When you go to the dictionary to look for the definition of focus, you will see such lofty things as:
“the point where the geometrical lines or their prolongations conforming to the rays diverging from or converging toward another point intersect and give rise to an image after reflection by a mirror or refraction by a lens or optical system.”
“a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge or from which they diverge or appear to diverge.”
Luckily, for those of us that are not physicists, I did find one definition that makes sense when trying to understand the meaning of focus:
“a point of concentration or directed attention.”
What do you concentrate on the most with your business? Where do you direct your attention? These are the questions of focus. Over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found them to be of utmost importance to the success of those in the workplace.
Let's look at 5 tips for improving your focus as a busy professional.
1. Stop doing what you are doing.
If you struggle with focus on a daily basis and you continue to think and act in the same manner – you need to stop and stop right now.
The quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein speaks to us here: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Stop. Breathe. Assess. Evaluate.
This leads us to our second tip.
2. Determine what needs your concentration and attention.
In the workplace, too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes to what needs to get done. In most instances, it is pure laziness that sustains this way of doing things. It takes work to stay focused and be successful.
As I said above, you will need to assess and evaluate in order to determine what needs your directed attention. Hopefully you have goals in place for yourself and your team. Let those goals be the defining line for your focus.
This leads us to our third tip for improving your focus as a busy professional.
3. Clear all unnecessary distractions.
Once you have determined the areas and actions that need your concentration, it is time to laser target your focus. In order to do this, you must clear away anything that would disrupt, distract or lessen your laser focus.
- Cell phones
- Social Media
- Instant Messaging
- Tasks that could be delegated
Make a list of all the things that you must stop doing in order to stay focused. This is the opposite of the normal to-do list. It will make clear what needs to be cut out from your daily routine.
Some distractions are going to be hard to give up because they have imbedded themselves as habits – and habits take time to change. Development of laser-targeted focus does not happen overnight, but it must be practiced daily in order to achieve its mastery.
4. Work in 60- to 90-minute blocks of time and provide yourself a reward.
Do not expect too much from your focus. Saying that you are going “to work until it's done” is an overload for most of us. It is also too vague and not goal-oriented.
Set aside a specific amount of time for a designated task. Studies have shown that we do well when we block off 60- or 90- minute time frames. This allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that a break is coming.
As we work, our alertness drops off, increasing the lure of distractions. Set a timer and take a break at the end of each cycle.
How about a reward? We all like rewards in one form or another – even if we are the one giving the reward. Say to yourself, “After this 90 minute session of work I am going to take a 10 minute break and walk around the building.”
Other possible rewards are:
- A snack (be careful not to overindulge and get sleepy)
- Text messaging
- Fresh air
5. Learn to say no.
I mentioned delegated tasks earlier. Many busy professionals struggle with delegation. We tend to hold the old attitude of“if you want something done right, do it yourself.”This might be true in the here and now, but in the long run it will lead to lack of focus and, ultimately, exhaustion.
Learning to delegate is a form of learning to say no. “No, not me, not now.” When we learn to say no, we are truly saying yes to our focus.
There are many other tips that one can use to stay focused. These are the five that I have found to be the most useful. Take the time today to try one, two or all of them. Your goals deserve your focus. Your team deserves your focus. You deserve it as well.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
The ultimate endgame in any marketing strategy is conversion.
While conversion means different things to different industry sectors, the actions of reaching conversion are universal. In retail, for example, it means searching for and buying a specific product online or in a store. In business-to-business, conversion could be when a prospective client reaches out with their contact information or and requests more information to engage with your services.
Conversion is a multitiered journey that consists of navigating through three steps — awareness, interest and engagement.
Awareness, essentially developing a brand message that resonates across all channels (such as Web, offline, print, mobile and video) is relatively straightforward if you have the proper brand strategy. You must define two things: who you are and what it is you’re trying to say.
However, converting awareness into interest, and eventually engagement, is where organizations most often lose their way.
I personally see this problem regularly manifest itself during a review of an organization’s website. Often, there are too many words and screens of text to sift through, and those words are either clichés or don’t really mean anything to the organization’s prospective — or current — clients.
The bottom line: The organization gained my awareness but lost my interest. Conversion is less likely a potential outcome.
This, however, is easily solvable.
One way to turn awareness into interest is by creating more consumable content, which is defined as providing, in a simple and nonoverwhelming way, the key points that will grab someone’s attention to learn more about what you do and what you offer.
Think of it this way: Develop clean, concise copy that clearly defines what you do and why you’re different from the competition and that articulates your value proposition, without being wordy. You should not have to scroll down more than one time on a Web page to accomplish this goal.
When you look at traditional advertising, the same problem exists. Review your current ads and ask yourself these questions: Are you running an ad that truly reflects your brand? Does it articulate your intended message and your brand through a series of a few choice words? And is there a defined call to action?
Now consider how you’re messaging to your prospects live, such as through your organization’s presence at trade shows.
At your booth, are you presenting a video reel that drones on for five or 10 minutes and includes every aspect of your company? Why waste a lot of money producing a corporate video that is too long, boring and that no one will watch? You will never see an ROI for your efforts.
Instead, determine whether you can develop a short experience at your booth that captures your desired audience’s attention. For example, combine a simple one-page handout with a brief video — no more than a minute long — that uses powerful imagery, focused messaging on your differentiators and a series of client icons that demonstrate who you work with.
You can always expand upon that brief overview video through a series of short complementary videos that are focused and highlight different segments of what your organization does and how it does it.
Let your prospect choose which area of your business he or she is interested in and wants to learn more about — whether it’s through your website, in print or in person. When someone chooses to learn more, it’s a safe bet that he or she is engaged.
The initial goal of all of this should be to generate interest rather than make a sale. The time for conversion is later, but you’ll never get there if you don’t generate interest and engagement first.
Dave Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
What if the leaders at IBM had stuck to making punch card equipment? What if after making the transition to the personal computer market, they had stayed entrenched there?
Punch card equipment is long gone, and with recent PC sales numbers significantly in decline, the leaders of IBM have stayed ahead of monumental changes in the market and kept the company moving forward for decades.
An open mind.
Too often, CEOs place self-imposed limitations on themselves, both in business and personally. The status quo becomes acceptable and new ideas become verboten. When this happens, growth is stifled — a dangerous situation. Many business gurus will tell you that you are either growing or dying. A stagnant company sees itself as not losing ground, but as its competitors move forward, its relative position in the market fades, even though it views itself as standing firm.
The only way to avoid this is to keep an open mind. CEOs need to constantly grow and learn from a personal perspective — so they constantly improve their leadership and people skills — and also from a business perspective — so new ideas are allowed to push the organization forward.
While there are many approaches to keeping an open mind, here are three ways to get started.
- Embrace trial-and-error. Finding success might require experiencing a dozen failures. Whether it’s a new way of running a meeting or trying to find the next innovative product, accept the fact that success has a cost. Don’t eliminate an idea because it goes against what the company has always done.
- Seek knowledge. As a professional, a CEO should never stop learning. There should always be a curiosity about your industry that drives you to seek an understanding of the latest trends and strategies, but you should be constantly looking at other industries as well. Often, best practices in one industry can be applied to another. If you are the first to make the move, it will give you an advantage over the competition.
- Find a mentor. The right mentor can make you aware of your blind spots. Without someone to offer a different perspective, it is easy to fall into familiar ways of thinking, thus stifling the chance of new ideas taking root.
The longer a CEO runs a business, the easier it is to fall into the trap of doing what worked yesterday or last week. When this goes on long enough, the business ends up with an overall strategy that is several years old.
You would never say, “Let’s use the same strategy we developed five years ago,” but because of a closed mind, that’s what ends up happening by default.
Be vigilant about your search for knowledge. In the end, it will make you a better leader and improve your company’s chances for success.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
When you flip a light switch, turn on the water or start your car, you expect reliability every time. For employees, it’s just as mandatory that they be reliable, by showing up on time, completing the tasks at hand and basically doing their jobs time and time again.
By the same token, your employees expect you, as their leader, to be reliable. This means when you say you’ll do something, you do it, when they need direction, you provide it, and when the chips are down, you’ll be there for them.
Being reliable is good, but being too predictable — not always. In fact, being too conventional can make your company a “me, too” organization that only reacts to what the competition does, rather than taking the lead. It can be a bit more daring to set the trend, but if managed and controlled correctly, the rewards dramatically outweigh the risks.
Warning signs that your leadership has become too predictable occur when your subordinates begin finishing your sentences and know what you will think and say before you utter that first word on just about every topic. Compounding the problem is when your employees begin to perpetuate the negative effect of you being so darn predicable by believing it themselves and telling others, “Don’t even think about that; there’s no point bringing up your idea about X, Y or Z because the boss will shoot you down before you take your next breath.” This bridles creativity and stifles people’s thinking and stretching for new ideas.
It’s human nature for subordinates to want to please the chief. Under the right circumstances, that can be good, particularly if you are the chief. But it can be a very bad thing if you are looking for fresh concepts that have never before been run up the flagpole.
Uniqueness is the foundation of innovation and the catalyst for breaking new ground. George Bernard Shaw, the noted Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics, characterized innovation best when he wrote: “Some look at things that are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
The “why not” portion of this quote is the lifeblood of every organization. A status quo attitude can ultimately do a company in, as it will just be a matter of time until somebody finds a better way.
As a leader, the first step in motivating people to reach higher is to dispel the image that you’re exclusively a predictable, same-old, same-old type of executive who wants things a certain way every time. There are dozens of signals that a boss can give to alter a long-standing image and dispel entrenched mindsets. You can always have a midlife crisis and show up at work in a Porsche or Ferrari instead of your unremarkable Buick. This flash of flamboyance will certainly get people questioning what they thought was sacrosanct about you. The cool car might also be a lot of fun; however, the theatrics might be a bit over the top for some, not to mention a costly stage prop just to send a message.
A better solution is to begin modifying how you interface with your team, how you answer inquiries from them and, most importantly, how to ask open-ended questions that are not your typical, “How do we do this or that?”
Another technique is when somebody begins to answer your question, before you’ve finished asking, particularly in a meeting, abruptly interrupt the person. Next, throw him off guard by stating, “don’t tell us what we already know.” Instead, assert that you’re looking for ideas about how to reinvent whatever it is you want reinvented or improved in giant steps as opposed to evolutionary baby steps. If you’re feeling particularly bold, for emphasis, try abruptly just getting up and walking out of the meeting. In short order, your associates will start thinking differently. They’ll cease providing you with the answers they think you want. Some players will hate the new you, but the good ones will rise to the occasion and sharpen their games.
If you want reliability, flip the light switch. To jump-start innovation, you could begin driving that head-turning sports car. Better yet, get your team thinking by how you ask and answer questions and by not always being 100 percent predictable but always reliable.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.
I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.
We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.
I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.
I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.
After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.
In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.
Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.
I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.
When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.
In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.
There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?
Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at email@example.com.
Roger Andelin believes in the power of storytelling — so much that even an e-commerce business composed of people from the impersonal sales and technology fields can benefit from the skills of a good storyteller.
Andelin had served as the CIO of Internet retailer Buy.com for six years before leaving to take the same position with The Washington Post, one of the most famous and influential newspapers in the country. It was during his stint with the newspaper that Andelin, an executive with a commerce and technology background, discovered how to take good storytelling and apply it in the world of commerce.
“I became a lot more aware of the power of storytelling and the power that can have in a business, especially on the commerce side,” Andelin says. “Commerce was missing that.”
When the opportunity arose for Andelin to return to what had, in the interim, been renamed Rakuten Buy.com, he felt he could utilize the sum total of his experience as an executive, splicing together his e-commerce background with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of storytelling to open new doors for the company.
“When I sat down for the first time and heard about our chairman’s vision, it resonated through and through,” Andelin says. “The idea was [that] we want to give merchants a voice in our marketplace. Let’s connect our merchants with their customers; let’s bring a new shopping experience to the table.
“It was very different from the typical model in our space, which is you come in and search for a product, put it in your cart and check out. It really brought back a lot of the nostalgia in the commerce business, which was missing on the Internet and electronic side. We had a chance to bring that back to the whole process.”
After accepting the president’s role at Rakuten Buy.com — which was rebranded as Rakuten.com Shopping in January — Andelin set out to tell the story of the company’s new vision and how it would be realized. He wanted to get every executive, manager and associate in the Rakuten system to believe in the vision and to feel motivated to carry out the plans that would make the vision a reality.
Define your drivers
Any retail business — whether in the e-commerce space or reliant on a bricks-and-mortar network of stores — will always be driven by the numbers. The number of customers you can get to your site or store will convert to a number of sales, which will convert to a number of repeat customers.
But to realize the new vision for Rakuten.com Shopping, Andelin needed to promote something else. He needed to promote loyalty. It’s something that can’t be directly quantified on a balance sheet, but Andelin realized, soon after he took over, that it would be an essential ingredient in the success of the vision. It would be, in short, a primary driver of the business moving forward.
“The business really boils down to the number of visitors that come to our site and our conversion rate to how many of those visitors buy from us and what the average value of that order is,” Andelin says. “So once you look at those drivers, those KPIs [key performance indicators], you look into it and see what is it that drives that component. Traffic, or visits, are driven a lot by advertising but also by loyalty.”
As such, Andelin wanted his team at Rakuten.com Shopping to focus on driving customer loyalty and merchant loyalty. Since the staff at the company is, in large part, composed of people with technology backgrounds, it was a different concept.
“What happens is that technology departments often get focused on a feature,” Andelin says. “They’ve been asked to deliver A, B and C, and at the end of the day, they deliver that, but it doesn’t always yield the business value that was expected. So by shifting the emphasis away from the actual feature we’re delivering and getting the teams focused on delivering business value, it fundamentally shifts the whole project pattern in a very meaningful way.”
Andelin and his team began to implement initiatives, such as a reward points program, as a formalized way of building merchant and customer loyalty. But he also wanted to see his team deliver value in more fundamental forms.
“One of our objectives, for instance, is to increase the voice of our merchants online, to help them connect more with their customer base,” he says. “That is one of the main things that is going to separate us in a meaningful way from our competition. That technology stepping in and facilitating that communication is something that would be pretty unique for a merchant.”
Give people a voice
You can craft a well-thought-out vision that aims the company toward new heights of prosperity, but none of it will matter if you can’t achieve buy-in from everyone in your company.
It’s something that Andelin acknowledged early in his tenure, and it’s why he embraced the role of storyteller from his first day on the job. Employees can hear about the vision, they can learn the drivers, but until they see tangible ways that the vision will lead to a better, more profitable company — and by extension, more earning potential and job stability at their level — they won’t completely buy in.
“Alignment can be challenging,” Andelin says. “But I have found the best way to do it is to very clearly articulate the problem or very clearly articulate the vision and then explain why the solution we’re all working toward will resolve that.
“You start to get individuals to understand the vision or the problem by articulating it very clearly. They see it and recognize what you are doing and why you’re doing it. People generally get that. It’s when the communication isn’t there that the team starts to falter and lose the passion for what they’re doing.”
In order to tell a story, you need a means of communication. Authors have books, journalists have mass media and directors have the cinema. At Rakuten.com Shopping, Andelin has, among other things, weekly “asakai” meetings that utilize technology to bring together people from Rakuten’s U.S. operations and beyond.
During the weekly meetings, senior management reinforces the vision and values of the organization to employees throughout Rakuten’s footprint. The meetings are another way Andelin is using technology for storytelling.
“What we say at the weekly asakai meetings goes all the way down to daily huddles, where each department will get together and talk about their departmental issues,” Andelin says. “The thing to remember is the teams you are leading have to get it. The business leader has to be open enough and accessible enough, to the point where if the team has questions, they feel able to ask those questions.
“If they have concerns, they have to get those concerns out on the table and walk through them.
“One of the most powerful ways to reach consensus is not by reducing the conversation but by increasing it. It is through conversation that leaders and managers are able to convey the vision and get individuals to come on board with the direction of the organization. Communication is absolutely key.”
Show your wins
Every story has a beginning, middle and end. In Rakuten.com Shopping’s case, the story is still in progress. If you don’t have final results to show your people, you need to show them progress and trends. Keeping employees in the loop is another essential way to bring them on board with your vision. You have to demonstrate the wins you are tallying and the progress you are making toward realizing your vision.
“As an example, we ran one of our summer sales at the end of August, right after I started,” Andelin says. “We measured the sale based on year-over-year performance — so, how we did on these days versus the same days the prior year? That event ended up giving us a fairly sizeable increase in our number of orders, in visitors coming to the site, all of the key metrics that we’re looking at. Those wins really help focus the team.”
If you’re going to tell a story that it’s going to serve as a motivator for your people, the story has to inspire. That doesn’t mean your people have to leave the meeting or conference call ready to climb Mount Everest, but it does mean that they leave as believers in what the company is doing.
“It’s a fairly basic idea that winning is contagious,” Andelin says. “It builds confidence; it helps you to solidify a repeatable process. It shows us what we need to do to drive sales during a particular event. If we get really good and learn those things, we can repeat it, and we can grow our business to improve step-by-step, by improving those processes. Everybody gets excited, and it really becomes a companywide initiative, because everybody has a little piece of it. So when you start to achieve your vision, everybody feels good.”
How to reach: Rakuten.com Shopping,
(949) 389-2000 or www.rakuten.com
The Andelin file
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned? You want to take accountability for when things don’t go smoothly and perfect. At the end of the day, if you screwed up, take responsibility for it, figure out what happened and move forward. That is one of the most relieving principles in business. It’s a liberating principle for all leaders, as opposed to passing blame and making excuses.
What traits or skills are essential for a leader? Having a vision and being able to communicate it on both an individual and group level. Leaders have to be approachable, accept criticism and be able to defend their positions with logical, rational arguments backed by data and facts. Authoritarian leadership doesn’t fly nowadays. You have to win the minds of intelligent people who are used to thinking for themselves, are well-educated and have fabulous opinions.
What is your definition of success? There is a sense of irony around it, because as soon as you start to define success, you limit yourself. If you define success as you see it, you just cut yourself off from other areas where you could be a success. You have to kind of know success when you see it, just like knowing what art is, or knowing what sounds good in music. So many things drive success, to define it is almost impossible.
Tell a great story.
Communicate it to your people.
Show evidence of success.
The old term “putting lipstick on a pig” refers to prettying up a mediocre asset right before you want to sell it. Prior to marketing, the seller makes changes that cause things to look better than they really are under the surface. There is little difference between a cheap paint job on a used car to hide rust or new carpet in a house to cover cracks in the foundation and short-term cosmetic changes at a company justified as “preparing for sale.”
Here are four key mistakes business owners often make when trying to prepare their companies for sale:
? Shallow bench: Sellers often hold off hiring personnel in key management positions such as senior vice president of sales, controller and manager of procurement. They do this to minimize administrative costs in hopes of increasing sale value. Most buyers will evaluate the leadership team and make purchase price adjustments to account for those vacant positions.
The leadership team (both the C-suite and upper management) is a critical value-driver for buyers of businesses. As such, business owners should always maintain the strongest, most complete team whether the business is for sale or intends to remain independent.
? As-is, where-is: Often, sellers neglect making necessary investments in machinery, facilities or IT systems to preserve cash and/or pad the bottom line. Any sophisticated purchaser of your business will take into account the need to remedy inappropriately deferred capital expenditures and a buyer’s perception of these deferred costs could be greater than those if the business had been maintained all along.
Well-run, growing businesses require ongoing investment. Machinery wears out, IT systems require updating and facilities need refurbishment. While every capital expenditure should be highly scrutinized based on cost and overall contribution to efficiency, deferring critical investment in hopes of increasing sale value is a mistake.
? Pump-up the balance sheet: Another mistake sellers make is in the area of working capital. Balance sheet cash can be increased by more aggressively collecting receivables and extending payables in ways that are inconsistent with historical practices.
To detect this, buyers of businesses often include a “working capital adjustment” in their purchase consideration. If the company has been pulling cash out by collecting accounts receivable and/or extending payables, there will likely be a negative working capital adjustment.
Strong businesses have consistent working capital and cash-conversion cycles, and temporarily changing best practices can irreversibly impact vendor and customer relationships. Maintaining consistency will preserve these relationships and be rewarded in the purchase multiple offered by a discerning buyer.
? Run on a shoestring: Some sellers try to operate their businesses with the bare minimum of liquidity in order to increase perceived working capital. This is more difficult to identify, since there is a fine line between capital efficiency and too little operating cushion.
Buyers will again employ a working capital test and closely evaluate the historical monthly fluctuations in receivables and payables. If there are certain months where larger fluctuations necessitate an operating cushion, this will be factored into the purchase value.
Once lost, liquidity can be difficult to regain. It is better to always operate the business leanly but with enough liquidity to provide cushion for seasonal working capital variances and to support ongoing growth.
While the decision to sell your business requires a new perspective, it doesn’t necessitate changes in fundamental operating principles. Making short-term cosmetic changes in an attempt to “prepare the company for sale” will ultimately be visible to the buyer, can create lasting customer and vendor challenges, and won’t be rewarded in increased sale value.
Focus on fundamental operating principles and maximize the value of your business — no lipstick required.
Craig Dupper is managing partner at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com), a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif., focused exclusively on lower-middle-market companies.
"Not a day goes by where I don’t read a headline talking about ‘the cloud,’” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “The current, overused definition of the cloud is ‘anything that happens on the Web,’ but in the business world, the more accurate definition of cloud computing is leveraging someone else’s hardware/software and services to complete a business task.”
Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the role that cloud computing has played for businesses during the past two decades, and in what ways it can benefit their operations today and in the future.
How are companies using cloud computing?
When I started Cal Net Technology Group 15 years ago, we didn’t host our own email server. We used an outside company (Earthlink) to host our email, which, in essence, meant that Earthlink was providing ‘cloud services’ for us.
We also have been using an online payroll service for eight years now, whereby we enter our payroll data into a website, and our employee paychecks are processed. Many other businesses might be doing the same. This is truly a ‘cloud service’ that has been around for close to a decade.
Some companies use an Internet-based product called Postini, which has been around since 1999, to scrub their email for spam. I bring this up to point out that all of us have been leveraging the cloud for quite some time, and we probably didn’t even think about it; in actuality, it really isn’t a very new phenomenon.
What are some examples of how businesses can move functions to the cloud?
There is a definite shift in moving some computing resources into another company’s data center in order to save you some headaches and, in some cases, time and money. I use the word some with emphasis here, because if you think that your entire business is moving to the cloud anytime soon, you are probably mistaken — unless your business consists of only a handful of computer users.
The most prominent shift to cloud computing is the migration of email back into the hands of hosted providers, similar to how it was 15 years ago. Microsoft is now in the hosting business with its Office 365 product. It consists of Microsoft Exchange (email server), SharePoint (an intranet product), and Microsoft Lync (instant messaging) in the cloud, with the ability to ‘rent’ Microsoft Office on a per-user, per-month basis, with Office still being installed locally on your desktop.
In moving from an on-premise email solution, such as Microsoft’s Exchange Server, over to Exchange Online, the migration has been very time-consuming, and thus very costly. These migrations have proven to be more costly than moving from one on-premise solution to another. That being said, there can be some significant savings in hardware and software costs, reducing capital expenditure spending for many companies. Additionally, after the solution is running, the ongoing maintenance of on-premise solutions will be gone, which should equate to a cost savings in the long run.
Google has made a significant impact in cloud computing with Google Apps software. From what I’ve seen of the software, it is a good solution for individual use, and for the use of ‘micro-businesses,’ but it reminds me of Office 95 from a functionality standpoint. So, I couldn’t recommend this to any business that relies heavily on word processing.
Perhaps the most successful case study, and a company that has truly made its mark by delivering software over the Internet, is Salesforce.com. It has a very robust feature set within its application, and it was remarkable what it was able to do early on in the cloud-based customer relationship management space.
There are some other line-of-business applications that are cloud-based, as well, and truly deliver a rich user experience, but these are few and far between today, but will be the norm in the next five years.
How can businesses determine what to take to the cloud?
The wise approach is to hire an IT firm with expertise in this area to evaluate your systems, determine the applications that may be ready for the cloud and take a hard look at the overall ROI in moving them.
Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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California passed more than 800 new laws in 2012, and Shane P. Criqui, litigation attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, says, “It’s virtually impossible for any business person to keep track.”
He says among those of interest to businesses are new laws that govern social media in the context of an employee and employer relationship, and broad legislative changes regarding California LLCs.
“That’s why it’s important to have a discussion with your counsel and make sure you understand how these laws may affect your business,” Criqui says.
Smart Business spoke with Criqui to better understand two of California’s law changes.
What is changing regarding social media?
California has added protections for employees using social media to the state’s labor code, which establishes privacy protections for individuals and limits what employers can lawfully demand of employees. It helps avoid situations where employers demand private social media passwords and take adverse actions against an employee based on the content of his or her account. The law also applies to job applicants.
Specifically, an employer can’t require an employee to disclose username or password information for personal social media accounts; require an employee to access his or her social media accounts in the presence of the employer; or otherwise divulge personal social media information. Further, employers can’t discharge, discipline or retaliate against employees for not complying with such requests.
There are, however, exceptions. An employer can go after information on a social media account that’s reasonably believed to be relevant to investigations of employee misconduct or a violation of law. Employers also may require employee disclosure of passwords necessary for accessing an employer-issued electronic device.
What constitutes social media?
The definition of social media as it applies to this law is very broad and can include any electronic service, account or content such as videos, photos, blogs, podcasts, text and instant messages, and websites.
Further, while the law applies to accessing ‘personal social media,’ the term ‘personal’ is not further defined, which may create ambiguity. For example, an employee’s LinkedIn account could be used to promote his or her employer’s business but is also ‘personal’ to the employee.
What changes are coming for limited liability companies?
A 2012 bill that becomes effective Jan. 1, 2014, repeals California’s Beverly-Killea Limited Liability Company Act and replaces it with the California Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act. It will apply to all California LLCs existing on Jan. 1, 2014, and no LLC can opt out.
The new law presumes an LLC is member managed, unless the company’s articles of incorporation and operating agreement specifically provide otherwise. In member-managed agreements, all members can act as agents of the LLC, where in manager managed arrangements, it’s only the managers.
Other provisions are specific to fiduciary duties. Expressly, the law says managers can’t eliminate the duty of loyalty, which a manager typically owes to the LLC along with the duty of care. However, duties of care and loyalty can be modified ‘in a written operating agreement with the informed written consent of the members.’ For instance, the duty of care can be lowered, although not ‘unreasonably reduced.’
The new act also states that while an operating agreement may ‘eliminate or limit’ a member or manager’s liability for monetary damages with respect to a breach of the duty of care, it cannot do so with respect to a breach of the duty of loyalty.
What should affected companies do?
While prior operating agreements will remain in effect after Jan. 1, 2014, the new act will apply to ‘acts,’ ‘transactions’ and ‘contracts’ entered into on or after that date. Accordingly, it makes sense for LLCs to talk with counsel to make sure the new default rules don’t change an LLC’s understanding of its existing rights and obligations.
Shane P. Criqui is a litigation attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (949) 725-4226 or email@example.com.
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Engaged employees know your company’s expectations and work hard to meet and exceed them. They use their talents to excel, drive innovation and move their companies forward.
To learn more about transforming employee engagement levels in the workplace, Smart Business spoke with Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, recognized as one of only 32 companies worldwide to receive the 2013 Gallup Great Workplace award.
What do engaged employees do to improve the workplace?
Imagine a candy wrapper lying on the floor of your business’s lobby. An engaged employee picks it up and puts it in the trash. They are 100 percent invested in helping your organization succeed. A disengaged employee ignores it and walks by. An actively disengaged employee was the one who threw it there to begin with.
According to Gallup, the average ratio of engaged to disengaged employees in their database of health care organizations is 4-to-1. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-centric, safe and successful. They are 3.5 times more likely to be thriving in their lives, experience better days and have fewer unhealthy days. We see a direct correlation between high employee engagement and the service satisfaction scores we receive from our patients and their families.
How do you improve employee engagement?
Creating a work environment that values people and aims to ensure each employee has an emotional connection to the company’s growth or mission is at the heart of sustaining employee engagement.
Become an active partner with your employees to maintain or improve their health and wellness. Create an environment that makes being healthy easier, with nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, health information and more. Encourage teams to take walking rather than sitting meetings, take activity breaks and make walking workstations available. In MemorialCare’s case, implementing these core aspects of a wellness program resulted in 77 percent of our employees reporting that their organization makes an effort to help them improve their health.
How do you become a partner in your employees’ wellness?
Once you’ve got the basics of a wellness program in place, help provide your employees with the knowledge they need to impact their risk factors for chronic disease. Understanding the key biometric numbers of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and their connection to heart disease and diabetes can help individuals to lower their risk. Chronic diseases like hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending. Reducing these can help lower health care expenses.
Actively partner with employees who need the most help managing chronic conditions. The latest evidence shows that the support of a team including a wellness coach, nurse, dietician and physician can give individuals with chronic conditions what they need to make important changes. MemorialCare partners with our employees with chronic conditions to make long-lasting lifestyle changes, lessen complications, improve outcomes, and lower medical and pharmaceutical costs through our program, The Good Life – In Balance. With 93 percent participant retention, the program has led to significant improvements in their blood glucose and blood pressure.
How can employers improve the workplace?
Participate in a survey, like those initiated by Gallup, to help identify key factors in moving the dial on your employees’ engagement. These surveys compare your results with other companies, so you can learn where you excel or need improvement.
There is a direct connection between investing in employees’ wellness and achieving internationally recognized employee engagement levels. By creating a culture where well-being is valued, you can improve health, morale and productivity, while reducing absenteeism, and the costs of health benefits and workers’ compensation.
Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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