New Beginnings: Creating and Updating Your Business Plan

In the March '20 issue of A&E, Donna Gray shares her thoughts about using spring as a time to refocus on the growth of a business.

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Note: This article appears in the March 2020 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

Hello to all of you readers. I’m the new girl on the block here at A&E… well, not really new. I’ve been around the business block for some time. Let me share a little bit about me and my background. 

I had my first “real job” when I was five years old. My parents owned a bowling alley (that’s what it was called back in the day) and I had the distinct privilege of throwing the first ball down the lanes at the start of each season. I had my own duck pin ball that was perfect for a little girl. My pay was an ice cream cone. So, having that great responsibility at such an early age allows me to say I’ve been working for a long time. 

Since those early days of learning how to be in business at my parents’ knees, I’ve graduated both from real school and from the college of hard knocks in our industry. And now I have a new beginning… sharing my thoughts about working on and growing a successful business with you.

New Growth

For most of us up here in the frozen tundra (aka, Wisconsin), March is the real start of the spring thaw. We know that buried under the snow and ice are fresh, new beginnings. Someone once told me that growing a business is like growing a garden – each year one creates a new plan that is based on the current soil and growing conditions. Soon the seeds are planted, and one begins to cultivate the garden. 

These tasks are much like writing or updating a business plan, setting goals, and then working the plans and goals. Nowadays, we cultivate the soil by creating or updating business plans, then we plant the seeds through marketing tools like user-friendly websites and social media. Personal contacts will always be important in acquiring and keeping loyal customers. My husband, Dave, considers his KIT (keep in touch) plan to be the best way to “make new friends and keep the old.” 

I consider March to be a true test of the business resolutions we made back on January 1st. It’s the end of the first calendar quarter, and by now, most industry companies are gearing up for the busy season. It’s a good time to do a reality check on your year-to-date sales.

The world-famous “philosopher” Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Quarterly progress checks (if not monthly, weekly, or daily) can help to ensure the company winds up where it wants to be at year-end. Progress checks can also help you avoid wearing a firefighter’s hat too often. 

Organization Tips      

Managing time and tasks can get more challenging as we all enter the busy season. It gets harder and harder to focus on doing things right when everything needs to be done now. To make things flow better, from order origination to completion, I’ve asked an expert business advisor friend for some good advice. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Organize paperwork. Find an organizational system that works for you and put it in writing. Part of this is the need to separate work by due date or customer project. I remember an industry friend who used to say they always had “traveling orders” – orders that always seemed to get lost in the shuffle. It’s wise to avoid this.
  • Tackle unwanted projects first. These are the ones that we dread and always seem to get put off until deadline. These are also the ones that will come back to haunt you. 
  • Finish one task before starting another. Multi-tasking is out. Uni-tasking is in. Focus complete attention on each task until done and then move on to the next one. 
  • Handle each piece of paperwork, email, text, or phone message once. This helps minimize waste and gives more time for productive activities that actually bring in the money. 
  • Begin projects with the plan to finish on time. While we know that sometimes our customers throw a monkey wrench into the flow of an order with changes, etc., keep the finish line where it’s supposed to be.
  • Don’t put off equipment maintenance because you are too busy. Have back-up plans in case of machine failure. 
  • You can’t do it all. Train staff now, before the busy time. 
  • Empty the “in basket” before leaving work each day. I know a few people who’s in-baskets are the entire desk… sometimes many of us are that way too. 
  • Keep the company’s magnifying glass handy. Use it to check on progress, explore new/better ways to do things, look for ways to eliminate chaos, and keep on track for success.

At our store, since everyone in the business is involved in sales (even those who work behind the scenes), we have whole-team meetings that help everyone be on the same page with where we are and where we expect to be. It doesn’t matter if an employee never calls on a customer or takes a turn at the front counter – everyone is responsible in some part for the beginning, follow-through, and/or completion of each sale. 

The sales team influences the outcome of each order they take by connecting with the client and writing the order for the customer’s approval (and as we all know, sometimes we have to be mind readers). The production team puts their stamp on an order with graphics, layout, and producing the work. The delivery person, whether at the front counter or taking it to the client, shows the importance of their role in the way they present the products. 

Today, customers are all about the CX (customer experience). We have a system at our store: when we deliver work at our front counter, we hold the work up with white-glove panache. We want our customers to know we have pride in our work. After the client has seen and approved the work, we rewrap each piece as though it is a valuable piece of art. We want our customer to feel the care and attention that went into their project. That’s the image, the CX, we hope they’ll take when they leave the store. 

Remember the old saying, “Knowledge is power”? It’s my opinion that we can improve our CX by improving our industry knowledge. When we are the experts, our customers feel comfortable in our hands. They feel the CX. 

Our industry offers so many opportunities for education. I never seem to quit learning. Every conference I attend sends me home with more good ideas that I expected. My mother used to tell me over and over, “You learn something new every day!” This is true. And when we participate in industry education, we learn something new every session. 

My favorite marketing professor taught me to use March as the time to measure and review current marketing, sales, and business development, before the first quarter is over, to help increase chances for a good year-end bottom line. March can be a new beginning!

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Donna Gray

Donna M. Gray is the co-owner and president of Total Awards & Promotions/DonorAppreciation.com in Madison, Wisconsin. She has authored two books and for the past 20 years wrote a monthly column for two trade publications, and writes a semi-monthly blog for a business magazine. Donna is also a charter member of the Recognition Roundtable

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