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November 2008

Don’t bring two dates to the same dance

79897779 If you have a story to pitch to the media, choose the reporter or media outlet that is best suited for the story. But don’t pitch the same story to competing media or more than reporter at the same media outlet.

Reporters are working to create new and unique content.  If their story looks like another story in another newspaper, TV station news et cetera -- that's embarrassing to them.  If you insist on pitching the same story to multiple reporters -- at least be honest with them and tell them that's what you're up to.

Even if you score the story in two places…it will cost you in credibility. And the next time you pick up the phone with a hot lead – the reporter you burned will never bother returning your call.

If you have a story or event that you think is worthy of everyone’s attention – then at least give each station or paper a different angle to cover, so that they all get to report a fresh story.  

Just like any relationship – a relationship with a reporter will quickly sour if you lie or make them look stupid. Remember, the more you help them do their job, the more they can help you do yours.

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Judges Handing Down Real Time For CyberCrime

Everyone knows that hacking into an ex-employer's computer network, shutting down the email system and deleting core files will land you in prison. Federal laws were designed to catch these types of hackers and put them away. But what about you? Have you every violated any of the dozens of federal laws governing computer and Web site misuse? It might surprise you to know, but odds are you have.

Do you carefully read the terms of use on every Web site you visit? Were you aware that violating those19000968 terms could result in twenty years in prison and a $1 million fine?

Recently, a federal judge sentenced a television news anchor, caught snooping through his co-anchor's email, to six months of home confinement, 250 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. He was also summarily fired from his $700,000/yr job. Selling your company's confidential information? That may just earn you a ten year all expense paid prison vacation. Sending threatening emails? Up to ten years in prison.  Selling impostor watches on eBay? Seventy years. Even if you are acquitted, you may have to fight a costly legal battle a half a continent away.

The bottom line is that federal investigators are cracking down on cybercrime now more than ever before. More importantly, judges are handing down harsher and harsher sentences. Given the huge potential criminal penalties involved with something as seemingly innocuous as violating a Web site's terms of use, it is well worth educating yourself about the dos and most-certainly-do-nots of cyberlaw.

Brett Trout

Thankful for what we have

A day set aside to give thanks. To take account for what we have, and the blessings180px-TraditionalThanksgiving
that are birthed from those harvests. Simply, we have made a sacred or holy day to reflect on our stock, and while on most days we race to add to our stock, on this day we pause and realize that at least we have, regardless if it's a lot  or if it's a little.

As young professionals are perpetually trying to navigate the fastest way to achieve their goals, the lesson of thanksgiving is a poignant reminder of what is truly important. Generation "We" is more apt to live this principle even if they don't truly understand.

Now, there is no question that this is an economist's holiday, we are celebrating our supply by our demand, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, as a matter of fact, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to its current slot to help give merchants a longer period to sell good before Christmas. Hoping the increase in spending would help bring the country out of the Depression.  Soon after, JC Penny's started their "day after Thanksgiving" sale (just kidding)

The focus shouldn't be on the day after, even though Millennials do like to shop. It should be on the reason why we can opt to do that in the first place. Often, this holiday is overlooked by some just and opportunity to have big dinner, watch football, and take advantage of some great sales. However, Thanksgiving is more than just food, football, and Friday shopping. As cheesy as this might read, allow me to use one more football analogy. In the football game of life and work, Thanksgiving is a timeout; to rest and gather our thoughts with our team, before we continue on.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Who are your Salespeople?

My argument is that everyone in your organization will at some point in time have to tell somebody else what they do. How cool would it be if everyone could tell a quick and compelling story that would both surprise and interest the listener?

Easier said than done. Jeff Garrison, the new director of sales at Precision Development Inc., has made his first order of business to get everyone telling the same elevator pitch.

Several years ago Jeff taught children tennis as a youth tennis coach. Like in any sport, it was vital to start by teaching the fundamentals. So every kid, regardless of age, size, skill level, et cetera, had to learn the strokes the same way. Turn your body perpendicular to the ball, take your racket straight back, swing up at the ball out in front of you and follow through over and over and over. For most, it felt awkward at first. But soon they could hit a consistent forehand. And eventually they would put their own style into their swing.2993507851_04316b46b0

Teaching everyone in your organization the fundamentals of the elevator pitch until they are comfortable and confident just might increase your sales numbers over time.

According to K. Stone, author of the Life Learning Today blog, mentions “you only have 30-60 seconds to make a powerful first impression. The attention span of the average person is just 30 seconds before their mind starts wandering. The other reason is people have less time today. You need to grab them quickly or lose them forever”.

Here are Stone's suggestions for creating a powerful elevator pitch:

   1. Concise. Your pitch should take no longer than 30-60 seconds.

   2. Clear. Use language that everyone understands. Don't use fancy words thinking it will make you sound smarter. Your listener won't understand you and you'll have lost your opportunity to hook them.

   3. Powerful. Use words that are powerful and strong. Deliver the "Sis-Boom-Bang" to grab their attention!

   4. Visual. Use words that create a visual image in your listeners mind. This will make your message memorable.

   5. Tell a Story. A short story, that is. A good story is essentially this: someone with a problem either finds a solution or faces tragedy. Either type of story can be used to illuminate what you do.

   6. Targeted. A great elevator pitch is aimed for a specific audience. If you have target audiences that are vastly different, you might want to have a unique pitch for each.

   7. Goal Oriented. A kick-ass elevator pitch is designed with a specific outcome in mind. What is your desired outcome? You may have different pitches depending on different objectives. For instance, do you want to: make a sale, gain a prospect, enlist support for an idea, or earn a referral?

   8. Has a Hook. This is the element that literally snags your listener's interest and makes them want to know more. This is the phrase or words that strike a chord in your listener.

Can everyone in your organization serve up a powerful elevator pitch?

287,000 Reasons to Beware of Retaliation Claims

A former women's softball coach scored a jury verdict this past week against Iowa State University for $287,000 in damages.  The ex-coach had complained the university retaliated against her for complaining about the inequality in pay and budgets between the men's and women's programs at ISU.

Whether an inequality exists isn't really important for the purposes of the verdict. If employers rememberDocument anything from this post they should know that in retaliation claims the employee does not need to prove the underlying claim has merit. The key is whether an employer has terminated the employee for the complaint itself.

Employers are usually cognizant of discrimination and harassment claims. However, they are often blindsided by retaliation claims. Even the successful resolution of a discrimination or harassment complaint means you are only halfway home. Supervisors and employees must not retaliate against the employee who complained.

Here are some proactive measures employers can take in order to avoid retaliation claims:

  1. Make sure your employee handbook includes a policy prohibiting retaliation.
  2. Always have alternative reporting avenues.
  3. Conduct supervisor and management training on harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
  4. Make sure supervisors and management have been asked the tough questions of themselves when it comes to employee discipline. Make sure the discipline has nothing to do with the complaints of harassment, discrimination or retaliation.
  5. Periodically talk with the complaining employee to determine if anyone has retaliated against them. If performance is an issue for the employee be sure to bring this to the attention of the employee and make sure to document your conversations. Document! Document! Document!

For more on retaliation claims I encourage you to take a look at this post from employment lawyer Michael Moore.

Train 'em & Retain 'em?

Carl, a young professional I know, recently left his company; even though I know he was doing well, was well thought of, and was on the fast track to a higher level management position.

"What happened?" I asked him. "I thought you were part of their emerging leader program."

Now catch this, because his answer is a wake-up call for all of us who are concerned about keeping our best employees in these worst of times.26238516

"Sure, I got lots of training. It seemed like every other week I was going to a training program or doing something online. But it was all about the company. Nothing about developing who I am as a person. My supervisor wasn't big on talking about what I was best at or where I could improve. He praised a lot, but what he said, he could have said to anyone on the team. I honestly don't think they knew what I could have done for them."

So...Carl's been recruited away by a major company and is already being groomed for a leadership position there. He has an executive coach. A member of the executive team is mentoring him. He's scheduled to get some 360-degree feedback in six months.

Managers tell me they often struggle with how much time and money to budget for the training and development of employees like Carl. My response? If you have to ask whether you're doing enough, you probably aren't. It'd be hard to spend too much, especially of one-on-one time. Remember, Carl wasn't wanting more class time; he wanted attention paid to his aspirations, his struggles, his untapped potential.

Training and development are not the exclusive role of HR. As leaders, a big part of our role is to ensure that informal learning is happening every minute of every day. In team meetings. On sales calls. During project launches. This kind of spontaneous, one-on-one interaction is fast and easy and doesn't cost a time. And ironically enough, it's what Carl was looking for at his old company.

Ask yourself these questions and listen to your answers. Are you happy with them?

  • How many employees have you groomed and promoted under your leadership?
  • How many courses and workshops does your company offer? How many do you personally conduct?
  • How often do your employees get to learn from both inside and outside experts?
  • How easy it is for employees to access opportunities to learn in your organization?

As parents, we wouldn't think of ignoring our kids or firing them. We know we have to develop them, over time, day by day, in the small interactions we have with them. By applying that same wisdom to our employees, we'll have fewer of them -- like Carl-- feel ignored and leave.

Tough Times Bring Awareness

We are in a period of history when times are getting tough - real tough.  The reality is setting in and all of a19146469 sudden there is an awakening happening.  People and organizations are looking at their situation with a new awareness.  An awareness that is pure and not clouded with ego.

Yes, I said ego.  That little voice in our heads that says you are immune to what goes on around you, that you can justify everything you do, and that paints a reality that is not real.  The ego allows us to float through life and disregard what we know is wrong.  The responsibility of what is wrong can be blamed on others when the ego is in control.

When the ego is set aside, then awareness flourishes and new ways of thinking are welcomed, explored and even accepted.  With awareness, organizations and their leaders can start to face the long-term implications of overpaid employees, retirement obligations, lack of benefits, debt and the horrific lack of concern that permeates today's work environment.

No one likes tough times, but I believe these natural rhythms in life are a necessary part of keeping balance, perspective and opportunities for change.  As tough as it may get - and who really knows how tough it will get - open your eyes, hearts and minds to new ways to view your business, your people and how it all fits together.  It is your choice how you view our world today, I view it as a great way to start making a positive difference!

A Conversation about Application Delivery: Part One

First, let me preface this post by saying that I despise PowerPoint.  Not that I'm against Microsoft Office, just PowerPoint for presentations. Why? They aren't engaging, no one remembers more than 20 percent of the information in those anyway, and if I just wanted them to read something I would have sent an email.  I work to engage people in an interactive dialog when I talk about application delivery and virtualization.

I want to share with you the kind of conversations that I have at every initial meeting with potential clients and even clients that already have an application delivery infrastructure. The reason for doing this is to help you build your case to your management team for expanding Citrix Application Delivery in your environments sans PowerPoint like I do when I'm in front of a client.  I'm a big fan of using pictures to share my ideas, thoughts and to solve problems and I'm going to share with you how I do that for application delivery and virtualization. Check out one of the greatest books on this subject by Dan Roam.

I have many versions of my whiteboard conversation depending on the level of meeting I'm having (CIO, Network Architect, Desktop Operations, et cetera), but they all start pretty much the same way: I ask questions. Before I stand up to draw anything I'm asking questions about priorities, challenges with apps not meeting metrics, et cetera.  Now I would expect that since you are on the inside of your organization you wouldn't have to do as much discovery as I do, so build upon what you know and do your due diligence.

I'm going to start at the beginning of my whiteboard so for those of you who don't have an application delivery infrastructure you can see how you get started.  For those of you who have an application delivery infrastructure and you want to expand it, this will show you where to start and go from there.

The one thing that is true and constant in today's environments is that business runs on applications.  When access to or performance of applications is compromised, top and bottom line results are affected.  We know that for our companies to be successful, we must ensure that the business's applications are accessible, reliable, secure and fast.  This is where I draw an easy picture:

 As we all know our companies are facing some pretty strong forces that are separating users and applications.  These forces are dynamic and very volatile.  They increase the challenge of ensuring users can use the applications they need when they need them.  Then I draw this picture:

So what are those forces that are driving users and applications apart?  They range on the user side from globalization to e-commerce and on the application side from consolidation to new application types like .NET/Web 2.0/Java etc.

The way we have built infrastructures in the past are no longer viable models today.  They are too rigid and don't adapt well to rapid-fire changes in the business world.  One common experience among the majority of clients I talk to is that when they want to make applications available to end users they encounter multiple levels of complexity.  To get the application rolled out they have to engage the server group (who are worried about power and data center space), the network group (who are always thinking about bandwidth and traffic), the security group (who are always thinking about the risks and the vulnerabilities), the systems management group (who try to make it all fit together), and finally the desktop group (who is ultimately responsible for supporting the clients).  This is what we call "distributed computing".  This siloed approach is easy to organize people by their technical disciplines, but it seriously makes things harder to get done in today's fast moving world.  So while I explain that last piece I draw this picture:

So as you can see by the line labeled "silos" through the Servers box, this is what we are talking about above.  An unintended consequence of incremental investment in these functional silos is that your infrastructure becomes too hard to change.  What you have then is an infrastructure that lacks scalability and it's inflexible.  It is also costly to implement and maintain and finally changes to this kind of infrastructure or the applications can cause unplanned consequences in this now weak environment.  In the end, you might have solved the issue at that point in time, but your infrastructure is still so rigid that it can't change fast enough to meet the business needs.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that trying to optimize every silo I outlined earlier will never increase your company's agility.  As you can see I have a down arrow drawn and labeled it Agility and I have an up arrow that is labeled TCO.  That TCO number represents per user costs.  Making changes in the current environment requires additional investment.

Ok, so I showed you where the majority of folks are at, now you have to visualize how to pictorialize your environment in as simple pictures as possible.  In the next post I'll show you how to take this part to your management and really "sell" the idea of application delivery to them and the rest of your company.

Keep it short.

Hemingway's shortest story was only six words.  You may have read it...

"For sale: baby shoes, never used."

Short.  But unbelievably powerful.Blah_blah_blah

This week, Seth Godin begs us to keep it short and cut out the blah blah blah.

He says...

"No audience member, in the history of presentations (written or live) has ever said, "it was exciting, useful and insightful, but far too short."

So where could you save time by cutting out the blah blah blah today?

Shorten up a letter... a memo... an e-mail... a meeting... a presentation?

Think about it.

Do it.

Let us know.

Photo credit: theskywatcher

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A severed finger, a lawsuit and the right insurance policy

Missing_finger Panic is never a good business strategy. Just ask any savvy business owner.

The same theory can apply to insurance. Insurance is there to protect you and your assets in the event of an unfortunate incident. Let’s face it, with the way the economy is – a tornado, a flood, a natural disaster or a lawsuit could crumple any size business. However, there is no need to panic if you have the right insurance in place.

There was an article in the Des Moines Register this week about a local magician/actor/hand model who is suing Martha Stewart. Why? It appears that he had an unfortunate incident with a chair made by her company that was recalled back in 1997. This incident is alleged to have caused him significant injury. The article indicates that he has named Martha Stewart’s company and Kmart in the lawsuit.

If Martha has the right insurance coverage in place, she will not need to panic because her insurance company will provide a defense for her to help protect her assets. The same applies to Kmart.

That is the whole premise of insurance: to help you protect your assets.

  • If you are sued, it can provide you with defense costs.
  • If you are unable to occupy your space, it can help cover costs until you’re back in business.
  • If you lose all of your merchandise and can’t operate your business, it can cover you for lost income.

There are many other benefits as well.

The intent of insurance is to restore you to your pre-loss condition. However, the key element is that you need to have the right coverage in place in order to reap any benefits.

This is where having good communication with your agent is so important. So don’t hold back information. Sometimes business owners think that if they tell their insurance agent too much then it is going to cost them more.

Now I am not going to say that doesn’t happen, but most of the time it is a misconception. When information is withheld, then the client can be put into the wrong product and that can cause everyone to panic should a loss occur.

Thanks To You Meddling Kids!

Recently, my daughters and I have been enjoying some vintage Scooby Doo episodes.  AtBlog the end of each episode, in a typically formulaic approach, the bad guy (after being unmasked) would utter something like, "Yeah, and I would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

It would appear as though Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby stuck their noses where they didn't belong... and turned it into a career which spans generations.

What about your projects?  Do you have a few of "those meddling kids" among your project team?  Are you asking the right questions about your projects:

  • Why are we doing this project?
  • What are we trying to improve?
  • What's wrong with the status quo?
  • What will it do for our company?
  • Who cares about this project?
  • What can go wrong if we proceed?

Make sure you have somebody documenting these questions (and their answers) as you will invariably having people asking these same questions throughout the life cycle of your project, and it will help to have this information readily available so everyone gets the same answers.  Let "those meddling kids" ask any questions they want... the only bad question is the one not asked.  I was reading a post by Stephane Bourbonniere about e-Discovery projects.  In this post, he talks about some of the right questions to ask... BEFORE he even launches into the project management issues.  Yes, snooping around for clues is encouraged.

If you don't have any meddling kids on your project, if there are no people asking questions, if there are no hungry dogs sniffing around your project, I can only say one thing:

Jinkies, Shaggy!

"Ink" the Deal with Exceptional Service

Tom_inkI'm a pen guy. The proper nomenclature would be to say "I'm an aficionado of fine writing instruments." While I appreciate the ease of e-mail and the power of processing text on a computer, I believe there is still a place for personal, handwritten correspondence. Love letters to my wife don't have the same impact when I tap them out on my keyboard and spit them out on an inkjet (guys, trust me on this one). A handwritten line from my own hand adds an important measure of personal intimacy to the message.

It was this interest the led my wife and I to pay a visit to Barry Rubin last week. Barry owns a pen store called Ink on the 45th floor of the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis. He takes an interesting approach to selling pens. There are many stores that sell writing instruments, but Barry considers himself a matchmaker. While you can find him at his store during normal hours, it's best to make an appointment. He wants you to make an appointment. Why? As his website says...

...to assure that every customer who walks through his door will be given the time and attention they deserve. At Ink, there are none of the hassles, distractions and interruptions you find at other stores. There's only you, Barry, a roomful of pens, and a world of possibility.

I called Barry and he arranged to meet me at his store on Saturday morning (see picture). True to the advertising, we spent a peaceful hour browsing the wide assortment of pens, arranged by price point, which ranged from a few bucks to much more money than you ever thought a pen could possibly be worth. Barry provided us refreshments and let us browse. A naturally jovial spirit, we were soon talking pens and he was showing us different pens to try. We each walked out with a new pen.

Ink is a great example of the power of customer service. I could buy pens from many stores. I could probably get them on-line for a buck or two cheaper. However, neither of these options would come close to replicating the experience of sitting in Ink's breathtaking 45th floor showroom. Neither option would allow me to enjoy the personal attention of a man who is passionate about his products, and equally passionate about his customers.

In these economic times, many companies are focusing on cutting corners, like employee training. Merchants are trying to preserve the bottom line at the expense of their customers' service experience. Perhaps a few companies will learn that weathering the current storm might be easier if you provide what will drive customer loyalty and what your competitors will find most difficult to copy: an exceptional customer experience.

How to conduct effective online outreach

In the last column, we discussed how not to engage in online outreach efforts (AKA "astroturfing"). This time, let's talk about effective (and positive) ways that your company can reach out on the Social Web.Blog

Let's say a blogger mentions your company, service or product in his or her blog. You certainly have a right (whether the sentiment was positive, neutral or negative) to join that conversation. First, there are a few ground rules:

1.) Remain human. The last thing a blogger wants is marketing- or PR-speak in their comments section. Keep it light, candid and conversational.

2.) Did they talk about you in a positive light? Thank them, but keep it brief. The blogger will most likely appreciate that you're out there listening to customers. However, this isn't a platform for you to start screaming about your products. A link-back URL through the typical commenting fields is all you need.

3.) Add value to the conversation. If the blogger posed a question, answer it. If misinformation needs to be cleared up, clarify. This adds more depth and value to the conversation.

4.) Remain calm. If your company is being talked about in a negative fashion, take a page from Customer Service 101. Reach out, ask for more information and help to resolve the issue. If needed, tell your side of the story with facts and candor. A great example of this can be found in the comments section of a recent Iowa Web Awards blog post: The comment, which you can read here, was written by Anthony Clifton in regards to his company's reputation, Captain Jack Communications.

5.) Be transparent. When leaving a comment related to your business on a blog, use your full name and the company you represent. Anonymous commenting certainly won't help you build your case.

When in doubt, just remember to behave in these situations as you would at a networking event. Mingle, have conversations, but don't grab the microphone and shout.

New president... same old tax planning?

For the first time since 1989 we will see a new president not named Bush or Clinton.  Does this change things for your business tax planning?

If we are to go strictly by campaign promises, we would anticipate a rate increase in 2009 for higher bracket taxpayers, accompanied by an increase in the top capital gain tax rate from 15 to 20 percent.  We would also expect a new set of targeted tax breaks for certain businesses, especially "green" businesses and alternative energy producers.Blog

There are some hints that the Obama administration will follow through with its tax promises:

President-elect Barack Obama plans to push ahead with a middle-class tax cut soon after taking office, his choice for White House chief of staff said yesterday.

Rahm Emanuel also hinted that Obama would not postpone a tax increase for families earning more than $250,000 a year despite the deepening economic gloom. He said Obama's proposals would reduce taxes for 95 percent of working Americans by an average of $1,000 each, resulting in "a net tax cut" for the overall economy.

If that's true, taxpayers who pay taxes on their business income on their 1040s would prefer to have their income taxed in 2008, rather than 2009.  These taxpayers would reverse the usual year-end tax planning tricks; they would try to accelerate taxable income into this year and hold off on incurring or paying expenses until January.

But it's a long way from the campaign promise to reality.  Even when politicians mean what they say, things happen.  Congress always has its own ideas, and the continuing economic slump may cause second thoughts on increasing taxes right away.  One well-connected commentator says:

Tax hikes on the wealthy: They are not going to happen as long as the economy is in a slump. Obama may try for these rate increases in 2010, but not in 2009.

So what to do? 

Stay flexible.  This isn't the time to do anything that would be hard to undo.  For example, it would be unwise to terminate an S corporation election based on an anticipated rise in tax rates.  While you can always terminate an S election, you normally have to wait five years to reinstate it.

Close on big capital gain sales this year.  If you are sure you are going to incur a capital gain in either 2008 or 2009, it may be wise to take it this year.  While the capital gain rates may go up next year, they sure won't go down.  If the sale will be an installment sale, you can close this year and decide whether to take the capital gain in 2008 when you file your tax return.  If you extend your return, you may be able to wait until October 2009 to choose the year the 2008 gain is taxable.

Consult your tax advisor. Only your own tax advisor knows all the pieces to your tax puzzle.  Don't do anything involving real money without getting your tax pro involved.

Link: Tax Policy Center Analysis of Candidates' Tax Plans

Recession does not = slash your prices

69717109 It's hard to escape the doom and gloom of the news media.  They make it sound like we're one bad stock day away from rampant looting and pillaging.

And business owners are scared.  They're looking for ways to cut costs.  They're thinking about laying off staff.  And, they're getting ready to lower their prices to bribe customers to come back.

Panic has never been a good business strategy.

In 12 or so months, we're going to be waving goodbye to the recession and hoping to get back to "normal."  Let's not make any mistakes today that are going to permanently hurt our chances of enjoying the good times that are sure to come back around.

As you think about the next 12 months, please remember these truths. (click on each link to read more.)

This is not the time for us to panic.  This is the time for us to realize the opportunities that come from our competitors cutting their marketing efforts, the value of loyal customers and the chance to streamline and improve our businesses as we weather the downturn.

You had the courage to start your business.  I hope you'll access the resources above and find the courage to stay your course. 

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Networking Nov. 17 - 28

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to23689824 further your career and business? Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.

Altoona luncheon
Tuesday, Nov. 18
The Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce will host a business networking luncheon from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Fireside Grille, 523 Eighth St. S.E. Attendees will have a chance to give a short business presentation. Register by calling 967-3366.

West Des Moines Breakfast
Wednesday, Nov. 19
The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host a Breakfast Before Business meeting from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at Doctors Now, 640 S. 50th St., Suite #1100. Register by calling 225-6009.

Business Insights luncheon
Wednesday, Nov. 19
The Business Innovation Zone of Central Iowa will host its next Business Insights and Networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Greater Des Moines Partnership Building, 700 Locust St., Suite #100, Des Moines. J.D. Geneser, senior partner and capital advisor at LWBJ Financial will be the featured speaker. The cost is $10. Register to Cathy Spenceri at caspenceri@dmacc.edu.

Legislative luncheon
Wednesday, Nov. 19
Ankeny, Grimes, Johnston, Polk City and Urbandale chambers of commerce will host a legislative luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Stoney Creek Inn, 5291 Stoney Creek Court, Johnston. Register by Monday to one of the participating chambers.

Legislative luncheon
Thursday, Nov. 20
The Carlisle, Indianola, Norwalk and South Des Moines chambers of commerce will host a legislative luncheon at 11:30 a.m. at Stadium View, 130 S. First St., Carlisle. The cost is $15. Register by calling 402-1008.

West Des Moines luncheon
Thursday, Nov. 20
The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. the West Des Moines Council Chambers. Janet Tingwald will discuss “Communicating Difficult Change.” The cost is $10. Register by calling 225-6009.

West Des Moines Business After Hours
Thursday, Nov. 20
The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host a Business After Hours event from 5 to 7 p.m. at O’Charley’s, 6240 Mills Civic Parkway. Register by calling 225-6009.

Legislative luncheon
Friday, Nov. 21
The Altoona Area, Bondurant, East Des Moines, Mitchellville and Pleasant Hill chambers of commerce will host a legislative luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Toad Valley Golf Course, 237, N.E. 80th St., Pleasant Hill.

Defamation 2.0


Defamation is defined by state laws, which vary from state to state.  Generally, defamation is defined as a false, published statement, which harms someone's reputation.  It is these three elements: Falsity, Publication and Harm, which qualify a statement as defamatory. Written defamatory statements are referred to as Libel, and spoken defamatory statements are referred to as Slander.  While online and offline defamation are treated the same there are a few subtleties to online defamation that do not directly apply to offline defamation.  To appreciate these subtleties, it is important to understand defamation in general.



Publication simply means that the statement was understood by a third party other than the defamer or the defamed. It only takes one other person to understand the statement to find liability. If the person alleging defamation is the one relaying the false statement to the third party, however, that does not constitute publication. “Qualified” and “Absolute” privileges prevent certain kinds of statements from being defamatory publications. In certain instances, these privileges allow a lawyer to make statements in the context of a court proceeding or a crime victim to make a statement to a police officer without being found liable for defamation.



The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants an "opinion privilege." While the opinion privilege carves out wide protection, simply adding "It is my opinion that . . ." in front of an otherwise defamatory statement does not insulate the defamer from liability. The privilege protects only two types of speech: 1) that which is not “capable” of being proven false; and 2) that which cannot reasonably be “interpreted as stating actual facts” about the plaintiff. 


The first type of protected opinion relates to assertions such as calling someone a “Butthead“ or opining “due to ongoing financial pressures, the outlook for ABC Corp. refunding its bond is negative.” How could you possibly prove these statements false?  If it is not false, it is not defamation. The second type of protected opinion relates to statements that "appear" to relate to specific facts, but which cannot reasonably be “interpreted as stating actual facts” about the plaintiff.  Even if the defamer uses terms like “blackmail” and “traitor” there is no defamation if the statement is clearly satirical. This privilege goes so far as to protect Larry Flynt printing an ad parody of Jerry Falwell having sex with his own mother in an outhouse was found by the courts to be clearly related to rhetorical hyperbole, or use in a loose figurative sense.  Regardless of how inappropriate the publication might have been, it was not defamatory.



Although damages are presumed in most types of defamation cases, proving evidence of actual damage often increases the eventual monetary award. Damages in a defamation case can be shown through a detailed description of the victim's prior reputation and the extent to which the defamatory statement was distributed.  Associated damages may include loss of income, emotional distress, physical pain and suffering, medical bills for mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment.



In some instances, such as when the victim is a public figure, or when you are seeking punitive damages, you do have to prove actual malice. Actual malice typically means that the statement is either made with knowledge that it is false or with reckless disregard for whether or not it is false.


Defamation Online

Blogs and other forms of social media are treated the same as other forms of main stream media. In the real world, individuals are just as liable as the defamer if they repeat a statement they know is defamatory. In the online world however, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants bloggers a little wiggle room. Section 230 states that providers of interactive computer service are not treated as "publishers" of any information provided by a third party. This applies to guest posters, comments, forum posts et cetera. This immunity, however, does not relate to information selected or edited by the blogger, or to other claims, such as intellectual property infringement.


Avoiding a Lawsuit

Defamation often incites plaintiffs to bring cases they might not otherwise bring. Even if the case is difficult to prove and the damages small, plaintiffs often bring defamation cases to vindicate what they see as a moral wrong.  Avoiding a lawsuit for defamation involves much more than following the foregoing rules.  It involves assessing the "victim" to determine if they are someone who might bring a defamation suit regardless of whether or not the law is on their side.  In terms of bringing a suit for defamation, it is important to assess whether the lawsuit will cause more harm than good in drawing attention to an esoteric blog post no one would otherwise have read. In both instances, discretion is the better part of valor.

Brett Trout


Learn from Millennial's Behavior in the 08' Election

A historic election that will be analyzed in many areas, but specifically when all is said and Obama_change done this election could be seen as the election of the next generation.  Regardless of one's desired outcome for the Presidential race, there are many lessons to be learned from this election, particularly, the value of millennials.

In politics, young voters have conventionally been derided as a non-factor. In the past, the disengagement of Generation X helped to solidify this sentiment. However, the emergence of the millennials has begun to challenge this belief, and only future elections will tell if their impact on the 2008 election was an anomaly or truly a trend.

The emerging trend in play is not necessarily how many of them are voting, but rather for whom are they voting. While the percentage of young voters increased by only 1 percent - from 17 percent to 18 percent - exit polls show that young voters supported Obama over McCain by a margin of 2 to 1. That number translates to about six points; the same difference in the winning margin for Obama. It is conceivable that if those under 30 voted the same way they did in 2004, it would have been 2000 all over again with Obama barely winning the popular vote and McCain, winning Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana.

Considering, in 2000, how popular McCain once was with the youth vote, it's at the least telling that more wasn't done to reach out to millennials, considering it's a safe bet to assume Obama had a leg up with this demographic based on image and relatability alone. In addition, the Obama campaign used a variety of tools to solidify and broaden its appeal to YPs; from its reliance on social networking sites and text messaging to its use of Twitter, its tailor-made campaign theme ("Yes We Can", is the epitome of Gen Y) and even ads in video games. In hindsight, the McCain campaign might have wanted to compete more in this area, but didn't have the resources to do so. However, Republicans would be wise to take note of this impact in future elections.

Businesses should also analyze this further, as this next generation is a very socially conscience generation willing to be active, if inspired. Obama recognized this and used tools to broaden his appeal to them and in return received their loyalty.

Can businesses replicate this model?

Relationships 101

When was the last time you tried something on in a clothing store dressing room and it looked fantastic only to get home and find out it looks completely different in different light? Katie Konrath at the Get Fresh Minds blog once talked about how J. Crew addresses this common occurrence by adding a daytime/nighttime light switch in their dressing rooms so you can see how their clothing will look at different times of the day.

BRILLIANT! It’s the little things that organizations do that make a huge difference. These are the things that, if we are customers, keep us coming back. And these are the things that we hear about that make us want to be customers. Doughnut

It’s the Doubletree Hotel giving you warm chocolate chip cookies upon checking in to your room.

It’s the Nordstrom cashier walking out from behind the counter to hand you your packages and thanking you for the business after you’ve made a purchase…big or small.

It’s the staff at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant on West Jackson in Chicago carrying around a basket of warm fresh doughnut holes for patrons waiting in line, in the cold.  

What these companies are doing is building relationships with their customers and prospects before, during and after the sale. In John Maxwell's book Relationships 101, Maxwell says the only way to know if you're connecting with your customers is if the following five characteristics are present in the relationship:

  1. Respect When is comes to relationships, everything begins with respect, with the desire to place value on others.
  2. Shared Experiences You can't be relational with someone you don't know. It requires shared experience over time.
  3. Trust When you respect people and you spend enough time with them to develop shared experiences, you are in a position to develop trust.
  4. Reciprocity One sided personal relationships don't last. If one person is always the giver and the other is always the receiver, then the relationship will eventually disintegrate.
  5. Mutual Enjoyment When relationships grow and start to get solid, the people involved begin to enjoy each other.

So what about you and your organization? Are you trying to make a sales quota or are you building relationships? What’s one little thing you or your organization does to build relationships with your prospects?

The Workplace is all a Twitter

One of the hottest social networking tools is Twitter. Twitter is a Web site which allows you to write one hundred and forty character micro-blogs, which others can read in a scrolling "feed".  Twitterers follow these feeds to connect with one another. The site has blossomed in popularity and is likely to gain even more traction since President-elect Barack Obama used the site so effectively during his recent campaign.

But a hot debate is taking place about whether sites like Twitter have a place in the 19318812 workplace. While there are many positives to the site, a downside is the potential loss in productivity because employees "tweeting" away are probably not getting work done. Plus, there is always risk that somebody might say the wrong thing that could embarrass an employer, or worse, get the employer sued.

So the reaction of many employers is to ban Twitter, along with sites like Facebook and YouTube, completely. And while this may seem like a sensible solution, you really are asking for trouble from younger generation workers as well a growing number of the older set. I don't think banning sites like these will work long term in the workplace. Plus, you would be amazed by the things employees say about you online after you ban their favorite site. Trust me; sites like Twitter are here to stay so you better learn how to play the game.

The first step is to educate yourself with Twitter. The benefits to your business may be enormous. Many companies, both large and small, have harnessed Twitter to effectively market their brands.  Perhaps you could even turn that twittering employee into an evangelist for your company. Next, consider these steps in allowing employees to Twitter and/or blog:

  1. Get advice from in-house and/or outside legal counsel with a good understanding of technology and social networking.  This area of the law is changing at the speed of light.  Talk with a lawyer that can help you navigate your way through these issues.
  2. Update your employment policies to cover blogs and social networking sites.  Many companies have policies that cover Internet use, email, cell phones and other technologies.  But do your policies cover blogs and social networking sites?
  3. Develop a corporate blogging and/or social networking policy. Make sure that employees understand the consequences of violating the policies. Make sure employees know not to disclose confidential or proprietary information on blogs or social networking sites. Tell them to think twice before posting anything that could be considered defamatory.
  4. Train employees on the benefits and risks of using such sites.
  5. Appoint someone who will be in charge of monitoring social networks and/or blogs for the company. Learn how to use RSS feeds to do this effectively.

Chances are someone from your company is already on Twitter and/or other social networking sites regularly. So don't wait. If you don't define how your employees use Twitter, they will define it for you. It's better to get on board before it's too late.


Re-energize. Unplug.

In a recent article in The Des Moines Register, Dana Hunsinger referenced "the epidemic of  overwork, over-scheduling and time famine in America's workplaces." Think of how many business people you know -- including yourself, more than likely -- who routinely work 50-60 hours a week. Even when we're not at work, we're hard at work...on our cell phones, laptops and Blackberries. This is especially true during tough economic times when fear drives us to put in even more hours.

For decades, we've questioned the wisdom of being continually "plugged in." Remember30358407 Stephen Covey's analogy of "sharpening the saw," stopping periodically to renew physically, mentally, socially and spiritually? Without that renewal time, like a saw, we become dull and ineffective.

John deGraaf, Executive Director of Take Back Your Time, talks in the Register article about how essential time off is to our health. He says that men who don't take regular vacations are 32 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease than those who do, and women are 50 percent more likely.

During the recent election, for the first time, both campaigns listed work+life issues as part of their economic agendas. President-elect Obama specifically sees work+life as a mainstream economic and social policy issue.

Ultimately it comes down to individual choices though, doesn't it? Maintaining a conscious balance between work and personal life so that one doesn't dominate the other. Balance does not mean 50/50. It's not about clock time.

Balance is about how we use the time we have. It's deciding, "What's a reasonable balance for me?"

  • Is it a few hours a week unencumbered by work worries? Unplugged physically from the Blackberry, emotionally from the to-do list? Plugged socially into family and friends, spiritually into the silent chambers of our souls?
  • Is it taking four breaks a day to walk around the block, to sit for a few minutes beside a sunny window, to read a few pages in a favorite magazine?
  • Is it some solitude every evening between dinner and bedtime?
  • Is it playing more with the kids?
  • Is it having a real conversation with your spouse, partner or friend each day?
  • Is it making time every week in your schedule for a sports, community or religious activity that you care deeply about? 

We have to consciously schedule "time off" into our lives, just like we schedule staff meetings into our calendars. Knowing when not to work is just as important as knowing when to.

The Power Of Engagement

A new page has turned with the election of Barack Obama as our new president.  Old barriers30518629 have been torn down and we are all anxious to see what the future holds with his leadership.

I have discussed in many posts the value of engaging your employees.  You have to admit that Barack Obama engaged people, and that was the power to his success.  He changed the history of how states traditionally voted, he engaged the younger generation, and he rallied a voter turn out as should be expected in a democracy.  When was last time a presidential candidate drew crowds of 50,000 or more. He did.  Now do you believe me when I tout that engaging your employees will get you bottom line results?

Barack tapped into the emotions of America to drive success.  You to can tap into the emotions of your employees and then drive that success with facts, financial information, and some type of ownership.  As humans we thrive on emotion not logic.  The power of love, hate, hope, faith, and fear have changed the face of the world a million times - some to the good, some to the bad.

When someone (new employee, customer, vendor, et cetera) walks into your company, what emotion will they experience?  Is it fear, hate, loathing, envy, or maybe nothing at all OR... is it love, kindness, concern, hope, pride, and a sense of welcome.  Maybe it is time for you to change the face of your company as you look to the challenges of the future.

Today's economic conditions require you to be "Revolutionary"

I have just returned from a well-needed mental break.  I spent some time back in my second "home" in California.  It gave me a chance to recharge my batteries, to see old friends and colleagues, but it also gave me a chance to think about a post that I did back in July on another blog I have. It seems fitting that I come back to it given the current state of things in the economy and business in general.

I was having dinner the one night with some old colleagues and we were talking about politics, business, et cetera, and one of the topics was innovation in IT. The previous post, "A dinner conversation," was where I was having dinner with some local executives and we were talking about being "revolutionary" and someone had stated that making bold moves in today's business climate was not the thing to be doing right now. 

I disagree.  Sure, we have to be smart and weigh the risk, but just standing idly by is not the thing to be doing either.  Retrenchment will surely buy you time, but it will not buy you opportunity, growth or a future.  Abbie Lundberg, Editor-in-Chief at www.CIO.com, had a great "From the Editor" piece this month.  She mentioned that Forrester founder and CEO George Colony had interviewed Mark Hurd (HP) and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft).  I was very impressed to see these guys pushing their companies to "embrace risk".  Mr. Colony's advice to CIOs:  "Manage IT like an iceberg, with heavy standardization, reliability and lower costs beneath the waterline, but above the waterline, let it snow." Perfectly stated Mr. Colony, and I'll add this; be revolutionary.36960825  

I need to repeat this part from my old post because I think it really drives home my point:

"The first step in being a revolutionary in technology is to develop a point of view.  A well thought out and articulated point of view is the sword that will carry you into battle against the dragons of precedent.  It becomes the rudder that lets you steer a course in a world of people being tossed about by fad and whim.  And it will be your ‘true North’ that will guide you through times of tribulation and challenge.  To use this sailing metaphor, ‘true North’ is the actual point around which the earth spins, whereas 'magnetic North' is where the compass needle points.  True North never varies, while magnetic north moves over time and shifts positions.  What I’m getting at is if you maintain your point of view and don’t bend to every whim and fad you will guide your organization and company to great success."   

We all have a point of view of the technologies we use in our companies.  You can take those points of view and be that revolutionary in your company. You can help drive change.  We can take Citrix technologies and other technologies and make great things happen for the business and drive that convergence of IT and business. I'll state again like I stated to my colleagues last week, revolutionaries are great for creating movements, but they don’t create mandates.  You need the right person(s) in the executive suites.  You need to help them see what you see, to learn what you have learned and to feel that same sense of urgency and inevitability that you feel. Talk about the ways that you can use the technologies that you have. Talk about workload mobility, how to drive simplification in your environment by automating the management of the infrastructure, talk about the energy and space efficiencies and how they play into to helping the company meet cost savings goals.  Use the four guiding principles of design that I have followed for the past five years: Simplification, Standardization, Integration, and Modularity.

Don't let the difficult times we live in keep you from using the technologies like Citrix, VMWare and others to innovate and create value.

Can your BRAND help you with work-life balance?

I recently went through a process with Branding Guru and fellow IowaBiz blogger Drew McLellan. 

He was helping me to figure out what my "BRAND" really is.Brand

It was an amazing experience that produced a surprising byproduct... it actually helped me with my work-life balance.

Yup, that's right.  The process of clarifying my brand for my various business endeavors helped me to clarify what I do... and just as importantly... what I DON'T do.

Drew hit me with questions like...

  • What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
  • What do you want to do more of?
  • What don't you do?
  • What do you want/need to do less of?
  • How do people describe you?
  • How would you want people to describe you?

We went deep and Drew continued to ask clarifying questions that pushed me. 

We boiled things down to a sentence... a phrase... that described what I do. 

What was interesting was that this process started to help me to be 100 percent clear on what to say "yes" to, and what to say "no" to.

Isn't that a key to effective work-life balance too?

I'll give you an example.  Just this past week, I was approached about an opportunity to participate in a project.  It looked like fun and there were some great people involved.  BUT... when I lined the opportunity up against what I'd discovered as my core "brand," (what I do) it didn't connect.  It didn't line up. 

In the past, I probably would have said yes, but then been overloaded by the additional commitment AND wilted because it didn't fully line up with who I am and what I do. 

Plus, there's a high chance that the weight of that "bad-fit" obligation would have carried over into my life outside of work.  It would have taken away from my time with my family and other important aspects of my life. 

So, in this case, I was able to respectfully decline, encourage them and suggest some additional people to consider.  Plus, I was able to do it with clarity and no guilt! 

Yeah... that felt good.

This concept is even more important right now as things are a little tougher financially for some.  If a business starts to experience a tightening of the belt... there is a temptation to try to become everything to everybody.  But, as I found through this BRANDING process, it's more important to focus on what you do... and do that with excellence... than try to be everything to everyone! 

That will help you to know what to say "yes" to and what to say "no" to.

So... how about you?

How about asking yourself some of Drew's questions?

They may help you with your brand... and they may... help you with your work-life balance too!

Give it a try... and let us know what you come up with!

Photo credit and kudos to: mleak

Insurance for employee lawsuits

Unhappy_newspaper Wouldn’t it be great to see your company’s name on the front page of the newspaper? Or on the evening news?

Not if it was because a former employee was suing you.

Everyone thinks it’ll never happen to them. But are you and your business protected if you’re sued by a former employee?

Many business owners don’t realize the benefits that insurance can provide them. I often come across insurance policies that are very generic and essentially do not provide much coverage beyond general liability.

This concerns me, especially now during the economic crisis that we are facing. One lawsuit can easily ruin a business even during good economic times. Imagine what it can do when times are tough.

While I understand the concern to not be over insured, I do feel it is important to be adequately insured.

A coverage that is available now and that can help a business owner in a situation like this is Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI).

Recognizing that smaller companies need this kind of protection, some insurers provide this coverage as an endorsement to their businessowners policy (BOP). The coverage limit is typically minimal so, depending on your company size, a separate EPLI policy may need to be purchased.

EPLI provides protection against many kinds of employee lawsuits, including claims of:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Wrongful termination
  • Breach of employment contract
  • Negligent evaluation
  • Failure to employ or promote
  • Wrongful discipline
  • Deprivation of career opportunity
  • Wrongful infliction of emotional distress
  • Mismanagement of employee benefit plans

In addition to paying a judgment for which the insured is liable, it also provides for legal defense costs, which can be substantial even where there has been no wrongdoing. This is a major benefit of this coverage as the cost of defense can sometimes be the largest cost factor of the claim.

Are you insured in case of lawsuit from a former employee?

If your answer is “I don’t know,” you might want to take a look at your policy or contact your agent to find out. And be sure you have an attorney who understands business law.

In this case the benefits can outweigh the costs.

Customer Service Beyond the Traditional Marketplace

We all expect good customer service in the marketplace. But what about applying customer service principles in organizations that aren't traditionally dependent on customer loyalty or satisfaction? Government agencies, civic offices, or libraries aren't normally competing for your money or attention. They aren't going to lose you to the competition. Health care is another area that has traditionally had a "take it or leave it" attitude towards customer service principles. There are signs, however, that this is beginning to change.30417904

My wife and I had an appointment at the University of Iowa Hospitals last week. My wife experienced acute pain walking into her appointment. It may, or may not, have been related to the reason for her visit. Nevertheless, we were concerned. During one of her tests, the technician did something that exacerbated her discomfort. Meeting with the doctor after her test, we mentioned that she'd experienced this pain and we were concerned. The doctor did not appear concerned in the least, said that it could be almost anything, and ignored it altogether.

My wife was so distraught by the doctor's lack of concern that she had to leave the room. We left the appointment angry and frustrated. "If we were shopping for a hospital," my wife said later, "I would have walked out and never returned."

That night I went to the University of Iowa Hospital's Web site where I read that, listed among the patient's rights we should expect to "receive a timely response from your doctor or nurse whenever you report pain or discomfort."

What would I do if this had been a hotel or a department store where I received poor service? I would write and make my displeasure known! So, I scoured the hospital's Web site further to find that they had a patient representative. I wrote an e-mail detailing our experience that day, our resulting frustration and what we had expected. I sent the email late that same night.

The following morning my wife promptly received a call from the patient representative who had received our e-mail. She apologized for our experience the previous day, affirmed that my wife had every reason to be upset, and explained exactly what she was going to do to address the situation. She even asked my wife how she was feeling and asked about her pain. That afternoon the doctor with whom we'd had our appointment the previous day called to personally apologize and discuss the situation. We discussed my wife's pain and agreed on a follow up plan to try and identify and address the source of her discomfort.

Customer service should be the concern of more than just businesses hawking goods in the traditional marketplace. Any organization who serves other human beings should endeavor to apply basic customer service principles in everything they do.

Dear Mr. President

SealpresidentialcolorAs of writing this, I do not know if I'm addressing Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama.  My message is the same, regardless of which one of you wins.

First of all, congratulations on winning one of the most epic and historic elections ever.  As one who loves the art and science of office politics, I've been riveted to the dramatic twists and turns the past 10 months have provided.

Now, however, it's time to get down to business.  And I have but one request for your performance as "Leader of the Free World":  it's time to quit acting like a politician and start acting like a project manager.  Since you're a Washington Insider, I'll explain in simple terms and try to use small words:

  1. Prioritize - As a project manager, it's impossible to do everything to make everybody happy.  Our profession is blocked in by the triple constraint.  You'd better learn this principle quickly.  You have a few things that are the top of everybody's minds:  Economy, environment, education and enforcement being among them.  Special interests and party politics will need to take a back seat.
  2. Define - once you've established your priorities, you will need to figure out what your project solution will look like.  You're going to get battered around quite a bit, but you're the leader we elected, so we'll expect you to have the diplomatic backbone to sell your solutions across party lines and also make all of the Joe-The-Plumbers and Joe-Six-Packs content.  Along with this, don't forget to create some metrics so you can prove to your nay-sayers you were successful.
  3. Plan - create a timeline for the tasks needed to make your solution.  Get the right resources in place to make them a reality.  Make a budget.  Identify and strategize your risks.  Set the expectations of your stakeholders.  Don't get distracted by all of the special interests who will want to add to your plans.  It's called "pork" and we're sick of it.  (In project terms, we call it "scope creep."  Either way, it's bad.)
  4. Lead - protect the project priorities, stay focused on the key things, execute your plans, remove obstacles for your project resources and keep us informed.  Work with us... ALL of us... Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Federal employees, State employees, Local employees and regular citizens who know how to think and solve and articulate and get things done.

Regardless of which of you wins the election, my wish, my hope and my prayers are the same, Mr. President: Act more like a project manager than a politician and figure out how to Carpe Factum.

Astroturfing: How NOT to approach social media

Profile_img1_astroturf_2"Astroturfing" happens all too often by marketers trying to infiltrate the social Web, and many practice it blindly without understanding how potentially damaging it can be to their company's reputation and brand.

First, let's define Astroturfing: It's the efforts of an individual (or group of individuals) - compensated by a company - posting information to blogs, message boards and social networks, posing as an average consumer with positive things to say about that company. To sum up: the attempt to create a fake grassroots movement to market a service or product. Hence the name Astroturfing.

Efforts like this are disingenuous and can be spotted easily with simple IP address tracking, which can lead to a public relations black eye for all parties - whether it is the company itself or their marketing partners.

Kami Huyse of Communications Overtones talks further about best practices and established an Anti-Astroturfing Code of Ethics here.

It comes down to one simple truth: Positive word-of-mouth can't be manufactured, it must be earned.

You may be more international than you think

If there ever were a time that Iowa businesses could ignore international issues, those days are long gone.   Iowa entrepreneurs are crossing borders as near as Canada and as far away as China and India.  And where Iowa business goes, so goes the IRS.19151295

Fearing cross-border tax evasion, Congress has imposed a number of reporting requirements with frightful penalties for non-compliance. 

For example, U.S. Taxpayers that either own or have signing authority over a foreign bank account are required to file Form 90-22.1, "Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts." This report is commonly, and colorfully, known as the "FBAR" form.  An accidental violation of this requirement can trigger a $10,000 fine.  Willful violations can earn fines of the greater of $100,000 or half the value of the account.  You can imagine how that can add up over a few years.  And remember, even if you don't own the account, the reporting requirements apply even if you are just authorized to sign checks, say, on the company's Canadian bank.

If you are an officer, director or significant shareholder of a foreign corporation, you may have to file Form 5471.  This form is meant to identify whether certain U.S. tax rules apply to the income of the foreign corporation, and to highlight certain cross-border transactions.  The penalty for accidental failure to file this form is $10,000, and the IRS says it will automatically assess this penalty for late filings starting next year.  This penalty applies even if no income tax was underpaid; the IRS doesn't believe in "no harm, no foul."

U.S. Corporations with foreign ownership and foreign companies doing business here may have to file Form 5472.  This form identifies cross-border transactions the IRS might want to know about, and it also carries a $10,000 penalty for late filing.

Partnerships are required to withhold up to 30 percent of U.S. income allocatable to offshore partners using forms 8804, 8805 and 8813.  The IRS can assess penalties of up to 25 percent for late filing, and they can also collect any withholdings that were missed.

This just scratches the surface of international reporting requirements.   Foreign gifts,  offshore trusts and ownership of non-corporate entities are just some of the situations that trigger reporting requirements.

The bottom line?  As the world gets smaller, international tax reporting requirements are only getting bigger.  Neglecting them can get expensive in a hurry.

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