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Get 2017 off to a great business start

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The new year is a good time to assess where your firm is, and plan for the year ahead. The challenge, says Jo Faragher, is to come up with resolutions that will make a real difference

New year’s resolutions don’t have the best reputation. We enthusiastically keep to our promises for a couple of weeks. But by February, we’re feeling guilty about our incapacity to stick with anything. So is it possible to make useful resolutions for your business and persevere with them? Finding ways to become more efficient, diversify or build new skills in 2017 could lead to benefits that last years rather than weeks. 

Take stock

The new year is always a good time to review your business plan and measure your outcomes from the past year, says Martin Vessey, an SME Consultant with Business Doctors. He advises: “Work with a co-director or a colleague and review what has happened locally, nationally and internationally, which has impacted, or could impact, your business goals negatively or positively. List key actions to remedy this.”

Get to grips with cash

 
One area to look at is cashflow, identifying late-payers and pinch points at which you need to access more funds. “Disorganised book-keeping is one of the most common causes for delays in payments, so put systems in place to ensure accurate and timely invoicing, set payment terms, and have consistent record-keeping,” says Paul Haydock,Chief Executive of alternative finance provider DueCourse.  

Being transparent about cashflow with clients and your supply chain can also help to avoid nasty financial shocks, according to Nick Evans, Managing Director of FSB member Evabuild, which topped the Fast Growth 50 list of businesses in Wales last year. “When you’re a high-growth company, you need to be prudent with your cashflow to grow safely, which is why we’re honest with our creditors and the people we buy from,” he says.

“Sometimes we warn suppliers that we might need to extend our payment terms, but we do it well in advance.”

FSB members can also stay on top of cash flow by using FSB Cash Advance, an unsecured loan that offers flexible repayments based on your incomings. For more information, see fsb.org.uk/benefits

Identify new opportunities

Review your marketing, and whether you’re getting the exposure you need to grow the business. FSB offers a service to this end, called FSB Business Leads, where organisations can access an up-to-date database of other businesses, as well as access a dedicated marketing hotline where they can get support for your promotional campaigns. FSB members can access the service for a discounted rate at fsb.org.uk/benefits

Promote yourself

Generating exposure in the media can be a good way of attracting new customers. Cockermouth-based the Coffee Kitchen started as a café in 2011 but has since opened an on-site bakery.

Founder Andy Walsh now writes a weekly newspaper column and the business sponsors an annual local food festival, which attracts around 40,000 visitors. “This gives us a much higher profile, and not just for the day the festival is on, but 365 days a year,” he says.

He has also kept up the Coffee Kitchen’s social media profile, which he says is “a virtual café” extension of the brand, drawing followers both locally and from around the world. Future plans to expand the business include offering its fresh bread wholesale to other cafés and restaurants, and growing its successful outside catering business. 



Change perceptions

Another option to consider is FSB’s new Business Profiling service, which pulls together key business metrics such as search engine optimisation (SEO) ranking, online page views or Companies House records, so you can benchmark your performance against your competitors. 
For details, see fsb.org.uk/benefits

Review your premises

Having reviewed your finances, how can you keep the books looking even healthier over the coming year?

For Home of the Sofa, a furniture shop in Stratford-upon-Avon and FSB member, moving to new premises has enabled it to extend its range of products and bring in new customers.

“Our shop was in town but in a courtyard, so it was a challenge to get people to find us,” says owner Rachel Swain.

“Although we’re now out of town, we have parking spaces and we’re more prominent, as we’re on a main road.” 

Ms Swain and her partner planned for the move by investing in new lines, at a good price, that would fill the much bigger space they were moving to.

 

Share and share alike

If new premises are not an option, one way to broaden your business horizons is to share a co-working space, particularly if you usually run your business from home. These shared offices offer facilities such as Wi-Fi and meeting rooms but also the chance to network.

FSB member Dee Miller runs a co-working space called MinorOak in Nottingham. “Given the mix of people, it’s no surprise that people often end up doing projects together, hiring each other, and even starting up joint ventures,” she says.

Co-working can also help keep your business abreast of latest developments. “When you’re around other people doing the same thing, it’s easier to stay up-to-date,” adds Ms Miller.

“Also, people who work from home often struggle with loneliness and lack of focus. Getting out of the house and working with others can have an amazingly positive effect.”

Try something new

Geeta Sidhu-Robb, Founder of Nosh Detox, a weight-loss delivery service, aims to set herself a personal but business-related challenge every year. “Ask yourself, what are the three things that would really make a difference to my business this year?” she says. “One of mine last year was to become comfortable on stage – I’d previously been scared of public speaking – and now I’m doing it two or three times a week.” 

Invest in your team

Growing your business should not just be about increasing your profile or your physical footprint, either. Investing in your staff could pay dividends for years to come. Paul Russell, Co-Founder of training provider Luxury Academy, emphasises the importance of building employees’ skills not just in technical areas, but also in soft skills and leadership.

“Your employees are what differentiate your business, help it to grow and be successful,” says Mr Russell.

A survey by McDonald’s in 2015 found that by 2020 the annual contribution of soft skills to the economy will be worth £109 billion, and by 2025 will rise to more than £127 billion.
 

And finally...Look after yourself

Amid running a business, it’s easy to forget your work-life balance. One way to be more productive in less time is to be systematic about short-term and longer-term goals, says Helen Anco, Director of HR Coaching Services.

Set goals, and then set the ‘sub-goals’ you need to achieve to get there, she says. “Book time in for yourself, treating it as a meeting where you’re not to be disturbed,” she adds. “Also, review what you’ve achieved and how you got there.”

Using time productively, and booking non-business time, ensures you keep making the right decisions, says Carl Reader, author of The StartUp Coach.

“If you’re tired, the decisions you make aren’t as they should be,” he says. “The risk is that you find out too late and then the business suffers, too.”


Business resolutions made easy

• Set clear goals for the year but focus on fewer, quality targets that will really make a difference to your business
• Plan everything meticulously and make it visible, whether that’s dashboards on your finances or a business plan on a white board
• Invest in soft skills as well as technical skills for your staff, as this can boost customer engagement and therefore sales


• Think creatively about ways you can expand: are there products or services aligned to what you do that would fill a gap in the market?
• Collaborate. Don’t be shy or keep your business plans to yourself. Local networking or co-working could open a surprising number of doors 
• Look after yourself. Burning yourself, or your fellow managers, out is bad news for your business and your health