"Can you guys do health care?

What about your retail credentials?

And, how would you rate your contacts with the New Jersey media in particular?"

I answered the prospect's questions in the following way: "Of course. You bet. An 11 on a scale of one to 10."

Truth be told I was the desperate owner of a three-month-old start-up PR firm and I would have said I'd sold ice to Eskimos in order to land any piece of business and begin growing.

As it turned out, we won the account and then proceeded to royally screw it up since we possessed none of the experience I cited above. Happily, the client found another firm and we escaped without our image in tatters.

I've learned how to focus our growth by trial-and-error and, today, we're a highly profitable $20 million marketing communications firm that specializes in three areas. Period. And, our intent is to grow bottom-line profits. If that should impact topline growth as well, so much the better.

Typical mistakes

To be honest, though, there are other experts better suited than I for passing along tips and guidelines to help you grow your business in smart, strategic ways.

So I turned to Joseph Olewitz, founder and CEO of Virtual Chief Revenue Officer V-CRO.com, which helps businesses focus on "intentional revenue growth."

Olewitz said the biggest mistakes companies make when trying to grow their revenue are:

  1. Either thinking too big or too small when creating a plan
  2. Not asking the right questions of themselves and of the client
  3. Making a decision solely based on what is in front of them in the moment (Note: See my health care story above as a prime example)
  4. Going after every client (Note: re-read my health care story from above).

Olewitz specializes in identifying intentional revenue growth to reach a precise revenue goal in a specified period of time.

He says a revenue plan needs to be proactive, implemented, and frequently measured. It's not meant to be written and then placed on the shelf.

5 Surefire Growth Tips

So how do you implement a successful revenue plan as a small business owner? Here are Olewitz's five key guidelines:

1) Be specific. Very often, people say "I want to grow or get bigger." Instead, they should be saying "I want this specific dollar amount from this specific offering from this specific client in this specific time period delivered in this specific way." Train yourself to run decisions through this system and ask yourself, "Will the decision(s) I make lead to achieving our specific goals?"

2) Stay the course. It's easy to get off track when you need to make payroll or pay the rent. But don't take your eye off your bigger goals and continually review your plan each time you make a decision. (Note: I've often had to dip into my own savings account to meet my company's payroll. But, I also did what Olewitz suggests and stayed focused on my specific growth goals.).

3) Take advantage of the right opportunities. An unexpected opportunity may help you gain a new experience or much-needed credentials in another industry. But, pass it up if the opportunity will swamp your staff, take your eye off the larger growth picture and/or make your life miserable. Olewitz says there are many ways to qualify the value of a sales opportunity beyond gut feel or instinct; V-CRO has one called "Quantifying Your Qualification" that uses a set of proprietary algorithms to numerically evaluate whether you should go forward or say "no thanks." (Note: Where was QYQ when I needed it?).

4) Small changes can lead to a major impact. Olewitz used to pilot small planes. When he did, he realized the tiniest movement could lead to a major directional change (hopefully for the better). The same applies to business. Small changes can make a positive impact on your topline growth over time. For example, targeting the ideal client in specific detail will not take much effort and will spotlight opportunities that you might otherwise miss at a networking event or reading the business news.

5) Think in quarters. The ideal business plan length is 12 months, says Olewitz. Gone are the days of the 5-year plan since there are too many changes in too short a period of time. (Note: Amen to that). But go a step further. Break down and measure your plan in quarters to ensure you are on the right track.

Lord knows where Peppercomm would be today if I had had access to a strategic growth consultant such as Olewitz back then. Sure, we're very successful but, if I'd had him at my side, I'd have evaded countless mistakes made along the way.

So, take it from someone who knows. Find yourself a strategic growth counselor and turn grow into a positive four-letter word (Note to readers: My firm has no affiliation with Mr. Olewitz).