Dustin S. Klein
Youd better not have anything stored on your computer that you want to keep, he said, Itll disappear come Jan. 1, 2000. Mark my words, all hell will break loose.
My typical response was to shrug and assure him I would be prepared.
Well, if youre reading this in the confines of your comfortable office, its safe to assume my friend wasnt right about the end of the world. But he wasnt far off on his other warnings, especially about the fate of my computer. I lost everything, but it had nothing to do Y2K.
The bottom line is that I should have known better, especially considering how many stories Ive written and read about backing up computer data. So when my computer hard drive crashed a few months ago, I, like many other people, simply sat there stunned, gaping in disbelief, wishing Id taken the time to back up my information.
Simply put, there was there was no reason why I couldnt have found five minutes a day to connect a Zip drive (there was one conveniently sitting in my filing cabinet) and copy everything over.
The end arrived with an ominous clunk, short-lived and loud. A co-worker in my office at the time offered this sardonic prophecy: That didnt sound too good.
Moments later, after a few hastily rendered prayers and a desperate call to our IT director, nearly three years of data was gone phone numbers, interview notes, half-written stories and memos counted among the MIA.
But in tragedy, I learned a valuable lesson: Preparation is something you do, and you dont put it off until tomorrow. That applies to business owners in every aspect of their operations, not just information management. You never know when the bottom is going to drop out and leave you standing there with a dumb look on your face.
Just because things are going well today doesnt mean the gravy days will continue. In fact, most bad things will happen to your business the moment you become complacent. Theres an old axiom that says it best: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I always viewed that with a grain of salt. Now, however, I see it differently.
Being prepared is more than keeping up with the latest technology, watching your competitors to see what theyre doing, or even putting a little bit of money away for a rainy day. Its the realization that technology is nothing more than a tool to help you make your business more efficient. Blind reliance without back-up measures can lead to disaster.
But more important, preparation is an action that occurs today, not tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes. If theres a moral to the story, its that you can, indeed, learn from your mistakes.
That said, Happy New Year.
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN. He has spent the last four months piecing his database back together and now backs up his information daily.
(Downs) to Goodyear for changing the name of its blimp from The Spirit of Akron to The Spirit of Goodyear. While the move may be designed to raise corporate awareness, its a slap in the face to the city thats supported the company for more than 100 years.
(Ups) to Y2K consultants, who raked in the dough by the truckload while making the changeover from 1999 to 2000 occur with little fanfare. People may grumble that Y2K was nothing more than media hype, but for those who spent countless hours rewriting code and handling mediation duties, it was a not only a job well done, but the creation of a microindustry that helped drive the economy the past two years.
(Downs) to the battle over which TV stations and cable companies will show the Fox network and which wont. While they quibble over extended agreements and whether to show the Ohio News Network, the real losers in this fight are consumers, who are sure to rebel. Conspiracy talk begins for all those X-Files followers.
(Downs) to OSHA for ruling that companies that allow employees to work from home are responsible for federal health and safety violations that occur at the home work site. The decision, which affects nearly 20 million Americans, is a major blow against the growing telecommuting practice that makes employees lives easier without sacrificing productivity. Whats next for employers? Mandates to ensure employees cars and diets dont put them at risk?
“I wanted to write about people who actually earned money instead of stealing it,” she explains.
The year was 1988, and Applegate had a long-range plan. She immersed herself in the world of entrepreneurs, learning the issues that affected their day-to-day operations and their lives. Twelve years later, she found herself a pioneer riding the wave of small business growth.
Not only does her syndicated column on small business issues run in newspapers nationwide, but she’s leveraged her expertise and knowledge culled from thousands of business owners to found her own company, The Applegate Group Inc. Last month, Applegate told a crowd of small business owners at the 1999 COSE Annual Meeting her six strategies for rethinking business for the next millennium.
“As small business owners, we often think small,” Applegate says. “We think we don’t have a lot of power or money. But, the reality of the matter is that we’re the engine that’s been driving this economy. We employ more people than the Fortune 500 companies.”
Applegate says in order to conduct business with larger companies, smaller business owners must first recognize that the size of their firm does not matter. What matters, she says, is what products and services the business can supply, and how effectively it can deliver them.
It’s easier at the top
Always make contact with high level management in a company you’re looking to do business with, Applegate says.
“Things happen much more quickly when you start at the top. Always insist to start talking with someone that has decision-making power,” she says.
She also suggests a letter or phone call to the president preceding any meetings with lower level representatives.
“It packs a much bigger wallop!”
A “no” is as good as a “yes”
As anyone who’s ever had a proposal sit in limbo for weeks, or even months, knows, getting a response lets you move forward either on the deal, or in search of a different prospective client.
“Small business owners tend to be at the mercy of clients or prospective clients,” Applegate says. “And often, they take forever to make decisions.”
Set clear deadlines for proposals and contracts and, more important, stick to them.
“You’ll get some funny looks at first,” she says. “But then those large companies see you want an answer one way or another and you’re serious. It will change the way you do business.”
Never work with people who give you a headache or stomachache
If you do, it spells disaster for your company.
“I know you don’t want to hear it, but get rid of your most toxic customers and employees,” says Applegate. “You will never be as successful as you can be if you’re working with people who make you sick.”
The result, she says, will be akin to other business moves you make: Close one door and another opens.
Market hard and smart
“That’s the biggest challenge we have,” she says. “Finding creative and innovative ways to stretch your dollars.”
Applegate says your company’s best resource is often not who you think.
“The owner or top manager is your best marketing person,” she says. “They know the most about the company and have the most at stake.”
Get wired, but do it smartly
If you don’t have a Web site or Internet strategy, your business will be left behind, Applegate warns.
“Every small business owner will need some sort of presence on the ’Net. Think about it. In the past, we’d ask each other for phone numbers or faxes. Now, we ask for e-mail addresses. And, you look ridiculous if you don’t have one.”
How to reach: The Applegate Group, www.janeapplegate.com
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
But e-mail, as many people have come to realize, has a sterile feel to it. Its difficult to infuse e-mail with the emotions and personal touch that exist in a face-to-face meeting.
Studies show that 55 percent of what we learn or perceive from other people comes from their body language. Observation is a key ingredient to business success. Another 38 percent of information is derived from tone of voice, but only 7 percent comes from the actual words used.
Those numbers speak volumes, says quality service consultant Karen Leland, co-founder of the Sterling Consulting Group and co-author of Customer Service For Dummies.
We must incorporate proper attitude, tone and meaning through our written words, she says. And this is no easy task.
So where does that leave us in this cyberage? How can we build and maintain relationships through the written word? Leland and her partner, Keith Bailey, offer three tips to make your business e-mail more effective and include that all-important personal touch.
Repeat key words and phrases.
In a reply message, use some of the more important words and phrases that the original message sender used. For example, says Leland, if the sender used phrases like feel strongly, feel relieved, mutual goals or move forward, try to incorporate those words into your reply.
It helps build a sense of connection between you and the e-mail recipient, and if its part of an ongoing business negotiation, it will help you close the deal with a much more human feel.
Use sensory language.
Research shows most people naturally use words that relate to their senses of seeing, hearing and feeling. The three main points of sensory-specific language your customers and business associates will use are:
- Visual I see your point of view.
- Auditory I hear what you are saying.
- Feeling I feel your pain.
By using the same type of sensory language as the person you are communicating with, you add a dynamic, compelling and rapport-building quality to the messages you send, Leland says.
Furthermore, visual writers prefer to paint a picture or create an image of what they want to communicate. Writers with an auditory style use words that give tone to what they are saying. And, writers who have a feeling style use words that touch on the emotional content of their messages.
Compose G.R.E.A.T. e-mails.
Make sure your e-mails pass the G.R.E.A.T. test:
Goal Have you specified what the purpose of the e-mail is?
Relevant facts Have you provided enough up-front information?
Emotional tone What mood have you set for the e-mail?
Action Did you make a specific request?
Time Did you request a timeframe for a reply?
Leland says if you find yourself thinking that its only an e-mail, and your business associate, partner, client or supplier wont care how its presented, think again.
Building rapport is essential in the business world, whether in person or electronically, she says. Take your e-mails seriously and use them as a tool to improve customer service, build good, solid relationships and exude professionalism.
How to reach: Sterling Consulting Group, (415) 331-5200
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
Few things are more difficult for a business owner than breaking bad news to employees.
How you disseminate that information is imperative to your company’s future, because the message your employees receive could very well mean the difference between moving forward as a team and getting mired under a thick cloud of mistrust.
Consider the case of Medical Mutual of Ohio. In 1997, the health care insurer underwent a major upheaval at all levels: It changed presidents, the board of trustees and, in a further blow, lost its identity the Blue Cross and Blue Shield logo.
Medical Mutual survived the changes, emerging under new leadership with a new name and a committed work force, due in large part to good communication between new management and the employees, explains Terrie Bemer, Medical Mutual’s manager of human resources.
“While it was happening, the entire situation was like a bad divorce,” recalls Bemer, who discussed the ordeal in October at the Employers Resource Council annual meeting. “The parents were upstairs fighting and the kids were downstairs waiting, unsure of what would shake out. During the transition, we didn’t know who was in charge and who we’d offend with comments or questions. Communication was flowing up, down and sideways.”
And when the management group led by current CEO and chairman of the board Kent Clapp gained control, employees still weren’t sure what would transpire, or even if their jobs were safe.
“That’s when communication became the key,” says Bemer. “Kent Clapp gave messages daily about what was happening in the company. He created an internal newsletter and top management actually started walking the floors to be more visible to the employees.”
Three years later, times are better for Medical Mutual. But for others, the results aren’t always as positive.
“A lot of companies do front end work in delivering bad news,” says Cindy Cardwell, director of client services for Interim Career Counseling. “But changes aren’t planned well on the back end.”
In cases in which the changes include massive layoffs, those employees who remain with the company face yet another hurdle: navigating the three distinct phases change creates. How business owners deal with these phases, Cardwell says, determines just how successful an organization will be in the aftermath.
When the status quo ends, Cardwell says, your employees’ first reaction is to ask, “What about me?” She suggests managers be proactive and take the following actions:
1. Listen to the employees. Many may go through denial and be very concerned about the future of their jobs.
2. Accept their reactions. Don’t dismiss their concerns. “Don’t take their comments personally,” Cardwell suggests. “They’re often angry, upset and worried.”
3. Find builders. “There are always people in the organization comfortable with change,” she says. “Find them and solicit them to be leaders to help with the process.”
4. Communicate. Keep the lines of talk open and be willing to explain what’s going on whenever you can.
5. Keep people focused on the changes. Don’t let employees harp on the losses, Cardwell suggests. Get them focused on moving forward as a team.
6. Talk about the truth. “Always talk about the truth or you’ll never enlist good employees again,” she warns. “It’s very difficult to rebuild trust and relationships.”
Once your employees have accepted the end of an era at your company, they will enter a neutral period in which they may not be sure what is expected of them, Cardwell says.
“This is where it’s time to set standards, because your employees need to know expectations. Their first question here is, ‘Where do I fit in this new arrangement?’”
She suggests getting employees involved in the troubleshooting process that’s sure to occur as the company undergoes changes.
“You’ll quickly find out who your leaders are,” Cardwell says. “And don’t let them hide. When enough key players get involved, it creates the momentum to carry the change process forward.”
This is high feedback time, when you test the new thinking and behavior, says Cardwell. It occurs after your company has finished making its changes and worked through the transition period.
“You start looking at the net effects and ask, ‘Did we cut costs effectively and meet our goals?’” she says. “People need new images, and you should celebrate successes and reward employees who helped get through the tough times.”
There’s a benchmark connected with change, Cardwell says, and that is the ability of you and your employees to be productive in a new context.
“Most important,” she says, “is your ability to carry the change forward. Many new beginnings get derailed and never get back on track because they were not followed through on.
“Whatever you do, don’t let the communications slow down.”
How to reach: Medical Mutual of Ohio, (216) 687-7000; Russell Rogat/Lee Hecht Harrison, (440) 331-4400; Interim Career Consulting, (440) 460-3210
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN.
Not only does Nelson, president and CEO of Solon-based Accutest Clinical Lab, know what his customers want from a testing laboratory, he also knows what his competitors customers want.
We go out to prospects and talk to them, Nelson says. We have to understand their needs in order to build a program that suits them. Its an aggressive sales approach, but one that turns our weaknesses into strengths.
Those strengths have helped Nelson take Accutest from a start-up in 1993 to a full-service medical testing laboratory with 30 employees and a client base that blankets Northeast Ohio. Accutest serves physicians in private practice by providing testing facilities that complement a physicians work.
The greatest thing we really do is talk to our clients all the time and communicate, Nelson says. We find out their thoughts and needs. Its all about customer satisfaction.
One way Nelson gathers information, beyond utilizing his external sales force, is to quiz clients through surveys. The feedback proves useful because it allows him to incorporate that information into his planning and determine which services are most beneficial to his clients. With a 70 percent reply rate, Nelson is certain hes got his finger on the pulse of his customers businesses.
One thing our clients know is that when we get feedback, we act on it, he says. Its not just lip service.
All this has happened despite major changes in the health care industry that have shaken out physicians and service providers through reduced Medicare reimbursements. But Nelson has remained standing. In fact, he says, the changes have paved the way for even greater growth for Accutest.
Its helped the lab business, he says. There have been decreasing reimbursements from managed care, which is who primarily pays the bill for health care. But because managed care has taken physicians out of the loop with billing, its helped us. We used to bill the physicians, they used to mark it up and bill the managed care company.
But now, the managed care companies have two separate fee schedules and direct the billing directly to us. So its helped us a great deal by generating additional revenues and growing our client base. How to reach: Accutest Clinical Lab, (440) 519-0888
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Cleveland.
He hasnt missed a day of work in more than five years except to spend vacation time with his family, hes put his faith in leadership and laid down the challenge to his 120 employees at Meritech Blue to meet the high demands of clients.
So it should come as no surprise that one of Hannas more ingrained sayings at Meritech Blue is A satisfied customer is not loyal, only a completely satisfied customer is loyal.
Hannas Commitment to Excellence is a pledge of reliability, accountability and total customer satisfaction. Since 1995, he has built a successful provider of office technology, including digital copiers and Internet faxes, on that pledge. Hes also put everything on the line by believing that through preaching excellence in customer service to his employees, his company could rise above the competitors.
That belief has paid off. Its helped Hanna affect true change within his industry, transforming it from a simple box sale business to solutions sale, which gives Meritech Blue the unique opportunity to build relationships with customers at all levels, starting with office copiers and extending to printing, faxing, computers and document imaging.
These moves have also helped Hanna win numerous awards, including Ernst & Young LLPs Entrepreneur Of The Year award in the category of Business Services this year.
Behind the moves are several practices that Hanna instills within his staff, including a six-step sales process that has helped Meritech Blues team ascend to the forefront of the highly competitive office products industry:
1. Find the prospect.
2. Find Mr. Right, the ultimate decision-maker.
3. Arrange a demonstration.
4. Build rapport.
5. Do the demo.
Hanna has also tied a four-part demo package to the process to ensure Meritech Blue is able to get its complete message across to consumers.
1. Sell yourself.
2. Sell Meritech Blue Inc. and the manufacturer.
3. Sell service Commitment to Excellence.
4. Sell features, advantages and benefits.
But Hanna knows that following through with those processes means constant improvement through training.
Your companys success is tied to several things, Hanna says, and one of the most important is how well your employees know the product and your sales process.
To that end, Hanna hosts weekly sales meetings to educate the sales staff and monthly managers meetings, where departmental ideas and questions can be raised. Improvement, however, doesnt exist in a vacuum, and Hanna also tries to instill a healthy atmosphere of motivation beyond simply meeting sales numbers.
At Meritech Blue, employees are rewarded for their commitment to excellence they earn shopping sprees for their families at local malls, annual bonuses and semi-annual trips.
Employees also get involved in Meritech Blues commitment to giving back to the communities that support the company. It hosts the Berea Childrens Home Annual Golf Outing and blood drives for the American Red Cross and employees pack food for the hungry at the Cleveland Food Bank.
Hannas philosophy is simple if you expect the best out of life, you will get the best. How to reach: Meritech Blue, (216) 271-4800
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN Cleveland.
As owner of Digital Day, a Fairlawn-based Internet and multimedia development firm, Cleveland says hes so busy that hes learned the importance of adapting quickly so that the changes not only dont pass you by, but that youre helping drive them yourself.
Cleveland has been a major part of two changes recently that have helped him expand his business and assume a larger role in the fate of start-up Web ventures in Northeast Ohio. Theyve also led to his being named Entrepreneur Of The Year in the category of e-business by Ernst & Young LLPs Entrepreneur Of The Year awards.
The first change occurred in March, when Cleveland acquired a cross-town competitor, Quest4mation, which specialized in back-end integration and e-commerce, and merged it into his company, Mozes Cleveland & Co., which handled front-end strategy, branding and client-side work.
Cleveland says the move paid immediate dividends for the newly christened Digital Day by expanding Clevelands client base. Digital Day beat out numerous competitors to land the redesign of National City Banks Web site to incorporate the financial giants burgeoning e-commerce capabilities.
Explains Cleveland, We were able to leverage Quest4mations contacts, get in there and win the business for the new firm.
Digital Days revenue has also been a beneficiary of the merger.
Last year, we did $2.7 million, says Cleveland. This year, we did that in the first quarter. Were on a run rate of close to 8-plus million this year.
Its a growth rate thats still surprising to Cleveland, who founded Mozes Cleveland in September 1995 with a focus on new media design and integration in an emerging field Internet business.
While Digital Days core mission remains the same to aid its clients in designing Internet and e-commerce strategies, then building the Web site to get them to their goals the companys reach is much greater. Thats due in large part to Clevelands desire to expand regionally beyond its Northeast Ohio home hes in the process of finalizing a joint agreement with a Chinese entrepreneur to open Digital Day East in China and his quest to stay on the cutting edge.
The next big thing is going to be wireless and developing content for wireless entities, he says. Were looking pretty heavy into that now.
Its a direction that isnt surprising, considering Clevelands past. He began his career as a reporter for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram before switching to corporate marketing at Nordson Corp. and Preformed Line Products. He then moved into representing high-tech clients as part of then-Watt Roop & Co.s marketing group. It was there that Cleveland began to focus on digital convergence the merging of computer, voice, data and image communications technologies that eventually led to expansion of the Internet.
And its been Clevelands foresight that goes hand-in-hand with the second major change the establishment of an e-business incubator, Hatchbox.
Hatchbox, which was launched in mid-March with two fledgling e-businesses as clients, provides technical and creative expertise in the design of high-end Internet, intranet and extranet solutions, as well as legal, accounting, capital planning and business planning to spin-offs and start-ups.
The idea for Hatchbox came from Clevelands own clients.
Over the last year or so, people have come to us with ideas, he says. People have wanted us to help build (their companies). Wed take a look and realized it took more than a developer. It took legal services, accounting and business planning services, so we worked on two of those businesses and realized they took a lot of time and more expertise than we had by ourselves.
So it dawned on us to take a model from Idealab or garage.com and found our own incubator.
As strategic partners, Cleveland approached Jim Hill at Benesch Freidlander, and Dett Hunter at Arthur Andersen. Says Cleveland, The next thing we knew, we had formed a partnership and launched an incubator. How to reach: Digital Day, (330) 668-6669; Hatchbox, (330) 665-1716
Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.
(Ups) to Bill Sanford. Despite Steris' recent struggles to make money amid weak spending by hospitals, Sanford leaves behind a strong legacy of leadership at the Mentor-based sterilization product manufacturer.
(Downs) to British Telecommunications. The telecom giant dusted off a 14-year-old patent and asserted ownership of hyperlinks, firing off missives to U.S. ISPs demanding royalties. What's next? Claims of ownership by the British of the English language on computer keyboards?
(Ups) to East Ohio Gas. Northeast Ohio's primary natural gas supplier has opened the spigots for consumers to choose their providers. It's an outgrowth of a test program launched in 1998 in other parts of the state, and could save consumers up to 10 percent. It's good for business and good for customers. Now if it could only do something about refined gas prices at the pump.
(Downs) to exorbitant gas prices. Business owners are feeling the crunch most of all. Delivery trucks, freight costs and travel expenses are adding up as unexpected lines in company budgets. With no true dearth of oil worldwide, it's starting to look like collusion.
(Ups) to Microsoft. You've just got to love a company that thumbs its nose at the government in the face of overwhelming odds and a court decision against it. Rolling out its new Internet product three weeks after Judge Jackson's decision was a brilliant stroke of rebellious genius. It almost makes you want to throw a tea party.
(Ups) to SBN magazine, named best business publication in Northeast Ohio and third in the state in the Excellence in Journalism competition. But we couldn't do it without feedback from our readers about what they want. Keep it coming.
According to the American Institute of Stress, Americans are more stressed than ever before. Forty-three percent of adults suffer adverse health effects as a result, and 75 to 90 percent of adult visits to primary care physicians are due to stress-related problems.
Stress also causes approximately 1 million employees to be absent on any given workday, and ultimately is responsible for nearly 50 percent of employee burnout and 40 percent of worker turnover.
Stress, unfortunately, has become an inescapable part of modern life. As the line between the business day and personal time has blurred, it's become increasingly difficult to contain stress and stay healthy. Add technology -- which allows people to be on call during leisure time via cell phones, pagers and e-mail -- and it's no wonder that stress levels are higher than ever before.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there are a variety of stress management techniques that can be easily incorporated into even the busiest daily routine. Here are a few worth trying:
Go for a walk. Walk on the beach, in the mountains or around your neighborhood. Just 20 minutes a day can work wonders, both physically and mentally. It's not only exercise; the quiet time also allows you to wind down from all the work on your mind.
Bring the outdoors indoors. Decorate your home with nature-inspired décor to help you relax and soothe the soul. Soft colors will do wonders for your eyes and mind.
Take up an enjoyable hobby. Whether it's writing, painting, learning to play an instrument or landscaping, choose something that will force you to calm down and enjoy the moment.
Try tai chi, meditation or prayer. By focusing within, you'll acquire a proper perspective and better control over the anxiety-riddled external world. This will also help you focus better in the workplace.
Hug your spouse. Kiss your children. Pet your dog or cat. Laugh out loud. Be playful, spontaneous and have fun. The more you relax, the less stress you'll feel. Believe it!
And if none of that works, you can always toss out your cell phone, pager or laptop.
Dustin Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of SBN. He knows a thing or two about fighting stress.