5 Tips for Taking Your Business New Places in 2011

For most business owners, 2010 is over – at least mentally, if not actually – and if you haven’t started planning for 2011, now is the time to do so.

Here are some quick tips to help guide you through the process.

Conduct a Sales and Marketing Review

In business you spend a significant amount of time looking ahead, whether it’s budgeting, managing pipeline and cash flow, staffing plans and so on. But a lot can happen in a year, so taking stock of the year is a useful first step in helping you align your priorities for the year ahead.

As you look back ask yourself some of these questions about your sales and marketing efforts in 2010:

  • Which products or services were in highest demand, and were these the most profitable? How can you build on this success in 2011?

  • What products or services are not doing so well? Can you afford to drop them? Should you revisit the price points to stimulate sales?

  • What’s happening in your market? Does your product or marketing need to be adjusted to reflect these changes?

  • Where can you save money?

  • How do your customers see you? Have their perceptions of you improved or diminished in the past year? What can you do to build upon or reverse these trends? 

  • What have you done well? Whether it’s closing a big deal in creative ways, or hitting the ball out of the park with a stellar social media campaign, pat yourself on the back and think about ways that you can learn from these one-offs and develop a model to repeat these successes next year. 

Review your Business Finances

Whether you’re a sole proprietor or employ 20 employees, tracking your 12 month financial history can give you a good sense of trending, opportunities and potential red flags. Plan time with your accountant to review your finances, taxes, and so on. In preparation, consider the following:

  • How well are you managing your budget against plan? Did you spend more on one area of your business than anticipated? What was the outcome? How can you adjust and plan for this in the future?

  • How is your cash flow trending? Can you predict the ebb and flow of cash? What’s your back-up plan?

  •  Are you making money? Is your gross profit margin where you need it to be? Do you need to trim some fat or adjust pricing? 

  • How is your business credit? Are you keeping up with bills and loan payments?  

Get a Good Planning Baseline – Conduct a SWOT Analysis

When you are at the beginning of the business planning exercise, a useful way to calibrate your business performance and potential is to conduct a thorough review of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). This is an especially useful exercise when done as a team in an informal brainstorming environment. Engage both your managers and high performing employees, and have each person identify one SWOT. You might be surprised at the issues as well as the possibilities that the session uncovers.

Are you Ready for Growth?

If you think you are ready to expand your business – how do you prepare for growth? The following article provides pointers from Carey Wilson of the Maryland Small Business Development Center on how to recognize the indicators and prepare for growth: “Are You Ready to Grow Your Business? – Five Tips to Help You Prepare for Growth”.

To help you staff your business for growth, there are many options available, not just full time employees, read “Staffing your Business – Four Flexible Options to Consider as you Start-up and Grow” for an overview of options.

Build a Simple Business Plan for the Year Ahead

Once you’ve done your review and base-lined your SWOT, you are now ready to start the planning process. Remember business planning needn’t be a detailed 100 page document.  Keeping it simple not only makes the planning process easier, it makes it considerably more likely that you will stay true to your plan in the year ahead.

For tips on simplifying the planning process, read: “How a Simple Business Plan can Get you from A to Z, and Navigate all Things In-Between”.

How are you planning for a prosperous new year? Share your planning tips below!

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