Take action: easy steps to success

Small Business Development Centers see many business owners this time of year. Numerous requests for assistance pour in as they finally have time to tackle some of their business “to-do lists.” The slow time in business cycle is the perfect time to do just that. The challenges are in figuring out how much time you have and then winnowing down your list to your most important goals.

Brooke James

Perhaps most daunting is where to begin. I will attempt to provide a model to attack these goals in 30 minute increments — or 10 or 20 minutes — whatever you have available. In her column “Simplify strategic planning process” (Dec. 2012), Michelle Collins wrote about developing SMART objectives. Here we approach pieces of that plan on a micro level, putting it into action. If you’ve already started to implement Michelle’s recommendations, you are well on your way through some of these steps.

PRIORITIZE GOALS — First, identify goals in writing then prioritize. Think about time sensitivity and profitability. Some things you have no choice about, they must be done and must be done now, or they must be done before the next sales quarter or season begins. Other things may have a larger return on investment. Your time is precious. Think about the goals that will help reduce expenses and increase sales.

Narrow your list to two or three top-priority goals. It’s important to set yourself up for success. By having a small list, you hopefully won’t be discouraged by getting it all accomplished. Next, break that small list down even further into SMART objectives — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely.

IDENTIFY TASKS AND ACTIVITIES — Many small tasks and activities need to be tackled to achieve your goals. For example, you want to increase awareness of your business. One objective is to create, print and distribute 1,000 full-color double-sided brochures by March 1. Your small tasks, or action items, might be to identify printing and design companies, get quotes for work, write content and take or find images, proof a draft, send final edits, pick up brochures, distribute brochures. You will notice that your action did not stop at collecting content and images. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of your goal — maybe just creating the brochure is a huge accomplishment, but you want to ensure that your action plan includes the final execution and ultimate purpose, in this case, distribution to market. That is where your action and time leads to profitability.

These tasks can easily be broken down into 10- to 30-minute activities. By creating a SMART action plan with deadlines, you will have a focused attack when you have extra time. Setting aside a day or a few hours to do something might not be realistic, but 10 minutes every day will help you move forward.

CREATE YOUR ACTION PLAN — Take out a piece of paper, or create a spreadsheet on your computer. Create six columns. The columns should read goal, objective, action, responsibility, timeline, leaving the final column blank. You will have a new page for each goal. Write the goal and the SMART objectives that go along with it. The action column is the most important. This is where you identify the 10- to 30-minute tasks to achieve the objective.

Each should be assigned to a responsible person, whether it’s you or staff. Finally, set a schedule in the timeline. You may have a specific date or month by when to complete the task, or it could be a recurring weekly or monthly chore like write a blog post, call to thank repeat customers or clean your storefront window. The sixth column is where you can reward yourself with a check mark or a gold star sticker when you have accomplished your tasks.

Your action plan can be a valuable part of your strategic or marketing plans. It can be specific to a department within your business, such as social media marketing, product development or human resources. It can help you reach your goals through bite-sized activities and visualize actual progress.

Email me for a printed or electronic action plan template. Business advisors at the Canton and Watertown SBDC’s are always available to help create productive and successful plans

Brooke James is a business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton. She is a small business owner and event planner. Contact her at jamesb@canton.edu.