The New Year brings in new challenges and new beginnings for all our businesses. It is the time to take stock of where the business stands, and determine ways on how best to go forward. Here are some recommended activities that can help you take your business to the next level this year:
1. Review the past year.
The only way to go forward is to look back at what you have achieved (or failed to achieve) this past year.
Whether your business is just getting off the ground, or already up and running, ask yourself the following questions:
- What were your successes last year? Give yourself a pat on the back for both the big and small victories and accomplishments you made last year – and then think how you can either sustain that great momentum or better yet, how to improve on it.
- What were the challenges you faced last year? How well did you handle these challenges and what could you improve?
- What mistakes did you commit last year? What have you learned from these mistakes and what do you need to do to avoid making the same mistakes again this year?
- What were the things you wanted to accomplish last year, but failed to do so? And why?
2. Make a list of goals for this year.
Goal setting is an important exercise you need to do every year. The process of identifying your goals gives you a clear direction of where your business should heading for the year.
Big businesses even go to the extent of doing strategic planning sessions for their companies; so small businesses can definitely benefit from doing the same. While you can make the exercise less formal, doing so can give you a clearer perspective of how your business is doing particularly given its competitive environment.
List your goals in terms of what you want to achieve and what you want to happen, making your goals as specific as possible. Here are some examples:
- Triple (or quadruple) the number of people who buy from your website. Then outline how you can achieve this goal – e.g. changing the layout, redesigning the site, upgrading your shopping cart system, increasing your marketing spend, and others.
- Write the book that you’ve always wanted to write. Start by listing what you need to do and creating a timeline that (hopefully) you will follow.
- Increase your advertising revenues by 50% by examining your current ad revenue sources, increasing traffic to your website, or improving your ad sales process.
- Minimize the number of people who call your 1-800 number by creating a list of Frequently Asked Questions on your website
3. Improve your business processes.
The goal of improving your process management is to improve the ability of your business to anticipate, manage, and respond to any changes in the marketplace. It also allows you to reduce your costs and maximize business opportunities.
If you are an online retailer, improving your business process could mean finding ways to check what inventory is available and creating a better system of ordering inventories fast.
If you are an information-based publisher, you may wish to improve your advertising scheduling to better know how many ad spaces are vacant, and which advertisers have campaigns expiring. If you are a virtual assistant, you may wish to look at ways you can improve your accounts billing and collection process. It could also be as simple as redesigning your website and adding server side includes or other techniques so that you don’t change the copyright notice page by page (imagine if your site has 5,000 pages – changing the copyright notice would take you a year to finish!).
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there any tools or software that can help you improve your business processes?
- What kind of information do you need to have to better understand your business?
- Where can you get such information? What processes can you automate?
4. Assess your offerings.
Take time to evaluate your products and services, and see what’s working, and what are not. These core activities might be the products that you make, or services that you provide. Start by defining your product or service and then ask yourself:
- What makes your products or services different from what’s out there in the market?
- What benefits does it offer?
- How might you improve your existing products or services?
- How can you launch new ones?
Then look at your numbers and check for any trends:
- What products or services saw an increase (decrease) in sales? Identify the factors that led to the increase or decrease in sales.
- What is the profitability of each product?
- What do your customers think of your products? Have you done any consumer research or surveys? Have you interviewed them (or even casually asked customers) to at least get their opinion of your products?
- What are the costs to produce these products or services? Are your costs squeezing out your profits? How can you reduce the costs?
Remember, there is no point continuing poorly performing products or services.
5. Determine the financial position of your business.
Big companies have the edge of having accounting and auditing departments to give them a financial rundown of their business. Small businesses do not have the luxury; in fact, many small and home-based businesses do not even have an accountant to keep track of their financial picture. No wonder that many small businesses fail because of poor financial management or lack of financial planning.
Understanding your financial picture is critical to your business’ success. When reviewing your finances, consider the following elements:
- How is your cash flow situation or the money flowing in and out of your business?
- Have your needs for working capital changed?
- What is your cost structure and how has it changed?
- Can you find a cheaper source of funds for your business?
- What type of financing would you need to help you grow and expand your business?