As the day-to-day, real-world economy starts to slowly recover--as opposed to the ongoing and inexplicable insanity driving Wall Street--the businesses that are going to be winners in 2021 have already largely been determined.

Not because of competitive considerations, or the impact of bogus congressional hearings or expected regulatory interventions or because, rightly or wrongly, they scored big in the PPP lottery and don't plan on paying a dime back.

Not because they invented something so radically new that it set the world on fire, cost less than a dollar, was non-fattening, and tasted like chocolate.

And not because they raised ridiculous amounts of funding through new financial instruments, socially driven new market makers like Robin Hood, and investment vehicles like the utterly opaque special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which are everywhere today. Money in general may have no smell, but these SPACs smell vaguely familiar and seem sadly reminiscent of the collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that destroyed the real estate and financial markets in the recession of 2007-2009.

Nope. The answer is none of the above. The winners of tomorrow are going to be the men and women who spent 2020 -- in the heart of the pandemic -- getting ready for and setting the stage for success in 2021. The future's successes are built on yesterday's foundations. You can't grow a seed in bad soil.

The future isn't known or certain, but it's far more likely to be fun and favorable if it's predicated on a firm foundation and a disciplined and continual commitment to nurturing, enhancing, and expanding the connections you have and the critical relationships you need to maintain with your existing customers and prospects.

The problem for too many company owners and operators, as well as millions of entrepreneurs, is that in good times they get too busy and in tough times they get too down to pay attention to executing the fundamentals.

In the best of times, we convince ourselves that we're geniuses and that our good fortune will never end. The next step after that delicious delusion is to start taking your customers for granted and forgetting that it's never been easier for them to walk.

Loyalty today means nothing more than the momentary absence of something better or cheaper (often right around the corner or a click away) unless you make sure that your clients and customers have good reasons to stay and that you are communicating those reasons effectively on a continuous basis.

Communication is key and we often forget that your marketing spend needs to track your revenue growth if you want customers to keep coming back, and also spread your story through favorable word of mouth. Coasting or reducing your advertising, marketing, and incentive dollars because you're too busy with your current business and making a lot of money is a guarantee that you won't be too busy or too flush for much longer.

And it's also human nature in the worst of times (like the year we've just endured) to be conservative, to try to "cheap it out" for a while, and to reduce your promotion and marketing expenditures. No one in history has ever "saved" their way to success. The time to build and reinforce your brand and your longevity is in the tough times, when the competition is often asleep at the switch. The people and businesses that keep in touch are the ones we're going to be reaching out to as the world returns to near normal.

It may still be sub-zero outside in many places, but those flower and garden catalogs keep coming and make for warm and fuzzy feelings and dreams about an early spring. Plant well and often and the harvest will take care of itself.