NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Although many business owners spend the last quarter of the year crafting a business plan, February isn't too late to take a serious look at your goals for 2015. Here's a look at five steps to take this month and reflections on the previous year while planning for big changes or improvements.
1. Don't need an entirely new business plan? At least get together and talk.
The process of developing a plan can be almost as valuable as the plan itself, especially when you involve key members of your team, says Tracy Benson, chief executive of business consultancy On The Same Page.
"When you get everyone together, you ignite and harness that energy and it lays the foundation for accountability," she says. "Everyone will have wildly different and creative ideas, and you're giving them a framework to apply those ideas."
A group meeting gives employees enough room to be creative, but with direction. Benson recommends first gathering a small group of decision-makers and looping in other managers and leaders later.
"When you meet and talk about goals and put actionable plans in place, the team gets energized about what they should be doing," she says. "They see that they've had input, and suddenly it's not just your business plan, it's everyone's business plan."
Once the talking is done, take a look at what's been discussed and make certain you have assessed measurable objectives in whatever areas are most pertinent to your business: sales, revenue, income, market share, etc.
"You've got to have specific commitments you want to make in support of driving your business forward this year," she says.
"Many of us tend to want to take on too much at once. We see a whole ocean of opportunities out there and we want to tackle them all," Benson says. "Instead, list all areas you want to address and home in on three areas of focus you think will move the needle in the most significant way."
Develop a simple plan for each of the three areas you chose and phase them out over the course of the year, she suggests. Maintain your focus by enlisting the support you need, whether that's from your internal team or outside advisors.
"Remember that part of focusing is to get rid of mental blocks," she says. "Don't think about the 'What ifs,' and don't make excuses."
3. If you're doing "OK," don't keep doing what you're doing.
Many business owners' "New Year default" is to keep doing what they did last year, Benson says.
"If your company is as successful as you want it to be, then by all means keep doing what you're doing, but if your intention is to grow, expand or get a different result from the status quo, then you need to change. And that doesn't happen by accident. It happens through intention," she says.
Even if you would be content staying on pace with where you were last year, consider your employees. They're looking to you for inspiration.
"If you want to stay where you are, fine. But you have a team of employees behind you and you're trying to motivate them to go somewhere exciting with you. That's a hard sell if your philosophy is, 'Keep doing what you're doing.'"
The first quarter is a great time to establish a "focused tone" for the year, says Steve Moore, director of human resource services at Insperity. If you're looking to get employees excited about where the company is headed, share the vision.
"Sharing companywide goals at the beginning of the year helps ensure everyone is on the same page to achieve the company's objectives. It is also a great time to motivate employees, acknowledging the vital role they play in the success of the company," Moore says.
In addition to exciting your employees, don't forget your clients, Benson says.
"It's important to ask your customers, 'What do you need more of?' 'What would be amazing for you if we did differently?' she says. It's important to bring the voice of your customer into everything that you do."
4. Start with the big picture and create attainable goals.
Before outlining individual tasks and divvying up responsibilities for the year ahead, take a step back and look at the big picture, Moore says. Outline long-term goals — those that may take a year or more to accomplish — and remember to think big. At this point in the year anything is possible. Just don't bite off more than you can chew.
"Similar to personal New Year's resolutions, it is tempting to start the year with ambitious goals that may be difficult to achieve," he says. "Instead, set small, realistic goals each quarter that are more likely to be reached and will also help leaders stay motivated throughout the year."
5. Take a look back, a look forward, and don't forget the here and now.
Take a look back at what happened in 2014, says David Gilbert, founder and CEO of small business lender National Funding.
"Things like oil prices dropping, increased consumer confidence and an improving economy are greatly impacting the upcoming year. Business owners need to assess their business models and determine what works and what doesn't," he says.
Also, review any new tax regulations. Retirement contributions, health insurance credits and transportation deductions have all changed since 2014, and could have a major impact on your 2015 taxes.
"As a small-business owner, if you assume that tax rules on limits and ceilings remain the same, you risk missing out on important breaks and returns," he says.
Additionally, while the filing deadline for 2014 business returns is March 16, if you do not have all the information you need to complete your return, you can request a filing extension, which is Sept. 15.
— By Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet