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Take a look at Calhoun Companies' blog written by our business brokers in Minnesota for advice & guidance in buying & selling a business!

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Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE) Decoded

by Rose McKinney
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Monday, 06 October 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments


If you have been looking into buying or selling a business, you may have heard your brokerage agent use the term Seller’s Discretionary Earnings (SDE). Seller’s Discretionary Earnings is defined as net profit before taxes, plus compensation to one owner (salary and benefits), amortization, depreciation, interest, other non-cash expenses, and one-time and non-business related expenses. This formula assumes one working owner, and compensation to additional owners will be adjusted to market rates. The real question, however, is what does that mean for you?

Buyers generally look at the earning potential of a business in order to decide on the price they are willing to offer. Because small business accounting is handled differently on a case by case basis, brokers use SDE to determine a true bottom line profit which can be used in valuation and comparison.

Essentially, SDE is simply a business’ net profit plus the addition of accounting expenses, expenses that are not relevant to the business, and one-time costs that may have impacted the past year’s earning potential, but will not impact upcoming earnings. Expenses that are added back to the value of a business include the owner’s salary, organizational dues that are not necessary to business operations, personal expenses paid for through the business such as medical bills and cell phones, large one time expenditures for equipment, uninsured loss, renovations, or fines and penalties, and other expenses that a new buyer will not necessarily be paying. A good example of these additions is equipment costs. Say a business regularly pays $500 per month on equipment payments, but the equipment will be paid off in a year. Since the buyer will not be paying that expense, the $6,000 yearly fee can be added back to the business’ net profit.

Once the SDE is determined, a potential buyer can see the true net value of the business, that is, how much money the business has the potential to earn for them, rather than how much it made the previous owner. This value can then be utilized by both seller and buyer in their negotiations.

If you are unsure of how your broker arrived at the SDE for your perspective business, always ask.


Tags: Minnesota business, small business, Business planning, business valuation, business brokerage, buyer, seller, business owner, business broker, business, Seller’s Discretionary Earnings, SDE
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Pioneer Press: Edina brokerage is a local mom-and-pop M&A specialist

by Rose McKinney
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Wednesday, 24 September 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments


Calhoun Companies was featured in the Pioneer Press on Sunday, September 21, 2014. Below is the Q&A with Andy Kocemba, president of Calhoun Companies.


Edina brokerage is a local mom-and-pop M&A specialist

By David Fondler


A couple of weeks ago, we reported on a study that found first-half 2014 national and international dealmaking at its highest level since 2007, just before the recession. The study, from global accounting and consulting firm PwC, reported national business transactions pushing a trillion dollars.

These are big deals being done by companies that think globally.

But other companies are thinking locally, and helping them is Calhoun Cos. in Edina.

For the second quarter, the business brokerage reported $4 million in total sales prices across 12 transactions; this on top of nine transactions in the first quarter.

These businesses are restaurants and shops, customer or business service companies, factories and health care.

Calhoun Cos. Andy KocembaMany are family-owned; none have outside investors. And the common denominator is that they are also being bought and sold.

"We certainly provide the same services as your larger M&A advisers and investment bankers, we've just carved a nice niche in that smaller range, and it served us well," said Andy Kocemba, president of the company, which he co-owns with his dad, Wally.

In a recent interview, Andy Kocemba discussed small-business transactions in the Twin Cities and beyond. His answers are edited for context and clarity.


Tell us a little about Calhoun Cos.

"It was founded 1908 by a woman out of South Minneapolis, so the name comes from the lake. Back in those days, if you were in real estate, you did whatever it took, so it was commercial, residential real estate.

Through the middle of the century it expanded into property management, insurance, business brokerage, as well the commercial and residential. Pretty big presence in all of those.

"In the 1980s, some of the businesses were sold off. There still is a Calhoun Insurance, and we're primarily a business brokerage. We still do some commercial real estate as well by virtue of the fact that the two are sold together.

"My dad and I bought the company in 2011, after I had previously worked here as a sales agent since 2003. He had worked here since 1993. So we both worked on the sales side, bought the company and moved into ownership."

What kinds of companies are you working with?

"We work with businesses in all industries, all different types. If you were to define a niche, it would be more size-based. We're talking primarily owner/operator business where the owner is there working.

"Service companies always do pretty well because the margins are good. So you can get a profitable service business for relatively low overhead, so that's always attractive to a business buyer. At the same time, people always have liked manufacturing operations, for almost the opposite reason -- that you're buying a lot of stuff; people like the assets. So those always do well.

"Right now, we're seeing trends in anything health-related. We do home health care, we do assisted living, and you can see population trends driving this."

What kind of year are you having?

"Through August, we've actually closed 33 transactions; that's pretty on track, maybe a little higher, as compared to years past. We always see a bigger push to year-end. Business transactions take a while to come together; it's a bit of a longer sales cycle, so based on the activity I've seen this summer, I think we could be in for a big year end."

How did the recession change things for your business or clients?

"What we've seen is through the recession and post, multiples tend to stay mostly the same, maybe they tick up slightly.

"Everybody's hearing about this wave of baby boomers that are coming, and the talk has always been about what happens when they decide to sell their businesses and retire. What really changed through the recession is that wave got pushed back a few years, people started working longer. They had to.

"If you were looking at pre-recession retirement account balances and business values, people were saying, 'I'm sitting pretty, we're all going to sell in 2014 or 2015.' I think that's not the case anymore.

"I read a fact that for the last two quarters, baby boomers have been the top seller group; they've also been the top buying group, which kind of surprised me. That goes to show that this wave of baby boomers is going to be with us for a while."

Did the recession affect the financing side?

"Yes, but somewhat indirectly. The money was still there, banks were still willing to lend on business acquisitions, but it was more a function of fewer businesses and deals that fit into their box. Bank standards didn't change, but market standards did. Banks always wanted three years of upward trends. Then, in comes 2008-2009, and every business takes a backslide. So it was kind of an adjustment; it took banks a couple of years to realize we still need to lend."

And now it's picking up?

"It is; they've adjusted their parameters a little bit, they've realized they have to get money into the market. At the same time, businesses are looking better and better, so it's coming together."

Where do you see the small-business sales market trending?

"Our traditional seller has always been the retirement age, our traditional buyer has always been sort of middle age, tired of corporate, wants to finally get out on their own and do something.

"I think what we're seeing now is a younger group of people, much less anchored into long-term positions, much more fluid. Younger people that maybe want to build a business with the intention of selling it."


Click here to read the full article.


Tags: Minnesota business, small business, baby boomers, buyers, sellers, leaders, business brokerage, recession, business, media, newspaper
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Calhoun Companies Agent Spotlight: Sam Thompson

by Rose McKinney
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Monday, 15 September 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments


Get to know our Calhoun Companies agents!

Every few weeks we will be featuring one of our agents through our Agent Spotlight series. Each member of our talented staff has the extensive experience and knowledge necessary to help you with your own business. Whether you are looking to buy a business or secure your business’ future by selling it to the best buyer possible, these men and women can make it happen. Plus, it never hurts to know which agents have access to a boat!


Sam Thompson

Family: Kim (Wife), 3 Daughters: Rae (21), Sean (17), Lee (17)

Education: B.S. Hospitality Management at the University of Wisconsin Stout, CBI with IBBA

Home: Medina, MN

Organizations: Edina Rotary, IBBA, M&A Source, Minneapolis Chamber, Toastmasters


Sam Thompson pic resize

How many years have you been working at Calhoun Companies?

2 years

What did you do before Calhoun Companies?

Owned MetroConnections, a hospitality company, for 29 years.

What type of businesses do you like to work with?

Business to Business, Hospitality, IT

Where do you like to celebrate a sale?

Cold beer at Seller’s favorite bar

What is one of your most rewarding memories or the thing you like most about working at Calhoun Companies?

Great reputation, excellent group of agents

Where can people find you on the weekends? Or during a Minnesota summer?

Golfing, pool time with family, traveling

If you had tickets to a concert, who would you like to see?

Just saw Paul McCartney … Unbelievable!

What is one food item that you couldn’t live without?

Unfortunately, ice cream

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

Photographs of my family from my family that are for my office

If you had to choose another job, what would it be?

Famous author



Tags: entrepreneur, leadership, team, business brokerage, small business, business, agents
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Build Your Customer Loyalty

by Rose McKinney
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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

We all have a friend who is obsessed with Nike, devoted to Apple, and cannot live without Starbucks. These brands enjoy tremendous levels of customer loyalty, and so can you. A recent article in Inc. Magazine explains how.

While large companies have more resources to invest in marketing and branding, most do not have the patience or ability to understand the needs of every customer and build a personal and unique relationship with them. The ability to generate a personal connection with customers actually means that small businesses, like your own, stand a better chance at building customer satisfaction, and therefore loyalty, than larger ones.

Here’s a look by the numbers at customer relations actions that small businesses do more often than their larger competitors:



Small Business

Big Business

Thank Customers



Follow-up with Customers



Anticipate Customer Needs



Understand Customer Expectations



Satisfy Customers




Why does this matter? Well, 82% of small business owners believe that loyal customers are the key to growth, and they’re right. Retaining customers is also key to maintaining a profitable business. Finding a new customer is approximately 6-7 times more expensive than keeping an existing one. Additionally, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times the price of their first purchase.

Here are some tips to build your customer loyalty:

  • Resolve complaints in a customer’s favor. 70% of the time, they will do business with you again.
  • 70% of the buying experience is based on how customers feel they are being treated, so treat them well.
  • Ask for, and use, the customer’s name. It will make a difference to them.
  • In the past year, 67% of customers have hung up because they couldn’t talk to a real person. Always take their calls.

Read the full Inc. article here. Share your experiences and tips on how to build customer loyalty in the comments below.



Tags: customer, small business, business, customer loyalty, brand, reputation, customer service, personal connections, business leaders
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Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal's Top 25 Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Firms List

by Rose McKinney
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Monday, 25 August 2014 Category Sellers 0 Comments

We are proud to announce that Calhoun Companies made the top 10 of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s top 25 list of Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Firms. Calhoun Companies placed seventh in the list ranked by Metro-area brokers. We are honored to be surrounded by such good company. Congratulations to all that made the list!


Click here to view the full list of Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Firms.



Tags: business, twin cities, minneapolis, real estate, st. paul, brokerage, commercial real estate, leader
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Why Buying a Business is Better Than Starting One

by Rose McKinney
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Monday, 11 August 2014 Category Buyers 0 Comments

For many individuals, owning their own business is a major goal. Whether inspired by the freedom to be their own boss, the pride of running their own business, or the security that comes with financial independence and control over their own situation, the allure of starting a business is undeniable. Unfortunately, so are the risks. Startup costs can be high, establishing a loyal customer base and cash flow take time, and securing financing can be difficult. Fortunately, there is another way future business owners can achieve their dream.

Buying an existing business represents less of a risk than starting a new business from scratch. It offers potential small business owners the same opportunities for freedom, financial success, and personal fulfillment as starting one.

Here are just a few reasons why buying is better:

  • Your new business will already have an established customer base saving you time and marketing expense.
  • You will have the advantage of working with employees who are already trained and loyal.
  • Your new business will already have a positive cash flow.
  • It will already have survived the 80% failure rate of startups, making it a much safer investment for your future.
  • Your new business will already have addressed issues with standard operating procedure and government reporting requirements saving you time and trouble.
  • In most cases, the hard assets required to run your new business will be included as part of a package deal at no additional costs. This means you may get a bargain on machinery, vehicles, and other important collateral.
  • Your business will already have the community goodwill such as public acceptance, employee efficiency, and customer loyalty that other businesses spend years courting.
  • In many cases, buying a business means you will have the benefit of a previous owner able to train and coach you on the ins and outs of their business and community giving you a leg up on the competition.
  • Banks are more willing to finance existing businesses based on their merits, and sometimes the seller is also willing to finance part of the purchase price.
  • You will gain instant net worth from your new business.

Have you bought or started a business? What do you think of our reasons? Or are you thinking of starting or buying a business? Visit our checklist and see where you stand on buying versus staring a business. Share your experiences of buying and/or starting a business in the comments section.

Tags: Minnesota business, business strategy, business ownership, starting a business, buying is better, customers, small business, entrepreneur, business, buying a business
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Thank You For Supporting Ace in the City and Calhoun Companies

by Rose McKinney
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Wednesday, 06 August 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

A huge thank you is in order to everyone who joined us in supporting our corporate partner, Ace in the City. With your help and Calhoun Companies’ donation match, we raised $1,750 to purchase backpacks and school supplies for families in the Powderhorn neighborhood!

In addition to support from people like yourselves, our backpack drive also sparked interest and support from local media leading to interviews on KFAI and FOX 9. Appearing on local news gave us an opportunity to spread the word about Ace in the City and their mission to be a good neighbor by supporting their local community with after-school and mentorship programs. For more information on Ace in the City and how you can get involved, click here.

Thank you all for joining us in being good neighbors. We couldn’t have done it without you. We hope everyone has a great school year!


Tags: donation, education, back to school, small business, business, giving back, neighbor, community
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Ace in the City Fundraiser Update

by Rose McKinney
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Tuesday, 22 July 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

As of Monday, July 21, we have raised $1,400! Only ten days left to donate to our fundraiser that goes to purchase backpacks and school supplies on behalf of our corporate partner Ace in the City. We’re collecting monetary donations at our office until the end of July.

All the proceeds will go to benefit Ace in the City and its backpack sale, which supports its after-school programs. For more information on Ace in the City, click here.

Thank you to everyone who has donated. There’s still time to donate, too! Just drop off donations to the Calhoun Companies – any amount helps. Read more about how you can donate in last week’s blog post.


backpacks7-21-14 resize

Tags: business, local, corporate partnership, corporate responsibility, fundraiser, volunteer, giving back, community
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Calhoun Companies Gives Back to the Community

by Rose McKinney
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Thursday, 10 July 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

We are proud to announce that we are dedicating the month of July to fundraising for backpacks and school supplies on behalf of our corporate partner Ace in the City. Please join us in helping families living in the Powderhorn neighborhood of South Minneapolis prepare for the upcoming school year by donating to Ace in the City.


Here’s how it works:

During the month of July, Calhoun Companies will be collecting monetary donations on behalf of Ace in the City, with Calhoun matching up to $1,500. Ace in the City will use these funds to purchase school supplies and backpacks, then sell them to area families for a greatly reduced price of $10-$15 per filled backpack (a savings of $50 or more). This approach maintains a family’s dignity and provides a sense of ownership to both the parents and the kids. All proceeds from the sale of the backpacks will go to support Ace’s After-School and Literacy programs which impacted more than 250 households last year.


How long is this initiative?

Donations can be made now until July 31, 2014. On August 1, 2014 all donations will be delivered to Ace in the City.


How can you help?

Checks can made payable to Ace in the City, and dropped off at/mailed to:

Calhoun Companies
7600 Parklawn Ave, Suite 225
Minneapolis, MN 55435
attn: Jodee Leininger


Be sure to follow Calhoun Companies on Facebook and Twitter for updates on our fundraising progress.


To learn more about Ace in the City’s programs and how the organization helps the South Minneapolis community, visit

Tags: corporate sponsorship, back to school, donation, leadership, business, community
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Star Tribune: Helping Small Businesses Sell

by Rose McKinney
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Monday, 07 July 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

While you were relaxing at your cabin and celebrating the Fourth of July last week, you may have missed last Sunday’s Star Tribune. Calhoun Companies’ President Andy Kocemba was in the business section sharing his viewpoint on the small business community that Calhoun Companies helps every day. If you missed it, take a look and see what Andy has to say about the ins and outs of buying and selling businesses.


"Andy Kocemba has his finger on the pulse of Minnesota’s small-business community.

In 2011, he and his father, Wally, bought Calhoun Cos. — a business brokerage firm founded in 1908. The younger Kocemba, now the president, has been working there since 2003, helping people buy and sell small businesses.

Before the recession, the firm — which has 25 employees — brokered about 100 deals per year. Now it’s doing about 70 annually, mostly businesses with annual revenue between $500,000 and $15 million. The typical sale price is between $300,000 and $10 million.

He spoke at the firm’s offices in Edina."


Click here for the rest of the Q&A with reporter Adam Belz. Let us know what you thought in the comments section or tweet us your thoughts @CalhounCos.



Tags: business leaders, interview, business brokerage, small business, newspaper, business
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Business Owners Can Take Vacations, Too – Here’s How

by Rose McKinney
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Monday, 30 June 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

We work with small business owners every day, so we know and understand how hard small businesses work. Especially how hard small business owners work. We realize how hard it is to get away for a vacation but that’s exactly why we encourage you to do so. Calhoun Companies believes that small business owners are among the most deserving of a vacation. Vacations give us time to decompress and relax from the busy day-to-day happenings of our businesses. In fact, merely thinking about a vacation boosts happiness.

A few weeks ago, Business News Daily posted an article that provided some tips for how small business owners can get away. Everyone deserves a break for their hard work and what better time than the summer.

Here are some of the valuable vacation tips from the article:

-        Don’t completely unplug, because you can’t. You are still running your business and the reality is that you might have to check in while you’re relaxing on the beach or at your cabin. If you can go without, that’s great! It’s just important to accept that you might have to check in every once in a while.

-         It’s important to set boundaries. While you can’t completely unplug, you can’t let your work take up all of your time. It is a vacation after all. Schedule an hour or two at the beginning of each day to respond to emails or maybe talk to a client or employees. The rest of the day is devoted to unwinding and enjoying time with your family.

-         Before you go, make sure to tie up any loose ends that you can take care of before the vacation starts. This could mean administrative work or meeting with your staff to prepare them for what you know is coming up or could come up, while you’re away.

-         Leave a person in charge that can handle anything that could come his or her way. You should also let your staff know that this is the person they should come to, so there is no question in case of an emergency.

-         Finally, remember that you’re not running the world! You have to be able to give yourself a break to keep your peace of mind.

Read more vacation tips from Business News Daily here. Let us know what tips you have to help balance work and play. Leave a note in the comments or tweet them to us @CalhounCos.

Tags: summer, business advice, business tips, small business owners, small business, business, vacation, business ownership
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Brand Outcomes – A Whole Lot More than a Visual Facelift

by Rose McKinney
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Thursday, 19 June 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

This is a guest blog written by Rose McKinney, APR. Ms. McKinney is the founder of Pineapple RM, a Minneapolis-based communications firm focused on reputation management.Ms. McKinney can be reached via email at or by telephone at 612.616.1529. You can view her company’s website at

Brand Outcomes – A Whole Lot More than a Visual Facelift

When you talk about branding, employees and customers may assume there’s going to be a new logo or tagline. That’s because branding is often associated with visual identity. This series of blog posts has explored branding as all encompassing of what a business stands for, how it connects, and how it delivers. When you invest in the brand process, you can expect a whole lot more than a visual facelift.

The outcomes of brand refresh will have profoundly positive impact on your business:

A succinct articulation of what your brand stands for and what differentiates it.

During the brand process, you can create a Brand Brief to capture answers to key questions about your business. This includes a succinct articulation of what your brand stands for and what differentiates it. It can be a helpful tool for onboarding new employees because it spells out your core values and establishes expectations about the culture. It’s also a guide for deciding on which strategies to pursue since it outlines the types of ideas that are consistent and supportive of your goals.

Creative executions such as an evolved logo, updated tagline, perhaps the introduction of a new color palette. This may play out on websites, advertising, marketing materials, social media, signage and more.

Certainly, a brand refresh often entails some updated creative. Once you define your updated brand, you have numerous places to showcase it. This creates a unified, consistent message so that each audience receives the same story no matter how or where they interact with your brand. The Brand Brief can include details important for creative vendors such as how to use the logo, typefaces, and other information about design elements.

Messaging and examples that demonstrate the brand.

The branding process yields a handful of key messages and supports these with examples that demonstrate your brand. It’s the classic idea that words and actions work together to create desired perceptions. This keeps your business honest about the promise it makes and its track record of delivering on the promise. Think of messaging as accountability and reliability, which creates validation for your business.

Increased awareness, understanding and support.

Including a variety of people and perspectives in the branding process leads to increased awareness, understanding and support. These participants will have buy in because they contributed valuable input and gained clarity about your business. This helps them tell your story more accurately and passionately.

Employee engagement (productivity, connection).

Employees who feel a deep connection and commitment to their organizations are among the most engaged, and companies with highly engaged employees are more profitable and have greater market share A 2013 Gallup survey on employee engagement found that only 41 percent of U.S. workers felt they understood their employers’ brands and what differentiated these in the marketplace – thus they felt less engaged by their work. Do your part by providing them with ways to engage with your mission, vision and values.

Customer engagement (sales, referrals, loyalty)

Similarly, engaged customers are high-potential advocates for your business. A happy, well informed customer will likely make repeat purchases, serve as a referral for prospective customers, and will pledge their loyalty. Encouraging their engagement comes from including them as part of your brand and providing them with clear communication so they can help spread the word.

Commit to define and demonstrate your brand, and your business reputation will flourish.

Tags: brand process, business, customer engagement, employee engagement, brand reputation, brand refresh, brand
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Answering 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask

by Rose McKinney
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Friday, 13 June 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

As business leaders, we have to constantly adapt and evolve to our surroundings. One way that we can evaluate our processes and reconsider how we do things is to ask ourselves questions. Calhoun Companies has been asking President Andy Kocemba 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask, an article published in Inc. magazine this past spring. Reevaluating your company through questions is a great way to help improve your company.

Technology is a part of everything we do – whether it’s for your company or your everyday life. There is no doubt that technology makes things easier for us but used incorrectly, it can also create barriers and distance between you and your customers and clients.

In the question for today, Andy Kocemba tackles the difficult balance of technology and human interaction.

How can we become more high-tech but still be high touch?
- James Champy, author and management expert

Andy’s response:

At Calhoun Companies, we are in a relational business. We know that our business is about bringing people together, building that relationship and trust, and helping parties to achieve their goals and dreams. In realizing and remembering this, we know that all technological advancements and updates must always serve that greater idea of human contact. No machine will ever be able to do what we do, nor will anyone ever buy a business over the internet sight-unseen. We realize that any technological update exists to enable us to better and more quickly serve and connect with people. If a certain technology gets in the way, it’s not for us.

Not all businesses have the same purpose and goals, but all businesses must have relationships to thrive and grow. How do you feel about the technology and human interaction that takes place within your company? How would you answer the question above? Share your answers in the comments section below.


Tags: relationships, technology, evolve, entrepreneur, business leaders, business
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The Brand Process – An Opportunity to Engage Employees and Customers

by Rose McKinney
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Thursday, 05 June 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

This is a guest blog written by Rose McKinney, APR. Ms. McKinney is the founder of Pineapple RM, a Minneapolis-based communications firm focused on reputation management. Ms. McKinney can be reached via email at or by telephone at 612.616.1529. You can view her company’s website at

The Brand Process – An Opportunity to Engage Employees and Customers
Part 2


A few weeks ago, this blog posed some questions about your business and its brand-reputation. In my mind, these two are always linked because without alignment between what you say you are and whether the marketplace perceives and experiences it that way, your business will flounder. In order to build prosperous, sustaining businesses, we need to balance what we stand for with what the market wants, and we must do so in an articulate, compelling way through branding.

Like any recipe for success, there are common ingredients and numerous variations. It can be highly complex with multiple steps or simple and straightforward with optional enhancements. There’s the Ivy-League, MBA-marketing version and there’s the Branding for Dummies version. Both work, but your organization will likely benefit from something far less academic and far more customized.

There are three main components to the brand process: Inputs, Collaboration, and Deliverables. Having a sense of each will drive the specifics of how to proceed with branding. Now you may say you already have a brand, and yes, you do; however, every brand requires a refresh from time to time to remain relevant. For the purpose of this blog post, we’re talking about how to take your existing business and solidify the brand that has emerged (intentionally or by chance).

Before going into the elements, let me address who should lead the process. Quick answer -- not you. If you have a marketing or communications person on staff, it could be this person. In either case, you are both probably too close to be objective and effective. Ideally, a third party works best for guiding and facilitating the brand process. This could be an advisory board member, a consultant or marketing or PR firm. The individual will help you define the key inputs, process and outcomes without bias as well as provide recommendations on how to put the findings to work for your business.

Inputs: This is the listening and gathering phase. The brand process starts with immersion in the business and the marketplace. If you have conducted any research – formal or informal – such as surveys or interviews, take time to review previous findings. Review trade publications for trends and competitive intelligence. Identify key leaders within your business as well as external influencers and customers who have perceptions of the business. You can gain important insights by conducting one-on-one interviews. Keep in mind, you’re not probing for customer satisfaction but rather for perspectives on your organization’s identity and reputation. You’re keeping an eye open for the opportunities to serve the marketplace and set your brand apart.

Collaboration: As you are gathering input from individuals, establish an opportunity to collaborate with several of these same people. Set up a gathering time (at least several hours) to share and brainstorm. An ideal activity is to conduct an audit of your sales and marketing materials (website, brochures, sell sheets, press releases, case studies, etc.) and to review your competitors’ materials. Your brand facilitator will create an agenda and lead this as a hands-on workshop where you can be a participant – you will be amazed by listening to people who care about your brand and its success.

Deliverables: From the get-go, know what you want to accomplish with the brand process. The most valuable deliverable is a two-page Brand Brief that answers key questions such as your organization’s core values and differentiators. It likely includes a short statement or paragraph called a Brand Promise and may also include a Positioning Statement or Value Proposition. A list of adjectives that describe your brand’s tone and personality is another important element of the Brand Brief, which will set up creative direction for any proposed updates to your brand’s visual identity such as an enhanced logo, color palette and descriptive tagline.

The brand process is rewarding for business owners and their stakeholders. Including a variety of folks in the input and collaboration activities helps vest them in supporting the brand goals going forward – and that’s a fantastic outcome all on its own. In my next post, we will look more specifically at the benefits and outcomes that your business may receive as a result of a brand refresh. Meanwhile, if you would like a copy of key questions that comprise a Brand Brief, please contact me via email, and I’ll happily provide this as a courtesy to Calhoun Companies followers.

Tags: reputation, small business, public relations, business reputation, brand reputation, business, branding
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Continuing our series of 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask

by Rose McKinney
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Thursday, 29 May 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

Recently, Inc. magazine published 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask. In the article, business leaders like Paul Graham, Jim Collins, Tony Hsieh and others share the questions you should be asking to improve your company. Companies and businesses are built on a foundation of mission, vision, and values. What makes a company sturdy and grounded is its flexibility to address the details that can create positive change.

In the question for today, Calhoun Companies’ President Andy Kocemba takes a look at the details that make a company.

In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return?
- Robert Cialdini, author and professor emeritus of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University

Andy’s response:

I’m always amazed at how little details can have a great effect on the general attitude and atmosphere within our office. For example, we recently made the switch from offering clients drinking water from our cooler in a pitcher and glass to offering them individual bottles of water. All in all, it doesn’t seem like much and certainly didn’t come at a great expense, but I was amazed at the positive feedback we received from something so simple. The perception was that it was cleaner, more sanitary, and more professional. That carries over into how confident our team members feel in meetings, and how proud they are to host meetings at our office.

How would you answer this question for your company? Such a small detail can bring change to attitudes, perceptions and confidence.

What questions would you like to ask other business leaders? Write your answers in the comments section and we’ll post them to Twitter. Follow us @CalhounCos.

Tags: entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, business, small business, leadership, change, perception, company leaders, business leaders
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Brand-Reputation: From Foundation to Flourish

by Rose McKinney
Rose McKinney
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Thursday, 22 May 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

Calhoun Companies is excited to announce a three-part blog series, written by Rose McKinney, APR. Ms. McKinney is the founder of Pineapple RM, a Minneapolis-based communications firm focused on reputation management. Prior to starting the agency, Ms. McKinney was the president of Risdall McKinney Public Relations. She is a recipient of many local and national awards in the public relations/reputation management field.

Ms. McKinney can be reached via email at or by telephone at 612.616.1529. You can view her company’s website at


Brand-Reputation: From Foundation to Flourish

Part 1

When your business opened, whether that was recently or many years ago, it started with a purpose. The company name and logo helped customers know what your business did; these also set expectations of what it would be like to do business with your company.

In essence, you created a brand. And, in time, your business went from making a brand promise to earning a reputation. Perhaps this happened by saying and doing what you felt were the right things – things that were true about your business and things that were important to your customers. This approach served many businesses quite well – until recent years.

It seems today, businesses face increasing challenges to stand out in a crowded, competitive marketplace, to offer truly differentiating products and services, to attract and retain talented employees, and to gain and keep loyal customers. When it comes to marketing, ever-changing technology and rapidly expanding channels of communication are new realities, so why do some businesses propel forward while others flounder?

In part, it has to do with the role of brand and reputation. These two distinct but inseparable assets are powerful influencers of success. Brand no longer is limited to products and services. Today, individuals, schools, associations, industries and more put intentional effort into brand strategy, and you can, too.

Let’s start with defining brand and reputation.

Brand is the promise that you make and reputation is the marketplace’s perception of whether you deliver on that promise. While these are similar, there are some important distinctions. With brand, you get to make some decisions about what you do and how you communicate it – as an organization, as the identity (logo, tagline, colors) and as an experience (online, in print, in person, etc.). You get to determine the tone and personality, even the colors, the look and the feel.

Based on a brand’s interactions and touch points – internally with employees and externally with customers, partners, media, community and others – these key audiences ask themselves if they believe your brand promise. What they do believe is your reputation. Quite simply, brand is the foundation for your business; reputation is the flourish.

You might wonder once you have a brand, does it ever need to change? While a well thought out, well received brand should be enduring in principle, societal changes precipitate updates. It’s a good idea to review and refresh it every few years. If there have been significant positive or negative changes with the organization – new leadership, new product or service categories, new innovations, etc. – this is a good time to determine the current relevance of the brand message. It’s also a good idea to monitor the competition and make sure your brand remains distinct and compelling.

In future posts, we will explore what the brand process entails, who to include and what outcomes you can expect. Until then, take some time to ask yourself: How do your customers and employees talk about your business? How do you communicate what you do, both internally and externally? Does your mission statement truly reflect your mission? Does your brand match your reputation? The answers and accompanying actions will help your company flourish.

Tags: small business practices, brand reputation, reputation, success, business, brand, small business
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100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask

by Rose McKinney
Rose McKinney
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Monday, 12 May 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

Even the best and most successful business leaders start at the same place – with an idea and a work ethic. Imagine if you could get advice from some of those business leaders. What advice would you ask them? Better yet, what would they ask you?

Inc. magazine recently published an article called 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask in the April 2014 issue. In the article, business leaders like Paul Graham, Jim Collins, Tony Hsieh and others share the questions you should be asking if you want to improve your company. As entrepreneurs ourselves, Calhoun Companies decided to take a stab at answering some of these questions, one by one. President Andy Kocemba tackles question 85 from the list:

If you could go back in time five years, what decision would you make differently?  What is your best guess as to what decision you're making today you might regret five years from now? -Patrick Lencioni

Andy’s response:

I don’t like to look back and lament past “bad” decisions. I believe in making educated, calculated decisions, and then monitoring them. Monitoring is the key. The moment you see something is not working out, that’s when you make the next change. Wrong decisions are not failures. Wrong decisions that linger become failure. Wrong decisions that you correct are good learning experiences. You can’t be afraid to make a mistake, but mistakes can’t go uncorrected.

What do you think about Andy’s answer? How would you answer this question? Not everyone has the same opinion on how to manage their companies but no matter where you end up, we all have that same beginning.

What questions would you like to ask other business leaders? Write your answers in the comments section and we’ll post them to Twitter. Follow us @CalhounCos.

Tags: entrepreneurship, entrepreneur, small business, business advice, business leaders, business mistakes
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Tax Season Fodder

by Rose McKinney
Rose McKinney
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Wednesday, 16 April 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

With April 15 - tax day - firmly placed in our rearview mirror, we thought it would be fun to highlight what small business owners could be doing with the time they spend filing their taxes. 

After all, the paperwork associated with tax season is an administrative burden that takes an incredible amount of time for small business owners, according to a new survey by the National Small Business Association. 

The findings state that, on average, small business owners spend at least 40 hours filing their federal taxes each year. For those of you doing the math, that's the equivalent of a full work week. What's more, one out of three business owners spend the equivalent of three weeks on this annual chore!

We know that filing federal taxes is the law and something that business owners must do each year, and we're not advocating anyone does the following activities in lieu of filing their taxes. But, instead of spending the equivalent of, let's say two work weeks doing so, business owners could be doing one of these five activities instead:


1. Fly around the world 1.7 times on a commercial jet.

2. Compete in 17 marathons at the average U.S. pace of 10:34 miles/hour.

3. Travel to the moon 4.8 times, traveling on NASA's New Horizon's Pluto mission.

4. Watch all eight Harry Potter movies four times.

5. Cook 14.5 perfect 20-pound unstuffed turkeys back to back.


Which would you rather do during the time you set aside to do your federal taxes? 

The survey also found that 67 percent of small business owners polled support broad tax reform that will reduce both corporate and individual tax rates coupled with reduced deductions. 

If you are interested in what else the survey found, please click here to see the full NSBA 2014 Small Business Taxation Survey

And thanks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website for the fodder behind this blog post. 









Tags: 2013 taxes, small business taxes 2013, federal tax filing, taxes for small business owners
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National Small Business Week is May 12 - 16, 2014

by Rose McKinney
Rose McKinney
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Wednesday, 09 April 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and small businesses create about two out of every three new jobs in the United States each year. 

To recognize the critical contributions of America's entrepreneurs and small business owners, the President has issued a proclamation announcing a National Small Business Week each year since 1963.

This year's National Small Business Week is May 12 - 16, culminating with an awards ceremony in Washington, DC when a National Small Business Person of the Year is named. 

Live events will take place throughout the week in Boston, Kansas City, San Francisco as well as DC. But even if there are no SBA-sponsored events taking place where you are, you can still take advantage of National Small Business Week. 

For instance, a Minneapolis-based marketing company is holding free webinars throughout the week on helping small businesses with web marketing. By doing this, they are establishing themselves as the thought-leaders for small business internet marketing. Plus, they are collecting names and emails of viable prospects. 

Perhaps you can do something similar with a service you provide? Of course, you don't have to offer a webinar each day, but maybe something of value that would entice potential prospects.

Another way you can recognize the week is by providing free coffee and donuts to the surrounding small businesses in your area one morning. This is a cost-effective way to meet your neighbors, strike up conversations and provide them with something they weren't expecting but probably really appreciate. 

Finally, many area chambers of commerce are holding informal events to recognize National Small Business Week. You can check those out and attend, and if you want to take it a step further, inquire about potential sponsorship opportuntities. After all, National Small Business Week only comes around once a year. 

For more information on National Small Business Week, please visit the SBA website


Tags: small business, small business administration, small business owners, Small Business Resources, National Small Business Week
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Three Traits Needed to Lead Your Company

by Rose McKinney
Rose McKinney
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Wednesday, 19 March 2014 Category Industry 0 Comments

It should come as no surprise that the ability to lead is required to run a successful company. 

Of course, the type of leadership employed depends on the organization's specific needs. Whether it's "inspirational leadership," "leadership in a non-authoritative way," "take-charge leadership" or "ethical leadership," each leadership type serves a purpose for that point in time.  

But what else is needed to successfully lead a company? 

Boris Groysberg, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, surveyed senior search consultants at a global executive placement firm to find out what headhunters are looking for in leaders.

Here is what he found:

1. The ability to think and act strategically - the leader needs to set the strategic direction of the company and the ability to execute the vision.

2. Be tech savvy - technology skills and technical literacy are critical for a leader. They need to not only understand industry-specific technology, but also how technology is impacting their business and how to exploit it. 

3. The ability to be a team player - an effective leader cannot be an island; he or she needs to hire and develop a strong leadership team and be team-oriented. No leader can succeed as a one-person brilliant player. 


What other traits are needed to successfully lead a company? See what else Groysberg found from his survey, which is published on the Harvard Business Review Blog. Do you agree? Is there something that isn't there that should be? 




Tags: new business onwner, new business owner mistakes, business ow, leadership
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