This has been a boom year for the economy, but everything good must come to an end. While most analysts are predicting that 2019 will see a growth slowdown, some are expecting a recession.

That means that if you want to grow your company in the coming year, you'll need to stretch beyond your comfort zones. Imitating others will make it hard to stand out in the market, and it's not a sustainable strategy. IBM asked 1,500 CEOs which leadership trait would have the biggest impact in the next five years, and 60 percent pointed to creativity, or the ability to innovate.

In a culture where innovation is so highly prized, why are growth strategies often the last thing to get an overhaul? What fuels growth seems obvious: Sell more stuff and raise prices. What fuels long-term growth, however, is very much the opposite.

In the wake of Amazon, many businesses got the idea that broad expansions were the way to go. They added products to capitalize on their momentum and raised prices as it became apparent that premium pricing was working for luxury and boutique brands.

But what looks rosy in a boom economy often loses its shine in a down-trending one, and that's why growth-oriented businesses need sustainable, counterintuitive strategies instead. Start with these three:

1. Narrow your product offerings.

When a business is growing, nobody thinks about reducing the number of offers. Most leaders believe you need to sell more products to grow, but focusing on top sellers allows a company to become known for doing one or two things particularly well. Those brands become indispensable.

There's also a psychological downside to offering too much selection. In 2000, researchers from Columbia and Stanford found when consumers face too many options, they opt out of purchasing altogether. Faced with 24 jars of jam, 3 percent of shoppers made a purchase; with just six jars in front of them, 30 percent did.

Josh Felber, the CMO of Primal Life Organics, a natural oral care and skincare company, shared on my podcast that fewer products are helping his company double its size. Now No. 1011 on this year's Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America, the company's approach is paying off. "We want to focus on the top-selling products," Felber told me.

2. Add more value.

While this may sound contradictory, it's not. A lot of products or services are launched in the hopes that they'll catch more eyes, but to add value, leaders have to consider current customers rather than prospects. This requires evaluating things from your customers' perspective, even interviewing them to see what they want beyond what they're currently getting.

This may shift company operations or branding, and it may demand bigger, deeper promises. One of my clients, Kim Discenza, CPA, experienced this with her company, Strategic Accounting Outsource Solutions. The business provides outsourced accounting, controller, and CFO services to organizations with complex accounting needs, like nonprofits.

To create more value, the company launched "Proactive Accounting." Unlike most bookkeeping services, which report on the past, SAOS set up a system to help clients apply the past to the future. This service empowers leaders to make smart decisions regarding forecasting and cash flow, and it's established SAOS as a valuable partner.

Adding more value starts with analyzing your current customers' needs and expectations. Find the most powerful element that will separate you from your peers. 

3. Shift your market.

Looking past your current audience can feel vulnerable -- why would you abandon the very people who've enabled your current success? Taking a critical look at who your audience could be can also drastically shift how others see your brand.

My own speaking opportunities increased after I added entertainment to my message. I'm the only professional speaker that I know of who includes swing dancing -- with an audience member -- in speeches. This sparks engagement. It also took massive courage. It pushed the boundaries of who people think I am. This change has allowed me to speak on bigger stages and in front of more decision makers. My market shifted and that has had a profound difference on my company growth.

Conversations about growth tend to center on price tags and product lines, but growth is about going deep, not spreading yourself thin. By being bold enough to look at what others need, rather than what the market's doing, you can look forward to sustainable growth.

Published on: Dec 12, 2018