Small Business Planning: Look Back to Move Forward

The end of the year is the perfect time to reflect on one’s life and business. While we’re all anxious to start off the New Year on the right foot, don’t skip a vital part of the business planning process. Take time to look back before you look ahead.

Small business planning is crucial to survival and growth.

Take time to reflect on your business. Where is it heading and where has it been?

Take Time to Reflect

Reflect on your accomplishments during the past year. Did you grow your revenue? Add new customers? Turn sporadic customers into loyal clients? Hit key milestones? Reach your goals?

Look back at things that didn’t go as planned. Did you lose a major client? Have a customer dispute payment? Run into a nightmare project? Spend too much time on non-revenue activities?

Measure the progress of your goals. First of all, did you set goals? Did you reach them in the allotted time frame? What helped you achieve them or hindered your progress? Upon further review, you may need to alter your goals or set more appropriate goals in the first place.

Related Reading: Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Look Ahead to 2017

Where do you want your business to go? Did you have success with a new product or service this year that you’d like to feature? Do you want to focus on delighting your current clients to deepen those relationships and grow with them? Are you looking to bring on new customers and expand your business? Is a merger or acquisition in your sights?

In order to achieve your business dreams, you need to create a road map. This is where setting SMART goals comes into play.

Your goals should be:
Specific
Measurable
Agreed Upon
Realistic
Time-Based

Inc. Magazine has a worthy read on how to set business goals if you’d like to learn more about this topic. As Herm Edwards famously said, “a goal without a plan is a wish.” He may have been a football coach at the time, but his thought process applies to business and life just as much as sports.

Keep in mind that goals aren’t permanent once they’re set. It’s helpful to review them regularly and adjust accordingly. Agility is a tool for small businesses to use to their advantage, so don’t feel locked in to current goals if your situation changes. Take time every week to focus on your business’s big picture and plan your road map, rerouting if necessary. It can be a breath of fresh air to step back from the daily grind to look at where you’re heading and where you’ve been.

Your Take

Do you set SMART goals for your business?

How often do you focus on planning for your business?

How do you encourage yourself to keep your business planning sessions?

We wish all small businesses a wonderful holiday season! Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.

CCC’s Chief Planner,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about your business goals, marketing needs or otherwise):
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5 Cool Gift Ideas for Creative Professionals

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! While some people stress over gift-giving, we enjoy the process of finding the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. (It even sharpens our marketing skills!)

Danbo Santa Claus by Takashi Hososhima via CC BY-SA 2.0

Danbo Santa Claus by Takashi Hososhima via CC BY-SA 2.0 http://bit.ly/2gWkJS8

If you’re buying for a creative professional, check out our ideas for the mad men or women in your life.

Moleskine Notebooks
Creatives love notebooks, and these are the cream of the crop. Of course you don’t have to buy Moleskine, but they do offer special, themed and creativity styles along with personalization. Looking to splurge? Consider the Smart Writing Set.

Starbucks (or enter favorite coffee shop here) Gift Card
Coffee shops are a second home or office for creatives. There’s just something about the atmosphere that gets the juices flowing. A Starbucks gift card is a charger for a creative and may lead to a breakthrough that changes your recipient’s life. Remember to take some credit if that happens!

Cool Travel Mug / Coffee Mug 
Notice that we said cool. Creative types are typically coffee fans, so they need a cool travel mug when they’re on the go and a traditional mug at home or in the office. Think about your recipient’s tastes — favorite shows, authors, teams, movies — and don’t forget about the aforementioned coffee shop. Pick up some cool swag from your recipient’s favorite coffee shop and include a gift card. Win-win!

Active Lifestyle Accessories 
Maybe it’s the constant brain activity or coffee consumption, but creative types are usually active people. Whether it’s bicycling, running, hiking or globe-trotting, your recipient probably has a favorite active or outdoor activity. Whatever it is, there’s plenty of equipment and accessories that fit in a variety of budgets.

Bring the Juice
If coffee shops are chargers for creatives, then they’ll need plenty of battery power for their electronics. Mobile chargers are a must for creative professionals, because they’re always on the move and take their gadgets with them. Keep their specific needs and tastes in mind (along with your budget), and find the item that’s perfect for the creative guy or gal in your life.

Bonus: Vacation
If you really want to splurge, every creative professional we know would love a vacation! It doesn’t have to be grand; book a night at a nice hotel or a quick weekend getaway. Give a break from the routine with an experience your recipient will always remember — a spa day, sky diving adventure, swimming with sharks expedition or a trip to your recipient’s favorite author’s museum or hometown.

What ideas would you add?

Do you enjoy the gift-giving process or does it stress you out?

p.s. If you’re still stuck on what to buy the creative person in your life, let us know. We’d be happy to help you out with some suggestions — no strings attached!

p.s.s. Is your creative professional overwhelmed with work? Perhaps our marketing, writing or social media services would help. We do offer gift certificates!

CCC’s CCO (Chief Creative Officer),
Jaime

Let’s chat (about gifts for creatives, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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5 Books Every Small Business Owner Should Read

We’re big readers here at CCC. As Mr. King reminds us below, that’s a good thing because we’re writers, and we like to be well-versed at our craft. Reading is important even if you don’t write though. Business professionals and owners everywhere can benefit from knowledge and experience shared in a good book.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”  -Stephen King

business books on a bookshelf

A selection of business reads by UNCG Research via CC BY-SA 2.0 http://bit.ly/2eE8A47

So let’s have a book swap! Below we’ve shared 5 books that have helped us in business (in no particular order), and we’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — Studies show that introverts are one-third to half of the U.S. population, and this book tells you how to embrace their personality and management style to improve your corporate culture and team. Introvert or not, every business professional needs to read this book.
  2. Death to All Sacred Cows — The most common negative review we’ve seen about this book is that its content is old news. Then why do so many businesses large and small still adhere to sacred cows for no reason? Beliefs such as, “The customer’s always right” can put you out of business. Read this book before that happens to you.
  3. David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants — Let’s be honest; any book by Malcolm Gladwell is a good choice, but we loved this one. David And Goliath shows how perceived underdogs may not be underdogs at all. This is a great read for small business owners everywhere who are wondering how to compete against bigger and better-funded opponents.
  4. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? The business world is constantly changing, and Seth Godin shows you how to be a linchpin. This book will help guide your career in corporate America or on your own, making you indispensable to bosses, organizations, business partners and clients. (Similar to Gladwell, any Godin book is a good and worthwhile read.)
  5. It’s Not About the Coffee — “We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people.” Howard Behar talks about taking a people-centric approach and treating employees, business partners and clients as people — not revenue sources, assets or labor costs. It’s crazy how many businesses don’t understand this concept, and the results you’ll achieve once you do.

BONUS: Things a Little Bird Told Me — Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, takes readers along on his unpredictable journey and shares smart business lessons along the way. He focuses on the power of creativity and how to harness it to achieve success.

As we were compiling this list, we kept coming up with additional suggestions. As bookworms, it’s difficult to limit any reading list to five recommendations! We’re sure we missed some, but that’s the beauty of reading lists — they’re constantly evolving.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”  -Stephen King

What books have helped you in business or in life?

Have you read a children’s or YA book that’s relevant in your adult life?

What’s your favorite literature genre?

Your favorite bookworm,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about good books, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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Does Your Small Business Have a Contingency Plan?

In preparation of the 2016 election, I recently attended my second year of Precinct Election Official (PEO) training by the local Board of Elections (BOE). In addition to keeping up with new developments, it’s helpful to review the massive amounts of information prior to each election.

What are the massive amounts of information? In addition to job duties and how machines work — contingency plans. The BOE has contingency plans for nearly any situation. Does your small business have contingency plans?

Does your small business have a contingency plan?

Why does your small business need a contingency plan?

  • You lose your largest client. Will you be able to stay afloat while you work to bring in new customers? Or is your business spread out enough to absorb such a hit?
  • Your niche market runs dry. Some markets are more volatile than others, but this could happen to nearly any industry or vertical market. (For example, look at how hard the Great Recession hit the construction industry.) It’s always a good idea to diversify your clientele enough to withstand market fluctuations.
  • You experience a medical emergency or illness. Nearly 80% of small businesses are self-employed individuals. (NASE) Will your small business be able to run without you? For how long? Do you have an exit plan?
  • Your area is hit with a natural disaster or extended power outage. Would you be able to continue to serve your clients? Is your business included in your emergency preparedness kit/plans?
  • You see an unexpected opportunity in the marketplace. How quickly can you add a product or service? Perhaps you’re seeing a decrease in demand for one of your key products or services. Can you switch your focus while still staying true to your brand? Agility is a valuable asset in the small business world.

Related Reading: 4 Lessons Learned in 4 Years as an Entrepreneur

You need to be prepared to handle unexpected obstacles in your business, from marketplace changes to health issues. While none of us can be prepared for everything, having a contingency plan for your small business will ensure a smoother ride when you encounter a future roadblock — or  a black hole.

Your Turn

What other situations should your small business be prepared for?

Have you switched the focus of your small business or changed businesses?

What other advice would you give to small business owners regarding contingency plans?

Still a scout at heart,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about contingency plans, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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What Makes a Successful Public Speaker? These 3 Key Points

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a networking luncheon hosted by my alma mater’s alumni association. While I always look forward to meeting fellow Flashes, I was particularly interested in hearing our city’s mayor speak.

Kent State University Alumni Association Akron Networking Luncheon

Yours truly (second from left) enjoying the Akron Networking Luncheon with fellow Golden Flashes. (Photo used with permission: http://bit.ly/2dxyTIs)

Mayor Horrigan was as good as I thought he would be, which made me think about what makes public speakers successful.

Start with Common Ground — The mayor was a Kent State alumni like the attendees, so he started off reliving his time at the university. As he was talking about a pivotal moment early in his college career, I found myself thinking back to my time at the school and the impact it has had on my life. By starting with what you have in common, you begin to develop a deeper connection with your audience.

Have a Conversation — While the person in front of the room is doing most, if not all, of the speaking, that doesn’t mean you have to be formal or talk down to your audience. Use language your listeners are familiar with, avoiding unnecessary jargon or technical terms. Interact with your audience as much as you can, given the environment, and leave enough time for a Q and A session. Oftentimes that is the most memorable part of the event due to the diversity of voices and ideas included.

Step Away from the PowerPoint — I’m a big fan of visual aids when appropriate, but the PowerPoint may be the most abused aid, or crutch, of all time. The next time you’re speaking to a group, forgo the PowerPoint and let your creativity take over. Use a giant notepad or wall size Post-It Notes to convey key points. Share a short video or photos to embed a special message or moment into your audience’s minds. Some of the best talks I’ve given and attended had no visual aids at all.

As I was kicking around this article in my head, I came across a fantastic article from Forbes on the same subject. It’s worth a read, Adele fan or not!

Public Speaking Spotlight

What tips would you recommend to a public speaker?

Do you take your audience into consideration when speaking or do you have a ‘signature style?’

What is the best talk that you’ve given and attended? Feel free to link to videos or transcripts in the comments!

Speaking on public speaking,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about public speaking, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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4 Retro Ways to Connect with Modern Audiences

Everywhere we look lately, from entertainment to business, what’s old is new again. Well established franchises are selling out movie theaters, the toy aisle is straight out of the eighties and businesses everywhere are turning back the clock to stand out in this fast-paced, digital world.

Clearly Conveyed Communications -- We give you a voice.

How can you go retro to connect with customers and grow your business today?

Make it personal with a handwritten note. When you receive a handwritten note, card or letter, it feels more personal. The recipient will appreciate that you took the time to put your thoughts on paper. The next time you want to thank a loyal customer or employee, don’t send an email. Jot down why you appreciate the recipient and how much you value the relationship, job he’s doing, etc. A little writing will go a long way!

How House of Cards is Winning the Marketing Game

Develop long-term relationships. Relationship marketing is a buzzword today, but the concept is straight out of a bygone era. Take the time to get to know your clients and employees, business partners and vendors. Let them know you’re in it for the long haul, not just a short-term sale. People want to do business with people they trust and that takes time to develop.

Give your audience your undivided attention. Viewers loved the alcohol carts in offices on Mad Men, but many of them missed the point. The ad men (and few women) would sit down and spend time with their clients when they stopped in. They weren’t too busy running from meeting to meeting to listen to their clients’ challenges and concerns. Many creative solutions were born over Old Fashioneds with no outside interruptions.

Mad Men: Master Storytelling In Any Era

Embrace paper in the digital age. In an age of email and the cloud, using paper is one way to grab recipients’ waning attention. Feature direct mail in your next marketing campaign, and reorder your physical business cards. In fact, go old school — embossing, engraving, bold lettering and colors set off with white space — to stand out from your competition. Going all digital removes your audience’s sense of touch, which limits their sensory experience while interacting with your brand.

In Summary

Handwritten notes, developing long-term relationships, giving your undivided attention and embracing paper will help you connect with today’s audiences. Don’t be afraid to be different, even if that means being inspired by a bygone era.

We’re grabbing our fedoras to head out for Old Fashioneds and Vodka Martinis with clients. Care to join us?

Embracing the future with help from the past,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about building relationships, your communications needs or otherwise):
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4 Lessons Learned in 4 Years as an Entrepreneur

On Sunday, my company, Clearly Conveyed Communications, celebrated its 4th anniversary. Along with some gray hairs and a sense of accomplishment, I’ve learned numerous lessons along the way.

CCC turns 4!

4 Lessons I’ve Learned in 4 Years as an Entrepreneur:

Starting and growing a business is a thrilling roller coaster ride. If you love roller coasters (like I do), you’re probably thinking that sounds great. Keep in mind though that you’re riding 24/7, and there are no stops — for bad days, client disasters or even life (which doesn’t stop while you’re trying to start a business). If you like consistency and scheduled days, then don’t start a business. The most even-keeled entrepreneur has experienced many “What the f%#k am I doing?” moments.

I’ve developed a new definition — and appreciation — of living lean. Most entrepreneurs and startups are not raking in venture capital money and operating on million dollar budgets. They’re trying to build something for the future and scrape by in the present. You have to scrimp, save, shop smartly and still make hard choices. There’s nothing romantic about trying to figure out how you’ll pay your mortgage (or rent) next month, but you have to find a way until you can grow.

You’re not doing business until you get paid. Looking for new business, maintaining your professional network and taking care of clients is all part of owning a business, but it’s important to not focus too much on activity. You’re not doing business until you can bill and collect payment. Otherwise, you’re doing charity work, which is commendable, but it won’t pay your mortgage.

Your time is valuable; learn to spend it well. Every entrepreneur and startup owner needs more hours in a day, so you’ll learn to value your time quickly. You have to balance how much time something will take versus the (realistic) potential reward. Every opportunity or client won’t be a good fit. As painful as it can be to walk away, wasting time on a situation that you know won’t work is even worse. Use your time wisely so that you’ll be able to spend quality time with friends and family, sleep and exercise — all necessities in the long run.

No matter what happens, remember this:

Starting and growing a business is an amazing accomplishment. You took a huge risk to create your own future and build something for yourself. It may be hard for people around you to understand what you’re doing, let alone why, but you have to keep your goal in mind. Always remember why you started your business and what you want out of it. That will help you keep going during those “What the f%#k am I doing?” moments, although close friends, hobbies and happy hour will help too.

There are so many lessons I could have mentioned, because starting a business will teach you something new every day. Some days you won’t be in the mood to learn, but try to pick up as much as you can. The experience will come in handy in the future, wherever your crazy, amazing roller coaster ride stops.

What lessons have you learned as an entrepreneur or small business owner?

Did starting a business create an unexpected opportunity for you?

Feeling the rush,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about business, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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Customer Experience: Starbucks Shows How It’s Done

Loyal readers of this blog know that I’m an espresso lover and Starbucks fan. Despite being a longtime, loyal customer, I do run into problems with the coffee behemoth once in awhile, like you will with any brand. What matters most is how your favorite brands resolve these occasional issues.

Starbucks logo on coffee sleeve

The famous twin-tailed mermaid, or Siren, makes me smile.

Earlier this week, I decided to run to my local Starbucks to grab lunch. In the midst of a chaotic day, I ordered a deli sandwich via Mobile Order & Pay in the Starbucks app. Upon arriving, I learned that the sandwich I had ordered was sold out.

The barista apologized and let me know what other sandwiches the store had and reminded me of the newly available (in our area) Bistro Boxes. I decided on another sandwich that I had been debating on ordering anyway, and my revised order was quickly filled.

The same barista, who took control of my situation, didn’t charge me the additional cost of my new order and promptly gave me two $4 coupons for future use. The best part was that I was still in and out of the store in 3-4 minutes so I stayed on schedule.

The substituted sandwich was delicious and paired nicely with my second latte of the day I brewed when I was back in my office (with Starbucks coffee, of course). Instead of leaving the Starbucks store peeved and empty-handed, the barista made sure that I walked away with a positive experience despite the hiccup.

How do your favorite brands handle the occasional hiccup?

Always drinking (or thinking about) espresso,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about coffee, your marketing needs or otherwise):
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Turn Small Talk Into Big Opportunities

Does the thought of small talk make your blood pressure rise? Whether it’s from annoyance or fear, this is a common reaction. However, mastering the art of polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters (as defined by Oxford Dictionaries) is an important part of succeeding in the business world.

The author enjoying small talk at a conference.

Small talk can lead to big opportunities if you smile and play your cards right.

How can you turn small talk into big opportunities?

  • Pay Attention to Your Surroundings: Does your company’s CEO have memorabilia from a baseball team in his office? He’s probably a fan. When you share an elevator ride with him, that’s a good topic to bring up. Note what your co-workers display in their work areas; these items are usually important to them and make excellent conversation starters.
  • Listen: We’ve talked before about the importance of listening, but we can’t stress its benefits enough. Be present in a conversation. Don’t spend the time someone else is talking forming your response; listen to what she’s saying. It could be interesting, it could be useful and it could even lead to an opportunity. Perhaps Sally in accounting or a fellow business professional at an event has a connection to a job opportunity you’re eyeing or with a company you’d like to bring on as a customer.
  • Have a Conversation, Don’t Pitch: You’re heading out after a long day, and the CEO happens to be heading out at the same time. Be friendly, say hello and put your aforementioned knowledge of his favorite baseball team to use. Don’t spring your great idea on him as he’s heading to the parking lot. Use chance meetings or opportunities to say hello and build rapport. You’re more likely to be given a platform for your ideas if the right people know who you are and what value you bring to the company. Aggressively cornering them at the Holiday party isn’t the right way to make that happen.
  • Help Others First: Influential people, online or in real life, are used to being asked for favors by people they don’t even know. Be different: offer to help people in your network when you can. Be genuine, show interest and care about other people. Don’t offer to help someone only to expect something in return, or only offer assistance to those in a position to help you. We live in a global, mobile world today, so you never know when you’ll need someone’s help later on — like Sally in accounting.

Related reading: How to turn small talk into smart conversation

Start viewing small talk as an opportunity to get to know others around you instead of a waste of time, and you may be surprised at the results. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings, listen, be conversational and help others first. Your efforts will pay off in the long run in business and in life.

What small talk tips would you add?

Do you enjoy networking events?

A converted networker,
Jaime

Let’s chat (about small talk, your communication needs or otherwise):
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Share the Luck of the Irish with Your Clients & Employees

Whatever your background, we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick's Day revelers enjoy the celebration

St. Patrick’s Day by Courtney Collison via CC BY-SA 2.0 http://bit.ly/1QVmT1J

Here’s how to share the spirit of this holiday with your business family:

  • Throw an Irish potluck — Ask employees to bring their favorite Irish-themed foods for a festive event in the office. If you’re throwing a last-minute shindig, order in from your favorite Irish restaurant. Hand out fun promotional items, such as four leaf clover-printed sunglasses, green hats or four leaf clover beads. Remind everyone to wear green and punctuate the event with some fun Irish music (or March Madness)!
  • Enjoy March Madness during a St. Patrick’s Day Happy Hour — Invite your employees and/or clients to Happy Hour at your favorite local pub. Cheer on your favorite men’s college basketball teams (or the ones you picked on your bracket) with an ice cold Guinness in hand. If you’re feeling lucky, pick up the first round of drinks along with some hors d’oeuvres. Enjoy the camaraderie as you survive the roller coaster ride of the NCAA Tournament!
  • Hold a Luck of the Irish Contest — Invite your clients to participate in a themed contest celebrating this popular holiday. Anyone who places an order receives a mystery discount or gift. You can hold the contest digitally with a well-designed landing page, email marketing and social media promotion. Take the contest offline with direct mail, scratch off tickets and in-person visits. Don’t forget to create a hashtag and encourage clients to post their winning tickets on social!
  • Bring the Irish Spirit into Your Office — Encourage employees to wear green along with festive accessories. Reward the most festive, creative and other categories of your choice with gift certificates to your local pub, lunch delivered in the office or a day (or afternoon) off. Throughout the day, highlight your festivities on social media so fans can get to know the faces behind the scenes and see your fun culture.

St. Patrick’s Day 2016: How the World Will Celebrate From Dublin to Tokyo

However you decide to celebrate, have fun! May the Luck of the Irish be with you and your business always.

Cheers,
Jaime

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