Business Banking E-Newsletter - January 2011

How to Stop Procrastinating

Don't put off reading this until tomorrow

Joseph R. Ferrari has spent his professional life studying procrastination. In 1985 as a student at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., he took a class called "Self-defeating Behaviors." He asked his teacher if procrastination had ever been studied in depth, and she said she thought so, but wasn't sure. He investigated and discovered that no one had taken a serious, thorough look at the subject, so he decided to tackle it himself.

Twenty-five years later, a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and dozens of academic studies and articles behind him, Ferrari is a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, and has published a book titled Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done.
 
Ferrari says everybody procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator. "A procrastinator is someone who habitually and consistently delays tasks," he explains. That's about 20% of the population, he says. His research has shown that the number holds around the world, in countries as far flung as Venezuela, Poland, Australia and Saudi Arabia. Hardcore procrastinators should read his book, he recommends, but they should also head straight to a therapist, preferably someone who practices cognitive behavioral therapy. "You can unlearn to do things," he explains.
 
For the rest of us, who engage in occasional delaying tactics, lateness or putting off until tomorrow what we know we should do today, Ferrari has lots of no-nonsense, research-tested suggestions. Though he thinks it's good to try to figure out why you postpone tasks--fear of failure, the myth that you work best under pressure--he believes in getting on with things.
 
For instance, keep a to-do list, and update it often. Set your priorities, and tackle the most urgent matters first. After the most pressing tasks, do the worst jobs next. Putting them off will just make your whole workload seem more impossible. Also, set realistic goals and deadlines.
 
Ferrari does not buy the notion that computers and cell phones make it harder for us to get work done. We just need to manage our technological distractions. Check your e-mail once an hour only, he advises. Don't follow up or answer an e-mail unless it's necessary. Don't open one when you don't have time to read it. Quickly delete messages to get them out of your inbox.
 
At work figure out who your most productive colleagues are, and team up with them. "Work in teams," he advises. "Surround yourself with non-procrastinators." Try modeling yourself after a colleague who gets a lot done. Ferrari points out that everyone loves flattery. Pull your highest-producing colleague aside and ask if you might shadow her for a time. She'll probably say yes.
 
Do stay on task. If you return from a meeting to an inbox full of requests, get done what you already needed to get done before dealing with all those new assignments.
 
Ferrari says that at work you need to pick your projects carefully. Many people feel compelled to get involved in all the big accounts or projects at their office, but if you stay focused and effectively manage the needs of a few select clients, the boss will be more impressed.
 
He is a stickler for punctuality. When I phoned him at 2:32 p.m. for an agreed-upon 2:30 interview, he sounded annoyed. "How are you?" I began. "I'm sitting here waiting for your call," he shot back. I quickly learned that he believes tolerating lateness encourages procrastinators. "I had an economics professor in college who would lock the door two minutes after class started," he told me with relish. "Students learned they had to get there on time."
 
"I'm a New Yorker," he explained. "I say, 'Get a life. Move it.'" When I asked him to elaborate, he continued: "My Italian grandmother had a saying: 'Some people, they won't get off the beach until their behind gets wet.'" He says that line is even better in Italian. But his final word is this: "Let procrastinators bottom out. Let them fail. Then they'll have the conversion experience."

E-Mail is So Yesterday, Except of Today

The importance of communication with all available tools

In a recent New York Times article, a high school student described e-mail as “lame.” The article points out that young people prefer the instant gratification of text and Facebook chats. There’s no question that e-mail use is slowing as instant messages are on the rise. But that doesn’t mean that e-mail responses get less of a priority. In fact, if you want to offer above-average customer service and be seen as a leader among your colleagues, employees, and customers, you’d better respond to e-mail quickly.

One observation I’ve made as a journalist is that successful leaders respond to e-mails very, very quickly. Mediocre leaders and many midlevel managers take their own sweet time in getting back to me. Many public relations professionals are also culprits—failing to respond quickly to interview requests. Yes, it’s surprising but true. When I worked for CNN, I recall that producers would often go back to the same sources who responded most quickly to e-mails or voice messages. If you don’t return e-mails quickly, journalists will move on to the next person and you’ll lose your opportunity to create more visibility for your company.

In the past several months, I’ve had e-mail conversations with two billionaires and several CEOs of some of America’s largest companies. My correspondence with them is striking because these particular leaders respond to my e-mails within a day at the most. Others with lower level roles within these same organizations take much longer to respond. Successful leaders really are different. They are “present.”  They make themselves available. Great leaders make it a point to return legitimate e-mails—especially from employees—within 24-hours. If they do not have an answer to question, they’ll say so or delegate it.  But they respond.

Great leaders get it. They realize the importance of communicating quickly through all available tools. E-mail might be “lame” to young people, but as long as corporate America continues to rely on e-mail for the majority of its day-to-day day conversations, it’s important to respond quickly—and in complete sentences—if you want to be seen as a leader and not a slacker.


When It

Two months after launching Brand Thunder, Patrick Murphy sensed that sales were sluggish because he was charging too high a fee for his sole product, a customized Web browser.

So he temporarily slashed the price by more than 75% and gave the product new, income-generating features, including ads and a search tool, by forming partnerships with other businesses.

The original fee "was a leap for something that wasn't proven," says Mr. Murphy, who started the Dublin, Ohio, company in 2007 in anticipation of a pink slip from a large Internet company. "We had to be nimble enough to make that change or this business would not be here today. It was live or die."

Start-ups don't always evolve according to plan. Some end up targeting the wrong market, while others get sidelined by unforeseen competitors. To avoid failure, experts say it's critical for owners to quickly identify what's obstructing them and come up with a solution that sticks."

Change is absolutely critical to success," says Lou Davenport, an adviser in Lancaster, Pa., for SCORE, a nonprofit small-business mentoring and training organization. "There are things in the business plan that are simply not going to work."

Kate Byars originally launched a photography business in Atlanta last year that offered to take family portraits and provide digital copies of those shots. But within six months, it became clear that the business wasn't generating enough income to survive for much longer.

"I had an avalanche of customers, but after I crunched the numbers, I realized I was working at less than minimum wage," Ms. Byars says. "I needed to find a niche that would allow me to become profitable."

Ms. Byars also needed to act fast. "It was sink or swim," she says. She started her company, Kate Byars Photography, following a layoff from a nonprofit organization. And just a few years earlier, she had to flee New Orleans empty-handed when Hurricane Katrina struck.

Ms. Byars resolved to turn her business into an upscale photography service -- a change she made by increasing her picture-taking fees fourfold and offering framed, printed copies of her shots to account for the price inflation. Today, her business has four employees and is in the black. "I can actually make a living at this," she says.

For other entrepreneurs, turning a struggling start-up around may require adopting a new way of finding customers.

Barry Randall says he initially relied on networking to build a client base for Crabtree Asset Management, a money-management business he started in 2008 after getting laid off from a large firm in the same industry. But six months passed and he had nothing to show for his efforts.

Mr. Randall, who works out of his home in St. Paul, Minn., says things changed when he happened upon Wealthfront, a company that promotes the services of firms like his online. In return for a percentage of the fees it charges, Crabtree Asset Management is now being promoted on Wealthfront.com. It currently has 11 clients.

"It's the equivalent of getting shelf space at a supermarket," Mr. Randall says of the exposure, adding that being listed on the website also helps to strengthen his company's image. "There's an implied level of substance that goes with appearing alongside other businesses, particularly ones that are larger than your business."

Leslie Sell says her first approach to generating buzz for her custom children's book business, Little Wonder Company, failed to attract many buyers. It entailed giving free samples of her product to bloggers and journalists who write about parenting, in hopes of getting positive press. Not only was the strategy costly, but it was also "very labor-intensive," she says.

Ms. Sell, who started her business after getting laid off from an advertising agency in 2007, says she fared better 10 months later when she hired an independent public-relations professional, who would get paid only if she produced results. She did, getting Ms. Sell a mention in a gift guide for this holiday season on a parenting website.

Soon after, Ms. Sell scored an interview with a local TV news show on her own by tapping her personal network.

As a result, says Ms. Sell, this past month her average customer orders per week were 40 times greater.

Of course, it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to concede that their businesses are heading in the wrong direction, says Isaac Barchas, director of the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas at Austin. "Sometimes, it's obvious to everyone except you," he says.

For this reason, Mr. Barchas urges entrepreneurs to consult with mentors or advisers throughout those first few volatile years. "Getting that friendly but honest third-party perspective is really important," he says. "It's a good way to make sure you haven't fallen so deeply in love with your original business idea that you're blind to making necessary changes."


Treasury Extends Direct Deposit for Millions of Americans

Electronic payments save Social Security $1 Billion

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Department of the Treasury today issued a final rule to extend the safety and convenience of electronic payments to all Americans receiving federal benefit and non-tax payments. Anyone applying for benefits on or after May 1, 2011, will receive their payments electronically, while those already receiving paper checks will need to switch to direct deposit by March 1, 2013. The Treasury Department's Go Direct® public education campaign will provide information to Americans about the change to how federal benefit payments are being delivered and make it easy for check recipients to switch online or by calling a toll-free helpline.

"Eight in 10 federal benefit recipients already use direct deposit, and now millions of additional retirees, veterans and other Americans will also receive their money in the safest, most reliable way – electronically," says Treasury Fiscal Assistant Secretary Richard L. Gregg. "This important change will provide significant savings to American taxpayers who will no longer incur the annual $120 million price tag associated with paper checks and will save Social Security $1 billion over the next 10 years."

After seeking public comment on the proposed rule issued in June 2010, federal regulations were changed to generally require all federal benefits including Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management benefits and other non-tax payments to be made electronically. Benefit recipients have the option of direct deposit into a bank or credit union account of their choice or into a Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card account. More than 1.5 million beneficiaries have signed up for the Direct Express® card since it was introduced in 2008.

"I urge everyone receiving a paper Social Security or Supplemental Security Income check to switch to electronic payments now, through the Go Direct campaign, rather than waiting until the final deadline," says Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "Switching now eliminates the risks of lost and stolen checks, and provides immediate access to your money on payment day."

Treasury is launching a public education campaign today to inform Americans about the rule change and to help them understand what they need to do to get their payments electronically, whether they already receive payments by check or will be applying for federal benefits for the first time soon. Current check recipients will receive information enclosed with their payments, and the national campaign will also include public service announcements, a newly redesigned website, www.GoDirect.org, ongoing financial literacy programming and partnerships with hundreds of national, regional and local organizations.

People applying for benefits on or after May 1, 2011: People newly applying for federal benefits on or after May 1, 2011, must choose an electronic payment option at the time they sign up for their benefits. If they wish to direct their money into a bank or credit union account, they will want to have the following information on hand at the time they apply for their benefits:

  • Financial institution's routing transit number (often found on a personal check)
  • Account type – checking or saving
  • Account number (often found on a personal check)

People who do not have an account at a financial institution or prefer receiving their payments on a prepaid debit card can receive a Direct Express card. For more information, visit www.GoDirect.org.

People currently receiving benefit payments by paper check:  Check recipients must switch to electronic payments before the March 1, 2013 deadline. Switching from checks to direct deposit is fast, easy and free at www.GoDirect.org, by calling the U.S. Treasury Processing Center's toll-free helpline at 1-800-333-1795, or by speaking with a bank or credit union representative.

People already receiving their benefit payments electronically: Anyone already receiving federal benefit payments electronically will continue to receive their money as usual on their payment day. No action is required.

Related Treasury Rules

Treasury is issuing a related rule to provide Americans receiving federal payments with more options for receiving their payments electronically while ensuring that appropriate consumer protections are provided and, in early 2011, Treasury will issue a rule to protect federal benefit payments from garnishment after they are directly deposited into accounts.

About the Direct Express Prepaid Card
If direct deposit into a bank or credit union account is not a viable option, the Direct Express card, provided by Comerica Bank, Treasury's financial agent, is a safe, convenient alternative to paper checks for benefit payments. Ninety-four percent of cardholders say they are satisfied with the card, according to a 2010 Go Direct campaign survey. Advantages of the card include:

  • Cardholders can make purchases, pay bills, and get cash at thousands of locations nationwide.
  • Cardholders have access to one free cash withdrawal with each deposit to the Direct Express card account. For cash withdrawals at ATMs outside the Direct Express ATM network, the ATM owner may charge a surcharge fee.
  • No bank account or credit check is required.
  • The card accounts are FDIC-insured up to the maximum amount allowed by law.
  • There are no sign-up fees, monthly fees or overdraft charges. Some fees for optional services may apply. 
  • Money is immediately available on payment day.


To sign up for the card, or to learn more about its features and fees, individuals can visit www.GoDirect.org, call 1-800-333-1795 or ask their local Social Security, VA, or other federal benefit agency office.

The Go Direct® campaign is sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks. The Direct Express® logo, Go Direct® and Direct Express® are registered service marks, and the Go Direct(sm) logo is a service mark, of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service. The Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card is issued by Comerica Bank, pursuant to a license by MasterCard International Incorporated. MasterCard® and the MasterCard® Brand Mark are registered trademarks of MasterCard International Incorporated.


Wisconsin Economic Outlook Released

Recovery continues, stronger job growth than expected

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue released its quarterly Wisconsin Economic Outlook today, which indicates that an economic recovery continued in 2010 and will get stronger in 2011. In addition, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stayed below the national average and the decline of personal income has reversed.

Wisconsin added almost 30,000 jobs through September 2010, nearly 10,000 more than expected for the year. The Wisconsin economy is expected to add 26,000 jobs in 2011, and other 59,000 jobs in 2012. Job growth will return to pre-recession levels in 2013 with Wisconsin adding 54,000 jobs that year.

According to the Wisconsin Economic Outlook, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stayed below the national levels throughout the recent recession and will continue doing so. IHS Global Insight anticipates the U.S. labor market to add 750,000 jobs in 2010 and the U.S. unemployment rate to stay above 9% through mid 2012. In comparison, the Wisconsin forecast calls for an unemployment rate of 7.7% in 2011 and 6.5% in 2013, lower than the 8.5% forecasted at the national level.

In addition, Wisconsin’s personal income has already reached its pre-recession level and will grow 2.8% in 2010 and 3.1% in 2011. Wages and salaries will increase 0.7% in 2010, before accelerating to 3.6% in 2011 and 4.7% in 2012 and 2013.

“Wisconsin is adding more jobs than we anticipated, thanks to Governor Doyle’s investments in economic development,” said Revenue Secretary Roger Ervin. “Looking ahead, we expect our unemployment rate to stay below national levels as the recovery continues.”

The Wisconsin Economic Outlook also includes a special report on Wisconsin’s Metropolitan Areas. This special report focuses on the housing market, employment and personal income forecasts for each area. The Metropolitan Area report shows that growth in the twelve metro areas of the state has ranged widely. Some areas have been hit hard with large plant closings, while others have benefited from large, stable education and health sectors.