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To avoid elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) adversely affecting fully insured health plans, growing numbers of employers — especially smaller ones — are self-funding their plans.

“The problem is that everybody has been in a wait-and-see mode for two years, but now we’re starting to see the impact,” says Mark Haegele, director, sales and account management, at HealthLink. “I expect a lot of fully insured employers to make a change this year, mid-year. There are just so many compelling reasons to entertain it because self-funding policies still protect small employers and allow them to avoid many forthcoming taxes and rules.”

Smart Business spoke with Haegele about why the PPACA has prompted more employers to explore self-funding or partial self-funding.

How does medical loss ratio (MLR) reporting drive employers to self-funding?

Less service.

MLR reporting requires insurance companies to spend 80 or 85 percent — depending on their size — of premiums received on health care claims. Plan administration, such as overhead, payroll, sales efforts, network contracting, etc., comes from the remaining 15 to 20 percent.

MLR gives insurance companies an incentive to squeeze administrative services to make more profit. Some insurance companies have changed staffing and service models. One company had service people out to help with claim issues and problems for different segments — health insurance groups with two to 40 members, and 40 to 100 members. They recently bundled the segments into one, cutting staff and decreasing field service.

What will community rating rules do to health care costs?

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, insurers must comply with community rating factors based on geography, age, family composition and tobacco use. This means all fully insured small employers in an area or industry will pay the same for premiums. The idea is to get everybody to an affordable and stable price point, but many fully insured groups will be hit with big increases.

Here’s an example: in Missouri and Illinois, groups of fewer than 50 employees will be underwritten based on community rating rather than the specific group’s risk. A small, healthy employee group in Chicago can expect a 173 percent increase in 2014, according to the American Action Forum Survey of Insurance Companies. At the same time, a small Chicago group with older, less healthy members could have its premium decrease by 21 percent.

Under self-funding, healthy small groups are able to maintain rate stability based on the health of their own population.

How will the insurance tax affect health premiums for fully insured employers?

Starting in 2014, insurance carriers will be assessed a tax, projected to be $8 billion to $12 billion. The federal government will use this money to subsidize poor uninsured. However, insurance is a cost-plus business, so carriers will pass this on to employers. It’s still unclear how much the fully insured’s premium will increase as the tax is shared across the industry; it depends on your insurance company’s market share.

How will minimum essential benefits make self-funding more attractive?

Fully-insured plans sold in the small group market — fewer than 50 employees for Missouri and Illinois — will be required to limit annual deductibles to $2,000 for single coverage and $4,000 for family coverage, as of Jan. 1, 2014. This places upward pressure on premiums. If your current deductible is greater than $2,000, in order to decrease it premiums will go up because the insurance company faces more risk.

Also, for the past five years, many small employers’ deductibles have increased, which keeps premiums down, but employers haven’t passed it on. For example, because most members don’t use their deductibles, the employer could give employees a $1,000 deductible and use self-funding to cover the gap for the remaining $4,000 when the insurance company requires a $5,000 deductible to keep premium increases low.

Small employers could consider a self-funded platform in order to maintain their current deductible and keep rates stabilized.

Mark Haegele is a director, sales and account management, at HealthLink. Reach him at (314) 753-2100 or mark.haegele@healthlink.com.

 

VIDEO: Watch our videos, “Saving Money Through Self-Funding Parts 1 & 2.”

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

Most businesses have ‘comprehensive’ insurance policies that cover damage to the company’s physical assets and protect against third-party bodily injury or tangible property damage claims against the company. But this traditional coverage generally does not fully protect against losses related to intangible assets, like computer-stored data and intellectual property.

“Businesses need to be aware of this exposure and consider specific coverage designed for their individual business needs and risks,” says Steven J. Ciszewski, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP.

Smart Business spoke with Ciszewski about where comprehensive polices might fall short and how to plug the holes with additional coverage for your business’s needs.

What types of coverage are available for computer-stored data and other cyber risks?

Some aspects of computer- or data-related losses might be protected by commercial crime coverage that applies when a third party or employee commits a crime or fraud directed at your business. This coverage can be an add-on to a general commercial policy or a stand-alone policy. Beyond that, many insurers offer both first-party and third-party coverage dedicated to computer and cyber risks. First-party coverage typically pays for costs incurred if your computer network or data systems suffer a catastrophic failure. The coverage might pay for costs incurred to restore your network and data, and/or the lost profits suffered because your business lost the use of its network and data. Third-party coverage protects against liability claims arising out of computer or cyber risks — for example, claims arising out of a breach of your network security. In the event of a breach, confidential customer information could be exposed or stolen. Third-party coverage would cover those claims and pay damages suffered by customers, pay for customer notification, and fund a credit-monitoring program for the affected customers.

What coverage is available for intellectual property?

Increasingly, courts have found that trying to secure coverage for intellectual property (IP) risks under a general liability policy is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. As a result, businesses with IP assets or exposure are wise to consider dedicated IP coverage. Again, this coverage generally falls into two broad categories: Defense coverage, which pays for the cost to defend and satisfy any judgment arising out of a claim that your business infringed another’s copyright, trademark, patent or other IP; and abatement coverage, which fronts the cost of pursuing a claim against another for infringing on your IP. For abatement coverage, even if your claim fails, the insurer typically covers all or most of the cost. If the claim succeeds and you recover, the insurer may be entitled to some of the recovery to offset the costs it fronted. For businesses with critical IP, both types of coverage are important just to pay for litigation costs, since IP litigation can often become prohibitively expensive.

Are there any other emerging areas where businesses may be unknowingly exposed?

Just like IP claims, many employment-related claims, such as discrimination — race, age, gender, etc. — sexual harassment or wrongful termination, are not covered by most general liability policies. Accordingly, businesses should consider employment practices liability (EPL) coverage. EPL policies pay for defense costs and for judgments arising out of these types of claims against your business by prospective, current or former employees. Again, coverage for defense costs is particularly important since it can be expensive to defeat even a frivolous claim brought by a disgruntled employee.

Steven J. Ciszewski is a partner at Novack and Macey LLP. Reach him at (312) 419-6900 or stevec@novackmacey.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Novack and Macey LLP

Many companies undertake an acquisition using only a financial due diligence process. However, for a greater chance of detecting potential misrepresentations, companies need to incorporate forensic investigative tools into their standard due diligence process.

“Forensic techniques will help point out and isolate areas of potential fraud as well as any irregular or suspicious activity,” says Michael Maloziec, an accountant at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC.

Forensic analysis during the due diligence process can uncover accounting improprieties that could overinflate the value of a target company. Performing these two services together will give increased assurance that projected performance is achievable, Maloziec says.

“Adding in forensic analysis is a crucial step toward assuring your acquisition is successful. It can allow you to see past ‘closed doors’ into areas you might not think to look,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Maloziec about forensic techniques and their benefits during the acquisition process.

How large of a role can fraud play?

It’s huge. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Report to the Nations found a typical organization loses some 5 percent of its revenue to fraud each year. Even though that does not sound like a significant number, when applied to the Gross World Product, this figure translates to a potential projected annual fraud loss of more than $3.5 trillion.

What are some caveats to keep in mind?

Companies will always showcase their business in the best possible light. Managers will ‘polish the apple’ so to speak. Bear in mind the sales numbers might be misstated, which can overinflate the value of the company. Also, companies will not disclose everything, so it is important to proceed forensically during your due diligence process. Always be aware of potential manipulation in reserves and estimates. Reserves are one of the most common areas for fraud to occur because it is under management’s discretion. These caveats will help you recognize and point out areas that raise red flags.

How can you protect yourself from fraud?

One method is to look behind the numbers. You should always carry a certain sense of forensic skepticism and never make assumptions during any part of the due diligence process. Be sure to ask questions that will dig into transaction details and note any instances that provoke uncertainty. Don’t forget about applying simple common sense. Ask yourself, ‘Do the numbers flow with the current business plan that is set in place? Do management’s representations make sense?’ You can also utilize a number of analytical tools to spot any anomalies.

What analytical tests should be performed?

A great way to start would be to forensically analyze the financial statements over the past few years. During analytical testing, it is important to review current and past events in order to isolate anomalies from known events. You can utilize a variety of different ratio analyses, which can be an excellent tool in detecting red flags. Ratio analysis measures the relationship between various financial statement amounts and tracks how past numbers are trending with current results. To gain some perspective, compare company financial information to similar industries that hold the same standards, such as size, geography or sector. There are also numerous computer software programs that will assist in narrowing the scope and provide the capability of recognizing potential fraud.

How should a company approach this issue?

Start by assessing the business processes. Processes provide guidance to employees and assure accurate reporting. Acquirers need to review and understand the capacity and capability of their target organization. As part of the due diligence process, the acquirer should examine the current processes and identify any weakness or holes that could allow for erroneous or unauthorized transactions. A great method to gain insight would be to perform an internal risk assessment, which can help identify industry risks that might not be so obvious. This allows managers to zero in on areas that might be susceptible to potential fraud before they become a problem.

Michael Maloziec  is an accountant at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC. Reach him at (866) 717-1607 or mjm@cendsel.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC

Benefit administration systems put information at employees’ fingertips while freeing up HR staff to focus on strategic issues such as employee engagement and retention.

“Everything related to employee benefits and an employee’s life cycle can be stored in a technology solution and then used by both the employee and the HR department,” says Meghann Guentensberger, Director of HR Services at Benefitdecisions, Inc. “Medical, dental, vision, and even ancillary benefits like transportation and flex are all in one system that’s accessible to everyone.”

Smart Business spoke with Guentensberger about the advantages of automation using an online benefit administration tool and how to choose a system that fits your needs.

What can a such a tool do?

It automates the administration process through an employee’s life cycle from onboarding to termination. The system also handles annual benefits enrollments and life event changes. When someone gets married or has a baby, they can make health care enrollment changes through the system rather than filling out a 20-page application with an HR person.

The system can also be electronically connected to the insurance carriers, feeding information directly to them in real time. This ensures timely and accurate enrollments and terminations while also facilitating the billing reconciliation process, ensuring you’re not paying for someone inadvertently left on an insurance plan. Between savings generated from efficiency of staff and error reduction, a benefit administration system can save more than $19 per employee per month.

In addition to employee benefit information, many of the tools have Human Resources Information System components and can track compensation history, paid time off and leaves of absence. Skills and past performance history can also be tracked for succession planning purposes, which facilitates resource allocation. The tools empower employees to update their electronic personnel files and promote their skills by updating certifications, education or training.

How do you choose the right solution?

There are five advantages of a benefit administration system that should be considered when selecting the appropriate system: cost savings, productivity enhancements, increased communication, facilitation of employee retention and recruitment, and the ability to eliminate paper transactions.

But first, take a step back and document current processes so you know what you’re paying for your system and in HR time. This will help build perspective around the hard and soft costs of what you’re doing now versus what you could be doing. Then list what features and functions you want, so you can evaluate providers and do a direct comparison.

It’s also important to think about the solution globally rather than getting carried away by the presentation of a tool that takes current pain away. Develop a plan for where you’re going and how it fits in. Often, the tools provide scalable solutions that will allow you to add features as time goes on.

Adding a benefit administration system doesn’t mean you have to revamp everything. These tools interface with existing systems such as payroll, so you don’t have to overhaul what you have.

Have an independent third party ask questions and go through the process of how it will be used. When a vendor does a demonstration everything looks amazing, but you’re only seeing what they’re showing. A neutral third party can provide an unbiased perspective.

Who needs a benefit administration system?

Any company big or small  — the complexity of the system is dependent on the company’s size and needs. With health care reform, it will be more difficult to remain compliant using paper, both because regulations change so quickly and the required reporting. This system allows you to analyze your population and compute costs to ‘pay or play.’ You can pull the data and run models to make a decision that makes the most business sense.

For smaller companies without an HR department or just one HR person, this tool can really help them be more effective and efficient instead of being transactional.

Meghann Guentensberger is Director of HR Services at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach her at (312) 376-0449 or mguentensberger@benefitdecisions.com.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Benefitdecisions, Inc.

When I meet with business-to-business and professional service clients to discuss their marketing strategies, one comment that consistently arises is “No one buys professional services through the Web.”

While that may be true — you don’t typically buy an accountant online as you would a product through e-commerce — how your brand is perceived most definitely will impact a prospect’s buying decision.

Decisions to work with professional service firms don’t happen overnight. They take time. And because of this, any B2B organization must ensure it is “seen” in the strongest possible light before the sale actually occurs.

In fact, it’s just as important to not lose prospective customers because your organization is perceived as weak or subpar as it is to convert a prospect into a client.

The simple truth is that you never know at any given time who is researching your brand and through what channel. Having a consistent brand message, whether they’re looking to engage you now or somewhere down the road, helps you to not lose them before they need your solutions.

To accomplish this, you must get your brand messaging across in a consistent manner across multiple channels.

So how do you that?

First, a solid marketing strategy must include a website that clearly articulates the brand message and value proposition of your services — and it has to be on the home page.

It also should include supporting content that allows a prospective customer to quickly understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.

For example, let’s say you’re an accounting firm. Being able to articulate why you are the best at providing risk management solutions for clients can help you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

Providing and highlighting content that explains your service, along with case studies and client examples that include measurable results, is a smart move. It allows prospects and site visitors to get a feel of what it would be like to work with you.

Additionally, your website should offer prospective clients an easy way to contact you — either through a phone number or a simple contact form that includes a name, email address, phone number and short explanation of the prospect’s business problem.

Beyond your website, other channels to consider include social media, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In these social media channels, you need more than just simple company pages. Instead, you should offer visitors relevant and current content that consistently supports the brand message and your organization’s value proposition, along with company information and executive profiles. And it’s extremely important to continually be “active.”

Using the same accounting firm as an example, it could utilize consistent content around recent changes to government policies, updates on recent business wins or sharing a solution that helped one of its clients overcome a business challenge across all social media channels.

And when that information isn’t timely, something as simple as new hire announcements or employee promotions will show visitors and followers that there is activity within your brand — and your organization. It makes you “active,” which makes you more attractive to prospects.

Other channels to think about include mobile or tablet experiences, print marketing and event sponsorship. Every channel you can imagine should be used to express your organization’s brand message because there are always people watching.

So while your clients may not choose or buy their professional services online, they will evaluate your brand even prior to consideration. And while it’s impossible to measure what clients you may lose by not having this strategy in place, it is clear that a solid marketing strategy of this type can save you from losing consideration — even when you don’t know you’re being considered.

David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at dfazekas@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7056.

According to The Business Dictionary, attitude is:  “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).”

The words that jump out as important in this definition are:

 

 

  • Respond

 

 

  • Positively or negatively

 

 

  • Influences

 

 

  • Action

 

 

In light of this, we can say that when we respond to things with a positive attitude, that response influences positive action in us and others. We can also say that the opposite is true.

We could end this article right now by simply saying – As a leader, manager or executive in business; do the former and not the latter. But if you are like me, I bet that you could use some “how to” examples and tips.

Here they are, six tips for having a positive attitude in business:

1. Keep an open mind.  Always be open to the possibility that a life change you have refused to consider might be the key to transforming your life for the better.

This type of attitude impresses your colleagues. Why? Because most of them have been faced with the same challenge and chose to not change. Their attitude towards the change has been clouded with self-doubt and lack of courage.

When you are willing to keep an open mind, you are responding positively to the challenge of a life change that has the possibility of a great reward.

Be different than those around you. Be open.

2. Be proactive, not reactive.  A reactive individual is at the mercy of change. A proactive individual sees change as a part of the process and takes action to make the best of it.

Having a proactive attitude requires work. You must be able to think ahead and anticipate. It involves being involved.

In business (and life) you cannot simply sit back and let things just happen as they will.  In truth, you could, but that attitude is a negative response that influences negative action, namely, reaction.

Do a little mental work beforehand. Get in the game and be proactive.

3. Go with the flow.  Present an easy, casual and friendly attitude that shows your flexibility, yet at the same time portrays your persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity.

This is not the negative “sit back and let things happen” attitude described above. Persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity is what sets it apart.

Having an attitude that is easy and casual, without stepping outside the bounds of proper etiquette and being friendly, is some of the best advice I can give to leaders in business.

Be persistent while going with the flow.

4. Think big. If you think small, you will achieve something small. If you think big, then you are more likely to achieve a goal that is beyond your wildest dreams.

When we allow ourselves to have an attitude that pushes boundaries and explores possibilities, we draw in people who have the same attitude. In other words, by thinking big we find big thinkers.

Want to have a team full of big thinkers? Want to have meetings where ideas are shared and positive plans are made? Want to grow leaders out of your team and promote them to new heights in their career? It all starts with your big-thinking, boundary-pushing, dream-inspiring attitude.

Go ahead – think big.

5. Be persuasive, not manipulative. Use your persuasive talents to persuade others of your worth. Don’t use it to convince someone that others are worth less than you.

Have you ever had a manipulative boss?  Have you ever had a persuasive boss?

6. Enter action with boldness. When you do something, do it boldly and with confidence so that you make your mark. Wimping out is more likely to leave you stuck in the same old pattern and immune to positive change.

In the end it’s all about getting things done – with a positive attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to move and work with a certain sense of boldness. A boldness that inspires us and those around us to reach for new horizons in all we do.

It’s obvious, action is better than no action – but bold action that leaves a mark is what we should be doing in our life and business.

Do something and do it with a bold attitude.

Attitude really is everything in business. It is the force that empowers us to respond positively to the challenges we face on a daily basis. It allows us to enjoy what we do as we do it. It builds us and our teams.

DeLores Pressleymotivational 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 helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Should hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ice-water-running-through-their-veins executives who live and die by facts and profit and loss statements believe in things they can’t totally understand and certainly can’t explain?

We have all been there. At various times, for virtually inexplicable reasons, an undertaking that has been struggling suddenly takes a 180-degree turn and begins an upward trajectory. There was no indication from the numbers, substantively nothing extraordinary was changed, but all of a sudden, it’s as if the sun, moon and stars all aligned and you are heading toward Fat City.

Of course, we’ve all experienced the converse, when everything seems to be jelling and all of a sudden out of the blue your project takes a nosedive, plummeting to earth faster than the fastest falling star — or the stock market crash of 2008.

Even though you fancy yourself as tough as nails, you must hope against hope, experiment with unusual fixes, devise out-of-the-box solutions — do just about anything, including making promises to a higher power, along the lines of, “Let me get through this, and I’ll never ______ again.” (You fill in the blank as it is best kept between you and the great power in which you believe.)

Don’t get me wrong I don’t really believe in the good fairy or the ability to make everything better with the wave of wand, but I do very much believe what the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

There is “magic” when some inexplicable ingredient kicks in that enables the best leaders to continuously generate “what if I try this” scenarios and then, out of nowhere, one of those ideas turns sure defeat into a salvageable success. Is this skill and intelligence at play? To a certain extent, yes, but there is more to it than that. The only thing I believe about unadulterated pure luck is the explanation from that overused phrase, “The harder one works, the luckier he or she gets.” The real answer more likely is a combination of knowing how to run a business: using your head, your heart and your gut to tackle a dilemma, recognizing that on any given day one of these faculties will get you through a difficult issue. On a great day when all three kick in, it’s almost as if it were magic, and you start hearing sounds that become music to your ears as the needed solution suddenly emerges.

In reality, the “magic” is having faith in the people with whom you work, maintaining a strong belief that for most of the seemingly insurmountable questions there are answers, trusting that good things do happen to good people, and knowing that every once in a while the good guys do win. This doesn’t mean becoming a naive Pollyanna. Instead, it all gets down to not throwing in the towel until you have exhausted all possibilities and logically and systematically explored all the alternatives, some of which may be very nontraditional.

This approach is also a direct reflection of positive thinking and mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and ignoring all other distractions. In essence, some psychological studies have shown that when one is committed to success and has the discipline not to let the mind travel down a negative path, the brain can focus on producing unique solutions. Using positive psychology techniques can result in intense absorption that can lead to coming up with unlikely fixes. Some shrinks call this increasing mental flow. I call it a little bit of magic.

My simpler explanation for this phenomenon, which I’ve written about many times, is that success is achieved when you combine preparation, persistence with a bit of perspiration, along with a few ingredients that can’t always be explained, including having a little faith.

My advice is don’t always worry about your image of being a buttoned-up, corporate type. Instead, when the going gets particularly tough, it’s OK to become a Dorothy, as in the “Wizard of Oz,” click your heels twice and quickly repeat to yourself, “I believe, I believe.”

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 mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Everybody’s telling you that you need a content strategy, but what exactly is content strategy?

An effective content strategy coordinates all of your organization’s messaging — internally and externally — and gets the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right time.

When it works, people are motivated to interact more with your company. You attract new prospects. And you increase opportunities to secure new clients and expand existing business relationships.

Your content may consist of feature stories, press releases, videos, Web content, blog posts, books, whitepapers and even case studies. Essentially, it is everything and anything that discusses your business, professional expertise and ability to solve clients’ problems. It includes news about your organization and human-interest stories that feature your employees.

You can deliver your content through traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio or television), a corporate website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, e-book, TV show, movie or social media. It is quite literally every single way you digest information online, offline and on the go.

Any content strategy starts with understanding your audience. Learn who that audience is, what different groups are in it and what messaging resonates most with each group.

Every audience comprises two unique segments — those who support you, such as vendors, investors or employees, and those who use your services, including clients and engaged prospects.

It’s also important to take a hard look at this list and ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” By doing so, you may identify new prospect streams to target that you previously had overlooked.

Next, identify your key messages. What is it that you want people to know about your organization and why?

Start at the most macro level so that your brand message becomes part of the content — the part everyone receives. Then get into the specifics. As you do this, you create a series of customized messages for each specific group in your audience.

Third, recognize that not everyone digests information the same way. Learn the best channel or channels to use for each group. Some like to read it — in print or online. Others prefer to watch or listen to it — live in-person or through a mobile video. And still others prefer their information delivered in 140 characters or less.

What works for your website visitors doesn’t necessarily resonate face-to-face with people at a trade show or conference. And print ad messaging may not be aimed at the same people who devour industry whitepapers or read thought leadership articles in trade publications.

The actual format of the content won’t matter as long as it provides the “why” people should care about your organization, frequent your establishment, buy your products or services, or use your solutions. If you accurately match message with audience and channel, you’ll do just fine.

Effective content strategy can quickly become a powerful tool in moving your business forward. Treat it as you would any highly critical strategic business initiative.

 

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.

During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.

SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.

Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.

Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.

At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.

We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.

We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.

I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at fkoury@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7034.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Stacy R. Janiak was not thinking about becoming managing partner of the Chicago office at Deloitte & Touche LLP when she joined the accounting firm in 1992.

The graduate of DePaul University just wanted to do her job and make a good impression on the people who had hired her. But it was an impression left on her by a mentor who she had just come to know who shaped both her future and that of the firm in the years ahead.

“Within a month of my joining the firm, a woman who I held in high regard who was a manager at the firm turned in her resignation and said she was going back to school to get an advanced degree,” Janiak says. “She confided in me and said she just felt like she wasn’t sure she could do what needed to be done to make partner.”

Janiak had arrived at Deloitte at a significant point in the firm’s history. Leadership had become aware that the employee turnover rate was significantly higher for women than it was for men, and it had them concerned.

“There was a perception that women were leaving to just go home and have babies,” Janiak says. “Finally, there was a question that then CEO Mike Cook laid out. He said, ‘Do we really know that?’”

A study was commissioned, and it was discovered that many women who left fit the description of Janiak’s mentor, who just felt there wasn’t an opportunity to grow and advance in the organization.

“They were going to work at other places they found more amenable to their personal goals and work goals,” Janiak says.

Deloitte leadership wanted to change that. The Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women was created to help ensure more opportunities for women, but it was more than that. It was launched with the idea of bringing more diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the way Deloitte did business.

“Each business is being impacted by the changing marketplace, by the changing consumer and by the changing demographics of the population, wherever they are selling their wares or services into,” Janiak says.

“Do you really understand how all of these factors are influencing your ultimate business? Isn’t it logical, given the changing nature of all of those factors, to have some of that change represented in the people who are working in your organization so you can better react to them and better position your products and services for the consumers of the future?”

The move to make inclusion and diversity a priority put Deloitte in a strong position to help many who were poised to lose their jobs at the former Arthur Andersen LLP in 2002.

“We distinguished ourselves on a number of fronts, but that was one of them as people looked at where they might extend their career in that particular situation,” says Janiak, who became managing partner of the Chicago office in September 2011. She is also the central region managing partner for audit and enterprise risk services.

In these turbulent times, when fortunes can change overnight, Janiak says Deloitte’s ongoing pursuit of diversity is more than just a feel-good story for the firm and its 3,800 employees. It’s a vital part of being successful company.

 

Focus on relationships

One of the biggest initial drivers that led Deloitte to get focused on being more diverse and inclusive was the money invested and talent that for years had been allowed to just walk out the door.

“We’re investing all these funds in very talented individuals who are walking out the door and, oh by the way, those individuals bring different and unique skill sets to us as a group that help us relate better and perform better with our clients,” Janiak says. “So why shouldn’t we address this?”

As Deloitte looked at its company and the way it did business, leaders realized that they were missing a crucial point of perspective in the way they operated the firm.

“Twenty years ago, I think you could have asked a group of partners at Deloitte, why should we focus on the women who are leaving?” Janiak says. “They are leaving. Let’s focus on the women who are staying.

“But now you really are missing something by not having a group of people at the table that is reflective of your buyers or the purchasers of your products and services. Force the conversation to what ways you might increase your internal diversity to have those ideas around the table.”

Each industry is different, but whatever business you’re involved in, communication and relationships are going to play a critical role in whether you succeed or fail. The easier it is to find common ground with your customers or potential customers, the better off you’re going to be.

And as you provide a more diverse front for your customers, you create more opportunities for your people at the same time and give them a reason to stay and grow in your organization, which helps you grow too. It becomes cyclical.

“If I take Deloitte as an example, one of the big pieces of data we looked at was how much we were investing in all our people to prepare them and train them and how much we could achieve from a revenue perspective if we were able to retain some of those individuals one, two, three or four years longer than we were at the time,” Janiak says.

“How did that change our overall organization by enhancing the level of experience before they chose to go pursue a different alternative career path?”

Janiak speculates that had Deloitte not changed, she probably wouldn’t be in the position she is in today. But she adds that it’s not solely about creating opportunities for women like her. It’s about adapting and positioning your company to succeed in a constantly changing environment.

“I don’t know if I would have stayed in an environment that was not inclusive and as flexible as it is,” Janiak says. “And I think given how the world has changed, you could probably say that about a lot of the men too. There are just as many men who struggle with family and just management of all these competing priorities. I think we’d look a lot different. I don’t think we’d be as successful, and I don’t think we’d have as much fun as we’re having.”

 

Set the tone

If you want to promote a culture in which everyone plays an important part in your company’s success, you’ve got to make it a personal priority to instill that culture.

“A big mistake would be making it a program versus being able to describe the business imperative,” Janiak says. “Describe why it is valuable to the organization and demonstrate that. How are you developing people on your own teams that you have responsibility for?

“It’s critical that the tone is set at the top and that leaders are held accountable for their progress. It’s important that it is on the agenda of the CEO. If you relegate it as a program and have it be several layers removed from the CEO, that could be a big mistake.”

Talk about the tangible reasons why it’s important that employees and leaders consider diversity in everything that they do.

“Our potential clients are asking, before awarding significant project work, what is your commitment to diversity and how do you demonstrate that?” Janiak says. “If we don’t have a compelling track record and story to tell, we’re not in the mix. Clients who are committed to it and see it as a core value want to be working with an organization that also shares that core value, and so it’s a competitive advantage.”

You’ve got to find a way to integrate it into your culture as a way of doing business, rather than something you’re going to try for a little while before you return to what you did before.

“It’s a strategy,” Janiak says. “Whether you’re including it as part of your talent strategy, your human resources strategy, your sales strategy, there are different ways to look at it and however your organization responds to strategic direction and execution of that strategy, that’s how you should say it. It should be similar to other core strategies that you disseminate through your organization.”

Janiak says she takes her role very seriously as a role model and figurehead for anything she tries to do at Deloitte.

“I view it as one of my roles is to make sure I’m present at the various functions of our business resource groups, which represent all kinds of different folks within our organization,” Janiak says. “It’s important that I hold myself accountable to having diversity on the teams that I’m responsible for — because people look at that and they say, ‘OK, not only does she say this is important for us to do, but she’s doing it and demonstrating support.’ People pay more attention to what you do than what you say.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Think about what customers expect to see.
  • Be out front and visible when big changes.
  • Don’t spare the legwork on strategies that may take time to mature.

 

The Janiak File

Name: Stacy R. Janiak

Title: Managing partner for Chicago office

Company: Deloitte & Touche LLP

Born: Aurora, Colo. It’s right outside of Denver at a U.S. Air Force Base. My dad was a mechanic in the Air Force.

Education: Bachelor of science degree, commerce, DePaul University, Chicago

What was your very first job and what did you learn? The very first job I got paid for was babysitting. I babysat twice a week for the people across the street and earned $1 an hour to feed them dinner, bathe them and get them to bed. That was a pretty good deal.

It was just the concept of going out and having people trust you with some authority at a young age.

Even though it was across the street and you had your parents as the backup, you were in charge. People had expectations. I was going to feed the kids and wash the dishes and they trusted me to do that and expected me to do that.

Who has been the biggest influence on who you are today? My mom. Her name was Rose. She was born in the early 1950s and contracted polio when she was 11 months old. To hear her describe it, it was almost like having AIDS back when people didn’t understand it. You were just ostracized.

She was told she would never walk without braces and she kind of made up her mind that she would not have that be. She is a very resourceful woman that was not given a great lot in life physically. She has made up for that in many ways. She’s the reason I believe there is always a solution and there is a way to get people to it.

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