Ideally plans for a new year, should be created in the previous year to hit the ground running, but truthfully, many entrepreneurs are so busy during the hectic fourth quarter, that planning for the new year often falls by the wayside. That doesn’t mean it’s too late however. In fact, you can start today, and here are five critical places.
Dust Off Your Business Plan (or make one)
Creating even a basic business plan forces a company to describe its uniqueness, assess customer potential, evaluate competition, project financials, and develop a strategy for success. If you are operating a business and have not undertaken this process yet, you owe it to yourself and to your company, to make the time. A simple template and assistance on what to include can be found at the Small Business Administration website.
If you already have a business plan, good for you! Now remember that the idea is that it guides your decisions. It is a tool that should be referred to throughout the year (not just when trying to secure financial assistance). Having a solid plan helps you doing many things like staying on track when approached by salespeople, training your team on what makes your product/services better than the competition, and knowing where you stand at all times on sales versus expenses. The plan is also not set in stone, if your business climate changes dramatically, the plan should be adjusted to account for the new scenario you face.
Communicate Your Strategy to Key People
During the process of creating or evaluating a business plan, a strategy and goals emerge. If you are the only person who knows those goals, it is far less likely that they will come to fruition. Meet with the people whose support is critical to your success, and let them know where you are headed. Talk with employees about the company goals, solicit ideas and set expectations with them on their role in achieving the goals. Let vendors and suppliers know what you are attempting to accomplish so that they will know how to contribute. You’d be surprised how often there is another product or service that hasn’t been pitched to you yet, that can make all the difference, when they know what you want to do.
If you’re a sole proprietor you may be tempted to skip this one, as if it can’t be done, and yet it can. There is always someone to whom we can delegate, even if it’s a paid vendor. We entrepreneurs are often tempted to do everything ourselves so as not to spend money, but the old adage you get what you pay for does hold true. Experts can improve quality and save you time. If you are doing all your own accounting, marketing, public relations, social media, purchasing, training, etc. because you are 1) Great at all of it; 2) Love doing each element; 3) Have plenty of time on your hands…then kudos, and keep doing it. If any of those three criteria are not being met, it’s time for some delegation.
You may not want to spend money on public relations for example, but if you are not a particularly gifted writer and/or have no media contacts, chances are, you won’t garner much media attention. That makes investing in a professional, a very worthwhile choice. I don’t love spending money on doctors, but it sure makes more sense than diagnosing myself. Also, when we despise doing something, it takes us far longer to do it than it would for someone who enjoys it. Identify the items you dread to do each day, and consider whether or not there is someone on your team, a colleague, or vendor, who would LIKE to do those items for you. They will probably do it better and faster. Drop just one item from your list, and you’ll have time for something more important or entertaining.
Add Something New
In terms of excitement, this is easily the most fun on the list. Whether it’s adding a product to your line, networking with a different group of people, or developing a skill you never had, try something NEW. Even though at times it seems like there are not enough hours in the day, adding something fresh each year, will keep you enthusiastic about work, and that passion will be transparent to your customers.
Finally, the beginning of the year is an ideal time to examine expenses and look for ways to save more. The best part about this To Do item is that your primary responsibility is picking up the phone and calling on other companies (yay, more delegation!) Telegration, for example, analyzes telecommunications expenses for businesses to find the best combination of services from a variety of vendors to meet your needs. Insurance brokers can do a similar analysis to find the right coverage at the most affordable rate. If you’ve done or revised a business plan, it will be easy to identify where your money is going, now call on others to help you keep more of it, and increase your profit.
These five elements work hand in hand to make for a productive year. Start with the business plan, and you’ll find that the others naturally fall into place.
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