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4 Strategies to Improve Your Operations Through Visualization Start up founders are said to be Big Picture, the keepers of a company's vision. But if managers don't picture it, how will they recognize success when it's right in front of them?

By Jay DesMarteau Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many individuals picture what their dream life or success looks like when imagining personal and professional goals. According to a recent TD Bank survey, however, the potential for tapping into a regular visualization routine to generate business growth is something many small business owners are overlooking.

To better understand what this entails and how it can help small business owners, consider the following strategies that can boost productivity throughout the lifecycle of your business.

1. Envision early stage business creation and long-term strategy

Forty-six percent of business owners started their company because they "had a vision and decided to follow it," but visualization doesn't stop there – it can be a useful tool to shape your end goal. Map out your potential new business or product in such a way that you can adapt it over time, making sure to consider your industry, geography, the competitive landscape of the market you serve, and so on. Results of TD Bank's study show this works. Nearly two-thirds of small business owners reported that visualizing helped them map and develop their business plans.

For business owners who are past the start-up phase, it may be worthwhile to chart out what the future looks like. For instance, if retiring is on your radar, consider whether your plan entails selling the business or passing it along to family or a colleague. Small business owners looking to expand by increasing space, services or staff need to imagine those steps as well. Diagramming major company milestones within a strategic plan can be an especially helpful aid when discussing financing with your banker or financial partner and understanding where the investment opportunities might occur.

In terms of the duration of visualization exercises, psychologist Dr. Barbara Nusbaum, who worked with TD to analyze the results of its small business study, recommends that it be used as an ongoing exercise. "I don't see visualization as having an on/off switch, but more of a dial that can be continually adjusted," said Dr. Nusbaum. "It's a very useful tool and something that can be used in a long-term plan."

Related: How to Sell Your Startup's Long-Term Vision

2. Improve and maintain business operations through visualization

Does your business today meet your expectations for excellence? Consider using photographs and other images to capture your aspirations and goals for your business. Whether these images are of your company's physical space, employees at work or interacting with customers, or the ideal location for your next office, photos can be an effective way to inspire yourself, your employees, valued customers and business partners.

3. Use imagery for employee training and education

Incorporating images as a component of employee training was a practice adopted by only a third of small business owners surveyed by TD. This is an untapped area for improving employee performance and, in some cases, introducing an element of quality control by establishing more consistent use of company protocols.

Graphics of why things matter, photos of customers and hands-on employee simulations are all techniques we use at TD Bank to motivate and teach employees. We've seen incredible success with these methods. Employees and business partners might forget what you say, but an image can make a lasting impression. Introducing even basic visuals to demonstrate essential business processes can have a major impact.

Related: 'Gamified' Employee Training Works Brilliantly but Is Loved Little

4. Show, don't tell, in marketing and advertising

Among small business owners TD Bank surveyed, fewer than half used images in their marketing and advertising materials. Standing out amid the marketing noise requires formulating a strategy that relies on strong graphics. For business owners who used visual marketing, nearly all (95 percent) reported that it aided in customer acquisition and customer retention (89 percent). Think about your own preferences when researching a new restaurant, doctor or business – are you more likely to patronize a business you can see? When you're a newer small business without a "household" name to stand on, using photos in advertising can make a difference in trust and perception.

Visualization isn't just about picturing your "perfect-world" business – it's about developing a smart business plan with cues that can help you accomplish goals. And it works: In the TD Bank survey, 76 percent of owners who used vision boards and other imagery to create their company felt that their business today was what they originally envisioned, compared with 55 percent of owners who didn't rely on visual cues.

Related: 9 Must-Have Visual-Marketing Tools on the Web

Want to give visualization a try? TD Bank stores are currently giving away free Polaroid CUBE+ video cameras for owners who open a new business checking account. By evaluating where visualization could be effectively applied to envisioning and mapping success, business owners can tap into a low-cost method to improve their go-to-market strategy.

Jay DesMarteau

Head of Regional Commercial Specialty Segments for TD Bank

Jay DesMarteau is the head of small business and government banking distribution for TD Bank. DesMarteau leads teams that provide in-depth expertise for unique, small business customer sets of the regional commercial bank at TD. His group provides small business banking products and services across a variety of industries, including the healthcare and restaurant franchise industries.

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