16th January 2017A best-practice guide for SMEs in 2017

Make business planning a regular event
Planning is key to business success, whatever size or type of business you are involved in. A good plan should include headings such as operations, finance, marketing and IT strategy. For most businesses, an annual plan broken down into four quarterly operating plans will be sufficient. However, if yours is a heavily sales driven enterprise, then you may want to review progress monthly.

Set some S.M.A.R.T objectives
Knowing what success looks like is important for any business person. Setting goals for the year ahead gives everyone a target to focus on. Making your objectives S.M.A.R.T – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related – means that you have a far higher chance of attaining them.

Scrutinise your sales process
Your sales pipeline process will consist of a series of steps that a prospect goes through on the way to becoming a customer. By taking a close look at the stages involved, you can define where your best contacts come from, what triggers their decision to do business with you, how you can incentivise the process, what needs to happen to close a deal, and how you can encourage repeat business.

Focus on customer retention: it’s generally accepted that the cost of retaining existing customers is less than that of sourcing new ones. If that’s your experience, then giving thought to the right strategy to attract and retain customers must be a business priority.

Evaluate overheads
It’s a good idea to review your business overheads from time to time. Although every business person understands you must spend money to make money, overheads can become a significant drain on the bottom line. Looking at potential savings across the board, everything from premises costs to how you handle purchasing, or whether leasing equipment rather than buying it could work out cheaper. Involve your employees if you have them, and encourage them to put their ideas forward. Depending on the size of your business, you could incentivise cost-saving ideas via a staff suggestion scheme.

Invest in technology
If you’ve been putting off investing in new technology, then it could be the right time to revisit that decision. You could find your business runs more efficiently with new computers and updated software.

Consider any skills gaps
Being unable to recruit staff with the requisite skills, qualifications and experience can have a major effect on productivity and profitability.

If that’s proving to be a problem for your business, additional training could be the answer. Providing specific training to existing staff is often more cost-effective than the cost of recruiting someone new who may not have all the skills you’re looking for.

Promote your business regularly and consistently
It can be too easy for the task of promoting your business to slip to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. If you want to market your business to new customers, you’ll need a marketing plan in place. This should include simple objectives which are regularly reviewed.

Where many businesses go wrong is to mount an ambitious marketing and advertising campaign that doesn’t run for long enough, doesn’t get properly monitored or followed up. Little and often can work better as a promotional strategy. Don’t forget other simple ways of getting your message across, like joining a new business organisation or networking group.

Don’t overlook your own needs
It’s very easy for entrepreneurs to be so focused on the development of their business, that they neglect their own needs. This can be a good time to take stock of things like training, skills acquisition and conference attendance that could help you drive your business on to greater things.

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E advice@hwfisher.co.uk

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