Inc. held its annual Grow Your Company Conference April 6 through April 8 at the Cosmopolitan Resort in Las Vegas. An impressive lineup of speakers shared their stories and outline best practices for the more than 600 business owners who attended the event, which we affectionately refer to as Growco. Among the takeaways:
How to start your day: The staff at Rowmark, a highly-profitable plastics manufacturer in Findlay, Ohio, begins each morning with an 8 a.m. huddle at which employees ask an answer the same question, according to CEO Duane Jebbett: How did the company do yesterday versus the plan for yesterday? Rowmark also does monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews, of course. But by focusing on the progress made during a single day, the company finds that it can better achieve meaningful long-term progress against the company's financial goals. Incentives underscore this attention to performance: Every employee—part-timers included—receives a profit-sharing bonus based on Ebitda. ("Sales can cover problems, but margins cure problems," Jebbett quipped.)
What to stop doing: The old Jim Collins idea about having a do-not-do list was trotted out again, and several of the speakers exhorted the crowd to refrain from e-mail during large chunks of the workday. Thinking more broadly, ePrize chairman Josh Linkner, who is now the founding partner of Detroit Venture Partners, made the observation that "traditions are great for families, but traditions can be deadly in business because you blindly salute the past and don't challenge yourself." What does your company do out of habit, and why?
On leadership: Being fair, having empathy, being clear, having a strong sense of vision, listening well—these traits were among the many assigned by Growco speakers to effective business leaders. How about simple energy and stamina? Mike Faith, the CEO of San Francisco-based Headsets.com, noted that "your employees can sense when you're not engaged, and it has an impact on your company. Keep your mojo fresh."
On work-life balance: It doesn't exist for entrepreneurs, at least according to Chris Guillebeau, the author of the book (and blog) The Art of Non-Conformity. "Balanced people don't change the world," he observed.
On customer engagement: Many speakers looked at customers, and the way entrepreneurs interact with them. Shar VanBosskirk of Forrester Research noted that, in the age of social media, customers control the interaction and to decide when and how fast companies are obliged to respond to complaints. Speaking of social media, Inc.com's Howard Greenstein moderated a great panel on the subject with Aaron Arnold, founder of Music is My Business, and Jason Pollock, the filmmaker. There were a number of questions about tactics and strategy, as well as achieving a meaningful return on a company's social media investment. The key, Pollock said, is to direct all of your activity online towards nurturing a strong relationship with your audience and customer base. "Creating buzz but not creating a community is a mistake a lot of people make with social media," Pollock said. Cal McCallister of the Wexley School for Girls, a Seattle ad agency, summed it up this way: "Our goal is to be the best part of our client's day."
Thanks to all of our speakers and attendees for making Growco a rich learning experience as well as a totally fun gathering of smart, creative, and talented entrepreneurs!
Were you at Growco? If so, let me know what your takeaway was by posting a comment below.
Every company these days wants to position itself as a so-called thought leader. We are all exhorted to write blog posts and create white papers and conduct industry research in a quest to get ourselves recognized as being experts in our fields relative to our competitors. The problem, of course, is this: How do you get people to pay attention to all of the material you are creating and pushing out into the marketplace? How do you make sure that, in a world drowning in white papers, yours finds the right audience?
A company was looking for ways to engage more workers in social media in order to get its message into the marketplace. So the entrepreneur asked groups of employees from different departments to come together to brainstorm. One employee from accounting mentioned that the company sent out dozens of invoices each week, and that most of the page was blank. Why not use the blank space to engage customers? So the company began publishing in that space links to its white papers and blog posts from members of the company's senior management.
And guess what? The click-through rate for the links on the invoices hit 20 percent. The guy in charge of direct marketing for the company said he had never seen such a response rate. The campaign succeeded in part because it was targeted at the company's existing customers, for whom the material was highly relevant.
It also succeeded because it turned a one-way conversation ("balance due") into something more useful and meaningful for the customer.
At a time when so many businesses are striving to stand out from the crowd, a tip such as this is a good reminder that a company has many opportunities to engage clients. Being smart about seizing these opportunities is what separates the typical business from the exceptional business.
The Huffington Post is set to be sold to AOL, according to an announcement the site's founder, Arianna Huffington, posted at one past midnight.
"By combining HuffPost with AOL's network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we'll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform," she writes.
The deal comes just over four months after AOL acquired Techcrunch from Michael Arrington, and is in keeping with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's avowed goal of transforming the original dial-up giant into a major content player. Arrington has, in his brief tenure as an AOL employee, squabbled rather openly with his colleagues. How will the outspoken Huffington fare? Post acquisition, founder Arianna Huffington will reportedly oversee editorial at all AOL properties including Techcrunch and Engadget. That means that she will have an outsize inflience on the dissmenination of news and opinion online.
Which is exactly what her ambition has been from the time she launched the Huffington Post six years ago. "I find it very easy to connect with people," she told Inc. contributor Daniel McGinn a year ago. "And that's part of the Huffington Post. I'm bringing in voices -- some well known, some not -- and providing a platform."
Hot on the heels of Demand Media's successful public offering, LinkedIn, the business-oriented social networking site, announced its intention to go public. The Mountain View, California, company reported revenue of $161.4 million in the first nine months of 2010, according to LinkedIn's S-1 filing. Of that revenue, the company posted $1.85 million in profit, the filing said.
The site has more than 90 million members (half of whom live outside the U.S.), though they tend not to be nearly as active as Facebook users. "[A] substantial majority of our page views are generated by a minority of our members," the company admits in its S-1.
Still, given the pleasant reception the market afforded Demand Media and the enthusiasm for possibly forthcoming IPOs from Facebook and Groupon, one can imagine a LinkedIn public offering faring quite well. The company is clearly banking on the idea that it can raise money and, in the meantime, figure out new ways to foster member engagement—though that goal has been front-and-center at the company for quite some time.
"[M]any professionals still don't understand how LinkedIn can be valuable on a daily or weekly basis," founder Reid Hoffman told Inc. contributor Mark Lacter in 2009. "In a boom, employers are really hunting for a good person, and they're using LinkedIn. And during a bust, people on the other side are looking for a good opportunity." His hope then was that LinkedIn groups and other features would provide valuable networking opportunities, as well as access to career development resources and a look at industry best practices.
Frequest users of this site may have noticed a new feature recently—I'm talking about that black search bar that now appears at the top of your screen. It's a gateway to a new search tool powered by Apture, a Silicon Valley start-up launched by Tristan Harris, Can Sar, and Jesse Young, alumni of Inc.'s 2009 30 Under 30 list.
Apture allows users to search about and learn more on a topic without leaving the page they are reading. Little magnifying glass icons sprinkled throughout the text will also prompt you to start an Apture search.
Editorially, we think Apture will give users a chance to learn more about the topics—people, companies, products—that matter most to them. Apture is particularly good at presenting Inc.com's previous material on a search term, and relevant multimedia including videos.
There's obviously a good business reason for us to try this technology. Apture asserts that sites using its search engage readers to spend more time on a site and to read more. We certainly hope that is the case and, so far, the results have been encouraging.
To see founder Harris and Sar demo Apture, view this video.
With apologies to Tip O'Neill, you might say that all business is local. That is why Inc.com is rolling out 12 new sections devoted to some of the major metropolitan areas in which our readers do business. These pages pull together relevant articles, video, and guides, and they are designed to be equally helpful to locals entrepreneurs and to outsiders who are scouting new markets. Want to open an office in Vegas or in the Bay Area? Or find out about the coolest up-and-coming companies in Seattle and Chicago? We've got you covered.
Our Local Sections also explore some of the challenges of doing business overseas, specifically in London, Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong. We've got a great interview with one of the U.K.'s coolest companies as well as an informative guide to business customs in Beijing.
In addition to new material, these pages gather together everything we've written about these cities in the past. We'll update the sections on a regular basis, so check back. You can find our featured city pages through the navigation at the bottom of each page on our site. Over the next couple months, we'll be rolling out more cities, so if yours isn't represented today, post a comment below telling us where we should go next, and what we should look to cover.
Jill Blashack Strahan, founder and CEO of Tastefully Simple, says that in business (as in life), it is important to celebrate your successes. So with that in mind, I'm happy to report that Inc.com has been nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in the category of best online tool — for the valuation calculator that was created by our friend and frequent collaborator Tommy McCall.
The award is intended to honor "the outstanding use of interactive tools that enable users to create or share content, participate in communities, improve the quality of their lives or enjoy recreational activities."
Our fellow nominees in this category are ESPN.com, Instyle.com, MenHealth.com, and Spectrum.ieee.org. Elsewhere, the judges bestowed nominations on NYMag.com, TheAtlantic.com, Wired.com, Slate, and the Daily Beast.
Down the hall, our colleagues in Inc.'s art department are celebrating five merit awards presented by the Society of Publication Designers. SPD recognized Inc. for the still-life photography in the Inc. 500 issue, an illustration of author Ayn Rand that appeared in the November issue, and our recurring photo essays "Behind the Scenes," "Passions," and "Innovation."
We're thankful for the recognition, and hope you've enjoyed the work we've been producing for you, both in print and online. Feel free to post a comment below telling us how we're doing, and what we could do better. After all, Tastefully Simple's Strahan says humility and striving for excellence are important too.
"During the Depression I saw a man throw a loaf of bread off the back of a truck," says Don Draper at the beginning of this week's episode of Mad Men. "It was more dignified" than a client meeting that Draper just sat in on at Sterling Cooper, his ad agency. The meeting in question involves Horace Cook Jr., an heir to a shipping fortune who intends to spend $3 million on marketing a new jai alai league in America. He is young and full of enthusiasm and has a lavish promotional scheme in mind. Some thoughts:
1. Are you responsible for managing a spendthrift client's behavior? From the beginning, Don is uncomfortable taking Horace Jr.'s money; he scowls when a gleeful Pete Campbell refers to the client as the "fatted calf" and "dressed for the oven." (Having no such qualms, Lane Pryce, the agency's new financial officer, rewards Pete with a "Nicely done my boy.")
Later, however, Draper and Pryce and Bertram Cooper meet with Horace Cook Sr., who admits that he doubts the viability of Junior's vanity project. "My son grew up in a cloud of success," the shipping magnate mutters. "But it was my success." Still, he won't stand in his son's way and gives Sterling Cooper his consent to go after the business. At lunch, Don makes one last stab at convincing Horace Jr. to think twice about jai alai, but the young client remains unmoved. Horace Jr. adds, petulantly, that if the league fails, it will be Sterling Cooper's fault.
The sequence raises interesting questions about entrepreneurial parenting. It also raises questions about clients: Are you responsible for making sure they spend wisely? Don feels instinctively that the big splashy jai alai launch that Horace Jr. wants is ill-advised. Though Sterling Cooper stands to benefit from separating the scion from a healthy chunk of his inheritance, Don seems to think it might be in the agency's best interests to guide Horace Jr. to a more realistic business opportunity.
It's honorable, but is it necessary? Is a business responsible for trimming a client's sails? Some would argue that Don has a responsibility to his staff and to the agency's shareholders to maximize revenue. On the other hand, a campaign that results in financial success for the agency and utter failure for the client could do much to damage Sterling Cooper's reputation. Do you think Don did the right thing?
2. Always have a backup. Another Sterling Cooper client, a diet soft drink named Patio, has hired the agency to create an introductory TV commercial. The ad plays off an Ann-Margret number from Bye Bye Birdie. At the last minute, the director drops out and there's a panic. No backup can be found, so Don taps Sal Romano, the agency's art director, to handle it. But he asks his deputies an important question in passing: What were you going to do if the original director had to be fired? The message: You should always maintain a list of people you can recruit or promote in the event a key member of your team needs to be replaced,
3. Good managers tolerate failure. So the Birdie shoot goes off without a hitch and Sal delivers exactly what the clients said they wanted. And yet they are unhappy. Something's not right, and they deem the commercial unusable. Some bloggers have suggested that the spot was rejected for being too overtly gay. Roger thinks the problem is, simply, "It's not Ann-Margret." (Bonus: Here's a real commercial that Ann-Margret did for Canada Dry in the late '60s. Trippy.)
Dejected, Sal goes to see Don, who surprises him by saying that "the only good thing" to come out of the botched commercial was that Sal proved himself as a commercial director. This thrills Sal, because he has lately been worrying about his future. "No one wants illustrations any more," he tells his wife Kitty. "It's all about photography now." That Don endorses Sal's work despite the client's rejection shows that he is not rattled by failure--although he can't help himself from taking a dig at Sal's failure with the Patio assignment, saying "I hope that never happens to me."
4. When naming a company, avoid a silent consonant. Having won Horace Jr.'s business, the team at Sterling Cooper plays with some jai alai equipment supplied by the nascent "National Jai Alai Association" or NJAA. Horace Jr. has no idea how confusing "that J" will be for the American public, Don notes dryly. Then he breaks a glass ant farm with an errant ball and says, "Bill it to the kid."
- 5 Takeaways from Growco
- A Hidden Social Media Opportunity
- AOL Buys Huffington Post
- LinkedIn Files for an IPO
- A New Way to Search
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