The start of a new year, for any small business owner, can be a dizzying mix of feeling both daunted and hopeful about what’s to come. Chances are you’ve had some unexpected highs and lows, you’ve learned more than you could have imagined, and have a better understanding of what your business needs from you with each passing year. So, how do you use these deeper insights to build an actionable plan for the new year?
January is a great time to look critically at what went right and wrong last year. Spare no detail while you brainstorm across all areas of your business operations, and ask yourself: What worked well? Needs work? Didn’t work at all? If you can include input from your partners and trusted employees, even better. Don’t worry yet how you’ll fix anything, just be open to new ideas and be honest. Hopefully, you will have taken a holiday, no matter how short: some distance often leads to unexpected insights and new perspectives, boosting your capacity for creative problem solving.
Next, take some time to review your financial statements – if you’re not sure what all the terms mean or have any confusion about what conclusions you should be drawing, have a meeting with your accountant to discuss the details, no matter how small. Your in-depth understanding of the numbers is arguably the most important first step to creating a business plan for the next financial quarter, and rest of the year.
There will likely be several ways in which problems can be solved or goals for growth achieved, but how you want to go about it will depend on your vision and business purpose. The most important aspect of your business identity is what you value and how you prioritise it. Missing out on this vital mental step can create confusion (for customers and staff), and dilute the essence of what makes your business special.
It’s also a perfect time to tap into the pulse of your target customers and assess your market position – consider whether you are reaching out to your clientele in the right ways, whether their behavior or preferences may have shifted slightly with the trends of the previous season, and be open to the possibility of reaching out to new demographics in creative ways.
Now it’s time to set some finite goals for the new year, by taking into account everything you’ve learned from last year, as well as a renewed sense of purpose and direction for your business. An effective goal for a business plan should be SMART, that is:
Specific – the goal is clearly defined
Measurable – the progress can be quantified
Attainable – ambitious, but possible
Relevant – helps to achieve your big dreams
Time-bound – set a due date
In short, this means that you can measure your progress along the way, and helps formulate a step-by-step strategy for achieving your larger business ambitions. But, don’t be tempted to tackle everything at once, rather stick to what is realistic and work with your strengths – shelf ideas that you don’t have the resources to execute optimally right now, they can always be revisited when you’re in a better position to really make it happen. Stay focused on how to improve your product, customer service and operations.
Some key business planning areas
Your digital storefront should always be a top priority, because it allows for real connections with potential customers before they’ve even left their homes, and gives your business the platform to develop and nurture a much wider audience than you could have achieved in person. Focus on creating content that’s useful and meaningful, sharing your knowledge freely and in a way that feels personal and sincere. Be vigilant about responding to all comments and reviews on social media, and if possible update your website design and functionality (budget allowing), paying special attention to SEO ranking, creating a mobile-friendly layout, and using the most effective Call-to-Action’s for your business offering.
Vendors – Are you getting the best prices and flexible service from your suppliers? January is a famously competitive pricing environment, so don’t be shy to ask for a better deal or reach out to new potential vendors.
Networking – Are you connecting with your business community and leveraging relationships to grow your business? Networking doesn’t have to be a drag, with different avenues for meeting people opening up all around us, there has never been a better time to put yourself out there.
Customer Service – Are you really doing your best? The experts say that in 2020, people will choose where to shop based more on customer service (perceived or real), than price. Today, competing on price is only one part of a much bigger picture – it’s all about creating an experience that reflects all aspects of your brand identity.
Equipment & Technology
All too often, business owners put capital investment and technology upgrades on the back-burner, because change is always a pain. But, there has to be a time and place for it: there are often special deals in January on everything from large machinery to innovative software solutions. Don’t forget about doing regular maintenance and servicing of existing equipment – you can be sure that any break-downs and malfunctions will happen on your busiest day of the week, when there are no emergency technicians available. Do you need funding to buy the equipment to grow? Look at several different options available, and don’t forget about friends and family.
This is the time to recruit top new talent, because many people leave positions at the end of the year. Consider your diversity goals when hiring new people, and spend some time focusing on how to really get the most out of your team. Learn to delegate and trust the people you have chosen, allowing you to set the invaluable example of a healthy work-life balance.
Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate your victories from last year (or last week) and express sincere gratitude to the staff and connections that helped make it happen. You’ll be surprised at just how motivating joy and excitement can be in the long run. Resolve to nurture a sense of common purpose, and a culture of success in your business. We wish you a busy and prosperous new year.