Help Your Networks With Housing and Utility Challenges

Help Your Networks With Housing and Utility Challenges

If you work in the field of economic development, and more specifically if you have an economic interest in the real estate industry, then you know the value of stability in the marketplace. Significant events with adverse economic impacts, such as COVID-19 and a derecho, can have a cascading effect on jobs, families, and the economy generally. That is why it has been important for government, non-profit organizations, and businesses to support activities that collectively create a safety net – to provide some measure of economic stability. It’s one of the reasons the State of Iowa, local governments and community organizations created their own economic recovery grant programs. Other nationwide support systems, such as unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program and various forms of natural disaster assistance, have also been important.

To be sure, these are imperfect systems, and one can debate the effectiveness of various policy alternatives or the extent to which we can borrow from the future to pay for them. But there is no question that they have provided an important lifeline to many during these challenging times. While some programs have ended or are winding down, there are some that will continue for a few months longer. Two of them are designed to help people stay in their homes and businesses by assisting with rent and utility expenses.

Iowa COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention (EFP) Program

The Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) reported last week that rental assistance has been provided to just over 2000 applicants equaling approximately $4.8 million. On the foreclosure side, the EFP Program has awarded nearly $135,000 to 61 applicants. Approximately $15 million in funds remain in the program, which will remain open until funds are exhausted or until December, 2020, whichever comes first.

IFA reports that the program has seen a significant increase in the number of applications being submitted since August 1. On Tuesday, August 4, it was announced that Iowans who have been receiving $600 a week in federal unemployment stimulus benefits may now apply for the rent and mortgage assistance. For more information, visit https://www.iowafinance.com/covid-19-iowa-eviction-and-foreclosure-prevention-program/.

Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) recently announced that more Iowa small business owners and nonprofits are now eligible to receive financial assistance with electric and natural gas utility bills. Eligibility criteria for the Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program has been expanded to include utility assistance for eligible small businesses and nonprofits for electric or natural gas service provided between March 17, 2020 and October 15, 2020.

To be eligible, small businesses and nonprofits must have experienced a COVID-19 loss of income. Financial assistance of up to $7,500 is available. Payment’s would be made directly to an applicant’s utility service provider. The program will accept applications through October 31, 2020 or until all funds have been exhausted. The state allocated approximately $14.5 million of federal CARES Act funds for the program when launched in early July.

For more information, visit https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/Business/energy-recovery or call 515.348.8914 (toll free: 855.300.2342).

The Enterprise Iowa team encourages our clients and affiliated organizations to share this information with everyone in their various networks. Let’s do what we can to ensure that the individuals and businesses in need of this assistance get connected with these resources. It is the type of help that can increase economic stability for the benefit of all.

Surviving the Pandemic – What Technology Our Team Has Been Utitlizing

Surviving the Pandemic – What Technology Our Team Has Been Utitlizing

In a world forever changed by a global pandemic, we are also experiencing a business world forever changed. While COVID-19 has obviously given businesses a whole slew of challenges, there are also key takeaways that can be applied to improve business operations in the long run. These are not necessarily new technologies, but they all deserve an extra round of applause for helping our team and other teams continue to make it through our time away from the office. They will also certainly have a new face even after the pandemic dissipates.

With that said, here is our list of the most helpful tools for continuing remote operations:

 

Adobe Connect

Videoconferencing has largely made the transition to remote offices possible. There are many videoconferencing platforms out there, but Adobe Connect has primarily been what our team has used. It’s an essential communication tool to more closely mimic that in-person conversation as well as explain more complex tasks and issues. It comes in handy both for internal and external meetings that would typically happen in person.

Slack

Slack (or a similar platform) has been pretty much essential for any business to continue operations through these times. It is arguably the best way for teams to instant message each other to keep projects flowing. Our team utilized Slack before this all began, but this pandemic gave Slack a newfound purpose for our team at Enterprise Iowa.

Microsoft SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint has been another essential technology our team has used away from the office. It’s a web-based shared library that allows each member of our team to access files outside of the office. Prior to the pandemic, we mostly had to be at our desks to access company-wide files. This has truly allowed our team to operate fully remote.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Like SharePoint, Adobe Creative Cloud has a shared library feature. When creating graphics for a variety of uses, the library is helpful tool to keep themes consistent across all design elements. This means that from anywhere, anyone on our team can create new themed designs without having to access files on the network in the office.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp has been another life-saving communication tool in the times of COVID-19. It has been our best and easiest way to share information with our audience. This not only includes updates about continuing business through these times, but also serves as a relevant information tool for the virus itself.

Hootsuite

Much like Mailchimp, Hootsuite has been another way to keep our customers and audience updated through social media platforms. Hootsuite is an easy place to manage all social media platforms, schedule reminders, and allows access for our team members within the account. Again, it allows us to update everyone regarding our business and COVID-19.

WordPress

I’m writing this blog with WordPress right now! WordPress has been another essential tool to keep everyone updated and informed. Aside from the blogs, the websites we run are also created with WordPress. Again, websites are a fantastic way to update everyone about continuing business as well as finding relevant information about COVID-19.

Docking Stations

This one is different because it is hardware rather than software, but docking stations paired with laptops have been incredibly useful through the pandemic. As companies look to new technologies for their offices, docking stations allow much more flexibility when working from home as well. Rather than having a stationary desktop, having a laptop that you can connect to a docking station for all office files, programs, etc. that you can also disconnect to take the laptop anywhere allows for a lot more freedom away from the office.

 

As you can tell, the age of communication is changing—and that change has been expedited by this global pandemic. COVID-19 has forced all of us to rethink how we operate our businesses, and many of these practices will likely carry over to a post-pandemic world. While some jobs will return to what they once were, and some jobs never really changed throughout this pandemic, a lot of jobs will likely be transformed forever by technology used remotely to grant employees more freedom when it comes to the workplace.

Remember, while more and more of the country begins to reopen and businesses may be returning to normal, or our new normal, COVID-19 has not just disappeared. Cases are still on the rise, so it is important to still be taking safety precautions even as we ease back into our typical day-to-day lives. Throughout these changing times, stay happy and stay healthy.

Preparing for Remote Work: Technology to the Rescue!

Preparing for Remote Work: Technology to the Rescue!

From a technology standpoint, I don’t think there has ever been a time in history when our world has been more prepared for a crisis. Most companies are fortunate enough to have the ability to perform many of their necessary functions remotely. However, I would be remiss to not recognize the fact that creating a solid remote work environment does not come without workarounds and struggles with initial set up. We can often take for granted the technology and resources available to us in an office setting, from fast internet speeds to secure network access there are many things that make our everyday work environment convenient and comfortable.

Fortunately, our team didn’t take the COVID-19 warnings lightly, and we started to think ahead and prepare for a possible remote work scenario. Did we get it all right on the first try? Certainly not, but we were ahead of the curve by giving some early thought to how we could operate remotely.

Here are a few things we considered.

Access to Network Files

Our team relies on an in-office file network for day-to-day access to our files. The network is an efficient way for our team to stay organized by sharing files in one place that is accessible to our entire team. Moving away from this organized structure may seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.

We knew we obviously didn’t need every single file created in company history moved to a new location for remote access, so our team collaborated to make a list of the files that would need moved. We opted to move our files to a SharePoint folder system which is available with our Office 365 subscription. If you do not have access to something like SharePoint there are free versions of cloud-based storage such as Google Drive and Dropbox that you could potentially utilize.

Computer/Device Set Up

Before you can access files and securely log in to a system, you need to make sure that your computer and device setup will allow you to work efficiently. I will tell you firsthand that going from large dual monitors to a small laptop quickly gets frustrating. It’s not always simple to set up a new device configuration but considering a few things will make the process much simpler. Does your office have a spare monitor you can hook up to your laptop? What types or cords or adapters will you need to connect the two devices? Will you want a full keyboard and mouse? How will those connect to your portable device? Taking these configuration options into consideration and having the appropriate materials on hand to create your optimal working environment will pay dividends by helping you avoid unnecessary frustrations.

Team Meetings/Communication

In the beginning, your thoughts about technology needs might be limited to your own work, but if you operate with a small team, there are other things you should consider. Because our team is small, and we are accustomed to being able to hold daily in-person team meetings. In addition, we are fortunate enough to be able to walk down the hall for a quick consult with a co-worker. Luckily, we already had a few things in place that allow us to continue to communicate effectively during this work-from-home period.

Slack
Prior to COVID-19 our team was using Slack to communicate with one another in the office. When the COVID emergency emerged, our communications flow never missed a beat, and we could continue business as usual. Of course, this came with more typing of messages and fewer face-to-face interactions on more complex topics, but this tool helped keep our workflow moving forward.

Adobe Connect
Slack worked great for short conversations and questions, but it isn’t a good environment for a team meeting. Another existing software that we were lucky to have available in our toolkit is Adobe Connect. This service is commonly used for hosting webinars and web conferences.

Prior to the emergency, we would often use a teleconference in conjunction with the web conference features, but not much else. Our new circumstances pushed us to increase use of other features available in Adobe Connect, such as internal video and audio. When dealing with several team members, each with their own device configurations, there were a few hiccups to get each team members device set up to function correctly, but in the end the video and audio connection allowed us to interact like a team again.

Our team feels fortunate to have access to tools that have made our transition to remote work easier. After nearly two months of living through these unprecedented times we can begin to dream about what getting back to a new normal work environment might look like. I am certain this will look different for each company, but I am confident that the exercise of thinking outside the box to prepare a remote work environment will serve all companies well and leave them more prepared and confident for future challenges that might come there way.

Top 5 Tips for Working from Home

Top 5 Tips for Working from Home

To promote the safety and well-being of our population during this pandemic, many companies have told their employees to stay home and work remotely. While this is a rather difficult transition for many, there are simple things to do to make life a little bit easier throughout this time. As I write this blog from my couch, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks to stay productive at home. 

1) Establish a Routine 

Establishing a routine may just be the most important tip for effectively working from home. It will help outline day-to-day activities to stay in line and productive at work. When will I start work? When will I take my lunch break? What can I do to keep me focused and motivated throughout the day? What kind of time needs to be allocated to the tasks I need to complete?These are all valid questions that can be incorporated into a daily routine. Perhaps getting in the routine of keeping and following a schedule or list to follow day in and day out will help keep you on track at work. 

2) Get Ready for Work 

This is not to say that you still need to dress business casual to work from home (although feel free to if that helps). However, sticking to a morning routine before “heading off to work” will help you get in the right mindset to be a productive employee. My top recommendation for this tip is to continue setting your alarm. Furthermore, before beginning work for the day, try doing simple things such as starting your day with some exercise, hitting the shower, and making breakfast to send a mental signal that you are ready for work. 

3) Create a Separate Office Space 

You do not need a nice, at home office to utilize this tipMy home office has become one end of my couch with a side table. The important part here is that this is not somewhere I typically sit and lounge on a regular basis. The point is to have a physical separation of your personal and professional lives within your home. It’s possible for this to work out for some people, but the one thing I recommend avoiding is working from bed. 

4) Utilize Technology and Keep in Contact with Your Team 

Technology is what makes work from home possible. However, a new adjustment for most of us is electronically communicating and coordinating shared documents with everyone. At the office, we are used to having easy access to everything we need and stepping next door to ask a coworker a question. Moving that all online can be a difficult transition. Having shared access to necessary documents through cloud technology is a necessity for team-based environments. It is also important to utilize messaging and videoconferencing apps to maintain good communication with everyone involved in your line of work. Communication is still key! 

5) Minimize the Distractions 

It is no doubt that an endless number of distractions can come from working at home. Many of us have taken on the extra role of care providers and teachers for children, are sharing spaces with family members also working from home in completely different lines of work, or have new furry coworkers who are always in your business. This is not to mention other simple distractions that arise in a home environment that we do not typically face at the office: How many trips to the fridge will I take today? What new shows are on Netflix? I’ll just take a quick ten minute break to fold some laundry. Again, a solution to this goes back to tip #3. Try to keep a separate office space secluded from many of the distractions you face to remain as productive as possible. 

But don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself falling victim to these distractions. Yes, it is important to find ways to stay focused and more productive at work. But more importantly during this time is to be honest about your work. Try to keep detailed notes of when you’re taking breaks and for how long. So, while a small break here and there may be healthy to clear your mind and get back on track, just be honest with the work you have actually completed. 

Those are just a few tips to start out with, and you may find that not all of them help or that something completely different helps you the most. What’s important to remember is that many of us are facing the same challenges that come from working at home. I find that most of us are understanding, forgiving, and patient as we are going through the same complications of this transition. In the end, this is not a permanent state and learning how to be productive with your coworkers remotely may end up being a skill we can all benefit from in the future. 

Top 5 Priorities for Client Communications in Times of Crisis

Top 5 Priorities for Client Communications in Times of Crisis

Whether your responsibilities lie in communicating to your client or on behalf of your client, a time of crisis is going to put your capabilities to the test.

1. Take extra time to personalize your communication strategies to match each audience you are interacting with.

For example, an email to clients or stakeholders might contain information about what methodology you have in place for customer outreach or how you intend to retain a surge of new customers that may drop off once the crisis dissipates. Outreach to a client’s customer base might alternatively focus on the plan to keep business operations going with minimal disruption or targeted training videos to help users self-teach. Because consumers generally react better to content they can understand, making the extra effort to customize messaging will pay off long-term.

Tip: Do something different or special to make your message stand out. Go ahead and use your electronic newsletter templates and social media channels. But maybe a personalized email from you to your clients (employees or volunteers) – without all of the graphics and polish – will let them know you are making a special effort to reach out to them.

2. When a crisis situation is ongoing, there really is no such thing as over-communication.

No matter which audience you are communicating with, maintaining a clear, consistent message is important. Let your audience know you are there to help in whatever capacity you are able. Remind customers or clients of how you’ve altered your business model to better assist everyone affected by the ongoing situation. Also, it is important to keep communicating with clients and/or customers even if your business is inactive; if your goal is to have an active, thriving business again long-term, you need to maintain those key relationships.

Tip: In a time of crisis there’s a lot to communicate in a little amount of time. Create an information hub so your audience can find all information related to the crisis in one place. Once you’ve established an information hub, update the content regularly or as new information becomes available.

3. If you must make budget cuts, be kind to your big picture bottom line.

Realistically, spending ad dollars to sell gym memberships isn’t a responsible expense when the whole state is under stay-at-home orders unable to frequent crowded places like a gym, for example. So, we understand making cuts here and there during tough times. Having said that, reallocating all your marketing dollars or thrashing your overall budgeted expenses prematurely isn’t a smart business decision. If your business weathers whatever storm it is going through, you’ll be in a better position to recover if you can hit the ground running again with some planned expenses rather than have no budget to work with and no way to reach your audience to bring them back in. The point is, try not to make decisions out of panic; think you business strategy through.

4. Keep employees and volunteers feeling in-the-know and valued.

The way leadership communicates (or doesn’t communicate) to employees and volunteers will directly impact loyalty, which can lead to a loss of talent. Employees remember how they were treated during the worst of times much more vividly than during the best of times, so it is important to allow employees as much empowerment as possible during crisis situations. In some cases, your organization will be responsible for communicating with employees or volunteers, including volunteer board members. It is important not to overlook this hugely important aspect of successful crisis communication management. Remember, you can do all the right things on behalf of your client’s brand and budget, but if you don’t treat (or help them treat) their employees with respect and kindness during troubled times, the whole structure will collapse.

5. Give good business advice without taking advantage.

It might feel like an easy upsell to encourage a client to add on social media services and an extensive SEO package to boost their business during a time when face-to-face commerce has minimized and digital marketing is critical, but who are you really serving? While your ultimate goal as a business owner is to make money, you need to be realistic and be loyal to the clients who are being loyal to you. If your team is stretched due to economic hardship, there is nothing wrong with changing price points to help your business model move forward. But pushing services on struggling clients is only appropriate if you are actually helping your client by doing so. For example, if a local restaurant doesn’t have an online presence, it is absolutely appropriate to ask the question, “How is your community going to support you if they’re unable to find you?” However, the answer isn’t necessarily to start a website, a Facebook page and an Instagram account all at once. You can give good advice without taking advantage. You can give a customer what they need without giving them everything they need at all at once.

How is Enterprise Iowa handling the COVID-19 crisis?

Like most other businesses nationwide, our team is doing the best we can to minimize the risk we put on each other and put out into our community. We’ve taken measures to work from our homes, serving our clients through Adobe Connect meetings, Slack conversations and more. While most businesses can’t have a perfect plan in place for a situation like this, our team has done well adapting to our new working normal. We feel fortunate to be able to continue to serve our clients and do our part to help stimulate economic prosperity in Iowa during this low point. For any businesses struggling to get through the economic hardship inflicted by COVID-19, reach out to see how we might be able to help revise and rejuvenate your business strategy.

Developing a Well-Rounded Training Program

Developing a Well-Rounded Training Program

Developing a training program – or creating a set of training materials for customers using technology -based applications is vital to customer retention. No smart business leader wants to lose customers simply because customers didn’t fully understand the product or service being offered.

Determining how to begin with training program development can be daunting, as there are multiple moving components. In the era of online learning it can be easy to assume that everyone has the skills or desire to use technology for learning. However, it is important to recognize that every client learns differently. While one person may prefer to review training videos alone, another may thrive in a large group setting. To accommodate these varied learning styles, it is important to provide a diverse set of training materials.

Below is a list of different types of training and how they can accommodate different customers.

Group Webinars

Using technology to provide a presentation or demonstration to a large group via webinar is a cost-effective method for training multiple clients at once. Depending on the webinar service your organization uses, many times customers even have the opportunity to use a chat pod to ask questions, monitor other attendees’ questions and observe a step-by-step tutorial.

One-on-One Webinars

While some may thrive in a group webinar setting, others prefer an individualized approach. Keep in mind that webinar technology does not always have to be used for formal webinars; you can use your webinar platform to provide individual training opportunities to your clients. Skip the formal presentation and cut to the chase by performing a step-by-step demonstration of the concepts the individual client is currently struggling with.

In-Person Training

Some people just find it frustrating to talk over a conference line or use a chat-pod to communicate with a host. For those who struggle with online learning, in-person trainings may be a better solution. One-on-one training with another person allows the individual to learn step-by-step instructions with the flexibility of ongoing interaction with a host to ensure the individual’s understanding of various concepts. In-person trainings also allow customers the opportunity to interact with other customers using your product or service, which can result in positive buzz for your brand.

Step-By- Step Training Videos

Over the last several years training has evolved to accommodate the “read less and watch more” mentality. It is common to search for answers to questions online and select a video tutorial rather than read a list of instructions. Step-by-step training videos let customers learn at their own pace, as it is simple and convenient to pause a video to make sure you understand one step before moving on to the next. Another benefit of video is they can be accessed and viewed at any time.

The downside of video training content is that since there is no opportunity for live interaction with a host, there is no guarantee you can get all your customers questions answered in just one video.

Tip: A solid approach to video training is to work with your team to identify the top issues your customers experience with your product and create a video for each of these scenarios.

Printed Training Guides

When all of the above methods for training fail to meet the needs of a customer, you can always fall back to a printed step-by-step guide. Some customers may find webinars, in-person trainings and videos to be overwhelming, preferring to learn alone. A printed step-by-step guide using a combination of visuals and instructions may be just what this customer needs to fully comprehend the concepts they need to understand to utilize your product or service.
As you can see, training is not a one size fits all approach; it is important to truly understand your customer base and their needs before beginning to develop a program. A successful training program will not only make your customers’ lives easier, but also reduce your company’s need for continuous customer support.

Are you struggling to find the right balance of training activities to help your clients better understand your products or services? The marketing team at Enterprise Iowa can help you customize a comprehensive training program that will be the right fit for your customers. Contact us today to learn more.