We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but smart entrepreneurs recognize that is also takes a village to raise a company.
If you’re an entrepreneur running a fledgling start-up, a CEO trying to expand your company, or a seasoned business owner looking to sell in the future, the support of a strong community is essential to the growth and health of your business.
You and your employees are the most immediate community to your business, but you also have external communities made up of clients, industry professionals in similar positions, and even your competitors. Even international industry colleagues work together, converse with each other, and know each others’ business as well as members of a small but supportive village.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you isolate your business or make enemies out of the people in your community, your business could stagnate due to negative word of mouth fed to prospects or fall behind in innovation because you neglected to pay attention to your competitors.
In short, businesses thrive in communities. Here are three ways to grow yours:
1. Take Good Care of Your Customers
Once one of my employees was invited to sit on a panel at a conference, and she learned when she arrived that one of our clients was on the same panel. When it came time for my employee to speak, audience members asked her about our business model. We’ve been a disrupter in our industry for twenty years, and our business model can be difficult for prospective clients to grasp at first.
After a few minutes of questions, our client chimed in, describing how our model benefited him and what a positive experience he had. His testimonial provided the audience with a real-world example that helped them better understand our company and its unique capabilities.
Your clients are talking about you, good or bad, so their satisfaction is an obvious priority. Offer your clients a periodic survey about what worked for them and what didn’t, and look for positive responses that can serve as strong testimonials. Consider any negative responses as a gift–one that can reveal weaknesses in your business.
2. Ask for Feedback
Very early in our company’s history we only distributed (i.e., sold but did not publish) books and were establishing relationships with retailers. While we saw strong book sales for some titles, others were performing well below our expectations.
After a few disappointing sales meetings, we decided to be straightforward and ask one retailer why they weren’t interested in those books. Their answer was similarly straightforward–our book covers weren’t up to par, and people really do judge a book by its cover.
As a result we took production into our own hands, hired the best creative team we could find, and began offering the cover design and editorial services that our authors needed to succeed. Because we reached out to a member of our community for their input, we evolved to become the design-award-winning, full-service publisher we are today, and our relationships with major retailers have been strong ever since.
When your company isn’t having success with businesses you need to work with, have the courage to politely and earnestly ask them why. Show appreciation for their feedback, and use constructive criticism as a chance to grow your company in new and creative ways.
3. Find Partners and Support Them
In the midst of busy schedules, entrepreneurs can often neglect to grow relationships with industry partners. You might make a little time to meet someone for coffee, have a nice chat, and send a follow-up email, but then you go back to the office and wait for that person send dozens of clients.
The reality is that introducing yourself to an industry partner is only the first step in building trust. If you want the relationship to grow, you’re going to have to show your support.
Make a point to find professionals in your field who you trust to help your clients in ways you can’t. When you have a client in need, introduce them to the industry partner and don’t ask for anything in return. If you’re willing to make the first gesture of goodwill, people are likely to reciprocate.
To grow a successful business you need a solid business plan, capable employees, and adequate funds, but you also need to be a part of your industry’s community. When you reach out, listen well, and take care of others you create advocates for your company across all communities.