Five key tasks to tick off before 2012
While many people have already written off 2011 in a haze of sunshine, relatives and a well-deserved Christmas drink, start-up entrepreneurs are afforded no such luxury.
With more than a week remaining of the current year, there’s still plenty to be done to prepare your business for 2012.
Even if you are taking a much-needed break, now is the perfect time to address a few key issues before the New Year.
Here are the five things you should be doing over the next week to ensure you are geared up and ready to go in 2012.
1. Focus on your targets
Christmas is a good time to line up your goals for the following year.
If you have 10 potential sales leads in mind, plan out when and how you will reach out to them. When is a good time to call them? How can you get in front of the decision-makers?
Think broadly about your strategy. What do you hope to achieve in 2012? What have you learnt from 2011 that will inform your plan for the year ahead?
Do your goals revolve around revenue targets? Or do you want proof of concept and market validation of your product or service?
By setting clear goals for the year, you will retain your focus and prevent you getting side-tracked by less important tasks. Draw up a list of priorities that will help you hit the goals you’ve set yourself and try to not deviate from them.
Suppliers should also be a target. Are you getting a good deal from your current supplier or should you be shopping around?
Similarly, are you able to cut your overheads by introducing efficiencies such as cloud computing, flexible working or partnership deals with other businesses?
2. Think about an online overhaul
The figures vary depending on who is taking the survey, but it is clear that most Australian small businesses aren’t fully utilising the internet as a sales, marketing and customer engagement tool.
For example, a recent Optus study found that 48% of SMEs do not have a website, with less than 10% fully understanding cloud solutions and a mere 21% using social media to interact with customers.
This reluctance to embrace technology is becoming increasingly archaic. Consumers are rapidly switching to the internet for their research and purchasing needs. By not having a web presence, your business is cutting off a vital supply line.
Similarly, many businesses are overlooking the potential of sales via mobile phones, which is set to have a significant impact this Christmas.
For the first steps you need to take to improve your online activity in 2012, check out our technology section.
The pause in your business’ trading should allow you to reflect on how you are portraying yourself to the outside world.
Hopefully, you will have tested your concept with as many customers as possible, even if you haven’t launched properly.
Furthermore, you should have laid your hands on some solid customer data or, at the very least, some decent feedback.
If so, there’s a decent chance that your pre-launch expectations of your customer base is a little wide of the mark. Maybe your customers are older than you expected, or there’s more men than women.
Alternatively, you may have missed the main appeal or point of difference that excites people about your product or service. Take a look at the figures, chat to your customers and work out if your proposition is being pitched in the right way.
The next step is to polish your delivery. Given the number of budding entrepreneurs out there, decent mentors and investors are highly sought after. Start-ups need an effective elevator pitch that helps them stand out from the crowd and gives others an easy understanding of the business model.
A good start is to take part in events such the Mentor Live series of mentor “speed dating”, organised by PushStart. The events involve three 15-minute sessions with a different mentor, allowing you to really poke holes in your start-up’s story.
4. Prepare for the “February squeeze”
As business advisory expert Greg Hayes explained earlier this year, February is a tough month for around 80% of Australian small businesses.
Why? Well, the increased cost of operating over Christmas is followed by a January dip, with consumers deciding to keep their money in their pockets until the festive excess has been accounted for.
Is your business part of the 80%? If so, you need to start preparing for the dip now. Map out your tax commitments and be conservative when making new hires or buying new equipment in the New Year.
While it may seem a long way off, also think about the end of the financial year. What can you do to minimise the amount of tax you pay and, almost as importantly, not get overloaded with paperwork this time around?
5. Get serious about late payment
Late payment was a standout problem for small businesses in 2011 and it only looks like getting worse next year.
According to Dun & Bradstreet, national payment terms have hit 53 days, with two-thirds of businesses taking more than 30 days to settle their debts.
The escalating debt crisis in Europe and concerns about Australia’s “two-speed” economy suggests that debtors will be even more jittery in the New Year.
Don’t tolerate late payment in 2012. Examine your customer base to find the serial late payers and make it clear that you are tightening up your processes.
Set strict payment terms and enforce them as soon as they are breached. Polite but persistent phone calls should be followed up by the possibility of court action, but wield a carrot as well as a stick – discounts for speedy payment are often effective.