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STEP 1: Look behind you

By Jennifer Alsever

For generations, old-money families have managed their complex affairs through family offices. These offices employ full-time C.P.A.s, attorneys, financial planners, financial analysts and, sometimes, fraud examiners. So when Joe Kopcynski was looking at ways to expand his investment-management firm, Universal Advisory Service, in Albuquerque, he first studied the family-office model.

Kopcynski saw an opportunity to offer a similar suite of services to a new breed of wealthy individuals -- business owners, top executives, entertainers and athletes. On average, his 14-employee business has grown 25% annually since 1990.

"History can be a great teacher," says Kopcynski. "We were always looking back to see what did and did not work. It was fundamental. And it was what my clients were telling me to do."

Before you set out to change an industry, know its history.

"It's like trying to catch a baseball," says Steve McKee, author of When Growth Stalls, which surveys executives at 700 companies about what they learned from crises. "You're in a better place if you know where the ball has been. Then study the needs of your customers. Where are their frustration points? Where is their productivity being hampered?"

Jay Steinfeld, CEO of Blinds.com, knew from years of experience that his customers hated having to measure and install his product. In 2007, Steinfeld's 67-employee company, based in Houston, hired a videographer to make 70 instructional videos that would teach neophytes everything they needed to know about installing blinds. It was a haphazard approach, but "we knew we had to do something," says Steinfeld, 55.

Steinfeld's team created a YouTube channel for the videos, sent links to Twitter users who had tweeted about installing blinds and sprinkled the videos throughout the Blinds.com site. Today, video-equipped pages on his site bring in three times more revenue than pages without videos, Steinfeld says. He projects that profits at Blinds.com will be up 20% this year on revenues of $50 million.

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