The written word

Thank youDanny 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 random stranger sent me an email in late 2012 asking for an opportunity to take me
to coffee. He wanted to connect and get to know me as well as share about his business. He also explained how he was newer to town and really trying to figure out how to connect with people. I happily agreed to meet him. We had a great discussion about his goals and dreams, what he did for a living, and how I could help him get more involved in the community. He asked me all the right questions and I left feeling like I had made a great new connection. I made a note to follow up with him a couple months later to see how his progress was going. 

Two days later I strolled into my office and saw a little white envelope sitting in my mail slot. I do not know about you, but I love getting mail. It is almost like Christmas morning every time I get a new letter. I cannot wait to rip it open and see what surprise rests inside. To say I was excited is a mild understatement. I rushed over and saw that the envelope was from the gentleman I had coffee with two days prior. My curiosity peaked as I opened it up and found a hand written thank you card inside. 

The card was nothing spectacular, just a simple printed “thank you” across the front. Inside the card he had taken the time to hand write a of couple sentences thanking me for my time and explaining how he was planning on implementing some of the things we had discussed. He concluded by thanking me one more time and emphasizing that he was excited for the next opportunity for us to connect. It was wonderful.

In this over connected world, it is so easy to make contact with people. My new connection could have just as easily sent me an email, tweet, text, or countless other digital messages which would have taken all of thirty seconds to compose and send. Instead, he took the time from his busy schedule to craft a hand written letter of thanks and that letter had an immediate impact on me and my day. It showed a genuineness that is often missing from most of today’s social interactions. It also made him stand out among a sea of emails. Here was someone different, someone who really cared about building relationships. 

I have tried to send a thank you card after every meeting I have since receiving that note in 2012. The meeting does not have to be business-related in order to justify the time to write a thank you note. A simple cup of coffee with a new connection, reconnecting with an old friend, or checking in with a business relationship all warrant thank you notes. They are just simple pieces of paper but they really do make an immediate impact on those that receive them. They show that you care, that you are not too busy to really let someone know how much your appreciate them, and that you want to build a long-term relationships with them.  

Meet new blogger Joe Benesh

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

During a presentation of one of my projects in college, I compared the approach I took my Joe Beneshbuilding design to two different types of sandwiches. As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I watched an expression of horror creep across my professor’s face. I got the impression that she felt I wasn’t taking things seriously or, worse yet, that I had lost my mind. But the simple truth is that I make analogies a lot. Probably more than I should. But relating different things together is how I attain clarity on an issue.

Architecture is like that. Architects take ideas and turn them into something tangible. For me, a client’s thought might become a set of windows, a childhood memory might help finish out a wall in bedroom. Then I noticed something over the years – in organizations I was getting involved in, I was drawing diagrams of what we were talking about doing. But they weren’t doodles; there was structure and purpose to each part – loose at first, but then with purpose to truly understand the complexity of the organizational ecosystem I was working within.

I did this again and again in different groups, before someone caught me in the act and asked that I share what I was doing with the rest of the group. That event changed the way I view what I do, and how I use the skills I have as a designer. Those diagrams helped people understand what we were trying to accomplish, what we were trying to build collaboratively and how we could truly synthesize an idea or group of ideas into action effectively.

Organizational change and development is very much like designing anything else – key stakeholders, a set (or not so set) mission and vision of what the group is trying to accomplish, and a shared desire to make this shared vision into a reality. But the key is to bring into harmony the many dissonant voices within a group, bring order to the seeming chaos of what are generally a collection of really, really good ideas. To prioritize. Take the strategic to tactical; take the visionary to operational. Build a holistic organization.

When you build a building (or a sandwich for that matter), you start with a plan. Then a structural framework. Then you add finishes. The successful design of an organzation uses these steps, but builds in institutional knowledge, experience, the input and opinions of many, creativity, innovation, and open mindedness about the future.

With this blog, I hope to share some of the experiences, strategies, best practices and organizational design concepts that we can talk more about as a community.

Email: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

Twitter: @ingenuitycmpny

The cover matters

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

Don’t judge a book by its cover – so the saying goes.  Book_learntolead

Sage advice? Perhaps. 

Practical? Not at all. 

Recall the last time you were faced with a multitude of titles on a single subject. How did you cull through the mass efficiently to locate the resource that would serve your purpose? The advice proffered about not judging a book by its cover is not useful to you in this moment. It is not practical for you to read each book in its entirety, or even to speed read critical sections, to determine which resource contains the most robust, relevant information for your needs. 

You need a shortcut. You narrow the possible choices to a few based on book covers, familiar authors and recommendations from others. You further narrow your selection by perusing the book jacket where you can quickly decipher what critics have to say about the contents of the book. If the choices are still too many, perhaps the table of contents gets a look.

Why we take shortcuts

While few would argue with the beauty of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, our natural programming makes this unlikely. 

We do judge a book by its cover – literally and metaphorically. On the surface it seems unjust.  Practically, it is how we make sense of the world and how we quickly sort through the huge amount of sensory stimuli we encounter throughout the day.

In the business world

What relevance does this have in a blog about leadership? 

We can squawk all day long about the unfairness of being overlooked for a promotion at work when we perceive we are clearly more qualified. We can lament the injustice of inequalities we perceive in the workplace that seem connected more to gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability or other differences than they do to workplace contributions.  

Or, we can seek to understand our natural filtering system that makes it possible for us to take shortcuts. We can embark on a journey to incorporate this critical knowledge into our leadership toolbox and into our day-to-day leadership practices. Through acquiring intelligence and wisdom about this all-too-human characteristic, we can ensure the shortcuts we take as leaders do not lead to negative unintended consequences.

In the next several blogs I’ll explore both research and experiences on this subject from a variety of perspectives. In the meantime, I invite you to think about your own leadership experiences in judging and being judged.

Clearing the first legal hurdle as an Iowa entrepreneur: whether to incorporate or not

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law 6a00d83452ceb069e201a511ab4641970c-500wi

Entrepreneurs and small business owners across Iowa encounter countless obstacles as they dash out of the starting gate to pursue their business dreams. And regardless of how much they've "trained," one of the first obstacles they are likely to encounter is the sometimes dreaded legal hurdle of whether to form a formal legal entity, such as a limited liability company ("L.L.C."), or proceed in a less formal manner as a sole proprietor or partner in a partnership. Thankfully, this first, of sometimes many legal hurdles, is realtively straightforward, easy to clear, and generally inexpensive to overcome. This post briefly identifies some of the common advantages and disadvantages of operating a small business in Iowa as a sole proprietor.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is often referred to as one of the easiest and simplest business structures to create and operate. Sole proprietorships are run by one person and generally there is no "legal distinction" between the business and the individual owner. As depicted in the infograph below, some of the advantages include:

1.  Sole proprietorships are very easy and inexpensive to create. Indeed, unlike a limited liability company (L.L.C.) or a corporation (Inc.), a sole proprietor is not required to pay fees to the State of Iowa for filing articles of incorporation, certificates of organization, or biannual reports;

2.  A sole proprietor exercises complete control over the business and does not answer to other owners, such as shareholders in a corporation or partners in a partnership; and

3.  A sole proprietorship generally has one of the lowest tax rates of all business forms and is not required to follow corporate formalities.

While conducting business as a sole proprietor certainly has advantages, many drawbacks exist that, for some, far outweigh the advantages. Some disadvantages include:

1.  Sole proprietors are personally liable for business debts and obligations, including any liabilities arising from a lawsuit involving the business. As a result, if the "business" is assessed a fine or has a judgment entered against it, that fine, judgement, or other monetary obligation is, in reality, an obligation the sole proprietor may be required to pay out of personal funds;

2.  Sole proprietors find it difficult to raise capital (i.e. funds from investors) because, as referenced above, there is generally no distinction between the business and the individual - a blurred structure that investors shy away from; and

3.  A sole proprietorship has a "limited life" as it ceases to exist when the sole proprietor dies. In other words, unlike corporations where the corporation will long survive the death of its founders, a sole proprietorship ceases to exist the moment its founder dies. This issue is frequently a consideration for succession, estate, and retirement planning.

If you are an entrepreneur considering starting a new Iowa business or are currently running a sole proprietorship and are looking to avoid personal liability, evade the problem of "limited life," or hope to seek investor money someday, you should consider lacing up your shoes and taking a short run down to your licensed attorney's office to explore alternative business forms.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14071423/f22e94c6-22e1-43a8-a196-98d5e662700a.png
Image Credit: http://www.entrepreneur.com

 

To read more about forming an Iowa limited liabilty company, check out this post (CLICK HERE).

Legal Disclaimer and Terms of Use

The information on this website does not constitute legal advice and readers should not rely on it to solve problems or other matters.  Further, you should seek licensed counsel in the appropriate legal jurisdiction before taking any action.

Social customer service is free PR

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Recently, I had an unpleasant and rude experience with a couple of grocery store employees. I've shopped there hundreds of times and know what their normal service looks and feels like. So I'm an expert on how the wayward interactions should have gone. Social customer service

For a "social" customer like me, the next step is to complain. Not by writing a letter or calling, but by posting my thoughts on their corporate Facebook page. Which is exactly what I did.

Consumers are changing the ways they interact with companies. My dad would have sat down at his desk and written a letter to the store manager. My mom would have probably called. Some people would just tell everyone they know what happened, without telling the store manager at all. I chose to air my complaint with the store AND my friends.

This type of complaint can turn into a disaster or an opportunity for the company receiving the complaint.

What good can come out of social media complaints? How can a company embrace the fact that people use public social networks to air their grievances? Here are some steps the company can take to turn a sour experience into a PR win.

  1. Have someone monitoring your social channels during business hours - and checking in at least every 12 hours on weekends.
  2. Have a plan in place to react immediately. Here's a formula: 
  • Acknowledge the complaint and promise to investigate
  • Take the complaint "offline" if the person continues to complain loudly on the social network, but follow up publicly if possible.
  • Offer to remedy the complaint immediately if it is feasible to do so
  • Apologize if there has been a breach in normal service levels
  • Ask the person what would make it right
  • Follow up. Make it right.

When someone complains about your business online, you have a crisis on your hands. But you also have an opportunity. If you're not ready to answer social media questions and complaints, then you're not ready to be using social media. How can you prepare?

  • Monitor: Make sure you have all your social channels covered by staff.
  • Training: Teach your employees how to spot trouble and empower them to respond.
  • Have a plan and follow it.

It's a reality. People use public social networks to comment and complain about your business. Consider yourself lucky when they do it on YOUR social channels. They could use other means (like blogs or Yelp) and destroy your reputation. When they complain on Facebook and Twitter, at least you can learn about it and respond. Take my advice: do your best to respond. Deescalating the complaint and resolving it as soon as possible is your best bet. And THAT is good PR.

The truth about Facebook ads

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

Like most entrepreneurs I am constantly looking for ways to reach new audiences. And, when growing our brand, my strategy needs to be very targeted and rather creative. Therefore, I try new approaches and measure the results. Recently I experimented with Facebook advertising. After all, everybody is doing it, right? Americans spend more time on social media than any other internet activity. So, how could it possibly go wrong?

Here’s how…

Screenshot 2014-07-13 23.55.07

Facebook allows businesses to pay to promote their page (obtain Likes) and boost their posts to expand their reach to new audiences. With 665 million active daily users it is an ocean of opportunity. But there is one very big problem - it is increasingly difficult to reach relevant audiences.

In return I got a $400 invoice, about 30 page Likes and 200 Likes of a sponsored post. At first I was smiling. But that didn’t last long. After scanning the people that “liked” my content I noticed that their demographics were nowhere near what I wanted. I targeted insurance agents and got forklift operators, nannies, and even a gumologist.

Naturally I was confused. I mean, what does Bubble Yum have to do with insurance? Why was I paying for random people to like my content? I did some research and discovered that this is a very widespread problem for Facebook.

Fake accounts

According to Facebook’s latest annual statement, they estimate up to 140 million fake accounts using their service. They break these accounts into three categories: duplicate accounts, misclassified accounts and "undesirable" accounts.

Yet there are two very relevant categories they fail to mention: bots and click farms.

In a nutshell, a Facebook bot is an automated software program that is designed to create and control a fake account. They mimic real people on Facebook to harvest private data from users, and expose them to other security risks.

A click farm, on the other hand, is a business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client's website or a product.

But I didn’t hire a click farm and I sure didn’t accept any friend requests from people I don’t know. So, why would they be clicking on my posts?

In response to the growing number of fake profiles Facebook has written an algorithm to weed them out. They are able to distinguish bogus activity from authentic engagement - at least to a point. To beat the algorithms, the fraudulent websites try cover their tracks by clicking the Like buttons on many honest pages as well. And because they have liked everything under the sun prior to me running my ad, they fall into my chosen demographic.

As a result I paid for fake Likes. They don’t really like me, after all. What’s worse is that my organic reach is significantly diluted as the content is spread across interested readers, and the fake profiles.

Ride the current

Which brings me to referral marketing. Perhaps a stretch, but this is just another example of how money could be much better spent to reach new audiences.

Recent studies show that people trust recommendations from close relations 7 times more than typical advertising or independent search. Even if your Facebook ads reach real people, they still don’t have the value of a referral. You need to win their trust first. With referrals, the trust transfers from existing clients. Moreover, your existing clients know your target market much better than Facebook does.

The catch - you must have loyal customers. But if you are a company that excels at making them happy there is significant opportunity.

Did you celebrate National Social Media Day?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Last Monday was National Social Media Day! Happy Medium celebrated by hosting an event in the Kum & Go Theatre at the Des Moines Social Club. We had a great line-up of local social media gurus including the Iowa Nice Guy, Scott Siepker, Mike Draper, founder of Raygun, and many others. The event ended with a panel and was followed by a happy hour and networking at Malo.

It was incredible to see the variety of people that attended! Of course, there were people who manage social media for a living and those who work in various marketing departments, but there were also people just generally interested in social media, probably not for any particular reason, but because social media affects us all in some way. And in many ways social media is becoming basically unavoidable. (For better or worse!) My husband isn’t on Facebook, and daily we have discussions because I’m always referencing articles or things that happened on Facebook, and he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

Although I own an interactive agency with a fantastic social media team, I always think it’s interesting when these situations happen, as it really makes you take note of the role of social media not only in our professional lives but also in our personal lives. Let’s be honest, social media is everywhere and there is definitely reason to talk about it.

Social Media Day Des Moines was a sold out event with over 150 people in attendance. Fun fact – our hashtag was mentioned 480 times and had a potential reach of 575,702 people! CRAZY!

Here are some pictures that prove how much fun was had – we hope to see you next year!

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To learn more about Happy Medium, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @itsahappymedium or find us on Facebook!

Tweet me your questions @klstocking.

--Katie

 

Marketing conferences -- which ones are for you?

Event BadgeDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm often asked which marketing conferences I recommend and I have to say, the list is pretty short.  

It seems like most conferences hire the same 8-10 speakers we've all seen over and over again or else they bring in brand managers from places like Coke or Harley.

Don't get me wrong -- I love listening to those speakers. But, they don't live in the same world as we do.  

As an agency, we deal with small to mid-sized ($20 million in revenue and below) companies and they definitely do not have a Coke or Harley marketing budget.

If I'm going to spend the money and time to actually attend a conference, I want to leave with a notebook full of ideas I can think about and implement right away.  

I want tangible examples that I can relate to because they're right sized for my agency and our clients.

Given that criteria, here are some of my favorite conferences:

BOLO Conference in Scottsdale, AZ in October

BOLO /boh-loh/, v. 1. Be On the Look Out. 2. Digital marketing conference in Scottsdale, AZ. BOLO brings together the thought-leaders and change-makers of the agency world. Experience authentic connections, audacious speakers, actionable ideas, and a helluva good time. BOLO 2014 is shaping up to be our best event yet. We like to keep things meaningful, so we allow just 250 of our friends to register before the doors close. Be on the lookout for additional information arriving soon!

Drew's note -- this is for agency folks, so if you're a CMO, this probably is not the right choice for you.  But if you work for an agency -- you will love this one!

Content Marketing World in Cleveland, OH in September

Content Marketing World is the one event where you can learn and network with the best and the brightest in the content marketing industry. You will leave with all the materials you need to take a content marketing strategy back to your team – and – to implement a content marketing plan that will grow your business and inspire your audience.

Drew's note -- this one is packed with speakers who will talk about budgets way beyond yours like Kraft Foods and SAP but because they're still trying to figure out content too -- it's relevant, no matter the size of your budget.

Marketing Profs B2B Forum in Boston in October

Are you armed and ready to meet the marketing challenges of today, tomorrow, and beyond? With technology and the way we live changing rapidly, B2B marketers have so many options and tools that it can be overwhelming. At the 2014 B2B Marketing Forum we will have inspirational speakers presenting on the hottest, smartest topics—giving you the knowledge you need to thrive in 2014, 2015 and beyond. Get ready to bullet-proof your marketing for the future and come out a modern marketing rockstar!

Drew's note -- This is a smaller conference (unlike CMW above) so you'll have lots of access to the speakers (most of them stay for the whole conference, so they're around and accessible) and networking.

And.... one of the best of all is right here in Iowa.  Yup, I said Iowa.

Social Brand 2014 in Coralville in September

The Social Brand Forum, a top 10 social media conference, again brings national social media and digital marketing thought leaders to Iowa for two days of impactful keynotes and interactive discussions. Social Brand 2014 is designed to help marketers at organizations small and large build better brands online through social media content, conversations, and community.

Drew's note -- This is a fantastic conference (created by Iowa's Nick Westergaard of Brand Driven Digital) that has been designed to give attendees incredible access to top notch speakers, built in networking opportunities and lots of tangible, use it now content.

So here is my challenge for you. Pick one and register this week. Surely you believe in lifelong learning right?

If you decide that Iowa's own Social Brand 2014 is the right one for you -- use the coupon code DREW and you can save a few bucks. (I don't get anything if you register other than the satisfaction that you're going to love it.) 

Attending one of these conferences this fall is the perfect appetizer to working on your 2015 marketing budget.

Go on -- get even smarter!

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

To eat or not to eat?

FoodDanny 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.

Most networking events will have some sort of food and beverage provided. The food can range from cheese and vegetable trays to full flung heavy hor d'oeuvres and everything in between. The beverages could include water, soda, wine and beer. It is the intention of the host for those attending to enjoy these refreshments.  They can be delicious and enticing. They can also be disastrous if not given proper respect.

I once attended an event with a full bar and full spread of some of the best food I have ever experienced while networking. I had done my research and knew some very influential individuals would be attending that I wanted to meet. They had not yet arrived so I piled up my appetizer plate with shrimp, meatballs, humus, and more. It was all delicious and I made sure to compliment the host on her taste. Everything was going well until I accidently bumped into the back of someone else attending and a meat ball rolled off of my plate and down the center of my white dress shirt. There is not a Tide Stick large enough to undo that kind of damage. Needless to say I did not meet the people I had hoped to as I hurriedly left the room to change. 

Another example happened shortly after that event. A friend and I were attending an after work social. We had both left the office early that afternoon to arrive at the event about fifteen minutes early. People began to arrive and we each grabbed a beer and made our way around the room. He had grabbed a plate of food and was standing in the corner when a lady walked up to him and introduced herself. He fumbled with the plate, trying to find a place to set it down, and as he was bending down to put it on a nearby ledge he tipped his beer down the front of the her blouse. I have never seen that particular shade of red on a person’s face before as he apologized again and again. She was very calm as she tried to sop up the beer from her shirt. They both left shortly after the incident, him out of embarrassment and her to change clothes. 

The food and drink at an event is typically a highlight. The host has gone to a lot of trouble putting in time and money to provide whatever they deem appropriate. It would be somewhat rude not to partake, but how to navigate a room, meet new people, and enjoy refreshments can be tricky. The best piece of advice I ever received on managing this – arrive early.

Arriving early, even five minutes early, can allow you the opportunity to enjoy some of the food and drink without the worry of how to shake hands, make small talk with a mouth full of food, or where to put finished plates and cups. It also gives you first choice at most of the items provided. Additional advantages to arriving early include being able to check out the name tags to see who else is attending, meeting the host and getting good quality time with him or her before other guests arrive, and the opportunity to talk with those who have had the same idea.

Another way to save yourself the hassle of trying to figure out what to do with a cup or plate is to only partake of one or the other at any given time. Instead of loading up a plate with food and grabbing something to drink, do one or the other. This will allow for an open hand to shake hands and also makes it much easier to navigate a room. Always keep one hand free because you never know when it may be needed.

The final pointer is to always enjoy in moderation. No one likes the person who has had one drink too many or walks around with a food plate piled to overflowing with food. The first impression is often the impression that sticks when meeting people for the first time. The food and drink provided by the host is meant to be enjoyed, so go ahead and enjoy it. At the same time, be sure to know your limits.

Meet new blogger Christi Hegstad

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive and leadership coach and the president of MAP Professional Development Inc. She specializes in positive leadership, employee engagement, career development, and meaningful work. 

How many leadership books have you read in the past year? Christi Hegstad

How many books sit on your nightstand, grace your office shelves, or linger on your Kindle while you wait for a few spare moments to read?

About eleven years ago, I felt a little busy: I was finishing up my doctorate, finding my way around my new hometown of Des Moines, mothering two toddlers with a baby on the way, and starting my executive and leadership coaching business. Not a lot of free time (that I didn’t spend trying to catch some sleep, anyway!).

But because of my lifelong love of books and my core value of growth, I continued to read. I’d finish a few pages while stirring the night’s dinner, wrap up a chapter while in the carpool lane at preschool, or sneak in a few pages before crashing in bed for the night. A day never feels quite complete for me if it hasn’t held some reading and writing.

Maybe you can relate?

Many of the leaders I coach want to read more but, with so many urgent needs and responsibilities, they feel at a loss for time. Again, maybe you can relate. But you might also find yourself staying quiet when a competitor shares how the concept of Level 5 Leadership from Good To Great has transformed her organization or a colleague mentions that the principles from Quiet have helped his previously disharmonious staff thrive. It’s not so much about missing out on a book discussion as it is being unable to learn and apply the key takeaways to advance your business, facilitate employee growth, and create a culture of leadership development in your company.

That’s where this blog will help!

I am an addicted avid reader of nonfiction and constantly share the tips, tools, and principles with my executive coaching clients. Now I’ll share them with you each month, too.

Rather than give you the basic back-cover summary of each book, I’ll share a few key takeaways that you can apply in your leadership role today. As someone who reads extensively (over 100 books some years), I’m quite selective about what I consider worthy of sharing. So rest assured, what you’ll gain from this blog are tips you can use – the best of the best.

We’ll start next month with "Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work" by Chip and Dan Heath, and go from there. Feel free to share your experiences, additional takeaways if you’ve read the book, questions, or even suggestions for future books. Your contributions to the conversation will make this all the more valuable!

I look forward to this virtual book group where leaders can have an opportunity to learn, grow, and share with one another. As John F. Kennedy wisely stated, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Website: www.meaning-and-purpose.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan

Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach

Facebook “research” marks a new low for the social giant

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Clive, Iowa.

I’ve been watching the rolling debate about Facebook’s latest flub. Some numbskull at Facebook decided it was OK to manipulate user’s feeds to prove that negatively spreads FB dislikefaster when people view negative posts. Guess what? It worked! Shouldn’t we all be grateful to have this bit of knowledge bestowed on us from our kind and benevolent Facebook overlords?

Stories like this make the social scientist in me very angry. It might be time to educate people on what “real” academic-type research looks like – and how much it differs from the head games Facebook is currently playing on its users.

Real research starts out with a hypothesis. It looks like Facebook at least got that right. They hypothesized that sadness and bad moods are contagious. Not a bad premise, actually. And it could be very useful information to have. But, unfortunately, Facebook went off the research reservation after the hypothesis was formed.

The next step is questioning the ethical boundaries of the proposed research. Anyone who’s ever majored in psychology will recognize these simple guidelines:

  1. Informed consent: Researchers must let the subjects know they are being observed or studied. Facebook hid behind their terms of service document (which absolutely no one reads) which apparently allows these kinds of shenanigans to occur.
  2. Professional fidelity and responsibility: Researchers have a duty to reconcile their “need to know” with their subjects’ “right to know” about the experiment. This goes to the very heart of a scientist’s job. They have to err on the side of caution.
  3. Upholding the dignity of the subjects being studied: The researchers simply assume that since their sample size was small and the experiment brief, that they didn’t cause any harm. That is dangerous and outrageous. No, we didn’t hear reports of people jumping out of windows – but the repercussions may never be known.

To make matters worse post study, the researchers gave a lame “apology” that felt more like excuses. “But, but but…we meant well. And we didn’t hurt anybody. And we’re Facebook. We care about people.” And, let’s get real. Facebook has had plenty to apologize for in recent years. They should be getting better at it, not worse. Sounds like they need a righteous PR pro at the table. I’m not available, but I heard Jenny McCarthy’s looking for a new gig. Oh wait, she’s not a professional. Nevermind.

Perseverance is key in leadership

IStock_000009035898SmallRowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

It’s a rare leader who doesn’t get discouraged. When faced with challenges, the essential leadership trait that serves us best is perseverance.

The value of courage, persistence and perseverance has rarely been illustrated more convincingly than in the life story of this man (his age appears in the column on the left): 

Age 22      Failed in business

Age 23      Ran for Legislature – defeated

Age 24      Again failed in business

Age 25      Elected to Legislature                                     

Age 26      Sweetheart died                                               

Age 27      Had a nervous breakdown                               

Age 29      Defeated for Speaker                                       

Age 31      Defeated for Elector                                        

Age 34      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 37      Elected to Congress                                         

Age 39      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 46      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 47      Defeated for Vice President                            

Age 49      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 51     Elected President of the United States

That’s the record of Abraham Lincoln. 

Organizations experience success and good fortune. It is easy to be a good leader when things are going well. 

They also experience frequent changes and obstacles. It is how leaders handle the challenging times that reveals their true character and shapes how they are described and remembered by others. 

Napoleon Hill once said, “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

So it is with great leaders.

Raise the blinds on your referral strategy

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

Have you ever been in an argument with someone and, having summed up your concise and beautifully articulated point, only get the response “...yea, but it goes both ways you know”? Well, I have. Several times. And, as elementary as the rebuttal is, it surprisingly holds weight quite often. When it comes to referrals, the same holds true. So many companies become frustrated with the lack of referrals they receive - even after providing such stellar service. But as close-lipped as customers are about giving referrals, the companies are lackadaisical when discussing their importance.

AceSleeveIt seems that companies are not only uncomfortable asking for referrals but they feel awkward when discussing them all together with their clients. There is a big difference between directly asking a customer for their personal rolodex and telling them you want to help their friends and family.

Shot in the dark

I recently spoke with a client that shed some light as to why some companies balk at discussing referrals with their customers. It turns out that many of the employees either think some of their customers are unhappy with them, or just don’t know where they stand in regard to loyalty. This uncertainty fosters the anxiety of encountering a potentially awkward situation.

The solution is really quite simple. Find out what your customers think about you in regard to loyalty. Sending emails asking their likelihood to recommend and for testimonials will raise the blinds on your referral strategy. Here’s why:

  • You are introducing the concept of referrals to your customers. This is metaphorically warming the butter (I explain below).

  • You know who will respond positively when you bring up referrals. The ace up your sleeve. Seek out the promoters and those that give you raving testimonials. They are the ones that only need a little nudge to refer you.

  • Positive comments and testimonials boost office morale and confidence. Making your employees feel comfortable about discussing referrals with clients begins here. Enlighten them as to how much they are loved and they will enthusiastically bring up referrals more.

Begin by warming your customers and making them understand how much you value referrals. Next, empower your employees to feel comfortable about discussing referrals and sharpen their confidence. The end result is a referral strategy that is like a hot knife cutting through warm butter (excuse the metaphor).

What to say

Finally, I have written before about how directly asking for names is not an effective referral strategy. So, just how do you bring them up with clients? By making them feel like you want to take extra special care of their friends and family. Remember, it is about them. Below I have included some effective ways of communicating with your clients about referrals.

  • “Taking wonderful care of you, your family, and your friends is what we love to do, and helping you (insert service here) is what our office is all about.”

  • “We would like to help even more people in the community (insert service here) and the best way to do this is to get the word out. Please do not hesitate to share your experience with your loved ones. We love to help!”

  • “I truly enjoy sharing my experience and helping others. Therefore I want to extend my hand to your friends and family. If they ever have questions or need advice they can call me directly. I will be sure to take extra care.”

Don't wait to show your appreciation

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

A few weeks ago, I reminded small retailers that they shouldn't wait until the dog days of summer to start planning for the holiday season. That advice is just as true -- and valuable -- when it comes to giving gifts to clients, vendors, other business partners and employees.

Giving the right gifts at the right times of the year can really help you and your company stand out from the competition. And, make no mistake, today's business environment is as competitive as it's ever been.

Gift giving is a good investment in business relationships. It demonstrates that you value the relationship and want it to grow and strive.

Giving gifts in the business setting has a practical side, but it's important that it should also come from the heart and involve some thought about what would really delight the person on the receiving end.

In other words, it should be about thanking them -- not loading them down with promotional products like a coffee mug, key chain or pen with your company logo on it. Nevertheless, it's also possible to promote your business and even increase market share by showcasing your brand in the best possible way with the most appropriate gift.

Timing is also of the essence.

I've noted in the past that getting there first or even last has its advantages, but it's most advantageous to arrive at a different time than the pack. For instance, sending a gift in January to thank your client -- long after all the other holiday gifts have come and gone -- is a terrific way to stand out.

Of course, we're well past January, so other times to stand out might be Labor Day ("We love working with you"), Thanksgiving ("Thank you for being such a valued partner") or even no particular occasion at all (Just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate our partnership").

The bottom line: You shouldn’t wait until Christmas to start thinking about the right gifts to thank your clients, employees or others for their loyalty or business. Opportunities to connect with clients and business-to-business partners are more common than you may think. Be sure to make the most of them.

Let's wipe out unrecycled toilet paper

Toilet tissueRob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Toilet tissue is used every day, but it is never going to be recycled. However, what you use should be recycled toilet tissue.

The most popular brands sold to homes contain zero recycled paper: Charmin, Cottonelle, and Quilted Northern. Scott Ireland of CapSan says, “very few nonresidential clients will pay the high prices for those products and usually buy recycled toilet tissue.”

Studies show if every family used just one roll of recycled tissue instead of virgin tissue, 420,000 trees would not be cut down. Think of the impact if every family used a case!

Toilet tissue 2Recycling one ton of paper for toilet tissue also saves 7,000 gallons of water and enough electricity to power a home for six months. That’s because the process of recycling paper into toilet tissue is much easier than starting with a tree!

SCA of Sweden, the third largest producer of tissue, has teamed up with two companies in Iowa to wipe out virgin tissue. You are going to love this!

First, trucks loaded with recycled toilet tissue come from Wisconsin to Des Moines and deliver to CapSan. Rather than return empty, the trucks pick up waste paper from City Carton at their main location in Iowa City. Of course you have contracted with City Carton so your office waste paper is there also. The paper is taken to Wisconsin and made into toilet tissue. Then it starts all over again.

Now you may not reuse the magazine you read last month, but there is a direct connection.

Where are you with wiping out virgin toilet tissue? Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Sad exit strategy

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

I was asked to meet with the owner of a forge company. The owner was a real gentleman and a very professional businessman.  He told me that he needed to sell his business within the next 3 to 4 months and wanted to know if I could help him.  

I reviewed the financials and pertinent information and found it to be quite profitable. So I asked him "What was the reason for the time frame"?

He told me that he had throat cancer and the doctors had given him that amount of time to live!  

We discussed the fact that a buyer would usually require the owner to stay on board for minimum transition period. And - the need to keep his condition confidential because if it got on the street, buyers would probably choose to wait out the situation. I told him that I would do the best that I could and took the listing.

Three months later, he had accepted an offer but passed away on his couch. Fortunately, he had kept his wife involved with the process and she made it through the closing process.

The sad part of the story is that the business did not sell for its true value vs. if the owner had taken the steps to do so. The good part is that the owner had done an excellent job of investing and the wife and children would not suffer financially.

The distressing fact to this story is that most owners have no exit strategy. 

 

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

ss@phxaffiliates.com

The customer experience doesn't just happen

DisneyapologyDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

There is not a business in existance today that does not want to deliver an incredible customer experience. And with good reason -- when a customer has an extraordinary interaction with your organization, some pretty cool stuff happens.

  • They spend more money
  • They come back more often
  • They tell other people and generate new customers for you
  • They share their experiences on social media

Here's the rub.  We all want it but very few companies actively train for it.  We tell our employees that we want them to treat our customers well.  We very well might set a good example by demonstrating it in their presence.  

But it's a rare business who regularly and actively teaches excellence when it comes to dealing with your clientele.

We just assume (and we know what that creates) that everyone who works for us magically knows what amazing customer care looks like.  But you are all consumers.  How often do you get that kind of service?  Don't you think the places you frequent (grocery store, restaurants, retail establishments, etc.) want great customer service too?

But just like you -- they assume their people get it.  And from our experiences in their establishments -- we know they do not.

No one gets customer service and business excellence better than Disney.  They get it because they've perfected it and they actively teach it/train it every day.  The picture in this blog post is what was delivered to our room at Walt Disney World because it wasn't ready on time.  Do you think they pulled that out of left field?  No -- it was planned and trained so that when they needed it -- it was easy.

No matter what kind of business you run -- you can deliver that same level of business excellence and it starts with learning Disney's tricks.

Lucky for you -- the folks at ATD (formerly ASTD) are bringing Disney's Approach to Business Excellence workshop right here to Central Iowa on September 16th. It will be taught by Disney Institute cast members and will be an entire day of learning and exploring how you can bring Disney's level of quality to everything you do -- earning Disney-like brand loyalty from your customers.

If you hurry -- you can grab the early bird discount.  And if you use the coupon code MMG (we're helping to sponsor the event) , you can get an additional discount on top of that.

You and your team can learn from the world class Disney organization's playbook. If you want to be a world class organization -- you have to teach your people what that looks like and how you can do it together.

Here's the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I hope to see you there!

 

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

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.  

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