The start of a new year is a great time for a business. Not only are there chances for new business opportunities and success, you also have the opportunity to do things better than you did the previous year. Take Pam Lontos, president and owner of PR/PR, a homebased public relations firm in Orlando, Florida. From improving her databases to forging better relationships with her clients and staff, Lontos sees the new year as being rife with new chances to do business better.
Here's a collection of Lontos' New Year's resolutions, and others that just make good business sense.
1. Consolidate databases into a more manageable system. Lontos started using her contact management system when she and her husband were working on slow computers with thin memory. When she needed to enter new names in the database, none were entered into a single consolidated location. Now that her homebased business has six employees and just as many computers, it's time to migrate her contacts into one, easy-to-use database. Searching for contacts will be less "nightmarish," she says. "We need to unify."
2. Back up computer files on a regular basis. One power surge, fire or other catastrophic event can easily kill a PC-and all your business data that you haven't backed up. But this task is often left to tomorrow, Lontos admits. While she hasn't decided how she'll do it, Lontos knows that back-ups to Zip diskettes, Web-based services like SkyDesk, or even to floppies or hard drives on other networked computers can safeguard data against disasters.
3. Build more rapport with staff. Whether your homebased business employs one person or 10, it's imperative to keep employees, subcontractors, independent vendors and others on the same page. Held either on-site or via conference call, meetings boost camaraderie and a sense of belonging. "Staff meetings keeps everyone informed and on the same path," Lontos says. "It's easy to get so involved with our own problems that we forget about staying in touch with our employees' problems and challenges."
4. Build more rapport with clients. Over-dependence on e-mail and voice-mail messages is cutting out the essential personal element of client-vendor interactions, Lontos says. When Lontos was in sales, she relied on customer rapport to strengthen relationships. "Now that I'm working from home and not physically in front of people as often, it's easy to let this slip," she says. Lontos has promised herself she'll hold more chats that include information about family, hobbies or other areas of interest to her clients.
5. Organize your workspace. Working amid clutter can amount to countless lost hours spent ferreting out information, phone numbers, files or scraps of paper. Spend a weekend creating a working file and organizational system for your home office. To learn more, start with Greg Vetter's Find it in 5 Seconds, Lisa Kanarek's Organizing Your Home Office for Success, or Kerry Gleeson's The Personal Efficiency Program.
6. Create a mastermind group. A mastermind group, coined by Napoleon Hill in the class self-help book, Think & Grow Rich, helps small-business owners share ideas in a creative and confidential environment. By gathering a half-dozen peers in noncompeting fields, you can create an intimate and focused team with whom you can meet every few weeks or months to share ideas and stimulate creativity. Each should bring new business ideas, marketing materials and even recent business successes or failures you can discuss and learn from-together.
7. Improve your marketing. Attend more networking meetings at your local chamber of commerce, hand out more business cards, write articles on your area of expertise or industry for local, regional, national or trade publications, or offer to speak on your specialty at local events. Marketing is anything that gets your name out in front of your audience-it's not just placing ads or hiring a public relations firm to spread the word about your company.
8. Learn to speak. Get the heebie jeebies every time you're in front of a crowd? Get over it. Learn to speak on your area of expertise to help spread the gospel about you and your business. Public speaking raises your profile and establishes you as a more authoritative expert in your field. It can help boost your exposure, billings and referrals.
9. Write a book or booklet. You may not consider yourself an expert in your field, but it's likely that you know more about your subject than most of your current or prospective clients in the marketplace. Write a booklet on the topic, and offer to give it away on your Web site or at your speaking events. Make sure it includes your contact information, and information about how to hire you for consulting or speaking engagements.
10. Have more fun. Working from home allows you to take the time to smell the roses-but only if you make the time to do it. Whether it's to take walks to clear your mind, spend more time with family or friends, or just to work in a less stressful environment, learn to reap the benefits of working from home.
Journalist and author Jeff Zbar has worked from home since the 1980s. He writes about home business, teleworking, marketing, communications and other SOHO issues.