‘Thinking outside the box’ – Business strategies

There are thousands of books out there – and even more websites – claiming to teach you how to run your business. Everyone who’s anyone has offered up their advice at one point and, as such, it can be confusing to know who to turn to, which tips to take on board, and which aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

But, there are some excellent business strategies out there and it’s worth looking at what the big, successful companies did to rise to the top – and more importantly, how you can replicate that within your own company.

I’ve put together some examples of excellent strategies where the business has clearly thought outside the box and flourished as a result:

Make the customer work for it

In a fast-paced world where everything can be ordered at the click of a button and anything can be done in a tenth of the time it used to take, it might seem as though we’ve become complacent and reliant on others – or technology – to get the job done. But, it turns out we’re actually big fans of putting in a little hard work ourselves.

Ikea has well and truly tapped into this psyche, and look how popular they are as result. Of course, this doesn’t work for all business sectors – if you were paying for dinner in a fancy restaurant you wouldn’t expect the chef to usher you into the kitchen and get you to finish off preparing your meal, but give us a box of wood and some screws and we’re itching to get home and start constructing! We’ve all experienced that feeling of pride at standing back and admiring that beautiful flat-pack bit of furniture and, as a result, Ikea’s popularity has grown phenomenally, with 884 million store visits across the world in 2015.

Another good example of this theory is Build-a-Bear, where you put the work in to choosing a teddy, its outfit and its name rather than picking a ready-made one off the shelf. Those little personal touches make the experience so desirable – and as they made $377million worth of sales last year, it seems a lot of people agree! So, have a think how you can make this work for your business – how can you involve the customer in making the end product what it is?

An empty chair

Amazon’s customer focus is one of the most well-known and brilliant business strategies, but just because it’s so widely known it doesn’t mean you should discount it when you’re considering what you should do in your own company. CEO Jeff Bezos leaves an empty chair at every meeting, with the idea being that it represents the customer – ‘the most important person in the room’, in Mr Bezos’ words.

Of course, you don’t have to go as far as physically having an empty chair at your meetings (although why not?), but you should be considering your customers when you make every decision, no matter how big or small. It’s worth thinking about how you can engage more with your customers, make them feel a part of your company and, more importantly, get them coming back time after time because they know you care.

In my ‘what I wish I’d known when I started’ guide I mentioned checking your clients were happy, and this really links into the empty chair strategy. By getting to know them and putting them first in everything you do, you’re ensuring they’re happy. And happy customers will stay with you, year after year, as your business grows and develops.

Your employees matter

A successful company relies on its employees to keep it running smoothly and if your team isn’t happy, it’s simply not going to perform as well. It may seem counterproductive to be giving away a whole host of benefits to the people on your payroll – after all a business is about maximising profits, right? But the more you reward your staff, the more likely they are to stay with you and to promote the business in the best light possible even when they’re not at work.

High-street cobbler Timpson is an excellent example of this and regularly features in the top 100 of The Sunday Times’ Best Companies to Work For as a result. The organisation’s extensive employee benefit scheme includes sponsorship for community activities, a hardship fund, a day’s paid leave on their birthday, Mothercare vouchers for new parents, £100 and an extra week’s paid holiday for a honeymoon when staff get married. Phew!

There’s no ‘I’ in team

Not only do your individual team members matter, but how they relate to each other is important too. A happy office is a productive one and if you can ensure all issues are nipped in the bud before they start affecting the way your company runs, then things are bound to be a lot easier.

Bosses at Las Vegas-based online store Zappos had a fantastic idea to enhance team spirit – by introducing a Who’s Who? Quiz on every computer. When staff members log onto the system and enter their password, a picture of one of their colleagues comes up on the screen and they have to guess that person’s name. If they guess wrongly, they’re taken to the person’s biography so they can find out all about them.

It may be a little off the wall (and perhaps more suited to large corporations with hundreds of staff), but it’s certainly made its mark at Zappos where there’s still a family-like atmosphere despite it rapidly expanding since its launch in 1999. There are lots of other ways to encourage team spirit so if you can set aside some time to making sure that colleagues get to know each other – and that you know them too – then you’ll really reap the rewards in the long term.

Alan S Adams | Award-winning business coach and bestselling author