Last week I promised you we were going to head into 2010 on a positive note. This is harder than I thought, since 2009 was a tough year for so many of us business owners. About the most positive thing I can say about this year is that it’s nearly over.
The other day my friend (and landlord) reminded me that last January I told him if we could get through 2009, all would be well. “And we did it,” he said. “2010 is going to be a great year.” That is precisely the attitude all of us need to adopt. Whether you had a fairly good year (like my friend’s company), held steady, or even lost a few clients, the good news is the year is nearly over and you’re still standing.
It’s not often that I encourage the celebration of treading water, but these days you’ve got to salute whatever positives you can find. But there’s one more thing to do before the year ends — assess it. Write down the good, the bad, and the ugly from 2009. The point is to find out what worked for you this past year and what didn’t.
This is not merely a retrospective exercise. Once you know what worked in 2009 (a very rough year), it will give you a plan for how you’re going to handle 2010, when hopefully the economy will be better and consumers will start spending (even a little) again.
But, it’s also helpful to study the bad. Can you salvage what went wrong in 2009? This could be easier than you think, since the economy could certainly be the reason your sales are in a rut. But, maybe it’s time to tweak your marketing strategy, update your technology, or change your pricing structure. Can you identify the “bads” that weren’t related to the economy? Some of those may be salvageable while others should be discarded. Make sure you understand what went wrong so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
When you’re assessing, don’t overlook the obvious. Were some of your problems due to poor customer service on your part? You might have an employee on your team who isn’t up to par. If your market is changing, are you keeping up? Change is inevitable. Too many entrepreneurs ignore the subtle shifts in their market and stick with what’s always worked. But you should be keeping abreast of shifts in the marketplace and changing before it does.
As for the “ugly”: Chances are there’s nothing there worth saving. But you never know, so as painful as it may be, take a look anyway. Don’t beat yourself up; there are lessons to be learned from even our most painful mistakes.
It’s traditional in some families for the kids to make holiday wish lists. Though it may sound trivial, this is actually a good idea for you to adapt as a business practice. I’m not talking about making resolutions (that’s the subject of my next column), but about momentarily suspending reality and writing down what you wish you could change or achieve in your business. Some of your wishes will likely never come true, of course, but others might be more easily realized once you transform them into actionable goals.
This is not about manifesting success. Too many business owners I know have spent the better part of the year running from crisis to crisis, stuck in survival mode, that we haven’t taken the time to think about or plan for the better days that are hopefully ahead.
I won’t lie to you. Strategizing does not come easily to me. I am more reactionary. Just hearing or reading something can trigger a flood of ideas. But to really thrive in business, you have to do both. A good friend and business expert maintains the No. 1 reason small businesses fail is not due to a shortage of capital, but rather to a lack of strategic planning. If you don’t plan, she maintains, you really can’t know how much money you’ll need.
There are exactly two weeks left in 2009. And I’m sure you’re busy. But try to carve out some time to assess the past and make a wish list. Without taking the time to see where you’ve been, it’s nearly impossible to map out where you’re going.
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