It’s 3 AM – Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanIt doesn’t matter what type of company you run, your operation amasses a great deal of valuable data. You have a treasure trove of customer information, including phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, billing histories, demographic profiles, social security numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers. You purchased some of this data, while you garnered the rest over time, using meticulous recording keeping.

Even the smallest of businesses possess an extraordinary amount of priceless information, while larger organizations store millions or billions of data points — all nicely organized, painstakingly verified, carefully stored, and dutifully backed up.

You have all that information, but what are you doing with it? No, I’m not talking about harnessing metadata to produce a competitive advantage or turning raw information into a core distinctive (think of how Google astutely exploits the vast minutia of data they have accumulated). I’m sure you know you must do these things and are diligently working on them. What I am referring to is protecting your immense information stash from the nefarious reach of notorious hackers, cyberspace’s criminal elite — hard to catch and harder still to prosecute.

With the theft of personal information steadily increasing — due to an insatiable demand and relatively low risk — there is a greater likelihood your business could soon be a victim. So I will implore you to protect one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

First, you need someone with the knowledge and experience to be in charge of securing your computers, network, intranet, and Internet access points.

Then, give them the resources needed to do the job. I’m not suggesting you provide an unlimited budget or give them a blank check, but when they say it will cost X dollars to do the job, don’t provide half that amount and expect full results. If you cut the funds, some items will remain insecure or be only partially secure. That would be akin to locking the doors of your office, but leaving the windows open — or installing a building security system, but never connecting it to the monitoring station. Don’t handcuff the crime stoppers.

Next, know that many security breaches are inside jobs. Yes, I realize you carefully screen new hires and trust your employees to not steal from you. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t hold your staff in high esteem. However, the reality is that many cases of data theft involve an insider, be it complicit or innocently duped.

To address the people side of the equation, you need your human resources department involved, along with IT and your security officer. Together they can put safeguards in place to restrict access, limit the scope of information available, and provide an electronic log of activity. Additionally provide training on what information staff can give out and under what conditions.

Your data — and your company’s future — is on the line. Make sure it’s a secure one.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Save

Save

6 Trends to Watch in the New Year

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

As we make the transition from one year to the next, we typically take time to reflect and project – that is, to look at the past and anticipate the future. In embarking on this task, it is not my intent to recap the past year. Nor is it my plan to predict the next twelve months. What I will do is share recent observations and project them into the future.

Generation Y: They go by different names: Gen-Y, the Millennial generation, Millennials, and mosaics, but regardless of the label, they were born in the last two decades of the 1900s (plus or minus a few years, depending on who is doing the explaining). Generation Y is our future workforce. They think differently, act differently, and work differently than prior generations. Most likely the person doing the hiring doesn’t “get” them and doesn’t want to hire them, but if you want employees, you will have to address this. Even if you’re currently able to hire around their demographic, you won’t be able to do so indefinitely.

Now is the time to learn about this frustrating – and exciting – generation. Now is the time to change your hiring processes and adjust your culture. Fail to do so at your own peril.

Social Media: Are you tired of hearing about social media? Well, brace yourself to hear more about it in the coming years. Are you losing sleep trying to figure out how to use social media in an effective manner or monetize it? If so, you can expect your insomnia to continue. Regardless, social media is not a fad; it is here to stay.

Here’s my take on social media:

  • Most of the discussion is more theoretical than practical; this suggests that even the experts don’t yet know how to make it work for most businesses.
  • The few success stories that are loudly trumpeted are more anomaly than a template to follow.
  • From a business standpoint, the hype largely exceeds the practical utility, but even so, social media will become more integrated into our businesses, culture, and lives.
  • Social media takes time, and so far the results are questionable.
  • Not being on Facebook will soon be as unusual as not having email today.

In “Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?” I gave some practical applications for social media that businesses could consider, both to enhance internal operations and expand external opportunities. This is a good beginning point. You don’t have to start big, but you do need to start; don’t delay. (Read more about social media.)

Texting: Parallel to social media is texting. Though I use Twitter (@peter_dehaan) daily, I don’t text nearly as much. I used to think texting was a fad, but not anymore. Consider that some people (especially the aforementioned generation Y) may fail to check their email or answer their phone, but they will not ignore a text message. The implications are huge; we cannot dismiss them.

Offshoring: Offshoring is waning. No, it’s not going away, and it will be a factor in the future, but its star is not shining as brightly as it once was. While offshoring saved many companies a lot of money, it has been a public relations nightmare. Succinctly stated, consumers don’t want to communicate with people they can’t understand and who can’t understand them. By definition this is not communication.

This is not a bash on offshoring. When done right offshoring is a financial and customer service success. This includes hiring people with the right language skills (which should be a given for any call center), providing whatever training is needed to produce effective agents, and only taking on work that is a good match for the call center. Good offshoring will survive – and thrive – whereas those that hire anyone who can breathe and take any account that can pay will fail.

Hosted Services: The concept of accessing software over the Internet goes by so many different names that I’m no longer sure what to call it. What I am sure of is that it’s a viable option and a growing trend. While there are many compelling reasons to adopt it, there is one concern: what happens when you lose your Internet connection? Certainly, pursue the hosted services option, but don’t lose sight of the risk, making sure you have a reasonable contingency plan in place. Although the Internet is ubiquitous, it is not infallible.

Specialist versus Generalist: I see a need for organizations to become either specialists or generalists – and the middle ground is not the place to be. Specialists focus on one or two vertical markets. Their intent is serving them so well and with such expertise that they become the market leaders that no one else can touch. If they specialize in widgets, they know widgets better than anyone else.

In contrast are the generalists. Generalists offer a wide range of options to their customers. Their goal is to meet any need so that customers will never have to seek a second vendor. Although generalists strive to provide any service requested, they often can’t offer the depth or specific skill sets of the specialists.

These six areas are a good starting point for moving forward into next year. In all likelihood, you’re already pursuing some of them, and I encourage you to press on. For areas that are new to you, consider what your first step should be and slowly advance in small but steady increments. Either way, the future has much to offer – if we will embrace it.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

 

Giving Back to Your Community

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Working in any business is challenging and demanding work. Owning and running one is even harder. Daily activity seems, all too often, to consist of reacting to the urgency of the moment. There is little time to plan and few opportunities to look beyond the confines of the company walls. Yet looking beyond is exactly what you need to do. Seeking ways to give back to your community may be precisely the action you should pursue. Some organizations have done so – with profound results.

Why Give? There are many reasons why it is wise and appropriate for a business to give back to its community. Aside from principled reasons, the practical justification is that it is good for business. Community involvement expands networking opportunities, increases corporate standing, and generates goodwill. From an employee standpoint, it builds team camaraderie as staffers serve together and pursue common non-work related goals, increases employer esteem, and provides a connection outside the workplace. These, then, have an indirect effect of improving employee job satisfaction and thereby decreasing turnover. Last, as employees see a different side to their employer, respect can increase and better understanding nurtured. With all these benefits, what company wouldn’t want to promote and pursue a philanthropic effort?

What to Give? There are two primary forms of assistance that can be provided: money and manpower. Most organizations are more in need of volunteer labor than they are of monetary donations. (Although, as nonprofits find volunteers scarcer, they seek the funds to hire the labor that could otherwise be volunteered.)

Let’s start with the manpower aspect. You can provide opportunities for your staff to volunteer. They can go in groups. It is easier to go somewhere new or try something different if it is done with a friend. Plus, there is the bonus of being able to serve together; this has its own rewards. Generally, these opportunities should occur outside regular working hours. Some businesses have a provision to take time off without pay; a few even offer paid time off when volunteering. These, however, are rare, costly to the company, and generally not needed. Setting up a simple means to allow employees to know about and pursue volunteer opportunities takes little time and incurs little cost to the company.

For many people it is easier to write a check than it is to volunteer. The same is true for businesses. If a corporate financial donation is not feasible, don’t worry about it. Having you and your staff involved is generally more important anyway. If making a financial contribution is feasible, one consideration is setting up a matching fund. This is when companies budget monies to match the donations of their employees. The employee makes the donation, submits the receipt, and the company makes a matching contribution. This, too, is quite easy to set up. Payroll deductions for charities are also an option, but more costly and time-consuming to implement. Of course, there is also the option for the business to make a direct contribution.

Where to Give? Needs exist all around your community. Find out what is already going on. Consider after school programs, food pantries, clothes closets, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens. Call your nearest school and ask how you can help. Opportunities might include “adopt-a-classroom,” reading programs, tutoring, providing back-to-school supplies, or helping with GED classes. If you have a college nearby, check with the service organizations on campus and see how you can support them. A side benefit of working with college students is that you will be interacting with potential job candidates. Just make sure that employee prospecting doesn’t become the reason for getting involved.

Who to Give To? By now, your mind is likely spinning with ideas. So many needs, so many opportunities, so much to do. It can quickly become overwhelming. Being overwhelmed leads to discouragement, which leads to inaction. The key to prevent this from occurring is to whittle down the list, identify one organization that is a good fit, and focus on how you can help them.

Start by asking your employees to make recommendations. They will tend to suggest groups which they already support with their time or money. Although only a small percentage of your staff will currently be involved with any organization, it is a great place to start. They already have a connection and an affiliation; they can acclimate others as they step forward to volunteer. You will also have some staffers who have esteem for a particular organization, but have not yet taken that first step towards involvement. Those recommendations are also worth considering. Again, their predilection towards that organization will help move things forward.

Before you make a final selection, perform a “due diligence” just as you would for an important business purchase or partnership. For nonprofits find out how long they have been in your community; check out their annual reports; ask what percentage of donations goes to overhead; see if the Better Business Bureau has a file on them or what the Chamber of Commerce may know. If things look good meet with the executive director, ask to attend a board meeting, and seek an easy way to test if you are a good fit for each other.

Regardless of the size of your business, pick just one organization to support – at least initially. It is far better to make a significant and sustained effort towards one group, then to be thinly spread to many different organizations, which will result in frustration and ineffectiveness. Once you have successfully proven your company can support one organization, then you may consider a second one, but proceed slowly and carefully. Remember that for many companies, especially smaller ones, focusing on one group is ideal.

How to Give? Once you select a group to work with and identified an initial area of service, it is time for tangible action. Ideally, company leaders should be in this first wave of volunteering, setting the example, and inspiring others to follow. As previously mentioned, it is easier to go as a group, especially for the first few times. Hopefully, there are already one or more employees who have practical volunteer experience with the organization. Let them take a lead role, comfortably easing others in and showing how things are done. In no time, everyone will be serving with practiced confidence. Then they can repeat the process with others.

It is important to remember that no matter how great the need or how rewarding the work, only a percentage of employees will take part. Also, their degree of involvement will vary greatly. This is expected, so accept it. Just make sure no one feels obligated to get involved, and remind them that volunteering is, in fact, voluntary. After all, you don’t want to serve with someone who is negative or resentful; the goal is to have fun and find fulfillment as you volunteer. Leave the naysayers at the office.

When to Give? Now! Not next month, not next year; now.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Choose Your Business Partners with Care

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaanConference planners sometimes ask me to sit on a panel. The common format is that each panelist makes an initial presentation, followed by a Q&A. Other times the presentations are longer, with no time for questions.

Most of my panel experiences have not been positive. For my first one, my fellow panel members dismissed my suggestion to coordinate our presentations. I went last and was alarmed when the first panelist covered some of my planned remarks; the third person addressed most of the rest. I needed to come up with new content at the last minute.

Another time, at an early morning panel, one of the panelists had stayed up all night partying. Sitting next to me, he smelled like a brewery. His speech was slurred, his judgment impaired, and his humor – some of which was directed at me – was not so funny. I spent the entire time praying he wouldn’t get sick on me. I doubt he realized he made a fool of himself and demeaned the rest of us in the process.

Another time I thought I was safe. Three of us discussed our remarks in advance, but the fourth person was vague, implying he would ad lib something aligned with our presentations. He went just before me. The first two people gave practical advice, as was my plan, but the third guy delved into high-level theory, giving a well-conceived strategic vision for the future. He outclassed us all – and I had to follow him.

Not surprisingly, I no longer agree to sit on panels. I’m fine with solo presentations, where success or failure sits solely on my shoulders, but keep me away from group presentations.

In business, we often have occasions to collaborate with other companies. Like my panel opportunities, these seem easy to do, require less prep, and share risk. The key word is seem.

Here are three areas to consider:

Affiliate Marketing: Affiliate marketing is performance-based promotion, where one entity (a person or an organization) pays another entity for each lead or sale generated from the first entity’s customer base. Often done via email, there is little cost and a potentially high payoff. Bill stuffers are another example. At a basic level, a company allows an ad aggregator to place relevant promotions on its website. The payoff is pay-per-click revenue.

Recently I bought a tutorial from someone I met at a convention. This person added me to his mailing list and began blasting out affiliate marketing pitches on a weekly basis, with multiple messages for each promotion. I grew weary of the hype and eventually unsubscribed, even though I was open to buy future products from him. Because of his implied endorsement of the people he promoted (some who I deemed questionable) and his unrelenting marketing for them, he lost me as a customer.

Strategic Alliances: Sometimes we seek opportunities to better serve clients by working with other businesses to provide a one-stop solution. Reselling products is one example, as is bundling services provided by other businesses.

When seamlessly integrated, customers don’t realize they are dealing with two companies, and the interaction occurs flawlessly. But when there’s a problem, the caller sees only the initial company, blaming them for the shortcomings of its partner. In these cases, we can succeed and fail based on what our alliance partner does or doesn’t do.

Outsourcing: Sometimes it makes sense to outsource work that other companies can do better or cheaper, yet in each instance, our reputation is placed in the hands of someone else who we have minimal control over. Is it worth the risk?

Whether it’s sitting on panels, affiliate marketing, strategic alliances, or outsourcing, we must proceed with care, not allowing someone else to control our reputation or determine the results.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media. [This article first appeared in Connection Magazine.]

The Frank Principles of Business Blunt: Leadership Lessons Learned Over a Lifetime

Richard J BryanBy Richard J. Bryan

Frank was ex-Special Forces with a fine arts degree—an unusual mix. He achieved a lot in his business career by following five simple principles that he was able to apply to any business, and many have achieved a lot by learning to do the same.

If you can apply these same principles consistently to your organization, you will find that you are able to move away from being a micro-manager and instead become far more strategic in the way your run your own business.

So what are these magic principles? Really, they are just good common sense, but as Frank was fond of saying, “Good business is just common sense, unfortunately common sense is not common practice.”

Principle 1 – Define Your Role: Too often, business owners do not have clarity on the difference between management issues and ownership issues. Management issues are things like dealing with the daily HR concerns, accounting and administration and the sales process. They are seemingly urgent matters that must be dealt with in a timely fashion. The person overseeing these functions can be the business owner or an appointed manager.

Ownership issues are the things that only the business owner can do, such as dealing with the shareholders, banking partners and setting the long-term strategy for the organization.

Frank’s approach was simple: have a clear split between ownership of the business and management of the business and find the most talented people to run day-to-day operations. This sometimes means that the owner needs to step aside from management and make way for a better-qualified leader. A good example of this would be the way that Bill Ford stepped aside as CEO of Ford Motor Company to allow Alan Mulally to take on the role back in 2006. The result was one of the most successful business turnarounds in US corporate history, as Mulally took Ford from near bankruptcy to record profits in 2013.

Concentrate on an area where you are talented and do what you are passionate about. Let others take care of the things that you are not so good at and which conform to their strengths. Everyone will benefit.

Principle 2 – Create a Compelling Vision: One of the most effective ways to harness the potential of an organization is to get everyone pulling in the same direction. However, without a compelling vision this can be difficult to achieve.

Frank realized that vision is a crucial component in getting employees to understand the direction the company is trying to go and therefore encouraging them to generate meaningful suggestions as to how to get there. It doesn’t matter if your vision revolves around customer service excellence or creating innovative products–as long as it is both inspiring and challenging.

Frank did not believe in having a vision that was just there to tick the box and display on a plaque behind reception. Rather, it was an important part of the overall company strategy.

Put some time aside to work on your business rather than in your business by developing a vision that enables you to grow your business and achieve your life goals. Don’t make the excuse that you are too busy to spend this time crafting a quality vision—it will be the best investment of time you ever make.

Principle 3 – Hire “A Players”: Frank believed that the key to running an organization successfully in the longer term is to hire great people. As he was fond of saying, “If you can surround yourself with people that are smarter than you are then the chances are your business will do just fine.”

Many leaders feel insecure about hiring really smart people, as they believe that it will undermine their credibility, but Frank knew that building a great team enhances your reputation as a leader.

A CEO of a $100 million company remarked recently that when he first took on his role 10 years ago he believed was the smartest person on the management team, and that made him very nervous as everything revolved around him. “Frankly it was exhausting!” he said. However, he has invested in hiring great people, and now he considers himself to be surrounded by people that are much smarter than him.

Make sure that hiring “A Players” is a priority for you as a business owner or leader.

Principle 4 – Develop Trust: The key to leading your team of “A Players” is to develop trust. This is what keeps them working for you in the longer term. Frank knew that if you can become a better coach and mentor rather than try and micro-manage your best people you will find that they trust you and are more loyal to the organization. “After all,” Frank would say, “People leave bosses not organizations!”

“A Players” know their market value. What keeps them working for you is not money, but the ability to work independently and express their talents in their own individual way. They are self-motivated and driven to achieve excellent results. Too much interference from their immediate superior can be very demotivating—an “A Players” drive comes from within

Principle 5 – Have Some Fun! Frank was always firm but fair in the way he led his people. One of his greatest strengths was knowing when to have some fun.

Celebrating success—such as winning a major new customer or having a particularly profitable quarter—was always something that he believed in doing as a way to reinforce the positive behavior that caused it.

Even when under extreme pressure to perform, Frank knew the value of a joke or light-hearted moment to relieve the tension. Look for opportunities in your own business to have some fun, as this can be a key retention strategy for your “A Players.”

By following Frank’s simple principles you can not only grow your business, but you will also find you have a lot more time available to enjoy spending with your family and pursuing other interests. As Frank would say, “You only live once and life is short so you had better enjoy it!”

Richard J. Bryan is an international speaker, executive coach and author of the forthcoming book, Being Frank: Real Life Lessons to Grow Your Business and Yourself. Through his experiences as the 4th Generation CEO in a family-owned business, Richard gained a wealth of knowledge and developed into a true leader. By applying his creative strategies, Richard helps businesses hire the right people, forge dynamic teams and increase their profits. For more information, please visit www.richardjbryan.com.