Companies spend more than $2 trillion on acquisitions every year, according to an article in Harvard Business Review. Yet studies frequently cite failure rates of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) between 70 and 90 percent.
David E. Shaffer, a director in the Audit & Accounting practice at Kreischer Miller, says problems are often the result of poor planning. Companies are enticed by the opportunity to create synergies or boost performance and fail to consider all ramifications of an acquisition.
Smart Business spoke with Shaffer about ways to mitigate the risk and ensure a successful transaction.
Why is the M&A failure rate so high?
Many companies don’t establish a clear business strategy for mergers and acquisitions. Some questions that need to be answered include:
- What are the goals of the merger or acquisition?
- Do you want to leverage existing resources or create a new business unit?
- What is the maximum price you are willing to pay?
- Must the seller agree to some holdback of the price?
- What happens to administrative functions and management of the target company?
- Must key employees sign agreements to stay?
- Will you negotiate between an asset purchase and a stock purchase?
- Is culture important?
You should be proactive in identifying candidates for acquisition. Companies that have done many acquisitions tend to ignore requests for proposals because the sellers in such situations usually go with the highest price. They reason that the law of averages is against them and at least one competitor will overpay.
Instead, companies involved in many acquisitions prefer to target entities and establish a relationship before that stage in order to avoid a bidding war.
How should the due diligence process be conducted?
It’s important that you don’t take shortcuts in your due diligence. Hire professionals who are knowledgeable about the industry; they can negotiate better deals for you because they are not emotionally attached and can push harder for seller concessions.
Due diligence should address internal and external factors that create risk in the acquisition and focus on key factors driving profitability — employees, processes, patents, etc.
The more risk present, the more you should ask for holdback in the selling price. For instance, if much of the profit is derived from a few contracts, require that the contracts be renewed under similar terms if the seller is to receive the full purchase price.
M&A failures often result because buyers concentrate too much on cost synergies and lose focus on retaining and/or creating revenue. Client retention at service organizations is at significant risk following a merger or acquisition, according to a 2008 article from McKinsey & Company. Clients will receive misinformation, so it’s important that the acquiring firm step in quickly to assure clients that service levels will equal or exceed what they have been accustomed to expect.
What needs to be done post-acquisition?
It’s important to have a clear post-acquisition plan, including financial goals, with as much detail as possible. The quicker value is created by the acquisition, the better the result for the buyer.
Key post-acquisition steps to ensure a successful integration include:
- Developing the organizational structure.
- Developing sales expectations.
- Identifying what processes and systems will change, and when.
- Developing performance measures.
Finally, you also need to hold key management responsible for producing results.
David E. Shaffer is a director, Audit & Accounting, at Kreischer Miller. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or email@example.com.
Social Media: To keep in touch with Kreischer Miller, find us on Twitter: @KreischerMiller.
Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Kreischer Miller
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for,” is a quote that hangs in Brig Sorber’s office at Two Men and a Truck in Lansing, Mich. Sorber uses that quote to define the new direction in which his company has been moving.
“I love that quote because this ship, Two Men and a Truck, has been in port for too long,” says Sorber, CEO. “We’ve got to get this into deep blue water. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot more risk, but that’s where business is done. We need to start moving forward and accept the challenges.”
Sorber and his brother, Jon, started Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a moving company, in the early ’80s as a way to earn money using their ’67 Ford pickup. Today, the business has x4,500 employees, more than x1,400 trucks, more than x200 franchises in x34 states, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, and 2012 revenue of x$361 million.
“We did it to make beer and book money for college,” Sorber says. “We really never thought that it would get to this point.”
However, in getting to this point, the company had neglected to make necessary changes in order to keep the operation aligned and running well.
“One of the challenges we have had is going from a mom-and-pop-type business to having to grow up and become more corporate,” Sorber says. “We needed to bring in newer and stronger skill sets.”
Here’s how Sorber has helped Two Men and a Truck grow up.
Two Men and a Truck incorporated its first business in Lansing, Mich., in 1985 and began franchising in 1989. The company at this time was run by Sorber’s mom since he and his brother were in college.
Upon graduation, Sorber worked as an insurance agent and also operated his own Two Men and a Truck franchise. He returned to the company in the mid-’90s, became its president in 2007 and CEO, the title he carries today, in 2009. In that time the company had grown significantly, but it wasn’t running as well as it could be. Starting in 2007, Sorber’s job was to help restructure the business.
“We had to take a look at ourselves internally,” Sorber says. “There came a time that I just knew things were broken here.”
Because the company was growing so fast there was no organization chart. It was very loose on who reported to whom. It wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, but things were not getting measured.
“I had an epiphany that something had to change big time,” he says. “I made up something that resembled an org chart on a big piece of paper in my office. I brought in five people that I greatly trusted and had confidence in and gave them three markers — green, which meant that person or that job was important; yellow, which meant I didn’t have an opinion either way about this person or about this job; and red, which meant that this job makes no sense.”
Sorber used that as a starting point to help him identify where the company could restructure and cut costs.
“I wanted to give big bonuses to everyone at the end of the year and share the winnings, but we had to prime the pump first,” he says. “We went from 78 employees down to 51 employees after I went through that chart.
“That wasn’t because we were losing money. It was because by the time we realigned everything, there were some people here who weren’t doing anything.”
To avoid issues such as this, you have to have metrics that you measure to make sure whether you’re doing well or not.
“My metrics are No. 1, customer satisfaction,” Sorber says. “Find out how every one of your customers feels about their service. No. 2 is trucks and driveways. We want to put more trucks in more driveways every year.
“No. 3 is franchisees. Make sure your franchisees are profitable and have the tools to grow. No. 4 is giving back to the community.”
Metrics are a crucial aspect of success, but so is a mission statement that helps employees and customers know what the business is about. It also makes your decisions as a CEO simple.
“If your mission statement is strong, it should be limitless,” he says. “For us, we had our mission statement when we had 25 franchises, and now we’re well over 200 and it still applies. You also need core values that comprise what’s important to your company. Once you have those, you have to stay within the confines of your core values.
“When I was a younger executive I thought that was stuff you say to be nice. It’s something that’s serious. You can’t go into work and keep turning the wheel and expect better things to happen. You’ve got to maintain your mission statement, core values, measure what you’re doing, and then you have to look for ways to make things better.”
Bring in key people
As Two Men and a Truck went through these necessary changes, new employees and executives had to be brought in to give the company the right skill sets to continue growing.
“Sometimes we hold onto our executives too long, and we get comfortable with them,” Sorber says. “They may not question what you’re doing. Not all of them, but many of them can be fine with the status quo and as the world is changing they’re not forcing you as a CEO to question what you’re doing.”
You can’t settle for the people who are in your key positions. You need to find people with the right skill sets and make sure they stay within your mission statement and core values.
“Bringing in new individuals is kind of like working on an old house,” he says. “You think if you put new windows on the house it’s good, but then the siding looks really bad. The same thing happens in business when you get somebody that’s great in a department. You start to think, ‘What if I had someone like that in marketing?’”
Sorber brought in executives to fill his company’s voids, and they began offering all kinds of new ideas for the business.
“When I started bringing in these key executives, they wore my carpet out because they have fresh eyes for the business,” he says. “They asked why we did this or that. Many of the things we were doing were the right things, but it’s good for you to make your point about why you do it.
“The new executives will say, ‘That makes sense’ or ‘That’s different.’ Other times they’ll say, ‘OK, but did you ever think about doing this?’”
That is how your business goes through an evolution, and it starts bringing in more modern thinking and different approaches. A business will have a life cycle of only so long, and you need to continually reinvent it because your customer is changing. If you bring in new people they may bring the great ideas you need.
“It’s really important as a president or CEO to hire people who are smarter than you in their specific fields,” Sorber says. “Our job as president or CEO is to look more strategically at where we want the business, make sure the executives play nice together, ensure there’s harmony in the business and keep an eye on those important metrics.”
During the course of the past six years, Sorber has been able to successfully do all those things within Two Men and a Truck. Randy Shacka became the company’s first non-family member to serve as president in 2012. Now, Sorber and Shacka are looking at the future outlook of the business.
“We think we will be a $1 billion company by the year 2020,” he says. “In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of internal work on fixing where we are broken and getting the right people in here. Now we want to be more than just a moving company. We want to be a company for change.”
How to reach: Two Men and a Truck, (800) 345-1070 or www.twomenandatruck.com
Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.
If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.
There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:
Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:
- How do I use this?
- How does this help me?
- What problem does this solve for me?
Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”
To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:
- What does this mean to me?
- Do I need this?
Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”
In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:
- How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?
- Is it unique?
Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.
It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”
Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.
If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.
This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.
When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.
This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.
Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.
Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.
The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.
All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.
Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.
Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.
Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.
Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.
However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.
That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.
This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.
Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.
As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.
New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.
But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.
The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.
Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.
Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?
Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.
It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.
Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.
Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.
Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.
What's the word? Language Services Associates succeeds by taking all challenges to help people communicateWritten by
When her husband’s commercial real estate development business began to suffer in the late 1980s, Laura K.T. Schriver was concerned for the well-being of her family.
“I had three kids about to go to college, a house and a very nice living,” Schriver says. “I had to think, me, my Savior and I, what was I going to do? I don’t have a college education, so I couldn’t fall back on my credentials. It was either I was going to open a catering business or I was going to do something with language.”
While she was trying to decide how to employ one or both of her loves, Schriver, a native of Buenos Aires who is fluent in Spanish, was called by a district attorney’s office to interpret for a case. She then received a call from Immigration and Nationalization Services asking if she could recommend a Mandarin interpreter. Immediately she recognized an opportunity and jumped on it. Schriver installed a phone line and set up her kitchen counter as an office and began to recruit and deploy interpreters for clients requesting them.
More than 20 years later, Schriver is leading a business with more than 150 employees and roughly 5,000 independently contracted global linguists. Whether it’s interpreting the spoken word or translating the written word, the company offers services for more than 200 languages.
“The entire company is open to ideas and we listen to them all,” says Schriver, Language Services Associates’ founder, chairman and CEO. “With our IT department, we dream it, and they create it. That’s the best part of knowing that you have these people who are true creators.”
Don’t limit yourself
Technology is at the core of everything that LSA does, and Schriver says her employees are trained that very little, if anything, is impossible.
“We don’t limit our client to the product that we have as is,” Schriver says. “We create a product that will completely take care of the client’s needs. If we don’t have it, we make it. Most of our software is proprietary, with the exception of the standard document, word processing and design products.”
In addition to face-to-face interpretation and text translation, LSA also offers telephonic interpretation services. With Interpretalk, LSA’s clients can access a live telephonic interpreter in less than 30 seconds.
The company continues to enhance its video remote, text translation, American Sign Language and language assessment services.
LSA also continues to find a market in the prison industry by addressing cultural language differences that may arise.
“Hispanics in particular carry two last names,” Schriver says. “So you have Jorge Fernandez-Lopez. They would go out and say, ‘Mr. Lopez?’ And none of them answer because the first last name is the legal last name. It’s Mr. Fernandez. Lopez would be his mother’s maiden name. And people in the United States don’t generally know that.”
Ready to serve
Schriver’s challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and be ready when languages that have not required her services in the past become more prominent. It’s not always easy to match up an independent contractor with the right language and need.
“We not only clear the credentials of all prospective linguists before adding them to our network, but we also put them through LSA’s rigorous verification and qualification process to demonstrate competency in spoken language conversion,” she says. “This allows us to see who the people are that we want to partner with, and who can represent our company in an interpretation situation the best. You really have to search high and low.”
How to reach: Language Services Associates, (800) 305-9673 or www.lsaweb.com
Home is where the heart is for Michael Armento and the tradition of customer service he wants to build at Torcon PhiladelphiaWritten by
When Michael Armento talks about Philadelphia being a tight-knit community, he speaks from the heart. As a young boy, he would often take a ferry across the Delaware River from New Jersey to South Philadelphia where his father worked for the U.S. Navy.
“There is some history and there are some good memories here,” Armento says.
This memorable locale from his childhood is now the place where Armento goes to work each day as leader of the Philadelphia market for Red Bank, N.J.-based Torcon.
That sense of belonging he has always felt for the area was front and center in Armento’s mind eight years ago when the construction management firm set up shop in the City of Brotherly Love.
“What we set out to do was hire only employees local to Philadelphia with deep roots in the region,” says Armento, a vice president in the firm. “Philadelphia is a very parochial community and we knew that for us to succeed, we had to base our Philadelphia office with Philadelphia-based employees.”
Armento and John DeFazio, Torcon’s project executive, felt strongly that potential clients in Philadelphia wanted to do business with people that they felt a connection to, people who understood what they were all about.
At the same time, Torcon was not a new company. It has more than 200 employees and is one of the most active construction management firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Torcon has done more than $4 billion worth of construction in the past decade.
“The challenge for us was to learn how to introduce Torcon to the local Philadephia community,” says Armento, who has more than 30 employees in his Philadelphia office. “In the beginning, it was a lot of knocking on doors to visit with people John and I knew from years back working in Philadelphia. It was spending a lot of time out on the street, getting out there and introducing ourselves.”
The effort has paid off in the form of 3.5 million square feet of construction work in Philadelphia, amounting to $70 million in 2011 revenue and about $105 million in revenue for 2012.
Here’s a look at some of the steps Armento has taken to build a team that could make those valuable connections and ultimately drive growth.
Set clear standards
If you’re looking to establish a strong presence in your community, make sure your employees and everyone on your leadership team is up to speed with your expectations.
“Our strategy can be very complicated if it’s ambiguous,” Armento says. “We’re in the construction management business. The reality is it’s a customer service business where our client always and without exception comes first.
“I try to provide clear and candid communication with our employees on whether they are excelling or falling a bit short. I’m forever reinforcing the importance of Torcon’s core values so that any confusion is eliminated.”
The message is often conveyed through the prism of Torcon’s own strong history of close relationships. The company was founded by Benedict Torcivia in 1965 and is now run by his sons, Benedict Jr. and Joseph.
“As far as we are concerned, in every respect and in every level of service we provide, we act fairly, with integrity and with honesty,” Armento says. “Ben and Joe are the two brothers who run this organization and through an incredible amount of hard work, they have built a stellar reputation for the company.”
But without the constant reinforcement that helps drive smart decisions, a reputation that took several lifetimes to build can collapse in an instant.
“That is so true in our industry of construction,” Armento says. “It’s very competitive and you work hard to finally win a project for a client that you have been pursuing for quite some time. It’s not just winning the project. You have to work very hard to be sure you are providing the services that the client is expecting.
“All it takes is one little error or mistake and in five minutes, that reputation can be ruined. That is what I teach and profess all the time. Try to look at things from the perspective of your client.
“Then you can understand what is important to them,” he says. “Business is built on reputation and performance and we have to show that in everything that we do.”
Performance has to be strong at all levels in order to maintain your great reputation. If a project is late in being completed, exceeds its budget or doesn’t fulfill your customer’s expectation, it’s clearly not a success.
“The definition of success is when a client says to us at the end of a project, ‘You folks at Torcon delivered on every promise and every commitment you made from the outset of the project,’” Armento says. “That is when we know we were successful in executing the project. We want to be sure that everyone involved views the project as a success and not just the construction manager.”
It’s the difference between possessing a reputation based simply on knocking out projects as quickly as possible and one that is consistently focused on a high level of customer satisfaction.
Reinforce the team concept
One key to building a team that is of one mind and can make strong connections with your customer base is to empower them to do what they do best. Build confidence in your people so that they know you see them as the experts at what they do. Create an environment where they don’t need to check in with you every time a decision needs to be made.
“We try not to be dictatorial,” Armento says. “We believe very much in allowing our people to be autonomous, to allow them to express their opinion and tell us about their findings and what they think the solution is to a particular challenge. We want them to feel like they are an integral part of the solution to problems on projects. When they do, they take ownership in solving those problems.”
Teamwork is part of the culture of the construction industry from your earliest days on the job, no matter where you work.
“Most people who are educated in construction management or construction management-related curriculum understand that every project is performed and completed by a team of those core positions,” Armento says.
“If there is a particular portion of the project that is struggling and needs some extra attention, we would expect the other team members to jump in and help out. It’s understood in our industry that it’s a group effort.”
Teamwork can easily fall apart, however, if that commitment to your team begins to waver or if you begin to provide evidence that you value one group in your organization over another.
“The key is to be consistent with your message and spend as much time listening to your people as you do talking to them and providing direction,” Armento says. “It’s essential for us to reinforce our message and reaffirm our employees’ value to our organization.”
When employees come to you with ideas or suggestions about how to do something better, demonstrate that it hasn’t been a waste of their time to come up with this new idea.
“It becomes a matter of personal pride,” Armento says. “If an employee has an idea after living with a certain situation day to day, they want to know that the time they have spent thinking about how to improve our approach is valued time and that their opinion is respected by management.
“When you hear an employee or a staff member who has a good idea on how to do something better, allow them to act on it. Give them the opportunity to take ownership if it was their idea.”
Take the time
You work each day to build a stronger team that is focused on providing the best service to your customers. Armento felt that was a winning strategy to achieving customer satisfaction.
But to drive home the connectedness that he wanted customers to feel with Torcon’s Philadelphia operations, Armento strongly encourages participation in the community.
“I’m a newly appointed board member with the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” Armento says.
He’s also involved with the American Heart Association and took part in the company’s effort to do a 9/11 memorial along the Schuylkill River.
“That was done gratis by Torcon along with a group of subcontractors,” Armento says.
These efforts were part of an overall push to show potential customers in Philadelphia that Torcon understood what they were all about and could relate to what it meant to be part of the Philadelphia community.
“The way we have overcome that challenge is one, to make sure everybody we employ here in the Philadelphia office comes from Philadelphia construction,” Armento says. “And two, to entrench ourselves as deeply as we can in the community and with community functions.”
How to reach: Torcon, (215) 271-1449 or www.torcon.com
The Armento File
Born: Camden, N.J.
Education: Construction management degree, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa.
What was your very first job?
My first job as a kid was working for a local concrete contractor who did replacement sidewalks and driveways. My job was to break up the old concrete in preparation for the new. If it did anything for me, it gave me an appreciation for the difficulty of laboring on a daily basis.
What is the best business lesson you ever learned?
This is a very challenging business. We rely heavily on the performance of others in order to make a project successful. When I say others, I mean our own people as well as other members of the team.
To the best of your ability, try to manage situations on a project without emotion. Treat people the same way you expect to be treated. And that is coupled ironically with the understanding that you can’t blindly trust everyone. Remain objective and keep the clients’ interests in mind at all times.
What skills are essential for a leader?
Be firm when you need to be firm. Listen to people as much as you talk to people. Recognize it’s not always about issuing directives and establishing policies. A good leader sometimes has to be a teacher, a cheerleader and sometimes a confidant. Be open to your people when necessary, but be firm when being firm is necessary.
Set clear expectations.
Promote a team concept.
Any business owner can attest to the fact that running a business is no simple feat. As a small or mid-sized business owner, you must be prepared to wear many different hats, from new business guru, to HR manager, to janitor.
Running a business is all about preparing as much as possible, while still knowing that the unexpected is bound to happen, no matter how hard you anticipate. Being able to adapt quickly, think on your feet and learn as you go will help you be successful as you run your small business.
As cliché as it may sound, I often hear business owners and entrepreneurs say, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” With that in mind, here are a few simple lessons business owners have shared that might help make you successful in the business world:
• Understand what it takes to be a business owner: One of the first steps is to decide on what you want your life to look like. If you’re looking for more control and to “make your own hours,” then entrepreneurship is probably the right step.
• Be willing to go the distance: Leading a business takes time — time away from your personal life, spouse, family, and children. If you haven’t thought this through and developed a plan, you may find the demands of running a business pretty daunting.
• Keep your eyes wide open: Business ownership can be a cold world and business owners may not receive as much support as they expect.
• Know how and when to delegate tasks: Being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean being an ace at everything. It means knowing your strengths and working with others who complement your abilities by adding value to weak areas.
• Be patient: Don’t expect overnight success. When you are pursuing a new venture, you need capital, and you need time. The only way to get there is by committing 100 percent.
• Manage well: Never over-manage your employees, and learn to trust your staff. When it’s your blood, sweat and tears building a business, it is easy to become a micro-manager.
Truly trusting an employee means giving them the freedom and independence of working on their own and believing that they’ll do what is needed, even if unsupervised. Your employees will appreciate the mutual respect, and will be more inclined to reciprocate with hard work and loyalty.
• Focus on your clients: If you’re looking for fame, get out now. Running a business isn’t about building fame and fortune; it’s about focusing on your clients and building your brand.
• Be able to identify opportunities: Similarly, it’s important to be able to identify opportunities for profit and success. Some of the less cool, decidedly unsexy businesses are around because their owners saw an opportunity and acted on it.
The underlying theme for all of these tips is: Be prepared, be flexible and be successful, and keep in mind the tips above.
Gene Marks owns the Marks Group PC, a firm that provides sales and marketing technology and consulting services to businesses. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Forbes Inc. and has written five books on business, his most recent, “In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash.” Visit genemarks.com for more information. He is the featured entrepreneur and spokesperson for Hiscox Small Business Insurance's Author’s Series for Entrepreneurs.
Every Company is a Media Company. It’s a phrase coined some eight years ago by tech journalist Tom Foremski to describe the impact of technology on marketing.
From the Internet to Wi-Fi to smartphones, a tectonic shift has taken place with technology forever changing the landscape of marketing, just as radio and television did before.
Only this time, it’s different. This time, the power has shifted from the hands of a few hundred powerful media outlets to the hands of billions of consumers.
At the same time, companies like yours have been handed powerful tools and an unparalleled opportunity to engage with customers like never before. It’s not just in the obvious new places like mobile websites, apps and the media. Technology has made it easier and cheaper to communicate through video, live events and, yes, even print publications.
Like it or not, you are a media company.
So what’s a media mogul like you to do? You need to do one thing: create content. And you need to do it well. You need to create content that generates interest among your target customer base and engages them with your organization.
It might sound easy, but it’s not. Most business leaders know that effective communication is one of the biggest challenges any company faces. When that communication is what sets you apart in the minds of your customers and prospects, the stakes are all the higher.
Here are a few important points to keep in mind as you set about embracing your new role as a media company.
Be where your audience is
Content comes in many forms. Most of us 40- or 50-something business executives are more comfortable reading printed material. Flipping through your brochure, newsletter or even your own custom magazine is comfortable for us. So hand us something.
But younger VPs and 20-somethings — many of whom do the heavy lifting of researching company buying decisions — are more comfortable gaining intel online. They scour videos on YouTube, mine infographics on visual.ly and peruse PowerPoints on SlideShare. So take the time to figure out which of these is the right channel to reach your target customer.
Share knowledge, not platitudes
Yeah, we get it. Your people are smarter, their customer service is better and their breath smells fresher longer. But that’s not why we might be interested in your business.
What we want to know is how you’re going to solve our problems and make our lives easier. We don’t want you to tell us you are smarter; we want you to show us you are smarter.
Thought leadership articles, white papers and blog posts showcase your knowledge of industries, issues and tactics. They differentiate you from your competitors and position you as a subject matter expert in your market.
Talk about customers more than yourself
The best communicators are great storytellers. Stories resonate. They connect us. They are, simply, what we remember.
Sharing client success stories is one of the best ways to tell your own story. The tried-and-true case study is one of the most effective forms of content in a marketer’s arsenal. If you show us how you can make our businesses faster, better, stronger, we will do business with you. It’s that simple.
And if you have particularly well known and respected clients, you get the added benefit of basking in their reflected glory. Welcome to the media business. Now go tell your story.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business Network and SBN Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7078.