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November 2013

Net zero buildings

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

The 2030 Challenge sets the goal for buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030. That means if it uses electricity or natural gas it must generate on site enough renewable energy such as wind or solar to offset the usage of carbon based energy.

Old buildingTo date, not many buildings have achieved that status. A renovation of an east side building for the home office of Modus hopes to join the small list of buildings that have achieved net zero status.

Justin Doyle, principal of Modus, says, “The trick to net zero buildings is to reduce your consumption of energy in three areas. The less you use the less you need to produce."

The three areas Justin focuses on are:

  • Plug loads. Everything from computers to cell phone chargers will be monitored.
  • Lighting. Provide one-half watt per square foot. That is equal to 50 watts in an office of 100 square feet.
  • HVAC. Operable windows will allow users to open windows when they want ventilation rather than a mechanical system constantly providing fresh air.  The system will not have much ductwork and instead use console units. Geothermal will also reduce energy usage.

The goal is to offset the energy usage with 17,500 square feet of photovoltaic panels on the roof, building canopy, and roofs over 60 parking stalls. If the system produces more electrical than needed, electricity will be put back into the grid. If the system cannot provide enough, electricity will be purchased.

Stay tuned as more and more buildings strive for net zero usage of fossil fuels.

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzer.com

It's not always easy, but looking ahead pays off

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it's sometimes hard for small retailers to even catch their breaths, but these next six weeks are a very important time to evaluate your product selection, working relationships with your vendors and the effectiveness of your product sampling.

I've written about vendors and sampling before. My philosophy is simple: Sampling works. And, in a nutshell, I look to my vendors to work very closely with me.

The two go hand in hand.

It's fair to say my store, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, is a specialty retailer. And, just like other stores, we have a finite amount of shelf space. Without putting serious thought into each and every product that goes in my store, I'd be sacrificing precious shelf space -- and dollars. Between now and the new year, I'll keep a close eye on what sells, what doesn't and what I can do to make each product sell better so that I can make sure my 2014 inventory is the best it can be.

I have some great vendors, but I'm always going to evaluate how we work together and what we can do better. As I tell them, if your product is sitting on my shelves, neither of us are making money.

It's absolutely essential to have vendors who understand the big picture of your business and where their product fits into it. They also need to be marketing-oriented and will cross-promote my business through their website and other avenues.

Finally, if you haven't done product sampling before, there's no better time to start than today. If you have products that aren't moving, start sampling them. You'll be surprised at the results. If you have been sampling, now is the right time to consider whether tweaking your sampling strategy can create even bigger results. With everything else that going on during the hectic holiday season, it's never easy to look ahead to the next year. But, you'll be glad you did.

How do you build a brand?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I've had the good fortune, over my 25+ year career, to help many companies build their brand. Of course, that's just step one. Building a brand is the initial effort and in many ways the easiest effort. After all, you can say you are whatever you'd like to be.

The difficult part is actually becoming it.

That takes years of commitment and focus. Which is why most companies don't do it well. They start out great but when they have to actually live their brand and make the tough decisions that come along with that commitment -- their entusiasm wanes.

I get it -- the creating the brand is the fun part. But don't get so caught up in the fun that you forget there's a lot of work that is coming right behind it. And actually for me, that's really the fun stuff. To help bring a brand to life and to watch as an organization absorbs the brand into the very fiber of its culture and decisions is pretty cool stuff.

Want a peek at some of the fun of the early stages? Check out this infographic by the Palmer Agency. While it's a simplistic approach, it does point out some of the key ingredients. It's Friday -- why not pull together your team and see how you'd answer these questions?

~ Drew McLellan, McLellan Marketing Group's Top Dog

Branding questionaire

Forgot to turn off your computer?

An architect can do all one can to design a building to be sustainable. Integrate green products and systems that conserve energy and water. We also use elaborate computer programs to predict the future energy usage of a building.

All our predictions are based on many assumptions of the daily habits of the occupants.  Will they turn off their computer at night? Will they sneak in a heater under their desk and will it run all night? Will they operate the thermostat at 70 degrees or 72 degrees? All these can impact the overall energy use.

Imagine if each department could view a dashboard showing their energy usage? Users could see firsthand the impact of turning off electrical devices each night for a month. Facility managers could see the effect of operating the building within recommended thermostat settings.

Software is coming to the market to do just that! In the future we will have that capability. Computers will be able to shut off your computer if you left it on or turn off your heater. Don’t know how but it’s coming. It’s the missing link in conserving energy.

Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzer.com

Why deals do not close

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Any number of things can derail a deal to buy or sell a business. Here are a few of them.


·         Do not have a valid reason for selling

·         Just testing the waters.

·         Unrealistic sale price

·         Lack of honesty.

·         Lack of or poor records.

·         Do not understand the tax consequences or legal issues.

·         Will not provide seller financing



·         The fear of ownership is greater than the urge for ownership

·         Do not understand the buying process

·         Are not willing to do the work required of an owner

·         Influence of factors opposed to the purchase of a business

·         Lack of capital

·         No relative management expertise

·         Lack of experienced advisors



·         Due diligence discovery problems

·         Bank or SBA requirement for seller financing

·         Advisors with little or no experience in transactions

·         Seller cannot provide the required documents

·         Government regulations

·         Overly aggressive advice by advisors resulting in roadblocks


Steve Sink


Certified Business Intermediary

Merger and Acquisition Master Intermediary

3 ways to screw up your next website

Editor's note: Josh Larson specializes in interactive design and SEO at Happy Medium LLC. He is filling in for Happy Medium Owner Katie Stocking. 

Launching a new website for your business doesn’t have to be complicated. But day in and day out, clients and web design companies alike do things that turn the process of building a website into a nightmare. 

Here are a few things that often happen during the website-building process. Each of these things will either make you or the web design company miserable, and each of them can easily be avoided.

1. Pay a ton of money to a company that doesn't do responsive design

The responsive web design movement has been around for a couple of years now, yet businesses are still paying web design companies their hard-earned money to develop a website that isn’t optimized for mobile devices.

This has to be frustrating for business-owners who think they’re getting a great deal as a web designer slaps a “fresh coat of paint” on their homepage. But the truth is that if your “brand new” site doesn’t look good on a non-desktop-sized screen, your website automatically becomes outdated. 

It doesn’t matter if the design looks great on paper, or if a visitor has a great experience using the website on a 27” iMac – as soon as someone tries to access the website on their phone or tablet, they’ll be pinching, zooming, and squinting their way off your website and to your competitor.

How do you avoid this? Be sure to pick a web design company with experience developing responsive websites or for the mobile platform specifically. Do yourself a favor and don’t waste your money elsewhere.

2. Don't ask the right questions beforehand

You’ve chosen your web design company, and you’re ready to get moving on the project. Now it’s time to sit back and relax – the site will be picture-perfect, right?

Hold the phone – how can you be sure everything will meet your expectations if you don’t voice any concerns before the process begins? Ask anything from the most basic questions (How will I edit content on my website?) to more complicated questions (How will the user be notified of a completed order on my e-commerce website?).

Thoroughly asking questions before the process begins can be a great exercise. These questions help you define what’s important to your business and help you make sure the website will reflect your values.

Not asking questions doesn’t mean you’ll get a terrible website – but without guidance and a good knowledge of your company’s priorities, a web design company could deliver a product that’s not what you’ve been dreaming up.

3. Micromanage your designers

At the other end of the spectrum, it is possible to get too involved and start subtracting from the product’s quality as a whole.

This point applies to more than just web design, but in any client services industry, there are always a handful of clients who insist on micromanaging every detail of the product.

Sure – as a business owner, it’s your money, and you ought to have a say in the end-product. But there are processes for doing exactly this – gathering your input and creative direction and relaying it to the right people in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the productivity of the team.

Jumping in and sticking your hands in every part of the process will do a couple of things (hint: none of them involve getting a “way better product!”). In the world of web design, you’ll undermine the efforts of the designers and developers who are trying to create the best possible product. As soon as you, a business owner, start telling professional designers and developers how to do their jobs, you start lowering the integrity of the product.

Micromanaging your designers will almost certainly lead toward a product that no one is happy with. If you’re trying to handle every detail of the process as a business owner, and the website doesn’t meet your expectations, you can’t blame the designer or the developer anymore – the failure is on your shoulders.

You’ve hired a web design company for a reason: They’re good at what they do. So let them do their jobs, and a better product will become of it.

Hopefully, you’ve been able to identify with some of these mistakes and you feel more prepared when it comes time to work on your company website.

Tweet with me at @itsahappymedium and share any tips you have for a client/company relationship during the website design process.

-- Josh

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