10 critical factors you can’t overlook in a shareholder or partnership agreement

The devil is often in the details when it comes to business arrangements, especially when you’re crafting a shareholder or partnership agreement. Every piece of information needs to be carefully discussed and agreed upon. Both sides have to believe the terms and conditions are mutually beneficial; otherwise, they may view it as unfair and grow to resent the agreement.

But how can you ensure all the details are squared away and thoroughly accounted for? Below, 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss the factors that shouldn’t be overlooked when drafting a shareholder or partnership agreement.

The Business Journals

1. A provision for the divorce of a partner
I would have a provision for partners who get divorced that requires mandatory redemption and explicitly defines the valuation methodology. The last thing you want is a new partner who’s the ex-spouse of a current partner. If the partner owns less than 50%, I would require a written provision for a 40% haircut for lack of marketability and control. – Joseph Gordon, Gordon Asset Management, LLC

2. A ‘failed state’ analysis
You need to answer two questions: What are the possible reasons the partnership may fail, and how will you handle each situation? Also, discuss the specifics of your roles upfront — not just titles, but the actual work you will do. Agree upon the frequency of basic conversations on financials, employees, clients and anything else that is important to each of you. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC

3. A plan for the worst-case scenario
The shareholder or partnership agreement must account for unplanned developments. Financial obligations, labor division, sale decisions, market changes and even mortality must be considered when constructing the agreement. While it can be uncomfortable in a new partnership to discuss such matters, failure to do so can be destructive to your business. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC

4. Share valuation
Consider the valuation part of the contract. If you have to execute the agreement, how will the shares be valued? It can quickly turn a simple agreement into something more complex and is something that should carefully be considered in the early stages. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

5. Operational control
Avoid a 50/50 partnership if possible. Every company needs accountability, and there needs to be someone with operational control. As someone who started my company with a partner, I know that partners often have a different vision for the direction of the company, and a 50-50 split will result in no action being taken. Eventually, resentment builds, which often leads to a dissolution of the venture. – Matthew Halle, Lead2Growth

6. The desired result
What is the targeted result of the agreement? If the document is drafted with the result in mind, devilish details can be considered and constructed in a way that benefits the ultimate goal and all parties involved. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

7. The buy-sell agreement
The buy-sell agreement is a document that identifies the value of the business and includes predefined milestones that are agreed upon by both parties. It allows you to not have to worry about things that you don’t want to think about while you’re still actively engaged in a partnership. You should begin with the end in mind. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

8. Net versus gross revenue calculations
Net versus gross revenue calculations can be a critical component within partnership agreements. These details could be overlooked if the agreement is not clear on how revenue is calculated. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. Disability coverage
Just a few of the details you need to include are rules and responsibilities, exit clauses, voting power, insurances, agreements, and corporate structure. What happens if one of you becomes disabled and cannot work? Do you have key man insurance to cover that, bring in a replacement and pay for both their salary and yours while you’re disabled? What if your partner wants to sell to someone else — is that allowed? – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

10. An exit strategy
Often when entering a partnership we focus on how things will go if everything goes to plan. Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature. Consider how you will handle the partnership if things do not go according to plan. Exit strategies will give you confidence — you’ll know that while you’re going to work your hearts out, if things do not go according to plan you still have a pathway forward. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

10 ways business leaders can make in-office work more appealing

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses switched to remote work to protect their team members. While some initially struggled with the change, many companies and professionals have embraced the flexibility. Still, some leaders would prefer to bring their employees back into the office to take advantage of the culture-building and productivity-boosting aspects of in-office camaraderie.

However, employers may struggle to convince employees that a return to the office is the right move. Below, 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust offer tips for making in-office work more attractive and workable for employees who’ve become accustomed to working from home.

The Business Journals

1. Address their safety concerns.
Implement requirements for wearing masks. Hand-washing stations and temperature checks should be available upon arrival for both office visitors and employees. Introduce new supplies, technologies and capabilities throughout the office to ensure the minimal transmission of bacteria and viruses — for example, you might introduce no- or low-touch fixtures (faucets, door handles, buttons and so on) throughout the office. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

2. Know and communicate the ‘why.’
As leaders, if we are asking our teams to return to the office when they believe it may not be necessary and prefer working at home, there should be a compelling and valuable reason. Don’t use the in-office time for the same work that can be done at home. Consider a hybrid of at-home and in-office work to maximize the benefits of each. – Natalie Ruiz, AnswerConnect

3. Capitalize on the factors they can’t get at home.
Consider the factors that you have in the workplace — factors that a worker won’t have at home — and capitalize on them. Covid-19 has proven that many people greatly prefer in-person interaction. Offer ways for employees to safely interact in a more relaxed setting. – Toshiyasu Abe, OPAS

4. Incentivize in-person collaboration sessions.
This is something we’re all thinking about. I think it will be important to give workers the flexibility to determine how often they come to the office. At the same time, we will want to take care to maximize the benefits of the times when we all do convene together. Incentivize ways to collaborate with coworkers — take lunch together and hold brainstorming sessions. – Jenn Kenning, Align Impact

5. Let employees weigh in on office design.
Encouraging employees to participate in the office design is key. Whether that involves flexible days/hours, great snack options, child care or updated office amenities, including the staff in the decision-making process is fundamental to buy-in. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

6. Consider a flexible work model.
You may have employees who are very effective when working from home and others who are more effective when working in the office. Develop a results-focused culture — rather than fixating on the traditional office workplace model, consider what conditions will lead to employees being the most productive and effective according to their individual strengths. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

7. Give them the best of both worlds.
There have been news stories showing that it’s not that employees don’t want to return to the office — what they want is to keep the flexibility they have now. It’s a good time to experiment with new hybrid models of work as we transition back to the office. Enabling employees to keep some of the flexibility of working from home as we bring back in-office operations could give staff and managers the best of both worlds. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

8. Let your team members design their schedules.
There is a pride that comes from walking into an office and being part of a great organization. Still, more often than not, we waste so much time commuting, in meetings and so on that it can actually be counterproductive — and of course, there are distractions. The key is to make coming to work more flexible and to allow people to start building their own schedules. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

9. Include everyone in your decisions.
Include all of your people in the decision-making process. Ensure their voices are heard during this transition, or you are at risk of losing great talent. Ask, “What did you enjoy most, and least, about being remote? Would you prefer your schedule to be fully remote, a blend or mostly in the office with the occasional opportunity to work remotely? What has been most productive and least productive about remote work?” – Mike Sipple, Centennial Talent Strategy and Executive Search

10. Blend in-office work and social gatherings with remote work.
Blending in-office, collaborative work sessions and social gatherings with remote work creates a good balance and ensures people are still connected to each other and to the business’s goals. This also ensures that communication continues to flow throughout a company. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

15 ways to become a more transparent leader (and better inspire your team)

The role of a leader isn’t simply to drive profit and give orders to subordinates. A strong leader can inspire enthusiasm and loyalty in their teams, driving passion for the company’s product or service.

However, this inspiration can rarely grow in the dark; rather, a leader must make a point of working and communicating with transparency. To help, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 15 concrete steps you can take to become a more transparent leader.

1. Get to know your staff as individuals.
Get to know your staff. Talk to them. Learn about their needs and desires regarding their careers. These are the individuals who are working hard every day to make your company successful. If they feel connected to you, they will usually feel like you are a transparent leader. – Karen Barbee, Renaissance Wellness Services, LLC

2. Share video messages.
During this time of remote work, I’ve added regular “Happy Friday” videos to my communication routine. Seeing my face and hearing my voice with an update on the week and specifics about what is happening has kept the team connected. It has helped to reinforce stability and consistency in a world that has been lacking both this last year. – Jon Schram, The Purple Guys

3. Create a safe space for sharing.
It’s important to create a safe space for employees to share about themselves. I like to share with my team, too, about the coaching and leadership development I’m doing. It’s a way to foster a culture of constant growth and vulnerability. – Jenn Kenning, Align Impact

4. Seek your team’s help with reaching specific goals.
Share your goals and your progress toward them. Succinctly and directly describe the information or help that you seek, and ask if the team can assist. Make sure your team members understand how they connect to your goals. This not only improves transparency but also makes a more direct connection between you and your team. – Matthew Johnston, Design Interactive Inc.

5. Discuss both business issues and personal milestones in regular meetings.
Within our monthly meetings, we very candidly discuss the health of the business. If there are problems, we talk about them during these meetings because it takes everyone to contribute. In these monthly meetings we also feature employee awards, new clients, birthdays and work anniversaries. Additionally, we hold quarterly meetings — we call these vision meetings, and they’re in a Q&A style. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group

6. Hold a debriefing session after major projects.
Gather input from all participants. Celebrate the successes and commit to making changes, if warranted, in the future. I feel that by doing this we all have the closure we need and are ready to tackle the next project that comes along. – Jim Lane, Lane Technology Solutions

7. Admit it when you fail.
From the outside, many corporate leaders seem as if they can do no wrong. Bring in the human emotion. The experience of sharing failure opens the connection between leadership and staff and encourages everyone to always strive for the best, knowing things may not always go to plan. People always see (or assume) success; they rarely get to know about what didn’t go according to plan. – Joseph Princz, Wrecking Ball

8. Share the whole truth.
Some senior management staff can’t seem to let go of the thought that star team members bail at the first indication of trouble. They are wrong. Do you know who actually bails on a struggling company? Star performers who feel misled, lied to or powerless to know what is really going on. Good leaders understand that. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

9. Let people know who you really are.
There is a lot of talk about being vulnerable, which I translate to people really knowing who you are as a leader. Too often in business, we try to project an image of something we are not — or aren’t yet — and it comes across as either inauthentic or intimidating. If you are open with your employees on what challenges you and the company are facing, they will return the favor in kind. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

10. Share the projects you’re working on.
I and all my team members share all of our projects via a shared document. We all know what each person is accountable for and what projects they’re working on. We are working partly remotely and partly in the office, so we have a 9 a.m. Zoom meeting each weekday. We go down our list of what we are working on to keep everybody in the loop on progress. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

11. Respect your team’s competency and capabilities.
Sharing goals, progress and results with your team will allow them to better support the business’s success. Communication on how projects are progressing, whether verbal or through reports and a dashboard, lets the team know you trust them to move the business forward. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

12. Encourage cross-departmental meetings.
Invite team members from different departments to sit in on one another’s meetings. It showcases what everyone is working on and how their work plays a role in overall company goals. It also alleviates doubts about each other’s competency and shows support for different departments. This kind of interactivity not only creates camaraderie between silos but also eliminates companywide rumors and gossip. – Jeffrey Bartel, Hamptons Group, LLC

13. Discuss yearly or quarterly goals, then report on progress.
Transparency in sharing upfront goals for the year or quarter and reporting back on progress at the end of the timeline shows that the executive team is accountable. Further, it encourages employees to adopt that same behavior. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

14. Never sugarcoat the state of the company.
A step to becoming a more transparent leader is to not have secrets and to not sugarcoat the state of the organization. Keeping your employees informed and aware of your company’s situation will allow them to be well-prepared and not surprised by situations. This will make them more likely to be helpful problem-solvers. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

15. Share your calendars.
This may seem trivial, but my entire team shares all the details of their calendars with the entire team. We share when we are working out, going to the dentist or getting a manicure — it’s important for my team to see me as a real human and to see each other as spouses, friends and mothers. I expect my team to take care of themselves, and I lead by example. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

14 trust-breaking mistakes that can damage your company’s brand

Companies that are transparent about their values and practices build long-term relationships with customers, employees and investors. Conversely, businesses that lose the trust of stakeholders can quickly fail — especially in today’s digital-first marketplace, where finding new options is easier and faster than ever before.

The Business Journals

Even business leaders with the best intentions may unwittingly engage in practices that undermine trust and damage their brand. To help your company avoid the same fate, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 14 common trust-breaking mistakes they have seen businesses make and what should be done instead.

1. Not following through on promises
Businesses often make statements or promises but don’t follow through or keep the promise. To me, this is the biggest trust eroder. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t say you’ll do something that you later don’t do. And if you make a statement or promise, then, by all means, don’t break it. Keep your word. – Toshiyasu Abe, OPAS

2. Not addressing problems head-on
When a problem arises with a customer or client — which is inevitable — businesses that address it head-on, admit their mistake and remedy it will gain trust. With the abundance of review platforms online, such as Yelp, Google and Facebook, potential clients can get a feel of what it’s like to work with you and what to expect if something goes wrong. We love second chances. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

3. Saying what your customer wants to hear
A common mistake that can lead to the erosion of trust at the very beginning of a customer relationship is overpromising. Business owners must ensure they aren’t simply saying what the customer wants to hear. If what’s being said in the marketplace isn’t reflecting what your business is executing day in and day out, your words don’t hold any weight and trust will be greatly diminished. – Stacy McCall, ServiceMaster by Stratos

4. Being afraid to grant trust
Don’t be afraid of intimacy and granting trust as a means of accelerating mutual understanding. It is this understanding that allows you to build and sustain trust. Once you have trust, you must honor and respect it, never compromising your integrity. A brand is how someone experiences your culture. Set and enforce standards, top to bottom, or you’ll suffer in the long run. – Craig Parisot, ATA, LLC

5. Not being open to client feedback
Caring about your customer and their opinion of your company matters. You must take the time to know your clients and care for them as individuals. Build the relationship so that they feel they can be honest with you. Be open to suggestions and listen to their recommendations. – Ana Rivero, Allied Property Group

6. Failing to communicate
You lose trust when you stop communicating and vanish from the frontlines. Today everyone has a voice, and when leaders and companies shy away from using that voice, they lose trust in the marketplace. Today’s leaders should stand tall, own up to mistakes and be transparent with their audience. Failure to do so means the market will move on to someone who is leading from the front. – Greg Rollett, Ambitious Media Group

7. Not being honest or transparent
People won’t trust you if you don’t show them trust. If you hold everything close to the vest, are evasive or leave key details out, people will see right through you. Business relationships, like personal relationships, require risk and the vulnerability that comes along with it. If you are taking on something with someone, it will never be successful if all parties can’t be 100% honest. – Brent Foley, TRIAD Architects

8. Ignoring negative comments
It’s upsetting to discover negative comments on digital channels, but ignoring them is a sure-fire way to completely lose customer confidence. If customers need service, promptly answer them. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

9. Sharing ‘off-brand’ messaging
Ensure that all public messages — even social messages, which can be put together quickly — emulate the brand’s position. This position should be carefully crafted and aligned with the customer demographic. Don’t let the need for posting social media content encourage your creators to post “off-brand” messaging that will erode customer trust. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Not considering the optics of your actions
Customers are human and slow to trust — and they can lose it instantly. A brand is valuable only if it is synonymous with the truth. Businesses often err by walking a thin reputational line. The optics of an action matter more than the action. If something looks wrong — even if it’s technically correct — it will hurt the business and the value of the brand. In short, avoid even a remote appearance of impropriety. – George Befeler, The Befeler Group

11. Trying to ‘fix’ things behind the scenes
Too often, businesses want to “fix the client problem” behind the scenes rather than just embracing reality and dealing with it. Clients are much more amenable if you are upfront and honest. In a world of short-burst communications, we have lost some of the skill of thoughtful communication. – Russell Benaroya, Stride

12. Not sharing progress reports
Poorly managing expectations is a fast track to eroding trust. Studies show that buyers’ monetary cost increases as information increases, suggesting that sellers might profit from the exchange of information and, indirectly, from trust. Continuous communication of progress toward the target will reinforce the customer’s or stakeholder’s interest and their trust in your company and brand to deliver. – Scott Young, PennComp Outsourced IT

13. Focusing on fees instead of client needs
Stop focusing on your bottom line instead of your clients. Take great care of clients and they will take care of you. Avoid the nickel-and-dime fees and focus on growing, helping and developing your clients and customers. – Carter Keith, 31,000 FT.

14. Failing to build internal trust
More than ever, the trust and authenticity of a brand must be right internally to be right externally. Consumers and stakeholders see right through this. Add in social media, and the word spreads like wildfire. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.

7 Smart Ways To Assess The Quality Of Your Brand’s Content

Anyone in or adjacent to the marketing world knows that “content is king.” Everything you create and share with the public should always be of high quality, as it’s a representation of your brand and is what will draw people to your business. But with a never-ending demand for branded content on your blog, social media channels and website, how can you be sure that each piece is top-notch before it goes out?

AdAge Collective

We asked the members of Ad Age Collective to share some unique ways to gauge the quality of your work before it gets published. Here’s how they recommend assessing your content.

1. Set clear standards.
In order to assess anything, you need to have clear standards. This goes for content as well. So, create a clear set of standards that cover things like tone, visual elements, key messages, restricted topics, etc. Standards may need to vary by media type. Then, the key is to have someone other than the content producer assess the content against the standards. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

2. Make content on-brand, on-strategy and interesting.
High-quality content, like all marketing, answers three questions with a resounding “yes.” Is it on-strategy? It must have a clearly defined goal, target audience, etc. Is it on-brand? From logo usage to the tone of the messaging, it must look, feel and sound consistent. Is it interesting? It must be unmissable and unskippable, which is easier said than done. – Chad Robley, Mindgruve

3. Show the true worth of your content.
Make sure your audience can see the true worth of your content by making it different and clearly better than the competition. Connect to solutions people seek now, and show the impact it will make on key profit and loss line items. Once that happens, then your content quality is above par and it puts you on the path to being one-of-one (and not one-of-many). – Arjun Sen, ZenMango

4. Read it out loud.
This is such a simple step, but reading your content aloud helps you understand how it sounds to others. You’ll find any awkward phrasing or repeated words. Hearing your content spoken aloud also gives you the chance to assess if it’s conversational. It becomes easier to make changes to make it sound better. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

5. Test it out with a focus group.
Test your content and images with simple online focus groups to quickly see what resonates the best. This will help you determine which content is of the highest quality and connects best with your audience for the brand message you are trying to project. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

6. Put it in front of non-marketers.
Content is primarily the function of the marketing department. The risk is that piece of content comes across as too salesy or bloated when it comes solely from a marketing team without vetting. A good quick trick to see if your content is quality is putting it in front of other team members before publishing. My personal favorite: engineers. They’ll always tell you if a message is grounded enough. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

7. Make sure the right consumers see it.
Part of producing quality content is ensuring it resonates with the right consumers, but equally important is making sure they see it. When producing content, writers and promoters need to be on the same page about distribution, what part of the funnel it represents and what persona it targets. This plan, produced for all content, is a prerequisite for reach and efficacy, and therefore also quality. – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive