It's time again for the annual small business New Year's resolutions. Think of them as the pledges you can make now to help your business perform more effectively in 1991.
As you check the list of resolutions, you may see the need to break new ground or discard bad habits. If so, all the better. A fresh approach, a new perspective, and a determination to correct the errors of the past is what these resolutions are all about. They are designed to keep your management strategy, and in turn, your business operations flexible and responsive.
If you've tried these resolutions in the past -- only to quit in midstream -- all the more reason to try again. The idea is to rededicate yourself to getting it right.
With this in mind, raise your right hand and promise to do the following:
* Never assume that your business is performing perfectly. There's not a business in the world that can meet that test. Instead of resting on your laurels, keep trying to improve your products and services. Poll your customers and employees to see what they think, using this feedback as a catalyst for change.
* Stop blaming your customers for the demands they put on you and start demanding more from your company to keep these customers well-serviced. Fail to do so and competitors will show you what good service is all about.
* Start recognizing superior performance from your employees, rewarding the best of them with added responsibility as well as perks and bonuses to match. In a related move, set up a suggestion box, encouraging employees to submit ideas for cutting costs, improving productivity and bolstering customer service. Pay awards for ideas that are put into use.
* Set specific goals for your company's sales and profits, basing your own bonus on the ability to achieve these goals. Make it clear that everyone, including the boss, is on a merit-based system.
* Analyze your two major competitors, finding a weakness in their products or services. Then exploit these weak links, using them as a competitive edge for attracting new customers.
* Test one new form of business promotion -- be it advertising, sales promotion or publicity -- to see if it is effective in generating new business.
Improve your weakest management skills -- the ones you consistently avoid or pretend are not important. Pledge yourself to take a college course in finance, read a book on marketing or attend a salesmanship seminar. If you can't identify your weak points, ask your spouse and business associates for an honest appraisal. Be willing to risk a bit of ego damage for the opportunity to round out your skills.
* Set aside one morning a month for business planning, determining where your company is, where it is headed and where you want it to go. During this period, take no calls and see no visitors.
* Call on five former customers, admitting it was your fault that you lost their business and asking for the opportunity to win it back. Eating a slice of humble pie may give your company a second chance.
* Take your banker to lunch, not to ask for a loan but simply to update him on your company's performance and to thank him for the support he's given you in the past.
* Examine your business checkbook, finding 10 products or services your company buys that it can live without. Put an end to this waste immediately, canceling contracts if need be.
* Review all vendor relationships, looking for opportunities to cut prices from five to 10 percent. If vendors resist, consider opening the account to competitive bidding.
* Explore entry into a new market, either across town or across the ocean. Opportunities in the European Economic Community may be especially promising.
* Demand more from your accounting firm, insisting that the professionals go beyond tax filings to year-round advice on estate planning, business financing and tax strategies. If the accountants fail to respond, dismiss them.
* Stop surrounding yourself with "yes men." From now on, ask at least one knowledgeable and independent outsider to evaluate your business practices. Seek this fresh perspective from a consultant, a business adviser or a board of directors.
* Stop blaming everyone else when things go wrong and start recognizing that, as the CEO, you have to take the heat. Remember the sign on Harry Truman's desk, "The buck stops here."
Most important, pledge yourself to make these resolutions more than just lip service. Make a promise to carry them out.