As the recovery continues, the companies that are still in the game have a playing field that is now in a stronger position. That’s because many companies that did not have the financial wherewithal have disappeared or have focused their efforts elsewhere. But, we also find ourselves facing new, fresh competition that comes from new market entrants.

Oftentimes tough economic times have provided opportunities for many to enter and realize their entrepreneurial dreams. We need to decide where the opportunities are and leverage what we’ve already built. Business school teaches three ways to grow a business:

Sell more to existing clients. This is usually considered the biggest opportunity, as low-hanging fruit are often located in an existing client base. Many clients have the ability to grow their sales as much as 50 percent within their own database.
Grow the area you sell to. The Internet allows many of us to sell products if not worldwide, then certainly nationwide. Some products, such as knowledge or services, can be readily adapted to Internet applications. And, with the use of multi-media services that offer online video communications, the cost of travel is no longer prohibitive.
Increase product lines through synergistic offerings. FedEx realized that people who ship documents probably also need to create them. Thus, they purchased Kinkos. In addition adding storefront FedEx locations provided a retail revenue stream that did not exist in the past.

So what’s the best strategy to grow your business? I believe that at the very heart of each of these three options is the definition of your ideal client based on the unique combination of skills and experience that they—and you—provide.

With the 80/20 rule in mind, I took a closer look at a trucking client and evaluated their client base. We discovered that most, including some larger customers, did not have a dedicated fleet or traffic master. Sure they had people who were in charge of moving freight and warehousing, but they didn’t have a dedicated traffic foreman.

We then looked at what type of freight their clients moved, and whether there was opportunity to grow the area they currently sell to. It turned out it really wasn’t about the type of freight they moved. It was the level of customer service my client offered. Whether a client required industry-specific documentation, or buttoned-up knowledge of government regulations regarding hazardous material or food, my client provided a knowledge and skill set that was out of the norm. So what their clients really valued was an outsource traffic department or freight department to manage this part of their business for them. My client? They never skimp on customer service and pride itself on the fact that they have never let a client down in more than 30 years.

When you ascertain that your clients have a special need, you need to scrutinize and adjust your sales process. That process is geared towards how you can be a strategic partner in the day-to-day operations of their company. How you can positively impact their P and L. How you can help grow clients. How you can direct day-to-day customer service that eats up too much of management’s valuable time.

When it comes to growing up companies and clients, we need to take a step back. Borrow a page out of Bill Gates’ book and take a couple of days out of the office. Think outside the box and about why clients remain so loyal to us. And why we’re a good choice for them. It’s great to think it’s because they like us or the restaurants we take them to. The fact is that our quality clients make choices on what is good for their business and their business’ bottom line.

So take a closer look at how you can change your industry for the better. I’ve worked with printing companies who are now CD and DVD distribution companies. I’ve worked with equipment manufacturers who are now system reengineering people focusing on work flow. I’ve worked with clients who had national sales forces of 20-30 salespeople and are now down to two. And they’re doing more business through the Internet. So go ahead, get out of the box, see what your clients really think you’re about, what you mean to them. Sometimes you’ll find opportunities right under your own head.

That’s Q from the street.