Ah, don’t you love the smell of a new year? It brings to the surface all those thoughts of how things are going to be different this year. You might even be making some New Year’s Resolutions or setting some 90 day business goals.
If you’re wondering about what direction to take your business and which new apps or technology to try, here’s a little secret. Those are not the decisions that really matter. Whether you go Microsoft or Google, Mac or PC, Lenovo or HP … The difference in outcomes from one choice over another is rarely a huge difference. How do we know this? Because we deal with businesses that have gone in one direction and businesses that have gone in another direction .. And it’s rarely the technology choice that made a big impact. True story.
Here’s our list of the most important business decisions you will make this year.
Who will you will take advice from?
Despite the number of books you’ll find on running a business, there is no rule book for your own business. Like raising a child, there are some universal principles, but we all parent differently. And also like parenting, there’s a huge range of opinions out there on what you should do (and shouldn’t do) and when you should do it. Running a business solo can be a lonely task, so it’s natural to reach out for advice. There’s nothing wrong with that, but make a decision about who you will listen to. Do they really know your business (or businesses that are similar)? Are they just parroting what has or hasn’t worked for them – again, this is totally natural but may not suit your circumstances.
Whether it’s a business coach/mentor, HR expert or technology advisor, build yourself a core “virtual boardroom” team of independent people that you trust. Look for relationships with advisors that are willing to go the distance with your business, not just random people on a website forum. This will have the biggest impact on your business by far, resulting in cohesive decisions that fit your current challenges and your short term & long term strategies.
When will you implement that advice?
Notice it’s “when” and not “if”? If you are willing to take the time to ask experts for advice, be willing to take it on board and do something with it. That timeframe may vary depending on the size & cost of implementing that decision, but don’t think about it for six months before deciding. It’s ok to decide that it will be included in next year’s budget – as long as it is. Inaction is a great business enemy, often spurred on by “being too busy.”
You don’t get better results in your business by asking for advice. You get better results by doing things differently.
How will you communicate with people?
Handling information and communicating with people is a leading cause of busyness. Often we’re so busy dealing with things that we miss telling the right people what’s actually going on. If we’re dealing with customers, suppliers and staff, we can be so bombarded with communication that we scream “stop the world, I want to get off”!
Take a moment to map how information flows into, through and out of your business. Don’t get fancy – grab a whiteboard marker and pick on just one topic. Do you have 5 different contact methods? Do you respond to all of them, all day (and all night)? Do you have a structure in place for regular catch-ups with your key people? Tackle how your business communicates (both internally & externally) and you’ll see a big difference in your busyness.
What are your dashboard lights?
How do you know if your business is operating well? How do you know if customers are being responded to in a timely manner, orders are being shipped when they should be or payments are being received on time? If you don’t have a business dashboard, decide what you need to know and how regularly, that are key indicators of the performance of your business.
Get into the habit of checking your dashboard, and you may start noticing when the ‘check engine’ or ‘oil’ lights are on.
How can you protect your business?
Every industry has its horror stories. We’ve all heard of businesses that have been wiped out because of rogue employees, ransomware computer nasties or suppliers that have disappeared into the night with all of the administrator passwords. Protecting your business sounds like a pretty big task, but there are a number of things you should know as the business owner that will help lessen the impact of a major incident. Do you have a secure record of any important passwords? Do you know when your domain name will expire? Can you quickly get employees locked out of critical business systems if they leave abruptly?
Some of these things may be handled by a third party on your behalf, but they still have an impact on your business. Brainstorm some “what if” scenarios and decide how your business would be impacted and what you can do to help minimise any impact (especially if a supplier lets you down).
How will you look for opportunities to improve?
Another side-effect of busyness is that it narrows your focus to what needs to be done in the short term. Swimming with the tide of information, requests and issues, you’ve got no time to pause and improve your swimming technique! Add a few sharks in the water and who cares how good your backstroke is? With business though, there’s a saying that “good is the enemy of great”. The hamster wheel is hard to get off! How can you easily capture things that pop up during your day, that could be improved?
Catching this stuff as you swim sets your further ahead in the process than sitting down for a half day “Improvement Session” with a black piece of paper. Even if it’s a scribble on a whiteboard or on the paper pad on your desk, decide how you’ll handle this and you’ll have a much better business in the next 12 months. Implement that across all of your staff and you’ll get even more amazing ideas.
What will you explore outside of your comfort zone?
It’s relatively easy to identify improvements for things that you already do. Maybe you want to start logging customer support requests instead of just using emails, or maybe you’ll add a payment gateway to your website. This new year, I want to challenge you to decide on something you will explore outside of your comfort zone. The tech world is full of opportunities for artificial intelligence, process automation and chatbots. See what new, innovative concepts are being implemented both within and outside of your own industry. Start exploring and decide on something whacky to try.
These are the decisions that will set you apart from your competition.
These are the decisions that 99% of businesses don’t make, because they are too busy. Focus on getting these right, and everything else will fall into place.
And if it doesn’t – try something different! You get to do that in business.
-Sonia Cuff, Co-Founder