A look at some lessons I learned at Inc. magazine's 2011 Grow Your Company Conference.
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.
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman