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Thursday, 04 October 2012 20:46

Masters of craftsmanship

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Manufacturing, Employee GrowthOne of the biggest challenges Christopher Karman faced when he bought Amish Mills in 2003 was that while the business created quality products, it was still a small player in a declining industry. The maker of Amish furniture had several choices, one being to go out and look for more outlets. But the idea of trying to grow in a dying market segment didn’t thrill Karman. Instead, the president of Amish Mills decided to broaden the company’s product selection, go after high-quality retailers and take the company national.What started as just a small manufacturer of handcrafted curios has…
Monday, 01 October 2012 14:39

Strengthening the regional economy

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It is with great pleasure that I would like to congratulate the 52 Cascade Capital Corp. Business Growth Award winners for 2012. This is the program’s 18th years, and we couldn’t be more excited about the honorees. These companies are located within Summit, Medina, Portage, Wayne, Stark and Ashland counties in Northeastern Ohio.Based on the both Business Growth Awards criteria and the challenges facing small companies in today’s business environment, this is quite an accomplishment. A company may earn a Business Growth Award by either increasing its sales level or increasing its employee base over the course of the past…
Monday, 01 October 2012 11:21

The fine art of commitment in business

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"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.“ W.H. MurrayLast month we discussed how to make the right choices in life and business. We talked of positioning ourselves as business leaders in such a way that we make good, solid choices.This month, I would like to follow up that article with one concerning commitment and business. Will the two topics complement each other? I believe the answer is yes. In fact, I see the topics as dependent on one another.Here is my premise: When we work through the process of making a choice and…
Lois Kelly is the author of “Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.” She offered her ideas about the top types of stories people like to talk about. If you’re pitching your company to investors, customers, partners, journalists, vendors or employees and you don’t use at least one of these storylines, you probably have a problem. And, most likely, you’re too close to what you’re doing, so you think that you’re uniquely “patent-pending, curve-jumping and revolutionary.”1. Aspirations and beliefs. More than any other topic, people like to hear about aspirations and beliefs. (This may be why religion is the…
The number of seismic changes in the way business is done during the past 10 to 15 years is unprecedented. Just ponder the magnitude of all that has occurred as you read this list: Cell phones became ubiquitous, and computers with 24/7 Internet access moved from the strident screechy tones and beeps of telephone dial up to today’s broadband connections that transmit huge amounts of data in seconds, resulting in virtually everyone being constantly connected.Instead of getting the latest news at 11 p.m. and sleeping on it, we now receive a constant stream of information in real time. Reaction time…
If you’ve been running a business for some time, then I’m sure you know some CEOs who are struggling to keep their business going or have already closed their doors.In some cases, the cause might be the economy. Maybe they were in an industry hit particularly hard and were crippled by the drop off in sales or maybe a large customer folded or took its business elsewhere.The most troubling aspect in many of these situations is that the person in charge didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. The leader made all the right calls and did everything by the book but…
Over the past few months I’ve informally polled a few dozen business executives and asked the same question: How is your year going?A whopping majority — all but one — has reported that his or her organization is having either a record or near-record year. Sales are rising, and they can barely keep up with demand.This matches a recent Robert Half Professional Employment Report, which found that 37 percent of respondents were very confident in their organizations’ growth prospects, up 16 points from a similar survey in the third quarter.But my next question causes the disconnect: How many new hires…
Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Donna Rae Smith: Reading the signals

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A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.Another…
Monday, 01 October 2012 09:59

How to use real estate as an investment vehicle

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Real estate as an investment can take many forms. For example, you can buy an apartment building or a retail store and collect the rent, or you can own the building in which you work and rent it to yourself for tax purposes.“You can choose to either invest in a company’s debt through stocks or in the actual real estate that houses the company,” says Terry Coyne, SIOR, CCIM, an executive vice president with Grubb & Ellis.He says the investment market for real estate is growing across the country and now is a great time to get involved because interest…
Monday, 01 October 2012 09:52

How to cover your overseas business exposures

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An employee is critically hurt in a taxicab accident while on business in China. He had to be stabilized at the scene, flown to the coast and then to Hong Kong. Two operations and two months later, he is sent back to the U.S. on a private charter plane with two nurses and a doctor. The repatriation trip alone costs $140,000, which he would have had to pay had he not had foreign insurance.Richard B. Hite, CEO of SeibertKeck Insurance Agency, says domestic U.S. policies only cover incidents occurring in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico or any U.S. possession.“A standard…
Sunday, 30 September 2012 21:01

How to maximize your banking relationship

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Establishing a good relationship with your banker is beneficial to your business because a bank can be a source of ideas to improve your company.“Think of your banker as an extension of your team, just as your CPA or attorney is part of your advisory team,” says Susan D. Steiger, vice president, commercial loans for Lorain National Bank.“When we come out to see you, we don’t have the meter running. It’s part of our job to spend good quality time with our clients. We don’t send you a bill at the end of a meeting, so it’s something you should…
Smaller businesses often don’t have the wherewithal to enforce their patent rights because pursuing this type of litigation is very expensive, and they lack the expertise. However, the rise of nonpracticing entities (“NPE”) — organizations that enforce patents against alleged infringers with no intent to manufacture or market the invention — have made this an area that businesses need to take seriously.“When you are a company that has one or two patents in an area and you’re fighting against an entity with hundreds in that area, it’s difficult to win,” says Michael G. Craig, a patent attorney with Brouse McDowell.If…
Current statistics show an average of three in five employers offer wellness programs, so it’s no surprise employers are seeking help from their benefits administrators and insurers to get employees interested and engaged.“Getting employee participation and buy-in can be a struggle for some employers introducing a wellness program in their workplace,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc. “Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to increase your chances of having a successful program.”Smart Business spoke to Hauser about things employers should consider to get employee buy-in and participation when implementing a new wellness program.What is the…
Businesses have been able to keep their heads above water during the recession — and the agonizingly slow recovery — by increasing efficiency and reducing expenses. However, many find sales growth more elusive.“Their focus has been belt tightening, cutting expenses and doing more with less, but that’s not going to carry them through the next five years,” says Larry Goddard, CTP, managing director at SS&G Parkland. “The challenge is to focus on growth in a slow-growing economy, and everyone is going to have to be better at sales strategy and execution.”Sales strategy, however, often gets less attention than lowering costs,…
Health care providers such as hospitals — particularly the more enlightened ones — started to reform years prior to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Although the law crystallized the industry’s direction, health care systems faced pressure to reinvent themselves long before the act. This reinvention has not only affected the delivery model but also the human capital requirements within the health care system.“There’s a big shift to outcome-based rewards as opposed to transaction-based rewards,” says Rob Rogers, a principal and health care industry leader at Findley Davies, Inc. “In other words, what is the quality of care…
In business, as in life, there’s a benefit to having guidance that’s tried and true. Most successful business owners can cite mentors who have directed their paths along the way. As companies grow, those informal relationships are usually replaced by formal boards of directors. A board of directors is a very useful method for allowing significant shareholders to feel they have a say in the strategic planning for the company.It’s my opinion that all companies – regardless of size – need to have a board. In this two-part series, I will explore the benefits that a small company can gain…
Thursday, 06 September 2012 11:51

Driving global sales for manufacturers

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When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets."The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth…
Friday, 31 August 2012 20:00

2012 Innovation Sponsors

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Lorain County Community CollegeLorain County Community College is committed to employing innovation in the workplace at all levels. Employees take an active role in achieving Lorain County Community College’s vision of excellence in the four cornerstones of education, community, cultural development and economic development.Lorain County Community College’s innovative educational programs, including a University Partnership program that allows LCCC to offer more than 40 bachelor’s and master’s degrees, are building the talent pipeline while its continuum of entrepreneurial support helps drive regional economic development and job creation. LCCC is home to the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), a partnership…
Friday, 31 August 2012 20:00

Breaking through

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This year’s Innovation in Business honorees demonstrate the ability to think bigIn a crowded marketplace, where traditional products and services continue to be commoditized, the ability to innovate has never been more important. Making your organization stand out by offering something truly innovative can be the difference between success and failure.That’s why Smart Business is honored once again to recognize a group of savvy innovators — Rising Stars, Visionaries and Master Innovators — who understand how to effectively separate themselves from the competition.This year’s honorees represent manufacturing, software and technology, retailing, as well as two business incubators. Each of them…
Friday, 31 August 2012 20:00

Donna Rae Smith: Authentic Leadership

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Can you recognize an authentic Picasso painting from a really good reproduction? Unless you’re an art expert, probably not. Fortunately, authentic people are easier to spot.We know authentic leaders because their words and actions are aligned, and we know them by the way they make us feel — inspired, motivated, and ready to jump on board in support of their vision. Truly authentic leaders have a way of leveraging their authenticity to positively impact the lives of others.What are some of the key traits of authentic leaders?Authentic leaders know and accept themselves. At the core of authenticity is self-knowledge and…
Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:28

Succession shopping

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Lisë Stewart founded Galliard Group to support family-owned businesses in the many decisions that can make or break the future of a company. One significant area of decision-making for family-owned businesses is succession planning.When considering how to handle the future of the company, many family-owned businesses don’t realize the number of options that are available. From transitioning to the next generation in the family, to bringing in a leader from the outside or deciding to sell the business, the decisions are very personal and require careful thought and planning.That is where Stewart, founder of Galliard Group, lends a helping hand.…
Friday, 31 August 2012 20:09

Victoria Tifft: Growing pains

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Most companies start with outstanding customer value propositions. But as time passes, and customers change, the once-upon-a-time on-target value propositions become out of date. Soon customers become dissatisfied because vendors don’t seem to understand their current needs. They begin to believe they’ve outgrown their vendors and start to look for new answers to their problems.This isn’t true of every company. Some companies make staying close to their customers and understanding their changing needs a top priority. These companies use a process to check themselves and ensure that they’re constantly staying on top of changing customer priorities. The process starts by…
It used to be that in traditional business settings, innovation was a byproduct of change. These days, however, the equation is inverted and now innovation drives change.What this means is that there has been a paradigm shift in how organizations need to approach — and view — those two dynamics. Leaders can no longer wait for something to change, such as the business climate, supply and demand factors or market pressures, before they take steps to invest in innovation. And, by embracing this shift, it will result in a quicker ability to effectively compete.But there’s another byproduct of this new…
There’s an old saying that the best way to get yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.The problem is that, too many times, you think there’s a treasure lurking just a few more shovelfuls down, so the digging continues. As the hole gets deeper, you keep at it because you’ve already put so much effort into it that it would be a waste to stop now.There are many examples in business of these ever-deepening holes that eat up manpower, time and money. Sometimes, the elusive treasure is a product that’s sputtering along but just can’t quite get going…
In developing a strategy, creating a new business or launching a product line, intensive preplanning is what can make the difference between success and failure. This same principle applies to negotiating just about anything. No matter what you want to achieve, be it selling a new customer, buying a competitor or hiring a superstar, you must determine what is the end result you want before you put pen to paper or make that first introductory call.We’ve all heard hundreds of time about the importance of “putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes” or showing some empathy. Good basic advice, but…
Scott Kirsner spent three years immersed in the movie industry in order to write a book called “Inventing the Movies: Hollywood’s Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs.”He talked with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron, editors, cinematographers, studio chiefs, producers, tech companies that sell technology into Hollywood and even actors with an interest in new technology like Morgan Freeman.He discovered that Hollywood serves as a great case study for how any long-established, successful and self-satisfied industry responds to new technologies and new ideas.Even when a new idea seems to have…
Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? The human life is full of choices. We make them on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It’s what we do, how we live and move and have our being in the world.Consider some choices you may have made in the last few years: What car should you buy? Should you ask her to marry you? Are you ready for another baby? Is this house right for you, or should you keep looking before you make an offer? Who should be let go in the next round of budget cuts? Will your…