November 12, 2015

My latest column as printed in the Mississippi Business Journal


They come in all sizes and shapes and from a wide variety of backgrounds. Almost all of them are serving in their posts in a part-time capacity. Many, if not most, have had little training in the fundamentals and nuances of economic development. They are the mayors of small towns in Mississippi and other states across America.

In spite of their lack of formal preparation for the duties of their offices there are quite a few opportunities and resources to them once they take their oaths. The Mississippi Municipal League offers a wide variety of training options and resource materials. Universities, community colleges, state agencies and nonprofit organizations are available for technical assistance and advice.

The following is a basic economic development primer for mayors of small towns. It is actually an outline. Each of these 26 topics are themselves worthy of full-blown seminars. The purpose here is to give the reader a taste of what its like to deal with some of the subjects that small town mayors encounter on a regular basis. Note that it is presented in second person.

A is for Asset-based economic development. Identify the assets in your community that you can capitalize on.

B is for Plan B. The best leaders are the ones who can manage Plan B. Although planning is important, things do not always go as planned.

C is for CDBG, the Community Development Block Grant program.

D is for Decisions, which tend to be data-driven or values-driven.

E is for Economy. What drives your town’s economy?

F is for Followers. You are the leader; who’s following you – and what do they want?

G is for Goals, the mileposts along the highway to achieving the vision. Goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

H is for Heroes. Who is going to step forward when you need it the most?

I is for Incentives. Economic development prospects are driven by location, workforce and incentives.

J is for Jobs. Economic development is the process of increasing the wealth in your town through creation, recruitment and retention of jobs.

K is for Keystone, the central, topmost stone of an arch (an essential part).

L is for Legacy. A lifetime of achievement is often reduced to one incident or program. What will be your legacy?

M is for Meetings, especially productive meetings – with your board, with citizens, with developers and with prospects. The importance of the agenda.

N is for Numbers, or measurements, that will quantify your town’s progress. Data should be determined early in your administration and tracked on a regular basis.

O is for Observation. Stop looking for the answers you expect to find. As Yogi Berra said, “You can learn a lot by watching.”

P is for People, or demographics. Know and understand your people.

Q is for Quality. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

R is for Responsibility. Most strategic plans fail because there is no accountability or responsibility. Hold people accountable.

S is for Story. What is your town’s story, and how can you capitalize on it?

T is for Taxes, especially tax incentives.

U is for Unique. What makes your town unique?

V is for Vision – your vision and your town’s vision.

W is for World View. How does globalization affect your town?

X is for X-Ray. Have some outside expert look “into” you town.

Y is for Youth, the future of your town. What do they think about the future? Do you have a Mayor’s Youth Council?

Z is for Zeal, the synonym for passion. One big difference in towns that succeed and those that do not is passionate leadership.


Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at

The most important clause in a real estate contract.

October 15, 2015

The typical real estate contract has tens, sometimes dozens, of clauses. Each is important, but there is one clause that is generally considered the most important clause in a real estate contract, and in all contracts for that matter.
If you had to guess, which of the following would you say is the most important clause in a real estate contract:

a. the price to be paid
b. the amount of earnest money
c. the legal description of the property
d. the remedies for breach of the contract

The most correct answer is “d,” the clause that provides the remedies for breach of the contract. Simply put, the remedies for breach clause is the one that states what happens if one of the parties defaults on the contract. Although it is true that if there were no description of the property or the price to be paid there would not even be a contract because there would not be a meeting of the minds, and therefore no contract. However, the question as stated assumes that there is already a contract.

For example, most residential real estate contracts have a clause stating that the buyer has deposited a sum of money known as earnest money with the real estate broker. Earnest money is often called “good faith” money because it shows that the buyer is serious about going through with the transaction and that he or she has something to lose if they back out of the contract. Because most residential real estate purchases are financed there is usually a contingency clause that states that if the buyer is not able to obtain financing at a certain rate by a certain date then the contract is void and the earnest money will be refunded. But what if the buyer simply backs out of the transaction and states, “I’m not going through with this deal?” That’s when the remedies for breach kick in. The clause may state that the party can go to court and sue for damages, pay a certain amount for damages, etc.

Let us move to other types of contracts. One of the more common remedies for breach clauses in business contracts nowadays states that in the event of a dispute the parties will arbitrate the matter instead of going to court. For example, a certain telecommunications company has this clause in its contract with users, “You agree that, by entering into this Agreement, you and (the company) are each waiving the right to a trial by jury or to participate in a class action.” This type clause is getting a lot of attention these days because some consumer advocacy organizations are challenging arbitration clauses.
Many Democrats in Congress are urging the federal agency that regulates consumer finance to ban mandatory arbitration clauses altogether. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) study arbitration agreements and provide a report to Congress of its findings. The report was submitted to Congress in March 2015. It is 728 pages in length, and can be found on the CFPB website. It mostly applies to banks, credit card companies and other types of lenders.

In today’s Internet and digital world there is a form of contract known as an End User License Agreement (EULA). These are those agreements that users of computer programs, applications and various software pop up before downloading. Most users probably never take the time to read what they are agreeing to. I suspect that it is because the agreements tend to be lengthy and that the user believes the benefits outweigh the risk of such agreements. Also, many of these agreements contain a clause such as:
“(The provider) reserves the right to update and change, from time to time, this Software License and all documents incorporated by reference. (The provider) … may change this Software License by posting a new version without notice to you. Use of the … Software after such change constitutes acceptance of such changes.”

Is there really a contract if one of the parties agrees that the other party can change the agreement without notice?

Finally, full disclosure. This columnist is not an attorney, and this information should not be considered legal advice. The intent to show the importance and use of contracts in daily life. And even though it is not practical to call an attorney every time a person or business enters into a contract, it is important to know that for certain contracts an attorney should always be contacted. Common sense is a good guide.

How to make schools better for kids

September 28, 2015

“How to make schools better for kids” (subscription required) is the title of a thought-provoking piece in the September 7-14, 2015 issue of TIME Magazine. The author, Alexandra Sifferlin, eight suggestions that are worthy of discussion.

  1.  Ditch traditional homework – One school did just that and replaced it with a requirement to read something – anything – for 30 minutes a night.
  2. Make recess mandatory – In the past few years, 40% of U.S. school districts have eliminated recess. The kids need it to recharge and to deal with weight problems.
  3. Screen kids for mental illness – They get screened for other things. Mental issues can be dealt with more effectively if diagnosed early.
  4. Prioritize diversity – U.S. schools are more segregated than they were in 1988.
  5. Turn disciple into dialogue – One school did it, and reduced classroom disruption incidents from 103 to eight.
  6. Let students customize their curriculums – The article mentions Knewton, a virtual platform that adapts to a students needs.
  7. Start classes after 8:30 a.m. – No comment needed here.
  8. Design cafeterias that encourage healthy eating.



September 2015

You’re sitting at your desk one day, basking in the glory of your company being named one of the “Best Places to Work in Mississippi” by the Mississippi Business Journal. Your pride is still swelling as the phone rings. The caller identifies himself and asks if you would be willing to come to his civic club in two weeks and tell how your company achieved such an honor. Your heart races all of a sudden because you have never made a speech to a civic club or any public group for that matter. The mere thought of it causes a brief panic. What would you do?

The first thing to do quickly consider your alternatives. You could say no, but that would not shed a favorable light on you and your company. You could say that you are busy and that you would be able to come at a later date. That would give you time to rehearse and learn more about public speaking. You could send someone else in the company, but your company is small and there is no one else. Besides, it was your photo that was used in the publicity. Or, you could accept the invitation.

Most business people do not speak to public groups. And they are not alone. It is no wonder. Fear of public speaking, which is known as glossophobia, affects 74% of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It ranks as one of the top fears.

So what should you do? You should probably accept the invitation. It will be good for you and your company. However, it will not be so good for you and your company if you make a fool of yourself and embarrass yourself and your company. Therefore, instead of trying to learn to be a great public speaker in two weeks consider some alternatives that will help you get through the speech and educate and inform your audience about your company and how it came to be one of the best places to work. After all, that’s what the audience wants to her. Below are several things you might want to consider.

There are hundreds of resources on the subject of how to speak in public. They tell you basically to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them. Forget that advice. You can learn to be a great speaker later. Right now you are just trying to get through your first speech.

First, even though you emailed a copy of your bio beforehand, make certain to carry a copy of your introduction in case you need to give it to the person who will introduce you. Your introduction should be brief and establish your credibility as someone who has something to say. Don’t assume that the audience knows as much about you as the person who invited you.

Open with a bang. Do not say that you are proud to be here and thank you. The first words out of your mouth should be compelling and make the audience want to hear more. For example, “There are more than 52,000 small businesses in Mississippi that have employees. Today, I’ll share with you five things that our small business does to be named one of the best places to work.”

Show a video. If you have a brief video about your company go ahead and use it. That way you do not have to be speaking. Just make certain that the sound and sight have been tested at the place you are speaking. Technology failure can kill a good presentation.

PowerPoint and similar presentation tools have been panned as overused and ineffective. However, when used properly, i.e. with good graphics and just a few words, it can be an asset. For the first time speaker it can be a good way to take the focus off the speaker and provide the speaker with speaking notes.

Engage the audience. Instead of standing behind the podium and talking, have the audience participate in some type of exercise. For example, ask each group at each table to take just a few minutes to name a good company to work for and one thing that company did to make it such a good place to work. Then have each table select one of the companies mentioned and its trait. Go around the room and have someone report. You will then have only a few minutes left to make your speech and you will be feeling more comfortable by then. Think of other ways to engage the audience. It will take the pressure off you.

Tell your story. Use a personal anecdote. Allow your audience to identify with you. One way to begin your story is to simply say, “Once upon a time…”

Rehearse your speech. This is important, but what first-time speakers discover is that the speech that took 20 minutes in rehearsal took only six minutes when they got behind a podium.

Your audience will remember you by your opening and your close. Make your close positive and uplifting. Consider an appropriate poem or quote.

These comments are about props and crutches to help you get through your first speech. They are not tips on how to make a great speech. There are plenty of websites on that subject. If, after your speech, you felt that you want to learn more about public speaking there is no better place than a local Toastmasters Club (go to

Break a leg.


Using the Power of Story to Grow Your Business

August 13, 2015 – my Mississippi Business Journal column this week

The critical problem facing businesses today is communication. Using the story of your business is an excellent way to help solve the problem. Used properly and creatively, it will increase sales, motivate employees and improve your company’s image.

So what is story anyway? It seems there are many definitions and so-called ingredients. Aristotle said that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In his book Poetics he also said that the beginning is not necessarily the first event in a story. There should be an emotionally engaging event to begin the story. Today’s fiction writers are told that a good story should be about a likeable character facing an increasingly difficult series of setbacks who overcomes adversity and is changed in the end. Using those as backdrop thoughts let’s examine the possible elements of your business story.

Your story should include at a minimum a story about a character. Most likely it will be the founder of the company. Although you probably want only positive information out in public about your company, people love stories about people who have overcome adversity. So don’t be afraid to tell about some negative things that happened, whether they be mistaken decisions, family feuds or even bankruptcy.

Your character will be in the company of some well-known characters who have overcome adversity. For example, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and investor/panelist on Shark Tank, once worked as a short-order cook and a server in an upscale restaurant. He was deemed incompetent at both jobs because he could not decide if the food was done unless he tasted it first and at the high class restaurant he could never open wine bottles without getting cork in the wine. His net worth today is said to be over $2.5 billion. Harland David Sanders, aka “Colonel Sanders,” at age 65 had his restaurant go bankrupt when the state rerouted a major highway. He then used his first social security check, which was all the money he had, to start up Kentucky Fried Chicken. Walt Disney’s first animation studio went bankrupt and he was once fired from a newspaper job because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” That list goes on and on.

Your company story should also include the history of the company. Restaurants, in particular, that have been around for a long time have great stories. Viewing the history section of Mary Mahoney’s Restaurant in Biloxi ( that of Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville ( makes one want to dine there just to check out the stories behind these famous restaurants. Check out the Community Bank story at Another good example of the use of story can be found on the “About” section of the Mississippi Gift Company website (

Another element of a business story is the future. The story should not end with just the present. A good story is one that moves people to action. Invite your readers to become part of the future by patronizing your business.
Although the company website is certainly a great place to tell your story, it is not the only way. The below list offers several more ways that you can share your story.
1. Newspaper article – Stories written by reporters and that appear in newspapers provide an excellent way to showcase the story of your company. Newspaper articles also convey credibility because a third party has told the story.
2. Newspaper ad – Another way is to take out an advertisement in a newspaper to tell your story. The larger the ad and the more photos and images it contains, the better.
3. Magazine article – In today’s market there are more and more profile-type magazines that feature companies and individuals.
4. Twitter – One way to use Twitter to tell your story is to post a daily “tweet” that tells about something that happened on this day in your company’s history. At the end of the year you would have enough to publish an almanac.
5. Blog – Blogs offer more space that Twitter to publish items. Experts say that when using blogs there should be regular posts.
6. Facebook – More businesses are using Facebook instead of the company website to connect with their customers, and more customers are going to the business’s Facebook page to find out if the business is open, if there are any specials and to find the location/directions of the business.
7. Speeches – Face-to-audience communication is still a powerful way to share your company’s story. Civic clubs are often looking for guest speakers. Tell your story without making it a sales pitch. See above for ingredients of a good story.
8. Employees – Do your employees know your company’s story? They should because they will be telling others the story.
9. YouTube – This is an easy and effective way to tell your story. It can be linked on your website, Twitter post, Facebook page, etc. or it can be a standalone place on the Internet. You can also embed your YouTube story on your website.
Whichever method you use, consider telling your story. You will be glad you did.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on

Your choice of Mississippi craft beer headlines

August 12, 2015

Last week you had a choice of headlines about the Mississippi craft beer industry. There’s “Mississippi’s Golden Opportunity: Beer” headlining a column by Josh Mabus in the August 7, 2015 edition of the Mississippi Business Journal. If that one doesn’t suit you, then this one is courtesy of an article edited by James E. Ellis and Dimitra Kessenides in Bloomberg BusinessWeek: “Craft Beers Are Hot. Just Not in Mississippi.”

The headlines pretty much sum up the content in the respective articles.

Do gardeners live longer?

IMG_0009 My wife is out of town for a week so I am taking over her duties around the household, one of which is watering the plants and garden during this record-setting summer heat wave. Each morning I make certain that the bushes, shrubs and plants in the front and back yards receive their nourishment. I’m on the fourth day of doing this, and something just occurred to me: I am caring (emphasis added) for something else. It’s not just a duty, but I find myself really caring about how these flora are doing. And that’s what got me to thinking about the subject of caring. When people care for other things, be it another person, plants and bushes or pets and animals, it takes their minds off themselves and focuses it on something else.  Indeed, I suspect that it even prolongs their lives. That line of thought led to me wonder about gardeners. They take care of vegetation and a plot of ground, so might their life expectancy be greater than average? From a pure academic standpoint, I did not discover much more than anecdotal research. Nevertheless, what I found supports my thinking. One finding even concludes that gardeners live 14 years longer than the average person. This was reported on the Wellness Mama blog, which referenced National Geographic author Dan Buettner who is known for writing about “Blue Zones.” Here are the reasons that Katie, the Wellness Mama, says that contribute to gardeners living longer: 1.  They get enough vitamin D; 2.  They play in the dirt; 3. They are “grounded;” 4.  They get relief from stress; 5.  They eat vegetables; and 6.  They exercise. That’s a pretty good list. I would add only that gardeners care for something. What do you care for?