Looking for ways to make your company more productive, make your team more creative, and make your operations more efficient? If so, then check out these 25 strategies, which range from thoughts on leadership to advice on how to motivate employees to ways of reducing IT costs. Each of these ideas has been tested by other small businesses and yielded a significant pay-off. Here's hoping they work just as well at your business.

1. To Focus on Truly Urgent Matters, First, Clear Your Schedule

Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, author of A Sense of Urgency and Leading Change, talks about the importance of bringing a sense of urgency to your organization. The trick is, there are two types of urgency: a good type which is characterized by scrutiny and focus, and a bad type driven by panic and breathless activity. How can you tell which is which? One dead giveaway, according to Kotter, is your schedule. If you are overbooked with meetings, you are probably engaged in the wrong kind of urgency. Clear your calendar, so that you can better focus on the truly urgent matters in your business. Read more

2. Engage Your Employees

Kevin Plank, founder of the athletic apparel company Under Armour, says that the key to motivating employees is to communicate with them face to face. When his company was smaller, he would gather the team together once a week to go over key strategic and operational decisions. Invariably, they brought up issues and offered suggestions he had not considered. Not that Under Armour is quite large, an all-hands meeting is not feasible. Instead, Plank invites a half-dozen "potential stars" to MVP lunches held several times a month. Read more

3. Tweak the Language on Your Website

Do you find that people come to your site and then leave without buying anything? There are ways to reduce shopping-cart abandonment and keep prospective customers on your site longer. Stamps.com founder that using the phrase "sign up" was actually a negative; customers saw it as a high-pressure sales tactic. Once the site replaced that phrase with "Get Postage," sales increased. Read more

4. Measure Demand for New Products on the Cheap

Lean product development can help a company develop new products with a minumum of waste and expense. One trick: TPGTEX Label Solutions, a Houston based software company, creates mocked-up webpages that list the features of a potential new product along with its price. The response to those webpages enables the company to test a product's marketability. Read more

 

5. Improve the Accuracy of Your Sales Forecasts

During difficult times it may seem hard to set realistic sales projections. Jeffrey Hollander of Seventh Generation discusses looking at your products item by item and finding out what is going on with your customers' business so you can best meet their needs, In particular, identify the cash-flow issues faced by your distribution partners. That will not only give you a clearer sense of the health of your business—it may also present you with a new business opportunity. Read more

6. Shed Your Problem Customers

Are all customers worth keeping? The answer is an emphatic no. So how do you identify which customers you should drop and which you should hold onto? Try conducting an analysis that shows each account's contribution to overall profits and cash flow. Consider creating a fee structure that rewards lucrative customers with discounts, and penalizes slow-paying or unprofitable customers with additional "service" fees. Read More

7. Turn Freebies into a Search Engine Optimization Play

Search engine optimization can raise your website's profile, delivering more traffic, more customers, and bigger revenues. The most effective way to optimize your site is to encourage other sites to link to yours. One easy way to do that? Offer a free e-book for download on a subject of broad appeal or a product sample. Read More

8 . Encourage Your Staff to Chip in Their Ideas

More companies are using software to collect staff ideas and finding that there can be gold hiding in the office. Mike Hall of Borrego Systems, a solar-panel business, used SurveyMonkey to allow all his employees to vote on the best idea that was put in the virtual suggestion box. The winner received a $500 prize. While only a handful of employees submitted ideas, the majority of Borrego's staff participated in voting, reinforcing the message that every employee has a stake in the outcome. Read More

9. Look for Partners in Struggling Industries

Paul King, CEO of Hercules Networks, which operates ATM-like machines through which consumers can charge mobile phones and other gadgets, has been cultivating relationships with real-estate developers who run malls and amusement parks. Most of them are struggling these days, and are looking for new sources of revenue. As such, they are more than willing to work with King. Read more

10. Share Information More Widely

At Stranger's Hill Organics in Bloomington, Indiana, farmers now post updates using a laptop to see which tasks have been assigned from inside the farmhouse. The result is that tasks are completed more quickly than ever, and news of trouble spreads rapidly. Read more

11. Play Sales Games With Your Employees

To boost employee motivation, the franchise College Hunks Hauling Junk uses sales contests. President Nick Friedman and CEO Omar Soliman kicked off a rivalry between their country wide branches to see who could haul the most junk. What was the incentive? How about a vacation to the Bahamas. Read more

12. Write a New Marketing Plan

Careful planning is integral to marketing success. To help set objectives, develop what Deb Roberts, CEO of Synapse Marketing calls the 5 Cs—the consumer, channel, company, competition, and climate. "Your understanding of the 5 C's should run deeply enough that when you finish, you should understand your point of difference in the market and where your opportunities lie." Read more

13. Turn Tweets into Cash

Rose Associates, an 80-year-old real estate agency in New York City, searches key terms such as "moving to New York" on search.twitter.com. Whenever another Twitter user types one of these top phrases, a member of Rose's marketing staff sends them a message offering real-estate listings or related service. The result? A hundred qualified leads a month. Read more

14. Look to Learn More From Lost Sales

By building win-loss analysis into your sales tracking process, you can learn important lessons about your sales force, your value proposition, and your key competitors. Consider putting together a questionnaire for clients and would-be clients to discover in which categories your company excells and in which it falls short. But don't ask reps themselves to reach out for feedback; customers may feel that the request for information is yet another attempt to re-open the sales cycle. Instead, have your marketing director call customers and ask a few simple questions concerning why your business lost out on a sale. Read more

15. Prepare Better for Your Presentations

Your presentations skills are just as important as the information you are presenting. David Parnell, the founder of an attorney-placement firm who recently finished a book on the psychology of effective communication, asks his clients to write down questions that are sure to come up. This simple exercise primes your brain to handle interruptions with poise. Read more

16. Cut Costs with Green IT

Cloud computing, power management, and other green technologies can help you save money. For example, Baltimore IT consulting firm Analysys saves more than $13,000 a year by using software which helps their IT department turn their servers into several virtual machines. Read more

17. Streamline Your Decision-Making Process

Do you ever find yourself inviting an employee to sit on a meeting just so he or she won't feel left out? If that's the case, then you may have a culture of over-communication. Entrepreneur Joel Spolsky says that the way to ensure the efficient flow of communication and speed up decision making is to appoint a manager to each project whose sole responsibility is to make sure that over-communication does not occur. Read more

18. Find Some Amazing Interns

Interns are a cheap way of filling in gaps on your staff and bringing energy and new ideas to the table. Of course, a bad hire, even at the lowest level of an organization, can cause stress. So how do you find an exceptional intern? The clothing line O'Neill found a novel way to identify talented teens for its internship program: The company set up a contest in which candidates designed clothes in order to compete for a job. Read More

19. Use Crowdsourcing to Control Inventory

ModCloth's Be the Buyer program lets customers go online and tell the company exactly what products they want—before they've been manufactured. Now the company can confidently gamble on what were once risky items by securing the most valuable of opinions before taking the plunge -- those of its customers. Read more

20. Mine Your Data

What can start as a useful database of customer information can become a slow or unresponsive monster when it grows to more than a terabyte -- or about 1,000 gigabytes -- of data. Hadoop, an open-source project, takes massive amounts of data, breaks it into smaller chunks, and distributes the pieces across a cluster of computers. It can track customer logs providing stores the ability to look for shoppers who bought diapers six years ago and target them with back-to-school promotions. Read more

21. Advertise on Facebook

After initially eschewing social networks, more marketers are looking to promote products and services on Facebook. How can you make sure your ad stands out among the site's status updates, party photos, and comments? Choose your target, test your ad's among different demographics, perform your own tracking with analytics programs like Google Analytics and HitsLink, and come up with catchy slogans. Our favorite: "Springtime is here. Time to get waxed." Read more

22. Create Some Cool Viral Videos

By creating clever Web videos, companies like Smule and Kiva Systems have been able to explain their technology to customers. "What people seem to like about the videos is that they are clearly made by the same people who make the app," says Smule Co-founder Ge Wang. "Our wackiness and quirkiness show through." Read more

23. Send Customer Coupons on Their Mobile Phones

Applications like Yowza and Foursquare let you send coupons to customers' cell phones. Tasti D-Lite, the frozen-yogurt franchise, rewards frequent customers who check in on Foursquare, for example. Did we mention that these coupon programs are (for now) free to use? Read more

24. Say Thank You More Often

Saying thank you for a job well done can pay huge dividends. A recent survey by the International Association of Administrative Professionals and OfficeTeam found that, while managers ranked promotions and cash bonuses as the two most effective ways of recognizing employee accomplishments, workers said they actually preferred an in-person thank-you or having a job well done reported to senior management. Read more

25. Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself

It's often hard to achieve work-life balance when you're running an entrepreneurial company. But don't. "It's important to re-charge your batteries," says cosmetics entrepreneur Bobbi Brown. Her routine includes exercising in the morning, stealing a walk when she can, stretching between meetings, yoga--and enjoying the occasional martini. Read More