Once the shopping frenzy of Christmas slows down, the quick transition to New Year’s kicks in. Amid the loud celebrations and midnight champagne toasts, many of us throw out an assortment of resolutions for the new year, usually focusing on health (lose weight) or finances (curb spending, get out of debt).
Small business owners can take stock of 2016 and use those experiences — good and bad — to take on 2017. When brainstorming, it’s smart to take the time to write any ideas down and keep them handy. Do whatever it takes to stay committed to the concept of improvement, before the usual day-to-day grind returns in January.
Here’s a look at some worthwhile resolutions for small business owners.
Get organized and plan ahead
This is a common resolution regardless of occupation. For entrepreneurs, it can mean digging in and analyzing the progress made (or not) over the past 12 months. It could also mean reaching back to the original business plan for revamping. If an official business plan was never completed, there is still value in creating one now, as Lisa Stevens writes for Entrepreneur.
“We know from experience and research that in general, business owners benefit from having a formal, written plan,” she explains. “If you have one already, now is the time to do a quick review and consider updates to reflect your current business needs and goals. If you don’t have one, set aside time to put one together. Writing a business plan can help business owners prioritize how to spend their time and money and set measurable goals. It also can help identify current or future obstacles so you can better anticipate and avoid potential risks.”
Focus on feedback
Vocal staff members, peers and mentors can be key to an entrepreneur’s growth and overall outlook. If those vocal types are scarce, it may be time to actively seek out other opinions. As this story by QuickBooks notes, feedback can at times be difficult, because it “can open us up to criticism we may not be prepared for.” But the insight can outweigh that.
“Consider tailoring your questions for each audience,” the story explains. “Your employees are uniquely qualified to help you forecast client growth, as well as troubleshoot problem areas such as increased competition or stagnant product offerings. Your board members and advisors, if you have them, bring an outside perspective that can be invaluable. This bird’s-eye view of your business can help you see past the day-to-day struggles and challenges and help you to envision long-term achievements.”
Examine cash flow
As part of the planning process, small business owners should pay particular attention to cash flow. Look at previous years to try to accurately project how and when revenue comes in and how that balances with expenses. And keep close track of it throughout the year. As Stevens writes for Entrepreneur, “Even businesses with healthy growth and strong sales run the risk of owing more than they can pay in a given month.”
“To keep your projections on track, create a rolling 12-month plan that you can update at the end of each month,” Stevens suggests. “Look for ways to reduce expenses and increase revenues. Is it time to shop for new suppliers and vendors? Or is it time to boost your prices a bit? Once you’ve gotten into the habit of using a cash-flow projection, it should give you added control over your cash flow and a clearer picture of your company’s financial health.”
As mentioned, this is perhaps the universal resolution, the one that just about all of us have made at one time or another. Health and fitness can make a big difference for small business owners in how they function on a daily basis, and in their overall approach to the business. Adam Heitzman writes about this for Inc.com.
“One of the worst things you can do in your career is work so hard that you forget to take care of yourself,” he says. “In fact, eating healthy and exercise has actually been linked to better productivity in the workplace. This means you should make healthy eating and sleep a priority this year. If you feel like you’re behind on work but you’ve run out of time if you want to get seven hours of sleep, then allow yourself to run out of time. The same can be said for spending time cooking healthy meals. Let those take priority and watch your work get done faster and more efficiently than before.”
If a small business has clients that could be put in the “slacking” category, as in constantly being late on payments, the new year is a good time to start cracking down. Clate Mask suggests this in a story for smallbiztrends.com, saying, “I’m not sure there’s one thing that makes a greater impact than this when it comes to kicking off your year on the right foot.”
“Small businesses are notorious for letting their customers slack on paying what they owe,” Mask writes. “Sometimes this is because the small business simply has a poor (if any) collections process. But other times small businesses are just bashful, and people don’t like to flat out ask for money. Set aside a block of time each week dedicated to getting the cash owed to you in the door. You’ll see a big impact early in the year and fix any collections problem by end of the year.”
Experiment with marketing
A new marketing approach may translate into a batch of new customers. Mask recommends trying a new strategy each month, from events to podcasts, saying experimentation is “a great way to learn about what works in your business and what doesn’t.”
“You could launch a customer reactivation campaign targeted at those who haven’t purchased your product or service in more than a year,” Mask explains. “Other ideas include holding a prospecting or educational event in the office or online, as well as doing some testing in your customer newsletter to see which content generates the most leads. Split your email list in half and send one group a version of a newsletter and another with a slightly different approach to see what converts better. … Other ideas might be to launch a podcast or social media campaign. Over the course of the year you’ll gain a lot more clarity into who’s attracted to your business and who’s spending money with you.”
Frazzled small business owners may not jump at the chance of adding a slew of industry events to their busy calendars. The benefits that can come from these kinds of gatherings can be significant, however, so it may require some schedule juggling to make it happen. Jackie Zimmerman writes about this in a story on The Huffington Post.
“Although a networking gathering might not sound like a good time, getting your face — and your business — in front of new people is a great way to expand your brand,” Zimmerman explains. “Start by picking one big industry conference a year, and if you enjoy the experience, consider adding smaller networking events into the mix. Learning what others are talking about and struggling with is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry as your business grows.”
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