This isn’t a checklist for everyone in business, but for business owners and particularly small business owners.
Unlike employees, no matter how highly paid or senior, it takes real guts to set up your own company; to give up the security of a salary and pension; to work crazy hours; to meet a payroll; to have a working knowledge of everything from accounts, to legal and marketing.
Unlike owners of big businesses, you don’t have institutional or large shareholders to cushion the hard times; layers and layers of staff; eye-watering revenues and assets.
If you’re a small business owner, this checklist is for you.
So, what’s the first thing to check, or remind yourself?
You probably wouldn’t be a business owner if you didn’t have determination, if not a downright stubborn streak. Here’s a cautionary tale of a man who didn’t persevere and two who did.
On April Fool’s Day in 1976, after selling his VW microbus to help fund production, Steve Jobs set up business in the garage of his childhood home with his friends, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne.
At that stage they were operating on a wing and a prayer and cash was really tight, so Ron Wayne decided to quit after just 12 days. Forty years later, his $500 holding in Apple would have been worth $72bn.
None of them could seriously have dreamed that one day their small business would become the largest company in the world – worth $926.9bn in 2018.
The moral of the story? Pat yourself on the back and stick with it.
- Review and update your business plan
The New Year is a good time to revisit your business plan and make sure that it’s up-to-date. It’s also a good time to find out how far you’ve gone and if you need to change route, or even your destination.
- Review and update your marketing plan
While you’re updating your business plan, take a look your marketing plan as well. Review your marketing strategy and tactics in the light of last year’s results.
You may have to change your current marketing mix, find new channels for businesses, or trial some different media options.
If you don’t already do so, it might be time to try online marketing, starting with a content marketing program.
- Keep up-to-date with industry trends
Check on new trends in your industry and if there are any changes coming, make sure to find out as much as you can.
Subscribe to industry journals and blog sites and try to attend local and even national events. You should also look into the benefits of joining a trade association or the chamber of commerce.
- Review or start using social media
In the internet age, no business can afford not to have a presence online. According to research leader Bright Local and Forbes Business Magazine, “in 2018, 97% of consumers searched online for local businesses.”
No matter how small your business, you can now reach thousands of potential customers.
In a 2018 online survey by Review Trackers, they found that 63.6% of consumers say they are likely to check online reviews on Google before visiting a business. That’s more than any other review site. So if you haven’t already done so, make a start with Google.
If you are online, look at ways in which you can stand out from the crowd.
- Review your website
Whether you have an ecommerce business or a physical shop, in future your website will become one of the most important ways people will find out about you and even interact with you.
So, you’ve got to keep it up to date and user-friendly.
If you haven’t redesigned your website for a while, take another look at it, or perhaps get an expert to give it a thorough review. Are your images up-to-date? Is the navigation easy to follow and use? Does it work well on different devices? Does it make your business look friendly, professional and worth visiting?
- Create an online customer review policy.
As mentioned earlier, 97% of consumers use the internet to find local businesses. Increasingly, what people decide to buy is influenced by positive online reviews.
What most small businesses don’t realise, is that they can have some control of their online star ratings.
For a start, if you have online customers, ask them for reviews. 68% of customers will leave a review if asked. Make a point of reading every review and respond, whether they’re good, or bad. Say “thank you” if they’re happy, and resolve the problem for bad reviews quickly. Don’t argue though or deny any problems.
Learn something from your reviews – bad ones can help you to improve your business.
- Listen to your customers
Look after your customers and they’ll look after you. So, don’t just speak to them, listen. Bear in mind that there’s more competition in the marketplace and consumers are now less loyal and more discerning than in the past.
How much do you know about them? Who and where are they? Why do they do business with you?
You can conduct some research to find out. There are two types of research, which you can either do yourself or hire experts to do it for you.
Briefly, they’re called, quantitative and qualitative. As the name suggests, quantitative research is based on cold, hard facts. Numbers. Qualitative research, on the other hand collects information on impressions, opinions, and views. It delves deeper into people’s motivations, thinking, and attitudes.
With quantitative research you can send them online, or offline surveys (don’t forget to reward them though) and analyse customer information data you hold on your records.
To really get to know your customers, also use qualitative research. This can be done with a survey, or over the phone, but is best done face-to-face, where you can interact and find out as much as you can about them. It’s a good way to improve any product or service.
They may for example, be really concerned about environmental issues and object to plastic packaging. If you’re a retailer, you might consider using more sustainable materials, such as paper. You won’t know unless you ask meaningful questions – and listen.
Finally, after customers make a purchase, why not email them a customer satisfaction survey? They may not all reply, but at least they’ll know that you care.
- Listen to your staff
Listening to your staff is almost as important as listening to your customers. In fact, Small Business Trends claim that business leaders should listen twice as much as they speak. It’s not easy, as most leaders have strong opinions and personalities.
If your employees feel you’re not listening, they won’t come to you with feedback, suggestions for improvements, or new ideas. Collectively, they know more about your business than you. So, listen to learn, not just to be polite and friendly.
Here are 6 ways you can develop into a good listener:
- Don’t be distracted, even if you’re on the phone. People know instinctively when you’re not paying attention to them. It’s tempting to check that email, or memo. Focus on the person, or you could miss an important point and end up having to spend more time and money, solving a resulting problem.
- Don’t interrupt or complete their sentences. In his famous best seller, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ Stephen R. Covey, wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
- Give nonverbal feedback. Nod your head at appropriate times. Make eye contact. Concentrate on them and what they’re saying.
- Keep an open mind and try not to second-guess.
- If you don’t understand what the person is saying, ask questions. Or use a process called active listening. Paraphrase what you heard. If the speaker agrees, you can move on. If not, they need to reword their statement until you really do understand.
- And after they’ve finished talking, pause for a few seconds before commenting and choose your words carefully. According to Leslie Shore, author of Listen to Succeed, “When we begin working on a reply before the speaker is finished, we lose both the complete information being offered and an understanding of the kind of emotion present in the speaker’s delivery.”
A third of the population have an introverted personality, which means they’ll clam up and won’t contribute unless they’re given time to pause, consider and reflect.
Take time to listen to your employees and you may be surprised at just how much you learn.
- Manage your cash flow more effectively
According to the Office of National Statistics, cashflow is responsible for up to 90% of business failures. Not because there was something wrong with their product or service, increased competition, or economic downturn.
Tight financial controls and rigorous invoice chasing help, but every business, large and small, encounters times when cash outflow is greater than inflow. The answer? Short –term funding. You can build the costs into your forecasts as a contingency. If you plan for it, you can get better deals and you’ll be more in control.
- Review your accounts
Thanks to the numerous courses, resources, and software tools available. some small businesses still do their own bookkeeping. In the long run it’s a false economy, as they also have to be involved with management, marketing, and day-to-day operations.
It makes sense to have an accountant, either in, or even ex-house. And if you do, make the most of them.
They can do a lot more than make sure your books are in order. You could be missing out on valuable advice and services that could reduce the amount of tax you pay, help increase your profits, help your company run smoothly and protect your wealth.
- Review your competitors
All businesses have competitors, whether they’re direct, or indirect. You may be the only restaurant in town, but you’re competing indirectly with pubs, bars, cinemas and cafes.
Knowing who your competitors are is essential if you want to improve your own business performance and take advantage of your competitors’ weaknesses.
To find out about your competitors keep up-to-date with articles and ads in the trade press, online, exhibitions and trade fairs and even your suppliers. Check their websites and literature.
If they’re doing something better than you (it could be pricing, or customer service), make some changes. If you spot a weakness, in anything from their marketing or distribution, exploit it.
And don’t just look at existing competitors, keep an eye open for possible new ones too.
- Review your pricing
When was the last time you reviewed your pricing? Changing prices can involve a little risk, but if you do A/B price testing to select customers you could accurately forecast the response if you rolled them out to all your customers.
It’s worth keeping an eye on your competitors to see if they’ve adjusted prices of some of their products or services. If they’ve increased theirs, you might consider raising yours to the same level. If another competitor, possibly a new entrant, is seriously undercutting your prices to gain market entry, it may make sense to cut your prices too and starve them out.
- Here’s to your success in 2019
We hope you find this checklist helpful and wish you and your staff a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.