The act of setting new goals and resolutions permeates everyday culture during the year-end holiday season. Television and radio commercials, not to mention social media posts, remind us to make our personal resolutions as 2015 begins – but what about our professional ones?
The New Year can offer CEOs a powerful catalyst for business growth. The only question is which goals to set. For CEOs who are unsure, here are three New Year’s resolutions that I have selected for my company in previous years that can benefit any business regardless of age and industry:
1. Work with key company data throughout the year
It may be tempting to only review all of your startup’s key operating metrics a few times per year, but this can make it difficult to foresee what changes might be needed before it is too late. Try to implement systems that will help you detect issues as they arise so that you can take action before a small spark becomes a wildfire. Consider:
- Investing in data analytics and IT. This way, you can view daily, weekly, and monthly reports on those metrics that affect your business most. Ask yourself, “Is there a way I can tell how my company is performing – at this very moment – with just the click of a button?” What programs and strategies come to mind? How can you begin using them?
- Developing your analytical and quantitative skills. You may not comprehend every mathematical formula involved in the creation of your business projections – but you should. Aim to understand the projections themselves and what action items can be taken, as well as the mathematical formulas behind them that led you to those projections. For example, how could you increase your client conversion rate? What are typical conversion rates for companies in your industry? Challenge yourself with exercises such as taking your product/service and determining the total costs that go into producing that item. Then, look line item by line item and ask yourself if there are any inputs that you can acquire at a lower cost, thereby increasing your margins.
- Identifying milestones for the year ahead. For example, if your goal in 2015 is to double your 2014 revenue, what milestones does your startup need to reach each month or each week? Once you have identified the milestones, put systems in place to help you track progress toward those goals. Breaking down a big lofty goal into smaller milestones will also help your team members achieve a sense of progress along the way as each milestone is reached. These are often called “departmental goals” and they allow each team member to take ownership of a particular area of the business. If you hit most of your departmental goals, the annual high-level company goals are almost always achieved.
2. Get to better know your customers
Understanding your clients is one of the best ways to improve your product or service. Personal touches, like remembering subtle nuances of an individual’s preferences, can be an effective way to set yourself apart from others in your industry. But there are also more general client aspects to pinpoint, including:
- Pain points. A customer’s pain point is the problem that he or she hopes to solve. Once you identify your client’s pain point, you can build a product or service that effectively addresses it. Think about additional pain points that your customers may be facing, beyond what your current services/products address. Consider, for example, the increase in usage of mobile check deposits. This feature lets you take a picture of a check using your smartphone and then directly deposit it into your bank account. For customers, this saves them the time and hassle of having to drive to a bank location – and for banks, this lets them have the deposit into their accounts much quicker. Features like these increase the “stickiness” of your product and make it less likely that a customer will leave you for a competitor.
- Needs. What are your customer’s specific needs? For instance, does your client consider cost the most important pain point? Or is it speed? If it is speed, it may be advantageous for your company to offer on-demand services. In my business, for instance, we can deliver online tutoring faster than we can in-home tutoring, and so an online tutoring platform helps us meet better meet our clients’ urgent / last-minute needs. Every business likely has some consumers that will highly value the time to receiving service and make it a key aspect of their purchase decision (see Uber, TaskRabbit, Porch, etc. as examples of companies that have benefited from addressing this need for their clients). If you understand the extent to which your customers value different product attributes, you can enhance and change your product to better address their particular needs. Surveys and focus groups (even informal ones) can greatly enhance your understanding of your customers and what they want.
- Objectives. You can think of your customer’s objectives as his or her goals. A client’s objectives may extend beyond solving a pain point – for example, a customer’s pain point might be that his or her car’s transmission is broken. The objective is therefore to have a reliable car for daily commuting and travel. Helping your customer achieve that objective can differentiate you from your competitors. For instance, you could help to identify a rental vehicle while the car is undergoing repairs, or you could decide that the car is not worth repairing and recommend that your customer purchase another vehicle as soon as possible and then assist in that transaction.
3. Focus on what truly matters to the growth and sustainability of your company
If you often find yourself mired in paperwork or other tasks that are not directly related to leading your company, consider delegating some of those tasks more frequently. As the CEO, how can you maximize the return on each hour you invest in your business? In other words, how can you best spend your limited time? You might periodically ask yourself, “Is my company ready for someone other than me to do X?”
With that question in mind, try to keep an eye out for those candidates who can assume the responsibility of key tasks, both externally and internally. One possible idea is to create an internal system that allows your team members to take on additional responsibilities as they develop. As your staff grows in experience and skill level, your business will grow as well. Engage your team members’ abilities and align their efforts, and they will likely help you achieve a level of success well beyond what you could have reached by yourself or without leveraging their full skill sets.
The New Year is the perfect opportunity to recommit to those factors that matter most to your business success. Whether you choose to emphasize data-driven analysis, knowledge of your customer, a focus on growth and sustainability, or all three, good luck with your 2015 resolutions!
Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, a technology platform for private academic tutoring and test prep designed to help students at all levels of education achieve academic excellence.
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