10 ways to grow a business
Nearly every CEO is on the same journey with the same destination in mind: To grow their company. Without a roadmap, however, most CEOs find it challenging to find the best route that leads to growth and scaling.
To uncover the best ways to grow your business, we turned to the experts: three Vistage coaches who specialize in business growth strategies and have a proven track record for helping business leaders scale their companies. Here, they share their top business growth strategies that any CEO can adopt to take their company to the next level.
1. Articulate your ‘because.’
One the most effective — and inexpensive — sources of growth is word-of-mouth referrals, says Gerry O’Brion, owner of What Big Brands Know. “They’re critical for the success of most businesses,” he says.
In order to increase word-of-mouth referrals, companies need to make it easy for their customers to talk about them. In short, they need to help customers fill in the sentence, “‘You have to use X business because…’” he explains. He advises CEOs to articulate a clear and compelling reason why someone would use their company. “That’s your ‘because,’” he says. “Make sure your ‘because’ is clear to everyone that your business touches and include it in all of your marketing.”
2. Use quality as a competitive advantage.
Many companies try to compete with other companies on the basis of cost. They assume that customers will buy more of their products or services if they offer the cheapest option on the market. However, competing on the basis on quality can often be a more effective strategy for a company looking to grow, says Roger Knecht, president of Universal Accounting. “You need to be the best choice — the obvious choice,” he says.
Quality needs to be defined by your customers — not you, he adds. “You need to listen to your customers and understand why they chose you,” he explains. “More importantly, you need to understand why the people who are not your customers chose something else.”
3. Design your strategy around four focus areas.
When companies design a strategic plan, they often make the mistake of confusing tactics and strategies, says Mark Faust, founder of Echelon Management International and author of the books Growth or Bust! and High-Growth Levers. As a result, most strategic plans are riddled with long to-do lists but lack a clear vision about a company’s future. That stifles growth.
To avoid this mistake, Faust recommends asking questions that relate to four focus areas — tied to mission, customers, results and priorities — and designing a plan around answers to those questions:
- Mission focus: What business are we in? How are we different
- Customer focus: Who is our primary customer? Who is our supporting customer? What does the customer value?
- Results focus: What results do we deliver to our customers and stakeholders?
- Priorities focus: What must we improve or do to achieve our vision? What should we stop doing?
4. Hone your expertise.
If you’re an expert in your field, you can serve as a growth lever for your organization — but only if you continually nurture that expertise, says Knecht. He encourages business leaders to invest in themselves just as they would invest in their companies. Spend time and money strengthening your skills, knowledge and network, he says, and it will benefit your company. “Read books on your area of expertise. Associate yourself with other experts. Seek out training programs and certifications. Get up to speed on the biggest problems and controversies associate with your field and develop opinions and solutions.”
5. Develop a stretch vision.
Innovation can spur growth. But a company will find it difficult to drive innovation without first establishing a “stretch vision,” says Faust. Most companies make the mistake of setting a vision that’s full of value statements and void of ambition, he says. “A true stretch vision is a picture of the company’s future state that is not like the current state at all.”
This distinction matters when your company is seeking to grow. “When you have a stretch vision, it accelerates innovation,” he says. “It optimizes your rate of innovation.” Case in point: Faust says he’s seen companies reach 10-year innovation goals in 18 months after they set a stretch vision.
6. Increase the frequency of strategic discussions.
Strategic planning is usually an annual event, but that’s far too infrequent for most companies, says Faust. “Strategies are the decisions that determine the direction of the organization,” he notes. “Companies should engage in this dialogue monthly — or, at the very least, meet once a quarter.”
Given the pace of change in today’s business environment, increasing the frequency of strategic discussions only makes sense. An organization that wants to grow must remain agile and nimble enough to adapt to the changing needs of customers and markets — hence the need to evaluate and iterate your strategy on a frequent basis.
7. Balance ‘flexibility and formation’ on your management team.
For the sake of organization, it’s necessary for CEOs to assign specific roles and responsibilities to members of their management team. However, to fully leverage talent on their team, CEOs should be open to tweaking those roles and responsibilities depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each person, says Faust.
“The definition of management is ‘the leveraging of strengths within the resources, especially human, while mitigating the impact of the weaknesses in resources, especially human,’” he says. “You need to have flexibility and formation. Negotiate and realign roles based on individual strengths and weaknesses.”
8. Bring authentic passion to your work.
It might sound hokey, but passion can serve as a strategic growth lever. “The power of passion is that it fuels your energy and drives you to push forward with clarity of purpose,” says Knecht. “It enables you to make the hard decisions and work through frustrations.”
Passion also changes the mindset of a CEO; it motivates a CEO to commit to achieving a higher level of success. For these kinds of leaders, “nothing will ever be good enough,” he says. This can have a powerful effect on the rest of the organization and push everyone to work harder — which inevitably leads to growth. “Passion is contagious,” Knecht says. “It is a palpable energy.”
9. Set one goal for personal growth — and achieve it.
Personal growth and organizational growth are inextricably linked, says Faust. “If a CEO changes a behavior that was once a constraint to his leadership abilities, it can have a significant impact on the organization,” he explains. He encourages business leaders to evaluate their performance with a 360-degree assessment tool and set one goal for personal growth based on those outcomes. “Pick one thing that you can uplift,” he says. “This can be transformative to you as an individual and transformative to the company.”
10. Carve out time for peer advisory groups.
When CEOs evaluate their companies based on Key Performance Indicators, they almost always give themselves 7s or 8s in every category, says Faust. However, those numbers are almost always inflated because CEOs are too close to their companies to accurately evaluate them. Therefore, it can be hard for CEOs to determine which aspects of their business are most in need of improvement, and where the opportunities for growth lie.
To solve for this problem, CEOs should seek counsel from external peer advisory groups on a regular basis. These groups can take different shapes, from a traditional board of directors to a more strategic peer advisory group, like those offered by Vistage. “You need a place like Vistage that provides a safe place for strategic thinking,” he says. “You need outside people who can give you a real perspective [on the state of your business]. They will keep you focused. They will keep you on target.”