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February 2012

Short is sweet

Bigstock_Still_life_of_short_worn_down__12827918I just completed a 4-part webinar series for the State of Iowa's Tourism Division.  

When they first asked me to do it, we talked a lot about what structure would work best for busy marketing professionals/business owners.

Most webinars are 45-90 minutes long but we decided to try something different.  A 30-minute webinar. 20 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of questions.  

At first, I was a little worried.  Could I pack enough hearty content into such a short time frame?

Turns out -- the answer is yes.  The short timeframe forced me to really hone in on key points and drive them home quickly.  There wasn't room for any fluff or less than stellar content. I also added a homework element so that they could be working on the content all week, in between webinars.

Based on the feedback from each of the four sessions, the participants loved that they could devote 30-45 minutes (I will admit, all of the question portions went longer than 10 minutes) to professional development and then get right back to work. They also liked that the content was chunked rather than provided all at once.

The chunking and shorter timeframes allowed them to absorb each element before taking on the next one.

I think we can take both lessons -- short is sweet and the power of chunking information and look for other places (your website, blog posts, brochures, sales documents, etc) we can apply them.

Where else might you use these techniques?

~ Drew

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Panels made from milk cartons

The citizens of the USA dispose of 250 million tons of trash each year or about 4.6 pounds per day.  Luckily about 30% of trash is recycled. The waxy cartons used for milk and juice account for about two million tons of trash and typically go straight to the landfill.

The Rewall Company of Des Moines is using a European process to turn the cartons into construction building panels. The boards can be left natural where you see all the words and colors of the cartons (naked board) or a paper coating (essential board) is applied to both sides.  Either product can be painted. You could panel your basement or go ultra-modern and make an accent wall in your living room.

The product is made from post-consumer and post-industrial waste content found within 500 miles of Des Moines. Rewall is working with Metro Waste to obtain post-consumer product from the Des Moines area. 

The 8 foot by 4 foot panel is virtually inert and water resistant. I personally soaked a piece of naked board in water for a week and the panel barely changed.  Anywhere you have used plywood or oriented strand board this 100% recycled product can be used.  Examples are under countertops, paneling, tile backer board, floor sheathing, and roof sheathing.

The product can be purchased at the Habitat Restore in Des Moines or Kinzler Companies in Ames.  You can buy 1/2” x 4’ x 8’ naked panels for $26.00 or 1/2” x 4’ x 3’ essential board for $5.75.  Tanner Kinzler of Kinzler Companies says he is always looking to replace existing products with others which perform better, cost less, and are greener.  He is excited about Rewall.

So next time you throw a milk carton in your recycle bin, you may see it next in your kitchen remodeling.

To see a related Business Record story, click here.

- Rob Smith

Images via aedairy.com and Google images respectively.

"We Can Do" and you can too

"You don't really need to be a genius. You just need to work hard and you can accomplish anything."

That's what 14-year-old Moshe Kai Cavalin believes. His new book, "We Can Do," hopes to inspire other kids to do amazing things by focusing and approaching everything with total commitment. He means it. And lives it. He has earned two Associates Degrees since he was 8 and is about to graduate with honors from UCLA. He does more than just study though. He enjoys -- and excels at -- scuba diving, soccer, and martial arts.

Oh, and did I mention he's written a book, published in both Chinese and English, and did the translation himself?

Cavalin is to be commended. Being that focused and committed is not easy at any age. But I bet that Cavalin isn't facing a big mortgage or worrying about rising gas prices. Just how practical, and healthy, is all this talk about working hard?

We can. We do. Everyday. It's about rolling up our sleeves and:

  • defining what's really important to us -- our values. That provides focus.
  • putting in extra time and effort which leads to new challenges and opens new doors
  • committing 100% not just to our own success, but to our manager, our team members, our peers, our organization.

Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Cavalin's been enamored by "overalls" for half his life. You can be too!

Do not compete on price, unless...

Been asked by many friends lately to help them...Image via Wikipedia

There was an interesting article about a new start-up company called AutoSlash in the New York Times this past weekend.  AutoSlash says they will get you the best price on a car rental by constantly checking for better deals even after the reservation is made.  What caught my attention was how many of the auto rental companies had decided to allow AutoSlash to work within their reservation systems and coupon systems to deliver these low prices. 

This seems like an interesting move. I can understand why the low dollar rental companies may want to pursue this, but one company that is connected is Hertz.  Given their reputation for being on-premise and having covered parking for the cars among other ammenities, it just seems odd. Maybe they figure that in a tie on price they will win the business?

For a new business starting out or a business trying to grow, competing on price does not make sense long term.  Sure, you can use price to bring new customers into your business, but only if you think you can keep them over time for repeat sales or sell them something else while they are there.  Walgreens is famous for this strategy.  They will discount something heavily to get customers to the store but they make up for their loss leader sales with other purchases.

Competing on price alone signals to the customer they should always expect the lowest price. While this will win you some business, you will have a harder time keeping your customers long term.  A price-only buyer does not tend to be a loyal customer.

Use price where needed to bring customers into your business.  But when doing this, make sure you know you will keep them over time at reasonable margins or sell them other items that will make up the margin hit. 

Mike Colwell



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Nope, still no tax fairy

Taxes are hard. Even if you farm them out to your friendly neighborhood tax preparer, you still have to put together your W-2s and 1099s and comb through your checkbooks and credit cards for deductions. When you run a business, you face the everyday drudgery of depositing payroll taxes, sending in your quarterly payments, and dealing with notices that seem to come out of nowhere from states you've never seen. 

IAbiz20120216At the end of a day full of this stuff, you flip on the television and you see somebody telling you that you can settle your tax debts with the IRS for pennies on the dollar. When you see this, for one shining moment you feel like a chump for spending time and money getting your taxes right and paying them on time. Why bother when you can just do a pennies-on-the-dollar deal anyway?

Because there is STILL no Tax Fairy.

Two of the biggest players in the pennies-on-the-dollar tax settlement industry recently closed their doors. The first was Roni Deutch, the self-styled "Tax Lady." In the face of allegations that she took up-front payments from desparate taxpayers and failed to follow through, she surrendered her law license on her way to bankruptcy and contempt of court charges.

Now JK Harris has joined Roni Deutch in federal bankruptcy court. Like Ms. Deutch, JK Harris ended up in bankruptcy after battling state attorneys general over its business practices.  The ability to make tax debts go away would be an extremely valuable attribute. The bankruptcy of these outfits is strong evidence that such ability is a myth. As Nevada tax practitioner Russ Fox explains:

  • Only about 15% of Offers in Compromise successfully make it through the IRS;
  • It typically takes over one year for an OIC to make it through the IRS;
  • Most individuals will not qualify for an OIC; and
  • If you look at the fine print of the commercials, you will see, “Case not typical. Your results may vary.”

When the IRS does accept an offer-in-compromise, they usually do so because you are truly broke. That's not really a taxpayer victory.

As unpleasant as dealing with your taxes might be, the alternatives are much worse. If you get into tax trouble, there's no Tax Fairy -- or Tax Lady -- to make it all better.

Can I feel your joy?

SWAirlinesLet's face it -- we'd prefer to do business with people who are happy doing the work they do. Whether it's the shoeshine guy who whistles while he works, or the accountant who gets giddy at the idea of saving you some money on your taxes -- people who love their work are more enjoyable to work with.

I was flying home this week after a conference and walked by this Southwest Airlines gate. Who wouldn't want to fly with them?

So ask yourself a few questions to see if you exude that kind of passion for your profession:

  1. Do you love what you do?
  2. Do you love who you do it for?
  3. Do they love what you do? (it's a two way street)
  4. Do you show your clients that you're enjoying your work?
  5. Do they know (how do you know they know?) you're excited to help them?

If you answered no to the first two questions -- you need to do some soul searching. Life is short.

If you answered no to the third question -- maybe it's time to re-think how you are earning new customers.

If you answered no to 4 or 5 -- do something about it. Let them feel your love and enthusiasm. I promise you, it's contagious.

~ Drew

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When to use a wired network

Wireless networks are nearly ubiquitous. They're reasonably fast, convenient, secure (provided you aren't using WEP encryption), and frankly many devices no longer have a wired ethernet port. However, it is often best to use a wired network connection whenever available and convenient.

It should go without saying that any sort of file server should be wired, but there are other good uses.


For instance, a desk should always have a wired connection, even if the user is on a portable computer. This allows for greater speed, and less interference for those that are on the wireless network.

A device used for a presentation at a conference should use a wired network. This might mean purchasing a USB ethernet adapter if the presenter's device will support it. However, a wired network is impossible if the presentation is coming off of an iPad. Instead, there should be a wireless base station with a private network situated as close to the presenter as possible, so as to drown out other wifi signals that may interfere with the presentation.

Any sort of video streaming generally will require a wired connection. It's not imperative, but if there is a lot of other traffic on the wireless, there may be issues. It's best to just wire the connection and eliminate the possibility.

The trend by now should be obvious: if you need your transmission to go through, despite what everyone else is doing- go wired.

- Jon Thompson

Not so big house

While shopping at Barnes and Noble for the holiday, I stumbled on a book I have been meaning to buy for years - Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka. Originally published in 1998, it tackles head on the premise that bigger is not always better when it comes to homes.  As a result, the house is more sustainable because much less materials are used to build perhaps 30% to 50% less home.  Ongoing energy costs are also greatly reduced.

I can speak to this firsthand as my wife and I look for our next home.  Many houses have lots of space with no detail or character to make a house a home.  So much space the exterior became mostly vinyl or metal siding.  Compare that to the entry of a home from the Not So Big House which is rich in detail.  Can’t you see yourself sitting on the porch for hours?  The same concept from years ago is found in areas of Des Moines such as Beaverdale where small brick homes are still in demand.  Many feature built-ins and craftsman detail throughout. 

Consider if homes were more appropriately sized, the amount of wood and concrete that would be conserved.  Imagine the amount of resources saved if houses were just 10% smaller? With nearly 7 million homes built per year at an average size of 3,000 square feet, a 10% savings would save 2.1 billion square feet of home construction. That’s a lot of carpet and space which did not require heating or cooling.

So next time you or someone you know thinks about a new home, pick up a copy of Not So Big House and think about being more sustainable from the get go!

Candor is critical

The new economy has forced companies to become more efficient in how they conduct their business. Companies that fought the implementation of lean, six-sigma, open book management, and other business improvement processes in the past, dropped their fears and moved forward with these processes to survive.

One aspect of lean that is often overlooked is candor. The practice of candor allows concerns, issues, and new ideas to be addressed much quicker. If candor is a priority in a company, it reduces the vast of amount of wasted energy that goes into the rehashing of issues that everyone knows about, but no one wants to deal with. Candor can bring to light many of the drags on profitability that are present in a company.

Candor in its highest form is supported by high levels of trust and the application of tact. Communication is rarely a black and white issue and many people fall into the trap of practicing candor with a black and white mindset. Trust and tact are essential in navigating the gray area of communication.

Candor is critical to improving your bottom line, relationships, and culture.

- Victor Aspengren

The sky is not the limit

No one can put a limit on you without your permission.

Eli Whitney was laughed at when he showed his cotton gin. Edison had to install his electric light free of charge in an office building before anyone would even look at it. The first sewing machine was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob. People scoffed at the idea of railroads. People thought that traveling thirty miles an hour would stop the circulation of the blood. Morse had to plead before ten Congresses before they would even look at his telegraph. Yet for all of these people the sky was not the limit.

In grade school I learned this little ditty and it has stuck with me ever since. "Beware of those who stand aloof and greet each venture with reproof; the world would stop if things were run by men who say, 'It can't be done.'"

Do you hope and strive for the very best, or do you just hope to avoid the worst? Is there some area where you've been your own worst enemy, putting your own limits on success?

Many of us have heard opportunity knocking at our door, but by the time we unlocked the chain, pushed back the bolt, turned two locks and shut off the burglar alarm -- it was gone! Don't be one of those leaders who spend their lives looking around, looking down or looking behind, when you need to be looking up. The sky is not the limit.

Look around your world. Can you see the limits, the "I can'ts or shouldn'ts" that you have created for yourself? Remove just one this week and start to see just how high you can go.

What can we learn from the Komen Foundation polarization

Twitter 6x6Twitter 6x6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the Susan B. Komen foundation decision and the reversal of the same decision, perhaps the best thing we can all do is learn from the situation.  Regardless of the side you might be on, if you own a small business, you should be thinking about how to avoid these types of situations. 

We all live in a time of increasing polarization concerning issues. When you combine this with the ability of almost everyone to speak with a loud voice via Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and other social media platforms, you have a situation which is entirely new. In a matter of hours, the opinion of literally millions can be heard. And there is nothing you can do about that.

Now take that same combination to the local level.  These days it is common to comment on local news sites, in fact it is encouraged. Any issue can get amplified to a higher level than desired. Some time back, a local restaurant owner found out the hard way when his not-too-polite comments were broadcast around the Des Moines metro for all to hear, over and over again. 

If you own a business, you must take extra care not to cast your business into the light of polarizing issues. Sounds easy, but it isn't. Who decides what is polarizing? Everyone. Here are a few polarizing issues that may or may not surprise you:

  • A restaurant has a pig roast in the parking lot.
  • A hardware store fires an employee.
  • A mechanic has a religious symbol on his wall.
  • A veterinarian clinic has to euthanize an animal.
  • A man walks into a shopping center carrying a gun.
  • A woman enters a funeral visitation wearing a revealing dress.

Are these polarizing?  The answer is yes, for a certain group of people. What will cause the loudest of outcries will most likely depend on your response to someone raising the issue as polarizing in the first place.  Does the funeral parlor ask the woman to leave because others are complaining? Does the hardware store respond to an accusation of bias? How does any business person deal with this? The answer is complex, but here are some guidelines to consider.

  • Be consistent in the way you manage and operate your business. 
  • Be polite to everyone. Everyone!
  • Ask others that don't share your personal views for their opinion on how to respond to a sensitive issue. Have an issue raised by a gun owner? If you have time, ask a couple other gun owners you know and trust for their thoughts. You may learn more about where a perceived issued is coming from.
  • Anticipate all potential outcomes so you know what you will do. Plan ahead. It is like playing chess. You have to play a few moves ahead to stay safe. 
  • If you think something you are going to do is going to polarize the community, ask yourself if your business can survive the impact. If not, you shouldn't do it.
  • Do not over react to those who are not civil or respectful. 
  • Communicate clearly and consistently concerning the situation.

Lastly, don't lie. People have a much greater ability to sense when someone is lying that most people understand.

Mike Colwell

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