By Jesse Kolber, founder and CEO of LogicPrep.
When a business is just starting out, it's impossible to account for everything. Mistakes are inevitable, but the worst thing a growing company can do is make an avoidable mistake twice. The difference between "good enough" and "great" can often come down to preparation.
Document your wins, losses and best practices in order to learn and adapt. In some industries, this is obvious. For example, you would never see a clothing company short-staffed on Black Friday, without an abundance of inventory on Cyber Monday or closed on the day after Christmas. Stores know what to expect and prepare accordingly. So should you. Not every business is as predictable, of course.
But instead of becoming frustrated by a mistake or a missed opportunity, you can learn from your experiences and document them. Here's how:
- Use digital calendars. One of the best parts of web-based calendars is the "repeat" function. Our admin team manages a shared Google Calendar with all staff birthdays and reminders one week before so that we can properly prepare a celebration ahead of time. But birthdays are just the beginning: After your company has been around for over a year, you can start to see patterns such as peaks and lulls in your sales, as well as moments that you will want to engage with your customers. Making note of this from one year to the next allows for proper staffing and helps you anticipate what's to come. It's even helpful to look back at patterns when figuring out the best times for team members to book vacations.
- Document your wins and losses. It's easy to dwell on mistakes like being low on inventory or understaffed during busy times, but don't forget to celebrate your wins by taking notice of when and how they occur. For example, when conducting a marketing campaign, track the timing and the response rate. On a micro level, this will help you be more conscious of when to send out email marketing blasts. For example, different times of day often yield different readership rates. This works on a larger scale as well. Document your successes so that you can repeat them when the time is right, particularly if your business is cyclical in nature.
- Encourage your team to participate. Above all, the key to learning from the past and building successful patterns lies in documentation. As the CEO, it's important to remember that you're not the only one who possesses documentable knowledge. Each member of your team has a wealth of insight into what has and has not worked for them. Create a culture in which your team feels comfortable sharing these reflections, and develop a forum for translating them from mere observations into actionable steps. For example, create a training website where employees can record their roles, or give them access to a shared calendar so they can add important dates for their own (and others') reference down the road.
Of course, running a business means accepting that certain things are outside of your control -- and time has a funny way of escaping or sneaking up on you when you least expect it. However, carving out the time to plan ahead and learn from the past may translate to huge gains and a lot less stress down the road.
Jesse Kolber is the founder and CEO of LogicPrep, an education company that helps students prepare for college and beyond.