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January 2013

Incorporate 5 new trends into your PR plan

IA biz word cloudWhile it's imperative for any company to have a PR professional on staff or on call, it's equally important to know what trends are driving engagement across your entire enterprise. In layman's terms..."How does your customer consume their information?" Knowing where to place your message and how to do it is an essential piece of business intelligence.

Fear not. Some of the best trends are practical, and achievable for the average company.

1. Content marketing:

There is a lot of buzz about content marketing. First a definition. Content marketing is creating written content about your business or industry that will attract new customers or retain current customers. Creating your own content can be a tall task, but don't be tempted to use content from other sources. Create your own. Why? Several reasons. 

  • Thought leadership: Why would you highlight the expertise of others when you could showcase your own?
  • Share the spotlight: Give your employees a chance to shine.
  • Tell your story: Writing your own content gives you the ability to infuse it with your own style, humor and history.

2. Storytelling:

Storytelling goes hand-in-hand with content marketing. Stories can be about your customers, employees or the company itself. Every once in a while, let people see what goes on behind the scenes. Here is some more inspiration from companies that have used storytelling successfully.

3. Vanity metrics are OUT. Engagement metrics are IN.

Forget number of followers. Forget silly Facebook "get more followers" contests. Concentrate on the followers you have. Engage. This could be scary or it could be a game-changer for your business. Respond to customer requests on Facebook and Twitter just like you would if they called your customer service rep, or if they walked in your front door. Who cares if 5,000 unengaged and ignored people are following you?

4. Visual communication:

Whether it's a video or an infographic, telling your story in a visual format will help you expand your content offerings to a new audience. Pinterest, the new darling of social media, in based almost solely on images as opposed to text. And YouTube, owned by Internet giant Google, treats video content very favorably in its search engine results. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

5. Social and mobile dominance:

After all the hype over social media dies down, and we all have smart phones, then what? The smaller screens have implications as to how we deliver content to our audiences. While we used to do platform testing across different browsers on a PC, we should now be asking our audience what device they prefer instead. Also, we should critically examine the need for apps when a mobile site may be more user-friendly.

It's pretty amazing that the ancient art of storytelling is still playing such a prominent role in our modern communications, isn't it? I'd love to see some examples of how Central Iowa Companies are telling their stories. Please leave a comment.


Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.


To work well with others, understand yourself

Linkware Freebie Image Teamwork Puzzle Concept...Linkware Freebie Image Teamwork Puzzle Concept. Photo credit to: thegoldguys.blogspot.com/ or www.lumaxart.com/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Group work is a delicate thing.

From classroom groups to workplace groups to extracurricular groups, how you behave and the ways you interact can make or break the outcome. To make your work more successful and productive, it’s important to realize that people work differently, and those differences make us more creative.

I recently learned about the “Four Essential Working Styles” of a group. It’s a way to identify a your personal working style, to learn about the personal working style of the other members of your team and to understand how being aware of these differences can improve your group’s interactions.

Here’s how it works: The activity is based on a compass, and you pick the compass point that you most identify with. As you read the descriptions below, think about which style most suits you:

North - Action: Just get it done! Like to act, try things out, plunge in. People are apt to say, "Enough talk. Let's move on this!"

South - Community: Consider everyone's feelings. Like to hear and honor all voices before acting. People often check to see if everyone is OK. They may speak up when a break is needed.

East - Vision-Making: Look at the big picture. People will often inquire about why something is being done, what the purpose is or if an idea has implications that haven't been considered.

West - Structure: Pay attention to the details. People often ask when, how, who says, how long, what time?

Once you’ve identified your personal working style, the next step is to analyze yourself a bit further. What are the strengths of that personal working style? What benefits do you bring to a group? On the other hand, what are your limitations? What challenges might you bring to a group? And lastly, what do people need to know about working with you to make work more productive?

Thinking this in-depth about your own style can be quite eye-opening, but it’s especially effective when you do it as a team.

The last time I did this activity was with the 2013 Young Professionals Connection board, and as we went around the room, the differences between the groups were plainly apparent. The West group (Structure) said, “We need all of the details. Send us bullet-pointed emails,” while the East group (Vision-Making) said, “Don’t bog us down. We prefer phone calls to long emails.” The South group (Community) said, “We want everyone to feel comfortable, and we take criticisms personally,” while the North group (Action) said, “Give it to us bluntly.”

At this point, I suggest looking around the room and taking note - especially of the people on the opposite side of the room. Once you recognize your different preferences, working together becomes much more productive. We don’t all work the same, but we can work together.

-Emilee Richardson
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Five ways to reduce your office electrical consumption

Office buildings consume nearly 20% of the electrical consumption in the USA. About 50% of all the energy consumed by office buildings is for lighting (25%), space heating (13%), and space cooling (11%). Certainly energy usage for our businesses affects our bottom line. How can that change?

Faryal_OPTIFaryal Dotani of MODUS, a mechanical and electrical engineering company in Des Moines, offers five ways to reduce your electrical usage at the office.

Provide occupancy sensors which turn off the lighting when no one is present. In new buildings this is almost standard practice but can also be retrofitted to existing buildings.

Use LED fixtures and lamps. An LED lamp uses less wattage and provides more light. The lamp can also last nearly seven to eight years compared to two to three years for a fluorescent lamp.

DAY LIGHT HARVESTING reducing electrical_OPTIAdd windows or skylights to harvest the sunlight and reduce your lighting by as much as 50%. Most of the time the lights are off at MODUS.

Install photovoltaic panels and generate electricity. Faryal completed the design for the Franklin library where all the lighting during the daytime is generated by roof top panels. Although paybacks range from 15-40 years depending on the system, she says every year less expensive and better systems are on the market.

Provide demand based HVAC controls similar to occupancy sensors for lighting which turns on and off motors and fans for the heating and cooling system.

-Rob Smith

How the media failed us, and Lance Armstrong

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 Tour de Gruene Individual Time Trial, 1 November 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The media is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate of government. That is how truly powerful it is. But sometimes the media meets its match in power, stature, intrigue, and hope. Let me tell you how the media failed us in the Lance Armstrong debacle. It's a cautionary tale that has happened before. Think WWII, Te'o, and a number of other stories. Sometimes the media WANTS to believe so badly that the story will have a good ending that it misses the obvious, skips fact checking and YES... even wantonly disregards the real story. Lance Armstrong's fall from grace was one of those epic stories.

First of all, Lance's story is great, if you believe all the hype. Cyclist recovers from near-fatal disease to win an epic 7 straight Tour De France titles. Then he starts a famous cancer foundation that raises of millions of dollars to help cancer patients. And all the while, Lance is fighting off constant attacks on his sterling reputation. Rare was the negative mainstream media article. The sports media fell over themselves (sometimes literally) to get time with him. The dark side and perhaps most insidious side of Armstong's personality was to demand 100% loyalty to the myth and legend of Lance. Any journalist who came around asking funny questions was immediately banned from ever talking to him again.

So the media - whose job depends on access to Lance - had a decision to make. Either cover him in a positive light, or lose the right to write about him in an authoritative manner. It was like choosing between a rock and a hard place.

Journalism works under the supposition of a thing called the Master Narrative. The narrative is built over time and is a premise somewhat based on what has happened in the past. Once the narrative is built and is repeated time after time, it's hard for anyone, even members of the media, to dislodge it from their subconscious thinking. The Lance Master Narrative was well-known and famous. Since no one with any more credibility than Lance was accusing him of wrongdoing for so long, Lance Armstrong had years to refute any statements that might arise against him. He even got the chance to paint the opposition with the brush of his choosing. In this case the brush was named "You have no proof."

It was only when mainstream journalists who had no connection with Armstrong (or his merry band of thug protectors)  - started writing about his coverup that people began to doubt Armstrong's story. It took a huge number of people speaking up against him to even nudge public opinion against him. Lance Armstrong's master narrative was so powerful that even the U.S. Justice Department barely put a dent in it.

Citizen journalism and the sworn testimony of his former teammates were the only things that finally did Lance in. The great and all powerful Oz had been exposed, once and for all.

Lance's master narrative included the belief that he was a super-being. A survivor. A determined athlete. A humanitarian. A good person. Anything that did not fit with that narrative was ignored by the media for a very long time. Even when it was reported on by the mainstream media, for the longest time the reporters went to great lengths to report Lance's sometimes implausible side of the story.

It was only when a critical amount of evidence and confessions piled up into an irrefutable  and well-documented tattle, that the media stopped using the Lance Armstong master narrative. It came unceremoniosly crashing to the ground.

The media does indeed play an important role in our society. When the media builds a master narrative built on "persona" of one charismatic individual,  that is where is becomes dangerous. The media allowed itself to become mesmerized with Lance Armstrong. That is why his fall was no long and hard. There was absolutely nothing big or strong enough to break his fall.

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Taking inventory

If you're a retailer, you're probably still catching your breath from the holiday season. And, you should be -- because it won't be long before you're already going to be committed to whatever you strategy is for the next holiday season.

But it's also a critical time to take inventory -- physically and mentally -- for the year ahead.

I'm doing both this month. Between closing the books on 2012 and taking in a quick vacation, I'll also be refining my business plan for 2013 (which you should be developing and analyzing throughout the entire year) by taking a realistic look at what worked and what didn't in the past year.

I start with a simple, direct question: Am I relevant? (In other words, I want to know if my store is providing the goods, services and unique experience my customers want.)

And, I ask myself other questions, too.

Is my business focused on what it does best?

Where am I really making my money? (This is where I should be spending most of my time, energy and money.)

What can I better delegate and outsource to maximize the dollar value of my time?

What did I sell last year? And what didn't sell? (Seems simple, but many times we get so busy with the day-to-day tasks that we don't really take a good look -- we just reorder the same as we did last year.)

What inventory is just taking up space -- and how am I going to move it?

Is my website absolutely up-to-date and user friendly? And, am I making the most of what technology has to offer?

How can we improve the customer's experience?

What lessons can I take from other retailers, even the stores, while still keeping the uniqueness of my own store?

What am I going to do this year to increase my business-to-business sales?

Those are the smart questions to be asking no matter if you're a retailer or in any other profession. So, whether you're already back at work or still unwinding, the remainder of this month is the right time to take inventory of all your assets and obstacles to success in the coming year.

-Kelly Sharp

January: the month to start your 2013 year-end tax planning!

20130116iabizWith tax rates going up this year, the tax planning stakes for 2013 have increased. Many taxpayers wait until December to get serious about their tax planning. They ask too much of one month.

If you really want to get a handle on your 2013 tax bill, the time to get serious is now. What to do? For starters: 

Maximize your 401(k) contribution.  This is the easiest way to save money -- by taking it out of one pocket and putting it away in another.  If your employer matches, so much the better. Remember, though, that if you are the employer, your contribution may be limited by employee participation. The maximum 401(k) contribution for 2013 is $17,500 ($23,000 for taxpayers who will be 50 by year-end).

Reconsider your withholding. Taxes have gone up, folks, and not just for "millionaires and billionaires." While the new highest rates kick in at $400,000 for single filers and $450,000 for joint taxpayers, other tax increases apply at much lower levels, including the hidden tax from the phase-out of itemized deductions and the new 3.8% "Net investment income" tax enacted with Obamacare.

Make your other tax-advantaged savings contributions now. Many of us wait until the last minute to fund Individual Retirement Accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and Section 529 plans. That's disorganized thinking. The sooner you fund these tax-deferral vehicles, the sooner the earnings escape the grasp of the tax man. The 2013 limits for these plans:

  • IRA: $5,500 ($6,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older during 2013).
  • HSA: $3,250 for single coverage, $6,450 for family coverage.
  • College Savings Iowa: $3,045 per donor, per donee.

Finally, if you use your car for business, start keeping a mileage log. The IRS is examining more small businesses every year, and car expenses are one of their favorite targets. Keeping track of your business mileage can make the difference between a "no change" and an ugly audit.

None of this will make your tax problems go away, but they are a good start. Consult your tax advisor to make sure you are doing it right.

-Joe Kristan

Hunt down your brand advocates

Who doesn't love those customers who rave about us?  Every business -- big or small -- has fans. And those fans generate word of mouth buzz that is marketing gold.  Do you know who is most likely to be your brand advocate?  

Check out this infographic from BzzAgent to see if you can recognize your best prospects for recruiting and retaining those people who will shout your praises.




New Year's resolutions for young professionals

Downtown Des Moines, Iowa as viewed from the s... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions.

But I am big on lists. And since 2013 is a big year for me, I decided to combine the two and give it a shot.

First, though, a little background. I’m Emilee Richardson, 25, and the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the Science Center of Iowa. I’m a native of Clarinda, Iowa, and a graduate of Drake University. I’ve been in Des Moines for almost eight years, and 2013 is a big year for me because I am assuming the role of president-elect for Young Professionals Connection (YPC).

YPC is a focused extension of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and our mission is to attract and retain young professionals to Greater Des Moines through through social, civic, charitable and professional development endeavors. 2013 is also a big year for YPC, because we recently surpassed 700 members. That means the impact we can have on the community is... big.

This list of resolutions is mostly a series of challenges I’ve set for myself, but I’m hoping other young professionals can relate. So without further ado, here are my BIG resolutions for 2013:

1      I resolve to be better at remembering names and faces. More than anything I’ve found while networking my way around Des Moines is that people really notice when you remember their name. And doesn’t it feel great when someone remembers yours? There are plenty of tricks for name memory. One is to repeat the name immediately after you’re introduced and again before you end the conversation. Another I’ve tried already this year is to have the person spell their name. I’m a visual person, and since my name has an odd spelling, I like to know whether Caitlyn is spelled with a C or a K and if Stephen is with a ph or a v. Find what works for you.

2      I resolve to listen more intently. When you’re talking to someone at a networking event, where there are crowds of people and distractions all around, it’s hard to devote your full attention to a conversation. But to get to know someone, you have to listen to them - and not just superficially. Really focus on listening intently. First and foremost, listen with you’re introduced (see #1). Then, if your conversation has to be interrupted, promise to follow-up (see #3). Ask for a business card or, if you already know the person, plug a reminder into your smartphone to send an email later (see #5).

3      I resolve to follow-up. Following-up can take many forms... Maybe it’s following up on a conversation you had when you met someone. Maybe it’s following-up on one of those to-do items from your meeting. Maybe it’s following-up on an email that’s been sitting in your inbox. Even if it’s a simple, “Got your message. I’ll get back to you by X date,” it at least shows initiative and gives you a deadline. Following-up makes you look more professional and more personal all at once... It’s a win-win!

4      I resolve to make real-life connections. Des Moines is full of smart, engaging, interesting people, and you can learn something from every single one of them. The good news is that there are far fewer than seven degrees of separation for most people in the city. So reach out. Connect. Meet people. Another great way to make real-life connections is to connect other people. (No, I’m not suggesting you play matchmaker.) Connecting people you know - whether they have similar interests or business ideas that align - can be rewarding, too.

5      I resolve to use my smartphone and tablet for good. Our generation gets chastised for having our noses in our phones all the time. But who says you can’t use your iPad to learn a new language, manage your time better or read articles and news while you’re on the go? Go beyond the call, text and game features. Use your calendar to add that event you just heard about or schedule a reminder to email that new contact. You know the saying... There’s an app for that. Use it!

These are my resolutions for the new year. Can you relate? Can these five little tips can make a big difference in your personal and professional life?

Shameless plug: Test out these skills at YPC’s Kick-Off Party on January 25 at The Exchange. There will be 300+ young professionals to meet, listen to, follow-up with and remember their names. Put it in your smartphone now so you don’t forget!

Cheers to a big year - Happy 2013!

-Emilee Richardson
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New years resolution 4The people and businesses of the USA produce 220 million tons of garbage per year.  That’s 82,000 football fields piled six feet high.  Closer to home would be to cover every square foot of Polk County’s 592 square miles with 15 inches of garbage. 

New Year brings New Year’s sustainable resolutions.

  1. Never, ever, ever, discard computers into the trash.  Did I say never?  They are not biodegradable but more importantly they contain mercury.  It gets into the water system and ends up in the fish we eat.  Instead contact Computers With Causes and give new life to your computer.  When our office computers do not have enough horsepower for new software, they still have enough for many other uses.
  2. Reduce your garbage to the landfill.  Our office of 11 fills a 96 gallon recycle container about each week.  We are going to monitor how many garbage bags of trash still go to the dumpster and try to cut that in half by recycling more.
  3. Reuse paper you printed. Just for fun I started to keep a pile of paper which I printed and no longer needed.  I would use the back side for notes, draft letters, my to-do lists, etc.  The paper was reused before it was recycled and I did not use new paper. Don’t be surprised if you get a note from me on the back of a cost estimate.

Ownership transitions are not slowing down

The 4th quarter of 2012, according to my professional network, saw the busiest ownership transition period they have had in their careers. Yes, it was driven by the potential increase in capital gains and the reduction in the estate tax exemption, but the bigger issue was the log jam that was created by the recession. Many business owners put their business transitions on hold due to the fallout in company values.

2013 is looking just as busy and smart business owners are beginning their due diligence right now. The hardest part of an ownership transition is what structure will be used that meets the business owner's needs after the sale. It is much more than the final number of the deal. It is items such as:

  • Control of the business after the sale
  • Legacy issues
  • How will the transition impact the employees?
  • Do I want to continue to work?
  • Do I need the cash now or later?
  • Do I want to get some cash off the table?
  • Do I want the maximum value I can get and what are the consequences?

Business owners should be having robust discussions with their service providers on what is the best solution for their ownership transition. Is it a merger, sale, ESOP, management buyout, or some other vehicle that meets the needs of all stakeholders? Exploring all the options takes time and finding the right partners is critical. The sale of a business can be as significant as a marriage or having a child.

If 2013 is the year for your ownership transition, then now is the time to start the conversations!

-Victor Aspengren

Using discounted cash flow for valuations

Discounted Cash Flow Calculator - is a tool to...Discounted Cash Flow Calculator - is a tool to help estimate the present value of a stream of free cash flows discounted to the present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you used or will be using DCF (Discounted Cash Flow) in the valuation of a company you may want to consider a recent federal bankruptcy court decision court (N.D. Ill.): the “wide” and “striking” disparity between experts “lends credibility to the concept that the DCF method is subject to manipulation and should be validated by other approaches.” In particular, that by taking a discretionary approach to DCF, “a skilled practitioner can come up with just about any value he wants.”

The court cited experts who begin with the same cash projections but end with values nearly $8 million apart for a relatively small, family-owned company. In this case, the experts’ disagreement largely came down to how each calculated the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) thereby impacting: the debt-to-equity ratio, the equity risk premium (ERP), and the size premium—as well as the terminal value. Each expert cited various models and experts to defend their points but “each expert generally selected parameters that pushed his valuation in the direction he wanted to go,” the court says.

The court ruling essentially fell back on “real world” evidence at the time of the company’s acquisition to find that it was solvent, including its lack of debt, its substantial cash in excess of working capital, and its ability to keep current on accounts payable.

Good Luck

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI


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The 'fiscal cliff' bill and Iowa entrepreneurs

20121116-1iabizCongress changed the rules of the tax game for 2012 after time expired. About two hours into 2013 they passed HR 8, the "Fiscal Cliff" legislation, finally settling the tax law for 2012 and 2013. The bill raises the top federal tax rate on profitable S corporations to more than 40% starting in 2013, as expected, but it could have been much worse. It fixes two huge flaws in the tax law, and it provides some unexpected benefits to buyers of fixed assets in 2012 and 2013. 

First, the bad news. The bill raises the stated top individual income tax rate to 39.6%. This rate will apply to taxable income more than $400,000 for single filers and $450,000 for joint filers. The top rate had been 35%.The bill also raises the top dividend and capital gain rate from 15% to 20%, for taxpayers in the new 39.6% top bracket. 

The new tax law also re-enacts the "phase-out" of itemized deductions and personal exemptions for higher-income earners. This has the effect of increasing the top rate an additional 1.188%, to 40.788%.

It's even worse than that, though, with the 3.8% new "net investment income" tax enacted separately with Obamacare also taking effect for 2013. This tax applies to interest, dividends, most capital gains, rental income and "passive" K-1 income. Considering all of these taxes, and taking deductions for taxes paid into account, an Iowa taxpayer could face a marginal rate -- the rate on each additional dollar earned -- as high as 47.6%.

There is good news. The bill permanently "patches" the alternative minimum tax, retroactive to 2012. Without the patch, some taxpayers could have had additional 2012 taxes of more than $9,000. 

The bill also permanently sets the estate tax lifetime exemption at $5 million, though it raises the rate on taxable estates to 40%. The rate in 2012 was 35%.

The bill also omits some terrible ideas that had been thrown out, including a hard dollar cap of $25,000 or $50,000 for itemized deductions. This limit would have hit Iowa pass-through owners hard, as it would have restricted their deductions for state taxes paid on business income.

Bonus good news. The bill retroactively increases the "Section 179 deduction" maximum for 2012 to $500,000. That will also be the maximum deduction for 2013. This deduction, which lets taxpayers deduct all of the cost of equipment that would otherwise have to be capitalized and deducted over several years, had been set at $139,000 for 2012 and $25,000 in 2013. 

The bill also extends 50% "bonus depreciation" on new fixed assets through 2013. It had been set to expire in 2012.

These silver linings come with their own Iowa cloud. The Section 179 changes and bonus depreciation won't apply in computing Iowa income tax unless the legislature enacts conforming legislation. The legislature has not conformed with bonus depreciation. It has conformed with the federal Section 179 limits in recent years, but Iowa won't accept returns with the new limits until the legislature acts. Depending on how fast the legislature acts, it could delay filings of Iowa returns where Section 179 is an issue.

The bill also extends a raft of "expiring provisions" for another year, including the research credit and the wind energy production credit. It doesn't extend the 2% reduction in employee Social Security tax and self-employment tax.

Be sure to visit with your tax professonal to see how these provisions will affect you and your business.

Additional coverage:

Tax Update Blog, Senate passes fiscal cliff bill in wee hours; House acts today.

Taxgirl,  House Passes Senate Budget Bill Convincingly: We Have A Tax Deal!

A great way to start 2013

I can't think of a better way to kick off the new business year than with my first blog about the retail sector, because it's an opportunity to connect with more people. And ultimately, that's what business is all about -- connecting with people who need or want what you have to offer.

In the retail sector, that means offering goods, services, and if we're doing it right, a unique customer experience. That's something I've strived to do throughout my career. Before purchasing Heart of Iowa, I had a variety of experiences both in marketing and operations in many different fields, including construction, architecture, development and even a sports park.

My most recent position was the as the vice president of retail operations at Hubbell Realty Company. That role gave me a wide variety of experiences from understanding franchise systems, to identifying retail solutions for real estate issues and managing the day-to-day operations for businesses that have very different customers and a variety of unique challenges. Some those businesses included Copper Creek Golf Club, Woodland Hills Golf Course, Brilliant Sky Toys and Books at the Kaleidoscope, Johnny's Hall of Fame Restaurant & Bar, and Maximum Fitness Centers.

It was challenging, rewarding work, but owning my own business was something I had always wanted to do and in late 2010, I realized that goal with the purchase of Heart of Iowa.

I liked that the Heart of Iowa had a strong brand, wonderful history, loyal customers and a real market niche. I also bought it with a clear plan to build on its success by increasing its business-to-business sales, growing online sales and putting a sharper focus on marketing.

The fact is, you can't talk about retail without talking about marketing. Of course, there are so many more aspects of retailing that are all too often overlooked or forgotten by business owners -- and reconnecting with them is where so much opportunity awaits.

In the weeks ahead, I look forward to sharing ideas on customer experience, value of sampling, business-to-business sales and relationships, evaluating inventory, the return on catalogs, trading products for services, successful retailer marketing, learning from mistakes, technology and social media in the retail sector, the work/personal life balance, building a brand, leveraging client relationships, customer feedback, the pros and cons of coupons and more. And I look forward to hearing from you, too, with your questions and perspectives.

Kelly Sharp 

Owner - Heart of Iowa Market Place

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