It’s a common phenomenon for everyone to make New Year resolutions at the last minute on New Year’s Eve, and typically, they’re personal and hard to keep. Think about how many times you’ve done the same in the past. Just how many of those resolutions did you actually stick to?
Here are ten simple New Year resolutions for 2008; all are tried and tested techniques to boost your business and, best of all, they’re achievable. Set aside a little time every week for the next year, and see if you can chip away at some of them.
Even better, print these business boosting ideas out (in A4 format or letter size), stick them on a wall near your desk, and make a concerted effort to complete at least half of them. Your business and your life will love you for it.
1. Start setting goals.
Embracing even these ten resolutions for the coming year illustrates the power of goal setting. Many of us wander through life without really considering where we want to be. A good analogy is planning a trip from Point A to Point B. As important as it is that you sort out transport, supplies, timelines, and other elements, the most important tool for the journey is to know how to get there. Unless you have a plan, you’ll never arrive at your destination.
Think of goal setting as the process of drawing the map of your future life. Paint the picture of where you would like to see yourself at the start of 2009, and then write a list of actions that you’ll need to undertake to reach this goal. Start with the more obtainable goals, to build your motivation and confidence, and you’ll soon find yourself well on your way to your destination.
2. Ask a client for a referral.
It seems simple, yet many business owners never consider asking their existing clients for contacts with others who may need your services. It can seem to be a hurdle to ask the first few times, but it doesn’t need to be. Your request could even something as simple as an email sent at the end of a project to ask the client for feedback on the project, followed by a simple "If you know anybody who might appreciate our services, please recommend us."
It’s amazing how simple it is to ask for a referral. And we typically trust recommendations far more than any advertisement — think of all the times friends or colleagues have given you a recommendation for a supplier, tradesperson, and so on. The best part is that word of mouth doesn’t need to cost any more than a thank you card or bottle of wine.
3. Focus on profit, not turnover.
Over the years, I’ve met business owners who are ecstatic about their increasing turnover, but neglect to watch their profits. A business making a profit margin of 20% on a monthly turnover of $10,000 is far ahead of a business with a turnover of $100,000 that makes only a 1% profit margin.
Sure, turnover’s great and it is important, but how would you feel if you could make twice as much profit for a tenth of the effort (and risk). Doesn’t that sound tempting? Look at tactics such as reducing overheads, increasing your rates, letting less profitable clients go, and focussing on your high profit activities. Never underestimate the returns of even a small increase to your hourly rate.
4. Learn something new about business.
Ask any entrepreneur about their knowledge, and you’ll normally find the most successful people are those who are willing to admit their own weaknesses. It’s a fact — we can’t be born experts in everything to do with business, but with some dedication, we can get a little smarter. Ask yourself where you feel your business knowledge weaknesses are, then find a course or books that can help you to learn more. There are plenty of short courses that only require an hour or two a week, as well as online courses, blogs and web sites that can help you boost your business knowledge. Find your local library and join up — most libraries have hundreds of books on business topics.
Start subscribing to blogs and bookmark web sites (such as SitePoint) that teach you something new. Then spend the time to scan your feeds and bookmarks for interesting posts every week. Even limiting your reading time to only half an hour per week means you can read at least half a dozen thought-provoking posts in the time it takes to eat your lunch.
5. Take time for yourself.
Ask any business leader his or her number one complaint, and the most common reply will be that there’s not enough time to spend with family or on hobbies. The most disturbing part is that it’s often not the demands of business that absorb all of our time. We’ve become used to working long hours, when in actual fact, being smarter about how you spend your office time can allow you to enjoy more home time.
Try planning activities that require your attention out of the office and away from communication — take a walk with your children, go camping for a weekend, or head to a museum and turn off your phone. If the thought of having an email-free evening scares you, your business is in control of you, and you’re not in control of your business.
6. Create products that generate income.
Web workers need to stop and take a look at many software developers, and how they build and resell their Intellectual Property. Take stock of your own tools and techniques, and look for methods of creating assets that you can monetize, or better still, will generate recurring income. Have a content management system? Explore licensing models, rather than simply selling it. Even seemingly simple elements, such as email forms, slideshows, and other items, could be written in a modular way that allows you to easily tweak a configuration here and there, and saves you hours of work.
7. Delegate effectively.
We all want to work less and earn more. Here’s one of the greatest secrets of time management: successful delegation. Start by writing down every activity you undertake for an entire week, then review the results.
There are likely a number of activities that don’t help you achieve your goals, or could be done by other team members. Focus on working to get those low-payoff activities either delegated or dumped. If you’re a solo worker, perhaps consider outsourcing these duties to somebody you know who could do the work. Considering your hourly rate, is it more effective to pay an accountant $60 an hour to do five hours’ work, or spend 40 hours on it yourself? Hiring a professional by the hour will often work out cheaper, and can save you valuable time.
8. Focus on client service.
It’s easy when you’re absorbed in delivering to tight deadlines, juggling 100 projects, or just having a manic few weeks to forget the reason you have this work. That reason is clients. Clients matter, so unless you’re hoping to lose a few, you’d better remember what it’s like to be a client, and recall your memories of the best service you’ve ever received.
Now, set yourself a challenge to outdo that service experience, and outdo it over and over again. Take a look at every method by which you have contact with clients — telephone, emails, meetings, even invoices. Is there something you can change to ensure the relationships that you are building now will be long lasting?
9. Take time to wander the Web.
Set aside some regular time to aimlessly wander the Web. I’m not talking researching competitors, or checking sites you already frequently read. Cast the net wider, and follow more links. You’ll no doubt stumble onto blogs or web sites which may hold inspiration, education, or just plain harmless fun. No matter what, there’s a good chance your wanderings will be good for the mind and soul. Wander the Web, follow your instincts from link to link, and discover the 99.9% of the Web that you never visit when you’re stuck working in your own digital ecosystem.
10. Build rock-solid procedures.
The right procedures will make your business run more efficiently. A good system will allow for increased workload and reduce the amount of effort you need to spend on repetitive activities. Just about everyone has heard the story of middle-aged milkshake salesman Ray Kroc, and how he created systems in fast food retailing to build his little hamburger chain (McDonalds) into the mammoth business it is today.
Ask friends who know the story and they will give you the same answer — his success was driven by the fact that he created procedures for every single element of his business. Best-selling business books such as Michael Gerber’s ‘The E-Myth’ reiterate this. Having procedures reduces the chance of errors, and increases your ability to think beyond the routine. Think of the differences between a business with procedures and one without, then consider what would happen to each business if you were hit by a bus, or took extended leave. Which would survive?
Make Your Resolutions Now
Now, don’t just read the above list and start making excuses, thinking how nice it would be to have the time or inclination to do this. You could boost your business just by bookmarking this article or printing it out and at least working on a couple of the above points over the coming months. Soon you (and your business) will be noticing the benefits. Good luck and never stop building upon your success!