The entertainment factor isn't enough

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

We all love funny advertising.  Heck -- it's why have the country watches the Super Bowl. Surprisingly -- one of the companies that has produced some very memorable TV ads over the past couple years is Kmart.  

Based on their category and their financial woes, you wouldn't really expect Kmart to be all that funny, but's definitely been their goal.  Who can forget the infamous Ship My Pants spots?

Last Christmas, they brought us the Show Your Joe spot, which had boxer clad men ringing in the holiday cheer.  These spots have earned Kmart a lot of public exposure and conversation because while some think they're funny, others find them offensive.  

This year, Kmart continued the Joe Boxer spots with Jingle Bellies (below) and Santa Baby.

 

The spots are memborable, funny/offensive depending on your take, and clearly promoting a specific product.  But do they work?

"I want to be in the conversation," says Diane Vaccaro, chief marketing officer at Kmart Apparel. "I want to be part of the conversation in a disruptive and authentic way."

Last year's controversial spot "forced folks to consider Kmart," says Vaccaro. "A number told us that they hadn't been in Kmart for years but the ad made them go back. We struck a chord."

Most importantly, it boosted the store's Joe Boxer sales last year. Now the question is -- will it work again this year?  Kmart has had a terrible year and needs a huge uptick over the holiday season to try to balance those results.

These spots are a huge risk for Kmart...but if the results begin to heal their financial woes, it was a risk worth taking.

Here's the real (and only) question. Would these spots change your buying patterns?  Would you go to Kmart because of them?  If your answer is yes -- they win. If you're answer is no, then they just paid millions of dollars to make a non-customer laugh.

We market to sell.  That's it -- the only measure that truly matters is did the cash register ring.

 

Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees & entrepreneurs

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive employee engagement. 

15115777092_ed771413b5_b

Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees and entrepreneurs -- they don’t usually go together, but in the world of business they oddly can.

Squirrel suits (often known as wingsuits) are suits worn when one wants to “fly” as they skydive or jump off of a high cliff or building.

Golf clubs are used in the game many of us play for leisure and even for relationship building.

Both provide a good time and serve as enjoyment for a specific crowd. In addition, both cost about the same. However one comes with a much higher risk (skydiving) vs. the easy-going game of golf.

So why does this matter in business?

It helps define the experiences of entrepreneurs versus employees.

Entrepreneurs are the ones who strap on the squirrel suit for the high risk/reward of launching a new venture. Most will fail, but the rush will be a surreal one in pursuit of success.

Employees are the golfers. They want to enjoy the game, develop their skills (as we all do in our careers) and have a consistent game to go play.

Both activities are a blast and both cost roughly the same financially. But a key thing to think about, is that they both take up the same amount of time.

With time as a consistent variable as well, why don’t more people strap on the squirrel suit? Most would say it’s the risk. The uncertainty. The fear.

As of 2012, 13 percent of the U.S. workforce was launching or running a business.* The data shows that the majority of us will build on something existing.

There are a lot more golf players out there, but the rush of being around the entrepreneurial experience is certainly tempting for many of us.

It’s no secret there’s a rise in the number of startup companies, the number of entrepreneurs (or wantrepreneurs) and the number of people clamoring to work in a startup/innovative company. Millennials are demanding more from their work experience than any generation before and are wanting an active part in shaping their team and company’s future.

So how can you capture that entrepreneurial energy inside your own organization?

Engaging employees using innovation is a great start. Every employee can add value beyond their current role to better the organization. Many of these employees have the ability to be “intrapreneurs” - entrepreneurs inside the company or internal innovators, but they need the framework or “permission” to make it a reality.

Jumpstarting intrepreneurs inside a team, a business unit or an entire organization can seem daunting. Luckily, it’s not at all. Companies around the globe run simple innovation experiences where employees are asked to share ways to better the organization, flesh out new concepts and map out how to bring them to life.

These experiences can be in the form of brainstorming sessions, internal hackathons, code jams, creation jams or any other short-term experience that sparks a newfound approach internally.

The majority of us don’t put on squirrel suits, but it doesn’t mean we can’t experience the same rush when we work.

-----

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

*Babson Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013

When the rush is over

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

With Christmas still a week away, it’s pretty difficult for small retailers to start thinking about what to do when the rush is over. The truth is, every owner and employee of a small retail business should be more focused than ever on delivering quality customer service right up to the minute the lights go out on Christmas Eve.   

When the lights come back on next Friday morning, though, smart retailers are going to have an eye on the year ahead even as they handle the usual number of returns and welcome post-Christmas bargain hunters. They're also going to be focused on the year that's almost over.

The weeks right after Christmas are the perfect time to evaluate the five P’s – products, people, pricing, planning and process.

Which products sold? And which ones didn’t? Which ones sold out? And did you lose revenue by not having enough of those items in stock? Take some time to pinpoint the reasons why certain products sold or didn’t. Did you overstock or under-stock? Do you make the most effective use of sampling?

Did you price products too low or too high? Did your pricing provide you with a solid profit margin? Did you actually make any money?

Did your people meet or exceed your expectations? Do they need more training? Or do they deserve a bonus?

Did you have the right plan for the holiday season? And did you execute it properly with the right ordering, marketing, display, packaging and staffing processes?

Take time as you go along the next few weeks to write down what worked, what didn’t and why. A year from now you may remember what you did, but you may not remember if it was a success or not. Get rid of any inventory that’s just taking up space by sampling it and putting it on clearance as quickly possible.

It’s also the right time to follow up with key clients and new customers so you can thank them for their business.

And, finally, when that’s all done – take a deep breath and relax. You’ve earned it.

It might sound crazy...what I'm about to say

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Okay, I admit it!  I am addicted to "The Voice."  I even cast my vote on Tuesday morning for Matt McAndrew. When I started watching I knew nothing about the judges but now am a big fan of Pharrell Williams.

Plastic entangled turtleMost think of Pharrell as the singer of "Happy" but the animals of the oceans are happy because of his collaboration with the Vortex Project. The Vortex Project is all about recycling nearly 40 million tons of plastic that ends up in the ocean.  The plastic blows into the ocean or is dumped by ships directly into the ocean. Nothing degrades plastic except sunlight. Small pieces are digested by wildlife or sea life become entangled in a web of plastic. Another problem is that the toxins in the plastic reside inside fish that we end up eating.

The Vortex Project is named from five massive ocean vortexes that swirl and slowly collect massive amounts of plastic. Much of it also shows up on our beaches. What do you do with tons of recycled plastic? Find a rock star to incorporate the waste into high fashion.

Along comes Pharrell. He is creative director of Bionic Yarn which produces denim from recycled materials. The clothing line is called Raw for the Oceans and features jeans and other clothing made exclusively out of recycled plastic from the ocean.  I checked online and you can get jeans from $110 to $210 a pair.  I know what you are thinking but think of the baby turtles you saved.

I would be happy to know what you think of Pharrell’s venture.  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Year-end business deductions: the two-minute drill.

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

While April 15 gets all the glamor, tax-savvy folks know that December 31 is where the real action is. While you add up the score in April, December is when you run the two-minute drill.

You can't run a good two-minute offense if you don't know the rules of the game (to continue the sports theme at least one paragraph too far). It doesn't help that with last-minute legislative tax law changes, year-end planning this year is like running a two-minute drill in a game of Calvinball. Yet we have to plan with the tax law we have, not the one we would prefer, so here are some notes you can write on your wrist as you call your year-end tax plays.

100_0438Figure out where you are on the field. The quarterback running a two-minute drill will call different plays on one ten-yard line than he will on the other. You need to pencil out your taxable income to-date for any year-end planning moves to succeed other than by accident. When you run the numbers, you may find that your deductions will end up being more valuable next year.

If you are planning for your business, figure out whether you are a cash-basis or an accrual-basis taxpayer. The rules to get a deduction are different.

Cash-basis businesses record their income when they receive the check. The tax law says you can't defer income by letting uncashed checks accumulate; if you can deposit a check, you've earned it, as far as the IRS is concerned.

Cash basis taxpayers generally deduct an expense when it is "paid." When does that happen?

- If the item is paid for with a credit card, it is "paid" when it is charged to the card, even if the card balance isn't paid until a later year.

- If the item is paid with a check, it is "paid" when the check is mailed (postmarked), even if the check isn't cashed until a later year.

There are limits on cash-basis deductions. For example, you can't prepay items for more than a year at a time, and there are other rules that can apply to deal with taxpayers that try to do too much of a good thing.

Accrual basis taxpayers pick up income when they have earned the income, even if they haven't been paid yet. For example, a wholesaler will normally record income when it ships the goods, even on credit. Accrual taxpayers generally get their deductions when they meet the "all events" test: all events have occurred to fix the liability, and it can be determined with reasonable accuracy. 

The tax law applies some special limits to expense accruals. For example, the tax law has an "economic performance" requirement that limits accruals until "economic performance" of the activity giving rise to the deduction take place.

You can't just accrue an expense and never pay it if you want to deduct it. Accrued compansation has to be paid within 2 1/2 months of year-end to be deductible. Most other expenses need to be paid no later than 8 1/2 months after year-end.

The related party rules are the biggest practical limit on accrual-method deductions. An accrual basis taxpayer can't deduct an amount accrued to a cash-basis "related party" -- such as a bonus accrued to an owner -- until the related party has to include the payment in income. Whether you are "related" depends a lot on what entity you use to run your business. For example, a person owning 10 percent of a corporation would not be related to a corporation taxed as a C corporation, but would be related if the same corporation were an S corporation. You might even be related to an entity that you don't own at all if a relative is an owner.

Of course, being cash-basis or accrual-basis does nothing to help you deduct an expense that isn't deductible in the first place. Not everything your business can write a check for gets you an immediate deduction, or a deduction at all. Payments for salary have to be "reasonable," so writing a "salary" check to Grandma in Florida whose service to the business consists of monitoring her bingo card isn't going to work. If you buy a car for the business, you face annual deduction limits for vehicles. Owner life insurance premiums are rarely deductible. You get the idea.

With the likely re-enactment of the $500,000 Section 179 expense and 50 percent bonus depreciation for 2014, many owners are tempted to buy a new depreciable asset by year-end to get a big deduction. Be careful. It's not enough to pay for a fixed asset by year end; it has to be "placed in service" by then to be deductible this year. That means the asset has to be on-site and set up and ready to operate. A new machine in a crate on the loading dock at year-end isn't "in service" and won't give you a deduction.

And be sure to consult your tax professional. Even the best quarterback needs a good coach. Every taxpayer is different, and a move that might score for Jill might be a distance and loss-of-down penalty for Jane.

 

Golfing with bananas

GolfingWithBananasImage

Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership."

After his college wrestling career ended, my uncle, Terry Paustian, became a high school teacher and coached wrestling for 17 years. Two-years after what he thought was the end of his coaching career, the high school athletic director asked if he would consider becoming the coach for the boys' golf team, a decision that was likely driven by desperation (the previous coach had suddenly resigned). 

My uncle wasn’t a golfer. He knew very little about the sport, and he had a wrestler’s mentality––a mindset which is 180 degrees different from those who golf. Reluctantly, he accepted the position.

After selecting the team following tryouts (which he did by simply selecting the 16 players with the best scores), Terry began to watch and observe them during practice. He could tell that many of the players had already established their games through private coaching and the help of others far more qualified. That was a good thing; he didn’t feel he had anything of “real value” to teach them that would improve their swing or putt.

But through simple observation, he came to the realization that golf is a mental game as much as it is a physical one, and his sole job as coach was to teach these kids to keep their minds out of the way of their performance. He decided to apply some of the same psychological techniques he had once used with his wrestlers.

As the team prepared to play for the conference championship––an event the school had not won in over a decade––Terry could see they were all quite nervous. When they stood up and grabbed their clubs to exit the bus, he yelled, “Hey! Who told you to get out? Sit down!” The boys immediately sat. He then reminded them that the school had not won this event in a very long time, but he knew why.

My uncle paused, and said, “In the past, this team has been in it to win right up to the last few holes, and then everyone’s game starts to slide. It’s not that anyone lacked the talent or desire to win. Your bodies just started giving out after 15 holes. What you need,” he paused again for dramatic effect, “…is potassium! It will lift you up, and I guarantee you will play great for the last three holes.” He held up a bunch of bananas, began tossing them at each player, and said, “Bananas, full of potassium and natural steroids; you won’t believe how this works. Trust me!”

Throughout the match he continued to toss bananas to his players. Before his golfers began teeing off on the 16th hole, Terry looked at them and said, “Banana.” They would look at him and nod.

The boys’ golf team won the conference championship. They finished undefeated in duals. They won three additional tournaments and the district match. But they only finished second at state. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that my uncle forgot the bananas for that particular meet. 

Sticky Thinking (or creativity) is frequently the result of a question, in this case the question of how to best coach. By sticking with an approach used to help his wrestlers with the need to distract his golfers, my uncle was able to help his team overcome a huge psychological barrier to success––themselves.

A simple question led to the sticky thinking behind the invention of the Polaroid camera, after a 3-year-old girl asked to see a photo of her that had just been taken. A simple question also led a group of watermelon farmers in Zentsuji, Japan, to come up with a more efficient way to ship and store them––the creation of the square watermelon.

Let’s get sticky and start asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:

- What would the company look like that had the ability to put me out of business?

- What words would I use to describe myself? What words would others use?

- If I wasn’t already doing this, what field would I go into today?

- What do people really care about today?

- Is there a better way of doing this?

- What if I were to challenge all of the assumptions in this field (or business) and do something that sounds truly crazy?

Practice Challenge:  A key to sticky thinking is the natural ability to continually ask questions. Like a little kid to an adult, ask again and again. Question the why or what behind everything. Practice makes permanent.

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

Arson and organizational management

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

Whether you’re working within the C-suite, board of directors, or a community group, there is often a common factor: an “arsonist” in your midst. This person or group is easy to identify – they are the ones who may raise objections to what seems like everything and anything. They may appear, to the balance of the group, an impediment to progress or moving forward, but I would argue that tapping into the spirit of this group may actually lead to more robust success and greater buy-in for your organization.

There are many mechanisms for dealing with conflict, some collaborative, some individual. There is also a lot of value in bringing up opposing viewpoints within the framework of productive discussion. Let’s use the context of a board of directors to better explain how to address and integrate what, on the surface, appears to be a negative:

The Problem: A board of directors is trying to make a decision about taking on a new program. No matter what perspectives are presented, there remains a single individual who needs more information, needs the information formatted differently, or feels like they were left out of this discussion.

Potential Solution 1: Address the problem with this person directly and on an individual basis. Make sure the person understands their contribution about the program is important, and that they should keep collaboration in mind when bringing up opposing viewpoints. This strategy allows you to indicate that the person’s contribution is valuable, and that the board desires them to work with the remainder of the team to develop solutions together.

Potential Solution 2: Structure a task force or a small work group, including this person, with a mission-supported project to work on related to the program. This will allow the person to take the lead on efforts central to the organization’s success and channel their energy toward being productive in a more focused environment. This also provides the opportunity for the person to develop shared experiences with other board members, which can temper the sharing of disagreements with the board as a whole. This is not meant to eliminate the alternate viewpoint; it is meant to change the culture and process of how it is shared.

Both of the above solutions above afford the chance for the "arsonist" in question to use a more positive construct. Redirecting negative or questioning energy into momentum forward demonstrates the commitment that the organization has to the individual, provides a forum for that person’s thoughts and opinions, and illustrates to the rest of the board that there are positive ways to be inclusive.

There is a Latin phrase from Virgil that goes “flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo” which translates to “if I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” If the natural tendency of the arsonist is to set small proverbial fires or even to burn the whole thing down, the organization must try and mitigate this by giving the individual opportunities to redirect their energy into making a contribution to the success of the full group. A little fire is good – it builds passion and engagement in an organization. The key is to not let the flames get out of control.

Your business’s year-end, legal checklist

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

From reassessing your business insurance policies, to reviewing your employee handbook and updating permits and licenses, the holiday season can serve as an annual reminder to prepare your organization for the new year. The list below could easily double or triple in length, but these three items capture fundamental business law issues that many organizations face.

Incorporate or change your business’s legal structure.  Whether you run a startup and hope to seek venture capital in 2015 or you are a partner in a partnership seeking greater liability protection, now is a great time to reassess your business’s legal structure to ensure it will meet your needs and expectations in 2015. A proper legal structure can not only help alleviate many liability concerns, but it can substantially impact tax consequences and help attract savvy employees and future investors. 

Secure authority to transact business in another state.  If business is booming or you are otherwise expanding in 2015 to transact business across state lines, ring in the new year on the right legal foot by securing a Certificate of Authority (if the new state’s law requires).  Some states, like Iowa, require certain out-of-state businesses to obtain a Certificate of Authority before transacting business in the state. Failing to obtain such approval may result in hefty fines and other legal ramifications. The ease and minimal cost of securing such a Certificate, if required, makes this item easy to checkoff your legal list.

Comply with corporate formalities.  Whether you overlooked holding an annual meeting for your corporation or failed to file a biennial report for your limited liability company, keep your business in good standing with the state and the law by complying with corporate formalities by year end.  Following corporate formalities may seem trivial, but doing so can help avoid significant legal headaches down the road.

Leading in matters of principle

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

What qualities do employees look for in their leaders? 

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity. Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

Ethics_wood

How do these qualities translate into actions we observe? When and how do leaders learn these behaviors? Great leaders learn them long before they are leaders. They practice them in situations, all day every day, not merely when called upon to lead. While these leaders realize that they may need to adjust their approach based on a unique situation—what some experts call situational leadership—they also realize that there is no place in leadership for situational ethics.  

Like Thomas Jefferson who cautioned “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current”, these leaders know that the only thing not subject to change is one’s principles.

Consider the following three examples:

1. The media is full of stories of business leaders who have left us all shaking our heads at their careless disregard of ethics and principles. The consequences of their actions have had a major negative impact for both their businesses and the people employed by them.  The names WorldCom, Enron, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are just a sampling of companies whose leaders were involved in corporate collapses and major scandals. Even those organizations that survive the scandal struggle to emerge from the shadow of the leader’s missteps – consider Tyco, BP and AIG. Today, the General Motors’ story continues to unfold as we examine the GM leaders’ handling of major safety issues that are viewed by many as unethical.

2. I do not object to hunting. Like 75 percent of adults in this country, I support legal, responsible hunting. What I object to is the disregard some hunters have for personal property. When my husband or I come across a hunter trespassing on our farm (with a gun; near our horses) we marvel at how the hunter’s story changes to fit the new situation. First the hunter claims to have permission to hunt. Then, the story changes to a claim of following a blood trail (to the uninitiated, a blood trail means that the hunter is tracking a wounded deer). Then, when help is offered to track the wounded deer, the story changes once again with a confession that the (alleged) trail is now lost.

Is the misuse of property by hunters any different than the misuse of resources by corporate leaders? While the consequences are certainly different, it could be argued that the (un)ethical behavior of the parties is the same.

3. I met two friends for a glass of wine after work. Charges for only two of the three glasses of wine were reflected on the bill.  My friend, who wasn’t charged for her glass, could have easily considered the oversight her good fortune. She didn’t. She pointed out the error. A $5 glass of wine—was it a big deal?  Absolutely!

What qualities do leaders look for in their employees

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity.  Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

In other words, the qualities that employees look for in their leaders are the same qualities that leaders look for in their employees. 

Shouldn’t they also be the same qualities we look for in our mirrors every day? Every day we all make ethical choices. Can I get away with misusing company assets? Can I trespass without being caught? Should I point out an error on a bill I received? 

Perhaps Shakespeare, as is so often the case, said it best. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”.  

Content marketing is a sales machine for your business

The average company spends a fair amount of time each year trying to convey its value and benefits to potential customers. What assets are you deploying in your quest to win the hearts and minds of your ideal customer?

Consider this: Most people investigate a purchase by searching online for ideas, information, prices and even your corporate values. What do people find when they Google your company's name, or the name of what you sell? If the answer is "not much," then you are in trouble. Content is king

For example, if you are a home building expert in Central Iowa, and someone Googles "Central Iowa home builder" and you don't come up on page 1 of Google results, then you have some work to do. Nobody will be able to find you. If your Google result is on page 2 of Google results, the chances of someone finding you decreases more than 88 percent. That means less than 12 percent of your potential customers will stumble upon your site and even fewer will click on the link to your website.

How do you get attention without paying for ads? The answer is content marketing. Here are some ways to use the content you may already produce to attract the ideal buyer right to your business.

  1. Optimize your website with fresh content: When a potential customer comes to your site, does the page reflect the latest information about your company? Is the content engaging? Is there a specific call to action or next step the visitor is encouraged to take? Besides engagement - search engines love fresh content and rank it higher.
  2. Keep social media interactions current and engaging: Like it or not, people expect to be able to reach you on social channels. They'll be asking questions, seeking customer service interaction, and hoping you notice their latest complaint. Are you ready to interact in real time?
  3. Add a newsroom and keep it up to date: If you have a positive public relations success, you can put that story to work for your sales team indefinitely by posting it to the newsroom on your site. Over time, your newsroom will be filled with information that your customers can find and read when they discover your site. It's like creating your own media channel, except you don't have to ask anyone for help. The messages are yours to define and you can publish whatever you want.
  4. Seek customer testimonials: Nothing is more powerful than a third-party endorsement. Use your imagination - don't just post text to your site. Add photos and video to create a richer viewer and more impactful experience.
  5. Show your employee's faces and let them be spokespeople for your brand. Many websites don't feature the names and faces of their employees, and that is a mistake. Employees are brand ambassadors - let them tell your story in their own way and on their own social platforms, too.

Digital content marketing is a very effective way to tell get positive messages into the public sphere without breaking the bank. All it takes is a little planning, knowing what you want to promote, and the time it takes to write and post the content to your digital properties. It's an extremely authentic and enduring way to get noticed.

Claire Celsi is a public relations professional in West Des Moines, Iowa. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Extremely high-frequency referrals

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

Extremely high-frequency (EHF) radio band is perhaps the next ‘big thing’ in the sphere of technology. Admittedly, it sounds like something you wouldn’t give a second glance at while wading through your kid’s science fair. But supposedly this technology is going to change the way large amounts of data (movies, photos) are transferred between devices. It is kind of like the near-field communication (NFC) that Apple Pay relies on - with one significant difference. EHF clocks at around 6 gigabytes per second whereas NFC is capable of about 400 kilobits a second. So, rather than tapping phones to transfer contact information or credit card details, you can instantly share entire photo albums. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Screenshot 2014-12-07 21.45.40We’ve known about EHF radio band for a long time - but it is the application which is changing. The biggest challenge is overcoming atmospheric attenuation. Now, I know you didn’t come here to read a science paper, so bear with me. Simply put, particles in our atmosphere interfere with the radio waves, so the greater the distance, the weaker the signal. As a result, two devices must be held closely together to transfer data. Not nearly as convenient as Wi-Fi (top speed of 1.35 gigabits per second), but much quicker.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, I rely on it every day to connect to the internet to share information with thousands of people. I like to compare it to traditional marketing; the bread and butter of reaching new prospects for any business. Establishing your brand, creating content, paying for advertisements on Facebook, really whatever tactic one uses to reach out to new prospects. And it works, but there are often several hurdles you must overcome to convince someone new to buy your product or services.

Casting a wide net is important to set the foundation for a marketing strategy. It builds your brand and supports your ability to close. But don’t forget about looking inward, to your existing client base, for new business. Often times companies are so busy attracting new clients that they forget to leverage promoters for referrals. One of the greatest advantages of referral marketing is the speed of closing the deal. Like EHF radio band, referrals result in lightning quick transfer of trust from a happy client to a new prospect.

Studies also show that people regularly rely on people close to them to make purchase decisions. The Nielsen Company surveyed more than 29,000 respondents and found that the advice of family and friends (77 percent) is the most persuasive when looking for information about new products or services. It seems that the more personal the product or service, the more people rely on their loved one for direction. According to a 2014 report performed by the Hinge Research Institute 87 percent of prospects begin their search for insurance by turning to friends and family.

I don’t recommend that you eschew a traditional marketing strategy and rely solely on referrals. But I do believe most businesses should give a close look to referral marketing when exploring ways to increase sales. Like EHF, referrals are nothing new. It is what you do to increase them that makes the difference.

Christi's top 5 leadership books of 2014

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive & leadership coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc., and leader of the ASPIRE Success Club.

If you are an avid reader, you know the pressure surrounding the question, “What’s your #1 book recommendation?” What?! Just one? It feels a little like being asked to choose your favorite child!

Books - 2014 Top PicksBut difficult as it is, this year – as I do every year – I will embrace the challenge and share my favorite leadership reads. These five books made it onto my reading list in 2014 (though not all were published this year) and have affected my and many of my clients’ work, leadership, and life in profound ways.

(One caveat: This list does not include books about which I’ve already blogged; if it did, It’s Your Ship by D. Michael Abrashoff and It Worked For Me by Colin Powell easily would have made the cut.)

My Top 5 Leadership Books In 2014:

Fearless Leadership by Carey Lohrenz 

A former F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Lohrenz shares an extraordinary story of perseverance, passion, and not letting obstacles keep you from your dreams. The lessons she learned easily translate to the business context, reminding us that the fundamentals of leadership apply whether we work in an office, from our homes, or in the cockpit of a jet. I found the chapter on vision particularly compelling: “No matter how much time we spend developing a strategic plan,” writes Carey, “if the vision is not clear, the strategy will not matter.”

Repacking Your Bags by Richard Leider and David Shapiro 

With so many adults (more than 70 percent, according to Gallup) dissatisfied or disengaged at work, Leider and Shapiro’s book helps readers define – then begin achieving – meaning and purpose at work and in life. Their formula for the good life: “Living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” If you feel the need to do something different with your days but aren’t sure exactly what, this book can help you start to uncover the answers.

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman 

A fascinating and extremely helpful resource for an area that weighs heavily on our success: confidence. The authors interview leaders from sports, politics, psychology, and more to share why so many of us struggle with confidence and what we can do to increase it. The main message? Take action. “Action separates the timid from the bold” is a line I highlighted, underlined, and starred. Terrific practical suggestions throughout this excellent book.

Before Happiness by Shawn Achor 

If you are unfamiliar with Achor, start by watching his TED Talk, “The Happy Secret To Better Work.” This Harvard scholar teaches us, in a hilarious but research-based way, how to stop waiting for happiness and instead create it for ourselves – and why this is so important to workplace success and emotional well-being. He poses a terrific question I’d encourage leaders to ask regularly: “What are you doing to help people at work fall in love with your company?”

Life By The Cup by Zhena Muzyka 

This one just snuck into my reading pile last month and quickly made this list. Zhena created her tea business out of passion and necessity (to pay medical bills for her young son). Her story is a fantastic testament to the power of designing work around clear values and a compelling mission, as well as demonstrating how significantly that clarity helps with challenges, enticing but questionable requests, and a company’s bottom line. “Each of us is born with a particular genius,” writes Muzyka. “Our job in life, our purpose, is to uncover and use it.” I adore coffee but this book has even inspired me to drink more tea!

It’s been an incredible year for books; several others nearly made this list, but these five stand out as truly exceptional. (Feel free to check out my 2012 and 2013 selections, too.) Oh, and for the record, all three of my children are my favorites!

What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Share your recommendations below!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotLearn more about Dr. Christi Hegstad's coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Fearless Leadership (Greenleaf, 2014); Repacking Your Bags (Berrett-Koehler, 2012); The Confidence Code (HarperCollins, 2014); Before Happiness (Crown, 2013); Life By The Cup (Atria, 2014).

Techno-data-lust: A fresh perspective

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

For the past year or two I have been on a self-imposed hiatus from the business blogging world. I took the hiatus for a number of reasons, but chief among them was a desire to step back, look around, and get some perspective on a rapidly changing marketplace.

One of the largest trends I've seen in recent years is what I like to call techno-data-lust.

For over twenty years I've been involved in the contact center industry, and I have attended my share of mega-global-exposition-conferences. I've even been asked to speak at a few of them. Even in conferences and workshops that are about serving customers, I began to notice a trend. Big technology firms drive the conference. They pay for the conference with their sponsorship and effectively purchase the keynote sessions to hawk their latest suite of bolted-together software telephony package which they promise will increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, tell you anything you ever wanted to know about your customers, and provide enough big data to make Edward Snowden blush in his Russian dacha.

Then, each week I step into a client's office and watch the trickle down effect of techno-data-lust:

  • IT departments become the tail that wags the corporate dog as they have the power to procure, install, configure, and roll-out the technology.
  • Operations find that the really cool technology creates as many obstacles as it does solutions in serving customers in moments of truth when the customer reaches out for help.
  • Customers wait 14 minutes while it takes two agents to locate a tracking number in the cool, new, state-of-the-art system (I actually analyzed that call).
  • The voice-analysis software that was going to replace the QA department and provide much better results than actually listening to calls becomes a quagmire. Instead of listening to calls and coaching agents the FTEs spend their days programming searches, key words, and inquiries and then weed through a plethora of false positives. When I talked to my client a year after implementation they were still trying to make it work. "It cost so much money," the mantra went, "we have to use it."
  • Managers often get a ton of data out of the system. They just don't have time to sort through the gigabytes of it and find anything useful. I love it when I ask for a simple list of customers who called the previous day with their contact information, and receive blank looks and the scratching of heads.
  • You know that really cool feature the salesman told you about in the presentation? That's actually not part of the basic suite you purchased, but for an additional $10,000 they can turn that feature on.
  • Oh, and by the way, the state-of-the-art software you just implemented is already obsolete. You should see the new technology they introduced at last week's expo in Las Vegas!

Please don't read what I'm not typing. My hiatus has given me fresh perspective, but I'm no David Thoreau (though I find sitting, unplugged, by the lake a good thing). I'm not advocating abandoning the world and all that technology can do for us.

I am, however, advocating that we admit that technology can't do everything for us. Technology is a tool, not an answer. Sometimes we spend so much time chasing after the latest technology that we miss the bus.

At the end of the day, I find that our greatest need is a human one. We need people to communicate, work together, and utilize our human gifts, intelligence, and creativity to connect vision with implementation, problems with solutions, and customers with exceptional products/services. I'm finding that clients who learn to moderate their techno-data-lust are healthier that the ones who try to satiate it.

Selling your business? Questions to ask a lawyer

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

Before you start to sell your business, consider that you might want to discuss the following points with an attorney:

1.    Are you truly ready to sell?

2.    How many business transactions has the attorney done?

3.    What is the chemistry between the two of you?

4.    What is the level of the negotiating skill?

5.    Do they understand the current market?

6.    Do they have a thorough understanding of your objectives and are in agreement?

7.    Will they work with your other advisers?

8.    Are they focused on getting a deal done?

9.    Have they provided you with an estimated cost to complete the transaction?

10.  Are you confident that they will be as competent, or more so, than the other party’s   attorney?

11.  Do they understand who they work for?

 

Good Luck,

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Web summit: The world talks about tech

Katie Stocking is the founder and President at Happy Medium LLC.

I recently attended Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland. In just five years, Web Summit has grown to be one of the largest tech conferences in the world. This year, more than 20,000 people gathered together from all around the world, turning Dublin into the international tech capital for three days.

Speakers included Dropbox founder, Drew Houston; Tinder Founder & CEO, Sean Rad; Evernote CEO, Phil Libin;  former Apple CEO, John Sculley; Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer, Padmasree Warrior; Eva Longoria and many more. Women in tech, the future of media and digital advertising, and the Internet of things were hot topics amongst speakers and attendees. 

One presentation that stuck out to me the most was a quick, ten-minute talk called “Digital Marketing is Dead”. The title alone got me in the room and riled up to hear what this crank had to say about my livelihood. The “crank’ was Cillian Kieran, founder & CEO at CKSK, and he was incredibly inspiring.  What he meant by “Digital Marketing is Dead” is that digital should not be confined to just marketing, we should all be focused on becoming digital businesses.

So how do we become digital businesses? Primarily, we must stop thinking in silos. Digital permeates and transforms everything including manufacturing, logistics, distribution, IT, sales and, of course, marketing. We must develop digital technology horizontally across all business units and it starts at the very top of the organization.

Kieran provided seven observations for digital transformation, all of which are extremely important:

  1. Never fear failure. Be willing to break with your industry’s best practices.
  2. Assume nothing. Remember to question everything around you.
  3. Forget about consumers. Instead, remember real people.
  4. Solve a problem. Remember to be an engineer and make truly useful things.
  5. User experience is like fairy dust. Liberally sprinkle it on everything.
  6. Test and learn. Fast. Think of it as rinse, wash, repeat.
  7. Take (small) smart risks. Take 10 percent of your budget for agile experimentation.

Challenge yourself to go digital in your entire business, including marketing, and tweet me your thoughts @klstocking.

--Katie

 

Does your 2015 plan take the social compass into account?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm hoping that you've started on your 2015 marketing plan. Brian Solis created a very interesting infographic to help marketers think through their communications strategy from a very different perspective.  

As Brian said on his own blog, "Inspired by a moral compass, The Social Compass serves as our value system when defining our program activities. It points a brand in a physical and experiential direction to genuinely and effectively connect with customers, peers, and influencers, where they interact and seek guidance online.

It was designed to guide us from the center outward. However, it can also impact how a business learns and adapts by reversing the process and listening to customers and influencers through each channel from the outside in."

Take a look at the infographic he created and use it to identify holes or missing pieces in your own plan for the upcoming year. While it's called a social marketing compass, it actually includes both on and offline elements.

This would also be a great tool to stimulate a brainstorming session for you and your team.

Socialmediacompass

 

 

My 4-year-old is a better networker than me

IMG_1196Danny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

One of the greatest things about having kids, especially little kids, are the life lessons they inadvertently reteach us.

We unlearn so many crucial skills in dealing with people as we are taught about political correctness or the history of underwater basket weaving in school. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for higher education and learning, my wife is a teacher after all.  However, most of the time the skills that people find the most difficult to learn (soft skills, people skills) are simply forgotten as all of this new information is presented. 

Don’t believe me? Sit back and watch a group of 4-year-olds. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is for them to meet new people, build quick bonds, and get to know someone with no actual effort on their part. 

Why is it so easy for kids to do this? I think it comes down to three simple things: 

  1. They smile, a lot. Kids are typically pretty happy and all they want to do is have fun. They play, they run, they tell ridiculous jokes that make no sense, and, most of all, they smile.They are happy to meet new people and are even happier when old friends return. Their smile is genuine and heartfelt. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when the person you are with is constantly happy and smiling. 
  2. They notice the little things and are quick to compliment. My daughters notice when I get a haircut before anyone else and they tell me how nice it looks every time. All of the little things I take for granted, they notice. New socks get as much attention as if I just brought home a puppy. Their praise may be over the top but they mean every word.  
  3. They have a real curiosity about each person they meet. Young kids haven’t discovered the urge or desire to talk about themselves. They are much more interested in what everyone else around them is doing or saying to let their egos get in the way. And if they don’t understand something they are quick to ask “why” for clarification. The more they know about you, the better.

The next time you think networking isn’t for you or it’s too hard to meet new people, think back to that group of kids interacting on the playground. We all used to be really good at getting to know strangers until the world got in the way. We are all built to build relationships. Put a smile on your face, give a genuine compliment, and listen more than you talk.  It really is that simple. 

Journeys, destinations, and other adventures

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

One of the most familiar tag lines out there is that success is a journey, not a destination. I usually try and steer clear of tag lines, except when I feel they truly do capture an important point efficiently. In a previous blog, we explored the differences between strategies and tactics. In this blog, I’d like to talk a little about the third part of the strategy ecosystem: goals.

Goals are the most challenging thing faced by any facilitator. In theory, they are the destination statement. This organization will do “X”. But that question can and should be more complicated than that. Keeping in mind the distinction between strategies, tactics, and goals, I would like to expand our definition of what a goal truly is within the context of success metrics.

Managing a team creatively often involves being a bit less clear about what the end result should be. A proximal goal is one that I feel is more journey-based – “do your best work” or “invent something new”. Those are goals to be sure, but the emphasis is on what happens in getting there - the innovation – rather than the end point.

This is a valuable argument in favor of the 20 percent time used by aerospace industries during the space age of the 1960s, which is still in use today at many software companies. This "free" time has produced products ranging from magnetic space boots to Gmail. Those inventions were not set as goals; they came as a result of an innovative process that was put in place.

But it’s not fair to completely discount the end result. The process must lead somewhere and it’s not always fair to put so much pressure on process. Sometimes clearly established goals can also lead to innovative thought. As someone who really enjoys movies, I’ve always found movies like “All Is Lost” and “Apollo 13” interesting in the context of how a clearly distal goal - in those cases the goal being survival – creates a de facto state of innovation to reach that goal. Necessity is the mother of invention in practice.

Distal and proximal goals are different things and depend on the situation and circumstances, but both are important parts of organizational growth. Organizations or groups can also use combinations of these types of goals to better define the other. Setting a proximal goal can help form a distal goal more clearly, and the reverse is true. Both are different tools for different outcomes.

Proximal goals, when used in helping formulate distal goals are generally more effective in establishing process-based or qualitative criteria, whereas distal goals, when used to clarify proximal goals, will tend to focus more on quantitative outcomes. In both instances, you can see that success is defined by the journey and the destination. In fact, how you define the journey and how you define the destination is at the very core of how you can define what success looks like for your organization.

Intellectual Property 101 (patents, copyrights and trademarks... Oh my!)

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

PGP_1038

 

Intellectual property is a term that is commonly and loosely thrown around in the business world, but what does it mean?  The Meriam-Webster dictionary defines intellectual property as "something (such as an idea, invention, or process) that comes from a person's mind."

In a court of law, intellectual property often refers to patents, copyrights, and trademarks.  In addition to the "Big 3," intellectual property also encompasses trade-secrets (discussed here) and publicity rights.

Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks

Generally speaking, patent rights protect new, unique, and non-obvious product and process inventions.  Copyrights on the other hand can protect original works of authorship, such as literary, musical, and artistic work (e.g. sound recordings, photographs, motion pictures, and architectural works).  Finally, trademark rights can protect words, names, and symbols used to identify a business' goods or services and distinguish them from those of another.

Businesses frequently create and protect their intellectual property rights in many ways.  For instance, businesses often seek a registered trademark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), triggering and/or enhancing protection for the mark.  Similarly, a business can seek patent rights in qualifying products or processes through the USPTO.

If you or your business is seeking to create and/or enhance protection in intellectual property that you own, control, or are developing, you should consider consulting a licensed attorney.

Beyond technical competence

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

The pilot just announced that we have arrived at our cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.  It occurs to me, at this moment, that I have few options but to trust that the pilot possesses an adequate level of technical skill to handle whatever situation we may encounter.  As I reflect on this, I confess that I find it interesting that I have placed complete trust in someone I have never seen, never met, probably will never meet, and have only heard speak about two sentences.

Yes, I trust that the leaders and staff working for this airline are technically capable.  Confident in this, I return to my laptop and think only briefly about the important responsibilities I may be called upon to perform from my assigned exit row seat.

Airplane 3Is it my good fortune to be flying the friendly skies on the airline that employs the most technically capable people? I doubt it. I assume the crews of all major airlines possess similar technical skill.

I do have a choice of airlines to fly as the flight attendant will remind me in the next hour when she repeats the phrase that I am certain she must say in her sleep by now. “We know you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing to fly with us.  When your plans call for air travel in the future, we hope to see you again on one of our flights.”

Yes, I do have a choice.  How do I choose?

Like many of you, I look first to my immediate short-term interests – the flight schedules and cost.  This usually narrows my choices to two or three possibilities.  How do I choose from the short list?  I choose based on who I think will treat me the best.

That’s how most of us make the decision about who we will flatter with our business.  Across almost every industry—air travel, hospitality, financial services, retail, and so on—process and technical abilities are fairly easy to copy. The competitive advantage goes to those who treat the people they serve the best. Even when transactions are conducted business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer, it is important to realize that people are always at the center of decision-making.  Businesses don’t do business with businesses, people do business with people.  And people want to be treated well.

Research supports this. According to Harvard University, Stanford Institute and the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of success is due to technical skills. In most industries, the people we serve assume a level of technical capability. It is the people skills that are the differentiator, to the tune of 85 percent.

My experience today has been satisfactory. It appears the employees I interacted with have been schooled by their leaders in the culture of their organization and expectations for customer service. I will include this airline in my future travel plans—unless and until another airline figures out how to leverage the 85percent of their success that relies on people skills and takes my experience to a new level.

Let's get sticky!

StickyBulb2

Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership."

What do bank checks, package shipping, church bells, water, ballpoint pens, deodorant, computers, fashion, steering wheels, and a revolver have in common? Nothing…or perhaps everything. True discoveries seldom happen today by finding something new. Most often they are the result of “sticky thinking,” which occurs when people connect or stick things together in new ways for different or improved outcomes.

Born in 1944 with a bone socket hip disorder called Calve-Perthes disease, young Fredrick Smith had to walk with the aid of braces and crutches for most of his childhood.  But through a high level of dedication and hard work, he was able to overcome the disease. In the early-1960s, Fredrick attended Yale University majoring in economics. For one of his classes, he wrote a paper detailing an idea he had after realizing that a future “automated society” required a completely different system of logistics. His professor didn’t like the idea since, at the time, it wasn’t economically feasible, but that didn’t stop him from thinking about its future possibilities.1

After graduation, Fredrick went on to serve two tours in Vietnam as a platoon leader and narrowly survived a Viet Cong ambush. Upon returning from war, he wanted “to do something productive after blowing so many things up.” Fredrick took an inheritance from his father, raised an additional $91 million in venture capital, and used the idea from his paper at Yale to create what is today known as “FedEx.”

Fred Smith’s story is arguably one of the greatest entrepreneurial successes of the last century. He’s currently worth over $2.3 billion, and FedEx now ships more than 10.2 million packages daily in 220 countries.2 But for me, the most amazing part of his story isn’t the outcome or even the incredible company he founded. It’s how he got to the idea in the first place.

I believe that Fred Smith’s idea represents the definition of creativity: the act of “sticking” one thing with another in new ways. By sticking how the Federal Reserve processed checks in the late 1960s (a clearing process for an enormous quantity of checks drawn on a large multitude of banks) to the logistics necessary to “automate society,” he created an entirely new way of shipping packages overnight that didn’t previously exist.

This process of sticky thinking has occurred throughout history. Sam Colt stuck the design of a ship’s wheel to the invention of the revolver; Helen Barnett Diserens stuck the concept of the ballpoint pen to a new method of applying deodorant (the Ban Roll-On); and Steve Jobs stuck fashion design to the boring world of personal computing.

Creativity (or sticky thinking) is like a sport, in that it requires hard work to perform at a high level. Mastering the necessary skills requires a dedication to practice, practice, and more practice. Becoming a creative thinker requires the same level of dedication.

In future articles, I will provide a number of tips, tricks, methods, and ideas about how to improve our creative thinking skills. Like anything, a person’s success is often tied to their level of commitment and effort.

So, are you ready to get sticky?

Practice Challenge:  Over the next few weeks (whenever you have a “free” moment), select two completely random objects around you and attempt to force connections between them (like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole). Don’t judge the quality of the ideas; just have fun with it and bring out your inner “MacGyver.”

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian 

 

1(2008, October 9)  Fred Smith: An Overnight Success.  Retrieved November 9, 2014, from the Entrepreneur website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197542

2Brown, Abram (2014, January 23)  10 Things You Might Not Know About FedEx Billionaire Fred Smith.  Retrieved November 9, 2014, from the Forbes website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2014/01/23/10-things-you-might-not-know-about-fedex-billionaire-fred-smith


PaustianLargeHeadDr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership. For more information, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

 

Google reviews are just one piece of the puzzle

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

I meet with a growing number of clients that inquire about finding ways to boost their online presence. Regardless of their industry, most believe that Google is the Holy Grail of leads and - consequently - new business. Although I don’t necessarily disagree, I strongly believe that Google is just one piece, albeit a big one, of the puzzle.

Sure; I continually harp on the importance of a solid referral strategy for most businesses - especially those in service-related industries. So, I figured I would do a little more harping, but this time talk about how Google - more specifically online reviews - can be effectively used in tandem with referrals.

Only moments ago, during my brief trip to Denver, I was sitting in a coffee shop scribbling on a paper napkin thinking of an easy way to explain the following. What I came up with was what you see here.

PaperNap

Not exactly crystal clear. So, I asked my brother - who is more graphically inclined - to give it a whirl. His is below which will help explain my concept.

Taking a step back, I am going retro for a moment to referencing the Buying Decision Process, which any seasoned business professional likely learned years past. Still applicable today, in my opinion it outlines the important points in time that any marketer should consider. I also believe that social influences greatly impact the decisions people make to purchase products and services. I would argue this is true even more today than ever before - as the internet reduces barriers created by distance and time - effectively allowing recommendations and referrals to glimmer brighter than traditional marketing, both locally, and beyond.

Oh boy, that was a lofty statement - which I am mildly proud of - but I will gladly explain. I believe that the Buying Decision Process is closely tied to Social Impact Theory, which (duh) explains how people are affected by social influence.

Social Impact Theory breaks down the effectiveness of social influence into three categories: strength, immediacy, and number.

Strength - a group (or individual) has more of an impact of influencing a decision the more important they are to the individual.

Immediacy - the amount of time and space between a group and the individual determines its potency - and how quickly a decision must be made.

Number - the more people (or reviews), the greater the influence.

This theory explains how companies that have active referral strategies combined with a local-centric online presence are among the most successful. The search for products and services is greatly influenced by when and where a prospect is when they need your services. A prospect searching for a pizza joint in a new city will almost always yield a Google search. The search for a reputable insurance agent in your local community, however, leans toward referrals from your trusted friends.

For most searches, Google has recently improved their search engine algorithms in favor of local businesses. They called the update “Pigeon” of all things. This is great news for local companies - but it only impacts about half of all new prospects - as indicated above. The other half is courtesy of word-of-mouth (referrals from your active promoters).

The bottom line: concentrating on ways to boost local SEO and encouraging reviews for your business is effective at targeting a specific group of prospects. Yet in order to cover all bases, and increase your conversion, combine your online presence with a strong referral strategy aimed at encouraging your promoters to share you with their friends and family.

Motivating retail employees at crunch time

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

I know a few employers who believe it's their employees' responsibility to come to work motivated to do a great job every day. "Isn't that what I pay them to do?" they say.

That would be true in a perfect world, but we sure don't live in one. That's why it's the employer's duty to make sure employees are motivated. For retailers, that is especially important during the holiday season, which can make or break an entire sales year.

Step one, any time of the year, is to show your employees you respect them. You also have a responsibility to clearly define your expectations so they can meet them. But when it comes to winter in general and the holidays in particular, you need to go that extra mile.

Like everybody else, retail employees are as affected by winter's cold, dreary days as the rest of us and they're also gearing up for the holidays themselves. Some good general seasonal advice offered up by the smart folks at -- where else? -- Smart Resources, Inc., a Chicago staffing company includes:

  • Create a comfortable workplace. ("Just because winter chills you to the bone doesn’t mean the office has to. Stingy bosses are notorious for leaving the thermostat just above the level at which hypothermia sets in. Don’t play that game.") That sometimes can be difficult in a retail business, but do be sensitive to those concerns.
  • Set seasonal goals. ("A good manager will constantly be setting goals for staff to work toward. But in the winter, even good managers stop pushing. … Fight wintertime complacency by setting seasonal goals for yourself and your staff.")

When it comes to retail folks, it's important to remember a few other points. First, there's plenty of holiday cheer on the sales side of a retail business; make sure to create some real holiday cheer for your employees through your entire business. Buy lunch or bring in special treats and hold lighthearted, small competitions just in fun.

A few years ago, the folks at Business News Daily had a few tips of their own to motivate retail employees. Two biggies: Keeping people in the loop and giving them the right tools for success.

By keeping employees in the loop, it shows that you value them -- a vital connection in keeping their spirits and motivation up when the pressure is on. Giving them the right tools and training prevents motivation-killing frustration.

I'd add that you should take the time to reward your employees for their hard work. Recognition of their efforts and incentives make a big difference in their motivation and your bottom-line revenues. And make sure that you, as the owner or manager, are in the trenches with them. That may mean you're helping to stock merchandise hoping to make gift baskets or just bringing things when your staff need them. Employees want to know that you're working as hard as they are.

And don't forget to celebrate. After all, the holidays aren't just for customers.

Why the bully pulpit is important - and it's not what you think

Lately, our political leaders are talking past each other - straight into the ravenous, relentless, non-forgiving cable news cycle. Their soundbites are increasingly lost on the people they're intended for. It's actually quite painful to watch, especially when you compare it to some of the best communicators of times past. 

Bully!"

The term "bully pulpit" is widely misunderstood because of the commonly used definition of bully in modern America. The "bully" in bully pulpit does not mean imposing or forcing your opinion on someone. "Bully" in this sense means "jolly good" or beneficial. President Theodore Roosevelt first coined the term when describing one the advantages of the presidency - lots of people are inclined to pay attention to your speeches, so you'd better take advantage of the opportunity and make them worth listening to. His philosophy was to remove the fluff and grandstanding - and take the opportunity to inform, encourage and educate in a positive manner.

How are you using your bully pulpit? Everyone influences someone. Are you using that influence for "bully" things or bad things? Let's compare two modern speakers who are using their bully pulpit in contrasting ways.

Bill Gates has transformed himself from technology innovator to world health expert over the past ten years. He's climbed to the top of the technology world, but instead of staying around and being a critic or commentator on that subject, he's using his bully pulpit to change the world. Using his money and his influence through the Gates Foundation, he's decided to tackle some of the world's largest public health problems, such as eradicating malaria. Every speech he gives seems to make the headlines. Gates has mastered the use of the bully pulpit.

Rush Limbaugh is an influential man in some circles. But when compared to Gates, his public remarks and radio show have taken a remarkably different turn. Instead of using his bully pulpit to elevate the dialog, he's made the decision to be incendiary, derogatory, and just plain mean. I'd even argue that his pulpit has not been "bully" in the sense that Teddy Roosevelt meant - but bully in the worst sense of the word.

You don't have to be famous to have a bully pulpit. Here are five things you can do to use your bully pulpit in a positive way:

  1. Write a blog post or Facebook message about your favorite charity and why you choose to donate
  2. Send an email to twenty friends and challenge them to take an action that will benefit the community
  3. Turn your dinnertime conversation into an educational time for your children. Share your values with them and encourage them to take positive actions.
  4. Contact your political leaders and tell them what's on your mind. You'd be surprised how few people actually do this.
  5. When you're giving a presentation or speech, can the fluff and talk about something beyond yourself or your organization. Get people thinking about their influence and the positive things happening all around them.

Who are your favorite "bully" speakers or leaders? Please feel free to leave a comment here or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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

 

3 steps to building a purpose-driven organization

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship inside companies. 

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 2.09.33 AM

Building an organization is hard. Really, really, hard. 

We often focus solely on the bottom line,which is usually revenue, profit or some other monetary metric to demonstrate success.

However to be a great organization, this monetary metric won’t fill up the many other aspects that drive you and the others involved in your operation. Purpose will.

Recently, I attended the Social Venture Network Conference outside New York City with a group of business leaders who are mission and purpose driven. They strive to create groundbreaking solutions to social, economic and environmental problems. They contribute to the well-being of their employees, customers, investors, communities and the environment. The overlying theme: they build with purpose.

After a thought provoking conference, I thought through a few ways as to how we as leaders in this community can gauge just how purpose-driven our organizations are.

Here are three steps to measure if you are building a purpose-driven organization:

  1. Your teams discuss the “why” in what they do, not just the “what”.

Why do your employees rally under your mission? Organizations that have a powerful purpose have employees that will share not only their role with the organization, but the value that role serves for the greater cause. Dwolla is great at capturing this within their culture. In my time working there, I was always proud to share the mission of “building the ideal way to move money” in addition to the tactical work I was doing. Many companies get stuck on solely making money, but talent will stay when they have more to work for than a paycheck.

  1. Customers, supporters, and your employees rally around your vision just as much as your product.

The same way that sports teams have legions of loyal fans, companies that build the right way will have people, regardless of whether they are customers rallying in their corner. This is done by serving a purpose greater than the bottom line. One company that comes to mind that does a great job of this is Greyston Bakery in New York.

Greyston has a compelling tagline to drive their focus: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”  Their focus of community development through hiring and training while growing their business has led them to work with groups like Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods. On the Greyston website you can find a “Join the movement” page. It’s a big step from business as usual.

  1. Your audacious company vision can be condensed to a mantra.

This. Is. Really. Tough. Our companies, our products, our services - they add tremendous value to the world. But can we condense them enough to leave others desiring more from us and themselves in the process?

Take Google’s “Don’t be evil” and Apple’s: “Think Different” as examples. They drive their company and their employees to be larger than just a role. This attracts the right kinds of employees to build with and customers that become a natural fit for their products.

--

Purpose can be driven from all different directions. Whether you are selective in the clients/customers you choose to work with, the additional initiatives outside your core offerings or the extra drive you instill in your customers and employees, ask yourself: what purpose are you serving that will drive your organization to the next level?

---

*For more on company mantras, read this great article from Entrepreneur.

----

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

The sun will come out tomorrow

Sun will come our tomorrowLittle Orphan Annie was right “Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun”. And that sun is being used more and more to produce electricity on the roofs of our homes.

Technological breakthroughs are making it easier. What has changed?

  • Ever increasing watts per solar panel
  • Longer life panels

So where does one start? Randy Skeie of Ecowise Power in Des Moines says “Take advantage of energy audits offered by your utility company to see if any energy efficiency upgrades can be made before installing a solar system.  There is a saying in the industry …“The cheapest energy is the energy that you do not use in the first place.”

Once you have established your electrical need, you decide how much you want to produce. Typically a home uses about 11,000 kilowatts of energy per year. Rates in Des Moines are at 11¢ per kilowatt or a yearly cost of $1,300. 

Randy says about 525 square feet of panels are required to produce 11,000 kilowatts. The cost is $31,200 but several tax credits lower the cost. Federal and state credits reduce the investment to about $17,000.

The payback is about 11 to 12 years when increases in electrical energy costs are assumed (and I am sure they will go up). Therefore, if the life of the system is 25 years the savings is approximately $75,000!!!

After the 12th year there is no electrical bill for your home.

The incredible news is for commercial projects there is an additional tax credit that in this case would have reduced the cost from $17,000 to $7,500.

If you want more details I would be happy to share.  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Getting your business ready for a sale

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

Selling a business can be one of the most important events in a business owner’s career.  Selling a business can also be a complex and mentally draining proposition with the potential to yield great rewards or financial disaster. Business owners often find themselves unprepared and unequipped to successfully manage the process. Preparing your business can mean the difference between a successful transaction or a costly transaction.

Preparing for the sale

Before your business goes on the market, here are some items to add to your bucket list:

Normalize your financials.

To present your financials in the most favorable light to potential buyers, you may want to consider switching from a cash method of accounting to an accrual method. Converting to this method can present buyers with a more appropriate financial image of your company.

Shift from an accelerated system of depreciation to one that shows depreciation spread over a longer period of time. Eliminate any expenses from your financial statements that could be deemed excessive by a potential buyer i.e. owner perks – expensive club memberships, relatives on payroll, etc.   

Clean, professionally audited statements suggest to buyers that your business is professionally and ethically run.

Ensure contracts and leases are up to date.

The terms and conditions of your customer and vendor contracts and equipment leases should be current. If your company assets include real estate, you might want to separate or sell the property (1031 exchange) before your business goes on the market because it has more favorable tax and liability implications. Also, normalize all lease and rents to fair market rates.

Reduce the risk for the potential loss of customers   

Survey your customers to determine issues which would cause them to leave you for a competitor, as well, as understanding why they do business with you. This report card will go a long way to address any perceived issues that the buyer may have and/or allow time to address any actual risks.  

Get the A/R line.

Get your receivables under control. Potential buyers will discount the sale price for late accounts.  

Clean your house- important guests are coming!

A neat, well-maintained appearance tells potential buyers that yours is a successful company. Now is also the time to give internal systems a tune-up and invest in technology and other upgrades.

Document your company’s policies and procedures.

Create policy and procedure manuals which detail the guidelines for managing your business.

Employees.

The loss of employees is a deal killer.

Sale strategies

Meet with your professional advisors to insure that your sale process utilizes the most current tax strategies.  It is never what you sell it for-it is always what do I get to keep!

Start now

Ancient Secret:  It is always better to sell you business when you do not have to sell.

Good Selling

Steve Sink CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Social media advertising

Katie is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Brands are increasingly spending more and more money on social media advertising than ever before. In fact, according to Social Media Today, social marketing budgets will double over the next five years. That is a strong statistic that brands cannot continue to ignore.

At Happy Medium, we are dedicated to helping our clients not only use their marketing/advertising budgets efficiently but effectively. We do this by encouraging clients to always have a social strategy. Keep in mind that in order to have a social advertising strategy, you first have to have a social media strategy. While we have used many different social sites to advertise for clients, I am going to focus solely on a Facebook advertising strategy and why every business should have one (small or large budgets alike).

According to Shareaholic, “Facebook is the social network to end all social networks.” While I’m not sure it will end all social networks, Facebook does have an unmatchable ability to reach your target audience. A few facts from our friends at Facebook.

1 billion total monthly active users

58% of people on Facebook visit the site daily

600 million monthly active users on mobile

3.2 billion likes and comments everyday

8x engagements for page posts in news feed

In an analysis of over 60 campaigns on Facebook: 49% had a 5x or greater return on ad spend; 70% had a 3x or greater return on ad spend

On top of that, their targeting capabilities are hard to match. Facebook can target users based on any of the data you put into your profile, instead of using cookies to build a profile around your interests like every other platform on the web. This first hand data is like gold for targeting -- you almost always know you are always going to be hitting your target market.

In a short comparison, Shareaholic put together a chart detailing social media traffic referrals year-over-year from data collected on more than 200,000+ sites. You can see in the below example that Facebook dominates this category with Pinterest and Stumbleupon following pretty far behind in 2nd and 3rd place.  

Shareholic Social Media Traffic Referrals

With all that said, I wanted to be able to share some results from a social media advertising client campaign at Happy Medium. The marketing objective was to highlight the value of some of their in-store offerings and to promote downloads of a new app release. The campaign ran for four months over the summer and all the advertising was done on both Facebook and Twitter (with the majority of the budget on Facebook). Below is the outcome of the campaign:

  • App downloads: After the first month, we hit 148 percent of their entire summer goal

  • Instant win game to promote in-store offerings: After the first month, we hit 105 percent of their entire summer goal for in-store redemptions, and 135 percent of their entire summer goal for people who played the game

During the campaign, we constantly revised the goals and increased the numbers we wanted to hit. These results were powerful, that not only we were proud of, but the client was as well. When implemented correctly, social media platforms can reach your target audience effectively and efficiently within budget to accomplish your marketing goals.

Make them run away, screaming

IdontwanttoeatthatDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

We each have one.  That one food that even if we just get a whiff of it, it turns your stomach.  

We can't help ourselves -- if we see it, smell it or even hear someone talking about it -- we make that scrunched up face.

You know the face I'm talking about.

Hold that thought for a minute.  Now... I want you to think of the client/customer that you could never make happy.  They were always complaining about something, disrespecting your team or having you do it over.  Again.

Those are the kinds of clients who suck the life out of us.  Who make us regret our career decision and wish we'd opted for something less stressful, like bull fighting.  

Those are the kinds of clients we need to repel in 2015.  We want them to make that run from us.  Why?  Besides their general unpleasantness, a bad fit customer costs you:

  • Time (They require so much hand holding, do over time, etc.)
  • Money (We are probably paying for the privilege of working for them, because they're such a pain)
  • Employees (our best ones will leave, not being willing to tolerate that sort of behavior/attitude)
  • Sleep/Peace of mind (W're always waiting for the other shoe to drop)
  • Our good customers (because we're so busy with the bad ones, we neglect the good ones)

So what can you do to repel them in 2015? 

I want you to think of the most effective marketing tool that you have.  Your website? An ad in a trade pub? A radio spot?  It doesn't matter what it is -- just that you have one.

Now, I want you to modify that marketing tool by writing and designing it in a way that would totally turn off that bad client.  Make every word and visual emphasize something they would hate. Now - actually use it.

Why?  You're going to kill two birds with one stone.  First, it will repel those bad fit customers who drain your organization of all your mojo.  Second, it will help you attact the absolute opposite of your worst customer -- your best fit customer.

Marketing materials are often too generic, too "all things are possible" because the creator doesn't want to offend or turn off anyone.  I think that's crazy. You want your marketing to offend those who aren't a great fit.  You want your marketing to clearly spell out what value you deliver and what matters to you. And you want your marketing to push away those prospects that you could never make happy to begin with.

Go on, give it a try.  Write an absoltutely repulsive ad and see what it attracts!

 

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Social media is useless...

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

...without relationships or the opportunity to build relationships.  I’ve given multiple talks on Social-media-cube the benefits of being active on social media to audiences ranging from college students to seasoned professionals.  I can talk about personal branding, crafting the perfect tweet, or how many times to post to Facebook based on your audience.  I have had both personal and professional success on multiple platforms.  However, none of this would have been possible without the relationships I developed with the people on the other side of the computer screen. 

People want to do business with people.  They want to work with people they know, like, and trust.  The power of social media is the ability to connect with people in a new, and very personal, way.  The information shared on platforms like Facebook allows me to see who people really are.  It gives me, and anyone else connected to that individual, a glimpse into who that person is and what he or she enjoys.  It allows me to pass over the small talk and have a meaningful conversation centered on what that person is sharing.

I keep in touch with friends all over the country through social media.  It is so easy to communicate and keep up to date through the various platforms.  There have been times when a friend will come to town whom I haven’t seen in years but we still know everything the other is doing thanks to Facebook or Twitter.  We pick up right where we left off because we know how each other’s families are, how the job is going, and what exciting things are going on in each other’s lives.  This happens with professional relationships as well, thanks to the openness and personal side of a lot of the different platforms. 

Social media is not the answer or the end-all to building long-lasting and viable relationships.  It is a great tool to share ideas, meet new people, and connect with long lost friends.  Each platform is different and allows the user to customize his or her experience.  It also gives your followers the opportunity to see what you care about and who you are outside of regular business hours.  To most people, this person is just as important as the business person they usually see. 

 

How to be a go-giver

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

 

“I hate selling.”

Go-Giver booksHow many times have you heard that frustration from an employee, or even said it yourself?

It’s especially common among entrepreneurs: You start a business because you’re passionate about your product or service and want to make a difference. But you’d prefer clients just find you, because selling, in its traditional sense, can feel cheesy, manipulative, and inauthentic.

But what if you didn’t worry about the sale? What if you focused solely on adding value instead?

Such is the premise of Bob Burg & John David Mann’s bestselling book, The Go-Giver, and its follow-up, Go-Givers Sell More. In the first book, the authors share a story about a true go-getter: Joe works crazy hours and holds a “whatever it takes” attitude to make the sale. He hits a wall, however, and – with ulterior motives in mind – schedules a meeting with a hugely successful bigwig, Pindar.

Pindar volunteers to share his sales secrets with Joe over the course of a week. Instead of focusing on topics like how to close a deal, however, Pindar offers five Laws of Stratospheric Success:

  1. The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
  2. The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
  3. The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
  4. The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
  5. The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

In a nutshell: Focus on giving.

The follow-up book takes these five laws and provides real-life examples, best practices, and solid ways to implement them into your own work.

Most of us know that success in life comes when we serve graciously, give generously, and focus on making the world a better place. The authors have done a great job reminding us that these same principles lead to success in business, too – in terms of satisfaction, morale, and revenue.

So how does one become a go-giver?

Listen more than speak.

Add value more than promote your product – which sometimes means saying, “I know someone else who can better help you.”

Above all, remember: It’s not about you. It’s not even about your product or service. When you make it about you, you’ll struggle.

Then what is it about? According to Burg & Mann:

"It’s about adding value to the other person’s life. Your product may be one vehicle for doing that, one among dozens. Yet a person may never actually buy your product and still have his life changed by meeting you and getting to know you. And that person – even though he never actually becomes a 'customer' – will refer many others to you."

I first read The Go-Giver several years ago and implemented a practice that I encourage you to adopt: Do a go-giver activity first thing each morning. Send a card to someone, just to let her know you’re thinking of her. Leave a voicemail for a colleague wishing him a great day. Mail a newspaper clipping to a local businessperson recently highlighted. Write an unexpected testimonial.

There are so many meaningful ways to become a go-giver, and it’s a great opportunity for each of us to change the world for the better. Read these two books for additional inspiration, then put your go-giver actions to work!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotDr. Christi Hegstad develops strong, confident leaders who make a meaningful difference. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

The Go-Giver (2007) and Go-Givers Sell More (2010) were published by The Penguin Group.

In addition to those that I offered, what other simple actions might make someone’s day? Share your ideas below!

 

Innovation bias and the myth of vacuuming

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

Flipping a very simple concept around sometimes leads to the best conclusions. Sometimes taking a key piece out of something allows you to look at something in a completely different way. I submit the following to you for your consideration - you may not be able to innovate in a vacuum, but I believe you can innovate while vacuuming.

I read an essay in high school written by Igor Stravinsky on his attitudes about conductors. Stravinsky was not complimentary on the role of the conductor in the orchestra, and many rhetorical devices were conveyed to try and persuade the reader that the conductor of an orchestra served no critical purpose.

I disagree with Stravinsky, for a number of reasons. These reasons tie back to my feelings on innovation. I can follow the argument that the musicians in an orchestra follow their sheet music, and that those musicians are able to take cues from each other and stay in time. However, there needs to be a unifying element that draws everything together, acts as a foundation, and is there to prevent disaster from ensuing.

Music is one of the most innovative mediums in existence. Sounds are woven together in infinite forms and contain complexities that almost no other form of communication is capable of producing. But, unchecked, these sounds can detach from structure, move away from the symbiosis of an orchestra, and become noise. The conductor is there to keep innovation from running amok – the musicians must innovate within the framework of their leadership and the boundaries set forth by the music itself.

The conductor is facilitating “innovation bias” or structuring an environment in which participants can move freely within certain bounds, ultimately leading to a pleasing and productive solution. To attempt to innovate in a vacuum, in this case without the conductor, may yield positive short term results, but a more likely outcome is true – as more and more musicians “innovate”, the greater the chance of the music drifting toward noise.

When I vacuum, it makes a lot of noise, and I argue that there is a lot of innovation happening there. There are all sorts of hard to reach places that I have constructed any number and configuration of apparatus to reach, all with the end goal of leaving a spot just a little cleaner than I found it. These mini engineering projects take on a life of their own and my OCD is supremely satisfied with the outcomes of these little experiments. As ridiculous as this probably sounds, the unifying element is there, and I’m the one making sure the house gets clean; I’ve structured the innovation within the confines of baseline parameters and kept it on task.

Enacting parameters, setting specific frameworks, and generating a productive innovation bias is a sound (pun intended) strategy for keeping teams on task while allowing them to be creative within productive boundaries, and prevents discussions from becoming “noise”. Stravinsky was wrong; a conductor is a critical component of creating an ecosystem where music can flourish. What he was missing is the other part of the analysis – flipping something simple around to see how what is missing changes what is there.

 

Take the time it takes

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

As many of you know, I live on a farm with 28 cats, a dog, 3 horses and a mule (and husband, Ted).    

Interacting with cats is a strength for me.  I have even, on occasion, mastered that unmasterable skill of herding cats (Monster.com may have a job posting for that). Horses

Horses are another matter.  Interacting effectively with horses has never been a strength of mine.  So I went to school.  My horse trainer politely explained as I wrestled with the complex skills, “If you take the time it takes, it takes less time”.

Those words are certainly unpopular in our fast-paced world of multitasking, instant solutions, and Mc-everything.  Nevertheless, some things take time.  Sometimes we need our leaders to remind us of this reality and sometimes leaders need to pause and remind themselves of the same thing.

The popular business press advocates the importance of maximizing strengths of people and that, for the most part, overcoming weaknesses is a waste of precious time.  That it takes far more time and energy to move from incompetence to mediocrity than to move from competence to excellence.

Sadly, many people, especially those with great strengths in specific areas, adapt this insight into an excuse for not knowing anything (or knowing very little) about other areas.  This is intellectual arrogance and is quite different than having no strength.

Consider highly technically-skilled individuals like engineers, accountants, scientists and technicians who report “I am not a people person” and defiantly oppose any situation that requires them to work effectively with people unlike themselves.  Similarly are the professionals in areas like marketing, sales, and human resources who pride themselves on their ignorance of basic process methodology or elementary accounting.

Although our goal should always be to build on our strengths, almost everyone can acquire enough of any skill or knowledge not to be completely incompetent about it.

No one can escape the fact—defects and weaknesses matter.  Success depends not only on moving steadily forward but on preventing derailment.  Preventing derailment means going beyond nourishing strengths and attending to flaws.

I invested the time it took (sometimes painstakingly) to learn to interact effectively with the horses.  Although I’m not off to any equestrian competitions, I now enjoy my horse interactions.

Showing shareholders the money in Iowa corporations

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Law Firm.

PGP_1038

As a shareholder in a small business, family business, or other Iowa corporation, you may ask yourself: what kind of financial information is my corporation required to provide me?  Thankfully, Iowa law on this topic is relatively straightforward.  Iowa law requires Iowa corporations to provide certain financial information to their shareholders.

In particular, Iowa Code Section 490.1620 mandates that Iowa corporations provide their shareholders with “annual financial statements.”  As you may suspect, “annual financial statements” should include a balance sheet, an income statement, and a statement of changes in shareholder equity, if any. Further, if financial statements are prepared for the corporation on the basis of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the annual financial statements provided to shareholders must also be prepared on that basis.

If you have questions about your corporation's compliance with these requirements, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney.  

Story songs create a memorable narrative

Want to use more storytelling for your brand or company? Claire Celsi suggests using the storytelling techniques used in famous story songs as a way to begin.

As a public relations professional, I'm responsible for coming up with ways to tell my clients' stories. When great companies need to talk to their customers about what makes them special, I recommend using the same storytelling techniques that are employed in the best and most beloved story-songs. Here are a few of the songs that have always gripped me with their powerful lyrics, haunting imagery and sometimes memorable music. But the STORY is Storytellingwhat pulls you in and keeps you listening.

Cat's in the Cradle - Harry Chapin: It never fails to evoke memorable life stages of childhood and becoming a parent. Connecting with familial emotions and the everyday life of a made-up family causes us to listen and compare the story to our own lives. And it's memorable. And it sometimes teaches a lesson.

Hotel California - The Eagles: This haunting tune is effective because it taps into the powerful emotions associated with the unknown. And since so many Americans believe in some sort of spirit world, it's not hard to imagine a haunted hotel with a friendly (but ghostly) staff. Mix that with powerful descriptions of the scent, the decor and an attractive stranger, you have the ingredients for a seductive story. Besides that, it's got one of the most memorable guitar solos of all time.

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot: Based on a real story, this song is immediately compelling because it is true. The telling of a true story, either literally or metaphorically, lends credibility and people tend to pay attention to see what happens next. What really gets you about this song is the descriptions of the time

Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown - Jim Croce: Written in an age before the politically correct crowd sucked all the fun out of the world, Croce manages to write a playful, if not biographical tune. This type of story transports the listener into a world that may be slightly different than theirs, but then comes back and grabs you with a classic tale that is very common: Guy wants girl, other guy gets jealous, a fight ensues, and somebody loses. 

They Dance Alone  - Sting (read the background of this song)Using historical fact to tell obscure cultural stories is a time-honored tradition in American folk music, going back centuries. Who says history is boring? Using the story-telling technique, old stories and lessons from history can be dusted off for a new generation.

Getting someone's attention in a media saturated world is difficult at best. Using storytelling is about connecting on an emotional level. Stories are remembered better when they're told in a memorable way. So the next time you're telling a compelling story, remember to use the techniques used in your favorite story-song. 

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

Lowering the value of your business

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

Logo only for phoenix

Generally, when businesses are valued, the owner likes to see the highest value possible for the business. After all, it is human nature to desire the most wealth possible. Many times, valuations will be prepared to determine the price potential if the business is sold. Even when trying to obtain an amount for a spouse’s business during a divorce proceeding, a valuation will be completed with a view toward the highest value possible. Other situations exist where the client desires a low value; such situations include estate planning, divorce when the client will be paying out a sum, and when a potential buyer desires to purchase a business.

Legitimate avenues do exist however, to reduce the value of any given business when appropriate.  Discounts determined for lack of control and lack of marketability are legitimate and even common in valuations. In addition, as of late, discounts taken for a built-in gains tax potential are becoming increasingly common as more case support develops for the use of them.

Three Key Discounts    

(1) People generally prefer to have controlling power as opposed to being controlled. The lack of control discount or minority ownership discount in closely-held and small companies is given to reflect the detrimental effect of not having control of a business.  While a minority interest in a publicly traded company is not subject to a lack of control discount, in small companies, lack of control means the minority owner is subject to the whim of majority shareholders. Such detrimental decisions to minority shareholders can include: determination of management compensation, declaration of dividends and disbursements, setting the course of the business, and decisions to liquidate or sell business interests. Lack of control discounts can range from 35 to 50 percent, and even higher in some cases when compared to publicly traded stocks. Readers should be aware that the state of Florida has recently passed a law making the minority discount illegal whenever a company that has ten or fewer owners is valued.

(2) The lack of marketability discount applies to many small businesses as well.  Owners prefer to have assets that are more liquid as opposed to less liquid. It is with this preference that those businesses that can be bought and sold quickly are worth more.  Businesses that are hard to liquidate or are generally unmarketable are worth less than publicly traded companies. Because of this lack of marketability, certain businesses are given a discount to reflect the detriment of the ability to sell the company. Lack of marketability discounts can range in the area of 20 to 50 percent when compared to their publicly traded counterparts.

(3) Discounts for built-in gains tax are gaining more and more support. When C corporations are converted from taxable entities into flow-through entities, such as S corporations, LLC’s and the like, the potential for a tax liability known as “built-in gains” appears. Because of this potential, the company must plan and maneuver carefully around built-in gains issues. Nonetheless, from time to time, decisions are made on business bases that demand that built-in gains be recognized and taxes become due to the government. Many businesses, including businesses with deceased owners, run the risk of paying built-in gains tax. As such, taxpayers have successfully argued that such potential liability can be deducted from the value of a business under the theory that an investor, similarly situated, could purchase similar securities in a business without the built-in gains tax potential. It is because investors can invest elsewhere in order to avoid tax losses, theoretically, that the company with the built-in gain tax event potential is worth less than a company that does not have potential for a huge tax loss.

Conclusion

Some confusion results between the two types of discounts noted above when analysts arrive at discounts for control and marketability. Minority ownership interest discounts relate to the control the subject has in relation to the business. Marketability, on the other hand, deals with the potential to liquidate the company and how quickly and easily the company can be reduced to cash.

Discounts based on control and marketability have been around since the beginning of valuations. The built-in gains tax liability discount is new, and it has more estate tax implications, as well as gift tax consequences than other discounts.   

Good Selling,

Steve Sink  CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Want 20% time like Google? Build the foundation first

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship inside companies. 

CR work

Our team at Create Reason recently facilitated a one-ay Creation Jam -- an interactive function within a company to spark innovation and cross-functional collaboration across departments.

The day went amazingly well. Employees pitched concepts and developed them, many of which were quite impressive. Significantly, new relationships were formed across department lines and teams were engaged in refreshing ways.

At the end of the day, awards were given out to the best concepts in different categories. One of the awards for the best concept was the opportunity for “20 percent time” for about a month to expand on the concept and explore adding it as it as a new service offering.

20 percent time allows for employees to spend an average of one day a week with groundbreaking concepts or incremental improvements to develop them out over an allotted time inside the company. The 20 percent time model has been famously implemented by companies such as Google and 3M, to allow employees with groundbreaking concepts to develop them internally. This is how Post-It notes, Gmail and a slew of other products have come to life. 

Both our team and the senior leadership were excited to see this experiment play out. When we made the announcement to the staff, there was a surprising backlash from some of the employees.

The winning team looked distraught as they were given what should have been a moment of glory. They didn’t see it as an opportunity to create something new. They saw it as more work.

This experience forced us to take a step back to understand why this would be the case. It turns out truly successful 20 percent time is like the self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  20 percent time can only be successfully implemented with several other conditions being met. Most importantly: the work has to get done and get done well.

When a company’s talent is swamped with the work in front of them, innovation is the last thing on employee minds. The mindset is not — “oh I can work on this” but rather “oh I have to work on this too”. It makes a big difference.

When built within a company from the ground up or added with the right conditions to an established organization, 20 percent time can serve as a catalyst for rising concepts around how to better the organization or creating new products to steer the company in exciting directions.

What is your organization doing to foster innovation and creativity? Let us know in the comments below or send an email and share!

Update: Google has announced they have refocused their 20 percent time. 

 

To keep the conversation going: 

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Email: max@createreason.com

Back to basics II: hiring

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd decided that buying a new horse and running a specialty retail business have quite a bit in common.

Foremost on the list is the importance of getting back to basics, particularly in the area of proper training. Backing up a step, the "getting-to-know" phase of a relationship is invaluable.

My new horse is a jumper -- and a young one, at that. Trying to rush him into challenging situations before he really gets to know me, how I think, and what I expect of him is a prescription for disaster. The same philosophy can apply to the workplace.

All too often, a retailer finds himself or herself short on staff. That's never much fun, especially if the owner is already spending an excessive amount of time on the job. When it does happen, there's always the temptation to hire as quickly as possible to fill a void.

But rushing things along, more often than not,  is an invitation for bigger problems in the future. No matter how stable your staff is, you never know when someone is going to leave for a new position, health reasons, a spouse's job transfer or just to do something different.

If you haven't already identified at least one person you'd like to have on your staff, this is the time to take a deep breath, enlist some temporary help and invest some "getting to know time" in several potential employees. Get to know their temperament and how they'd handle different situations, especially stressful ones.

Some potential employees make great first impressions that, unfortunately, don't hold up over time. Happily, there are many quality people who don't do as well in a first meeting or interview. When you don't take the time to get to know them -- when you rush to a decision because you're under pressure -- you do yourself and others a disservice.

Invest "getting-to-know time" in others before you're under pressure and you'll come through like a champion just about every single time.

Harness the sun's energy

The energy from the sun is incredibly powerful and plentiful.  Just one hour of the sun’s energy could provide the planet’s electrical energy for one year. 

Des Moines Onstage at 2124 Grand Avenue installed panels on their roof recently.  The panels should provide nearly 80 percent of the building’s electrical needs according to owner Maria Filippone.  She says “The panels are working as predicted and the payback should be 4.5 years.”

Solar panelsSolar panel systems used to store energy in batteries but now generated electricity goes for immediate use or back to the power company if you are generating more than you need.  Net metering provides a credit when more energy is generated than consumed.

Tax credits are available for the installation of solar panels.  A whopping 30 percent from the Feds with no limit and 18 percent from the state but a $20,000 commercial and $5,000 residential limit.  It’s almost like buying a solar system at ½ off.

So where to begin?  The first thing to do is conserve all you can.  Rather than pay the high price of generation, pay the low price of conservation.  Update light fixtures and reduce plug loads like computers running all night.  Then figure what percentage of your electrical needs you want to generate.  The great thing is more panels can be added as funds are available.

My next blog will figure the cost of solar for your house.

How’s the test from last blog coming?  Anyone turn off the blue light devices two hours before bed? Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Referrals & poltergeists

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

Late October is upon us; and with it, darker days, lower temperatures, falling leaves and rising vigilance. As we dust off our jackets and carve our pumpkins - the transitioning environment cannot be avoided. And, although most of us enjoy the intricacies of fall, there is still the eerie side of things which creeps up on us from time to time.  After all, even the most hardened gets the occasional chill as All Hallows' Eve draws closer. That being the case, I thought it appropriate to mesh some ghostly facts into my Halloween post - so, just maybe, you’ll check your backseat next time you head home from the office.

Screenshot 2014-10-27 13.53.12Poltergeist. German for “Rattling Ghost.” The psychic manifestations that seem to appear when nobody is looking but are certain to let you know they are around. Poltergeists aren’t the misty ghosts often portrayed with bed sheets, nor the creaking noises in an old attic. Rather they crash vases, set furniture ablaze, and send books tumbling from the shelf. Active day and night, poltergeists are also known to pull people from their beds and cause them to levitate against their will.

Just over a century ago Poltergeists were studied to explain the noises of crashing glass of objects that were later found intact. A theory was developed that some inanimate objects possess a double - or a phantasmal - image that was hurled by the poltergeist. In essence, the ghosts were attempting to cause harm to the living world, but were unable to break through spiritual boundaries. The unearthly doubles were exact replicas of existing objects, and although the original was unadulterated, the effects were heard by the living, i.e. you and me.

The idea of exact spiritual replicas is repeated throughout history, evidenced by the sightings of doppelgängers (double goers). As with inanimate objects, doppelgängers are spiritual incarnations that have very close ties with their living counterparts. Both theories explain the natural attraction between the unnatural and human - showing how spirits are able to influence the behavior of those in which they have a connection. Similarly, people have connections with family and friends in which they find similar to themselves. Like father, like son. Often our decisions are made by influences from our loved ones.

Savvy businesses use this connection regularly to rein in new clients by leveraging their existing customers for referrals. Rather than attempting to win over a prospect with traditional marketing, they are able to relay the goodwill they acquired from their clientele. Referrals leverage the power of influence known as “likability” as prospects are more likely to take advice from friends and people they know and respect. Just the same, I would be more likely to follow a ghost portrayed as myself or someone close to me down a dark corridor.

Poltergeists may enjoy breaking vases - after all, it is kind of their forte - but interestingly enough, they have figured out just how to spook us. Drawing on aspects of psychology they are able to incite fear by rattling what is close to us, as it has much more of an impact. Imagine watching a haunting from afar, and compare that to breath on the back of your neck. Marketers should take a page out of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” and target prospects at the most spooky place - via their close friends and family.

Image credit: SLM Production Group

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.