The upcoming festive break is a great time to reflect on what’s working in your business and what’s not.

Was 2010 a good business year for you or, as in the case of many others, tough going?

And will you be merely hoping that 2011 will be better – or are you setting and committing to the kind of goals that will make a real difference by using the holiday period to work out exactly how you are going to achieve them?

With the right motivation, your New Year Business Resolutions will provide a formidable platform on which to build success over the coming 12 months.

Based on some of the most popular personal self-improvement commitments, here’s a guide to the kind of pledges which will give your business a powerful 2011 makeover.

1. Find a Better Job

If your business isn’t performing as you’d wish and you are beginning to question whether its worth plodding on, take time out to consider your business model. Could you reinvent your business online or re-energise your company through alliances with affiliate businesses with different market access channels? Could technology make your business more agile? Most of all, think about what could you add or take away from your business offer to make it more relevant, easier for customers to do business with you and more exciting for your market. Ponder if you are the person to lead this change – or is there someone else in your team with the skills and knowledge to rise to the challenge while you concentrate on the areas you enjoy the most?

2. Find Your Soul Mate

It can be lonely at the top – particularly if you are a sole trader. Having a mentor, or simply someone you can trust to bounce ideas off or share your problems with, gives you a sense of perspective. Your soul mate may work in a completely different sector or be your business partner. Wherever you find them, look out for people whose mindset complements your own. If you are an ideas person, look out for someone who loves delving into detail. If you are a people person, look out for someone who loves facts and figures.

3. Learn Something New

Owning and running a business is an education – and no amount of business school lessons or business books can teach it how it is for you. True entrepreneurs are always the curious type. Investigate new tools, get to grips with what’s happening online and make sure you are up to date with customer and marketing trends even if you don’t always adopt them. If you are facing new business problems, maybe it’s time to try something new. If you are facing the same old business problems, it is definitely the time to try something new

4. Quit Smoking

Do you have some bad business habits? Perhaps you waste energy on vanity clients with a track record of infrequent small orders or customers who may place a large order but soak up your time and that of your staff in un-costed product support or additional service requests. Make sure all your products and services are properly paid for. Consider tailoring prices upward for customers you know will incur additional cost to service or revisit your standard contract and ensure your clients or customers always know upfront that additional requests equal additional costs.

5. Shape Up and Lose Weight

Take a long hard look at everyone in your team. Is every team member making the kind of contribution you need in today’s marketplace? Are they showing the right kind of attitude and do they have the right kind of skills and knowledge? Real dead weights need to be jettisoned – but before you do this, check that you’re not simply misusing their skills. Could they make a better contribution in a different role? Do they have knowledge and skills you’re failing to tap into? Perhaps some additional training is in order or greater input from you in ensuring they are motivated to succeed and working to the right priorities.

6. Stick to your Budget

Are your sales targets realistic? In an uncertain economic climate It’s just as easy to be too pessimistic about sales as it is to be too optimistic. Whatever your sales income targets, keep a close and regular eye on performance. Whenever sales stray from forecast, ensure you identify and understand the reasons why. If there’s a major dip, take quick action to address your cost base. What opportunity is there to switch fixed costs to a rental or pay-as-you-use basis. How flexible are your staffing and office costs?

7. Reduce Debts

Cashflow problems are the single biggest cause of small and early-growth business failure. It’s vital that you are always paid in full, on time – and up-front if you have any doubts on customer credit worthiness. One of the best ways to ensure financial health is to credit check all new customers and have a complete handle on who owes you what and when the payment will be made. Only then can you properly manage outgoings and trading terms. When was the last time you reviewed your payment terms? What percentage of your customers are paying on time? Has there been any payment slippage over the past few months? In tough times it’s easy to be tempted to cut major customers some slack when it comes to payment periods but ensure you understand the ramifications in terms of paying your own suppliers. Consider prompt payment discounts or late payment surcharges. Watch for warning signs of problems ahead – if a significant bill to a late-paying customer goes bad, can your business survive?

8. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

Unless you are a sole trader, a business is by definition a company of people in regular contact with people at customer businesses. It’s a truism that in business-to-business transactions, people buy from people. Professional relationships are important and while not every contact will result in a sale, staying top-of-mind by being in regular contact and taking an interest in the working life of key individuals both within your business and at customer companies will pay off.

9. Volunteer and Help Others

It’s been a hard year for many businesses – customers as well as suppliers. Giving support and service doesn’t always involve a financial commitment and often, it’s the givers who later get. What knowledge could you share with your customers that might make their lives easier and what extra value could you add to your products or service that involves no cost? Perhaps a simple ‘thank you’ email with every order or an advice newsletter or blog spot that helps customers get the most from what they buy from you. Providing customers with a consistent positive experience of your company by giving them a little more than just your product or service is the foundation of long term customer loyalty and valuable word-of-mouth marketing.

10. Get Organised

Being able to find the information or documentation your need is a pre-requisite of being organised but having it instantly to hand is preferable to having to rifle through filing cabinets or travel back to the office to pick it up. With the aid of a secure online connection, these days you can ensure every aspect of your business is never more than a click away no matter where you are or what time of day. Being organised means you will be more productive, more focused and less stressed – as that’s exactly what you need to be more profitable.

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