Signs of summer slipping away are all around me. Today I posted the above picture on Twitter of my tomato plant as the yield is slowing with cooler temperatures just around the corner. As I do my fall yard work, I am simultaneously helping clients plan for 2011. Every fall–for those clients that want to–we review the past year’s budget, results that we achieved, results we didn’t achieve and map out improvements for the next year. I’ll admit, it gets more challenging every year and I attribute that to two primary reasons: 1. The current economy 2. Technology advances and capital improvements clients are having to make to integrate new technology. Some of our clients have seen a bit of growth and momentum but it is still sluggish and although I’m not the economist, I think small businesses have a good finger on the pulse of what’s it’s like out there. Even more important reasons to reflect, evaluate and plan.
Here are some practical and tactical planning tips for a successful 2011:
· Be realistic: I serve on a Board of a private school who smartly set their annual fund goal at what they actually collected this year; This goal was set with survey results and data in hand from the NAIS (National Association.of Independent Schools)
· Track new business over the past year and analyze data to help plan for the next year; Questions we ask: Will this business be here next year? Is this business renewable or project work? How much business will we need in the next quarter to sustain us? Do we want to grow and if so, where will the growth be?
· Talk to the CFO or finance executive if possible: Get data that is appropriate and loop the CFO into a discussion about planning. It’s hard to plan anything without financials.
· Budgeting is not just once a year; I suggest doing quarterly budgets and looking at financials more frequently. Hiring and communicating with a good CPA is a good idea. Tax laws are changing and your CPA can help you decide what decisions you can make now vs. what need to be delayed to benefit a business financially.
· Celebrate successes with customers and demonstrate appreciation for business: It’s more costly to get new customers than to keep the ones you have. How are you doing with customer satisfaction and retention? How do you communicate with customers? Hold a customer appreciation luncheon and thank them for the business. We have a joint client event with some of our customers at Lexus of Memphis each year. We have about 4 clients (including Lexus) that each invite top customers/clients to a wine & cheese annual networking social. We do it every February in the Lexus showroom when the weather is dreary outside and everyone is ready for an event. I invite my clients and we always end up meeting new people and cross-marketing with others.
· Learn from the Pros: Each year I try and read at least 4 or 5 books that I can get new ideas and inspiration from. This year, I loved Chris Brogan’s “Social Media 101” as it contains a ton of great information on blogging and social marketing. We have used some of the tactics to assist our clients and that is the way to keep learning, growing, re-inventing.
· Make sure you have the right people doing the right jobs: In business, it takes the team to succeed. Each year I counsel clients on making sure they have the right folks doing the work. A few years ago we had a new client (still have them) who was having trouble executing some of the tactical initiatives we had all agreed to do. Turns out, the client had 2 employees who were not team players and who decided to shove these jobs to the back burner. Long story short, the client quickly replaced them with new folks who embraced the work and are happily still part of the team. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions but that is also part of running a business.
· Stay fo
cused. It’s easy to try and do too much. In planning, stay true to your core business and what got you where you are today; Remember that social media doesn’t replace what works. It is new tools that help you tell your story to massive amounts of people
· Finally, never underestimate the value of relationships. Like harvesting tomatoes, relationships require nurturing.
What do your plans for next year include? Can you add to this list?