New Years' resolutions are for repentant smokers and perpetual dieters. Real entrepreneurs know that they should be aiming for self-improvement, in their businesses as well as in themselves, all year round.
Whether you adopt them in January or June, here are five resolutions that could transform your business. Just don't try to implement all at once. Read over this list and decide which one makes the most sense for you now. Stick with the priority you've chosen, because change demands focus, will and staying power.
Resolve to make one more call to a customer (or prospect) each day. Every interaction you have with customers can put money in your pocket. Even if you don't get a sale, you will learn more about your clients and their needs. Plus, you'll build goodwill and deeper, more robust relationships.
What should you talk about with customers? The best tactic is to have a conversation ready that's aimed at solving their business problems. Maybe you can tell them about an article you've read, that you'd like to forward to them, or let them know about an upcoming event they might be interested in attending. Maybe you could even go together? Make sure you ask how they're doing, inquire as to whether there's anything you can do to help, and ask if it's OK if you call them like this from time to time to stay in touch. You can also ask if they'd like to know about a new product or service you're offering that you think might be of interest to them.
Create consistent value for your customers, and they'll love hearing from you more often.
Adopt the guiding principle that ‘the future will not be like the past.’ Toronto consultant Randy Park, author of The Prediction Trap, says people who expect the coming year to run along familiar lines are setting themselves up for surprise and disappointment. They may fail to see the signs of real change that are taking place all around us and in their industry.
"Change is a challenge for most people, not because they don't like change, but because it takes effort to develop a skill, a process, or an opinion," says Park. "But change also offers an opportunity for those willing to invest the effort in dealing effectively with change."
Focus on customer service. This is an area where SMEs can win big, because big companies tend to be focused on quantity rather than quality, says U.S. service strategist John Tschohl, founder of The Service Quality Institute and author of Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service.
Get to know your customers on a first-name basis, know their wants and preferences, and take care of the little things that the big chains can’t," advises Tschohl. "Many small businesses don’t have the lowest prices, but they can dominate in service."
Find out what's wrong with your business and fix it. As the business owner, you may know your business best, but you likely don't know all the places where it goes wrong. Adopt a formal process for regularly surveying employees on what you could be doing to become more efficient, or how you could serve customers better. Give them a reason to care (prizes, bonuses, profit-sharing). Ask every customer if there's anything that frustrates them about doing business with your company. Tell them you want to hear the truth, and offer a discount, a coupon or a contribution to their favorite charity to show you mean business.
Assign staff to analyze these weak points and suggest solutions. Follow up regularly to make sure the problems get fixed—and stay fixed.
Get your business in shape to sell. Maybe you're not interested in selling your business now, but it pays to be prepared. The succession experts I talk to say the biggest problem facing entrepreneurs who want to sell their businesses is that they didn’t start preparing for a transaction years ago.
That means making sure you have appropriate information systems and reporting procedures in place. That you maintain detailed and up-to-date employee records. That you have current market data (or are conducting ongoing research), and a clear business plan that everyone in the company follows and understands.
Having these professional procedures in place will make your company more attractive to a potential buyer, and help you command a higher price. Better still, they make your company a smarter, more efficient, and more orderly place to work—which is an outcome worth celebrating all year long.