Lessons Learned in 2015

OK, as 2015 draws to a close, I’m looking back at lessons learned. I thought I should share Bert's Lessons learned in 2015. Some are new, some are tried and true; some are so obvious or simple, they still get overlooked. The following are based on a number of proven tests and concepts from my own experiences, in my own business, and with my clients. So, they have to be true.

They are a set of recommendations (or exercises) that can be easily customized for each business. They’re meant to help owners develop specific programs to improve profits, reduce costs and increase sales. Review them, and make a pledge to try at least one of them in 2016.

  • The most important lesson, and one that has stood the test of time, is this: DEVELOP, TEST, MEASURE and ADAPT. Test a new idea. Ask customers, resources and staff how to do things better. Measure the outcome of each initiative, and note why it failed and why it succeeded. Then, adapt as needed. Get new ideas by attending seminars, webinars; see what books are trending, and visit your competitor. Get inspired at how to work your business by spending an afternoon at an Apple store.
  • Understand the real needs of your customers, and develop goals to meet those needs. For example, many technical companies frequently benefit by worrying more about customer benefits rather than technical specifications. ( For a new dynamic look at planning , download our planning template .)
  • If you haven’t looked at your business plan since you first wrote it eons ago, find it, and dust it off. Economies change and so do markets and competition — so your business needs to keep an eye out and change accordingly. In particular, focus on the 80-20 rule, i.e., 80% percent of your business comes from 20% of your clients; pay more to attention to higher margin items than commodities.
  • Our website offers a free business model template. It will not only knock your socks off, but will quickly and accurately help you, (yes, YOU!) develop a financial forecast of profits based on a few simple questions. (That’s why your sock will fall off.) It’s also dynamic (meaning, able to change), and allows you to better understand the relationships between alternative sales, pricing and marketing models.
  • Stay competitive and aware of what your competition is doing. Keep a dialog open with your supplier and discuss the trends they’re seeing. Their ideas can be gold. Everyone is trying to stay competitive and many customers and suppliers will react to programs like dynamic pricing. I have been helping clients execute programs for years and the practice was recently written up in the Wall Street Journal. It can be as simple as “happy hour” in bars (where prices are low for a certain amount of time) or sophisticated models like the airlines use (paying for everything including toilet paper. Just kidding on the toilet paper, but you get what I mean).
  • Stay ahead of the big internet sales sites, and social media. Most common are Pinterest, Groupon, Kings Road, EBay, Amazon, Google, and Apple. How is your competition handling sales on their internet site? Do you know what the big trend is? You better. Or you may miss out on a great and profitable opportunity. Suppose you sell fancy sunglasses, and a big star was photographed with those same sunglasses on Instagram? Hmmmm?
  • Join a networking group, put up a Twitter page, update your website or raffle off a free lunch to anyone who puts his or her business card in your fishbowl. Attend small interactive workshops and events to meet, discuss and test ideas with other small business owners.
  • Running a small business is a challenge, but it’s also exciting, rewarding and fun. By keeping an eye and an ear to your marketplace, and the lives of your customers, you are already ahead of many of your competitors.
  • Plain and simple: meet customer needs, develop exciting efforts to differentiate yourself from competition and constantly measure and adapt. Oh, I already said that.
  • Congratulate yourself on all the great things you did this year including even just saying “thank you” to customers, employees and suppliers.
  • Happy New Year!