A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.
“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.
Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.
Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.
As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.
Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.
Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.
Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.
This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”
That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.
So why write a book?
One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”
As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?
Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.
And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.
Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.
Angie Hicks is pleased to note that new categories get created all the time on the eponymous website Angie’s List, where consumers go to find reliable and recommended local service professionals in fields from home improvement to health care. In fact, she lists one category that is particularly representative.
“There are categories today where services didn't even used to exist,” she says. “My favorite is the pooper-scooper industry — someone to come and clean up after your dog. There was no such thing in 1995 when Angie’s List was launched.”
But that is only the tip of the iceberg that’s one of the biggest consumer website success stories. Revenues for fiscal year 2012 were up 73 percent to $155.8 million. More than 1,000 are employed at the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis.
While that may be impressive itself, Angie’s List earlier this year tallied its 2 millionth household subscription, which was secured 18 months after the 1 million mark was reached. In contrast, it took 16 years for the first million to sign up.
Hicks, who punctuates her upbeat conversations with “Exactly!” “Absolutely!” “Yup!” and “Right!” is more than the face of the company’s television commercials. As well as the founder, she is the chief marketing officer with an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from DePauw University.
She spoke with Smart Business about the success of Angie’s List, and how an emphasis on quality makes the service stand above other business reviewing services.
Q: What was the motivation for founding Angie’s List?
A: We [she and CEO Bill Oesterle] started 18 years ago in Columbus, Ohio, and it came out of when Bill was trying to renovate an old house and was having trouble with a service company. He was familiar with a referral business that had been around in Indianapolis that he had used and started looking around and realized it was unique just to Indianapolis. So we started our own version of that company, and then about a year later I ended up buying Unified Neighbors, the Indianapolis company.
We named it Columbus Neighbors at first, which was kind of our spinoff of Unified Neighbors, but what we realized over time was that people just didn't realize that the list was dynamic. This was pre-Internet days so we were a call-in service in our magazine. We decided to rename it. It was going to be named after one of our friends' mother named Jackie who just knew everybody in town and everything in town. So in many ways, she kind of represented what we were attempting to do.
Then at the last minute, Angie's List was suggested. Bill was a big proponent for it. ‘OK, she is the only employee,’ he said. ‘It certainly makes the story easier.’ Women today control the home checkbook, so it makes sense that it had a female name.
Q: Has your brand goal evolved over the years?
A: Our brand goal has always been the same — to help consumers find top rated local service providers and especially in the high cost of failure services. For example, going out to dinner, they could undo my dinner. It's not a big expense. It’s not impacting me as much as if I hire plumbers and they do work wrong; it floods my kitchen and I am out time and effort.
So were really focused on those. We started in the home improvement categories; we expanded into auto repair, pet care, lawn care, and most recently the health care industry. So far we have opted not to review attorneys, but it is something that gets talked about. I mean it would work just like any of the other reviews in that kind of situation. There is certainly opportunity.
Q: You recently made TV commercials and the exposure has been successful, even playing a part in reaching the 2 million subscriber mark this spring. Can you describe your marketing strategy?
A: It wasn't until we introduced our current ad creative that it really changed. I have only been in the TV commercials for the last couple of years or so. Before that, I would do media and things like that. But it's certainly different now that we have the TV commercials running.
Public relations was always a part of our marketing mix. We started as local marketers. We would open our offices city by city. We usually received good PR in the market as we were opening. It always was a great boost. There would be an article in the daily paper or a TV opportunity. Those were always important for us.
Then it was about probably 2005 or 2006 when we had enough markets open that it made economic sense for us to start advertising nationally versus locally. You obviously get some scale when you do that. We were looking for an alternative to the daily newspapers, so cable television became the vehicle that we tried and have been successful with. So that was the switch. Our marketing mix includes television, radio, online and some print. It's working well.
Q: Angie’s List promotes its reviews as high quality. Explain your thinking on that. Isn’t that hard to ensure?
A: I think the big differentiator at Angie's List is the focus on the quality of the reviews. We do not accept anonymous reviews. So you are known to Angie's List as well as the company you are reviewing. I think there should be accountability in what you say because people are using this information to make important decisions.
Obviously we have members who are driving the reviews that drive the ratings for the companies, so based on the fact that we have a deep relationship with them because they are members, there are also plenty of ways that we can run algorithms against the data to make sure we've got high quality reviews. If ever a review gets tripped in that process, we actually have a team of people that will look at that review.
One of the most common complaints we get is that service companies don't return phone calls. That is something that we see as an opportunity to make it better.
A consumer can give a review in a scenario like that. Since there wasn't work done it's not weighted as heavy as when work is actually done so if they just come and mess up the plumbing work it is different from should they not return your phone call.
But it is still important as customer service feedback so the company can be alerted to that information. They are welcome to respond to the concern and make improvements to their business, based on that.
Their rating is an average of the reports of the reviews they receive, so each report counts — just like a school report card. There is an A through F scale, and the search request is also returned based on the grade.
Q: Are there ever any fraudulent reviews?
A: Every once in a while we will find one. We will find a company that tried to report on itself. There is a cost for that. A, we are very good at finding it when that happens because of our system. B, the cost is that we will stop returning the company in searches. If they are a plumber, we will stop returning them in searches for plumbers. That can be very costly because it is not unusual for us to drive a large portion of a company's business. A company never leaves the list. So if people look for the company by name, they could see it but, if somebody just searched for ‘Angie's List I need a plumber,’ the name won’t show up.
Q: How do you keep your employees motivated and on the same page to carry out of the brand promise of Angie's List?
A: We spend a lot of time focused on culture. I am a firm believer that good culture doesn't just happen; you have to cultivate it. We empower our employees to do what is right to help the consumers and focus on core ideas. Take your work very seriously; don't take yourself too seriously. Be honest. Be frugal. It is just those basic things. It's both by talking about it and also leading by example that creates that kind of culture.
Q: What do you foresee on the horizon? What are you working on in your R&D department?
A: There are a couple of things. One is continuing to expand our member base, making sure that consumers are finding the best companies they can, but we are also spending time thinking about ways that we can help improve the interaction between consumers and service companies: ‘Here is the company that I want to call or want to get in contact with. How can Angie's List help facilitate that communications cycle?’ Getting a quote, getting it scheduled, that whole process. So we are spending a lot of time thinking about the real opportunities there.
How to reach: Angie’s List, (888) 888-5478 or www.angieslist.com
The Hicks List
Founder and chief marketing officer
Born: Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Family: Mother of three children and lives with her husband in Fishers, Ind.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from DePauw University, in Greencastle, Ind., which named her a 2007 Distinguished Alumni for Management and Entrepreneurship. Master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School.
Awards: In addition to the distinguished alumni award from DePauw University, she was named a Torchbearer Award winner in March 2009 by the Indiana Commission for Women in recognition of her entrepreneurial accomplishments and for providing a positive example of the influence women have on their community and the state of Indiana.
She is nationally known as a consumer expert. She has raised awareness to attempts to gag consumers from freely discussing customer service experiences; pitfalls in the real estate industry; and home improvement safety. Hicks has issued calls for action in several areas, including health problems caused by lead paint, radon and mold. She is also an advocate for accountability and fairness in the consumer ratings and reviews niche.
She currently serves on the DePauw University Board of Visitors. Hicks also is a co-founder and past member of the Board of Directors of The Governor Bob Orr Indiana Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program, which provides a two-year fellowship at an Indianapolis-area business to graduates of Indiana colleges and universities or Indiana residents.
On her competition:
There are certainly online players, but I always remind people that if you add up all the online players, it is still very small to the total service industry. We follow a very old-fashioned way of doing things — you literally just ask your neighbors, you ask your coworkers, things like that. We collect about 65,000 consumer reviews each month covering more than 550 home and health services.
“Save your breath.”
My mother used to say this to me when I was desperately trying to explain my way out of a situation. In her view, the more I tried to explain, the more worked up I got, the less she was interested in my argument because she knew it was flimsy.
I believe the same philosophy holds true in business — and in relationships too, for that matter.
Maurice Saatchi, cofounder of the famed New York ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi used to say, “If you can’t reduce your argument to a few crisp words and phrases, there’s something wrong with your argument.”
My mother would have agreed with him.
Save time by honing your thoughts and streamlining your written words in all situations. Not only is this a worthy trait — but you will be heard. You’ll save time too.
The power of “no”
Should you learn to say “No?”
“No” is so very easy to say. With that simple syllable, you can safely obstruct change, thwart action, seize power, and slow things down.
No isn’t rebellion. It’s a status quo power grab, and it comes from fear.
“Yes” is the real rebellion. It’s harder to say because it involves innovation, responsibility, creativity, achievement and thought. Yes is ingenuous, strident, candid, open.
Say yes as much as you can.
But the word “why” is always valid.
Asking why is always appropriate. And it isn’t asked enough.
Why gets to the heart of any decision you or your organization makes. It’s too easy to assume the answer. And too simple to believe that “because we’ve always done it that way” is the right reason this time around. It isn’t, because the game changes every day.
Ask why this is the way we operate. Ask why we need to meet. Why did you decide no? Why is this our goal, our forecast, our policy, our plan?
Always ask why and wait for the real, not the flip or the most convenient answer. Do it because the real answer matters.
Have the goal of fewer meetings
That means dealing with the fact that the modern office is an interruption factory.
In the age of centralized files and costly office equipment, it made sense for people to work and collaborate in centralized workplaces. Today, that logic no longer applies. We actually need fewer meetings and interruptions to get more work done. That means, more work done remotely.
According to The New York Times, for example, an average office demands 5.6 hours per week in meetings — of which 71 percent of us report as being unproductive. Why do this to ourselves?
The truth is, the most fundamental reason we have not shifted away from the office is because we are stuck on the appearance of an office culture.
Who do you spend your time with? Take a closer look at those who surround you, personally and professionally. Choose your peers, mentors, friends, and advocates carefully — especially in the workplace.
It really is all about your energy. Once energy is added to any situation, it has to continue. You learned this natural law in high school physics class. But this law is just as true in our dealings with others.
When you get cut off in traffic and get angry, negative energy increases. When you provide encouraging words to someone, positive energy expands.
Communicate negative energy and very likely, you will receive even more negativity back. Only rarely will negative energy be calmly acknowledged and the situation neutralized. (When this happens, aren’t you impressed — and feel calmer yourself?)
Being aware of the energy you express. Add to the positive. Work to diffuse the negative without escalating.
Your energy can dramatically shift the outcome of your communications.
David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com
Some leaders take an “old school” approach to change management — employees get a paycheck, so they’ll deal with any changes without a need for much explanation. But that sets the organization on a path toward failure.
“The biggest problems are when leadership does not account for the fact that resistance is definitely an option,” says Mark Deans, practice leader in Organizational Development & Change Management at Sequent.
“You could build a perfectly streamlined business process, or add the most efficient tool, but if employees don’t understand how to execute it to meet your expectations, it’s not going to succeed. Try as you might, you can’t make people do things,” Deans says.
Smart Business spoke with Deans about ways to ensure successful implementation of a change process.
What is involved in change management?
It’s supporting a change in business processes or systems, technology, etc. The practice of change management applies to any significant change in an organization, including leadership change as part of an acquisition or divestiture. It’s about how employees are supported through the change process.
The methodology is that there is a journey the organization, departments and individuals go through, and each has a completely different time path. Two people might do the same job, but each has his or her own change capability, and it’s a matter of identifying and managing all of those within an organization to make the change as seamless as possible.
How does the change process work its way through an organization?
First and foremost, leadership must be on the same page. Start with getting leaders aligned so they can be the driving force behind the change, helping each individual understand his or her part.
Organizations are taking a more holistic view nowadays. A change might mean more work for some departments but provides an overall net benefit for the organization. It used to be that each silo fought for its own interests. Now, it’s about how departments operate together, and some teams taking a hit if necessary to ensure the overall organization is as successful as possible.
One of the first steps is acknowledging the need to change, and the benefits. There should be some compelling reason, whether it’s regulatory changes, an attempt to improve market share or boost the bottom line. If the overarching goal is to improve margins, explain what that means for each group, and ultimately for each individual. You have to manage change upfront and get everyone onboard at the start rather than waiting for problems. It’s analogous to going to the dentist. If you see your dentist on a regular basis, keep your teeth clean and get X-rays, you can catch cavities when they start and are easier to fix, instead of not going for a long time and having major damage. The same holds true for change management, if you start a project and haven’t thought about how to communicate it to employees, going back and fixing it is much more difficult.
Is it important to state a desired outcome?
Absolutely. That is where some companies fail as well. They make a change and aren’t sure why. A company buys hundreds of iPads as part of a mobile technology strategy without addressing the intended use. So people are updating their Facebook status or playing Angry Birds because they don’t have a burning business reason to utilize these tools. That might be a ridiculous example, but there are plenty of cases in which companies want to hurry up and do something because it’s a shiny, new object.
You also need to accept it if a change didn’t work. Evaluate the success of the change, including what happened and didn’t happen as planned. Change projects always take longer and cost more than expected. Organizations that handle change well go back and figure out what they did well, and what could have been done differently. Then they remediate anything that did not get executed as well as planned. They learn from the experience so the process can be improved next time.
Mark Deans is a practice leader in Organizational Development & Change Management at Sequent. Reach him at (614) 410-6028 or email@example.com.
Website: Visit our website to understand how to successfully incorporate change at your company.
Insights HR Consulting is brought to you by Sequent
You will never get it all done!
My first job out of grad school was managing one product line, no people and a “to do” list that was a mile long.
I remember breaking down to my dad one night, who at that time was a bank executive who managed multiple divisions, hundreds of people and a lot more responsibility than I could ever comprehend. I was beyond frustrated working 70+ hour work weeks yet I couldn’t manage to get everything done, and my to-do list kept growing!
That’s when Dad gave me some of the best advice that I have ever received. He said, “David, they don’t pay you to get it all done. They pay you to get the most important things done.” Wow! That simple phrase changed my life.
Let me clarify by saying that some jobs, entry level specifically, do warrant the employee to get everything done; all phones need to be answered, hamburgers cooked, etc. prior to leaving for the day.
But as we begin to move up the ranks of responsibility we don’t want to take this mentality with us. When we are managing people, places or things, the options of what we spend our time on grows exponentially. We can conduct training, print a new catalogue, go to a meeting ... the list goes on and on.
Learn to focus
So many options and requests on our time and soon, we find that we can never get it all done. This is why it is imperative that as we grow in our positions, we learn to focus on the right things.
The power of prioritization is undeniable in terms of your future success and in order to be exponentially successful, you must learn how to differentiate time management from prioritization.
Peter Drucker says it best: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Don’t waste your energy just crossing things off your “to do” list. Instead, spend some time prioritizing. Then pour your energy into the projects and tasks that you have deemed to be the most important things to complete today.
In the early days of Defender, I was a young entrepreneur obsessed with thoughts about how I could grow our business. As Defender grew, our team members were presented with new opportunities everywhere we turned.
While sometimes it was hard to turn away from an opportunity to sell what was presented as the “next big thing,” early on I took a step back to really evaluate our business. Every time we said yes to a new idea or product, it meant more training, more options, more complexity.
Stay in focus
Success does create more and new opportunities, but that means we must stay focused say no more often! Otherwise, our team and focus will fragment and slow us down.
I hear so many stressed out business leaders say, “But it’s all important!” However, by definition, if everything is important, then nothing is important.
If you want to be the leader of a high performance, fast-growth business, then your No. 1 job is to figure out what is most important and to "keep the main thing as the main thing."
Still, today I divide my to-do list into A,B,C and D priorities and every morning I write my top three A priorities on a Post-It note, which I carry with me throughout the day as a reminder to keep me focused.
If each day I can get my top three most important things done amongst the chaos of life, I figure I'll have a pretty successful life.
Remember, there will always be more things to do than there is time to do them. You’ll never get it all done and your “to do” list will never be empty. Let this philosophy release you from the stress of trying to get it all done and put that new energy into getting the right things done today.
Recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious business award programs, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards celebrate gravity-defying innovators who build and run great companies. This June, we gather here and in 24 other cities across the U.S. to honor all of our regional finalists and welcome the award recipients from the class of 2013 into our Hall of Fame.
Entrepreneurs change the world and make it a better place to work and live. We honor them for their fortitude and resilience, and we celebrate their ability to forge new markets, navigate uncharted territory and fuel economic growth.
Congratulations to this year’s finalists and winners for their unyielding pursuit of business excellence. We are honored to share their inspiring stories with you.
Todd E. Novak
Midwest program director
Consumer Products and Services
Family Business Award of Excellence
Private Equity/Venture Capital Backed
James Reynolds, Jr.
T. Scott Law saw the trends developing as medical billing continued to get more and more complicated. Thinking there had to be a better way he set out to improve the medical delivery process for medical practices by founding Zotec Partners in 1998 as a solution.
Now, insurance submissions and rejection appeals, which in the past had taken upwards of 13 minutes to prepare, can be completed more accurately in seconds using Zotec’s advanced Electronic Billing Center software programming and client-focused support personnel.
Zotec has functioned as both a software licensor and a billing service provider, though these two arms originally operated independently. Clients could choose to only license the software, or they could also choose to partner with Zotec’s billing services team.
After working under this model for many years, Law recognized that there was room for improvement. Clients that chose only to license the EBC software were not achieving the level of efficiency he knew could be reached by Zotec’s services team.
Relying on a billing team at Law’s small start-up company that had yet to build a recognizable brand was understandably not palatable for clients. They were comfortable using the EBC software, but Law felt there was a greater method to help improve client bottom lines.
Over time, Zotec has earned its clients’ trust, primarily due to Law’s continual focus on providing a quality software product and personalized experience. In 2007, Law believed that his company had generated enough credibility and was ready to be taken in a completely new direction. He shifted Zotec to a “bundle” approach, where clients could no longer license the software separately from the service.
By providing a bundled offering with consultative services included, all clients now have access to an experienced billing expert who can provide guidance and support.
Customer reaction to this has been extremely positive, and client bottom-lines improved dramatically as a result.
How to reach: Zotec Partners, www.zotecpartners.com
Industrial and Distribution
When Peter C. Anthony took over as president and CEO of UGN, Inc., the first action he took was indicative of his philosophy. He changed the company's term of "employee" to "team member."
His philosophy was that everyone at UGN is part of the same family, or team. In a complex manufacturing process such as that at UGN, a manufacturer of high quality interior trim, soundproofing and thermal insulating products for auto manufacturers, every member is vital, and he wanted people to feel that way.
Anthony’s commitment to inclusiveness is also demonstrated in the transparency in which he runs the company. Every month, he shares a copy of the P&L statement to the entire team. His goal is to connect people directly with the product of their labor.
Anthony recognizes it is often difficult for a team member, who performs one specific job, to see how he or she contributes to the company's success. When he shares the company's financial performance with everyone, it demonstrates his belief that every member of the team plays a part in UGN's success.
On a weekly basis, Anthony sits down and has a brown bag lunch with team members in the factory.
One of the greatest challenges faced during his tenure as CEO was the 2009 recession. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the company's orders disappeared. The recession brought an opportunity for Anthony to truly flex his entrepreneurial muscle. He guided the company through the recession using the following key concepts: all management took pay cuts across the board; new cross-training programs for team members were developed; and work weeks were shortened rather than issuing layoffs.
Within four months, Anthony guided the company back into profitable territory.
Another challenge was the Japanese tsunami in 2011, which halted Japanese auto production almost immediately. UGN offered furloughs with paid benefits rather than mass layoffs. The strategy proved highly successful, and resulted in strong retention.
How to reach: UGN, Inc., www.ugnauto.com
Brian Spaly thought the world was ready for a brand new men’s shopping experience.
He had an idea that would be unique in the retail clothing industry. As members of Trunk Club, men discover clothes that are perfect for them without actually visiting a store — the clothes arrive in a trunk.
While his timing was not the best — starting a company during the height of the recession is hard enough — adding to that was trying to launch a company that sells luxury goods for men in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Despite the odds, Spaly would not be deterred.
With no proven track record, he had to work hard to negotiate favorable terms from designers and clothing vendors. Fortunately, he was able to overcome this challenge by working largely with his former company, Bonobos, a retailer of men’s clothes, as well as his contacts within the retail industry.
Trunk Club members are connected with a stylist, who uses their measurements, tastes in clothing, and personality to pick out clothing, which is shipped to the customer in a “trunk.” The styling service is all free of charge. It’s an “on approval” arrangement; the member tries on the clothes and purchases only what he likes.
Trunk Club has grown from one employee to 150 employees since its 2009 creation. Spaly has developed an apprenticeship structure that is common in professional services firms. His stylist team consists of stylists, senior stylists and managers. A senior stylist oversees eight-12 stylists and a manager will oversee two to four senior stylists.
Spaly pays more than the going rate for employee salaries and Trunk Club offers full benefits to its team. The result has been little to no turnover. The majority of employees have come to Trunk Club through referrals of current employees. The company promotes a very diverse and inclusive work environment.
How to reach: Trunk Club, www.trunkclub.com