I was recently asked what I considered the best practices a business owner can adopt to stimulate growth. Full disclosure: I struggle with the term 'best practices.' It seems so absolute. For any of us who have been in our own businesses, we know that there's nothing definitive about the best ways to get things done.
So instead of best practices, I like to think of these as the five steps that I have found helpful in stimulating ideas, change and growth in my own businesses, and those I have worked with. Let me frame these steps with one overriding thought: "Great ideas aren't found in your screensaver. If you tilt your head up, just a little bit, there is a world of opportunity right in front of you." Stimulating growth is a proactive, everyday activity involving all your senses.
1. Get out of the office. It's tough, I understand. We all get caught up in our business' front-burner issues. But you need to make time to regularly break away, get out of the office and get inspired by what others are doing. It's simple. Attend conferences. Not just those for your industry, but those serving other industries to give you fresh perspectives, go to a workshop or join a peer mastermind group. If you manufacture consumer goods or are a retailer, look for clues about what consumers are thinking, saying and doing. Walk, don't cab, when visiting another city. Take time to window – or mystery-shop, to see what product leaders in other categories are doing. Above all, join relevant LinkedIn groups and read the latest industry news and comments. This torrent of industry intelligence provides immediate inspiration and feedback, as well as resource experts and potential prospects to exchange ideas with.
2. Listen more, speak less. When I shifted from running a manufacturing business to being a consultant, I was told that if I was speaking more than one-third of the time, I wasn't doing enough listening – and that meant that I was going to miss the challenges and pain-points my clients were expressing. Learn to do the same thing in your business. Listen to your customers. Take them for lunch every quarter or so, just to talk. Ask them what's keeping them up at night and what they are worried about six, 12 and 18 months down the line. There's no better way to grow your business than to solve your customers' challenges before your competitors do.
3. Realize that you are not an island. Most entrepreneurs start their businesses as one or two people, often out of their homes. But as business grows, you must recognize that you have a team – employees, advisers, friends who see and hear things different things on a daily basis. They generate ideas and from these ideas come opportunities. Make sure you have a system to solicit and capture their input. Remember, when you choose your advisers (or set up a formal advisory board), make sure that some of them represent industries other than your own. You can always benefit from additional perspectives.
4. Don't forget to change the oil. You wouldn't change the oil in your car once a year. The engine would sputter and die. Ditto for a business. Its engine needs to be continuously primed with ideas for new, better and improved products, processes and services. These keep your customers engaged and buying (more) from you. The days are long gone when you could make the exact same product for years, or confine innovation to once-a-year corporate retreats.
5. Set up an ideas board in your office or business meeting room. As ideas come up, don't write them on the back of napkin, put them up on the board. Monthly, run these ideas by your internal team and your advisors. Choose a couple that you believe make the most sense. Then run the ideas by your customers at your next quarterly lunch. These are the people who buy what you sell. Let them weigh in. If they like your new ideas, you might just close your first sale.
Keep your ears and eyes open. Stay engaged. Listen. Relevant opportunities are being offered to you every day. They are your next step forward.
Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc. is a branding and innovation thought leader who helps organizations reimagine their futures. His second co-authored book on innovation, Cause a Disturbance, has just been released by Morgan James Publishing, New York.