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December 2008

When bloggers collide

In my last post, I wrote about Hubbell Realty Co.’s new marketing tactic to sell some homes in West Des Moines.

It has stirred up quite a debate, including 18 comments on IowaBiz, a formal response from Hubbell and a spillover to at least two other Web sites.

Fellow IowaBiz blogger Drew McLellan garnered a whopping 47 responses to his Dec. 18 “Drew’s23689952 marketing minute” blog post and Tim Johnson, another IowaBiz professional, received 10 comments on his post at www.carpefactum.com.

A perk of blogging for me is the opportunity to include a little personal interjection into my writing, something that, as an objective news writer, I don’t get to do very often. (Disclosure: I have no problem with Hubbell’s marketing technique in this case. I say if it works, they should work it. No harm, no foul.)

Regardless of how you may feel about this particular issue – the majority of commentators believe Hubbell has committed a serious transgression with its Hailey Brownstone site – the fact that a short piece written about social networking applications, and published on a blog, has stirred up so much interaction in the online community is a testimony in itself to the power of online communication applications of all varieties.

My objective is to keep the discussion, on this topic and others to come, moving forward in the new year.

Feel free to chime in.

- Todd Razor

Year end thank you's - throw more than a bone

51269125 It is one of the most powerful and most overlooked marketing truths out there. Employees that feel appreciated will do the same for your clients. 

This is the time of year when many employers are thinking about how to best show their appreciation.  But how should you do that?

Lisa Cieslica from JobPoint makes the point that sometimes a sincere “thank you” can be the best incentive around.  But if you want to go beyond that…here are some other ideas.

  • Let them decide:  The CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK asks his employees for 101 life goals.  When someone exceeds his expectations and he wants to reward them, he looks for ways to help them get closer to one of those life goals.
  • Don’t forget their families:  When one of your team has been putting in a lot of extra hours and effort, or been on the road for a while, why not send a thank you note or gift to their family?
  • It doesn’t have to be big:  Employees love creative ideas that demonstrate that you're thinking about what matters to them.  How about trying coupons that can be redeemed for a long lunch, or a half day Friday? 

No matter what you do, make sure you couple it with Cieslica’s suggestion – a genuine thank you.  That’s sweet music to anyone’s ears.

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Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Patents

There are very few things people have heard more, but know less, about than patents. Nearly every infomercial touts its product as "patented" or "patent pending," but what does that mean? Are patents easy to get? If you change 25 percent of the invention, can you avoid infringing a patent? When is a patent "pending"?Blog

Misinformation abounds when it comes to patents.  While facts about patents would fill volumes, here are few interesting facts about patents you can use to regale your geeky relatives over the holidays:

10. You can keyword search millions of patents on Google Patent Search for free.
9. Patents expire 20 years after you file your application. Patent terms used to be 17 years from the date the patent issued. Some inventors, however, were intentionally dragging their feet, waiting until someone else brought their technology to market before having their submarine patents issue. Now, if you drag your feet for 19 years, your patent will only be valid for 1 year.
8. You must pay the Patent Office "maintenance fees" to keep your patents in force. Failure to pay these fees due at three and a half, seven and a half, and eleven and a half years from the date the patent is granted will cause your patent to become abandoned.
7. No patent search is 100 percent effective. Even if you searched all 7 million plus patents, patent applications are kept confidential for at least 18 months after filing. Theoretically someone else's patent could issue on your invention the day after your searched every published patent and patent application.
6. On average, your patent application will be pending nearly three years. This is not all bad though. Although you enforcement rights are severely limited while the patent is pending, having a competitor build up a demand for your product before the patent issues can be a very profitable turn of events.
5. There is no such thing as a "Poor Man's Patent." Relying on a letter you mailed yourself to protect your invention actually provides no protection whatsoever.
4. Just because you have a patent, does not necessarily mean your invention is valuable. Inventors have succeeded in obtaining patents on some pretty wacky inventions.
3. If your invention cannot be "reverse engineered" a trade secret may be a cheaper, easier and longer lasting alternative to a patent.
2. Ordinary attorneys are not allowed to draft patents for clients. To become a patent attorney, you have to have an undergraduate degree in a science, or the equivalent, and have passed the notoriously challenging patent bar exam. No two patents, or patent attorneys, are created equal. It would be extremely unlikely two patent attorneys would draft identical patent applications covering a given invention. The patent attorney's experience, and skill and knowledge of the field of art, all factor into whether the patent will be broad and enforceable or narrow and easily invalidated.
1. A patent does not give you the right to make your invention. Your patent merely gives you the right to prevent others from making your invention. The United States Patent and Trademark Office will grant patents on inventions which are improvements on other patented inventions. A patent in hand notwithstanding, if your invention infringes on a valid patent, you cannot make your invention absent a license agreement from the other patent holder.

Brett Trout

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Make Your (Activity) List and Check it Twice!

It’s that time of year again. I love the Christmas season. I love the shopping, the presents, the food and the music (we actually had carolers come to the door this year).

As sales and business professionals we are given a wonderful gift this week and next. We’re given the gift of time. Much of our competition is hibernating. These are the people who have checked out and are using the holiday as an excuse. I’ve already heard it several times this week. They say “after Tuesday, nobody’s really working for the rest of the week”. Or they say, “nothing happens between Christmas and New Years." And my favorite, “nobody is making hiring or buying decisions this week. They’re waiting until after the holidays”.Bear

I’m here to tell you it’s simply not true. On more than one occasion, the biggest deals of the year for me closed on Christmas Eve. Jeb Blount from The Sales Guy blog sums it up best:

In sales, like it or not, activity is everything. If you are not prospecting, questioning, presenting and closing you will fail – no matter what time of year it is. The problem many of us face during the holidays is that we slack off and let our self-discipline slip. We also have a tendency to allow the holidays to move us out of our normal daily routine. The result is reduced activity.

To keep this from happening to you, it is critical that you sit down with your daily planner right now and ensure that you have your calendar blocked properly for daily prospecting and lead generation, as well as information gathering, presentations, demos and closing meetings. Take into account all of your holiday activities and build them into your planner. You may have to do some work around, but the key here is to get everything planned out in advance. To stay on track set daily activity targets and commit to reviewing those targets each morning and afternoon. You will be amazed at how powerful this forward planning process is for keeping you on track and focused during the holidays and have plenty of time to enjoy the holidays with the ones you care about the most.

Take advantage this week by:

•    Don’t stop selling, average sales people stop selling this week;
•    Continue setting activity targets;
•    Plan your day (Include your Christmas shopping and family time into your plan);
•    This is a great time to move forward, to catch up and to prepare for next year;
•    I don’t doubt for a minute workforce production drops dramatically this week. Don’t let it be your              excuse!

What’s the greatest business success you’ve had during the week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve?

Iowa LLC Law Changes in 2009

There are significant changes to the Iowa limited liability company (LLC) statute effective Jan. 1, 2009.Complicate   The changes include everything from how an LLC is initially formed and filed with the Secretary of State to changes that apply when a member leaves (i.e. disassociates) from the LLC.

The changes in the law are too numerous to set out in one blog post. In fact, Marc Ward of the Dickinson Law Firm has devoted an ENTIRE blog to the 2009 Iowa LLC law changes.  

So instead of boring you with all the details, here are my top five Iowa LLC law changes for 2009:

  1. Certificate of Organization: Starting with the new year, you will no longer file "Articles of Organization" with the Secretary of State to start your Iowa limited liability company. Instead, you will now file a "Certificate of Organization" to begin the process. Unless there are changes with the Secretary of State. The Certificate of Organization under the new Iowa LLC law will actually have less detail than Articles of Organization typically had in the past. The only information required for the Certificate of Organization are a) the name of limited liability company and b) the street and mailing address of the registered office and the name of the registered agent. 
  2. Operating Agreement Pitfalls:  There are a couple of issues relating to operating agreements that LLC business owners must consider. The operating agreement is the document that sets forth how the LLC is governed and run. First, LLC operating agreements are not required to be in writing. While that may initially excite some LLC owners, the new law has provisions that may surprise and bite unknowing LLC owners especially with regard to management rights, profit distribution and transfers of interest. It is best practice to have a written operating agreement. Second, operating agreements may be amended orally. Again, while that may make it easy to amend the agreement it will likely remain best practice to override this statutory provision to include language in the written operating agreement requiring an amendment to be in writing. That way members may avoid the inevitable arguments that ensue when agreements are not memorialized in writing. People tend to remember things differently when agreements are not in writing and the agreement is more difficult to prove in court.
  3. Statements of AuthorityThe new law also permits an LLC to file a statement of authority with the Iowa Secretary of State and the county recorder's office. The statement of authority will serve as notice of who does or does not have authority to act for the LLC, sign documents transferring real property, or otherwise act for and bind the LLC.  The statement can state the authority or limits on authority by position (e.g. member, manager, president) or a specific person or persons.
  4. Pay Attention to Management:  The default provision with the new LLC law is one member=one vote. (Currently it's based upon ownership %). This means that even a member with a minority percentage may have the ability to have as much management authority as a member that has a majority of the membership units. Accordingly, if a majority owner wants to maintain management control, the written operating agreement will need to specify such arrangement.  
  5. Disassociation of a Member: The new law has several provisions outlining what happens when a member leaves or is asked to leave an LLC. An operating agreement can vary the provisions contained in the law. The provisions relating to disassociation are a little complicated so it is important to get legal advice on these issues. For example, a person who disassociates may no longer have management rights but could still have the right to receive distributions. That may be a result that many members might not suspect could happen.

Please also know that the new LLC law will apply to older LLCs on Jan. 1, 2011, unless the members agree the new law will apply sooner to their company. Be sure to seek legal advice from a business attorney familiar with the new law. The changes are much more numerous and significant that set forth in this blog post. You certainly won't want unintended consequences to happen to you.

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Lessons from a Reluctant Entrepreneur

It's the holidays. You recognize the name Koeze. You know...those catalogs that come this time of year,Blog full of fancy glass jars with delicious-looking cashews, mixed nuts and candies for business gift giving. It's a business with $12 million in sales...certainly not peanuts.

December's issue of Inc. Magazine profiles the Koeze Co. and its CEO, Jeff Koeze. What a fascinating study in entrepreneurship and the art of learning to become a leader. When Koeze took the reins from his dad, Scott, 12 years ago, he knew almost nothing about running a business or being a leader. Talk about starting with a clean slate! And yet, Koeze has almost doubled sales, improved profit margins, introduced new products, modernized processes and systems, and enhanced the company's culture.

Admittedly it's been an overwhelming and trying -- but exhilarating -- 12-year ride for Koeze after taking up the reins from his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants father. The lessons he's learned are a handy guide, and an inspiring story, for any business leader. Two of those lessons are:

Perpetual learning is critical:

A former college professor, Koeze ignored his father's advice: "You can't learn to run a business by reading a book." Instead, as he'd done with all previous problems, Koeze "started with a stack of books 18 feet high." He sought advice everywhere...consultants, psychologists, clinical social workers, philosophy professors...and eventually, like Koeze himself, Koeze Co. became smarter. Employees have gone from being intellectually passive to intellectually curious. Three of the most important books from that 18-foot stack, according to Koeze are:

  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen (Penguin, 2001).
  • Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and other Bribes, by Alfie Kohn (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
  • Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingham (Portfolio, 2005). 

Free-wheeling discussion is essential:

Koeze sees himself as "blunt and transparent" in his speech. That's how he wanted Koeze Co. to operate as well -- no hidden agendas, no sneak attacks in meetings. But it didn't. Not at the beginning. And Koeze realized that he had to change his approach in order for his employees to change their approach. He had assumed, as he'd done with his colleagues at the University of North Carolina, that the best argument wins and thus, he would be able to argue people into doing things his way. Not so with the production staff at Koeze.

Jeff began to share his thoughts. He became more patient. Which began to put people at ease. And one of his greatest insights: "He realized he confused people by verbally debating with himself the very issue on which he was about to give an order." Do you know anyone who has the habit of thinking out loud? And they do it with their direct reports, which confuse the heck out of people as they strive to discern from the monologue, "What am I supposed to do?" Koeze quit doing that and became comfortable with various forms of decision making, even simply giving orders.

Koeze, the professor, became a nut man, and over the course of a dozen years, not only became smarter himself, but now runs one of the smartest companies around.

You Are Your Own Bailout

12180619_thlWelcome to the new U.S. economy of bailouts.  Companies can plan horribly, not understand there financial situation, not understand the economy and the markets there in, and loose money like water out of a tap - no worry, they can get a bailout.

As the leaders of these companies, you can make poor decisions, lay people off, ruin peoples 401(k) accounts and share values, spend as you please - no worry you can get a bailout, and if you really screw it up you will still get a bonus.

The truly sad story is that there are far too many employees, retirees and college students that will not get a bailout - you are your own bailout.  I hate saying this, but we must take care of ourselves.  Counting on any company or any level of government appears to be a pretty risky venture.

I know that there are great companies out there, but the true test of great is when tough times hit.  What sacrifices are the owners, leaders, board of directors and managers willing to make to honor their commitments to employees?

I think this correction in our economy is a wake up call to everyone.  Make sure that you have your own bailout in order.  Here is a short list for creating your own bailout plan:

  • Do not spend more than you make
  • Do not try to "keep up with the Jones"
  • Make sure you can handle your debt even with loosing your key career or job
  • Save enough to cash flow your lifestyle for a year
  • Take a hard look at how you want to live once you retire - then make sure you stick to a plan. The minimum is on your own dime, above that can come from a company or the government.
  • Keep educating and training yourself - diversification is good for business and for individuals
  • Keep laughing and having some fun

Bailout - Start your own today!

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2009 is the Year of Business Technology

I'm making my New Year's resolution early this year.  I resolve to raise the level of conversation as it pertains to the transformation of IT (Information Technology) to BT (Business Technology).  Why, you might ask, am I dedicating my efforts to this?  It needs to be done.  The gap between business and IT is growing not shrinking.  In a July 2008 Forrester survey of 600 business executives the numbers made me say, "what?"  All this talk about bringing IT and Business closer and "aligning" the two is nothing but total bunk.  A lot of talk and no one doing anything about making it real. 

I want to share with you some of the numbers that support my case:

  1. 82% of respondents agree that technology is core to their business, but only 71% see IT as effective at supporting that requirement.
  2. 72% of respondents see technology as central to the goal of competitive differentiation, but only 61% see IT as effective.
  3. 77% view IT as mandatory for sales and distribution, but only 67% see IT as effectively supporting them.
  4. When asked to assess the importance of business drivers and compare how well IT is supporting them, the gap widens.  The only category where IT support quality approached importance of the business driver was in improving end user workforce productivity - 78% viewed this as a somewhat or critically important business driver, but only 45% viewed IT as supporting this need very well or excellently.  Worse of all, IT's support for global expansion was viewed by 61% of respondents as important, but only 23% of respondents said IT was doing a good job at it.

See?  So what is behind these numbers?  An inescapable factor in today's business environment: the constancy of change. I've said it before, enterprises must adapt to the economic imperatives or whither and die; enterprises mastering the art of business agility can gain substantial and sustainable advantage.

The complexity of today's modern enterprise - its business and IT components, and its linkages with other enterprises - increases the difficulty of implementing changes.  Different elements change at different rates, but the pressure to change is always there.

As you can see by this graphic there are many pressures on the business: 

Pressures on the business graphic 

In this type of environment, how can you make your business more agile and capitalize on change?  By having a model/framework that addresses many of the difficult problems associated with change.

The Business Technology approach:

  • Targets change as the fundamental architectural problem to address
    • Recognizes that being adaptive requires balancing agility with three other key dimensions: financial returns (especially lower costs), performance and risk management
  • Defines a core set of architectural principles to promote agility, and applies them consistently across people, processes and technology throughout the extended enterprise:
    • Modularity: to minimize the dependencies between changes
    • Integration: to enable the composition of separate modules into useful systems
    • Standardization: to facilitate integration, maximizing reuse and extraction of value
    • Simplification: to minimize what needs to change and the associated costs

So stay tuned in 2009 as I start to put together the framework and show you ways to transform IT into Business Technology.

I'll admit it. I'm going back to paper.

two pencils grade hbImage via Wikipedia

Okay... confession time.

I have a Mac.  I love it. 

I dig technology even though it doesn't always dig me.

I will also admit that the latter part of this year has been an "experiment" with technology. 

It's been an experiment to automate and to use technology to improve my work-life balance and my productivity.  I wanted to try new strategies to help juggle, prioritize and clarify.

So... I shifted from my paper-based Franklin Covey system.  That's right.  I closed that seven-ring binder.  Put it on a book shelf and walked away.

I went smart phone.

I started running most of my life through my Mac.  Schedule.  To-dos.  Projects.  Et cetera.

At first, it felt clunky... just like any new habit feels. Then I started to get the hang of it. 

Entering things.  Syncing.  Entering to-do's with their due dates, et cetera.  Color coding.  Categories.

Yup.  It almost started to feel right.

But... as I progressed in my little experiment...  I had to admit that I missed that feeling of paper.  That pencil.  That moving things from day-to-day with an eraser instead of a mouse.  And... the biggest thing... was that feeling of checking off a "to-do" with pen to paper instead of a cursor to electronic box. 

Yeah... sorry... the e-version of that feeling didn't compare.

So... call me an old-school dork... but I'm going back to paper in 2009.

That's right.  I may still carry around a cool phone and have a Mac in my bag... but I'll have my little ol' seven-ring day planner with me too.

Now, as I wrap this up, I'm not going to advocate for going paper or high-tech in your pursuit of better work-life balance.  Nope.  Neither.

What I'm going to ask you to do... is... as you are wrapping up your year... run a little experiment for yourself.

Try some new things for organizing your life.  See what works for you and what doesn't.

And... once you've tried some new things... make a decision.  Commit to improving at two to three things for your work-life balance systems for the new year... whether it involves pencil and paper or something you have to plug in!

Oh... and join in the conversation. 

Leave a comment on whether your organizational toolbox is high-tech or low-tech... AND what's something new you are going to try in 2009 to better balance your life!

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Why do I need an insurance audit?

Magnifying glass Well, the end of the year is upon us and something that often comes up with your business insurance at this time is your annual audit.

Ever wonder why you receive an audit from your insurance company? What are they looking for?

Well some of the main things they want to verify are:

  • Job descriptions
  • Payroll
  • Annual sales
  • Number of employees
  • Driver information

All of these things help determine your risk classification and ensure that the insurance company is charging you the correct amount of premium for the risk that they are insuring.

It is important that this information is reviewed and updated on an annual basis because if it is not you can face some issues.

The most obvious being that you could be paying too much or too little for your insurance. Your rates are determined by the information they receive through your audit. When the insurance company receives it, they will adjust your premium accordingly with the information you provide. This can result in an increase to your insurance or a decrease in your next year’s premium.

This can be shocking to a new business owner if they haven’t updated their new hires and their payroll with their insurance agent throughout the year.

Probably the most important aspect of having this information correct would be in the event of a loss. If your business is not correctly classified you are running the risk of being denied coverage or worse having your policy voided due to misrepresentation.

Insurance companies have different risk appetites. Should you have a loss and during the investigation, the insurance company determines that your business is not an industry they would normally insure, they could possibly deny coverage and/or cancel your policy. 

Now you might think that this doesn’t happen, however, it can and very easily happens without you even realizing it.

Businesses tend to evolve over time.

  • You may start a business and then add different components to it.
  • You may change your focus altogether while keeping the same name.
  • Or, you may simply change your insurance company.

When you do make these types of changes to your business it is important to keep your insurance company in the loop, so you don’t end up out of the loop should a claim occur.

The Project Office: An Interview with Chad Feeney (Part 2)

Continuing from the conversation we started the last time, I'm interviewing Chad Feeney, who is leading the Project Office at Farm Bureau in West Des Moines.  The first part of our conversation occurredBlog earlier in the month.

What do you look for in a skilled and talented project manager?


When looking for a PM there are a couple of key items we look for:

  • Experience. Its very important for us to find a candidate that has had favorable and challenging experiences. We look for someone who's weathered some storms.
  • Communication. Like our discipline indicates and experiences validate, we communicate 90% of the time. So, someone whom can demonstrate notable skills within written and oral communication.
  • Leadership. A candidate must demonstrate to us that they don't just have one leadership style. They must be adaptable to the situations and Interpersonal styles of our customers and executives. We like to understand from a candidate they know when to swim with or against the current.


What has been your biggest challenge in managing a project office? What is the most rewarding aspect?

Our biggest challenge in managing a PMO varies from day to day, but a common theme is expectation management. A majority of the time, we provide a service that meets expectations and has a rewarding benefit to the company and the PMO. Occasionally, we're asked to provide services that is dependent upon our partners capabilities. I like to remind myself your service is only as good as individuals whom are performing it. Consequently, that is the most rewarding aspect...coaching and partnering with fellow PMs in providing the best service possible.


How would you sum up your philosophy of project management?

Triple Constraint. The concept is easy to understand but the application and communication of this philosophy within a corporate environment is probably the most challenging for any project manager or PMO leadership. During our early stages of a project, the concept and feasibility stage, it's important to establish the ground rules of the triple constraint. But it's in the planning stage where our services as project managers must prove back to the executives that their expectations can be met using the triple constraint as the dialogue tool. It's our obligation to listen to the voice of the customer and partner with them on the options since never is anything cut and dry with a project. I've always kept this simple premise as much in front of our customers as possible.

Look for more interviews with other local excellent project practitioners in the future.  Thanks again, Chad.

Anticipate Your Customer's Questions

I bought a used Waverunner from a neighbor just over a year ago. Shortly after7771973 purchasing the thing, it stopped working. I had it sent it to the local shop (is a business focused on repairing personal watercraft called a "garage"?) and found out that the entire engine would need to be replaced. Now, I'm not the most mechanically inclined when it comes to common vehicles like cars, so you can bet I'm completely ignorant about personal watercraft.  Needless to say, I felt a bit cranky when I stopped by the repair shop to discuss my options with the manager. I wasn't even sure what questions I should ask.

She quickly walked me through all of my options, including estimated costs. I suddenly realized, as I stood there listening, that she was always one step ahead of me. Before I could ask a question she was already answering it. She gave me pros and cons for each of my options. She talked about the time frame for repair, what a "rebuilt engine" meant, how long they'd worked with their engine vendor, what their experience had been, what were the common issues with rebuilt engines, how the process worked, common money saving options, and what she would do if she were in my position.

I quickly went from cranky to downright impressed. This lady knew her stuff. She knew exactly what I was going to ask before I was going to ask it, and she even knew a few questions I should be asking that I didn't know enough to ask. She'd equipped me with all the knowledge I needed to make an informed decision. She made it subtly clear that she was an expert and, by taking the time to anticipate and answer my questions, she gave me confidence in her ability. If I'm going to replace the engine, I don't want anyone but this lady and her shop working on it. She knows what she's doing!

One commonly missed service skill in many businesses is the ability to anticipate your customers' questions. Over time you could probably list several common follow-up questions that customers eventually ask. You can probably anticipate the questions, issues and roadblocks your customer is likely to experience based on the number of times you've had to walk other customers through the same issues. You can use that knowledge to improve your customer's experience and build their confidence in your knowledge and abilities.

"One of the problems you may encounter is..."
"The thing to watch out for is..."
"To save yourself some aggravation, be sure to..."
"Many customers find that..."
"Let me save you a little time and frustration..."

Being knowledgable is one thing. When you can parlay that knowledge into a positive customer experience in which you are looking out for your customer's best interests, then one experience may very well gain you a customer for life.

A Twitter playbook for your company

Brands, companies and organizations are invading Twitter at a steady clip. Social media gurus will tell you that Twitter can be a remarkably powerful customer relations, marketing and relationship-building tool. Yes, it can be - but only when used properly.32354436

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when building a presence for your company on Twitter:
  • Everyone starts out with zero followers. Don't freak out and follow hundreds of people in a knee-jerk reaction to "force" follow-backs. Chances are someone introduced you to Twitter. Politely ask that user for an introduction to the Twitter community - they will tweet something like "Please welcome @username to Twitter!" That should get you going. 
  • Maintain a balanced follower/following ratio. If you're following 2,473 Twitter users, but only 16 are following back, you're going to look like a Twitter spammer.
  • Upload a photo (avatar) and fill out your profile. Simple stuff, right? Showing your face means to users that there is a human behind the scenes and they'll feel more inclined to connect with your company. Put your location (city, state) in your profile, making you more likely to be found. A link to your company site or blog is almost a *must* - one of many tips outlined by Jeremiah Owyang on how to confirm your corporate Twitter account.
  • Maintain a 50/50 promo/convo ratio. For every time you send a tweet promoting something that your company has done (driving traffic back to your corporate site/blog) go out and proactively join a conversation taking place on Twitter. Remember, this is a conversation utility first and foremost.
  • Participate. You get out of Twitter what you put into it - enough said.
  • Use URL shorteners. Twitter isn't a pipe to shove long, unruly URLs into. Make use of URL shorteners like TinyURL, bit.ly and is.gd. Remember - you've only got 140 characters! 
  • Sponsor a TweetUp. Once you've got a few months under your belt, and you're well immersed in your local Twitter community - have your company sponsor a tweetup (meetup for Twitter users). This will establish goodwill towards you and your brand.
Playing by these simple rules will give you and your organization a head start on all the other entities trying to figure out Twitter right now. If you're still lost, follow the example of some of the best brands on Twitter: Home Depot, jetBlue, Comcast and Zappos.com.

When do I get to deduct the expense?

For many businesses, cash is tight right now.  But there still is taxable income, and you'd sure like some more deductions this year.  As I mentioned, cash is tight.  Can you deduct something this year even if you pay it next year?Blog


In general, if you are a cash-basis taxpayer, you have to pay your business expenses by the last day of the year to deduct them. If you are an accrual-basis taxpayer, you have to clear the "all-events test." That is, all events to determine the liability must have taken place by year-end, and the liability must be determinable with reasonable accuracy.

But that would be so simple. For example, even cash-basis taxpayers may deduct contributions made after year-end to qualified retirement plans that are set up by year-end, as long as the contributions are made by the due date of the tax return (including extensions).

Most of the time, though, the tax law looks to limit your ability to deduct expenses paid after year-end. For example, even accrual-basis taxpayers can't deduct expenses accrued to "related" cash-basis taxpayers. Such expenses are deductible to the accrual-basis taxpayer only when the related cash-basis taxpayer has to record the income. Even when unrelated parties are involved, the expense is deductible only if "economic performance" has occurred. That exception to the "all-events" test itself has an exception; the "recurring item exception."

Accrued compensation is normally deductible for accrual-method payers if the expense is actually paid within 2 1/2 months of year-end. When the recipient is a related party, though, the expense is deductible only in the year paid.

Finally, even expenses paid before year-end normally are non-deductible if they purchase a benefit that goes out beyond one year. If, for example, you prepay your tax fees for five years (an idea that I would always encourage for my own selfish reasons), you would only get to deduct the amount for the next 12 months. The remaining prepayment would be capitalized and deducted in the year to which it applies.

So for your year-end planning, this means:

- You have to pay related cash-basis taxpayers by year-end to get the deduction this year.
- You have to have your qualified plan set up by year-end to deduct contributions for this year, but you have until the return due-date to make the contributions.
- Don't overdo prepayments (except perhaps to your friendly tax preparer). If you prepay beyond one year, such prepayments aren't currently deductible.

If you think a taxpayer might be a related party, contact your tax advisor to get more information.

Are you catering to your shoppers?

30390363 ‘Tis the season for thoughts of shopping.   The flavor of those thoughts is probably dependent on whether you're the shopper or the store owner making money from the shoppers!

But, if you own a retail establishment, you’ve probably noticed that men and women shop differently.  But have you designed your store to cater and allow for these differences?

Truths about men shoppers:

  • Men equally rarely ask for the department they want in a store. They'd rather wander around lost and leave if they can't find it. 
  • If a man tries something on, he’ll buy it 65% of the time.
  • Only 25% of men will grocery shop with a list, as opposed to 70% of women.

Here’s how women shop:

  • If a woman tries something on, she’ll buy it 25% of the time. (Remember, men were at 65%)
  • At the supermarket, over 90% of women brought a shopping list.
  • Women particularly hate being jostled from behind and may leave a store without buying if aisles are too narrow.

How could you adjust for or support these shopping truths?  What amenities could you add that would enhance your shopper’s experience?

Want to know more?  Check out Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.  It’s packed with insights and research that will help you understand your shoppers better.  And it's just been updated to include online shopping and other more recent shifts.  (available as of December 30th but you can pre-order now.)

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Social networking embraced as marketing tool

As businesses become more aggressive in marketing their products, especially those related to the World Wide Web, the utilization of social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn is increasing in an attempt to capitalize on the phenomenon known as networking.Facebook

When the Web really started to go mainstream about a decade ago, networking and social media were almost nonexistent.  Now they are all the rage and it seems as if almost every company, across all industries, that is serous about marketing in a digital world is running with this concept as a way to connect more and more people to its products, services and brand.

Hubbell Realty Co., for example, jumped on the Twitter train last week and recently launched a Facebook page under the pseudonym Hailey Brownstone. Hailey, whose last name is Brownstone and who lives in a brownstone, is one of Hubbell’s most recent attempts to market its homes at GreenWay Crossing in West Des Moines.

In conjunction with Hubbell’s marketing department, company spokesman Jarad Bernstein is spearheading the social networking strategy, and is a regular contributor to the Facebook site, which as of Friday had 125 “friends.” He is also the author of Hailey’s blog posts.

It’s “a promotional micro (Web) site,” Bernstein says, adding that the campaign to sell the brownstones is geared toward a target audience whose primary way of gathering information is online rather through print.

They may not get their news from Facebook, but “that’s where they hang out,” he said.

Hubbell has received several inquiries from serious buyers, Bernstein said. But Hailey is attracting more than just potential customers. In fact, the profile, which features the likeness of an account representative for Hubbell Homes’ advertising agency based in Philadelphia, has resulted in more than one request for a date.

As sites such as Facebook continue to gain traction and followers, and the low overhead costs associated with these types of applications become more attractive in this recession, it seems the only limit to the promotional opportunities available with online social networking is the creativity of marketers themselves.

- Todd Razor

Large Law Firms Stumble as Clients Search for Value

The economic downturn is forcing large law firms to lay off lawyers and support staff across the country.32445882 While large firms downsize, smaller firms continue to grow. Boutique law firms (smaller law firms, which focus on a single area of the law) are hiring to accommodate a steadily increasing work flow.  Contrary to popular thought, specialization, not diversification, garners the flexibility necessary to attract clients looking to streamline services. With lower overhead costs, little debt, and more personal client contact, boutique law firms are better positioned to adjust to rapidly changing client demands. 

Small firms, including those which specialize in intellectual property, corporate securities and employment, have the agility which attracts clients seeking an alternative to the "one firm fits all" culture. On Law.com, one legal recruiter notes: "Some intellectual property boutiques may be benefiting from offering clients lower rates at a time when many clients are trimming costs and perhaps seeking one-stop shopping for patent prosecution and litigation work."  Whether it is the cost benefits, a dedicated expertise, personal attention or accessibility, recent hiring indicates clients are scrambling to take advantage of the benefits of small firms.

Brett Trout

Negativity and Silver Linings for Young Prossionals this Week

This week, a famous local cartoonist was laid off by his principal employer. His concern came from how he was dismissed, but particularly, in a post employment interview with a local television station,  he seemed concerned over the message his dismissal sends to young journalists.

He's right. Blog

This new generation shows no loyalty to the job, because they don't feel it's reciprocal.

So it should come as no surprise that the state's Generation Iowa commission highlights salary related issues as the top concern of this age demographic, according to primary data at the state and national level.  After having mixed legislative success last year, the commission has streamlined their recommendations for this session, focusing on  job creation opportunities and getting this generation a seat at the table on other state commissions. As an active member of the commission, I have some relevant insight in how it made its findings and will tackle that issue in more depth next month.

Some are now laying claim that young professionals are responsible and most impacted by this economic mess. On the other end, the world of politics seems to be outpacing the business community in embracing the younger demographic in a positive and engaging way. President-elect Barack Obama still is getting people excited about the youth vote, the Iowa Legislature continues to add young professionals to its membership and Sen. Charles Grassley has finally admitted to what I have known for months.

He's on Facebook and Tweets on Twitter.

As a matter of fact all of our congressional delegation does - and many of our state legislators also - but not nearly enough.

So while it appears many decision makers still don't get it, there at least appears to be a silver lining in the sky.

It's Not About You?

For some people, networking can be hard work. For others it’s not work at all. But one thing is for sure, building a network of business contacts is one of the most critical things we can do as business professionals.

As Thom Singer of Some Assembly Required points out on several occasions in his book, people ultimately will do business with people they know and like.

I’ve always been somewhat outgoing, but not always fearless about networking events. I now actually get really energized from going to networking events and meeting new people. But it hasn’t always been that way. I used to get very nervous and uncomfortable. I felt like I was always trying to sell something to a stranger who likely wouldn’t even have a need for what I was selling. Why did I feel that way? Because it was true. My approach was completely misaligned. I made it all about me. That rarely works. People can smell desperation and selfishness from a mile away. The best sales and networking people I know make it their goal to help other people.37859090_5a73440a2d

It took me a long time to learn the reciprocity of networking. Everything changed for me when I stopped trying to sell myself and my business and started asking people about them, their business and their interests. I started simply trying to get to know people.

Building great relationships is critical to success and networking is the place to start. And building and maintaining those connections with other people is a way of life, not just something you do in your free time. 

In the opening pages of his book, Some Assembly Required, Thom lists his top five myths that people believe about networking:

Myth 1: Networking is only for when you are busy.

Myth 2: Only senior executives need a network.

Myth 3: The people you meet networking never refer business to you.

Myth 4: Networking is unnecessary because if you are really good, the business will just come to you.

Myth5: Decision makers never attend networking events.

What's the greatest relationship you’ve built with someone you’ve met while networking?

Thinking About Franchising? Research Carefully

With the recent economic downturn, layoffs are bound to occur.  As I write this blog post there are rumors that a large central Iowa business may lay off a significant part of its workforce and it's likely that others will follow suit.Blog post

A potential option for many former corporate employees is franchise ownership. While franchising does offer many advantages it is critical to approach a franchise opportunity just as you should any other business opportunity - with caution.

It is a misnomer that franchises are more likely to succeed than other businesses. In fact, the International Franchising Association has discouraged all franchisors from making such claims. The truth is that franchises fail at a rate that is similar to non-franchised business.  So careful due diligence is important when considering a franchise opportunity. One of the best things you can do is talk to as many existing (and former) franchisees as possible. Also, consider several key disclosure issues including:

  1. Franchisor's litigation history;
  2. Amount of the initial investment;
  3. Vendor rebates and products you must buy from the franchisor;
  4. Earnings claims made by the franchisor;
  5. Franchisor's financial statements;
  6. Trends concerning the number of outlets.  It is important to closely review the information regarding outlets. Carefully study the number of transfers and not just the number of closures.  A high number of transfers may be an indication that franchisees in the system are struggling, but bad stores have not been shut down. 

And finally, be willing to walk away. This is the paradox of successful negotiation. Those that are willing to walk away usually find they get more in negotiation.

For more on franchise due diligence be sure to visit the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Guide for Buying a Franchise.

Reviews, With or Without Raises.

What's one of the most powerful tools for setting direction, getting results and developing employees, andBlog-photo -- at the same time -- often one of the most dreaded requirements of every manager's role?: Reviewing employee performance.

And at many organizations, the formal part of this process is an annual ritual about this time of year.

So if a company is eliminating merit increases, bonuses, and maybe even cost-of-living increases due to the dire economic forecast, does that mean they can forego, or abbreviate, the process of formal employee reviews this year? Absolutely not. In fact, holding those formal reviews is probably more critical this year than at any time in the past.

With layoffs and company closings making the news every day, employees want to know how well they're meeting expectations, even if they know they aren't getting a raise. We all like to measure ourselves against a standard, such as who can run the fastest, jump the highest, make the most sales, or produce the most widgets. We like to be measured by people we respect and who make a difference in our work lives and careers.

In a tough economy, it's critical to engage every member of a work team through mutual goal setting and frequent feedback, talking about things daily, as they happen, doing a summary informal review every quarter. So when the end of the year rolls around, you're gathering materials from the previous three quarterly reviews, adding the most recent results, and you're ready to sit down with each employee and hold that annual formal performance review; with no surprises and a lot of input on the part of both employee and manager.


  • Make the meeting productive. Set aside 45-60 minutes for each employee review. Ensure that the employee has your undivided attention; eliminate all interruptions. Find a comfortable setting, preferably at a table rather than across your desk.
  • Talk about successes first, then talk about where further development is needed. Be honest when delivering difficult news. But remember, you can be honest without being negative. And since you've been talking consistently with each employee about what's working well and what's not, there should be nothing new or surprising during the annual review.
  • Be objective in your comments. Focus on specific behaviors and results that the employee clearly understands from your previous conversations.
  • Set goals and expectations for the coming year. Mutually decide how to build on this year's successes and how to overcome performance barriers.

When employees walk out of a performance review they should feel energized that their manager appreciates their strengths, values their contribution and sees their potential -- even if there's no raise in the picture this year.

Success Tips For Organizational Change

4954277_thl Change is an important part of successful organizations (check out the stories at fast company).  One issue that occurs within organizations is how much change can be implemented before it begins to be counter productive.  The timing of new change initiatives is critical to their success.

I have always held the view that there are four groups that are key to organizational change. By dealing with these groups effectively, change can happen quickly and it becomes part of the culture sooner.

The first group is the naysayers.  The people in your organization that always see the glass half empty and nothing is ever good enough.  The best solution is to not allocate any resources in dealing with this group.  Let them be.  They will either get on board or leave the organization.  This may sound harsh, but many organizations see change initiatives die because they put to much energy in trying to get this group on board.

The second group is the thoroughbreds.  No matter what the change, they embrace it and are advocates for the change.  They lead the charge.  The challenge with this group is that they need to see the change quickly or they will shift their energy elsewhere.  Give this group projects and tasks that support the change, but in the context of allowing time for the other groups to buy into the change.  If the thoroughbreds are to far out in front, the other groups look at them as privileged or aloof, and the change initiative will hit a brick wall. 

The third group is the steady eddies.  This group expects change, and as long as they are given education, training and the purpose of the change, they get on the change wagon in short order.  This is the biggest group and the foundation of a company's culture.

The fourth and final group is the fence sitters.  They need extensive training, ample time for questions and an extended period to incorporate the change into their day to day activities.  This is the group that you must watch closely before you add new changes into the organization.  If they are still coping with an existing change, they will not handle more change and you will have organizational chaos if you move to quickly.  By focusing on this group, you can accelerate change and its acceptance.

Balancing change within these groups falls on the shoulders of owners, CEOs and senior management.  Be sure you take the time to plan change with these groups in mind.  Failure to do so will guarantee the change initiatives are a waste of time.

A conversation about Application Delivery: Part two

In the last post I showed you the first few pictures that I drew during my conversations with folks that either want to know "why application delivery" or for folks that have an application delivery infrastructure, but are only doing XenApp.  The next steps here are to now tell the story of "delivery" instead of "deployment".  At this level of conversation we are wrapping in Citrix technologies like, Provisioning Server, XenDesktop, XenServer, XenApp, et cetera.  At the end of this conversation the one thing that is critical is to get a design review/assessment done.  That way you can make sure you have a holistic view of your infrastructure and in the case of an already existing environment you aren't carrying over any problems from the old to the new.

The one thing I want to point out here is that you need a good sized whiteboard.  I like to keep all the drawings on the board so that everyone can see the progression of the discussion.  What you will also find along the way here is that your audience is going to ask a lot of questions.  This is what I love about whiteboarding.  It really gets folks engaged and talking.  You'll be amazed at how easy the ideas and feedback will flow when you get going.

So this is the point in the conversation that evolves into the "delivery" section.  This is really where it starts to get cool.  I start by writing the word "DELIVERY" and drawing this picture, but first without the words in the boxes.  So just leave the boxes blank for now:

So in order to drive the point home about getting out the "old way" of doing things (distributed computing) to more of a delivery architecture, the above picture points out a few things.  First, to centralize as many of the applications and desktops as possible, with as few standard images as possible close to your datacenter.  From there you deliver these dynamically, on-demand to end users.

So once you have the picture above and you talk about centralizing and delivering apps and desktops from a central location, explain what you mean.  How?  Easy.  In the first box closer to the "application icon" you will write in "App WL" for "application workload".  Here is where I explain that what you now have is a standard catalog with a "master" image of all of your application workloads (Exchange, SAP, SQL, et cetera) that can be delivered dynamically to either your physical or virtual servers.  Of course, I'll tell you to virtualize as many servers as possible, but by following this thought the rest of the way through you now have a very highly efficient datacenter, even for those servers you can't virtualize.  Make sense? 

The next box you are going to write in "App UI" for "application user interface."  For Windows apps this delivery mechanism will be XenApp. From here you can either be "virtualized" on the server or streamed to the client and virtualized there for mobile and offline users.  For the Web applications your delivery mechanism needs to ensure that the applications are optimized for best performance, security and efficiency.  This delivery mechanism would be NetScaler.  You can better illustrate that concept by drawing a line across the App UI box and on the top of the line writing Win and on the bottom writing Web.

The next box you will label Desktop.  Here is where I love explaining the beauty of Provisioning Server, XenDesktop and XenServer.  The whole goal here is to separate the delivery of applications and desktops.  By just moving the desktops into the datacenter with all of its applications hard-coded in we don't solve any problems.  My best practice way to do this is to deliver a pristine XP or Vista desktop and then deliver the applications into that desktop from separate application delivery controllers.  You benefit from two things here: 

  1. You eliminate compatibility problems
  2. You create a more stable, high performance environment

Finally you will draw an arrow to a box labeled "PC" next to the user icon on the previous drawing.  This now illustrates the "delivery network" that will be optimized to deliver apps and desktops to any user around the world in the most efficient manner possible.

The next thing here is to talk about management and "orchestration" of workflows with the necessary tools.  The tool to create those workflows is the Citrix Workflow Studio that I highlighted in an earlier post.  Integrating the individual management consoles for the different components of this type of solution with what you might already have in place from HP, IBM, Microsoft, et cetera.  You can illustrate that by adding the already existing picture you drew like this:

Citrix Workflow Studio will allow you to "orchestrate" communications between all the different Citrix products more easily and will make it easier to integrate into your exisiting systems management solutions.

So now you have made your case and management has bought in.  You now need the next steps.  The next steps involve what I like to call a "design discovery".  You could also call this an Infrastructure Assessment.  Why do you want to do an assessment?  This gives you a chance to understand the strengths of your current application delivery environment, the risks and opportunities inherent in your current application delivery approach, how your company strategic goals map to a new approach to application delivery and to roadmap the delivery of applications for both the short-term and the long-term.

I hope this has helped you better formulate a way to get more buy-in from management to expand or implement an application delivery infrastructure.

Let me know your thoughts.

Holiday Stress Avoidance 101

I just spent some time with some entrepreneurs and the discussion boiled down to schedules.

That's right.  Schedules.

Everyone was busy. 

Everyone seemed to have different ways to manage that busyness. 

And everyone was also feeling the increased pressure coming from the hyper-scheduling of the holidays.

So... I thought a quick refresher course on holiday time management might be in order!Holiday stress 

You could check out Jim's post at SuccessCo.com.  He offers a robust list of time saving strategies... including a way to increase your brain's productivity speed by 5 to 20%!  This can apply to your next teleconference or for when you are catching up with Aunt Gladys!

Or you can check out Laura Stack's approach to scoring a year-end tax deduction while also decluttering your office.  So, you increase your efficiency and lower your taxes.  This way you can clean out your office... increase your productivity... decrease your stress levels... and score a break on your taxes... Yeah, that sounds like a win-win. 

I also like Hueina Su's strategy for thinking through your holiday to-do list.  She suggests a 3-D approach.  Make the the list of things that you need to do... and then think through whether you need to DO them, DELEGATE them or DUMP them.  Yup.  I like that! 

Or you can learn from Susan Ward's post.  She offers five solid tips, but the best reminder for me was that we can't do EVERYTHING.  Check it out and see if it sets you free from some expectations as you look at your packed holiday schedule!

Okay... lastly... I'll admit that at the end of my discussion with my fellow entrepreneurs... we realized that we hadn't come up with anything we didn't already know about time management. 

BUT we also had to admit that it was important to think about all of these things again... and start to apply a few of them... especially over the next few weeks.

It's the same with these posts.  These are basic... simple... and common sense.

But they could make the difference between a restful and fun holiday season where you are able to focus on the right things... and a stress-filled disaster where you are pulled in multiple directions and wiped out at the end.  Right?

How about you? 

What do you do to stay sane over the holiday season? 

How do you keep focused on what's important?

Click comments and join in the conversation! 

Let us know...


Photo credit and kudos to: eye capture

Holiday cheer and your insurance policy

Cocktail If you are one of the fortunate companies having an annual holiday party this year and plan on including alcohol in your celebration, make sure you assess your risk and review your policy for coverage.

While Dram Shop laws are typically geared toward establishments that sell liquor, there are social host liability laws that can apply.

Social host liability can impose liability onto individuals who provide alcohol to minors or obviously intoxicated adults who are then involved in an alcohol-related crash resulting in death or injury to a third-party.

Currently 32 states have some form of social host liability either through statute or case law - and Iowa is one of those states.

While we all like to have a good time and the focus of your party should be on entertaining, there are some preventative steps  you can take to lessen the possibility you'll be held responsible for your guest's actions after drinking too much.

  • Host the event at a restaurant or bar licensed to serve alcohol, where professional waiters can monitor alcohol intake and politely cut off anyone they perceive has had enough to drink.
  • Make sure that there is plenty of food available.
  • Discourage guests from drinking excessively, and stop serving anyone who appears visibly intoxicated.
  • Encourage employees to use designated drivers and provide alternative forms of transportation, such as free taxis.
  • In extreme circumstances, you may have to take your guest's car keys and insist they sleep over.
  • Make sure no minors are served

Another thing to think about is if you have coverage under your policy should a lawsuit be brought against you. Before you hold your party, make sure you are reviewing the dynamics of your party with your insurance agent. He or she will be able to advise you accordingly.

A little prevention can go a long way - and may even save someone's life.

The Project Office: An Interview with Chad Feeney (Part 1)

Recently, I've been thinking about ways to "shake up" this column.  I've spent the better part of the past 18 months sharing my philosophy of project management; however, there are many talented project practitioners throughout Greater Des Moines.  Recently, I've been reaching out to some of the ones whom I've come to respect greatly over the course of my career to allow them to share their stories.Project

This month, I'm starting with a great project leader.  Chad Feeney heads up the project office for Farm Bureau in West Des Moines.  I've worked with Chad in the past, and we've known each other for over a decade.  He's a highly skilled project leader, who now leads other project managers.  This is the first of a two-part series.  The remaining questions will appear on my Dec. 19 post.

Chad, thanks for agreeing to share your thoughts with my readers.  How large is your project office?  What services do you provide?

To help put this question into context, the PMO is a shared service department within FBL Financial Group Inc. We have a mix of entry, mid-level, senior project managers and project portfolio managers. With occasional staff augmentation with project management consulting, we're 15 individuals strong. Our services range from project management to strategy facilitation.


How did your career path arrive at managing a project office?

My personal career path started within IT as a systems analyst and an occasional DBA wit Principal Financial Group Inc. It was during my tenure with Principal that I was introduced to project pathways and actually started managing a project for the residential mortgage division. After the project completed, I was very interested in the project management discipline and processes, of which, I decided to make a career choice of pursuing full time. I continued to build experiences as a PM and fulfilled roles as a program manager and project portfolio manager at Wells Fargo and ING. I started with FBL in 2000, and helped initiate the Project Portfolio Management discipline which subsequently gave me the opportunity to lead the PMO department.


How does your project office continue to demonstrate value in the financial services industry, given the recent economic events?

Our value to our users and customers has evolved over time as we have matured our project management practices. We matured from a Ad Hoc project management function where status reports and issue logs were the common deliverables and discussions with executives to a practice where the PMO facilitates/coordinates strategy development, partners with business leaders to determine fit and goals of a project to an overall business plan, providing hard factual numbers with financial management and bringing insight of resource demands for IT - where did IT spend its time and where will the demand be from future projects via resource management. Overall, we're trying to give our executives/customers more transparency to make much more informed, cost-saving or cost-avoiding decisions.

Another value add we provide to our customers is within a forgotten practice of lessons learned. The pace for delivery and service is so intense that we often forget to look back and determine if we actually achieved the objectives and benefits of a project or program. Our PMO has been looking very hard at what we can provide our executives and customers in this space. In 2008, we've had some success with providing some of the easier lessons learned for a give project. For instance:

       How many of the objectives were met - Scope Achievement

       Did we stay within budget - Financial Management

       Was our schedule within an acceptable tolerance - Schedule Management

       Where did we spend our time throughout the project - Time Entry Transparency

Are any of the above questions familiar? Does the triple constraint come to mind? Acknowledging these kinds of questions is really not the most attractive, as compared to benefits realization, but keep in mind these questions by themselves still tell a story. For example, if we find that we spent more time in development than estimated why is this? Did we estimate poorly, was our requirements sound and complete, or was the solution more complex than expected? If we can help IT answer these questions and partner to make improvements with these core skills, I believe we're bringing value in the near timer while focusing upon the benefit realization conversation and service for the long term.

Great insights, Chad!  I'm looking forward to sharing the rest of our interview with my readers on the 19th.

Personal Connections Make Great Service

There is good service, and then there is great service. As I always tell my clients, "The difference between19084072 'good' service and 'great' service is in details done consistently, and done well."

Often, I find that companies who rise above service mediocrity do so by creating a personal connection with their customers in which the customer experiences a sense of relationship with them.

  • I recently referred someone to Iowa Diamond to buy an engagement ring, based upon my own memorable experience there. Upon returning from his own positive experience, I noticed two things. First, he knew the first name of the sales person from Iowa Diamond who helped him and spoke as if they had been long time friends. Second, he was impressed that Iowa Diamond took a picture of him and his fiance to add to their scrapbook of happy customers.
  • I still remember buying a Saturn and having all the sales people in the dealership gather for the "launch", taking photos for their bulletin board and giving me one for a keepsake. No other car dealers, including the high-priced ones, have made such a memorable connection.

  • My father-in-law came to town on this past weekend with the rest of the family. He surprised me by quickly heading up town for a cup of coffee. He returned a while later and I quizzed him about his java excursion. "I always I like to go up to Van Veen's for a cup of coffee when I'm in town," he said, "Not only do they brew a strong cup of coffee, but they always remember me."

What are you doing to make a personal connection with your customer?

Can social media be applied to b2b marketing tactics?

Social media marketing is often lumped together with consumer marketing, even though there are relevant B2B applications and ideas available. Just because one business is marketing to another business doesn't mean there aren't humans involved - humans who like (and sometimes prefer) to interact with each other via social networks.

Here are a couple of steps you can take if you're a B2B marketer:
  1. Develop a blogging strategy. Is there (are you) a "thought leader" within the company that can create valuable content that other businesses might be interested in? Think white papers, but served up on a blogging platform. Huge bonus: Search engines love blog content! Believe it or not, there are humans at those other businesses, and they're going to research your business on the Web. 
  2. Launch a private forum or social network. Are you stuck in channel marketing, or forced to market only to a dealer network? Create an online forum for them to gather and engage them this way. Use an application like Ning.com, which lets you build your own private social network overnight.  
  3. Listen, listen, listen! Sure, consumers are using social media to talking about brands, but conversations between and about business are also taking place. Subscribe to those RSS feeds and Google News Alerts!
  4. Learn, then sell your knowledge along with your product. The potential insight you might gain from the above efforts is simply added-value to your product or service. If you're dealing with channel marketers, distributors or manufacturers, you suddenly have a lot of information on what the marketplace is saying online and how to position products.
Here's a video of social media strategists Matt Dickman and David Armano talking about social media in the B2B marketing arena:

So get out there, immerse yourself in the social web space, and learn!

Capital losses: how to take your medicine

It's a very wise or very lucky investor with capital gains to worry about this year.  For the rest of us, its capital losses as far as the eye can see.  While never pleasant, capital losses can provide a tax-time silver lining to the dark cloud over our portfolios.

What are the limits on deducting capital losses?  Tax planning would be too easy if we could takeBlog any amount of investment losses against our salary or business income.  Individuals get to deduct capital losses against ordinary income only to the extent of their capital gains for the year, plus $3,000.  Individual capital losses over these limits carry forward until you die; the capital gains + $3,000 limit applies to each year.  That means if you have a net capital loss of $999,000, and you never have another capital gain, you will get to offset $3,000 of ordinary income each year for the next 333 years, unless you happen to die first.

Corporations have stricter limits.  C corporations can only deduct capital losses to the extent of their capital gains for the year; they get no $3,000 spiff. Corporations do get to carry back capital losses for three years; if the corporation had a capital gain in its three prior tax years, it can fully offset it.  Any losses not used in a carryback three years carry forward to offset capital gains in the next five years; they then disappear forever.

What you have to do before year end to get a deductible capital loss?

First, capital losses are only deductible if they occur in a taxable account.  You can't deduct the capital losses you incur in your Individual Retirement Account or your 401(k). 

To deduct your capital loss, you have to recognize it through a sale.  You can't deduct lost value in your portfolio unless you sell loser stock (unless you are a "trader" and make a special election).  You have until the last trading day of the year to take the loss; the tax law recognizes losses on the trade date, rather than the settlement date.  Unless, of course, you're a short seller, in which case the settlement date controls (but then you probably don't have losses this year). 

Beware the Wash Sale rules!

The tax law punishes Sellers Remorse on capital losses.  If you sell a stock at a loss, but you buy other shares of the same stock in the thirty preceding or subsequent days, the "wash sale" rules disallow the loss until you sell the newly-purchased shares.  Under a recent and controversial IRS ruling, the wash sale rules apply even if you purchase the new shares in an IRA or 401(k) -- where you will never be able to use the capital loss.

Might you qualify as a "trader"?

Have you quit your day job to trade full-time?  Special rules apply to those with enough trading activity to be considered "traders," rather than investors.  If you have been spending your afternoons with Maria Bartiromo, consult your tax advisor about a Sec. 475(f) election that could allow you to claim your losses as ordinary.  But remember - the threshold for treatment as a "trader" can be hard to reach, and if your losses are ordinary, your gains will be ordinary too.

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