Lisa Princic: Business coach
At the start of 2014, business leaders should be asking themselves:
- How well do we know our customers?
- Where can we create new systems to increase productivity?
- How is our industry evolving?
Understanding the needs and behaviour of your customers is a top priority. Knowing the answers to "Who is our ideal customer?", "What desire does our product fulfil for him/her?" and "How do we best engage with them online?" are critical.
Use this information to refine your messaging and find places to stimulate two-way discussion wherever possible. The methods of connecting with them are constantly changing.
Investing in an online marketing strategy is becoming more essential because this is where people are having most of today's relevant conversations. It's an ideal environment to create discussion and find out what your clients care about.
To achieve growth and scale, a business needs to have a good grasp on what is working well and be able to replicate it often. Creating and documenting systems lays the foundation for positive results that can be continously replicated. Systems can be developed in any area of the business such as technology, marketing, admin and production. The new year is an excellent time to evaluate the functions that need to be systematized to increase productivity.
Finally, ask yourself who is leading the charge in your industry? Success in business is not about reinventing the wheel; it's about looking at what the game changers and industry leaders are doing and how you can adapt their cutting edge strategies to your business.
John Kenmuir: Management consultant, Kenmuir & Company Consultants
Three areas a business should evaluate at the start of each year are expenses, marketing and systems and technology.
Beginning with expenses, it has been my experience that cost savings and more efficient resource allocation results from "zero base" accounting applied to forward budgeting. Rather than projecting the all-too-common flat or per cent increase or decrease to a particular expense, you go right back to zero. In other words, you justify the need for all or part of the expense in your business.
Marketing is a dynamic process, which is particularly true in today's wired world. There has been a sea change in how we communicate, how we inform ourselves and how we buy – and this applies to commercial as well as consumer goods and services. For example, with Google changing its search algorithms multiple times last year, most of what you or your contractors knew about SEO (search engine optimization) was superseded. So dust off that marketing-communications plan and revisit it, making sure it's relevant. Also: take a big step back and have a close objective look at your competition.
Finally, productivity today depends in large part on the effective and efficient application of technology. Better use of common word processing, spreadsheet or accounting software can buy time, increase capacity and reduce costly errors. Beyond that the Internet is littered with sophisticated software programs that integrate work flow, billing and accounting, often designed for specific business or consumer services, manufacturing or distribution. The start of the year is a good time to hunt for inefficiencies or capacity opportunities and evaluate whether your company is taking maximum advantage of technology.
Pamela Chatry: Business strategist, Pamela Chatry & Associates
The new year is an excellent time to focus on our business fundamentals. Use this time to set your business roadmap, clearly identify activities that need to be taken and by whom, and hold everyone accountable for the year ahead.
A reminder: the most successful companies have a handle on their finances, strengths and weaknesses all year long. With that said, there are three main areas that need to be evaluated at the beginning of the year:
- corporate finances;
- sales and marketing efforts; and
- human resources.
They are your business fundamentals. They each address revenue generation and profitability and keep the business on track.
During this evaluation process, be sure to involve your employees, your customers, your accountant and your suppliers – anyone who directly affects your business. Set up employee task force meetings to assist in the effort. As a guideline, you can use the five very important questions from the book Breaking the Rules by Siobhan Murphy.
In order, ask: What's working? Why? What's the ideal? What's not quite right yet? What resources do we need to make it right?
I recommend adding one more: At what cost?
Notice we begin with the positive, "What's working and why?" If we spend time assessing what we have done right, it gives us the chance to celebrate success, prevents us from attempting to "fix" what's not broken and provides us with viable solutions that could be used in other areas of the business.
When it comes to your company, there is no such thing as having too much information.