Los Angeles (1224)

To manage the risk of loss to commercial property, business owners can self-insure (absorbing any losses), transfer the risk to someone else or buy insurance. But not everyone is insurance savvy, understanding exactly how property is covered and what triggers coverage.

“When it comes to business building and personal property coverage, it’s important to have an insurance broker who takes you through the what ifs,” says David Oliver, senior vice president at Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc. “If the broker understands exactly what assets you have, what you do, how you do it and where you do it, you should have the proper coverage, insured for the right values.”

Smart Business spoke with Oliver about insuring for the correct perils, before it’s time to make a claim.

What types of business property insurance are available?

A named peril policy covers only specified perils; a basic or broad form policy will cover a longer list of specified perils; and special form covers anything that is not specifically limited or excluded. Most businesses start with a special form policy. Then, if it excludes something you want to cover, you can buy off the exclusion or have it added for an additional premium. Other times, you’ll need to buy a separate policy, such as a difference in conditions or builders risk policy, to cover that risk.

Usually a property policy covers direct physical loss or damage to the building and/or personal property at a certain named location(s). However, if you have a business where you’re moving around, touring or traveling, you can get an inland marine floater to cover property. This can be added as an endorsement to a business property policy or bought separately, and isn’t designated to one premises. It’s essentially floating, so you have coverage no matter where it goes. It also might have broader coverage, such as earthquake and flood.

What’s typically covered on property policies?

Sometimes, when you go to court, if a policy is silent on a particular peril, it may be deemed covered. Judges tend to lean in favor of the insured, especially in California.

It is critical to understand what your policy excludes. The policies are usually definitive when they tell you what’s not covered; they want you to know what the exclusions are. Where they may tend to be vague is in the area of what is covered. Basically, the policy covers actual, unintentional physical loss to the asset, such as if there’s a fire or something gets broken, vandalized or stolen.

How can business owners make sure they have the right coverage?

Read your policy carefully to understand what’s excluded, covered and not covered. Policies are complicated, so this is where a good broker helps. Make sure that whatever you think you’re buying the insurance for is actually covered. Usually, you can get a business personal property policy endorsed to cover excluded perils like earthquake sprinkler leakage, even though you can’t get full earthquake coverage.

When it comes to triggering coverage, insurers look for the proximate cause. If what directly caused the damage is covered, then you have a claim. You may not have earthquake insurance, but if an earthquake broke a gas main, which caused a fire, you’d have coverage for fire-damaged equipment. The policy needs to insure for the cost to repair, rebuild or replace something.

Many policies have a coinsurance clause. For example, if you have $1 million worth of property with an 80 percent coinsurance, that policy requires you have at least $800,000 in insurance. If you’re not insured to that percentage, your claim is reduced proportionally.

Another mistake may be not insuring for replacement cost, but actual cash value. So, if you bought something 10 years ago with an eight-year useful life, you may get next to nothing in actual cash value. Replacement cost allows you to replace it with like kind and quality, even if that’s more than what you originally paid. For example, a five-year-old specialty lighting fixture might be replaced with a newer model, costing more than the originally damaged, obsolete and no longer manufactured fixture.

These details are why having the right broker helping you take care of your property exposures will save you money in the long run.

David Oliver is senior vice president at Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc. Reach him at (818) 933-2297 or doliver@mmibi.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc.

It was Daymond John, CEO of FUBU and an investor on the ABC reality TV series “Shark Tank,” who famously said, “An entrepreneur must pitch a potential investor for what the company is worth as well as sell the dream on how much of a profit can be made.”

But no amount of passion from an entrepreneur, or even an established business owner, can fully quell the nerves that come with pitching before a group of investors. Everything from the length of the PowerPoint presentation to what you wear is heavily scrutinized, and there is no guarantee that every business will receive funding on the first pitch.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to pitching, so before you go in for the final presentation, focus on prepping yourself in the following four areas.

Keep it short and sweet

This applies to every aspect of your presentation. From your elevator pitch — one minute, maximum — to the PowerPoint presentation you’ve prepared. While it’s important to get investors to notice the problems your business can solve or the needs it will meet, adding tons of detail clutters and hurries the pitch. Keep it simple, clean and straight to the point.

As well-known entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” investor Mark Cuban told The Washington Post, “When it comes to business, there is a simple scorecard. Are you making money or are you not making money? Are you succeeding or are you not? So when you go to raise money, always, always catch yourself and eliminate the backstory.”

Don’t over-disclose upfront

Knowing the financial figures behind your business is important, but there’s no need to share all of your exact numbers at the outset. Instead, show a commitment to metrics and analytics.

Investor Mark Cohen says that while measuring metrics is not easy to do, it’s important to believe in the value of what the metrics will reveal and be willing to adapt to what is uncovered.

Be specific about your strategies

As mentioned before, entrepreneurs need to be in tune with the problem their business is solving or the needs it is meeting. Prep your strategies beforehand and know what you’re working on today and how you anticipate growth in the future. It’s also important to know your market and customer base and what they think of the product or service — specifically if they recognize that your company is solving a problem for them that they would be willing to pay for.

Ask questions!

The average window for a pitch meeting with investors is about 10 to 15 minutes. So once you’ve confidently and passionately knocked out the “three magical P’s,” which according to investment banker Gary Spirer including people, product and potential, it’s time to ask questions of your own.

What is the investor’s specific investment strategy? How does the investor typically structure investment in a company? Is the investor focused on a particular industry, business size and/or growth rate? How does the investor get involved in the business after an investment?

Remember that once the pitch is over the only bad question to ask is no question. So be sure to grill your potential investors!

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com, a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark and copyright filing services. For more information, please visit www.mycorporation.com or follow on Twitter at @MyCorporation

After 50 years working with a range of companies — as well as founding and running my own company, J.D. Power and Associates — I have learned a lot about what it takes to succeed in business.

The businesses I’ve seen grow, adapt and thrive are the ones that keep a focus on satisfying customers. They listen to customers, anticipate their needs and desires, and maintain these traits as core principles for how the business should operate.

Whether I’m speaking with business school students or seasoned executives, I focus on five basic lessons that have been helpful to me and to others I have observed throughout my business career.

Take the time to listen

I have witnessed too many companies move further away from achieving satisfied customers by refusing to listen to them.

Back in the 1980s, Peugeot was trying to expand its share of the American car market but was unwilling to listen to customer complaints about difficulties starting the company’s advanced fuel-injected cars. Customers saw this as a quality issue, but Peugeot held fast, confident that fuel injection was superior from an engineering standpoint.

No doubt Peugeot was right, but by not listening and adapting to customers, those customers were lost. By the early 1990s, Peugeot had abandoned the American market.

Remember who the client is

In a B2B world, it is the organization or business you serve, not just the man or woman sitting across from you. This is important from two perspectives. It is critical that you not serve the desires of the representative assigned to work with you to the disservice of the organization.

On the flip side, you must feel empowered to not let that person become an obstacle to the organization receiving the information necessary to take full advantage of your services.

Relationships matter

Relationships are what life and business are all about. They need to be built on a foundation of respect and trust, not just friendship. I never approached business relationships as requiring glad-handing or wining and dining. In the beginning, I simply couldn’t afford it.

As J.D. Power’s success widened, I found that true relationships with executives came from providing them with the clear, actionable information they needed to do their jobs, not time on the golf course.

Be willing to alter your point of view

Don’t be afraid to take a counterintuitive position in order to generate better ideas. The Jesuit education I received at the College of the Holy Cross provided a basis in questioning the status quo, a trait that has served me well.

Don’t “torture the data till it confesses”

Don’t be blind to all but the good news you may want to hear. Consciously or subconsciously interpreting information that comes across your desk in a way that supports past decisions, rather than illuminates needed improvement, is shortsighted. It won’t bring you closer to the satisfied customers who will ultimately dictate your success.  

Dave Power is the founder of J.D. Power and Associates, a global market research company based in Westlake Village, Calif. The book about his 50 years in the auto industry, “Power: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History” is now available. For more information, visit

Amber Cox has never had a bad day working at California Pizza Kitchen. That doesn’t mean every day is free of stress or that she never faces situations that require her to step out of her comfort zone.

As a bartender at one of CPK’s new prototype restaurants that recently opened at Westfield Topanga Mall in Canoga Park, Calif., Cox often has to think fast to keep things moving.

“I have a regular who comes in quite often,” says Cox, who started bartending at the Topanga location in July and rapidly moved up to become the bar trainer. “When he does order, it’s usually on the complicated side. There was one occasion where he asked us to do something that we actually don’t do.”

Cox dashed back to the kitchen and found the expediter that night. She mentioned that this was a regular guest who brings lots of business to the restaurant and added that it was important to her personally that CPK find a way to take care of this guest and his request.

“The expediter was like, ‘No problem. What do you need?’” Cox says. “The guest was touched that the expediters, the managers and the servers were all rallying together to make sure he got exactly what it was that he needed. That kind of thing happens so often at this store and that’s why I love it.”


Let personality shine through

The experience between Cox and this particular patron is an example of the culture that G.J. Hart envisioned for CPK when he became CEO in August 2011. He wants employees who are more focused on guest satisfaction and less concerned about following a mental checklist each time a guest walks into the restaurant.

“Think about your favorite restaurant that you frequent often,” Hart says. “Why do you do that? Inevitably, the answer is not food first. It’s because they know who you are. It’s the old ‘Cheers’ model. They give you this great experience, it feels great, they know who you are and oh, by the way, the food is good.”

So how do you build a culture where employees are eager to find ways to satisfy your customers and can do it with a smile? It begins with letting people bring their natural personalities to work.

“We hire people because we like them, we like what they are saying and we like how we feel when we speak to them,” says Matthew Ross, an assistant general manager at the Topanga CPK. “When you hire them for that, and then you turn around and go into a service model where it’s, ‘Do these nine steps exactly this way,’ you’re contradicting the whole point. It’s a lot easier to say, ‘Hey, we really like you. Bring that to the table.’”

Lauren Rose, who works with Ross and Cox and has been with CPK for about three years, remembers what it was like before Hart arrived. She says the new way of doing things has made a big difference for everyone.

“It’s way less robotic,” Rose says. “We used to have a script that we would say when we went up to a table that included offering a specific starter, an alcoholic beverage and a non-alcoholic beverage. We’re supposed to move past that now and become more comfortable with the guests and really make them feel like they are getting their own personalized experience.”

The effort to make CPK more and more appealing with each visit stretches beyond the guest experience at the table. Rose says employees are engaged in all aspects of the way CPK does business.

“We’ve had new uniforms, improvements in our menu and one of the most recent changes of adding gluten-free pizza dough, which we highly anticipated,” Rose says. “The company is always evolving and does a great job of figuring out what interests people and how to keep them coming back. CPK is becoming way more modern and is reaching out to a younger demographic.”


Talk about what works

Building leaders in your organization comes down to the same principles, whether you’re a chain of pizza restaurants, a manufacturer, a marketing firm or any other kind of business.

“It’s really about wandering around your troops,” Ross says. “I like to wander around and go from group to group, table to table, or from the bar to the back of the house and to the dish area. I’m just wandering around to get a feel for what’s happening in the restaurant. The more you spend time with the staff and speak to them before their shift, during their shift and after, they’ll tell you more and more and share with you.”

Ross has identified a couple of people at his restaurant who have leadership potential just by the way they act when they are at work.

“Nobody has any idea that these two would want to move forward,” Ross says. “They don’t tell anyone anything about it. They don’t particularly coach others. But I can see it in them. I can see the light. That’s where the leadership of management comes in. You start to move in their direction and say, ‘How would you like to run the safety committee? How would you like to do a walk-through of the restaurant with me and see how things really operate?’ It’s that light that comes on in their eyes. You can see it right away.”

Another part of it is having open conversations with employees about what they are doing right and why it’s working so well.

“You just say, ‘Lauren, tell us how you sold so many desserts last Friday? How are you speaking to your guests to get so many compliments? Or Amber, how are you driving these repeat guests in a store that has only been open for four months?,’” Ross says. “That’s attributed to their happiness on the job and leads to their ability to teach others and they always jump at the chance to do that.”

CPK plans to continue to roll out its new “de-chained” restaurant model and Cox says she can’t wait to see what happens next.

“This is the first company that has made me stop and go, ‘Wow, I actually have a potential future here,’” Cox says. “All the managers I talk to love what they do and I haven’t had a single experience yet that has dissuaded me from wanting to further my career with this company. I’ve had nothing but encouragement from my management staff and all the other higher-ups I’ve had the opportunity to interact with.”

Execution has been and will continue to be the key, Ross says.

“The line of demarcation has been broken down,” Ross says. “G.J. invites our employees to have lunch with him and have meetings with the corporate teams. There is just this exchange of information, ideas and feelings that just was not there before. It’s a pleasure to see it unfold and see all the things they talk about happen.” 


How to reach: California Pizza Kitchen Inc., (310) 342-5000 or www.cpk.com

G.J. Hart was a big fan of California Pizza Kitchen before he took over as CEO in August 2011. One of the reasons he liked the restaurant chain so much was its willingness to be different from its competitors in the pizza industry.

“It was unique, a place that created a special experience for folks because it dared to be different,” Hart says. “You can’t rest on the status quo in any business, but in this business in particular. It just moves too fast.”

When he arrived at California Pizza Kitchen, Hart, who previously helped Texas Roadhouse grow from $63 million in 1999 to more than $1.2 billion in 2011, saw an organization that wasn’t quite as pioneering as it once was.

“CPK had gone through significant ups and downs, ownership changes and challenges,” Hart says. “It had just morphed to where the innovation wasn’t as forefront and top of mind as it was over the years.”

Hart wanted to get the company back to its innovative roots. He felt CPK and its 13,180 employees were at their best when they stepped out and tried new propositions instead of following a more conservative philosophy.

“I felt it was an iconic brand that had made its way in casual dining in a way that was unique and different than many others,” says Hart, who is also the company’s president and executive chairman.

When CPK opened its first restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1985, it used an open kitchen to prepare hearth-baked pizzas such as The Original BBQ Chicken, Thai Chicken and Jamaican Jerk Chicken. The company has expanded from California to more than 260 locations in more than 30 states and 11 countries, as well as in airports, concession stands at sporting events and the frozen food aisle of grocery stores.

“How do we effectively bring what was the best of CPK and CPK’s history forward and make it relevant today?” Hart says. “I like to say it’s brand evolution and not revolution, which is why we call our strategy the next chapter. It’s really getting people to be open-minded and to use their brains more than going through the motions because it’s worked over the years.”


Build your foundation

Hart’s initial goal at CPK was to talk to people at all levels of the organization. It involved speaking to thousands of employees, as well as managers and general managers in 40 cities over a period of four months. Hart wanted to share his thoughts, but he also wanted to hear what his employees thought about what CPK could be.

“They get to know you by the way you interact with them,” Hart says. “So for me, it’s seeking to understand where they are, where they want to go as individuals, where they feel like we are as an organization and truly listening to them and asking a lot of questions.”

As employees saw how curious Hart was in what they were telling him and how engaged he was, they began to share their feelings.

“As I ask the questions, they’ll sometimes think twice about how to answer,” Hart says. “That leads to the next part, which is, ‘OK, what would you do about this?’ It’s starting to build that collaborative spirit, which is done through communication. And it’s through communication that people start to build trust. Trust is earned over time, it develops and they start to feel more confident.”

In those first encounters, Hart was fully aware that people were trying to get a read on him just as much as he was trying to get to know them.

“There has been a lot written about my leadership beliefs,” Hart says. “Right or wrong, they are mine. I like to take ownership of them.”

When you can be transparent and confident in who you are and can get the people you lead to do the same, you begin to develop a framework to make things happen.

“They test you on that,” Hart says. “It’s like, ‘What are you doing when no one is looking?’ I always feel someone is looking, so the behavior needs to be real and genuine. Once they figure that out, you start to break down barriers and things start to come together.”


Understand what you do

During his first 15 months at the helm of CPK, a lot of time was spent on what Hart likes to call the “blocking and tackling” of the business.

“Are we doing the business fundamentals the correct way?” Hart says. “Are there ways that we need to address hospitality? There were many. Are there things we need to address with the menu and execution? There were many. Do we need to continue to work on being able to deliver guests the experience they deserve for their hard-earned money? There were a number of ways we looked at that.”

The dialogue was ongoing with back-of-the-house employees, front-of-the-house employees, dishwashers, hosts, etc. Summits and roundtables were held to get at the key factors that would separate CPK from its competitors.

One of the results was the creation of a mission statement, something that many organizations have, but don’t follow.

“Most mission statements tend to be too long and diluted,” Hart says. “Ours is pretty easy to understand and people really latched on to it. It talks about passion, being committed to inspire and California creativity. We got people aligned around that and then we started to develop a longer-term strategy based on those near-term needs that we learned.”

A critical component to any company in the restaurant industry is customer service. On paper, it seemed like CPK had an effective system that covered all the bases.

“We had a very structured approach to service,” Hart says. “There are nine steps you take to execute a guest experience once you arrive at a table as a server. ‘My name is so and so and I’ll be your server. Would you like a drink?’ And so on.

“That was great, but it had not evolved over time to have sensitivity for the overall guest. We were treating a couple with two screaming kids the same way we might be treating a couple that was on a date night. That sensitivity got lost because the structure wouldn’t allow it.”

Hart didn’t want CPK customers to get the service they expected. He wanted them to get service that went above and beyond expectation and would resonate with them — to the point that they would want to return and tell their friends and family to check out CPK.

“We started to focus on the overall experience of hospitality,” Hart says. “We went from a sequence of service to being much more sensitized to the guest’s needs. How do we wrap those needs around providing a model that gets them addressed, but still stays focused on the details that matter?”

When Hart talked to employees, he would discuss situations and ask whether a particular action taken in response made sense. It got them thinking. Then he introduced a scenario in which they had just met Hart and a group of his friends who made plans to visit that person’s house for dinner in the near future.

“Let’s go two weeks out and tell me what you might do to prepare for that dinner,” Hart says. “Then I’d go from two weeks to one week to the day of the experience. It wouldn’t take long until they’d say things like, ‘I would make sure I learned more about you and what you might like for dinner.’ I’d say, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ They would say, ‘I want to make you happy.’”

It would continue until employees began to think about what they could do to please customers and no longer think of just a checklist.

“The lights start to go off,” Hart says. “Let’s make it stimulating enough that they want to be part of the solution. When you do that, it starts to make sense and when it makes sense, it’s because you answered the ‘why,’ the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’”


Moving forward

As employees become engaged in more personal customer service, CPK has also started changing physically. The company has opened two new locations as part of its “de-chaining” strategy, which moves away from the “expected, shiny feel of a fast-casual restaurant” to a more local, earthy scheme that is “rustic, organic and relaxed.”

One new location opened in Canoga Park, Calif., another in Sawgrass, Fla., and more locations are in the works under this new model.

“It’s creating discipline and the systems in place to allow, or at least try to allow the voices to be heard,” Hart says. “We’re pretty good at that and we’re getting better over time. It will improve as this collaborative approach is really embraced and understood totally in this environment.” 



  • Ask lots of questions.
  • Give some thought about what you do.
  • Let employees think.


The Hart File:

Name: G.J. Hart
Title: President, CEO and executive chairman
Company: California Pizza Kitchen Inc.

Born: Hilversum, the Netherlands

Education: Business management degree, James Madison University. In 2012, Hart was elected as a charter member of the JMU Hospitality Management Hall of Fame. About receiving the honor, Hart says, “It’s probably one of my proudest moments. You always think about your history and about growing up and I worked through college. It’s cool to be able to be recognized.”

What were some of your earliest jobs and what did you learn from them? I was a Little League umpire, a dishwasher at Howard Johnson’s and then a teller at Kmart. They taught me about being around people and being in the people business. More important than that, is hard work. I’ve never lost sight of the fact that what a lot of folks do every day to make their living is hard, hard work. You have to be willing to pay the price and earn it.

Who has had the biggest influence on you? A fellow who was my first major boss, and who has since passed away of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a big German guy named Jerry Steinpres. I worked for him when I was in the poultry business. He’s a very tough, hard-nosed guy. He was a mentor in a lot of ways because he cared about me and my development. I also learned what not to do.

What is your favorite menu item at CPK? I have lots of favorites, especially since I’m helping to develop some of them, but The Original BBQ Chicken pizza is still my favorite.


California Pizza Kitchen Social Media Links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/californiapizzakitchen
Twitter: @calpizzakitchen


How to reach: California Pizza Kitchen Inc., (310) 342-5000 or www.cpk.com

It’s often easier to put a lot of time and effort into planning for the big problems that can afflict a business. What if our network crashes? What if the big storm knocks out our power for a week? What if something happens to you, the CEO? While it may be easier to come up with these more dramatic scenarios that can hurt your organization, there are a number of seemingly smaller snags that can cause big problems for any business that isn’t prepared.

Cash flow 

A failure to adequately implement a budget leads to a demand for operating cash. The following are questions to help identify preventive measures to mitigate cash flow problems:

  • Is your product or service seasonal? If yes, do you have a plan to generate cash during the slow season?
  • Do you offer discounts to encourage early payment of account receivables?
  • Are your suppliers allowing you additional time to pay for invoices?

Equipment breakdowns

If you fall behind on a solid maintenance program, you could face problems with your equipment.

  • Do you have regularly scheduled maintenance to maintain equipment?
  • Did you purchase a maintenance agreement?
  • Do you have a record of recurring problems?
  • Do you know the estimated life of the equipment?
  • Do you have a plan for a temporary exchange while your equipment is out for repair?

Out of stock inventory

This is a problem caused by poor accounting and unprepared procurement personnel. Here are some questions to help avoid this predicament:

  • Do you compare your inventory level to your sales?
  • Can you obtain your materials and supplies from more than one source?
  • How long does it take suppliers to ship your order?
  • Do you have a local supplier for your most important materials?
  • Do you accept back orders?
  • Are suppliers aware of your ordering policy?
  • Do you have someone in your office assigned to follow up on outstanding purchases and inventory control?

Sales decrease

It is not unusual for an occasional decline in sales during a business cycle. When your industry is experiencing increased sales with a similar product and yours is at a decline, however, it may be time to examine the interpersonal relationship between your sales personnel and customers.

The decline may be due to customers’ dissatisfaction with your salesperson. Remember that customers see your salesperson as “the company.” Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you provide support for your sales force and offer professional development for sales managers?
  • Who trains new managers?
  • Do you have plans for outside consultants to conduct an interpersonal skills in-house workshop?

Dwindling repeat business

Repeat customers are essential to sustain a business. Dwindling repeat business is a human problem, not necessarily a product issue. Here are some things to look at to help you understand why numbers are going in the wrong direction:

  • Do you have a new manager?
  • Did you alter your hours of operation?
  • Is your staff treating customers with respect?
  • What is your return policy?

John O. Alizor, Ph.D. is the founder and president Leadership Forensics Business Inc., and author of “Leadership: Understanding Theory, Style and Practice.” He can be reached at jalizor@dralizorleadership.com or (562) 628-5570.

Thursday, 21 November 2013 15:21

Why you can’t treat social media like a road trip

Written by

The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.

I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.

Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.


A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.


Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.


Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.

As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.


Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at mmarzec@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7078.

When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.

While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.

They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.

And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.

You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?

During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●

What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.

Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.

Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.

Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.

As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.

On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.

In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.

If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.

There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.

Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.

To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●


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. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

More than 800 years ago, medieval philosopher Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity, the greatest of which was supporting an individual in such a way that he or she becomes independent. In Maimonides’ view, support was defined as a gift or loan, entering into a partnership or simply helping that person find employment.

Few things are more powerful than philanthropy — especially when its end goal is to better the lives of others. These days, philanthropy, and corporate philanthropy specifically, has assumed a broader role in society.

Today, companies give back more strategically than ever before. They align themselves with nonprofits that foster missions they believe in. The wealthiest people on the planet have even coordinated the Giving Pledge (www.givingpledge.org), where they’ve committed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

At last count, more than 115 people had taken the pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be the most prominent names on the list, but others include Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert, Progressive’s Peter Lewis and Netflix Founder Reed Hastings.

Last month, one member, David Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, discussed the importance of philanthropy during a presentation at EY’s 2013 Strategic Growth Forum.

In his pledge letter, Rubenstein explains why: “I recognize to have any significant impact on an organization or cause, one must concentrate resources, and make transformative gifts — and to be involved in making certain those gifts actually transform in a positive way.”

One way Rubenstein is being transformative is through “Patriotic Philanthropy.” He has given $10 million to help restore President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and underwrote renovations to the historic Washington Monument. Yet Rubenstein’s most noteworthy initiative is the whopping $23 million to acquire a rare copy of the Magna Carta, ensuring it remained in the United States. After its purchase, Rubenstein gifted it to the National Archives.

Not everyone has Rubenstein’s vast resources. But every organization and any individual can make their own impact.

In the workplace, for example, organizations that give back elevate their status perception-wise among competitors and peers. It doesn’t take much. But by being a company that cares, prospective employees want to work for you. For your existing team, deliberate and well-organized corporate philanthropy programs quickly take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying point.

Think strategically and get started by finding your cause. We all have them. They exist at our very core, forming the belief system we live by every day. So why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow that same course? Consider aligning your giving or volunteerism with something you personally believe in or care about; something that fits with what your company does or something that is close to your employees’ hearts.

Most important, get involved and just make a difference. It really comes down to that. One initiative that has always impressed me has been the annual CreateAthon event undertaken by WhiteSpace Creative, a member of the Pillar Award class of 2005. You can read a first-hand account of this year’s program here.

Being a good corporate citizen goes well beyond making good business sense. When you align yourself with causes you care about, whether big or small, you make a difference in someone’s life. And the bottom line is this: It is all of our duties to get involved. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of what, when and how. ●


Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.