It’s no secret that some companies struggle with creating an effective presence on social media. Navigating the tightrope between overt sales messaging and empty musings is tricky; turn your fans and followers off, and they’ll abandon your page as fast as they can click “unlike.” Inadvertently create a controversy, and, well, the consequences can be ugly (not to mention cached forever, thanks to Google).

The simple fact that most social media is “free” does not mean that we, as business leaders, don’t need to invest in a strategy. While we all know what not to do, it’s much more difficult to create a road map for what will drive engagement across social media.

At Petplan, we integrate our company culture and brand values into our social media activities at every opportunity.

But we don’t just talk about ourselves — we share stories of our fans and family members and invite our community to join in the conversation. We don’t just give news updates; we create destinations that are rich with exclusive content that is truly useful to our community members.

With social media, the driving force behind our approach, as it is with everything else we do, is our core value: Pets come first.

Our approach seems to be working, both in terms of driving incremental traffic to our company and also in raising our profile in traditional media. Two months after creating our Pinterest presence, Social Media Delivered, a social media consulting organization, included Petplan on its list of top 20 companies globally using the site.

Content is king

Content is the currency of social media, so you need to make sure that every tweet, post and pin has value. What makes it worthwhile? If the information you are sharing enables your audience to act on your shared values, it’s worth posting.

For Petplan, that means delivering content that helps people provide the very best for their four-legged family members. It matters to them, and it matters to us — this synergy drives engagement and earns us those ever-important likes, retweets, shares and pins.

Don’t copy, complement

Many businesses make the mistake of putting exactly the same content on all of their social media channels, but this one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.

Each social media site has a distinct character and a unique audience who favors it; if you’re not playing to the medium, chances are you’re missing the message. Share industry and personnel news on LinkedIn, tweet breaking news and updates, post interesting photos and calls to action on Facebook, and pin your most engaging images related to trending topics on Pinterest.

Think of each channel as another facet of your business’s personality and tailor your content to that.

Optimize

If you want to harness the power of social media, you need to make it easy for your audience to share — and easy for the content to be attributed to you. Optimize all your communication channels to include both “share” and “follow” buttons. Make sure your retweet widgets include your Twitter handle.

Use websites like sharethis.com to integrate social media into the content you produce. It will make your customer experience more meaningful and your social media standing more robust.

A solid social media strategy takes planning, time and a lot of attention, but if you invest the resources in building an effective presence, you’ll capture new customers, fans, friends and influencers.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the most important piece of the social media puzzle: analytics. Gaining quantifiable data gives you insight into social sharing behavior that will tell you what you’re doing right (and wrong!), reveal where improvements can be made and keep you on the path to becoming a brand powerhouse in the future.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Philadelphia

I was recently having lunch with a private company CEO and the topic of private equity came up. When asked if he had ever considered seeking a private equity partner to fund and support his planned growth initiatives, his answer was expectedly, “No, we don’t want to sell the business yet. We want to focus on growing the business.”

While I can certainly appreciate his perspective, that opinion is consistent among many business owners and leaders. Namely, that private equity is primarily a liquidity mechanism, not a preferred tool to fund and support company growth. Moreover, many business leaders often see their growth plans as incompatible with private equity, which they associate with high leverage and limited financial flexibility.

This perspective of incompatibility was also on display during the recent presidential election. Private equity firms were broadly characterized as opportunistic value extractors, rather than enablers of company growth and job creation.

While the purpose of this article isn’t to defend private equity (there certainly are some firms worthy of this negative characterization), significant evidence exists to suggest that, in general, private-equity-backed companies experience proportionally greater growth. This is particularly true for small-to-medium-sized businesses.

Private capital a key to growth

According to studies performed by GrowthEconomy.org between 1995 and 2009, U.S. private-capital-backed business grew jobs by 81.5 percent and revenue by 132.8 percent, compared to 11.7 percent and 28.0 percent, respectively, for all other companies.

In California, over the same period, the story was even more favorable to private equity.  Private-capital-backed businesses grew jobs and revenues by 123.1 percent and 155.2 percent respectively, compared to 11.3 percent and 26.4 percent for all other California businesses.

While each situation is unique, there are many reasons why private-equity-backed companies experience greater growth.

Access to capital

With the continued tightness in the credit market for small-to-medium-sized businesses, private equity can be a source of capital to support growth initiatives.

Additionally, private equity firms often have preferred relationships with lenders, giving businesses more access to attractive and flexible debt financing where appropriate. With greater access to capital, companies can more quickly, nimbly and opportunistically implement growth initiatives.

Strategic guidance and ongoing operational support

A private equity partner can provide much-needed strategic and operational resources to support the company’s growth initiatives and ongoing operations. This often leads to more thorough and refined growth strategies, as well as more effective plan execution and implementation.

Private equity firms often have large networks of industry experts and experienced operators that they can bring to bear to support company growth and operations.

Increased capacity for acquisitions

Private-equity-backed companies are significantly more acquisitive than other private businesses. Acquisitions can be an attractive source of growth, allowing companies to increase their customer footprint, expand geographically, create greater scale and enhance capabilities in a relatively short time frame.

However, successfully identifying, executing and integrating acquisitions can be very difficult. Many business leaders don’t have the time or experience to effectively pursue acquisitions. Private equity firms generally have expertise executing acquisition strategies and can be valuable partners in supporting companies as they identify, negotiate, execute and integrate acquisitions.

Private equity can be a compatible and effective tool to support and achieve company growth — not simply a mechanism to achieve liquidity. While private equity is not appropriate in every situation, and not all private equity firms are growth-oriented, business owners and leaders should carefully consider a private equity partnership when evaluating their ongoing growth initiatives and funding options.

Josh Harmsen is a principal at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com) a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif. Solis focuses on disciplined investment in lower middle-market companies. Harmsen was previously with Morgan Stanley & Co. and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Published in Columnist

With St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching, I started to ponder the idea of luck and if it plays a role in our business lives.

Over the years, I have had so many people tell me how lucky I am after hearing about the ups and downs of 30-plus years as an entrepreneur. At times, I’m not sure how to feel about the comment, so I usually just smile and say, “Thank you, I know that I am a blessed man.”

We’ve all heard the great quote from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

My twist on Jefferson’s wise words would read something like this: “The more we plan our future, the more likely our future will look like how we planned it.”

As business leaders, I believe our role is to plan and implement a preferred future for the business and its employees, customers, suppliers, stakeholders, etc. Though planning for the next year, five years and beyond is part of a leader’s strategic process, there have been occasions where luck became an important part of making a connection or a deal possible.

I remember a time when luck seemingly played an important part in Molly Maid’s survival. I was sitting at a picnic table on a sunny Michigan afternoon in 1989 when I “happened” to meet Lynn Drayton, the former president and COO of Compuware. Before that spring Sunday, I had never met or heard of Lynn before nor could I have predicted how important that meeting would be.

It’s been 24 years since Lynn and I met, and he was the right person at exactly the right time to help me restore prosperity to our troubled company. After sharing the story of Molly Maid’s challenges, we formulated a plan to buy back the company, restore standards for providing great service and re-engage the franchise owners’ trust in the system. As my business partner, mentor and best friend, Lynn’s wisdom, counsel and capital investment was integral to Molly Maid stabilizing and rebuilding.

While long hours, hands-on leadership and open communication are critical parts of growing successful companies, great timing and the ability to remain open to new solutions have certainly been a part of my story as well. Looking back at the day at the picnic table, it’s difficult to imagine any solution other than meeting Lynn and arriving at our “planned preferred future.”

Another part of our history involved adding a second brand to our holdings. By researching the need for home services, we knew there was a demand for a professional home repair and maintenance franchise. By searching trademark records, we discovered David LaValle, the founder of Mr. Handyman.

While the plan to find a partner was intentional, the timing of reaching out to David was serendipitous. If we had reached out to him a year earlier, he would not have been ready to grow. If we had waited too long, another company would surely have captured the opportunity. Perhaps David LaValle’s Irish background had something to do with it or our persuasive request to purchase his concept and grow it with a proven method was too attractive to turn down.

Either way, that partnership created a need for a multiconcept franchisor now known as Service Brands International. The foundation of these two companies paved the way for additional jobs, business ownership opportunities and reliable services to consumers to be possible.

I am a lucky and blessed man to have met such people who have been integral parts of my world, and it started at a picnic table, doing nothing more than watching the world go by.

As you work hard and plan your preferred future, I wish the best of luck to you too!

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman and ProTect Painters. To contact McKinnon, send him an email at davidm@servicebrands.com.

Published in Detroit

A healthy and growing organization proactively plans for succession and transition. It’s simply the nature of business. As my company recently celebrated 25 years, we turned our focus to purposeful succession. I wanted to share with you the key steps involved, the importance of planning and a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1) Get the next generation involved.

As your company grows and develops, it will become increasingly important to begin transitioning leadership to the next wave of leaders. This process will look different for each individual company. For me, it means moving away from our entrepreneurial leaders (generation one) to our professional, internationally focused leaders (generation two).

Be sure to constructively build on the strengths of each generation and tap into the energy, passion and vision of your current leaders to fuel the transition and create an even better future for your business.

2) Shift your board’s focus to policy.

When your board members focus on operations, they are participating in the day-to-day management of the organization. As you prepare for purposeful succession, the focus should shift to policy where they enact and enforce policies, which broadly govern the business. This move helps your organizational governance become more formal through the creation of an entity that protects your company’s health and well-being.

3) Select the next president and

his or her successor.

Your policy board has one critical succession responsibility: to choose the next president and his or her successor. It’s important to remember that the board’s succession responsibilities end with choosing the president. It is the new president, not the board, who has succession responsibility for the executive team.

4) If it’s a family business,

address the family estate plan.

This plan is critical to any successful generational transition but admittedly can be uncomfortable and awkward to deal with. Questions that need answers are akin to personal estate planning when the attorneys ask, “Who gets custody of your kids?” In family businesses, the first difficult question is, “Do we have a competent family member successor, and, if not, who gets custody of the business?”

Purposeful succession plans set the groundwork for the unplanned successions, which is important because once you have carefully laid out your plans, you may think, “What could go wrong?” But, the reality is whether due to illness, disability, death or any number of other scenarios, unplanned succession is a part of life.

When these challenging events happen, they create an extremely high level of emotion, distraction and added workload, in addition to leadership style changes. They also tend to cause anxiety in the organization’s employees, vendors and partners. As a result, in this “unplanned” scenario, these anxieties must be addressed directly and immediately by an already overburdened executive team.

With that in mind, let me leave you with this: The only difference between planned succession and unplanned succession is the amount of time you have to deal with the situation.

In the case of an emergency succession, communication with employees, vendors and partners begins immediately and must be completed within a couple of weeks. In a planned succession, the communication time is only slightly extended to a couple of months. The exact same emotions and distractions are present in both scenarios — the only difference is the level of intensity.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com.

 

Published in Chicago

akr_clm_SueChaseThink of the best leader that you have ever known. What is it about this person that made him or her such a great leader? It is very likely that we are all describing someone who is highly passionate, respected, driven, caring, servant-minded, ambitious, motivating, knowledgeable, confident and who gets things done.

What is it about that person that motivated you to put forth extra effort to perform? Better yet, how can we each be leaders or be that person who others want to follow?

Actually, leadership does require those traits described above or those exhibited by the person you thought of as the best leader. Those traits are often inherent, although they can also be enhanced through experience, mentoring and education.

Let’s understand the important qualities and behaviors that demonstrate successful leadership.

Leading by example. Whether it is working hard, making the difficult choices, taking risks or sacrificing personal time, a successful leader needs to consistently lead by example. It’s the key to authenticity.

Integrity. Leaders are honest and dependable. Others need to count on you to not compromise on your principles. Others need to see that you can and do take the tough road through a situation to “do the right thing.”

Solid goals. Know your goals and what you are seeking to achieve. A leader needs to have a solid objective. A successful leader has direction, and when others know what it is, they know the expectations, catch the vision and seek to work with the leader to achieve it. It is difficult to get others to do what you want if you don’t know what you want.

Knowledge. Know and understand your obstacles, competition and risks. You need to leverage yourself and your group for the best chance of success. This may mean that you need to consult an expert.

Provide for autonomy. Those working with a leader need to understand the defined goals and from there, individuals need to have the ability to be creative and have the ownership to decide how to achieve the goal. Successful leaders encourage people to think, innovate and own the solution.

High standards. Leadership should expect a high level of excellence. People want to be proud of what they are doing. High standards should not be ones where the goal is perfection. The standards should be high but still maintain the allowance and the realistic expectation that people will make mistakes. Good leaders minimize the lessons learned through errors and oversight, although they take optimal advantage of these opportunities to learn.

Humility. Leadership is not about you; it is about others and reaching the goal. As one has more successes, this trait may become more challenging to maintain. Leadership focuses on what was accomplished and acknowledges those who accomplished it. Humility understands that the accomplishment came through those you lead. Humble leaders encourage others and give them credit.

Execution. Execution requires discipline to get things done. Many leaders have the ability to define great strategies but often there is a gap between what is desired and one’s ability to achieve it.

True leadership is a demonstration of all the characteristics listed above. To some extent, they are inherent in each of us and it is our choice to develop them. We each have the opportunity to search ourselves for these characteristics and step up to be the leader for someone in our lives.

Sue Chase is COO of Clinical Research Management Inc., www.clinicalrm.com. She is filling in for quarterly columnist Victoria Tifft.

Published in Akron/Canton

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 dfazekas@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7056.

Published in Akron/Canton

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:

 

 

  • Respond

 

 

  • Positively or negatively

 

 

  • Influences

 

 

  • Action

 

 

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 Pressleymotivational 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 atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Published in Columnist

When my great grandparents immigrated to America from Italy in the late 19th century, they sought to assimilate. Like many newcomers, their goal was to work hard and blend in with their American neighbors.

A lot has changed since then. We’re a far more diverse nation than we were 100 years ago and technology has made the world a much smaller place. Success still requires hard work, but it no longer hinges on blending in. In fact, the opposite is largely true: In order to compete and thrive, individuals increasingly need to identify and magnify what it is that makes them different.

The same holds true for organizations: They must stake a claim to what separates them from the rest and create environments where employees’ diversity is an asset and an advantage.

It’s obvious to me that this is the wave of the future. Yet, I still encounter a surprising amount of resistance to embracing differences on a personal level. Many work environments continue to be characterized by an atmosphere of conformity. I can only assume that this is because people find differences to be threatening and uncomfortable. In this setting, employees are stifled rather than encouraged when they think or behave differently from the norm.

Working exclusively alongside people who share similar skill sets and worldviews is like trying to comprise a winning football team with 11 quarterbacks: You’ll be great at passing, but the rest of your game will be lacking. Or like trying to win a game with only two plays: It doesn’t matter how brilliant those plays are, you need greater versatility.

Today’s pioneering businesses know that thriving in a complex, ever-changing market requires being nimble and well-rounded. They know they must respond quickly and creatively to challenges and barriers. They do that by leveraging their “originality factor” — getting the most from the distinct skills and talents of each member of their workforce.

How do you maximize the benefit of your employees’ different skills, talents and views? By fostering a work environment that supports limitless, non-conformist thinking. The way work is produced dramatically influences what work is produced. You can’t separate process from outcomes. Here are a few proven ideas:

Cross-train. We can deepen our strengths when we actively seek to develop new, boundary-spanning skills and knowledge, like athletes who work their muscles through a variety of exercise routines. In the process we make ourselves more well-rounded and bring greater value to our businesses.

Limitless idea-making. Provide employees with an innovation room — a dedicated physical space where free-thinking is not only encouraged but expected. The space should inspire creativity. Its design is hemmed in only by your imagination. Think large work tables or no tables at all, pedestals, chairs in uncommon configurations, writing tablets, colorful pens or even crayons.

This space shouldn’t be reserved for special-occasions, but accessible at all times with the understanding that it’s for generating innovative and creative ideas.

Boost morale. A strong sense of team membership fosters feelings of inclusion. Once each team member believes that they are a valued member of the team, they’ll feel much more comfortable to offer creative solutions to problems.

Promote teambuilding through an emphasis on open and honest communication; encourage broad input during meetings, making sure that the stage isn’t monopolized by a few; publicly applaud team successes; and create opportunities for team members to develop relationships.

Push your boundaries. Most people have strong notions of what they are and are not good at doing. They tend to play to their strengths and quickly dismiss the time and energy required to learn a new skill, cutting off opportunities for growth. Push yourself and others to go beyond current strengths by experimenting with new and different skills and behaviors.

Businesses and people that embrace differences and actively experiment with them will overcome barriers and gridlock in an accelerated way and reach their targets more rapidly. Those who resist will be left behind.

As a leader, what are you doing to create an environment where differences are encouraged and valued? You can start by modeling what you value and desire: If you’re not afraid to be an individual and go against the grain, it frees others to do the same. Leaders who demonstrate a willingness to be different and set themselves apart will prompt others to follow suit.

But it doesn’t stop there. The work environment has to be one where different skills and strengths are valued equally.

Are you making the most of your originality factor?

 

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

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 mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

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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.

Published in Akron/Canton

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 dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

Published in Akron/Canton