Marc_GlazerDespite an economy that has been in a modest recovery for more than three years, many businesses continue to struggle. One of the major challenges is that bank loans remain hard to come by, particularly for business owners with few hard assets, less than perfect credit scores, in industries regarded as risky or who just need funds quickly. 

Hope springs eternal for a return to the good old days when banks actually competed to loan money to businesses. But this is not likely to happen anytime soon. The banking industry overall is far less interested in small-to-medium business lending than it used to be. This is a long-term trend that the financial crisis, subsequent industry consolidation, and heightened regulatory requirements only exacerbated.

Finding alternatives

So what are the alternatives for SMEs that cannot qualify for a traditional bank loan? Factoring may be an option for some business-to-business companies. A factor buys a company’s receivables and gives the company a large percentage of the value upfront with an additional amount returned after the invoices are paid off.

Small Business Administration loans and Community Development Financial Institution loans are other options, but only for a small subset of prospective borrowers.

Much of the SME lending gap over the past five or so years has been filled by merchant cash advance lending and a relatively new, related type of lending known as “revenue-based” financing. Mostly backed by private equity or venture capital, these non- traditional lenders have devised new business models that provide financing based primarily on bank statements, credit card volume and cash flow rather than a drawn-out underwriting process.

The result is that a much wider range of small businesses are receiving funds for a wider range of needs. The costs may be higher than traditional bank loans, but the application and approval process is much faster and less arduous, and loan amounts and payment terms are more flexible.

For example, a firm can provide a business owner with as little as $4,000 up to a much as $2 million in as few as five business days.

Two options to repay

Companies can choose from two types of financing. Business cash advances are repaid based on a mutually agreed upon fixed percentage automatically deducted from the merchant’s daily debit/credit card sales. When sales are slower, the business pays less. Small business loan options are also available. They are repaid with automatic daily withdrawals of a fixed amount from the borrower’s bank account.

These non-traditional funding sources aren’t for everyone. Lenders are looking for companies they can help grow. A small business struggling to hang on is not a good candidate. But what about a pizza shop that has a major equipment breakdown? The owner has good cash flow, but doesn’t have the money to pay for new equipment, and he cannot wait for a bank loan — assuming he can get one. A small business loan or merchant cash advance can fund in five to 10 business days and help this pizzeria keep the doors open.

Or how about a dental practice that needs new equipment? Or a spa in a seasonal resort location that needs to finish a remodeling ahead of the coming season? If the small business sector of the economy is to recover and prosper, I believe it will be through these new sources of capital.

Marc Glazer is president and CEO of Business Financial Services Inc., a provider of specialty small business loans and merchant cash advances serving businesses in all 50 states as well as Canada, and the United Kingdom, based Coral Springs, Fla. Visit

Published in Florida

Looking to build a strong brand? Whether you’re a small business or a Fortune 500 company, it’s critical to start with a strong foundation of market understanding.

Insights about your target audience are the building blocks that help form the promise your brand makes to consumers. In order for this promise to be effective, you will need a thorough understanding of three essential truths:

Your company’s unique strengths — What are you known for? What do you aspire to be? How do you live up to that vision?

Your market opportunity — What are the trends in your industry? How can you capitalize on opportunities and mitigate threats?

Your target audience’s needs — What’s important to your consumers and what makes them tick? How do they make purchase decisions? What problem does your product or service solve for them?

To uncover important insights about your company, you need to harness all your powers of observation, turning them both inward and outward.

Looking inward begins by talking to your own employees. Ask them what they find unique or inspiring about your company. Inquire about what they’ve heard — good or bad — from people who use your company’s products or services. Talk to your customer service personnel, too, finding out what “the feet on the ground” might have seen or heard.

Looking outward means going where consumers are — both offline and online — and posing questions such as “Why do you choose our brand?” “What do you like about us?” “What could we do better?” “How do we compare against our competitors?”

Sharp observation also includes mining consumer satisfaction survey data, online ratings, reviews and blogs. You’d be amazed at what a little Googling will uncover — you’ll discover what excites people about your brand as well as what turns them off, giving you the opportunity to address both.

Only after you uncover these kinds of insights can you begin to build your brand promise. The most successful brand promises are relevant, differentiated, extendable and credible:

• Relevant. A brand promise should be genuinely motivating to consumers because it’s attuned to the things that are most important to them.

• Differentiated. Your brand promise should be one that only your company can make. If your competitors could make the same promise, you should explore a different territory.

• Extendable. Effective brand promises resonate in any medium, maximizing your ability to reach consumers wherever they are.

• Credible. Make sure you can deliver on your promise and substantiate your claims. Your performance and your consumers’ experiences will determine whether your audience believes you or not.

Remember, just as you may find a broad range of consumer feedback about your company through Google, so will consumers. Which means once you arrive at your brand promise, you’ll want to identify and leverage all possible venues in which consumers may interact with your brand, not just advertising. Consider the following:

• Facebook, YouTube or a company blog are great ways to provide your consumers with helpful content.

• Networking with relevant industry influencers such as bloggers or pertinent media can help you generate additional strategic content about your brand.

• Paid search on search engine pages can nicely augment your marketing efforts — it means that when consumers are in-market, they’ll see your company name on their first stop.

For marketers seeking to ensure their long-term success, building a strong brand promise based on market understanding and insights is the all-important first step.

A highly strategic marketing communications executive, Keith Busch, vice president for client development at Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc., has more than 20 years of experience in helping clients achieve critical growth goals, key metrics and ROI objectives. In addition to working with such clients such as The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and AkzoNobel, he is active in the Akron-area community and serves on the boards of the Greenleaf Family Center and The Northeast Ohio Arthritis Foundation. Visit


Published in Akron/Canton

Understanding the critical role that compliance plays within a firm is a fundamental cornerstone for successful leadership. The changes in government regulations over the past several years affect all businesses and require a higher level of compliance and oversight. 

Regulations governing the management of staff, reporting of financial information, environmental impact, stock transactions, and adherence to regulatory authorities must be complied with or the business could face legal charges.

Following the steps below will aid in the creation of your firm’s compliance framework:

Identify requirements first

Make a list of each of the compliance areas for your entire company. This should be a collaborative project so meet with each of your managers and ask them to compile requirements for their area.

Document compliance deadlines and data

Once requirements have been identified, make sure you document them in one place. List the compliance requirement, timelines and dates for reporting data, and the person responsible for reporting.

Listing the information in a spreadsheet allows for rapid sorting of upcoming due dates.

Assess compliance status

Now that you have a comprehensive spreadsheet, ask your team to assess whether or not the processes or tools you currently have in place are adequate to assess the areas where you have gaps. Develop a plan to address the gaps that need to be fixed.

Establish compliance risk/escalation policy

Identify thresholds for compliance ranges and establish a policy for personnel to notify management when thresholds are out of range.

Assign oversight responsibility

Have an individual in your firm oversee managing the compliance document. This person should be familiar with the compliance timelines in the document and check in with responsible parties to ensure that compliance requirements and reporting activities are on target. The person can also be the point of contact for personnel to notify when escalating compliance risks.

Establish compliance audit programs

Once your compliance structure has been developed, establish an audit program. This can be internal as well as external and is usually conducted on an annual basis.

For internal programs, set a time for senior management or experts within the firm to perform a “mock audit” to review various areas of the firm that fall under the compliance program. These internal programs may suffice, however, when there are times that business leaders want outside opinions.

At that point, consult with a firm that has expertise in the compliance area and ask them to conduct an informal audit.

Create a continuous improvement process

Establish a process for analyzing the results of each internal or external audit. Determine whether or not the firm will invest time and energy to fix the gaps found during the audit.

Evaluate the compliance plan yearly

Review your compliance plan on an annual basis. This review should be conducted with the staff involved in the compliance areas. The annual review should include another assessment to identify areas where gaps or inefficiencies exist for compliance areas.

Business leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their firms comply with requirements. Establishing and implementing a structured compliance framework to assure that requirements are adhered to is a sign of proactive, responsible leadership.

Published in Columnist

In order to succeed in business you need to have inner confidence - that state of feeling certain about and trusting in yourself. You can have confidence in your goals, your team, your system and your family, but if you lack self-confidence, you are missing the main ingredient for success.

Lack of confidence makes it harder to:



  • Make sound decisions



  • Lead others



  • Perform tasks and duties correctly



  • Get a raise or promotion



Today I will provide you with 5 confidence tools that you should use on a daily basis in your business and professional life.

Let's get started!

Confidence Tool #1 - Focus

As I mentioned last month in 5 Tips for Improving Your Focus as a Busy Professional - over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found focus to be of the utmost importance for success in the workplace. Too many professionals try to "fly by the seat of their pants" and lack any ability to direct their attention.

To use the tool of focus effectively, you must first determine the things that need your concentration and focus. Take the time to assess and evaluate them. What should come first, second and so on.

Once you have things evaluated and set out, laser-target your focus and do not allow yourself to be swayed away from the task at hand.

Knowing what needs your attention and intently focusing on those needs helps free the mind of distractions that lead to second-guessing and lack of confidence. This builds motivation that in turn leads to building a positive energy that helps you remain calm and focused during times of stress.

Focus prepares the mind for action.

Confidence Tool #2 - Mentorship

Anthony Robbins and others have talked a lot in recent years about modeling the success of successful people. The idea is to find someone who is successful in your area of work or expertise and do what they do - modeling their successful behaviors.

While I agree that this is helpful, I have always felt that simple modeling comes up short. When I model, I am left to my own devices. I am forced to determine just what it is that has made the person successful. In essence, I have to guess.

Mentorship overcomes this shortfall. Mentoring involves working directly with someone who can help you find your strengths and weaknesses in business. Mentoring takes the guesswork out of the process.

Find someone in your area who is a leader - someone who has achieved a level of success and ask him or her to mentor you. Work with their schedule to find times where you can meet and discuss your needs and desires related to your business.

I have found that many leaders enjoy the ability to mentor others.

Can you see how this tool can help with your inner confidence? It is powerful!

Confidence Tool # 3 - Attitude

You can become the smartest, well-trained and mentored individual with the absolute worst attitude and that attitude will lead to your demise.

Zig Ziglar said it this way:

"Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude."

How high you fly in the world of business is determined not by how much you know, but by the power of your positive attitude.

Ziglar was a trainer and teacher for dozens of years; he was not speaking against you learning new things and being mentored by the best. It's a matter of perspective.

Truly confident people - not those who think confidence is made up of simple arrogance, are those who have a great attitude toward business, work and life. These are the ones that co-workers want to follow.

Attitude moves your action forward.

Confidence Tool #4 - Exercise

In her article: Get Ahead at Work: 5 Ways to Increase Your Confidence In Business, Kelly Lynn Adams talks about the role exercise plays in developing confidence in business.

She states:

"Exercise has been shown to improve both mental health (by releasing mood-improving endorphins) and physical wellbeing (by reducing the likelihood of illnesses) while also improving the way you feel about yourself. So, whether you prefer to dance, go to the gym, run outside, bike, take a yoga class or box, get moving. It may just pay off, literally!"

I could not have said it better!

Exercise provides strength for action.

Confidence Tool # 5 - Action

I have been hinting all along in this article that there is one very important tool that must be used in order develop the confidence needed to achieve true success in business.

That tool is action.

We must get up, get moving and get out there on a daily basis. Actual hands-on doing is a powerful provider of self-confidence. Action defines the muscle of confidence. Consistent, daily action makes that muscle strong.

When focus, mentorship, attitude, and exercise bolster action, inner confidence no longer becomes a struggle we face.

Use these tools and develop the confidence you need to achieve your wildest dreams in business.

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at or visit her website at

Published in Columnist

Media relations opportunities have greatly expanded. With nearly all publications having a print and online version of each issue, e-newsletters that get distributed daily or weekly, blogs and information repositories on the websites, a reporter’s need for quality information to share with his or her readers is insatiable.

What hasn’t changed is a reporter’s desire to convey a story with a degree of exclusivity. Reading the publications you are targeting and understanding the audience from the reporter’s point of view will help you create unique storylines for publications.

Information sharing

Send reporters your case studies, white papers, product releases, research results, photographs and videos. Be sure your content is reliable, appropriate and factual — that rule isn’t likely to ever change, nor would we want it to. You want to be a respected resource and in good standing with the media. Be accessible to reporters when they call — this means as soon as possible and within the same day. If you don’t know the answer to a question, either offer to find the answer or refer them to someone who can provide it. It is a team effort — you need them and they need you.

Optimizing content

Optimize your content for online sharing with live links to images, videos, more in-depth research reports, product information and the like. This helps reporters with their due diligence and the same holds true for readers.

Mobile technology demands an easy, reader-friendly linking strategy that keeps the viewer engaged. Whether a user is using a computer, tablet or phone, the information you submit should provide links to the depth of information readers need. Use online distribution service bureaus to get your information to interested parties.

Accessible information

A best practice that I have always encouraged is the creation of a company press kit. Providing a factual document on the company reduces the amount of research and time a reporter may need to spend. It also improves the margin of error by giving the reporter a factual document to go by.

A company press kit should be easily accessible online along with images of founders, products and other helpful graphics. Reporters work on tight deadlines so anything you can do to minimize their time in telling your story, the better.

Create your own content

One of the biggest changes the Internet brought to the public relations profession is the ability for businesses to publish information of its own. Today, businesses can start online publications, which generally begin with blogs and enewsletters and include social media such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter among others.

Web and social media sites are repositories of information about products or services, success stories, white papers, press releases, videos, PowerPoint presentations and so on. Limiting access to this information hinders online engagement.

Instead provide a snip-it or synopsis of unrestricted information to enhance trust and engagement before requiring personal information for full access. Add social media sharing buttons to your sites to make it easy for people to share your information within their social media circles.

Open communication

Having and maintaining relationships with reporters is still important. Consider the media as you would your most influential client. It takes effort to get noticed and once you do, the courtship has only just begun.

Stay in touch and keep media contacts “in the know.” They may not always be interested in what you send their way, but they will appreciate you keeping them informed.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921,, @brandpro or for more information, visit



Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Moving beyond, "What's in it for me?"

"Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What's in it for me?’”  — Brian Tracy

If you listen to HR directors or marketers, they will tell you that the starting point — or at least a key — to influencing your stakeholders is to address the question, “What’s in it for me?” Often referred to in corporate speak as WIIFM, this is a legitimate question.

We all have an interest in ensuring that we have our needs met. Every interaction or relationship has a degree of self-interest that doesn’t qualify as selfishness. To ignore that is to guarantee our failure as leaders. But it’s not enough.

As leaders we need to recognize that people yearn for benefits for others as well. It is in our nature to be relational. In his book, “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others,” Daniel Pink suggests three qualities and three abilities that can enhance our influence in ways that are consistent with human nature and recognize that desire to make a positive difference in the world.

He first posits the following three qualitiesas the new ABCs of selling.

Attunement is described as the “capacity to take someone else’s perspective and calibrate your words and actions to another’s point of view.” It’s the challenge of communicating and delivering services and messages so others can understand them and receive them.

Buoyancy is defined as the “capacity to stay afloat on what one salesman calls ‘an ocean of rejection.’” What person hasn’t seen the value of persistence in the face of continual opposition?

Clarity is described by Pink as the “capacity to make sense of murky situations … and to move from problem-solving to problem-finding.”

Whether you’re selling a service, a product or serving on a school board, being able to see the factors contributing to the problem at hand is essential to helping others and moving them to effective solutions.

It is on the abilities side where an inappropriate focus on WIIFM falls short. The third ability that Pink points to is Service (the other two are Pitch and Improvise). He calls this “the final secret to moving others.”

Service is the foundation from which the other principles flow: If your sales force or you as a leader are not perceived as helpful, all the improvising, pitching, clarity, buoyancy and attunement won’t help you build a sustainable business. However, when people can see that you truly want to help them, these other principles can help you.

Pink breaks this ability down into two parts: make it personal and make it purposeful. One aspect of the value of making it personal is in recognizing those you’re seeking to influence as people.

Making it purposeful is seen in Pink’s examples of “emotionally intelligent signage,” such as a sign in a church lawn that says, “Children play here. Pick up after your dog,” rather than just “Pick up after your dog.”

Adding “Children play here” reminds people that it’s more than a rule. It moves from being a regulatory requirement to a reasonable request.

Finally, Pink proposes a philosophy of “servant selling.” Applying a “servant selling” framework to your need to influence your employees could lead to questions like,

“Will my employees’ lives be better if they do what I’m asking? When we accomplish our shared goals, will the world be a better place than when we began?”

So for organizational leaders, our three tips are as follows:

Make it personal. Move beyond solving a puzzle to serving a person.

Make it purposeful. How will this decision or business deal make the world a better place?

Make it possible. When leading employees make sure you give them the resources to get the job done.

Following these three principals will increase the probability that fewer people will ask, “What’s in it for me?”


Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to align your efforts to move others to your organizational identity, reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or

Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

The mindful organization

Mindfulness, a concept originally characterized by Ellen Langer in 1989 as a state of alertness that is manifested in active information processing, includes creating new categories rather than relying on categories present in our memory; welcoming new information by being open and attending to changed signals, welcoming more than one view and being aware of multiple interpretations, and avoiding being on auto-pilot.

In 1999, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe extended the concept of individual mindfulness to the collective dimension, describing it as the widespread adoption and diffusion of mindfulness by the organization’s members. Mindfulness helps organizations to notice more issues, process them with care, and detect and respond to early signs of trouble. Weick and Sutcliffe describe five cognitive processes that constitute organizational mindfulness: Preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify interpretations, sensitivity to operations, commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise. These, they contend, are prevalent among members of high reliability organizations.

So how does organizational mindfulness apply to the management of organizations?

Let us look at these five processes one by one.

Preoccupation with failures

Mindful organizations demonstrate an ability to learn from failures and breakdowns. The organization learns from what did not work and identifies gaps to ensure transformational success. These firms see failures as an opportunity to learn and to try again instead of getting discouraged and throwing in the towel.

In no way does this mean that you ought to get totally absorbed with failures. Mindful leaders spend equal time celebrating successes and analyzing failures to move the organization forward.

Reluctance to simplify interpretations

High performance organizations refuse to simplify interpretations, especially when facing intense competition, increased complexity and large amounts of data.

Business professionals are exposed to an enormous amount of internal data and market information. They face variations in the degree of analyzability of market information, in the degree of information commensurability, and in the equivocality of information coming out of multiple sources in the organization.

The inherent levels of information uncertainty and ambiguity require they focus on complex problems without reducing and oversimplifying them.

Sensitivity to operations

Leaders of mindful organizations purposefully invest in developing capabilities of their front line personnel. They pay attention to all organizational actors whether in leadership or in the “trenches.”

Mindful leaders listen actively to the rumor mill and embrace feedback coming from organizational skeptics. Being sensitive to operations also entails adjusting strategic programs by taking into account the knowledge of people who actually do the work.

Commitment to resilience

Resilience is one of the dimensions of the organizational confidence construct.

Leaders of mindful organizations commit to the success of all organizational programs. They purposefully develop shared beliefs, courage and resilience when implementing business strategies so that the organization keeps going when facing adversity.

The role of organizational champions and change agents is equally important to build collective confidence in teams.

Deference to experts

Decision-makers in business units should rely on the expertise of specialized centers of excellence to optimize business decisions and firm performance. Business leaders should avoid improvising and ought to defer tough decisions or complex problems to internal experts.

The five characteristics of high reliability organizations proposed by Weick and Sutcliffe can be applied and operationalized by any company in search of business excellence. Organizational mindfulness and mindful champions can play a critical role in the success of organizations. I call this mindful business management. I encourage you to read more about this emerging theory on organizational mindfulness.


Stephan Liozu ( is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned a Ph.D. in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at

Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

The secret to business success

In my management consulting practice, I am frequently asked, “What is the key to business success?” I invariably tell clients that the answer is simple: employee buy-in.

If most of a business’s employees believe in the company, its leadership and its prospects, success is significantly easier to attain. Examine companies that have outperformed the competition in their industries, such as Southwest, Starbucks, Facebook and Google, and you will discover that they invest significant resources to generate employee buy-in and have subsequently benefitted handsomely from it.

Competitors frequently are able to replicate the business practices of these market leaders but are seldom able to achieve the same level of employee buy-in — the key to generating a powerful, intangible competitive advantage for businesses.

Employees who buy in are invariably passionate, energized, committed, dedicated and creative. With this frame of mind, they are far more valuable than those working to earn a paycheck by going through the motions of the job, let alone going the extra mile. They may even go out of their way to frustrate or sabotage the company’s success.

Getting the necessary conditions

While the concept of buy-in is relatively simple, achieving it takes a serious commitment. Buy-in is neither difficult nor costly to achieve, but several conditions must exist to generate that highly valuable disposition.

•           Employees need to understand the vision and direction of the business and recognize that they are realistic, attainable and motivating. To accomplish this, a business must have a comprehensive, up-to-date vision and strategic plan that is shared with employees in a manner they can understand and embrace.

SS&G Parkland’s research indicates that fewer than 10 percent of businesses have a comprehensive and up-to-date vision and strategic plan. And for those that do, only a tiny fraction of them share the plans with a significant number of employees. Employees who are not presented with a vision and plan that clearly communicate the path to success cannot be expected to buy-in.

•           Employee involvement and empowerment are key catalysts to buy-in. Those who are invited in and trusted to participate in determining the company’s direction invariably feel good about their role and their employer. Involvement and empowerment unleash pride, ownership, energy, and creativity — the key ingredients for buy-in.

•           While fair, respectful, consistent and honest interactions with employees will not by themselves generate buy-in, the absence of these qualities can critically undermine buy-in. Employees who are not treated well are not likely to feel good about the organization or its future.

Change in management style is needed

None of the conditions described above are particularly difficult to implement or likely to require any significant financial investment. They will, however, require a change in the management style and approach, including the following:

•           Management accepts the responsibility for developing a comprehensive vision and strategic plan, which is likely to lead the company to success. This is management’s most important role in a business. Instead, unfortunately, many managers are more comfortable focusing on day-to-day issues, challenges and opportunities.

•           Sharing plans and information with employees. Many managers prefer to keep employees somewhat in the dark, expecting them to keep their heads down and just do their jobs.

•           Changing from command and control management to coaches and cheerleaders.

These changes might be uncomfortable for some leaders at first. For them, successfully embracing and accomplishing these changes may take training and coaching. Conversely, employees invariably love the changes and adapt easily. Employees may be skeptical about managements’ commitment to the changes — requiring management to demonstrate its commitment to this new approach.

Without buy-in, most employees function as a pair of hands. With buy-in, employees throw in their heads, hearts and souls into creating a very compelling and powerful force. Buy-in is the simple trade secret that offers any company a huge competitive advantage.

Larry Goddard is managing director of SS&G Parkland Consulting LLC, the management consulting affiliate of SS&G Inc., the 41st largest accounting firm in the U.S. Goddard has been providing management services for more than 25 years. Contact him at

Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Are your messages getting lost?

Remember playing telephone as a kid? You would sit in a circle with friends and whisper a message into the ear of the child next to you. By the end, when the last kid would announce the message out loud, everyone would break into laughter: It never bore any resemblance to the original message.

Is that still happening to you? Are your messages getting lost in a modern-day game of telephone?

I see it in companies all the time. The CEO knows the message — in this case the business’ vision and strategies — but it gets terribly distorted as it gets passed along and it becomes no laughing matter.

There are reasons why messages get lost.

No. 1, managers often don’t understand or even hear the message or its importance. Its relevance to their work hasn’t been explained to them.

No. 2, the noise of stress can deafen the message. Today, employees are running at breakneck speed in order to stay competitive. The priority is on responding to immediate needs and putting out fires. Under stress, many managers can’t hear the message or can’t prioritize communicating it.

No. 3, competitive work environments mean personal job security comes first and the company’s long-term success second. We make decisions that are in our best interests, not always thinking whether they’re aligned with the company’s goals. When that happens, the message gets sidelined in favor of short-term gain.

In order for the message to stay intact, it needs to be communicated loudly and clearly over and over again, and everyone in the circle needs to be responsible for passing it on accurately. Don’t wait until the end to realize the message has been mangled.

Articulate the vision and strategy.

The importance of this can’t be overstated. The vision and strategies — your message — should be presented to people over and over again, not just in words but visually.

Visuals resonate with people and make the message stick. Develop a visual representation of the company’s vision and display it prominently throughout the organization.

Generate confidence and commitment.

In order for people to pass the message on accurately, they need to know, “What does this mean for me?” and “Why should I care?”

Today’s competitive work environments are making people incredibly anxious and concerned about the future. People want reassurance about their own futures and their company’s future. Perhaps more than ever before, they need inspiring visions for the future that they can take confidence in.

Give them a vision they can support and make it clear that the company needs them on board in order to succeed. Let them know how they will benefit if the company reaches its goals. Once they believe in the company’s future and their role in it, they’ll be committed to the message.

Accept accountability.

Leaders must accept personal accountability for communicating clearly. Each leader must commit to communicating in ways that align with the original message. No matter how tense things get, the message can’t get dropped or distorted at will by one leader. If a leader or leaders stray, the situation must be addressed immediately. Otherwise, the strategy has no teeth and will not be trusted.

Invest in management.

Commend leaders who communicate well and work closely with those who need more help. Remember that this is a process. In order for it to work, people will need mentoring and coaching.

Break it down.

Our high-pressure work environments mean that people will want to throw out long-term strategies when the going gets tough. In order to prevent that, work with managers to create daily, weekly and monthly priorities that meet short and long-term goals.


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Donna Rae Smith at

Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

The mothers of invention

I’ve always enjoyed working for myself. In fourth grade, I mowed lawns. In high school, I expanded into window washing. Later on, I started a janitorial company and an outdoor advertising company. Eventually, I raised money from venture capitalists and started a business to sell marketing supplies online. Supposedly, all of that was a single kind of activity called “being an entrepreneur.”

“Entrepreneur” however, is a stretched out word. It may have been a perfectly good word at one time, but it isn’t very useful any more. A fellow who owns a McDonald’s restaurant is called an entrepreneur, and so is Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook. The word has come to mean something like a “businessperson” who takes “risks” to make money.

I am not sure how much risk is involved in opening a McDonald’s or dropping out of Harvard — maybe because I’ve never done either. But launching Facebook seems fundamentally different than opening the 14,000th McDonald’s. We need more nuanced definitions to describe these varied activities so that we can see the differences.

Originality, not risk

There is certainly risk in starting any new business, just as there is risk in investing in any business, no matter how large or well-established. But the essence of entrepreneurship in its most exhilarating and important sense has to do with originality, not risk. There is greater value in the discovery of new things than in the refinement of the known. That is why cooks and bakers proudly guard their newest recipes, while the best of the tried and true are free online.

Oftentimes, when we’re speaking admiringly of successful entrepreneurs, what we’re really talking about are what I’d call imagineurs (thanks, Walt Disney, for the inspiration).Imagineurs bring to the table not just a desire to build, but a desire to create — whether their creation is a new gadget, a new idea or a new business model.

This act of invention is what differentiates starting up Facebook from starting up a new McDonald’s. Both require the riskiness of basic entrepreneurship, but only one requires doing something no one else has done before.

New life into an old field

To see the potentially tremendous value in thinking up something completely new, consider a field that’s incredibly old: music. People have always wanted to be able to listen to the music of their choice at the time and in the place of their choosing.

Over the past 150 years, our ability to do so has changed and improved dramatically. Each great leap forward depended on imagineurs, be it Thomas Edison and his phonograph, or Nobutoshi Kihara and his Walkman, or Steve Jobs and his iPod and iTunes store. Each imagineur’s efforts enhanced our ability to listen to the music we love.

Imagineurs don’t have to be technological wizards or tinkerers in the lab. Walter L. Jacobs started America’s first rental car business with 12 Model T Fords; today that company is called Hertz.

Reed Hastings upended the video rental business by sending discs through the mail on a monthly subscription basis and started Netflix.

Imagineurs are architects, designers, creators and seers of the unseen. Through curiosity, ingenuity and discovery they contribute a founding insight without which, neither they nor any other business builder can proceed successfully for very long. They find a way to give customers what they’ve always wanted, but better, faster or cheaper than before.

Just as every great inventor had a mother, every great invention began with an imagineur.


Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at

Published in Columnist