What’s the best way to grow my business?

Dear Ken Keller,

I’ve been struggling to grow my business and would like some input as to how to go about it. I’m in a service business, and my customers are residential owners, commercial building owners and those who lease office, warehouse and manufacturing space.
—Cheryl Z.

Dear Cheryl:

I am going to assume that when you use the word ‘growth’ you are interested in increasing sales (top line revenue) and in adding clients to your base of business. The most important thing about growth is that if you want it to happen, you have to make it a priority.

What I have found is that when time is calendared and kept for growth oriented activities, revenue increases and new clients are landed. When the time set aside for new business development is cancelled for whatever reason, growth is really not a priority, it becomes a hope.

I use the word ‘clients’. To me that is defined as your company (not just you) having a relationship with those that send your company money that is deeper than simply having a transaction where services are exchanged for money and there is no loyalty.

Having clients and not customers is something you should strive for, and you need to teach your employees how to create and nurture these important relationships. Do this by your example.

The easiest place to find new revenue is with current clients. We may hate it when the counter person asks, “Can I supersize that order of fries for you?” but it works.

Make a point of reaching out to current clients and seek out unmet or unrealized needs. It all starts with a conversation where you ask a client to tell you how your company is servicing them and what can be improved.

Take notes; when they finish simply ask, “What else can we do for you that you need to have done?” Notice the inflection is on need and want. People stop at the QSR off the freeway or order pizza for dinner not necessarily because they want that kind of food to eat; they order from those places because they need to eat (they are hungry) and access/delivery is convenient.

Make it as convenient as possible for your clients to add the new services you offer. Take down barriers, don’t put them up.

This should get you thinking and moving in the direction you want.

Dear Ken Keller,

I’d like to have workers in my company instead of whiners. I’ve got a small business filled with people who complain about everything. Do you have any thoughts on how to hire the right people?

—Steve E.

Dear Steve:

Your desire for better employees will never be achieved unless you improve your interviewing skills.

Start by making a list of what is most important for you when you have someone on the payroll. Is it that they show gratitude? Display a strong work ethic? Demonstrate superior teamwork? Use solid, appropriate communication skills? Possess and use the technical skills required?

For each item determined to be important, make a list of questions to probe the prospective employee so that you can discern someone who has the attributes you seek from those who don’t.

The most important interviewing skill: asking a question and then staying silent. Too many interviewers try to sell the company when they should be evaluating the answers being given to the questions they asked.