As The New Year Begins, 4 Things to Stop Putting Off
C’mon, we all have them: lists of things we’re going to do when we "get around to it," things that fall into that all-important "strategic but not urgent" bucket, things that you resist because you don’t like being nagged about them. And maybe even things you did do, once, but haven’t revisited in a long time. Well, what better way to get 2014 off to a great start than by quickly crossing some of these lingering issues off your list?
1. Cull that customer list. Every business has them, the so-called “demon” customers that can actually lose you money. Maybe they only buy from you when there’s a steep discount. Maybe they tie up your staff asking endless questions and then walk out the door empty-handed. Maybe they return items after submitting rebates for them. Maybe they’re just endlessly needy. Or maybe they expect a lot of services to be thrown in for free. Whatever they do that leads to losses, it can add up. One study found that the bottom 20% of customers can generate losses that are greater than the total company profit! So, ask yourself: How long has it been since I’ve taken a good hard look at my customer base? When was the last time I “fired” an unprofitable customer? How will I avoid selling to those kinds of customers this year?
2. Free up time for the work that only you can do. Anyone running their own shop has certain attributes, like drive, the need for control, and the desire for independence, that are highly laudable. Those traits can also get in the way, though, when aimed at the wrong things. Here’s the problem: There are an awful lot of things that go into running a business that someone other than you could be doing. Maybe not the way you would do them, but well enough. This is a great time to give some thought to what you are doing yourself that someone else could handle. Everybody has their quirks in this regard. I know a business owner who insists on hand-tying the bows on her high-end chocolate products because no one else does it with exactly her sense of style. For a lot of us, figuring out how to extricate ourselves from the more time-consuming aspects of our financial systems is the hurdle. Or we may keep some things on our plates because, frankly, we enjoy them, even if they aren’t activities that grow sales or develop business. So, be tough: Can you delegate, automate, eliminate or otherwise pull yourself away from that stuff to get laser-focused on what only you can do?
3. Get your $%&*@ together. You’ve heard it a thousand times: Make sure your affairs are in order! And maybe you did at one stage, but have you kept things up to date? Have you made sure that in the event of something unfortunate happening to you that you’ve let people in on not only the big things, like wills and estate matters, but the smaller things, like passwords, on-line logons, the locations and access to accounts, and the like? There is a website that offers a real and unambiguous wake-up call and lots of handy forms. While this is an important to-do for anyone, it's particularly important for business owners. I know of cases in which a business owner ended up leaving the company to a spouse who was at odds with all the other partners in the business and it ended up being a big mess. Ok, enough nagging, you know what to do.
4. Audit all your “free” goodies. You’ve probably accumulated several dozen loyalty cards, frequent flyer points, business perks, office-supply credits, credit card points, and on and on. So when was the last time you actually went through and looked at what these accounts might do for you? Do you even know what is on offer for all these accounts? Worse yet, have you had potentially valuable points expire because you lost track of them? Take a couple of hours, track down those floating accounts, and think about what you might be able to do, buy, or experience without having to dig into your own pocket. Now that would be a nice New Year’s present to yourself.
RITA GUNTHER MCGRATH | Columnist
Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, is a globally recognized expert on strategy and the author of three books, including 2013's The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast As Your Business (Harvard Business Review Press).