Columbus (2544)

Over the past decade, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has become increasingly popular. While the digital revolution has allowed businesses of all sizes to become more efficient, there can be unanticipated problems.

For example, fax machines were originally designed for use over analog-based telephone lines. Attempting to use an older fax machine with an all-digital phone system can be problematic.

The key, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net, is to embrace change.

“You have to evaluate how change affects your business,” he says. “Change comes with a little pain, and with pain comes new solutions.”

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about converting to VoIP, questions to ask when making the switch and the importance of conducting a tabletop scenario.

What are some of the biggest struggles for a business when converting to VoIP?

We find that businesses are very happy to convert their traditional phone systems to a hosted VoIP product. What they often don’t realize, however, is how many things within their organization depend on traditional phone line communications. First and foremost are fax machines; fax technology and VoIP don’t normally mix very well. There are a couple of solutions, however. We can help a business completely transition to a paperless technology where they are able to receive faxes through email or desktops and get rid of their old fax machines. Or, we can implement a technology that integrates the traditional fax machine in a device that ‘pretends’ it is a phone line designed for a fax. This fakes out the traditional fax machine into thinking it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, when it’s actually being converted into a digital format.

What questions should a business ask its service provider when making the switch to VoIP?

During the discovery process we ask our clients what might not function if we took all of their phone lines away. The common responses are that the fax machine and credit card processing machines would not work. Sometimes, there are other systems aligned with the phone lines that aren’t closely associated with the network. For example, we recently came up with a solution for one of our clients for their postage meter. Other things we’ve encountered are fire alarms and security systems running on phone lines. These are the important things we need to be discussing to make sure that when the conversion happens, organizations don’t lose technologies that are important to the function or safety of their business.

What should a business consider when replacing an aging system?

Aging systems tend to have Band-Aid products in place. When you get rid of a legacy phone system, the Band-Aids are exposed. For example, there are still businesses that require remote access to equipment such as dial-up modems. When you take away the phone system there will be hiccups. Another example is door access systems. Traditionally, an access control system works in conjunction with a phone system — you dial an intercom number and somebody on the other end picks up their desk phone and talks to you. When the phone system is being replaced, how do you get the door access system to work? You may either need a VoIP solution or new Band-Aid product in place.

Why is it important to do a tabletop scenario that covers all forms of technology when replacing phone lines and systems?

In addition to talking about phone lines, it’s also important to talk about disaster recovery. How is a business impacted by a loss of power, loss of Internet communication or a situation where they can’t even get into their building? Tabletop scenarios are a part of risk analysis, but unfortunately most businesses don’t conduct them often enough. When conducting a tabletop scenario it’s important to have a risk analysis professional or a technology professional to walk you through the different scenarios.

Alex Desberg is the sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at adesberg@ohio.net.

 

Event: Join Ohio.net for a free technology seminar on March 28, 2013 at TechColumbus. Visit www.ohio.net/events for more information.

 

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net

 

Legal requirements, along with small businesses themselves, change constantly. Annual checkups with an attorney could reveal potential problems before they prove to be very costly for your business.

“There are a lot of small business owners out there who use a customer contract form they had a lawyer review 10 years ago and think they’re good to go,” said Erin Cleary, an associate with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. “We see owners who try to sell after a long, successful career of building their business, but the transaction proves costly and stressful as a result of neglecting certain legal compliance issues over the years.”

Smart Business spoke with Cleary about why it’s important to meet annually with an attorney and how it benefits your business.

What are examples of problems discovered during checkups?

Some small businesses are organized and taxed as C Corporations for no good reason. Those owners could save significant tax dollars by converting their structure to a pass-through entity. In the current environment of constantly shifting tax laws, it helps to check for such opportunities to improve tax structure or capitalize on other tax credits or incentives. These changes lead to real money in your pocket.

Another issue that can arise during a sale transaction concerns commercial contracts with customers or vendors. Contracts might include prohibitions on assignment, unusual indemnification clauses or warranty provisions that might be disadvantageous to the company. It can pose significant liability to hand out a template contract that’s outdated, for example, one that doesn’t take into account the unique risks and liabilities imposed by e-commerce and social media. Updating contracts that are regularly signed cuts down on future liabilities, especially in the context of a sale transaction where a buyer will inevitably ask the seller/owner to stay ‘on the hook’ for the contractual liabilities the business has accumulated.

One of the most serious liabilities can be the failure to properly pay, collect and report taxes, particularly sales taxes and payroll taxes. Generally, there is no statute of limitations for tax evasion, fraud or the failure to file a return, so those liabilities exist forever. In addition, it’s not possible to pass this liability on to the buyer of a business — a tax authority can always go after either the ongoing business or the original owner who failed to comply. In sale transactions with this kind of liability, the seller always ends up fully indemnifying the buyer for any future penalties, audits or investigations that might occur after closing the transaction.

Are there businesses for which legal checkups are particularly vital?

It’s probably more important among less regulated industries. Businesses that are highly regulated have closer relationships with attorneys and are more attuned to legal compliance. But legal oversight is not just about compliance. It’s also about best practices, like making sure employees sign contracts to protect the business’s intellectual property.

Checkups are worthwhile if you’re anticipating an exit from the business, whether it’s a sale, taking on a major investor, going public or transitioning the business to a family member. Even a sale to someone with whom you have a close relationship might undergo the same scrutiny as if you had a completely unrelated buyer. Many businesses, particularly professional practices, do not plan for succession. Periodic conversations with counsel might encourage you to take the time to think this through. If a professional practitioner passes away, a valuable business could quickly become worthless. Having a succession plan might mean the owner’s estate receives compensation for the business when it otherwise would not.

Some owners might like to hire different lawyers for specific needs. These owners should be careful to make sure that at least one of their lawyers is taking time to look at the overall picture to make sure nothing is falling through the cracks.

Unlike accountants, whom you’re naturally going to see annually to file taxes, there is no periodic event that requires you to update your attorney about your business. But keeping up with best practices would nevertheless make an ultimate transaction less expensive and stressful, and reduce post-closing liability.

Erin Cleary is an associate at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Reach her at (614) 462-5420 or ecleary@keglerbrown.com.

 

Event: Change Orders, Claims & Disputes: “Star Wars” in the Construction Industry will take place on March 27. Visit keglerbrown.com for more information.

 

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter

 

Friday, 01 March 2013 07:03

How to get the most out of your office equipment

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When office equipment goes down or doesn’t work properly, it can disrupt the entire business. And as the industry consolidates functions into one device, it’s critical to have the correct equipment that meets your business’s needs.

“It truly is a lifeline in an office,” says Edward Kromar, director of service at Blue Technologies. “If it’s a small office, it can almost stop the processes internally, as opposed to 20 years go when it was just one facet of many. Understanding your vendor’s service protocol is absolutely vital.”

Smart Business spoke with Kromar about how to maximize your office equipment.

What should business owners know before investing in office equipment?

Take time to understand your business and processes. Knowing the volume you use ensures the equipment is big enough. But if printing is most important, you may need a multifunction device that allows you to categorize your priorities in the workflow, so all printing comes before copying or faxing.

If the function is mission critical, you may want a second unit. This is mechanical equipment — failures are going to happen — so you may need backup equipment and data storage. If scanning is imperative but you have an all-in-one device, then you need to consider having another unit to provide back-up scanning. Look for an alternative that doesn’t break the bank but gives the necessary insurance, which could be a desktop device. In trying to understand your needs and priorities, develop and use your relationship with your office technology salesperson, which also helps you get the right product(s).

How does the technology life cycle work?

Technology is changing monthly, so a best practice is having the flexibility to move into different products with your vendor. Look for a product line with options and versatility as well as a history of improvements. Not only are your business needs changing, but a feature that wasn’t out six months ago could add efficiency.

While there’s no rule about how often equipment needs to be upgraded, make sure the technology still meets your needs. The faster your business is growing, the faster you’ll need to update. And, if you come across a broken process, don’t forget to consider that your office hardware could be part of the solution.

What’s problematic about switching to digital phones?

Digital phone lines are very practical for businesses that want to save money. Unfortunately, fax technology has not kept up with digital phone technology, so they don’t fit reliability together, and the industry is not spending research and development funds on merging these two. So, if you are changing phone systems and your organization has a high demand for faxing, you need to keep an analog phone line for your immediate needs and begin converting your clients to email communication.

What’s important to know about color?

Color has helped businesses present, at a more affordable cost, their marketing message to customers. But some business owners have misconceptions about their device’s color and the difference between business and production color. Production color, which is often outsourced to print production facilities, handles high-end color, where a red will always print the exact same shade. Business color is an acceptable quality that can be used internally and sometimes for outside marketing pieces. You can buy devices of either type, but there’s a cost difference. With help from your salesperson, you can discover what color needs to be used and when, including whether the volume justifies the cost of bringing it in-house.

How can your company maximize use?

First, your equipment salesperson should understand your IT support. Additional services and training may be needed to help make the transition seamless. An established equipment dealer can even provide support for more than just your hardware needs, the dealer might also provide various network support before and after installation.

You also need to fully understand the capabilities of the equipment you’ve purchased and how it fits with your business. If you don’t know what your equipment can do, find out. Also, as your business changes, you could take advantage of a feature you never thought you would.

Edward Kromar is the director of service at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or ekromar@BTOhio.com.

 

Blog: For useful tips on improving office efficiencies, visit our blog at www.btohio.com/news-resources.

 

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies

 

Retirement plan sponsors, now more than ever, need to be diligent in carrying out their fiduciary responsibilities. The Department of Labor, IRS and other agencies have eyes on the industry, especially with new retirement planning fee disclosures and a soon to be proposed expanded definition of “fiduciary.”

“The business owner who says, ‘I’m hiring these service providers to run the plan and I don’t have to worry about it’ is nonetheless ultimately responsible if there are problems,” says Paula M. Lewis, Manager, Client and Advisor Experience, at Tegrit Group.

Smart Business spoke with Lewis about what business changes could signal that retirement plan adjustments are necessary.

Who do plan sponsors deal with?

Plan sponsor decision-makers depend on industry experts for assistance in managing their roles and responsibilities. Although some parties may serve multiple roles, the sponsor may engage an accountant, an investment advisor, an actuary, an ERISA attorney and a third-party administrator (TPA), with each having important and distinctive functions impacting the plan’s operation.

Despite having all these providers in place, the ultimate responsibility for the plan still lies with the plan sponsor. Employers sometimes put in a retirement plan and just let it ride, but then no one is ensuring the plan grows and changes with the company and its employees.

In this dynamic environment, it’s crucial that all parties communicate. It’s best if you know that your service providers work well together, which lessens the risk of something being missed, and the best course of action is being charted.

What changes need to be communicated?

Usually, over time there are changes to the employee demographics, financial standing and even the goals of a company. The company’s retirement plan should also change over time to reflect these changes in employees, finances and objectives. Certain changes always should be communicated to plan service providers, including:

  • Changes in ownership.

  • Acquisition or divestiture of another company.

  • Family members becoming employees of the firm.

  • Major compensation changes of key personnel.

  • Retirement plan goal changes of key personnel.

It’s confusing to know who to tell what, but generally, the investment advisor and TPA should be made aware of all of these changes, as they may impact fiduciary considerations and compliance. The investment advisor, along with the TPA, should be able to analyze any changes, determine which parties need to be informed, and make any plan changes to avoid any problems or penalties and ensure the plan is designed to maximize the benefits and goals of the company.

What can happen if changes aren’t reflected in the plan?

There are various penalties that are imposed if a plan falls out of compliance because of changes at the plan sponsor level. Late amendments and failed compliance testing are but two. For instance, if the spouse of the owner of one company purchases a separate company, the two companies can be considered a ‘control group,’ and for plan purposes are ‘one.’ Upon an IRS audit, the less generous company may have to increase its plan contributions, which could be an expensive correction avoidable with advance planning and appropriate plan designs.

When acquiring a company with a pension plan, you acquire its liability, especially if it’s underfunded — unless the acquisition agreements are carefully worded. Without advance planning, closing a division could produce a costly surprise as it could be considered a partial plan termination, requiring that the terminated employees be 100 percent vested.

Another area that can cause compliance issues is how certain family members of owners becoming an employee impacts the retirement plan. According to the IRS, he or she is considered highly compensated regardless of their salary. That could cause a plan to require corrective contributions. It is crucial to keep the lines of communication open with your advisors and TPA.

Paula M. Lewis, QPA, QKA, manager, Client and Advisor Experience, at Tegrit Group. Reach her at (330) 983-0485 or paula.lewis@tegritgroup.com.

 

Website: Visit Tegrit’s Advisor Resource Center at www.tegritgroup.com/arc for additional retirement planning tips.

 

Insights Retirement Planning Services is brought to you by Tegrit Group

 

Thursday, 28 February 2013 20:39

Why your business needs a website

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The Internet is the first place most people go to look for a business, yet 72 percent of small businesses in Ohio do not have their own website, says Ryan Niddel, CEO of Brain Host.

“It’s surprising because having a website seems so commonplace,” says Niddel. “But if you find businesses in the Yellow Pages or the state business registry and try to pull up their domains, you see they don’t have a Web presence.”

Smart Business spoke with Niddel about the reasons businesses need websites and the costs and options of building and maintaining an online presence.

Why do so many businesses not have websites?

People think it’s more difficult, expensive or time consuming than it is. Small businesses don’t understand that someone can operate the site for them and it’s not going to cost thousands of dollars.

Businesses can get a website for free as part of a Web hosting contract costing as little as $15 a month. That way they can test the marketplace and see if their ROI increases and they’re making more money before expanding the site or getting involved in a social media marketing program.

Is a website a necessary tool for every business, no matter the product or service?

Yes, based on the number of people who search for businesses from a smartphone, tablet or computer. People look for restaurants and small businesses online before becoming customers. They want to see a website that shows products and services offered, price points and testimonials.

E-commerce stores, businesses that actually sell products online, are a small piece of the marketplace. Most websites are informational; it’s giving a consumer peace of mind about what they’re getting into before doing business with a company. Websites can benefit service industries, nonprofits, specialty shops and everything in between.

http://youtu.be/3ytMJwAtsxs

What is the advantage of a website compared to a free Facebook page?

Websites give additional validity to businesses because everyone knows Facebook is complimentary. When someone sees you’re willing to invest in your brand, it gives an additional level of comfort. Also, Facebook is a couple of pictures and quotes about your company, whereas a website can be much more in-depth.

What is essential to having a good website?

A good website not only provides insights into your business, but also enables you to capture and consistently follow up with visitors. You should leave any visitor with a hook that allows you to stay in touch periodically and keep them engaged with your brand. A company selling golf equipment — and that golf equipment doesn’t have to be sold online — might have a free download or brochure about how to take five strokes off of your game. Potential customers give an email address, and you send them specials or information about clinics or new locations.

Circle back with Twitter and Facebook accounts by sending an email that offers a 5 percent discount coupon if they ‘like’ your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter. Then, potential customers get an automatic update every time you post something to Facebook or Twitter; you’re getting an entire marketing package at no cost.

Websites have been referred to as a modern equivalent of an ad in a telephone directory. Is that accurate?

That’s correct. Catalog-size paper telephone directories are a thing of the past. About 95 percent of consumers will do some sort of online research before setting foot in your establishment. If they do an Internet search on a small business and all they see are sites with reviews or contact information, that doesn’t make them very comfortable about the business.

If you have a competitor nearby that has an Internet presence and they come up right away on a Web search, consumers are twice as likely to go to that storefront because they will not feel as engaged with your brand.

In today’s market of Internet savvy consumers, it’s imperative for small businesses to maintain a solid web presence or risk becoming obsolete.

Ryan Niddel is the CEO of Brain Host. Reach him at (419) 631-1270 or ryan@brainhost.com

Insights Internet is brought to you by Brain Host

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do you that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

  • Respond

 

 

  • Positively or negatively

 

 

  • Influences

 

 

  • Action

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be different than those around you. Be open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be persistent while going with the flow.

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

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

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

Go ahead – think big.

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

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

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

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

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

Do something and do it with a bold attitude.

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

DeLores Pressleymotivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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