The Oakland County area has an abundance of opportunities for existing businesses and new ventures.
When the going gets rough, the entrepreneurial spirit gets creative and resourceful.
The Oakland Press has gathered upcoming events, news and links to help business owners and professionals succeed.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Walsh College hosts open house May 2

Walsh College Troy Open House is 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 2 at Walsh College Troy Campus, 3838 Livernois, Troy. For information, contact Walsh College Admissions at admissions@walshcollege.edu or 248-823-1610. There will also be two events occurring as part of the Open House. LinkedIn 101 for Business Professionals is a free event designed for individuals looking to improve their networking skills on LinkedIn. You will also be able to learn the importance of certifications in the accounting field by attending the free Accounting Certification Info Session. To register for either session, visit www.walshcollege.edu/OpenHouse/.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book: Adapting to chaos in the workplace

Submitted by Dottie DeHart, DeHart & Company Public Relations
 Palo Alto, CA (April 2013)—When Fast Company’s Robert Safian first coined the phrase “Generation Flux” a little over a year ago suddenly, the uncertainty, instability, and chaos many had been feeling for years had a name.
It’s easy for an unfettered 20-something to embrace chaos, transience, and everything else the “GenFlux” mind-set implies. But what about 40-somethings with mortgages? Glenda Eoyang and Royce Holladay offer reassurance that “reluctant fluxers” can adapt to (and even thrive in) a chaotic new world.
“It’s true that we all need to work in new ways to keep up with the supercharged velocity of change that defines the global economy,” says Eoyang, who along with coauthor Holladay wrote the new book "Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization."
 “And it’s true that leaders need to encourage a sense of urgency in the people we’re counting on to carry out the work.
“However, that sense of urgency needs to energize, not paralyze,” she adds. “We want people excited about the future, not feeling like it’s some kind of alien universe. We need to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they can get there from here.”
While globalism has opened infinite doors, it has also made decisions exponentially more complex. Markets, governments, and cultures are shifting. Technology is altering everything from the way we buy and sell to the way we communicate to the way we perceive the world. And all of this manifests in pure chaos—the dismaying sense that we can’t predict or control anything about our environment.
In other words, we can’t make long-term plans because market conditions change violently and rapidly. The goals we’re working toward won’t hold still. Yesterday’s “must-haves” aren’t even factors today. We struggle to communicate with team members who live 7,000 miles away and speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language.
Helping less-adventurous organizations move from where they are to where they need to be is what Eoyang and Holladay do for a living. They deploy their Adaptive Action model (thoroughly described in their book) inside big corporations, slow-moving school systems, and government agencies mired in bureaucracy.
Adaptive Action is a cycle of three questions that are repeated in moments when a meeting goes off agenda, in hours when crisis requires rapid response, in days or years when plans are disrupted by unexpected events.

The three questions are simple, but not always easy: What? So what? Now what?
What patterns shape the current situation? What do you observe, see, hear, know? What is happening? What did you and others expect? What surprises? What builds or releases tension? What is working or not working?
Now what will I do to change the pattern? Now what information should I share? Now what responses can I expect to my actions? Now what alliances might I build? Now what future paths might appear? Now what will I do to see how patterns change when I take my action?
There are patterns in chaos. 
You don’t have to see the future. You only have to clearly see the present. A lot of anxiety is generated when companies prepare to compete in a future they can’t see. And while a certain amount is inevitable—and actually beneficial as it creates the urgency that drives action—anxiety can spiral out of control if the plans made aren’t firmly grounded in reality.
Some of the old solutions still work. You don’t have to start from scratch. Knowing that the entire system doesn’t have to be scrapped comes as a relief to less adventurous souls who are overwhelmed enough about the new things they have to learn. The trick, says Eoyang, is to be able to see what fits with old solutions and what requires new. (That’s why we call it Adaptive Action.)
“For example, traditional command and control in production and distribution are just as important as flux-inspired exploration and innovation in product design and customer service,” she explains. “The familiarity of the old ways soothes and reassures, which makes room for excitement about the new stuff.”
You can still plan. You just need to plan for a month ahead, not a year ahead (and certainly not five years ahead). When you’re in flux, you can see some things very clearly and others not at all, says Eoyang. Planning processes must be agile enough to fit both. This means tight prediction and control for close and clear information horizons and broad-brush, directional planning for what is fuzzy and far away.
Even the people who kick the hardest and scream the loudest when they’re dragged into this brave new work world will eventually admit that the change has been good for them, says Eoyang.
"Underneath our dislike for change, I think there is a part of humanity that wants to be challenged,” she states. “There is real fulfillment in overcoming these challenges, in mastering new skills, in gaining fresh insights.

About the Authors: Dr. Glenda Eoyang and Royce Holladay are coauthors of Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization (Stanford University Press, 2013). Eoyang works with public and private organizations and communities to help them thrive in the face of overwhelming complexity and uncertainty. She is a pioneer in the field of human systems dynamics (HSD), which she founded.
Holladay is a leader among HSD Associates around the world who use Adaptive Action in their work.

About the Book: Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization (Stanford University Press, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-8047871-1-6, $27.95, www.adaptiveaction.org) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Walk-In Business Counseling Service to be offered free to Oakland County startups

Budding entrepreneurs whose business will be headquartered in Oakland County are invited to attend the new, free Walk-In Business Counseling Service beginning May 9 in the Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Center.
During Walk-In “Start-Up” Thursdays, entrepreneurs who want to start a business but do not know where to begin can receive confidential, one-on-one advice from an experienced business counselor in a supportive atmosphere with no appointment necessary. Counselors will provide direct answers to start-up questions, suggest next steps and provide guidance on business planning tools.
The first walk-in counseling day is Thursday, May 9 from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sessions will be available on a first come, first served basis; no appointment is necessary. Initial counseling sessions are limited to 15 minutes.
“We usually operate on an appointment-only basis but many entrepreneurs walk into our One Stop Shop with questions on how to get started with their business idea,” said Greg Doyle, One Stop Shop Business Center supervisor. “By designating special walk-in days, we hope to reach more entrepreneurs and help them understand their next steps as well as present the resources we can make available to them. Our aim is to get them started quickly in a way that makes the most sense to their unique situation.”
All sessions will be held at the Oakland County Executive Office Building, One Stop Shop Business Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, Building 41W, in Waterford Township. The center is located on the first floor.
For more information, call 248-858-0783 or visit AdvantageOakland.com/expand.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

HR Spring Training offered by law firm

The law firm of Miller Canfield announces the details of its HR Spring Training for human resource professionals, corporate counsel and business executives. The annual HR Spring Training Employment Law Seminar will be held 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, at the MSU Management Education Center, 811 W. Square Lake Road in Troy.
Miller Canfield employment and labor lawyers will discuss best practices and the latest issues impacting employers in Michigan, including Right-to-Work, “Obama-Care,” Electronics in the Workplace, Wage and Hour, Medical Marijuana and Drug Testing, Weapons in the Workplace and Cross-Border Immigration.
The all-day seminar is $95 and includes continental breakfast, lunch and seminar materials. Advance reservations are required. This program has been approved for 5.25 credit hours towards PHR, SPHR and GPHR recertification through the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI).

RSVP and view the full agenda at www.millercanfield.com/HRSpringTraining or contact Virginia Herrick at 313.496.7548 or herrick@millercanfield.com. This program is also available on April 30 in Kalamazoo.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Workshops geared to help business owners and entrepreneurs

Business owners and entrepreneurs who need assistance are encouraged to attend seminars offered by the Oakland County Business Center. The seminars will take place at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford Township. For registration, visit www.AdvantageOakland.com/expand or call 248-858-0783.
Business Research: Feasibility to Expansion is 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, May 1. It is for those who want to start or grow a business and those who want to identify market trends and opportunities to grow sales. The workshop is presented by Oakland County Market Research and an Oakland County Public Library business reference librarian. This workshop is free but registration is required.
Writing a Business Plan is 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, May 8. It is designed for individuals who want to increase their chances for successful self-employment, the course covers business planning in detail. The first steps for creating a business plan draft are included along with a demonstration of the MI-SBTDC online business plan tool. The fee is $40 per person.
CEED Microloan Orientation is 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 8. Many small business owners face obstacles when trying to obtain a business loan. The Microloan program requirements and process necessary to apply and obtain a microloan will be discussed. This workshop is free but pre-registration is required.
Venture Forward is 9 a.m. to noon, Friday, May 10 to June 19. It is an intensive, 11-week program designed for owners, CEO’s and top management team members of businesses with at least two years of operating experience, revenue of at least $100,000, and a minimum of two full-time employees. The fee is $140 per participant.
Advanced Legal Series: Protecting Your Intellectual Property is 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, May 14. The workshop will discuss the differences between the various state and federal registration protections (patents, copyrights, trademarks), and the specific requirements for the “contractual protections” available to Michigan businesses, and more. The fee is $40 per person.
Women's Business Enterprise Certification Orientation is 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 22. Information about becoming a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE). Benefits include certification to private sector WBE’s and access to procurement opportunities with major national companies. For more information, visit www.miceed.org. The fee is $25 per person.
Small Business Money Smart Forum is 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23. Learn about funding sources and valuable resources available to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet with bankers to discuss specific business financing needs and learn about banker member products and services. The focus is specific to start-ups and second stage businesses. The special guest will be Martin Lavelle, Senior Associate Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Detroit Branch. Sponsored by the Oakland County Community Reinvestment Act Association, the workshop is free, but registration is required.
Team SBA Financing Roundtable is 9 a.m. to noon, May 30. This is a free loan orientation conducted by a business banker, a business consultant from the SBAs network of Small Business Development Centers, and an SBA representative. This workshop is free, but pre-registration is required.

Friday, April 19, 2013

CREW Detroit real estate panel asks, 'where's the money?'

CREW Detroit is hosting “Where’s the Money?”  the first of a two-part series about finding and financing real estate opportunities. The public is invited to learn from a panel of experts about traditional lending, alternative lending sources and private equity.
 
The April 30 event starts with registration at 3 p.m. at Barton Malow, 26500 American Drive in Southfield. The program begins at 3:30 p.m. and breaks at  4:30 p.m. for networking. The cost to attend is $45 for CREW Detroit members and $65 for nonmembers. Register by April 26.
“Where’s the Money?” will be moderated by Acquest Realty President Joan Cleland and feature
speakers Toddy Pryor, commercial lender at Huntington Bank; Erin Grant, senior lender at
the Detroit Development Fund; and Richard Hosey, president of Hosey Development, LLC.
Attendees can expect to learn the effects of layering creative financing options and what steps
can be taken to make the process smoother. The panel will also discuss the different types of
projects that are currently being financed.

The second part of the series, “Where’s the Property?” will take place May 14 at St. John’s in Plymouth featuring speakers Tammy Deane of Detroit Public Schools, Kimberly Williams Anderson from the State of Michigan’s Land Bank Fast-track Authority, Marja Winters from the City of Detroit, Aundre Wallace from the Detroit Land Bank and Mike Moran of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
CREW Detroit is a founding chapter of CREW Network, a professional organization made up of more than 8,000 women and men from across the United States and Canada. For more information, visit
www.crewdetroit.org.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Interview tips for hiring team players

Submitted by Dottie DeHart of DeHart & Company Public Relation

Ballston Spa, NY (April 2013)—Today’s workplace demands high-functioning teams. In the global economy, collaboration and innovation are how work gets done, and the complexity of that work necessitates an array of skill sets. In this kind of environment, it’s not surprising that what Bruce Piasecki calls “fierce individualists” are becoming all but obsolete. That’s why when it comes time to add to your team, he says, it’s critical to make sure you hire good team players and not future MVPs.
“Invest in coachable hires,” advises Piasecki, author of the new book Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning 
As Piasecki’s book explains, the days when a larger-than-life personality is allowed to steamroll over the rest of the company are over. This destroys morale, which destroys results.
Piasecki offers the following hints on the qualities you should look for and the questions you should ask:
Conduct interviews in a team of four or five leaders. This will replicate the dynamics of the team setting the new employee will be working in, explains Piasecki. “Good team players tend to do well in settings of four or five people asking an avalanche of questions,” he observes.
Look for an intrinsic ability to “bond” with interview team members. Even more important than dress, training, or résumé, says Piasecki, is the candidate’s ability to “bond” instantly to at least three to five members in the interview team. This doesn’t merely mean an affinity for small talk or schmoozing. The bond we’re discussing here must translate to action in a “reliable, sustained way” with those people—and it will reveal itself in the specific points the candidate makes. 
Also, look for a comfort level with the rapid-fire give-and-take of the interview team. Piasecki explains that people who work well in teams do certain things well in interviews. For example: They don’t get ruffled. They answer your pointed questions with calm and with precision, without being terse. Like a captain, they do not have performance anxiety. They demonstrate grace under pressure, know when to exert force, and overall provide your team with a sense of respect and fascination for more. 
They enjoy interviews that involve more than one “boss.” The true team player, the true potential project leader, or the true divisional captain is someone who shoots straight but understands the culture. That is, they know precedent, but they demonstrate an ability to work fast and past the impediments of budget, rules, and competition.
They relate one person’s question to another, and they answer to the group by relating the questions as “pieces of an overall composite” of a whole. “Team players know individual questions are merely a part of the mosaic of the culture that runs a firm,” says Piasecki. “They are ‘looking’ to get a sense of that culture and articulate how they anticipate fitting into that culture and how they wish to perform within its norms.”
“In other words, team players understand that the group asks questions in a sequence for a reason, and that the questions are not arbitrary but often related to a larger issue,” he adds. “They seem to understand that what you’re really asking is Are you trustworthy? Can you work for our benefit? Will you share shoulder strength? Their answers will reflect this deeper understanding.” 
They show respect for the team they are seeking to join. Fierce individualists might focus on how they did it at their previous job, how well it worked, and why you should try it at your company. Team-oriented candidates, on the other hand, will never display such arrogance. “Team players understand the legacy of the team, the coaching approach, and the reasons to improve in the current season,” says Piasecki. “They live with the past legacy before them and demonstrate respect for it.” 
They demonstrate a desire to work with you for a long time. As a player in the global economy, your quest is to generate revenue through respect, relationships, and long service. That kind of well-paid loyalty requires a team player, says Piasecki. You are always looking for a longer term player, someone who is coachable in a matter of seasons, not just individual project events. 
Good team players look for feedback. In fact, they long for it. It’s not that they want the praise, but that they want to get a feel for the path of improvement available to them. They will expect it to be a two-way conversation, whereby you are able to interact with their responses, not just a Q & A session. 
Be sure you have a “captain” making the final hiring decision. Captains, as opposed to plain old “leaders,” are skilled in the art of teambuilding. While an entire book could be written on the subject of captains, says Piasecki, in general they have the ability to recognize key capabilities in employees, to put the right people into the right roles, and to create a certain “magic” that transforms a group of individuals into an interconnected whole.

5 revealing interview questions
By Bruce Piasecki
 1. What was your best team experience? 
2. Can you tell us about some of your biggest wins? Your biggest losses? 
3. In the best of all possible worlds, do you want to work for us for a year, three years, or five years? The selfish candidate feels he can accomplish more than he can in less time than it really takes. The team player understands that it takes time to fit, accelerate, and be of service. 
4. Do you seek one mentor or two in our group? People who want to work with only the CEO or the founder are typically not great team players. 
5. How coachable are you? I find that people who are coachable may not think of themselves as coachable. Likewise, those who think they are coachable are often quite inflexible and pig-headed. This paradox is real. Finding a person who is competitive in a group way, yet also coachable, is difficult. Yet he or she will bring the most certain margin of profit to the group.
About the Author: Dr. Bruce Piasecki is president and founder of AHC Group, Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in energy, materials, and environmental corporate matters, whose clients range from Suncor Energy, Hess, FMC, the Warren Buffett firm Shaw Industries and Toyota. Piasecki is the author of several seminal books on business strategy, valuation, and corporate change.
About the Book: Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning (Wiley, March 2013, ISBN: 978-1-1184849-5-1, $25.00, www.brucepiasecki.com) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, visit www.wiley.com.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Analysis: Unequal wages cost Michigan women $15 billion in yearly income

Today, (April 9) is Equal Pay Day — which marks how far into the new year women must work in order to catch up with what men were paid the year before.
A new analysis released for Equal Pay Day reveals that women who are employed full time in Michigan are paid just 74 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly gap in wages of $13,122. Collectively, this amounts to a loss of more than $15 billion in income every year – money that could strengthen the state economy and provide critical support to the more than 482,600 Michigan households headed by women.
The analysis was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families, based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
“This new analysis illustrates the great harm to families, states and metropolitan areas caused by the pervasive gender-based wage gap,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
According to the analysis, if the gap between men’s and women’s wages in Michigan were eliminated, each full-time working woman in the state could afford to pay for food for 2.1 more years, buy 3,500+ more gallons of gas, pay mortgage and utilities for 10 more months or pay rent for 18 more months. These basic necessities would be particularly important for the 34.7 percent of Michigan’s women-headed households currently below the poverty level.
Nationally, women who hold full-time jobs are paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to men who hold full-time jobs. African American women and Latinas fare worse, being paid 64 cents and just 55 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This wage gap has been closing at a rate of less than half a cent per year since passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. At that rate, it is estimated that women will not be paid equally for more than 40 years.
“Fifty years ago this year, the Equal Pay Act became law. Yet a punishing wage gap persists for women across the country,” Ness continued. “We must do more to close the wage gap, which is present in every part of the country and every industry, and affects workers with every level of education. Congress and the president can and must do more. We are urging Congress to prioritize passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act and urging President Obama to take executive action to ensure that federal contractors do not discriminate in pay.  It is past time the country finally make gender-based pay discrimination a thing of the past.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, help to break harmful patterns of wage discrimination, and establish stronger workplace protections for women; it was reintroduced in Congress in January. President Obama has been a vocal supporter of the bill, calling on Congress to pass it in his State of the Union address in February. Since then, the National Partnership and other advocates have urged the president to issue an executive order on fair pay, which would set an example for the nation’s employers and help ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to support discriminatory pay practices.
The analysis uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and spans all 50 states and the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. Reports for each locality, along with state rankings are available at www.NationalPartnership.org/Gap.

Marketing & Sales Executives of Detroit seeks nominations for awards

The Marketing & Sales Executives of Detroit (MSED) is accepting nominations of top-performing marketing and sales professionals in southeastern Michigan for the organization’s coveted Platinum Awards. Two Platinum Award winners, one individual and one team, will be honored at MSED’s 20th Annual Black-Tie Gala Dinner in October. The awards recognize work which led to the awarding or generation of new business and/or cost savings from Jan. 1, 2012 through June 1, 2013. Nominees do not have to be MSED members.
Past Platinum Award winners include: Borg Warner; Rugged Liner; Reliance One; Dow Automotive; CSM Worldwide; Priority Health; Grede Holdings; SKF; and Rehmann. The award nomination form can be downloaded through the MSED website at www.msedetroit.org.
The completed nomination along with any additional information about the nominee should be emailed to meetings@meeting-coordinators.com. A group of finalists will be selected from the nominees and interviewed by a panel of judges, with the winning individual and team being acknowledged at MSED’s Annual Black-Tie gala dinner in October. For more information, visit www.msedetroit.org.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Traditional marketing is dead

Submitted by Dottie DeHart, DeHart & Company Public Relations dehartandcompany.com/
 

Boston, MA —Consider for a moment the annoying, interruptive, often obnoxious nature of traditional marketing. Dinnertime phone calls from strangers in noisy call centers. Glossy pictures of the latest fashions worn by models who barely look human. Crowded store shelves with head-spinning arrays of options arranged in no discernable order (“I just need some toothpaste!”). Company websites that give us no clue what the business actually does.
It’s hard to believe these are the methods and tools of a profession designed to attract and persuade us to become customers, says Bill Lee—especially when “we the buyers” increasingly ignore them.
“A number of studies are showing that people no longer pay much attention to traditional marketing as they progress through the ‘buyer’s decision journey,’” says Lee, author of The Hidden Wealth of Customers: Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset. “Instead, buyers are checking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, their social network, or just plain word-of-mouth or customer reviews. It seems clear that marketing as we currently practice the discipline is on its way out.”
Of course, not everyone in the marketing world clings to worn-out methods, says Lee. In fact, he works with a pioneering group of C-level and forward-thinking marketing executives who are successfully replacing this increasingly dated model with something that customers actually welcome and respond to. For those who’d like to join them, Lee offers the following advice:
Go retro: Cultivate a local buying experience. It’s a myth that social networks and their technologies are creating new approaches to marketing. At their most effective, they’re doing the opposite: They’re allowing customers to re-create the experience of shopping and buying in their local communities.
Think about it this way: How do buyers prefer to purchase a lawnmower, a haircut, a good dining experience, a movie, a car, the services of a good assistant, or a good doctor? Do they pick up the phone and call a salesperson, or read through a bunch of business websites? No, they’re much more likely to talk to neighbors, friends, colleagues at work, and others in their peer networks and ask what they’ve used.
“Marc Benioff understood this when he was building Salesforce.com to compete against much bigger, entrenched competitors,” says Lee. “He was building a better enterprise software product, and to get the word out, he organized ‘City Tour’ events and neighborhood ‘street teams.’ The City Tour events would bring his customers together with prospects and a few other interesting people for presentations and group discussion.
“Benioff found that buyers were much less interested in hearing from him than they were in talking to his customers—their peers, other software programmers like themselves,” he adds. “When he studied the numbers, Benioff found that 80 percent of the prospects who attended such events wound up becoming customers themselves—in effect, an 80 percent close rate.”
Cultivate customer sales and marketing people. Business spends billions of dollars training salespeople to build relationships with prospects and customers. But no one has to spend a dime training a customer to build a trusting relationship with your prospects. Since they’re peers, they pretty much already have one. Microsoft builds on this aspect of human nature when it penetrates new markets, often in foreign countries where they don’t speak the language or understand the culture. The firm will engage with local software users—whom they call MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals)—many of whom have built substantial followings of their own through blogging and their social networks.
“One is known as ‘Mr. Excel’ to his followers, and on some days his website gets more visits than Microsoft’s own Excel page on its corporate website,” says Lee. “Many companies, when faced with the same situation, threaten lawsuits. Microsoft embraced Mr. Excel. In fact, they support his activities with ‘insider knowledge’ and the opportunity to get a sneak preview and to test new releases. In return, Mr. Excel, and thousands of other Microsoft MVPs, wind up providing invaluable input as the firm develops new releases, and produce its most effective marketing communications, as buyers realize that it comes from a peer they know and trust.
“In such ways, the MVPs are helping Microsoft penetrate and grow markets more effectively and cost affordably than the corporation could do using traditional marketing approaches staffed by hired outsiders,” he adds.
Build strong customer communities. Consider Harley-Davidson’s success in creating a sense of community around its bikes. Three decades ago, the public associated Harleys with gangs and outlaws, which turned off consumers. Harley-Davidson worked hard to change the image, first by getting police departments to start using them, and then by working assiduously to build a customer community of middle-class (law-abiding) customers that morphed into today’s famous million-person HOGs (Harley Owners Group). Today, Harley-Davidson HOGs, far from being outlaws, position themselves as family: the brothers (and now sisters) you never had.
It’s not just sexy products like Harleys (and iPads) that can create large communities of customers—which in turn attract large numbers of buyers. One of the most successful customer communities is Procter & Gamble’s BeingGirl community of teenage girls, formed around, of all things, feminine care products.
“The key to forming customer communities is not to try to build them around your brand—a common and obvious mistake marketing departments make,” notes Lee. “Rather, ask, ‘What does our product or service mean to our customers?’ Or, ‘What could they mean?’ P& G realized that its feminine care products could symbolize the difficult, scary, exciting transition its teenage customers are making into becoming young women.”
Get customers involved in the solution. When toy maker LEGO launched its robotics building-block kits, Mindstorms, a few years ago, hackers almost immediately started altering the code to allow the robots to do more. In circumstances like this, most firms call their legal departments and start issuing cease and desist demands. Indeed, faced with a similar response when it issued a comparable line of toys, Sony did just that. But LEGO took a smarter approach, says Lee.
“Basically, LEGO executives did the math,” he explains. “One thousand or so hackers—or more to the point, enthused and technically advanced customers—were coming up with robots that could do amazing things that the firm’s seven internal developers had never thought of. One of the hacker-created robots could solve a Rubik’s cube. As they—and their other customers—realized the value the hackers were creating, LEGO further embraced them. Now its customer community numbers in the tens of thousands and continues to develop amazing arrays of robotic toys—far beyond anything the company might have developed on its own.”
Meanwhile, 3M and other companies are systematizing customer-led innovation. Rather than wait passively for customers to begin altering or hacking their products, they’ve learned how to proactively pursue and find customers, or “users,” who would be most likely to come up with breakthrough innovations. MIT professor Eric von Hippel has coined the term “lead users” to describe them, and worked with 3M’s healthcare business to develop a system for finding them. The result was an eightfold improvement in revenues from innovations developed with the help of such customers vs. innovations developed by 3M’s ordinary, internally developed process.
“What makes this particularly significant, of course, is that 3M’s product developers are among the most innovative in the world,” says Lee.
Help customers build social capital. Why do customers engage so enthusiastically in helping companies develop, market, and sell their products—in effect, growing their businesses? Many pundits think you need an incredibly sexy product like an iAnything developed by a once-in-a-century genius like Steve Jobs. But that misses the point: All it takes is a business that changes customers’ lives for the better—which is something far more replicable—even if you’re making feminine hygiene products.
What all these companies—and others that Lee features in his book—do is help customers build their social capital by helping them affiliate with their peers in customer communities, build their status and reputation, and learn and grow in the process. Often, they also include service to a larger purpose.
“Enterprise software maker SAS Canada, for example, addressed an unexpected decline in its customer retention rates by engaging some of its leading customers, called ‘Customer Champions,’ in the effort to hold on to customers and bring the defectors back,” notes Lee. “The Customer Champions organized live forums in more than 20 major markets around the country, presented and brought in local speakers, contributed to an e-newsletter that SAS started, and more. The result was to completely restore the firm’s retention rates to its previous high levels.
Why did the Customer Champions put forth such an effort?” he adds. “Because it gave them a chance to affiliate more deeply with their peers—other software managers and engineers. It gave them a chance to play a leadership role in their peer community. It gave them substantial status and recognition as well. And of course, it increased their knowledge and expertise by more deeply understanding how to address the needs of other SAS customers.” 

  If you think all of this sounds more appealing than the old manipulate-them-into-buying techniques, you’re not alone, says Lee.
          “When companies commit to depending on authentic customer advocacy to grow their firms, it not only improves their marketing results, it also improves their organizations,” says Lee. “That’s because it’s hard to mask substandard performance and customer discontent with your products and services if they’re the ones you rely on to tell the world how great you are.”

 
About the Author:
Bill Lee is the author of The Hidden Wealth of Customers: Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-4221723-1-5, $27.00) and is a  respected authority
on the subject of customer advocacy and engagement. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog Network. His article “Marketing Is Dead” blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/marketing_is_dead.html was one of the most widely read and commented in the history of the network, receiving some 600 comments and more than 4,000 recommendations on HBR’s Facebook page.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Troy Chamber hosts Nonprofit Management Conference

The Troy Chamber of Commerce and its Non-Profit Network (NPN) will host the 8th Annual Nonprofit Management Conference, 8 a.m.–3 p.m., Thursday, April 25 at Walsh College, 3838 Livernois, Troy. This management conference for nonprofit professionals, board members and volunteers is sponsored by Walsh College, MORC and the Troy Chamber. It is presented by Huntington Bank’s Seeds For Success.
The day begins with a continental breakfast and networking hour followed by two breakout sessions, a hot buffet lunch and an extended afternoon session following lunch.
Breakout sessions cover the following topics: Strategic Planning, Marketing, Human Resource & Volunteer Management, Fund Development/Donor Relations, Governance & Operations, Leadership/Board Development, Technology and Finance/Accounting/Tax.

A motivational lunch featuring keynote speaker, Mike Fezzey, president of Huntington Bank’s East Michigan region, and an expanded two-hour breakout session complete the afternoon.

Attendees may choose one of two afternoon workshops.The first is a presentation entitled, "Towards a Culture of Inclusion: Building and Sustaining a Diverse Board," with Rosemary Linares of the Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW).

The second session is “Maximizing Corporate and Business Support,” featuring Michael Montgomery of Montgomery Consulting.
 The cost for the day-long event, meals included, is $50 for Troy Chamber members and $95 for non-members. Reservations are required. Call the Troy Chamber at 248-641-3694 or email jody@troychamber.com. For more information, visit http://www.troychamber.com/non-profit-network/non-profit-mgt-conference/

Monday, April 1, 2013

10 tips for last-minute tax filers

Here are 10 questions and answers from the American Institute of CPAs to help with last-minute uncertainties as the deadline for filing 2012 individual income tax returns approaches.

Q. Is April 15 the deadline for filing 2012 tax return?
A. Yes, midnight on Monday, April 15, 2013.  It is also the due date for first quarter estimates if required to pay estimated taxes quarterly.

Q. Do tax returns have to be mailed at the post office?
A. The IRS strongly encourages taxpayers who have access to a computer to file online at www.IRS.gov. Any certified public accountant can also electronically file. The United States Postal Service uses special procedures and maintains extra-long hours to make it as easy as possible for taxpayers who wait until the last minute to get their returns in the mail by midnight. There are also IRS-designated private delivery services.

Q. What does it cost to file a return online?
A. There is no charge to use IRS e-file to file returns electronically.

Q. What if a person can’t file by the April 15 deadline?
A. Individuals who need additional time should submit a request for an extension by filing IRS Form 4868, “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.”

Q. Can Form 4868 be filed electronically?
A. Yes.  Or, filers can request an extension by mailing Form 4868 by midnight on April 15, 2013.

Q. How do filers know if a request for an extension has been approved?
A. Filing a Form 4868 on time and in accordance with all IRS requirements automatically grants a taxpayer an extension to file their 2012 income tax return until Oct. 15, 2013.

Q. How complicated is Form 4868?
A. Form 4868 is very short, it only asks for basic contact information and requires only an estimate of 2012 taxes.

Q. Why is an estimate of taxes required if requesting an extension?
A. Correctly filing Form 4868 only extends the date to submit tax returns. It does not delay the requirement to pay taxes by April 15.

Q. What if a filer thinks they’ll be getting a refund?
A. Those expecting a refund don’t need to do anything other than file Form 4868.  However, the refund will not be received until after filing a tax return.

Q. Does filing Form 4868 also give an extension on the deadline for submitting my state income tax forms?
A. Each state has different rules. Be sure to check your state’s filing requirements for requesting an extension.

For more information, check the tips on the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Taxes website at 360Taxes.org. It is a public service site to assist taxpayers year-round with tax filing questions and tax planning and tax saving strategies.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession, with nearly 386,000 members in 128 countries and a 125-year heritage of serving the public interest.
 The AICPA maintains offices in New York, Washington, DC, Durham, NC, and Ewing, NJ.