By Jackie Zimmermann
'Tis the season for resolutions, with New Year's Day marking the starting line for goals focusing on health, money and relationships. But why not also extend your quest for self-improvement to your business?
"The science behind goals is definitive," says business consultant and therapist Peter Shallard. "It works."
Whether it's growing your small business, learning a new skill or managing your finances, having a concrete set of resolutions is a great way to stay focused in 2016.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
Take the time to understand your finances
Understanding the nitty gritty of your finances is crucial to running a successful small business, but this is especially true if you're coming from a place of bad credit. The best way to get a handle on your finances, says Brad Farris, a business advisor with Anchor Advisors, is to sit down once a month and review your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow for the prior month. Use the time to look for changes and trends, as well as to monitor your receivables and inventory.
Also, consider hiring a bookkeeper, a relatively inexpensive option, Farris says. A bookkeeper will do a better job of identifying patterns and monitoring your finances, he adds.
"It's done on time instead of in the middle of the night when you're bleary eyed and should be doing something else," he says. "I always tell my owners that if I see them entering a transaction in QuickBooks themselves, I'm going to slap their fingers."
Mind your health
According to a recent survey by Bank of America, 55% of small-business owners work over 50 hours a week, with 10% putting in more than 70 hours. Long hours at the office mean less time for yourself and your family, and at the end of the day, it can be hard to turn your brain off and get adequate rest.
"Insomnia is dangerous for a business owner because lack of sleep has a huge negative effect on your energy levels, clarity of thinking, emotional resilience, and ability to make sound decisions rapidly," says Shallard, whose therapy practice is geared toward entrepreneurs.
To help your mind relax, he recommends taking 20 minutes before bed to "download" your thoughts onto paper, writing out what's worrying you, or things you've learned throughout the day.
If sleep is still a problem, try altering the knee-jerk response to consume caffeine.
"Coffee is not the fix for tiredness," Farris says. "Sleep is the fix for tiredness."
Farris adds that including exercise in your morning routine is another good health goal for 2016, because it is something you can do every day and feel like you've accomplished something.
"You get up, set a goal, get it done, feel good and start your day on a win. It's a major confidence booster," he says.
Learn to let go of bad employees
Small businesses often mean small teams, which may lead to more familial bonds with your employees. This may mean feelings of guilt and frustration when you have an underperforming worker whom you genuinely like as a person.
"I think what people mean by family is they don't hold people accountable; we just love each other," Farris says. "If anybody said that about a baseball team, we'd think they're nuts."
The bigger problem often lurking in the background is a lack of resources to handle the transition. If your business is small, letting a person go means more work for the employees who remain and more of your time spent recruiting and training. Farris advises reaching out for help -- from professionals, other small-business owners, friends -- when recruiting new employees.
"If you have confidence you can get good people, then you're less reluctant to get rid of bad people," he says.
Have a growth plan
Growth is good, but (realistic) growth plans are better.
Instead of just focusing on an arbitrary number (I'm going to grow 75% this year!), Farris recommends analyzing your current growth trajectory and using it as a baseline for future goals. Once you have goals in place, start quantifying how you'll turn them into a reality.
"Breaking down the big picture into specific steps is the only way to know whether or not you're setting realistic objectives," Shallard says. "And it's also the only way to quantify your progress throughout the year in a meaningful way."
The beginning of the year is also a good time to look at your team and figure out the resources they need to manage the company's growth effectively. Do they need more training? Who can handle a promotion? Should you hire more staff?
Attend industry events
Although a networking gathering might not sound like a good time, getting your face -- and your business -- in front of new people is a great way to expand your brand. Start by picking one big industry conference a year, and if you enjoy the experience, consider adding smaller networking events into the mix. Learning what others are talking about and struggling with is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry as your business grows.
Jackie Zimmermann is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jackie_zm.
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