This column is not a how-to painting guide for business executives — I’ll leave that to the experts at Sherwin-Williams. Instead, I offer a few suggestions on preserving ideas for future exploration and innovation. Let me explain further.
Hindering creativity typically rears its inhibiting, ugly head when you make definitive statements, either verbally to others or in the confines of your own mind, and too quickly dismiss new ideas as being too farfetched. We’ve all been there. How many times have you said, “Not on my watch,” or, “I’m drawing a line in the sand on that matter,” and sometimes adding for emphasis, “That will happen only over my dead body”?
Eating your words, even years later, can likely cause severe indigestion and can sometimes result in choking that could bring on a premature demise of that next big thing. Littering the bottom of the corporate sea are concepts with promising potential that executives, with the flick of the wrist, pooh-poohed. Most times, that was simply because there wasn’t enough time to deal with the unknown or because of myopia and the lack of an inclination to push the envelope. It doesn’t take much talent to say no, but it takes leadership and creativity to take a germ of an idea to the next level. And it takes true vision to shepherd a new anything through the difficult trial-and-error gauntlet.
Close-minded responses to the unproven are not just limited to management. Politicians particularly have a unique knack of painting themselves into a corner with unlikely promulgations that frequently come back to haunt them in November after the opposite occurs. Backpedaling is probably the method most politicians use to get their exercise.
In a 1966 Time Magazine print edition feature story, this then-prestigious publication asserted, “Remote shopping, while feasible, will flop because women like to handle the merchandise and, with so much time on their hands, want to get out of the house.” Someone might want to email Time and ask the publisher how to spell Amazon.
There are alternatives to summarily stymieing thoughts, dreams or unproven methods. Certainly, there is a time and place for everything, and frequently, you or your team may not have adequate resources, at a particular moment, to pursue every idea that comes down the pike. Instead of saying no, a more fitting response is to say or think, “Let’s put that idea on a back burner so that we can for the moment focus on more conventional solutions, at least, for the shorter term.” This leaves the door open for continued research and refinement of an idea that could ultimately evolve into something meaningful.
Here is where the bucket from my headline comes in to preserve an incomparable yet promising notion that, at the moment, might be superfluous to the task at hand but, at the right time and place, proves to be a killer idea. I use the word bucket as a euphemism for a holding place or repository for things that I may want to explore when the time is right. Certainly, one cannot investigate every idea ever pondered, but at least by retaining all such ideas in one place, they are always there for future consideration when either more is learned about the subject matter or when comments begin surfacing in the media or elsewhere touching on that similar idea you’ve kept tucked away.
Your very own bucket can also become a temporary refuge merely to take your mind off other, more thorny problems or a simple respite from the day-to-day grind when you’re looking for a new inspiration. Alternatively, at the end of the year, remove the mothballs from your bucket and review what you’ve deposited. A fresh look just might ignite a former idea, which then takes on a new life of its own.
Anyone who has ever painted a room already knows not to wind up in a corner, lest they may never get out. Worse yet, more open-minded competitors could use that bucket to throw cold water on an idea that you had earlier but never capitalized on it while they did.
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.
"The Benevolent Dictator," a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available online at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
A pivotal challenge for companies is to differentiate themselves from competitors. While different isn’t always better, better is always different! A business model describes how an organization designs and delivers value by providing stakeholders a shared understanding of how the business operates. A strong business model offers a competitive advantage by demonstrating that the firm does something different, more innovative and better than its rivals.
Herbert Kelleher and Rollin King sketched out the Southwest Airlines business model on a breakfast napkin in 1967. Recognizing a need for a service-oriented low cost airline, the “Texas triangle” meant that Southwest would fly dozens of daily flights between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. In 2000, David Neeleman, a former Southwest manager, launched JetBlue Airways by adding quality to the service/value mix.
In steps the digital era
The digital era has driven many recent business model transformations. Apple’s iTunes is a great example of the changing music industry. In the past, record companies, distributors and retailers controlled channels and profits; now the artist and platform (iTunes) has the market power.
Newspapers have struggled to become information providers as their readers aged and defected to other media. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today have stellar reputations and large/loyal customer bases. They can charge fees for online content. In contrast, most metropolitan newspapers are a less viable option as free alternatives (websites, smart- phones, community magazines and television) abound.
Google, Facebook, Apple, and Salesforce.com are examples of shapers since they open platforms for third-parties and create new market space. Participants embrace and enhance shapers’ platforms and may include applications (apps) developers, service firms or online e-tailers.
Zynga, a Silicon Valley social-gaming company, has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues through Farmville. Millions of users manage virtual plots of land, grow crops, raise animals, and use online tools such as tractors. It has been estimated that there are more than 20 times more people playing Farmville than there are actual farms in the U.S. Other examples of strong business models are listed in the table below.
Take apart your business model
Consider these questions as your management team assesses your business model. Can you clearly explain your business model? What is unique about your strategy? How does it compare with your direct and indirect competitors?
Have you broken any industry rules lately? Can you develop a more innovative and interesting business model? Will your business model win in the market? Does your organization truly deliver superior value for customers?
ArtWeinstein, Ph.D., is professor and chair of marketing at Nova Southeastern University and author of “Superior Customer Value — Strategies for Winning and Retaining Customers.” He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 262-5097. Visit his website www.artweinstein.com.
Despite an economy that has been in a modest recovery for more than three years, many businesses continue to struggle. One of the major challenges is that bank loans remain hard to come by, particularly for business owners with few hard assets, less than perfect credit scores, in industries regarded as risky or who just need funds quickly.
Hope springs eternal for a return to the good old days when banks actually competed to loan money to businesses. But this is not likely to happen anytime soon. The banking industry overall is far less interested in small-to-medium business lending than it used to be. This is a long-term trend that the financial crisis, subsequent industry consolidation, and heightened regulatory requirements only exacerbated.
So what are the alternatives for SMEs that cannot qualify for a traditional bank loan? Factoring may be an option for some business-to-business companies. A factor buys a company’s receivables and gives the company a large percentage of the value upfront with an additional amount returned after the invoices are paid off.
Small Business Administration loans and Community Development Financial Institution loans are other options, but only for a small subset of prospective borrowers.
Much of the SME lending gap over the past five or so years has been filled by merchant cash advance lending and a relatively new, related type of lending known as “revenue-based” financing. Mostly backed by private equity or venture capital, these non- traditional lenders have devised new business models that provide financing based primarily on bank statements, credit card volume and cash flow rather than a drawn-out underwriting process.
The result is that a much wider range of small businesses are receiving funds for a wider range of needs. The costs may be higher than traditional bank loans, but the application and approval process is much faster and less arduous, and loan amounts and payment terms are more flexible.
For example, a firm can provide a business owner with as little as $4,000 up to a much as $2 million in as few as five business days.
Two options to repay
Companies can choose from two types of financing. Business cash advances are repaid based on a mutually agreed upon fixed percentage automatically deducted from the merchant’s daily debit/credit card sales. When sales are slower, the business pays less. Small business loan options are also available. They are repaid with automatic daily withdrawals of a fixed amount from the borrower’s bank account.
These non-traditional funding sources aren’t for everyone. Lenders are looking for companies they can help grow. A small business struggling to hang on is not a good candidate. But what about a pizza shop that has a major equipment breakdown? The owner has good cash flow, but doesn’t have the money to pay for new equipment, and he cannot wait for a bank loan — assuming he can get one. A small business loan or merchant cash advance can fund in five to 10 business days and help this pizzeria keep the doors open.
Or how about a dental practice that needs new equipment? Or a spa in a seasonal resort location that needs to finish a remodeling ahead of the coming season? If the small business sector of the economy is to recover and prosper, I believe it will be through these new sources of capital.
Marc Glazer is president and CEO of Business Financial Services Inc., a provider of specialty small business loans and merchant cash advances serving businesses in all 50 states as well as Canada, and the United Kingdom, based Coral Springs, Fla. Visit www.businessfinancialservices.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.
In order to succeed in business you need to have inner confidence - that state of feeling certain about and trusting in yourself. You can have confidence in your goals, your team, your system and your family, but if you lack self-confidence, you are missing the main ingredient for success.
Lack of confidence makes it harder to:
- Make sound decisions
- Lead others
- Perform tasks and duties correctly
- Get a raise or promotion
Today I will provide you with 5 confidence tools that you should use on a daily basis in your business and professional life.
Let's get started!
Confidence Tool #1 - Focus
As I mentioned last month in 5 Tips for Improving Your Focus as a Busy Professional - over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found focus to be of the utmost importance for success in the workplace. Too many professionals try to "fly by the seat of their pants" and lack any ability to direct their attention.
To use the tool of focus effectively, you must first determine the things that need your concentration and focus. Take the time to assess and evaluate them. What should come first, second and so on.
Once you have things evaluated and set out, laser-target your focus and do not allow yourself to be swayed away from the task at hand.
Knowing what needs your attention and intently focusing on those needs helps free the mind of distractions that lead to second-guessing and lack of confidence. This builds motivation that in turn leads to building a positive energy that helps you remain calm and focused during times of stress.
Focus prepares the mind for action.
Confidence Tool #2 - Mentorship
Anthony Robbins and others have talked a lot in recent years about modeling the success of successful people. The idea is to find someone who is successful in your area of work or expertise and do what they do - modeling their successful behaviors.
While I agree that this is helpful, I have always felt that simple modeling comes up short. When I model, I am left to my own devices. I am forced to determine just what it is that has made the person successful. In essence, I have to guess.
Mentorship overcomes this shortfall. Mentoring involves working directly with someone who can help you find your strengths and weaknesses in business. Mentoring takes the guesswork out of the process.
Find someone in your area who is a leader - someone who has achieved a level of success and ask him or her to mentor you. Work with their schedule to find times where you can meet and discuss your needs and desires related to your business.
I have found that many leaders enjoy the ability to mentor others.
Can you see how this tool can help with your inner confidence? It is powerful!
Confidence Tool # 3 - Attitude
You can become the smartest, well-trained and mentored individual with the absolute worst attitude and that attitude will lead to your demise.
Zig Ziglar said it this way:
"Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude."
How high you fly in the world of business is determined not by how much you know, but by the power of your positive attitude.
Ziglar was a trainer and teacher for dozens of years; he was not speaking against you learning new things and being mentored by the best. It's a matter of perspective.
Truly confident people - not those who think confidence is made up of simple arrogance, are those who have a great attitude toward business, work and life. These are the ones that co-workers want to follow.
Attitude moves your action forward.
Confidence Tool #4 - Exercise
In her article: Get Ahead at Work: 5 Ways to Increase Your Confidence In Business, Kelly Lynn Adams talks about the role exercise plays in developing confidence in business.
"Exercise has been shown to improve both mental health (by releasing mood-improving endorphins) and physical wellbeing (by reducing the likelihood of illnesses) while also improving the way you feel about yourself. So, whether you prefer to dance, go to the gym, run outside, bike, take a yoga class or box, get moving. It may just pay off, literally!"
I could not have said it better!
Exercise provides strength for action.
Confidence Tool # 5 - Action
I have been hinting all along in this article that there is one very important tool that must be used in order develop the confidence needed to achieve true success in business.
That tool is action.
We must get up, get moving and get out there on a daily basis. Actual hands-on doing is a powerful provider of self-confidence. Action defines the muscle of confidence. Consistent, daily action makes that muscle strong.
When focus, mentorship, attitude, and exercise bolster action, inner confidence no longer becomes a struggle we face.
Use these tools and develop the confidence you need to achieve your wildest dreams in business.
DeLores Pressley, motivational 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 is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Bobby Harris urges employees to break through the cubicles and swap offices with execs to build better understandings — and profitsWritten by Dennis Seeds
When Bobby Harris launched an effort to bring management closer to the employees at his company BlueGrace Logistics LLC, he really wanted it to be effective. He felt the executives were getting a bit out of touch with the rank and file. So he started a “cubicle swap.” For a couple of weeks, executives moved their offices to cubicles and the dispossessed workers took over the executives’ offices.
It worked like a charm. It provided the executive team and employees to learn about each other on a personal level, what they liked and didn’t like, and how efficiently the operations were running.
And in at least in the case of one high-profile executive (Harris) case, it got to be humorous.
“I had the IT maintenance guy take my office,” Harris says. “He loved it! It's kind of funny because he started playing the role, and he started wearing a shirt that said, ‘I am the CEO. Shut up!’ He got into character.”
While there were some funny moments, Harris was serious about the lesson he wanted to teach.
“I had been in a meeting, and I was listening to a lot of our executives talk about the things going on below them. I just thought it was interesting — the executives really didn’t know what was going on below their level. We were making policy about people who are the life of our company. We needed to make sure that someone, like their direct supervisor, knows what they were doing.”
As the cubicle swap was underway, the employees got to interact more with the executives and hear what was going on. Another thing that occurred was that the productivity level went up.
“It's kind of like if you've ever heard of the Hawthorne Effect: the more visible management is, the better the production from employees,” Harris says. “So that was a real positive. There was a lot of serendipity to whole project, and that is why we continue to do it.”
But most of all, it demonstrates how Harris is a big believer in his employees. Here’s how that concern constantly brings dividends to the $100+ million freight and logistics company with 135 employees. BlueGrace has grown by 7,378 percent in revenue from 2009-2011. And to top it off, it’s recognized as the 20th fastest growing company in the United States by Inc. magazine.
Invest at every level of employees
If you want to bat a thousand in terms of hiring and grooming the best talent, invest in your people at every level, Harris says. And there is no better time to start than at the beginning.
“When we hire people, one of the qualities we look for is if they are very sensitive and empathetic because our motto is we don't care how much you know until we know how much you care,” Harris says. “If you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers and they will also take care of people in general.”
To help support those ends, Harris and his team has set up a mentoring program for employees during their first six months with the company.
“It's for every employee, and we believe that if you are going to flatter us enough to choose your career to be here, we are going to invest in you,” he says.
The mentors are hand-picked by Harris and are people who he knows are very social, who understand the policies, are very professional, and are influential people in the company who will act as their proponent.
“It does two things,” he says. “There is serendipity to it for the people coming in. But where I've seen a lot of value is with the mentors. They love it; people like helping people. They are very flattered, they take you very seriously.
“Now I have a lot of people signing up saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a mentor.’”
While the role does not include a bonus, there is a benefit for the mentor.
“The mentors are people who want upward mobility so they see this as a way to the next level,” Harris says. “And their aspirations are well taken care of.”
Social media use reaps rewards
The more you can get inside an employee’s head, the more you can understand what motivates them. While Harris’ cubicle swap may have been a little more beneficial for executives than employees, he also uses another method that benefits both, but in a different vein, and it’s a big tool as a foundation for collaboration.
“The single best thing for us has been social media, specifically Twitter,” he says. “We have an open social media policy. For me, it is really important because again, I keep going back to making sure I offer the most for employees. It's very hard to get a job here. You have to take a lot of tests, you have to be the cream of the crop, but when you get here, I don't ever want to lose you.”
Harris feels that to keep workers motivated — and give that discretionary effort — social media such as Twitter brings big dividends.
“Once you get past 20 employees, you have the ability to know a little bit about your people in a real quick space of time,” he says. “So I can just open my phone, and in three minutes I can find out that Mary's son hit a home run last night in baseball.
“And conversely, they can see me: ‘Old Bob is not in; he's in Chicago.’ I can tell them about that restaurant I went to.”
With the knowledge about some aspects of a fellow worker’s personal life, it builds bridges on likes and dislikes, and improves the playing field for collaboration on business projects. But nevertheless, some people may think that it's unproductive.
“I would challenge them tooth and nail that the culture that we breathe makes us extremely hard-working,” Harris says. “The employees love the freedom aspect of the autonomy and the trust, and further, as far as a recruiting tool for people who have degrees or real good pedigrees, this is what they want. They love that kind of ability to do that. It has created a lot of bonds here.”
Problems with the use of social media can be avoided to a large extent if you first explain to employees how you hope they use it, Harris says.
“What I can do is let them know that we see what you are doing, and I think that for that reason alone, it really mitigates that kind of exposure to begin with. There's just so much positive going on and a lot of times, it has nothing to do with business.
“We don't dictate what they are supposed to tweet, but we do train them; we tell them how it works and how to be effective. Then we endorse and support it.”
Till the fertile ground
Once you support collaboration through a process such as social media, it behooves you to keep the ball rolling — a spinoff could grow in the fertile ground.
That’s what happened at BlueGrace. Its support of social media for employees led to an executive forum, in which employees meet with executives to have an old-fashioned “bull session.” Groups of four employees who have at least six-months’ service meet with executives once a week or every two weeks for 30-45 minutes.
“I have a group of my own and it’s composed of randomly picked employees,” Harris says. “We try to get people who aren't directly involved with the same department so it’s a mix.
“We just talk about anything,” Harris says. “It could be something really important that's going on in their life; it could be something like they had a great idea in the business place, it could be positive or negative, anything they want to talk about.
“They connect because it comes across like a little family. They feel very connected in the place. They also get a voice then. That helps us to get a lot of the best ideas that they have.”
It is a time commitment, however, but not one that can’t be worked into your schedule, Harris says.
“It is one thing for people to say it, yeah, you've got to listen to the employees, but everybody is busy,” he says. “Everybody is so busy; it is not just in my industry. You have to find an effective process and grind it out, find a way to make sure that you are touching those people.
“No matter how fast they're going, no matter how fast people are coming on, there are several ways of doing it. Those practices we found very effective, and it makes for a lot of happy people.”
How to reach: BlueGrace Logistics, (800) 697-4477 or www.bluegracelogistics.com
Invest in employees at every level.
Social media utilization reaps rewards.
Till the fertile ground.
The Harris File
Founder and CEO
Born: I came to Florida in 1982 when I was eight years old, so I am more of a native of Florida. I was a military brat. I was born in England at a military base northwest of London. My father was in the Air Force.
Education: I have a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Florida, which I just got two years ago. I went back to school. It was a lot of fun. Industrial psychology was one of those things that kind of intrigued me enough.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My first real job was at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Oh yes. I did various things. I worked the cookline I was like a little waiter, I would do maintenance, whatever they needed me to do. If I learned anything, I guess at any level, professionalism reigns supreme. I don't care if you're an attorney, and I guess it's a little bit of my father raising me, I always made sure that my uniform looked a little bit nicer than everybody's else's, and I think that is one of the reasons why I was able to ... It was Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I was treated well and got more hours than others. That still holds true today, and it just amazes me what a professional image does. And the other thing I would say was I learned to trust people. I've always said that from beginning the quicker you trust people, the easier your job will be and the quicker you will excel at it.
Who do you admire in business?
I admire Richard Branson. His genuineness shows through. His philanthropy matches. I think he's done everything. He has been extremely successful and innovative. He has given back so much and yet he's had so much fun doing it. This guy has a ball. He's very easy to gravitate to.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
My mentor was Keith Huggins. He told me a little knowledge is dangerous. As a CEO, you're not going to understand everything that people do — to make assumptions off a little bit of knowledge is a very, very dangerous thing. If I understand something from soup to nuts and it's like in my expertise, I will have high level of conviction. But knowing something a little bit is far worse than not knowing it at all sometimes. You have to be really careful if you know little bit. I must use that quote every three days. For myself, my personal life, you never have the whole story if you don’t understand it from inside and out.
What is your definition of business success?
My definition would be wanting to come from work every day in a bad way while making sure that all your success is shared with your team, your vendors and your customers. My biggest thing is I don't want to be this really successful person alone on top of a mountain. As I get more successful, the people with me should get more successful too. We have such strong friendships. Those are the people who will go to war with you. I've never lost anybody in my leadership team, and it's a pretty big leadership team, 14 or 15 people, so it's like the Rolling Stones — we never want to break up. We always want to have this crew because it's effective. And it's a heck of a lot of fun. Business success starts with happiness. It really does.
Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.
I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.
We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.
I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.
I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.
After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.
In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.
Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.
I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.
When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.
In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.
There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?
Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kelly Smallridge revamped the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County to warm up the welcome mat for CEOsWritten by Laura Green
When it comes to attracting businesses, size alone should put Palm Beach County at a distinct advantage over its Florida peers. With 38 municipalities, the county trumps Broward, Pinellas and even Miami-Dade as the largest in Florida and third in population.
The problem is, although geography plays a role, it is not nearly the most important factor for businesses choosing whether or not to invest in your county, says Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
“When you’re in economic development, one community can look like another community,” she says. “These CEOs are looking at 20 or 30 communities at a time, and it’s the communities that are going to roll out a much different experience and feeling of a corporate home that they are going to remember.
“We cannot present the same product as everybody else. So with everything that we do, whether it’s the message we deliver in a website, social media message, any printed material or their experience when they visit our community — it must make a lasting impression.”
Since taking the top role at the board in 2004, Smallridge has helped overhaul its economic development strategies to grow jobs and drive business investment in the county. Between 2011 and 2012, these efforts have helped create or retain 1,700 jobs and $166 million of capital investment into Palm Beach County.
In addition, Smallridge herself has been recognized by the South Florida Business Journal as an “Ultimate CEO” and by South Florida CEO as one of the top 40 business leaders in Palm Beach County.
Smart Business spoke with Smallridge to discuss what economic and business leaders can do to create make their counties attractive for businesses and why it’s an ongoing process.
What makes a county globally competitive for business?
Workforce has to be top notch, meaning highly skilled and available. Education K-20 has to also be more than excellent to attract families and corporations to this area — so workforce and education. The cost of doing business has to remain affordable … and the ease of doing business has to be far better than other locations, other competitive sites.
As CEO, what did you feel that Palm Beach County needed to change to be more competitive with other counties?
I saw a tremendous amount of focus on bringing someone in from other states, when really, a job is a job whether you bring it in from the outside or you create one here locally — it’s the same opportunity for our area residents.
I saw too much of a focus on that outside effort and not enough focus on nurturing those companies that already call Palm Beach County their home. So we traded more of a balance internally to grow what’s in our backyard. As a result, about 70 percent of our job growth in this county comes from companies that already have an existence in this county and 30 percent come from the outside.
How did you begin redirecting the county’s job growth efforts?
First of all, I had to build the best economic development team. Hiring great leaders that were well-experienced in economic development was No. 1. Two, I had to educate my own community — my own public and private leaders — about the value and importance of economic development and how to be well-versed in what CEOs are looking for when they are selecting a location for expansion, retention or relocation.
Starting with your internal leadership, what were the key steps in building a strong economic development team?
If you study economic development organizations throughout the county, the challenge is that a lot of these people are selling counties — they are very good at it — but they don’t know their county the way we know our county because we are products of this county.
Building that team of VPs here who are very passionate about what we are selling is No. 1 — hiring the best economic development professionals. Our average tenure in this organization is 10 years, very rare. … A quarter of our staff was either born or raised in the county that we are charged with selling.
No. 2, making sure that we subscribe to the highest levels of economic development principles. We went through what’s called an accreditation process. There are only two accredited economic development boards in the state of Florida, and we are one of the two. There are something like 25 in the United States.
We didn’t go for accreditation until we knew we had reached certain fundamental goals in this organization, a five-year strategic plan, the highest level of leader on our board, strong financials — most not-for-profits are strong financially — and more private support than public support.
So how did you apply those principles across the county’s 38 cities?
We created something called Economic Development 101. We started training our elected officials and municipal stakeholders on how to answer questions from CEOs looking at their city.
It was very surprising how much elected officials didn’t really understand about economic development and what would be the highlights of promoting their areas: understanding the major employers, the taxes, the cost of doing business, knowing what the strengths are of their cities from a business perspective and being able to speak very articulately about what makes their city one of the best business locations.
How did you develop the Economic Development 101 curriculum?
Once we did three municipalities, we really got a much better understanding of what the learning gap was, what they clearly understood and what they didn’t understand. We changed that accordingly and continue to build upon that. Every time that we go to an election we go back to those cities and re-educate those people. It’s made a very big difference.
Another key part is making sure that economic development is a top priority of the municipalities. If you have strong economic development, your retail thrives, your mom-and-pop businesses thrive and your residential does well because now you have people with expendable income who can purchase your homes and apartments and frequent your restaurants and your retail establishments.
We really try to get them to understand that it’s the high-end economic development that’s going to create the trickle-down and fuel the other types of business operations in their community.
Why is it so important for economic development boards to work closely with city leaders?
Too often, economic development boards focus on their organization and don’t understand that they really represent their entire geographic region.
They have to get out there and make sure that their entire geographic region has tax incentives, that they are moving quickly in expedited permitting, that they are cutting down on the layers of bureaucracy and they can speak the languages that businesses need to hear, that they put out a warm, friendly welcome mat.
Sometimes it’s not about the amount of money or incentives that you send to a CEO; it’s about how warm your welcome mat is.
I can only sell the product that I’m given by my cities. So if they don’t understand how to make their area attractive to businesses, it doesn’t matter how strong my organization is. I have to make sure that the product is strong, and the product is the comprehensive component of 38 cities.
Once you get everyone on the same page, how do you keep them there?
You form an economic development stakeholders council that brings them all together on a regular basis to communicate, share best practices internally, inform them of what new programs have come through the state that are available for all municipalities and that they can integrate into their respective areas.
Some of the things that we’ve brought to the table that many of our municipalities have taken advantage of are Ad Valorem Tax Exemption, passing that through their cities, and expedited permitting ordinances.
This is very large county, and one of the new things that I implemented when I became the leader is, ‘You are visible if you are present in their community.’ The county is about 40 miles long. It’s the largest county east of the Mississippi River and larger than a couple of states. It’s a very big, massive land area.
What I did was to establish satellite offices in the north, central, south and western part of our county. I went from one office, to one office and three satellite offices — big difference. Now you’re present in the community working side-by-side with your teammates and other city officials.
What results have you seen from PBC’s newest economic development initiatives?
Too many presidents of economic development boards are quick to get to that ribbon-cutting ceremony when really we’re in there to help them through the entire process until they turn the key and then for many, many years down the road. That’s why we’ve had companies come back to us five or 10 years beyond our initial relationship to help them with their expansion.
If you have an entire community that is working in the same direction toward creating jobs and you eliminate the competition internally and you get everyone on the same page, you end up with entire group of public and private leaders that are all working toward the same goal.
That may seem very fundamental, but it has taken years to get to that stage. If you look at other communities throughout the U.S., you will find very few where all public and private leaders have the same end goal in mind. ?
How to reach: Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, (561) 835-1008 or www.bdb.org
The Smallridge File
President and CEO
Business Development Board of Palm Beach County
Born: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Education: University of Florida
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
For the most part, I keep my private and professional lives separate. Therefore, my friends would be surprised to see what a normal business day is like for me. Every minute of every workday is usually booked solid with meetings, speeches, interviews, prospecting, traveling, deadlines, with absolutely no downtime until Friday afternoons.
How do you recognize new business opportunities?
I do not like to perform or develop a product or program that I’ve seen out on in the market. If I see it, then I tend to steer away from that and try to figure out what is really going to be the ‘wow’ factor in the way that we present a product. It distinguishes us among our competition.
What happens when you don’t close a business deal that you wanted?
One of the keys to any leader is that you’ve had numerous failures. Every one of those I’ve look at as character building exercises. We’ve lost some deals that I thought that we should have won. I don’t sweat over that too much, but instead, evaluate the situation very quickly, figure out what we did wrong and what we did right, and move toward developing some sort of resolution that ensures to the best of our ability that it won’t happen again. We’re quick to take a look at ourselves and be our biggest critics.
What do you do for fun?
I am a firm believer that in order for my mind to stay healthy and make good business decisions, I must find time for fun. As a mother of three boys, all of my free time is spent with them at football, basketball or family vacations. We love to cruise to the Caribbean a couple of times a year as a family. In addition, I am blessed to live within a few miles of my parents, my brother and my sister. Getting together at least monthly with the whole family, especially during football games, has been a source of great memories.
When you go to the dictionary to look for the definition of focus, you will see such lofty things as:
“the point where the geometrical lines or their prolongations conforming to the rays diverging from or converging toward another point intersect and give rise to an image after reflection by a mirror or refraction by a lens or optical system.”
“a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge or from which they diverge or appear to diverge.”
Luckily, for those of us that are not physicists, I did find one definition that makes sense when trying to understand the meaning of focus:
“a point of concentration or directed attention.”
What do you concentrate on the most with your business? Where do you direct your attention? These are the questions of focus. Over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found them to be of utmost importance to the success of those in the workplace.
Let's look at 5 tips for improving your focus as a busy professional.
1. Stop doing what you are doing.
If you struggle with focus on a daily basis and you continue to think and act in the same manner – you need to stop and stop right now.
The quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein speaks to us here: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Stop. Breathe. Assess. Evaluate.
This leads us to our second tip.
2. Determine what needs your concentration and attention.
In the workplace, too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes to what needs to get done. In most instances, it is pure laziness that sustains this way of doing things. It takes work to stay focused and be successful.
As I said above, you will need to assess and evaluate in order to determine what needs your directed attention. Hopefully you have goals in place for yourself and your team. Let those goals be the defining line for your focus.
This leads us to our third tip for improving your focus as a busy professional.
3. Clear all unnecessary distractions.
Once you have determined the areas and actions that need your concentration, it is time to laser target your focus. In order to do this, you must clear away anything that would disrupt, distract or lessen your laser focus.
- Cell phones
- Social Media
- Instant Messaging
- Tasks that could be delegated
Make a list of all the things that you must stop doing in order to stay focused. This is the opposite of the normal to-do list. It will make clear what needs to be cut out from your daily routine.
Some distractions are going to be hard to give up because they have imbedded themselves as habits – and habits take time to change. Development of laser-targeted focus does not happen overnight, but it must be practiced daily in order to achieve its mastery.
4. Work in 60- to 90-minute blocks of time and provide yourself a reward.
Do not expect too much from your focus. Saying that you are going “to work until it's done” is an overload for most of us. It is also too vague and not goal-oriented.
Set aside a specific amount of time for a designated task. Studies have shown that we do well when we block off 60- or 90- minute time frames. This allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that a break is coming.
As we work, our alertness drops off, increasing the lure of distractions. Set a timer and take a break at the end of each cycle.
How about a reward? We all like rewards in one form or another – even if we are the one giving the reward. Say to yourself, “After this 90 minute session of work I am going to take a 10 minute break and walk around the building.”
Other possible rewards are:
- A snack (be careful not to overindulge and get sleepy)
- Text messaging
- Fresh air
5. Learn to say no.
I mentioned delegated tasks earlier. Many busy professionals struggle with delegation. We tend to hold the old attitude of“if you want something done right, do it yourself.”This might be true in the here and now, but in the long run it will lead to lack of focus and, ultimately, exhaustion.
Learning to delegate is a form of learning to say no. “No, not me, not now.” When we learn to say no, we are truly saying yes to our focus.
There are many other tips that one can use to stay focused. These are the five that I have found to be the most useful. Take the time today to try one, two or all of them. Your goals deserve your focus. Your team deserves your focus. You deserve it as well.
DeLores Pressley, motivational 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 is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
The ultimate endgame in any marketing strategy is conversion.
While conversion means different things to different industry sectors, the actions of reaching conversion are universal. In retail, for example, it means searching for and buying a specific product online or in a store. In business-to-business, conversion could be when a prospective client reaches out with their contact information or and requests more information to engage with your services.
Conversion is a multitiered journey that consists of navigating through three steps — awareness, interest and engagement.
Awareness, essentially developing a brand message that resonates across all channels (such as Web, offline, print, mobile and video) is relatively straightforward if you have the proper brand strategy. You must define two things: who you are and what it is you’re trying to say.
However, converting awareness into interest, and eventually engagement, is where organizations most often lose their way.
I personally see this problem regularly manifest itself during a review of an organization’s website. Often, there are too many words and screens of text to sift through, and those words are either clichés or don’t really mean anything to the organization’s prospective — or current — clients.
The bottom line: The organization gained my awareness but lost my interest. Conversion is less likely a potential outcome.
This, however, is easily solvable.
One way to turn awareness into interest is by creating more consumable content, which is defined as providing, in a simple and nonoverwhelming way, the key points that will grab someone’s attention to learn more about what you do and what you offer.
Think of it this way: Develop clean, concise copy that clearly defines what you do and why you’re different from the competition and that articulates your value proposition, without being wordy. You should not have to scroll down more than one time on a Web page to accomplish this goal.
When you look at traditional advertising, the same problem exists. Review your current ads and ask yourself these questions: Are you running an ad that truly reflects your brand? Does it articulate your intended message and your brand through a series of a few choice words? And is there a defined call to action?
Now consider how you’re messaging to your prospects live, such as through your organization’s presence at trade shows.
At your booth, are you presenting a video reel that drones on for five or 10 minutes and includes every aspect of your company? Why waste a lot of money producing a corporate video that is too long, boring and that no one will watch? You will never see an ROI for your efforts.
Instead, determine whether you can develop a short experience at your booth that captures your desired audience’s attention. For example, combine a simple one-page handout with a brief video — no more than a minute long — that uses powerful imagery, focused messaging on your differentiators and a series of client icons that demonstrate who you work with.
You can always expand upon that brief overview video through a series of short complementary videos that are focused and highlight different segments of what your organization does and how it does it.
Let your prospect choose which area of your business he or she is interested in and wants to learn more about — whether it’s through your website, in print or in person. When someone chooses to learn more, it’s a safe bet that he or she is engaged.
The initial goal of all of this should be to generate interest rather than make a sale. The time for conversion is later, but you’ll never get there if you don’t generate interest and engagement first.
Dave Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.