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january 05, 2013 • 06:05 AM

How to Take Your Business to the Next Level in 2013

Holiday leftovers aren't even cold before conversation typically turns to resolutions for the new year. A December 2012 TD Ameritrade survey found that half of Americans want to improve their health and 32 percent hope to strengthen their finances in 2013.

Companies also will be taking steps to achieve greater prosperity next year. To make your own resolutions about growing your business, consider these 10 steps as part of a successful 2013 action plan.

Move forward even in uncertain times. Over the next 12 months, companies will need to deal with health-care reform, changing regulations and still volatile economic times, but they can't let those uncertainties paralyze them, says Jeffrey Fox, a business author and consultant in Chester, Conn. Even in the worst economic times, some businesses thrive, says Mark Stevens, founder of MSCO, a marketing advisory firm in Rye Brook, N.Y. He advises companies to aggressively investigate potential new markets, invest in marketing, and test new ways of promoting themselves to bring in new customers and revenue.

Tap your employees. Your employees are a tremendous resource for new ideas, says Ken Blanchard, co-author of best-selling classic The One Minute Manager (William Morrow, 1982) and founder of the Ken Blanchard leadership training companies based in Escondido, Calif. For example, he notes that a Southwest Airlines employee proposed the idea that led to Business Select, which allows passengers to pay extra for such perks as priority boarding. "That one idea has made the business millions of dollars," Blanchard says.

Reconnect with your purpose. When you started your business, you had a vision for what you wanted to create. Find ways to rekindle that fire in your belly, Blanchard says. Whether it's sales, finance or product development, spend more time working in the areas of your business that excite you, he suggests. "If you don't love what you're doing, you're never going to work hard enough to be one of the best."

Diversify your income opportunities. Look for ways you can sell more to your customers and prospects. If you sell products, you can add complementary items, bundle offerings or add service packages. Service providers can often add products to boost the bottom line. For example, when Blanchard and his wife Marjorie started their company in 1980, they conducted business seminars. Soon, they realized their income was limited by just offering seminars. After they branched into selling such products as books and diagnostic tools, their business grew to more than 300 employees.

Related Video: Google Hangout With Angela Jia Kim on Massive Growth

Adopt value pricing. Fox doesn't believe that all products and services have to compete on price. Retailers may sell similar brands, but you can add value based on location, customer service, convenience, cleanliness and other factors that are important to customers. Manufacturers can differentiate based on innovative new products, quality, on-time delivery record and exceptional salespeople. "Even salt has been differentiated—sea salt, kosher salt, salt that comes in shakers," Fox says.

Hire rainmakers. One of your best investments is an employee who can bring in new business, keep customers happy, and sell based on factors other than price, Fox says. When you're interviewing potential rainmakers, look for people who are engaged, politely persistent and well prepared for the interview. Fox says these coveted employees are able to speak specifically about past successes, whether a significant personal accomplishment or the amount of business they landed for their latest employer.

Set aggressive growth goals. Since he launched MSCO in 1995, Stevens has worked at doubling his business every 18 months. He advises setting a goal that makes you slightly uncomfortable and then determining what it's going to take to get there. Analyze how you landed your best customers, the length of your sales cycle and the ratio of prospects to customers to get a better understanding of what's working in your sales and marketing efforts, he says. Then, focus on the most effective methods.

Measure every marketing activity. If you can't measure it, don't spend money on it, Stevens says. It's often easiest to track online marketing, but other types of promotions can be measured as well, such as special offerings with a unique response telephone number, coded coupons or response cards, unique landing pages, and free white paper or information downloads. "When you combine tools in this way, you can track marketing effectiveness that some people say are unmeasurable, like outdoor advertising and public relations," Stevens says.

Pay attention to the experience. Consider what it's like for customers to do business with your company. How is their experience with the receptionist or sales team? Is the store or office environment pleasant? Do orders arrive on time? Is the customer service team responsive? Even small glitches or a perceived slight can cost you a customer, Fox says. "I know a bookstore owner who has signs all over 'No shoes, no shirt, no service. No cell phones. No food.' No one wants to be scolded like that."

Try doing what you tend to avoid. For years, Stevens thought radio advertising would be a poor medium for promoting his marketing firm. Finally in 2008, an employee persuaded him to spend $10,000 on radio ads. The return on the investment has proven so strong that this year, the company spent roughly $1.25 million on radio. Whether it's an assumption about a new market, marketing technique or management technique, Stevens advises you to challenge your belief that a new approach won't work.