A space plan is a made-to-order layout of your office space. If well designed, it will be flexible enough to accommodate future changes in your organization, such as staffing additions or managerial promotions, without the need for major interior renovation.
“An efficient space plan will increase productivity, efficiency and employee morale by maximizing the capabilities of your space,” says Sam McWilliams, managing partner at SMC Consulting, LLC.
As companies grow and reorganize, space can become fragmented, which challenges departmental and personnel adjacencies.
“These are common challenges that come with organizational change and growth, but can be addressed with proper planning,” says McWilliams.
Smart Business spoke with McWilliams about how a space plan can help you get the most out of your office space.
How is a space plan developed?
Determine what your current and future needs are, then reach out to a professional space planner or designer. He or she can evaluate your existing space plan and determine whether it can be reconfigured to accommodate those needs, or requires additional space.
Architects are not always required for interior planning. By hiring a designer/space planner, you will be able to keep your professional fees to a minimum.
What should be expected from a designer?
The interior design professional should be knowledgeable about building codes and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements to ensure that your space is properly designed.
Expect the designer to conduct site surveys and perform employee interviews to identify company goals. It is important to understand what challenges employees and companies are facing with their current space to understand why a company is looking to make a change. This process is called programming and is a critical step in developing a space plan that will make the best use of the space available.
What are the next steps?
The designer will generate a space plan that reflects the compilation of details gathered from programming. Generating these drawings should be a collaborative effort between you and your designer.
Departmental adjacencies and alignments will be identified, that can create ‘neighborhoods’ of groups that need to collaborate and interact with one another on a daily basis. Workspaces will be designed to accommodate work processes that allow daily activities to be performed more efficiently. By developing a standard footprint for an open plan environment, your new space plan can promote collaboration, increase productivity and reduce real estate costs.
How much flexibility does a space plan offer?
A flexible space plan allows companies to preserve space for future use by utilizing temporary space via ‘hotelling,’ a method that allocates unassigned space for visitors, field personnel or huddle rooms for small meetings. These temporary areas can be easily converted to more permanent workspaces without interruption or loss of existing space allocations.
Incorporating an open environment in your space plan can increase space allocation. Designing workstations in modular size will allow for easy reconfiguration in the future. Workstation ‘typicals’ can be easily reconfigured using the same panels to create smaller or larger workstations depending on your needs.
How will implementing this space plan render measurable results?
By utilizing the appropriate square footage, you can reduce overhead costs and increase workplace efficiency and productivity by:
- Implementing company standards.
- Workstation and office design.
- Defining and improving adjacencies.
- Reducing or eliminating architectural fees.
- Proper allocation of square footage.
- Eliminating wasted space.
- Alternative work solutions.
- Improving IT infrastructure.
Change can be a challenging but rewarding process. Developing your space plan may take time, but the effort is worthwhile when you see the impact it has on your company.
Sam McWilliams is a managing partner at SMC Consulting, LLC. Reach her at (724) 728-8625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Furnishings is brought to you by SMC Consulting, LLC
Business owners and corporate executives tend to overinvest in their businesses, often ending up with a large portion of their wealth at risk to the fortunes of one company. However difficult, these owners need to diversify their financial assets to better survive periods of stress. The rules of prudent investing tell us that any more than 10 percent of one’s wealth invested in any one company is too much.
“Diversifying is not natural to individuals so closely connected to one business, but it can be a serious risk to their underlying wealth and the financial health of their entire family,” says Nina M. Baranchuk, CFA, Senior Vice President and Chief Investment Officer at First Commonwealth Advisors.
Smart Business spoke with Baranchuk about how to structure portfolios to diversify or offset these concentrated risks.
Why do corporate executives or business owners need to diversify?
Even regular employees get a company paycheck and buy company stock in the 401(k) or the employee stock purchase plan, so the concentration risks for all employees can be severe. Senior executives often accumulate additional large holdings of company stock and options as part of their compensation.
A business owner’s company may also be a disproportionately large part of his or her portfolio as well. An owner bears the risk of the entity and any economic, competitive or regulatory forces that might impact it. Like putting all your chips on red, there are serious consequences to holding so much ‘concentrated’ wealth if things don’t go well. In addition, these holdings can be illiquid — there is no easy exit under times of stress.
How should business owners construct their passive investment portfolios?
In some cases, it may not be possible to diversify much. If an owner can take cash out of the business, he or she should work with a qualified portfolio adviser to ensure that all of his or her passive investments are built to complement or offset the risk. A qualified adviser can craft a portfolio that helps to mitigate your specific concentration risks and manage your overall exposures.
For example, a local Pittsburgh businessperson might be concentrated in a steel or metal fabrication business. So, he or she would share exposure to the fates of this or other industries as well their end markets in the U.S. or overseas. He or she also may have significant risks to things like geography, interest rates, significant product input costs, etc.
You can easily have issues of exposure based on subtle or indirect connections. Some risks to a firm are really in your supply chain or the financial health of a customer’s industry. Maybe you have one or two dominant clients that represent a large percentage of your revenue stream. Geographical risks loom large for some companies as well.
A portfolio built to offset these risks might exclude many other holdings in the industrial arena and overinvest in industries that often do well when industrials/metals do not — think consumer-purchase staples like food and household products or utilities.
What’s another example of offsetting your risk?
One family we worked with had made its wealth in the real estate business — owning everything from apartment complexes to high-rises. Our analytic work found that two good offsets for these holdings were private equity and financial stocks. Thus invested, whatever happens to interest rates, private equity and financials will react in opposition to the direction of real estate, counteracting one of its most impactful environmental factors.
What should executives consider?
While many executives have limited ability to divest their options or stock, they should certainly not invest their 401(k) in the company stock or buy additional shares. Remember that the executives at Enron and WorldCom went down together, along with their options, pensions, paychecks and other compensation.
In this world of heightened competitive and financial risks, no business is immune from potentially negative outcomes. We urge our clients to make sure they have done everything possible to ensure their family’s financial health by planning for worst-case scenarios.
Nina M. Baranchuk, CFA, is a senior vice president and chief investment officer at First Commonwealth Advisors. Reach her at (412) 690-4596 or email@example.com.
To learn more, call (855) ASK-4-FCA, or visit ask4fca.com.
Insights Wealth Management is brought to you by First Commonwealth Bank
Historically, defined benefit plans have held a dominant position in the health care market since they were first introduced in the middle of the 20th century. Because the contributions were tax-deductible for employers and pre-tax for the employees, it was a popular way to increase employee benefits without raising wages.
But over the years, the rising cost of health care has caused employers to re-examine how much they pay for insuring their employees and caused them to think more about defined contribution plans.
“With a defined contribution plan, an employer can decide exactly how much they want to contribute to an employee’s health insurance and have a certainty about the cost,” says John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation at UPMC Health Plan. “And a defined contribution plan can be offered by a company of any size.”
Smart Business spoke with Mills about defined contribution plans and their increasing popularity with employers.
What is a defined contribution plan?
Technically speaking, a defined contribution plan is not any specific kind of health plan. Instead, it is a concept that can be applied to different approaches that employers can use to manage health care for employees.
With a defined contribution plan, a company gives each employee a fixed dollar amount that the employees can use to purchase health insurance and dental and vision benefits.Some employers will allow employees to put any money not spent on these benefits into a flexible spending account or to take as a cash benefit.
Why are these plans becoming so popular?
Certainly, the rising cost of health insurance is a major factor in the increased popularity of defined contribution plans. Any plan that can place some kind of limit on health care expenses, or provide some certainty about how much money will be paid, will get close scrutiny by those companies concerned about the bottom line.
But defined contribution plans also touch on areas that are becoming more important to both employers and employees than was possible under managed care. These include:
- The consumer’s desire to have more choice and involvement in health care.
- Concern about quality.
- Increased information.
- More freedom for providers.
What are some common characteristics of defined contribution plans?
The most common characteristic is choice. Defined contribution plans are intended to give members greater flexibility in benefit decisions. The choices include: plan choices, care choices and the ability to opt out.
Other common characteristics include increased cost sharing between the employer and the member, as well as greater knowledge and engagement in management of health care by members.
What do employers like about defined contribution plans?
One popular feature is that there is no limit on the amount of money an employer can contribute to an employee’s defined contribution health plan. Also, there is no minimum contribution requirement. That allows the employer to set the amount that makes the most sense for the company.
Employers also can give employees different contribution amounts based on classes of employees. The combination of cost management and decreased employer involvement makes defined contribution plans very attractive.
What other factors are driving the growing popularity of defined contribution plans?
Rising costs of premiums are a factor, as is the desire of providers to regain control over decisions concerning patient care. At minimum, they want a greater ability to advise patients who will make the final decision.
Concerns about quality are another factor. There is evidence that defined contribution plans will enhance the quality of care and also increase the amount of information available on the quality of health care, which makes them popular when there is such a focus on quality. And, small businesses find that with defined contribution plans they can have a feasible way to provide some kind of health insurance for their employees.
John Mills is a senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-8821 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about defined contribution plans available through UPMC Health Plan.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan
Jim Kudis and a partner started Allegheny Petroleum Products Co. for the same reason many people start a business — they loved what they did and saw a niche that their company could exploit.
While the company, a manufacturer of industrial lubricants and additives, was seeing annual growth of 20 percent in its early years, Kudis and his partner struggled with money and didn’t take a salary for the first year or two.
“Most small businesses are generally undercapitalized, which we were,” says Kudis, president. “We lived off whatever money we had, which definitely helped because it cut back on the expenses and some of the money going out the door.”
Starting a business is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You have to live it and love it. You have to roll up your sleeves and do anything you have to do to run that business.
“If you don’t want it that bad, don’t do it,” Kudis says.
The company’s focus in the beginning was providing industrial lubricants to the various manufacturers in the Pittsburgh area. Back then the major oil companies were retreating from the marketplace, becoming very big and going through distributors. Most of the distributors didn’t have the technical know-how of what the lubricants do and how they work.
So Kudis saw a void in what the major companies used to be strong at and what the distributors couldn’t do and that ended up being the niche that Allegheny Petroleum jumped into.
“That was the big advantage to going into the manufacturing part of the business,” Kudis says.
Last August, Kudis and Allegheny Petroleum Products Co. celebrated 25 years in business. In December 2012, Kudis bought out his partner to become the sole owner of the 85-employee company, which saw 2012 revenue north of $110 million.
Here’s how Kudis has grown Allegheny Petroleum Products Co. from a start-up into a successful organization.
Bring in the right talent
While Kudis and Allegheny Petroleum struggled with capital early on, the turning point for the company came around its fifth or sixth year in business.
“We were supplying one of the plants in Cleveland and we made a proposal to do what was a new concept at the time, fluid management,” Kudis says. “We had to put in 125 bulk tanks, which are carbon steel, 500-gallon tanks that ran about $1,500 each.
“So we had to make a more than $200,000 investment to put these tanks in and put in consigned inventory, which ran us another couple of hundred thousand dollars. So we were about $400,000 into this.”
A year later the global buyer for that company called Kudis and told him what a great job Allegheny Petroleum was doing managing their Cleveland plant. He offered Kudis the contract to manage the company’s remaining 70 plants.
“So off it went and today they are my largest customer,” he says.
From that point on, the business has had to function much differently and required new skill sets to keep the company growing.
“My biggest focus today is making sure my managers have all the tools and things they need to do their job, whereas 20 years ago I was doing it myself,” he says. “Now it’s managing people, keeping them excited, making sure they have ownership in the things that they’re doing, and have the tools to do the job that they need.”
Allegheny Petroleum has five fairly distinct areas and Kudis is in touch with each one of the people that manage those areas.
“I’m not trying to do their job, but I’m trying to help them so they can do their job and that’s the key thing,” he says. “It’s all about people.”
To find the right leaders for his business, Kudis chased those executives down and drafted them all.
“I handpicked them and coerced them into coming to work for the company,” he says. “I chose them because I saw the qualities they had. I saw a real desire in each one of them to do well, and that’s where my attention started.
“What I saw in my interaction with them was that they could handle themselves well and present themselves well in front of people. They were knowledgeable and wanted to be more knowledgeable.”
The first thing Kudis looked for in the people he brought in was whether they were good quality people and good solid citizens.
“That’s probably the common thread through most of the people who work here,” Kudis says. “Talent would be second after that — they can manage people and enjoy the ownership of their part of the business. They embrace it and treat what they’re doing like their own.
“It’s just looking in someone’s eye and seeing that they have a desire to do well, not only for themselves, but for the company too. A lot of people want to punch in, get a paycheck, punch out and go home, and that’s not the kind of people I want managing.”
Kudis gives his team the autonomy to do things on their own, which means they have the power to make decisions.
“I give them a free hand to do what makes sense,” he says. “My motto is to make the decision on your own and if you don’t think it’s your decision, then come to me. As long as you have an explanation about why you made that decision, you’re never wrong. You’ve got to be in the game and engage and make decisions.”
Decide how to grow your business
Making decisions is a very important aspect of running a business, especially when it regards growing your company to the next level. Kudis has had to make countless decisions over 25 years and each one helps the company continue its growth. Now those decisions rest on the shoulders of his managers.
“That’s what I expect from the people in a management role,” Kudis says. “In the dealings they have, there comes a point where maybe it’s beyond where they should make a decision on something. In involving putting part of the company at risk or something of that nature, every one of them knows where that line is, where that decision should not be theirs.
“All the other decisions whether they are small, large or whatever, I expect them to make it. It’s really easy to say three or four days later that you made a wrong decision, but to be in the game and make the decision right there, to me that’s important as long as they have an answer why they made a certain decision.”
Every month or every other month Allegheny Petroleum has what it calls a What’s Up Meeting to check in on the different areas of the business.
“I grab each of the managers and we sit down for about two hours and we go around the table while everyone exchanges what they’re doing,” he says. “You get so focused on the part of the business that you’re in and sometimes you have two different groups sort of working on the same things, or maybe they’re doing something that somebody in another group has worked on and knows the answers to help them out. So those meetings have been very beneficial.”
One of the biggest decisions Kudis has made for Allegheny Petroleum was to give the company a global presence. However, global business carries many challenges along with it.
“Learning how to deal financially in different countries has been a challenge,” Kudis says. “One thing you have to learn is what the tax implications are. Each country is different. You should do business with an accounting firm or law firm that can find out answers for you. That really makes it easy.”
Allegheny Petroleum didn’t utilize those resources in the beginning on the first two countries where the company launched its efforts and there were snags.
“Had I used our law firm or our accounting firm, it would have been a lot easier,” Kudis says. “Make sure you understand what it takes to do business in a foreign country before you start doing business there.”
Another big decision that has streamlined business for the company was using a global pricing index with its major direct customers.
“We now move our pricing quarterly as these prices move,” he says. “In the past every time there was an increase you had to go in and present everything to your customer and sit and argue about the pricing. Now that it’s indexed at the end of the quarter, it’s just a matter of how the pricing has moved and that has really streamlined the pricing.
“Our customers feel very good because they know it’s indexed to something that they can see. I feel good because as my raw material costs rise or drop it keeps my profits pretty steady. It really makes it easy to not worry about the pricing side of your business as much.”
Now that Allegheny Petroleum has streamlined business, entered into global markets and become a substantial player in its industry, Kudis is excited to find where the next level is.
“My vision is how do I double and triple the business,” he says. “Everything had been done organic and we might look at doing some acquisitions. The next level will also mean being more global.
“You have to think down the road and get out of the box to think about things that maybe you haven’t thought about in the past, because once you stop growing you’re done.”
How to reach: Allegheny Petroleum Products Co., (412) 829-1990 or www.oils.com
Find the right talent for your leadership team.
Give the leadership team the autonomy to make decisions.
Constantly look at how to keep growing your business.
The Kudis File
Allegheny Petroleum Products Co.
Born: Homestead, Pa.
Education: Graduated from Penn State and received a bachelor’s degree in business logistics.
What was the very first job that you had and what did you learn from it?
I worked in a steel mill. I was a laborer so I drove a high lift and moved different things around. My dad worked there and he said, ‘This man is going to pay you, so you better work so that you make sure you earn every dollar you get.’ I still live by that today.
Who is someone that you looked up to?
My grade-school basketball coach. If we played bad we would come back and practice until 11 o’clock at night to make sure we did things right. We won the state championship that year. Hard work eventually pays off.
What Allegheny Petroleum product are you most proud of?
We make what’s called a backup bearing oil for the steel mills, which is called a Morgoil. When steel mills roll steel it goes between these rolls and on the end of these rolls there are bearings. They are huge bearings that get very hot. The oil goes through to lubricate the bearings and they also cool the bearings on the outside with water to keep them from getting too hot.
So the oil has to be able to accept water and kick out the water as it goes back to the tank and it gets circulated back through the bearings. You don’t want water lubricating your bearings, so our oil kicks out the water pretty good. That’s one of our hallmark products.
If you could speak with one person, whether from the past or present, with whom would you want to speak to?
Joe Paterno. I admired the way he ran the football program at Penn State. I’m not in total agreement with what happened at the end of his career. All through the history of what he did, he represented a class act. He was very well-respected. I enjoyed watching him and what he represented for the school.
“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.
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 email@example.com or (440) 250-7078.