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April 2012

The best marketing tactic -- doing what you love

On this Sunday morning as some of you may be:

  • Dreading Monday
  • Scouring the want ads
  • Dreaming of actually opening that business you covet
  • Be whistling as you serve customers you love, doing work you love
  • Or something in between

I'd like to remind all of you that we have choices. There's always another path. But everyone deserves to, as my friend Steve Farber puts it, "do what you love in service of people who love what you do."

Think that's not possible for you?

I challenge you to watch this TED presentation as you sip your morning coffee and then find a way.  


There's nothing more infectious than someone who loves their work and the people they serve. That's authentic marketing at its very core.  

I hope this inspires you to stop dreading Mondays and find work that speaks to your soul as well as your bank account.

~ Drew

Recycled glass countertops

NOTE: This is the fourth blog in a series featuring Iowa companies who are making an impact in sustainable construction.

Dubuque-based Green Field Products has been making sheets used for countertops, tabletops, fireplace surrounds or anywhere you would think of using granite. The sheet is made of post consumer waste glass and concrete.

"How the product came into being is a most interesting story," said owner Tim Greenfield.

An architect was visiting another company Tim owns, Dubuque Glass Company, and asked what they did with the cool glass colored chips in a bin destined for a landfill. Several years later and countless hours of experimentation later, Greenfield Stone was born.

Most of the glass comes from the waste of cutting glass from Dubuque Glass Company. One company’s waste became another company’s supply stream. Mixed in are accent colors like the blue vodka bottle or bottles used at local breweries. However, the biggest seller is one called White Ash which uses different colors of gray glass.

The mix of cement, water, and crushed glass is prepared in a 5 by 10 foot by 1 ¼ inch deep bed and allowed to harden. The sheet is then ground smooth and polished to a gloss finish. The strength of the material is 14,000 pounds per square inch as compared to 4,000 pounds per square inch for typical concrete.

Tim says, “It is like baking a cake, sometimes the cake is perfect and sometimes it falls in the oven.”

The product is shipped all over the US and costs about $100 per square foot installed. That’s more than granite at $75 per square foot, but instead of taking something from the earth you keep bad stuff from going in!!!

If you want to see the product in Des Moines you can find it at Renaissance Marble and Granite in Urbandale.

See the other blogs featuring Iowa companies at IowaBiz sustainable design and construction.

- Rob Smith

*Images via Google images.

Watch for employee burnout

The recovery is making great strides, but it will be critical for organizations to pay attention to employee burnout.

The recession forced many organizations to do more with less and adding capacity is stilled feared. The high cost of employee burnout and turnover can ruin a business.

I do believe that organizations are responsible for burnout and turnover. A blog by Ann Bares shares some insight into this line of thinking.

Leaders wake up and pay attention.

One of the most important bottom line issues you can impact is employee burnout and turnover. It is your responsibility to create an organization that keeps burnout and turnover at a minimum.

Walk the talk, keep your ego low and your awareness high, and encourage growth that leads to planned turnover.

This type of turnover feeds organizations instead of tearing them down.

- Victor Aspengren

I suggest you wobble

learning to ride a bike - _MG_2933Photo credit: sean dreilinger

David Allen, the guru of organizational skills, says "you have to do something to know something."

If you wait to know something before you do something, likely neither will happen. The development of real knowledge requires intentional activity. As you faithfully move -- your body, your thinking, your spirit... things unfold that would be inaccessible in any other way.

An old proverb reads, "When you stand, stand. When you sit, sit. But most of all, don't wobble."

I say, "wobble!"

The learning is in the wobbles. As kids, we learned to walk and ride a bike through a long process of trial and error. Our enthusiasm and others' encouragement gave us the persistence to stay at the task until we reached our goals. But as adults, we don't like to take that long to learn something. We want to know how, now. So, we often resist taking the time to learn something new because we don't like the feeling of being out of control, looking silly or wobbling.

As a leader, what's one thing you know you need to learn or know how to do to be more effective? Get started. Take action. And when the wobbling starts... and it likely will... be patient with yourself. Focus on what you're learning and not on how you're looking.

You didn't learn to ride a bike sitting in a seminar; you learned to ride by riding, by wobbling.

- Shirley Poertner

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How do I tell you...?

Sad(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Small Business Owner,

How do I tell you? 

  • How do I tell you that the tops of all the napkin holders in your restaurant are covered in dried, crusted food?
  • How do I tell you that your email is delivering "permanent failure to deliver" messages to me?
  • How do I tell you that your phone has no answering machine?
  • How do I tell you that you forgot to deliver my goods three times in a row?
  • How do I tell you that you never write down what I need, then often apologize a month later for missing something?
  • How do I tell you that I waited for five minutes at the register and no one came?
  • How do I tell you that your facebook page is not connected so I cannot communicate with you?
  • How do I tell you that I cannot depend on you returning my phone calls?
  • How do I tell you that you have billed me three times for something I already paid you for?
  • How do I tell you that I cannot trust you?

How do I tell you that you are killing your own business?

Mike Colwell


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Get over your 1040 already!

20111040logoThe deadline for filing your 2011 1040 is Tuesday. Unless you are extending, of course. For the most part, the game is over for 2011, and there's little to do but add up the score.

Any more, 2011 is dwelling on the past. It's time to move on. What lessons can we draw from this filing season while the pain is still vivid?


The hardest tax problems are those when people don't keep up on their taxes. It can happen when you reduce your withholding too much. It can also happen when you don't keep up with your estimated tax payment obligations. If you own an interest in a partnership or an S corporation, it can become a problem in a hurry, especially if you spend the nice distributions they give you without putting them away for your taxes.

The first quarter federal estimated tax payment is due tomorrow. If your tax preparer gave you a voucher, file it with your check as instructed. It won't get any easier next April if you don't.


Most people who come to their tax preparares in April looking for a miracle have already squandered most of their tax-saving opportunities. These are likely to be found at work. Take advantage of the easy stuff:

- Maximize your 401(k) contribution. If you aren't at least putting in enough to get the entire employer match, you are making an unforgivable financial blunder. More is better.

- Review your health plan opportunities. If your employer offers a Health Savings Account option, think not twice, but several times before rejecting it. Many employers offer generous breaks to switch to high deductible health insurance, and most of the time you'll be financially better off with an HSA. If there is no HSA at your job, make sure you take full advantage of the cafeteria plan.

- Start funding your 2012 IRA. The main benefit of these is tax-free buildup of earnings; if you fund it now instead of next April, your money is tax-sheltered an extra year.

- If you are saving for college, put a little money away in a Section 529 plan like College Savings Iowa every month.


One of the perplexing things about being a tax preparer is seeing somebody with a $500,000 W-2 unable to raise $30,000 to pay taxes in April. You should always have some amount of cash easily available. Some people advocate enough to pay six months of living expenses, but I think you can do with less - especially if you have some other investments, or if you have a house. If you are a homeowner, open a home-equity line of credit, and then don't use it except for emergencies - like a $30,000 tax bill.


Top 20 business blogs

Screen shot 2012-04-14 at 9.44.21 PMBusinesses – small and large – are always on the lookout for new tips and techniques on how to improve their business.  Blogs are an excellent resource for ideas, information and tips. 

If you're looking for a daily dose of smarts -- look no further than this list of top 20 business blogs, put together earlier this year. 

The blogs range from names everyone recognizes like Seth GodinTom PetersGuy Kawasaki and Mark Cuban to some less known but very insightful experts like Steve Roesler

I'm honored that my blog, Drew's Marketing Minute is listed among these brilliant business leaders in the #15 slot.  

Why should you subscribe to these blogs and read them every day?

  • Blogs are always fresh -- unlike a book or even a magazine, you're getting today's thinking
  • Blog posts are usually short and sweet -- a dash of smarts in a couple minutes
  • By reading a mix of blogs -- you get a mix of ideas (there's no one right answer)
  • Reading good writing makes you a better writer (even if it's just email or a memo!)
  • There's a reason why these blogs were selected -- consistent quality, engaging authors and usually -- a very active comments section so you can jump into the conversation

If you'd like to read more about these top blogs -- you can download a PDF (click here) and see which ones are a good fit for you.

Enjoy the good reads!

~ Drew

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'That's the way things are' is about to change

Since the passing of business and technology guru Steve Jobs last October, his words have received a lot of attention. In an interview from many years ago, when asked how he learned to run a company, Jobs responded, “You know, throughout my years in business, I discovered something - I would always ask why you do things. The answers that I would invariably get are: “Oh, that’s just the way things are done around here.” Nobody knows why they do what they do.”

“Oh, that’s just the way things are done around here.”

Whether uttered as a response to a question regarding motive or a suggestion of an alternative method, if you hear, or say those words, it should serve as an important signal that "the way things are done" need to be more closely evaluated, and very likely, need to be changed.

Being able to explain the reasoning behind actions will help you identify processes that are done solely out of tradition and may be outdated. It can bring awareness to gaps in efficiency or misaligned practices. It can help you develop innovative approaches to almost anything.

2012apr14_changethingsYou should encourage your employees to be inquisitive and always thinking about the ‘why’ behind their actions, because a culture of curiosity can be extremely valuable to an organization.

I can think of a great example in one of our hospitals, where a new surgical technique for evaluating heart conditions has been implemented.

The technique, known as radial artery access led by Dr. Edward Zajac, allows surgeons to achieve the same diagnostic results as the traditional "way things are always done" method, but enables patients to have a much shorter recovery time, reduced complications and fewer complaints about pain.

Getting the same results while also increasing patient safety and comfort? Thank goodness Dr. Zajac took the time to ask “what if we tried it this way?”

In your organization, are there procedures or standard practices that could be done in a different, more effective way yet still accomplish the same results?

Promote open discussion and questioning from your employees. Someone who works for you knows where change is needed; they are just waiting for the conversation to be started.

Start the conversation, and your employees will soon be able to say, "That's how we used to do things around here. Now, we do things better."

- Bill Leaver


col•lab•o•rateintransitive verb : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.

Des Moines is great at embracing new opportunities.

Collaboration remains one of the best opportunities for young professional organizations in Des Moines. It is something more and more community leaders are looking for and may have a larger impact than you think.

There is no doubt Des Moines is near the top of the list in terms of having some of the most developed and diverse YP groups in the country. If you can dream it, I can just about guarantee you there is a group in Greater Des Moines for you to join. Heck, before I moved to Des Moines I didn’t even know YP groups existed or could be nearly as effective as many are.

This past week I had meetings with three different area YP groups and the same discussion came up with all three. Des Moines number of YP groups per capita has got to be off the charts. However, the next question was always: Where is the collaboration?

The next logical question you are most likely asking yourself is: Why collaborate? Young Professional groups in Des Moines already have a strong influence in Des Moines, which is one of the reasons there are many of them. Just imagine what kind of affect a collective, cohesive voice could have.

I remember when I was first learning about the young professional and networking scene in Des Moines having lunch with Zach Mannheimer, Executive Director of the Des Moines Social Club. He said something along the lines of Des Moines having the opportunity to set precedence…

Sure there are many groups in larger cities. But how much of an impact does each of those groups have in a city like New York or Chicago? Mannheimer went on to say this opportunity for Des Moines was to truly bring these groups together in a way no one else has… yet.

I couldn’t agree more. Sure you will see different organizations team up for an event here or there or work on a project together. But what is needed is the opportunity to make a truly collective voice. And trust me, there are strides being made and efforts to truly unite groups around Des Moines. In fact, as much as I love discussing this, I can’t say I even know the right solution to fulfill this opportunity.

Maybe you do.

- Jason Wells

Plastic lumber and more

This is the third blog in a series featuring Iowa companies who are making an impact in sustainable construction.  

The Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls has been making recycled products from post consumer waste and post industrial waste for the last 25 years. Their major products are tables, benches, car stops for parking lots, and lumber. 

The company uses high density polyethylene such as milk jugs and low density polyethylene such as grocery bags as the raw material.  PVC or PET (pop bottles) recycled waste is not found in their products. Sue Waters, VP of sales and marketing, says it takes 7 one-gallon milk jugs to make one pound of recycled product.  Therefore it takes 770 milk jugs to make a 110 pound park bench.  In fact the company makes over five million pounds of product in the course of one year….that’s 35 million milk jugs!

According to Sue, finding an adequate stream of material is one of the main issues the company faces.  In the old days she says “companies would give away their waste but now we compete with China for our raw product.  China sends so many containers to the USA and wants them to return not empty.  As a result they are competing with us to buy recycled plastic.”

The lumber is great as pallet material but not as good as a structural beam.  The product expands in the sunlight or heat and my sag some.  When I asked how the 4x4 would work as a fence post she said “it would last for a long time but it tracks the sun and would bend towards the east in the morning and towards the west in the evening. 

You can support the Iowa based company by travelling to Iowa Falls and buying a bench for your garden that will last a lifetime.  As an Iowan they will give you 40% off to boot.

See the other blogs featuring Iowa companies at IowaBiz sustainable design and construction

- Rob Smith

Her name was Dorothy

118218401You have to care enough about someone to learn their name and then -- most importantly -- to remember it.

I wrote down a short blurb from a Guideposts magazine while waiting in a doctor's office a number of years ago written by a woman named Joann Jones. She said, "During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a pop quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one. 'What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?'"

"Surely this was some kind of joke," Joann thought. "I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in the paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade.

'Absolutely,' the professor said. 'In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.'

'I've never forgotten that lesson,' Joann continued. 'I also learned her name was Dorothy."

When I think about the most effective leaders I know, one of their outstanding qualities is their interest in others, demonstrated through the remembrance of others' names. I've toured dozens of offices and plants and worksites over the years and I'm always empressed when those leading the tours --usually a senior leader -- knows the names of those working the equipment, directing a work crew, or just waiting for the elevator. And talks with them. And introduces them to those of us on the tour. There's nothing more disheartening than to see a leader in his or her own department stand there and talk about the employees without ever engaging with them.

Saying, "I'm just not good at names" is a cop-out. We don't forget the names of those who are important to us -- our family members, friends, co-workers, team members, or our administrative assistant. Widen that circle. We know we have the mental capacity to remember thousands of names -- everyone on our floor, in our division, at our branch office -- if we care enough to do it.

If you learn everyone's full name and something about them, and do it sincerely, and they know you know them, their impression of you as a leader will be greatly enhanced. And you know what? Connecting in even a small way with those you bump into every day will make you a better human being. Whether it counts toward your grade or not.

- Shirley Poertner



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Mentors: Why, who, when, and what next

16775bMentors play an important role in business.  Most successful business people I know will attribute some of their success to having good mentors.  So what makes for a good mentor?  Well, it depends on you.  First you have to decide what you want from your mentors.  You will notice I say mentors plural as you likely need more than one.  One place to start is where you are weak.  Face it, we all have weaknesses.  The best mentors for you are probably strong where you are weak.  If you are strong in finance, you may not need a financial mentor.  Whereas if you are weak in sales, you may want to find a mentor who is experienced in this area. A great way to figure out your strengths and weaknesses is through a book and an assessment tool called Stengths finder

Next, how often should you meet with your mentors?  Should you meet with several at once or each individually?  This is very dependent on what your needs are.  If you have the ability to have regular meetings with your mentors, do it.  I find monthly meetings about right for me in most cases.  Use this time to explore not only tactical issues you have in their area of expertise but also ask for their help on longer term strategy.  For large scale decisions you may want to meet as a group in a more advisory panel approach. What ever you do, make sure you are not taking too much of these people's time.

What if you do not agree with the guidance of your mentor?  There is going to come a time when your mentor says something you do not agree with.  Start by asking their reasoning.  Make sure you understand why they are taking the position they are.  Respect their opinion even if you do not agree with it.  If you are concerned that your divergent views might harm your company, ask another mentor to give you feedback on the situation.  At the end of the day remember that you are the person responsible.  It is your decision, not your mentor. 

Mike Colwell


The SEP plan: The last way to cut your 2011 tax bill?

20120401iabizThe 1040 is due April 17.  You can get an extension until October 15, but you should be pretty much paid in by then.  With Iowa's economy improving, that means many entrepreneurs will be writing a check to the government.  Many of them are wondering whether there is anything they still can do to lower the 2011 tax bill.

Most of the good tax planning opportunities for 2011 ended when the year did.  If you are a solo operator -- if you don't have employees -- a Simplified Employee Pension still might be a big moneysaver for you.  These plans allow solo owners to put up to 20% of their business income away for retirement and deduct the contribution.  It's a deduction for taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another -- though to be sure, it has to stay in the other pocket until retirement on pain of early withdrawal penalties.

SEPs are the easiest form of qualified plan to set up.  All you have to do is set up an IRA with your friendly community banker and sign (but not file) Form 5305-SEP by the tax deadline.  If you don't extend your return, you have to fund your contribution by the deadline, but if you extend, you can wait until October 17.

The drawback of a SEP is that all employees have to have the same percentage of income contributed.  As you add employees, that can be an expensive way to reduce your taxes.  That's why bigger businesses usually switch to traditional profit-sharing plans, which have more flexible vesting and more ability to discriminate among classes of employees.  But in this age of independents, the SEP can be a great mulligan for your 2011 tax planning.  Heck, if it's good enough for the President, maybe it's good enough for you!  Of course, consult your tax advisor first.

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