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4 Screwball Tips for Start-up Success

Traditional tactics alone don't always lead to success. Some of these unconventional methods, including the Care Bear Stare, may level the playing field.

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When trying to sustain a start-up business, chances are you will heavily rely on traditional business philosophies to ensure its success. That's all good, but I've found that several screwball techniques have been key to Slingshot SEO's climb to Inc. 500's ranks of the fastest-growing, private companies.

Sometimes I find myself laughing at the strategies that helped me and my partners get to this point. Here are four of those screwball strategies:

1. The Care Bear Stare

What is your immediate reaction when a competitor calls you out publicly? How do you respond to someone who criticizes what you have worked so hard to create? What goes through your mind when you hear rumors of a hip start-up competitor encroaching on your hard-earned clients? Most people would not look to the loveable Care Bears for inspiration. I do.

Those Care Bears of 1980s fame carried a lethal weapon in their arsenal. I call it the Care Bear Stare. By coming together and radiating light from each of their tummy symbols, the Care Bears created a ray of love energy that spread good cheer into the target's heart. Take a leap with me here, but imagine applying that technique to the challenges I just mentioned. At Slingshot SEO, our take on the Care Bear is about killing your critics with kindness. If someone throws a rock at you, send them a gift. If someone punches you in the face, give them a hug. Find common ground and less than obvious synergies that create positive relationships as opposed to an adversarial one. Build concrete bridges that can't be burnt and always keep the door open; you never know who you may work with in the future.

Besides that, I attempt to develop close relationships with our competitors. I consider many of them friends. We learn from them and they learn from us, especially the newbies. One of our clients, the cloud computing company Rackspace, says it best: "We like start-ups and want to support them. Start-ups are good for our company. They push us and keep us on the edge of technology. Our country needs more start-ups. We need growth in the U.S., and start-ups are all about creating new areas of growth."

2. The Rules of 4

As a start-up, you may not have much to offer your employees as far as incentives go. So how do you attract top talent? What can you offer that most companies don't? When Slingshot SEO was faced with this problem, we tried thinking outside the box by implementing what we call The Rules of 4:

  • Implement a 4-day work week. This not only gives your employees more flexibility, but offers them the chance to recharge, focus on research or finish projects from home. You'd be surprised at how much more work can be done by extending the work day and shortening the work week.
  • Offer 4 weeks of paid time off.  Many companies make a distinction between personal time and sick days. Some even require a doctor's note from employees taking a sick day. Consider the message you're sending employees. Basically, you're saying, "I don't trust your word." So we simply combined personal time and sick days. It's not groundbreaking, and we certainly are not the first company to do it, but it IS effective.

By thinking creatively and outside of the corporate box, Slingshot SEO was able to create an attractive work environment for talented people.

3. Speak the Language

The language used in each office is like a fingerprint. No one else has one quite like yours. It can go a long way in creating the work environment you are seeking to create. At Slingshot SEO, employees are encouraged to pass around what we call the "SEO Glossary," adding to it when necessary. This list of words commonly used in our niche ensures that all employees have a deep understanding of industry and company terms.

Not only does this pertain to the corporate "jargon" but it includes the slang thrown around the office as well. Early on, we had what we called the "Delta Force" with a picture of Delta Burke looking down on us all--"pushing us" toward excellence. Around here, I'm referred to as "Papa Slingshot." The list goes on. In short, this special Slingshot SEO vocab has helped create a tightly knit group in a quickly growing company.

4. Walk Around

Never lose touch with what's going on in the trenches of your company. Hewlett-Packard Corp. came up with a style of management known as "Manage by Walking Around." HP encouraged its executives to spend time getting to know the people on the ground floor--making sure everyone was on the same page. You have to commit to this walk-around-style of management. Make it a point to talk to as many employees as you can in one day, discussing whatever comes to mind. Ask if they're aware of trends in the industry, if they're happy with what they're doing, or even what they're up to outside of work. Eventually, they will open up and freely discuss issues they may never have been comfortable mentioning before.

These are just four simple things that have worked for Slingshot SEO. I'm sure there were plenty of other screwball techniques that didn't work, but that's part of the fun of operating a start-up. Give yourself and your company a chance to figure out which screwball strategies work. You'll be surprised by how effective many of them can be.

Last updated: May 9, 2012

JEREMY DEARRINGER is co-founder and Chief Research Officer at Indianapolis-based Slingshot SEO, a national leader in online marketing, planning and execution.
@SlingshotSEO




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