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August 2011

Ah, the "good old days" of indoor air quality

I must admit, in the past, our projects sometimes put our clients through hell! I think back to the remodeling projects where business carried on for my client amidst sanding drywall, gluing carpet to the floor, lacquering wood cabinets, and painting with oil based enamels! 

The peculiar thing was people rarely complained or made an issue of the terrible working conditions. I clearly remember a different occasion when someone finally said enough is enough, and was headed home because they had a headache from the fumes. If the guy painting is wearing a gas mask it has got to be bad. Not very sustainable!

Then in the early 80’s along came sick building syndrome. Scientific research and studies showed how toxic and polluted our indoor environments had become. People really were sick from the indoor environment. All the chemicals did have an effect on people.

Some changes happened over night and some took decades. Among the positive changes:

  • Cabinets and doors were finished offsite in the shop within a special paint booth. No longer did our clients have to work within 10 feet of someone varnishing a door.
  • Paints used were mostly latex and oil based paints were used sparingly.
  • A machine was invented to sand and vacuum drywall dust. Not only were the air conditions better but cleanup was easier.
  • Materials without formaldehyde were manufactured and products with formaldehyde disappeared from the market.

Sustainable practices now typically include special ventilation systems used during construction. Another option is to flush out the building before people occupy the building by bringing in 100% outdoor air.

Sometimes when it comes to sustainable design we think about the building but isn’t the real purpose to sustain life? When people got involved and spoke up about their indoor environment, positive changes resulted!

- Rob Smith

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Marketing lessons from a Cy-Hawk

CyHawk In case you were just born or living under a rock, here's the backstory in a few bullets.

  • Every fall the Iowa State Cyclones play the Iowa Hawkeyes and whoever wins the football game, wins the coveted Cy-Hawk trophy to have and hold until the next year's game.
  • This year, they decided to update the trophy (the old one is on display in the Hall of Pride) and the Iowa Corn Association donated the new trophy, including its design.
  • The new trophy was unveiled at the Iowa State Fair and instead of the old football themed trophy, it's a farm family huddling around a bushel of corn. (see photo)
  • The public's reaction was swift, loud and mostly unfavorable.
  • The Iowa Corn Growers announced the trophy will be re-designed with some public input.

So.... are there some marketing lessons to be learned here?  You bet.  Here are my top four: 

Raving fans have an emotional connection to your brand

In this case, the Corn Growers got walloped by three groups of fans. Football fans, ISU fans and Iowa fans. We work hard to get our customers to have a preference. To be proud to do business with us and to be such loyal buyers that they tell their friends.

To get someone to make that level of investment means their heart is in it. Which means they're not just customers.  They're stakeholders.  And they believe (rightly so) that their opinion matters.

We love that when they agree with us and shout our praises.  It's a tougher pill to swallow when we stub our toe and they loudly let us know.

Raving fans believe that your product or service and their support of it says as much about them as it does about you. (Check with a Harley owner if you think I'm crazy).  Which means the choices you make matters a great deal to them.  After all, it's about them.

If you don't know what your customers think -- ask them.  Before it's too far along.

If you are inside the bottle, you can't accurately see or describe the outside of the bottle

In other words -- the Corn Growers love corn, farming and Iowa. As they should. So from their "inside the bottle" perspective, the corn family was a tribute to all that's Iowa. What better way to commemorate and celebrate an all Iowa tradition like the big game?

And who would begrudge them a nod to corn, after all, they're paying for the trophy and sponsoring the series.  

But... it's a trophy that is going to be hoisted over the heads of some 300 lb linebacker. It's going to be the subject of fiery speeches from coaches about honor and not letting anyone take it away from us, and it's going to be in the dreams of 8 year-old boys who hope that someday they'll be able to fight for the glory of winning it.

None of that says farm family.  But the Corn Growers couldn't see that.

This is common problem for business owners who can't see or understand their business from the customers' perspective. You need to find ways to always have a fresh and candid set of eyes.  

There's no such thing as a quiet consumer today

Thanks to social media, access to reporters, and a demand for 24/7 news -- consumers have learned that they not only have a voice, but it's a pretty loud one.  And not only is it loud, but it can bring about change. 

The good side of this new marketing truth is that when you can inspire and encourage those voices, they can do a lot of good. They can elevate a brand, can answer a need or solve a problem.

The down side is -- you'd better have a good crisis communications plan in place because if you get sideways with them, the fury is going to come fast.  As it did with the new trophy.

When the might of the many strikes, a business has to quickly decide how it's going to handle the uproar.  It was never a good idea, but in today's world a "no comment" is taken as a "guilty as charged" so you'd better come ready to deal with the situation.

Final lesson

At the end of the day -- the Iowa Corn Growers got the message and to their credit, stood tall and took the criticism.  Their decision to re-think the trophy took grace and I predict that by the time they've got some new designs and have engineered a way to let Iowans weigh in -- they'll come out of this storm pretty well.

And that's the final marketing lesson from this situation. A good brand can withstand a mistake or two.  Consumers will forgive you the mistake as long as you own up to it and genuinely try to do it better the next time around. 

~ Drew McLellan 

Green business in the black - Part 2

WHO Benefits?

Aside from stockholders, there are a number of groups who will potentially benefit from green business decisions:

• Customers/Public opinion - More and more, green products are becoming expected.  Consumers are more likely to buy a product if it is green, or from an eco-friendly company than one that is not. 101215640 Therefore, switching to an environmental mindset will fulfill customer satisfaction as well as develop a positive reputation for your business.

• Employee wellness – Wellness programs are implemented to improve and promote healthy habits, control costs and increase workers' output. Coincidentally, those are the same goals of sustainability strategies. By putting green initiatives into effect, your employees will be influenced for the good. Effective wellness programs can show people that good health equals fewer expenses while emphasizing that the state of your personal health does in fact have an impact on the organization that employs you. Wellness experts claim that moving your company towards greener ways will also better educate that company’s employees to go green for their personal health as well.

• Regulators - New regulations by the government are being implemented for public buildings, technology and even marketing strategies. Meeting these requirements efficiently will position your company in compliance with regulations.

HOW to do it?    

1. Measure & Manage

Your starting point will likely be with your supply chain. Measure use of materials, natural resources and energy. Once you have the facts of your business’ consumption of material and resources, it will be clear to see the opportunities for green initiatives. It is difficult to springboard into going green without this step. If you fail to measure it, you will fail to manage it.

2. Start Small While Thinking Big

Imagine the green initiatives you see your company demonstrating. Form a “green team” within your company to focus on sustainability projects. The first project does not have to be groundbreaking but rather an effort that impacts the business in a visible way. When it succeeds, move on to bigger projects.

 3. Communicate. Motivate.
3 men and earth Communicate the goals and vision of the effort to all employees. Inspire your organization and customers to buy in to your ideas by making a compelling strategy towards becoming green.  Publicize the success of your initial green initiative internally and show plans for the future in sustainability.  Not only will you gain support and build morale, but your company’s brand will be strengthened in the process.

The most successful green initiatives are done with leadership that recognizes new opportunities, anticipates changes in trends and develops strategies to adapt to the changing times. Innovative thinking is needed to find creative and effective ways to take your business to a new and improved level of community and conservation.

Changing the culture of your business is not easy but it is rewarding. Sustainability will keep your company lean, your employees healthy and your customers satisfied. When you combine innovative leadership and a creative vision the results should be remarkable.  

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Business blockbusters from the Iowa Supreme Court

My last post discussed Summer Reads for Iowa Businesses

Starting today, viewers may again watch arguments in front of the Iowa Supreme Court. In case you missed reading Iowa Supreme Court cases this summer, this post reviews some of the summer’s business cases from the Iowa Supreme Court.

Iowa Supreme Court decisions are readable and a few decisions are released each week. If you skip the criminal and divorce cases (which are fascinating but hopefully not necessary for your business), a few business cases might help you spot potential problems and help your business steer clear of potential legal situations.

This year not only were the Green Hornet and Green Lantern in theatres, we also saw State Office v. Polk County Court and State Office v. Linn County Court.


In both cases individuals were charged with criminal offenses which were later dismissed. Though the charges were dropped, certain information remained on the Iowa Courts website. The individuals attempted to expunge their records, including those on the Iowa Court’s website. Read the cases to understand the epic battle between “public records” and “due process.”

At present, docket information remains available to the public regardless of the outcome of a criminal charge. Watch this for sequels by the court or the legislature . . .


An employee of a trucking company was allowed to receive cash from credit card transactions at a truck service station, purportedly for fuel purchases by other trucking company employees. The pattern of transactions was noticed by management. The employee was convicted of theft and ordered to pay $298,524.79 in restitution. The trucking company could not recover from the credit card transaction company because of a written agreement that company cards could be used for purchases and cash advances, that the trucking company was responsible for fraudulent use of the cards, and that the trucking company would hold the transaction company harmless for the acts of the trucking company employees. The trucking company had no such agreement with Kum and Go and sued, asserting Kum and Go was negligent in allowing the trucking company employee to receive the cash. The court determined that the trucking company’s recovery was barred due to the economic loss rule, which “. . . bars recovery in negligence when the plaintiff has suffered only economic loss.” Also discussed was the “contractual economic loss rule” which “bars tort claims for economic loss, on the theory that tort law should not supplant a consensual network of contracts.” For an alternate ending, read the dissent of two justices.


In Pavone v. Kirke, the parties entered into an agreement in which Pavone and his company, Signature Management Group, LLC, would provide consulting services in obtaining gaming licenses and casino management services to defendants. In applications to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC), it was stated that Signature Management Group would manage casinos for the defendants. Over time, the parties renegotiated their agreement and defendants hired an operations consultant. The relationship fell apart and disagreements ensued about management fees stated in the agreement versus those offered by the operations consultant. After the IRGC was informed of the breakdown in negotiations, it awarded a gaming license to defendants. Defendants then terminated their agreement with Signature Management Group and agreed to work with the operations consultant. Pavone sued, and a jury found the defendants breached the original agreement pertaining to the management agreement between the parties and a first look option and good faith negotiation obligation for future opportunities, and awarded $10 million to Pavone. The Iowa Supreme Court reviews many business issues and lends insight into what can go wrong in dealings.


If the parties weren’t real people, this would almost be a comedy.

Mark Peak broke his leg while helping Ellis and Rachel Adams move furniture with a U-Haul truck. During the process, Peak sustained substantial damage to his leg and incurred $50,000 in medical bills. In negotiating settlement with U-Haul, Peak’s attorney received a “Release of All Claims” to be signed in exchange for U-Haul’s $20,000 settlement. Mistakenly, the release named U-Haul, U-Haul’s insurance company and Ellis Adams as parties discharged. The mistake was not caught by Peak’s attorney nor Peak and the release was signed. The Adams’ insurance company then refused to pay on the grounds that Ellis Adams had been discharged in the signed release.

The plot twists and turns as the district court finds that the release was unambiguous, but the Iowa Court of Appeals reverses because of the surrounding circumstances and the parties’ intent in signing. In the final act, the Iowa Supreme Court states “enforcement [of the release] is governed by principles of contract law” and “it is well settled that failure to read a contract before signing it will not invalidate the contract.” “In the construction written contracts . . . the intent of the parties must control . . . [as] determined by what the contract itself says.” The court declined “[t]o allow a party to avoid a signed release based on a unilateral mistake,” and affirmed the district court’s judgment pertaining to Ellis Adams; however, the court reversed the district court’s judgment pertaining to Rachel Adams as she was unnamed in both the U-Haul rental agreement and the release signed by Peak.

After this chilling read . . .  you won’t sign without reading again.

Check back frequently for additional installments from the Iowa Supreme Court, and remember, light reading now may save you a trip to the litigator later.

-Christine Branstad


Hello, obstacles!

Talking To A Brick WallImage by Joriel "Joz" Jimenez via Flickr

Every obstacle introduces a person to himself.

How we respond to obstacles at work is important. No obstacle will ever leave you the way it found you. You will either be better or you will be worse as a result of that confrontation. But keep in mind one important fact about obstacles: every obstacle has a limited lifespan. Many times there are things that we worried about last year that we can't even remember today.

Mediocre leaders tend to be tamed and subdued by obstacles, but great leaders always rise above them. You and I need to be like the leader who, when asked what helped him overcome the obstacles he encountered, responded, "The other obstacles." We should be like a kite that rises against the wind, causing it to fly higher and higher.

What is one of the greatest obstacles that you are facing at work right now?

Lay that obstacle in front of you and take a good hard look at it from a number of perspectives. Flip it over. Turn it inside out if you can. Bring someone else in to look at it and tell you what she sees.

Many times obstacles, given this sort of scrutiny, begin to shrink in size. If nothing else, a number of paths will appear to go over or around or through what might have once seemed insurmountable. And pretty soon, you'll begin to welcome obstacles because you recognize that you're growing in the process of tackling them. Hello, opportunities!

- Shirley Poertner

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The CYA culture


Would you want anyone to copy the culture at your company?  In our high stress, high speed world there is a strong prevalence for many companies to adopt a CYA culture -  Cover Your A..s

There are files on computers, desks, home, and in safes where employees are keeping what they hope is a get out of jail free document.

The email or document that will allow them to save face, get back at the boss, or potentially save their job.  Hours upon hours of wasted time is spent on creating and maintaining these files.  What a waste of energy!

The CYA culture is rife with a lack of leadership, clear direction, trust, and respect.  Business is tough today. So why are there so many CYA cultures out there? 

Because it takes a tremendous amount of energy and far to many company leaders will not make the sacrifice to eliminate causes of a CYA culture. If you are one of the millions of employees that live in this type of company culture, a change may be in order.

There is a limited amount of energy each of has to give to life - do not waste it giving it to a CYA company.

- Victor Aspengren

When the economy gets tough, tough get going

Running a business is hard enough without the added market convulsions, the collapse of the housing market and the general uncertainties. A forward looking business owner will most likely view this current climate as one of opportunity.  

- Prime locations are selling at discounted prices.

- Weak competition (market share) can be purchased for pennies on the dollar.

- The cost of money has not been this low in decades. 

- Often you can buy for less than you can rent.

Surviving in times like these is not for the faint of heart. However, by definition entrepreneurs are risk takers. They can see opportunities not in the balance sheets or market studies and are not distracted by the naysayers.  Some owners have survived by abandoning “business as usual”.  Many new boat dealers now focus on selling used boats, many of them repossessed by lenders, and they have discovered a huge offshore market for used boats. 

In short, when the economy goes in the tank, leaders retool and followers - well they just follow.

- Steve Sink


1% of 4% of 7 Billion - Who's in your market?

Earth - IllustrationImage by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Big markets attract a lot of attention. After all, with that many potential customers you can see a path to huge revenues. The challenge is getting heard by that big market.  On the flip side, a small market does not have a huge number of customers so the revenue potential is not as large. However, it is much easier to make sure that small market knows about you and your product. 

Here in Iowa we are 1% of 4% of 7 billion people.  While 3 million people in Iowa sounds like a big number, it is an incredibly small number compared to the earth's population.  You have a choice when you start marketing your product or service. You can cast your marketing net wide and try to let as many people know as possible, or you can target your marketing on a small segment. Which is right? 

It depends. 

If you need to scale large just to break even, you must cast a wide net and gain as many customers as you can, as quickly as you can. That means you will be spending a very large amount of money on marketing and sales. You likely will spend far more on marketing and sales than you do on your product.

If you have a product or service that gets you to profitability quickly, you have the option of starting with a small marketing budget pointed at a very defined, narrow grouping of potential customers.  As you gain customers you can incrementally increase the size of the market to which you communicate. 

Either way, you need to know who's in your market and make sure you have the funds needed to reach them. 

- Mike Colwell


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Over the past several years, I've talked a lot in this blog about answering the project management questions: why? when? and who?

As in... "Why are you tackling this project?"

Or... "When will task A occur in relation to task B?"

Or... "Who is working on this task?"

But now I think it's time to give you a little help on the HOW

As in... "How do I create a solid business case?"

Or... "How do I plan out a project?"

Or... "How do I report status honestly?"

Or... "How do I track issues?"

So for this post, quite simply, I'm just sharing some of my favorite templates. Nothing complex. Use them. Modify them. Test them. Make them work for you. Nothing magical here. Most project managers use some variation of these. Now they're yours for the taking.

Download Template Business Case

Download Template Project Planning Checklist

Download Template Status Report

Download Template Issues Log

So no cute project stories or amusing anecdotes this time around... just straightforward "how to" on the basics of project management.

- Tim Johnson

Good service sometimes begins in bad times

TTCL Customer Care, Call Center in Extelecoms ...Image via Wikipedia

We're living in some tough economic times and many customers are likely to find themselves in financial difficulties. It's interesting how different companies handle customers in tough times. We are all acquainted with the image of hard-nosed collection agencies calling during dinner time to demand money for unpaid bills. Some companies, however, take delinquincy as an opportunity to build customer satisfaction and loyalty.

I recently heard a true story of one such company who made a courtesy call to one of their large customers. This customer happened to be late making a payment and so a front-line collector called the customer to politely check on the situation. The customer explained the reason for his delinquincy and made arrangements to catch up. He then shared with the front-line collector that decades before he'd been in such difficult financial circumstances that he was faced with repossession of his assets and bankruptcy.

The customer explained that during his financial crisis the front-line collector's company had sent a field agent to try to work out equitable arrangements. The field collector had treated the customer with such courtesy, dignity and respect that he vowed to be exclusively loyal to that company should he ever get back on his feet financially. The customer did get back on his feet and became very successful in his business. Because of the service attitude of that one field collector, the customer explained, he had been a loyal customer ever since.

After listening to the story, the front-line collector asked the customer if he remembered the name of the field agent who had made such a difference those many years before. The customer did remember the field agent's name. Incredulous, the collector on the phone explained to the customer that the field agent was not only still with the company but happened to be his manager. "Would you like to speak with him?" the collector asked. Twenty years later the customer and the field agent who had served him well in such dark times were reunited on the phone.

Sometimes customer satisfaction and loyalty begins with companies proving themselves loyal to their customers.

- Tom Vander Well

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What should I do about my capital losses?

Maria Bartiromo has been the bearer of grim tidings for many of us in recent days. If your net worth has taken a hit, can you get some of it back from the IRS at tax time?

20110816iabiz The tax law is not very friendly to stock market losses.  Most of us can only deduct our capital losses to the extent of our capital gains, plus $3,000.  Capital losses carry forward as long as you live, usable to the extent of future capital gains; if you have none, you at least get the $3,000. Long-term gains can offset short-term losses, and vice-versa.

The $3,000 allowance can be cold comfort. At $3,000 per year, some of us will have to outlive Methuselah to use up our carryfowards.  Still, there may be some tax moves available to ease your pain.

If you already have capital gains that you have cashed out for the year, sell enough losers to generate capital losses to offset them.  Remember, this only works in taxable accounts.  Selling a stock for a loss in an IRA or 401(k) does nothing for you, and losses in taxable accounts of course do not offset income from IRAs or retirement plans.

If you already have loss carryforwards, you can rearrange your portfolio without paying taxes.  If you have some gain stocks that it's time to unload, you can do so.

Be sure you know what your loss really is.  If you inherited a stock, your "basis" -- the amount you compare to your sale price to determine gain or loss -- is normally the date-of-death value.  If you were gifted shares, you step into the basis of the giver.  And if the stock has split or came from a merger of another company, you may have to pick your way through old transactions to learn your basis.

Beware the "Wash Sale" rules.  If you sell shares at a loss, purchasing the same shares in the 30 days before or after the loss sale will disqualify the loss on your tax return.

If you are a very active trader, there is an election to have all of your capital gains and losses treated as ordinary income -- not so great when you're making money, but a blessing when you've lost a bundle.  Unfortunately, it's too late to make that election for this year, as the deadline for the election is April 15 of the year you want the election to be effective.  It might be useful for 2012, though. 

If you need more information, Kelly Phillips Erb has a great general discussion of capital losses at her Forbes blog.

- Joe Kristan

Flickr image courtesy donjd2 under Creative Commons license.


It has to make sense

DoveMenvsEraEveryone wants to woo and win new customers.  No argument there.  But sometimes companies either stretch their brand a little too far or attempt to stretch their audience's ability to connect the dots.

Typically, neither marketing technique works particularly well.  There are two good examples of this that just broke into the mainstream of late, so I thought we'd take a look at them.

Dove for Men:

Dove has been around since practically the dawn of time.  And they've done a brilliant job of branding themselves as skin care products for women.  They amplified this position starting in 2006 when they launched their True Beauty campaign to rave reviews.  They even won awards at Cannes for their videos.

Their website states that their company's vision is "to building positive self-esteem and inspiring all women and girls to reach their full potential."

None of that makes me, as a man, want to try their products or believe that I am going to be their focus.  I don't care that the bottles are a manly black or that their advertising reminds us that men deserve nice skin too.

They've gone way too far down the path of being all about women to be all about men too.  They're climbing up a huge hill -- trying to get a group of people they've purposefully ignored for years to suddenly pay attention.  

Tough sell.


Era has a new spokesperson and a new slogan.  Along with their tagline "a lot of fight for a little dough" comes the Chuck Norris endorsement.


According to the Era marketing rep, Era customers have a big affinity with Chuck.  The campaign is done very tongue in cheek with statements like "Era’s secret ingredient is “one drop of Chuck Norris blood. His DNA can kill anything, even stains.”

Cute...but is it going to make people (and most of those people are women) buy the product?  We'll see.  It's a stretch for sure.  But unlike the Dove for Men example, at least Era is still talking to the same/right audience.  

The question I have is -- does their audience have any interest in what they're saying. And do they care or have any affinity for Chuck Norris?  Will the over the top Chuck Norrisisms create a new affection for a rather bland product line -- laundry detergent? Or, is the brand creating a disconnect for their core buyers?

I'm all for trying new things.  You have to be bold and different.  But you also have to be relevant.  Time will tell if Dove and Era made good choices.

What do you think?


~ Drew


Green Business In The Black - Part 1

In the last decade, there has been significant growth in environmental awareness not only in the public sphere but also in the business world. "Going green" means a lot of different things to different people, but when it comes to businesses looking into sustainability, there are three important questions to ask:                                  

            · Why your company should go green?                                 

             · Who will benefit?

            · How your company should begin green initiatives?                 


There is a common misconception that going green is costly compared to traditional habits.Green Blog 1 Image This misconception is based around the first costs of becoming environmentally sound. Buying the energy efficient light bulbs, redesigning packaging and launching recycling programs like all projects require initial funding that during a recession can be difficult to justify. However, you have to view the expenses as investments and not losses.

However 93% of CEOs find sustainability vital to the future success of their businesses and 96% agree that eco-friendly initiatives should be fully integrated into their strategic growth. What used to be a nice gesture for companies to recycle or choose eco-friendly products has become a necessary factor in maintaining a competitive edge in the business world.

Ultimately, the bottom line in sustainability, is, well, the bottom line! The Institute for Health Care Improvement (IHI) white paper, Increasing Efficiency and Enhancing Value in Health Care, explains the savings potential for a hypothetical hospital looking to reduce waste. It projects that even just mere 1-3% reductions in waste could lead to increasing the hospital’s margin by 3.5 – 7.1%, significantly boosting their bottom line. The cost of achieving this goal is high but because of the expected success of the initiative, approaches were coordinated to achieve the projected goals.


The outcome of sustainability is more than  a matter of conservation; it is now a main factor in good business. Whether you are eager or hesitant to adopt this new strategy, you now know the big reason why you should go green – your bottom line. Knowing why will help you embark on your green transition. Next time, in Part 2, look to gain the tools to complete your green initiatives by learning about who will benefit and how your company should begin the green process.

There's light at the end of the tunnel

Every once and a while a new product comes along and my immediate response is “WAY COOL!” While many manufacturers of “green” products have done little other than
repackage their old product, Solatube International broke into the North America market in 1991 with a truly remarkable product to bring natural daylight into the inner parts of buildings. 

I have used skylights in the past to bring natural daylight into buildings. Skylights flood interior spaces with daylight and therefore reduce the need for using light fixtures. That’s a good green thing!! The tendency is to use skylights to light lobbies and atriums but not work spaces because of non-consistent light levels and glare. 

I was asked once to help a bank with a skylight issue in the boardroom. The skylight was over the end of the boardroom table and the sunlight was so intense no one would sit under the skylight. Of course, as the sun moved across the sky, the direct sunlight would move down the line from one chair to the next, causing people to constantly play musical chairs.

Tubular "daylighting" devices funnel daylight through a tube and get the light to where it is needed. The amazing thing is now natural sunlight can be directed to work areas not on the top floor of a building but deep within the bowels of the building. The inside of the tubes are specular so daylight can be reflected up to 50 feet with several 90 degree bends.  That’s amazing!

The Solatube system is also manufactured to provide a more consistent light level throughout the day. During the morning when the sun is low in the sky the refractors gather all the light available and send it down the tube. When the sun is high in the sky
some of the light is reflected so not all the daylight available is sent down the tube. That way the interior senses a more uniform illumination consistency than a typical skylight.  One device can remove the need for lights in a conference room.

Look for solatubes at the new Central Iowa Shelter & Services building, currently under construction. Three of the Solatube devices will be used to bring natural daylight into interior corridors and reduce utility costs forever.

Summer reads for Iowa businesses

Summer Reading for business leaders often includes motivational books. Classics include: 300px-IPad-02

Good to Great - Jim Collins 

Getting to Yes - Roger Fisher and William Ury   

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie  

If you read my blog, you are likely a family member or recognize the need to “brush up” on the law before your business is in trouble. With so many topics of interest for savvy business people to cover, I have developed my list of “Summer Reads for real Businesses in Iowa.”

Summer Reads for Businesses in Iowa:

Cyber Law: A Legal Arsenal for Online Business -  Brett J. Trout

Cyber Law offers a guide to online business, including navigating pitfalls Cyber Law effectively translates “online geek” to “everyday business owner.” Unlike, the rest of my list, this book is actually fun to read.

The Human Resources Manual of a large organization or state agency.

You can get one from a business associate or buy an up to date version. As you read the manual, ask yourself why each provision is in the manual and if your business (no matter how small) may use some of those ideas.

Your own Human Resources manual.

Each business owner should be the expert in the business’s human resources manual. If you don’t understand it, talk with your lawyer about re-writing it. No business owner ever won a case by saying “I did not understand my own manual.”

The “standard” contracts used by your business. 

If you don’t understand it, talk with your lawyer about re-writing it. No business owner ever won a case by saying “I did not understand my own contract.”

The actual regulations of your industry (and then the website that explains the regulations that you just read). 

For this I recommend an iPad, Kindle or reader. State and federal regulations are free to the public and published in the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”). The US Government site provides a keyword search.

Some agencies provide websites with quick explanations of their regulations as well as FAQ pages. Additionally, many agencies publish updates on their websites, of which a complete listing is available here.

Iowa also publishes administrative regulations in the Iowa Administrative Code, available from the Iowa General Assembly’s website. Familiarizing oneself with these resources can not only consume numerous hours of free time, but also allow a quick answer to be found when issues do arise.

Iowa Supreme Court cases (just the business cases).

The Iowa Supreme Court regularly releases opinions which touch on business, as does the Iowa Court of Appeals. The Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeal opinions are well reasoned, concise, and usually enjoyable to read. More often than not I find my weekly review of recent opinions has bearing on a client’s matter or a personal interest. My next blog will be about recent Iowa Cases.

The Iowa UCC.

Iowa has adopted the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”), which governs myriad aspects of business, from creation of a contract (see Article 1) to sales of goods (see Article 2) to transactions involving security interests (see Article 9). The UCC is no light afternoon read. An entire law school course may only cover one Article of the UCC; though this should not dissuade you from reading it. Knowing the actual language of the law will help any business leader to ask the right questions when the next contract is negotiated.

Anything your tax advisor tells you to read.

Finally, a bit of a reminder that professionals are here to help you. Often, articles or other materials that are “suggested” for reading could end up saving a business (and any professionals employed by that business) time. Whether it is keeping receipts or ensuring a document is signed and notarized, advice from professionals is meant to aid a business. My advice is to take some time and read up on a topic which affects your business. Not only will you be more knowledgeable, you may just head off a “situation” before it arises, or prevent one from growing exponentially.

Christine Branstad

Just Believe

Frank Lloyd Wright said, "The thing always happens that you really believe in, the belief in a thing makes it happen." And we know how that turned out for Mr. Wright!

It only takes one idea to change your world. One idea and a trait that all visionary leaders share. Intelligence? A position of power? Charisma? Money? A brilliant plan? We know better, don't we?

The one common component? Belief.

Walt Disney had 84 banks turn down his financing request to create the animated film that introduced the world to Mickey Mouse before bank #85 said yes. Thomas Edison and his buddies tested 10,000 different materials before they discovered one suitable for the filament in electric light bulbs. They just would not give up. They believed.

Now, as a leader you may not have your sights set on inventing a world icon or radically changing the daily life of millions of people. But you are a leader, right? You do have a vision. Are you ready to do whatever it takes to bring that vision to life? Do you believe?

  • What idea do you believe in with such certainty that you know you simply could not walk away from it?
  • What's getting in the way of you making that vision a reality?
  • How could you remove that obstacle?
  • What other obstacles can you anticipate and prepare for in advance?
  • Who could help you?
  • Who would share your vision and belief?

And now the most important question: What are you waiting for?

Start today. Don't give up until it's done. Believe.

- Shirley Poertner

United we stand

3106493278_2d3e0a066c_t Leadership in many cases is a team effort - it can be the board of directors, management group, company division, or a special projects group. One of the reasons that great leadership comes from a team atmosphere is that better decisions will be made.

Groups make better decisions and they can make them just as fast as individuals - follow this link for more. That being said, many times a group makes a decision and then the decision is sabotaged by a member of the decision making group.

A key ingredient in group leadership is that the group fully supports the decision once it has been made.  When individuals of the group "talk behind the back" or say "I never really agreed", this is a sign of poor group decision making. This also confuses those who will be impacted by the groups decision.

Groups make better decisions, but make sure that the processes and expectations for how the group makes decisions and supports them are very clear. Otherwise, your culture will drown in apathy.

- Victor Aspengren


The first ten customers

Go 10Image via Wikipedia

It is inevitable that a new client will present his or her marketing plan, stating the market size and the percentage of the market they are going to gain.  The math may be good but the business plan is not.  Whether starting a new business or launching a new product in an existing business, know your first ten customers.  They are the key to your success:

  1. Identifying your first ten customers will help sharpen your focus on who your target market really is.
  2. Talking to your first ten customers before they buy will give you valuable feedback on your product or service offering.
  3. Landing the first ten customers will help you refine your pitch and value proposition.
  4. Delivering the product or service to the first ten customers will help you refine and prove your processes for executing you business plan and point out the weaknesses you must correct to grow.
  5. Following up with the first ten customers after the sale will provide additional insight on how to improve your offering.
  6. If you do the above well, the first ten customers will tell others about their experience.  In turn your customer base will grow along with your business.

Do not launch your business or your new product until you can identify the first ten customers by name. You may not land all ten but you will learn a great deal about your business plan. 

Mike Colwell



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Insert Tab A into Slot B as shown in Figure C

Ikea_instructions We just finished a basement remodel at our house. The work was contracted out, but once all the contractors had left, it was my job to assemble book cases. After a quick jaunt to Ikea, it was time to hunker down and build stuff.

The thing I love about Ikea furniture is the ease of assembly. With a hammer, screw driver, and the ever-present, handy-dandy wrench included in most Ikea projects, putting stuff together is a snap.

Keep the tools simple.

A good lesson for a project manager. When I'm on a project, I always start with four basic tools: a solid project charter, a complete project plan, a constantly updated issues log, and a (weekly) status report.

With these four building blocks, I can add or subtract with ease, ensuring that the audience gets the information they need at the time they need it.

My good friend, Lisa DiTullio, compares this philosophy to ice cream: "Serve Vanilla for Success.  In spite of all the flavors offered, it's still the most popular." Try putting gummy worms on chocolate ice cream or fresh fruit on mint ice cream.... ICK. If the project documents are kept simple, one can modify with ease.

Recently I found a book of project forms while cleaning out my storage shed... it was two inches thick. Who has time for that?

So next time you're feeling the urge to put a project together, remember to keep the tools to a minimum and effectiveness to a maximum. (NOTE, Stay Tuned for templates of each of these tools.)

Do you shoot the messenger?

RDNS Customer Service RepresentativeImage via Wikipedia

My wife and I recently refinanced our home with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. David, the representative we worked with through the entire process, provided us with great service along the way. As is often the case with refinancing, we had some frustrations along the way, but David did a great job of communicating and being proactive in addressing questions and issues.

The morning of our closing, I was going through our paperwork and was shocked to find that the closing costs on the paperwork I received in the mail did not match the costs discussed in previous conversations I had with David. Confused, I called and left a message requesting some clarification. I did get a call back and David explained that there had been a mistake. The loan had not been processed correctly and they had to scramble to make corrections. The result was that my wife and I sat in the office of the closing agent for 45 minutes while she waited for the corrected documents to be sent.

These types of situations create a dilemma for customers who deal with the representatives of large corporations. Overall, we were really pleased with David's service and I believe that it was not his fault that the loan was processed incorrectly, which was the responsibility of a completely different department. I was dissatisfied with the experience, but I felt it was inappropriate to "shoot the messenger." I chose to communicate my dissatisfaction in the follow up survey where I could differentiate my ratings for the overall experience from the representative who assisted us.

I regularly coach Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to recognize and understand that they are "representatives" of the company for whom they work. When customers take out their frustration on the CSR who answers the phone, it is important for CSRs to recognize that it is not personal with the CSR. Let's say I call Wells Fargo customer service and a CSR named Brenda answers the phone. If my wife walks into the room and asks who I am speaking with, I tell her I'm talking to "Wells Fargo," not "Brenda." It's an important distinction that CSRs must learn and accept in their role as a corporate representative.

At the same time, as an advocate for CSRs everywhere, I try to remind consumers that it is important for us to recognize the same differentiation when working with CSRs on the phone. Acknowledge to the CSR that your frustrations are not personally directed at the CSR, but with the company they represent. Ask the CSR how else you can communicate your issue or complaint to the CSRs superiors so that it will be heard. Make use of customer feedback and surveys, especially using opportunities to answer open ended questions to provide specifics about your experience and frustration.

In a time when public discourse appears to be descending into angry epithets tossed about in tweets and texts, every consumer has the opportunity to buck the trend and raise the standard by communicating our frustrations appropriately. And of course, we all have the opportunity to ultimately communicate our displeasure by letting our feet do the communicating for us as we walk away to do business with a competitor.

- Tom Vander Well

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Five powers of clear purpose

Have you ever noticed how much positive power there is when we are clear on our purpose?
Superhero-by JocelynWallace
This seems to be the secret sauce for any super hero, ninja, jedi -- and successful business person or organization.
There are several patterns I see when clarity is present, and I see them not only in the superheros on TV and in movies, but also in the people around me. Here is a short list...
5 Powers of Clear Purpose in Your Life and Work

1) You say 'yes' to the things that align with your purpose, and 'no' to anything that weakens it, as my friend Mitch Matthews would say.
Jedi-by JocelynWallace
2) When you fail, you dust yourself off and get up quickly. You learn to fail faster and succeed faster, as my friend Adam Carroll would say.
3) You do not blame situations or other people when disappointments pop up. You shut your pie hole and get on the treadmill, as my friend Chad Carden would say.
4) You grow your mind, set out to be of service to others, and lead creatively, as my friend Mike Wagner would say.
Ninja by JocelynWallace 5) Relationships rule. Period. People will want to work with you if they know you, like you and trust you, as my friend Bob Burg would say.
Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well. When we are not clear, it causes profound setbacks financially, mentally, spiritually, relationally, and even physically. Lack of clarity makes us vulnerable, especially when life knocks us down or demands an important decision.
The good news? Getting clear about your purpose is within reach. As a business coach, my favorite gift to help others find clarity is to start with a book called, "Ignite! A Little Book to Spark Your Big Dreams." IGNITE cover graphic_250px
Mitch Matthews and I co-authored this project, and because we had clarity, we experienced these five powers of purpose. Now we have the joy of watching the book help other people get clear on their big dreams, so they can experience the power of purpose too.

What patterns or consistencies do you notice about people who have a clear purpose? What do they seem to have in common, and what can we learn from clear-purposed people in life and work?

--Jocelyn Wallace

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If it's really a vacation, the IRS doesn't want to pay for it

It's high vacation season in Iowa.  As your inbox fills with "Out of Office" auto-replies, you might be wondering whether there's a spot on your return to deduct a nice trip to somewhere cool.  Didn't you overhear somebody's doctor bragging about how his tax preparer let him write off his vacation to California because there might be sick people there?

20110731iabiz It's not so easy. 

Yes, there are preparers who will let you deduct a vacation for even the most strained connection to your business.  The tax law itself, however, has a stricter standard, as the clients of an Iowa preparer have been learning. 

According to a U.S. District Court opinion, the preparer encouraged clients to employ relatives as distributors, or to sell to them, to make family vacations deductible:

You want to go visit your mother for Thanksgiving . . . . If you’re self-employed and you  sponsor your mom into your business, now you’re going to meet with your distributor. All of a sudden, that trip for Thanksgiving is a deductible business trip.

Sorry, Mom.  The tax law has a much stricter standard for these things.  Your trip has to be "primarily" for business reasons.  Good luck convincing an IRS agent that you really visited Mom for four days on Thanksgiving weekend to sell her vitamins. 

IRS Publication 463 explains what the rules really are:

If your trip was primarily for personal reasons, such as a vacation, the entire cost of the trip is a nondeductible personal expense. However, you can deduct any expenses you have while at your destination that are directly related to your business.

A trip to a resort or on a cruise ship may be a vacation even if the promoter advertises that it is primarily for business. The scheduling of incidental business activities during a trip, such as viewing videotapes or attending lectures dealing with general subjects, will not change what is really a vacation into a business trip.

The IRS isn't required to take your explanation of your travel costs on your word.  In fact, it's up to the taxpayer to document the amount, dates and times and business purpose of any travel expenses.  If you are in the real estate business and you happen to go to Arizona during Bowl Season, you have to do more than just say you are going to check out the great values in Tempe real estate.  Unless you can show you went there primarily to check out real estate, with dates, names, documentation and proof you are serious about it, don't even try to write off the trip. They aren't going to buy it.

And the preparers that say you can write off your vacations?  There is one less now.  Last month a federal judge permanently barred that preparer from the tax prep business.  That preparer's clients have been getting special attention from the IRS.

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