Good networking is a lot like wearing a bow tie

Bow tieDanny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

Good networking is a lot like wearing a bow tie.  Hear me out here. When it comes down to it, good networking involves three crucial steps. The same can be said for wearing a bow tie. 

Step one:  Patience.  When I first started networking, it took almost a year to see the fruits of my labor. I can still remember the first deal I closed from networking and the rush it gave me to know that I'd built enough trust with someone for them to recommend me to a friend.  It was a small deal but it was my deal.  Similarly, a bow tie takes a lot of patience. The first time I bought one I stood in Younkers with a very close friend for almost an hour replaying a YouTube clip over and over until I got the thing tied around my neck. Looking back on it now, it was really a terrible tie job but I got it done. Now I can tie a bow tie in less than thirty seconds and I can rely on my network for almost any need that arises. 

Step two:  Getting over nerves.  Let’s face it, there are very few people who can honestly say they enjoy walking into a room of strangers and meeting new people.  In fact, public speaking outranks death as most people’s No. 1 fear. Networking is nerve-racking, even for most seasoned pros. Wearing a bow tie in public for the first time triggers those same nerves. The easiest way to get over them? Dive in headfirst and don’t look back.  Take the risk, walk up to a stranger and say hi. Wear that bow tie with pride for the entire world to see. 

Step three:  Realizing both get easier with time. As I mentioned in the first step, tying a bow tie has gotten pretty easy. The same can be said, albeit to a lesser extent, for networking. I’m still more nervous networking than I do tying a bow tie or wearing it in public, but it has gotten easier. The simple fact is everything will get easier with practice.  I’ve learned to suppress the nerves, or ignore them all together, because I now realize that most people attending an event are just as nervous as I am. 

There you have it, how good networking is like wearing a bow tie. Sure it’s a stretch but just remember with a little patience, some practice, and by diving in headfirst anyone can learn to tie a bow tie or be great at networking.

How are you perceived?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the third in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters”. 

How are you performing as a leader?  Leadership_blog1

In many tangible tasks and activities, how well we are performing can be quickly assessed.  For the golfer, you receive immediate feedback by looking at your performance on your last golf swing.  This helps inform what adjustments you need to make for the next one. 

Most leadership activities are different.  Leadership is rarely a repetitive behavior and is never a solitary activity.  By definition, leadership is about people.  In their classic leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner present research about which behaviors followers consider most important in their leaders.  Survey respondents cited four characteristics over 50% of the time.

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Inspiring
  4. Competent

Unlike a golf swing, these qualities are largely intangible and success can only be assessed over time. 

How do we know if we are performing well in areas that don’t allow for immediate feedback? 

Long term, your legacy will ultimately confirm your leadership performance.  In the short term, exemplary leaders realize that influencing the perceptions others hold of them as they are exercising leadership is critical.  Do you look honest?  Do you come across as confident, competent and inspiring?  Can people tell you are forward-thinking?

Some of the only data available to people entrusted to your leadership on a daily basis is how you look and sound.  The pace we walk when we enter a room, the eye contact we make with others, our hand movements, our facial expression and our vocal quality all communicate for us non-verbally – for better or for worse.  These behaviors shape the perceptions others hold of us.

Appearances matter.  Do a self-audit.  How are you perceived?

Is your body language and vocal quality communicating that you are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent?  Or do you, like many busy leaders, unintentionally and non-verbally communicate qualities such as impatience, disinterest, insecurity, incapability or uncertainty.  

Referral cards provide ammunition to your active promoters

You know those little cards that muddle up your wallet? The loyalty cards that rest in piles on the counter or coffee or sandwich shops.

At one time I probably had 10 different cards, each of them with a single over-inked stamp or moon-shaped punch hole. “Here you go, you’re only 14 stamps away from a free small coffee!”

Ernstos4110The next time I ever saw them was when I would survey the damage after leaving my wallet in my jeans on laundry day. In retrospect, they weren’t really that effective - at least in bringing me back to buy more.

Because let’s be honest - loyalty programs are created to, well, promote loyalty. Repeat customers. More revenue. But for many companies the punch card never finds its way back.

“But that’s not true, I use my Palmers partner card every week!” you say. Yes, so do I. But that's because they put a lot of meat on their club sandwich and the lady behind the counter has a nice smile - not because of the little yellow card slowly disintegrating next to my driver’s license.

My point? In order for a loyalty program to be effective it needs to have value. Enough value that it will inspire a customer to shop with you over a competitor.

Loyalty programs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Punch cards, plastic cards, cards you can attach to your keychain, cards on your smartphone, and so on. They are intended to reward the customer for repeat business. More advanced programs are also designed to track purchases and tailor marketing efforts.

Referral card

But there is one type of card I have yet to mention. The referral card. Whereas the focus of loyalty programs is on promoting repeat business; referral cards leverage existing customers to bring new blood in the door.

I am sure you have seen businesses hand out cards that promote an incentive-based referral program. On the card is nothing more than “refer a friend, get 10 bucks” or something of that nature. That is not a referral card.

What I am talking about is something that a business provides their customers that they can give to their friends and family that has exclusive value to the recipient.

For example, two golf lessons at a country club valid only for Bob’s friends and family. In order for the card to have value it must be an exclusive offer that is not promoted elsewhere. The only way for a new client to get this specific deal is via an existing client.

This way your client will feel they are giving something of actual value to their friend when they are referring you. If it is a coupon that you can find in the Sunday paper its value vanishes (and is embarrassing to give away).

You may also consider pairing the exclusive offer with an incentive for your client. For example, a card that will reward both the existing client and the new guy. This way way your clients will have more of a reason to hand them out, and the prospects will feel more obligated to use them.

Referralcard1By empowering your loyal customers to bring in their friends and family you are also facilitating conversation that strengthens your brand. Referral cards will get people giving the gift of your business - as long as you make it worth their while to do so.

Remember - make it exclusive, limited, and valuable.

Summertime has its own advantages

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

I wrote last month about the value of treating every day like Christmas to create a great environment for shoppers, but there's no denying summer has a firm grip on central Iowa. That means there are still some tried-and-true opportunities that small retailers should remember when working to boost sales.

Rieva Lesonsky, a staff writer for Small Business Trends, offered a reminder of some of those ideas a few months in her piece, "5 Ways to Boost Your Retail Sales This Summer" and they're certainly worth doing before Labor Day rolls around. To see those ideas in action close to home, all you need to do is spend some time in historic Valley Junction.

Lesonsky recommends moving things outdoors. Whether your business is located on a city street or a mall, "foot traffic is likely to increase as more people take advantage of the nice weather to stroll outside."

You'll get no argument from me there. All I'd add is: Make sure you have plenty of products to sample.

Thursday evenings in Valley Junction are a perfect example of small retailers who shake things up by moving outdoors. That strategy plays right into a few of  Lesonsky's tips about sponsoring or participating in local events, making summer sales a group effort and creating excitement by throwing a party.

Valley Junction merchants do all three of those things by joining forces and sponsoring a weekly farmers market and music. The result: a wonderful atmosphere for shoppers, strollers and fun-seekers of all ages.

You don't have to be in a perfect retail setting like Valley Junction. (Although it sure helps!) Odds are, however, that you have retail neighbors that you can team up with. If you don't, all you need is a little creativity to pull together some complementary businesses, pick a spot and throw your own celebration.

Finally, while this summer may be winding down, it's never too early to start planning for next year. One item to put on your list is a strategy to capture more tourist dollars. And a great, big bull's-eye in that respect is the 2015 Iowa State Fair.

All that's left to do to improve summer sales this year and into the future is to put these ideas into motion. What are you waiting for?

Wait, you’re not advertising online? Why the heck not?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

In case you haven’t noticed, people are on the Internet quite a bit… an average of 5 hours a day to be exact, according to eMarketer (which to be honest, sounds a little low to me). Think about your day, how much of your time is spent online vs. watching TV, listening to the radio (not Spotify, or Pandora – the actual radio!), or reading an actual paper copy of the daily newspaper? If you’re like me, the combined total of everything (with the exception of online) still doesn’t equal the time spent online each day, especially for those of us whose jobs require us to be online the majority of the day.

Once you get your feet wet in the digital world, you will likely never go back. The really *fun* thing about digital advertising is you get to really hold your dollars invested accountable. Owning a small business, I fully understand the need to make every.single.dollar.count! I’d like to touch base on a few of the (many) ways to advertise online.

SEM (search engine marketing):

The big wig in this department is Google AdWords, but this is an option for any of the other large search engines, as well. When you advertise online with a Cost Per Click (CPC) model you are only paying each time someone clicks on your ad, so no wasted costs on someone just looking at your ad and not being interested in your product. The other good thing about SEM is you customize the keywords you want to use on a campaign. Basically you get to choose when to run the ad based off what people are searching for. There are no other advertising opportunities where you get the chance to serve an ad at the very moment someone is searching for your exact product.

Display Advertising:

Display advertising has been around for years. It is all of the ads you see when you land on a webpage. These can range from standard size static units to expandable ads to entire homepage takeovers. You can target users into almost any kind of segment you can think of (i.e. 28 year old female, who lives in Waukee, IA, is a dog owner, married, with kids) so that you are hitting your exact consumer. You can also bid on impressions in a Real Time Bidding (RTB) fashion or on exchanges (so you can hit many different sites instead of picking one site and solely running ads on it). The possibilities are really endless with display advertising and the technology is only going to increase over the coming years.

Pre-Roll:

Pre-roll (or video) advertising is a good transition for advertisers who are scared to move their dollars from TV to digital. You can still run similar spots to what you have been doing on TV for years but you are now hitting that digital audience. Another great thing about pre-roll is that you can buy specific placements that don’t let the user “skip” past the advertisement so they are forced to see your product if they want to move on to watch what they came to the website to see. This is a definite win over TV since the introduction of DVR recorded shows has given viewers the ability to skip through every ad running.  

Finally, one of the best parts of digital advertising is the cost. It is by far one of the most cost effective mediums – which is usually music to a business owners ears!

The question, at this point, is not if you’re going to invest some of your dollars into digital, but when. Feel free to reach out to Happy Medium with any questions!

--Katie 

Ready to give up your car?

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I rode a Mundo electric assist bike by Yuba last week and had to laugh out loud with joy! With little effort, I was flying and the bike was only set to 50/50 assist. It uses no gas and costs about $14 a year to charge the battery.

John Rhodes of Raker Rhodes Engineering in Des Moines owns the one I rode and is thinking about giving up a car and just using the bike. He would save about $7,000 per year if the car payment was about $450 per month, plus all the other stuff. 

The bikes are available from Ichi Bike in the East Village. With some additional options the electric assist bike costs about $3,000. Studded snow tires make it safe for year round use.

Oh, but you think you don’t have time because a car is faster? From his near west side office he can make it downtown just as fast as if you drove. Depending on where you had to park your car, he might beat you since he just parks by the front door. 

Yuba bikeI could have used it to get to Hy-Vee last night. Since it is a cargo bike rated for 450 pounds it can carry about anything.

While sustainability is important to John, it’s not the top reason he prefers to use the bike. He likes the exercise, saves some cash, but mostly it is fun and gives him peace of mind. He says “You are just more aware of each moment”.

If you are thinking about biking more let me know at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

B2B marketers say content marketing isn't working

Screenshot 2014-08-07 23.25.00Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

A recent study conducted by Integrated Marketing Summit and Starfleet Media offers some interesting food for thought. 

More than a third of the B2B marketers say that their content marketing efforts have not been successful. After reading through the survey results -- I think I can understand why.

They're treating content marketing like traditional marketing: Buy an ad, get a customer.  Share an ebook, get a customer.  That' not how content works.  Content is about building trust and value.  It's a long tail strategy, not a turn and burn effort.  If you think someone is going to share your infographic and immediately go to your website to buy something -- you are going to be disappointed.

They're chasing new customers and ignoring their best customers: This isn't just a content marketing issue, it's a generic marketing issue.  Most businesses are so eager to get a new customer that they neglect their existing customers.  Sadly, this is short-sighted.  Your best bet for a new sale is your existing customers.  Your content should serve them.

They think it's about selling, not helping: Look at the chart to the right.  Look how selfish their goals are -- know me better, get more leads, etc.  It's not that those goals are not worthwhile but content marketing is all about being useful. Their #1 goal should be to be a go to resource/subject matter expert. (which is the goal that got the least response) By being that subject matter expert -- you will get brand awareness, leads and sales.  But it doesn't happen over night.

They're holding their content hostage: The best content marketing sites share a lot of their content for free and without a firewall or gated page (requiring a registration to access the information) first and then add some premium content that they'll swap for an email address. Again -- teach me, help  me and eventually I will trust you with my email address.

They didn't know what to do next: Content marketing is all about creating a tribe of people who value you and what you do. But from there, you do need to move some of them into the actual sales funnel.  Most B2B companies haven't mapped out the entire process from first website visit to first sale. So they create the interest but there's no easy bridge from fan to customer.  

Don't get me wrong -- ALL marketing is about selling more stuff.  But you need to understand the sales funnel process of what you're doing.  Content marketing is about building relationships and being a trusted source first and eventually making the sale as a result.  That path needs to be designed and communicated clearly or else you'll be one of those B2B marketers who is frustrated by the results of your efforts.

You have to set realistic expectations for yourself, your team and the C-suite. You need to measure the right things and have the patience to create real value, real relationships and real trust.  Then and only then will you earn real sales.

 

You can download a copy of the study here.

 

~ Drew 

Measuring the Risk Before You Buy

Logo only for phoenixThe price of a business is often tied directly to the amount of Risk that a buyer assigns to a business either subjectively or definitively. There does not appear to be a specific model for measuring risk, but the following can serve as a short checklist:

  • Product line diversification
  • Location
  • Leased or Owned
  • Customer concentration
  • Sales area
  • Health of customers
  • Health of the business sector
  • Supplier dependence
  • Exposure to foreign currency
  • Patents and Trademarks
  • Litigation
  • Management Depth
  • Quality and Stability of earnings
  • Operating capital needs
  • Seasonality
  • Capital expenditure requirements (annual and market driven)
  • Exposure to variable debt rates
  • Unique regulations and exposure
  • No Seller financing
  • Absence of Controls and procedures
  • Owner dependent
  • Lack of measurements
  • Pension exposure
  • EPA Issues
  • Lack of Noncompete agreements
  • Management and Financial Strength of Competition
  • Growth Opportunities
  • Commitments to employees
  • Tax issues
  • Allocation of the Sale Price

You will develop your own check list to help you measure your risk exposure.  Be sure to work with your CPA and attorney to create your own list.

Good Luck

Steve Sink

ss@phxaffiliates.com 

Obamacare mandates: What's a taxpayer to do?

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

Last year's Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act as a constitutional tax provision means that the court battles were over, right? 

Hardly. And the continuing controversy will likely leave many taxpayers in suspense over their 2014 federal tax bills well into next year.

While the ACA has been ruled constitutional, the operation of the complex law remains at issue. Last month two important federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions on whether policies purchased through federally-established exchanges are eligible for tax credit subsidies. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Halbig that only policies purchased through state-established exchanges qualify for the tax credits. The Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, ruled that policies purchased on federal exchanges could earn tax credits. 

20121120-2As only 14 states have enacted exchanges, this is a big deal -- without subsidies, the effective cost of health insurance would drastically increase for many taxpayers.

The controversy is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but no ruling is likely until next year. That poses a problem for taxpayers, as the ultimate decision determines whether two key Obamacare taxes apply in 2014.

The ACA relies on tax penalties to encourage certain behavior by taxpayers. The "employer mandate" applies in 2014 to businesses employing over 100 "full-time equivalent" employees. Employers subject to the mandate face a penalty that is triggered when an employee qualifies for tax credits on the purchase of a policy on the exchange. No tax credits, no penalty.

The individual mandate applies when a qualifying individual fails to purchase an "affordable" policy -- taking the tax credits into account. If the courts hold that the tax credits don't apply to policies purchased on federal exchanges, then the individual mandate -- at the greater of $95 or 1% of your income -- will no longer apply to people in those states because the available policies would no longer be "affordable." More on how mandates may be affected here.

So what's a taxpayer to do? Of course, you should start by consulting your own tax adviser. While you can make a good argument that the D.C. Circuit decision for now gives you a defensible return position to not pay the tax, my inclination is to play it safe. While I think the D.C. Circuit's decision limiting tax credits to state-established exchanges is the correct reading of the tax law, the Supreme Court won't be asking my opinion. The Administration has asked the full D.C. Circuit to review the decision, which was made by a three-judge panel, so it could be reversed sooner. And if they disagree with me, the IRS won't let you use my opinion as an excuse.

That's why I consider it prudent to assume, in planning for the individual mandate and employer mandate, that the courts will uphold the credits.  If you plan as if the mandate will apply, you will be managing your employee base, your insurance purchases, and your employee time policies, in ways to keep your costs down. You will also be setting aside funds to pay any mandate tax penalties that apply. And if the courts do the unthinkable and agree with me, you will find yourself with a windfall -- always a better result than a sudden unplanned tax liability.

We still laugh (and buy) for the same reasons

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

Technology is changing culture - and culture is changing the way businesses are marketing their business. The internet, cell phones, and social media have completely transformed the way people are communicating today. As a result companies are also adapting by reaching their audiences in creative ways - through the new mediums.

BubbleboyConsider what would happen if a cell phone or the Internet was introduced into the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld. George Costanza would have never gotten lost on the way to the cabin to meet the Bubble Boy if he had MapQuest or in-car navigation.

Larry David would have simply found a new way to introduce the unlikely encounter. In both cases we would have laughed for the same underlying (albeit awkward) reasons.

Similarly, marketers are conforming to changes in culture in how they reach their audiences while not altering the core message or strategy. People still buy (or laugh) for the same reasons. It is only the delivery of the message that has changed.

Take for example Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet. Witty, creative, and timely. They captured the attention of millions of tweeters and lots of press to boot. And I am sure their sales benefited as a result - after all 3 out of 4 grocery purchase decisions are made in store. Creating a buzz that improves brand recognition is perfect for cookies. But what about more serious purchase decisions, like those in service-related industries?

With financial services for instance, 87 percent of buyers turn to friends or colleagues first for recommendations, while only about 1 out of every 10 shoppers start with independent research. The same holds true for most insurance, health care, veterinarians, salons, etc.

Due to change in culture, many referrals have shifted from direct personal contact to interactions over Facebook, Twitter, email, and even online reviews. Yet the underlying reasons why people choose one company over another remain. Personal recommendations are still king.

Therefore, it is important that companies that rely on trust pay close attention to how their customers are communicating with their friends and family. There are certainly ways to directly influence the propensity of loyal customers to actively give positive referrals.

My advice is to pay attention to how your customer base is making their purchase decisions and not simply conform to what’s popular in the marketing world. Yes, technology will certainly influence how you reach your customers, and how they communicate, but the core message should target the specific reasons they buy.

How do filters impact your organization?

This blog is the second in a series that began with the Leadership Blog titled “The Cover Matters”. 

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I was born and raised in Canada.  When you think about Canada, what comes to mind?  Polite people?  Cold weather?  Hockey?  Toques?  Curling?  Free healthcare?  Eh?  Funky_glasses

There is an excellent chance that the things that come to your mind when you think of Canada and Canadians are an incomplete and inaccurate stereotype of a diverse country and the individuals who call it home. 

Each of us is, mostly unconsciously, programmed with filters.  Our cultural programming causes us to look at the world through the lens of that culture.  Our family of origin largely influences our programming, especially early in life.  For better or for worse, our beliefs about money, race, gender, age, religion, politics, the environment and so on are often shared among family members as if they were recorded in our DNA.  Our education system imprints us with filters.  Our peer groups influence the way we view the world. Our leaders indoctrinate us into a corporate culture.  The media plays a role in shaping the stereotypes we hold.  Our past experiences color our future experiences.

Do filters help us or are they harmful? That is an important question for all leaders to ponder.

Consider several commonly held negative stereotypes and contemplate how these filters may lead to poor decision making in the workplace.

  • Older people resist change
  • Young people are self-centered and entitled
  • Introverts don’t make good salespeople
  • Accountants can’t see the big picture

Even labels that don’t degrade the group they are assigned to can lead us to make decisions that have negative unintended consequences.  Here are some common examples.

  • Midwesterners have a good work ethic
  • Asians are good at math
  • Women are collaborative
  • Men are most capable in a crisis

What are some of the filters that permeate your organization?  Are they helping or hurting?

Stronger decisions = stronger leaders

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc.

Imagine you have a bright, talented employee who has all but checked out: He does the bare minimum, contributes little in meetings and displays a sour attitude. He’s not officially doing anything wrong but, as a leader, you know his behavior negatively impacts your culture.

He also happens to be the best at his technical skill.

What do you do? How do you decide?

If you’re like many, you might weigh pros and cons, seek group consensus, or research all possible solutions, become overwhelmed, and end up doing nothing.

All common. None optimal.

Decisive - bookIn their latest book, Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work, Chip and Dan Heath strive to help us make stronger decisions more consistently. Through extensive research and case studies, they entertainingly teach us “four villains” standing in our way of effective decision-making and provide a new “WRAP” model – Widen your options, Reality-test your assumptions, Attain distance before deciding, and Prepare to be wrong – to improve. While perhaps not suited for split-second decisions such as those an ER doctor or firefighter might make, the strategies provided in Decisive can support leaders in continuously improving and staying consistent – an important but often overlooked component of positive leadership.

Three key takeaways from Decisive that can help your decision-making immediately include:

1. Honor your core priorities. You must have a clear understanding of your vision, values, and priorities in order to make strong decisions. Your calendar and bank statement typically serve as your most accurate scoreboard: Where you place your time and money reflects what matters most to you.

Decisive reiterates Jim Collins’ advice to create a stop-doing list. Imagine receiving a phone call that you’ve inherited $20 million, no strings. Moments later, you learn that you have only ten years left to live. What would you do differently and, just as important, what would you stop doing? Reflecting on this scenario can help you clarify your priorities.

2. Consider the opposite. “If you haven’t encountered any opposition to a decision you’re considering,” the Heaths assert, “chances are you haven’t looked hard enough.” Assign someone the role of devil’s advocate, or honestly ask, “What if our least favorite option were actually the best one? What data might convince us of that?” We often confuse research with simply fishing for support; considering an opposing possibility heightens our effectiveness.  

3. Set tripwires, or signals that boost you out of autopilot. For example, Zappos offers new employees $2,000 to quit if they realize the company isn’t a good fit. This may seem pricey but, compared to the cost of a disengaged employee, it’s a bargain. The monetary offer removes any nagging uncertainties (“Is this job right for me?”) and guides employees into a clear decision-making opportunity. Tripwires protect against the dangerous “We’ve Always Done It This Way” syndrome, too.

Your Turn: What decision are you currently mulling over? Make a hypothetical choice, then apply the three above tips: Lay out your core priorities to determine if your choice supports them. Look for opposition and see if you’re truly convinced. Finally, create a few tripwires that will signal if a different or modified decision needs to be made.

“Being decisive itself is a choice,” the Heaths remind us. “Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

What helps you make strong decisions? What other decision-making books have you enjoyed? Share your comments below!

Dr. Christi Hegstad, Certified Executive Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc. Find more book reviews & coaching tips on Facebook and Twitter.

Fallout from Iowa public pension shortfalls

Gretchen Tegeler is executive director of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa.

Public pension funds around the country have fallen trillions of dollars behind in the amounts that should be set aside to pay pension benefits when they come due.  Such shortfalls have arisen from many years of inadequate contributions, compounded by huge investment losses. Because benefit payouts are guaranteed no matter what happens with investments or prior funding, the shortfall becomes a debt that must be covered by you, the taxpayer.

Like a mortgage, taxpayers are now scheduled to pay off this debt over the next 25 to 30 years.  This is being accomplished through higher pension contributions on the public payroll.  Here in Iowa, payments on the debt are about $380 million per year, just for debt service on public pensions.  This is on top of the cost of the new benefits that accrue each year, of which taxpayers are financing another $380 million.  In total, Iowa taxpayers are spending about three-quarters of a billion dollars each year for state and local defined benefit public pensions.

The increase in public spending for pensions has impacted the ability of our state and local governments in Iowa to pay for other services.  The result is a decline in the quality of public services and an increase in property taxes.  For example, all Des Moines libraries have closed an additional day each week just to help cover the cost of police and fire pensions.  Urbandale is raising property taxes.  Some have questioned whether it’s worth the substantial public cost to pay such a generous benefit to so few individuals.  Police and firefighters in our largest 49 cities can retire at age 55, and receive 82 percent of their highest salary each year for the remainder of their lives.  Almost all of the retirees in this system will have a higher standard of living post-retirement than they did during their highest earning years.

Now there’s an additional cost associated with public pensions in Iowa.  Moody’s Investor Services has changed the way it evaluates municipal credit risk, now giving explicit consideration to the amount of public pension debt a government entity carries and its capacity to fund it.  Using the new methodology, Moody’s has downgraded 8 of the last 12 cities it has reviewed in Iowa.  Lower ratings mean higher borrowing costs for these entities.   Cities with rating downgrades by Moody’s are shown below in red.

 

Rating

City

Pop Rank

Last Update

AAA

Iowa City

5

04/29/2014

West Des Moines

9

07/24/2014

Aa1

Cedar Rapids

2

05/06/2014

Ames

8

03/21/2014

Urbandale

12

07/24/2013

Marion

14

10/21/2013

Aa2

Ankeny

11

04/16/2014

Des Moines

1

06/19/2014

Dubuque

10

04/11/2014

Waterloo

6

05/30/2014

Sioux City

4

02/25/2014

Cedar Falls

13

03/03/2010

Bettendorf

15

03/27/2014

Council Bluffs

7

03/13/2014

Aa3

Davenport

3

02/05/2014

Moody’s uses its own methods and assumptions to estimate the amount of pension debt carried by each government entity.  State government’s Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) debt is estimated by Moody’s to be more than twice as much as is reported by the system.  And while the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa (MFPRSI) reports a funded ratio (ratio of assets to liabilities) of 77 percent (with 100 percent being fully funded), Public Financial Management estimates the funded ratio to be only 55 percent – a truly alarming figure -- using Moody’s methods and assumptions.  In this plan, taxpayers are already paying 30 percent on top of salaries for pension contributions, with the associated budget and service impacts, but should probably be paying much more. 

Moody’s understands the crowding out effect that a heavy debt burden can have on city budgets.  Heavy debt means less is available to sustain city services, which can, ultimately, lead to a downward spiral as people leave and the tax base erodes.  They have seen it happen in Detroit and elsewhere, with the result that bondholders and pensioners both lose.  In recent reports, a typical comment from Moody’s would be, “The downgrade is a result of an elevated debt burden, due in part to retirement pensions for full-time firefighters and police officers.  City XYZ has moderately elevated exposure to two statewide cost-sharing pension plans.” 

Besides the additional cost of borrowing, Iowans should be concerned about the rating downgrades because they mean an independent entity is basically waving a red flag.  Will we see it in time?  

Recycle your roof

 

Roofing 1Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Last year before I sold my house I had to replace a section of the roof. The shingles came off and went into the back of a truck I assumed went to the landfill. You can now insist your roofing be recycled.

Commercial roofing is typically EPDM, which is commonly referred to as rubber roofing, and comes in big sheets. Two items can be recycled in this case. Most times the sheet is held down with rock which can be reused over the new roof or removed and used for many purposes: landscaping, driveways, etc.

The EPDM sheets can be sent to a manufacturer like Firestone and recycled to become the backing or walkway pads on the roof. Or turned into rubber crumbs for climbing walls.

Roofing 2Asphalt shingles can be recycled too. Nearly 10 million tons of shingles are removed annually. According to my semi-scientific calculations, that would fill 10 to 15 801 Grand high rises with shingles. Things like nails need to be removed with magnets at the recycler, but in my case half the nails ended up in my yard.

Asphalt shingles can be recycled for many other things such as new shingles, asphalt pavement, and pothole patches.

Next time you see a reroof project, pass the info along. Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How are you building your loyal community?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Long before there was all this talk about building a tribe or "viral buzz," there was the recognition that:

  1. There is value in existing customers because they're your most likely sale (resale)
  2. If they love you, they'll tell their friends and family and that endorsement lowers buying resistance
  3. People want a sense of belonging and exclusivity and you earn increased loyalty when you can create those things for them

So the idea of rewards or loyalty programs have been around forever. But honestly, most companies just call it in. They offer a few measly perks but it really just turns into a frequent buyers discount. There's nothing wrong with that.... but it can be so much more.

One of the best examples of how to make it more is Maker's Mark Straight Bourbon Handmade Whisky (I think it should have an 'e' too, but that's how they spell it.)

I joined their Ambassadors program several years ago and I continue to be impressed with how they court their loyalists. Every holiday season, there's a clever gift (gift bags for your whisky bottle gifts, fun gift tags, etc.) and throughout the year, they connect and share with their ambassadors in a way that feels very exclusive and privileged.

Earlier this week, I got a mailing that announced that the barrel with my name engraved on the name plate (a perk of becoming an ambassador) was finally ready.

Whenever they send something -- it's done with a lot of class. No cutting corners or plain jane communications here. (Think they're trying to remind us of their values -- handmade whisky). The stock is heavy, the photography is gorgeous and the message is very "you're the few and the privileged" kind of copy.

MM1

 

MM2

 

MM3

 

The final photo shows you the purpose of their mailing. My barrel is ready (note how I am already thinking of it as my barrel) and this is my golden ticket. Now I can visit their distillery and purchase/personally hand dip my very own bottles from my very own barrel.

And, they've created a special label for the bottles so everyone will know that the bourbon came from my own personalized barrel batch.

But if I don't visit by March 31, 2015 -- they will have to release whatever bourbon from my barrel that is left (insert gasp here) to the masses.  

Brilliant. I have no idea how many people actually make the pilgrammage to get their bottles (which you have to buy -- it's not like they're going to give it to you) but I am so tempted to find a reason to be in Kentucky just so I can make the trip.

If they go to incredible lengths by mail and email -- imagine what they might do if you showed up in person.

There's a lot for us to learn from Maker's Mark. Could they do it even better?  Sure... but they do it far better than most.

When I was writing this post, I wanted to find a list of the Ambassador perks. So I tried to log into the Ambassadors only section of their website, but I couldn't remember my log in stuff. (Note to self... for your password tool to work, you have to enter the password). I must have entered something incorrectly (I'm guessing zip code) and I got this message:

Screenshot 2014-07-24 10.50.21

Read the message. I love the fact that Jenny, not one of our customer service representatives, is going to contact me. So personal -- and again, makes me feel like I matter.  

What are your takeaways from Maker's Mark?  How could you either improve your existing customer loyalty program or create something that makes your best customers feel like they are vital to your success and you want them to be a part of a very exclusive club?

 

 ~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

How to Manage a #BashTag PR crisis

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

Hashtags are all the rage, especially on Twitter. Using a hashtag to categorize a tweet is a great way to help people search for and discover your content. But what happens when your hashtag gets hijacked? It's a very real concern, as McDonalds found out the hard way. It paid an agency to come up with the campaign #McDStories on Twitter. The only problem is, there were more bad stories than good. Hashtag fail

How do you know when using a hashtag is a good public relations move for your brand? Here are a few things to ponder before launching a #hashtag campaign.

  1. Make sure you have allies who are willing to support your position. In the case of McDonalds, it became clear very quickly that McDonalds had more detractors than supporters.
  2. Are you prepared to monitor and tweet 24 hours a day? Hashtag campaigns are like newborns - someone's gotta be watching and responding all day. If the person in charge stops tweeting at 4 p.m. on Friday, the detractors have all weekend to fill up the tweet stream with all kinds of shenanigans. I suggest pre-programming a full set of tweets to appear when you are not actively tweeting by using Hootsuite or a similar product.
  3. Are you prepared to own, manage and monitor the hashtag for YEARS? Once the campaign is created, a monster is born. Even if you eventually abandon the hashtag, your detractors may use it to bash you for an indefinite period of time.
  4. Make sure your "side" is bigger than their side. In the case of McDonalds or WalMart - the detractors seem to outnumber the supporters by a large margin. They are better organized and have more to say than the agency who created the hashtag.
  5. Do you own the domain name of your hashtag? It's a good idea to buy it and use it as a call to action. Don't launch the #hashtag campaign until the site is done because you'lll lose valuable interactions with both supporters and detractors. McDStories.com lays unclaimed, making it vulnerable to hijack by detractors.

Creating a hashtag is a bold move, but I've rarely seen it succeed in the intended way. Some of the most successful hashtag campaigns have been created around non-controversial issues. One great example is the #ThisSummer campaign, which allowed user to tweet their summer plans and have the tweet turned into a dramatic movie voiceover.

Be careful when creating hashtag campaigns - you may unleash unintended negative consequences for your brand.

Treat every day like Christmas

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

I've been writing in recent blogs about the importance of preparing early for the holiday shopping season, and I had one more thought before leaving the topic.

It certainly wasn't going to win any Academy Awards for acting … or screenwriting … or anything else, but the Will Farrell movie "Elf" did have a golden nugget that applies to specialty retailers. (Hint: it wasn't his quote, "We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.")

Farrell's character, Buddy the over-sized elf, said, "Treat every day like it's Christmas."

That's great advice, especially this time of the year.

Everything seems special during the holidays -- from the special treats and music to the hustle and bustle and spirit of generosity. But what happens in the dog days of summer? No holidays, no special music and no special treats. Just plenty of heat and humidity.

When I see my customers come through the doors sighing with a relief of being inside and out of the summer heat, I think about how we can make them feel as welcome and special. And, you should, too.

Always greet them at the door to show appreciation and a welcoming atmosphere. Customers appreciate it when you have something special, whether it's product samples or displays. Be creative. Mix things up. Give them a reason to get excited about your store and products.

As regular readers know, I'm a big believer in putting out samples and letting customers judge products for themselves. The results are two-fold. Customers are always happier and sales of sampled products always go up.

Put a little music on to drown out the dreary heat wave; don’t be afraid to show your employees that it’s okay to have fun.

There's always a reason to celebrate, and to treat every day like Christmas.

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!

Data:Happy Medium Assets:HM Social Media Day:2014:Photos:Register Photos:JPEG:IMG_0246.jpg

Data:Happy Medium Assets:HM Social Media Day:2014:Photos:Register Photos:JPEG:IMG_8364.jpg

Data:Happy Medium Assets:HM Social Media Day:2014:Photos:Register Photos:JPEG:IMG_0371.jpg

 

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.

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