Making a Laundry List

By Beacon Staff

Whether your business had its best year ever (and some did) or its worst, tomorrow brings the start of a new year. What are you going to do about it?

With that in the back of your mind, let’s make a couple of lists and see what floats to the top.

First, start with what worked. Write down the most successful things/ ideas / strategies you took action on in 2008. Do this in each area of your business: sales, customer service, advertising, marketing, shipping, new product/service development, lead generation and back office operations.

You may have other logical areas in addition to these, don’t feel like you have to be limited by my list. If your business is sizable (you define what “sizable” is, not me), you may want to break the back office operations down into areas: accounting, legal, management, technology and human resources.

Try to pick one, three or even five successes from each area if you can. It’s OK if you have to dig around to find even the smallest success in some areas; that tiny success might be something that deserves massive emphasis in 2009.

Look at each success on your list. Are any of these things items that you would want to emphasize in 2009? Would more emphasis (ie: doing them more, investing more time or money on that activity) produce an even bigger success in 2009? Put a little star (or something) next to those items so they get your attention.

Next, look at the items from a different point of view: Could any of these successful activities, strategies or changes create a positive impact on a different area of your business?

If so, mark those with a star (or whatever) as well. If you already have something in mind for translating this success to another area of your business, make a note of it so that you don’t forget it.

Next, take a look at what didn’t work in each of the same areas. Again, write them down, broken down by the areas we used above regarding what worked (sales, customer service, etc). Look over the list like you did the successes, scanning for things that might be hampering other areas of your business, then prioritize the list as you did they successes.

Do these things need to be eliminated or fixed? Make note of that.

Failures are a sign you’re actually doing something. Each one should provide a learning experience whose investment can be leveraged in the future. Not repeating mistakes is far more important than not making any.

During the process of analyzing each part of your operation, just about every business owner should be able to come up with a list of 30, 40 or even 50 things to work on.

While it seems like a great thing to have a nice long laundry list of stuff to do, it can cause many business owners to fail into the “paralysis by analysis” trap. Ever looked at a list over and over trying to figure out which is the most important only to find that you’re staring at the list 30 minutes later?

Ward that off by prioritizing your list in each area: what changes will have the most significant impact in 2009? Pick the three most important in each area. Save the rest.

There is a trap in lists like this: when you see the list as a bunch of things you can’t do today, so you only work on the smaller items that you can complete before the day is out.

Eliminate that by identifying the next three things that have to be done for each item. Those become the actual tasks on your to-do list, rather than that gargantuan project that you’d never start otherwise.

Like New Year’s resolutions, you can go overboard on strategic changes. Going from zero to 100 isn’t how most people operate. Look at your priority list.

Pick the 12 highest priority items. Put them in order of “most likely to create a major impact” and do number one in January. Spread the others out across the months. If you finish early, start the next item right away.

Start item number one today. See you next year.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.

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