Reaching the Next Level of Your Business

Your key to growth may be right in front of you—in your current employees and business associates.

By Ray Sclafani

October 22, 2007 – How do you figure out what your clients really want so you can turn them into repeat customers and even professional advocates? What you want is to transform these folks into members of your team—people who are instrumental in helping your business reach that next level of success.

The challenge that every entrepreneur faces is the daily grind of running a business, which requires tremendous focus and energy. And if you’re a solo entrepreneur, you face the reality that your ability to grow is equal to the capacity of one person—no matter how great you are.

That’s why maximizing business relationships—both inside and outside your business—is critical. While that can sound easier said than done when you’re up to your eyeballs in the actual work that pays the bills, doing some practical planning now can lay the foundation for the next stage of prosperity and expansion. Here’s a quick approach to start growing and making the most of your time.

Clarify Your Vision

Start with your vision and where you see your business going. That’ll help you determine your short- and long-term goals for the company. Ask yourself these two simple questions:

  • What do you want for your business and for your life?
  • What will that do for you?

For example, your answers might be “I want my revenue to grow by 20 percent this year because it’ll let me add staff, so I won’t have to do as much of the daily work.”

How can you get to your goal?

Identify Your Teams

Your team consists of two legions: Your internal team consists of your staff and business partners; your external team includes your trusted advisors, clients and prospects. How do you harness the best and brightest among them and tap into their talents?

Let’s look at your internal team first. This is your key leverage. Are they all operating at capacity, fully motivated, with clear marching orders? When I coach, I often find that an entrepreneur’s staff has a limited role, when in reality employees could each be performing additional tasks important to growing the business. Are you fully tapping the talents of the people who work for you?

Recently, I was coaching a close friend, Isi Albanese, who owns Bellizzi, a very successful restaurant in Mt. Kisco, New York. After 16 years, Albanese decided to focus his energy on finding new ways of expanding revenue beyond the traditional restaurant business. He had already established a successful corporate catering business and, while the local Chamber of Commerce recently awarded Bellizzi “Business of the Year,” he wanted to grow it further by expanding the menu and scope of services.

After much planning around a longer-term vision, Albanese understood that this expanded strategy would enable him to share his good food and exceptional client experience with more businesses in his area, as well as enable him to leverage his investment in staff and additional resources. Albanese was delighted when his tenacious marketing approach paid off as he won a contract to provide the birthday party catering for The Saw Mill Club, a local health club he’d been working with for years.

Quickly, he realized that to successfully run this expanded venture he needed a director of catering. So he interviewed for some time. When it became clear he still hadn’t found the right person, his part-time hostess stepped forward and said, “I can do that.” And she could. She’d done a similar job in the past. For Albanese, his expanded vision around building his corporate catering business is paying off—for him and the businesses in the area.

The answer to his staffing needs was right under his nose. He was able to leverage an existing and talented team member, create a career path and share the excitement of the new venture. Sometimes leveraging employees is a matter of simply asking them what they can do well and where they see themselves going—and then listening. Ask them how their skills might be better leveraged for the benefit of the team and how your operation can be better streamlined. You might be surprised at the answers, ideas, resources and new team members you get.

How do you harness your external team?

Much the same way. You’ll want to concentrate on people who resonate with you—those who appreciate what you do and how you do it. These people will become your professional allies and advocates so, in effect, you begin to operate as a team. Most important, you want to be as open to their thoughts and ideas as you would be to those of your staff. Once you identify the top 10 professional advisors, clients and prospects in your life, ask them what you do well, what you should change or improve, and how they’d describe your business to a friend or associate.

One sure way you know you’ve arrived is when you’re creating a value proposition and answering clients’ needs before they’ve even discussed those needs with you.

A financial wealth advisor I coach in Newport Beach, California, had obtained a level of enviable success, but still knew there was more he could do for his clients—many of whom are entrepreneurs. Until a few years ago, my client had been viewed as a broker, plain and simple. But when he began marketing the fact that he was a full-service wealth advisor who could help clients with retirement plans, estate plans, college planning, business planning and even help them obtain advantageous loans through his broker-dealer, he achieved the next level of business success. He answered clients’ needs before they even voiced them and became their partner.

Move the Plan Forward

Now is the time to put your plan into action. You can do that by asking yourself this simple question: Which 10 people could have the greatest impact on my business in the next 90 days? Develop your plan of action around how you can get better connected to these people, either through unique meetings, lunches, dinners or networking events.

Now move forward. What will you hold yourself accountable for in the next 90 days? During the next year?

Following your plan to maximize your contacts with key people, in your business and outside it, will deepen the connection you have with key constituencies and help you build and strengthen your team. You’ll better understand your teams’ needs and how you can fill them with operating strategies, products and services. You may even develop new, meaningful relationships that you hadn’t thought of before—an added benefit as you strive for that next tier of success.

Ray Sclafani is President of ClientWise LLC, an organization founded to support the financial advisory practice of the future. Delivering unique practice management strategies focused on client acquisition and retention, ClientWise provides coaching and training for leading financial advisors. For more information, e-mail ray@clientwise.com or call 1-800-732-0876.

Originally published in WomenEntrepreneur.com, October 2007.
Copyright Ray Sclafani 2006