11 Resolutions for Business Growth in 2011

If you’re operating budget or your marketing plan looks like it did five years ago, two years ago or even last year, there’s a problem.

With every advancement in technology, with every emerging social platform and with every shift from the desktop to the cloud, the ways people communicate, the ways your customers make decisions and the ways your employees work will continue to evolve. To stay ahead in today’s marketplace, your business growth strategies and tactics must evolve right along with them.

Here are 11 resolutions that you must make for your business to achieve success in 2011 and beyond:

Shed your excess baggage.

You’ll never get ahead as long as you’re the one impeding your own progress.

In today’s economic climate, efficiency is the number one rule of survival. The future of business is leaner, smarter and more responsive. It’s time to take a look at your operating expenses and see what you can reduce or eliminate.

Now that technology has made it possible to do business anywhere and at any time, do you still need to maintain a spacious physical office and everything that goes into supporting and maintaining it: utilities, landline phone systems, servers, furnishings, cleaning services, etc.?

Or is it time to consider shedding that office and all of its outmoded systems in favor of transitioning to a virtual operating model and reaping the benefits of lower expenses, increased efficiency, higher employee satisfaction and – most importantly – greater profitability?

Even if you’re not ready to fully commit to making the virtual leap just yet, there are still plenty of things you can do to lighten the burden of the reoccurring expenses you carry.

A great first step is to look to the cloud. Today there are excellent cloud-based solutions for everything from project management to accounting and even CRM. Google Apps alone added over 60 new business-focused web-based apps in 2010.

These tools are lighter, more flexible and more affordable than their traditional personal-computer-based counterparts, making the business of running your business more efficient and less costly.

From Basecamp for project management to Grasshopper’s virtual phone systems to Skype for voice and video conferencing to Dropbox for online file sharing and synchronization, these systems are designed to promote productivity and facilitate collaboration among your employees, whether they are tethered to a cubicle or working from a home office.

So even if you can’t yet throw away the keys to your office, you can at the very least reduce your dependence upon phone systems, printers, paper, filing cabinets, on-site data storage and back-ups…the list goes on and on.

Bow to the tribe.

Just ask Digg, Toyota, Apple or Gap: What the tribe says can make you or break you.

What is a tribe? At its core, it’s a group of people that connect around common goals, interests or needs.

If you want to grow in today’s marketplace, you must identify, become a member of and lead the tribes that are relevant to your business. Moreover, your products or services must be shaped around meeting the needs of its members and making their lives better or easier.

Fortunately, the evolution of social media has stripped away the communication barriers that once divided companies and their tribes. Take advantage of having direct access to your customers and their opinions and engage them in your business operation.

Keep them informed about what you are doing. Ask for their honest feedback, not just about what you’re doing right but also about what you’re doing wrong and how you can do better. By listening and responding, you’ll solidify their trust and earn their continued loyalty.

For evidence of the power of tribes, look no further than Gap’s disastrous attempt to launch a new logo in October 2010. According the company, the logo was intended to signify Gap’s transition from “classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool.” However, in actuality, it raised the ire of their tribe and sparked a wave of embarrassing publicity.

While a simple logo redesign might seem like just a superficial cosmetic change, when Gap’s tribe saw their familiar brand icon fall by the wayside, they interpreted it as an indication that the company’s traditional style and values would soon follow suit. In response to this vehement backlash, Gap swiftly scrapped the new logo and reinstated the classic blue box, and in doing so, they recovered the trust and loyalty of their tribe.

Get out of your corporate comfort zone.

In order to engage with your tribe and relate to them in an authentic way, your company must be human in every way.

What does this mean? Think about qualities that are uniquely human. These include passion, sincerity and humility, just to name a few.

Humans take the time to understand, so be accessible, responsive and generous with your expertise and assistance.

Humans make mistakes, and they apologize for those mistakes. Don’t be afraid to show the world your flaws. Instead, be honest, accountable and trustworthy.

Taking ownership of a problem isn’t the same as taking blame. Your end game shouldn’t be saving face at all costs; it should be demonstrating that despite the inevitable misstep, you always have your customers’ best interests at heart.

People want to do business with people who genuinely care about them and understand their needs, not faceless corporations whose only concern is the bottom line. When you engage in real, authentic relationships, you create fans who are not only loyal customers but also brand evangelists that do your marketing for you.

Don’t just be likable, be indispensable.

The omnipresence of Facebook has turned the act of “liking” into its own unique form of currency. Brands engage in hot pursuit of being “liked” as if the acquisition of that status in and of itself is the culmination of the company-customer relationship.

However, competing in this rat race makes it easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. In today’s economic climate, customers don’t easily part with their hard-earned dollars – unless, that is, they simply can’t live without you.

It’s time to re-examine your value, not just in terms of price but in terms of what it is that your customers have come to depend on you for and how you can give them even more.

For instance, a Maytag washer might initially cost more than a comparable model from GE or Whirlpool, but their customers also know that they can expect reliable, worry-free service for years to come, which will ultimately save them the time, hassle and expense of repair or replacement.

What aspects of your competitive landscape can you own? Is it service? Is it convenience? It is reliability?

Make sure that you address the needs of your tribe and make their lives better or easier in meaningful ways that no one else can duplicate. In doing so, you’ll transform your products or services from mere commodities to indispensable necessities.

Stop treating your website like a brochure.

What separates the superstar websites from the rest?

It’s not pretty pictures or flowery copy.

It’s not flashy graphics – or Flash, for that matter.

It’s not videos or animation or any of the other bells and whistles in and of themselves.

It’s achieving the right balance of form and function, of design and functionality.

Stop wasting opportunities to grow your business with a website that doesn’t truly perform. It’s no longer enough for your website to sit like a brochure on glass and provide just the basic ABCs about your company.

In fact, the term “website design” itself is a bit misleading. While your site can and should be beautiful, more importantly, it must be useful.

Perhaps there’s no better case for this argument than Facebook. Facebook is hardly the most beautiful website ever built. However, it serves its purpose well, and it’s simple enough to navigate that everyone from your 10-year-old cousin to your 80-year-old grandmother can use it with relative ease.

People love apps and for good reason: they’re intuitive to use, they’re focused and they serve a specific purpose.

You should keep this mentality in mind with regard to the way your website functions. People come to your site for a reason, and they have specific needs that need to be addressed.

When they land on your site, don’t make them think too much. Instead, point them in the right direction. Your goal should be to provide a useful web-based extension of your company that’s available 24/7 and provides the path of least resistance for your customers to reach the resources, information and products they seek.

Go organic.

Once upon a time, it was easy to ensure that whenever someone was searching for the types of products and services that you offer, you’d be in front of them. Every year you’d write a check (albeit a big one) to the Yellow Pages and then just sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

But in today’s marketplace, when people have a question, want information or need to find a product or service, they don’t flip open the phone book, and they don’t scour online directories.

Instinctively, they turn to search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. As a result, these sites are the gatekeepers between you and prospects who are looking for a solution that you can provide. With over 16 billion searches performed in November 2010 alone, there’s clearly much to be gained from appearing in the first few results when someone enters keywords that pertain to the products or services that you offer.

However, unlike in the days when the Yellow Pages ruled the world, you can’t buy your way to prominence on an organic search results page. Instead, you must commit to an ongoing, dedicated investment of time and resources to work your way up through the rankings of a search using legitimate, proven search engine optimization tactics.

While there’s no easy or instant way to jump from page 10 to page one, over time, your patience and persistence will be rewarded with better ranking, greater traffic coming to your site, more prospects seeing what you have to offer and increased opportunities to convert visitors into customers.

Be everywhere all the time.

To compete in today’s on-demand culture, you need to ensure that you’re available to your customers on their timetable and on the platform of their choosing.

No longer are people usually sitting in front of a computer when they’re searching for answers to their questions and problems. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile browsing is on the rise.According to data from comScore, in October 2010, approximately 36 percent of mobile subscribers used their devices to browse the web, while 34 percent downloaded apps and 24 percent accessed blogs or social networking sites.

It’s critical to make sure that when your customers are out and about, you’re in their pocket and along for the ride. The first step is optimizing your site for the mobile Web to ensure that it is small-screen-friendly and that browsing on the go is a pleasant and efficient process. There’s nothing more frustrating for your customers than when they’re in a hurry and waiting for your image-saturated website to load on their Android or struggling to navigate your drop-down menus on their iPhone.

Simply put, mobile web development is a trend that you simply can’t afford to ignore any longer. Your customers won’t understand or tolerate your failure to keep up and will keep browsing until they find someone else who can provide what they want when and where they want it.

Break out of your social bubble.

Social media is about communication and connection, with the ultimate goal of building and nurturing a community around your brand. However, to be successful, you must break out of your own brand bubble and let others direct the conversation.

Wherever you choose to establish a presence – whether that’s on LinkedIn if you’re B2B, Facebook if you’re B2C or on Twitter – you must realize that these sites are not just another place to leave your brochure, nor are they your own personal podium for endless self-promotion.

Instead, think of your social media outpost as an ongoing party where your people can hang out and talk about the things that they care about. You want the atmosphere to feel like your living room, where everyone is free to pull up a chair and join in the conversation at their leisure. The people who congregate there will get to know each other and will form relationships that are founded upon a common interest in your brand and the values it stands for.

Just like any real-world social setting, the more comfortable you make it, the more people will call it home, and the more they’ll look forward to coming back again and again.

For example, if you’re in the business of selling your own custom-made handbags, your people are those who care about fashion and about standing out from the crowd. They’re people who like to be on the cutting edge of trends and gossip.

So there’s no need for the chatter on your Facebook page to constantly revolve around handbags. You could just as easily talk about what Natalie Portman wore to the Golden Globes or discuss the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model. As long as the conversation is happening in your living room, it doesn’t have to be about you.

By contrast, if you put up a Facebook page and do nothing but talk about yourself, you’ll watch the party empty quickly.

Stop keeping up with the digital Joneses.

Because the Internet is public domain, suddenly it’s easier than ever to keep close tabs on what your competitors are doing. And along with this comes the temptation to constantly make sure that you are present anywhere on the Web that they are.

However, just because you can see what you’re competitors are up to doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it well or that their tactics are worth imitating.

Just because your competitors are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr and every other platform in existence, doesn’t mean you should be, too. Just because they have 1,000 followers doesn’t mean that you’re a failure because you only have 200. Just because they have a message board on their website doesn’t mean that you should necessarily have one as well.

While it’s always good to keep your competitors in your crosshairs, don’t let it take your focus away from doing what’s best for your own business. It’s far more important to stay laser-focused on your customers and to gain an understanding of where they live and how they prefer to be engaged.

Focus your efforts not on keeping up but on setting yourself apart. Carve out your own niche in the Web marketing universe, create your own identity, offer something unique to your customers and cultivate your own community of dedicated followers.

Get out more.

With all the buzz surrounding social networking, don’t forget the importance of face-to-face networking.

As one responsible for growing a business, you belong to an expansive community of people who are in the same boat. Collectively, you represent an almost limitless pool of knowledge and experience in addressing the challenges of building and growing a business. Whether it’s a colleague in a related industry or the owner of the shop next door, there’s a wealth of wisdom and contacts just waiting to be shared.

All too often, however, people treat networking as a stop-gap measure when nothing else is working. Networking shouldn’t be approached as an instant fix to a sales pipeline that’s running dry but as a long-term investment.

To be successful, you must apply the principles of trustcasting: be willing to give generously of your own time and expertise, not focused solely on what everyone else can do for you.

Build your reputation as a knowledgeable resource, take a genuine interest in helping others succeed, and eventually you’ll find that opportunities will start to flow your way.

Turn your resolutions into reality.

It’s not enough to set the goals. You must develop an action plan for their execution. Otherwise the coal-shoveling tasks required to keep your business engine running smoothly will always dominate your time and attention.

Simply put, you must schedule time for growth, or all your good intentions will drown in a sea of wishful thinking.

In reality, you probably can’t tackle all 11 of these resolutions at once, so decide what’s most important for your business and set your priorities accordingly.

Break down each big-picture objective into specific, manageable tasks, and establish milestones and metrics by which you’ll measure your progress.

Set aside some time each week to unplug and apply focused effort toward meeting your goals. Treat these tasks with the same level of importance as meeting with a client or filing your taxes, and don’t let anything displace them from your schedule.

Don’t fall into the trap of reactionary business growth planning and wait until there’s a crisis of income and cash flow to get serious about shoring up your competitive position. In today’s marketplace, there’s no room for objectives du jour that only aim to put out whichever fire is burning hottest at the moment.

Establish your goals for the year now, and make a firm commitment – to yourself and your employees – that other projects won’t be allowed to interfere with achieving them. If things don’t unfold as planned, don’t worry and don’t give up. Just adapt and stay focused on the ultimate goal: owning your market.

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