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October 2015

Balancing life and work: It’s all about energy management

Burn out image for Iowa Biz

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life. 

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like you’ve hit a wall? Could you just sleep for months? Are you tired of being tired? Feel like you don’t have the time or the energy to do one more thing or take on one more project at work or at home?

You may be heading toward burnout. In the e-book series I’ve written, From Frantic to Fabulous: Transforming Your Work and Your World, I share that burnout is a form of being mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. When a person is burned-out and exhausted, they lack  joy, enthusiasm and motivation. There may also be deep feelings of ineffectiveness and frustration. Burnout can be caused by extreme stressors at home, at work, or both, which may be causing us to do too much, over-function and expend more energy than we have. 

At increased risk of feeling burned out are those in the “sandwich generation” -- still working demanding jobs, having elderly parents whose needs for care may be increasing, and having children or teenagers at home. With so many demands on their time and energy, these folks feel as though all of the responsibility falls on their shoulders and there is nowhere to turn for relief. They are constantly wondering when will things get back to normal again, not realizing that this is their “new normal” and they need new strategies to navigate through the exhaustion they feel. 

One of those strategies is something I call Energy Management or “EM.”  A bit different from time management, energy management recognizes the physical reality that a person really does have only so much physical, emotional and mental energy, called personal energy, to expend before they need to recharge their internal batteries through rest, sleep and alone time.

Think of it this way: your personal energy is like that cup of coffee you enjoy so much every morning. Once you drink all of the coffee in the cup, you have to refill the cup to enjoy more coffee. Likewise with your personal energy; once your energy is depleted you need to rest and recharge to restore yourself to maximum efficiency again. As with the batteries on our smartphones, if we don’t recharge the batteries, our device does not work. If we do not take the time to recharge our personal energy battery, we don’t perform the best in our work and our world. 

An EM strategy is on Sunday or first thing Monday morning, take a look ahead at your week. Ask yourself what are your goals and what do you want to achieve for the week.  Then begin to make thoughtful choices about the activities you will participate in and the actions you will take based on a projection of the amount of energy those activities or actions will use. The idea is to pace yourself each day so that your energy coffee cup lasts the entire day and you are not crawling home from work exhausted each night. 

 A real life example might be:

  1. Your goal is to get one sale closer to reaching your year-end numbers.  
  2. Looking at the week ahead, you know that you need to travel out of state for sales appointments on Tuesday and will return late on Wednesday evening.  On Thursday you have the opportunity to attend a power-packed breakfast event and on Thursday evening a community networking reception. Friday is a business as usual day with a gathering of friends after work.   
  3. Because you see that Tuesday and Wednesday will be long travel days, and your energy coffee cup will likely be empty both nights, you may zero in on Thursday’s schedule with the goal of conserving your energy. This is where making those important energy management choices comes in to keep your energy cup as full as possible.  
  4. You ask yourself- Is it crucial to reach my goals that I attend both an early morning event and an evening event on Thursday? Maybe the smartest choice is to call the event host (on Monday morning because a few days notice is polite) and extend your kindest regrets to acknowledge that you will be unable to attend the event.  
  5. Or, maybe you manage to attend both events on Thursday, because they are critical to your success, and then arrange for a day off on Friday so you can rest and recharge.  

By making thoughtful EM choices you aren’t “burning the candle at both ends.”  Instead you are wisely conserving the energy in your energy coffee cup while attending to your goals. Managing your energy leads to being more engaged and present, happy and healthy.   

And, just maybe, will have the energy to have a really fun weekend again! 


Marketing can be measured in inches not miles

Bigstock-Hand-Pinching-89048759Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

We talk a lot about going the extra mile for a customer but the truth is -- customers notice the inches even more.

Let me give you a recent example.

I own a Hyundai Santa Fe (which is still under warranty) that I bought from the Hyundai dealership that is now owned by Stew Hansen. I noticed that right after I filled up my gas tank, the gas gauge didn't change (it still said -- you have about a mile to drive before your tank is bone dry -- why do you put this off for so long?).

I was in a hurry so I didn't do anything about it but the next morning, my check engine light was on.  The combo of alerts had me concerned enough that I called the dealership's service center.

A perfectly polite and friendly service tech heard me out and then told me he couldn't get me in for five days.  I said, "so you are saying it's safe for me to drive for five days with this check engine light on?"

His reply was "Oh no, that light could be on for about 500 different reasons.  I can't promise you it's safe to drive."

I asked again, given that fact, if there wasn't anything they could do to get me in earlier.  He put me on hold so he could ask a supervisor and came back with a no.

My next call was to the guys at Iowa Auto in Urbandale, where I have all the rest of my family cars serviced, and I explained my issue.  The guy I talked to said, "we couldn't fit you in today to fix it, but swing by and I will at least hook it up to the computer to make sure it's safe for you to drive. It won't take more than five minutes and then at least we'll know if it's safe or not."

I swung by and 10 minutes later, I knew I was fine to drive. 

Did the Hyundai service guy do anything wrong? Not really. But he also didn't go out of his way to do anything right. He made it clear that he didn't really care if it was safe for me to drive or not. I'm pretty sure he has the same (if not better) computer gizmo that the Iowa Auto guys used to verify my safety.

Did the Iowa Auto folks offer to fix my truck for free? Nope. Did they offer to squeeze me in that day?  Nope. They simply went the extra inch.

And that's all it took to remind me why I have given them so much money over the years. It was another story I can tell about them when I refer people to them and it's why I wouldn't think of taking my vehicles anywhere else.

That's a lot of mileage from a single inch.


When the survey is worthless (Part 2)

Checkmark- Tom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.

How hard can it be to survey customers? It seems like such an easy thing. There are so many DIY websites out there. Ask a few questions, design the questionnaire and send it to the email list. The website will even calculate the responses for you.

DIY websites are great, and for many projects they are just perfect for the job. However, a company that needs information on which to make strategic or tactical business decisions, needs to be  careful. Many do-it-yourself surveys are enamored by the sheer numbers. Send out a survey to all your customers, offer a chance to win a gift card, and you're ecstatic to get 1,000 responses.  It seems like everything worked perfectly.

But it really didn't, and you had better be careful.

Let's say the 1,000 replies is 1 percent of the 100,000 customers to whom you e-mailed the survey. While it seems like 1,000 responses is a lot, the truth is that it's almost certain that those 1,000 customers are not representative of your entire customer population. You'll end up with good data about customers who are really happy, really angry, like to respond to e-mail surveys or who would really like to win a gift card, but it's almost a sure bet that they don't represent the other 99,000 customers as a whole.

Here in Iowa we are inundated with political polls leading up to next year's Iowa caucus and presidential election. On the news you'll see pollsters provide results for how America thinks by surveying a thousand or so people. It seems ludicrous to think that 1,000 people can provide an accurate picture of how a country of 300 million Americans are likely to vote if the election were held today. The truth is, they can. That's not to say that all polls are accurate, but if the survey is conducted properly you can actually get an accurate picture of how things are likely to shake out. But it has to be done properly by expert pollsters asking the right questions of a representative sample of likely voters. And that's where it gets complicated.

I am a firm believer in making strategic business decisions based on data. The data has to be accurate, however, or the decisions I make are worthless. Surveys are a great way to gather data, but be careful how you go about doing it. You may end up with a lot of impressive charts and graphs that have nothing to do with what your most important customers think.

Another reason to network

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Owning a small business comes with plenty of challenges and, yes, even aggravations. And, of course, it has its rewards, too.

I like just about everything that comes with growing my business, from creating the vision and leading employees to winning over new clients and creating a unique customer experience.

It's an experience I'd highly recommend, especially this month. October is National Women's Small Business Month, which has prompted me to look a little closer at the big picture of women in business.

One of the many wonderful things, the past few decades have brought us is the rise of equality. According to The American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, 29 percent of small business are owned by women. That number seemed low to me, but the promising point is that the number of women-owned business has increased by 50 percent since 1997 -- and that trend is likely to stay strong.

That's opened a lot of doors for women and it has boosted local, state and national economies. Millions of women-owned small businesses employ more than 7 million people and generate more than $1 trillion in revenue.

Unfortunately, while we are seeing a huge increase in women-owned businesses, we aren’t seeing progress across-the-board. That's because, according to some data, women-owned businesses make only about 25 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. That’s a much larger gap than the one that exists in the overall labor market, where the median earnings of women were about 83 percent of men's.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Iowa has ranked 49in growth of small businesses owned by women, and ranked 51st in revenue growth by women-owned businesses. Some believe that women are less likely to secure the start-up revenues and ongoing financial backing in our state.

There's a lesson in all those numbers and it comes down to three words: Network, network, network!

There are tremendous opportunities out there for any woman who owns -- or wants to own -- a small business, especially a niche retail store. But effective networking is an essential part of success.

Networking results in a steady flow of opportunities and customers. Opportunity and customers produce revenue. And revenue generates growth. Networking is also a two-way street where successful business owners can -- and should -- lend a helping hand to up-and-coming small business owners.

Networking can make Iowa a better place for the growth of women-owned small businesses. And, that's something we should encourage every month of the year.

Never stop inventing

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

Throughout my childhood, the fact that I knew the United States was able to get to space via the space shuttle gave me comfort that we were still leading the world in manned space exploration. When the last shuttle landed in 2011, I felt like a part of what defined us as a country came to a close. I like to think of us as innovators, a nation full of individuals unafraid of risk, who set to work on doing impossible things and always seem to accomplish them.

When commencing organizational strategy or design, I think it is essential to keep this type of thinking in mind. There is a commonly used process for working through the steps in modern organizational frameworking or “design thinking”. This process is outlined below and may be helpful to catalyze the spirit of invention summarized above. The process is taught at the Stanford University Institute of Design, and I have used it as a process with many organizations I have worked with:


  1. Empathize. When you are planning, I cannot stress enough the importance of this. In order to achieve any sort of sustainability, you must employ techniques that take into account the stakeholders involved – as many voices as will create positive leverage for what you are trying to accomplish. The time when it was standard practice for the leader of an organization to set the singular vision of the organization with little or no input has passed, in both a generational and a practical sense.
  2. Define. Clarity is key to strategic successes. You must have a well-defined set of problems in order for your team to understand what they are trying to accomplish. Being unclear about your mission or objectives is a sure-fire way to be ineffective in the execution stage.
  3. Ideate. The synthesis of ideas or invention of new mechanisms, processes, or strategies is where solutions start to present themselves. As I have discussed previously, many people have a tendency to be very tactical; this stage is an opportunity to counterpoint this.
  4. Prototype. This is the formative stage of the process. The ideas from step 3 are built into a framework to address the outcomes of step 2. It starts to iterate and aggregate. You are starting to put together different plans, using the best of what you have created so far.
  5. Test. Using the plans put together in stage 4, it is time to bring the work product (so far) back to the users. These key stakeholders then have the opportunity to test, hack, or “break” the work product. Once these tests complete a cycle, you are able to decide what works, what does not, and either continue to prototype or implement the plans on a wider scale.

1280px-Skylab_(SL-4)Why did I start with the space program at the beginning of this blog? Because I see the five steps above as a framework for us to re-establish ourselves as the inventors we once were. Projects such as Skylab, the Shuttle, the Apollo missions - were rooted in our ability as individuals to invent, define, create, test, and achieve.

I have attached a sketch of what was to become Skylab (as well as a photo of the finished product), an example of how design thinking expanded our ability to explore space. The lab was actually built from the pieces of a modified Saturn V rocket, and how that came to be involved a process I imagine to have been very similar to that listed above.

Always remember that the energy within your organization is subject to the approach you take in improving what you do: for yourself, for your clients, and for your employees. The landing of that last shuttle mission may have closed a chapter of our national story, but it is incumbent on each of us to keep this spirit alive in the things we do as part of our organizations each day. Never stop inventing.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny


Understanding foreign students' worry

 - Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates, Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 

Twelve years ago, in the heat of the summer, when most accounting professionals were on vacation, a young man who had just graduated with a master’s degree in accounting kept calling my office and leaving long messages. For three days in a row the messages were the same. This young man was seeking employment at Community CPA and needed it urgently because his OPT (Optional Practical Training VISA) status was about to expire in 12 months.

In his mind, Community CPA could hire him and so he can stay. This set my employer alarm bells ringing, as I wondered who in his sane mind would hire someone just so he could stay in the United States party all night long? My initial instinct was to ignore him, so he would quit calling.

But I was wrong! This young man showed up at my office unexpectedly on the fourth day. He had driven all the way from Chicago. He delivered the same message he had been leaving the previous three days. He explained how he needed a job so badly so he could obtain sponsorship for his visa, or else he had to return to his native country.

I listened to him for 20 minutes without hearing one single word about how he would help the firm. Yet his transcript was excellent. One thing struck me as I walked him out and wished him good luck in job search. In the hallway, there was a recycling bin that, although not in his way, was crooked. On his way out, the young man took notice of that, stopped, walked towards the bin and squared it to the wall before leaving. Looking at the swinging door and hearing the loud, labored car engine starting sound, I made the decision to hire him against all orthodox sound management advice. I have never regretted that decision.

In 2003, I was in the same situation as this young man. I needed Wells Fargo to sponsor me so badly or else I would have to return to Canada. The company trusted me and sponsored my H1 visa. So this was payback time!

I checked out my worry about him appearing to be self-serving in talking so much about OPT and his visa and his desire to stay in U.S. I would have done the same. It is a real worry and it is a worry that is bigger than what he could personally handle. I thought to myself that the technical side of this young man is demonstrated in his transcript. I remember him saying he wanted to sit for his CPA exams, but did not have money for it. Clearly, he knew his career path.

Above everything, whether he needed the sponsorship or not, the bin incident was testimony of the fact that this young man has a caring spirit. The broken car, the loud engine, the travel all the way from Chicago to Des Moines… were all testimony of a young man with determination and drive, longing for a place to call home.

As an employer, I decided to understand the worry of the foreign students. I would not focus on their expression of urgency for their status. Instead I would work on bringing them home. I believe that providing foreign workers a job is like providing them a home. They will come to work like they are coming home.

Food and leadership

- Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor.  Follow him @brent_willett.

‘Without food…all other components of social justice are meaningless.’ – Dr. Norman Borlaug

Ask yourself whether you believe the United States is the world’s leader in agricultural research and innovation. We have to be, right? For a country that produces 2015.10.14_quote and exports more food than any other, a nation that has engineered historically consequential breakthrough technologies like genetically modified crops, the answer would seem to be obvious. We’re tops when it comes to ag research, yes?


In 2009, China surpassed the United States as the global leader in public spending on agricultural research, and they haven’t looked back. In fact, China is expected to surpass the U.S. in total sovereign R&D funding by 2020. The Chinese achieved this staggering coup by tripling their investment in ag research over the course of five years. Brazil and India have both dramatically increased their spending in the field, and other countries are following suit. Meanwhile, U.S. investments in ag research are down 16 percent in ten years.

This crisis of global leadership on the part of the U.S. was brought into stark relief recently -- if unintentionally -- when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released her policy paper on rural economic development, “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America”.  In it, Clinton advocates ‘strengthen[ing] USDA grant programs'. What’s missing in the paper -- and, more importantly, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign as a whole -- is a broader acknowledgement of enormous importance of federal investment in agricultural research and innovation in America and who’s got a plan to ensure our country can return to the forefront of ag innovation in the coming decades. 

For every federal dollar spent on agricultural research in the U.S., nearly $13 is spent on medical research. The USDA’s research budget is just shy of $2.4 billion. The National Institute for Health’s is more than $30 billion. From 1990 to 2012, NIH research funding rose 132 percent. National Science Foundation funding doubled in the same time period.  In those same two decades, USDA saw an increase of just 21 percent and its R&D budget today amounts to less than 10 percent of National Institutes of Health’s (NIH).

Of course, the work of the NIH and the National Science Foundation is incredibly important and they deserve every resource available. But a global population increase which will see 9.5 billion people on earth by 2050 demands that we produce more food in the next 35 years than we have in the last 10,000 combined. Shouldn’t we be talking about how the U.S. can and must again be the global center of innovation to meet these challenges? 

The Clinton proposal comes on the heels of a report issued by the Charles Valentine Riley 2015.10.14_quote3 Memorial Foundation titled ‘Pursuing a Unifying Message’, which summarizes an April 2015 discussion among 23 leaders of universities others on the need for reversing an alarming lack of federal investment in food, agricultural and natural resources research[1]. The report calls for investments in agricultural research to be ‘escalated tremendously’ at U.S.D.A. and suggests in sobering fashion that ‘[s]ome nonprofit entities…appear to be funding applied and basic science in food and agriculture at more aggressive levels than the nation’s investment [my emphasis].’

Come again?  NGAs alone are outpacing the world’s most advanced economy in terms of funding allocations for food research? What year is this? Next to defense, fewer responsibilities are more fundamental to a nation-state than its investment in and capability to feed its people today and in the future. Guns and butter indeed.

The enormous projected global population faces the threat of an inadequate food supply thanks in part to diminishing land and water resources. The amount of farmland available to feed each global citizen will degrade from more than an acre per person in 1990 to less than a third of an acre by 2050 and fully half of the world’s population is projected to face water scarcity inside 30 years. Half.

Global food supply is further imperiled by climate change; science-based evidence is indisputable that our planet’s climate is changing and climate change has already begun to affect crop outcomes in parts of the world.

We know that at the solution’s nexus of the massive challenges mankind faces in the next 50 years -- namely nutrition, energy and environmental sustainability in the face of a burgeoning global population -- is agricultural innovation. Crucially, agricultural and food innovation has historically and necessarily had a dancing partner in the federal government based on the high capital intensity and prolonged nature of much of the field’s research.

National governments will persist as partners in the field and will contribute to solving a pending food crisis which Iowa State University President Steven Leath has called the ‘greatest challenge in human history’. The question is whether the United States is one of those governments.

Three years ago, the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology recommended increasing federal agricultural research by $700 million. Almost nothing happened. The 2014 Farm Bill offered a pittance, just $200 million [which must be matched 2015.10.14_quote2new by other funds to be released] in increased funding. Talk about cognitive dissonance. 

In May, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recommended that the U.S. double its investment in agricultural and food research in ten years. This is an exceptionally important recommendation to Iowa. Since I’m supposed to be blogging about regional economic development and need to get back in my lane a bit, countless studies suggest that for every dollar spent on agricultural research, more than $20 in economic activity is created.

On October 14-16, the peerless World Food Prize Foundation brought leaders from around the globe to Des Moines to its Borlaug Dialogue to discuss food security and technology and to honor another deserving World Food Prize Laureate in Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of Bangladesh. 

The Dialogue, of course, is held in honor of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the man credited with saving a billion lives thanks to his pioneering research in plant genetics. This celebration of one of the most important men in world history and a model for future change agents compels us each year to consider the future. 

In the face of unnerving statistics about our country’s anemic and in-reverse investment in agricultural research, we must ask: will the next Norman Borlaug change the world from a lab in Iowa, or from one in Beijing?


[1] Iowa State University is a lead issuer of the report along with the Riley Foundation.   Dr. Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of the ISU College of Agriculture, was a key contributor to the report.


Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett



The risks of losing touch with reality




What would you do if someone came up to you and asked, am I half way to Chicago yet? 

If you’re like most people, you’d respond “where did you start?”

We must know not only our goal (vision) but also our starting point (current reality).  Without that, you have no idea where you are in your journey to reach your goal.

My husband accidentally burned a 14-inch ring into our carpet.  He was microwaving hay in a paper bag in an attempt to measure the moisture of the hay – an interesting story! DuPont was right – its carpet is fire resistant. Naturally, the carpet needed to be replaced. 

While I was contemplating the flooring options, I put a throw rug over the spot.  What was I doing?  I was disguising reality.  Without the ability to see current reality, I lost the creative drive and energy to fix the problem (my vision) and the damaged rug remained for nearly a year.

We do the same thing every time we pull a piece of furniture in front of a blemish on the wall. We close our eyes to reality. Without being able to clearly see reality, we lose the vision and the goal is never reached. 

If you want to earn an extra $500 per month and are currently broke you must hold both images (reality and vision) clearly in your mind. Seeing yourself with $500 extra per month while simultaneously seeing yourself broke will help you find the creative drive and energy to find the solution. If you borrow money from your credit card in the meantime, you lose sight of reality and never solve your problem.

This is also the reason support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous work (AA). That is a group all focused on a common goal (being free from alcohol). Their program requires its members to keep two images clearly in their minds. Reality, I AM an alcoholic; and Vision, I choose a healthy lifestyle for myself.

Similarly, leaders who set ambitious goals for the future but fail to assign metrics (current reality versus desired goal) are destined to have their goals remain in the future.

When has losing touch with reality happened in your life? What excuses have you been using to explain why you can’t achieve your goals?

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content: Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Changing: seasons, business and content

- Alex Karei, marketing director, Webspec Design

Looking out my window, I can tell that the seasonal change is truly upon us. The colors are changing, leaves are falling and a fall chill has settled into the air. As the seasons change, we change as well. Sandals are exchanged for boots, bright decorations are exchanged for harvest themes and iced coffees are no longer as tempting as a cozy warm beverage (possibly, with some pumpkin).

Autumn leaves

In fact, we change as individuals with each season we encounter; and just like the seasons, our businesses are constantly in a state of change. Hopefully, the change comes in the form of growth or improvement, but regardless of what’s happening, a business is hardly stagnant.

That leads me to today’s point. As this change occurs, are you updating your website to reflect it?

At Webspec, this is an issue we run into a lot with clients. We build our clients their new, dream website – and they’re thrilled. But then, a month or so after launch, they get … busy. They’ve got a lot to do. The new website was fun, but they’ll update it later. Maybe next week. Well, maybe next month. That month turns to two months, turns to three – you get the picture. 

Just like you would never neglect pulling out your winter jacket, you shouldn’t neglect proper maintenance on your website. Depending on how many resources you have to work with, that can be a lot of work! However, there are some small things you can do to get yourself started on the right foot.

3 quick tips to maintain your company’s web presence:

  1. Go to your website at least once a week.
    This tip may be obvious to some, but it’s easy to overlook. Make sure that you visit your site each week and click around some, if not all, of your pages. Is everything looking like it should? Are page load times appropriate? This will take you less than five minutes, but is a good benchmark for noting anything out of the ordinary that you should report to your webmaster or add to your immediate to-do list.
  2. Make a schedule for reviewing content.
    Especially if you don’t have features (such as a blog) that you’re updating on a weekly basis, it’s a good idea to make a schedule for when you’ll review your website for any content updates. I would suggest making a monthly appointment on your calendar to do a thorough read-through, updating any content that may need to be changed. For example, updates on new staff members, current clients or upcoming events might have been missed when they happened, but your monthly review should catch these small mistakes.
  3. Give your website an “owner”.
    Some companies may feel it’s easiest to let multiple people update their website, and in a lot of cases, that’s probably true. However, if you put one person in charge of keeping track of what updates need to be done, you’re more likely to ensure things happen. The person in charge can plan to make updates themselves, or assign them out, but in general, they are responsible for keeping everyone on-track and your website looking as good as it should.

At the end of the day, remember that making small, ongoing updates will pay off when you don’t have to make a massive overhaul later. Plus, potential clients or customers will get the best, most accurate representation of your company or organization. Who doesn’t want that?

When's the last time you updated your website? 

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei
Blog: www.alextriesitout.com


Yellow is the new blue


Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

I once taught a graduate class in marketing comprised of working adults who were somewhat older and wiser than typical college-aged students. There was one exception –– a 22-year-old who showed up to class at least 15 minutes late, week after week.

Jim (not his real name) always quietly came into class, sat at his regular seat, and attempted to determine what he missed, occasionally disrupting one of the students sitting next to him by asking questions.

We reached a point in the semester when it was time to discuss the psychological effects of product attributes and the power of influence. To illustrate the concepts, I brought in a large yellow boom box, sat it on the table in front, and explained to the class how the color blue affects perception, mood, and purchase choice. I explained that I wanted to use an entertainment-related product, but the only one I had available to show as a visible prop was in yellow. I asked the class to “pretend” and “imagine” the radio was actually blue. I told them the color was critical to our discussion and implored them to always refer to the radio as blue. They all agreed.

Our discussion began and everyone played along. Eventually, Jim arrived, late as usual. He sat down and began listening to the discussion. “Will the radio’s blue color have a positive net effect on sales?” “What shade of blue are people most drawn to for outside activities?” “What if the radio was a darker shade of blue?” I watched the expression on Jim’s face change as it quickly became apparent that what people were saying didn’t jive with the visual object before him.

Jim whispered to the student on his left. The student looked at him and said, “Shhhhh.” Jim looked puzzled, squinting his eyes at times. For a while he even looked angry, but that ultimately turned to concern. After an hour and a half of discussion, the class concluded.

The professor whose class was scheduled for the room next was standing in the doorway talking with a student. She knew what I was doing and was prepared for it. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Jim get out of his seat, walk over to the professor, and ask her about the color of the radio, to which she replied, “Blue.” Jim then walked over to me and asked, “Professor Paustian, if somebody is colorblind, how do they know?” I responded, “Why do you ask, Jim?” “Well, I’m not sure if I’m seeing blues correctly.”

I just smiled and explained to Jim how he was set-up as a result of being late to class. After we both laughed a bit, I told him I was going to use this as a teaching point related to the power of influence at the beginning of the next class. Jim was never late to class again.

Whether Jim truly believed he was colorblind or not, at the very least, he began doubting himself and what his eyes were telling him. People are constantly influenced by others, whether it’s advertisers trying to mold your views on a particular brand or product, a politician trying to gain your support, or just a friend or co-worker trying to sway you to their point of view. And unlike the conscious “Red Pill–Blue Pill” decisions we make (see my last post Red Pill or Blue?), these influencers frequently guide our decision-making without us even realizing it.

Sometimes it’s easier to just accept something as fact, rather than taking the time to verify its authenticity. And while I acknowledge there are some things we have to just accept on faith as there is no way to tangibly verify its truth –– such as a belief in God ––  the act of researching, studying and learning is an “opportunity” to build our mental databases. This ultimately provides more material from which we can make connections and become more creative. Also, influence is a two-way street. The more you know and learn, the more you will be able to influence and lead others toward desired outcomes and higher levels of success.

Practice Challenge:  Do you ever think about what you simply accept as truth or fact? Do you do any research to verify your beliefs? The more you dig into the basis of things, the more you will learn, which provides opportunities to make more connections resulting in greater creativity. How are you influencing others? Since creative thinking has been identified by leaders at all levels as one of the most important traits a worker can have, how are you influencing those around you to become better, more creative thinkers?

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianLargeHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com



Remote access can sink your business

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Providing the ability to access critical systems and data via remote locations is critical for most organizations today. Allowing employees to work from home if they have sick kids, employing remote office workers to attract and retain top talent, and enabling disaster recovery and business continuity procedures are all valid reasons that companies implement remote access.

If not implemented properly however, unauthorized users are just as likely to gain access to the crown jewels as your employees. One of the easiest ways to hack an organization is through the remote access provided to employees. 

Windows 2003 is still frequently used to provide remote access to employees, students, contractors and vendors. This operating system was released 12 years ago. Consider the following things that happened in 2003. Apple iTunes was released with just 200,000 songs. The movie "Finding Nemo" was released. LeBron James was an NBA rookie. And the first iPhone was still four years away.

Kind of makes 2003 seem like an eternity ago, doesn’t it? From a technology perspective it might as well have been a century ago.

Often we implement technology solutions which seem to continue to work well and serve their purpose. Because they are working, we leave them alone. What we fail to do is continually review the risks to our business as the technology matures and the threats evolve. Remote access is a perfect example.

It is not just Windows 2003 Terminal Services that are out of date. Firewalls, VPN concentrators, Citrix Remote Desktops, and other tools have had vulnerabilities discovered which need to be remediated. Not using two-factor authentication or not using application virtualization and proxies to deliver applications remotely are areas where organizations are assuming too much risk as well.

Two of the recent data breaches Integrity has investigated started with attacks against remote access. Once the hacker was able to control the remote access system, they had the opportunity to gain access to vital systems and data at the victim organization.  Because this was expected behavior and the systems weren’t closely monitored, the hacking activity went unnoticed for months.

Systems that haven’t been patched, or where the architecture hasn’t been updated to address the evolving threats of today’s world, are most at risk. The security event logs from these remote access systems must also be closely monitored to identify attacks and provide appropriate response times.

The risks to your business and customers from remote access is great. This is one area of technology that requires constant risk assessment, technology updates or upgrades, and thorough security monitoring. Protecting against hackers is often hard work, but sometimes it’s simply a matter reviewing what’s already being done to ensure those efforts are still yielding the results you expect.

Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

Social media bandwagons…aka the worst things on the planet

- Katie Patterson is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

If you spend anytime at all on Facebook, you’ve spotted a friend or two posting this little gem.

Facebook Blog Image

When you saw it you had two choices. Copy and paste as instructed, or assume it was a hoax and keep scrolling. I won’t judge you (too much) if you chose the first option of copying, pasting and posting. It happens to the best of us at some point. About 24 hours after you started seeing the post everywhere on your Facebook, then you probably started to see shared articles proving this was only a hoax. 


Then there was this really awkward time when you’d see one person posting the privacy status then the next person on your feed posted the “it’s all a hoax” article. It was probably a confusing time for you. This was not the first privacy hoax to hit Facebook, and it likely won’t be the last.

In these types of situations, it’s probably best to go straight to the source, literally. Facebook is kind enough to offer up their terms here: https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms

When it comes to your photos, here’s the truth about where Facebook stands: For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Before you get too upset that Facebook technically owns anything you put on it, it’s important to remember that you agreed to the terms when you signed up for an account. Further, posting something on your Facebook profile does not and will likely never make it an official legal anything. That’s like thinking Google’s Facebook page can answer your questions. It’s important to remember you are choosing to put your own photos on a platform that you pay nothing for. When you sign up for a social media platform, you are agreeing to be part of the conversation and that agreement means accepting their terms. You get what you pay for, and in this case you are paying nothing so it’s a bit presumptuous to expect privacy.

If you’re not comfortable with this, the best option would be to stop putting images and personal information on Facebook. No matter where you stand though, the next time you see a Facebook “statement” running rampant through your newsfeed. Be on the “in the know” team, do some research, and don’t repost it. 

Katie Patterson is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @_klpatterson

Ask questions about your property taxes

- Gretchen Tegeler is president of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa.

With fall property tax payments due last month, property taxes are top-of-mind for many individuals and businesses.   

Whether you write a check directly, or whether it is paid by the bank or mortgage lender, every property owner or mortgagee receives a paper copy of their property tax statement. It's really important to take a careful look at the back side of the tax statement.

There (and only there, by the way, as it isn't available online) you will find the only source of information that the average taxpayer can use to hold their local governments accountable for the property taxes being levied. You can see not only which government authorities are levying what share of the total property taxes you pay, but also which ones are increasing or decreasing, and by how much, compared with last year. 

Often people are surprised when they look at the information. You may not realize you are supporting not only your city, county and school district, but also Broadlawns Medical Center, Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) and the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).

For instance, 8.6 percent of the property taxes my husband and I pay on our home are going to Broadlawns. The single largest percentage increase in our property taxes (and this would be the case for most everyone in Polk County) is for DART, a whopping 10.4 percent!  The taxes we pay to the city and school district (West Des Moines in both cases) are actually going down compared with last year. This, too, is good to know. 

Each year the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa prepares tax and spending summaries for local governments in central Iowa. This information allows taxpayers to see how their city and school district compare with others, and how they compare with the prior year.

FY 2015-16 City and School Property Tax Rates

Fiscal Year 2015 City Budget Comparisons

These comparisons do not explain why there are differences, so we would caution against drawing any conclusions based on this data alone. However, along with the information on your property tax statement, it may certainly prompt questions that are good entry points for conversation with your elected officials.

Make this be the year you become an active questioner!


- Gretchen Tegeler

Website: www.taxpayersci.org


Pick your battles

- Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator.

Everyone is faced with challenges at work. They can range from a disagreement with co-workers or having to deal with people who disagree with you on any given subject. It does not always matter who the battle is with. It’s more important which battles you choose to take on and how you fight them that matters. Work-argument-openanswer

The first thing you should ask yourself is how important is this issue? Sometimes we have the tendency to fly off the handle and get upset after an altercation. The best thing is to take a day or two to process the situation and then decide how you want to proceed.

If you have decided the situation is important enough, and you don’t want to leave it alone, the next step is deciding if you have the authority to bring the issue forward. If not, you need to find someone you can discuss the issue with and if they will help you bring it to light.

Another important thing to remember in the midst of a difficult situation is to avoid getting overly consumed with the negatives and instead to work toward a solution.

That brings me back to when I was growing up and getting advice from my parents. In a house of five children we often heard “Don’t tattle. I don’t want to hear a problem I want to hear a solution.”

This was an important life lesson. My parents were teaching us to work through situations where we could find logical answers to problems on our own. That is often times what your boss is challenging you to do. Bringing up a problem is not so difficult if it is followed up by a workable solution.

We will always face conflicts in our professional life. It’s how you deal with them that will set you apart.  171A6085

-Meridith Freese

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese

Email: Meridith@wdmchamber.org
Blog: The-Write-Of-Passage.com

Importance of succession planning for privately held businesses

- John Mickelson, managing partner Midwest Growth Partners, is IowaBiz's blogger on succession planning. Read more about him here. 

Many business owners do not properly plan for their business in the event of their retirement, disability, or death. Reasons vary, but they are often as simple as “It won’t happen to me” or “I will get around it eventually.”

In fact, this is one reason why only a third of family businesses successfully make a transition to the second generation.

Key decisions must be made about the future direction of the business. Those decisions include how ownership will be transferred, if the business should remain in the family or be sold to a third party, and how estate taxes can be minimized. Not only will this have an impact on your heirs' financial future but, perhaps more importantly, having a plan in place gives your loyal employees peace of mind. 

Midwest Growth Partners has seen the importance of succession planning first-hand in central Iowa businesses. We purchased a company in Adel last year from the estate of the founder. 

His adult daughters – who lived outside Iowa – inherited the company upon the unfortunate death of their father. While it was a wonderful asset for the daughters, they had no intention of being involved in day-to-day operations and were faced with the burden of figuring out what to do with the business and the future of its employees. They also had to navigate the complicated and time-consuming process of selling a business.

Ultimately this story had a happy ending and Midwest Growth Partners was able to partner with the company president and purchase the business. Unfortunatel, many stories end with company assets being liquidated and employees losing their jobs.

The sooner you can put a plan in place, the better. It is important to include those closest to you in the planning process, which can give insight into which family members would be willing to be a successor to the business. This can help with identifying those who need to be trained to carry on your business the way you want.

Attorneys, accountants, and others can also help you through the process. The end result of having a succession plan can smooth the ownership transition and make it easier for everyone involved. This will help ensure that the business you have been working to grow will have a lasting legacy after you are gone (which hopefully will not be for a long time!).

Planning a party? Introducing Amy Nebons

- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC. Amy Nebons

Hi, I’m Amy, an event planner in Des Moines and I am here to be your go-to resource for event planning tips, tricks, money-savers, venues, caterers, decorators…and so on.

A little about me:  I am an East Coast girl turned Midwest gal with a cultivated design eye and innate desire to create cool and compelling experiences for others. With a background in theater production and interior design, I possess a molecular make-up that is equal parts sensitive to general logistics and details and equal parts out-of-the box creativity and willingness to dream big. My blog will be structured to reflect that.

Maybe you're a professional event planner yourself, or are just in charge of pulling together and managing events at your company. Either way, this blog should provide you ideas and strategies for success.

You can expect me to rotate between four different categories. The goal is to provide meaningful and relevant content as well as variety to keep things interesting. Key topics will be:

Educate:  This category will either highlight a local event industry professional or business; highlight a new technology or trend; or simply highlight a successful event case study.

Create & Impact:  This category will demonstrate different ways an event can stand out to attendees -- highlighting different engagement tactics and uses of creativity and originality. This category will also demonstrate how event planners can positively impact their attendees to leave lasting impressions. 

What would I do?  This category will demonstrate real-life design problems in need of solutions and I will share what my approach would be to the problem.

Logistics:  This category will share money-saving ideas, tips and tricks and problem solves for unexpected things that might arise during an event. 

Finally, I want to hear from YOU!  What burning questions do you have about planning events? I would like this to be a resource for you. So please chime in with questions, problems, general inquiries or simply to say hi!  I love making new friends and would enjoy the chance to grab some coffee and learn about you!  Please contact me anytime, my email is always open! 

I look forward to sharing the exciting world of event planning with you!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at anebons@blinkevents.net. Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website www.blinkevents.net.  

Inbox out of control?

- Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.  Stressed man at desk

I am not sure about you, but when I have email that I have not processed in a timely manner it feels like a huge weight around my neck. Unprocessed email causes me stress, anxiety and sleepless nights worrying about what is in my inbox that I am not attending to. Does this sound familiar?

What is email? Webster defines this as “messages that are sent electronically from one computer to another.” It sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it?  Even kind of fun -- getting and receiving... just like Christmas.  Ha! 

Nothing shatters our illusion of balancing work and life quite like the state of panic that comes with feeling that you are buried under a pile of email messages. Its a stress-producing product of our modern age.  

The problem with email is that too many people are trying to communicate with you since it is such a cheap and easy way to do so. This creates mental clutter in your mind and physical clutter on your computer desktop. This clutter is a bunch of loose ends -- each email is a loose end hanging out there in cyberspace waiting for your response.

And, if we are honest about it, we contribute to piles of email in other people’s inboxes, too. All of these little innocent-looking pieces of clutter create physical and mental energy drains as your attention bounces around from one person’s communication and train of thought to the next. Too many email messages can steal time away from your other projects and can create chaos, both in your inbox and in your mind.

There are a few tricks to tame your inbox. Here are seven of my favorites: 

  • Email is not a substitute for actually meeting with people. Schedule a meeting!
  • Respond today to the emails you received in your inbox yesterday (not immediately as they enter your inbox). Decide that you will not respond to emails until the following day. This will slow down your temptation to watch your inbox.  This also gives you a bit of breathing space and allows you to focus your attention on project completion rather than answering email. Don't worry, most people are not critical of one-day delays in email replies. If something needs to be handled quickly, the person who needs it should call you. 
  • When you respond the next day, reply to people quickly but respectfully by: Reading the email and Responding with;
  1. A greeting
  2. Less than five sentences; Three lines are optimal
  3. A cordial closing
  4. Finish by placing the new item on your calendar or a new “to do” in your task management system. 
  • Use only one topic in the subject line. When the topic changes, change the subject line, too. Send separate emails for separate topics or separate questions. Your emails will feel less overwhelming to the recipient and will be easier to search later. 
  • One of my favorite tricks is to indicate the action requested in the subject line.  This will help the email recipient understand what you need before they read the email. For example, a subject line of “Conference Meeting- question” lets the reader know that there is a question about the conference meeting that you will be holding.  This simple step really helps the other person act upon what you are asking for. 
  • Use your “Out of Office” reply tool so people do not expect responses while you are away. In my auto-responder I thank the sender for their inquiry; tell them how long I will be gone; and suggest that if they need immediate assistance that they can reach me on my mobile phone number, which I include. This works well for me and the people who are trying to reach me.  
  • My very favorite tip is to NOT respond if I am only on the CC line. I avoid jamming up anyone else’s email inbox by NOT selecting “Reply All”. Does everyone on the list really need to see that you’ve said “Thanks” to the sender?  

Taming your inbox and getting dangling issues under control is crucial for your sense of accomplishment, well-being and stress reduction.

Maybe you have a favorite email tip or trick that you would like to share with IowaBiz readers? Just place it in the comment section below. Cheers to working toward a zero inbox and more free time for fun. 


Feel the fear - and lead anyway

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, President of MAP Professional Development Inc, and founder of the annual Spark event.

At my high school graduation, I did something a bit unexpected. One of a handful of student speakers, I walked up to the podium, took a deep breath, and proceeded to sing a peppy little song I had written for my class. I am not a singer (not for lack of trying!) and who knows what possessed me to stand in the arena in Duluth, Minnesota and sing to my class. But I did.

Jeffers - Feel The FearAfterwards, people commented on my courage. (Alas, no one mentioned my singing prowess, but I digress.) “How on earth could you stand up there and sing your graduation speech?” they asked. “That took guts!”

But here’s the thing: Sometimes I think I’m the biggest chicken to ever walk the face of the earth.

I can stare at an email endlessly, stomach flipping the entire time, as I contemplate whether or not to click “send.” I can create public speaking scenarios far worse than simply tripping onstage. You think political debates seem endless? You should hear the ones I have in my head sometimes!

I remember being told we must be fearless if we are to live to our full potential. I heard it. I admired as I perceived it in others. Yet I’d still feel my cheeks heating up and my heart racing when I encountered a new or uncertain situation.

Then, like a gift, I read Dr. Susan Jeffers’ classic, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. I learned that everyone feels fear, and that we don’t need to fight or ignore our fear but rather learn to move forward with it. Just as the title suggests, we need to know how to acknowledge our fear and still take action.

This book prompted a turning point for me, and became one of the first books I had the ASPIRE Success Club read, too. Years later, we still bring up concepts we learned from this powerful resource. A few takeaways:

  • Embrace your inner Pollyanna. “It’s reported that over 90% of what we worry about never happens,” Jeffers wrote. “That means our negative worries have about a 10% chance of being correct. If this is so, isn’t it possible that being positive is more realistic than being negative?” In brief: Think positive!
  • Take responsibility. Staying in victim mode or living in blame serves no useful purpose. Of Susan’s seven definitions of taking responsibility, the one that resonated most with me: “Taking responsibility means figuring out what you want in life and acting on it. Set your goals – then go out and work toward them.”
  • Action is the key to success and the antidote to fear. I once had a client who understandably worried about her husband deployed in a war-torn country. She realized that while her worry did nothing, she could do a lot. She organized a group that made care packages, she got involved politically, and much more. Taking action changed her entire demeanor and outlook.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

Leadership can incite all kinds of fear – so much so that many shy away from a leadership role altogether. Whether you fear uncertainty, rejection, messing up, or the 80,000 other potential concerns that appear in any given situation, try this:

Check in with your values. Decide what’s best for the greater good. If you’re singing your high school graduation speech, perhaps consider voice coaching.

Then, feel the fear…and do it anyway.

What helps you move forward even in the midst of fear? Share your ideas below.

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders and executives to successfully do what they love – and to help their employees do the same! Learn more at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Jeffers, Susan. © 1987. Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. New York: Fawcett Books. 

36,001 steps in the right direction

- Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.

Earlier this month, Iowa State University reported another record year; 36,001 students are enrolled for the 2015-16 academic year. Of the six primary colleges on campus, only one reported a dip in undergraduate enrollment at all (and that dip was a total Beardshear_Hallof four students). The growth in enrollments at Iowa’s largest university has been dramatic -- it’s up by more than 7,300 students since 2010, a more than 20 percent increase in five years. 

The huge increase turns on its head a national trend which has seen a -3.5percent erosion of enrollments at ‘degree granting post-secondary institutions’ [which includes both four- and two-year institutions] in the same time period. 

Depending upon the research that you subscribe to, there are between 15-20 generally recognized ‘innovation clusters’ in the U.S. Harvard economist Michael Porter is perhaps most regularly credited with researching and memorializing the cluster model, and his US Cluster Mapping Project is one of the richest- and easiest to use- geographic cluster-based economic databases publicly available today. Innovation clusters are self-sustaining economic ecosystems with three key ingredients:

  1. A strong concentration of companies and capital oriented around an industry, or, “geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field” [Porter, 1998];
  2. A robust pipeline of qualified human capital supplying those institutions with talent to feed innovation and production; and
  3. At least on Tier I research institution that is a global leader in the field referenced in item #1.   

Silicon Valley is the country’s and the world’s best-known innovation cluster.  The North Carolina Research Triangle is another brand-name cluster.  But other lesser-known clusters are functioning at a high level in the Twin Cities [medical devices], Kansas City [animal sciences], New York/New Jersey [pharmaceuticals]- this list goes on. 

Yet- and this is the very premise of the Cultivation Corridor- no single region has firmly established itself as the US’ preferred destination for capital [see #1], talent [#2] and research [#3] in the field of agbioscience and agtechnology. And because of the unmatched research and instructional capabilities in the field offered at Iowa State as well as the innovation infrastructure represented by a rapidly-expanding ISU Research Park, we are positioned as well as any presumable competition to confirm Central Iowa as the agbio and agtech capital of the world. We believe strongly that as the university’s capabilities grow, so grows the competitiveness of Iowa communities seeking ag-based investment and talent.

Setting aside the cluster model and research institution fitness as one of its core asset drivers for a moment, the health and growth of a land grant institution for the economic region in which it sits is of vital importance to overall economic growth prospects for both its companies and economic institutions and for its residents. According to Brookings, individuals between the ages of 30 and 50 who did not attend college could expect to earn less than $30,000 per year. Those whose highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor’s degree earned just under $60,000 per year [an advanced degree-holder can expect over $80,000].

Too, the availability of quality two-year post-secondary education is of vital importance to a region’s economic institutions and its residents. Over a lifetime, the earnings of an associate’s degree recipient are roughly $170,000 higher than those of a high school graduate. [Brookings]

Prevailing discourse for at least the last 25 years stresses the university's place as a principal player in a global system increasingly driven by information, knowledge and ideas. We have said before that there will be winners and there will be losers in the battle for capital, talent and research in the burgeoning agricultural innovation era ahead. To possess one of the world’s finest schools in the field of agricultural bioscience and technology in our region -- and to witness that university grow in the past five years at a pace 11 times inflation and fully half as rapidly as the S&P 500 during one of the strongest bull markets in history -

Continue reading "36,001 steps in the right direction" »

Lessons from the campaign trail

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place.

It's the season for politics -- at least in Iowa -- and while some people would rather not discuss it, politicians and retailers do have a lot in common.

Being a candidate you have to know who you are and what you stand for. You have to be clear and concise with your message and where you stand on issues. Just like a candidate, a retailer must know what their business is and communicate -- loud and clear -- why it is relevant and valuable to customers. Your messaging and branding must be sharp to cut through the noise and clutter of the competition.

Just as a candidate must listen to their voters, a retailer must listen to his or her customers. Great feedback isn’t always positive feedback. Be sure to take in all feedback to learn what you can do to make your campaign better.

Candidates, even when they're unopposed, never win 100 percent of the vote. Specialty retailers need to remember that they shouldn't try to win 100 percent of shoppers, either. That's because your business loses what makes it special when you try to be all things to all people -- and that's a sure prescription for failure. Just as smart candidates know they just have to win 50 percent plus one vote, smart specialty retailers recognize that they just have to win the customers in their target audience. And, then they have to remember to work hard every day to keep those customers happy.

Once you identify your brand, message, and target audience, you will have to come up with a plan and strategies on how to execute your plan. Any specialty retailer's plan should include being the best in their niche. But you must be specific about the strategies and activities that will allow you to complete your plan. Your plan must also be adaptable to changing landscape. A good and adaptable plan will allow your business to come through down times strong and steady.

Finally, successful political campaigns know how to manage their resources well. Make sure your business has the necessary financial foundation and realistic budgeting to support it. Because you’re in it for the long haul and you have to make the right decisions day in and day out to be there when it counts. 

Watch out for your leadership biases

Dog and cat

The world is divided into two different types of people – dog people and cat people.

My husband and I share our farm with three horses, two dogs, a mule and 30 cats.  Yes, you read that right – 30 cats. I’m a cat person.

It wasn’t always that way. My two brothers and I begged our parents for a dog when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was our pleas or if our parents decided that a canine would be a welcome addition to the family, but at some point they relented and King joined our family. He came from the dog pound (I don’t remember it being called a shelter at that time). My brother Kevin named King. Since Kevin’s name started with a ‘K’, the dog’s name must as well. Interestingly, many years later, he named his daughter Kourtney. Perhaps for the same reason?! I digress. King became an instant member of the family and I was a “dog person”. I didn’t like cats. I had a bias that favored dogs – not cats.

The bias was understandable. I didn’t know any cats. All my friends had dogs. Cats, it seemed to me, didn’t become close members of the family. They were loners. The only thing I knew about cats was they chased mice. 

That would be a factoid that would become important to me years later.

I love country living – except for the mice. I had heard if you saw one mouse, there were 50. I don’t know if that is statistically correct but I did know we had more mice than I was comfortably cohabitating with. I recalled the knowledge from my youth – cats chase mice.  It turned out to be true. 

Our first three cats were barn cats – to keep the barn mouse-free. And they did. People advised me not to feed the cats or they wouldn’t hunt. It didn’t take long to realize that cats, even well fed ones, hunt mice. It’s what they do. If I fed them, they hunted closer to home. I liked that. And I liked the cats. The more I got to know them, the more I liked them. 

We challenge biases by expanding our knowledge and experiences

Biases and stereotypes are normal. We all have them. We hold biases about people, about careers, about our business competition, about industries, about products, about beliefs…about almost everything. As we expand our own knowledge and broaden our experiences, we naturally challenge our biases and stereotypes – usually with good outcomes.

As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is to ensure that our biases, and those of the people entrusted to our care, either consciously or unconsciously held, don’t prevent us from reaching our potential.

The more we are open to learning about a wide range of things, people and experiences, especially those unfamiliar to us, the more our leadership potential has a chance to fully mature and our own lives are enriched. 

What biases do you hold? Are they holding you back as a leader?

What biases hold sway in your team? In your department? In your organization? What can you do to positively challenge those biases and stereotypes?

Excuse me while I get some tuna for my house cat who is chirping at me.

Chasing the Tax Fairy

-Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C.

There is no Tax Fairy, but there are many believers. 

Tax-fairyTaxes hurt. It's human nature to want to believe in something that stops the pain. That's why clients regularly ask their tax pros why they haven't recommended some foolproof plan discovered at the gym, or on the golf course, or on Reddit. They really want their tax pros to introduce them to the Tax Fairy.

Belief in the Tax Fairy takes many forms. Let's cover some commonly-told Tax Fairy tales.

The ESOP Tax Fairy. Employee Stock Ownership Plans, done properly, can be a useful tax tool, though one with compliance risks and costs. But it isn't a Tax Fairy. You can't use an ESOP to hide all of the income of a profitable family-owned business and still keep the business all in the family. You certainly can't use an ESOP if for a business that isn't a corporation. You can't keep your personal investments in an ESOP. Nor can you keep your house, your cars, your snowmobiles, or your vacation cottage in an ESOP. If you are doing any of these things, you're looking for the Tax Fairy in the wrong place, and you need to talk to a specialist practitioner right away.

The Home-based Business Tax Fairy. We've all seen versions of this. My favorite was one from the 1990s based on selling golf equipment. It was touted as making all of one's golf costs -- tee times, new clubs, trips to nice courses in warm places -- tax deductible. Because you were in the golf business! It didn't much matter whether you made a profit from selling golf things, because the tax savings from your golf deductions made it pay.

In real life the tax authorities don't look at it that way. The tax law requires you to have an objective of making money before taxes. Deductions that look too much like fun come in for special scrutiny. If the tax man determines you aren't really in it for a pre-tax profit, there go your deductions, and here come penalties and interest. Whether it's golf gear, vitamins, or household cleaners, Uncle Sam doesn't want your tax refund to be your business plan. 

The Pennies-on-the-Dollar Tax Fairy. This particular Tax Fairy cult singlehandedly supported dozens of talk-radio shows and late-night TV reruns in the past decade. Celebrity tax practitioners promised to reduce your IRS debt to "pennies on the dollar." But despite the ads' promises and the up-front payments made by desperate or deluded tax debtors, the Tax Fairy never showed up. Big settlement firms like TaxMasters, Roni Deutch, and J.K. Harris collapsed in bankruptcy, and the only "pennies-on-the-dollar" settlements many customers received were their bankruptcy recoveries on fees paid to the settlement outfits. In real life, "pennies-on-the-dollar" settlements happen, but only when you convince the IRS that you really are too broke to pay what you owe. Whatever it accomplishes in reducing your tax debt, poverty has compelling non-tax drawbacks.

The "Classic 105" Tax Fairy. This apparition of the fairy emerges from the mists of fringe benefit law. Hank Stern of Insureblog saw it described this way:

My employer claims that signing up for this "105 Classic Plan" will allow me to make 30%+ of my income tax free. The jist [sic] of it is that they will take $560 per (bi-weekly) pay period out of my check, somehow "make it tax free" and refund most of it back through some vague "loan" that I apparently don't have to pay back.

This will reduce my income taxes pretty massively... but not only that, the company making my money untaxable claims it will pay 75% of all my out of pocket medical expenses up to $12,000

So: some employer really believes you can call part of what you pay to your employees a "loan," with no requirement to repay it, and therefore make it tax-free to the employee, while still getting a deduction? Rather than getting into the (many) technical reasons this doesn't work, let's just use common sense. The income tax has been around since 1913, and it funds the majority of a trillion-dollar federal budget. Do you think it would still work after over 100 years if it were this easy to avoid? Do you think they would wait 102 years to fix a loophole this big?

The Tax Fairy appears in multitudes of ways. We won't even talk about the VEBA Tax Fairy, The offshore employee leasing Tax Fairy, or the great Turn-of-the-century Tax Fairy Mania. But most versions of the Tax Fairy myth contain a few common elements. They promise an easy way to make your taxes go away. They tell you that your regular tax pro is a milquetoast or a charlatan for not embracing their wonderful tax-saving qualities. And if they ever get looked at by the IRS, they all fail.

If someone tells you that they have found the Tax Fairy, check with your tax pro. In the long run, it's a better bet than the Tax Fairy.

Are you procrastinating?

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

While we’re striving to maintain a healthy work/life balance, it seems there just isn’t enough time to get everything on the “to do” list done. Yours may look something like this:

  • Finish the living room project.
  • Conduct training for employees.
  • Lose those last 5 pounds.
  • Address concerns about outdated office equipment.
  • Talk to employees about improving time management.
  • Pay that bill.
  • Schedule a physical.

The list can feel a mile long some days, and it can be challenging to find the motivation to complete teach item on a timeline basis. Each task left undone may not evolve into a crisis, but eventually you’ll be faced with a professional, personal or medical situation that could have been avoided with a little more attention . . . and less procrastination.

I believe the key to success is maintaining focus to accomplish the most important tasks first. Gretchen Rubin, author of three recent books on habits and happiness, offers a few quick tips to “stop procrastinating, and get yourself to do something you don’t want to do.”

  • Ask for help.
  • Remember that most decisions don’t require extensive research.
  • Take a baby step. 
  • Suffer for 15 minutes. (“You can do anything for 15 minutes,” Rubin reasons.)
  • Do it first thing in the morning.
  • Protect yourself from interruption.
  • Remember that work itself can sometimes be a subtle, sneaky way of distracting yourself from another task needing done!

With only a couple of months left in the calendar year, revisit your “to-do list,” open your calendar and schedule time to get things done. You’ll enjoy increased productivity and have more time to focus on your personal and professional goals, resulting in a successful end of 2015.

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

 - Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Cyber-security-monthWould you like to know the single biggest weapon for cybersecurity? Awareness.

Think about all the other risks we face and the huge awareness campaigns designed to educate us on how to protect ourselves or others. We have Smokey the Bear for forest fire safety, Stop, Drop and Roll for fire safety, McGruff the Crime Dog, pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness. The list goes on and on.

Creating awareness for the risks that affect us is one of the best things we can do to help minimize the threats. That’s why Integrity is an official champion of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. This October, as we have in years past, Integrity will be working hard to bring cybersecurity awareness to people of all ages, in all walks of life.

Educating people about cybersecurity threats is foundational to creating a safer computing environment for everyone. What many don’t fully comprehend or at least consider is that our computing systems all coexist in one large digital ecosystem. What one person does at home or at school has profound impacts on what happens to a computer in a corporate data center or embedded in a medical device in a hospital. 

Cybersecurity isn’t just a work issue. It’s a life issue. Identity theft, fraud and financial crime can make life generally unpleasant for those affected by it. We can only protect the digital ecosystem if we begin to educate people about the risk they face wherever computers are used. Protecting passwords and having good cybersecurity practices at work are worthless if those same precautions are not used at home. Many people who use computers at work also have access to work resources from their home computers. However, if those employees don’t carry over the same information security best practices from work to home, those home computers are not protected and expose company data.  It also exposes personal bank or retirement accounts, Social Security numbers of dependent children and other critical information.

Think of cybersecurity best practices like you would general hygiene. Washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth when you cough protects not only you but others as well. Using good information security best practices whether you are using a home, work or public computer will protect you and everyone else as well. If we all get better at cybersecurity, the world becomes a safer computing environment for us all.

Integrity, along with Ankeny's Kirkendall Public Library, will be hosting the following events to celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness Month. We’d love for you to join us.

Topic: Internet Safety and Security Tips for Adults

Focus: Email Phishing, Online Banking and Identity Theft

Date: October 19, 2015
Location: Kirkendall Public Library - Ankeny, Iowa
Time: 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Age: Adult Program, 18 years + 

Topic: Social Media and Online Security for Students plus a discussion with high school students on cybersecurity career opportunities

Focus: Social Media (Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), Limiting Access, GPS, Truths about Deleting Items Online and Cybersecurity Career Opportunities

Date: October 19, 2015
Location: Kirkendall Public Library - Ankeny, Iowa


Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: https://www.integritysrc.com

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