Monday Mornings with Madison

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A Time to Plan

In the course of an ordinary day, most business people rush from meeting to meeting, call to call, and task to task at a frenetic pace. There simply are not enough hours in a day to do everything that needs to get done. The here-and-now is both emphatic and demanding. This relentless focus on the immediate makes it nearly impossible to plan for the future. Moreover, the future is so vaguely ambiguous. In the present, everything must get done now, but even when current needs have been met, the future remains distant and fuzzy. Notwithstanding, planning ahead is among a business owner’s most essential responsibilities, and this is the time of year when most companies should take time to look ahead and consider goals for the future.

Indeed, there is a tremendous value in planning. Planning helps provide guidelines and goals for future decisions. It also helps managers exercise more control in a situation, establish goals “proactively” and consider contingencies. Likewise, planning can help quantify goals and establish a means to measure success. It also ensures that a coherent set of actions are implemented that are consistent with the values and priorities of the leadership and organization. Planning also helps allocate limited resources like staff, materials, and time in an orderly and systematic manner. Last but not least, planning each year helps a company take advantage of changes within its industry. Given that planning is so helpful and necessary, how does one find the time to plan? And what exactly should annual planning entail? How complicated does this need to be? Continue reading

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Charitable Giving – Part 2

By most accounts, the U.S. economy is doing better. Unemployment is down. Job growth has been robust. Businesses are doing better, and the Dow is hitting historic highs. As companies and people find themselves doing better financially, they are more inclined to want to help those who are less fortunate. However, deciding which charity or charities to support can be a challenge. Determining which charity is the most worthwhile and trustworthy to use the donation wisely is hard for even those most knowledgeable about good causes. There are over a million charitable organizations in the U.S. alone. It is hard to decide which cause is ‘best’ when there are so many worthwhile charities. For example, UNICEF helps protect the world’s children by providing clean drinking water, vaccinations and emergency relief in disaster areas. The Against Malaria Foundation provides bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions. The Seva Foundation treats trachoma and other common causes of blindness in developing countries. The list goes on and on. How does one decide which organization is most deserving of financial support?

The truth is that most people spend very little time deciding on a charity to support. In fact, studies have shown that people spend far less time researching a charity to which they give money than they do researching the purchase of a new appliance or car. If charitable giving were handled like a business decision, the goal would be to donate to causes that can do the most good for the most people. However, even then, the choices are many. Here are some things to consider when weighing options and researching charities. Continue reading

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Charitable Giving – Part 1

Did you know that charitable giving increases at this time of year? Indeed, about 40 percent of all charitable donations in the U.S. are made in December. For many charities, end-of-year fundraising is the difference between a successful year and financial hard times. But who is doing the giving? Many think that the majority of all charitable donations are made by the ultra wealthy (think Bill Gates and Sam Walton), big foundations, or prosperous companies trying to increase their tax deductions. In reality, of the more than $300 billion that Americans give to charities every year, only 15% comes from foundation grants and 6% from corporations. The rest – nearly 80 cents of every dollar — is given by individuals. Yet, it’s not primarily by the people you’d most expect.

Who does give to charity? If you think that social class would be a straightforward predictor of charitable generosity, think again. Yes, it does stand to reason that the more wealthy a person is, the more they have to give and the less risky it is to give away some of that wealth. By the same token, the poorer a person is, the less they have to give and the more precarious it is to give some of that away. Therefore, logic dictates that the mega rich should be giving far more to charities than those nearest to the poverty line. Likewise, one would think that people living in the most affluent and liberal states would be more likely to give to charity than those in conservative and poorer states. However, the reality about charitable giving – in the U.S. and abroad – would probably surprise most people. It’s not what you’d expect.
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Logo Mania

Often people confuse the words ‘logo’ and ‘brand’, and use them interchangeably. For many, the two words are synonymous. That is not so. A company’s brand is comprised of much more than its logo. A brand is a promise. It’s a unique combination of a logo, words, typefaces, colors, slogan, mascot, personality, price, customer service, aesthetics, attitude, voice, and more, all working together to convey the essence of the company or organization. That said, the company logo is a key, integral part of its brand and, often, it is the most easily-identifiable representation of the company’s identity.

It used to be that once a company created its logo, it stuck with that logo for a long, long time…. say 50 or 100 years if not forever, unless there was a very good reason to change it. That is no longer the case. With the rise of the Iinternet and improvements in design programs that have made it easier than ever to create digital art, companies are opting to regularly update their corporate logos. But deciding to update a company’s logo – or even create a new logo for a new company – has its challenges. Like art, the appeal of a logo is often in the eyes of the beholder. Those who decide to engage in this exercise should understand the common elements shared by the best logos of all time.
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The Business Conundrum of Quantity or Quality?

About 2000 years ago, Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca was quoted as saying “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” Some 1900 years later, Scottish author and poet George McDonald agreed saying “It is our best work that G-d wants, not the dregs of our exhaustion. I think he must prefer quality to quantity.” Mohandas Ghandi also said that “It is the quality of our work which will please G-d and not the quantity.” These learned men agree that when it comes to work, excellence trumps volume. Less is more.

Yet, the focus of most businesses is to improve productivity, increase output and amplify profits. For businesses, the goal is quantity… more volume…. greater capacity. In the world of work, more is more. That, then, brings us to the age-old argument of which is better: quantity or quality? Is one deal that generates $1 million in revenue and takes six months to close better than 10 deals that close within a six-month period and each generate $100,000 in revenue? They sound like the same thing, but are they really? Is faster manufacturing with more mistakes better or slower production with fewer errors? Should a company do more content marketing (blog posts, articles, press releases, tweets) or fewer but better quality content marketing initiatives? It is a question that business owners, leaders, and managers alike debate. With 2015 just around the corner, it is a good time to consider whether new business goals and plans should focus on increasing quantity or improving quality. Continue reading

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A Good Time To Do Good

There is no shortage of blessings for which we should express appreciation. Solid health. Supportive spouse. Loving family. Long-time friends. Thriving business. Great success. Acclaim. Good fortune. It turns out that giving thanks is good not only for the people receiving that appreciation (after all, it feels good to be told “thank you”) but also for the person expressing gratitude. In fact, gratitude seems to work like a “booster shot” for relationships. This goes for relationships at work as well. An employee expressing gratitude for a boss’ generosity makes both the boss and employee feel better. The same is true for a boss expressing appreciation for an employee’s hard work. Both boss and employee feel better. Giving thanks — the actual act of expressing it — is mutually beneficial.

People should take time to count blessings and be thankful every day. Indeed, taking it even a step further, perhaps the best way to show genuine gratitude for abundant blessings is to pay it forward by doing good and being the good we want to see in the world. It may be that the best way to show real appreciation for blessings and kindness is to be a blessing and show kindness to others…. and give others reasons to also be grateful. That would complete the circle of gratitude. And, it turns out that this also could also be good not just for the recipients but for the do-gooders too! Continue reading

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Time Matters

Every business on the planet would like to improve its use of time. As the saying goes, time is money. Better time management means more profits. It is therefore understandable that businesses — which constantly strive to be ever more profitable — are obsessed with time. Saving time. Managing time. Not wasting time. It especially makes sense given that time is the one truly finite resource. A company can hire more staff. It can buy more equipment. It can till or mine more raw materials or recycle old materials. However, no company can make a day longer… or recycle a minute…. or find a new source of time. Once a moment is gone, that moment can never be regained. Scarcity is what makes time so precious.
Managers from Boston to Beijing and from San Francisco to Singapore want employees to better their manage time. CFOs and efficiency engineers crunch every number related to and study every aspect of time management. Called ergonomics, they study their staff’s use of time, calculating how long each task should take and analyzing how each task can be done faster. Employing logistics, execs estimate the time it takes to move a certain volume of products from point A to point B and focus on how to reduce that time as much as possible. Businesses relentlessly measure, count and calculate and apply time to every workplace activity and process. Likewise professionals strive to manage their own time. Just how well business owners, managers, execs and professionals manage time can have a big impact on their success. Continue reading

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Writing a Great Resume and Cover Letter

Writers and marketers are often asked to help write, revise or review a Resume and/or Cover Letter. Sometimes, it is for friend in search of a new job. Sometimes, it is for a business owner who needs to raise capital or increase a line of credit. Sometimes, it is for a colleague being considered for a seat on a company’s Board of Directors. Resumes and Cover Letters are the most basic, fundamental tools used to speak on behalf of professionals today. After all, what is a Resume and Cover Letter but self-marketing… an individual’s own personal brochure and commercial.

After decades of helping others to draft or tweak their self-marketing documents, the average writer or marketer becomes something of a Job Connoisseur or Resume Coach. In providing this support, the seasoned Resume Coach sees a lot of the same mistakes over and over. Regardless of age, experience or occupation, many people — from the greenest up-and-coming novice to the most experience executives and professionals — commit the same errors on their Resumes and Cover Letters. The most common errors are basic fundamental glitches having to do with grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation. Another common error is overstating or saying too much. Another common mistake has to do with the mindset or perspective with which the documents were written. For anyone in the process of writing or updating a Resume or Cover Letter, here are some words of wisdom to consider. Continue reading

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Basic Marketing Tips for Startups

As a result of the downturn in the real estate and financial markets beginning in 2007-2008, many professionals changed careers. From realtors to lenders and from developers to appraisers, people left the lending, construction and real estate industries in droves. As the market contracted, many small companies went out of business. However, in recent years as the market has rebounded, professionals are slowly returning to these industries. Many are starting new businesses. Also, the adult children of real estate moguls and successful entrepreneurs see this as a good time to leave the parental nest and start businesses of their own. Moreover, changing market conditions has created opportunities for new businesses that never existed before such as crowd funding and trailer document tracking. For these reasons, real estate, building and lending startups are springing up at every turn.

Even though many of these startups are being led by seasoned professionals, starting a new business can be a challenge for even the most experienced businessperson. It is especially true for any startup on a tight budget which, let’s face it, includes most startups. While professionals launching a business in real estate, construction or finance may have a lot of technical knowledge and industry experience, they may not necessarily have much marketing know-how. Here are some basic marketing tips to keep in mind for any folks starting a new company or expanding their business with a new division.
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Self-Talk Your Way to Success

The schoolyard saying that “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me” is untrue. Words can do damage. Criticism hurts. Disapproving remarks and belittling comments can injure a person’s sense of self worth. Ironically, this is often most true of the talk coming from within. Every person has inner monologues with themselves. Psychologists commonly refer to this as self-talk, and there are different kinds of self-talk. Among other things, through self-talk we provide ourselves with instructions, opinions and evaluations on what we are doing as we are doing it.

We all self-talk, but sometimes that internal talk can be very harsh and unforgiving. Perhaps too often, we make ourselves the bulls-eye of our own condemnation, which is a pretty easy target. We flog ourselves for our own missteps and bad choices. We rub our own noses in our mistakes. That inner voice can be the most brutal heckler of all, and those negative internal words can actually be detrimental. Indeed, psychologists are finding that a person’s inner voice is actually quite powerful… even more than external voices. When we allow negative self-talk, we tear down our own self esteem. This has been found to have a very real impact on our future actions and success. However, when that inner voice is positive and affirming, then it can be an equally powerful motivator and coach. In fact, research is showing that deliberately engaging the inner voice in positive affirmations can help one change one’s own behavior, learn new skills and achieve success. So how does it work? And why? Continue reading

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