Baron Christopher Hanson

Baron Christopher Hanson

The election is over. The holidays are over. It’s back to the business of working and living and learning in the new year. Last year was a tragic year, a stormy year, and an uncertain year politically and fiscally. To forge ahead positively, here are five strategies toward re-engineering a fresh 2013 business outlook:

Attend advanced industry summits.

Each year, the best of the best from elite professional, cultural, academic or industry communities gather to listen to, learn from and speak openly with each other. What makes advanced summits of all kinds so refreshing is the intellectual firepower of the speakers and the engagement with other attendees socially or privately during these intimate events.

The key is to identify where and when the most crucial, high-powered and relevant industry summits are being held this year. Decide, and just go. Cavorting with a concentrated roster of the best in your field challenges you and will overwhelm you with fresh 2013 perspectives.

The takeaway here is to proactively gather among the best in your industry. This will accelerate your relationships, knowledge and competitiveness. You might even become a summit speaker yourself one day.

Reinforce your cash register.

To be clear, the term “cash register” means any space, counter, equipment, staff, system, queue or online portal whereby your business transacts with paying customers. Some cash registers are quick, efficient and high tech; others are comfortable, luxurious or exciting. Still others are dull, slow or unattractive.

Whether law firms, restaurants, tech startups, art galleries, nonprofits or manufacturing facilities, each have their own methods of “cash registering” their place of business. In the consulting world, cash-register security is a busy practice area.

Beyond credit and collections after the sale, evidence of predatory or manipulative customers before the sale is beginning to overshadow the ongoing problem of dishonest employees or partners. Not only must your cash-register strategy exude a spry, inviting and expert customer experience, your transaction procedures must also protect your business from any malfeasance, theft or loss.

In most turnaround or growth-strategy cases, evidence leads us to recommend a brief forensic accounting and review-of-contracts engagement –– to improve all transactional language, cash-low security and risk-aversion policies. It is stunning how many small businesses in the $500,000 to $5 million space operate without any of these security measures in place.

The takeaway here is that by examining “cash register” procedures carefully, business owners can gain a fresh perspective as to whether they are actually making money or being beaten up economically by specific types of anti-customers.

Ask your entire company to read a strategic book together.

What I learned most after 16 years as a rugby player is that the team who communicates, mobilizes and executes in the same directions as a cohesive unit for 80 minutes will win. This feat is both physically demanding and rare.

After 21 years of consulting experience, recommending that an entire company –– usually from three to 300 employees –– read the same book from cover to cover in 30 days has been one of the most effective methods for initially turning a company around, increasing baseline revenue and mobilizing everyone in the same direction.

Classics I’ve assigned include “Blue Ocean Strategy,” “Financial Intelligence,” “The Phoenix Effect,” “Good to Great,” “Lead, Sell, or Get Out of The Way,” and “Analytics at Work,” among many others. Choose own your top four to six titles, and then read one as a company every two to three months. The cohesion, result trajectories and company alignments can be stunning — if marshaled well.

The secret is for leadership to select the precise book and then listen carefully to employees during and after they’ve completed each read. Don’t lecture. Just listen.

Employees who love their company, appreciate their job and care about their career will dive right in. Almost immediately you can see their minds, their work, their passion, and their ideas improving exponentially. Everyone in the company is guaranteed to have something in common to talk about going forward.

We’ve especially applied this “old school book assignment” to creative companies in need of relief from their chaotic, lifestyle-driven, outdated, or rural business model. Uniform communication helps reduce chaos and steer toward operational alignments.

However, those employees (or partners) who make excuses, complain or refuse to read the book typically exude similar attitudes and behaviors on the job. While companies and employees often claim they are on the same page, this old school book assignment strategy proves it — literally.

The takeaways here are:

  • Group book reading journeys initiate company alignment.
  • A fresh perspective as to who should (and should not) remain “on the bus” going forward will emerge quickly after two to three book assignments.

Capture stunning photography and video footage.

Marketing, PR, and social media success today is driven by distinctive, high-quality photography and video production. For-profit and nonprofit organizations large and small each have paying customers, sponsors, members, or donors to reach.

Expert photography and video is the undisputed kernel of today’s marketing content value and reach, simply because people are not taking the time to read beyond headlines unless visually enticed upfront. Increase one line item in your PR budget — photography and video — then hire the best of the best to record and disperse your brand narrative.

The most successful media, blogs, and magazines have always had absolutely gorgeous photography and compelling video content online, inviting potential customers to read in greater detail after being impressed visually or interactively.

Are your core visual elements stunning and fresh? The good news is that modern innovations in photo and printing quality also allow for more colorful graphics on billboards, commercial vehicles, mass transit and even boats. Innovations in video camera techniques enable company offerings, messages or news to be viewable anytime via handheld, desktop or on social media.

The shocker is that organizations still spend upwards of millions of dollars hiring expert event planners, adventure travel companies, motivational and leadership speakers, or tired advertising agencies — yet they still fail to capture the footage of their true, inspirational and explanatory narrative.

The takeaway here is that compelling footage of your people, your events, your workplace or culture, and how your organization gives back must be captured more frequently and aired more thoughtfully than ever before.

Consider mobility.

Qualified, nice and professional customers who will pay you well are out there. However, they may be more dispersed or more challenging to connect with in today’s economy. Modern mobility enables entrepreneurs to visit new customers, as opposed to waiting for old customers to reappear less often.

To be clear, mobility or executive travel varies in relevance for every business model and budget. In my experience, confident economic exploration into relevant new markets breeds growth. Online file uploads, design proofing and modern shipping technologies allow rural craftspeople and large materials suppliers to transact business from anywhere without a single airline ticket. Other fields require face-to-face interactions.

Quick case study: A modern art gallery was enduring both the economic dip and an abrupt end to their posh storefront lease (sale of building). Once relocated in a larger, more chic space, we re-engineered the company “cash register” and increased inventory quality and valuation.

Our next recommendation was for the gallery owner to embrace a more mobile schedule, including international art dealer events and elite shows. Elevated PR and marketing strategies spurred new client purchases to exceed collector transactions in terms of overall percentage of sales.

Sure there were growing pains, lessons learned, car trouble in Mississippi and all kinds of parking fines. Yet the gallery owner now transacts in New Orleans, D.C., Berlin, Miami, Chicago and other top art markets. Gallery revenues have tripled within seven months and are projected to reach a 580% all-in sales increase within 13 months.

The takeaway here is to determine which cities or regions you might best acquire new customers, expert employees or fresh resources. Akin to attending industry summits, obtaining a more profitable concentration of customers and partners — at new altitudes — is perhaps the freshest perspective to embrace this coming year.

Baron Christopher Hanson is the principal of RedBaron Strategy, a boutique growth, turnaround management, and revenue acceleration advisory firm based in Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C. A Harvard graduate and former rugby player, “The Red Baron” can be reached for client engagements via (843) 641-0331 or engage@RedBaronUSA.com.

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