« July 2014 | Main | September 2014 »

August 2014

Hack Attack - New Iowa Law Governing Data Security Breaches

Matthew McKinneyMatt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

From Iowa State University and P.F. Chang's to your town's smallest businesses, hackers are indiscriminate when it comes to attacking computers and networks to access and obtain sensitive consumer data.

Against this very alarming and real backdrop, it is important for businesses of all shapes and sizes to not only take steps to proactively protect consumer data, but also understand the legal requirements and ramifications if they do not act timely and properly following a data security breach.  

On April 3, 2014, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a new breach notification requirement (amending a prior law) that includes a provision requiring businesses to not only timely notify consumers whose data was accessed as part of a security breach, but it also requires businesses to notify the Iowa Attorney General's office when just 500 or more Iowa residents are impacted by the security breach. Of particular note, failure to comply with Iowa's new breach notification requirement can result in significant monetary and non-monetary penalties being levied against the business.  Considering how often these breaches occur, the indiscriminate nature of the attacks, as well as the relatively low threshold under Iowa's new law to trigger legal requirements and liability, it's not surprising that many savvy businesses (large and small) are now consider policies, procedures, or protocols for how to handle their affairs if they suddenly learn they suffered a hack attack. 

In short, while taking steps to protect and prepare yourself in advance of a data security breach is critical, it is just as important - if not more so - that following a data security breach your business promptly takes proper steps, including seeking trusted technical and legal advice, to determine the scope of a breach and what, if any, additional action your business must legally take.  If you have any questions regarding the issues outlined above you should contact a licensed attorney or certified security adviser.

How does image influence leadership?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the last in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters.” 

To judge content, whether found in the pages of a book or in the character of a person, we must assign the powerful thinking center of our brain to the task. 

In the case of the book, that occurs when we find the cover engaging enough to open the book and then choose to explore the content. 

In the case of the individual, it occurs when we find our perceptions of the person favorable enough to ask questions, listen, and engage in a healthy interpersonal exchange.  Alas, in an increasingly busy existence we rely more heavily, not less, on shortcuts and first impressions.

Harvard says we form an impression in two seconds, hardly enough time for someone to gauge your competence and capabilities.  What are they forming that impression on?

Ample research shows that people size you up very quickly and make inferences about your competence based on visual qualities such as your height, weight, age, skin color, gender, etc.  The things on this list are not easily changed or influenced yet they have a large impact on how you are perceived by others.

Consider research that reveals:

  • We perceive tall people to be more credible than short people. 
  • We perceive men to be more capable in crisis (particularly a physical crisis) than women. 

There is good news. Your grooming and attire also make a powerful first impression and are completely within your control. Becky Rupiper-Greene_edited-2 

Let’s ask an expert to weigh in with advice.  Becky Rupiper-Greene is Senior Training and Image Consultant for Tero International.  Leaders from diverse industries and geographies look to Becky to help them sharpen their professional images to ensure that a visual misstep doesn’t lead to a career misstep. 

Question:  Shouldn’t business leaders be able to wear whatever they want without being judged on appearance?

Becky says:  Absolutely.  Research continues to clearly indicate, however, that both men and women are judged by their appearance. We’ve all seen talented professionals lose out on a promotion to a seemingly less qualified individual who exudes executive presence – from entry level to C-suite positions. What I have found to be much more effective than focusing on what we should wear and what we should not wear, is to instead commit to looking like an expert in your industry. That will, of course, look completely different for someone working at a creative marketing firm compared to someone at a conservative financial institution.  When you look like an expert at what you do, you will visually command and convey respect.

Question:  Do you believe that women are judged more critically than men on their appearance?

Becky says:  The question itself indicates that we are aware of the unfair reality. Sadly, research done by the Center for Talent Innovation also shows that not only are women judged more harshly, women actually judge other women more harshly on appearance faux pas such as tight clothing.  

We perceive ourselves in our best light. We judge ourselves by our good intentions. Others can’t see our good intentions. They first see the visual image we broadcast to the world and that plays a huge role in how they judge us. Is your visual presence communicating positively for you?  

Content marketing with a referral twist

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

In several of my previous posts on IowaBiz I talk about general concepts around referral marketing. Along the way I have offered tips on ways to increase the likelihood that your clients will pull the trigger and send their friends and family your way. I try my darndest to put a unique spin on my content and support it with research and studies in psychology. And let me tell you, the biggest challenge I have is providing content that not only inspires people to look critically at the subject, but also offers actionable steps to increase referral business. That is my goal on this post - and I would really enjoy hearing your feedback on this particular subject.

ReferraldogJust this week I finished an eBook tailored to referral marketing for insurance agents (my company’s target market). Talk about the epitome of content marketing - and boy was it a lot of work. And for those of you who don’t know exactly what this is, content marketing is creating and distributing valuable and consistent content to attract a clearly defined audience. Blog posts, white papers, eBooks, etc. Anything your prospects will find value in reading. I then thought about ways that I could use much of what I learned about referral marketing and use it to promote my eBook, and this is what I came up with.

Inherently, content marketing is designed to supplement all types of marketing - SEO, inbound, PPC, social media, etc. The bottom line, in order for it to be most effective it needs to find its way to a lot of people in your target market (your defined audience). Now, encouraging people to share content is nothing new. I mean, you can’t even buy something online anymore without being asked to share it on Facebook. But, in my opinion, there is a clear distinction between sharing your casual blog post and a more in depth white paper or eBook.

Here’s why. People are used to paying for books and businesses often shell out money for in-depth research. If you spend the time to create this type of content you have a valid claim that it is worth something. That is, of course, if it is not just marketing material packed as useful information.

So here is my thought. Write an eBook and pack it full of valuable and relevant information (branded to your company, of course). Put a monetary value on it, say $29, but don’t sell it. Give it away to your current clients for free as a ‘thank you’ for their loyalty. They will appreciate this. Now, you want to inspire them to share it with others. But, rather than just encouraging them to forward the PDF, provide them with a link where they can only send the eBook to one person (whoever would most benefit from it) and include this link inside the eBook (think viral). And, in return the referrer will receive an email or link to an exclusive discount that they can only find if they submit the share through your form (say, 50% off the next month of service).

This is a soft referral. Your clients know who could likely benefit from your service and are sharing your content with that individual and making an introduction to your company. Allowing them to share the eBook with only one individual, and the waved price tag, will give them something of value to share. Now - for those that forward the PDF to multiple people. That’s fine! After all it is branded to your company and should include a soft call to action and the exclusive offer to share it with others. Before you know it your book will find its way into many different inboxes. As long as you are following up with the leads generated by your online forms, you can start to include drip marketing into the equation.

For an example landing page click here. Again, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

PR is like pork scraps and pickle juice

Claire Celsi is the director of public relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

When I was growing up, my grandma Celsi lived next door to us. My grandma and Mom took turns making a traditional Sunday pasta dinner. When it was Grandma’s turn to cook, all we had to do is keep the kitchen window open to hear her sweet little voice yell, “Reeeaaddddyyyy” toward our house. We’d drop the Sunday comics section and high-tail it over there.  Pickle juice

For some reason, Grandma’s pasta sauce was always slightly better than my mom’s. It was thicker, richer, meatier and just had that extra va-va-voom. Her meatballs were also better – more tender, flavorful and delicious. Try as she might, Mom could never quite replicate it, no matter how hard she tried.

Years after grandma died, Mom stumbled upon a grocery list my Dad had written for her. It was obviously the ingredients for her magic Sunday pasta sauce. There was one surprise on the list – pork scraps. Apparently, Grandma used to take pork scraps and fry them, then she browned the meatballs in the same pan before throwing them in the sauce. The resulting extra flavor was the missing ingredient. (Side note: Here's a fun little video of me and my mom rolling meatballs for a lasagne-like dish called pastachina (pronounced "pasta keen-uh")

Mom’s specialty is German potato salad. She carefully follows her great-grandmother’s recipe – which called for chopped baby gherkin pickles. And even though it was not in the recipe – I noticed that Mom always throws in a substantial splash of pickle juice. However, when I went to look up Mom’s potato salad recipe in the church cookbook - she had left out the splash of pickle juice. Apparently, she has learned a little trick from Grandma.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with PR.

Some companies just have a little pork scraps and pickle juice in their marketing mix. Using PR throughout the year is a smart way to keep ahead of the competition, yet it’s often not the first thing marketers think of when compiling their list of things to do for the year. Here are a few things to add to your marketing recipe:

  1. Know what makes your company different and special – this is your pickle juice and pork scraps. Every company has a special recipe.
  2. Make a list of newspapers, trade pubs or other media outlets your customers will likely be paying attention to. The list doesn’t have to be extensive. In fact, honing a short list of really interested media outlets is smart.
  3. Don’t forget digital journalists. There are many bloggers and thought leaders in the digital space. Many of them have “crossed over” from traditional journalism, so they have a foot in each world. They are real journalists too – so treat them exactly the way you would a “regular” reporter.
  4. Reach out to the media outlets every week or every month, depending on your resources. I call this “heartbeat” PR.  Like the steady thump of your heartbeat, news and tidbits of information should be shared with your media targets on a regular basis.
  5. Make an annual plan. Whether your PR is being handled in-house or you have an agency helping out, spend some time thinking about your initiatives, special projects, new product releases or anniversaries.
  6. Allocate resources. Figure out how much time or money you should allocate. If you’re having trouble finding the money to pay for PR, add up all the money you’ve spent on marketing in the last year, and spend a fourth of it on PR next year. I guarantee you that your audiences will pay more attention to positive media coverage than an ad.

PR is the pork scraps missing from your pasta sauce and the pickle juice missing from your potato salad. Add a little PR to your marketing mix for the extra bit of va-va-voom.

Getting outside

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

Being an avid runner, I like to get outside. And, I often strongly recommend other small retailers do so often as a way to reduce stress, clear their minds and maintain good health so they can perform at peak levels.

But specialty retailers should also think about getting outside in another way that's good for their businesses. That is, they should get outside of their comfort zone from time to time as a way to make good things happen.

For instance, I'm currently working on project for a client at the Heart of Iowa Market Place that is outside of the things we've normally done at our store. The reason: It's much larger and much more diverse than the sort of gift baskets we normally create and it requires items beyond our "all things Iowa" inventory.

Rather than saying, "This isn't something we do" and turning away business, we took the time to research the ins and outs of getting the job done in a way that will exceed our client's expectations. And, we decided the best way to do it is by working with other vendors we've not normally worked with before.

The benefits are already numerous: a satisfied client and the likelihood of repeat business, the fun of working with new partners, the certain prospect of handling larger projects that would have been out of our reach, more word-of-mouth marketing for my business, and the likelihood that our new partners will also direct business our way. Not only does my business grow, but we help other small businesses grow and thrive.

Those positives are all on top of stronger bottom-line revenues, which are the lifeblood of any company.

Going outside our comfort zone has given us the inside track for greater success. And, in the end, that's very comforting.

Tatooine on Earth

Tataouine 1Remember that scene from Star Wars at Tatooine?  Adobe-like buildings with odd pinnacles.  Well, on our planet that place is called Earthship.  Started by Michael Reynolds in the 1970’s, it looked like nothing I have seen.

Michael was on a quest to build a different type of home that would do three things.  First, homes would be built from natural or recycled materials.  Second, would use natural energy sources and be off the “grid” whenever possible.  Third, could be economically constructed by the typical home owner.

Tataouine 2Earthship Biotecture is the company that designs and builds homes around the globe.  One of the trademarks of the buildings is the use of auto tires for walls.  Tires are stacked one on top of another and rammed with earth.  This simple and inexpensive method provides the mass needed to sustain even temperatures.

Another distinctive feature was the use of pop cans and bottles to construct walls.  The tops of two bottles were cut off and the bottoms taped together.  A mortar wall was laid up using the bottles and a light filled room was the result.  Cans were used in a similar manner for interior walls that were lightweight.

Tataouine 3Solar panels generate electricity and waste water is treated on site.  In fact, your sink water either flushes the toilet or waters the plants in the greenhouse.

Let me know if you would like get together and build one across from Jordan Creek.  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Snapchat for business…

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

As I was writing this blog, I started by thinking about how to describe Snapchat for those that aren’t quite sure what it is. I think it’s somewhat difficult to describe, especially to those who might not be all that familiar with social media. So, I did what pretty much everyone does when they are stumped, I Googled it!

Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by Evan Spiegel and Jonathan May, then Stanford University students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. 

I am a Snapchat user (find me @klstocking if you’re interested in snapping me), but I think a few things are missing from this very basic definition that might help you understand this platform a little better.

One of the biggest ways Snapchat is unique from its social media competitors is the basis of its platform. When users send a picture, video or “snap” to their friends, they can only view it for a limited amount of seconds (to be set by the sender). Once the image or video is viewed for the set time limit, the picture “disappears” –- to where is an entirely different blog, but for these purposes it basically disappears and the recipient no longer has access to it. In order to view a snap, the recipient also has to be touching the image on the screen to get it to continue playing, which somewhat eliminates the ability to take a screen shot. However, if the recipient is crafty and can sneak a screen shot, the sender is notified a screen shot has been taken. Pretty neat, huh?

The million-dollar question though, as with most social media platforms, is what can this do for my business? This is definitely an interesting platform for business. The best account I follow that is doing a fantastic job is Mashable (@mashable). They are primarily using Snapchat the same way their business is set up, as an educational platform and by showcasing themselves as an industry leader for new and relevant information.

Happy Medium just launched our Snapchat account this week (@itsahappymedium), and we’ll be testing and sharing snaps over the next few months! I will be sure to update you on our journey to see what Snapchat can do for your business. I suspect we’ll have some fun and do some educating, which is what we do a lot in our regular day-to-day agency life. These same concepts will just be translated to Snapchat and dissolved after a few seconds of our viewer’s time. Don’t be afraid, try Snapchat out today!



ALS ice bucket challenge brings out the best and worst in social media


Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

If you haven't heard about the ALS ice bucket challenge, you have clearly been living in a cave or hibernating.

The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness.  People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or do both.

Beverly, Mass. resident Pete Frates, along with his family, helped to make the “Ice Bucket Challenge” go viral on the social sites Facebook and Twitter.  Frates, 29, has lived with ALS since 2012, and he has worked with The ALS Association’s Massachusetts Chapter.  A former Division 1 college athlete with Boston College Baseball, Frates tirelessly spreads awareness of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

This viral sensation, which has used the hash tag #IceBucketChallenge, has attracted thousands of followers, including Boston Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Torey Krug, who willingly dropped frozen ice on themselves and issued the challenge to others.

On Wednesday, former President George W. Bush joined thousands of others who got doused for a good cause. He challenged Bill Clinton to do the same.  

Now that's going viral.  On top of the crazy videos being posted every few seconds -- ALS has raised more than $31 million dollars, as of 8/20/2014.

Hard to argue with the success of this home-grown promotion.  Along with the $31 million in donations and videos of everyone from Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik to Michael Jordan to Bill Gates and even Oprah Winfrey, the campaign has brought out the worst and best of social media.

The worst -- many so-called social media experts and jealous non-profits are complaining about the campaign, saying everything from 'you are wasting water' to 'someone is going to have a heart attack' from how cold the water is.

Others are upset because the campaign is working so well that they think everyone is forgetting about all the other non-profits out there.  Interestingly, people who have ALS are also demanding (some more rudely than others) documentation on where the donated funds are being spent.  

As with any successful endeavor, it brings out people who want to take the discussion to all sorts of sidebar issues.

Lots of sour grapes, some legitimate questions and people trying to steal a little of the spotlight.  

On the flip side -- this is one of those crazy, luck-of-the-draw situations that is putting ALS on everyone's lips and wallets.  It's also a great study in why viral can't be contrived or orchestrated.  

If I'd said to you -- do you think we can get everyone from President Bush to Oprah to all videotape themselves being doused with a bucket of ice cold water and share it online -- what would you have said?  It's tough to get people to click LIKE or share a story, let alone go to the elaborate measures that some of the bucket challenge participants have undertaken.

I'm sure that the folks at ALS had absolutely NO idea this was going to get so big, so successful and so out of their control.  While I am sure they're thrilled, they must also be a little freaked out.

They're doing a great job of fielding questions, keeping the spotlight on the families who are dealing with ALS and using the global stage to educate people about ALS and their fight for a cure.  They're not allowing all of the negative buzz to pull them off message.

They are creating specific web pages to deal with some of the common topics like "you're wasting water" to "where is the money going" and everytime someone repeats the same issue -- they point to the same resource. 

A huge hat tip to the ALS Association for handling this uproar in a best practices sort of way.  They are:

  • Staying true to their mission
  • Educating and advocating
  • Being consistent in all their messaging
  • Not letting the naysayers derail their efforts
  • Grabbing the tiger by the tail and promoting the famous and not-so-famous as they take the challenge
  • Looking ahead and planning for what's next

Whether your own marketing/social efforts go this big or deliver a more modest rush of attention -- these best practices will still serve you well.


~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group



Value Drivers When Selling a Company

Phoenix Logo

Whether you are considering a recapitalization, a management buy-in or buy-out, or a family transfer, there are key considerations that should be discussed and understood before any company is brought to market.

To identify the best buyer and maximize purchase price, the business owner should be able to articulate the value drivers for the company. Clearly articulating these points can help a Buyer see the value of your business.

Below are 5 key value drivers that must be discussed as early as possible in the process so that all parties are on the same page:

1. Customers

One of the most important value drivers to discuss is your customer. A clear understanding of how a business makes money and who its customers are is essential for any Buyer and deal negotiation.  

You also have to be able to speak to how you acquire customers. What is the profile and size of your customer base? How do you engage with them?  Having a legitimate sales organization, while not necessary for a successful deal, can help you demonstrate to an interested Buyer that you are working with regular, sustainable customers.

Lastly, you also have to be able to speak to how you lose customers. If your customers are able to abandon your business overnight with little to no switching costs, it will be a red flag. If you have customers that can leave next week without pain and heartburn, that’s not a good thing. While it is not an insurmountable challenge, the deeper entrenched your business is in the customer’s life and business, the better.

2. Industry & End Markets

In addition to your customers, it is imperative to be able to define the size of addressable market. There is no need for detailed reports, but you must have a sense of the number of potential customers and trends in that space. Is your industry growing or shrinking? Is there heavy regulation? These types of extra-company factors can help a Buyer make a decision.

Buyers are also concerned about businesses that are highly discretionary. For example, if your business offers a completely discretionary item, that means the purchase can be put off during downturns and economic uncertainty. That is a big risk in future cash flows and, unsurprisingly, a red flag for many Buyers. Similarly, if a business is very cyclical, it can be challenging for an investor. Most sophisticated Buyers will utilize leverage during an acquisition---leverage and cyclicality is a very risky combination.

To help assuage a Buyer’s concerns, you should demonstrate that your business tracks along with the general economy. If you can show solid financials that is a great sign that your business is not particularly subject to cyclicality or customer discretion.

3. Suppliers

The two questions you need to address are:

Are there any supplier concentrations? If your business is being influenced by your supplier because of their consolidation or control of the market, that is not a deal killer, but it is something that must be disclosed to the Buyer.  It is important to understand the costs and risks of switching suppliers.

Can a supplier go straight to your customer? If that is the case, it makes Buyers very nervous. Most Buyers want to see a fundamental, tangible reason why your business exists. If you are relying on opportunistic inefficiencies, there is a great deal of risk that your business will be squeezed out by larger competitors or those with vertical integration capabilities. You need to demonstrate that your firm will be around for a long time because it is addressing a clear need — and one that no one else can easily replicate.

4. Competition

As the interested investor gets the lay of the land, he will also need to know about the level and type of competition surrounding your company. If you claim there is no competition, Buyers will consider you to be naïve.   You will need to effectively be able to address the presence of any competitors and how you differ from them. What are the variables? Price? Service? Location?

You will need to explain why the customer is buying from you. Are they buying from your firm because of the salesperson? Or because of the right price? It may sound like a silly question, but it is fundamental to why a company exists.  Do you have pricing power? The more and better you can answer the question, the more value you can demonstrate in your business.

5. Management & Financials

Only after understanding the full environment in which you company exists will the investor begin to look into the company itself. Understanding the key stakeholders and management of the business is absolutely crucial to a successful deal.

When it comes to financials, the numbers will be what they will be. At this stage of the process, the Buyer is probably most interested in seeing how organized your business is. The numbers need to be reliable. Buyers do not want to be trapped in a situation where they have made a deal and in the due diligence process discovers that they were misled-DEAL BREAKER. The more confident a Buyer has in their ability to track the numbers, the more confident they will feel about the deal.

Good Luck

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI


Good networking is a lot like wearing a bow tie

Bow tieDanny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

Good networking is a lot like wearing a bow tie.  Hear me out here. When it comes down to it, good networking involves three crucial steps. The same can be said for wearing a bow tie. 

Step one:  Patience.  When I first started networking, it took almost a year to see the fruits of my labor. I can still remember the first deal I closed from networking and the rush it gave me to know that I'd built enough trust with someone for them to recommend me to a friend.  It was a small deal but it was my deal.  Similarly, a bow tie takes a lot of patience. The first time I bought one I stood in Younkers with a very close friend for almost an hour replaying a YouTube clip over and over until I got the thing tied around my neck. Looking back on it now, it was really a terrible tie job but I got it done. Now I can tie a bow tie in less than thirty seconds and I can rely on my network for almost any need that arises. 

Step two:  Getting over nerves.  Let’s face it, there are very few people who can honestly say they enjoy walking into a room of strangers and meeting new people.  In fact, public speaking outranks death as most people’s No. 1 fear. Networking is nerve-racking, even for most seasoned pros. Wearing a bow tie in public for the first time triggers those same nerves. The easiest way to get over them? Dive in headfirst and don’t look back.  Take the risk, walk up to a stranger and say hi. Wear that bow tie with pride for the entire world to see. 

Step three:  Realizing both get easier with time. As I mentioned in the first step, tying a bow tie has gotten pretty easy. The same can be said, albeit to a lesser extent, for networking. I’m still more nervous networking than I do tying a bow tie or wearing it in public, but it has gotten easier. The simple fact is everything will get easier with practice.  I’ve learned to suppress the nerves, or ignore them all together, because I now realize that most people attending an event are just as nervous as I am. 

There you have it, how good networking is like wearing a bow tie. Sure it’s a stretch but just remember with a little patience, some practice, and by diving in headfirst anyone can learn to tie a bow tie or be great at networking.

How are you perceived?

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is the third in a series on leadership entitled “The Cover Matters”. 

How are you performing as a leader?  Leadership_blog1

In many tangible tasks and activities, how well we are performing can be quickly assessed.  For the golfer, you receive immediate feedback by looking at your performance on your last golf swing.  This helps inform what adjustments you need to make for the next one. 

Most leadership activities are different.  Leadership is rarely a repetitive behavior and is never a solitary activity.  By definition, leadership is about people.  In their classic leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner present research about which behaviors followers consider most important in their leaders.  Survey respondents cited four characteristics over 50% of the time.

  1. Honesty
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Inspiring
  4. Competent

Unlike a golf swing, these qualities are largely intangible and success can only be assessed over time. 

How do we know if we are performing well in areas that don’t allow for immediate feedback? 

Long term, your legacy will ultimately confirm your leadership performance.  In the short term, exemplary leaders realize that influencing the perceptions others hold of them as they are exercising leadership is critical.  Do you look honest?  Do you come across as confident, competent and inspiring?  Can people tell you are forward-thinking?

Some of the only data available to people entrusted to your leadership on a daily basis is how you look and sound.  The pace we walk when we enter a room, the eye contact we make with others, our hand movements, our facial expression and our vocal quality all communicate for us non-verbally – for better or for worse.  These behaviors shape the perceptions others hold of us.

Appearances matter.  Do a self-audit.  How are you perceived?

Is your body language and vocal quality communicating that you are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent?  Or do you, like many busy leaders, unintentionally and non-verbally communicate qualities such as impatience, disinterest, insecurity, incapability or uncertainty.  

Referral cards provide ammunition to your active promoters

You know those little cards that muddle up your wallet? The loyalty cards that rest in piles on the counter or coffee or sandwich shops.

At one time I probably had 10 different cards, each of them with a single over-inked stamp or moon-shaped punch hole. “Here you go, you’re only 14 stamps away from a free small coffee!”

Ernstos4110The next time I ever saw them was when I would survey the damage after leaving my wallet in my jeans on laundry day. In retrospect, they weren’t really that effective - at least in bringing me back to buy more.

Because let’s be honest - loyalty programs are created to, well, promote loyalty. Repeat customers. More revenue. But for many companies the punch card never finds its way back.

“But that’s not true, I use my Palmers partner card every week!” you say. Yes, so do I. But that's because they put a lot of meat on their club sandwich and the lady behind the counter has a nice smile - not because of the little yellow card slowly disintegrating next to my driver’s license.

My point? In order for a loyalty program to be effective it needs to have value. Enough value that it will inspire a customer to shop with you over a competitor.

Loyalty programs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Punch cards, plastic cards, cards you can attach to your keychain, cards on your smartphone, and so on. They are intended to reward the customer for repeat business. More advanced programs are also designed to track purchases and tailor marketing efforts.

Referral card

But there is one type of card I have yet to mention. The referral card. Whereas the focus of loyalty programs is on promoting repeat business; referral cards leverage existing customers to bring new blood in the door.

I am sure you have seen businesses hand out cards that promote an incentive-based referral program. On the card is nothing more than “refer a friend, get 10 bucks” or something of that nature. That is not a referral card.

What I am talking about is something that a business provides their customers that they can give to their friends and family that has exclusive value to the recipient.

For example, two golf lessons at a country club valid only for Bob’s friends and family. In order for the card to have value it must be an exclusive offer that is not promoted elsewhere. The only way for a new client to get this specific deal is via an existing client.

This way your client will feel they are giving something of actual value to their friend when they are referring you. If it is a coupon that you can find in the Sunday paper its value vanishes (and is embarrassing to give away).

You may also consider pairing the exclusive offer with an incentive for your client. For example, a card that will reward both the existing client and the new guy. This way way your clients will have more of a reason to hand them out, and the prospects will feel more obligated to use them.

Referralcard1By empowering your loyal customers to bring in their friends and family you are also facilitating conversation that strengthens your brand. Referral cards will get people giving the gift of your business - as long as you make it worth their while to do so.

Remember - make it exclusive, limited, and valuable.

Summertime has its own advantages

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place.

I wrote last month about the value of treating every day like Christmas to create a great environment for shoppers, but there's no denying summer has a firm grip on central Iowa. That means there are still some tried-and-true opportunities that small retailers should remember when working to boost sales.

Rieva Lesonsky, a staff writer for Small Business Trends, offered a reminder of some of those ideas a few months in her piece, "5 Ways to Boost Your Retail Sales This Summer" and they're certainly worth doing before Labor Day rolls around. To see those ideas in action close to home, all you need to do is spend some time in historic Valley Junction.

Lesonsky recommends moving things outdoors. Whether your business is located on a city street or a mall, "foot traffic is likely to increase as more people take advantage of the nice weather to stroll outside."

You'll get no argument from me there. All I'd add is: Make sure you have plenty of products to sample.

Thursday evenings in Valley Junction are a perfect example of small retailers who shake things up by moving outdoors. That strategy plays right into a few of  Lesonsky's tips about sponsoring or participating in local events, making summer sales a group effort and creating excitement by throwing a party.

Valley Junction merchants do all three of those things by joining forces and sponsoring a weekly farmers market and music. The result: a wonderful atmosphere for shoppers, strollers and fun-seekers of all ages.

You don't have to be in a perfect retail setting like Valley Junction. (Although it sure helps!) Odds are, however, that you have retail neighbors that you can team up with. If you don't, all you need is a little creativity to pull together some complementary businesses, pick a spot and throw your own celebration.

Finally, while this summer may be winding down, it's never too early to start planning for next year. One item to put on your list is a strategy to capture more tourist dollars. And a great, big bull's-eye in that respect is the 2015 Iowa State Fair.

All that's left to do to improve summer sales this year and into the future is to put these ideas into motion. What are you waiting for?

Wait, you’re not advertising online? Why the heck not?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

In case you haven’t noticed, people are on the Internet quite a bit… an average of 5 hours a day to be exact, according to eMarketer (which to be honest, sounds a little low to me). Think about your day, how much of your time is spent online vs. watching TV, listening to the radio (not Spotify, or Pandora – the actual radio!), or reading an actual paper copy of the daily newspaper? If you’re like me, the combined total of everything (with the exception of online) still doesn’t equal the time spent online each day, especially for those of us whose jobs require us to be online the majority of the day.

Once you get your feet wet in the digital world, you will likely never go back. The really *fun* thing about digital advertising is you get to really hold your dollars invested accountable. Owning a small business, I fully understand the need to make every.single.dollar.count! I’d like to touch base on a few of the (many) ways to advertise online.

SEM (search engine marketing):

The big wig in this department is Google AdWords, but this is an option for any of the other large search engines, as well. When you advertise online with a Cost Per Click (CPC) model you are only paying each time someone clicks on your ad, so no wasted costs on someone just looking at your ad and not being interested in your product. The other good thing about SEM is you customize the keywords you want to use on a campaign. Basically you get to choose when to run the ad based off what people are searching for. There are no other advertising opportunities where you get the chance to serve an ad at the very moment someone is searching for your exact product.

Display Advertising:

Display advertising has been around for years. It is all of the ads you see when you land on a webpage. These can range from standard size static units to expandable ads to entire homepage takeovers. You can target users into almost any kind of segment you can think of (i.e. 28 year old female, who lives in Waukee, IA, is a dog owner, married, with kids) so that you are hitting your exact consumer. You can also bid on impressions in a Real Time Bidding (RTB) fashion or on exchanges (so you can hit many different sites instead of picking one site and solely running ads on it). The possibilities are really endless with display advertising and the technology is only going to increase over the coming years.


Pre-roll (or video) advertising is a good transition for advertisers who are scared to move their dollars from TV to digital. You can still run similar spots to what you have been doing on TV for years but you are now hitting that digital audience. Another great thing about pre-roll is that you can buy specific placements that don’t let the user “skip” past the advertisement so they are forced to see your product if they want to move on to watch what they came to the website to see. This is a definite win over TV since the introduction of DVR recorded shows has given viewers the ability to skip through every ad running.  

Finally, one of the best parts of digital advertising is the cost. It is by far one of the most cost effective mediums – which is usually music to a business owners ears!

The question, at this point, is not if you’re going to invest some of your dollars into digital, but when. Feel free to reach out to Happy Medium with any questions!


Ready to give up your car?

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I rode a Mundo electric assist bike by Yuba last week and had to laugh out loud with joy! With little effort, I was flying and the bike was only set to 50/50 assist. It uses no gas and costs about $14 a year to charge the battery.

John Rhodes of Raker Rhodes Engineering in Des Moines owns the one I rode and is thinking about giving up a car and just using the bike. He would save about $7,000 per year if the car payment was about $450 per month, plus all the other stuff. 

The bikes are available from Ichi Bike in the East Village. With some additional options the electric assist bike costs about $3,000. Studded snow tires make it safe for year round use.

Oh, but you think you don’t have time because a car is faster? From his near west side office he can make it downtown just as fast as if you drove. Depending on where you had to park your car, he might beat you since he just parks by the front door. 

I could have used it to get to Hy-Vee last night. Since it is a cargo bike rated for 450 pounds it can carry about anything.

While sustainability is important to John, it’s not the top reason he prefers to use the bike. He likes the exercise, saves some cash, but mostly it is fun and gives him peace of mind. He says “You are just more aware of each moment”.

If you are thinking about biking more let me know at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

B2B marketers say content marketing isn't working

Screenshot 2014-08-07 23.25.00Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

A recent study conducted by Integrated Marketing Summit and Starfleet Media offers some interesting food for thought. 

More than a third of the B2B marketers say that their content marketing efforts have not been successful. After reading through the survey results -- I think I can understand why.

They're treating content marketing like traditional marketing: Buy an ad, get a customer.  Share an ebook, get a customer.  That' not how content works.  Content is about building trust and value.  It's a long tail strategy, not a turn and burn effort.  If you think someone is going to share your infographic and immediately go to your website to buy something -- you are going to be disappointed.

They're chasing new customers and ignoring their best customers: This isn't just a content marketing issue, it's a generic marketing issue.  Most businesses are so eager to get a new customer that they neglect their existing customers.  Sadly, this is short-sighted.  Your best bet for a new sale is your existing customers.  Your content should serve them.

They think it's about selling, not helping: Look at the chart to the right.  Look how selfish their goals are -- know me better, get more leads, etc.  It's not that those goals are not worthwhile but content marketing is all about being useful. Their #1 goal should be to be a go to resource/subject matter expert. (which is the goal that got the least response) By being that subject matter expert -- you will get brand awareness, leads and sales.  But it doesn't happen over night.

They're holding their content hostage: The best content marketing sites share a lot of their content for free and without a firewall or gated page (requiring a registration to access the information) first and then add some premium content that they'll swap for an email address. Again -- teach me, help  me and eventually I will trust you with my email address.

They didn't know what to do next: Content marketing is all about creating a tribe of people who value you and what you do. But from there, you do need to move some of them into the actual sales funnel.  Most B2B companies haven't mapped out the entire process from first website visit to first sale. So they create the interest but there's no easy bridge from fan to customer.  

Don't get me wrong -- ALL marketing is about selling more stuff.  But you need to understand the sales funnel process of what you're doing.  Content marketing is about building relationships and being a trusted source first and eventually making the sale as a result.  That path needs to be designed and communicated clearly or else you'll be one of those B2B marketers who is frustrated by the results of your efforts.

You have to set realistic expectations for yourself, your team and the C-suite. You need to measure the right things and have the patience to create real value, real relationships and real trust.  Then and only then will you earn real sales.


You can download a copy of the study here.


~ Drew 

Measuring the Risk Before You Buy

Logo only for phoenixThe price of a business is often tied directly to the amount of Risk that a buyer assigns to a business either subjectively or definitively. There does not appear to be a specific model for measuring risk, but the following can serve as a short checklist:

  • Product line diversification
  • Location
  • Leased or Owned
  • Customer concentration
  • Sales area
  • Health of customers
  • Health of the business sector
  • Supplier dependence
  • Exposure to foreign currency
  • Patents and Trademarks
  • Litigation
  • Management Depth
  • Quality and Stability of earnings
  • Operating capital needs
  • Seasonality
  • Capital expenditure requirements (annual and market driven)
  • Exposure to variable debt rates
  • Unique regulations and exposure
  • No Seller financing
  • Absence of Controls and procedures
  • Owner dependent
  • Lack of measurements
  • Pension exposure
  • EPA Issues
  • Lack of Noncompete agreements
  • Management and Financial Strength of Competition
  • Growth Opportunities
  • Commitments to employees
  • Tax issues
  • Allocation of the Sale Price

You will develop your own check list to help you measure your risk exposure.  Be sure to work with your CPA and attorney to create your own list.

Good Luck

Steve Sink


Obamacare mandates: What's a taxpayer to do?

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

Last year's Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act as a constitutional tax provision means that the court battles were over, right? 

Hardly. And the continuing controversy will likely leave many taxpayers in suspense over their 2014 federal tax bills well into next year.

While the ACA has been ruled constitutional, the operation of the complex law remains at issue. Last month two important federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions on whether policies purchased through federally-established exchanges are eligible for tax credit subsidies. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Halbig that only policies purchased through state-established exchanges qualify for the tax credits. The Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, ruled that policies purchased on federal exchanges could earn tax credits. 

20121120-2As only 14 states have enacted exchanges, this is a big deal -- without subsidies, the effective cost of health insurance would drastically increase for many taxpayers.

The controversy is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but no ruling is likely until next year. That poses a problem for taxpayers, as the ultimate decision determines whether two key Obamacare taxes apply in 2014.

The ACA relies on tax penalties to encourage certain behavior by taxpayers. The "employer mandate" applies in 2014 to businesses employing over 100 "full-time equivalent" employees. Employers subject to the mandate face a penalty that is triggered when an employee qualifies for tax credits on the purchase of a policy on the exchange. No tax credits, no penalty.

The individual mandate applies when a qualifying individual fails to purchase an "affordable" policy -- taking the tax credits into account. If the courts hold that the tax credits don't apply to policies purchased on federal exchanges, then the individual mandate -- at the greater of $95 or 1% of your income -- will no longer apply to people in those states because the available policies would no longer be "affordable." More on how mandates may be affected here.

So what's a taxpayer to do? Of course, you should start by consulting your own tax adviser. While you can make a good argument that the D.C. Circuit decision for now gives you a defensible return position to not pay the tax, my inclination is to play it safe. While I think the D.C. Circuit's decision limiting tax credits to state-established exchanges is the correct reading of the tax law, the Supreme Court won't be asking my opinion. The Administration has asked the full D.C. Circuit to review the decision, which was made by a three-judge panel, so it could be reversed sooner. And if they disagree with me, the IRS won't let you use my opinion as an excuse.

That's why I consider it prudent to assume, in planning for the individual mandate and employer mandate, that the courts will uphold the credits.  If you plan as if the mandate will apply, you will be managing your employee base, your insurance purchases, and your employee time policies, in ways to keep your costs down. You will also be setting aside funds to pay any mandate tax penalties that apply. And if the courts do the unthinkable and agree with me, you will find yourself with a windfall -- always a better result than a sudden unplanned tax liability.

We still laugh (and buy) for the same reasons

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Technology is changing culture - and culture is changing the way businesses are marketing their business. The internet, cell phones, and social media have completely transformed the way people are communicating today. As a result companies are also adapting by reaching their audiences in creative ways - through the new mediums.

BubbleboyConsider what would happen if a cell phone or the Internet was introduced into the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld. George Costanza would have never gotten lost on the way to the cabin to meet the Bubble Boy if he had MapQuest or in-car navigation.

Larry David would have simply found a new way to introduce the unlikely encounter. In both cases we would have laughed for the same underlying (albeit awkward) reasons.

Similarly, marketers are conforming to changes in culture in how they reach their audiences while not altering the core message or strategy. People still buy (or laugh) for the same reasons. It is only the delivery of the message that has changed.

Take for example Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet. Witty, creative, and timely. They captured the attention of millions of tweeters and lots of press to boot. And I am sure their sales benefited as a result - after all 3 out of 4 grocery purchase decisions are made in store. Creating a buzz that improves brand recognition is perfect for cookies. But what about more serious purchase decisions, like those in service-related industries?

With financial services for instance, 87 percent of buyers turn to friends or colleagues first for recommendations, while only about 1 out of every 10 shoppers start with independent research. The same holds true for most insurance, health care, veterinarians, salons, etc.

Due to change in culture, many referrals have shifted from direct personal contact to interactions over Facebook, Twitter, email, and even online reviews. Yet the underlying reasons why people choose one company over another remain. Personal recommendations are still king.

Therefore, it is important that companies that rely on trust pay close attention to how their customers are communicating with their friends and family. There are certainly ways to directly influence the propensity of loyal customers to actively give positive referrals.

My advice is to pay attention to how your customer base is making their purchase decisions and not simply conform to what’s popular in the marketing world. Yes, technology will certainly influence how you reach your customers, and how they communicate, but the core message should target the specific reasons they buy.

How do filters impact your organization?

This blog is the second in a series that began with the Leadership Blog titled “The Cover Matters”. 

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I was born and raised in Canada.  When you think about Canada, what comes to mind?  Polite people?  Cold weather?  Hockey?  Toques?  Curling?  Free healthcare?  Eh?  Funky_glasses

There is an excellent chance that the things that come to your mind when you think of Canada and Canadians are an incomplete and inaccurate stereotype of a diverse country and the individuals who call it home. 

Each of us is, mostly unconsciously, programmed with filters.  Our cultural programming causes us to look at the world through the lens of that culture.  Our family of origin largely influences our programming, especially early in life.  For better or for worse, our beliefs about money, race, gender, age, religion, politics, the environment and so on are often shared among family members as if they were recorded in our DNA.  Our education system imprints us with filters.  Our peer groups influence the way we view the world. Our leaders indoctrinate us into a corporate culture.  The media plays a role in shaping the stereotypes we hold.  Our past experiences color our future experiences.

Do filters help us or are they harmful? That is an important question for all leaders to ponder.

Consider several commonly held negative stereotypes and contemplate how these filters may lead to poor decision making in the workplace.

  • Older people resist change
  • Young people are self-centered and entitled
  • Introverts don’t make good salespeople
  • Accountants can’t see the big picture

Even labels that don’t degrade the group they are assigned to can lead us to make decisions that have negative unintended consequences.  Here are some common examples.

  • Midwesterners have a good work ethic
  • Asians are good at math
  • Women are collaborative
  • Men are most capable in a crisis

What are some of the filters that permeate your organization?  Are they helping or hurting?

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.