The holidays are busy for everyone, but for small businesses in particular they can be downright hectic. Once the crowds die down and the New Year approaches, you’ll be tempted to put your feet up and get some much-deserved relaxation. You should definitely do that! But first…just one little thing. Find twenty-five minutes to do five activities that will set your business up for success in 2017. You’ll want to have a notepad handy, because most of these ideas involve writing quick lists. You should always go with what pops into your brain first when going through the list, because that’s most often the most honest and correct answer. To make sure you don’t go over, set the timer on your phone for five minutes for every activity. Now, onto the list:
1. Reflect on the past year
No, you don’t have to go out and find a mantra and start meditating. But taking five minutes to look back on your year is time well spent, helping you to identify things that went well, things that went poorly, and things that were outside your control.
This is also a great time to practice asking better questions - start with the questions you ask yourself during this exercise. Don’t ask yourself yes or no questions. Instead, ask questions about why and how and what comes next. Those kind of questions will help you reflect on the last year productively rather than re actively.
The trick is to not spend more than five minutes doing this – it’s a rabbit hole you could easily fall down. This is just a map for you to follow in the coming weeks. By taking down the first thing that comes to your mind, you have the outline of a plan. You can go back in the coming weeks and flesh out that plan.
Take a closer look especially at what went badly last year – was it a decline in sales? Staffing issues? Inventory control? Set a schedule for yourself to review each item by a certain date to try to find a solution so you’re not writing it down again next year!
When you look at things that were out of your control, set a time to go over each of those in turn as well. If you suffered from a lot of friction on account of your vendors, for example, can you change vendors going forward? Look for that lead domino and find a way to knock it over.
2. Examine your team structure
Was last year marked by good teamwork and a solid group of people you could rely on? Or did you have to mediate squabbles, play scheduling tetras, or constantly monitor your team’s performance? Again, at this point you’re laying out a plan to follow up on, not trying to solve world peace in five minutes. You’re identifying your pain points.
If you find, upon reflection, that your team hasn’t gelled the way you wanted it to, you can consider options later – just make sure to create a schedule for reviewing your list so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside once things get hectic again. When it’s time, you can think about team building exercises, extra incentives or restructuring to optimize your team.
3. Consider your infrastructure
Take five minutes to jot down any brewing concerns about your infrastructure – your office, storefront, equipment, etc. Do you expect to outgrow your space or need new equipment in the coming year? Get ahead of the problem now by setting aside a time on your calendar to research your options.
Most businesses don’t address their infrastructure issues until they become emergencies. Emergencies, in turn, become enormous sources of stress and obstacles to the success of your business. That’s not what you want, so make this item a priority from the very beginning of the year.
4. Set reasonable expectations for yourself
Don’t go into 2017 with a dozen New Year’s Resolutions you can’t possibly hope to keep, and that will only cause you stress and disappointment. Instead, take five minutes to work out a daily schedule for yourself that you will stick to all year. Running a business is a hectic job, but unless you manage yourself very carefully it can take over your entire life, causing a tidal wave of stress and even depression.
If you find yourself in over your head, there are ways out. And never be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
5. Do a five-minute SWOT analysis to focus your attention
SWOT stands for Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat. This is an exercise that can take weeks to fill out in detail, but you can do a serviceable SWOT analysis in just a few minutes. Here are a few things you should know:
- Strengths and Weaknesses are internal in nature – you list the top three that come to mind under each.
- Opportunities and Threats are external – what is about to change or has recently changed that you can either take advantage of, or stay away from?
A SWOT analysis can be as simple as the grid below. You can draw it on the back of a napkin if you want. Here’s an example:
A SWOT analysis gives you a quick and dirty snapshot of your business. It’s an excellent tool to focus your attention where it belongs in the coming year. Keep it by your side and refer to it often, adding to it as new items emerge.
Now you’ve got a reasonable foundation in place to solve many of your issues going forward into the New Year. Go put your feet back up – you’ve earned it.