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Mind your own business Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

You have started, purchased or built a business. It has survived the first years and multiple threats to its existence.

Your firm creates products, services and value for your customers. Employees, vendors and partners rely on you. In return, your responsibility to them has grown. As a result, your business has turned a profit. So why not relax and enjoy your rewards?

Because whatever your business, if you did, your costs would still grow, your competitors would surely gain and your customers would only demand more. And now, the Internet and the New Economy threaten to both help and hurt your business in mysterious ways.

Growth is critical

Putting your focus on your business and on growing it is essential. Doing so:

  • Earns confidence in a chaotic business climate.

  • Provides cash to solve other problems.

  • Protects it from threats.

  • Makes you likely to be in the right place at the right time.

Growth, however, is a vague term. It is an increase in the company's top and bottom lines. Specifically, growth comes from increased sales, profits and/or acquisitions.

Unravel complicated solutions

If your firm needs to grow, the ways to do it are not simple. Thousands of books, courses, seminars, consultants and specialists prescribe their best solutions de jour. But, in many cases, their solution was not designed for your company. Your situation is different because of several factors:

  • Size of your company;

  • Product or service it sells;

  • Level or lack of your company's growth;

  • Resources (human, money, time and knowledge) you have.

The key is learning how to apply that information to your company's situation.

Know how to grow

Every company needs to create, sell, produce and profit, but keeping it simple is the challenge. If you define your company's activities in terms of growth, you can keep it focused on growth. Here are four ways:

1. Turn your firm's best and highest use into a new product or service.

Understand what makes your company special and what your customers value. Produce more of it and make it better. Package it. Make offers of it. If your offer is too similar to a competitor's, change the offer or co-market it together.

2. Get more customers and business.

This confirms your business has purpose and is needed in the marketplace. Understand what turns a prospect into a buyer. Provide low-risk options for prospects to try you out. Determine what it means to create a stable, reordering customer out of a buyer. Turn your customers into advocates and champions. Up sell, cross sell and win back your customers to build more business. Get referrals and be referred.

3. Deliver what you offer. (Set, agree on and meet expectations).

Measure, assess and improve all that your firm does to meet your customers' expectations. What will make your customers grow the most? How do your products or services help? What is really valued by the customer? Does your costing really reflect your value? Which customers really pay for your overhead? Do you sell and price based on value to customers or by how your financial staff decides? Measure how well your company delivers as it is growing.

Looking at your business like this makes decisions to build capability or outsource simple. One option will always help the company grow more than another.

4. Profit and grow.

Assess your people, activities, functions and programs in terms of how they contribute to your growth. In a growing economy, access to capital is relatively easy if you make a convincing argument that investing in your company will make it grow. New initiatives for growth can always be created at Step One above.

The bottom line is that growth is all that matters and all your firm's activities should reflect this priority. Place good bets, take risks and learn from your mistakes. Keep score, analyze, understand and act. Focus on and measure all four steps.

Remember, growth is a rising tide. It lifts all boats and will do the same for your company ship. Andrew J. Birol (abirol@pacerassociates.com) is a business development expert and president of PACER Associates Inc., which provides expert advice to owners and leaders who need to grow their businesses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970.