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.
As temperatures rise, swimming pools aren’t the only things that will get more use. During the summer months, company leave policies are often put to the test as workers enjoy their hard-earned vacations.
Paid time off policies, or PTO banks, have become the preferred alternative to traditional vacation plans. A majority of companies now utilize PTO banks, making it more popular than traditional policies that distinguish between vacation, sick and personal leave. Under a PTO model, all leave days are integrated into one pool, so employees can take days off at their discretion when they need them.
Companies of all sizes are adopting PTO policies. For one reason, businesses experience fewer unscheduled absences. Experts cite other advantages to PTO banks as well:
• Ease of administration. The PTO model is often easier to administer because it folds together vacation, sick time and personal leave. Vacation leave doesn't have to be coded differently than a sick day.
• Control over absences. When companies distinguish one type of leave from another, employees are likely to use every sick day granted to them whether they need it or not. With PTO banks, employees tend to save time off to use for vacation.
• Recruitment and retention. Employers are finding that PTO programs can make their companies more competitive when recruiting employees.
• Flexibility. The value of PTO banks is especially vital in industries that operate 24/7, such as the health care industry, because it offers optimum flexibility.
• Diversity. Today, employees celebrate a variety of cultural or religious holidays. PTO banks reflect a company's respect for employees' diversity by allowing them to schedule time off around their individual holiday calendar.
• Privacy. While most employees don't want to lie to their employers, they also may not want to announce that they are chaperoning a field trip or in need of a mental health day. A PTO bank allows employees to take time when they need it without having to explain it.
• Equity. There's a common perception that employees with children are allowed more time off than single people without children. PTO banks level the playing field, because everyone has access to time off based on service, so it's objective.
Despite these advantages, many employers and employees fear the unknown. Employees fear the possibility of an unexpected illness wiping out their accrued days, leaving them with no remaining vacation for a visit home at Christmas.
Employers fear potentially higher costs associated with a PTO policy. While other leave policies allow a payout for unused vacation time in the event of termination, under a PTO an employer cannot distinguish between vacation and sick leave, so all unused time must be paid out upon termination.
So how do you decide whether a traditional vacation policy or a PTO model is right for your company? Like most things, there isn’t one method that works for all companies. Ask yourself whether your company is seeing a problem with excess absenteeism or abuse of time off. If your traditional leave policy is working, there may be no compelling reason to change course.
For companies that want to provide their employees more flexibility, a PTO bank may work better. Not surprisingly, however, proper management is key to ensuring that PTO works effectively. Many companies enforce “use it or lose it” policies and setting carryover limits or accrual caps. Some companies even establish buy-back or donation provisions to allow employees to sell or donate unused days to coworkers who may have a greater need.
No matter which type of leave policy you have in place or plan to adopt, remember this — paid leave is an essential employee benefit, and it can serve as a powerful recruitment and retention tool.
John Allen, is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.
When we start off working as youngsters, most of us don’t have the common sense to move beyond our juvenile selves to assume more mature character traits appropriate for the workplace.
We also typically land in jobs where our potentially outrageous behavior can cause the least amount of damage — in my case, this included mating freshly-grilled burgers with appropriate-sized buns for the steamer storage bin at Burger King.
Later, our mismatched personalities of “future business mogul” and “party animal” duel it out in college during classes, internships and more responsible employment.
Then we madly scramble to figure out who we really are before we interview in the full-time professional world — where, of course, our potential employers think we’re only going to stay for two years anyway.
However, when each of us eventually enters the professional workforce, our youth and inexperience still typically dictate the creation of a brand new professional personality where one may not have existed before.
The result: a work-week personality vs. a weekend personality.
After all, it’s normally not advisable to do shots out of someone’s belly button in the Board Room.
As the years pass and our resumes expand, these dueling personalities pretty much have to unite as one — a multi-faceted persona, we can hope, but one nonetheless.
Even so, we were all young once. Beginning with everyone’s first foray into the workforce, an ongoing battle commences of “character” versus “characters” — who we are as compared to who we sometimes pretend to be.
Perception versus reality
These days, society doesn’t always help.
First, the wireless world has all but stripped today’s youth of the ability to communicate in person.
Then, with the increasing popularity of Reality TV, our “character” is often influenced by “characters” whose “reality” bears no resemblance to whom we are or who we should be.
For example, not immune to the allure of a Real Housewife, I still understand that I am sometimes being entertained by bad behavior while an impressionable youngster actually may tragically aspire to become “16 and Pregnant.”
And though “Saturday Night Live” alum Darrell Hammond has laid claim to the longest tenure of any SNL performer (1995-2009), this does not mean his personal character compares to the various “characters” he has portrayed: President Bill Clinton, Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney, Regis Philbin and an Alex Trebek-loathing Sean Connery.
My recent chat with “businessman” Hammond revealed a man who sermonizes the value of hard work, determination and goal setting. He’s not really a president — he played one on TV.
At least pop-culture icon Judge Judy Sheindlin presents a reality-based version of the legal system — one that rewards polished communication skills, honesty, respect and even posture. Like her or not, Judge Judy’s least-successful guests suffer very public consequences stemming from a lack of preparation and yes, character.
Facing the job ahead
Of course, we can still complain about the seemingly selfish behavior of our younger generation, but before we throw Gen-Y under the bus. Who was driving the bus in the first place?
Weren’t today’s successful CEOs, VPs, senior managers and entrepreneurs also the parents who raised Gen-Y?
The bottom line: experienced business professionals must accept a more significant role in mentoring our young charges as they are essentially playing an adult version of Follow the Leader.
There is simply no greater example of character in business than a willingness to mentor and lead by example.
Though, to an actor such as Hammond, "honest" refers to a truthful portrayal of a character, using "honest" as a character trait resonates equally well in the business world.
After all, no one wants to deal with a business professional who is acting the part.
Real character matters.
Speaker, writer and “professional storyteller” Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. He can be reached at Randy@mindzoo.com or (571) 238-4572.
Every company, irrespective of size, at some point needs a variety of service professionals. The amount and experience these professionals possess can substantially add value to your business and mitigate risk.
Technical matters of law, financial audit, tax, industrial marketing and public relations are usually best handled by outside experts. Attorneys, auditors, tax experts, public relations and industrial marketing professionals have specialized knowledge and skills that you couldn’t and shouldn’t hope to duplicate.
Clark-Reliance’s business philosophy has always been that we make service professionals an extension of our team. We frequently invite them to sporting events, company dinners and other internal events. Knowing our service professionals on a personal basis and allowing them access to know our staff makes it a better and more effective partnership.
Our senior management works closely with these providers so that they can answer questions efficiently and quickly whether it’s a simple or complex business issue.
It is also good practice to formally meet with service providers on a frequent basis, even if the meeting is only an update. This practice will allow your providers to gain a better understanding of your business and provides a discussion forum that is different than just dealing with them on an as-needed basis or for “crisis interventions.”
Whether you have in-house counsel or not, outside legal service providers are an imperative partner to help you grow and protect your business. Partnering with a reasonably sized firm allows you access to worldwide contacts, practices and procedures.
Almost everyone has four distinct reasons to use an attorney or specialized law firm, even if you do employ general counsel:
Acquisition — When your company is engaged in an acquisition, you need a highly specialized legal team to provide expertise in areas such as due diligence, negotiation, asset acquisition, purchase agreements, taxation and employment transactions.
Intellectual property — The need to safeguard your new product ideas can be ensured by a highly specialized attorney who can protect and defend your intellectual property, patents, trademarks and copyrights, both domestically and worldwide.
Product liability — The misuse and misapplication of products that have been sent into the stream of commerce may result in litigation or unjustified claims that need to be addressed by competent legal counsel.
Labor and employee issues —The multitude of employment law issues, regulation and compliance requirements and employer/employee legal issues demands a working relationship with a labor/employment legal professional.
The changes in the United States Federal Tax Code and the continuing compliance with tax laws for federal, state and local taxation demand comprehensive and technical knowledge. Most companies also need to have audited financial data for borrowing purposes or to meet public company regulations. This highly specialized and technical knowledge can only be accessed through a tax and financial adviser.
There are four areas where a financial/tax service professional can assist any business.
Taxes — Whether you are an S-corporation, C-corporation or LLC, you need to have a tax adviser analyze the tax implications of business decisions to ensure that you are properly taking advantage of the complex tax code.
Grants and tax credits — The research tax credit remains a valuable source of support to businesses that conduct qualified research and development.
Acquisition process — During the acquisition process, it is imperative to include your financial advisers in terms of due diligence and specific issues like goodwill, inventory valuation and working capital adjustments.
Audit — Private or public, it is a good idea to have your financial data analyzed and scrubbed by experts in areas of revenue recognition, inventory valuation and off-balance-sheet transactions.
Utilizing service professionals provides a road map to avoid the pitfalls that can present significant obstacles to your business success. ?
Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate cochairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.
Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.
One of the biggest differences between running a business on the side and quitting your job to run it full time is that you lose the security of a steady paycheck. That loss of income and the uncertainty as to whether it will ever come back is enough to make anyone pause and reconsider quitting their day job.
But what if your part-time venture is beginning to pick up steam, and you earnestly believe that it needs your full, undivided attention? While it can be scary, there are steps you can take to make such a leap less daunting.
When you begin your business in earnest, take time to reduce your clutter. Working out of a messy office will eat much more time than it takes to get everything organized.
Speaking of time, making the transition to full-time business owner means also becoming much more self-motivated and coordinated. There is no one to remind you to clock in or to hound you about being late.
It’s great to go about the day without being micromanaged, but be careful. It’s just as easy to slip into a state of complacency. Organize your space, set a schedule and stay disciplined.
There is always going to be some element of risk involved in whatever you decide to do next. But there are also actions that a new full-time business owner can take to reduce some of that risk.
As a part-time owner, chances are high that your business is a sole proprietorship — sort of the default business structure. Unfortunately, that means that you are responsible for your business’s debts, and if things go south, debt collectors may start trying to take your personal assets to pay for those business debts.
When you jump to full-time, consider forming an LLC or S corporation. There are different advantages and disadvantages to these structures, but they will help protect your personal property by separating you and your business’s debts.
Make saving a priority
Take full advantage of that steady paycheck for as long as you have it and save. Anyone looking to branch out and start a business has to use every cost-cutting measure out there so they have breathing room when trying to get their new business to turn a profit. Advisers typically recommend having enough saved up to pay for four to six months of living expenses. Luckily, if a business is being run part-time, it may be pulling in money already.
There is no magic number for saving — it just needs to be enough so that you don’t have to dig for change to pay your electric bill. Meet with an accountant, crunch the numbers and make sure you’re comfortable with the recommendations they give on budgeting and working with your financial situation.
Part-time owners know their company can draw customers, sell a product or service and bring in money since it has already been doing just that. This insight makes it very tempting to throw caution to the wind and jump into full-time ownership without making the necessary preparations.
But don’t take a huge leap without ensuring your fall is cushioned. Take your time, get everything in order, protect your assets and meet with an accountant to solidify a plan. Next, take a deep breath and put in your two weeks’ notice — you’re now a full-time business owner.