For any company, the outcome of the year depends as much on internal processes as on external market dynamics. Yet, many firms fail to systematically think about how they are going to prepare themselves to react to emerging trends. To help business owners with this exercise, we asked Tracy Thomas, Head of Client Engagement at ActionCOACH, to share handy checklist that outlines strategies for the New Year.
Many business owners are anticipating what new challenges and opportunities 2018 will bring for SMEs in the region. Last year, we saw many new developments in the region and beyond: the decision to implement VAT, Dubai’s election of the first minister of Artificial Intelligence in the world and the boom of cryptocurrencies, to mention a few. With the multitude of external factors influencing the future of business, it can seem overwhelming to be fully prepared going into a new year.
Using an effective checklist as a guideline can be a helpful way to start laying the foundation for a successful year ahead. It is complex to predict exactly what will unfold in 2018 and how this will impact business, but from the perspective of the SME ecosystem in this region, in which businesses continue to innovate and support each other, this is a suggested business checklist for a more successful 2018.
- Rethink your unique selling point (USP) and niche: Your USP is what makes you stand out from your competitors: what can clients get from you that they can’t get from someone else? Your niche is the specific segment of the market that you are targeting. As the market changes over time, your USP and niche can change, and it is vital to adapt and evolve with these changes. Make sure that you continue to update your USP and niche as your business grows.
- Create a strategic action plan every quarter: We all know how important planning is, but often fail to prioritise it. If you don’t know where you are heading, how will you know where to start and what steps to take? Creating a strategic action plan for all areas of your business is an effective way to map out a successful quarter. Granted, things don’t always go according to plan, but creating plans with specific steps is a powerful way to improve productivity and increase profitability.
- Set SMART goals: Goal-setting to seems to lose its appeal when the goals are seldom reached. Create a big goal for each quarter along with your strategic action plan. This would be the big win for the quarter and is linked to every aspect of your quarterly plan. To reach more goals, you need to set SMART goals. This means that they need to be very specific, measured (how will you know you have achieved the goal?), attainable, realistic and time-bound (when you aim to achieve the goal).
- Reassess your sales processes: Ultimately, every single business, regardless of industry, is either selling a service or a product. Most businesses will have some form of sales process implemented to increase new leads and close more sales. One of the most common problems SMEs face is that they spend so much money and time on generating new leads but lose the sale or don’t convert satisfactory leads. As a result, marketing is viewed as merely an expense and there is often a high turnover rate among sales employees. Review your sales process and identify what’s working, what’s not and how could you be doing things differently. This may include recreating a sales funnel, improving sales techniques, implementing more effective lead generation tools, polishing sales scripts and refining negotiation and communication skills.
- Use KPIs as effectively as possible: One of the most constructive ways to measure impact, increase employee motivation, improve accountability and consistency in the business is by setting key performance indicators (KPIs) for every staff member in the business (including the owner and senior management). These KPIs provide a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively each staff member is achieving their job role’s objectives. The business will have a set of overarching KPIs and each staff members’ KPIs should fall underneath this umbrella, all working towards the overall objectives of the business.
- Form stronger relationships: Supporting fellow SMEs will be more important in 2018 than ever before. There is always room to be more creative in the way you develop new business: build strategic alliances, create collaborations, prioritise referrals among your growing networks and support other business owners. Find new networking groups to join, experiment with new ways to make new connections and spend time forming stronger relationships with your existing contacts.
- Build your database: No matter what industry you are in, the primary function of a database is usually to store relevant information about existing and prospective clients. It is also a communication tool that is used to maintain an ongoing interaction with clients. By building your database, you will essentially be extending the reach of your business.
- Update documentation: As your business grows, it becomes easier to get distracted by other responsibilities and focus areas. Make sure to keep all documentation up to date. From policies and procedures manuals to your monthly accounts and new ideas, dedicate some time to updating your documentation.
- Keep up to date with trends: With a myriad of platforms and avenues to consume information, there is no excuse as a business owner not to keep up to date with the latest industry trends and current affairs both locally and globally. Your business exists within ecosystems far greater and complicated than itself; it is important to stay informed about what is going on outside of your daily existence in order to keep your business relevant.
- Become more tech-savvy: In this digital age, it is vital that your business adapts to new technologies. Business owners can’t afford to not pay attention to how technology is affecting businesses and industries. One of the most common reasons that great businesses fail is because they are not able to adapt fast enough to the rapid advancement of the technology surrounding them.
- Don’t work harder, work smarter: The modern world has it ingrained in our minds that the busier we are, the more productive we are and therefore the more successful we will be perceived to be by ourselves and others. This fixed assumption is what leads to wasting time; working longer, not smarter; and sometimes even results in burnout. A powerful way to work with the value of time in business is to evaluate the impact, urgency and effort of tasks. The impact of the task ranges from low to high and measures how the completion of a task will affect your workload. Urgency is rated from low to critical and measures how critical it is that the task is completed; some tasks have tight deadlines and others are more open-ended. The effort is rated from minimal to maximal and measures the amount of work each task requires. Think about whether there are tasks which can be delegated, how you can reduce time spent in meetings, and whether there are manual systems and tasks that could be automated.
- Prioritise your financial health: If budgets, accounting and VAT are not your strong points, find someone to help you. The financial structures and systems of SMEs are the engine and everything else (sales, marketing, etc) is the fuel; without the engine, there is no point in having the fuel. Guidance from an accountant can help improve issues with payment collections, cashflow, budget forecasts and funding. It is important to review your business finances regularly to help you make better decisions and plans.
- Assess workforce requirements: As the year begins, assess the forecast of the needs of the workforce for the next few months. Consider the quieter and busier times, as well as important projects or changes in the market. There may be new job roles you need to fill, or some made redundant. There could be people on the team who should be considered for promotions and you may need to think of new ways to retain the most valuable employees.
- Legal support: It is imperative to seek some form of legal input for your business to avoid costly legal mistakes. A consultation with a business lawyer is an opportunity to discuss what is currently happening in your business and what your plans for the future are. A lawyer will offer legal advice about protecting yourself through intellectual property registrations or contracts, and raise awareness to any potential legal issues.
A business checklist is a tool that helps business owners to take an objective look at the health of their business now and a chance to review what they need to do in the next few weeks, months and year in order to achieve their business goals. It is an effective way to support your SME to reach its full potential, avoid employee and financial problems, increase new leads and conversions, maximise profits, and improve productivity in 2018 and beyond.