May your days be merry and bright!

Christmas comes but once a year and can be a time of mixed emotions. We use this time of year as an opportunity for reflection and hopeful anticipation for the new year. So what of 2011?

This year seems to have been a strange mix of contradictions. The economic downturn seems to go on without any let up; but for several businesses I know 2011 has been their best year ever! Most retailers rely on the Christmas surge in consumer spending to fund the rest of the year; but this year has seen huge pre-Christmas sales – what will this mean for the high street in 2012? The government is keen to see investment in small businesses; but uses the banks, who are busy propping up their own balance sheets, as the vehicles to supply this funding. Consequently, many good businesses are finding funding a struggle. In short there is a lot of uncertainty which is likely to remain through out 2012.

So what does that mean for business owners.

Firstly, I think that it is more important than ever to have a proper plan for the year ahead so that you, the business owner, are able to reduce the risks to your business. The strongest businesses rely as little as possible on banks for funding by keeping on top of their debtors and planning expenditure. They have clear objectives and know what they need to achieve to meet their stake holders’ individual goals. Their owners know what their own particular weaknesses are and seek help to mitigate them.

Secondly, I think it is easy to become overly gloomy. There are opportunities out there and small businesses are often more able to take advantage of them than larger ones. This is because small businesses are much more flexible and can take decisions quickly without the burden of cumbersome management structures. So, if your business is doing well don’t listen to the doommongers – be confident in the future and carry on doing what works for you.

Many business owners have a support network, but they don’t necessarily recognise it’s value. We are continually looking to make new contacts without properly getting to know existing ones. By having a strong, trusting, connection with key strategic partners, we can build a solid foundation of support for us and our businesses. A reciprocated support network can make all the difference to a small business surviving or not.

As regular readers will know I run the Billy No Mates Christmas lunch. This year’s bash was the best ever with over 30 people signing up (although a couple were ill on the day). It was a super opportunity for micro business owners to tap into the local support network in a fun way and realise they are not completely on their own. A note for your diaries – the 2012 bash is on 21st December.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a very successful 2012.

Fiona 🙂

Plan it, Janet 2

It has been a little while since I blogged and part of this has been because it is the silly season and I have been very busy. Part is because I have struggled for a theme to write about – so I have decided to go back to an old friend.

As regular readers of the blog know I am passionate about business planning. I am constantly amazed how little business planning seems to go on, but how the energy released once a business embraces proper, strategic planning can lead to really powerful results.

I am currently running a 2 day business planning workshop for the Soil Association. Some of the group have done planning before – others haven’t. However, by the end of the workshop everyone is engaged and contributing to the exercises. The reason for this is that they are all passionate about their organisation and want to achieve the best they can. They have different areas of expertise which are all critical to the associations’ success, and are able to bring this to the planning process.

At the end of the two days each of the three groups have made good inroads into producing a business plan for a real project. More importantly they have a clear idea of the extra information they need to get hold of if they are going to complete meaningful plans to be presented to a third party – be it a director or an outside agency. There is also a great energy which will see the business plans moved forward.

You can achieve the same in your business by taking time out of your day-to-day work to really review your business and where it is going. If you involve other employees/managers in your review and planning exercise, you may well find that ideas and energy flow in a way that you have not seen before.

However, if your business is not worth this time out, I would suggest you review why you are in the business you are in.

As always I would extol you to work smarter and not harder – and part of this is having a robust plan.