I recently came across this article in the English Observer that put words to a new cultural and economic reality that is taking shape here in the U.S.:
…The era of individualistic consumption that swept aside the Great Society of the 1960s has come to an end. For three decades, American culture has celebrated the glories of unabashed capitalism and the ideals of the rich. No longer. From Hollywood movies to celebrity culture to television, frugalism is taking hold. Consumers are cutting back… A national belt-tightening is having an impact on everything from restaurants and books to a collapse in the demand for cosmetic surgery. The recession is reshaping the cultural landscape in which ordinary people live their lives.
For many small businesses to succeed in this changing environment they will need to change or improve the way that they operate. With a new year beginning it is the best time for business owners and management to take stock of their business performance in order to plan for the future.
To help get you started, here are my picks for the top small business resolutions in 2009. Some may apply to your business; others may not. But the main thing to keep in mind is that to be successful in this new environment any resolutions that you set for your business should stay within, yet at the same time optimize, your available resources.
1. Make a plan. Before you can make any resolutions, you need to be focused on where you want your business to go. Look for areas of improvement and set realistic goals. Do you need to strengthen sales, improve customer service, smooth out your cash flow, increase efficiency? In the end, your plan will be an outline of sorts for all of your resolutions.
2. Improve communication and collaboration with your employees. Your employees are one of your greatest assets- and you should treat them that way. Not only are they intimately involved in the nitty-gritty operations of your business, but they are often your link to your customers. Invite your employees to offer their ideas, questions, and comments for how they can do their jobs better and how the business can improve. Even if you do not get any implementable feedback, make sure your employees know that you seriously considered their suggestions, and they will automatically be more motivated and more productive at work.
3. Strengthen relationships with your customers. In the current economic climate, customer loyalty is a precious commodity. Make sure that you are checking in with your customers about their experience doing business with you. Their feedback, comments, and suggestions may also help you to provide a better quality and more focused product or service. And like your employees, let your customers know that you considered what they had to say, even if nothing was implemented. You should also try to look for ways to reward or acknowledge your repeat customers.
4. Research and implement cost-cutting techniques. Look for simple and effective ways to reduce expenses. Some examples: 1. Buy energy saving products, such as CFL light bulbs and look into other resource conserving practices. 2. Improve product and supply inventory management so that capital is not unnecessarily tied up in overstocked on unused items. 3. Join a discount shopping club or make joint purchases with other businesses. 4. Look for ways to reduce employee benefits and health care costs.
5. Improve your cash flow. By smoothing the flow of capital in and out of your business, you will be able to run more efficiently and be in a better position to make decisions that can enhance your business, such as whether or not to purchase new equipment. Basically, you will need to take a look at your inventory, your accounts payable and your accounts receivable. In my previous post Keeping Your Business Out of Debt, I included some details on how to improve your cash flow.
6. Make quality control a priority. Make it a point to establish methods of assessing the quality and reliability of the products and/or services that your business provides. Put simply, the greater the quality of the products and the more reliable the service that your customers can get for their money, the more that your customers will want to use your business. Here also it is important to get customer feedback.
7. Pursue creative and low-cost marketing techniques. In two of my recent posts, I outlined several marketing strategies to promote your business without taking a big bite out of your budget. Some additional ideas: attach an informative signature on your outgoing emails, send a press release when your offer a new product or service or if you make an event that involves the community, write online articles for ezines.
8. Seek out advice and support. With a challenging year up ahead, it is important that you build a “support system” that will help you focus, clarify, and actualize your business goals. This support could come from coaches, mentors, hired professional consultants, or other small business owners. For starters, you can check out your local SCORE chapter or Micromentor.org, or join your local chamber of commerce (to connect to other business owners). You could also join an online small business community.
9. Assess your progress. Make sure to set aside a few minutes every week to assess how your business is doing. What you chose to focus on in that time will be specific to your business, but some common areas to look at include: sales and inventory reports, cash flow statements, and ROI on current marketing strategies.
10. Remember to have fun! Running a small business usually involves a great deal of responsibility and and a great deal of stress- especially these days. Knowing how to lighten things up for yourself and your employees is an invaluable tool to improve productivity and build a loyal workforce. If you are a bit challenged in the creativity or sense of humor department, here are some common ideas: planning an inexpensive employee get-together, outing, or event (Why not go to the local park for a potluck picnic or invite someone to give a seminar), running contests that showcase employee contributions, let employees creatively decorate their own workspaces, or play music at work. And for some business humor.. check out this page.
Image credit: nicolas.boullosa