Lois Kelly is the author of “Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.” She offered her ideas about the top types of stories people like to talk about. If you’re pitching your company to investors, customers, partners, journalists, vendors or employees and you don’t use at least one of these storylines, you probably have a problem. And, most likely, you’re too close to what you’re doing, so you think that you’re uniquely “patent-pending, curve-jumping and revolutionary.”
1. Aspirations and beliefs. More than any other topic, people like to hear about aspirations and beliefs. (This may be why religion is the most popular word-of mouth topic, ever.) Aspirations are helpful because they help us connect emotionally to the speaker, the company and the issues. They help us see into a person or company’s soul.
2. David vs. Goliath. In the story of David and Goliath, the young Hebrew David took on the Philistine giant Goliath and beat him. It is the way Southwest Airlines conquered the big carriers, the way the once unknown Japanese car manufacturers took on Detroit and the way social media is taking on the media giants. Sharing stories about how a small organization is taking on a big company is great business sport. Rooting for the underdog grabs our emotions, creates meaning and invokes passion. We like to listen to the little guy talk about how he’s going to win and why the world — or the industry — will be a better place for it.
3. Avalanche about to roll. The mountain is rumbling, the sun is getting stronger, but the rocks and snow have yet to fall. You want to tune in and listen to the “avalanche about to roll” topic because you know that there’s a chance that you will be killed if caught unaware. This theme taps into our desire to get the inside story before it’s widely known. It’s not only interesting to hear someone speak about these ideas, but they also have the ingredients for optimal viral and pass-along effect.
4. Contrarian/counterintuitive/challenging assumptions. These three themes are like first cousins, similar in many ways but slightly different. Contrarian perspectives defy conventional wisdom; they are positions that often are not in line with — or may even be directly opposite to — the wisdom of the crowd. The boldness of contrarian views grabs attention. The more original and less arrogant they are, the more useful they will be in provoking meaningful conversations.
Counterintuitive ideas fight with what our intuition (as opposed to a majority of the public) says is true. When you introduce counterintuitive ideas, it takes people a minute to reconcile the objective truth with their gut assumption about the topic. Framing views counter to how we intuitively think about topics — going against natural “gut instincts”— pauses and then resets how we think and talk about concepts.
Challenging widely held assumptions means that when everyone else says the reason for an event is X, you show that it’s actually Y. Challenging assumptions is good for debate and discussion and especially important in protecting corporate reputation.
5. Anxieties. Anxiety is a cousin of the avalanche about to roll, but it is more about uncertainty than an emerging, disruptive trend. Examples of anxiety themes abound: 1.) Financial services companies urging baby boomers to hurry up and invest more for retirement: “You’re 55. Will you have your needed $3.2 million to retire comfortably?” 2.) Tutoring companies that plant seeds of doubt about whether our kids will score well enough on the SATs to get into a good college. Although anxiety themes grab attention, go easy. People are becoming skeptical, and rightly so. Too many politicians and companies have bombarded us with FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) with no facts to back up their point.
6. Personalities and personal stories. There’s nothing more interesting than a personal story with some life lessons to help us understand what makes executives tick and what they value the most. The points of these personal stories are remembered, retold and instilled into organizational culture.
7. How-to stories and advice. Theoretical and thought-provoking ideas are nice, but people love pragmatic how-to advice: how to solve problems, find next practices and overcome common obstacles. To be interesting, how-to themes need to be fresh and original, providing a new twist to what people already know or tackle thorny issues like how to get IT and marketing organizations to work together despite deep culture clashes between the two.
Here’s a good exercise for your team. Have them read this column and then answer the question: What storyline does our marketing currently use? Then, if you’re brave enough, ask the question: What storyline should our marketing use?
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at email@example.com.
The number of seismic changes in the way business is done during the past 10 to 15 years is unprecedented. Just ponder the magnitude of all that has occurred as you read this list: Cell phones became ubiquitous, and computers with 24/7 Internet access moved from the strident screechy tones and beeps of telephone dial up to today’s broadband connections that transmit huge amounts of data in seconds, resulting in virtually everyone being constantly connected.
Instead of getting the latest news at 11 p.m. and sleeping on it, we now receive a constant stream of information in real time. Reaction time has moved from digesting the myriad of hard copy reports that awaited you at the office each morning to now making decisions simultaneously with that first sip of morning coffee while reading data on a smart devise.
In addition, the era of easy money is also long gone, along with what seemed to be extraordinary and unlimited growth where the average company would do just fine, propelled by a rising tide of good times.
The tragedy of Sept. 11 jolted the world permanently, altering the way people live and think about the future. There are no more givens that one will grow up, go to school, get a job, have a family and live happily ever after. Two major wars have lingered beyond anyone’s worst expectations. Then came the economic meltdown of 2008 when the wheels came off the wagon and the music stopped playing while everyone frantically searched for too few remaining chairs. With the stock market crash and the banking/lending meltdown, even the most sanguine turned jaundiced toward their views of government, business and what the future holds.
Even those businesses naively ensconced in their fairytale cocoons realized it was no longer business as usual. What worked for years would no longer move the needle. Customers’ attitudes and loyalties could no longer be taken for granted as businesses acknowledged that future success and prosperity could well be the exception, rather than the rule.
Does this mean that everything that we’ve learned in the past has gone swirling down the drain, including basic business principles and practices that were sacrosanct?
There are no pat answers to deal with almost revolutionary metamorphoses, if you don’t change, you most certainly will become a victim of change.
Welcome to the new ‘now.’ If you’re leading an organization today, you must devote the majority of your time and efforts to looking ahead and trying to find the answers before your competitors even know the questions. Change has become how we must do business. What worked for your company previously is, at best, a fleeting memory overshadowed by the customers’ mindset of “What have you done for me today?” In short, there are no guarantees other than you’ll have to continuously get better or be gone.
A scary thought? It all depends how you approach this new reality. With changes come new opportunities, new ground rules and the ability to find a better way and deliver that better way more efficiently and effectively.
So how do you go about preparing for the future? Certainly use all of the new tools that are at your fingertips. Instant information on the Web is available to all of us with a few keystrokes directed at a growing number of sophisticated search engine. Data that took weeks and months to gather can now be gleaned in minutes or hours. While Americans are graying as the over-50 crowd mushrooms, don’t ignore the young who know only this new way of life. Does this mean you should add a few 14-year-olds to your board? Maybe not a practical idea, but be sure you’re at least talking to a couple of them on an ongoing basis. Ideas come in many forms, many times from the most unlikely.
You must retrain your team to challenge virtually everything and find a better way, envision products, goods and services that no one knows they even need yet, and create a strategy to deliver them compellingly and creatively.
Will there continue to be business casualties? You bet. Much more importantly, however, there will be many business successes for those companies led by visionaries who answer that morning wake-up call each day with an open mind to the new now.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If you’ve been running a business for some time, then I’m sure you know some CEOs who are struggling to keep their business going or have already closed their doors.
In some cases, the cause might be the economy. Maybe they were in an industry hit particularly hard and were crippled by the drop off in sales or maybe a large customer folded or took its business elsewhere.
The most troubling aspect in many of these situations is that the person in charge didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. The leader made all the right calls and did everything by the book but still ended up with a struggling business.
After you’ve been running a business for a while, you realize that even doing everything right doesn’t guarantee success. The harshest lesson to learn is that you can’t control everything and bad things happen to good people and good companies.
The real test for many begins not with how they deal with success but how they deal with setbacks. Most have never tasted defeat before, and it can be a difficult experience. One day they are the CEO of a successful and respected company, and the next day they are sitting at home wondering what they could have done differently. The experience can be depressing for some and overwhelming for others.
But there’s a saying that as one door closes, another opens, and that certainly holds true with business. If you find yourself in the situation of leading a struggling business, you need to approach it as a challenge. Don’t waste time lamenting what could have been; focus your energy on what could be. Maybe you need to tweak your business, or maybe you need to completely reinvent your company, but the key is to do something.
Take McDonald’s for instance. In the early 2000s, the company was distracted by multiple acquisitions, a massive expansion plan and a menu cluttered with items consumers didn’t necessarily want. The stock price dropped to $12. The company reinvented itself by returning to its roots, divesting of the distracting side businesses and revamping its menu and restaurants to appeal to consumers. The results changed the perception of McDonald’s from a restaurant in decline to the undisputed king of the industry with a stock price in the $80 range.
Another example is IBM. The company was saddled with low growth after trying to dominate the consumer and business hardware and software segments, and its stock dropped to $10. The leadership refocused the company on business software, a few key business hardware components and IT services. It now dominates the business IT services category and its stock commands almost $200 per share.
While you may not be as large as IBM or McDonald’s, the point is that business is constantly evolving. Sometimes it means getting back to your roots, and other times it means abandoning one line of business in favor of another.
Take a hard look at your company and think about what you could do differently. Are there some product lines that are better than others? What if you focused on your core products and did them better than anyone else? Can you follow the lead of McDonald’s or IBM to chart a new course?
If it’s too late for that, look at your current situation and find a new path to success. You led a successful business once, so you can surely do it again. Reach out to friends and colleagues to find out where the opportunities may be in the market and think about a way they could invest in your new venture. You never know who may be able to lend a helping hand. One door may have closed in your career, but with some entrepreneurial thinking, the help of some friends and prayer, another will open. The best is yet to come.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Regardless of what products you’re selling, we’re all really in the people business, aren’t we? And as a business, we are really only as good as the people running the ship. Needless to say, attracting the best people and keeping them inspired to perform at their highest potential is one of the most important things you can do as a business leader.
Not only is recruitment expensive, but it is also time-consuming, which is why it makes great business sense to get it right the first time.
Commit to the fact that it will take more than just your human resources department to create a top-performing team. Recruiting is part of everyone’s job, and the company culture should reflect the importance of it. At Moe’s, we make the interview process a priority. No fewer than seven associates interview, regardless of what position the candidate is interviewing for.
Use a list as a guide
It all starts with the job description. You know the skills and experience it takes to perform a particular job, but what does that job look like when performed by a superstar? What skills and what personal attributes are most critical in order for a person to exceed expectations in a particular role?
Identifying what is needed, prioritizing and committing to not settling for less will help you get the right candidates through the door. Use the job description to guide the interview process. Get the interviewing team aligned around what to look for and around your intent to hire only the best.
Interview with purpose
Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of reviewing a candidate’s resume a few moments prior to the interview. It’s easy to get busy and let preparing to be a good interviewer slip. However, to get the most out of the interview process, do research on the candidate, follow up with references and ask the open-ended questions that will get at the skills that are most needed to be successful at the job.
Some candidates may have all of the required skills, but they may not be a strong cultural fit, which in my opinion is more important. At Moe’s, we often ask questions such as, “What do you enjoy doing on the weekend?” This helps us understand the candidate on a more personal level.
To combat that concern, have several key players on your team interview candidates, and take their feedback to heart.
Also, bring in as many people as possible for an interview. The more people you interview, the greater the odds that you’ll find the perfect fit.
Complete and repeat
Once you’ve hired the candidate that fits the top-performer description, the next step is keeping him or her happy. Typically, top performers are highly motivated people who are eager to make an impact on the organization and advance their careers.
Be sure your top performers know they are appreciated. They will enjoy added responsibility and will appreciate a company that offers a clear vision of the future and goals upon which they can measure their success.
The best part about recruiting great candidates is that they will attract other great candidates. Next thing you know, you’ll be surrounded by a team that is talented, motivated, smarter than you and ready to grow your business beyond what you thought was possible.
Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Charles Stubbs left YellowPages.com to take the helm at Primedia Inc. in mid-2008, his new employer was at a critical juncture. Primedia’s market sector — apartment rental and home listings — was rapidly switching from print-based media to digital. Then, a couple of months later, the financial crisis struck, pushing the economy into recession and knocking the bottom out of the real estate market.
“I joined Primedia at an interesting point,” Stubbs says. “We’re essentially a real estate advertising business. Our mission is to help consumers find a place to live, whether they’re looking to rent a single-family home, live in a multifamily complex or purchase a new home. That’s our bread and butter.
“Obviously, being in the real estate business has been an interesting challenge over the last several years. There’s no doubt that when you cater to your clients and they suddenly go through a period where they’re suffering, it’s going to have an impact on your company as well.”
So with the housing market ailing, Primedia’s business went south for a while. But Stubbs recognized that there was important work to be done during those lean times.
The signals were coming from all directions: In order to get through the recession and emerge at the other end in good shape, Primedia — which had been tentatively dipping its toe into the online media pool for almost 10 years — would have to jump all the way in and start swimming.
“All you have to do is listen to your customers,” Stubbs says. “The first two months I was on the job, I went on a number of customer sales calls. About 90 percent of our time was spent on digital media: what our strategy was with ApartmentGuide.com in particular, and what we were doing to win in that space. Very little time was spent on print media, print distribution and the opportunities around that.
“At the same time, it was obvious that there was so much more usage online — just phenomenal apartment lookup usage online.”
The print-to-digital exodus was under way, and Primedia wasn’t in a position to reap much benefit from it.
“The digital migration was happening,” Stubbs says. “Our board realized this. Even though Primedia was continuing to have revenue growth, our business was starting to lose market share to digital-only players.
“So we decided we’d better use that downtime the best we could, to take what was traditionally a print business and move it over to digital. That has been our focus. I think we have used that time very well. We had a print business with more than 30 years of heritage, and in a short period of time, we’ve converted it into a vibrant, almost exclusively digital business.”
The 850-employee company had 2010 revenue of $232 million and went from a public company to a private one in 2011.
Build the team
How did Primedia make the switch from print to online-based media during these last four recession-choked years? First, it circled the wagons and made sure it had the right team in place, with every team member on the same page communicating clearly and pulling in the same direction.
“The first thing you need to do is spend some time with your team,” Stubbs says. “Being a new CEO, sitting down and meeting all the team members, especially the senior team members and making sure that they’re on board with the idea that we have to become a digital leader in this space — that while print has provided tremendous success for the last few decades, it won’t take us where we want to go for the next several decades.”
Making sure the proper players were in place was the essential first step Primedia had to take before it could make the transition from print to digital.
“You have to identify the right team,” Stubbs says. “You have to bring everyone together and make sure they believe in the core strategy. You have to spend time with all the people on the existing team to understand their views, their successes, how they view the business and the opportunities around it and also to see how they adapt to change. Do they embrace change or are they reluctant?
“When you have a traditional business that’s had a lot of success, it’s difficult to reach the realization that those attributes won’t define success moving forward — that you really are at an inflection point. That was only accelerated by the economic crisis we were going through. So it’s really about investing time, understanding the team members and their strengths and observing how they adapt to change. And then, obviously, augmenting the team in areas where you see that you need additional skill sets.”
Once Primedia got its lineup in place, it had to make sure everyone was on the same page, communicating and collaborating smoothly.
“I’ve found in my career that you can have a lot of A players, but they won’t take you where you want to go unless they’re communicating well and working together as a team,” Stubbs says. “That’s paramount, especially during a major transformation of your business. It takes all the energy you have. It’s a lot of hard work. It requires real commitment and real dedication to working together. The teamwork environment is critical.”
Primedia’s leadership team recognized that the communication factor was vital, so it spent a lot of time, effort and energy making sure the right elements were in place to promote the quantity and quality of give and take that would be needed to successfully steer the company through the transition from print to digital.
“It wasn’t that we did anything particularly fancy; it was mainly about investing time to make sure it was working,” Stubbs says. “We had regular weekly meetings. We had specific meetings around subject matter areas. We created a number of cross-functional task teams, because one thing I’ve learned about the difference between traditional media and new media is you have to work cross-functionally especially well, from sales to product to technology to operations. All of those areas have to be integrated, to encourage the teams to come back with creative solutions that can be executed upon.”
Take small steps
Once Primedia’s leadership felt it had its teams assembled and everyone pulling in the same direction, the leadership team began focusing the company’s vision on incremental successes, on rebuilding and restoring its salespeople’s confidence, and on recognizing that it would have to take chances and risk failures in order to set itself on a winning path.
“Over the previous decade, Primedia had ventured into online media and did have somewhat of a digital presence, but it hadn’t lived up to expectations,” Stubbs says. “At the same time, we recognized that we were going through a very tough period with the economy and with the real estate market, so we felt it was important to demonstrate that we could have incremental successes to build confidence that we could execute and win, a little at a time.
“We focused on things such as creating basic scorecards, measuring success month by month, and beginning to look and see steady progress that gets you to an end result.”
The bleak business climate had taken an especially harsh toll on Primedia’s sales staff, so restoring morale in that area was a major focus area for the company’s leadership team.
“That was an overarching thing during the tough economy,” Stubbs says. “We’ve really had to work hard at restoring confidence in our salespeople. During the toughest parts of it, a lot of them seemed to lose some of their swagger, so we had to rebuild that while demonstrating that we have the absolute best product for our clients in the marketplace.”
Restoring the sales staff’s vitality has been a multistep process for Primedia.
“It’s one step at a time,” Stubbs says. “It’s coming up with new pricing schemes and mechanisms. It’s coming up with a number of new products and bundling and packaging those together, creating a number of short-term sales incentives, creating a number of marketing summits to bring clients together and educate them about the change in the business.
“And not only to educate the clients, but to educate the field salespeople on how this is a new game and this is a company they should be proud of — and telling them, ‘Look at the innovation and investment we’re putting into it, which is unparalleled compared to our competitors.’ It’s step by step, and I feel we’ve made great progress in this area.”
Another important element in Primedia’s successful switch from print to digital during the recession has been the company leaders’ acknowledgement that you have to be willing to risk failure to win.
“We realize we’re going to have to try things and test things and risk failing,” Stubbs says. “But that’s OK, because we understand the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish. And you have to manage the failure; you never want to fail too big and create real harm.
“It’s mainly about testing things. Whether it’s multivariate testing online or giving consumers different opportunities to interact with your family of websites or launching new test products in a half-dozen markets and seeing if they resonate with your sales force and your clients.
“We’ve had a number of new products that didn’t make it, but we’ve learned from them and incorporated them into successive product lines that we’ve had great success with.”
Keep looking forward
All of the effort has borne fruit for Primedia. The company has made big strides in its transition from print to digital media and positioned itself well for future success online.
“When we began this journey, only about 30 percent of all the consumer interactions with our properties were digital; 70 percent were print,” Stubbs says. “We’ve been working on changing that for the last four years, and we’ve now reached the point where it’s 92 percent digital and 8 percent print. And back when we started, mobile didn’t even exist. Now mobile alone is three times the size of print for us.
“If you look at our overall lead growth, we’ve been able to increase the leads we provide our clients at a compound 25 percent annual growth rate for the last five years. And with the consolidation of ApartmentGuide.com and Rent.com, we’re approaching between 8 and 9 million monthly unique [users], which is nearly triple the next competitor in our space. We’ve continued to dramatically grow our audience.”
Primedia’s leadership team isn’t spending much time looking back at what the company has achieved, though, because the pace of change keeps accelerating in the online marketplace.
“Every day, you have to continue to be aware of the competitive landscape and force yourself to continue to innovate so you can continue to be a leader,” Stubbs says. “I don’t think anyone in the digital space can afford to rest on their laurels.
“You have to be conscious that there are always disrupters out there, new start-ups looking to disturb traditional business models and change the game. There are countless case studies of those in the digital arena.
“Obviously, we want to continue to have success and continue to gain share and own our space. We’re going to have to challenge ourselves every day to continue our leadership position. We don’t take it for granted for one minute.” <<
How to reach: Primedia Inc., (678) 421-3000 or www.primedia.com
THE STUBBS FILE
Name: Charles Stubbs
Title: President and CEO
Company: Primedia Inc.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, Cornell University; MBA, Vanderbilt University
What business leadership lessons did you learn during your time in school that you use today?
While an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to be involved with the business side of a daily student newspaper, on the advertising-circulation-distribution side, so I learned a lot about the fundamental building blocks of the business. I also learned that it’s important to invest a lot of time with your people and to build a great team, because they’re the ones who are going to get the job done. No one individual is going to do it.
What was your first job, and what business lessons did you learn from it?
When I was in seventh and eighth grade, my parents owned a couple small gift shops in Dallas. I worked the cash register and in the back room packaging and shipping. From watching them, I learned that it’s important to hire good people, train them well, and treat them well.
Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?
If you tell someone you’re going to do something, follow through with it. And if you work hard and have high integrity, success will come — not overnight, but over time.
What trait do you think is most important for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader?
You’ve got to be able to win the hearts and minds of a good percentage of your team. You’ll never get 100 percent, but you’ve got to be able to get people to believe in a common vision and to follow you. And while it’s important to hold your people accountable, it’s even more important to have everyone hold each other accountable.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My parents always told me to work hard and be honest and do what’s right, and that often people win simply by outworking others.
Goodwill of North Georgia isn’t your average nonprofit organization.
It is older than most corporations in the North Georgia area and among the fastest-growing Goodwill organizations in the country.
Between 2000 and 2012, the organization grew from 558 employees serving 491,000 donors at 25 locations to 2,425 employees serving more than 2 million donors at 124 locations. Goodwill helped find employment opportunities for 844 people in 2000 to more than 10,000 in 2012. And its revenue increased from $18 million to $113 million in that same time period, a 527 percent increase in a little more than a decade.
To better understand the organization that has been serving the community for so long, Smart Business partnered with Goodwill of North Georgia to learn about and evaluate its services and business model.
A strategic approach
Goodwill of North Georgia's mission is to put people to work, and this mission is interwoven into everything it does. The framework begins with a strategic planning process that outlines its goals for the following five years. It’s this planning process that predicts its growth, determines its efficiencies, defines its processes and provides the proper services to partner with employers to provide the job opportunities to those it serves.
Goodwill of North Georgia is the first donated-goods business in the world to hold the International Organization for Standardization 9001, 14001 and 18001 registrations. ISO 9001 is a standard that provides a set of requirements for quality management systems. ISO 14001 is an environmental management system that helps Goodwill of North Georgia reduce its impact on the environment. And ISO 18001 specifies requirements for implementing an occupational health and safety management system. These registrations confirm the high quality and dedication of the organization.
All Goodwills throughout the world are members of Goodwill Industries International Inc., which comprises 165 Goodwill organizations in North America and 14 Goodwill affiliate organizations around the world. Individual Goodwills are given the freedom to design the services and programs to meet the unique needs of their local communities.
Goodwill of North Georgia has chosen to focus on driving revenue through its donation centers and stores so it can put more people to work through job training, job placement and job creation. Among all Goodwills, Goodwill of North Georgia ranks fifth in total revenue, fourth in donated goods retail revenue and fifth in the number of people it has helped find jobs, illustrating this focus has been successful.
In its donor services segment, the organization collects donated clothing and household items and sells them in its retail stores. Goodwill of North Georgia operates 41 stores and more than 60 donation centers. In fiscal year 2012, it processed 1.7 million donations and served more than 4.8 million customers while continuing to grow by adding 14 new locations and 156 new positions.
The facilities services segment of the organization cleans about 5 million square feet of space each day in the North Georgia area and generates more than $15 million in revenue a year. About 80 percent of employees in this segment have disabilities, and Goodwill gives these individuals an opportunity to obtain employment. This business provides top-notch facility management services to federal, state and local governments and the commercial real estate market and has been doing so for more than 30 years.
Goodwill of North Georgia’s career services segment serves not only individuals looking for work but also employers looking for talent. It helped put more than 10,000 people to work at an average wage of $9.86 per hour in fiscal 2012. Proving its dedication to its mission of putting people to work, the organization steadily increases the number of people it puts to work annually and is on track to put another 12,000 people to work by 2014.
Like any shrewd business, Goodwill operates its programs and services with an outcome in mind. The important outcome is how many people are now employed in the community; it does it by tailoring its services to meet the needs of employers within the community.
Goodwill of North Georgia is committed to working with businesses of all types and sizes on a variety of projects. The organization is the go-to employee source for many businesses, and because of its stellar reputation and success in the community, it receives word of many job openings before they are posted publicly.
Goodwill of North Georgia has become known for the shared value it provides for both the community and businesses. These businesses receive workers who are fully trained and ready to work, and the workers receive a job that enables them to provide for their families and the greater community.
Besides hiring Goodwill of North Georgia’s program participants, companies throughout the area provide on-the-job training or utilize the organization’s training and employment resources. And Goodwill of North Georgia is open to other business partnerships that promote its goal of developing and strengthening its community.
Building cash reserves
Goodwill of North Georgia runs its business with a focus on building cash reserves of at least 30 percent of its annual revenue.
This strategy enables the organization to adroitly plan for anything that would be disruptive to the business. It has also made Goodwill of North Georgia one of the few nonprofits that was able to grow and expand during the recession.
Its business model also allows Goodwill of North Georgia to continue growing — as people outgrow the use of their items, they donate them. And at the same time, they need items, so they visit the organization’s stores to purchase them.
One of the misconceptions of nonprofits is they are not focused on operating cost-effectively and efficiently. This could not be further from the truth with Goodwill of North Georgia. The organization is focused on generating revenue and using it in a way that makes it a good steward of generous donations. It constantly looks for ways to reduce costs and live up to the highest standards of quality.
Maximizing efficiency through decentralization
Goodwill of North Georgia is one of the few Goodwill organizations in the country that is decentralized. The organization analyzed its internal processes to find ways to be even more efficient. Now it takes in donations at all of its individual locations and processes all donations to sell within 24 hours.
The organization greatly attributes its growth to this keen business strategy. It allows it to be more efficient because it is processing donations and getting them out for sale more quickly. It also saves on the costs of transporting the goods from various stores to a separate location and back again and on staffing for a separate location.
This process is more efficient and environmentally friendly. Shoppers at Goodwill of North Georgia’s stores are essentially buying their neighbors’ clothes, and the money and goods stay in the community.
Goodwill of North Georgia applies the decentralization philosophy to its career centers, as well. Instead of one central career center, Goodwill of North Georgia has many centers spread across its territory, making it more convenient for those who use the services and therefore enabling it to put more people to work.
Business processes drive results
Goodwills around the world are known for their donation centers and retail stores. However, not everyone knows the power of those donations and what goes on behind the scenes.
Goodwill’s stores are stocked with the items people donate. The proceeds from these sales support the operation of the organization’s career centers and other programs, which fulfills its mission of putting people to work.
Donations add up. For every nine shirts or blouses donated, Goodwill is able to provide one hour of resume preparation. For every chair donated, Goodwill is able to provide 12 minutes of career counseling. Donations have a huge impact on the organization and the communities Goodwill serves.
Because of this, Goodwill of North Georgia continually evaluates its stores to ensure they are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. As times change, it quickly adapts and responds to ensure it is still meeting the needs of its community. The organization takes good business practices that work well in its best-performing stores and implements them in its other stores. This standardizes the stores so they all have the same processes and makes it easier for both employees, who can easily relocate from one store to another, and shoppers, who can visit different locations and expect the same great quality and service.
Goodwill of North Georgia makes donating easy and convenient in other ways, as well. It has an area of its website (www.goodwillng.org) where individuals, businesses or organizations can choose to donate money. If the donor desires, these contributions can go to a specific program. If the donor does not specify a use for the money, the board of directors selects a program.
And donations don’t have to be tangible — Goodwill of North Georgia also has volunteers who help the organization as placement call specialists, computer support assistants, class instructors, job fair support staff and more.
What happens to donated goods?
Goodwill of North Georgia accepts a wide variety of goods, including:
- Pots and pans
- Video games and systems
Goodwill of North Georgia is grateful for all of its donations and does not waste them. Items that aren’t up to the organization’s quality standards or cannot be sold within three weeks are offered for sale to the secondary/salvage market.
Great business practices equal great opportunities
Goodwill of North Georgia provides job training opportunities for a wide demographic across 45 counties, including youth, veterans, people with disabilities and people with limited education, although its career centers are open to anyone.
Goodwill of North Georgia has eight career centers that are free and open to the public. The centers offer weekly listings of local job opportunities often not found online or in the newspaper, computers with Internet access and resume writing software, phones and fax machines to arrange appointments and communicate with employers, a resource library with materials to help job seekers prepare for and secure employment and other resources such as coaching and interview tips. These services are critical to the community as many job seekers need the extra help in securing a job.
Goodwill of North Georgia also offers training programs at these centers, including programs for single mothers, noncustodial parents and other niche groups, and also offers certification programs, such as programs for forklift operators and apartment maintenance technicians. Workers who have attended these training programs have impressed many employers with their knowledge, perseverance and professionalism.
Talented, passionate staff and volunteers who provide guidance, coaching and strategies on job hunting operate these centers.
These services are particularly important because of the current economic climate. Many workers, especially skilled and semiskilled workers who have been affected by the loss of jobs or reduced hours, need the career assistance Goodwill of North Georgia provides.
In response, Goodwill of North Georgia ramped up its training offerings, working through weekends and holidays to solidify its mission of putting people to work.
Focus on the future
Goodwill of North Georgia ensures its employees are cognizant of its mission — putting people to work. The mission is posted and visible in its stores and career centers and is communicated during meetings and visits by executives. This communication ensures employees feel connected to the organization and are reminded of the importance of their work.
The organization also engages its employees in its strategic planning process. Goodwill of North Georgia has a volunteer board of directors, executive staff and more than 100 other managers engaged in some level of strategic planning.
Also, when a new store opens, Goodwill of North Georgia President Ray Bishop personally meets with its employees to discuss the organization’s planning process and why the stores exist. Employees are encouraged to read and understand the 5-year Strategic Plan and then ask questions.
This method of engagement is a main reason the organization has been so successful. A thoroughly followed, reviewed and communicated plan is critical to an organization’s success, and Goodwill of North Georgia’s method of creating and utilizing its plan is on par with some of the top businesses in the world.
Goodwill of North Georgia is effectively and efficiently run and well positioned for the years ahead. The community-based organization owes its success to a dedicated strategic planning process and commitment to excellence and execution at all levels of the organization.
Its current plan calls for it to double its size and revenue from 2010 to 2014, and it is on target to do so. The organization plans to open five new stores a year and each new store will employ about 40 people. It also plans to add one career center per year. Each career center increases the number of people the organization serves by an average of 3,000 and the individuals it puts to work by an average of 650.
The bottom line: Goodwill of North Georgia’s services and programs put people to work. It is an experienced and capable organization that operates with an effective business model, uses its resources well and focuses on bettering the North Georgia community.
HOW TO REACH: Goodwill of North Georgia, 235 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30303. Phone: (404) 420-9900. Website: http://goodwillng.org/.
Inefficiencies in your accounts receivable functions can dramatically impact your business.
“If a company is not managing its accounts receivables, it faces a greater risk of not collecting the money on a timely basis or, even worse, not being able to collect on the funds at all,” says Nick Heintzman, staff accountant at Ashton Staffing, Inc.
Managing your accounts receivable can be one of the most time-intensive duties your company faces, but it is also one of the most important functions
“It lays the groundwork for solid financial footing,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Heintzman about how companies can better manage their AR to ensure fiscal stability.
How much control can a company really have over its AR?
A company has as much control over its accounts receivable as it can devote to it. The accounts receivable process is more than just managing the account once it is established. The process should start before the client ever begins doing business with you. A credit check should be run so you can evaluate the financial history of a prospective client to better protect you from losing money on the back end. If you notice a trend of late payments, you are better prepared to negotiate terms with the client that will help you still be profitable in the event that you are paid late. A credit report will show bankruptcies and liens, which could help you avoid getting tangled up with a client that would be more likely to fail and leave you with pennies on the dollar.
Another important part of evaluating a credit report is to set credit limits for prospective clients. This will help to protect you and also let the client know it will have to keep up with payments in order to maintain the relationship.
What are some of the more common problems companies face regarding AR?
Three problems that seem to be the most common are short-pays, payment beyond terms and companies failing to pay because of economic difficulties. All three can become significant difficulties in a very short time.
If a client is short-paying invoices, you are not capturing your full earning potential on the account. A client paying beyond terms will hinder your cash flow and potentially cause you to have to borrow to keep up with your financial responsibilities. And if you never receive payment from a client, you have not only lost the money associated with providing the goods or service, you also have lost the profit potential associated with the sale.
What technologies exist today that can help improve a company’s AR function?
There are several accounting software packages that make managing your accounts receivable much easier. QuickBooks, for example, creates reports that will break down your accounts receivable, in detail if needed, by preset time intervals. It can quickly show you which accounts are beyond terms, and this will help you focus on delinquent accounts on the days when you don’t have a lot of time to allocate to managing your accounts receivable.
QuickBooks also can apply finance charges to delinquent accounts, which helps to offset the cost associated with payment beyond terms. Many times, applying late fees will cause a client to re-evaluate its payment terms for you because paying late fees often is a burden. If a client knows you are serious about staying on top of its account, it is likely to get back in terms to avoid the extra charges.
Overall, what are the key factors to efficient AR management?
Some key factors are to keep up with it daily, be friendly but forceful, follow up in a timely and consistent manner, and do the research before taking on a client. However, being rude toward a client will not get payment any faster and will most likely cause the client to think twice about doing business with you. By being friendly and personable, you can help establish a relationship with the client, and that can go a long way in ensuring you are paid on time.
How can inefficiencies in the AR function, if ignored, affect a business?
The longer an account goes outstanding, the lower your success rate of collecting on the funds. In both scenarios — collecting the money late or not at all — it is going to restrict your cash flow for expenditures. Most accounts are set up on a net-30 term, whether it is accounts receivable or accounts payable. If you are collecting your money at the 45-day mark, it’s because you are not staying on top of your customers and you will most likely end up paying most of your vendors at 45-plus days, beyond terms. This can create conflict between you and your vendor, straining the relationship or even causing the vendor to require payment up front. Going one step further, if companies report to credit bureaus, your credit rating will drop if you are consistently late on payments. Poor credit ratings lead to higher interest rates for borrowing, which costs the company more money and restricts cash flow even further.
How should a business go about getting its AR functions back on track?
Set aside time every day to focus on it. If you devote some time every day to contacting aging accounts, you will:
- Stay at the top of their minds, which will hopefully lead to faster payments;
- Know which accounts you will need to keep a closer eye on by seeing ongoing trends; and
- Be able to catch delinquent accounts right away before they spiral out of control.
Nick Heintzman is a staff accountant at Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach him at (678) 359-3783 or email@example.com.
Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton
The U.S. economy has been volatile to say the least in the past few years, and tumult in markets across the globe is chipping away at companies’ already shaky confidence, which has stalled hiring.
However, some industries are seeing orders or requests for service start to increase, which requires companies in these fields to try to keep up with demand using a pared-down work force. That’s where staffing agencies have been able to lend a hand.
However, the impending implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is likely to have an impact on workers’ compensation benefits, a program for which many staffing and professional employment organizations take responsibility. While the consequences are uncertain, employers and staffing agencies are taking measures to provide safer workplaces to reduce claims but are otherwise bracing for its potential impact.
Smart Business spoke with Hayden Smith, account executive and consultant with Solid Agency, LLC, about how staffing firms have been faring in this choppy economy.
How has employment been impacted by economic uncertainty?
There have been some positive trends in the staffing industry. Temporary and contract employment has grown 24.8 percent since the beginning of 2012, according to the American Staffing Association. There are certainly many rosy predictions and forecasts for the temporary industry, with the consensus saying good times are ahead for well-operated firms.
Since September 2008, 88 percent of employers have either maintained or increased the size of their nonemployee work force and ASA reports that temporary and contract staffing employment jumped 24 percent in May.
Further, reports indicate more college-educated professionals and managers have been hired than blue-collar workers in the past years, signaling that contract workers have become the go-to solution for companies across industries.
This comes at a time when only 23 percent of U.S. companies say they plan to add staff in the next six months. That figure is down from the 39 percent of companies that planned on hiring when they were surveyed in April. Clearly, companies are exhibiting caution when it comes to adding costs, such as those incurred when hiring full-time, permanent workers, while the global and U.S. economies stand on shaky ground.
Workers’ compensation is a significant cost often covered by staffing agencies. How are recent events impacting this program?
Workers’ compensation coverage is the second-largest expense behind payroll for temporary agencies.
When employers use temporary workers, they can avoid the possibility of having workers’ compensation claims made against them as contract workers are covered through the agency’s program. However, the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act could impact the current workers’ compensation program. For instance, there is some speculation that frivolous claims made by workers could drop as more are provided health care coverage with which to get treatment, instead of filing a fraudulent workers’ compensation claim. A study that examined the impact of health care reform on workers’ compensation medical care in Massachusetts found that health care reform could reduce workers’ compensation billing volume and costs. However, it’s unclear how the findings will apply across states mandated to abide by the Affordable Care Act.
Additionally, alternative markets available for the temporary industry to secure valid coverage have continued to grow and can offer cost-effective, tailored methods other than traditional methods of workers’ compensation.
The temporary agency that does not manage its workers’ compensation very carefully will eventually find out how important this expense is to its bottom line.
How can the number of workers’ compensation claims be reduced for a temporary staffing agency?
While accidents cannot be completely eliminated, several processes and procedures can be used to help reduce the number of accidents and injuries, and possibly stop fraudulent claims.
Implementing a proven best-hiring practices program is first on the list. In depth prehire and post-offer questionnaires will help in deciding the type of work of which a temporary employee is capable. A drug-free workplace is another key component but only if the program is well managed by the employer. Also, most states offer premium discounts for drug-free workplace programs.
Another risk-reducing element that every business needs is a formal written safety program. However, this can be difficult for a multi-industry temp agency to provide. A thorough job description from the client employer will aid in the task of understanding risks and managing safety. Additionally, use these job descriptions with the aforementioned post-offer questionnaire, so client employers receiving qualified labor will be more confident using the services of a diligent temp agency.
A managed care organization is another helpful tool of a well-managed workers’ compensation program. When put in place and enforced, these can help reduce the total number of compensable workers’ compensation injuries. However, if a temporary employee is never informed and updated about the procedures of his or her workers’ compensation program, all will be for naught.
Ultimately, providing a safe workplace for employees is the responsibility of the employer. If employees are hurt, regardless of whether they are temporary or permanent, your bottom line could potentially suffer in several ways, including higher workers’ compensation premiums, loss of production and a negative impact on overall employee morale.
Proper planning, efficient management and complete implementation of components available to the staffing industry can help you avoid ‘the ugly’ in the future.
Hayden Smith is an account executive and consultant for Solid Agency, LLC. Reach him at (678) 460-2965 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Entera
In business, as in life, there’s a benefit to having guidance that’s tried and true. Most successful business owners can cite mentors who have directed their paths along the way. As companies grow, those informal relationships are usually replaced by formal boards of directors. A board of directors is a very useful method for allowing significant shareholders to feel they have a say in the strategic planning for the company.
It’s my opinion that all companies – regardless of size – need to have a board. In this two-part series, I will explore the benefits that a small company can gain from having a corporate board and how a small business owner can establish a board.
First, let’s examine the benefits:
1) A good board of directors will do what employees often are afraid to do: challenge the leader. Most employees don’t feel empowered to speak up when they think a strategy is misguided or out of sync with customers or a target market. Board directors should be willing to openly question ideas and the assumptions that guide strategic planning to help the president or CEO suss out their soundness.
2) A board can provide accountability – particularly in family-run businesses where it can be hard for an unbiased assessment of the business without familial issues clouding judgment.
3) Boards can help with recruiting, evaluating and selecting top job candidates, as well as setting compensation criteria that are fair and transparent. Since directors are removed from the daily running of the business, they can help with succession planning.
4) For companies considering a public offering, setting up a board early can help acclimate the owners to the enhance scrutiny that they will face once the company is publicly traded.
5) A board of directors is legally required for registered corporations.
Next column: How to create your own board.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets.
"The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."
Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever."
During the webinar — on Wednesday, September 19 at 1:00pm EST — we will discuss why global sales for manufacturers is critical, what factors should be considered in developing or refining the international strategy, and, finally, present a roadmap that can be employed to optimize chances for success.
Featured panelists will be Zia Daniell Wigder, Vice President and Research Director, Forrester Research; Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Global Privacy and Public Policy Executive, Acxiom; and Michael Biwer, Managing Director, Acxiom.
"As you enter the global market, it is imperative you understand the privacy laws in each country as they are quite complex and some are very stringent, for example, having criminal penalties for some violations," says Barrett Glasgow.
Other topics to be discussed include:
- How to determine which countries to enter and what data to gather to understand regional customer requirements
- Recommended approaches to building country-specific strategies that can help facilitate smooth transitions, lowest possible cost-of-entry, and consistent performance
- Considerations for navigating the complex web of country-specific data protection and privacy laws companies must adhere to in their efforts to connect with customers and prospects
- Best practices used by leading companies that have successfully entered new markets
"The U.S. and European economies are still recovering and the balance of growth is constantly shifting," says Dorn. "For example, China and Brazil have been experiencing strong growth. They are encountering a maturity curve, but that doesn't lessen the importance of the issue — manufacturers need to be diversified and have a presence in all major world markets."
The webinar, "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever" will be held at 1:00 pm EST on Wednesday, September 19.