On New Years Day, this post from a dear friend appeared in my Facebook feed:

May the best of 2013 be the worst of 2014.

So at this time of year, when enthusiasm and motivation are high, and half the world is on holidays or still warming up to a New Year, how can we take the time make sure that our 2014 builds on the lessons of last year?

adversityIt is a great opportunity to look at 2013’s successes and failures. Its gains and losses. Its celebrations and commiserations. And to take the lessons from both, so that we can incorporate more of the great into our business plans, and take the lessons of the not-so-great to build something better.

Because as author Zig Ziglar says: “If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.”

Or Napoleon Hill: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

So look at your business in 2013, and take stock – find the seeds.

Your Product or Service

Which of your products or services were the most profitable?

What were the most popular products or services you offered in 2013? What was less popular?

  • Can you adapt any of your products or services to meet your target audience’s needs better? Are there tweaks or adaptations that can make them better? The way they are packaged? The way they are delivered? Do your business hours suit your audience?

Consider the questions you have been asked by your customers? Can any of their needs be met in a better way?

OUTCOME: After answering the questions and analysing your answers, make a list of your priority products and services for 2014, and any new offerings you aim to develop over the new year. Allocate time to the new product development and give yourself deadlines to achieve them.

Marketing and Sales

In your marketing and sales activities, what worked well, and how can it be adapted into 2014?

  • Consider how you define what “worked well”. Did it generate sales, increase leads, build awareness of your brand? What are your measurements to determine success vs failure?

What didn’t work, and what lessons can you take from that?

  • Was it about timing? The offering? How you communicated to your target audience? What other factors impacted the activity’s success? (Be honest. And don’t find something or someone else to blame, consider what YOU could control, and what you could have done differently).

To what communication did your target audience respond? And which emails / social media posts / advertising received little or no response? What was the difference?

  • This gives you valuable information to shape your communication plan for 2014. What you consider to be great content may not be appealing to your target audience. Pay attention to what generates replies, “likes”, shares, conversations, and most importantly sales. Dig deep and compare the more popular content and see if you can find the magic formula.

Did other businesses within your industry have great success with marketing activity? Did you notice anything that stood out as successful?

  • Was there anything within your industry that was talked about? Have you noticed any businesses experiencing significant growth? If you studied it as a case study, what would you identify as the ingredients for success? Could those ingredients be applied to activity within your own business?

Was there any marketing activity OUTSIDE your industry that you would say was a big success? Any industries in which you are the customer which delivered exceptional communication or marketing?

  • Again, look at the formula. What were the ingredients that drove you to buy, or take notice? How did the business or the activity make you feel? And how can you incorporate some of that into your own marketing?

OUTCOME: After answering the questions and analysing your answers, make a list of marketing activities you will deliver in 2014. Scope them out with the objective, communication and intended outcomes, and schedule them into your calendar. Make a list of content / communication / posts that you will use in 2014.

Networking / Partnerships

What partners did you work with in 2013? Of your business relationships and networks, which delivered results to your business, and which didn’t?

Which networking activity led to sales or leads? Which was a waste of your time, money and energy? After assessing last year’s networking and relationships, who are the people or businesses you would like to target this year to form alliances or relationships? Make a list.

OUTCOME: After answering the questions above and analysing your answers, make a list of people or businesses you would like to form relationships with in 2014. Identify opportunities or people who can help you make the connection. Make sure you have value to offer in return, so that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, not just a hard sell.

Customer Service

Think of your customer service, and the experience your customers or potential customers have with every interaction they have with your business.

What feedback have you received from your customers?

  • Have you received specific feedback? Was it good, bad or indifferent? Good feedback lets you make sure the positives are the cornerstone of your business. Complaints are also valuable. They give you the opportunity to address the issues and challenges your customers face, to shape each experience into a more positive one. In my opinion, it’s the indifference that can be the most detrimental to your business. The customers who didn’t necessarily have a bad experience, but who also didn’t have a great experience. When people are indifferent to your business, you may never find out why as they probably won’t even complain. But they probably won’t return, and they almost definitely won’t recommend your business.

What aspects of your customer service did people love?

  • Do customers feel like you solve their problems, or make their lives easier? Do your staff go above and beyond the call to provide a positive experience?

At every step of the customer journey (i.e. every interaction they have with your business or brand), what little changes can you implement to make it great, exceptional even, rather than just “good”?

  • Can your website or sales material be clearer and easier to understand? Can it entertain?
  • Can you respond to enquiries more quickly?
  • Can your service be more personal, rather than what feels like a cookie cutter approach?
  • Can you make the sales process easier? Can you avoid disappointment or surprises so that when people make a decision to buy from you, it’s a pleasure to do so?
  • Is it easy and painless for people to give you their money? Can it be easier?
  • Can delivery be faster? Easier? Cheaper?
  • Can your after-sales process be better? Can you provide instructions / tips / hints to better enjoy your product or service?

OUTCOME: Identify 2-3 small improvements in your customer service process, and measure the impact they have.

Planning and Process

manscreamingLook at the way you operated in your business in 2013?

  • Did it seem to flow and be organised, or was it a constant battle of rushed deadlines, stress and hurry? Were potentially valuable marketing activities postponed or delayed because there was just too much to do? When you had a few minutes spare, did you know where to start or what to do?

Identify the key seasons / selling periods / important times for your business, and start there. Commit to the marketing activity you will deliver.

  • Will it be email marketing? Social media posts? What will they include? What information do you need to pull them together. Put it in your calendar and make it a non-negotiable. It will make your life easier and less stressed, and will make sure that important marketing and business development activities are not pushed down the priority list for more “urgent”, but less valuable tasks.

OUTCOME: Have a 12 month calendar of your marketing, customer service and business development activities. Schedule in your key selling periods and biggest opportunities. Make a note of your “down time” if you have one. Then schedule in your marketing activity to make sure you are driving your business outcomes consistently throughout the year. Have a very detailed calendar for the next 1-2 months, moderate detail for 3-6 months, but still identify they key activities and goals over 12 months.

When the holiday feeling is still fresh it may be a bit hard to engage your brain and spend the time doing this analysis. But a half-day spent assessing, auditing and planning can reap considerable benefits down the track. And it can help you avoid repeating the mistakes of 2013 or missing opportunities because you’re not ready. But by completing this thinking and planning, it will give you a very good chance that the best of 2013 truly is the worst of 2014.

Happy New Year.