The holiday season is an ideal time to steal a march on the competition and evaluate how everything is looking for your business, says Nicola Barron
One of the great things about being three years into a business is that you’re able to spot trends and track progress more easily. With Homemade London, I’ve even been able to pinpoint individual weeks that are likely to be busy or slow and that helps me plan accordingly. All things considered, it feels fairly reassuring.
However, there is a flip-side to this: if you’re aware of trends and patterns, it’s easy to have a tendency not to try harder than you need to. For example, now we’re in the holiday season, many of us might be tempted to presume or accept that August will be a slow month. If it seems that the majority of your clients are away you may not see the point in chasing after new business. However, with your competitors possibly thinking the same thing and being less proactive in their approach, it could be an ideal time to attract customers.
Like many business owners, I find I’m more realistic now than I was when I first started out. And while it’s a good thing I’ve shed some of the naïve optimism revealed by some of my earliest financial projections (if they were to be believed I would have been worthy of a place on the Dragons’ Den panel by now), occasionally I need to remind myself that, just because a particular idea wasn’t a success first time round, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t necessarily try it again. After all, if you’re too risk averse, you’re in danger of not doing anything at all.
Complacency is the enemy of business. Recently, my husband and I were bemoaning the fact that some of the independent shops, bars and restaurants we once loved so much seemed far less exciting nowadays. As a business owner, I can see how this happens: you concentrate your efforts on maximising the elements that make you the most money, but in doing so it can become easy to ignore how your customers feel about you; they may be bored by you, they may not like changes you’ve implemented or they may simply forget about you because you’re not on their radar any more.
For large businesses, this is dangerous. We all see the shopping centres and high streets peppered with empty units that were once occupied by household names. On the other hand, small businesses where income and expectations are relatively low can keep going like this for years in a plateau state. So you might accept things as the way they are and not even realise that you’re doing anything wrong.
However, there are lessons to be learned from businesses that thrive in unlikely circumstances. Take the example of Timpson, which established itself as a shoe repairer in 1865 at a time when the phrase “make-do-and-mend” had more resonance than it does now – but it currently has 800 stores throughout the country. If you take a look at its website, you’ll see that it has managed to do this through a combination of diversification (there’s relatively little mention of shoe repair on the homepage) and a focus on customer care and its staff.
As business owners and employers, our job is not to accept things as they are. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the day-to-day running of a business without properly planning for the future – there are always demands on your time and it’s really easy not to prioritise long-term goals.
For the past year, my very wise accountant has been suggesting that it’s now time to revisit my initial business plan. I’ve always agreed, but these things are easier said than done and I have found numerous valid reasons to put it off. But this week, I’ve been getting up a little earlier than usual and devoting some early-morning headspace to producing a new plan that properly reflects my business as it is now (flaws included) and where we want to be in the future.
No doubt, I’ll be sharing the hard truths and realisations as they come to me.