowa's new law permits certain Iowa corporations to comply with the new financial notice requirements by making financial statements accessable to shareholders via the internet.  

To read the full text of Iowa's new law, including a redlined verion of Iowa's prior law on the topic click here. Further, if you are curious and interested in learning about all new legislation signed into law thus far during the 2014 legislative session, click here.

The April 15 day-trader deadline

20130409-1Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

We usually think of April 15 as the deadline for settling up with the IRS for last year.  But for the nation’s doughty day traders — especially the unlucky ones — it’s an important deadline for this year. 

The tax law normally limits capital losses to capital gains, plus $3,000. That means many busy traders will have to hope for great advances in life extension technology to ever fully deduct their capital loss carryforwards.

There is an escape from the $3,000 treadmill for taxpayers who qualify as “traders.” The IRS explains what it means to be a “trader”:

 To be engaged in business as a trader in securities, you must meet all of the following conditions:

  • You must seek to profit from daily market movements in the prices of securities and not from dividends, interest, or capital appreciation.    
  • Your activity must be substantial, and    
  • You must carry on the activity with continuity and regularity.

The following facts and circumstances should be considered in determining if your activity is a securities trading business:

  • Typical holding periods for securities bought and sold.    
  • The frequency and dollar amount of your trades during the year.    
  • The extent to which you pursue the activity to produce income for a livelihood, and
  • The amount of time you devote to the activity.

If the nature of your trading activities does not qualify as a business, you are considered an investor, and not a trader.

These are pretty steep tests. You pretty much need to be trying to do it for a living; another day job is a bad fact, as in this case.  But if you pass these tests, you can make a “mark-to-market election” under Section 475(f) of the Internal Revenue Code to deduct trading losses as ordinary. If you make this election on time, it applies to 2014 taxes. It’s too late to make the election for 2013.

The Section 475(f) election comes at a price. If you make this election, gains are ordinary, too, and you have to mark your gains and losses on open positions to market at year-end — paying tax as if you had sold the positions on December 31. Yet if you are exclusively trading short-term, where you pay taxes on gains at ordinary rates anyway and have few open positions at any time, this may not be a great sacrifice.

This election cannot be extended, so traders need to make the election by next Monday.  You make the election for 2014 by attaching a statement to your 1040 or extension for 2013 with the following information:

1. That you are making an election under section 475(f) of the Internal Revenue Code;

2. The first tax year for which the election is effective; and

3. The trade or business for which you are making the election.

Happy trading!

Winning the networking race

Danny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

In 2012, I ran and completed the Des Moines Marathon (don’t look up my time it’s kind of embarrassing.) My goal for that race wasn’t to come in first for my age division or even finish in the top 50; it was simply to finish. The race itself was brutal and exhausting, but I never would have been able to finish without the training. Those 12 weeks of running helped condition and tone my muscles and cardiovascular system to enable me to complete that run. I had to be willing to put in the time in order to achieve the end result.

There are a lot of similarities between completing a marathon and building a solid network. For starters, both take time. People continually share stories about how networking just doesn’t work for them. When I ask how long they’ve been networking I generally hear anything from a few weeks to a couple months. Most people want instant gratification and when they don’t see a return immediately they give up. The fact is a good network takes time to build. New connections need time and positive experiences to develop trust and refer business, just like human legs need time to adjust to long distance running.

Along with time, both activities require effort and follow through. Around the sixth week of marathon training I was ready to throw in the towel. The miles were piling up and my body was breaking down. At one point I simply wanted to give up. The same can be said for building a network. There are numerous times when I don’t feel like attending an event or meeting new people. It’s okay to take a day off now and again, as long as it stays at just a day or two. Relationships need to be fostered in order to grow and that can only be accomplished through effort and follow through by both parties.

Finally, both marathons and good networks start with that first step. No one ever completed a race from their couch just like no one built a great network sitting in their car or office. That first step doesn’t have to be a 10k or an event with 300+ people. It’s OK to start off small and go a lap around the block as long as you’re trying something new and giving yourself the opportunity to meet new people. I believe the following quote holds true whether you’re in to running or not –

“No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.” – unknown

So, who are you going to lap today?

They have to know how much you care…

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

I'm sure you've heard the John  C. Maxwell quote, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Of course, for specialty retailers, the first way to show how much you care about your customers -- and appreciate them -- is to offer a unique experience they can't get anywhere else, and to deliver exceptional service each and every time they do business with you.

One of the areas that has really helped my business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, grow, is the customization we do in our business-to-business program. Creating gifts just for our customers or branding it with their logos, colors and specific products.

We also do things that are outside the box or the typical scope of our business. For instance, we had a client that was already purchasing gifts from us for a party and they asked us if we could help them with centerpieces for the event. They wanted centerpieces for a party - they were already purchasing gifts from us and asked if we could help them. We did and had a lot of fun doing something that was different. By delivering that extra service, our customer didn't have to spend time finding another source -- and we were able to show how much we value that customer.

There are other ways, however, that you can and should show your appreciation to customers throughout the year. It can even be as simple as sending a quick but heartfelt thank you note or making a call to express your gratitude.

Frankly, it doesn't hurt to make a note in your planner every few months to remind yourself to show at least a few of your customers how much you care.

Consistently showing your customers that you appreciate them is a key to building solid, lasting relationships and solid relationships are a key to building a solid, lasting business.

To save Younkers or not? That is the question!

Younkers burned

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Many people have asked me since the Younkers fire if the building can be saved.  I have answered “Why sure. If 100 story buildings can be built, then Younkers can certainly be rebuilt.” I have no doubt technically it can be done even though looking down from the Hub Tower one can see steel beams twisted from the extreme temperatures. 

It would not be the first major change to the building. The east half started as a five story building and was renovated into a seven story building.


Younkers1 Younkers2 Younkers3

The elaborate cornice was removed when the shorter six story addition occurred and the building took on a more stream lined look. The flat arch windows were a poor gesture to the grand arched windows of the original building. The construction of the west half was obviously steel and concrete since it remains standing.

The sustainable thing to do is to rebuild the exterior and construct the inside with a steel and concrete structure with new exit stairs and mechanical shafts. The east exterior could even be a “reinterpretation” of the original building. That way Des Moines retains part of its history which seems the important thing to many.

The other viewpoint is to remove the building and start anew. Some have suggested green space. Other ideas are an iconic crystal court with grand stairs to the skywalk. Only time will tell which way the economic and political winds will blow.

Ah yes, it’s that sustainable dilemma knocking at the door again!

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Is your website built to be a marketing tool?

Bigstock-Technology-Internet-Websites-R-7414239Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Back when websites first came into being, they were little more than a digital brochure with some photos and text that validated your business' existance.

Today -- if your website isn't one of your most useful marketing/sales workhorses -- you're missing the boat. Want to know if you're maximizing the potential of your website?  

I can't do justice to that question here, but I can give you some food for thought. Answer these five questions to get an idea if your site is really serving you well.

Do you have a call to action "above the fold" on your website? In other words, without any scrolling? The Google algorithym gives priority to content above the fold. Don’t waste this valuable space on just a large header or image on pages within your site or blog articles. 

Do you talk about yourself all over your site or use the space to make your visitor smarter? Today's buyers do 60-70% of their shopping online, before they ever shoot you an email, pick up the phone or visit your store. They're coming to your site to learn and see if you're a good fit. Make them smarter by teaching them something useful to show them what it would be like to work with you.

Your goal is to get permission to stay in touch. How are you doing that? Most web visitors are potential customers. But they may not be ready to buy today. So you need to stay in touch until they are. How are you capturing their email address and what value are you offering for it?

What do your analytics tell you? Pay attention to the pages your visitors are spending time on. That should help you decide what to highlight on your home page and core navigation. It's clearly what they want to know more about.

Who are your voices of reason? People are skeptical and hate being sold to so why not use some testimonials from happy clients to reassure them that you're the real deal. Ideally those testimonials would be specific and give details about the value you brought.

So how'd you do?  Is your website doing all it should for you and your business?

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog of McLellan Marketing Group

 

Storytelling 101: The role of the sidekick

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

We've known it for centuries: Storytelling is an effective way to communicate information. A narrative with relatable characters engrosses us and makes us stick around to learn the ending. We become invested in the outcome of the story - and in the process - we're more likely to remember the moral of the story. Donkey-in-shrek-the-third_wallpaper

The sidekick - who typically has a lower station in life and has less power than the protagonist - often provides much needed logistical support, advice and even comedic relief. But don't let the sidekick's lowly status fool you. The storyteller can use the sidekick in meaningful ways to improve the storyline and highlight the main character (protagonist). Here are some ways the sidekick can help the story move along:

  1. Highlight the attributes of the main character: The main character in a story can have a cathartic change during the course of the story. Sometimes, using the sidekick as the "explainer" works as a way to highlight the internal struggles that the main character is facing. A perfect example of this is how Donkey humorously interpreted Shrek's ongoing struggle to regain control of his swamp.
  2. Provide the back story (history) of the main character: There are ways to show past events in visual stories and books - like the flashback - that can inform the reader or viewer of a past event that has shaped the main character. The sidekick can provide a convenient shortcut for the storyteller. Rafiki, the wise monkey in Lion King was often the one who reminded Simba the Lion of his lineage and responsibilities, influencing him to make the right decisons.
  3. Contribute complementary skill sets to those the main character lacks: In Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant intuition of Sherlock Holmes was complemented by Dr. Watson, who brought his brilliant analytical mind to the duo. Watson also becomes the person who makes sure Holmes' skills are recognized in the London press when a case is solved.

There is one very important thing to keep in mind when creating a sidekick character in a story. It may sound harsh, but the sidekick shouldn't have much of a life story of their own. The sidekick's role is to support the main character - not distract from the main storyline. If you develop the sidekick's life story too much, they lose that special "sidekick quality" and just become a co-equal actor in the story.

Sidekicks are readily seen in advertising, but also appear in PR and branding. (remember the lonely Maytag repairman and his apprentice?). Using a story with a sidekick in a PR pitch is smart, especially if trying to quickly build empathy for a cause. A good example is featuring the friend of a cancer survivor shaving their head to show support, while raising money for a good cause. Everyone can relate to the heartache that comes with being the friend of someone who is suffering.

Including a sidekick is a smart way to add dimension to a story and provide opportunities for extra insight into the main character. Elementary, my dear Watson.

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.