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Six things that make your employees feel they don’t matter

Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Christine Comaford

Christine Comaford

Of course your employees matter. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t hire them, trust them to do important work, or keep paying them week after week. And if you think about it at all (which you probably don’t), you assume they realize that.

It’s only logical. But according to Christine Comaford, you may inadvertently do and say things that make them feel otherwise—and it has little to do with logic.

Mattering is one of the three most primal human needs, along with safety andbelonging,” asserts Comaford, author of the New York Times best seller SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together (Portfolio/Penguin, June 2013, ISBN: 978-1-5918464-8-2, $26.95, www.SmartTribesBook.com).

“When employees are made to feel that they don’t matter, it happens on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. And we now know that emotions, not intellect, drive 90 percent of human behavior.

 Critter state

“The really bad news for leaders is that when employees feel they don’t matter, they simply cannot function at their highest level of performance,” she adds.

When leaders say or do something that makes employees feel insignificant (and/or frightened or isolated; the three tend to work together), they revert to the fight/flight/freeze part of the brain—falling into what Comaford calls the “Critter State.” Once in this state, all innovation and collaboration skills fall by the wayside, and every decision boils down to a single question: What will keep me safe right now?

Comaford trains and coaches leaders at midsized and Fortune 1000 companies in neuroscience techniques that get people out of their Critter State and into their Smart State, where they have full access to their creativity, problem-solving ability, collaboration, and emotional engagement. Under her guidance, clients often see their revenues and profits increase by up to 21 percent annually. Furthermore, 33-42 percent of the entire employee base takes on increased levels of responsibility—without asking for more pay.

So what might you be doing that makes employees feel they don’t matter? Comaford reveals six of the top offenders:

• You don’t respond to their emails. Sure, you’re busy, and sure, your employees know that—but the Critter State doesn’t spring from the rational part of the brain. Instead of thinking, Oh, the boss will get back to me when she has a moment, they think, She doesn’t like my idea. She doesn’t like me. I feel rejected. I don’t matter.

“When an employee emails the boss, especially when that email asks for your approval or contains sensitive content, she’s putting herself out there,” says Comaford. “Always respond—even if it’s just to say, ‘I need a little time to think about that but I’ll get back to you in a day or two.’”

• You don’t give them feedback—positive or negative. When people matter to us, we want them to know they’ve done a good job. If they haven’t done a good job, we want them to know that too, so they can improve. To the employee’s Critter Brain, silence means we don’t care enough to let them know either way.

“Hopefully you’re giving feedback in performance evaluations, but give it informally as well,” advises Comaford. “A simple ‘Good job writing that proposal’ means a lot. And while it’s less fun to hear ‘You need to work on the close to your sales pitch,’ when your employee starts getting better results, he’ll know you cared enough to speak up.

“It feels un-PC to make this comparison, but consider how well children respond to being consistently held accountable,” she adds. “Rules and boundaries make people feel loved. It’s true for employees and leaders too. In the Critter Brain, we’re all two-year-olds.”

• You acknowledge people ONLY when they make mistakes. This makes them feel like a faulty cog that must be repaired to keep the company machine running smoothly. To let them know they matter, make a positive personal connection with employees as often as possible. Be specific about what you like and let them know their unique contribution makes a real difference to the company.

“Better yet, make a point of praising them publicly,” says Comaford. “Social rewards are extremely powerful—far more powerful than cash rewards, in fact.”

• You don’t celebrate victories. No, just getting paid isn’t reward enough for doing a great job. (Again, a paycheck can feel like oil for the cog—necessary, but not meaningful.) When your team has an especially significant win, make a point to order in a special lunch and celebrate the team company-wide.

“Team victory celebrations foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie—which go hand in hand with mattering,” notes Comaford.

• You inadvertently show favoritism. In many companies, there are certain team members who are perceived as “above the law” or in the “in crowd.” These people tend not to be held accountable for their lack of performance, and they often get the lion’s share of raises, promotions, or perks, even if they don’t deserve them. And yes, says Comaford, other employees notice.

“People think lovability isn’t an issue in business, but I’m here to tell you it is,” she says. “Feeling that others are more ‘loved’ triggers safety, belonging, and mattering issues in those on the outside. Absolute equality may not be possible in an imperfect world, but it’s critical to aim for it.”

• You burn them out. Do your employees slog away like slaves, working looong hours and completing one high-stress task after another, day after day after day? Not only will they feel that you don’t care about their well-being, they’ll burn out. Yes, from time to time we all have to exert extra effort…but no one can sustain such a pace forever.

Comaford points out that this dynamic starts when leaders “self-sacrifice.” Even if you don’t tell employees they have to work until 8 p.m. every night, they see you do it and feel that they’re expected to do so as well. This isn’t good for you or for them.

“Sustainability is about creating win-win agreements with ourselves and others,” she asserts. “We all need a good blend of people, activities, and things that excite and energize us in order to balance out those (inevitable) things that drain us. If your employees matter to you, you’ll help them strike that balance.”

To many leaders, paying so much attention to what goes on inside employees’ heads is a foreign notion. But Comaford says that when her clients see the astonishing results, they are more than willing to change the way they lead.

“When we’re able to break the mental patterns that hold us—and those around us—back, we can reach heights of performance we never thought possible,” she says. “And the best part is, it’s more rewarding for everyone. It can take work from being drudgery to being fun and exciting and meaningful.”

The ROI of social media is not hit and run

Monday, June 10th, 2013

By Marsha Friedman

 

Marsha Friedman

Marsha Friedman

I was never a fan of the cocktail party-variety networking scene. I will never be one to dart around a room shoving business cards into people’s hands. I prefer meaningful conversations with people, getting to know them and vice versa.

But social media networking? That’s something different altogether. Done right, it’s never a hit-and-run. Rather, it consists of building relationships over months and even years by sharing information – both professional and personal – through posts, comments and responding to questions in various online communities.

What’s the return on investment, the ROI, for putting that kind of time into social media? Actually, it’s called the RON – the “return on networking.”

And for me, it’s huge.

I’ve been on Facebook for five years; I also have Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts, among others. All totaled, I’m now approaching 100,000 friends, followers and connections. Those followers expose my name and message to their audiences every time they “like” one of my posts or share one of my links.

Talk about exposure!

Recently, someone re-tweeted something I’d shared on Twitter – he had 130,000 followers. That’s a potential audience of 130,000 people I likely would have never reached otherwise.

Talk about exposure!

Who knows how many of those people may someday become my clients? Who cares? I’ll still consider the exposure a good return on networking. Here’s why.

The RON of social media isn’t always tangible, not immediately, anyway. By establishing a continued presence online through regularly sharing content of use to my followers, I’m building my platform and my reputation as an expert. That grows in surprising ways – and it lives in surprising places.

A recent case in point: Late last year, I got a call from a prominent New York City hair stylist, the director of a salon in one of that city’s premier department stores. He wanted to talk about some publicity needs and what my company could do to help him.

When I asked how he got my name, he explained he’d written some books over the years with a co-author, and she’d heard me at a speaking engagement.

Well, that made sense. Speaking at conferences is still a great way to get your name out while also building credibility.

A complete surprise

But the next thing he said came as a complete surprise.

“So, then I contacted the corporate office (of the department store chain) and asked what PR agency they would recommend.” And they recommended me and my company.

I don’t know a soul in the corporate offices of that high-end retail chain. I can only guess they learned of me through social media.

Just being on Twitter or Google+ isn’t enough, of course. You have to make a diligent effort to regularly post content that people find valuable, including links to informative articles, tips relevant to your topic, and/or informed insights on topics in the news.

You also have to “be a human,” as our lead social media strategist, Jeni Hinojosa, likes to say. She and our other social media producers encourage clients to send photos when they go on vacation, celebrate milestones or engage in hobbies. Posting those photos with a comment adds a personal touch that allows followers to connect on a more emotional level.

social mediaOur social media producers also make sure clients’ personalities shine in their posts, showing their sense of humor and letting followers in on the other things they care about, whether it’s victims of a natural disaster or a favorite charity.

Interaction is equally important. Strive to respond to every comment or question posted on your networking sites. Interacting is engaging, and people who are engaged tend to be happy followers. The more you take part in conversations via comments and responses, the more lively and visible your presence becomes.

The RON includes increased traffic to your website; increased trust in your brand and what you’re selling; and greater word of mouth than you could ever hope for by attending a cocktail party or even a speaking engagement.

Marsha Friedman is a 23-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (www.emsincorporated.com), a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. Marsha is the author of Celebritize Yourself and she can also be heard weekly on her Blog Talk Radio Show, EMSI’s PR Insider every Thursday at 3:00 PM EST

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How to boost workplace loyalty, innovation, and productivity

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

book coverWhen a successful formula is discovered in the business world, it’s copied and becomes part of standard operating procedure throughout entire industries.

The newest SOP trend among leading businesses? – Focusing on employee and family well-being, says Gary Kunath, who was honored nationally as Businessman of the Year and recognized with a dinner hosted by the President of the United States.

“Many think that professional well-being drives personal well-being, but it’s the exact opposite,” says Kunath, a speaker at top business schools and businesses including Lockheed and Marriott, and author of “Life…Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did: How I Learned To Live Life to Its Fullest,” (www.lifedontmissitbook.com).

What top companies know

“The top companies know focusing on employee well-being is critical and serves as the conduit to increasing innovation, emotional loyalty, natural productivity and overall profitability, but they have exhausted the traditional vehicles inside their companies to do this, so they are focusing on impacting their employees lives ‘outside’ of the company.”

Editor’s note: keeping work and family or personal life in balance is just as difficult a problem for startups and entrepreneurs, many of whom work long hours and seven-day weeks.

Employee well-being is very smart business and everyone wins, he says; it’s the key to elevating associate engagement. According to the Aspen Institute, more than 70 percent of employees today would sacrifice promotions and pay increases for family well-being. Yet only 40 percent of employees feel their employers demonstrate that they care about them, says the American Psychology Association.

Several major corporations have approached Kunath and asked him to build a program that shows their people how to master life balance and maximize the joy and contentment in their lives, he says.

“The results have been tremendous,” he says. “People love that they are cared for just as much when leaving the building as they are when arriving.”

Kunath’s newest three hour seminar for businesses centers on employee life balance and well-being; here he offers five things business owners and employees should consider in achieving life balance:

• Bring humanity back to the workplace: There are simple truths about what motivates employees today and what they want and need from their employers. Employee well-being drives profits and is good for business, he points out. Employers need to allow employees to completely disconnect from work in their off hours – for instance, not expecting them to respond to emails or conference calls after hours. He also points out the “Life Balance Dilemmas” people face, including his own; a former workaholic lifestyle nearly ruined his family relationships before he learned how to develop balance.

• The “Life … Don’t Miss It” approach: According to a Harvard study, we all have the capability to maximize our happiness regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. A large part of how happy you are is determined through intentional activity. There are things you can do to maximize happiness in your life even in the worst of adversities. Giving people a way to elevate their family well-being is critical to top performance on the job.

• Applying Life-Balance secrets: Kunath targets 10 points for Mastering Life Balance. Some of those points are: Money doesn’t make you rich; Express gratitude to others; the power of perspective; relationship refinement (thinning the herd); and Good goes around. “All of these points go to the overall perspective of total life balance and focusing on the areas, and the people, that really matter,” he says.

• Power of Perspective: Why is it that people who have faced death often live the most?  Why must we wait for adversity to teach us to get the most out of life?  The answer is that you don’t. Kunath emphasizes various perspectives on how you can live life to the fullest every day and what the keys are to maximizing employee and family well-being. 

• The three greatest gifts you can give your family: For all the importance and effort involved in mastering a worklife to fund a family’s well-being, the three greatest gifts you have to offer are actually free! They are time, memories and traditions. Time is our greatest resource, and it’s also our most scarce, which makes memories all the more important. They give you a place to go for all of your life. Traditions live on after you’re gone; they’re a legacy you leave for your loved ones.

Facebook or face time? Give them the personal touch

Friday, May 24th, 2013
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, authors of The Barefoot Spirit.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, authors of The Barefoot Spirit.

It’s official: Email, texting, and social media are no longer just helpful supplemental business tools. They’ve taken over the whole game. Yes, technology has made many aspects of modern living more convenient and “connected,” but the pendulum has swung too far.

Now, people are reluctant to do something as simple as picking up the phone, preferring to shoot off an email instead. And face-to-face meetings—well, they’re almost unheard of.

This “technology takeover” is not without consequence, says Michael Houlihan. Misunderstandings abound. Relationships stagnate. Trust is at an all-time low. And all of these issues are at least partially due to the fact that genuine human connections have been replaced by mouse-clicks and keystrokes.

social media“Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction,” confirms Houlihan, coauthor along with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand (coming in May 2013 from Evolve Publishing)

Having bootstrapped a business from the ground up, Houlihan knows what he’s talking about. He and Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Cellars, the company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and unimaginative to fun, lighthearted, and hip.

BarefootSpirit_3D_3402When they started their company in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, they knew almost nothing about winemaking or the wine business. The Barefoot Spirit tells their California-style rags-to-riches story in compelling and colorful fashion, and reveals just what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.

“I can’t tell you how many retailers, suppliers, and potential customers I visited in person during those early years,” Houlihan admits. “What I can tell you is that I would have never gotten satisfactory results if I had tried to build those relationships via email and social media. The Barefoot brand would never have become a national bestseller without meetings, phone calls, and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date.

“People don’t just buy your product; they buy you,” he concludes.

SmartphoneandShoppingHoulihan worries that young people’s dependence on virtual communication has stunted the social skills they’ll need to attract customers. Through no fault of their own, they have inherited a world that provides a comfortable firewall insulating them from personal rejection—one in which they simply don’t have to communicate in real time. (“Could you learn to walk if you were handed a crutch at birth?” he asks.)

Of course, in a global economy, face-to-face meetings are expensive. When clients, vendors, and even employees are on the other side of the world, it’s not economically feasible to hop on a plane every time a meeting is needed. In these cases, says Houlihan, Skype is the next best thing to being there.

videoconferencing“Live video streams allow you to do just about everything short of shaking hands,” he notes. “I have begun to use Skype frequently in my own business dealings. I love that I can make eye contact with someone who is sitting on the opposite side of the country. We accomplish so much more when we become more than ‘just’ an email address or a disembodied voice to one another!”

If you make the time necessary for personal meetings—if not in person, then via Skype or, at the very least, on the phone—Houlihan says others will not only remember you, but they will appreciate the effort you put forth. Read on for seven specific advantages of real-time, in-person, face-to-face relationship building:

The time investment shows you really care. It’s a fairly universal truth that human beings want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with someone else, whether that’s in person, face-to-face on a computer screen, or, if all else fails, via a phone call, is one of the best ways to convey these things.

In essence, an investment of time says, “While there are many other things I could be doing, I’m choosing to spend my time with you. That’s how important I think you are!” Minutes and hours spent with another person have the power to create a bond that money can’t buy.

“When you spend time with others, you find out what you truly have in common and you have an opportunity to share your opinions,” Houlihan explains.

“Plus, visiting someone repeatedly over a period of time can also provide valuable non-verbal clues to his or her values and concerns. In my own experience, I have been amazed by how helpful it can be to travel with someone, whether it’s a colleague or client. On any trip there will probably be instances that cause stress and anxiety, which presents an opportunity for both of you to see how the other handles a variety of situations and to learn to work together more effectively.”

You’re better able to give personalized attention. According to Houlihan, this is perhaps the biggest key to successful sales and the establishment of any long-term relationship. Think about it: It’s hard to multi-task on something unrelated when someone is physically planted in front of you, demanding your attention.

Unless you have no problem with blatant rudeness, you’re focusing on the other person, responding not only to what they say, but also to their mood, movements, and many other non-verbal signals. You will read these signs and adjust your behavior accordingly.

“Letters on a screen can’t compete with the personal touch,” Houlihan assures. “In my experience, when you use someone’s name along with eye contact and an attentive demeanor, they’re more likely to be agreeable and to give you the benefit of the doubt.

They know that your time is valuable and that you chose to give it to them. The next time they see you, they will be more relaxed and familiar in your company. And the more visits you have, the more your relationship with that individual strengthens. Trust me, people want to do business with people they know. You can get to know them much better offscreen.”

You’re more effective in general. When you’re talking to someone else in real time, you can make progress in real time and solve problems in real time. (Believe it or not, lobbing emails back and forth isn’t always the most efficient method.)

Thanks to facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice (see below for more information on each), you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have a verbal conversation. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice things about the other company or clients that they themselves aren’t even aware of!

“Always meet in person if you can,” Houlihan confirms. “When an important client or critical team member is on the other side of the globe, a face-to-face meeting once or twice a year can often be a smart investment.”

The rest of the time, if your communication is anything beyond a simple FYI, be sure to Skype or call.”

Facial expressions help get your message across… Did you know that the human face has at least 20 muscles that work in concert to create a myriad of telling facial expressions? When you put it that way, the process sounds complex, but amazingly (as you know!) we don’t have to consciously think about forming those expressions at all. This is a powerful argument for face-to-face meetings, whether they’re in person or via Skype.

“Observing those expressions during verbal communication can give you instant feedback about how your message is being received,” Houlihan points out. “You can quickly adjust your message on the spot to make it more meaningful or agreeable, and avoid possible misunderstandings. Facial expressions are also an invaluable way through which to express sincerity, interest, curiosity, happiness, and more.”

…So does your body language… Unlike looking at a posed profile shot or any still image sent over email, being face-to-face with another person gives you the opportunity to see the other person’s dynamic reaction and make adjustments to your own message. Real-time body language provides tons of non-verbal cues that are impossible to convey in a text or email.

“As humans and social animals, we are naturally wired to get this feedback instantly,” Houlihan says. “We’re also equipped to share our own feelings and attitudes through the way we stand, sit, gesture, and more.”

“It’s a good idea to spend a little time learning the basics of body language. For instance, if you know that hands in one’s pockets indicate boredom or disinterest whereas leaning slightly forward indicates interest, you’ll be able to respond more accurately to others and avoid sending messages you don’t mean to.”

…and so does your tonality. It’s happened to everyone: You send an email that’s laced with sarcasm or humor…which the recipient totally fails to pick up on. Oops! Now you’re left frantically doing damage control. According to Houlihan, that’s one major reason why texting, emailing, and friending can be great ways to communicate while failing to succeed at relationship building.

“When spoken, the same words used in a text or email can have a very different meaning based on the tone, inflection, and the emphasis that the speaker gives,” he says.

“It’s much easier to ‘get’ intentions behind the spoken word. And if the other person sounds reluctant, uncomfortable, or guarded, for instance, you can take advantage of the opportunity to ask why and discuss ideas that might never have been brought forward over email. So the next time you find your mouse hovering over the ‘compose’ button, think about reaching for your phone instead.”

Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing!). In the virtual world, you can almost totally control the image you show to other people. You choose the pictures you post on your profile. You censor the information you do and don’t want to share in your messages, posts, and updates.

And usually, you can think about and edit what you want to say before pressing “send.” But in a real-time, face-to-face relationship, the other person can see you in 3-D and observe your dynamic, spontaneous behavior, including tone of voice, expression, dress, and body language. The other party sees your human imperfections and is aware that you are vulnerable to potential personal rejection.

“Imperfections and vulnerability make you appear more believable and sincere,” says Houlihan.

“Most people will overlook minor foibles in appearance and speech because you are literally there for them. It’s special! This can be a big advantage in the long run. And in the short run, you take precedence over all their virtual relationships.”

Despite his belief that people want in-person attention, Houlihan says Barefoot didn’t avoid technology as it developed—far from it. What’s important is to use these tools appropriately and not let them become crutches.

“A relationship can start through text, email, or social media; in fact, I encourage entrepreneurs and other businesspeople to utilize those resources,” he explains. “But in order to be lasting and dependable, a relationship has to grow in person. Yes, developing your face-to-face social skills will make you feel vulnerable at times. As is the case with learning to walk, though, feeling vulnerable is why we get so good at it!

“Like any skill, becoming personable takes practice,” he concludes. “A good way to start is to eliminate virtual communication when in-person communication is possible or more effective. So shake hands and come out a winner! Remember, genuine, lasting, and dependable relationships take time and physical presence. High touch beats high tech every time.”

Travelosity founder: 4 steps to fostering innovation in your firm

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Terry Jones

Travelosity founder Terry Jones.

The world’s future leaders overwhelmingly believe that today’s businesses cangrowonly if they can innovate – and that today’s business leaders aren’t demonstrating they’re up to the task.

While that’s the thinking of nearly 5,000millennials – the 20- to 33-year-old generation – at least one baby boomer, the innovator who transformed the U.S. travel industry with his creation of Travelocity and Kayak.com, agrees.

“The future for any business today depends entirely on its ability to innovate, and the youngest adults, ‘the idea generation,’ know that,” says Terry Jones, author of “On Innovation,” a light-hearted but practical guide for fostering and innovation.

Listen to millennial innovators

“The millennials are the group known for pioneering new ideas, rethinking processes, end-running hierarchies and solving problems by doing what simply makes sense to them. We need to listen to them; they’re the innovators!”

But the worldwide survey of adults born after 1982 found that only 26 percent believe their bosses are doing enough to encourage innovation. The study by Deloitte ToucheTohmatsu Limited, publishedin January, reported 78 percent believe innovation is crucial for growing businesses.

Jones says there are some definite steps business leaders can and should take to ensure their company is hearing employees’ ideas, recognizing opportunities, and ensuring a clear path to execution.

1. Build a culture of experimentation. Not every project will succeed but you can’t learn from mistakes if you don’t allow them to happen. The corollary: Always analyze what went wrong. Why didn’t it work? To use a sports analogy, watch the “game films” to improve and learn as much from failure as you do from success.

One fast and easy way to experiment is to test options out online. Whether it’s polling customers, measuring which approach gets the best response, or allowing a segment of your customer base to test drive a new tool, the results can be invaluable…

Kill projects not people. In many companies, people stop offering up ideas and volunteering for projects because the punishment for failure is greater than the reward for success. Lunch with the boss or a $100 bonus do not compensate for the risk of being demoted or fired, or suffering a tarnished reputation. When a project fails in a company with a culture of experimentation, the first thing you shoulddo is say, “Bob, what would you like to work on now?!”

3. Break thru the “Bozone layer.” Some of the greatest ideas for innovation will come from the employees on the front lines – those in direct contact with customers or production. But their ideas will never float up to the executive suite if you’ve created a “Bozone layer” by making it too risky for middle managers to experiment. (See No. 2.)

While you’re turning the culture around, find ways to reach down to the front lines to solicit  ideas. Implement them and reward the contributors with a big, public shout out – which will help you start changing for the culture.

4. Install “sensors” to pick up customers’ ideas.  Don’t just look to employees for innovation – learn from your customers. They have ideas for new products and new uses for existing products, and their customer service complaints are a fertile source of ideas for improvement. Listen! Social media or a forum on the company website is a good sensor for picking up ideas; Glad Wrap’s 1000 Uses site is loaded with them.

For customer service complaints, Travelocityinstalled a lobby phone booth where anyone in the company could listen in on customer service calls. Once a month, everyone was expected to provide feedback on at least two of those calls, and suggest an improvement to eliminate similar future calls plus a work-around for the interim.

Terry Jones founded Travelocity.com in 1996 and led the company as president and CEO until May 2002. He is managing principal of On, Inc, a consultancy he cofounded to help companies in their transition to the digital economy, and serves as chairman of the board at Kayak.com, which he also helped found. Previously Jones had a 24-year career at American Airlines holding various executive positions, rising to Chief Information Officer at their SABRE Division.

Jones is the holder of several patents, has served on the boards of directors of 10 companies and began his career as a travel agent in Chicago. He holds a degree in history from Denison University.

American Dream still alive but on life support?

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL LOGOEight out of ten (79%) Americans believe “the American Dream” is alive, and three quarters (73%) are optimistic, saying they generally see the world as “Glass Half Full” vs. 27% who see it as “Glass Half Empty.”  These are the latest findings from Northwestern Mutual’s 2013 Planning & Progress Study.

However, digging into these findings reveals some deep-seated skepticism.

The study showed:

  • Only 9% say the American Dream is as good as – if not better than – it was a generation ago;
  • 36% say it is alive but people’s priorities and ambitions are different, and that it is defined more by happiness, health and balance in life;
  • 34% say it is alive, but opportunities are not as good as they were a generation ago; and
  • 21% say it no longer exists.

Looking ahead, attainability of the American Dream is seen, for the most part, as diminishing, with only 7 in 10 believing that the American Dream will be alive for their children and grandchildren.

Among Americans 25 and older: 

  • 36% say it will be alive, but the opportunities won’t be as good;
  • 13% say it will be the same this generation to the next;
  • 22% say it will be alive, and the opportunities will be just as good – if not better – than they are now.

“I think we’re seeing two distinctly American attributes in these numbers – optimism in the face of a challenge, and pragmatism about the facts on the ground,” said Greg Oberland , Northwestern Mutual executive vice president.

“The reality for most of us is that opportunity exists, but it is not by any means automatic. It takes more than just optimism or pragmatism to achieve financial security.  It takes planning.”

Does Optimism Come With Age?
You might assume that it is the young who are our most idealistic, and that pessimism sets in with age.  Not so, according to the study.  The most optimistic (seeing the glass half full) Americans are those aged 67 and older (Matures), among which 79% are optimists.  Meanwhile, [among] the least optimistic Americans are those aged 25-32 (Gen Y), where one in three (33%) is a pessimist.

While those age 67 and older (Matures) are more optimistic they are also more likely to be skeptical about the American Dream. One-third of Matures believe the American Dream no longer exists (31%), and four in ten believe the American Dream will no longer exist for their children or grandchildren (37%).

In earlier findings from the study, Gen Y stood out for its financial planning, with 24% considering themselves highly disciplined, compared to 16% for Gen X, 14% for Baby Boomers, and 15% for Matures.

About the Research
This is the latest set of findings released from Northwestern Mutual’s 2013 Planning & Progress Study, which explores the state of financial planning in America today, and provides unique insights into people’s current attitudes and behaviors toward money, goal-setting and priorities.

Cyber currencies like Bitcoin make governments nervous

Monday, May 20th, 2013

bitcoin-robberJon Rushman, a former managing director at Black Rock, believes that in the long term cyber currencies like Bitcoin could see the end of central banks and foreign exchange and so it is understandable Governments are nervous about it.

The new virtual currency has become progressively more popular since the financial crash and its proponents say it will revolutionise banking.

Its main exchange, Mt Gox, was raided by the US Department of Homeland Security, who usually deal with terrorist threats, last week.

We’ve run several stories about bitcoin and one of its largest US processors at the TechJournal. You can find links to them at the bottom of this article.

Professor Rushman of the UK’s Warwick School of Business, said: “You can understand why Governments are nervous about Bitcoin.

A real place in the future

“It is fascinating.  I think Bitcoin or something like it has a real place in the future. Imagine a world where foreign exchange doesn’t exist, monetary policy doesn’t exist, and there is no inflation.  Society would be free to use all the talent currently directed to these issues elsewhere.  Meanwhile, governments could still raise taxes and borrow but without uncertainty as to the unit of account.

“That seems far-fetched at the moment, but in an ideal world it could happen. Bitcoin is just another medium of exchange.  In the same way that the Euro crosses national boundaries and greatly simplifies real trade in continental Europe, cyber currencies like Bitcoin can do the same globally, without the need for a central bank.

“Profits and losses in foreign exchange are made ultimately because of uncertainty around the value of different accounting units.  They exist purely because we have structured our affairs into different currencies tied to different governance structures.

“In an idealised world, governing multiple currencies and running a foreign exchange market is unnecessary and wasteful.  A global currency managed without a central bank could allow society to do something more productive instead.”

Must tackle regulation issue

Bitcoins

Bitcoins

For Bitcoin to take hold in the world permanently, Professor Rushman believes it has to tackle the thorny issue of regulation.

“None of the US regulatory authorities have figured how to regulate Bitcoin, as it breaches barriers in our understanding of what a currency is,” said Professor Rushman.

“It is certainly tainted by some speculation that it is used by the criminal underworld, but it is hard to find any evidence that criminals use it more than any other currency.

“Bitcoin needs to work harder on explaining its philosophy and on regulation, they need to do a bit of a charm offensive with the regulators and make them comfortable with it while being true to their principles.”

Hot trend in books today: less is more

Monday, May 13th, 2013

booksThe hottest book publishing trend today: less is the new more.

“The first time I saw a 73-page ‘book’ offered on Amazon, I was outraged,” says New York Times best selling author Michael Levin.  “But I thought about how shredded the American attention span is.  And I felt like Cortez staring at the Pacific.”

The trend in books today, Harry Potter notwithstanding, is toward books so short that in the past no self-respecting publisher—or author—would even have called them books.  But today, shortened attention spans call for shorter books.

Levin blames smartphones and social media for what he calls “a worldwide adult epidemic of ADH…ooh, shiny!”

Brain chemistry has been transformed

“Brain scientists tell us our brain chemistry has been transformed by short-burst communication such as texting, Tweeting, and Facebook posts,” Levin adds.  “Long magazine articles have given way to 600-word blog posts.  And doorstop-size books have been replaced by minibooks.”

This sudden change in attention spans changed the way Levin approaches ghostwriting.  “Even five years ago, we aimed for 250-page books.  Today we advise our business clients to do 50-page minibooks to meet impatient readers’ expectations for speedy delivery of information.”

Levin, who runs the ghostwriting firm BusinessGhost.com and was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, says that people are looking for leadership disguised as a book.

Get buy-in with 50 pages

“Today,” he asserts, “people don’t want you to prove your assertions.  They just want to know that you have legitimate answers to their questions and that they can trust you. If you can’t get buy-in with 50 pages today, you won’t get it in 250.”

The trend toward shorter books caused Levin to offer what he calls the “Book-Of-The-Quarter Club,” which creates four 50-page hardcover minibooks a year for BusinessGhost’s clients.  “This allows them to address four different major issues, or four different sets of prospects, and provides quarterly opportunities for marketing events,” Levin says.

How short will books eventually run?

“Can you say ‘haiku’?” Levin asks.  “We’re waiting for a three-line, 17 syllable book.  It could happen.”

Michael Levin, founder and CEO of BusinessGhost, Inc., has written more than 100 books, including eight national best-sellers; five that have been optioned for film or TV by Steven Soderbergh/Paramount, HBO, Disney, ABC, and others; and one that became “Model Behavior,” an ABC Sunday night Disney movie of the week. His new minibook, “The Financial Advisor’s Dilemma,” teaches how to create trust and distinctiveness in the highly competitive marketplace.   

Making it as a thought-leader in 2013

Friday, April 26th, 2013
Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

By Arik Abel

As media superstar Malcolm Gladwell has proved, a book as thought-provoking as The Tipping Point or Blink can lead to an amazingly multi-faceted career. But unlike Gladwell’s path, subject matter experts (aka thought leaders) don’t have to team with a traditional publisher to help them connect with an audience.

Just as self-publishing is attracting armies of novelists and memoirs, it also holds promise for professionals seeking to turn their knowledge into speaking opportunities and a role in the national and international conversation on a topic — whatever that topic may be.

“A book is the best business card you’ll ever have. Personally, the day my first book came out was the day I started getting asked to keynote events, as well as the day I saw my consulting client list grow by 200 percent,” says Jim Kukral, an internet marketer who has  published several of his own books. “When you have a book showing you as the expert in your field, you have a severe advantage to everyone who doesn’t.”

Self-publishing establishes expertise

Scott Steinberg, author of several books on managing creativity in organizations, believes that self-publishing a book not only establishes you as an expert on a subject matter, but is a powerful force for making your name in a very crowded field.

“The traditional publishers might not find expertise in certain fields all that profitable,” says Steinberg. “If you’re an expert in a specific sector of engineering, publishers might not want to devote resources to that. But by self-publishing, you can reach the 200 key decision-makers in your field.”

In addition to engineering, fields like self-help, philanthropy, social media, education, law, and finance are all ripe for individuals looking to spread their expertise.

How to get speaking engagements

Books that are independently published can easily be distributed in as many formats as those that are traditionally published, at only a fraction of the cost to produce. That’s important for experts looking to land that prized presentation, whether the ultimate goal is a TED Talk or a keynote spot at a highly specialized association happening.

“A majority of this research by conference planners  looking for speakers is done through the internet, as well as by word of mouth,” says Dawn McEvoy, the director of education at the Professional Convention Management Association.

“In my opinion, the best way for an SME (subject matter expert) to optimize the likelihood of booking speaking engagements is to develop a reputation as thought leaders within their industry and honing presentation skills.”

Obviously, publishing a book is only one step toward establishing a reputation, but it has been a critical one for so many successful speakers and experts. Yes, there’s the mighty Gladwell, whose books have paved the way to prominent speaking engagements at the likes of TED and The New Yorker Festival.

Seth Godin’s example

Seth Godin, author of “The Dip,” among other works. Godin spoke at a previous TechMedia event in Atlanta, where his book was a gift to those who attended. The next TechMedia event is the Digital Summit May 14-15.TechMedia event in Atlanta, where his book was a gift to those who attended. The next TechMedia event is the Digital Summit May 14-15.

There’s also Seth Godin, entrepreneur, advertising guru, and motivational speaker used books (the latest one was crowd funding) to promote his ideas about advertising and marketing.

Gary Vaynerchuk, wine  aficionado and video blogger, turned his ideas on monetizing passions through the internet into a bestselling book, “The Thank You Economy”. He now speaks around the world at large conferences like Gov 2.0 and in front of large businesses like RE/Max.

(Editor’s Note: Both Godin and Vaynerchuck spoke at previous TechMedia events in which their books were gifts to attendees. The next TechMedia event in the Digital Summit in Atlanta, May 14-15.

For those who aspire to similar success, self publishing can be a game changer … once you get past a challenge common to all authors. “There are a lot of reasons people don’t write a book,” says author Kukral. “One of them being fear. Fear that they can’t do it. Fear that it won’t be good enough, or long enough. Fear is what stops most people from being successful.”

Putting your life’s work onto the page is, indeed, daunting. However, the hardest step to take is that first one. Authors like Gladwell took unconventional approaches to explaining their ideas. By focusing on decision-making and crime, Gladwell was able to explain much larger societal issues.

Maybe the easiest way to explain your subject matter is to think of exactly where it doesn’t apply — then connect it to that subject. By think more like a writer and a little less like an expert, you can challenge yourself and write a provocative, interesting, and successful book.

Having conquered your fears and hit on an engaging formula, publishing a book is one of the smartest career choices a thought leader can make.

Arik Abel

Arik Abel

Arik Abel is the director of online marketing for Lulu.com, a leader in self-publishing since 2002.

Small business owners favor closing overseas tax loopholes

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

sustainable_logoSmall business owners oppose the current system for taxing U.S. multinational corporations, according to a new, first-of-its-kind poll.

The national scientific poll released today by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and the Main Street Alliance (MSA) shows that support for reform is bipartisan and widespread.

For the first time, small business owners were surveyed on specific reforms for overseas corporate tax havens.

Current tax law enables companies to defer indefinitely taxes on profits earned overseas. The ASBC-MSA poll tested three possible reforms: ending deferral, instituting a territorial system, and establishing combined reporting.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • (85%) of small business owners oppose a territorial tax system, which would permanently exempt offshore profits from U.S. taxation.
  • 76% support closing overseas tax loopholes by implementing a unitary combined reporting system, which would limit the ability of corporations to avoid taxes by shifting profits offshore.
  • 64% support ending deferral, a provision of current tax code that allows corporations to indefinitely defer payment of U.S. taxes on profits made or shifted offshore.
  • By a margin of more than two to one, small business owners prefer to close corporate tax loopholes rather than cut government spending.

To view the full survey results, visit: http://asbcouncil.org/sites/default/files/library/docs/MSA_ASBC_poll_reportTaxesApril2013

Slower second quarter growth predicted after jobs report

Friday, April 5th, 2013

The Conference BoardThe labor market had some reasonable momentum over the past several months, but with just 88,000 job gains in March, once again we see a disappointing seasonal slowdown unfold as we head into spring, says Kathy Bostjancic, the director of Macroeconomic Analysis with the Conference Board.

“What is even more troubling about the most recent slowdown is that it takes place even before the sequester cuts materially hit the economy. This reinforces our view that the estimated 3.5 percent real GDP growth in Q1 is not likely to be sustained,” she writes in a statement today.

Downshifting economy

“Instead, we see the overall economy, led by the consumer, downshifting significantly in the second quarter, struggling to get close to 1 percent real growth. The sticky point throughout the nearly four years since the official end of the recession has been revving up in the “core” service sector (which excludes health and education).

“While jobs were finally beginning to open up there, the impact of the sequester likely blunts that job growth a bit and leads to further contraction in government sector jobs, and will likely continue to keep growth on the slow boil throughout the spring and into the summer.”

In our discussions with economists and others who have expertise in reading the economy here at the TechJournal, we hear again and again that the real drag on the recovery is political uncertainty stemming from Washington gridlock.

 

In a relationship? 10 things not to do on Facebook

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

FacebookNow that you’re in a happy, healthy relationship, there are some Facebook rules that need following to ensure it stays that way.

10 things to never do on Facebook if you are in a relationship:

1. Hide things from your spouse or significant other.

If you don’t want your partner seeing who you’re chatting with online, that’s not a good sign. Facebook should not be a secretive escape from your relationship.

2. Befriend someone of the opposite sex your partner is uncomfortable with.

If your partner is uncomfortable with you “liking” photos of your ex — or chatting with your super-flirty co-worker online — respect his/her wishes. Don’t engage in behavior that will feed insecurities or threaten your partner. If you’re not currently Facebook friends with an ex, don’t add him. Especially in a long-term commitment relationship, you should each trust and respect each other enough to let each other veto online friendships with members of the opposite sex you’re not comfortable with.

3. Keep up old photos of exes.

Even if you never go back and look at old photos, some of your friends might. Respect your new relationship and delete old online mementos of your past relationships.

4. Change your relationship status without talking to your partner.

Relationship statuses should be discussed prior to any online changes. (Don’t abuse the status, either. Wait until it’s serious enough that most of your friends already know you’re dating someone awesome.)

5. Deny the relationship.

If your Facebook page has zero evidence that you’re in a relationship — no pictures, statuses, links that hint that you’re attached — and your partner wants to be acknowledged, show him/her that you’re proud to be with him/her, and simultaneously let your flirtatious Facebook friends know that certain online behaviors are now officially off-limits, by giving an occasional nod to your significant other.

6. Add his/her friends or family as “friends” before you’ve met them.

This is just creepy.

7. Complain about your partner or make a fight public.

If you’re in a real relationship, have real conversations. Seek conflict resolution in person, not online — and especially not on a Facebook wall. Don’t use Facebook as a place to vent, be passive-aggressive, or to humiliate your partner. Ever.

8. Gush too much.

You’re in love. That’s great. But use terms of endearment and “I have the best boyfriend in the world!” statuses in moderation. Don’t alienate your loved ones — or incite major eye-rolling — by using Facebook strictly as an excuse to brag about your recent endorphin surge.

9. Post racy pics.

Don’t upload on-vacation bikini shots. Don’t share photos of your new man “just waking up.” Keep it classy. Respect your partner by not seeking attention from others with sexy poses and provocative statuses.

10. Have a shared Facebook profile.

Even if you’re married, the whole “2 become 1″ thing does not apply to Facebook. An old classmate might want to say hi without wondering which of you he’s talking to.

How entrepreneurs switch gears to survive uncertain times

Friday, March 29th, 2013

 

Donna Every

Donna Every

How do successful entrepreneurs deal with uncertain economic times? Businesses that survived the Great Recession and are thriving today didn’t focus on losses then – and they aren’t now, says Donna Every, a financial expert who has published three non-fiction business books.

“The entrepreneurs who are successful during times of uncertainty are so because they don’t rely on the standard approaches they’d use in predictable times, and they look for opportunities – the positives — in situations that would have been considered negatives five years ago,” Every says.

“It’s similar to how we deal with the weather. In places where it’s sunny most of the summer, we wouldn’t leave our house each morning packing coats and umbrellas just in case. The weather’s predictable. But in the winter and other seasons when the weather can quickly change, we head out with a different mindset.”

Switching gears

For businesses, switching gears to deal with inclement economic conditions involves adopting new perspectives and practices, she says.

What are some of those strategies? Every outlines them:

• Build on what you have, not toward what you want: Instead of setting goals and then seeking out the resources you’ll need to meet them, assess what you have available and decide what you can achieve with that. This not only saves you the time and expense of pulling together resources you may not have, it also gives you the advantage of working from your business’s individual and unique strengths.

• Follow the Las Vegas rule: Tourists planning a weekend in Las Vegas will often set aside the amount of money they’re willing to gamble – and lose — on cards or the slots. That way, they won’t lose more than they can afford. During an uncertain economy, entrepreneurs should calculate their risks the same way. Rather than going for the biggest opportunities as you would in prosperous times, look for the opportunities that won’t require as much of your resources. Calculate how much you can afford to lose, and always consider the worst-case scenario.

• Join hands and hearts: Competition is fine when things are going well, but when times are tough, you need allies. Explore forming partnerships with other entrepreneurs so you can strategize to create opportunities together. With what your partners bring to the table, you’ll have more strength and new options to work with.

• Capitalize on the unexpected: Surprises can have positive outcomes if you handle them nimbly by finding ways to use them to your advantage. Instead of planning damage control for the next unexpected contingency, look at it as an opportunity. Get creative as you look for the positives it presents.

• When life is unpredictable, don’t try to forecast:Focus on what you can do and create now rather than what you can expect based on what happened in the past. In good times, that information can be a helpful and reliable way to make predictions, but savvy entrepreneurs don’t count on that in uncertain times.

“While the U.S. economy certainly is improving, there’s still too much uncertainty both here and abroad to go back to the old ways of doing business just yet,” Every says.

“If you’ve survived the past five years, you’ve probably been relying on many of these strategies – maybe without even realizing it,” she says. “Don’t abandon them yet, and if there are some here you aren’t using, work toward incorporating them, too.”

Postmaster General: technology transforming the mail

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Patrick R. Donahoe, Postmaster General.

Patrick R. Donahoe, Postmaster General.

Technology and changing consumer expectations are helping to transform mail into an even more powerful communications channel, Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe told the nation’s largest annual gathering of mailing industry leaders today.

“As the mailing industry, we must continue to work to drive innovation and leverage data and technology to improve the consumer experience and grow revenue,” Donahoe said in his keynote address at the National Postal Forum.

“Our challenge as an industry is to shape those moments when people are experiencing mail, and make them more powerful in the future. That’s part of getting our game on — shaping our future and building excitement about the power of mail and the future of mail.”

Mail advantages?

Mail already has an advantage over other ways of communicating, Donahoe said, because it is tactile and encourages users to interact with it.

“People slow down and absorb what they receive. They process it. They retain it,” he said. To strengthen that experience, Donahoe urged the mailing industry to focus on four key ideas: making mail more personally relevant, more actionable, more functional and more creative.

“Through the convergence of data and technology, mailers can use the insights about individual interests to make mail more personal,” he said. “With imbedded QR codes and augmented reality, mail becomes much more functional and creative, creating an even more influential experience.”

Marketing mail constant

Donahoe also touted the fact that American businesses are spending the same percentage of their marketing dollars on mail today as they did 30 years ago.

“Even with the emergence of cable television, social media and smartphones, marketing mail has remained constant because of the tremendous value it delivers to consumers who receive it and its ability to drive an exceptional return on investment for the businesses who send it,” said Donahoe.

On the other hand, much of the marketing mail we receive personally goes directly into the waste-basket. Digital targeting technologies may help change that in the future, but right now, we get a fistful of marketing flyers weekly – much of it repetitive and missing the mark.

“The growth of our industry is going to be driven by changing technologies and customer expectations. We have to work together as an industry to anticipate these changes by leveraging the value of mail to shape new opportunities.”

The Postmaster General also advanced themes relating to innovation in the Postal Service in the areas of delivery, digital integration and targeting to extend the delivery platform and provide growth opportunities for the mailing industry and America’s businesses.

Digital integration is needed

“Innovating digital integration is fundamental to improving the consumer experience — and combining the targeting power of online advertising with that mail experience will make mail far more valuable to the receiver and the sender,” Donahoe said.

The Postmaster General also described the Postal Services’ aggressive cost reduction efforts and their impacts on the mailing industry:  reducing the size of the workforce by 193,000 employees since 2006; reducing the organization’s cost base by $15 billion; reducing 21,000 delivery routes; and consolidating the network of mail processing facilities while maintaining record levels of service.

“No other organization that I can think of — either public or private — has gone through a similar downsizing so rapidly and continued to function at a high level,” said Donahoe.

“It all comes down to one word for this industry: affordability. The faster we can reduce costs, the better we can avoid pressure to raise prices. That’s why we continue to seek comprehensive reform legislation to provide more flexibility in our business model to create a sustainable platform for the future.”

Maximize the benefits of your online campaign

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By Russell Trahan, President, PR/PR

social media logosJanet is a savvy small business owner. She successfully navigated her way through the recession and is enjoying steady growth. She’s well-versed on her clientele and knows their individual likes and dislikes. She knows who her competition is and what they’re up to.

She keeps up with trends, so she has a Facebook profile and a Twitter handle. So, why has she seen a marked increase in the growth of her competitors’ business and not her own? When she hears people speak of her product, why do they associate it with her competition?  What can Janet do to make sure her company is foremost in her customer’s minds?

Regardless of the size of your company, or your position within its ranks, you know how important it is these days to be established on social media, spending ample time actively engaging your client-base.

When it comes to social media, most companies are online networking when they need to be social media marketing.  The same principles apply to marketing your company on the Web as they do in print – frequency and repetition are imperative. You need to be in front of your target audience again and again on multiple platforms to build top of mind awareness.

Here are some areas to concentrate on while building your social media marketing strategy:

Avoid the ‘Field of Dreams Fallacy’

You have a firm presence on a variety of social media platforms and have carved out a stout digital footprint? Terrific – now, are you taking time out regularly to engage your client-base? Despite the optimistic ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality, creating social media outlets without frequent, active participation is like fashioning a clipper ship without a mast or sails.

In order for your efforts to produce a spike in business or revenue, you need to get into the trenches with your clients. Use ‘@’ replies on Twitter to demonstrate light-speed customer service; post valuable, thought-provoking status updates on Facebook and participate in the conversations that unfold.

Never underestimate the value your customers place on actively engaging their questions, concerns and compliments.

Market, Don’t Network

A critical misstep many business owners make when launching a social media campaign is immediately adding or following everyone they know. While inflated friend statistics may serve to massage your ego, they do little to promote your business or cause.

Instead, you should be participating in social media marketing. Priority one should be positioning yourself in front of your customers to generate online traction and expand your reach. Social networking should be confined to your personal profiles, where you’re free to follow your neighbors, and their Great Dane named Pickles, should you choose.

Limit your interactions on your company profiles to providing useful content and information to those who frequent your establishment, and restrict any exchanges with colleagues, friends and family to your personal profile.

ROR Trumps ROI

social mediaMake no mistake – the endgame in a social media marketing campaign is to turn a profit; but many new adopters often fail to utilize the interactive aspect of their online presence.

The immediate value of websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the relationships you build along the way, and an appropriate measure for this is ROR, or Return on Relationships. Any owner of a Mom and Pop corner store that has enjoyed decades of success can tell you that the reason they have remained in business is because of the friendships and rapport they’ve developed with their clientele.

Product loyalty stems from strong relationships, and this is the inherent payoff that social media marketing provides. Stop framing your online success in an immediate monetary return, and instead, view your success in a long-term mindset, where you’re crafting long-standing, profitable connections.

On the Run? Go Mobile!

Businessmen and women are highly aware of the hectic travel schedules and deadlines that accompany their chosen profession.

The bad news: in a society that increasingly revolves around the Internet, being ‘too busy’ for social media is no longer an excuse to let your platforms lay dormant. Thankfully, software developers recognize the needs of an ‘on the go’ culture, and have created apps that allow users to access and update their social media cache while heading to a meeting or waiting for a flight.

FacebookUtilize “check-ins” on Facebook when entering an annual conference or leadership seminar to let your followers know what you’re up to. Snap a few pictures and upload them to your Instagram feed – just ensure there is no lull in your Internet activity when things get busy.

Now armed with a practical and effective understanding of social media marketing, Janet is well-equipped to best her competition online and ensure that her product is associated with her business.

By streamlining her digital footprint to only encompass her customers and potential clients, and dedicating a bit of her daily activities to interacting with her followers, she has realized the full-potential of social media and will enjoy the return on relationships that her web-presence provides. Follow Janet’s example and become engaged with your customers online.

Russell Trahan is President of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represent experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization.

Grotech VC offers seven lessons on entrepreneurship “from the dark side”

Monday, February 18th, 2013

By Allan Maurer

Don Rainey

Don Rainey

Does price really matter in a venture financing deal? Can “small ideas” still get funded?

Don Rainey, a former entrepreneur, says his 12-years “on the dark side” as a venture capitalist, have taught him a handful of lessons that still serve him daily, among them, answers to those questions and others.

Rainey, a general partner with Grotech Ventures since 2007, was named to the Washingtonian’s “Tech Titans” list in 2011, and currently serves on the boards of Grotech portfolio companies Clarabridge, GramercyOne, HelloWallet, LivingSocial, Personal, SnappCloud, and Zenoss. He’s one of more than two-dozen venture capitalists and other investors participating in the upcoming Southeast Venture Conference in Charlotte, NC, March 13-14.

Price doesn’t matter

On his blog, VC in DC, Rainy outlined ten of the lessons about entrepreneurship that still guide him.

That business about price, for instance. “Price doesn’t really matter,” he says. “If you invest in something htat fails, it’s immaterial. If it wins, you might hope you had bought it a little cheaper, but you’ll always wish for that. The question is, is it something you believe in? If a deal works out, the price was right at some level. Get in good deals, and forget about getting the last dollar in a negotiation for that good deal.”

He adds, “We’re judged by whether the companies we invest in succeed, not the price.” Also, he notes, “Sometimes you do everything right and sill lose. Macro events can put real pressures on a company. Just think if you had gone into something aimed at financial services in 2007. Some things are beyond your control.”

Don’t pursue small ideas

Big ideas and small ideas are equally difficult, he says. But a venture capital firm has to have some multiple return on the capital it invests and can’t support small ideas, Rainey says. On his blog, he writes,  “What’s the point in trying to change the neighborhood when you can change the world.”

You’re not a rock star

“I’m very suspect of the venture capitalist who wants to be in front of the parade,” Rainey says. “That’s the role of the entrepreneur. We’re enablers, not the primary actors.”

Add value outside of board meetings

Portfolio company board meetings are not the place where a VC adds real value to the firm’s investment. “Private conversations over coffee, lunch, or late at night is when you really can influence the CEO,” Rainey says.

Don’t Invest in People who don’t take advice

Some entrepreneurs have a world class talent for ignoring good advice, Rainey notes on his blog. “I’ve done this 12 years and only had one CEO who ignored my advice and failed. He made a point of it. It wasn’t personal, he ignored everyone’s good advice. A good CEO listens to everyone.”

Then, he’ll let you know he heard you, saying something like, “I concur on these four items from your suggestions. “That’s what the smart ones do,” Rainey says. “They assimilate all that advice and incorporate it into their own perspective.”

Never Panic

Starting and running a business is often fraught with extreme ups and downs, more than one entrepreneur has told us. One day you land a really big customer, the next everyone you talk to says “No.” An entrepreneur has to be able to ride that roller coaster. “One of the great assets of an entrepreneur is confidence,” Rainey says.

“It does ebb and flow. There are days when you’re driving to work thinking there is no way you could be more screwed than you are at that moment, but when you get to work, you find out you were wrong, there are ways it can be worse. It’s hard. People don’t always appreciate how challenging it can be to be able to swing above your weight in the face of weeks or months of bad news. But you have to keep on fighting, even with a strong headwind.”

Be nice to people, it pays well

“In a business like ours,” Rainey says, “You have to say ‘no’ to 99 of 100 people who come to you for money. If you’re not nice to people, even when you have to say ‘no,’ they remember. They also remember if you were nice about it. None of knows where we’ll be in five years or what we’ll be doing.”

 

Would Washington and Lincoln make it in today’s business world?

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Honest AbePresidents’ Day, which falls between the birthdays of two of our nation’s most revered leaders—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—is coming up on Monday, February 18. And as every school-aged kid knows, both men are remembered for their honesty.

(Okay, “little George and the cherry tree” might be more legend than fact, but it doesindicate the extent to which our culture views truthfulness as a virtue.) To Joseph Callaway, the “lip service” we pay to honesty, even as we fudge the truth in our day-to-day lives, raises a question:Would Washington and Lincoln make it in today’s business world?

“I believe the answer is yes,” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the new book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle (Wiley, October 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1184127-7-0, $21.95).

“If they showed up in 2013 and truly lived up to their reputations, they would find themselves in huge demand. People really, really crave honesty and transparency, and it’s mostly because they’re such rare qualities these days.”

Do a little soul-searching, suggests Callaway. You might be shocked at the number of white lies, exaggerations, misdirections, and lies of omission you’re guilty of. For example: I’m not going to meet my deadline so I’ll tell him I’m sick to buy myself a couple more days. Or, This is probably not the best vendor for this particular client, but since she (the vendor) sends us a lot of business, I’m going to recommend her anyway.

Even small dishonesties can hurt your business

The occasional lie of omission, or even commission, may not reflect any ill intent toward your clients. But in the long run, even small dishonesties will muddy your relationship and ultimately keep your business from being all it can be.

“We can usually rationalize our small or even large dishonesties,” says Callaway. “But when we examine them, we can see that our lies, little or big, are told to benefit ourselves—to make more money, to cover up mistakes, or to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.

“Making the decision to always put your clients first instead—which means telling them the truth and letting the chips fall—will transform your business,” he adds. “It may not happen overnight, but it will over time as you gain a reputation for transparency and trustworthiness.

And it will change your life. Just ask Abraham Lincoln, who ‘lost’ a lot of money during his lawyer career because he didn’t like to charge exorbitant amounts, and encouraged clients to settle out of court when it was in their best interests—even though he didn’t get paid!”

George WashingtonCallaway and his wife built their thriving business—Those Callaways—after a late-in-life entry into the world of real estate. Since then, they have lived through a bubble and survived a horrible economic downturn—and managed to prosper through both, while many of their fellow realtors never recovered.

Their magic bullet

They credit their “Clients First” philosophy as their magic bullet—and never, ever telling a lie is part of that.

Early on in their careers as realtors, the Callaways faced a not-uncommon dilemma: Their sellers, the Smiths, needed to sell their home soon so they could move. Their buyers, the Browns, had fallen in love with the Smiths’ house.

Perfect, right? Not really. It turned out the Browns’ offer was lower than what the Smiths were asking, but it still stretched their budget. Should the Callaways tell each family what they wanted to hear (and guarantee themselves a commission)…or should they do the right thing?

“JoAnn and I decided to tell each party the truth: This deal really wasn’t in either of their best interests, even though it was in ours,” he continues. “Like a fairy tale, we soon found the Smiths a buyer willing to pay their asking price, and we found the Browns a more affordable home they loved even more.

The way we did business was forever changed. Whatever happened, we knew we had to always put the client first—even though the truth sometimes hurts, and a fairy-tale ending isn’t always guaranteed.”

Whether in the days of Washington and Lincoln or right now, telling the truth is not rocket science. Honesty really is the best policy in business and in life. Callaway gives seven solid reasons why:

It’s why you exist. If you’re in business, you provide either a good or a service that’s aimed at making the consumer’s life easier, better, fuller, etc. In other words, your raison d’être comes down to helping other people. When you think about your job description in those terms, you’ll have to admit that while it may not always be comfortable, telling the truth is what’s in the client’s best interest.

“You can’t truly help someone if you aren’t being honest!” Callaway assures. “Sure, you can usually rationalize a blurred line or a white lie. But on whose behalf are you fudging the truth? Even if it’s for the client, broken rules and skipped steps—if and when they come to light—won’t be doing him any favors. And if you’re trying to skirt the truth to make your own life easier, beware: You’re on a very slippery slope.”

Joe Callaway

Client's First book

The authors wrote Clients First.

The truth will set you free. Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you that if you told her the truth about how the lamp really got broken, you’d feel better? She was right! Making a commitment to always tell the truth will take a weight off your shoulders that you might not have known was even there! Not only do lies have their own psychic weight, they complicate your life. Truth-telling simplifies it.

“JoAnn and I found that the positive effects of telling the Smiths and Browns the truth were almost immediate,” Callaway recalls. “The first thing we noticed was a new feeling of strength and courage. By no longer having to juggle the facts, we were relieved of so much strain! When you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.”

Honesty is a catalyst for personal evolution. As you walk the path of putting your clients first, promises Callaway, you’ll evolve as a person, not just as a professional. That’s because being honest with your clients isn’t always easy. In fact, in some situations, it might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. But just as sore muscles after weightlifting means that your body is getting healthier and stronger, feeling uncomfortable but telling the truth anyway means that your motivations and intentions are moving toward a higher plane.

“It’s hard to define what a ‘good’ person is, but rest assured that making honesty a constant part of your business will help you to move in that direction,” says Callaway. “JoAnn and I are not the same people we were 14 years ago. Our honesty now is definitely not what our honesty was then. Before, we weren’t always sure we could trust the truth, and we paid for that with fear and anxiety. Now, we enjoy a wonderful calm, as well as the trust and loyalty of clients we would have once worried about losing!”

Telling the truth is the best insurance. No matter what industry or field you’re in, things are occasionally going to go wrong. Despite your best efforts, clients will sometimes be disappointed and angry, and some will seek retribution. While you can’t prevent this eventuality, you can protect yourself by consistently being honest.

“Once I heard a fellow real estate agent say, ‘If you haven’t been sued, you aren’t doing enough business,’” shares Callaway. “I thought about that, and on the one hand was saddened by this person’s hardened attitude, and on the other hand, I was struck by the notion that litigation is a fact of life. It occurred to me that when you’re honest, your chances of being sued plummet. Even if things go wrong, your clients will know you have done your best and will be less likely to blame you for the failure.”

 

JoAnn-Callaway

JoAnn-Callaway

Honesty is a powerful magnet. When you cultivate a reputation for honesty, you’ll be surprised by how quickly and how far the word spreads. Clients want to work with businesses that won’t play them false, and when they believe they’ve found a good thing, they’ll tell others! And, of course, they themselves will stay loyal.

“Believe it or not, JoAnn and I have never asked for referrals,” says Callaway. “We simply put our clients first and watch as they become an army of recruiters.

“When you show yourself to be honest and trustworthy, the people with whom you do business will recommend you and advocate for you and want you to succeed. And when you take good care of those they send your way, they’ll be proud to do it again and again.”

“Sticking with the truth isn’t always easy—it’s something you have to dare to do,” concludes Callaway. “Why else do you think George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are revered for doing so?

“But remember, everything has an impact—and the price of not trusting the truth is always more expensive than the alternative.”

 

Google hangouts changes making it more available

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
Richard Gorman

Richard Gorman

According to technology expert and Google enthusiast Richard Gorman, the Google Hangout feature has come a long way. When the real-time chat function first launched, it was met with skepticism in some circles, despite having the almighty Google brand name affixed to it.

With time, however, Google Hangout has become a popular tool; celebrities and even political figures have used Google Hangouts to host conferences and meet-and-greets. Despite its burgeoning popularity, the Google Hangout is still not accessible to anyone and everyone—but the Google development team is seeking to change that.

The company has announced some major changes to the Google Hangout technology, all designed to bring more users into the fold. These Google Hangout changes have won the attention of Gorman, who has responded with a statement to the press.

Internet connections a problem

“These changes are very much in keeping with Google’s typical passion for making all of their products as accessible, to as many different people, as possible,” Gorman says. “Something like Gmail may be fairly universal in its efficacy, but, for many users, Google Hangout remains untenable, simply because of Internet connectivity issues.”

Indeed, while those with stellar Internet connections can make good use of Google Hangout, the feature is much less useful in third-world countries, or even in busy, public places with crowded Wi-Fi networks. Google has been upfront in saying that the new changes to its Hangout feature are all designed to offer greater accessibility, specifically by allowing users to have more control over their Hangout connections—thus making them less helpless against the ebb and flow of a volatile wireless network.

Audio-only mode slashes bandwidth needed

Google PlusOne of the changes to Google Hangout is an audio-only mode. By sending audio only, and not video, users can significantly cut down on the bandwidth they need to participate in a Google Hangout. To other members of a Hangout, audio-only participants will be visible simply as static profile pictures.

“The audio-only option will surely come in handy to users for whom bandwidth is shaky,” offers Gorman. Still, the more significant advance is the introduction of a new “slider” at the top of each Hangout screen. This slider allows users to take full control over their own bandwidth preferences.

“Google Hangout users used to rely on the default bandwidth settings, but now, they can use the slider to move from high bandwidth to low, and all the way down to audio-only,” Gorman explains. “The bottom line is that, if your connection starts to go bad or you are taxing the network too much, you can easily cut down on your bandwidth without disrupting the Hangout.”

New features only on desktop now

Currently, these new features are available for desktop user only, but Gorman sees a real opportunity for Google to serve mobile users. “The audio-only feature would be an immense boon for those who participate in Hangouts via their mobile devices,” Gorman says.

“It would allow users to participate in Hangouts even while on the go, or in crowded public settings.” He notes that video takes up a lot of bandwidth and is often too much for a mobile device to handle, whereas audio is much easier for smartphones to deal with.

As if these technological improvements were not proof enough of Google’s commitment to making its products as universally accessible as possible, the company has also launched Hangouts in India, for the first time ever.

The bottom line, according to Gorman, is that Google is doing everything it can to make its products second-nature, to anyone and everyone. “Google continues to innovate new ways to make its technology accessible to users everywhere,” he concludes. Richard Gorman is a technology pundit and online marketing professional, and can be found on Quora.

Entrepreneurs: don’t grow yourself into trouble

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Author Ed HessWe hear a lot about job creation and how critical it is to our nation’s economic health and future. But who are America’s job creators? Are they the nation’s richest individuals? Are they big public companies? Hot start-ups?

The answer, says business growth expert Professor Ed Hess, is none of the above. He points to new research sponsored by the Small Business Administration—“Accelerating Job Creation in America: The Promise of High-Impact Companies” by Spencer L. Tracy, Jr.—showing that almost all net U.S. job creation in recent years came from existing private, high-growth companies.

“If we are really going to get serious about job creation, policymakers and communities should focus more on nurturing existing private, high-growth businesses,” says Hess, the author of Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses (Stanford University Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-8047753-4-2, $29.95, www.EDHLTD.com).

Focus on an important issue: Growth

“That means doing what’s necessary to create a healthy small business environment, such as encouraging investment in private business through tax incentives, encouraging hiring inside the U.S., making credit readily available, and so forth,” he adds. “But it also means zeroing in on a very important issue that often gets overlooked: growth.”

To this end, Hess thinks, state governments, the Small Business Administration, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and entrepreneurship centers at colleges and universities should increase their focus on educating existing private business owners on how to manage both the risks and the challenges presented by growth.

Challenges facing the nation’s real job creators

Professor Hess led a study that looked at 54 high-growth private businesses in 23 different states, included both service and product businesses having an average age of 9.6 years and an average revenue of approximately $60 million with the range being $5 million to $350 million.

The key findings of that study led Hess to write two books: Growing an Entrepreneurial Business: Concepts & Cases, a case-textbook for colleges and universities, and the aforementioned Grow to Greatness. Both were peer-reviewed and published by Stanford University Press. The key concepts in those books are the subject matter of this free course.

So, what are the big challenges facing the nation’s real job creators? Take a look at a few facts Hess thinks every company should know about business growth:

Too often, businesses grow themselves into trouble. We know that many successful small businesses implode when they attempt to grow too much too quickly. Growth can outstrip people, processes, and controls.

“Cash flow management during growth periods is critical, because in many cases growth requires investments in people, technology, supplies, etc., ahead of the receipt of cash from customers,” says Hess.

“Entrepreneurs have to understand that they may not be able to afford all the available growth. Instead of following the ‘grow or die’ myth, a much better axiom to follow is ‘improve or die.’ As a business grows, in most cases entrepreneurs have to scale people, processes, and controls. That means not only more but better people, processes, and controls. A focus on improvement is critical because one must maintain high quality standards and financial controls in the haste of growth.”

Successful entrepreneurs know when to release the growth “gas pedal.” In his research, Hess found that every private business faces the same challenges as it attempts to grow. He found that successful entrepreneurs learned to pace their growth.

“They use what I call the ‘gas pedal’ approach to growth,” notes Hess.

“Letting up on the growth pedal to give their people, processes, and controls time to catch up. We also found that strategic focus was critical to safely growing. Focusing on doing one thing that lots of customers needed better than the competition equated to big opportunities.”

Growth means learning to effectively delegate. For a business to grow, the entrepreneur must grow also. When growth begins, entrepreneurs quickly find that they can do only so much and that they need help from others to properly serve customers. They must evolve from being a doer to a manager of employees and then eventually to a manager of managers (a leader).

“This may sound easy but it isn’t,” says Hess.

“Most entrepreneurs don’t like to give up control of any aspect of their business. Facing the fact that they can’t do it all on their own and that they must learn to rely on others to complete certain tasks (and not necessarily exactly how they themselves would do them) can be a very hard reality to swallow.”

Upgrading never ends. The people, processes, structure, and controls needed to manage a business with $1 million of revenue generally do not work for a business with $10 million of revenue. Entrepreneurs often learn the hard way that growth means continual change.

“As you grow, the solutions that worked at one level will most likely not work at the next,” says Hess.

“Inflection points for the companies I’ve studied occurred frequently when they expanded to 10, 25, 50, and 100 employees. When these changes take place, entrepreneurs often realize their hope of having a smooth-running machine is an elusive dream. Successful entrepreneurs and their employees are open to learning and adapting in an incremental, iterative, and experimental fashion.”

Growth creates business risks that must be managed. Growth stresses people, processes, quality controls, and financial controls. It can dilute a business’s culture and customer value proposition and put the business in a different competitive space. Understanding these risks is critical to managing the pace of growth and preventing growth from overwhelming the business.

“To get a better handle on growth risks, consider how your strategic space will change as you get bigger,” says Hess. “You will probably enter a new competitive space, facing bigger and better competitors than you previously faced. Those new competitors may be better capitalized than you and be able to engage in price competition, driving down your margins.

“The good news is that you can minimize this and other big risks by planning for growth, pacing growth, and prioritizing what controls and processes you need to put in place prior to taking on much growth,” he adds. “I call it ‘what can go wrong’ thinking, and entrepreneurs can’t indulge in too much of it.”

5 tips on making your message memorable

Monday, January 21st, 2013

By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Patricia Fripp

Patricia Fripp at one of her speaking engagements.

Some presenters think that if they talk longer, they are giving more value or getting their point across more effectively, when in reality, audiences of any size, from 5 to 500, are eager for content presented as efficiently and memorably as possible.

One of my friends was a sales manager at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He was a great salesperson one-on-one, but now he was facing a group of ten. “I’m very nervous,” he confessed. “How do I sell to so many people?” A professional association was debating whether to bring their convention to the city.

Below are the five tips I gave him to make his message memorable:

Build rapport.

His audience was convention committee. When building rapport with an audience, you need to emotionally and intellectually connect. Think of it this way: logic makes you think, emotion makes you act. You intellectually connect with your logical argument through specifics, statistics, charts and diagrams. You emotionally connect through eye contact, stories, content that creates a visual in the audience’s mind, and “you”-focused (rather than “I”-focused) language. This is incredibly important if you want to sell your ideas, a product or service.

Don’t be polite…get to the point.

“Let’s step backwards,” I said. “How long do you have for your presentation?”

“Seven minutes.”

I asked him how he would start if left to his own resources. The sales manager took a deep breath and began, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’re enjoying our hospitality. I know…” and he was off on a stream of platitudes.

“You’re polite,” I told him when he finished, “and that’s not a bad habit, but you don’t have much time. They know who you are because you’ve been entertaining them. They know where you are. Make it about them.

I advised him to say, “Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to host you. In the next seven minutes, you are going to discover why the best decision you can make for your members and your association is to bring your convention to San Francisco and the Fairmont Hotel.”

Make your message sound valuable.

How valuable does your message sound? Just for fun, I had my friend choose either to rehearse his presentation and time it or transcribe it. He calculated the financial impact of his proposal, and the investment of his prospect, and divided by the length of his presentation. That gave him a dollar value for his words.

Then I asked, “What are you actually ‘selling’?”

“Well, it isn’t the Fairmont because if they come to San Francisco, they’ll definitely use our hotel. I guess I’m selling San Francisco because they are seriously considering San Diego.”

Then I asked him a question that rarely gets asked: “How much is it worth to the Fairmont Hotel if you get their business?”

“Half a million dollars,” he said.

“Mmm,” I said, grabbing my calculator. “Let’s see. Half a million dollars divided by seven minutes—that’s $1,041.66 a second, even when you pause.”

Remove fluff and filler.

Naturally you want to remove all the unnecessary fluff and filler. For example, avoid clichés like “each and every one of you in the room.” How often have you heard presenters say that? It’s adding nine unnecessary words! When you have made your message is clear and concise, divide the word count by the amount of time needed to deliver your presentation. Notice how much more valuable each word has become. Make every word count!

Watching the I-focused language, that is 7 ‘yous’ or ‘yours’ and 1 ‘Fairmont.’ He should continue with, “San Diego is a magnificent destination, and you should definitely go there in the future. However, this year you should come to San Francisco because…” and then list the specific reasons.

This is an emotional opening because it’s ‘you’ focused. And because my friend never disparages his competition, he’s acknowledging that San Diego is fabulous. He connected emotionally with his audience, and the logical specifics connect him to them intellectually.

It can be argued that those polite opening comments are necessary, because the audience is still settling down and not focused on you. This may be true, but don’t let it be an excuse. Go to the front of the room and wait until you have their attention, maintaining a strong, cheerful gaze and willing them to be silent. If needed, state the opening phrase of your comments and then pause until all eyes are focused on you, awaiting the rest of the sentence.

Logic sells, but close with emotion.

Continue a presentation with logical incentives, but end with emotion. Remember that last words linger, and your goal is to be memorable.

Finally, I told my sales manager friend, “Imagine years from now when your attendees are sitting around a convention lobby reminiscing about the best conventions they’ve ever attended, and they talk about their experiences in San Francisco at the Fairmont. And you’ll know you were part of that experience because you were on the planning committee.”

Persuasive presentations give you a competitive edge. You now have eight tips that add value to your words and make your message memorable. Use my friend’s model of how to emotionally connect in the beginning and end of a presentation and intellectually connect in between. Plus, you will be making your words sound more valuable.

About the Author

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, Keynote Speaker, Executive Speech Coach, and Sales Presentation Skills Expert, works with organizations and individuals who realize they gain a competitive edge through powerful, persuasive, presentation skills. She builds leaders, transforms sales teams, and delights audiences. Fripp is Past-President of the National Speakers Association. Contact her at http://www.Fripp.com,

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