10 Things to drive business success in a new year

photo by wili hybrid 

It’s the dawn of a new year – new opportunities, new challenges.  2008 is (thankfully) in the history books and 2009 is going to be a big improvement.  Now is the time to pull together your plans for you and your business and layout the roadmap for a successful year and the start of something big.

Here are the 10 things you need to do to make sure you and your business achieve the success you’re aspiring towards.

Chances are that you’ve already got a good start on a few of things, but the key to really making things happen is take consistent action.  It’s not enough to make a great plan, the real benefit comes from the follow-through.  How many of these are you currently doing?  (and if you need help making it happen…give me a call!)  😉

1.  Carve out time to work ON your business

The biggest problem most businesses owners have is a lack of time.  There is always something to be done.  Some issue always needs to be resolved, some fire needs to be put out – an employee needs help, a customer wants to complain, it’s always something.

It’s not ever going to get better until you can make the time to really work ON things.  You should be able to clear out 4 hours a week that are specifically targeted at strategic planning and development of you and your business.  (Maybe you need some ideas on How To Get More Done…).

2.  Figure out what you really want

"If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there."
— George Harrison (and many others)

Growing your business, doing things differently, thinking big thoughts are all hard things to do.  In order to do hard things, you need to be motivated and the only one that can motivate you in the long run….is you!  What is it that you want out of your life and your business?  Remember, your business is simply a tool to give you what you want out of life, so if it’s not filling that role now is the time to start changing it.

This effort of figuring out what you want is a continued work in progress, but without it the other 9 things in this list don’t really matter.  For some inspiration, check out this post on Zen Habits on How to Press the Reset Button or this post from the excellent Jonathan Fields on Are you living a significant life or on a related topic, check out Start finding your life’s work from Pamela Slim (always a great read!).

3.  Create a written plan

I’m sure you already know what your plan for the year is – maybe you even made some notes and put down an outline.  But have you put down a month by month forecast of revenue, costs and cash flow for the year?  Have you clearly broken out where the money is coming from, how you’re going to attract it and what’s different from last year?

If not, you’ve got to do that now (well not right this second, but put it at the top of your list!).  It’s amazing the insight that comes out when you convert your annual goals into the forced clarity of a spreadsheet.  You’re going to grow your business by 20% – Great!  Where…exactly…is that growth going to come from?  You should have line items for each major source of income and those should match up with any corresponding costs that need to go along with that?  Rolling out a new product in June?  Have you planned to start marketing in April?  Did you budget the time and resources needed to support that rollout?

It may seem like a lot of work, but in the long run it will save you an immense amount of time, money and effort and dramatically increase your chances of success.

4.  Build a practical plan to exercise

What does exercise have to do with building your business?  Well, let me ask you, what do YOU have to do with building your business?  If the answer is ‘not much’, then by all means don’t worry about this.

However, assuming that you are an important part of your business, then it’s critical that you are regularly exercising.  Not only is it a great way to relieve stress, but it will give you some important time to not be constantly fixated on your job (kind of goes along with de-stressing…). 

To really make this meaningful, you must build at least 4 to 5 exercise appointments into your weekly calendar.  If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule it first thing in the morning.  If you’re like most people and believe that you can’t find the time, then literally schedule the time as an appointment with yourself.  I block out an hour later in the afternoon 5 days a week and make sure I meet that appointment at least 4 times a week.  You can go to the gym, work out at home or just go for a walk.  The important part is to start somewhere.

There are tons of great resources on fitness, but I’ve been impressed with Tom Venuto’s blog Burn the Fat, he knows what he’s talking about and he doesn’t make it too complicated!

5.  Review your marketing fundamentals

The purpose of marketing is to get your prospective customers to contact you with the intention of possibly trading money for your products or services.  If you’re just sticking a message out there (or worse copying from a competitor), then you are wasting your money.  There are several fundamental things that need to be in place for that marketing process to be really effective (and there’s a huge $$$ difference between really effective and just putting an ad out there).

You’ve got to know who your best target market is.  You should have a niche that you serve best.  The natural tendency is to broaden your focus over time, so even if you’ve defined your target before, it will be worthwhile to do it again.

Beyond that, your marketing message needs to be effective, it should be focused on overt benefits, it should establish your credibility and it should stand out.  If you want to learn more about creating an effective marketing message, check out my workshop at the end of January.

6.  Audit your 2008 Revenue

Now is a great time to look back at the previous year and how your company made it’s money.  Be detailed and go down a product level and look for the following:

  • What products generated the most revenue?
  • What products generated the most profits (by percentage)?
  • What activities drove most of those revenues?  (Apply the 80/20 rule, can you figure out what your top 3 marketing and sales channels were?)
  • If you have a sales team, is there a clear leader?  What do they do differently?

Look for trends, seasonality, drivers that you can use to prioritize efforts for 2009.

7.  Join a Mastermind group

Building a business isn’t easy, but you
on’t have to do it by yourself.  If you’re like most business owners, you don’t have anyone to talk about about the issues you’re dealing with.  You can’t talk openly to your employees, your family and friends mean well, but they don’t really understand (and your spouse is likely tired of hearing about it).   Generally you’re too close to the problems to really get a good perspective on them – and it’s especially difficult to brainstorm by yourself.

But imagine being able to open up to other business owners that are facing similar issues.  Getting candid feedback on things you’re doing right…and wrong!  Wouldn’t you like to find out if the Direct Mail campaign you’ve been planning makes sense to other people?   How about some advice on how to handle a difficult employee?  These are the types of things you can address in a mastermind group.

I’m biased, I would suggest that you check out my Brainstorming, Accountability and Networking Groups (BANG!)  It’s a Peer Group Advisory board (Mastermind group) that’s facilitated by a business coach – a great, cost effective way to get some quality focus on your business.  However, even if you don’t want to consider BANG!, I believe every business owner should be in a mastermind group of some sort – start your own or ask around to see if you know of anyone that’s doing some like that.

8.  Do a people review

"Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus.  But I know this much:  If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, the we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great."                           – Jim Collins  Good to Great

Even if you’re a business of 1, it’s important that you’ve got the right people in the right seats.  Everyone on the team needs to have the strengths needed for their job to go along with the desire to do that job as well.  If you don’t have the skills (or the desire) in-house, then seriously look at outsourcing those tasks.  Maybe you need a virtual assistant to take care of some of the office stuff, maybe you need an accountant to help with payroll or books, maybe you need a copywriter to help with your marketing efforts.

Whatever it is, do a full review of who’s doing what and find a way to make improvements.  Work with your (and your team’s) strengths and find solutions for things that you don’t do well or don’t like doing.

9.  Develop a process and procedure manual

This isn’t as painful as it sounds and it can really make a huge difference both in running your business now and planning for an exit strategy in the future (your business is worth a lot more if it’s well documented and consistent!).

Start out by identifying at a high level all of the major processes that you do to run your business.  You’ll have at least one for marketing, another one for sales, you’ll probably have at least a couple for the operational delivery of your product or service, something for financial processes, customer service, etc.  Your list will end up with at least 8 to 10 things on it, with no more than 20 (if you’ve got more than that, you need to combine and simplify).

Once you’ve got the list started, use some of the time you’ve got carved out to gradually start filling in the steps.  Make it a goal to do at least one per month – make it a team effort, or delegate it out and do a team review.  With a little bit of regular effort, you can document the Incredible Machine your business actually is.  (Once you’ve got a first round of everything documented, go back around and start improving those processes…).

10.  Plan and take at least one vacation

You might believe that you don’t have time for a vacation or that you can’t afford to take one (or that the place will fall down without you around to keep it going!).

There are several great reasons why you need to plan and take an actual vacation that gets you away for at least a week – here are a couple of them:

  1. Personal sanity:  A big reason why people burn out is because they never take the time to recharge.  You need a change of pace and you need to get away.  This doesn’t replace personal development, but it will give you some breathing room.
  2. Perspective on you versus your business:  It’s extremely important to recognize that your business is not you.  (It’s also important for your clients, employees and others to realize this as well).  Getting away will help you plan and visualize how your business can run successfully without you.

Pick a week that works with your personal schedule and block it out now.  Pick a destination that you can afford and will look forward to and start letting everyone know that you will be out that week (and to plan accordingly).  If you’re really feeling crazy – plan a second week as well.

So that’s the list

Let me know what I missed, what else you think is important or if any of these don’t really work for you.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  Best of luck in 2009 – and if you follow this list, your business will likely be in great shape to grow!

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach