The entrepreneur’s to do list

SO many businesses start the New Year with grand plans for improvement, but far fewer actually implement those plans. Don't let the start of a New Year go by without taking action.

Here are 10 items that should be on the top of every entrepreneur's to do list.

1. Return to your core business objectives

If like so many companies, you accepted work from wherever you could get it during last year's economic crisis in a bid to stay afloat, now might be the time to consider returning to your core business objectives.

Melbourne boutique financial planning practice Guidance Financial Services had always specialised in servicing business owners and the self-employed, but admits it accepted work from outside traditional avenues during 2009.

"This was a good plan for short-term cashflow, but bad for maximising your bottom line over the long-term, as your focus is split and diffused," founder Paul Benson says.

"We're setting about being true to our target market and will be strong enough to say no to work that's coming from outside that scope during 2010."

2. Read up on the Fair Work Act

A national benchmark report reveals more than half of Australian businesses aren't prepared for the implementation of the Fair Work Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2010. This could expose them to significant legal and financial risk.

The report, Fair Work – The Road Ahead, was conducted by compliance and governance firm CompliSpace and analysed the human resources risk of over 350 Australian businesses, looking at their preparedness for the introduction of the Fair Work Act. The businesses represent over 100,000 employees and 25 industries.

David Griffiths, executive director, CompliSpace says more than half the companies surveyed are at an extreme or high risk of falling foul of the new laws.

"Employers who don't understand these changes or respond appropriately to employee requests could find themselves subject to costly discrimination claims," Griffiths warns.

3. Make IT security a priority

So many SMEs don't have appropriate IT security in place, putting their systems at risk to a whole host of malicious attacks lurking on the internet.

Symantec's small business director Steve Martin advises SMEs to implement a security awareness program with training and guidelines so employees can carefully consider the security implications of their online behaviour.

His advice comes as a recent Symantec survey found that 33% of Australian small businesses lack even basic antivirus protection. Martin says malicious spam and phishing attacks are on the increase.

"With the explosion of unique malware variants observed in 2009, traditional approaches to antivirus software are not always enough to protect against today's threats. Approaches to security that include all software files will be key for businesses in 2010," Martin says.

4. Invest in human capital

A lack of business confidence and finances prevented many companies from putting as much emphasis on staff as they perhaps should have last year. But 2010 is the right time to assess your company's workforce.

Ross Jolly, business management expert and executive coach says a business can always replace office equipment or a building if it burns down, but says the right people are harder to come by.

"Businesses should make sure they've got the right selection and recruitment strategy in place and make sure you're training your staff appropriately."

Businesses should also create or update position descriptions that set out Key
Performance Indicators so staff clearly understand their role and how their performance is being measured.

5. Reassess your target market

A business should never assume it knows its target market. You may have set out to target a specific demographic when you began in business, but changes in society, shopping behaviour and your marketing approach could have seen that target market shift dramatically in just 12 months.

John O'Keefe, founder of Melbourne marketing and advertising agency O'Keefe Communications says a company should conduct market research on its target market every year to form a precise profile of its core customer base by age, income, sex, interests, etc.

"Without a firm understanding of your customer, there's a good chance that your advertising and marketing dollars are being wasted."

6. Outsource the worst bits

Whether you hate answering the phone or can't stand sending out invoices, there are aspects of every job that even the most motivated small business owner doesn't enjoy.

So rather than put up with the parts of running your business that you can't stand, why not outsource to a third party?

Amanda Griscti is the founder of Sydney marketing and graphic design firm Northridge Creations. Her New Year's resolution for 2010 is to outsource the aspects of running her business she doesn't enjoy, which include book keeping and administration.

"I want to let other people work in the business so I can work on the business. And I've decided I just want to do the fun stuff this year. When you work for yourself, you can do what you want."

Griscti also believes outsourcing will enable her to grow her business significantly this year.

7. Prepare for the worst

Now that the tougher economic times are behind us, it's worth making sure you're prepared for anything that might come along in 2010.

Adarna Consulting founder, Samantha Ford is advising businesses to reconsider their risks and how they can manage them this year.

"Businesses should add the things that they think can't possibly go wrong to be truly prepared. Many probably need to revisit their risk management plan, business continuity plans and crisis preparedness plans and strategies."

Ford says businesses should test the plans to make sure they work, or engage someone to do this for you. Companies need to ensure plans are robust, that everyone understands their role in a crisis and ensure a recovery plan is in place.

"Identify what you can do to be prepared for any critical event and how your business can recover if the worst happens."

8. Give more to your staff

Delight and surprise your staff by resolving to implement some form of reward system, which can improve staff retention rates.

Experience gifts operator RedBalloon started offering lunchtime learning sessions for staff last year, inviting an interesting speaker into the office during the lunch hour. Sessions are attended by around half of the 48 staff it employs, according to Jemma Fastnedge, RedBalloon's general manager.

"We want to give our people a little more than what they would expect from a normal business. We want them to leave each session feeling they've been given something for nothing."

RedBalloon also occasionally hosts surprise breakfasts or morning teas.

"If you have morning tea every Friday for example, staff can take it for granted and it's no longer special, so we like to surprise staff. It has really helped with the level of energy in the office, and our people are grateful we make an effort."

9. Get serious about PR

You might not yet have the capital to hire a public relations firm to spruik your business, but there's a lot you can do yourself to spread the word regardless.

Catriona Pollard, director, CP Communications says embracing social media, networking, updating your website and gathering customer testimonials is a good start.

"You can also write an article that positions you as an industry expert and offers topical, helpful information. Ensure it is written in an objective, informative and entertaining manner," Pollard says.

Alternatively, Handle Your Own PR launched in Australia last year to give SMEs the tools to manage their own PR campaigns.

10. Encourage annual leave

Allowing staff to accrue lots of annual leave can have devastating affects on a business.
Yet one in four full-time employees having 25 or more days of annual leave accrued in Australia, which totals a staggering 123 million days of stockpiled annual leave, equating to $33.3 billion.

The impacts of stockpiling annual leave include reduced productivity, lower staff retention rates and the likelihood of more workplace accidents and sick leave being taken.

Tourism Australia launched the No Leave, No Life program last year in conjunction with the business community to give employers and employees the necessary tools to win the work/life battle.

Nick Baker, executive general manager marketing says: "Reducing the leave balance can help businesses to increase productivity, staff retention and morale".

All materials are available to download from the No Leave, No Life website under the 'For Employers' section.

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