Third Annual 'We Solve Problems' Essay Contest Empowers Students to Solve Critical Problems

Northeast Ohio high school students and the business community will come together for the third year to raise awareness and provide realistic solutions to critical issues facing the nation’s teens. High school students from Aurora, Beachwood, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Chagrin Falls, Kenston, Newbury, and Orange school districts will be given a voice and the power to solve, through an essay, a problem they see impacting themselves, their peers and their community, through the “We Solve Problems Essay Contest.”

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    Created by the Gertsburg Law Firm and The Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce, students’ 600-word essays will be judged by business and government leaders. Finalists will receive cash awards or scholarships and the school with the winning essay will be rewarded. 

    The contest has doubled in size each year – impacting more than 4,000 students and 200 business leaders in the past two years. This year, 6,000 students will be encouraged to solve a problem of their choice.  

    Not only will these students be given a platform to share their ideas, but also they will learn two sets of critical business skills – problem solving and persuasive communication. “One day these students will be future employees, professionals and business owners. This contest gives them the opportunity to train now on the essential problem solving and communication skills they’ll need to succeed for years to come,” said Molly Gebler, director, Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce.

    The success of the contest relies on judges and generous donations from the community and businesses. Business, government, and community leaders are asked to read about 10 one-page essays – from the comfort of their home or office - over a two-week period in February 2018.  Winners will be announced in May. Jeff Hoffman, an inventor and serial entrepreneur with accomplishments going back to Priceline.com, will serve as the final judge.

    Additional information about the contest, including how to become a judge or sponsor, can be found at www.wesolveproblems-essay.com/  

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    Next up: 4 Simple Steps to Maximize Profits with Free Shipping
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  • 4 Simple Steps to Maximize Profits with Free Shipping

    As a small to medium size business it can be hard to compete with larger firms, especially when free shipping is offered. Bigger firms have the ability to offer free shipping since they operate on such a large scale.  If you want some of the market share these days, it is almost a must to offer free shipping especially if your competitors are. What are the costs to offering free shipping? The biggest and most obvious cost sellers would pay is the loss of profit margins due to absorbed shipping expenses. So how can you offer free shipping without killing your profit margins?  According to Kissmetrics, there are four simple steps that sellers can use to maximize profits on free shipping. 

    4 simply steps to Maximize profits on Free Shipping

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    As a small to medium size business it can be hard to compete with larger firms, especially when free shipping is offered. Bigger firms have the ability to offer free shipping since they operate on such a large scale.  If you want some of the market share these days, it is almost a must to offer free shipping especially if your competitors are.

    What are the costs to offering free shipping? The biggest and most obvious cost sellers would pay is the loss of profit margins due to absorbed shipping expenses.

    So how can you offer free shipping without killing your profit margins?  According to Kissmetrics, there are four simple steps that sellers can use to maximize profits on free shipping. 

    Before we dive into these steps, the first thing to do is define a clear goal. Are you looking to optimize margins or a customer’s LTV (Life time value)?  After you develop a goal, use these four simple steps to help maximize profits on your free shipping offer.

    1. Establish a baseline – This is to test and see if free shipping is even profitable for your business. One way is a/b testing to see if not only free shipping is profitable for your business, but by how much will an offer will lift your conversion rate. A simple baseline price can be found when you take the average order amount and raise it by 5-10%.
    2. Test thresholds – Raising thresholds will help to save profit margins. Again this can be done by conducting a/b testing to see which price had the best conversion rate and profits margins. You want to make sure the price is not too low when margins suffer, but not too high to discourage conversions.
    3. Restricted shipping – The next step is to offer free shipping on items that already have low shipping costs. This might be safer to implement since you can afford to make this type of long term offer depending on how much it cuts into margins (or whatever your set goal is). Typically, restrictions work best when you have one type of product that dominates your sales and has low shipping costs.
    4. Raise product prices – Once again, perform a/b testing to make sure raising the price (to help offset shipping costs) aligns with your goal.

    Depending whether your niche is competitive or not, these steps may not work but are still worth testing. Maybe you’re implementing something similar. It doesn’t hurt to continue testing to find that perfect threshold, price, and item to squeeze some additional profits on your free shipping. 

    Besides staying competitive, free shipping offers other benefits. One is the short term gains generated by an immediate boost in online sales, leading to more orders and more profits. If the seller has a minimum threshold, it can lead to larger orders in terms more generated revenue. Another benefit is long term gains. Free shipping helps to acquire new customers who purchases frequently adding to their overall lifetime value of those buyers who may not have otherwise been a customer if free shipping was not offered.


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    Next up: 2014 Small Business Convention Kicks Off with $40,000 Challenge!
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  • 2014 Small Business Convention Kicks Off with $40,000 Challenge!

    The Council of Smaller Enterprises’ (COSE) has announced that its highly popular Business Pitch Competition will again take place this year at Kalahari Resorts in Sandusky and serve as the kick-off of its annual Small Business Convention. On October 22, the final four contestants will be vying for $40,000 in prize money and making presentations to a panel of judges. 

    The Council of Smaller Enterprises’ (COSE) has announced that its highly popular Business Pitch Competition will again take place this year at Kalahari Resorts in Sandusky and serve as the kick-off of its annual Small Business Convention.  The final judging in the fourth annual COSE Business Pitch Competition will be held Wednesday, October 22 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Kalahari Resorts and Convention Center in Sandusky.  The 2014 Small Business Convention will be held the following two days, October 23 and 24, also at Kalahari.

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    On October 22, the final four contestants will be vying for $40,000 in prize money and making presentations to a panel of judges.  Since its inception, approximately 275 aspiring entrepreneurs have received invaluable feedback on their business plan from small business experts.  To enter, participants must submit a two-page summary of their business idea as well as a two-minute video pitch.  All entries will go through a series of judging that will culminate with the final four plans advancing to the final event on October 22.  For more information and to submit an entry, people can logon to www.cose.org/pitch.

    More than 1,000 small business professionals are expected to convene on October 23 and 24 to learn, connect and demonstrate the collective strength of the small business community.  This year’s Convention features four inspiring keynote speakers, more than 40 idea-sparking educational breakout sessions, an 80-exhbit business-to-business trade show, as well as various networking opportunities and special events. 

    This year’s Convention is truly a collaborative effort as COSE has partnered with more than 40 chambers of commerce and business support organizations across Ohio and the Midwest to produce the event.  COSE members and members of collaborating chambers can register for the Convention for just $149 versus the non-member rate of $299.  Kalahari is also offering attendees a special hotel room rate of just $109 per night for those choosing to stay over.   

     “We are so excited to see this event continue to grow as the largest event targeting small businesses in the Midwest,” says Steve Millard, President and Executive Director of COSE.  “We are delighted to be working with so many of our fellow chambers of commerce across Ohio on making this an event experience small business owners can’t afford to miss.” 

    “We are really excited about what we will deliver on at this year’s Convention,” says Tim Dimoff, Chairman of the 2014 COSE Small Business Convention Committee and President of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services, Inc. in Akron.  “My fellow committee members and I have very worked hard on developing the content at this year’s Convention.  I know attendees are going to love the experience at this year’s event.” 

    For more information and to register, logon to the official Convention website at www.smallbizconvention.com.  If you have questions, please email Angela Presutti at apresutti@cose.org  or call (216) 592-2385.


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    Next up: 5 Guidelines for Hiring to Firing Due Process
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  • 5 Guidelines for Hiring to Firing Due Process

    Terminating an employee is never easy. It can be emotional, can affect employee morale and even have potential legal ramifications. That’s why it is extremely important to make sure you have well-constructed procedures and policies in place before undertaking any employee terminations.

    Terminating an employee is never easy. It can be emotional, can affect employee morale and even have potential legal ramifications. That’s why it is extremely important to make sure you have well-constructed procedures and policies in place before undertaking any employee terminations. Studies have shown that not following due process can be very costly to an employer:

    Terminating an employee who is paid $20,000 per year can cost the employer approximately $40,000
    Wrongful termination lawsuits can cost an employer anywhere from $100,000 to $1million
    Former employees win jury verdicts 64% of the time in wrongful termination lawsuits
    Numbers like these can devastate a small to mid-size business. Most legal repercussions can be avoided if a company has clearly stated hiring to firing human resource policies and procedures in place and that they make sure management follows the policies and procedures. Every company, no matter the size, needs established guidelines for hiring to firing due process.

    5 Basic Management Guidelines for Due Process

    The success or failure of an adverse employment related issue is ultimately in the hands of the manager, and is directly related to how the manager conducts the due process. Following the five basic management guidelines for due process can greatly reduce the risk of problems or even lawsuits:

    Observe
    Train your managers to know what to look for when observing an employee. Telltale signs that an employee may be “falling down” on the job include:

    Changing patterns at work (i.e. unattributed illness, missed deadlines, increased mistakes)
    Change in moods (i.e. complains about co-workers, seems irritable and/or depressed)
    Physical signs (i.e. slurred speech, change in appearance after lunch or breaks)
    Interaction with co-workers (i.e. overreaction to criticism, complaints from peers)
    It is not enough to just observe the behavior of an employee; the questionable behavior must be properly documented. If not, it becomes a case of the employee’s word over the manager’s word.

    Document
    Without documentation, there is no way to prove that an undesirable behavior happened. Proper documentation of the observed employee behavior is essential. Be sure the documentation:

    Directly relates to the job performance and/or safety issues
    Can be verified by facts (i.e. do not rely on hearsay or the opinions of others)
    Is objective, fair and consistent
    Is complete and accurate
    Prepare
    After the behavior(s) is documented, managers need to make sure the face-to-face meeting is productive by taking time to properly prepare. Before meeting with the employee, make sure to:

    Review the employee’s record
    Review the company policy
    Correlate how the observation directly violates company policy
    List areas for improvement
    List methods that will be used to help the employee improve
    Prepare an opening statement
    Schedule the meeting in a private setting
    Confront
    This is difficult for managers and employees, but it is an essential step in the termination process. During the meeting with the employee, the manager must confront the employee concisely by:

    Keeping it specific, factual, firm and descriptive
    Showing respect, interest and sympathy
    Asking open ended questions
    Outlining expectations and next steps
    Scheduling the follow up meeting
    Signing the disciplinary paperwork
    Employees have been known to refuse to sign the paperwork. If that happens, document and include it in the employee’s file. Have another manager’s sign the documentation as well.

    Follow Up
    The most common reason why due process fails is failure to do the follow up. There are many reasons that follow up does not happen including the employee showing signs of improvement or the manager not checking the progress of the employee. It is very important to always schedule a follow up meeting to:

    Review the employee’s progress summary
    Document all points covered during the meeting
    Explain any next steps
    If needed, schedule another follow up meeting and review all expectations if there has been no improvement
    These five basic due process guidelines for management ensure company policies are being followed. These guidelines also help to protect the organization in the event wrongful termination suits are filed.
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    Next up: 5 Local Companies, Individuals Recognized for Business Leadership at Rotary Club of Cleveland
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  • 5 Local Companies, Individuals Recognized for Business Leadership at Rotary Club of Cleveland

    Each year the Rotary Club of Cleveland and the Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State University co-sponsor the Business Leadership Awards Program in cooperation with the Paul J. Everson Real Estate Center (REC) at Cleveland State University, the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network (MAGNET), the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), the International Business Network (IBN), and the Sustainable Business Center (SBC) at Cleveland State University.  The 2018 awards were presented at the Thursday, May 17, 2018, meeting of the Rotary Club of Cleveland at Windows on the River.

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    Receiving awards were the following businesses and individuals:

    Urban Placemaking Leadership Award (co-sponsored by REC): Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

    Quality Service Leadership (co-sponsored by MAGNET):  Randy’s Pickles

    Entrepreneurial Leadership (co-sponsored by COSE):  Michael E. Stanek, Co-Owner & CFO, Hunt Imaging LLC

    Global Business Leadership (co-sponsored by IBN):  Automated Packaging Systems, Inc.

    Sustainable Business Practices Leadership (co-sponsored by SBC):  Andrew Watterson, Senior VP, Head of Sustainability, and Corporate Responsibility Officer, KeyBank

    Cleveland Neighborhood Progress was selected for the Urban Placemaking Leadership Award for its work toward achieving its mission of fostering inclusive communities of choice and opportunity throughout Cleveland. CNP’s programming addresses the most critical issues confronting the entire community development system. Working in partnership with community development corporations, local foundations, business, and government, CNP has worked to create a strong and productive system that has visibly improved many neighborhoods. CNP’s Placemaking team strives to get more Clevelanders living in vibrant, inclusive and climate-resilient neighborhoods through its planning, design, development, lending and marketing initiatives. As a result, CNP has enabled thousands of the city’s residents to enjoy a better quality of life.

    Randy’s Pickles traces its history back to May 2012, when Founder and Chief Pickling Officer Andrew Rainey and his grandmother started searching for a way to make better pickles than those then available on grocery store shelves. After much experimentation, Andrew (whose nickname is Randy) felt he had developed a better pickle and set out to commercialize his idea. He used the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen, a shared kitchen and food business incubator, for a few years to get started. Now, Randy’s Pickles produces pickles in its own 1,000 square foot facility at 2203 Superior Avenue in Cleveland. Every jar of pickles is hand packed in small batches using fresh ingredients, which are sourced locally whenever possible. The company sells its products online through its website, and it also sells through several supermarket chains (including Acme Fresh Foods, Buehler’s, Dave’s, Giant Eagle Market District stores, Heinens, Kroger’s, Mustard Seed Market, and Target Stores) and a number of independent grocery stores in neighboring states.

     

    Michael E. Stanek (pictured above) is a co-owner and chief financial officer of Hunt Imaging LLC, a manufacturer of electrostatic toners and developers for use in printers and copiers. Headquartered in Berea, OH, Hunt Imaging serves markets worldwide and produces toner for most of the major printer manufacturers. Along with his wife, Carol, Mr. Stanek is also the founder and co-owner of Cleveland Cycle Tours, an entertainment company that operates group party bikes in the Ohio City, Tremont and downtown neighborhoods of Cleveland. Mr. Stanek’s passion for small business and advocacy shows through his involvement on numerous boards at the local, state, and national levels. Locally, he is a member and immediate past chair of the board of directors of COSE, and he is also a member of the board of directors and the executive committee of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

    Automated Packaging Systems (APS) is a global leader and manufacturer of packaging systems and supplies. It was founded in 1962 in a garage in Queens, New York, by brothers Hershey and Bernie Lerner, who saw that polyethylene bags, a new product then, were difficult to open and load product into. They solved the problem by inventing a machine that perforated one side of the bag and left the other side open for loading and sealing. Needing capital to further develop their technology, the brothers teamed up with Herb Crowther and Ridley Watts of American Packaging in Hudson, Ohio. In the late 1960s, APS introduced the first fully automatic packaging machine, and, in 1984, APS entered into a joint venture with a UK company which gave the APS access to the international marketplace. Headquartered in Streetsboro, Ohio, APS is now a global packaging supplier, with sales, service, and distribution offices located throughout North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Australia.

    Andrew Watterson has a passion for sustainability and has been actively involved with sustainable business, consulting, and governmental organizations for more than 15 years. Andrew is Senior VP, Head of Sustainability, and Corporate Responsibility Officer for KeyBank, which he joined in 2014. In his current role, Andrew uses his sustainability and organizational change expertise to lead the bank in the development and execution of a sustainability strategy that positions the bank for growth. Prior to joining KeyBank, Andrew was senior consultant at BrownFlynn, a sustainability and corporate responsibility consulting firm located in Cleveland, OH.  Previous to that, Andrew served in the Office of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland and was the city’s first Chief of Sustainability. Andrew led the coordination of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative, an action plan established by the city to create an economic engine to empower a “green city on a blue lake.”

    Rotary International is a group of business, professional, and community leaders, both men and women, who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build good will and peace in the world. Rotary International celebrated its 113th anniversary this year, and the Rotary Club of Cleveland is celebrating its 107th year of “Service above Self” to the people of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. Today, there are more than 35,000 Rotary Clubs with over 1.2 million members in more than 200 countries and geographical areas on all seven continents of the earth.


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    Next up: 5 Takeaways from COSE's Annual Meeting
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  • 5 Takeaways from COSE's Annual Meeting

    Hundreds of COSE members attended the 2016 version of the COSE Annual Meeting on February 24 at the Near West Theatre. Here are five takeaways from the meeting they walked away with:

    Hundreds of COSE members attended the 2016 version of the COSE Annual Meeting on February 24 at the Near West Theatre. Here are five takeaways from the meeting they walked away with:

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    1) Meet COSE's new Chairman, Mike Stanek

    Mike Stanek, CFO of Hunt Imaging, was introduced as the new chairman of COSE for 2016 and 2017. He follows Rion Safier in that role. In remarks to the hundreds of people in attendance, Stanek said his goals for COSE are four-fold:

    • Increased member engagement and participation

    Stanek said he would like to get more members involved in the organization. This extends to not only the programs and resources COSE provides, but also in COSE’s work with the Greater Cleveland Partnership to ensure the voice and needs of small business are front and center.

    • Expansion of COSE’s regional footprint

    Deeper involvement from all across the region is imperative, he said. Two years from now, Stanek said he would like to see COSE doing more in the broader regional footprint of Northeast Ohio.

    • Adjusting the mix of support and services

    As COSE’s small businesses change, so too must COSE adjust the programs and services that are offered. Stanek pledged to tap into members’ insights to find the most significant areas where COSE can be a difference-maker.

    • Stay fresh and exciting

    Everything COSE does should be exciting and fresh, he said. He understands member time is valuable and COSE’s staff wants to ensure that when that time is spent with the organization, the member walks away feeling good about their involvement.


    2) Recognizing Rion Safier

    Before turning over the COSE reins to Stanek, Safier was recognized as the departing chairman of COSE. During his tenure as chairman, he said the organization has done a good job of getting members and leaders more involved as small business advocates and continuing to build strong partnerships across the state to best serve small businesses.

    He said the groundwork has been laid for closer collaboration with the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and as such this closer alignment will create additional connectivity across the business community and create more of a benefit for the voice and role of small business in the work that is done in this region. What is remaining the same, he said, is the intense focus COSE will continue to have on small businesses.


    3) 2015 Volunteer Service Award

    The 2015 Volunteer Service Award was presented to Toby Heintzelman of Driftwood Restaurant Group. Heintzelman was instrumental in initiating action by COSE to get a new law passed by state government that will more effectively protect small business owners from workers compensation successor liability. The law requires the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to reduce or eliminate the transfer of a negative experience to a successor employer under certain circumstances. This legislation paves the way for relief for small business owners who are often unknowingly impacted until it’s too late. 


    4) Staff Service Award

    Steve Millard, the President and Executive Director of COSE, presented the 2015 Staff Service Award to Adina Magda, Events Manager for COSE. In her role, Magda is charged with creating effective, enjoyable experiences for COSE members through events such as the annual Small Business Convention, OHTec’s Tech Week, and many others. 


    5) What to watch in 2016

    Millard closed the meeting by pointing out five things members should keep an eye on as we move through 2016.

    • COSE Health and Wellness Trust

    This is a self-funded option that allows for flexibility of benefit options, provides rate stability and holds financial benefits designed exclusively by COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. COSE’s goal is to provide this new multiple employer health plan by mid-summer. The trust is not subject to some state health insurance regulations/benefit mandates. Therefore, the benefit options may be less expensive. COSE’s health insurance partner Medical Mutual will administer the plan’s benefits. The trust is still pending approval from the Ohio Department of Insurance.

    • Continued partnership with the GCP

    There are many issues the business community faces together. Going forward, COSE and the GCP will work more closely together to connect small, mid-market and large and tech-focused businesses to help create more opportunities for connection.

    The COSE Expert Network is a resource that connects small businesses with other small business experts in fields such as marketing, HR, IT and others. COSE is continuing to recruit more experts to this network and create heightened visibility of the resource to support the small business community.

    • HR and marketing solutions

    COSE will roll out a variety of new resources in these two highly important areas for small business in the next couple of months.

    • COSE Small Business Investor Network: 

    This network, comprised of small business leaders, will, over the next year, cover the full geography of Northeast Ohio. It will be a sounding board, voice and source of insight for COSE’s work and to represent the needs of small business owners in the region.


    Thank you to everyone who attended Annual Meeting. We look forward to continue to work with you in pursuit of the growth and success of your business in the year ahead.



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