Designing Your Whole Package

Designing Your Whole Package

Do you know that there are generally five FDA requirements necessary for food labels but a whopping 23 OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) requirements for cannaboid edibles?

To me, that seems outrageous.

But it’s true and that’s why packaging is so damn important to get right. Otherwise, it can look like a monstrosity.

Good packaging design creates memories, has personality, and captures the imagination.

This was according to Keith Svihovec of Keel Creative in PDX, at a recent event called Designing the Whole Package held at the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub on Hawthorne. The event was part of a series sponsored by The Caputo Group and ORCA (Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association).

But back to design.

Svihovec talked about the design process for his client, chocolatier Todd Shangold of Crop Circle Chocolate. The chocolatier makes medical truffles and just hit the shelves two months ago.

Given all the regulations, the goal is to “take this information and make it [the design] more appealing,” said Svihovec.

For Svihovec, the design process is comprised of a number of elements: OLCC requirements, product story, brand story, competitor analysis, consumer audience and trends, and point of sale limitations, requirements, and opportunities. Since budtenders are the main point of sale for edibles, educating people who are doing the selling is key.

Here are some trends Svihovec pointed out from a BDS Analytics survey:

Consumer trends include:

  • A shift from flower toward higher price point concentrates, edibles and pre-roll joints.
  • Those participants who consumed cannabis in the past six months are more likely to be engaged in physical activity on a once a week basis or greater, than people who don’t use cannabis.

And then there are the design trends:

  • Custom structures
  • Printing techniques
  • Texture
  • Conceptual illustration
  • Puns & humor
  • Pairings
  • Small brands: provocative stories
  • Human touch

And when it comes to working with a designer or agency, Svihovec has some suggestions:

  • Know your brand
  • Know your goals
  • Know your audience
  • Know your budget (remember, budget is more than just money; it’s time, energy and money).

“Stay in your zone of genius and let the agency be part of your team as a collaborative effort,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more.

Are you Ready for Your Firm to be Seen?

Are you Ready for Your Firm to be Seen?

If you’re a small to midsized accounting firm trying to build up your client base around your geographic or niche area, you need to be paying attention to your search engine optimization (SEO).

Which means, you must pay attention to your website.

You already know that your website is the online version of your firm shingle. You already know that there is a need for your services (accounting, tax, advisory, etc.) in your area. The clients are out there. Referrals are great; but what about another way to generate leads?

This is where SEO come in.

When you add in blogging with well-designed SEO optimized images, it’s the perfect strategy for the firm who is focused on expanding its presence, both online and in its geographic area, building out a specific practice area and developing thought leadership in your market.

SEO best practices are changing all the time. And it can get confusing. I caught up with Amna Shamim, SEO specialist and founder of Legal Green Marketing to talk shop. Shamim works with small and medium size cannabusinesses who are looking to come up first among the ranks of Google. Can the same strategies be used for accounting firms? Yes. Especially those firms who identify themselves as cannabis CPAs.

LG: You have a three-part process when you work with your SEO clients. Can you tell us about that?

AS: Yes, the roadmap to a well-optimized and high-ranking site is in three steps. The first is your site analysis, which is assesses your current site status. This includes your authority numbers, some sites with which you share keyword competition and up to 10 keywords you are currently ranking for and where. The second part is implementing your on-site recommendations, which digs into the top areas to target to improve your on-site SEO.  This can be a range of things.  Some examples might be: optimizing your meta-descriptions, rewriting your copy to be more Google-friendly, optimizing your images, etc. And third is your off-site strategy, a way to raise your authority numbers (and with them your Google ranking) and to drive traffic to your site. Depending on what part one looks like, this could be press releases, guest posting, building your presence on social media etc. I also do regular broken link and spam link checks as part of this on-going service to ensure all links are good and driving traffic/SEO juice.

LG: For the off-site part of the process, you only work with clients for six months or longer. Why is that?

AS: This is an on-going process that takes time. I require my clients to sign up for a six-month contract. This is because a white-hat SEO strategy generally takes 18 months to fully take hold and about three to six months to see any progress. Anything faster requires shady methods that Google could notice and punish the site for by deindexing it.  Deindexed sites are impossibly hard to get back into Google (there are people who do nothing but help deindexed sites get reindexed…there are no guarantees…for lots of money.) If you’re trying to rank for a really tough keyword (“lawyer nyc” for example) it takes longer and can cost six figures/year.  Really. Usually there is some improvement to report within six months so although the client may not be where they want, they’re at least seeing progress.  In a non-competitive market (“breast implants reading pa” for example), it’s often possible to get on page 1 within 6 months and then the focus is getting to the top.  

LG: Part of the off-site process requires building up your online presence. Blogging is a great way to do this. For many firms, coming up with four blog posts a month can be challenging. How often should a firm or company publish new blog posts?

AS: As they say, more is better.  I recommend at least 4 blog posts/month but have allowed clients to sign up for as little as 2 blog posts/month with the written understanding that their SEO rankings could take much longer to improve. Fresh content is very important to Google so if we’re only publishing twice a month, we’ll still see results but slower. Increasing the length of the blog posts can help mitigate some of impact of fewer blog posts/each month.

LG: What do you say to people who know they need their website to be more optimized but don’t know where to begin?

AS: I feel like SEO for most people is like taxes. You know it’s important and you need to do them right so you don’t get penalized. However, learning how to do them correctly while getting the most return is really time-intensive and scary and takes away from actually building your business. I pay an accountant and most people who are serious about their ROI also pay a SEO person, whether that’s in-house or a consultant.


Yes, You Can Budget on a Commission-Based Salary – Here’s How

Yes, You Can Budget on a Commission-Based Salary – Here’s How

The good news:

“A salary plus commission job has the benefit of providing a guaranteed base salary plus the potential for uncapped commission,” says Lori Dietzler, founder and financial planner at Zero Gravity Financial in New York City.

And the not-as-good:

“The biggest challenge with this type of compensation is that monthly income is unpredictable and makes it tough to create a budget,” Deitzler continues.

“In real estate, commissions are not written in stone but are agreed upon between parties,” says Michele Silverman Bedell, owner and principal broker at Silversons Realty in Westchester. “This gives one flexibility on how much they can earn. A challenge is that there is less consistency in how much one earns, which means that one has to be diligent in their budgeting and saving. Also, one has to have a certain personality that can handle uncertainty and risk.”

Your pay structure may vary

One common misconception about earning this type of income is that all base pays are low and commissions are paid higher on the back end to provide more “incentive,” says JoAnne Kao, director of sales at SourceMedia in New York City. This isn’t necessarily true, as the arrangement will depend on the company and industry structure.

“Some jobs give you a draw the first few months to tide you over until you start making sales,” Kao says. “Then you either keep the draw depending on how much you bring in or you ‘pay back’ the draw over time; some are straight commission, some are a combination of both.”

The key is to look for positions that have a base salary where most or all of your fixed living expenses are covered, Dietzler recommends. Find a job where the base salary will pay for your living expenses and keep them as low and predictable as possible. Commission payments can be used for savings by building a buffer for lower income months by funding an emergency fund.

 Don’t forget about taxes

“Ask your employer which tax method they have chosen to apply to commission earnings- either the flat tax rate (25%) or aggregate method (your ordinary income tax rate),” says Dietzler. “Be conservative when planning your budget based on the salary plus commission compensation. Until you have funded your emergency fund, keep your spending in check while you build up your savings buffer in case there are future lower income months. Avoid using your credit cards to pay bills or discretionary spending that you can’t pay off each month.”

Cynthia Fick, a Phoenix-based investment advisor and author of the book, “The Sisterhood of Money: The Art of Creating Wealth from Your Heart, comments that many of the women she’s talked to see “budget as a four-letter word,” but most end up feeling much better after taking a few simple steps to review their spending. The best place to start is to conduct a cash flow analysis by looking at your purchases for the past month and determine if there’s anything you can cut back on.

Keep 2 bank accounts

Though your income may fluctuate, you can take steps to make the most of what you are earning. “Since your monthly income is unpredictable, use two bank accounts to manage your budget,” Dietzler suggests. “Deposit all income into your savings account and each month transfer the minimum amount to cover living expenses into your checking account, where you can set up automated bill payments.”

“Have separate accounts for bills,” agrees Kao. “Checking accounts are free so open as many as you need. Rent below your means because there will be very slow months.”

Automate your living expenses

Dietzler says once you have a few months of living expenses saved to your savings account, set up automated transfers to fund your other goals – e.g. vacations and retirement. The tools You Need a Budget and Mint are both great for managing personal finances and setting up a budget.

Kao seconds the strategy of automating one’s expenses – particularly the basics such as rent/mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, and taxes, if you’re an independent contractor.

Build your wealth

Next, focus on building your wealth with investments by determining a regular amount that is comfortable to set aside on a monthly basis, says Fick. “When you have a good month of commissions, you can add a larger amount to the investment,” she says. A Roth IRA is a great option for tax-free growth.

Though it can be difficult to set up automatic investments into a savings or mutual fund account when your income fluctuates, it is imperative to your financial success, stresses Fick.

Continue to prioritize spending

When it comes to spending – be conservative and prioritize what is necessary and important, says Bedell. She also recommends having a few months of expenses in reserve and limiting the amount of items you charge or put on credit. She also points to systems such as Quicken or QuickBooks to manage bookkeeping and budgeting.

The $ky’s the limit

“Having the opportunity to earn commissions as well as a base salary is perfect for someone who likes to see the fruits of their labor,” Fick says. “In the long run, you can usually make more money if you can handle some momentary fluctuations in income. That is the reward of being more entrepreneurial.”

Set Yourself Up For a Big Promotion In the First 90 Days of Your New Job

Set Yourself Up For a Big Promotion In the First 90 Days of Your New Job

You’ve got your best suit or dress on, your shoes are shined, every last hair is in place (or so you hope), and you’ve got a rollercoaster of excitement and nerves swirling in your stomach. Today’s the day you start your new position.

For the ambitious, no matter where you are on the career ladder, starting at a new company or organization requires pulling out all the stops. And while you may want to go all in immediately, expect there to be a period of transition and a fairly high learning curve.

“It’s important to make a good first impression on everyone that you meet,” says Erika Kauffman, executive vice president and general manager at 5W Public Relations in New York City. “Getting along with your coworkers should happen. Make it a goal to be super friendly to everyone. Ask questions and make a name for yourself — you want others to respect you.”

You’ll also want to learn who’s who — all companies have culture and they have players. It’s your job to learn who they are and act accordingly. While this is not the time to be a wallflower, you can often learn a lot by watching what’s going on around you.

“This is a new environment that needs to be navigated,” says Maxine Attong, a career coach and author of the book “Lead Your Team to Win: Achieve Optimal Performance By Providing a Safe Space for Employees,” who divides her time between the Caribbean and the United States. “Understand who is who just as you did in the playground — the bullies, the informal leaders, the jokers, the whiz kids, and all the other characters. Observe from a position of curiosity and a state of learning without making judgments or assumptions.”

Depending on the size of the company and your position within it, you will want to know the assistants of each of the top executives, says Lorraine Flett, a partner at Zumado Public Relations in San Francisco. Learn who to go to in each key department that’s pertinent to your position.

“Are you a project manager responsible for requisitioning contractors and processing invoices? Then make sure you know the people in finance/accounting,” Flett says. “If you’re responsible for maintaining the company’s website, make sure you know your copywriters, HTML programmers, and graphic designers. Essentially, you should know everyone upon whom you depend to get your job done or whose help you might need in a pinch.”

One of the best things about being new is that it’s expected that you will have a lot of questions. Take advantage of this time. Set goals with your supervisor, understand their priorities, and take notes on how workflow moves through your team and within your company.

“Be thoughtful in directing questions to the right resources,” says Alicia Nash, senior manager on PwC’s marketing and sales team. “So by all means ask your supervisor about their expectations of you, and the goals you should be setting for the short and long term. If you have access to company leadership, do your homework so you’re able to have a more meaningful conversation with them about the company’s strategy and the role you will play. Save the questions about logging into voicemail, ordering business cards, and where’s the best cup of coffee for your peers.”

Within the first three months, you want to ensure that you not only meet the expectations of what’s required of your position, but that you are able to take the initiative and go beyond expectations, says Flett. You want to demonstrate that you are a team player with a can-do attitude, aptitude for learning, and the ability to take on additional tasks.

“In practical terms this can range from understanding the company’s email protocol to being prompt and prepared for meeting with timely follow-up,” she says. “If I were to give one tip for career advancement, it would be to make sure that you are pitch perfect in all your communications.”

One no-no is coming into a new environment and thinking you have all the answers — even if your ideas are creative and people seem receptive.

“Show respect for the status quo by not complaining about the organization or the way that things are done.” Attong says. “Even if you have the solutions to all the problems, ask questions before making changes or put forward a suggestion so that you understand what efforts were made before, why they did not work, and the impact of failed efforts.”

Attong also recommends not comparing your old company to your new one: You left your old job for a reason, and people tend to be disinterested in hearing about how wonderful your former company was. “If you want to bring elements from the previous job to the new, do so in the spirit of improvement so that team members do not feel that they are being compared to a different standard,” she says.

Many companies — whether large or small — offer the opportunity to telecommute. While this may provide more flexibility in the day-to-day and you may only be required to show up at a physical location time and again, new hires aren’t off the hook when it comes to demonstrating the ability to excel.

“Do what you say you will, when you say you will — and just like in a physical office location, over-communicate at the start about what’s on your plate and how you’re planning to prioritize tasks,” says Nash, who telecommutes from her home in Rhode Island. “The little things in the early weeks, especially when you’re virtual, help set the right tone: Dial into conference calls a minute or two early, be accessible through your company’s instant messaging platform, and meet soft deadlines proactively.”

Nash also stresses to not over-rely on email. She recommends picking up the phone, arranging a video chat, and putting 15 minutes on your boss’ calendar to do what you can to accelerate building rapport.

As you move through the first three months, remember the journey that got you hired at the company in the first place. Have confidence in your abilities and believe you are the right person for the job. Your new boss and company brought you on for a reason, and they are looking to you to knock it out of the park. Good luck!

6 Tips for Detoxing from Corporate Stagnation

6 Tips for Detoxing from Corporate Stagnation

Love it or hate it, Corporate America is a great place for people to go and learn. It’s a breeding ground for power plays, ego baiting, personality conflicts and competition. In other words, it’s an opportunity for some serious growth.

But when you’re operating under “old school” philosophies — aka the traditional 9-to-5 grind, complete with lengthy commute, surrounded by gray walls with no windows for hours on end, and you spend more time with your colleagues than your loved ones — it can lead to major overload — emotionally, physically and spiritually — no matter how much you appreciate your job.

Many companies are reactive and operate on fear — despite their (sometimes) best intentions. This we know. Unfortunately, management passes this down to every layer in the organization. This then manifests into indignant attitudes of those on the ground with fear and shame hanging close by.

The expectation of “do everything now” can exacerbate the anxious, rush the creative process into mediocrity, and result in an authoritarian undercurrent that just turns off employees and prospective talent alike. A pressure cooker environment stirs up emotions and old patterns, but it also accelerates insights if you are aware and able to catch them as they emerge.

Healthy boundary setting, more consistent self-advocacy, direct communication and empathy can be the result of learning to see the bigger picture and taking on a warrior stance. There is always opportunity to grow — even in a less than ideal environment — and many people pass it by.

As a sensitive person, living in New York City presents its challenges. I need day-to-day flexibility and exercise, a vibrant office aesthetic and access to nature. I feel better that way, am more grounded, and can bring more of my authentic sensibilities to what I am doing. This should be non-negotiable, but it ends up falling to the side because of my pattern of people pleasing.

Springtime naturally lets us see things with fresh eyes. Those of us working the same schedule as the seasons change can do little things that welcome in the new, while letting the old fall away. This can feel empowering, inspiring, and provide relief to the hamster-wheel mentality. Consider these ways to detox and rejuvenate:

  • Take a break mid-day to exercise.Whether it is a workout at a nearby gym or a brisk walk outside, move your body. Breaking a sweat will shift your head and energy. Thirty minutes is all it takes.
  • Change your routine in the morning.Take a different route, walk a few extra blocks, start writing “morning pages,” or take a few minutes to set your intention for the day. I have a “morning before my morning,” so I feel like I have more ownership over my day.
  • Relate to your colleagues differently.Notice the dynamics with certain people. If they aren’t as positive as you’d like, make small adjustments to how you interact. They may not change, but your reactions to them might.
  • Pay attention to what attracts you.Perhaps you’re drawn to a particular book, article of clothing, piece of art or TV show. Allow yourself to indulge in your own tastes. Sometimes you will find they are very different from what you have known. Let that be welcome.
  • Rethink time.Many of us have very scheduled lives. If you’re someone who is chronically late, think about why that’s happening. If you always arrive 15 minutes early, ask yourself what would happen if you were just on time. Shake things up a bit.
  • Allow for change. Change happens in different ways — sometimes abruptly and other times incrementally. Watch what claims you are making about your experience. Ask yourself where they come from and if they are true today.

While routine and work hours may bog you down, you ultimately have control over your own life. What can you do to experience it differently? Remember what Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Now Feel This …

Now Feel This …

The other day I was at my cube watching an interaction between a reporter and her editor. I hear her a lot – her voice carries throughout our side of the floor and she talks with her interview subjects, politely, yet says things like, “OK, LOVE, THANK YOU SO MUCH. I WILL, LOVE, AND HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY TO YOU. I’M SURE YOU HAVE LOVELY PLANS PLANNED WITH YOUR WIFE.” I’m writing in caps because she IS SO LOUD. It makes my stomach hurt at her flourish, yet, she is one of the best reporters here. She’s also middle-aged and very plain-looking and likes to give out chocolates to everyone randomly. Her voice, however, is the butt of many office jokes and complaints.

Anyway. Her editor sits near me and she often comes over to ping pong ideas off of him and pace around and talk about her beat, which is securities. Usually I ignore their exchanges, only hearing voice, without actual words, but for some reason I listened and watched yesterday. There she is, bulky sweater, fat face and greasy salt and pepper short hair, clutching her coffee cup, standing behind her white middle aged male editor. He’s at his computer and they are talking.

At some point, he stops talking and she just continues. She asks him if she could cover a court case related to one of her stories and you know, be a court reporter. She used to be a court reporter, did he know that? Could she cover it? Silence. I mean, don’t you think it would be a good idea to cover it?

Her words topple out of her mouth …

Can I? What do you think? Can I? He’s shifting in his seat a bit, but his back is to her now and he’s not saying one word. Not, no, we don’t have the money. Not, no, it’s extraneous coverage. Not, no, you have other responsibilities. Nothing. Just total disengagement. She mumbles to herself, I guess not, after standing there for multiple moments waiting for him to answer her.

My stomach sank and I just drank my coffee.