Small Businesses and Startups – 3 New Years Reflections and Resolutions

Alright then. Hangover from New Years eve is gone these past few days. The last long weekend of the holidays is done. And now, once again, we turn our gaze lovingly back to our business, our customers, and our team. As managers, we are so focused on the moment at hand, the task that needs accomplishing, the strategy that needs executing, the data that needs analyzing, that we often neglect to take time to simply reflect. Reflection is a critical activity for effective managers and strong leaders and there are natural moments for the act of contemplation that sometimes feels like a luxury we simply can’t afford.

We’ve written before about New Year resolutions in the context of business and management, but this year I want to put these into more of a ruminative  frame. In other words, let my reflection on each of these drive my resolve to improve each.

As a manager some days I do a pretty good job while on others my performance may be poor or ineffectual. So I have chosen 3 areas where I know I can improve, where I can strengthen my focus, and where I can change things up with the goal of advancing, refining, or reviving specific aspects of the business. I’d love to hear your own reflections and thoughts on these or on your own reflections and resolutions.

1. Focus on the customerAs the manager of an internet business, our approach has always been “light-touch” and our assumption has always been biased towards “self-serve.” Like many internet businesses we have built the company around the assumptions of scalability, and that necessarily means finding ways to serve a large customer base with a small team. We’ve preached and practiced the lean approach to business and, while I still strongly believe in it, I have come to the conclusion that we haven’t done a good job connecting with and engaging our customers. People tend to buy more from, and return more often to, companies they feel a strong connection to. At crowdSPRING we are resolved to make 2015 the year of customer relationships; we will not be satisfied to simply wait for our users to contact us with a question the need answered or a problem they need resolved. Rather we will reach out proactively, work hard to build and maintain relationships, hold our customer’s hands and help them answer those questions before they are formulated and solve those problems before they arise. The goals are improved conversion rates, increased customer satisfaction, and greater word-of-mouth. We will collect data on these factors as the year progresses and adjust our approach as we go.

2. Support the team. I have always enjoyed and dreaded the year-end reviews we do for each member of the team here. We discuss the year that is closing, reflect together on each person’s growth and development, talk about whether the goals we set last year have been achieved and what new goals we might set for the year to come. While my door is always open to any discussions with any team member, the end of year review is a great time to offer myself up for and feedback, positive or negative, that they may want to share and I actively encourage them to do so. What’s interesting is that there is always something to be learned and there is always something shared that catches me by surprise. Why is that? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I have resolved that in 2015, I will spend more time focused on the team; give more thought to what they might need from me; consider more and better ways to communicate. The goal is that at next year’s reviews, none of the feedback should come as a surprise and none of the criticism be about something I was not aware of. I intend to keep my finger more firmly on the pulse of the team and be way more proactive about soliciting their thoughts and ideas about the company, the product, and my own performance.

3. Practice the Liberal ArtsI have an undergraduate degree in communications, studied literature, have an intense interest in the visual arts, spent my first career as a filmmaker, have read extensively in history and biography as well as fiction. But when it comes to my business, I am all about the numbers, the data, the strategic approach, and the product itself. I know that business is not literature and that art does not necessarily translate to profits, however, in 2015 I resolve to enlarge the overlap in the venn-diagram between the two. I will read more great fiction and will try to absorb their imagined worlds and characters to enrich my own world. I will read more biography and use the lessons learned by the subjects with the goal of applying those to my own life, my own context. I will read more poetry and think hard about ways to translate those words into my own personal language, written and spoken. The liberal arts enrich us in ways that are often not measurable, but I believe that my business, too, can be enriched by my own practice and consumption of words, ideas, and images that do not directly or intuitively relate to “management.”

Photo, Wikimedia Commons: Mount Hood reflected in Mirror Lake, Oregon