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
“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
Smart Business spoke with Braman
for his insight into core infrastructure
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
What are some examples of potential cost
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
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
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
“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
“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,”
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
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
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
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
HOW TO REACH: Greater Cincinnati Complex for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, (513) 579-3600 or www.ml.com
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.
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
CORRY NOVOSEL is the director of Catastrophe Claims Operations at Westfield Insurance. Reach him at (724) 776-7200 or
email@example.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.
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Q. How do you find
the right people to fit
into that culture of
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (330) 887-0859.
William Wilson isn’t
just making huge
business deals when he arrives early in the morning at KZF Design Inc.
“I clean up the coffee
machine and refill the sugar
and the creamer and things
like that,” says the president
and CEO of the architectural
and engineering firm, which
posted 2007 revenue of about
And he doesn’t do it just
because he likes coffee.
“There isn’t any job in the
company that you shouldn’t be
willing to roll your sleeves up
and do,” he says. “If you do
things like that, the staff will
be behind you on it.”
Smart Business spoke with
Wilson about staying involved
in your company and how to
communicate with diverse
Q. How do you communicate
with different levels of
It depends on the type of
business that you are in and
the type of people you have. In
my particular business, we
have a wide diversity of people with varying talents and
varying educational backgrounds.
You almost have to have a
smorgasbord of ways of handling things. There’s no one
solution fits all. It’s not like
you have a work force that has
a similar background and they
are all producing the same
product. This is much more
diversified, so it requires a lot
more personal tailoring.
There are people that are
great at working in groups and
talking in groups, and there are people that are very quiet
and don’t like that type of situation. You really need to get to
know all of your staff in order
to be able to manage the
process of interaction at the
level that they are most comfortable with.
Q. How do you get to know
We are a team-oriented company. We are always working
together in groups and
teams on projects
together. Beyond that, I
think it’s important to
keep a certain amount
of separation between
your private life and
their private lives and
your life as a business
manager in the company.
But, just through the
you’ll get to know the
people and to learn
more about them just by
working with them.
Management in our
business is a hands-on
business. Our managers
are working managers.
We don’t have a separate layer of management that
has the ivory office and sends
dictation through the various
other people to filter down to
the staff. We’re actually working on projects. The management in our company is actively involved with our staff on a
Q. How could a leader develop a team-oriented culture?
One of the things that we do
here is we have something
called a discretionary fund.
Each of the managers in our
company has an allotted amount of money that’s given
to them every year, and it
varies depending on the size of
the group or the number of
people that would be involved.
The purpose of that is we
didn’t want accounting micro-managing decisions being
made at the floor level or at
the management level within
the company every time someone said, ‘I’d like to give somebody a gift certificate, or I’d
like to buy them dinner,’ or something like that. We didn’t
want accounting saying, ‘Well,
give me a justification for it,’
or making any kind of attachment to it of, ‘This has to be
tied to a client,’ or some other
There are just times where,
you as a manager, have to step
in and do something, and it
has to be timely and it has to
be immediate, and it doesn’t
need a whole lot of overview
or peer pressure on you about
why you did it.
So, this discretionary fund
system has been very helpful
in terms of giving us the
opportunity to reward people,
to send something to someone
or give them a night off. Just a
quick way to recognize the
effort that individuals put in.
There are many times that
people work here to late
evenings, multiple evenings to
get ready for a particular presentation or a project going out.
It’s important to recognize
those things when they happen, not to save up a list and
then, at the end of the year,
give them something to thank
them for all they did the previous year, so we tried to reward
people in a timely manner or
on an ongoing basis through
something like that.
It’s one of the many tools that
we use. Obviously, just walking
over and saying thanks or just
being aware at a management
level that someone’s been
working the last couple of days
really hard for you and just
walking over and saying, ‘I
want you to know I really
appreciate what you did.’
It’s those kinds of things
that are extremely important,
in terms of just maintaining
the culture, and also supporting the staff and showing
them that you are aware of
what is going on and that you
HOW TO REACH: KZF Design Inc., (513) 621-6211 or www.kzf.com