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The Most Overlooked Factor in Business Success

Putting people first means everything in business. But it isn't easy.
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Entrepreneurs often try to run their business by focusing on revenue, expenses, and the bottom line. But while those are important, they don't leave much room for people--a crucial factor in the people economy, where personal relationships and humanity determine success.

The human element is what draws people to one another, whether they're friends or companies people support. Ultimately, building genuine friendships and a lasting business aren't that different. Both are relationships built on transparency and trust, and both value those who aren't afraid to be themselves.

To draw out the human element in your company this year, here are four tips worth giving a try. 

1. Flaunt Your Personality

People connect with other people, so there's no reason to mask your personality from 9 to 5. It's what makes you unique and what attracted investors, employees, and customers to your business in the first place. It's also refreshing.

Take Asana, the enterprise collaboration startup founded by two early Facebook employees. The company bills "mindfulness" as an important personal and business value and it's been baked into its culture, from co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein down to their new hires.

Don't be afraid to express your personality as an entrepreneur and make sure your employees are doing the same. You'll be amazed by how positively customers respond.

2. Treat Customers Like Family

The most important business traits are not dissimilar from what makes our bonds with family and friends so strong. Customers don't want impersonal or calculated interactions. As I've written before, they want the human touch, which comes from treating them like family and friends.

Let customers see you for who you are, warts and all. And if you make a mistake, be open and honest about it. Last year, Lululemon, the high-end athletic clothing company, had to pull a yoga pant line after customers complained the pants turned sheer after being stretched. Lululemon redesigned the pants and posted a blog promising the new pants would provide "great ass coverage" (in scientific terms). It's a reminder that honesty is key to any relationship and a sense of humor never hurts.

Remember, your customers are people too. Show them you care, be humble, and they will reward you. 

3. Emphasize Human Values

To be a truly successful company, emphasize human values such as honesty, individuality, and humility. Review your mission statement, codes of ethics, and employee training workbooks to ensure they do this. 

Founder and 'Chief Shoe Giver' Blake Mycoskie created a successful company that sells shoes alongside ideals. It operates with a "one-for-one" model, meaning that every time a pair of their shoes is sold, it donates a pair to a child in need. 

4. People Scale Companies

Once you've established a people-centric company, how do you scale? Well, it's a challenge. But a key part is to hire people who are passionate about what you're doing. People, not technology must be the main focus, because the digital revolution enables businesses to scale faster and more efficiently than ever before. Social media and other channels let companies build and nurture relationships. And human companies can harness this by tapping their community of loyal customers to help spread the word.

IMAGE: eschipul/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 8, 2014

AUSTIN ALLISON | Columnist | founder and CEO of dotloop

Austin Allison is founder and CEO of dotloop, the fastest-growing technology company in real estate, and the co-author of Peoplework: How to Run a People-First Business in a Digital-First World.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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