In October 2004, Inc. magazine held a conference—ThInc Out Loud—in San Diego that was attended by chief executive officers (CEOs) and marketing professionals from various companies. During the conference, speakers recommended various best practices to help grow a company. Following are their top 10 recommendations:
- Delight customers, and treat the best ones the best. Every businessperson will agree customer retention is crucial, but keeping quality customers is the most important. One tip James Taylor, author of The Visionary's Handbook, gives is to offer only your best customers rebates and/or discounts, making them feel more valued.
- Talk to employees. Too often, management and support staff rarely get to spend time together discussing a company's goals. Speakers at Inc.'s conference suggest a company's management team meet with employees once a month in small groups, such as during lunch, to share opinions and thoughts.
- Read. The CEOs who attended the Inc. conference believe reading 50 magazines, newspapers and/or Web sites a month will enable you to see trends that may affect your business.
- Specify your company's benefits. If you advertise, list the specific benefits a customer will receive if he or she chooses your company. Doug Hall, author of Jump Start Your Business Brain, says: "Customers love news and hope. All the money is in uniqueness."
- Form alliances. Partnering with another company can lead to new competencies and new markets. For example, consider forming an alliance with a house painting company if you do residential work.
- Plan. Company executives should spend more time long-range planning and less time "working," according to Inc.'s conference participants. They recommend company leaders spend 30 minutes to 60 minutes a week talking about future plans with staff members.
- Use information. Analyzing your customers and their purchasing decisions can provide you with valuable information to note trends and gain new business.
- Hire smart. Hiring the right people is necessary to a company's success. Define the qualities you want employees to have, and only hire those who fit your criteria. For example, Southwest Airlines tests job applicants' knowledge of the company and looks for individuals who are compassionate and have a sense of humor.
- Market creatively. Marketing doesn't have to be expensive—it just has to stand out. Devise inexpensive ways to get your company's message out, such as sponsoring a local team.
- Increase prices. If sales fall, double or triple your prices and figure out how you can provide more value to customers.
Ambika Puniani Bailey is editor of Professional Roofing magazine and NRCA's director of communications.