It’s an age-old debate: Is character determined by DNA or upbringing? Nature versus nurture?
Most would argue that character evolves from both. What about companies and their cultures? Is a company’s culture merely a composite of the executives and employees who work there or can a culture be nurtured?
If left to chance, a corporate culture will evolve naturally, but stronger, healthier cultures are nurtured along the way. That doesn’t mean you can manufacture one. At its core, a culture is how a company gets things done. Executives can’t invent an ideal culture that doesn’t align with the way the company actually operates. However, you can help refine your company’s culture and character. Start with the following three steps.
Identify your company’s core values.
A strong company culture, good or bad, reflects the values of the company, its leaders and its employees. What values define your company? What matters most — profits, philanthropy, innovation, safety? If you don’t know, poll your employees. They will have a pragmatic perspective of how things get done.
Once you identify your company’s core values, prioritize the three to five values that are most important. What do you want to be known for — quality, integrity, or just plain fun? Keep in mind, this is not what you do; it’s how you do it. An orthopedic surgeon may be skilled at fixing broken bones, but he gets referrals because of his genuine concern for patients.
Align your actions to your values.
It’s not enough to identify your company’s core values. You also have to walk the talk. Tiger Woods enjoyed a reputation for being a remarkable athlete with extraordinary discipline and sound ethics. However, when revelations of his extramarital affairs surfaced, his reputation was forever tarnished. He’s still considered a great golfer, but no one believes he’s the man he portrayed himself to be.
In the same way, you can’t promote your company as being fair and then challenge your partners at every turn. You’d be better off acknowledging that your company is aggressive. If you try to pass your company off as something it isn’t, you’ll ultimately damage trust with customers.
How can you help ensure that team members model your company’s values day after day? Institute practices that promote your values and the behaviors you want your employees to emulate.
Google, for example, is known for creativity, and its leaders practice what they preach. Google encourages developers to dedicate the equivalent of one day a week to innovative projects outside their job descriptions.
Engage your employees.
The most important, and perhaps the trickiest, piece to this puzzle is engaging employees. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” The touchy-feely, people side of business is often the most difficult for leaders to manage well, but it is critical to a company’s success. Employees who are satisfied and truly engaged in their work will perform at a higher level and contribute to greater success and higher profits.
Engaging employees is easier said than done (in fact, it’s never “done” — it requires continuous dedication and focus). There are, however, some practical tactics that can help.
For starters, communicate openly, include employees in the decision-making process whenever possible, and seek and provide continuous performance feedback. Show your employees that you care what they think and that you want them to succeed.
Can you nurture your company’s culture? Absolutely, but it has to emanate from your core values and employees have to model those values. The result will be engaged employees who reflect your culture because it’s simply how your company gets things done.
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 more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.
Though overall hiring is still sluggish, highly skilled candidates are still in demand and the counteroffer can be a factor in retaining them.
“Recently, because of the economic uncertainly, it’s a little bit harder for us to get candidates to change jobs,” says Michael Stanley, a recruiter at The Daniel Group. “They’re a little less willing to make a move if they are fairly comfortable in their current position.”
Conversely, many companies are willing to make a counteroffer to retain existing employees, often because it’s cheaper and easier than replacing them, he says.
Smart Business spoke with Stanley about using counteroffer strategies to acquire and retain employees.
What steps can you take to avoid losing a job candidate to a counteroffer?
You can’t prevent a counteroffer, but you can prepare candidates to expect one. Throughout the interview, when speaking with candidates currently employed elsewhere, gauge their likelihood of making a change by asking, ‘What would your current employer have to do to keep you?’ This shows where they stand and gives insight into what an acceptable counteroffer looks like.
Also, ask about their true motivation for leaving, which can be easier to find when working with a recruiter. Candidates are usually more guarded with future employers, whereas conversations with a recruiter are much more open. It’s also important to get a full picture of their current benefits and total compensation so you know how that aligns with your company’s offering.
Additionally, it’s absolutely imperative to stay in contact with candidates because they typically provide their employer with a two-week notice before leaving. Keep them engaged during this time to lower the chances of a successful counteroffer by their current employer. Have an itinerary of the onboarding process, such as when you’re sending an offer letter and paperwork and doing background checks. It’s also a good idea to have the job candidate’s future manager take him or her to lunch.
Once a job candidate tells you about a counteroffer, what should you do?
Ask a lot of questions, such as the nature of the offer and how likely they are to accept it. Open up the lines of communication. This is when you can leverage your initial conversation that uncovered their motivation for making a move. If the candidate said there was no room for advancement and the counteroffer gives a 10 percent raise, you can start putting holes in the offer by pointing out the disconnect.
What if you can’t give more compensation to counter the counteroffer?
Use your knowledge of the candidate’s motivations, current benefits and compensation to tailor a nonmonetary incentive. Some examples are a flexible schedule, more vacation days or a guaranteed pay review after six months. An employee’s decision to leave is rarely based solely on compensation.
It’s important to know what the market is currently dictating for the open position and to not go outside of that range. If you overpay on the front end when hiring, you may not be able to provide expected raises down the road. A staffing firm, which is dialed in to compensation and benefits, can help with this.
If a current employee is leaving, should you make a counteroffer?
If the reason the employee is leaving is easily addressed, it may make sense to make an offer. But ask yourself, ‘Is this something for which I could justifiably make a concession?’ You also might learn something, as the employee leaving is likely not the only one who feels that way. In such cases an organization-wide change could improve employee morale, such as using flexible scheduling to improve work-life balance.
However, counteroffers should be used sparingly as they can create a toxic workplace environment. If other employees find out someone was given more money to stay, they may resent management and could threaten to quit. Additionally, if underlying issues aren’t resolved, you have just postponed the inevitable and the employee may end up leaving anyway.
Michael Stanley is a recruiter at The Daniel Group. Reach him at (713) 932-9313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group
Too many business owners know they should save for retirement but put planning for it on the back burner. Forty percent of small business owners have no retirement savings or pension plan, according to a recent American College study, and some 75 percent have no written plan as to how to fund their retirement.
“Business owners shoulder the most responsibility for their businesses, yet often forget to pay themselves first,” says Jeff Manley, executive vice president, wealth services regional executive – Texas, at Cadence Bank. “But if they’re not taking care of themselves along the way, this can position them poorly for the future.”
Smart Business spoke with Manley about how business owners can plan for retirement.
What 401(k) plans suit business owners?
Small, medium and large businesses can use 401(k)s. These basic retirement plans work well for companies looking for a retirement plan that includes both the owner and employees. Making this more compelling is that the IRS raised contribution limits by $500 for 2013, making them $17,500 and $23,000 if age 50 or older, for the first time since 2008, boosting potential savings.
Individual 401(k)s and Uni-k plans are for sole proprietors, or one employee plus a spouse working for the business. These plans, which are similar yet with important differences, are the highest saving vehicles for individual business owners as they allow them to put money away on a pre-tax or after-tax basis, or a combination thereof. Business owners wear two hats — contributing $17,500 or $23,000 as an employee, and an additional 25 percent of income, up to a $51,000 maximum, as the employer. A trusted financial adviser can help determine which plan is best for you.
What IRA plans are available?
A traditional IRA is a tax-deferred retirement account, while a Roth IRA takes contributions after taxes. There are different theories on which is better for whom, with many business owners doing both. For 2013, both IRA types have maximum contributions of $5,500, $6,500 for those over age 50, so they can’t support a retiree.
A self-directed IRA is a tax-deferred account that allows creative, nontraditional investing such as private equity and real estate. Normally, IRAs only invest in securities registered with state or federal authorities. However, self-directed IRAs have a lot of regulations and not all investment advisers provide them.
A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA, working like a traditional IRA, has relatively small contribution limits — $12,000 for 2013, with catch-up contributions of $2,500 for those over 50. Employees can get up to 3 percent company match. Although this doesn’t allow for much annual savings, it’s less expensive to administer than others.
A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA is a type of traditional IRA. The employer is the sole contributor, and the contribution must be an equivalent percentage for every employee. The 2013 contribution limit is 25 percent of a person’s salary, up to a maximum of $51,000 per employee. This plan works well with family-run businesses.
How much should be saved for retirement?
With the different contribution limits, the amount that can be saved annually varies dramatically — from $5,500 to $51,000 in 2013. Those early in their career should start saving now and try to max out the percentage they put away each year. Getting compounding earnings working early means more money in the future.
The general rule is to save 10 to 15 percent of annual income in retirement-type savings vehicles. But those earning a good living now who want to continue their lifestyle through retirement may have to save millions. Ask a financial adviser about available options to understand what will work best for you. Retirement planning isn’t something that can be put off. Business owners need to weigh their options. ?
Guidance provided in this article is educational in nature, is not individualized, is not intended to provide legal or tax advice, and is not intended to serve as the primary or sole basis for your investment or tax-planning decisions. You should consult with an attorney, tax or other qualified professional for specific advice regarding your unique circumstances.
Jeff Manley is executive vice president and wealth services regional executive – Texas at Cadence Bank. Reach him at (713) 871-3931 or email@example.com.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Cadence Bank
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act imposes two new Medicare taxes — one on wages and self-employment income and one on net investment income.
“As a result, executives subject to these new Medicare taxes will now incur a 3.8 percent Medicare tax on most of their taxable income,” says Mark Watson, partner, Houston Tax and Strategic Business Services, at Weaver.
Smart Business spoke with Watson about what this new tax means for executives.
How will the Medicare tax impact wages and self-employment income?
Beginning this year, an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax is imposed on wages and self-employment income in excess of $250,000 for joint filers and $200,000 for single filers. So, the total Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income is now 3.8 percent, up from 2.9 percent.
If a couple files a joint return, the added tax is imposed on their combined wages and self-employment income. Employers must withhold this additional tax on wages paid to an employee in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year. This withholding applies even though the employee may not actually be liable for the additional tax because, for example, the employee’s wages with that of his or her spouse doesn’t exceed $250,000. Any excess withheld Medicare tax will be credited against the total tax liability shown on the employee’s income tax return.
The $250,000 and $200,000 threshold amounts aren’t indexed for inflation. So, over time, more executives will likely be subject to the additional Medicare tax.
How is net investment income affected?
Many executives also will be subject to a new Medicare tax on their unearned income in 2013. This new tax, commonly called the ‘net investment income tax,’ applies to individuals, estates and trusts when income exceeds $250,000 for joint filers, $200,000 for single filers and $11,950 for estates and trusts, and equals 3.8 percent of net investment income.
Net investment income equals investment income less properly allocable deductions. Investment income includes:
• Gross income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties and rents.
• Gross income from a passive activity.
• Gross income from a trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities.
• Net gain from the sale of property.
• Gross income and net gain from the investment of working capital.
However, gain excluded from taxable income, such as gain on the sale of a personal residence and gain deferred through a like-kind exchange, isn’t included in investment income. Similarly, gain from the sale of certain property used in a non-passive trade or business isn’t included.
Properly allocable deductions include:
• Deductions allocable to rent and royalty income.
• Deductions allocable to income from a passive activity and to a trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities.
• Penalties imposed on early withdrawal of funds from a certificate of deposit.
• Investment interest expense.
• Investment adviser fees.
• State/local taxes on investment income.
In the case of an estate or trust, deductions also are available for distributions of net investment income to beneficiaries.
How can these taxes be minimized?
Executives subject to the net investment income tax and the maximum federal income tax rate — applying to joint filers with annual income in excess of $450,000 and to single filers with annual income in excess of $400,000 — will face a 43.4 percent federal tax rate on ordinary income and 23.8 percent federal tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. Minimize taxable net investment income by:
• Documenting and claiming all allocable deductions.
• Making distributions from an estate or trust to beneficiaries with income below $250,000 or $200,000 who are not subject to the tax on net investment income.
• Investing through tax-sheltered investment vehicles such as 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts, annuities and life insurance policies.
When I meet with business-to-business and professional service clients to discuss their marketing strategies, one comment that consistently arises is “No one buys professional services through the Web.”
While that may be true — you don’t typically buy an accountant online as you would a product through e-commerce — how your brand is perceived most definitely will impact a prospect’s buying decision.
Decisions to work with professional service firms don’t happen overnight. They take time. And because of this, any B2B organization must ensure it is “seen” in the strongest possible light before the sale actually occurs.
In fact, it’s just as important to not lose prospective customers because your organization is perceived as weak or subpar as it is to convert a prospect into a client.
The simple truth is that you never know at any given time who is researching your brand and through what channel. Having a consistent brand message, whether they’re looking to engage you now or somewhere down the road, helps you to not lose them before they need your solutions.
To accomplish this, you must get your brand messaging across in a consistent manner across multiple channels.
So how do you that?
First, a solid marketing strategy must include a website that clearly articulates the brand message and value proposition of your services — and it has to be on the home page.
It also should include supporting content that allows a prospective customer to quickly understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.
For example, let’s say you’re an accounting firm. Being able to articulate why you are the best at providing risk management solutions for clients can help you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Providing and highlighting content that explains your service, along with case studies and client examples that include measurable results, is a smart move. It allows prospects and site visitors to get a feel of what it would be like to work with you.
Additionally, your website should offer prospective clients an easy way to contact you — either through a phone number or a simple contact form that includes a name, email address, phone number and short explanation of the prospect’s business problem.
Beyond your website, other channels to consider include social media, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In these social media channels, you need more than just simple company pages. Instead, you should offer visitors relevant and current content that consistently supports the brand message and your organization’s value proposition, along with company information and executive profiles. And it’s extremely important to continually be “active.”
Using the same accounting firm as an example, it could utilize consistent content around recent changes to government policies, updates on recent business wins or sharing a solution that helped one of its clients overcome a business challenge across all social media channels.
And when that information isn’t timely, something as simple as new hire announcements or employee promotions will show visitors and followers that there is activity within your brand — and your organization. It makes you “active,” which makes you more attractive to prospects.
Other channels to think about include mobile or tablet experiences, print marketing and event sponsorship. Every channel you can imagine should be used to express your organization’s brand message because there are always people watching.
So while your clients may not choose or buy their professional services online, they will evaluate your brand even prior to consideration. And while it’s impossible to measure what clients you may lose by not having this strategy in place, it is clear that a solid marketing strategy of this type can save you from losing consideration — even when you don’t know you’re being considered.
David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
According to The Business Dictionary, attitude is: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).”
The words that jump out as important in this definition are:
- Positively or negatively
In light of this, we can say that when we respond to things with a positive attitude, that response influences positive action in us and others. We can also say that the opposite is true.
We could end this article right now by simply saying – As a leader, manager or executive in business; do the former and not the latter. But if you are like me, I bet that you could use some “how to” examples and tips.
Here they are, six tips for having a positive attitude in business:
1. Keep an open mind. Always be open to the possibility that a life change you have refused to consider might be the key to transforming your life for the better.
This type of attitude impresses your colleagues. Why? Because most of them have been faced with the same challenge and chose to not change. Their attitude towards the change has been clouded with self-doubt and lack of courage.
When you are willing to keep an open mind, you are responding positively to the challenge of a life change that has the possibility of a great reward.
Be different than those around you. Be open.
2. Be proactive, not reactive. A reactive individual is at the mercy of change. A proactive individual sees change as a part of the process and takes action to make the best of it.
Having a proactive attitude requires work. You must be able to think ahead and anticipate. It involves being involved.
In business (and life) you cannot simply sit back and let things just happen as they will. In truth, you could, but that attitude is a negative response that influences negative action, namely, reaction.
Do a little mental work beforehand. Get in the game and be proactive.
3. Go with the flow. Present an easy, casual and friendly attitude that shows your flexibility, yet at the same time portrays your persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity.
This is not the negative “sit back and let things happen” attitude described above. Persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity is what sets it apart.
Having an attitude that is easy and casual, without stepping outside the bounds of proper etiquette and being friendly, is some of the best advice I can give to leaders in business.
Be persistent while going with the flow.
4. Think big. If you think small, you will achieve something small. If you think big, then you are more likely to achieve a goal that is beyond your wildest dreams.
When we allow ourselves to have an attitude that pushes boundaries and explores possibilities, we draw in people who have the same attitude. In other words, by thinking big we find big thinkers.
Want to have a team full of big thinkers? Want to have meetings where ideas are shared and positive plans are made? Want to grow leaders out of your team and promote them to new heights in their career? It all starts with your big-thinking, boundary-pushing, dream-inspiring attitude.
Go ahead – think big.
5. Be persuasive, not manipulative. Use your persuasive talents to persuade others of your worth. Don’t use it to convince someone that others are worth less than you.
Have you ever had a manipulative boss? Have you ever had a persuasive boss?
6. Enter action with boldness. When you do something, do it boldly and with confidence so that you make your mark. Wimping out is more likely to leave you stuck in the same old pattern and immune to positive change.
In the end it’s all about getting things done – with a positive attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to move and work with a certain sense of boldness. A boldness that inspires us and those around us to reach for new horizons in all we do.
It’s obvious, action is better than no action – but bold action that leaves a mark is what we should be doing in our life and business.
Do something and do it with a bold attitude.
Attitude really is everything in business. It is the force that empowers us to respond positively to the challenges we face on a daily basis. It allows us to enjoy what we do as we do it. It builds us and our teams.
DeLores 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 helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Should hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ice-water-running-through-their-veins executives who live and die by facts and profit and loss statements believe in things they can’t totally understand and certainly can’t explain?
We have all been there. At various times, for virtually inexplicable reasons, an undertaking that has been struggling suddenly takes a 180-degree turn and begins an upward trajectory. There was no indication from the numbers, substantively nothing extraordinary was changed, but all of a sudden, it’s as if the sun, moon and stars all aligned and you are heading toward Fat City.
Of course, we’ve all experienced the converse, when everything seems to be jelling and all of a sudden out of the blue your project takes a nosedive, plummeting to earth faster than the fastest falling star — or the stock market crash of 2008.
Even though you fancy yourself as tough as nails, you must hope against hope, experiment with unusual fixes, devise out-of-the-box solutions — do just about anything, including making promises to a higher power, along the lines of, “Let me get through this, and I’ll never ______ again.” (You fill in the blank as it is best kept between you and the great power in which you believe.)
Don’t get me wrong I don’t really believe in the good fairy or the ability to make everything better with the wave of wand, but I do very much believe what the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
There is “magic” when some inexplicable ingredient kicks in that enables the best leaders to continuously generate “what if I try this” scenarios and then, out of nowhere, one of those ideas turns sure defeat into a salvageable success. Is this skill and intelligence at play? To a certain extent, yes, but there is more to it than that. The only thing I believe about unadulterated pure luck is the explanation from that overused phrase, “The harder one works, the luckier he or she gets.” The real answer more likely is a combination of knowing how to run a business: using your head, your heart and your gut to tackle a dilemma, recognizing that on any given day one of these faculties will get you through a difficult issue. On a great day when all three kick in, it’s almost as if it were magic, and you start hearing sounds that become music to your ears as the needed solution suddenly emerges.
In reality, the “magic” is having faith in the people with whom you work, maintaining a strong belief that for most of the seemingly insurmountable questions there are answers, trusting that good things do happen to good people, and knowing that every once in a while the good guys do win. This doesn’t mean becoming a naive Pollyanna. Instead, it all gets down to not throwing in the towel until you have exhausted all possibilities and logically and systematically explored all the alternatives, some of which may be very nontraditional.
This approach is also a direct reflection of positive thinking and mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and ignoring all other distractions. In essence, some psychological studies have shown that when one is committed to success and has the discipline not to let the mind travel down a negative path, the brain can focus on producing unique solutions. Using positive psychology techniques can result in intense absorption that can lead to coming up with unlikely fixes. Some shrinks call this increasing mental flow. I call it a little bit of magic.
My simpler explanation for this phenomenon, which I’ve written about many times, is that success is achieved when you combine preparation, persistence with a bit of perspiration, along with a few ingredients that can’t always be explained, including having a little faith.
My advice is don’t always worry about your image of being a buttoned-up, corporate type. Instead, when the going gets particularly tough, it’s OK to become a Dorothy, as in the “Wizard of Oz,” click your heels twice and quickly repeat to yourself, “I believe, I believe.”
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
Effective content strategies empower you to get the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right timeWritten by Dustin S. Klein
Everybody’s telling you that you need a content strategy, but what exactly is content strategy?
An effective content strategy coordinates all of your organization’s messaging — internally and externally — and gets the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right time.
When it works, people are motivated to interact more with your company. You attract new prospects. And you increase opportunities to secure new clients and expand existing business relationships.
Your content may consist of feature stories, press releases, videos, Web content, blog posts, books, whitepapers and even case studies. Essentially, it is everything and anything that discusses your business, professional expertise and ability to solve clients’ problems. It includes news about your organization and human-interest stories that feature your employees.
You can deliver your content through traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio or television), a corporate website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, e-book, TV show, movie or social media. It is quite literally every single way you digest information online, offline and on the go.
Any content strategy starts with understanding your audience. Learn who that audience is, what different groups are in it and what messaging resonates most with each group.
Every audience comprises two unique segments — those who support you, such as vendors, investors or employees, and those who use your services, including clients and engaged prospects.
It’s also important to take a hard look at this list and ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” By doing so, you may identify new prospect streams to target that you previously had overlooked.
Next, identify your key messages. What is it that you want people to know about your organization and why?
Start at the most macro level so that your brand message becomes part of the content — the part everyone receives. Then get into the specifics. As you do this, you create a series of customized messages for each specific group in your audience.
Third, recognize that not everyone digests information the same way. Learn the best channel or channels to use for each group. Some like to read it — in print or online. Others prefer to watch or listen to it — live in-person or through a mobile video. And still others prefer their information delivered in 140 characters or less.
What works for your website visitors doesn’t necessarily resonate face-to-face with people at a trade show or conference. And print ad messaging may not be aimed at the same people who devour industry whitepapers or read thought leadership articles in trade publications.
The actual format of the content won’t matter as long as it provides the “why” people should care about your organization, frequent your establishment, buy your products or services, or use your solutions. If you accurately match message with audience and channel, you’ll do just fine.
Effective content strategy can quickly become a powerful tool in moving your business forward. Treat it as you would any highly critical strategic business initiative.
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7026.
When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.
During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.
SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.
Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.
Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.
At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.
We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.
We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.
I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7034.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Mark Carr founded a family values auto repair franchise and focuses on better service to build a better imageWritten by Dennis Seeds
Mark Carr was operating Christian Brothers Automotive in Houston when a Chevy Suburban driven by a woman from Michigan gasped its way in to the repair shop. It was giving off the telltale knock, knock, knock that even novice mechanics know means the engine is dying.
But what infuriated Carr was not the sad shape of the rusted-out vehicle but the fact that the woman had just paid $750 for repairs at another shop, and the engine was still clunking. He smelled a fresh rip-off for the unlucky victim.
“Her husband was disabled, and she was on disability,” Carr says. “She was trying to take care of her husband and was crying. She said, ‘I just paid $750 to get my transmission fixed and the car’s making the same noise that it did before.’ So I patted her on the hand and said, ‘Come on; let me take a look at it.’”
His diagnosis was on target. She needed a new engine.
“But this guy took $750 that this poor woman didn't have to fix a transmission instead,” Carr says. “I got in the car and I drove down to the guy and I said, ‘You know what? The guy who sticks a gun in your ribs in an alley is more honest than you are because at least you know he is stealing from you. I don’t know how you get up in the morning and look yourself in the eye in the mirror. You disgust me. I am going to tell everyone that I know not to come here. I don’t know what you are going to do for this woman because I can’t control that, but you should refund her money.’”
The man just stood there, not knowing what to do with Carr.
“And I left,” he says. “But that is how I stuck up for her. That’s not the only time that I have done that for my customers.”
Did she get her money back?
“I don’t know if he gave it to her or not,” he says. “But I hope he did; I hope I shamed him enough to give the money back. How would you like somebody doing that to your mother, and there was nobody to stand up for her?”
The incident is a reflection of the simple but powerful mission Carr has for his company — love your neighbor as yourself. With Christian Brothers Automotive, Carr’s goal is to distinguish his company in a field in which a number of lesser shops have often taken their lumps for poor customer service.
“A lot of times, you get a customer who walks in the door, and he thinks that you are a crook,” he says. “He may even say it before you even touch his car. It was a challenge for me to change that person’s mind, to show that that wasn't true.”
In 1997, the company began selling franchises that promoted family values. Today, there are 750 employees and 109 franchises in 14 states, and 25 more are in the planning stages.
“I did start out with a partner, and I bought him out about two years into it, so that is where the ‘Christian Brothers’ came in, using my Bible study,” he says about one of the most frequently asked questions.
Here’s how Carr, president and CEO, set Christian Brothers apart from other companies in a field that is often viewed suspiciously and how he generated $160 million in revenue in 2012.
Walk in another’s shoes
Not every company is founded upon what you might call a divine “nudge,” and other types of inspiration have led entrepreneurs to found enterprises. But no matter where the inspiration comes from, if that nudge becomes the heart of your company — and if you believe the company will only continue through a strong connection to that inspiration, superior customer service and a spirit dedicated to strengthening the community — you will be successful, Carr says.
He founded Christian Brothers Automotive in 1982 with the help of fellow church members, after he spent months praying about how he should change his life. One of the first steps he took to stand out above the rest was to take inventory of market perceptions of the industry.
“I sat down and I made a list of 20 reasons why people hate to get their car repaired,” he says. “I went through every one, checked off all 20 on that list and said I can solve every one of those.
His first goal was to be a light in the community. To do that, establish your operation as fair and reliable, he says. When you make honesty and integrity the foundation of your business, word gets around. Word-of-mouth is everything, and it spreads rapidly, be it positive or negative.
“People are talking about us, which makes me proud in a good way,” Carr says. “It’s all about, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That is our motto. Whatever race, color, creed, country — no matter where you’re from, everybody wants that.”
Another “image lifter” was a new design scheme. Carr created a positive culture shock when he installed an upscale home-charm décor that includes hardwood floors, leather couches, artwork and decorative lighting in the waiting rooms. The scheme was a hit among women, who had a negative perception of dingy auto shops and the possibility of questionable practices.
Don’t skimp on training
Training is a large part of jobs today, and few organizations can afford to skimp on educating their carefully selected employees. In service-related businesses such as car repair, a business often comes out ahead if it starts with a manager or executive who doesn’t have skills in the service field but instead is strong in business operations, Carr says.
“We do not want any of our franchisees knowing anything about cars,” he says. “If they know about cars, they can be in the running, but 90 percent of the time, we turn them down. We turn down by probably a 2-to-1 ratio.”
Instead, for his company’s franchises, Carr looks for businesspeople who know how to manage people and manage money. To get around their lack of knowledge of the industry, Christian Brothers hires all the employees for the new franchisee because that person doesn’t know what to look for. Then, after about a year, that person will have a better understanding of what to look for, says Carr.
Because no amount of training can address every possible task or situation for a new manager or executive, the education process has to be as thorough as possible.
“We go through extensive training with these people,” Carr says. “I actually have an exact replica of what my store looks like inside my office. It’s got the lobby and all the point-of-sale software so they are in the environment that they’re going to walk into. It is exactly the same — the waiting room, the counters, the whole thing.”
Carr has employees play the roles of customers during training sessions, both good customers as well as mean ones.
“We banter with the trainees to see how they are going to handle that particular situation,” he says. “We are in a lousy business. People are already walking in thinking we are crooks if they are a first-time customer. You just try to deal with it the best you can. If we screw up the car, you say that you were wrong, you take it back in, you fix it.”
Build an image of a cheerful giver
Companies that have become a better corporate citizen in the community are not likely to abandon those efforts, as the good will they achieve can’t be bought at any price. That good will can be especially beneficial in an industry segment that has taken its licks over the years.
And while Carr says a company can offer any number of promotions, those that have staying power in a consumer’s mind are optimal.
“I have a tremendous heart for single moms,” he says. “We hold a nationwide day for free oil changes for single moms. We served over 1,000 people last year. We hope to make it double what it was last year.”
Such events build the image and the brand of your company, but it can’t just be the event. Your core values of honesty and integrity have to be woven into the event or it may come across the wrong way and damage your image more than it will help it.
“It is not to get business,” Carr says. “It’s just to show who we are as a company and who I am as the leader of this company.”
Hosting philanthropic events making contributions and donations to the community result in positive feelings about the company not just from the community but from the employees, as well. Carr says Christian Brothers give away 10 percent of what it grosses across the entire company, donating to charities and other organizations.
“On the 30th of the month, when I call the controller and ask how much money do we have in the account to give, that’s the day I am the happiest,” Carr says. “I love it. I just love it.
“If you give from your heart, He blesses you 100-fold, and that’s what He has done with me.”
How to reach: Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., (281) 870-8900 or www.cbac.com
The Carr File
President and CEO
Christian Brothers Automotive Corp.
Born: Syracuse, N.Y.
Education: I barely made it out of high school. There were 32 kids in my class and I graduated in the top 30. I skinned out, although I did get accepted at three of the top art schools in the Northeast.
What was your first job?
I had a paper route when I was about 10. I used to clean toilets in a bar before I went to school in the morning, and I was a garbage collector on the back of a truck because I refused to collect unemployment. I also delivered fuel oil in upstate New York in 20 degrees below zero weather.
Whom do you admire in business?
Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines is one of the smartest businesspeople that I read about. The guy is so smart. All his planes are the same. The maintenance is low. He treats people well. It’s not flying first class, but they treat you well. The customer service, everybody’s got a smile. Nobody likes to fly anyway, but I just think that his whole philosophy, his whole concept of business and his making it so practical in the industry – he’s the only one out there that’s profitable. I also admire Lee Iacocca. He took something that was a mess and turned it into something that was good. I think that is why I like what I do. I’m trying to take something that is really crummy and make it into something decent. And it works so far.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
My dad said to me, ‘Mark, credit is everything. Pay your bills, pay your employees and pay yourself last.’ I think that’s been really good advice. The credit has gotten us where we are – never defaulting on any loans. He was right. I have paid myself last, and not very much. There wasn't much left. But it took care of the employees.
What is your definition of business success?
It’s not size. It’s getting to a point where you don’t have to worry about paying your bills, you don’t have to look over your shoulder to worry that something is going to come up that you did dishonestly. You really enjoy getting up in the morning and going to the office. And if it is one employee or 1,000, it doesn’t really matter. Just because you are bigger doesn't mean you are more profitable – if you make $1 million a year and your expenses are $999,999, you didn't make any money.