A year is a long time in business. Clients come and go, sales goals are met or not, and cash flow rides the familiar cycle of ebb and flow.
But what lessons can you learn from the year that’s just passed? Here are seven things you can do to review what’s working and what isn’t and use that insight to work smarter in 2014!
Focus On What You Did Well
What better place to start than focusing on what worked for your business in 2013? Revisit at your key successes – whether they were product launches, marketing programs, sales deals, operational enhancements or examples of great teamwork – and find ways to repeat or refine them further in 2014. Perhaps your goals or definition of success has changed – how are you progressing against this and what can you do this year to ramp it up a notch?
A SWOT analysis is a great way to work smarter – by going through what is working for your business and what is not. Has anything changed in the last year? Does your strategy for 2014 reflect your SWOT? Is it time to revise strategy or do the same thing?
Take Steps to Improve Product Profitability
A thorough review of sales and profit margins in 2013 will help you identify where to focus your plans this year. For example, look for ways to nurture star products, i.e. those that sell well and have the added benefit of strong margins. This may involve improving supply-chain logistics, finding new channels to market, or adding similar or follow-on product lines to keep profitable lines popular in the marketplace.
Similarly, if certain lines or services aren’t proving profitable but are still selling in volume, find ways to reduce the cost of carrying that line or increasing prices.
What about low volume, low-profit products – while it may be tempting to drop these lines, be sure to weigh up the pros and cons of doing so. For example, you might want to keep unprofitable lines in stock if they bring in business and cross-sell opportunities that might otherwise go to a major competitor.
Anticipate Cash Flow Trends
Your cash flow statement is one your most important tools for managing your business’ financial health. Review last year’s cash flow statement and you’ll get a good handle on how quickly cash rolls in and out of your business. You can also use this data to identify any trends that may come back to bite you in 2014 unless taken into account and prepared for.
Your cash flow statement can also be used to gauge whether your company is consistently generating more cash than it is using, this can help inform potential investments in 2014. Likewise, if cash consistently appears to be lacking then you’ll need to dig deeper and identify the reason for the shortfall, which could be from expansion activities that require additional funding, or slow paying customers. Refer to these cash flow management strategies to help you better anticipate and address any issues before they blow-up.
Cut Expenses by Doing Things Differently
Reducing your cost base is key to profitability. For many small businesses cost savings can be realized in areas such as travel, rent, credit card fees, expensive phone systems, software licenses, insurance, and marketing. These are all essential items, but doing things differently, instead of the way it’s always been done, can add up to substantial savings. Check out Intuit’s 5 Ways to Reduce Your Business Expenses Right Now, for some ideas. Don’t forget to look at your cash flow statements and actuals for 2013 – where did you incur most outgoings compared to income? You may want to plan any future expenses or purchases around those trends so that you don’t end up in a sticky situation.
Review and Refresh your Social Media Efforts
Social media is often bucketed under “marketing” as a business function, but it’s much more than that and I think worth its own review. Social media represents the brand, values, people, and voice of your business. It’s a great way to share information with customers, build relationships and influence purchasing decisions, but it’s also a customer service and recruitment tool and should be treated as such.
So what lessons did you learn from your social media efforts in 2013? Start by examining how your social media channels performed in 2013? Reviewing your performance regularly can help ensure you aren’t wasting your time and will help you set goals to achieve better results this year. Hootsuite and Facebook Insights can help with this, as can these 5 Tools for Reviewing Social Media Performance recommended by RazorSocial’s, Ian Cleary. Some tools, such as Likealyzer (available for free) can also provide suggestions for improving performance.
Depending on your results, you may find that some channels simply aren’t working from you, and that’s fine, it’s important to concentrate on networks where your customers are – whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or YouTube and feel free to step away from the ones that don’t.
How about the content you’re sharing? Are fans liking and sharing it? How are your click through rates? Are you addressing all customer service concerns?
Learn from Online Reviews & Customer Feedback
Hopefully, you’ve spent some time in 2013 tracking what is being said about your brand online. Doing so can help you develop a plan for addressing any issues that customers are experiencing as well as continue build on what you are doing well! Use Google Alerts or Mention to help track mentions of your business on the web and pay attention to Google+ Reviews, Yelp and other online review sites for essential customer feedback and market-correction opportunities.
Don’t Forget Your Employees
Performance reviews typically take place at the close of the calendar year, and shouldn’t be passed over. If you haven’t done yours yet, do it now and work with each employee to create a self-development plan that helps nurture and improve performance in 2014.
Also, take the time to assess your employer and leadership skills and look for ways to incorporate employee training, motivational activities/incentives and team-building into the calendar.
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