Q. How often should I review my marketing plan to keep it fresh and relevant?

Dawn Klee, owner of Creative Design Group and president of the Suncoast Advertising Federation, answers: Marketing is a major part of every business, and it is often neglected. As I've heard many times, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Marketing plans determine how a company is positioned relative to its competition, how it is valued and how its customers relate to it. A marketing plan forces you to assess what's going on in your marketplace and how it affects your business. Good plans include clear guidelines as to what should be done, when, why and by whom, and how to measure success once they are implemented.

Once a marketing plan is in place, a quick review once every quarter or so will make sure you are still on the right track. Then you can evaluate where you may need to make changes to keep it fresh and relevant. The most effective marketing plans are living, breathing documents.

Sometimes annual reviews and updates just aren't sufficient to keep up with the pace of change in the business environment. Business expectations should be constantly tested and updated. Opportunities not present yesterday are here today, and nobody could have foreseen them coming. Keep it fresh and active.

Dawn Klee can be reached at (941) 377-7986 or dawn@creativedesigngrp.net.

Q. As a manager, I'm always looking for ways to improve my communication skills with my employees. Any tips?

J. Robert Parkinson, a Sarasota-based communications consultant and author, says: Pay attention to others. Don't just be present in body. Be present mentally and emotionally as well.

Look. Eye contact is very important in this part of the world. If you don't look someone in the eye, you are indicating you're not paying attention. A colleague once gave me this valuable advice: When you focus on eye contact and look a person right in the eye, you are telling that person, "At this moment you are the most important person in the world to me."

Listen. Avoid distractions. Listen actively and demonstrate you're listening by repeating or summarizing what the other person said. If you happen to summarize incorrectly, you'll be corrected. That's good because it will keep you on track.

Ask questions. This will encourage the other person to continue to talk and to fill in details. It will also show you are listening. When you ask a question, be sure you listen to the answer. Remember to use "closed" questions-can, will, when, how many-to confirm details. They're important, but to elicit additional information use "open" questions, like how, why and what.

Support. Encourage others to express and define their ideas. Encourage dialogue. It just might lead to ideas and conclusions you hadn't even considered before the conversation began.

Robert Parkinson may be reached at jrp@jrparkinson.com and www.jrparkinson.com.

Q. I'm thinking about instituting flextime scheduling at my mid-sized company. What's the right way to go about it?

Kirsten Regal at Sun Hydraulics Corporation sheds light on her company's successful flextime policy: We design and manufacture control packages for the fluid power industry. Sun employs 570 employees in Sarasota and has annual sales over $90 million. To meet the needs of a diverse workforce we offer our employees the option of alternate work schedules. Alternate work schedules are outside the core shift but have a fixed arrival and departure time.

We have core manufacturing shifts that run from 5 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, with overtime available on Friday and Saturday as order levels require. Our core shipping and office schedule runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Sun manufacturing employees may choose to work 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday or eight-hour shifts Monday through Friday. Additionally they may choose to start their shift anywhere between 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in manufacturing and anywhere from 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. in the office.

The flexibility offered by alternate work schedules meets the individual needs of our employees and enables Sun Hydraulics the flexibility necessary to meet customer requirements. We find this to be a win-win solution.

Kirsten Regal can be reached at kirstenr@sunhydraulics.com.

If you have a workplace-related question you'd like to ask the experts, please e-mail Ilene Denton at ilened@sarasotamagazine.com.

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