Your New Year’s resolutions for 2010

Unsurprisingly the web’s awash with New Year’s Resolutions, so I thought I’d share some of ours at Smarta in they hope they resonate with your plans whether you’re just starting-up or looking to grow your business.

1. Get close (and stay close) to your customer

The simplest most obvious, yet criminally overlooked business maxim should top everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions. It’s all too easy to assume because existing customers are buying, they’re happy. If they were happier, would they buy more? Worse, if they’re unhappy and you’re not listening why, how long before a competitor does?

Assumption is an entrepreneurial evil too often mistaken for gut instinct. Don’t confuse the two and assume you know what customers want better than they do. You don’t. Don’t assume everyone thinks like you, either. They don’t. Powerful entrepreneurial instinct comes from understanding not assumption and is acquired by observing, listening and learning.

Put customer feedback at the heart of strategy – find out what they want then find a way of delivering it. You’ve never had more ways to interact with customers so embrace social media to gauge customers’ (both yours and your competitors’) needs, wants and frustrations then harness that power. Research and test everything.

2. Focus, prioritise, be more efficient

Thou shall resist temptation to do everything. Think Pareto Principle, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Focus on the significant few, rather than the insignificant many.

It’s a tried and tested sales technique, but apply Pareto across your strategic planning for the year. Carry out a simple exercise of ranking the expected impact of everything you’d like to achieve in 2010 and then ensure you’re applying resource proportionally.

My bet is that even if you agree about the importance of my first resolution of getting close to your customers, you won’t have allocated proportional time and budget to do this effectively. In turn, analyse where you are allocating resource without seeing return – and cull it.

3. Set attainable targets, measure progress, get in control

Unlike most New Year’s Resolutions that fail to see out January, set realistic, attainable targets and make a clear plan of how you intend to get there. Even if you’re just starting out and setting sales forecasts or web stats feels like you’re plucking numbers out of the sky, do it anyway: there will be value in monitoring whatever you end up hitting. If you don’t measure you’ve got nothing to assess to see what’s working and what’s not. Use January to get a simple but effective reporting process set-up so you’ve always got an aerial view of your business’ performance. Control is everything.

4. Work smarter to seize opportunities

Focus and prioritise strategy, but take stock of how you use your time personally as well. Apply the Pareto Principle again and consider how many hours a day you’re operating where you offer optimum value. Is your balance of email/calls/social media/meetings/work-life/minutiae ‘vs’ big thinking in check? Are you delegating enough and in the right places? What isn’t getting done?

Work efficiently but map yourself unscheduled time to work on ideas and to exploit opportunities without disrupting your other plans. Companies that seize emerging opportunities do so because they plan for the unplanned – those that are constantly at capacity or fighting fires can’t react quickly and miss out.

5. Share the vision

Once you’re clear what you’re targeting in 2010, share the vision both internally and externally. The more transparent you can be about your objectives, the better. Communicate shared targets and individual responsibilities, be honest about where you’re taking the company and why. Ask the team to share the burden and responsibility but, crucially, share the rewards by incentivising healthily. You need their buy-in.

Intellectual property and killer ideas aside, don’t shroud your ambitions for the year in secrecy externally, either. Be bold and talk to partners, suppliers, possibly even competitors, about what you’re looking to achieve and spaces where you think you could collaborate to help each other succeed.

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