Start the New Year Off Right: 5 steps on the path to small business success


The champagne bottles are empty. The fireworks have long since dissipated into the ether, and the celebrations are over. It’s 2008 now, and if you’re lucky you crossed the threshold with a clear mind and a clean slate.

Even if you have leftover To Do items, now’s the chance to either hammer them out or put them at the top of a new list so they’re not the dregs of times past. In the business world, there’s a reason most companies forge multiyear plans and annual budgets. Sometimes a new beginning offers new opportunities.

To take advantage, of course, means looking back and looking ahead. As your business enters a new year, take a moment to congratulate yourself on surviving the odds and keeping afloat while many others failed. After all, it is no accident that you’re still standing.

Now it’s time to position yourself for success in 2008. That means adding new clients and new projects, and finding out what direction your business should take. Here’s my five-step process:

  1. Assess your financial health. Before you can set goals for the new year, it’s useful to understand how your business fared in 2007. We all know our bottom-line numbers, but how did you get there? My business is always healthier when my income stream is from multiple sources. My ideal mix is two to four large projects and some ongoing smaller jobs for steady clients. What’s your ideal income stream, and did you achieve it? If not, why not?
  2. Review your current client list. You know who they are, but do you like them? I’m lucky enough to work with clients I like, but that doesn’t always mean I like the type of work I’m doing for them. That’s okay. But if your clients aren’t easy to manage, at least some of your time would probably be better spent doing business development. It’s a tough call, but not all clients are equal.
  3. Develop an ‘08 strategy. Once you have a picture of how your business fared last year and why, it’s time to set goals for 2008. Even if everything is going well, “keep doing what I’m doing” isn’t a good goal because it neither defines what you’re doing nor why it’s working. My top two goals are both about business development: 1) find two to four interesting, strategic projects, and 2) find two to five new clients with ongoing work for me. The strategy and tactics for each are different, as is the time frame for achieving each goal. Organizations are often willing to make small outlays to meet a short-term need, but can take months to make a decision about spending the money on a strategic planning process. Make sure you have the appropriate prospecting list, marketing letter and elevator speech to attract the type of client (and project) you’re looking for.
  4. Reconnect with contacts. The new year is also a great time to reconnect with friends, business acquaintances, and other people in your Rolodex, business card stack and Outlook Contacts list. I have a list of 15–20 people to start with. A few are warm prospects; several are networking resources. Most are people I like and believe could be useful—but only if I ask. It’s also important not to forget your circle of friends. Do they know someone who might be a good business resource?
  5. Implement your plan. This seems obvious, but it’s also the hard part. If you’re like many independents and solo practitioners in the communication field, you find multiple reasons to put off doing business development. I’m guilty too. That’s why I’m a believer in doing the analysis first, then setting defined goals and laying out the specific strategies and tactics to achieve them. It’s just harder to avoid making that phone call when the contact’s name is staring you in the face or getting that pitch letter out the door when you’ve got customizable text written and a list of five to 10 companies on this week’s marketing roster.

The business of running a business is hard work, especially when you’re responsible for both finding clients and executing projects. But the rewards are great, as I reminded myself the other day as I was dodging tourists around the Lincoln Memorial during a sunny winter afternoon run while everyone else in the work world was chained to a desk. But sunshine aside, the rewards don’t fall from the sky. You have to earn them, and hopefully these five steps for the new year will put you on the path to 2008 success.