Key areas to address to prosper in ’11

Economic forecasts continue to be an ongoing topic of conversation with business acquaintances and clients.

Economic forecasts continue to be an ongoing topic of conversation with business acquaintances and clients.

No question that the past couple of years have been very challenging for most businesses, but there are signs of improvement for 2011.

The following key areas should be addressed every year as you begin to implement your goals for the upcoming year.

Planning

Action Coach instructs business owners to create a solid plan for at least one year out and a skeleton plan for up to five years. The immediate 12 months are then broken into quarters — 90-day plans — with goals and strategies in place that include weekly activities to move the plan forward.

Begin by reviewing your vision and mission statements to ensure they are relevant. Write down what you want to accomplish in order to take the next step to ensure your long-term vision.

Review what makes your business unique. If you do not offer something unique, why would anyone buy from you?

Financial mastery

Now is the ideal time to consult with professional advisers to get an accurate picture of your current financial situation. A company may seem profitable on paper but the numbers will often indicate cash flow gaps.

Most businesses are looking at ways to operate “clean and lean.” Keep your inventories in check, and take advantage of your suppliers’ payment terms. Re-evaluate your margins to get an accurate picture of where the profits really are.

Understand where your break-even is so that you know when your expenses are paid and you are profitable on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

Staffing

In the Red Deer area, the unemployment rate is at or below 4.5 per cent. This means great team members are going to be much harder to find.

Make sure you know exactly the type of person you are looking for. Write down at least 10 attributes a person should have for that specific position.

Don’t rush through the recruitment process. You may be under pressure, busting at the seams with work. Too often the temptation is to just take anyone with a pulse that even remotely looks like they might fit the bill. The truth is this usually does more damage to your business than good.

Develop a clearly defined job description for the role. This simple document ensures that both the employee and employer won’t end up disappointed and disillusioned. If there are no clear guidelines, it’s that much harder to do the job correctly and to meet expectations.

Make sure you have a meaningful orientation process followed by some form of mentorship to enable the new team member to acclimatize and contribute to their environment.

Sales and marketing

Utilize and communicate your uniqueness in all your marketing strategies. Include this information in your status updates, email signature line, voicemail messaging, networking and on all print documents.

All advertising mediums have their strengths and applications. It’s imperative that you test and measure your marketing strategies to know the results and to make informed decisions in the future.

Your marketing should target getting new leads and retaining your existing clients.

Most business owners focus 98 per cent of their resources trying to attract new customers. The fact is that it costs six times more get new clients than to maintain customers you currently have. Refocus your efforts to keep these clients satisfied so that they will continue to buy from you.

Client retention

Rate your clients A, B, C and D. Fire your D clients, the ones that chronically pay 60 to 90 days late and the “whiners” that take an extraordinary amount of staff time.

Every time my clients have fired their D clients the void has been filled very quickly with better clients. Getting rid of D clients helps to retain staff, drive costs down and allows more attention to be paid to A and B clients.

I recommend that every business owner reads Raving Fans. Learn how to move your clients up the loyalty ladder to become “raving fans” that promote your business for you.

There are many ways to attract new clients using strategies such as strategic alliances, host beneficiaries and referral programs. Many or all of these may be new to your business.

Always test and measure what works, repeating what does and stopping what doesn’t.

Create SMART — specific, measured, achievable, reasonable and time-oriented — goals for each area. You must include the activities you need to complete in order to meet each goal.

Assign activities to the appropriate people, including you. Each activity should be scheduled by the person responsible. Completed activities add up to completed goals.

Successful people are disciplined people. Remember that you are accountable for your own behaviour and performance.

ActionCoach is written by John MacKenzie of ActionCoach, which helps small- to medium-sized businesses and other organizations. He can be contacted at johnmackenzie@actioncoach.com or by phone at 403-340-0880.

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