5 Strategies for Building Your Business From Angie's List's Founder
Angie Hicks is more than the name behind the nation’s most trusted source of local consumer service reviews. She’s a business dynamo. But she wasn’t always that way.
In fact the self-professed introvert started small, selling subscriptions door-to-door to launch what we know today as Angie’s List. And what she lacked in sales experience -- Hicks didn’t even sell Girl Scout cookies as a kid -- she made up for in determination.
Today, Angie’s List serves more than three million paid households, delivering an ecommerce marketplace as well as reliable consumer reviews covering everything from home improvement to health care.
I had the opportunity to talk with Hicks and to learn more about her story during a recent interview for All Business. And what I learned was this: You don’t have to go door to door as Hicks did when she first launched her business. C-suite executives can learn a lot about how to build a business -- and brand loyalty -- from the face of Angie’s List and the five messages I personally learned from her.
1. Sell yourself, sell the business.
It’s rare that Hicks can run into the grocery store for a gallon of milk without being stopped by someone who wants to talk with her about Angie’s List.
People know her from the Angie’s List commercials, and have no qualms about approaching her. And even though Hicks admits it would be nice to run a few errands without being recognized, she appreciates the opportunity to talk with customers. “I’ve had some really great conversations with people,” she says.
Even if she wasn't the face of the brand, selling herself and her company would still be important. People who like and trust you will do business with you. It's that simple.
For entrepreneurs, the ability to convince others that you are someone they can do business with is essential for success. We all can’t be great salespeople, but business leaders should be able to tell their own story with confidence.
2. Find the right team.
Some days, Hicks admits, her toughest job is just letting go. It’s hard to let others take on some of the roles and responsibilities you yourself have done for so long, she says.
But that’s no way to grow a company. Too often, great ideas never get implemented, because an entrepreneur doesn’t have a team to help do the work. As much as top leaders try, no one can do it alone.
You have to trust others because you’re only as good as the people around you. That’s why hiring is so important. For Hicks, the ideal hire is someone who’s hard-working and smart with a thirst for learning. I myself look for someone with a lot of "hustle."
Building the right team ensures that leaders can focus more on the overall vision and growth of the company without having to worry about the minutiae and daily nitty-gritty. With the right people beside you, those jobs will get done.
3. Learn from your mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made plenty over the years. That’s just par for the course when you’re running a fast-moving organization. What’s important, however, is learning from those mistakes -- and cultivating an environment where a mistake isn’t the end of the world.
“If something’s not going right, I want to make sure everyone knows I can help. But we’re not running the ER,” Hicks says. “Let’s keep our failures in perspective here.”
When you work in a culture where it’s okay to make mistakes, you’ll find that people aren’t afraid to think big. That’s when you’ll get the biggest, best and most innovative ideas.
4. Don’t run away from bad reviews.
Nobody likes a bad review. Let’s face it, it’s hard not to take criticism personally. But bad reviews actually can help businesses, Hicks says. It’s all a matter of how you respond.
Customers understand that mistakes happen. But how you go about owning up to and making amends for those mistakes may not only prevent you from losing a customer, but also help you gain new ones. “Companies that respond thoughtfully to a negative review can actually have more customers than a business that doesn’t have any negative reviews,” Hicks says. “You want to know that if something doesn’t go right, a company is going to fix it.”
5. Always look ahead.
Just because something has been successful in the past doesn’t mean that something else won’t be better, Hicks says. So, stop saying things like “Because we’ve always done it that way.”
“That’s the worst answer you can give to any question,” she says.
If Hicks had been satisfied with the status quo, she wouldn’t have experimented with -- and invested in -- a digital product back in the early days of the Internet. At that time, no one had any idea that the Internet would revolutionize how we do business. But Hicks and her team decided to give it a shot anyway, enlisting a few fresh-from-college grads to create a rudimentary website.
Good thing they did. In almost no time, more than half of the company’s sales leads came through that website. Today, Angie's List does almost 90 percent of its business online, with customers accessing its site online or through an app, and with a growing ecommerce marketplace.