Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

December 12, 2011

How to Get it All Done This Holiday Season

Filed under: Growth Management,Planning — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 9:28 pm

“We’re trying hard to balance our busiest work time with the never-ending to-do list. How to stay balanced and sane.” Amy Graver, question on LinkedIn.

My answer. Two levels, Amy.

1. Right now. Hire a personal assistant, someone like a concierge, who will handle all small issues for you with competence and aplomb–both business and personal. If you’re busy doing year-end billable work for your best clients, and you have someone else running around for you, picking up your cleaning, writing addresses for all your holiday cards, replacing the color toner cartridges, dealing with the caterer, getting your invoices out, you will be so-o-o happy. Plus rested and better off financially.

2. Planning ahead. All my clients do an action plan for the coming year. Goals, strategies, and action items. The action items are spread out over a year calendar. But first I have them write in their busy times, vacation times, etc. If holiday season is a crunch time, then they make sure they don’t pile extra things into that period.

The first things to enter are your personal “have a life” things. Why? Because the reason you are in business is to get to do the things you most want in life, including “have a life.” If you don’t do this, you might as well have a J-O-B!

Happy holidays! And may the new year bring you health, prosperity, and relaxation!

January 20, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions? Useless!

Filed under: Social media — Tags: , , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 12:45 pm

Inspired by Rochelle Moulton’s post on this topic

Resolution . . . Practically useless
Resolution plus Action Plan . . . Useful, maybe
Resolution plus Action Plan plus Support and Accountability . . . Now we’re talking real results!

I find that 80% of the business owners I work with make their goals. That’s because they take the time to set a practical plan, and they work together to keep each other on track.

Part of my 2011 resolution is to blog at least twice a week. Not just blogging for the heck of it, but as part of a strategy to build visibility and interaction.

I haven’t kept to this before, as you can tell. So I’m making a public declaration, and I have two levels of accountability:

— My wife BJ, who’s in the business with me, and who also lets writing deadlines slide. If this doesn’t break up our marriage, maybe we’ll instill some writing discipline in each other.

— I hold weekly problem-solving and goal-setting meetings with fellow consultant Janet Tokerud, who has several technology blogs and sets a good example for me.

I’ll be saying more about implementing the various parts of my “visibility and interaction” strategy in my twice-weekly blogs.

January 21, 2010

Lessons From a Gawdawful Year

Some people have told me that ’09 was not their best ever year! But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What lessons have you learned from this tough year? Here’s what people in my Success in 2010 plan workshop sessions have been saying:

“We’ve had to cut costs to the bone. We’ve managed to save 10%. It struck me, what if I had been that ruthless in good times and not just bad? I’d have 10% more bottom line. Money to put in my pocket, to create a cushion for future tough time or to create a growth fund.”

“2009 was humbling. I saw how arrogant I’d been. We assumed that growth would just keep going. But when the phone stopped ringing, we had to relearn Marketing 101. For example, setting targets for number of new clients, and tactics how to bring them in. We should have been doing this all along.”

“I let myself get discouraged by telling and retelling the same old story of woe about how bad 2009 was. This was killing the business. During the plan workshop, I wrote it all out in excruciating detail, took one last look and then tore it up in little pieces. Now the slate is clean for 2010.”

“We kept people on way too long. We should have laid people off sooner. I was afraid that we’d never get the good people back. I’ve learned we cannot guarantee jobs. We must retain labor flexibility. From now on, our scheduling must go along with revenue—not just shop people but admin as well.”

“We saw our employees perform better in tough times. They’re more friendly, supportive and team-oriented. Is this fear of unemployment? I think they just saw the trouble the company was in and it focused their thinking. As a result, people are doing better client work than ever.”

“I watch the books like a hawk now. During good times, I only kept half an eye on the books. I’ve got to track how we’re doing—even day-to-day. I can’t wait till the end of the month to see what we did a month ago.”

“We hunkered down and lost sight of our goals. We’ve had to get in touch all over again with our long-term vision. It’s the source of our direction and inspiration. Without this we’re just wandering around.”

“Tough times force us to make better decisions. In fat times, we get lazy; let bad decisions slip in; spend too much on marketing and keeping poor employees, etc.”

“We laid off 40% of our people and kept the best 60%. Now that business is picking up, I’m giving more hours to our remaining people—even overtime—rather than rehiring. I see that paying overtime for existing people is cheaper than paying health insurance, workers comp, etc for extra people we hire.”

“We got a lot less picky about our customers. We’re going after smaller clients we would have said no to before. And without these, we’d be dead now.”

“A key employee left unexpectedly. This threw us for a loop. The lesson? Cross-train. Don’t be put into a position so that the company is held hostage to whether one employee stays or leaves”

What lessons have you learned? Add ‘em below.

August 12, 2008

Sample short business plans

Filed under: Planning — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 1:00 pm

Q: I’d like to see some sample short business plans to use as models

A: Shorter is better. My rule: “If you can’t write your plan on a page, you can’t get it done in a year anyway.”

We conduct plan workshops every year, to help business owners complete their Action Plan for the coming year. They devote a day to review their past year’s performance, clarify their long-term business trajectory and how business fits into their life goals, what they must accomplish in the coming year. We use a 70-page workbook with questions about every aspect of running a small business, but by the end of the workshop people reduce it to one sheet.

Note that this is an “action plan” that guides your action. It’s not intended to convince someone else they should put money in your business. Once you have this brief, basic plan, however, it’s much easier to convert it to a strategic plan needed to attract financing. My rule: Plan of action comes first.

If you ask me, I’ll email you several pieces:

– Template showing how it looks

– A handful of questions you can answer to get your plan started

– A Project Tracker that helps you add detail to central goals of your plan

While this plan is aimed at guiding your actions for the coming year, it can also serve to show a potential financier.

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