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Position Yourself for Real Growth 6 tips to help you get beyond cutting costs, and start building your business.

In order to compete in this new economy, chances are you've already pared down your operations. You've also probably adopted "flat revenue" as the new measure of growth. Even typically profit-focused Wall Street is looking at sales growth to see how people are spending money again.

I have news, growth is the only real measure of growth. And with your operations streamlined, now is the perfect time to grow.

Here are six tips that can help your company position itself for growth:

  1. Stay Positive
  2. Listen To Your Customers
  3. Share Your Customers
  4. Change How You Do Business In Your Industry
  5. Tell People You Are Open For Business
  6. Create Something Wonderful

1. Stay Positive
No matter how hard you try, if you're not feeling good about your business, your employees and customers will know. Negativity has a way of creating a pall around your business and brand.

Instead, no matter how dire the situation always put your best and most positive foot forward.

A positive attitude in the most trying of times could be seen at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta this summer, when 55,000 Peachtree Road Race 10k runners descended on the hotel to enjoy the air conditioning and use the restrooms before the big race.

Every Ritz-Carlton employee greeted the racers with a genuine smile. They provided a table full of water bottles and never forgot to open the door for the runners even though they weren't staying at the hotel.

Judging by the reception the runners received, one wouldn't think that the hospitality industry was struggling or that occupancy rates in Atlanta were under 60 percent.

Staying positive breeds confidence among your customers. If you project a negative attitude, chances are strong that your customers will notice and look elsewhere to do business out of fear that yours may not be around in a few months.

2. Listen To Your Audience
In a recent interview, Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks president Lauren Zalaznick said that the best advice she ever received was to listen.

It's great advice--probably the best for anyone in business. And with today's social media tools, listening is now easier than ever.

For instance, entrepreneur and HARO founder Peter Shankman reported in his Twitter account that a hotel he was staying at had great service but poor Wi-Fi. Someone at that hotel was monitoring Twitter and immediately had the problem resolved.

Facebook is also an invaluable tool for finding out what customers are looking for. Totino's Pizza has 47 fan groups on Facebook where people discuss topics such their favorite pizza and toppings as well products they don't like. Think about how much the Totino's product team could learn about their customers' likes without paying a dime for formal research.

Ratings websites like Yelp , Kudzu and Citysearch also allow people to post what they like and don't like about your company. If you aren't getting five-star ratings, do you know why? By looking at your customer reviews, you'll know what you are doing well and where you need improvement.

So, what are bloggers writing about your company? Have people posted videos about your service?

When customers are talking about you, it's time to listen.

3. Share Your Customers
Another way to set your business up for growth is to share your customers with another business.

Why would you share your hard-earned customers? The answer is simple; to get more customers. If you can partner with non-competing, complementary businesses that have a similar customer base, you have access to a huge group of potential new customers at virtually no cost. In exchange for letting the complementary businesses market to your customer base, you get to market to their customer base.

For example, Rooms To Go and BrandsMart recently ran a co-promotion in which people shopping at one store could receive gift cards to the other store based on their purchase.

Before you jump in, there are some important steps to remember:

  1. Reputation: Make sure the company you partner with has a reputation you want to be associated with. (Use the tools mentioned in Listen To Your Audience to check them out).
  2. Courtesy: Let the company you are partnering with make the introduction to their customers, and vice versa. It's just good customer etiquette.
  3. Incentive: Provide an exclusive offer to these new customers to encourage them to try your services.
  4. Recognition: If you're going to market directly to the partnering company's customers, make sure you merge their client information with your own so you don't market to their customers who may also be yours already.
  5. Tracking: Make sure you're able to track which new customers come from the other company's customer base so you know if the partnership is equitable.

4. Change How You Do Business
Don't rely on what has always worked. If you want to succeed, you need to change how business is done in your industry.

Redbox is a series of self-serve kiosks located at very convenient locations like grocery stores and drug stores. Rental costs $1--with no late fees--and you can return your DVD at any Redbox location

Redbox is competing against Blockbuster, Netflix and digital downloads of movies. So how can a company succeed by making people drive to pick up their DVDs again?

The company did so by taking a " Blue Ocean " approach (a new way of thinking, as discussed in W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne's book Blue Ocean Strategy) in the crowded "Red Ocean" (a more traditional approach) movie rental industry just like Netflix did a few years ago.

Redbox knew there was an opportunity in DVD rentals outside of what the biggest players were doing. The key was finding a competitive position that would meet an unmet need.

By taking this "Blue Ocean" approach, Redbox changed the game based on some key consumer insights:

  • Consumers don't want to wait for their movie in the mail. Movies are as close as the nearest Redbox, located in the places people already frequent (so they seem even more convenient).
  • Consumers don't want to pay subscription fees. Redbox lets you rent on your own terms and timeline.
  • Consumers don't like late fees (a confirmation of Netflix's strategy).
  • Redbox lets you reserve your favorite movies at your most convenient location through the company's website.

The result: Redbox grew by 147 percent last year, and it grew by 105 percent the year before.

Now is a great time to determine what you can do differently from your competition. Costs to implement changes are lower than they have been in years, and the manpower and talent are available.

5. Tell People You're Open For Business
Let people know you are open for business. A recent Ad-ology study noted that 48 percent of U.S. adults think a lack of advertising by a bank, retail store or auto dealer during a recession is a sign that the business is struggling, making customers less likely to do business with them.

Conversely, a vast majority perceives businesses that continue to advertise as being competitive or committed to doing business.

By not marketing your business, you're sending a bad message.

6. Create Something Wonderful
In an interview with Sean Maloney, Intel's chief sales and marketing officer, said that Intel's job "is to give [the audience] something so wonderful that they'll spend money again."

Instead of waiting for wallets to open, ask what you can do to make your product or service irresistible:

  • Could you improve the warranty that goes along with your service, making the purchase truly risk-free?
  • Could you provide add-on services to make the offer enticing?
  • Can you find a way for your product to save people money?
  • How does your product improve people's quality of life?

Sometimes touting a product or service as wonderful simply requires informing your audience of all things your product can do. To combat slumping sales due to fears of hypertension, Morton's began a campaign educating people about all the uses of salt beyond adding flavor to a bland meal.

Do some research and determine how to make your product or service seem desirable so people will start spending money again.

People are not spending money like they did in the past. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the personal savings rate was 4.2 percent in July 2009, up from -0.5 percent in December 2008.

Business isn't just about surviving the recession. It's about growth, which requires rethinking how you market your business.

M is for Marketing helps companies increase the return on their marketing investments through our operational approach to marketing: aligning your marketing across all audience touch points--from social media to invoices, from advertising to answering the phones. For immediate help increasing your marketing ROI email Andrew Abend at or call (404) 316-4820.

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