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November 2010

The Proactive Approach

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.

November 2010 - ProactiveYou can improve both your health and wellness in the workplace with a single change of mindset, from reactive to proactive.

Unfortunately, the default for most people is to be reactive. A reactive approach to health comes naturally which is why so many can get stuck in a rut.

There is an old joke about a man who took his health in his own hands, and how it made a big difference in his life:

    A woman walked up to a little old man rocking in a chair on his porch.  "My goodness, you look happy and spry! What is your secret?”
    "I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day," he said. "I also drink a case of whiskey a week, eat fatty foods and never exercise."
    "That's amazing," the woman said. "How old are you?"

The “little old man” proactively sought poor health… and earned it! When one proactively seeks positive outcomes, the results will be just as dramatic.

Proactive people choose their destiny by choosing how they will respond. Health science educators Randy and Tana Page have identified some characteristics of proactive people as:

  • Taking personal responsibility for their actions.
  • Believing their behaviors are a product of their own conscious choice based on their values, not products of their conditions based on feelings.
  • Being value-driven and carefully selecting and internalizing a value code.

Proactive people are those who say “I can…,” “I control…,” “I choose…” and “I will…” An example identified in the Pages’ book Fostering Emotional Well-being in the Classroom is the story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist imprisoned (and seemingly doomed) in a Nazi concentration camp who realized he had one item left to his control: his response in the face of overwhelming evil. His proactivity gave him the ability to foster freedom and exercise a great power over his captors: the power to forgive. He survived the war and went on to become the renowned founder of logotherapy.

Many people tend to default to being reactive because proactivity involves risk, taking responsibility for potential failure and going off the beaten path in order to achieve goals. 

Forbes asked 34 entrepreneurs, celebrities, athletes and politicians what the greatest risk they ever took was. In 2006, Richard Jackson, CEO of Jackson Healthcare, took his biggest risk. He decided to acquire World Health Alternatives, a company twice the size of his own which was having significant financial and legal issues. This risk paid off. The company made $220 million in sales that first year.

In health, life and business, it can be a daily challenge to practice a proactive approach, but it is a daily challenge that can be met.  Those who meet that challenge and take risks, such as Jackson, Frankl, and even like the “little old man,” will enjoy something else: the rewards of proactivity!

Asking for reviews

105491648 I received an e-mail asking the following question:

"I saw you speak on social media at a recent conference and have a follow up question. Thanks to your presentation, I've been updating our website, Facebook and blog over the past month.  

We were interested in hearing your take on the best way to get our clients to submit a review to the different websites like Dex and other assorted sites.  Is there something that we as a company can actively do to encourage our clients to review our work, or is it just better to hope that someone will do it on their own?

Obviously paying for someone to review is underhanded, but is it bad business practice to encourage a few of our better clients to post something?"

There are actually a couple good questions in the e-mail.  Let's dig into them.

Is it wrong to pay for reviews?

Yes, it's not only unethical but it will eventually be discovered and exposed.  This is never a good idea.  In today's world of cynical consumers and the expectation that you're going to be transparent -- paying (or faking) reviews can only lead to trouble you don't need.

Is it wrong to encourage some of our better clients to post reviews?

There's nothing wrong with inviting your customers to review your work.  (Or give you a recommendation on LinkedIn, or review your book on Amazon, etc.)  You can do that in a variety of ways:

~ Make a personal request over the phone, letter or in an e-mail.  Be sure you make it easy. Give them the exact link or URL so they don't have to search for it.  Remind your customers that also you're always available to talk if they have a concern, complaint or compliment about your team or organization.

~ Add links to review sites on your website, Facebook page or blog.  One way to really encourage clients to click on the links is to post some recent reviews on your site.  They'll see that others are reviewing you and also recognize that they might get some publicity/exposure too.

If you do this, you can't just post the awesome reviews.  You need to demonstrate that you're not going to censor or omit reviews if they're critical.

~ Create a contest.  Why not do a random drawing among all your reviewers once a month for a pretty good prize (something worth at least $100) and make a big deal about the winner each month.  You can't rig this and only give the prize to the glowing reviews.

Imagine the attention you'll get when one of your detractors wins the monthly prize.

~ Give first.  If you're in the B-to-B space, why not review your customers first?  Someone is much more likely to review you if you're just reviewed them.  Demonstrate the kind of review you'd like in the one you leave.  Be specific, use juicy words and if possible, tell a story that other customers will be able to relate to.

As long as you're above board, don't beg or don't only publish the good reviews -- inviting your customers to share their opinion is not only okay, it's smart!


~ Drew 


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Be Thankful for Mistakes (Yours and Others)

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 26:  Crowds watch the Than...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

It is easy to be grateful for friends and family. It is easy to appreciate bounty. The happiest people (and businesses) appreciate their mistakes and the related lessons learned.

The smartest also learn from the mistakes of others.

When you stay current on business law in Iowa by reading cases and summaries from the Iowa Court of Appeals and Iowa Supreme Court, you get the current law and a look at how mistakes could have been avoided.

Before you have to see your lawyer, read about others’ mistakes and be thankful for the opportunity to avoid litigation.

 - Christine Branstad

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When "Nice" Isn't Nice

smileImage via Wikipedia

"But he's such a nice guy."

I know you've heard someone say that recently about someone they work with. You've undoubtedly said it too.

What preceded that "But...?" I bet it was something about that person's passive aggressive behavior. Our culture is full of this kind of behavior -- in both our personal and professional lives.

Imagine it. Ed promised that he'd be on time for your team's weekly meeting, even though he's been late the last three meetings for various reasons. You guessed it! Ed showed up fifteen minutes late. Again.

Rather than being apologetic, he explains to the team that he "couldn't help it" because Billy had the flu and had to be dropped off at a different daycare. He lamented, "I'm sorry but hey, the kid is only 4. I couldn't just leave him at home."

The team is disappointed and ticked. You can tell by their body language and you can read it on their faces. Does anyone say anything however? No. After all, a 4-year-old can't be left home alone. You can't argue with that. And Ed is "such a nice guy."

Bingo. An example of classic passive-aggressive behavior. Things (...like meeting ground rules) are sabotaged by the passive-aggressive and it is somehow never his or her fault. They express their true, negative feelings, but in a passive, indirect -- and often hurtful -- way.

A really good passive-aggressive is very "slippery," according to Dr. Tony Fiore. They're slippery with excuses, justifications or alternative reasons for why things go awry. At first glance, they may appear to be caring and considerate, but their actions may turn out otherwise.

Sometimes the behavior isn't overt. Instead it shows up in their words. Sarcasm is often a tool of a passive-aggressive person.

Recognize these?

  • Talking behind the back of a co-worker instead of talking directly to them about concerns.
  • Using labels like on the surface appear playful, but they carry an edge. There's a subtle hidden message in the name calling...and everyone knows it.
  • Exaggerating and whining about someone's faults, but acting nice to their face.

One thing that makes dealing with passive-aggressives so tough is that you're often left wondering, "Is Ellen really devious and underhanded? Or is just my imagination? Is it me, and not Ellen?"

What can you do if you have a passive-aggressive on your team? Two tips:

  • Look for patterns of behavior. Being late for one meeting isn't passive aggression. Being late for four in a row and none were her fault...hmmm.
  • Deal with it directly and respectfully. Explain what you've observed, what you're starting to think, and ask for their reaction.

"Nice" isn't nice if it drives honesty and the truth underground and keeps healthy dialogue from happening. Think twice before using the label "nice" about someone. Make sure "nice" means nice.

A Bird In The Hand, Is Worth Two In The Bush

738128840_91a98fc70cIn too many instances ESOP companies believe that the value of an employee owner's ESOP account is a motivating incentive. The issue with the ESOP account value is that it is viewed as the bird in the bush. The view of the ESOP is similiar to the bird in the bush - Will I get my ESOP money (can I catch the bird)? Will the ESOP account be there when I leave (will the bird stay in the bush or will something else get the bird)? The ESOP is a scam (two birds in the bush, unbelievable). 

A cash incentive is the bird in the hand.  It allows the employee owner to really feel success. One could say it teaches people how to catch the bird in the bush. A good incentive plan is self funding and it teaches employee owners how to increase the value of their ESOP accounts. If the incentive is being paid, chances are the value of their ESOP accounts will increase. 

Putting a bird in the hand of employee owners may well give you two birds in the bush, but if you do it right you may have a whole flock of birds in the bush!

When to Sell?

Downtown LA's office skyscrapers. Including th...Image via Wikipedia

When to Sell?

Selling a business can be one of the most difficult decisions an owner ever makes.  The owner has built it, survived the ups and downs, experienced many emotional moments and wonders what he or she would do if they ever sold it.

Owners will want to position their business in a positive situation and should never put themselves in a position where they are selling for negative reasons. Buyers have too many other choices than to worry about buying a business with problems.

So what are some of the areas for consideration when selling?

The Fire is Out -The “fire-in-the-belly” is gone. It is no longer fun to go in early and come home late. You may even be bored.

You have reached retirement age - All owners reach this age at some time. Some can afford to retire and some feel they cannot and have to keep working.

Your Health - Buyers like to buy from owners who are in good health. They will need assistance in transitioning the business and will need to have a healthy owner around to assist.

Economy - Good businesses sell in just about every economic condition.

Employees - You’ll need to protect the good employees, they helped you get to the party and they are assets of the business.

Your Niche - Is the forecast for your niche one of growth or decline?

Sales - A dip in sales, no matter how little, can be a huge RED FLAG for a buyer.

- Steve Sink

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What makes an entrepreneur successful?

Image representing Dwolla as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

It was wonderful to see the recent press on Ben Milne and Dwolla.  It is hard to raise one million dollars. It is harder to raise one million dollars from conservative Midwestern investors. It is harder yet to accomplish this if you are under 30 years of age. 

Too many people think that being an entrepreneur is all about a great idea and a great pitch. Don't get me wrong, those are important things but they are only a beginning.  They do not insure success. I know many entrepreneurs who have become successful, and they share some common traits:

  • They work hard. These entrepreneurs don't measure hours, they measure accomplishments and failures. 
  • They keep their word. When starting out, all an entrepreneur has is his/her word and the impression she/he leaves. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is often a test of that person's word.   
  • They accept feedback. One friend I know who is an older entrepreneur often says "The more I learn, the less I know."  There are always more things to learn. There are always smarter people. 
  • They are not money motivated. For the successful entrepreneurs I know, money is a measure, not the end goal. These entrepreneurs are truly trying to change something, to solve a problem. 
  • They accept and manage risk. These people who start companies do not put personal needs first. They understand the risk they are taking and work to minimize that risk.
  • They accept that failure is possible, and then work to make sure failure does not happen.

Ben Milne started with a truly great idea. What allowed him to raise the funds and what will enable him to succeed has much more to do with his embodiment of these traits.   

- Mike Colwell

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Take it up a notch

Batman as he was depicted in Batman: The Anima...Image via Wikipedia

With its parade of launches over the past three months, Facebook is telling us "we're not going anywhere and we're committed to making sure you don't either." Offering more reasons for companies and organizations to make a commitment to finding ways to integrate the social network effectively.

I like to get down to the nitty gritty and be specific. Here are a couple of things to consider to take your social media integration up a notch. The first is something that makes me talk to the TV: the integration of connecting to your social community in your paid advertising. Tacking an icon onto the end of your TV ad does not tell me where to find you on Facebook or Twitter. It says we're here and we want you - a very busy consumer who is pushed and pulled in a million directions - to come find us! If you play digital hide-and-seek with your audience, you're going to be left counting for a very long time. It's an easy fix: add your company's name after the social icons.

Give social media a leading role with a speaking part in your advertising and marketing screenplay, rather than only a mention in the credits. Offer your target audience a reason to go to your page or profile. Consider what works to drive consumers into stores and use it to motivate them around events online. It's more feasible to hold a digital midnight madness or  a.m. sale online on Black Friday than it is to have several stores open for those special hours. Provide incentives for doing more for you, such as 'Invite 10 friends to Like our page and recieve free shipping.' Let consumers choose how and who they communicate with by giving them several ways and opportunities to share.

Currently, there are great prices on toys at Target online. The prices are better than in the store or than on other websites - my four-year-old isn't reading yet, so I know I'm safe in telling you speficially there's a great price on Wii games and Batman's Batcave. How about letting me share this news easily from the speicifc products via social media with grandparents? Or give me the opportunity to share a message about the great savings on the website via Facebook and Twitter posts when I'm checking out?

Social media integration into advertising and marketing isn't limited to B2C companies. The most successful use of social media comes when you understand what it is that you have to offer and make social media an extension of your communication about the unique value of your services and offerings.

The end of the year is nearing. This is a great time for accounting firms to use social media to start sharing invaluable tax tips with business owners or update corporate clients on ways to avoid penalties. Or an informative series could be offered to keep people coming back to you on social media sites such as: 'Ask the tax expert about corporate financial health during a recession.' As a business owner, I would both ask a quesiton and invite fellow business owners in my social network to do the same. That is, if I was asked to take the action. It's a matter of understanding your value, knowing what your audience wants and utilizing social tools to share it.

One of the best opporuntities overlooked by both B2B and B2C is tapping into pre-existing networks of "friends". Are you sharing messages with the vendors or trucking companies used by your business? Have you invited members of the trade and business associations you belong to share posts or participate is social events? What about connecting with nonprofit partners and other stakeholders to hold online events together? Tapping in to networks of support and identifying ways to work together via social media immediately expands your reach to your partners' communities.

We are rapidly moving toward more digital, not less. With each advertising and marketing plan, take the time to write in lines to give social media a leading role.

Transition Time

Victory sign Well, the elections are over.  We here in Iowa won't have to listen to annoying, combative campaign ads for at least another 3 days (before the caucus candidates start irritating us).

But this time frame is always interesting, as it represents the transition period from outgoing office-holders to new political offspring.  As some are winding down, others are ramping up.

Our former and newly elected governor, Terry Branstad, has launched a new site to assist with the transition, recruiting potential employees to State Government, complete with a newsletter, news room, and job bank.

Often, our project managers don't take enough time to consider transition time on projects, especially at the point the project is coming to an end and it's time to transition to a functional manager to take over... after all, somebody has to maintain the solution created by the project.

While I often mock government's approach to project management, I have to say that the Washington State DOT's site impressed me on the topic of project transition and closure.  In their words, "Begin a project with the end of the project in mind." How Covey-esque of them.

Really, the core of smooth transition is the same as the rest of the project:

  • Communication - are you setting expectations appropriately for people's time, potential problems, or other issues?  Do your stakeholders know when the new solution will be plugged in?
  • Visibility - now that your project is nearing the end, and the solution is evident, are you doing a good job of branding your accomplishment to keep it at the forefront of everybody's thinking?
  • Accountability - are the right people and departments being held to perform as they committed?  I have to admit, the "late task report" I generate from the project plan becomes my best friend, as it provides an objective medium for accountability.

Is your project transitioning to a new regime?  Or is your project still stuck in candidate mode?

Sending the Customer Away is the Right Thing to Do

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.Image via Wikipedia

In ages past, my work experience started in a retail book store. It was a small store, so the selection was fairly narrow in comparison to the giant warehouse book stores we think of in today's terms.

The owner and manager trained me to try to find what the customer needed in our inventory. If what the customer wanted was clearly not something we carried, I was instructed to point them in the right direction towards a store or shop that might have what they were looking for.

The philosophy was that serving the customer well was crucial whether or not that service led to an immediate sale. If the only service we could provide was to point them towards another store, we believed that the goodwill earned would bring the customer back when they did need something we carried.

Customer-centric service goes beyond simply being pleasant and courteous. A customer-centric business believes that looking out for the customer's interests is ultimately going to profit the business.

Can you still find that philosophy at work in today's retail experience? Where have you noticed it lately? Who does it well?

How much can I prepay and deduct this year?

Deep down inside we all love math T-shirtImage by Network Osaka via Flickr

Taxes make people do strange things. People beg their vendors and professionals to send them a bill, so that they can pay it and deduct it this year, lowering this year's taxes. Does that work, and does it makes sense if it does?

Taxpayers often may deduct prepaid expenses. "Cash basis" taxpayers can usually deduct business expenses in the year for which they are paid. Most Schedule C, Schedule E and Schedule F tax returns are cash basis. Likewise, such taxpayers normally only pay taxes in income for the year in which it is paid.

Accrual taxpayers, in contrast, normally deduct expenses in the year the expense relates to. For example, an accrual basis taxpayer who prepays January rent in December would normally deduct the payment in January, as that is the month the payment relates to.  Even so, they often can adopt an accounting method that enables them to deduct a limited amount of prepaid expenses.

Long-lived assets are different.  Neither cash or accrual method taxpayers can deduct expenses that provide a benefit that lasts more than 12 months. Such expenses are deductible over the life of the asset. For example, if your tax preparer pre-bills you the next five years worth of tax prep fees, your deduction will not exceed the amount for the first 12 months after this tax year -- and it may be less. If you buy machinery and equipment, you can only start to recover the property in the year in which you place the asset in service -- not the year you buy it. That's true whether you plan to depreciate the asset or use the "Section 179" deduction.

Related parties are also troublesome. You normally can't deduct a payment to a related party - a family member or a family-held corporation for example - prior to the year that the related party pays tax on the income.

Finally, ask yourself: do I really want to give up cash now to save some portion of it on this year's return? Even a top-bracket Iowan is looking at a combined federal and state rate of 42 percent or so for 2010. If you prepay $1 in December instead of January to save 42 cents in taxes in April, that might make sense. If you prepay $1 this December instead of next December to move up a 42 cent benefit by one year, it's hard to make that math work.

Needless to say, this stuff is complicated.  You should work with your own tax advisor to make sure you get your year-end planning right.

Pent up demand is smart marketing

PotterMillions of fans, young and old, are elated that November 19th is right around the corner. The next Harry Potter movie (Book 7, part 1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens at 12:01 am Friday morning in theaters across the globe.  

Locally, the 12:01, 12:10 and 12:15 shows are almost completely sold out throughout the metro.  The 12:20 shows are close behind.  

Midnight movies have become pretty common, but this is staggering, considering that:

  • The book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007
  • This is part one of a two-parter (we hate those!)
  • We all know exactly how it will end, who dies and if Harry survives his final battle
  • It's a Thursday/Friday night
  • It's a school night

What marketing lessons can we borrow from the remarkable Harry Potter phenomenon?

Scarcity drives action:  When people know they might miss out, they stop thinking and they pull out their wallet.  When there's no sense of urgency or scarcity -- why rush?  

Making a normal happening into an event drives excitement: If they had opted to release the movie on Friday at the normal movie times, the pre-ticket sales would not through the roof, like they are with the midnight showings. Elevating the importance elevates the attention and interest. 

Raving fans love to hang with raving fans: One of the best parts of being at a midnight showing of a Harry Potter movie is knowing that everyone else in line with you (yes, they line up hours before the doors open even though they have a ticket) is as big a fan as you are.  People come decked out in costumes and some even bring prizes for their impromptu trivia games.

Brand loyalty is all about the heart: Why are millions of people going to go to work and school groggy on Friday?  Because they love Harry Potter.  They love the story.  They love the characters  They love the adventure.  This is not an intellectual exercise.  This is about love.  

Don't think that just because this is a movie, the lessons don't apply to you.  Apple's launch of the iPad this past April used the same model and sold over 2 million units in the first two months alone.  

  • Create pent up demand (talk about it in advance)
  • Hold an exclusive event that requires pre-purchase
  • Let your raving fans hang out together before and after the purchase
  • Create a loyal base of customers who has a vested, emotional interest in your offerings and your success

A word of caution -- creating pent up demand is a fine line.  The Harry Potter and Apple brands can dance all over the line, because they're both pretty unique in their marketplaces.   And let's face it, they're Harry Potter and Apple.

For the rest of us mere mortals, we need to be a bit more careful. It doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't follow the formula.  It just means we have to realize we probably cannot sustain the excitement for a couple years.

And if you're at Jordan Creek's Century 20 theaters this Thursday night/Friday morning ...look for me in the 12:01 line.  I'll be the guy dressed as a dad!


~ Drew





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Reduce "Presenteeism" to Decrease Absenteeism

Fall is here, winter is coming and cold and flu season soon will be in full swing. Close quarters and bad health habits in the office create an environment for one of an employer’s greatest seasonal challenges: increased absenteeism.

But did you know there is a hidden contributor to absenteeism? It's called presenteeism. And it could be costing all of us more than you might think.

Presenteeism – a term coined for people who come into the office when under the weather and are often less productive – has been found to be costing employers more than absenteeism. According to a study done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), presenteeism costs organizations $180 billion annually, while absenteeism costs $118 billion a year.

Not only are ill workers who come to the office less productive, they increase the chances of other employees getting sick as well. This contributes to a perpetuation of even more presenteeism and absenteeism.  This unspoken “culture of illness” puts your personal productivity and the productivity of your company on the line. Why do people insist on coming to work instead of calling in sick?

Productivity vs Presenteeism and the Workplace Culture of Illness w Caption

Corporate culture can invite illness into the office when it fails to encourage employees to stay home when ill. An article from Business Know-How lists three causes of presenteeism: 

1. Increase in dual-earner and "sandwich generation" households

  • Parents are saving their sick days to take care of children or elderly parents

2. Employer expectations

  • People don’t want to seem less committed to their jobs                            

3. Little or no paid sick days

  • Many employees are not offered paid time off for personal time

In order to reduce presenteeism to decrease absenteeism what can an employer do?

Take some of these suggestions into consideration in order to encourage your employees to stay home when they are sick:

  • Review your company's policies to make sure there are no provisions that unduly pressure sick employees to report to work (e.g., absenteeism policies that say employees who use up their accrued sick time may be subject to discipline, even if they have a doctor's note.)
  • Send sick employees home. Acknowledge the employee's commitment, and stress that the directive to go home isn't disciplinary in nature but that you're looking out for everyone's best interests.
  • Make sure executives, managers and supervisors do not exert pressure on workers to come into work while sick; tell them they are also expected to lead by example and stay home when they are ill.
  • Encourage all departments to cross-train staff, so employees will be able to cover for absent colleagues.
  • Allow sick workers to work from home, if they are able and they choose to do so.

As an employee, what can you do?Reducing Absences By Reducing Presenteeism w Caption

Before you go to work when feeling sick, answer the following questions:

  • How well can you carry out your work duties?
  • Are you contagious?
  • Will resting at home help your body to overcome the illness? 
  • Are you taking medications that could impair your ability to think, work, operate machinery or drive?

Make an effort this cold and flu season to do your part to reduce presenteeism in your workplace, which will, in turn, decrease absenteeism overall.

Licensing Intellectual Property: Altering the Default "All Rights Reserved" Copyright Protection

Hamman Manus R mechanical computer, produced i...Image via Wikipedia

In recent Internet law posts on IowaBiz, we’ve been addressing some copyright issues facing business bloggers. Today’s blog post will discuss licensing of online works.

Whether a blogger wants to use someone else’s work (often arising when a blogger wants to use an image he or she found online, for example) or whether a blogger wants to instruct others about how his or her own blog material may or may not be used, licensing is an important concept for bloggers to understand.

Licensing, generally. Remember that copyright protection gives the owner of a particular work a number of exclusive rights. A copyright owner may license his or her work in various ways, and licensing essentially “gives up” (usually qualifiedly) one or some combination of the owner’s exclusive rights. That is, a copyright owner may use a license to communicate to others, “here’s exactly how you may use my work – you may use this work under these particular circumstances or pursuant to these particular qualifications/limitations.” 

But why would anyone give up his or her exclusive rights?  Good question. Some copyright owners don’t want to give up exclusive rights. Other times, in the context of promotional works meant to garner marketing benefits for example, a copyright owner finds it beneficial to actually invite certain specified uses or reproductions of the work via a license.  Some view this as essentially licensing “free advertising.” Some even argue that in this world of rampant copyright infringement of online works, instead of relying upon the default (and often misunderstood) “all rights reserved” copyright protection, a copyright owner may actually retain greater practical protection over online material by providing these specific instructions about how a work may or may not be used. The decision whether and under what conditions to license any particular work should be decided on a case-by-case, cost/benefit analysis by the copyright owner.

One type of licensing scheme:  Creative Commons. The Creative Commons establishes one non-exclusive licensing system, and it’s a particularly well-known mechanism for online publishers to specify exactly what others can and can’t do with a particular work. (Note, however, Creative Commons does not recommend using its licenses for software licensing.  You may want to check out licenses listed at Open Source Initiative if you’re looking for software licenses.) A Creative Commons license gives a copyright owner a relatively simple way to communicate to others a “some rights reserved” message rather than an “all rights reserved” message. Bloggers should be sure they understand the details of those rights they're giving up, and the details of each license before adopting such a license, however.  Among the many reasons it's important to understand these details before acting: a Creative Commons license can't be revoked.  Bloggers may want to review the Creative Commons web site, and specifically, the Creative Commons frequently asked questions, for more information and explanations about Creative Commons licensing. (There’s also an “abbreviated” frequently asked questions page – the “frequently frequently asked questions,” if you will.)  

Understand the specific license before using it or relying upon it.  Keep in mind that although it’s well known and offers various licenses itself, Creative Commons is only one licensing mechanism. In any event, bloggers should be sure they understand the ins and outs of any license they decide to use for their own works, as well as the license attached to the use of others’ material they choose to use themselves. Always read (or have your attorney read and explain to you) the legal code behind the licenses, and be sure you understand the legal implications of your chosen course. 

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Why Didn't The Prospect Buy?

Ask small business owners and sales professional why a prospect didn't buy. The answer most often given is "the price was too high." If it was not the price, it was the timing.

Of course, this is how you would expect the sales person to answer the question because this probably is what their prospect told them. Maybe it is true. 

Although the prospect said it was price or timing, it is more likely that the sales person failed to understand their needs and therfore could meet them.

Ironically, ask small business owners and sales professionals why the prospect did buy, and they will often say it was price, the timing or the relationship. In other words, even when succeeding, we may not always know why.

The problem is that there is not enough understanding regarding prospects. Once given the opportunity, the sales person goes right to selling features and benefits. The sales person does not have a process for gaining a deeper understanding as it regards the business outcome the prospect wants to achieve.

Drawing of a couple of keysImage via Wikipedia

Here are four keys to understanding why prospects buy.

Know the business objectives of your prospect. In other words, what is the context for your potential solution?  Is it to improve customer service, increase sales, improve operational efficiency, improve communications, improve safety, etc.?

Know the "issues" with which your prospect is dealing.  Specifically, what are the things that prevent them from improving customer service, increasing sales, improving operational efficiency, improving communications, improving safety, et cetera?

Know what has held them back in the past.  You will find that most B2B prospects have been aware of their issues for some time. Understanding why they have done nothing before, or what they have tried unsuccessfully, will significantly improve your ability to create, share and implement a solution.

Make "no" acceptable. Before prospects will be completely forthcoming, you must communicate that your intent is to help them find the best solution. They must understand that you have the integrity to walk away from an opportunity if you know that your solution won't meet their needs.

Implementing these four ideas into your sales process will have two positive effects. First, you will understand how to meet the needs of more prospects resulting in more sales (not to mention a shorter sales cycle). Second, you will understand much earlier in the sales process when you can't meet a prospects needs or if they are just "kicking tires" allowing you to not waste precious time.

Do you have some great examples as to how a deep understanding of your prospect's issues led to a sale?  I would love for you to share them.

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Use Your Email 'Draft' Folder

screenshot of an intentionally blank page on p...Image via Wikipedia

It is better to write nothing than to be wrong.

As I started to post my blog today (at deadline), I checked a source and found an error.

This reminded me why I usually hold blog drafts a week before final edits. Quick work is often inaccurate.

Electronic media encourages hasty writing. Employer/employee communication may incorrectly reflect terms. Buyer/seller communication may misstate conditions. When one party fires off an email agreeing to an untenable term, that email is later labeled “Plaintiff’s Exhibit 1.”

If you are not positive that your words will help the situation (and reflect the truth), write nothing.

It is acceptable to write “I need to reflect on this matter. I will respond soon.”

- Christine Branstad

Shut Up and Listen

Various ear piercingsImage via Wikipedia

Listening means you've got to stop talking.

It never ceases to amaze me how few leaders really listen. I mean really listen. I had lunch with a guy the other day who's been in a leadership role -- a CEO -- for over a decade now. If he consumes as much of the air time with his employees as he did with me over a sixty-minute lunch -- and I bet he does! -- his organization can't be performing at its best.

Robert Sutton, a professor in Stanford's department of managment science and engineering, wrote "The No Asshole Rule" back in 2007. He's followed that up with Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best...and Learn from the Rest. In an interview in INC. magazine in October, Sutton was asked about the right balance between talking and listening.

He said, "On one hand, there is the blabbermouth theory of leadership. In Western cultures, the person who talks the most is viewed as having the highest status...But most bosses ought to shut up and listen more."

Do you have a listening problem? Sure, you know about paraphrasing, not interrupting, listening for underlying meaning. But do you do them? Or, like most of us, are you a selective listener? You listen intently to some, neutrally to others and not at all to yet others. Now think:

  • Who do you listen to? Who don't you listen to?
  • What factors determine the difference?
    • Smarts?
    • Age?
    • Gender?
    • Level?
    • Like you/not like you?

I challenge you to challenge yourself to practice listening to those you don't usually listen to. Listen for content. Separate the content from the person. Work hard to see and hear, and thus acknowledge the other person's humanity and their need to be heard.

Remember, listening doesn't mean you accept what's been said or even that you accept who said it. It just means that you've stopped talking and you're listening.

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The New Idea

3417639257_2ebbd1955a The picture shows the new idea a few years ago that would keep the young boys in school, instead of cleaning out the barns. 

Where do you get your new ideas from?  For most of us, the most creative time for generating new ideas is either in the car or in the shower.

All it takes is one new idea and the bottom line can increase, turnover can be reduced, or the work environment improves.

The following are a couple of places to visit that may generate some new ideas for you:

Flickr photo by dok1

Are You Making it Hard to do Business?

so confusedImage by rachel sian via Flickr

Which sounds better to you - $49.95 per month or $.05 per minute? Four-hundred and fifty dollars per month or $45 per hour? My answer: It depends. Will I use 10 hours per month or not? Will I use more minutes than $49.95 worth? 

When you are selling a customer your product or service, do you want them to listen to you explain features and benefits, or do you want them doing the math in their head?  Pricing by the unit may be the only way you think you can go, but understand what you are doing. The minute you price in a way the client has to do the math, you lose the focus on the product or service. You are trying to tell the customer how this product will help, and the customer is dividing your minute usage by 20 to figure out what this is going to cost.

Recently, I wrote a post about law firms making things easier on entrepreneurs. Instead of $200+ per hour, you get a LLC for $650. The key is to make it easy to buy and allow the customer to focus on the value you deliver, not the price you charge. Who knows, maybe you can charge a larger fixed price than the average bill you send for a variable priced plan. It sure will be easier to do the billing!

Is your pricing model benefiting you or your customer? Are you leaving money in the table?

- Mike Colwell

What's Tripping You Up?

Carol_burnett_show Last night, I enjoyed an evening of laughter.  Carol Burnett was in town, and she held her signature Q&A at the Des Moines Civic Center.  She included many clips from her television show, and she reminisced about her costars on the show.

One such memory she shared was about Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.  The show was always performed live in front of a studio audience, and taped for rebroadcast.  Ms. Burnett described Korman as a highly talented and professional actor with an amazing range for comedy acting.  Tim Conway - also talented - loved to exploit Korman by trying to make him crack up during the audience taping.  It was his goal to "trip up" Harvey Korman.

I can appreciate that goal, at least when it comes to comedy.  A simple one-liner can do wonders for the digestion of milk and other beverages (subsequent cleaning bills notwithstanding).  However, when it comes to projects, purposeful trip-ups can be far more serious.  A side job of mine is an office politics advisor, so I've seen a few trip-ups firsthand and through consultation.  Here are some of the top trip-ups I've seen employed in the realm of project management:

  1. Misinformation - word choice is powerful.  Making people believe something is one thing when it's actually something else can lead to poor requirements, missed issues, and unnecessary work.
  2. Shunning - I once worked with a business analyst who could put the Amish to shame on avoidance strategies.  Leaving people out of the loop causes distrust and wastes everybody's time in the end.
  3. Ignorance - "I dunno" is never an excuse.  If the question at hand is part of your accountability, then "I don't know" had better be followed up quickly with "but I'll find out."
  4. Optimism - Risks are inherent to every project, so take off the blinders.  Arrogance and naivety can cause a project manager to miss potential project-saving activities.
  5. Channel Wars - in communication, it is critical to select the right channel when sharing a message.  "Reply All" and "BCC" are the bane of existence for many professionals.

So what are the things that trip you up on projects?

Oh, and Ms. Burnett, if you're reading this, my one question (which I didn't get selected to ask) is this:  One of the early milestones of your career was the song, "I made a fool of myself over John Foster Dulles."  If you had to create a satirical love song for one of today's political figures (especially after the recent contentious campaign), who would it be?  (Tug, tug.)

Job Knowledge is Job One

RestaurantImage via Wikipedia

One of the most frightening times for any one serving customers is that initial period when you are thrown into the fray with relatively little job knowledge or experience.

Take the server I encountered at one of my favorite restaurants this past weekend.

My wife and I were out with friends to enjoy some local fine dining. Our server was a very nice, polite person. Engaging, personable, and professional, he had all the makings for a great waiter. Then he came with the "bear with me, I'm new" comment.

From there, the service experience started began a gentle downward spiral.

Telling a customer that you're new seems like a natural way to receive empathy and understanding, but it immediately destroys confidence and often makes the customer more sensitive to little mistakes they might otherwise not notice. Be confident, even if you're asked something you don't know. "Great question," you might answer, "Let me check on that for you."

In any customer service function, the customer expects you to Know the basics. For example, when our new server pulled out a list of dessert options, he stated that he must go over them with us because the dessert list was not on the menu. We all exchanged glances. We all knew it was on the menu. Not only was it on the menu, but also on the insert of daily specials. We'd all seen it. You expect the server to know what's on the menu.

If you're an employer, one of the best things you can do for your new employees is to prepare them with the basics. What are the most critical things for your newbie to know? you might prepare a list of commonly asked customer questions and the appropriate answers. If you don't have this list, talk to your best front line employees and have them help you create it.

If you're a new employee, make sure you ask a lot of questions. The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself thoroughly on the basics of the product or service you are providing. Talk to veteran co-workers, trainers and your employer and ask:

  • What are the most frequently asked questions customers ask?
  • What are the most difficult questions I can expect to get? Why? How should I respond?
  • What are the questions customers don't know enough to ask? What should I anticipate that will save the customer, and the company, future headaches?

Every company wants to exceed customer expectations, but if you can't meet the customer's basic expectations, you'll rarely get the opportunity to exceed them.


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Social Media, Politics & Business

The United States Capitol Alight At Night in W...Image by Skibum415 via Flickr

Americans are heading to the polls this week for the midterm elections, but before casting a vote they will have been touched by the candidates and their messages many more times this cycle than in the past with the help of social media.

The increased use of social media by candidates also presents new avenues of access for communication on key issues that impact businesses.

For candidates and opponents, the increased amount of information and easy access to that information has made this year one of the ugliest we've seen on the airways. Social platforms provided a new mud pit location for the slinging as well. What is an interesting take-away for corporations and trade associations  is the potential for issue impact and communication via social media.

This is not a new takeaway. A few national campaigns tapped into social media opportunities back in 2008. The potential impact, however, has grown substantially even in the past two years. In that two-year span many more candidates, congressional members, state legislators, regulators, governors, key staff members, political media and pundits have embraced social media. This increases the accessibility of constituents and bloc constituencies to lawmakers and key staff and vice versa.

Following are five tactics that companies, associations and businesses can employ to communicate with decision-makers using social media:

  1. Identify and unify your supporters. Social media platforms are ideal for building your community of support. The support can be identified via all traditional methods - e-mail communication, newsletters, phones - but should also be identified utilizing social and online advertising. The most active target audiences are those with a vested interest and may include association members, employees, vendors, shareholders, and others in the industry.
  2. Educate the audience. Share the mission and goals of the group and educate the audience about the impact of legislative or regulatory action.
  3. Give them something to do. Simple tasks such as helping to educate and invite others to the community will help to identify those willing to take action and give them an immediate way to take action into their own hands.
  4. Provide them with ways to communicate. Once you have a robust audience of those who share your position on the issues, share with them where and how they can easily communicate the position with the regulatory and legislative decisionmakers on social platforms. Make it easy for them to do so and find different and creative ways to help them share the message.
  5. Let them know the impact. Once the audience has taken action to communicate with state or federal decision makers, it is important for them to know how their voice made a difference. Was there an amendment or language included in a bill that wouldn't have been without them taking the time to share their position?

Can social media be utilized in a way to have a real impact? Yes. Mashable  cites a couple of notable public affairs success stories via social media. Another success story that I had the opportunity to be a part of came from T. Boone Pickens on the issue of U.S. energy independence called the Pickens Plan. With the use of social media and digital communication we organized and activated volunteers in all 50 states and nearly every one of the 435 congressional districts. The efforts led to positive change through several federal legislative actions on energy.

Constituents have always had a voice. Figuring out how to use their voice has had its challenges and ultimately those challenges has reduced the voice to a whisper. I've said before social media provides individuals with a microphone. This is one way that can be used to your advantage.

Don't pay the seller's income tax

The famous Witch Tree at Pescadero Point, Pebb...Image via Wikipedia

Remember when the Japanese were taking over the country? Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, everyone thought that Nagasaki was being avenged by a Japanese takeover of strategic U.S real estate, like Pebble Beach golf course.

The Japanese takeover never quite worked out, but that didn't stop Congress from making sure that foreigners at least paid income tax when they sold their real estate.  The Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 requires buyers to withhold 10 percent federal income tax when buying real estate from those diabolical foriegn sellers. The IRS can force a buyer who fails to withhold the 10 percent from the purchase payment to come up with the 10 percent withholding out of his own assets.

This rule makes it important for you to know who you are buying real estate from. The withholding rules apply if you are buying from a "foreign person." A U.S. corporation is not a "foreign person," even if it is owned by overseas interests. A U.S. partnership is not a foreign person even if there is a foreign partner. But a U.S. disregarded entity -- like a single-owner limited liability company -- can be trouble. "Disregarded entities" are, well, disregarded for purposes of FIRPTA withholding. If a single-owner LLC is owned by a foreign person, FIRPTA withholding could be required.

So how do you protect yourself from having to pay an extra 10 percent of the purchase price to the IRS on behalf of a foreign owner? By getting a Certificate of Nonforeign Status from the seller, signed under penalties of perjury. The certificate should (Treasury Reg. 1.1442-2(b)(2)):

State that the transferor is not a foreign person.

Sets forth the transferor's name, identifying number and home address (in the case of an individual) or office address (in the case of an entity), and

In the case of anyone other than an individual, it should state that the seller is not a disregarded entity.

It should be signed under penalties of perjury.

If your seller is a foreign person, there are a few exceptions to FIRPTA withholding. The most widely used is for non-citizens who sell a residence for under $300,000. If no exception applies, you remit the withholding to the IRS with Form 8288, and you tell the seller the amount withheld on Form 8288-A. The Form 8288 is due with payment 20 days after the property is transferred. It's always wise to get your tax professional involved to make sure you have the bases covered.

Even though nobody worries about the Japanese real estate anymore, FIRPTA withholding seems here to stay. Don't get caught up paying tax for some crafty Canadian just because you didn't withhold 10 percent when you bought his building.

When buying real estate, make sure you don't end up paying the seller's income tax.

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