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8 Surefire Ways to Grow Your Business in 2019 Hard-won wisdom from Jennifer Garner, Alex Rodriguez, and other leading entrepreneurs.

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Mary Delaney | The Oracles

This is a guest post by Steve Costello, head of membership and co-founder of The Oracles, a mastermind group composed of the world's leading entrepreneurs.

Have a purpose, lay a solid foundation, think about the future, and prioritize customers – these were among the valuable insights shared by top business leaders at the 2018 EY Strategic Growth Forum, an annual invitation-only conference that brings together more than 2,000 of America's leading executives, entrepreneurs, advisors, and investors. EY is the professional services and accounting firm also known as Ernst and Young.

The advice came from high-profile participants like actress Jennifer Garner, a co-founder of the organic baby food brand Once Upon a Farm; baseball great Alex Rodriguez, a partner and investor in Las Vegas-based TruFusion fitness studios; and popular jewelry designer Kendra Scott, whose company, which she started in a spare room in her house in 2002, is now valued at over $500 million.

Here are the top takeaways from Garner, Rodriguez, Scott, and others on what it takes to launch, sustain, and grow a business.

1. Work toward a higher purpose.

Garner recommends creating a company to help fund the causes you care about. "I'm in business because I'm sick of asking people for money," says the award-winning actress and philanthropist focused on youth-related charities like Save the Children. "I ... generate money by getting people to buy a product that helps them and can help someone else." Proceeds from her baby food company help support the Ron Finley Project, which provides healthy food and access to urban gardens to underserved communities in Los Angeles.

"If your purpose is deep, your success will be meaningful. If your purpose is shallow, your success will be hollow," says Michelle Tunno Buelow, founder of infant product retailer Bella Tunno. "Customers will feel gratitude from supporting you." Her business provides one meal to a child in America for every product sold.

2. Build a strong foundation.

"When you're starting a business in your kitchen, you don't think far ahead," says Jaime Schmidt, founder of Schmidt's Naturals, a deodorant, soap, and toothpaste brand acquired by Unilever for an undisclosed amount in 2017. She advises business owners to keep audited financial records from the start. "The more history you have, the more sellable the company will be."

Steve Neeleman, the founder of health savings service HealthEquity, warns of cybersecurity threats to companies as they grow and become visible in the press. "If you want to be bought – especially by a public company – make sure every door is locked. Every hacker will try to smash into your system."

3. Assemble an advisory board.

"A founder's instinct is usually correct because they're passionate," says Scott, who bootstrapped her eponymous billion-dollar jewelry empire on credit cards and now boasts Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway as a major investor.

However, Scott advises founders to set up an advisory board of experienced business leaders early on. "Report to them quarterly like a public company and have biannual planning meetings with them," she says. "We all have biases, so select balanced, deep thinkers who've known you a long time and can easily identify your blind spots. Like your best mentors, they'll give you the perspective you don't want to hear."

4. Learn the business.

"Start small and get in the game," says Rodriguez, the former New York Yankee, 14-time Major League Baseball All-Star, and partner to superstar Jennifer Lopez. A-Rod has helped bring the TruFusion fitness concept to the East Coast by opening two studios in South Florida. "Go narrow and deep on one or two things," he advises.

5. Create a culture that aligns with your brand.

"You need a great culture to have a great brand," says Scott. "Fiercely protect it with "glass overflowing' people who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves."

Scott employs 2,000 people, 95 percent of them women. Her goal was to create a utopia for working mothers, a vision inspired by the 1980s comedy, "Nine to Five," where three female secretaries get revenge on their tyrannical boss by abducting him and running the business themselves. "You can be a parent and have a great career," she says. "In our culture, women hold hands. We root for each other."

Women also occupy all the top positions at Rodriguez's company. "They're there because they're the best people for those jobs," he says emphatically.

6. Look to the future.

Keep in mind that the consumer landscape is always growing and evolving. "In 2010, 1.2 billion people were online. By 2015, it was 2.8 billion. By 2022, it will exceed 8 billion," says Salim Ismail, founder of ExO Foundation, an online donation system. "Are your products and services set up for that market?"

7. Prioritize the customer experience.

After the 2007-2008 financial crisis that saw retail sales drop to their lowest levels in 35 years, Scott changed how she did business. "I tried to put myself in my customer's shoes," she explains. "What did I love and hate about the buying experience? I decided to create a fun environment for customers with a champagne bar and cupcakes, which was uniquely special in retail."

8. Take risks and accept your mistakes.

"How you do anything is how you do everything," says Garner. "So push against the risk and pivot when it sucks."

"Start therapy now," she jokes. "Success is stressful and overwhelming. You don't make wise choices at the pinnacle of success. Give yourself permission to be imperfect."

The next EY Strategic Growth Forum will be November 13-17, 2019.

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