You closed the sale with your last customer for the year. You made it through the holiday season. As the pace slows, the turning of the year is the perfect time to reflect on your goals and challenges and plan your business for success in the year ahead.
Gigi Guyton knows planning from both sides of the table. As an entrepreneur, she started and sold a thriving landscaping business, and she runs several vacation rental properties. As a business counselor in South Portland, she teaches other entrepreneurs how to develop, sustain and grow their businesses.
In December and January, most business owners total up their financials from the past year for taxes. Gigi notes that now is prime time to look forward.
“This is the time of year to plan because the numbers are fresh. There is usually a lull in January as folks take a breather from the holidays, and that makes it a good time for business owners to reflect and plan ahead,” she says. “Even if things are going well, consider this time of business planning as a New Year’s resolution for your business.”
Diana Higgins, a licensed massage therapist in Presque Isle, speaks firsthand to the impact of business planning. She was in business for several years when she found herself at a crossroads. As she sought new office space for her practice, she needed a plan to evaluate her options and develop strategies for growth.
Diana enrolled in Beyond Start Up, a five-week class where she learned how to produce a cash flow projection, understand a profit/loss statement and calculate her break-even point. With these tools, Diana was able to track the progress of her business and make adjustments.
“This is not my first business I have owned, but this is the first time I am operating with an understanding for the numbers,” Diana says.
Her analysis helped her decide how to take her business to the next level: “I now own a building for my business, have a vision for growth and a timeline for how best to execute a business I would be proud to call mine.”
Setting goals starts with reviewing last year’s progress. How many customers did you project by the end of the year? Why did you reach your goals or why did you fall short? How does your actual profit and loss statement look compared to what you thought you would have for revenue and expenses? What worked last year, what didn’t, and what is the best strategy moving forward?
Jane Searles, microenterprise trainer for Women, Work, and Community in Bangor, stresses the importance of setting realistic goals.
“Once you have reviewed the details, especially the money side of your business, it is time to set new realistic goals that may include buying equipment, adding an additional service or product based on your customer feedback, or hiring an employee,” Searles says. “All of that needs to be written into your business plan to provide a realistic map of where you are going, why, and how fast in the New Year.”
Lindy Howe, owner of Heywood Kennel Sled Dog Adventures, might have the best excuse for ignoring the seasonal planning imperative: Her business is at its peak in mid-winter. As a musher and an entrepreneur, Lindy is a risk-taker, and she admits, “Sometimes I go with my gut feeling and don’t worry about planning out too much in the beginning.”
But planning was critical to Lindy’s business success.
In 2008, when Lindy first considered turning her hobby into a business, she enrolled in the Basics of Starting a Business to learn the elements of a business plan. She developed her plan in the New Ventures entrepreneurship training and launched Heywood Kennel in January 2010. Two years later, as she prepared for a major move from Aroostook County to Augusta, Lindy enrolled in Beyond Start Up to develop a new plan. The support she found in the class gave her the boost she needed to think big.
“I learned a lot about the confidence to get out of the basic need stage — the survival mode — and be able to accept that the business was real. It was working and it was growing,” Lindy says. “It was hard to see myself as a business owner at all, never mind one that was headed towards success. The course forced me to talk the talk and walk the walk.”
Now, a year later, Lindy reports that planning paid off. Business has quadrupled, and Heywood Kennel is in the process of buying another business to add to its products.
Like Gigi, Diana, Jane, and Lindy, you can put business planning to work for you. If you wrote your plan to secure financing for start-up, don’t let it gather dust. Go back to the drawing board and evaluate where you were, where you are, and where you are going.
If you have never written a business plan, now is the time. Set goals, strategies, and timelines. Like your New Year’s resolutions, your business plan is ultimately for you more than anyone else. Take the time to reflect and refresh, and your business will benefit.
Erica Quin-Easter is microenterprise coordinator for Women, Work, and Community in Aroostook County. Free business planning classes with Women, Work, and Community are open to entrepreneurs of all genders. Upcoming classes include Introduction to Self Employment workshops on Jan. 9 in Bath and Jan. 15 in Rockland; the three-week Basics of Starting a Business class, beginning Jan. 10 in Portland and South Portland and Jan. 16 in Augusta; and Beyond Start Up, a five-week class for entrepreneurs who have been in business one year or more, beginning Jan. 30 in Bangor. For information on classes and other resources, visit www.womenworkandcommunity.org or call 800-442-2092.