STOCK MARKET SOARS, REAL ESTATE, BUSINESS and jobs reports look up.
It all looks like a brighter tomorrow is coming. So what can you do to get your business in gear for some profits too.
Even if you're just running a small operation from a home office alone or with a few part-timers, you still can do a few things to make improvements in your bottom line.
Some suggestions come from Bill McBean, author of The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don't.
"When you run a business, there are always some certainties as you look into the future," says McBean. "As February becomes March, March becomes April, and so on, you know your best competitors will work to become better. You know your customers will demand more. You know you'll have to work smarter and harder every day to improve your bottom line. You should also know that this year brings with it new taxation and new regulations that may add expenses and affect the way you operate your business. And of course, you face the usual headaches and worries that come with the day-to-day business of running a business."
"Often, entrepreneurs don't make the best planners," adds McBean. "We are action-oriented people. But by taking a long hard look at a few critical pieces and putting a plan in place right now, you can seriously increase your chances for success."
McBean suggests breaking down your planning into what you need to do internally-with processes, employees, yourself, etc.-and what you need to do externally-with customers, marketing campaigns, and so on. Below he provides a few tips:
Evaluate your leadership. Entrepreneurs tend to be ready, fire, aim kinds of people. But the truth is, if you don't improve your leadership skills, there is little chance your business can improve. Being a great leader begins with a self-analysis of your leadership ability. Do you supply the business with what it needs to be successful-things like the right equipment, your focus and time, required capital, assigning responsibility and expectations, and so on? Do you have the right people in the right chairs? Are employees being paid based on what you want them to accomplish and expect from them? Do you:
Do a top-to-bottom walk-through of your systems and procedures. In essence, systems and procedures (processes) actually operate your business, though a lot of owners misunderstand this simple concept. Examine which processes are working, which need to be improved, and which processes are outdated and exist only because "it's the way it's always been done."
Kick off a cost-cutting, gross-profit-building mission. This is a powerful weapon for an owner. Look for ways to increase gross profit and cut costs as they have a dramatic positive effect on profits and cash flow. For example, look for easy "to bolt on" gross profit opportunities, and get creative when looking at your costs.
Re-engage employees. In this economy, you need employees who care about your business as much as you do. And that's what you get with engaged employees. "Engaged employees are energized," says McBean. "They handle problems on their own and actively look for ways to improve the business.
"So how do you get engaged employees? Show them you care. Sometimes it's as simple as saying 'thank you' for a job well done either verbally, with a handwritten note, or with a handshake with $20 attached. Or you might allow them to take a paid afternoon off and give them movie passes.
Set realistic, specific goals. Then, dial up the "aggression factor" just a little bit more. In other words, aim high but be specific. If your goals aren't measurable, you won't be able to gauge your progress and eventually you'll stop pursuing them. Setting realistic goals, putting a plan in place, and routinely checking in with employees to gauge their progress-because what gets measured gets done!-is the best way to be successful.
Boost your product/service offerings. The products and services you offer are the core of your business. "Think about what you can do to squeeze out another product or service offering with what you already have in place," suggests McBean. "For example, if you own an auto parts store, there is no law saying you can't sell fast moving or maintenance parts for the marine industry, especially if you're located on a lake resort. People need what they need, when they need it. Make it easy for your customers to get what they want. And don't ignore the power of impulse purchases or convenience items, even if they are not matched up with your core products. Always be looking to make new and better offerings to your customers. Doing so provides added value for your customer and for you. A true win-win."
Revamp your marketing campaign. Think about who your customers are. Are you marketing to them in a way that makes sense? For example, if your customers are mostly elderly, email marketing might not be the best way to reach them. Or if they're younger, advertising on a classical music station might not make sense. Would the money you're pouring into ad placement be better spent on direct mail? Does a huge social media campaign really make sense for your company, or are you tweeting fruitlessly into cyberspace just because everyone else is doing it?
Find new ways to impress loyal customers. In business, few things are as important as your customer base. That's why it's essential that you find ways to protect yours by developing very loyal customers. Of course, the first step is offering great products and services and delivering those products and services via a very helpful, engaged staff.
Get knowledgeable about economic/tax changes and how they'll affect you. The slow-to-recover economy and the fiscal cliff debacle have taught us the importance of staying one step ahead when it comes to the economy and how it's going to affect your business. "Be proactive and seek out a trusted financial advisor," says McBean.
"The future can absolutely hold great things for your business," says McBean. "But in order for that to happen, you have to always be looking ahead. You have to think about where you need to improve and what challenges might pop up to slow your progress. By taking the time right now to plan ahead, you're making big opportunities possible for your business."