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April 2013

A social media game plan

Does your social media marketing plan align with your overall business strategy?

If you’re reading this post, there’s a chance you think your social media efforts could be better focused in a few areas. As your business priorities change, you may want to re-evaluate what areas need the most improvement or what can be further optimized to deliver a better experience for your customers.

1. Know where your audience is, and when

There are many social platforms available these days offering a wide range of services and experiences.  If your target customer does not typically utilize Pinterest or Instagram, it probably doesn’t make sense to spend your resources developing a business strategy for it.

Timely delivery is another key element. Think about when your customer is likely to check Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. and aim to deliver your message when they’re most likely to see and act on it.

2. Provide value to customers

Does every post you share serve a purpose to your customer? Is it quickly and easily identifiable? Will your customer know what to do with that information? If the purpose is not clear, your posts will likely see low engagement or response rates. 

A valuable post provides clear, concise, and relevant or beneficial information. If your customer finds value in your post, they are more apt to “Like,” “Comment,” or “Share.” Pay attention to their feedback, or lack thereof. 

3. Be authentic

Think of your social media presence as an extension of your business brand. Your post content and tone should reflect how you would speak to a customer about your product or service.

Standing out on the web is hard enough as it is. Personalizing the experience for customers will go a long way.

4. Be creative

What stands out to you when you first check Facebook or Twitter? It’s likely personal updates from family and friends, or perhaps someone shared a recent news article or something funny. Business competitors aside, your post is indirectly competing with updates from your customers’ social media friends.

Photos, images, video and other visual posts are excellent to include in your content mix because they tend to attract the most views. Bring customers to your physical or online store, by showing them what they are able to find or purchase. 

5. Focus on a few goals, test different approaches, and double down on winners

Whether your social media pages have been around for a while or you are just getting started, you are bound to have or receive many ideas about how to position your business. Begin by determining the key goals you want to accomplish. You may wish to test a variety of incremental approaches to see what works before investing more resources. Once you begin to receive the type of feedback or results you desire, amplify your efforts with additional time and budget.  

Have questions, other thoughts, or wish to add to anything above? Tweet me at @InteractiveKate or Follow me on Facebook at: facebook.com/interactivekate

-Katie Stocking

LinkedIn gets into the game

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LinkedIn has always been social media's red headed stepchild.  Few people use it well and for most of its users -- it's an electronic rolodex.

LinkedIn just announced the launch of their new LinkedIn Contacts.  Their teaser copy says:

Introducing the new LinkedIn Contacts. A smarter way to stay in touch.

All your contacts in one place. LinkedIn Contacts brings together all your address books, emails, and calendars, and keeps them up to date in one place.

Never miss an opportunity to say hello. Get alerted on job changes and birthdays in your network, a perfect opportunity to say hello.

Take it on your mobile device. Stay connected on the go. LinkedIn Contacts is available on iPhone, so you can stay in touch with your contacts wherever you are.

This may be a way to add that "real time touch" that we always talk about in marketing and sales plans.  You can connect and react to any news or updates your contacts post to their account right when they make the change.  It's also a great way to track when a prospect makes a key personnel change that might be a game changer for you.

LinkedIn is rolling this out on a limited basis.  To get on the waiting list (I don't know how long the wait is -- they just announced this last week) click here

Maybe this will be the trick to make LinkedIn the social media superstar for business leaders. Today, it's underutilized and hopefully this will change how users interact with it because I think it can be a very useful utility tool, if you learn how to mine the data it holds.

~ Drew McLellan


Trading and sharing

Every spring I think I should go and buy the rototiller I have always wanted. The rear tine model would be great! I could do the garden once a year and then store my $750 behemoth in the garage. But what if, instead, I bought one with four neighbors who also used a rototiller once a year? 

Sharing and trading isn’t my first thought on purchases but what a sustainable action! Years ago I bought a snow blower with my neighbor, but quickly learned we both wanted to use it the moment the snow stopped. A rototiller we could work around.

Makes you think of the stuff we consume that could be traded or shared. It might even make you buy the best so it would last longer. I could share

  • Rototiller (better yet just rent one or hire it done)

  • Pressure washer
  • Air compressor
  • Floor buffer
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Belt sander
  • Wallpaper steamer
  • Fertilizer spreader
  • Post hole digger

What could you share that you own or have thought about buying?  I challenge you to let me know… let’s see if we can come up with a list of 100 things!  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Succession Options

There are plenty of excuses owners use to put off the inevitable process of letting go. The most popular is ‘What would I do if I retired?’ Regardless, at some point in time a responsible decision must be made or it will be made without you.

The typical succession options are:

1. Merge with another business. This will often allow for a continued role in the newly formed business.

2. Sell to the employees or family member(s).

3. Sell the business.

4. Do not do anything with the distinct possibility that the value of the business will be determined by an auction.

Conscientious owners will take the time to consult with their team of professionals (CPA, attorney and CFP) to develop a plan which will allow them to: maximize their alternatives, minimize their tax issues and provide direction for the future success of their business.

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI


Tough questions net big results

There are a couple truths in life that are important to small retailers, especially if they feel like their business is in the doldrums or if they recognize it has slipped into a crisis.

The first truth is: The tougher the questions we ask, the bigger the results we net. 

The second truth is: Not many people like to answer tough questions. And, the third truth is: Even fewer of us can ask the really tough questions of ourselves.

So, what's a business owner to do? The answer is something that's as certain to be necessary as it can be uncomfortable. You need to ask the people closest to you and even some people you don't know all that well to evaluate you and your business and honestly critique both.

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, we do just that. We do it with our vendors, our financial advisers, marketing consultants, corporate and individual clients who do business with us online, the people who walk into our store in historic Valley Junction and -- this can be especially tough -- with my friends and family.

Part of that constant review should include customers and clients because business in general and retailers in particular don't go back as often as they should and ask their clients several important questions. How'd we do? Were you happy with our product and your experience? What can we do better? While we may not always get the answer we want, your customers and vendors will appreciate and trust you even more because you asked these tough questions.

My thoughts regarding this were recently confirmed when one of our large suppliers asked 15 of their top customers to attend a roundtable discussion on how they could improve their business and help us to sell more. While all of the feedback for them was not positive, I felt great about being asked and felt like they cared about me as a customer. (Now let’s see what they do with this feedback.)

That's important, because the process doesn't do you any good if you choose to ignore the advice you get. You have a responsibility to weigh what you're hearing -- even when it's uncomfortable or downright painful -- and make the right changes to make your retail business stronger. 

Inviting people in to critique you is hard, but if you don't do it you don't get better. Who should you be asking to critique your store? And why are you waiting another minute to have them do it?

-Kelly Sharp, owner, Heart of Iowa Market Place

Buzz/going viral does not always equal sales

One of the things I hear all the time is "wouldn't it be great if our video went viral?" To which I reply -- "maybe, maybe not."

Here's the reality of viral videos. Sometimes they absolutely drive sales. Look at what Old Spice did with the "the man your man could smell like" series. Not only did it score over 45 million views, it literally revolutionized their brand and reversed their sales decline.

But that's the exception, not the rule. Just because a video takes off on YouTube or Facebook, doesn't mean it's good for business.

Take this recent Kmart spot called "Ship my pants." The spot was created to promote free shipping from Kmart's website. But they wanted us to actually pay attention -- so they pushed the creative envelope by counting on the fact that there's a 12 year old stuck in all of us who loves sophmoric humor.

Watch and see what you think:



This video already has over 5 million views. I'm betting that's more than all the other Kmart vidoes combined. So they scored on the "going viral" part.  

But, I'm pretty confident in my guess that they will not see a spike in online sales, despite the free shipping offer and increased awareness. In fact, in some ways I think the spot will hurt their efforts. The spot is SO noticeable -- you sort of lose the message. The humor is so strong (and some would argue, so tasteless) that it eclipses the marketing message.

Using humor is always tricky (if it doesn't sell, unless you're a professional comedian, it didn't work) but using this kind of over the top humor is even more risky.

Video is a powerful marketing tool. But don't lose sight of the fact that your goal is to have the right people see it and be inspired to take the next step you want them to take. In some cases, that might mean the 20 right people seeing it.

If you or your agency are shooting for viral -- be sure that's the right target to be aiming at.

~ Drew
Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group


Our people are our attraction

Note: Kyle Oppenhuizen is a reporter for the Des Moines Business Record

Every now and then, I run into one of those moments that make me want to stick up for DMskyline_night Des Moines.

The most recent example involved a co-worker. I made a sarcastic comment about a 40-degree rainy April day being “beautiful,” and she responded by saying, “Don’t you go anywhere nicer. We don’t want you to leave.”

She was, of course, referring to what has to be a universal sentiment among Iowans on cold, rainy days: “Why don’t I just move to California, Florida or Hawaii?”

But it made me think about the comment on a deeper level, as journalists are prone to do. I’m 26 years old, single, childless, and, for all intents and purposes, not tied down. What is stopping me from going to a land with beaches, or mountains, or warm, tropical weather? Or New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C.?

The immediate response when I ask that question in my head?

“Because Des Moines has great people.”

There are so many examples of this:

  • We’re Iowa Nice. That almost goes without saying. (Warning: linked video contains adult language).
  • We make our own fun. I can’t go skiing, but in the summer, I can step out the door of my downtown apartment complex almost every Saturday and find something fun going on within blocks of where I live. That includes the Downtown Farmers Market, the Des Moines Arts Festival, the 80/35 music festival and Cityview Brewfest, just to name a few.
  • We want to be more like Austin, Texas, or Madison, Wis. So we MAKE ourselves more like those cities. It’s easy to see it covering the business community. Our business leaders make things happen. It’s always been that way. But recently, you can feel a groundswell of others stepping up to make Des Moines a cooler place to live. There are groups like the Young Professionals Connection (full disclosure: I’m a board member and very passionate about the organization) and the Des Moines Social Club. There are regular people, such as Mike and Kate Banasiak, who, on a whim, create their own events. There are businesses like Full Court Press and Raygun that make Des Moines more fun and a little bit edgy. The list could go on and on.
  • We try things. Some fail, like Project Destiny. But that’s OK. We try more things, like Capital Crossroads.
  • We’re humble. We almost have to make a point to remind ourselves to brag every now and then. But hey, we do have a trophy case of Forbes magazine honors to do the bragging for us.
  • We’re passionate. We don’t just get involved in the community to put it on a resume. We do it because we care about what we’re doing. Our city leaders make volunteering a full-time job; just look at our United Way numbers and the work that goes into those campaigns. Those who aren’t leaders yet aren’t afraid to get involved; just look at the profiles of our Business Record Forty Under 40 honorees.

There are many other things I could have listed, and in some ways that’s the point. Des Moines is a cool place to live, work and play, and it offers many things to many people.

So it’s true. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have oceans. Sometimes the weather sucks.

But in Des Moines, we, the people, are our own attraction.

-Kyle Oppenhuizen

Business Record 

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Working from home

So you are one of those wonderful employers who allows employees to work from home when they want to. That’s great  - from the employee point of view. However, are you really getting the most and best out of your employees when they are working at home? 

There are many reasons to allow employees to work from their home. Convenience for them if they live far away and there is bad weather, or they (or their child) are sick. But how much work are they really getting done? If they work from home regularly, are you certain they are truly devoting eight hours to work? If it’s a beautiful day during the spring, how do you know they are not out planting a garden? Or hanging out at the beach?

Before (or perhaps after the fact now) you make it a regular practice to allow employees to work from home, you need to make some rules clear to them. For instance, checking in, whether it is by phone calls or emails, you need to be able to get a hold of them when needed. You both need to agree on their schedule, whether they will be working mostly during regular business hours or if it will be after hours and/or on the weekend. Both employer and employee need to be on the same page as to what is expected of each of them. 

Having employees working from home can be beneficial for both parties and some occupations can absolutely be done from outside the office. Just make sure you are truly
getting what you are paying for. If you have doubts it never hurts to have the situation evaluated.

-Susan Jones, Owner

JB Consulting

Facebook rules to live by

…(or at least until they change them again!)

Just reading the title you’re probably thinking, “Facebook…there are no rules!” Sadly, that isn’t true and even our dear friend Facebook has rules. If you’re running a business page, listen up! There are rules and they are important.

Lets start with a basic. If you’re running a business page and the option is to  “add friend” for someone to connect with your page, you need to switch it over to an actual business page. I promise it won’t hurt as much as you may think. It will be a good thing. You will look more professional and the last thing you want is Facebook to shut down your page completely and lose all the momentum of friends you’ve gained. Switch it to a business page and you won’t have to worry a bit!

Now that you have your business page, you’ll want to get your cover photo uploaded. Facebook has a rule that a cover photo can only have 20% text covering the photo. Your cover photo is also viewable to the public even before someone likes your page.

A major problem right now is Facebook contesting. I know it seems like “just Facebook” shenanigans, but contesting on Facebook (to any extent) does fall under your state’s gambling laws. You can read about every detail here: https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php.

To sum it up though, you need to use an app to run a Facebook contest. Facebook provides a contesting app you can use or there are hundreds of other 3rd party app options out there. These will take care of most of what Facebook requires. (i.e. giving permission and disclaimers). I see businesses every day running contests where they require people to comment on a status to be entered to win, also illegal. It is obviously vital to adhere to these rules, because again the last thing you want is your page shut down by the Facebook gods…forever, or in this case to be against your state gambling laws! (yikes!)

These are just a few of the rules Facebook has that you should be thinking about.  If you have any questions about the rules you can feel free to tweet me @interactivekate or “follow me” on Facebook: facebook.com/interactivekate – I’m happy to help how I can!


Need vs. want

CBS Sunday Morning ran a commentary a few weeks ago about three key things for your financial success. Suze Orman talked about needs versus wants. In our financial world, a need is something you can’t do without, such as a place to live. A want is a 4,000 square foot house we may not be able to afford.

It made me think about sustainability. Is consumerism one of the issues at the heart of sustainability? Does the stuff we don’t need and just want affect our carbon footprint?  More importantly, can the sustainable movement offset the increased consumerism as other countries join in the affluence the west has enjoyed?

Victor Lebow, a US economist and retail analyst in 1955, wrote: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”

The American economy has operated that way since 1955.  You hear it every day.  CONSUMER SPENDING DOWN EQUALS ECONOMY BAD!! Yet all predictions show that a growing world population with an increased consumption is not sustainable.

How do you balance these issues in your life? Do you think about whether it is a need or a want?  Let me know your thoughts about this important issue on sustainability.

-Rob Smith

Exit planning

The data shows that only approximately one third of business owners have a succession plan or exit strategy. Owners may be savvy in business, but they fail miserably when it comes to their own exit.

Sadly, most exit plans begin upon the death of business owner. In these situations, it leaves the owner's family and the employees of the business in a very vulnerable spot. The lack of planning increases the probability that decisions with will be based on emotions and not sound, thought-out plans. In far too many situations it leads to family chaos and a failed business with a bunch of unemployed workers. 

There are multiple sources for business owners to access - accountants, attorneys, business consultants and others. There are also wonderful conferences that focus on exit planning and business succession.

One such conference is the XPX Summit in Boston on May 3, a gathering where professionals and business owners can hear some of the most cutting edge ideas and knowledge in the exit planning space.

As a business owner, start the exit planning journey today.  Do not let your efforts on this earth go to waste.

-Victor Aspengren

The magic word for retail store owners: Balance

After a long, hard winter, last Friday was the first nice day of the year. The sun was shining, temperatures were in the upper 50s and I was eager to get outdoors and enjoy it.

But, wouldn't you know, I own a busy retail business. And everyone knows store owners are practically chained to the cash register, right? Not this one.

In fact, I made sure to take off a few hours and leave my store in the hands of trusted employees so I could go out to the stables to spend some time on my horse.

Some might wonder how I could do that. My answer in a word is "balance."

Balance is just as valuable as almost any other skill or trait you need to be a successful retailer. When you don't have balance, you get too caught up and too close to your business. Before long, you can get burned out. And, if you're not careful, you can end up out of business.

Don't get me wrong; I work at least as hard as the next person. Heart of Iowa customers know I put my heart and soul into delivering top-flight service and a unique customer experience every time they come to our store in historic Valley Junction or do business with us online. They might even think that that's all I do.

People who know me as a runner & biker know I'm regimented in my training. My enjoyment in spending time with my husband and family is a top priority. People who socialize with me may think I don't have a care in the world because I try to live in the moment -- and there's nothing quite like enjoying a great glass of wine at a favorite restaurant with my close friends. 

If you only knew me in each of these isolated situations, you might think my life is out of balance. In fact, just the opposite is true. I take a look at the big picture every day -- and make sure I keep my work life and personal life in balance.

The next time you're starting to feel like you're chained to the cash register and work is weighing you down, remember the value of balance. Not only is it as important for business owners to play hard or just relax every now and then, it is essential.

Balance makes life worth living, and it can make you an even better retailer.

-Kelly Sharp

So you owe the IRS on your 2012 return and cash is tight. What now?

With the increase in tax rates from 2012 to 2013, many entrepreneurs accelerated income into 2012 to beat the higher rates. Now the bills are coming due. 

Iabiz20130331Most entrepreneurs operate as "pass-throughs" like S corporations or LLCs taxable as partnerships, so their business income hits their personal returns. Those are due April 15. A lot can happen between year-end and April 15, so cash will be tight for some folks. What options do you have when you owe the IRS on April 15?

First, don't blow it off. At the very least you want to extend the return, even if you can't pay all you owe.

- If you owe money and you don't bother to extend the return, the IRS will charge you 5% of the unpaid balance, plus another 5% for each month the balance goes unpaid. They also charge interest.

- If your 2012 tax liability is at least 90% paid in by April 15, you can extend your return and pay the rest by the extended due date of October 15 without penalty. The IRS will charge interest on the unpaid balance. The rate changes quarterly and is currently 3%.

- Normally if you are less than 90% paid in by April 15 and you extend, the IRS charges interest plus a 1/2% penalty, plus 1/2% for each additional month the tax remains unpaid. That 1/2% is a much better deal than the 5% penalty that applies when you don't bother to extend your return.

This year the penalty-free deal for those 90% paid-in is extended to many additional taxpayers. Congress didn't get around to finalizing 2012 tax law until January 2013, so the issuance of many tax forms was delayed. The IRS has waived the 1/2% late-payment penalty for tax returns that include one of the delayed forms (Notice 2013-24). That means that if you extend a return that will be filed with one of the delayed forms, you may only owe interest on any unpaid amount if you pay the balance by the October 15 extended due date. There is a catch: the IRS requires a "good faith" computation of the tax due and payment of the amount shown on the extension.  That may limit the usefulness of the deal.

The list of qualifying forms is here. The most common ones on entrepreneur returns are likely to be Form 4562, the depreciation form, and Form 8582, the "passive activity" form.  Some of the other forms qualifying for the penalty relief are Form 8903 for the "Domestic Production Activities Deduction" and Form 8863, for education tax credits.

Remember, you still need to pay the taxes eventually; if you do have the cash, you are likely to want to pay up, as it's hard nowadays to earn 3% after-tax on six-month money (the IRS interest is non-deductible). In any case, you should work with your tax own advisor in making any decision on how and when to pay your taxes.

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