Sunday, January 07, 2001

Success tips

Resolve to upgrade business

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

        Time for New Year's resolutions:

        • Stay focused: A TV commercial says something like “Do one thing well.” That's my mantra for 2001. The biggest problem facing most businesses is staying focused on their bread-and-butter business and “core competencies.” Clarify the ingredients of your success, and keep your attention on those.

        • Get a Web site: Customers expect to be able to find you on the Internet. By now, if you don't have at least a simple Web site, you don't look legitimate. It doesn't need lots of bells and whistles, just be decent looking, with answers to basic questions about your company.

        • Pay attention to current and past customers: It's easier and cheaper to keep a current customer than to find a new one. The biggest marketing mistake I see in small companies is lack of attention to their former and current client base.

        • Get a database: You can't stay in touch with customers if you don't have an easy-to-use mailing list. Are you still keeping your address list in Word?

        • Establish “policies”: Whether you work alone at home or have 100 employees, we can all use a “policy manual.” When will you take time off? What are your work hours? When will you not answer the phone or turn on the computer? Employees need to know what they can expect in terms of sick days, vacation, overtime, etc. But you and your family deserve to know this as well.

        • Improve your skills: If you're not improving, your company can't. So at least once a year, take a training course, attend professional seminars, go to a trade show. Improve your company's value by improving its most valuable asset — you!

        • Get organized: Face it, none of us will ever get totally organized, so here are a couple simple things you can do right now: take all your old files out of your desk and start with fresh files for 2001; move a recycling can to the place where you open your mail (and by the fax machine) so you can toss stuff immediately. I just did both!

        • Eliminate one unproductive activity: Clean out your business just like you clean out your closet. Get rid of those activities that aren't profitable anymore. Ask yourself: does this activity bring me profits or cash flow? Does it fit the direction my business is going?

        • Find a better way to deal with e-mail: I get deluged with e-mail. I already have a system of “filters,” which sort out some of the stuff I don't need to look at right away, but every day I seem to fall further and further behind. My resolution is to set aside a time every day just to do e-mail.

        • Look at your overall financial picture: After the last few boom years, 2001 may be a return to a more rational and challenging economic climate. Be prepared. Examine your finances now. Start a reserve account and increase your access to credit by upping your credit lines or getting additional credit cards. Use these very carefully — or not at all.

        • Prepare for emergencies: Did you get a fire safe? A backup system for your computer? As a veteran of two hard disk crashes, an earthquake and a major storm, I can attest that bad things do happen to good businesses.

        • Finally, let's all find ways to have our businesses help others. Make 2001 a year in which we add to the wealth of the world, not just in monetary terms but in terms of kindness, sharing, lending a hand, and giving others opportunity. As we focus on improving the bottom line, never forget that the bottom line is just the bottom. Let us all aim higher.

        Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies and Wear Clean Underwear: Business Wisdom from Mom. Visit


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