Cincinnati (1116)

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

3 Questions

Written by

Chuck Lohre studied architecture at the University of Kentucky and worked in advertising specializing in engineering technology. He published extensive resources on the U.S. Green Building Council educational facilities nationwide. He has hosted seminars on sustainable building technology and conducted five tours of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design projects.

Q. Why should solar energy and green building be important to Cincinnati businesses interested in saving money on energy bills?

Cincinnati is moving more toward green construction and energy-efficient architecture. All new structures are encouraged to have architecture that allows for natural sunlight, be energy-efficient and use sustainable energy, such as solar. These points will make the building retain value, better resale value and give a higher return on investment faster. The same goes for businesses operating in one of the many historical buildings in the city. Renovations need to keep with that of the historic era, which aren’t energy-efficient. Recently, approval was given to use similar yet energy-efficient windows to replace older ones. These businesses will see much lower energy bills, and the actual replacement cost is much lower.

Q. Why don’t more businesses comply with energy-efficient techniques?

There’s a huge lack of education about the expense or ease of being more energy-efficient. It’s a mindset that solar panels cost a lot or that it could be a hassle. But the cost of solar has been drastically reduced. Being energy-efficient can save thousands of dollars for a business a year and could be as simple as changing out light bulbs and using ENERGY STAR products. The time frame in which businesses can expect to start saving money post-investment could be as little as five months.

Q. Is there an incentive to businesses that employ energy-saving methods in their facilities?

Yes. Duke Energy has rebate programs that are provided when lighting is changed. Some buildings can acquire government grants. Many schools and universities have been given grants to build energy-efficient and green construction through various organizations — you just have to investigate a little. It’s not far off that all new construction will be government mandated to be LEED certified.

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

Pomeroy IT Solutions optimizes infrastructure

Written by

Information technology has continued

to take up a larger share of American

companies’ expenditures. In the early 1980s, IT consumed about 15 percent of

capital expenditures. It grew to nearly 50

percent by the end of the 1990s. It is now

reportedly close to 80 percent. While IT is

extremely important, companies are looking for ways to maximize benefits and

minimize costs.

“The best way to take the IT department

from a cost center to a business enabler is

to optimize the core infrastructure,” says

Chaz Braman, director of Microsoft services at Pomeroy IT Solutions. “This will

provide a competitive advantage along

with revenue growth, profits and customer loyalty. Higher levels of maturity

can result in a savings in IT costs of up to

80 percent.”

Smart Business spoke with Braman

for his insight into core infrastructure

optimization.

What is core infrastructure optimization?

Core infrastructure optimization (core

IO) is a method to analyze your entire

computer system along with what you

expect from it. You want to look at all the

possibilities to employ computer abilities

that are underutilized. When you use your

infrastructure at its optimum level, you

gain a competitive advantage by providing

better customer service. Repetitive operations can be handled automatically to cut

labor costs. Core IO gives a comprehensive, proven and efficient methodology to

help improve your core infrastructure.

What benefits can be expected from core IO?

Core IO is designed to help control IT

costs, improve security and availability,

and increase agility to enable companies

to spend less time and money on maintenance and devote more time to creating

and facilitating new capabilities and services to advance the business. An optimized core infrastructure can lead to

greater business continuity, enhanced

compliance and better, more secure access to network resources. Organizations

can achieve notable improvements in the ability to provide faster, more responsive

IT service and, thus, increase agility.

How is core IO accomplished?

It starts with a comprehensive assessment to help you analyze your core infrastructures and a comparison of your

answers with similar businesses. The

assessment is very holistic and unobtrusive and does not require any software

installation or network scanning. It provides a personalized and private optimization score, a peer comparison, and a value

assessment. The assessment delivers a

comprehensive report that can serve as an

actionable road map and incentive for

optimizing any IT infrastructure and platform. There are four levels of optimization

maturity. Once your level is determined,

the next step is to lay out the road map to

bump up to the next level. Here is where

you stand today, here is where you want

to go and here is how to get there. Your

report also includes a quantifiable value

of improving your core infrastructure,

which is based on IDC and Gartner data of

organizations that have already undergone the process.

What are the four levels?

They are basic, standardized, rationalized/advanced and dynamic. Basic is just

what it says. Constant manual monitoring

and repairs are needed. Standardized

includes some automated systems management capabilities and some automated

identity and access management. The next

level, rationalized/advanced, includes

some virtualization capabilities and proactive security and configuration policies

that enable self-provisioning. The infrastructure achieves its full potential as a

strategic asset for the business and

enables people throughout the enterprise

to do more to advance the business at the

dynamic level.

What are some examples of potential cost

savings?

One area is desktop setup. The road

map can provide methodology to take a

desktop out of the box and hook it into

your system almost instantly. You bypass

all the time it used to take to individually

set up each computer and align it with

your system. You’ll likely gain savings in

another area as well because you probably have everything needed in the software, which you have already purchased.

It is just not all being utilized. For

instance, Microsoft’s Enterprise licensing

agreement usually includes all the tools.

It is just that too many people have not

taken the time or had the inclination to

match the abilities to their needs. The

costs for hardware and software are

going down, yet the costs of managing

and supporting your infrastructure are

increasing. Optimizing your core infrastructure will help you gain full potential

from what you have already paid for. You

can take many steps that are now done

manually and make them automatic, thus

allowing time for other more productive

tasks and increased profitability.

CHAZ BRAMAN is director of Microsoft services at Pomeroy IT Solutions. Reach him at (216) 408-8277 or by e-mail at

cbraman@pomeroy.com.

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

Greg Achten creates vision at Merrill Lynch

Written by

Greg Achten thought he knew everything

about Cincinnati. He grew up there, went

to college there and even started his career

there with Merrill Lynch Wealth

Management.

But when Achten returned to the city in

February as director of the company’s

Greater Cincinnati complex after spending

18 years away, he realized the market was

quite different than what he thought it was.

“Even though I thought I knew the market, I did spend a lot of time relearning the

market with a different lens just so I didn’t

miss anything,” he says.

Spending that time relearning helped

Achten step into the director’s role with no

preconceptions and ready to tackle any

challenges that lay ahead of him.

One of the first challenges Achten had to

face was creating a vision. Merrill Lynch,

which was recently bought by Bank of

America, has an overall company vision to

“be the essential partner and to go beyond

financial solutions for our clients.” But the

company is large, with 60,000 employees

and offices in 40 countries, and Achten

wanted a vision specific to Cincinnati that

would rally his 180 employees to work

together toward a common goal.

“It’s important to have a vision locally just

so everybody has something they can buy in

to and build toward,” Achten says. “It’s

important for employees to buy in to something and be part of something that’s bigger

than just their day-to-day role, and that’s

what the vision enabled us to do. That drives

the receptionist’s behavior, it drives the

financial behavior, anything interacting with

clients, what we do behind the scenes.”

Achten dove into creating the local vision

to “be the premier solution for financial

services in Cincinnati” by focusing on getting to know the $107 million organization

better, getting feedback from employees

and holding employees accountable for

achieving the vision.

Get to know your people

Achten couldn’t start creating a vision

without any information, so he first needed

to get to know his organization and the

people in it. He did a fast overview of the

company and knew employees were delivering a high level of service to clients, but

he wanted to dig deeper and know more

about the individuals he would be leading.

“People don’t care what you know until

they know you care, so it’s important for

me to come in, get to know the individuals,

what they were trying to accomplish, get to

know their practices and how they interacted with their clients,” Achten says.

He spent most of his first 100 days there

meeting with employees, mainly the 116

financial advisers. He spent between a half-hour to an hour with each employee, sometimes over lunch or dinner, to learn about

him or her personally and professionally.

Achten didn’t set an agenda for the conversations, but he let the employees dictate

the direction.

“I wanted to know about them and their

family and interests, and just what they

were looking to accomplish in life, what

they were looking to accomplish within the

firm and how they interacted with clients,”

he says. “Just everything they were comfortable talking about — it was fairly casual, and I took a lot of notes.”

Listening is one of the keys to making

these conversations successful, so employees know you are actually interested in

what they are sharing. Achten says he did

about 85 percent of the listening and let the

employees do the majority of the talking

during conversations.

“It was through listening that I gained a

true understanding of who the advisers

were as people, what they needed from

their leader in order to provide the premier

client experience and what vision they had

of the Merrill Lynch office,” he says.

To prove he had listened, Achten met

with all employees once he completed the

process to share what he had learned.

“I just shared with them, here’s who we are as people, and I wanted them to understand that I heard exactly what they had

told me — not individual personal things,

but as a group, this is who we are, this is

our business, these are our business metrics — so everybody saw where I was coming from,” he says.

Spending time getting to know your

employees requires a significant commitment. Achten worked many long days to

meet with every employee. But even though

you need to commit time to your employees,

you also need to make time for the other

daily duties and challenges that may arise.

“As much time that I put into getting to

know people, I always blocked enough

time to deal with the crisis situations that

may come up or trying to get information

out ... and continue to get ideas out and not

just bunker in for three months and not be

visible,” he says.

From these conversations, Achten was able

to learn about the quality of the people, both

personally and professionally, and the level of

service they were delivering to clients.

“I felt like, in a fairly short amount of

time, I got a lot of feedback from the organization, and I was able to connect to people

there, so then when we went to phase three

... there was much more buy-in because I

took the time to get to know them upfront,”

he says.

Achten says you need to actively listen to

get to know them better.

“Knowing your employees inside and out

will inevitably make their professional

experience more fulfilling,” he says. “This

professional fulfillment then motivates

advisers to deliver the highest caliber of

client service.”

Get feedback

Once Achten understood his people, he

needed to work on forming the vision.

Getting feedback from employees played a

large role in creating that vision.

“A big part of my leadership style is I’m

inclusive — I want ideas,” he says.

“Ultimately, I’ll make decisions, but we’re better as an organization

when our best people are sharing ideas and we’re getting input

from all parts of the organization.”

Achten formed groups from the four subsets of employees in his

organization — the leadership team, financial advisers, client associates and operations staff — to get direct feedback on the vision.

The boards are voluntary, and Achten asked for board member

nominations from employees. He looked for people with a positive

attitude who had an influence on the company culture — people

who collaborated with others, placed an emphasis on the client

experience and were determined to improve the business.

Before jumping into work, Achten provided a direction for the

groups to head during the meetings. He wanted the discussions to

deal with what the organization could do to make the client and

employee experience better.

“I emphasized the importance of, No. 1, being collaborative and,

No. 2, working within the context of our overall mission,” Achten

says.

He met with these groups quarterly to get feedback on the vision,

and he still meets with them to get the pulse of the organization. He

says these groups are able to help with identifying and solving issues

that might stand in the way of fulfilling the vision.

Employees know who their representatives are and are encouraged to go to them with questions or feedback.

“If they have suggestions on how we could do things better, they

funnel it through that group,” he says.

While feedback was abundant, Achten needed to remember that

it was his responsibility to make the ultimate decision.

“At the end of the day, the decisions are mine, but I make better

decisions as a whole when I get more feedback,” he says. “The

quality of decisions ... it’s crazy not to listen to everybody through

the organization when you’re making decisions. More input is better.”

Getting feedback from your employees, along with taking time to

get to know them, allows you to form the vision together as a team,

which creates more buy-in.

“If you come in and try to instill your vision without any input,

then you’re just not going to get the buy-in,” Achten says. “There

are innovative ideas inside of every organization, and those ideas,

if harvested, will make the client experience better and will ultimately drive revenue. It is hard to get buy-in from employees if

they are not fully heard first.”

Implement the vision

Once Achten had a good sense of his environment and received

feedback, it was time to implement the vision. Because of the time

he spent connecting with employees and seeking their ideas, it was

easy to communicate the vision to them and get buy-in.

“The win we were able to get early on was spending that upfront

time to get to know people and understand where they’re coming

from so when we get back to them and say, ‘Hey, have you looked

at this or tried this,’ they’re much more receptive to new ideas if

they know that you spent the time listening to them,” he says.

While it’s important to communicate the vision, you need to

make sure employees have the necessary tools to achieve it.

Achten provided training, such as wealth management training, to

improve employee skills in areas related to the vision. He says

training needs to be tailored to the individual. By listening to what

employees are interested in, Achten can recommend what training

is best suited for them.

Providing tools is important, but you need to hold employees

accountable for using these to achieve the vision. Every employee

at Merrill Lynch has quantitative goals that are measured by individual and overall office financial productivity and qualitative goals that are measured by client testimonials, business referrals

and the length of time the client has been with the organization.

“At the end of the day, accountability to metrics is important, but

nothing is more important than the accountability our team has to

our clients,” Achten says.

He says holding employees accountable is not just about looking

at the numbers.

“Accountability is threefold — accountability to yourself as a professional, accountability to clients as essential partners, and

accountability to your team and the larger company,” Achten says.

“Find out what motivates your employees, and do your best to tap

that motivation and turn it into strong results for the business and

the client.”

Publishing numbers is a way to hold employees accountable.

Achten publishes positive numbers from the organization’s client

satisfaction index regularly, sometimes weekly through a memo.

The organization also has a bimonthly strategy session to discuss

metrics and celebrate successes.

Celebration can also be with a group or individually. Celebrating

and sharing helps build the team, but you also need to deal with

those unsuccessful numbers.

Achten meets one-on-one with employees who do not meet their

goals to map out a plan to turn them into successes, whether it be

facilitating network opportunities with clients or sponsoring additional training.

After spending so much time developing a vision, it should be

fresh on the mind of employees. But you need to work and keep

that vision front and center so employees do not lose focus.

“If it’s not front and center, then there might be employees who

are less on the front lines and others who lose sight of it,” Achten

says. “For example, if the receptionist isn’t continuously reminded

of the mission of being the premier solution in Cincinnati, she may

let the lobby go and not look at its quality. Every employee needs

to be reminded of what we’re trying to accomplish — and the more

regularly you can do it, the better.”

Developing a vision specific to the organization’s four offices has

helped get employees on the same page. Achten says when developing a vision, especially if you are new to the organization, you

shouldn’t assume anything.

“Until you get there and get in the group and see the numbers,

hear what’s going on, feel the client experience and get in there,

don’t make assumptions,” he says. “I would encourage other leaders who are coming into something that is working but want to

take it to another level, spend some upfront time to get to know

the people.”

HOW TO REACH: Greater Cincinnati Complex for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, (513) 579-3600 or www.ml.com

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

3 Questions

Written by

Jerry Kathman is president and CEO of LPK, a large international design agency, and travels monthly to Germany, Switzerland, China or England, where the branding company has additional locations and clients. For Kathman and a number of the company’s 400 employees, travel is the norm and cannot be cut when the cost of travel rises.

Q. What are some tools your company uses to maximize your travel budget?

Use technology. Teleconferencing and videoconferencing is a win-win situation. There’s no travel, minimizes time used and pays for itself quickly. The current economic backdrop exacerbates the topic. If you have 10 meetings in which you would meet a client traveling by plane, reduce the trips to two and do the rest by teleconference. Businesses and clients are seeing more and more that doing everything at the local level isn’t always the best decision. They want innovation, and that may mean going outside of the state. This means either travel or technology will lead the business relationship. You have to be prepared equally to adapt to either need.

Q. Does your company have a travel manager — or team?

We have a person who arranges all of our travel in-house. For companies that need to be places fast, they need to have someone capable of taking care of travel needs immediately. When you have a staffer taking care of your travel needs, you can take advantage of the best rates at any time with any provider without being restricted by contracts.

Q. For a company that doesn’t have the option of reducing travel in its budget, what can it do to better manage its existing budget?

The scarcity of options is a concern and should be figured into the travel policy and budget. The unreliability of air travel has to be considered as part of the travel budget and consideration given to investing on technology. There are 25 percent fewer flights today as there were just a few years ago. If a company isn’t located near a hub, that makes the problem even more complex as getting flights you want when you want them (is) increasingly difficult. Airfare is at its highest cost ever, and the lack of careful management will wreak havoc on a disorganized budget.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

Make IT work for you

Written by

In today’s business climate, chief information officers struggle with tight budgets and limited resources while being asked to have a broader impact across their organizations. Doing more with less is a common theme.

“It is imperative to build a successful partner strategy,” says Keith Blachowiak, senior vice president, operations, and CIO at Pomeroy IT Solutions. “No one can do everything. You need to keep your precious internal resources focused on those items that drive your competitive differentiation and use partners to provide support for back office IT functions — all while lowering your costs and providing enhanced service levels.”

Smart Business gained further insight from Blachowiak into maximizing competitiveness with IT.

What are the focus areas for IT management?

I see three priorities of IT. First, protect the company’s assets. In addition to IT security, this includes the recovery of assets, backups, and business continuity. Second, ensure all deployed technology is running as efficiently today as it did yesterday. This includes keeping the business systems running, networks available, desktops supported, etc. The impact of an unproductive work force due to technology issues is often underestimated. Third, deliver new products and services. This can range from developing new reports to entirely new products.

In today’s highly competitive environment, there is tremendous pressure within an organization for the IT team to place the emphasis on the third priority, which is typically where the competitive differentiation is created. Thus IT management needs to find a solution that provides acceptable levels of protection and operations so they can focus their attention on driving incremental business value. The answer lies in partnerships. By employing partners to handle the back-office, commodity facets of IT, they are able to focus their precious internal resources on the initiatives most important to the company.

Can you give an example?

The IT help desk is a perfect example. Everyone within an organization, from the CEO to the person shipping your product, calls the IT help desk at one time or another. Industry statistics show that most people call the IT help desk one or two times each month. When people place calls to the help desk they are usually in a situation where they cannot do their job and thus are unproductive until the situation is resolved. To make matters worse, very often this also means a customer is not being serviced. The combined loss of productivity and impact to customers can be staggering yet in most companies the IT help desk is not a focus area of the IT management team or the IT budget. The help desk team is usually a lower paid set of individuals, with minimal training, typically working in the back corner of the IT department, answering phone calls but usually providing nothing more than log and escalation assistance. At best, they usually have a system that allows them to record the calls but generally lack the tools to solve the problems in a timely manner. Minimal focus is placed on the average seconds to answer or the first call resolution rate. The company’s IT staff is generally focusing on other more pressing issues and isn’t researching the latest tools for remote problem resolution and knowledge tools — things that would help maximize the productivity of their entire company. By partnering with a company that has already invested in the talent and tools to provide this service, the IT management team can dramatically improve the level of service within the company while maintaining or lowering costs and keeping their focus on other company priorities.

Why are partners necessary to accomplish your goals?

No company, regardless of its size and resources, has enough bandwidth to focus in all areas. Partners have focus. This focus allows them to hire the talent with the necessary expertise, procure the tools and technologies that help deliver world-class service and stay abreast of the latest advancements in their particular specialty. They are then able to spread these costs across multiple companies thereby allowing each individual company to receive world class benefits at typically the same or lower costs than when it was run internally.

Are there other areas in which partners can assist?

As mentioned above, the IT help desk is certainly a prime area. Other areas include desk side support, asset procurement, network and telecom support and management, security, database management, data center management and new technology deployments.

KEITH BLACHOWIAK is senior vice president, operations, and CIO at Pomeroy IT Solutions. Reach him at (859) 586-0600 or by e-mail at Keith.Blachowiak@pomeroy.com.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

Westfield Insurance weathers the storm

Written by

Tornados, floods and other catastrophic events can have a devastating impact

on your business. In addition to possible damage to your own building or inventory,

there is the potential for loss of infrastructure services like power, water, or data

and telephone lines. Road closures or even

complete lockdown of devastated areas are

also common after a severe storm.

“The ability to repair, reopen or relocate

your business can be the key to survival,”

says Corry Novosel, director of Catastrophe

Claims Operations at Westfield Insurance.

Smart Business spoke with Novosel

about how to protect and preserve your

business when faced with catastrophes.

How can business owners mitigate risks?

A well-rounded insurance plan should

consider the possible catastrophic events in

your local geography. Tornadoes, floods

and even a terrorist event in a nearby city

can impact nearly any business at any time.

Until this year, Ohio business owners

would have laughed at the idea of being

affected by a hurricane, but the remnants of

Hurricane Ike struck large areas of Ohio on

Sept. 14, 2008. Winds as fast as 75 miles per

hour caused one of the largest storms in the

state’s history with damage estimates as

high as $1 billion.

How can you uncover commonly missed

areas of vulnerability?

First, you need to consider the ancillary

impact of a catastrophic event. What

impact would a tornado or flood have on

your supply chain or delivery? Would you

lose customer traffic or be unable to access

data, records or billing?

Next, you should discuss often-excluded

causes of loss with your agent. Flood damage, for example, is often not covered

under typical commercial policies. Loss

caused by the interruption of power to your

property or by road closures by municipal

authority may also be excluded.

Finally, think about business income coverage. In many instances, the loss of business income exceeds the cost of repairs to

the building. Even if you are a tenant, catastrophic damage to your building or your

area can result in suspending operations for

weeks or months.

What are the best ways to speed the recovery

process?

Provide good contact information when

you turn in your claim; many times, it is difficult to locate individuals in the aftermath

of a catastrophic event. Also, don’t wait for

your claims person to contact you before

working on your own plan of action. The

sooner you have a plan in mind, the sooner

you can be advised on what is covered.

What are some important dos and don’ts following a storm?

  • Do report your loss. Contact your agent

    or the 800 number for direct claims reporting to your insurance carrier. The sooner

    you notify your carrier of your loss, the

    sooner you will be contacted and the

    process of handling your loss started. 

  • Do take emergency measures to mitigate additional damage to your business. In

    the end, you may not be covered for the cost of removing flood water from your

    floor, but leaving it there for a week while

    you await your carrier to call will not help

    the situation. 

  • Do document your loss. Taking photos

    is always a good idea. Keep all receipts for

    any emergency repairs. Your policy requires damaged property be available for

    inspection. If you must throw out damaged

    goods before your claims representative

    arrives, be sure to document them before

    they are hauled away. 

  • Don’t panic. Your policy is a contract

    like any other. If you are covered for loss

    caused by wind, you will be paid for covered damages caused by wind. The best

    way for you to avoid coverage surprises is

    to meet with your agent on a regular basis

    and understand what is covered and what

    is not. 

  • Don’t assume your claims person is

    familiar with the details of your business.

    While it is likely the person handling your

    claim has an understanding of commercial

    enterprises, you can help him or her by

    explaining how this loss is impacting your

    operations. Good communication can often

    alert your claims professional to coverage

    you may not realize you purchased.

 

What else should businesses know?

Most insurers understand that their

response to catastrophic events is an

opportunity to make a very positive

impact. Keep in mind, however, that the

intake of thousands of losses and the

movement of hundreds of claims persons

to an area that may have limited infrastructure available is, at best, difficult to coordinate. Initial focus is usually on making contact with all claimants and assessing the

most severe losses using the triage system.

Less severe losses may be handled later

with instructions to the insured to make

any necessary temporary repairs and begin

the process of finding a repairer who is

willing to come out and write an estimate

of damages.

CORRY NOVOSEL is the director of Catastrophe Claims Operations at Westfield Insurance. Reach him at (724) 776-7200 or

corrynovosel@westfieldgrp.com. Westfield Insurance provides commercial and personal insurance services to customers in 17 states.

Represented by leading independent insurance agencies, the product we offer is peace of mind and our promise of protection is

supported by a commitment to service excellence. For more information, visit www.westfieldinsurance.com.

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Search engine optimization

Written by

If your IT guru has told you that something

called search engine optimization is the way

to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or

why you should care, consider this: When

done right, SEO could double your return on

investment and help you acquire scores of

new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most

basic form is simply about making your Web

site appear higher up in search results from

sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of

almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet more than half of readers surveyed

by Smart Business say search engine optimization isn’t part of their current marketing

strategy. Search engine optimization has a

rightful place in every company’s budget, yet

few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate

serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer

enters a search term into Google. Two types

of search results are displayed: natural and

pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results

shown on the left side of any search page, are

based on merit and validity to the keywords

used. The results in the narrow column on

the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural

search, it can take three months to see

progress in your rankings. The better the

optimization, the higher up your site will

appear in relevant searches, increasing your

chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for

a particular keyword that you choose, but

you are charged every time someone clicks

on your site. This is an advertisement and a

temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s

the newest verb in the English language.

Everyone knows of the search engine

because it has a commanding market share

(various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent

on average), so the connection is easy to

make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s

looking for your goods or services. SEO gets

your name in front of consumers at a time they

are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on

your site, makes it easy to find and spreads

your name around the Internet as much as

possible. In the process, your site will be

placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“For well-optimized sites, businesses can

expect to see 70 to 90 percent of their visitors

coming from search engines,” says Greg Frye,

president, Upright Communications. “This is

the obvious way to attract Web consumers

and earn revenue on and offline.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in

ranking high, but a series of criteria installed

by Google and implemented by SEO firms

help make the ranking determination.

“Many CEOs see search engine optimization as snake oil,” says Steve Phillips, founder,

Purple Trout LLC. “It’s still relatively new, and

they want to sit back and see where it goes

before making an investment. Some businesses have been burned in their first attempt

at SEO, likely because they didn’t choose a

reputable company and became discouraged

from attempting round two.”

The longer you wait to take action, the

more difficult it will be to get your site ranked

higher.

“I don’t see how any business can ignore

SEO, even on a local level,” Phillips says.

“The longer you wait to become involved, the

more difficult it will be to be visible to potential customers due to market saturation —

demand. So many people jump online all the

time, open Google and start searching. Heck,

I use Google to find a pizza place or to look

for a dentist. It’s amazing how many businesses haven’t considered it yet.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate

details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and

a clear schedule, knowing the basics and

what questions to ask will minimize the use

of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you

to know your opportunities instead of

becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO,

none of which comes with a guarantee.

There are two main types of search: local

and global — and you’ll also hear the term

“universal search,” which encompasses

both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local

search only, so would focus on keywords

and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what

keywords might help you rank high is Google

Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a

free service provided by Google that allows

you to test the current value of your Web site

and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of

success.

“Links from other reputable sites to yours

are positive points in SEO,” Frye says. “SEO

is moving more toward including off-site optimization along with what’s done on the home

page and keyword use.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role

in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software

robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data —

must be able to understand information on

the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed,

dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as

“third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing

is largely used for local search, but foreign

markets rely on mobile Web access heavily

for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site

requires a balance of compelling information,

easy access and optimization that gets it to

the top of the search engine rankings. Most

professional firms will be able to handle all of

these needs, but again, ask questions before

signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from

other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to

ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results.

Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a purchase, and make sure the firm can

provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean

something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where

those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results;

you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means

hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a

feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of

your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting

a new user is practically zero,” Roth says.

For Annette Tarver, getting

her point across isn’t the

most important part of communication.

“It’s all about listening and

really seeking to understand

what the issues and challenges

are,” says Tarver, president of

Blackwell Consulting Services

of Ohio LLC, an information

technology and management

consultancy.

To open up the lines of communication, Tarver develops

one-on-one relationships with

her employees at the company,

which posted 2007 revenue of

about $6.5 million and employs

more than 50 people.

Smart Business spoke with

Tarver about how to develop

one-on-one relationships with

your employees and how to be

a better communicator.

Q. How do you develop

one-on-one relationships

with employees?

We start through our hiring

process and have an on-boarding process that we think is

pretty comprehensive. It

includes a lot of things that

would be considered touch

points for the individuals, the

things that matter to them.

We try to stay connected on

those touch points throughout

their employment, things like

what their passions are, and we

try to match those to volunteer

opportunities that they can participate in. Some people are

engaged with sports through

their kids, and we try to do

things that support their activities inside and outside the office.

Community involvement and

volunteerism is one of our core

values. So, we try to match

them up along those lines, as well, to some things that they’re

passionate about that they can

add value to in a community

service setting.

Q. What advice would you

give to someone who wants

to be a better communicator?

I think communication is

learned. I don’t think it is something that comes naturally for

everybody.

There’s some people who can

communicate very easily. They’re

gregarious — it’s a personality

thing where they are comfortable doing it. People who

are uncomfortable doing

it — I know a lot of leaders that this is not a skill

they have developed.

One of the easiest ways

to do it is to do something that is very benign

and nonpersonal and

nonconfrontational. One

of the things that we do,

as we find articles of

interest ... we send them

out to people saying, ‘I

read this in such and

such a publication, and I

thought it might be of

interest to you.’

It’s the idea of sharing

some information, doing

a little knowledge transfer and just say, ‘I’d be

interested in hearing your comments about it, or know what

you think about this,’ and open

up that dialogue.

Then it allows the other person — they may not be comfortable, either ... it allows them

to have an opportunity to read

over the materials and then say,

‘Thanks for sending it to me; it

was great. I thought the points

that they made might be applicable to something we are

doing at such and such a client,’

or ‘I’m going to use these techniques in something I’m doing

external to the office.’

I find that to be very helpful.

People appreciate getting information from you and the fact

that you are thinking about

some of the things they might

be doing and ways you can

apply best practices to that.

Q. What is the biggest

challenge with communication?

Just keeping up with it.

Making sure I’m in touch in one

form or another with just about

everybody at least monthly.

We’ve got a newsletter that

we’re developing that we’ll be

sending out. We use part of the

space in that to talk about our

business but another part of it

to just talk about what employees in the company are doing

externally. ... We try to highlight

the things employees are doing,

generally, so we can have a

holistic kind of approach to

who we are.

Q. How has good communication benefited the company?

People feel very cohesive as a

team. I think they are engaged

with one another at a level

beyond just, ‘Oh, this is my colleague at work.’

Typically, people feel more

passionate about things that

they’ll do in their personal lives

if they can make some connection to their professional life. I

think they just do a better job

because they feel more valued

as a person.

Q. Is there any other advice

you want to add?

In my experience, the value of

a positive attitude and just the

concept of, ‘Yes we can,’ has

been very helpful. Like most

business, we have our ups and

downs, our challenges.

I think when everyone else

wants to give up for whatever

reason, as a leader, it’s your

responsibility to push forward

and to be the No. 1 cheerleader,

and encouraging, saying, ‘We

can get this done just as well as

anyone else can.’ Really do the

rallying cry. Having that kind of

enthusiasm as a leader and having the perseverance and the

courage to say, ‘We can do this,’

is very important.

HOW TO REACH: Blackwell Consulting Services of Ohio LLC, (866) 997-2276 or www.bcsohio.com

Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Jim Campbell empowers people at Bridge Logistocs Inc

Written by

Jim Campbell wants his

employees to be empowered. To make sure that they are, the president and

CEO of Bridge Logistics Inc.

says he and his partners —

vice presidents Jeff Campbell

and Paul Lanham — make

themselves accessible, which

is key to creating an environment of empowerment.

“It creates a comfort zone

and a sense of confidence within the employee base,” the

leader of the multifaceted third-party logistics provider says.

“We encourage creativity, and

we give them the latitude to

bring new ideas to the table.”

That environment has led to

fast growth at the company,

which more than quadrupled its

2006 revenue of about $2 million to about $9 million in 2007.

Smart Business spoke with

Campbell about how to create

an environment of empowerment and how to be more

accessible as a leader.

Q. How would you describe

your leadership style?

Pretty casual here. We make

ourselves very, very available to

our employees. There are days

kind of like this morning — we

were all three involved with

operational issues this morning.

We have open-door policies.

We do have some family working here. It’s very casual.

We are very accessible. I

think the three of us have

employees in our office bouncing ideas, ‘What do you think

about this?’ on a daily basis.

We encourage creative

thought here. We want our

employees thinking outside

the box in order to differentiate ourselves within our customer base and prospective

customer base.

Q. How can leaders make

themselves more accessible?

We’re not Procter & Gamble

here. We don’t have layers

and layers of management.

For these small to midsized,

even up to larger companies,

we think that the attitude

from the prospective

employee coming to work

here is so much different

than it was 20 years ago, and

we really try to cater to that.

We’re not big on titles here.

We’re not big on management

layers. You have to want to be

accessible to your employees.

We’re pretty relaxed

with these guys. We like

teaching here; we spend

a lot of time educating.

Every problem that

develops or logistics

challenge that develops

is an opportunity to educate our employee base

and empower them to

make decisions the next

time. No decision is the

wrong decision.

Q. How do you find

the right people to fit

into that culture of

empowerment?

It starts with the right

person. The interviewing

process — you’ve got to

pay particular attention

to the traits that the individual possesses — entrepreneurial spirit, team-oriented

type individual.

Our interview process here

typically goes in a few different interviews. It’s very rare

that somebody here gets hired

off the first interview. Do we

have a big, in-depth, structured interview process? No, but

what we do is each employee

typically interviews with the

three of us. We compare a lot

of notes. We often ask the

same questions very differently. We know what we are

looking for in that individual.

It’s a relaxed interview. It’s

not really an interrogation.

We want to get to know that

individual, the potential candidate. We want to really know

them, their likes, their dislikes, what they can bring to

the table, the way they perceive a problem and what

they would do to solve it.

Q. What is a pitfall to avoid

in leadership?

A lot of leaders today, they

tend to come in with the mind-set that, ‘It’s my bat, my ball,

my rules. You’re going to do

it this way. It’s my way or the

highway.’ I, as well as Paul

and Jeff, advise against that

because people are going to

make you successful or they

are going to break you —

one or the other.

You don’t want to (fit a)

square peg into a round hole.

Take advantage of the individual’s creativity. Take advantage

of their thoughts.

We just hired a young guy a

year ago that was a graduate

from The Ohio State University

with a degree in supply chain

and logistics management.

What am I going to do? Try to

jam him, all that education that

he acquired, try to jam a round

peg into a square hole with

him? No, we want him to bring

his thought process, new

thinking and forward thinking

to the operation.

Q. What are the keys to

leading change?

You have to have a direction.

In our case, the first step in

leading change is the management team has to buy in

to what direction you are

going into. You have to give

your staff the tools they need

in order for that change to

take place.

Once the management

team buys in to the direction

you want to change to,

you’ve got to get everybody

else on board and you’ve got

to make sure everybody is

stroking on the same oar. We

do that here again by getting

these folks to take ownership in the plan.

HOW TO REACH: Bridge Logistics Inc., (513) 874-7444 or www.bridgelogisticsinc.com

Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Westfield Insurance on property coverage

Written by

Many companies require the services

or goods of another company to

make their product or to run their business. As a business owner, your company may never experience a tragic loss or

damage, but what would happen to your

business if one of your suppliers experienced

such a loss? Do you have the proper insurance to cover your loss if your sole supplier

can no longer provide goods or service?

Business income provides for the business

what it cannot provide for itself. Dependent

property takes this coverage to the next level

to protect the business even if the loss happens to a third party on which it relies, says

William V. Reedy CIC, AU, The Learning

Group, Westfield Insurance. Business owners who understand the protection offered

with dependent property coverage and recognize their need are considered savvy insurance consumers and risk managers, he adds.

Smart Business spoke with Reedy about

the need for dependent property coverage,

how it can help protect your business and

how to evaluate your company’s risk to determine if such coverage is needed.

What is dependent property coverage?

Most businesses depend on other businesses to supply them with the raw materials or

finished products they will sell. Conversely,

supplier businesses rely on having other businesses that will buy their product. In both

cases, the business is dependent on another

entity to conduct its business. When a business cannot get the materials or product to

sell, it will experience indirect financial loss.

The fact that it is indirect does not lessen

the loss. Conventional business income

insurance reimburses a business for income

and expense after its own loss. Dependent

property coverage is used to protect a business when the loss takes place at a business

on which it relies.

Why is this type of coverage so important?

Dependent property coverage is extremely

important because the actual physical loss

(fire, wind, etc.) may happen to the business

you depend on and not your business. The

fact that this coverage responds on your

behalf relieves you of the financial loss you

would have had. These losses can be debilitating to a company.

Most business owners and insurance

agents readily identify buildings and business

personal property when they consider property exposures. Business income is sometimes overlooked in this process. Business

income coverage without the dependent

property endorsement will not respond to

the dependent property exposure. It requires

both business income along with the dependent property endorsement to make sure all

dependent exposures are addressed.

Who requires such coverage?

Any business that relies on another business is a candidate for dependent property

coverage. This coverage is especially important and most often provided when there is a

single or short list of key contributing or

recipient dependent property businesses.

For example, perhaps the insured business

makes wooden rocking chairs that are

known for their craftsmanship and quality. It

may only use one particular supplier of hickory that provides the best wood. Since the

chair company bases its reputation on quality, it is dependent on this particular wood

supplier. If the chair company added the

hickory supplier as a dependent property and

a fire occurs at the hickory supplier’s location

(rendering it unable to supply the insured

company with top-quality wood), it is considered a covered peril, since fire is a covered

peril under the policy.

The business income policy endorsed with

dependent property would pay the insured

company the amount it would have earned

until the wood supplier is back in business.

With dependent property coverage, the company is indemnified for the business it normally would have done, and it does not have

to resort to using inferior wood and potentially damaging its reputation for quality.

Are there different types of dependent properties?

There are four main categories of businesses that may require this coverage.

  • Recipients: businesses that rely on others

    for product 

  • Contributors: businesses that rely on others to whom they sell their product 
  • Manufacturing locations: businesses that

    sell a product on behalf of a manufacturer 

  • Leader locations: businesses that rely on

    other businesses to draw traffic to their location. An example would be a card shop located near a large retail chain store. The card

    store benefits from the traffic and would

    experience a downturn in revenue if the

    chain store were to close.

 

How can one determine risk of exposure?

If a business has a number of potential suppliers or available markets in which to sell its

product, then the need for dependent property coverage is not as great as if it depends

on a more limited and thus more important

few. The questions any business owner

should ask are: On what other businesses do

I depend? What would happen if they were

forced to shut down for a month, six months

or a year? Would I lose income as a result? If

the answer to these questions results in identifiable companies that would cause financial

loss if they were out of business, then one

may conclude that dependent property coverage is necessary.

WILLIAM V. REEDY, CIC, AU, is with The Learning Group, Westfield Insurance. Reach him at billreedy@westfieldgrp.com or (330) 887-0859.