How to grow a service business?

growth_in_unusual_placeMany of my friends are start-up entrepreneurs, who are constantly on the look-out to grow and stay competitive. The write-up is an attempt to share some ideas in written form with them. Hopefully it will also benefit you, my readers — many of them existing and wannabe entrepreneurs. The thoughts shared below are based on my own experiences as an entrepreneur. This article is written keeping service-oriented businesses in mind but should also offer some ideas to product focused businesses.

Change is the only constant in life. To stay viable and appealing to clients, it is important for businesses to embrace change, innovate and grow. Here is how?

1. Stay Lean

Keep your fixed costs down. Real estate and talent costs together make for the biggest expenditures for most of the businesses. Growth-oriented businesses should not compromise on talent cost but should look at ways of keeping real estate costs at minimum.

You can choose to work out of co-working space; which is nothing but sharing work space with a company that complements your work and work culture. Co-working in addition to reducing your real estate costs keeps the spirit of collaboration alive.

If you are working out of a highly priced corporate tower try shifting to a green residential neighborhood if land of law permits that. If you are renting workspace then pick one with a furnished option. This way you will save on set-up costs.

It is also important to understand that cost reduction should not be at the cost of delivering quality to clients.

2. Empower employees

Provide your employees an identity and a voice. Help them start a blog, create a website. Encourage them to write for industry publications. Motivate them to start a company newsletter. Make the most interested one – the editor.

Give them an opportunity to find a parallel path for themselves. This will make sure that they are not on the lookout for new opportunities all the time. When you offer such opportunities to employees you make that both left brain and right brain side of brain are active. It is for the benefit of your employees and your company. In such a scenario, your employees will then be your brand ambassadors. It will be easier for you to attract new talent. Try to get into the shoes of the people that work at your company. Focus on creating a workspace — where, if you were an employee; you will look forward to come to work day after day.

Provide enough opportunities to your employees to utilize their full talent at workplace. If their skills are underutilized then the money you are paying them is not getting back the worth and work it deserves. Also in such a situation employees tend to get bored and start looking for new opportunities.

Want to be more innovative. Offer people to work 2-3days at office and 2-3-days at home opportunity. This will save a part of their cost of commute; and also give them some stricture and space to be tuned into the company.

3. Find Inspiration

If you are a company where you need to rely on the talent of hackers and creative people — then Google’s “20 percent time” is good idea.

From Google’s Jobs Page

“We offer our engineers “20-percent time” so that they’re free to work on what they’re really passionate about. Google Suggest, AdSense for Content and Orkut are among the many products of this perk.”

Read about Zappos if you want to learn how to create a company with great customer service.

4. Partner for growth

In recent times a lot has been written about outsourcing and the benefits it offers. No doubt — with today’s crowd sourced innovations like — outsourcing has made it possible to get good work done, at a reasonable cost.

Outsourcing can be a starting point but for businesses to be able to scale — it needs to convert into partnerships. You can find your potential partners from among your outsourcing partners.

By partnering with people and companies you show that you trust them more and are willing to share more value and money with them.

If you are serving businesses that are moving ahead with times and providing them good service — chances are that they will come to you for solutions outside your business portfolio. In such a situation you have two choices. Either you can refer them to credible companies that offer desired service or partner with these companies to create a consortium. In addition to serving your existing clients’ need you also get a chance to be exposed to a new set of client through consortium partners.

5. Keep the human element alive

In current times, because of all technological innovations — there is a little need to be in front of your clients.  People think why phone, when you can email. In most cases email is more specific than a phone call; still it is good to get on phone with your clients once in a while.

In fact, when businesses are hiding behind technology — you can create a unique space for yourself by visiting your clients regularly and keeping the human element alive.

6. Have Fun

Last but not the least it is important that you have fun building your businesses. Get away from your office desk whenever you can, make sure that your team members are relaxed and not overworked. Make celebration a way of life at your company and you will see employees’ Joy Quotient and productivity increase by leaps and bounds. You see, happy employees are engaged employees.

To implement some of the above ideas, you may need to change how your run your business. The change need not be as drastic as Ricardo Semler brought about when he fired 60% of senior management — the very first day he got the opportunity to run Semco, the company his father founded. You can read about his adventures of building a unique company that questioned established rules and created a company that stood the test of times for long – in“Maverick” bestseller written by Semler himself.

If you are running established operation then 100%-change at one go may not be your idea. Do this with a part of your business and then move on.

Do share any ideas that resonate within you after reading; and and also your learning by implementing something similar or different at your business.

How are you growing your business?

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