Better Business Resolutions

By Veronica Boutelle

The new year is coming, and if you’re like most small business owners, you’ve made a number of promises to yourself. Maybe you’ve resolved that this next year will be the year you get serious about your marketing plan or repainting your space or finally raising your rates. If you’re like most humans, the initial excitement of these promises will give way by mid-January to the sense of inevitable doom that comes along with resolutions. Whether at the new year, upon returning from an inspiring conference, or anytime we promise ourselves change, that brief period of determination and hope we know will give way soon enough to the reality of day-to-day life.

What can we do to help the promises we make ourselves actually come to pass? The key is good planning.

ASSESS THIS LAST YEAR

Grab—or make—a few quiet hours to sit down and reflect.

Question your services. Ask yourself what worked well this year and what didn’t. How much revenue did each service bring in? How much time, effort, and expense went into generating that revenue? Is it time to add something new? You’ve noted that clients regularly ask for boarding referrals, for instance; maybe it’s time to offer in-house boarding services.

Look at your policies. Did your policies (cancellation, payment, scheduling, pick up and drop off, etc.) do what they were meant to do? If yours aren’t protecting revenue, avoiding client conflict, increasing efficiency, and contributing to your enjoyment of your work, they aren’t doing what they should. A cancellation policy, for example, that asks clients to give you 24-hours’ notice for a boarding cancellation isn’t a very effective policy if it generally takes you two days to fill an open slot.

Check your rates. How do they stand compared to those of your colleagues? Do you feel well compensated? Do they accurately reflect your marketing message? For example, if you tout your staff as the most qualified and well-trained in the area or your facility as the most advanced and pleasant but your rates are average or below, you’re undermining your marketing message and leaving money on the table.

Review your schedule. Did you feel in control or like the proverbial headless chicken? Where was your time most spent, and were those the right places? Do you need some assistance this year? In what areas? If you’re like most small dog business owners, you’re likely spending most of your time in the business—providing direct care to dogs and customer service to clients—and very little time on the business—pursuing the kinds of activities, like marketing, that are essential to growth and longevity. If that’s so, you’ll need to reprioritize, and that may mean hiring some help. Do you want that help on the business end, for direct care activities, or maybe even at home to give yourself more time to focus on your business at large?

Assess your enjoyment. Do you feel excited about the year to come or exhausted at the prospect? What parts of your work do you look forward to? Which parts would you like to improve, hand over, or jettison altogether? Again, it may be time to hire, and the first tasks off your plate should be the ones you enjoy least.

MAKE DECISIONS FOR THE YEAR TO COME

Based on your assessments, what do you want to do differently this coming year? Break any broad strokes down into specific goals. For example, if you decide you’d like to make more money, decide how much more. If you want to get control of your schedule or feel less frazzled, spell out what that means. Time for yoga class three times a week? Two days off in a row? A master schedule to live by?

BREAK OUT THE CALENDAR

Now it’s time to plan. This is where most resolutions fail. It’s easy to make determined statements about what we will and will not do, but without planning it’s also easy to fall back into regular patterns of behavior. Pull out the 2014 calendar now while it’s still relatively wide open and unscheduled, and set aside specific days and times to work on the goals you’ve set. Literally mark them out in your calendar, and then plan around them as though they are intractable. Do not give in to temptation to schedule over them when things get busy. This is exactly what keeps us from moving forward. Write these work times down in pen, literally and figuratively.

HOLD QUARTERLY PROGRESS MEETINGS

Yep, even if you’re the only one in the company. (Just close the door so no one hears you talking to yourself.) Set aside as much time as you can (at least a couple hours but a whole day if possible) once per quarter to check on your progress, make adjustments to your plans, and keep yourself on track.

Successful resolutions are dependent on breaking the domination of the day to day. You have many demands competing for your attention: emails to be answered, phone calls to be returned, clients and dogs to care for, invoices to prepare, bills to pay, and on and on. It’s hard in the midst of these pressures to make changes, even when you know those adjustments will improve your bottom line or daily experience.

Take a moment now to create space in the coming year to come up for air on a regular basis. To meet your New Year’s resolutions, you’ll have to work on your business, not just in it.

Veronica Boutelle, M.A.Ed., CTC, is the founder of dog*tec, the dog industry’s leading business support company, the author of How To Run A Business: Putting Your Career Where Your Heart Is, The Business of Dog Walking: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love, and co-author of Minding Your Dog Business. Veronica writes regularly for professional dog journals and is a sought-after speaker at conferences and seminars around the country and internationally. You can learn about how dog*tec helps dog businesses succeed at www.dogtec.org or reach Veronica directly at veronica@dogtec.org.

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