Sometimes the difference between success and failure can be that one thing, that special something, that secret sauce. No-one can quite tell you what it is because your business is unique (you know it best) and, ultimately, the responsibility for finding that secret sauce lies with you.
What's right for your business might be any number of things - a simple change in procedures or approach might work. Secret sauce doesn't have to be a killer sales team or a huge marketing budget.
What really helps, though, is looking at what other companies have done, to see if you can apply or adapt their strategies to your own venture. With that in mind, we asked a bunch of small businesses all over the world what it was that made them special and helped them do better every day.
Here's what they had to say...
Brian Scudamore from o2ebrands believes in an inclusive and transparent work environment as a way to ensure employees are motivated, work together and enjoy high morale.
"During the firm's daily huddle - an all-hands meeting - staff have the opportunity to introduce innovative ideas, review goals, celebrate good news, solicit help, as well as receive a business update.
Numbers are made public to all employees on the company's intranet, and it’s made clear that staff can ask questions about how business is going.
Employees' bonuses are based on the company’s success in reaching revenue targets, and so everyone always knows if we're on track. If the company succeeds, employees benefit directly, which is a huge inspiration for staff, who not only want to reach their goals, but smash through them. "
Even their website gives the impression of one big, happy team of people working together. That's attractive to potential customers without doubt.
Word of mouth
Keynote speaker Barry Maher estimates that competitors in his field can spend upwards of $100 000 per year marketing themselves. This is a massive burden that he gets around by changing his marketing strategy to word-of-mouth.
"I try to do the best possible job for the customers I do have. There's no marketing anywhere nearly as powerful as a satisfied client. Or as cheap. What's more, your best clients are likely to recommend you to businesses that are similar to their own. So you'll get more the of customers you want more often."
I love this quote from Barry because word of mouth is something I feel pretty strongly about - check out advantages of word of mouth marketing to learn more about why this is such a powerful strategy for growth.
John Cavanaugh of Cavanaugh Financial Group likes to make genuine connections with their clients by reaching out to them on a regular basis
"When we bring on new clients, their most common complaint is that they haven't heard from their prior advisor for a year or more. We touch our clients 43 times per year through workshops, newsletters, check-in phone calls and two major client appreciation events.
This puts us in front of our clients when they have questions. We become the first place they think of whenever a financial question or concern arises. Plus they want to tell their friends and family about our events and activities. "
I think the title of this secret sauce could just as easily have been "listen to customers". Clearly John took note of what people were complaining about (no contact with advisors) and made sure that his company avoided those mistakes.
Men in Kilts, a window and building exterior cleaning company, back up their service by being something out of the ordinary, explains Jesse Finkle.
"Year round, in all climates we wear kilts. From the cold winters of Boston to the boiling heat of Houston and the other 10 locations in the US and Canada, we wear our kilts.
This works because it sets us apart from the hundreds of other companies who do the same services as us. The kilt gives customers something to remember us by instead of being another 'Nic's Window Cleaning', or something like that.
We have had great success from this because our slogan is 'No Peeking'. It allows us to have fun with our brand and customers love it. "
I personally think this strategy is both great for business and great fun at the same time. It's something straight out of Seth Godin's book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.
Personalizing B2B relationships
Srajan from TSI International started adding personalized thank you notes to all their delivery cartons.
"I started this practice a couple of months back as an experiment in customer relationship. We printed out a card (a bit bigger than a business card) when we finished an order and put them in one of the cartons.
The cards were well designed, nicely printed on good quality paper with a personalized thank you message for the purchase manager handling the order. There is a good deal of detailing in the design of the card which also includes some contact info, new product designs and/or something memorable.
The reason this started working for us is because this was never seen before in our field and market. It is memorable, unique and an expression of genuine gratitude. 90% of the time there is a call back or a thank you email from the purchase manager, because it leaves an impression on him/her.
In the couple of months we have started executing this as a company wide standard, our repeat orders have increased like never before. We are being referred by those people to other companies and our enquiries have seen a tremendous leap as well. "
I've heard of personalized notes being included in packages delivered to customers as a way to make them feel valued and special. But TSI have turned this into a B2B strategy by going after the purchase managers. Simple, but elegant. I like it.
Give away free stuff
Paula Werne from Holiday World told us they started giving away free sodas to anyone at their park.
"Fifteen years ago, we decided that even though we couldn't compete with the big boys and their $20 million roller coasters, what we could do is become the friendliest park.
Part of that effort was offering free, unlimited soft drinks to our lineup of freebies (including free parking, free sunscreen, free use of inner tubes and now, free Wi-Fi). There are no gimmicks - everyone in our park is welcome to help themselves at our dozens of soft drink fountains (including carbonated beverages as well as iced tea, water, Gatorade, lemonade, and coffee) throughout their visit.
The benefits? Tremendous word of mouth. Fewer complaints. Fewer first-aid visits (Dehydration? What's that?)"
Paula carries on to say that they've continued to grow - past the one-million mark in attendance each season - to the point they were able to add one of those $20 million roller coasters.
Monique Tatum from Beautiful Planning says that their team realized that internal communications was just as important as communications with their clients.
"We realized that proper communication has to begin internally. So we dumb every single thing down to the ABC's and slap each other on the wrist when there are internal communication fails.
At the end of each week our team even contributes to a weekly communication report of what they learned this week and it is shared with everyone - even if it has nothing to do with them.
If we can't communicate about the small things in-house, how are we supposed to communicate about the large things for our clients?"
Kind of agree with this one because I think that many companies tend to over-compartmentalize departments to the detriment of the whole organization. By maintaining open channels of communication, the left hand knows what the right is doing and goodness will follow.
In addition, what's interesting about the above examples is exactly how different everyone's formula is. Some focus on their clients and customers, other look inwards. I guess the moral of the story is find the strategies that work for you.
Does your company do anything special that works well? Share your own secret sauce tips for success in the comments.