BE IT RESOLVED … to clean up your business “act” in the New Year. Here are a few suggestions of areas where most small businesses would do well to pay more attention:
- Inventory. No, not the widget-counting kind (although if you’re in the widget-selling business that type of inventory is likely in your future, anyway). A New Year inventory is one that takes a global look at your business and assesses what’s working and what isn’t working.
- Be an optimist, optimize. Make every minute of every day that you spend working on your business worth the investment of your time, sweat and tears. Chances are if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a creative thinker by nature. Use that creative juice to re-tool your best practices into even better practices. Be an industry leader.
- Move on. Once you inventoried your business practices and identified the “dogs”, have the courage to let go. Continuing to do business the way you’ve always done it “just because” is a recipe for failure. The world is changing faster than I can type this sentence and if you aren’t prepared to adapt along with it, you’ll find that your best customers have left you behind.
- Dot some “i’s”, cross some ”t’s”. Don’t limit your New Year inventory to your business methods and practices. Audit your legal documents, too. Are you in compliance with all the rules and regulations affecting your industry? Has your Employee Handbook been updated lately? Do the Terms of Service on your website that sounded good when you launched your business reflect how you are actually doing business today? If you’re a corporation, is your Corporate Minutes book up-to-date? Are your business insurance policies adequate? Are you adequately protecting your trade secrets to ensure they remain trade secrets?
- Love ‘em, or leave ‘em. While you’re inventorying your business practices to steer a new course for 2012, take a long, hard look at your customers. Is your current client base your ideal client base? If not, why not? Is it time to part ways with high-maintenance customers that don’t produce a justifiable return on investment? Is it time to meet with a marketing consultant to get a handle on who your ideal client is and how to reach them?
- Remember who’s boss. Paraphrasing a certain 20th century political catch phrase, “It’s the customer, stupid.” It’s all about the customer. If you are not meeting their needs and doing a better job of meeting their needs than your competitors, than there is no reason to assume they will remain your customer. So, resolve to get to know your customers better in 2012. How did you win their business in the first place? What can you do to keep them coming back? How can you make their 2012 the best year yet?
- Do the numbers. Maybe math wasn’t your strong suit in school, but it absolutely needs to be your “suit” if you’re serious about being a successful business owner. If you started your business during flush economic times, you may have been able to skate by without turning a magnifying glass on your financials on a regular basis. But, especially in tough economic times, tax time is no time to figure out if you’ll be able to stay in business for another tax year. If you don’t already have a trusted accountant on your business team, get one. And, make sure it’s someone who wants to be part of your team on a regular basis throughout the year, not just someone whose business model is to make a bundle sorting out your financial mess at tax time, leaving you to your own ill-advised devices the rest of the year.
- Delegate. It’s synonymous with the word “entrust”. When you started your business, you wore many hats out of necessity. Ideally, as your business began to grow, you added other people to wear various hats, to free your head up for the bigger job of maintaining the business vision and steering its course. Continuing to surround yourself with the kind of employees and professionals that you can entrust some of your hats to is key to being able to keep a clear head about the big picture.
- Practice what you preach. We’ve all heard the “shop local” mantra a dozen times if we’ve heard it once but, while the phrase may be wearing a bit thin, the sentiment is not. You’re a small business owner. You like the idea of more people shopping local and supporting your business rather than a big box chain store. So, look around you. Are you practicing what you preach? Are there local sources for the goods and services you use in your business? Remember, what goes around, comes around.
- Give thanks. Nothing says “You are appreciated” like a hand-written note. Did someone refer a customer to you? Tell ‘em, “Thanks.” Did someone tell you about a new business opportunity? Tell ‘em, “Thanks.” Did an employee really rise to the occasion in your hour of need? Tell ‘em, “Thanks.” Maybe you’re already good in the gracias department, but don’t underestimate the value of a hand-written “Thank You” note. Borrowing from a Hallmark greeting phrase, a hand-written note says you cared enough to send the very best, even if you don’t send a commercially produced card.
Molly O’Leary represents business and telecommunications clients throughout Idaho, and is the Managing Principal of BizCounselor@Law, PLLC. In addition, she is a Past President of the Idaho State Bar and a current member of the Statewide Advisory Counsel for the Idaho Small Business Development Center. You may follow her on Twitter: @BizCounselor.