If you're an entrepreneur looking to take your business to the next level, you've probably come across a lot of conventional wisdom and commonsense tips. While some of this advice is valuable, sometimes you need to do the opposite of what your instincts tell you to do. It's the out-of-the-box thinking that will take your business to new heights and set you apart from your competition. Take a look at these three counterintuitive strategies for growing your business:

  1. Promote your competition.

Rather than viewing companies that have overlapping business interests as your competition, you should see them as potential partners. Case in point: DigitalFlash is a terrific digital strategy and experiential marketing company, and my firm, Firebrand Group, is a digital consultancy devoted to helping brands tell their stories across all digital channels. Do we compete with DigitalFlash? Absolutely. And yet, is Firebrand stronger for relying on DigitalFlash's expert advice and discussing partnership opportunities with its leadership? Certainly. Especially if your business is new and growing, it's in your best interest to make like-minded companies your allies. Cross-post their content, share their posts and podcasts so you are on their radar, and trust that they will return the favor. By helping others you will help yourself.

  1. Lower your expectations for success.

It's wonderful to have big dreams and love what you do, but it's not enough. If you want to build a business that lasts, you need to understand all the pieces involved. "Passion is essential, but it's not everything. You also need to know how to run a business," says BlackRock global program manager Golbie Kamarei, at the Wisdom 2.0 business conference. Kamarei went on to explain how she is constantly educating herself about business trends to stay ahead of the curve and contribute as much as she can to her hardworking team.

  1. Show vulnerability.

Many people believe vulnerability is a weakness, especially in the business world. However, the best leaders today understand that vulnerability is the breeding ground for creativity and innovative ideas. The founder of Pencils of Promise, Adam Braun, unexpectedly discovered the secret to success by courageously exposing his weakness in a room filled with powerful business leaders. "Surrounding me were 10 of the smartest, most capable people I knew ... and I had to tell them about my biggest failure," Braun said. "But in acknowledging where I needed help, I deepened my relationship with them and, ultimately, amplified their commitment to my growth as a leader and an individual." While it's important to showcase your strengths, it's equally important to convey that you are human and you have flaws. To show your vulnerable side makes people feel like they can relate to you and trust you.

  1. Think audience-first.

Many small-business founders and employees wake up in the morning thinking self-promotion, and go to sleep at night thinking about the same topic. But if you want to build long-term relationships with your audience--which includes but isn't limited to prospects and customers--you've got to think about their needs before yours. Nobody likes a braggart or selfish promoter, so it's important to learn to master promoting in a way that benefits your audience first and yourself second. This can be accomplished through contests, unique content, and unexpected campaigns. Do this right, and over time, you will establish a large and loyal follower base. What's the most counterintuitive strategy that's working for you? I'd love to know--perhaps we can include it in a future column.

Published on: Feb 3, 2015