Cincinnati (1116)

Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:28

Make it count

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A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

It’s an unfortunate fact of business — over the last 20 years, lawsuits brought on by a company’s employees are up 400 percent. Businesses are constantly striving to stay ahead of the game as it relates to employer-employee relations, seeking information and tools to protect the business from getting into long, expensive legal battles with employees.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce is answering the needs of the Ohio business community through the expanded HR Academy. Launched last year by providing HR Academy webinars, the program has expanded this year to provide even more human resource services. Businesses often don’t have the means to employ an HR professional or navigate the complicated HR laws themselves. So the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy gives employers the tools to help them stay compliant. 

Knowing your rights as an employer is essential to protecting your business. Business owners need someone on the inside with a broad understanding of the legal issues that can affect employer-employee relations. The HR Academy is the perfect tool for business owners to make sure their HR staff is well-informed.

In addition, the HR Academy helps human resource professionals and employment lawyers stay up-to-date on the issues that can affect employer-employee relations. The HR Academy curriculum is accredited by the Society of Human Resource Management and is delivered through a series of online webinars and in-person symposiums. Participants of the program receive HR Certification Institute credits (for human resource professionals) and Continuing Legal Education credits (for lawyers).

Other products offered through the HR Academy include the following:

HR Symposiums: Held in cooperation with local chambers throughout the state, these monthly symposiums offer a variety of topics from social media in the workplace to the latest in employment law. The symposiums are presented by sponsoring HR Academy law firms.

Ohio HR Manual: Produced in conjunction with Squire Sanders, an Ohio-based law firm with employment law expertise, we now offer a comprehensive HR Manual packed with information about employment law and human resource-related matters, all presented in an easy-to-understand manner.

Employment Law Posters: Ohio law says that every employer must have its NLRA Employment posters displayed in an easily accessible area in a place of business. Failure to do so can result in a fine by the state. Business owners can make sure they are in compliance by purchasing posters from us.

Also, for the first time, we will be offering businesses an opportunity to brand the NLRA posters. A perfect “thank you” gift for anyone you do business with — clients, vendors, distributors, etc. — the posters can be branded with your company name and logo.

The HR Academy can be purchased as a yearly subscription for $1,200 that can be billed monthly and includes webinars, human resource symposiums, employment law posters, HR Books and access to HR legal experts. Items can also be purchased individually by visiting www.hracademyohio.com. 

The HR Academy webinars and symposiums are presented by sponsoring law firms with employment law expertise from around the state. The current HR Academy sponsors include Squire Sanders (Presenting Sponsor) and Baker Hostetler (Cornerstone Sponsor). Innovator Sponsors include Dinsmore & Shohl, Eastman & Smith, Jones Day, Roetzel & Andress, and Steptoe & Johnson. Fishel, Hass, Kim and Albrecht is a Partner Sponsor.

 

Beau Euton is vice president of membership for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy, contact Michelle Donovan at mdonovan@ohiochamber.com.

 

 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 05:16

Get out of my social media sandbox

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It’s a new marketing communications argument — which “discipline” should manage the new medium of social media? Should Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn be handled by PR, advertising, HR or something else? 

Agencies are springing up that specialize in social media management and any manner of blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and the like. It’s become a verb. We need more friends, more likes, more this and more that. 

“Who” is managing your social media is far less important than “what” is being managed. You are trying to engage, to enlighten, to share. You are not trying to sell, although long term and softly that will be the ultimate reward. Social media, by its very definition, is controlled by those who are engaged and those who are sharing their thoughts and their views on any manner of issues or challenges we face as consumers or as businesses. So why the fight as to who “controls” it? Money and power. 

The debate brews 

Certainly, advertising agencies believe they should manage the discipline because it must be creative and part of your overall marketing mix of clever hooks and fresh ideas. However, your PR agency believes it should manage this as it is the master of sharing a story and providing clarity to your consumers in the written word. Both will invoice you fairly for their time, effort and strategy, and will provide good ideas and fresh thinking to drive traffic. 

What you truly need is insight, and the confidence and ability to trust in yourself or that so-called “expert.” Who really “controls” social media? If you’re smart — it’s the 3Cs — clients, customers and constituents. You control your social media, whether you’re hiring a firm or you attempt to manage it in-house. 

A good agency, regardless of being PR or advertising, will advise you to craft a solid brand and brand communications strategy, then utilize the virtually unlimited universe of social media and its many outlets to share that brand and tell your story. From there you engage your publics to some desired form of action or activity. 

Manage the infinite? 

Managing social media is, by my definition, attempting to manage the infinite. Rather, you must discuss what your end goal is and how that particular social media tactic will fit into, support and drive content from your overall marketing communications objective. It is not the answer; it is an option. 

Should your business, regardless of what that business is, “do” social media? Of course! The question and the strategy is why are we doing social media and what exactly are we trying to achieve. How does it support our branding initiatives? How does it help our sales team? How does it make our candidate or our issue more accessible? 

Social media allows you to fulfill the most basic and sacred tenant of public relations — the ability to have open, ongoing and one-to-one communications directly with your publics in an attempt to foster a shared conversation and engagement. 

You want to hear from an unhappy customer so you can fix it, not spin it. You want to offer ideas and specials and promotions to those that value it most. You want your business to be the best it can be so you value the ideas, conversations and suggestions of your target publics and foster that. 

Stop worrying about who manages your social media. Most likely it’s you. It is your choice to do or not do, to engage or let others talk about your business without your response. Social media happens regardless of whether you want it to or not. If you lack a social media strategy, it’s time to get a social media plan of action. 

 

Rodger Roeser is owner, president and CEO of The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owner’s Association and works with other PR firms across the country to assist in their operations and profitability. He can be reached at RRoeser@TheEisenAgency.com

The Ohio safety council rebate program created by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) rewards employers for their active participation in a local safety council. It also provides an additional performance bonus rebate for reducing the frequency or severity of workers’ compensation claims.

“With the number of safety councils available across the state with a focus on a variety of industries, employers are able to not only receive information on new safety techniques, products and services to assist their businesses, but also reduce their premium for simply attending these helpful meetings throughout the year,” says Russ Hocutt, vice president at CompManagement, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Hocutt about how this rebate program works.

How much of a rebate can be earned?

Currently the incentive program enables employers to receive a rebate of 2 percent of their annual workers’ compensation premium through program participation and an additional 2 percent performance bonus based on the reduction of the frequency or severity of claims.

How can a local safety council be found?

BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene sponsors more than 80 safety councils across the state, organized through chambers of commerce, trade and manufacturing associations, American Red Cross chapters or other local, safety-minded organizations. A list is available at www.ohiobwc.com.

What are the requirements for the participation rebate portion?

An employer must enroll in a local safety council by July 31. Once enrolled, an employer must attend 10 meetings or events between July 1 and June 30. Two of the 10 meetings may be external educational options such as BWC Safety & Hygiene training courses or industry-specific training. The chief executive officer must attend at least one safety council-sponsored function or meeting. Semiannual reports must be submitted for the calendar year to document attendance. The documentation must be an official certificate of attendance or transcript. Only employers that meet the participation eligibility requirements will be eligible for an additional 2 percent performance bonus.

How is the performance bonus calculated?

Employers that reduce their frequency or severity of claims by 10 percent or more compared to the previous year’s frequency or severity, or employers that maintain both frequency and severity at zero, will receive an additional 2 percent refund of their annual premium, assuming the participation portion of the safety council program is met.

BWC calculates frequency by multiplying the total number of claims reported in the measurement year by 1 million and dividing by the employer’s total reported payroll for that year. Severity is determined by multiplying the total number of days absent during the measurement year by 1 million and then dividing by the employer’s total reported payroll for that year. The measurement period for private employers is claims and payroll reported between July 1 and June 30 compared to the previous year. For public employers, the measurement period is between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.

What impact would the program have on a midsize company’s premium?

Assuming the participation requirements are met and the employer was able to reduce the frequency or severity of claims as indicated above, a midsize service company could expect the following in annual premium savings, assuming the employer is participating in no other alternative rating programs:

  • Payroll — $3,990,000.
  • Individual discount — 16 percent.
  • Individual premium — $14,683.
  • 2 percent safety council participation rebate —  $200*.
  • 2 percent safety council performance rebate — $200*.

*Based on pure premium which does not include assessments for DWRF and administrative costs for operation of BWC/IC

Savings reflected above do not include the additional savings that can be realized by also participating in programs compatible with the safety council program such as Destination Excellence, Drug Free safety Program, Group Rating (performance bonus only), Group Retrospective Rating (participation bonus only), Large/Small Deductible, Individual Retrospective Rating, or One Claim Program. Always have your third-party administrator conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the best savings options available for your organization.

Russ Hocutt is vice president at CompManagement, Inc. Reach him at (800) 825-6755, ext. 65619 or russ.hocutt@sedgwickcms.com.

Save The Date: Safety council enrollment ends July 31 for the 2013 policy year.

Insights Workers’ Compensation is brought to you by CompManagement, Inc.

There’s an adage in business that no one is irreplaceable. But in nearly every company, there’s at least one person whose contributions are so essential that their unexpected death would be devastating to the future of the business. Taking out a life insurance policy on those essential employees — what’s known as key person life insurance — is a way a company can protect itself from the impact of losing a key employee.

“You never want to think about something terrible happening to anyone, but if it does, this is a way you can be sure your business will continue,” says Deb Welsh, a life risk consultant at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. “It’s not just about one person. It’s a way of making sure your business as a whole is protected.”

Whether it’s a founding business owner with years of institutional knowledge or a chief engineer who makes your technology possible, key person insurance can be a lifeline to a business in a time of crisis, she says.

Smart Business spoke with Welsh to learn more about this simple but essential business-protection tool.

When is key person life insurance something to consider?

Key life policies are part of a business continuation or succession planning process, so it’s an important component of protecting the ongoing life of a business.

It might be two partner-owners who want insurance on each other so the business can continue if one of them died. But it doesn’t have to be an owner. It could be a sales director who’s critical to maintaining revenues. Maybe it’s a person who maintains your key vendor relationships.

Having a key life insurance policy on that person ensures that you will have the resources to cover lost sales, find someone to take his or her place or pay off debt. You want to avoid any period of time where you’re wondering, ‘How are we going to replace this person and make up lost revenue?’

How are these policies usually structured?

The policy is written on the life of the key employee. The person is the insured, but the business owns the policy, pays for the policy and is the beneficiary of the policy.

Why don’t more companies utilize key person life insurance?

The biggest reason is that it’s not a high priority. Business owners have so many things coming across their desks every day that they don’t necessarily have the time or realize how important it is to have this in place.

In general, life insurance is often something we don’t want to talk about even though we know we need it. Key person insurance policies are one of the biggest things lacking in most companies’ insurance profiles.

Also, the perception is that the cost will be more expensive than it actually is. As a hypothetical example, a 40-year-old healthy male covered for $500,000 on a 25-year term would carry a $740 annual premium. That’s a small amount of money to pay to cover one of your most important employees.

What do you tell business owners about why key person life insurance is so important?

It gives a sense of security to your employees, your clients and your vendors. If you have a large vendor that you use frequently, you may have a significant amount of debt with them. This policy can help give the vendor security that if something were to happen, they would still get what you owe them.

It’s also a way that other employees will know that you’re putting things in place to ensure a future for your company. They won’t have to worry about waking up and finding out that the sales director is gone, and wondering what that will mean for the business and their jobs.

You’ve put your life into your business. You never want to think of something terrible happening to anyone, but if it does, this is a way to know the business can continue.

Deb Welsh is a life risk consultant at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach her at (513) 644-1280 or dwelsh@ctia.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.

 

Some leaders take an “old school” approach to change management — employees get a paycheck, so they’ll deal with any changes without a need for much explanation. But that sets the organization on a path toward failure.

“The biggest problems are when leadership does not account for the fact that resistance is definitely an option,” says Mark Deans, practice leader in Organizational Development & Change Management at Sequent.

“You could build a perfectly streamlined business process, or add the most efficient tool, but if employees don’t understand how to execute it to meet your expectations, it’s not going to succeed. Try as you might, you can’t make people do things,” Deans says.

Smart Business spoke with Deans about ways to ensure successful implementation of a change process.

What is involved in change management?

It’s supporting a change in business processes or systems, technology, etc. The practice of change management applies to any significant change in an organization, including leadership change as part of an acquisition or divestiture. It’s about how employees are supported through the change process.

The methodology is that there is a journey the organization, departments and individuals go through, and each has a completely different time path. Two people might do the same job, but each has his or her own change capability, and it’s a matter of identifying and managing all of those within an organization to make the change as seamless as possible.

How does the change process work its way through an organization?

First and foremost, leadership must be on the same page. Start with getting leaders aligned so they can be the driving force behind the change, helping each individual understand his or her part.

Organizations are taking a more holistic view nowadays. A change might mean more work for some departments but provides an overall net benefit for the organization. It used to be that each silo fought for its own interests. Now, it’s about how departments operate together, and some teams taking a hit if necessary to ensure the overall organization is as successful as possible.

One of the first steps is acknowledging the need to change, and the benefits. There should be some compelling reason, whether it’s regulatory changes, an attempt to improve market share or boost the bottom line. If the overarching goal is to improve margins, explain what that means for each group, and ultimately for each individual. You have to manage change upfront and get everyone onboard at the start rather than waiting for problems. It’s analogous to going to the dentist. If you see your dentist on a regular basis, keep your teeth clean and get X-rays, you can catch cavities when they start and are easier to fix, instead of not going for a long time and having major damage. The same holds true for change management, if you start a project and haven’t thought about how to communicate it to employees, going back and fixing it is much more difficult.

Is it important to state a desired outcome?

Absolutely. That is where some companies fail as well. They make a change and aren’t sure why. A company buys hundreds of iPads as part of a mobile technology strategy without addressing the intended use. So people are updating their Facebook status or playing Angry Birds because they don’t have a burning business reason to utilize these tools. That might be a ridiculous example, but there are plenty of cases in which companies want to hurry up and do something because it’s a shiny, new object.

You also need to accept it if a change didn’t work. Evaluate the success of the change, including what happened and didn’t happen as planned. Change projects always take longer and cost more than expected. Organizations that handle change well go back and figure out what they did well, and what could have been done differently. Then they remediate anything that did not get executed as well as planned. They learn from the experience so the process can be improved next time.

Mark Deans is a practice leader in Organizational Development & Change Management at Sequent. Reach him at (614) 410-6028 or mdeans@sequent.biz.

Website: Visit our website to understand how to successfully incorporate change at your company.

Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent

 

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for,” is a quote that hangs in Brig Sorber’s office at Two Men and a Truck in Lansing, Mich. Sorber uses that quote to define the new direction in which his company has been moving.

“I love that quote because this ship, Two Men and a Truck, has been in port for too long,” says Sorber, CEO. “We’ve got to get this into deep blue water. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot more risk, but that’s where business is done. We need to start moving forward and accept the challenges.”

Sorber and his brother, Jon, started Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a moving company, in the early ’80s as a way to earn money using their ’67 Ford pickup. Today, the business has x4,500 employees, more than x1,400 trucks, more than x200 franchises in x34 states, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, and 2012 revenue of x$361 million.

“We did it to make beer and book money for college,” Sorber says. “We really never thought that it would get to this point.”

However, in getting to this point, the company had neglected to make necessary changes in order to keep the operation aligned and running well.

“One of the challenges we have had is going from a mom-and-pop-type business to having to grow up and become more corporate,” Sorber says. “We needed to bring in newer and stronger skill sets.”

Here’s how Sorber has helped Two Men and a Truck grow up.

Growing pains

Two Men and a Truck incorporated its first business in Lansing, Mich., in 1985 and began franchising in 1989. The company at this time was run by Sorber’s mom since he and his brother were in college.

Upon graduation, Sorber worked as an insurance agent and also operated his own Two Men and a Truck franchise. He returned to the company in the mid-’90s, became its president in 2007 and CEO, the title he carries today, in 2009. In that time the company had grown significantly, but it wasn’t running as well as it could be. Starting in 2007, Sorber’s job was to help restructure the business.

“We had to take a look at ourselves internally,” Sorber says. “There came a time that I just knew things were broken here.”

Because the company was growing so fast there was no organization chart. It was very loose on who reported to whom. It wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, but things were not getting measured.

“I had an epiphany that something had to change big time,” he says. “I made up something that resembled an org chart on a big piece of paper in my office. I brought in five people that I greatly trusted and had confidence in and gave them three markers — green, which meant that person or that job was important; yellow, which meant I didn’t have an opinion either way about this person or about this job; and red, which meant that this job makes no sense.”

Sorber used that as a starting point to help him identify where the company could restructure and cut costs.

“I wanted to give big bonuses to everyone at the end of the year and share the winnings, but we had to prime the pump first,” he says. “We went from 78 employees down to 51 employees after I went through that chart.

“That wasn’t because we were losing money. It was because by the time we realigned everything, there were some people here who weren’t doing anything.”

To avoid issues such as this, you have to have metrics that you measure to make sure whether you’re doing well or not.

“My metrics are No. 1, customer satisfaction,” Sorber says. “Find out how every one of your customers feels about their service. No. 2 is trucks and driveways. We want to put more trucks in more driveways every year.

“No. 3 is franchisees. Make sure your franchisees are profitable and have the tools to grow. No. 4 is giving back to the community.”

Metrics are a crucial aspect of success, but so is a mission statement that helps employees and customers know what the business is about. It also makes your decisions as a CEO simple.

“If your mission statement is strong, it should be limitless,” he says. “For us, we had our mission statement when we had 25 franchises, and now we’re well over 200 and it still applies. You also need core values that comprise what’s important to your company. Once you have those, you have to stay within the confines of your core values.

“When I was a younger executive I thought that was stuff you say to be nice. It’s something that’s serious. You can’t go into work and keep turning the wheel and expect better things to happen. You’ve got to maintain your mission statement, core values, measure what you’re doing, and then you have to look for ways to make things better.”

Bring in key people

As Two Men and a Truck went through these necessary changes, new employees and executives had to be brought in to give the company the right skill sets to continue growing.

“Sometimes we hold onto our executives too long, and we get comfortable with them,” Sorber says. “They may not question what you’re doing. Not all of them, but many of them can be fine with the status quo and as the world is changing they’re not forcing you as a CEO to question what you’re doing.”

You can’t settle for the people who are in your key positions. You need to find people with the right skill sets and make sure they stay within your mission statement and core values.

“Bringing in new individuals is kind of like working on an old house,” he says. “You think if you put new windows on the house it’s good, but then the siding looks really bad. The same thing happens in business when you get somebody that’s great in a department. You start to think, ‘What if I had someone like that in marketing?’”

Sorber brought in executives to fill his company’s voids, and they began offering all kinds of new ideas for the business.

“When I started bringing in these key executives, they wore my carpet out because they have fresh eyes for the business,” he says. “They asked why we did this or that. Many of the things we were doing were the right things, but it’s good for you to make your point about why you do it.

“The new executives will say, ‘That makes sense’ or ‘That’s different.’ Other times they’ll say, ‘OK, but did you ever think about doing this?’”

That is how your business goes through an evolution, and it starts bringing in more modern thinking and different approaches. A business will have a life cycle of only so long, and you need to continually reinvent it because your customer is changing. If you bring in new people they may bring the great ideas you need.

“It’s really important as a president or CEO to hire people who are smarter than you in their specific fields,” Sorber says. “Our job as president or CEO is to look more strategically at where we want the business, make sure the executives play nice together, ensure there’s harmony in the business and keep an eye on those important metrics.”

During the course of the past six years, Sorber has been able to successfully do all those things within Two Men and a Truck. Randy Shacka became the company’s first non-family member to serve as president in 2012. Now, Sorber and Shacka are looking at the future outlook of the business.

“We think we will be a $1 billion company by the year 2020,” he says. “In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of internal work on fixing where we are broken and getting the right people in here. Now we want to be more than just a moving company. We want to be a company for change.”

How to reach: Two Men and a Truck, (800) 345-1070 or www.twomenandatruck.com

Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.

If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.

There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:

 

 

  • Useful

 

 

  • Relevant

 

 

  • Differentiated

 

 

  • Available

 

 

Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:

 

 

  • How do I use this?

 

 

  • How does this help me?

 

 

  • What problem does this solve for me?

 

 

Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”

To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:

 

 

  • What does this mean to me?

 

 

  • Do I need this?

 

 

Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”

In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:

 

 

  • How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?

 

 

  • Is it unique?

 

 

Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.

It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”

Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.

If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.

This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.

When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.

This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.

Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.

Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.

The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.

All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.

Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.

Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.

Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.

Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.

However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.

That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.

This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.

Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.

As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.

New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.

But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.

The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.

Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.

Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?

Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.

It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.

Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.

Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.

Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.