It's a new year, and of course, you can't help but be excited—and perhaps, a little nervous—about what is ahead. After all, nobody has a crystal ball. And with the tariffs and the government shutdown, which at the time of this writing is still going on, you'd be forgiven for wondering what's on the horizon in 2019. That's why you need a business plan—one specifically designed for the next 12 months.
Every business is different and has its own special needs and requirements, so I won't pretend that I can come up with a plan just for you. But these solid tips are the next best thing to me creating a custom 2019 business plan for you and only you (and everyone else reading this).
1. Evaluate how your operations run in your 2019 business plan.
Granted, this is a smart strategy no matter the year.
Test your business. Experiment. Don't just assume that because something works and has been working, it's the best version of what you've got. Sometimes you should fix what isn't broken.
Jonathan Prichard, founder and CEO of MattressInsider, a custom mattress manufacturer based out of Littleton, Colorado, discovered that recently.
“A great way to push growth in 2019 is by using split, a/b testing to optimize sales. Don't assume you know what your customers like—always show them two different versions to see what converts better," Prichard says.
Last year Prichard's company split tested four different logos on MattressInsider's website for three months.
“We found that one of the logos converted 25 percent more visitors [into customers] than the logo we had been using the previous eight years. That's a huge lift in sales for such a small change. Right now, I'm kicking myself for not testing it years earlier."
Prichard says that some operations you might want to test online include:
● Your website: landing pages, service pages, product pages, category pages, email opt-ins, contact pages
● Pay-Per-Click ads: advertising channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Adwords, YouTube, etc.
● Offline marketing efforts: postcards, letter mailings, etc.
“Make sure to track your efforts using unique phone numbers, website urls and coupon codes," Prichard suggests.
2. Make your business extremely attractive to employees.
It can be virtually impossible to grow a company without quality people, so your 2019 business plan should address hiring and retaining top talent.
Mike Sims is the founder and CEO of ThinkLions, a Detroit-based consulting agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs bring their app ideas to life.
The plan does not have to be perfect—it won't be—but it is possible to work on it day by day, keeping an eye on mistakes and trying to limit them with solutions that look like consensus and delegation.
—Ken Yager, president, Newpoint Advisors Corporation
Assuming that the unemployment rate remains low, Sims believes that companies are going to have to work harder than ever to attract talent. And if you're thinking, “We're already doing that," Sims thinks you probably need to do even more.
Over the last couple years, workplaces have been going above and beyond to make sure that their employees are satisfied in every way.
“Some workplaces have changed to incorporate gyms and daycare, offer extended vacation days and even allow for a flexible and remote schedule for their employees. Some workplaces bring in massage therapists on a frequent basis to help employees relax. There are even companies that have 'nap rooms' to provide employees with a relaxing environment for a quick power nap," Sims says.
“If you thought companies were focusing heavily on 'employee happiness' in 2018, just wait until you see what 2019 brings," he says.
Which means you may have to really up your game and offer even more benefits to stand out, if you want to hire and retain top talent, Sims says. But it doesn't necessarily have to be a big, expensive or disruptive change, he adds.
“Survey or interview your employees and learn about the things that they find important," Sims suggests.
“Not every business can put a giant trampoline in the middle of the office, but something as simple as a fitness club allowance may help your employees realize how much you value their health and well-being," he says.
3. Invest in your business.
That might mean buying new equipment so people can do their jobs better or finding a way to make your supply chain more efficient. It could also mean investing in your people, says Teri Dreher, a registered nurse and CEO of NShore Patient Advocates, a patient advocacy firm in Chicago.
“The most important thing I am doing as a business owner this year is to invest time and resources developing leaders in my organization," Dreher says.
“It may sound corny," she continues, "but my nurse advocates and office staff are my most valuable resources. The more we grow financially, the more generous I am to them in terms of benefits, raises and paid time off. When employees are happy, feel appreciated and believe in the value of the work we do, it is contagious—and clients tell others about us."
And given the aforementioned low unemployment rate, that's all the more reason to consider making investing in your people part of your business plan. People tend to want to stick around when they know that their skills are always being sharpened, and that they're becoming more valuable as an employee.
4. Go on a listening tour.
Your strategy for growing your business doesn't have to involve spending a lot of money.
"My advice to grow your business in the new year is to go on a listening tour," says Paige Arnof-Fenn, the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global marketing and branding firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"Politicians do it all the time and it is great for business too," Arnof-Fenn continues. "Make a list the movers and shakers [in your industry], people you admire and prospects, ask a few smart, open-ended questions [and] then sit back and take notice. They will be more than happy to tell you what is on their mind. If you listen to what they share with you, there will be plenty of opportunities to help them. Start listening with no strings attached, you'll be amazed what you find. For the price of a few coffees and meals you will get an earful."
A listening tour with not only potential clients and customers but with your employees and suppliers could generate a lot of time and money-saving strategies. This is a smart strategy for any C-suite executive to embark on—even if you run a corporation and have thousands of employees.
5. Try not to grow too fast.
Yes, that sounds counterproductive to having a business plan focused on growth in 2019. But this year's business plan should aim for smart growth, says Ken Yager, president of Newpoint Advisors Corporation, a turnaround management firm in Schaumburg, Illinois.
“One thing we have seen is companies literally growing themselves to death," Yager says.
How do you avoid that?
“In the end, it's all about cash flow," Yager says. “We tell all aspiring growth companies to get on a weekly cash-flow planning tool. Change is coming to growth companies and when it does you need to be able to pivot. Cash planning is the way to measure your pivots."
You probably don't need to be told that it's smart to manage your cash flow or to be careful that your expenses don't grow faster than your revenue. On the other hand, it's never bad to be reminded before it happens. When the orders are piling up and customers are clamoring for your products and services, it can get too busy to think about moderating your growth.
That's why it's helpful to have a business plan that offers strategies for managing your company's success.
“Growing to just watch it all fall down again is painful and frustrating and generates a lot of blame as inevitably that sort of cycle comes with failure due to dropped balls in execution," Yager says. “If you are not planning the structure of how you are going to manage growth, you really are not growing. The plan does not have to be perfect—it won't be—but it is possible to work on it day by day, keeping an eye on mistakes and trying to limit them with solutions that look like consensus and delegation."
And you definitely need to delegate, Yager cautions. “If you think you can solve all of your company's issues by working harder as the owner, you will only achieve burnout and isolation," he says.
But don't worry. Burning out and being isolated isn't in your 2019 business plan—growing intelligently thanks to listening to members of your community, investing in your business and team and evaluating your operations are.
Read more articles on strategy.
Photo: Getty Images