With Christmas over and the new year around the corner, there’s generally not a lot going on from a business point of view, so now is the perfect time for some long range thinking. I always try and plan my next year during this period, even when I’m away.

The kinds of questions I like to ask myself are:

  • What results am I committed to producing in the new year?
  • Where can I focus my energies for the biggest result?
  • What has prevented me from producing these results previously?
  • What can I do to overcome these?

One of the biggest challenges I always find is in mastering the daily distractions, all of which place demands on your time. Things like business planning, product selection, stock control, client services, staff communication, corporate image, advertising, P.R., price wars, competition, finance, staff training, leadership and even crystal ball gazing.

When you think about all the things you need to get done, it’s remarkable that any business succeeds. Yet somehow most of us do and most of us continue to grow.

I believe as a business owner your job is to focus on the areas that give you the most leverage on your time, money and other resources and to leave areas that are outside of your comfort zone to people who have the necessary skills and love to do what you do not.

And from where I stand, marketing has to be the area of most leverage for the average business owner.

What do I mean by leverage?

Let’s say you have set a goal for ’08 to grow by 30%. Most people equate growth to acquiring new customers and depending on your business, this can be a real challenge. However let’s say that instead of focusing all of your efforts on acquiring new customers; instead you decided to focus on improving your conversion rate of inquiries into sales.

Let’s imagine you are closing 3 out of every 10 leads and by focusing on conversion you increase this to 5 out of 10. So, without changing anything else in one fell swoop you’ve increased your sales by 66% without acquiring any more prospects than you do now. That’s leverage in action.

Let’s assume you still want to focus on new client acquisition and are planning to use Yellow Pages or direct mail to do it. Simply by testing different headlines and changing nothing else, you can increase response rates by several 100%. One of my clients did this and increased response rates by over 2000%. Even if you did one hundredth as well, this would give you a 20% improvement, but there’s no reason for your results to be that low if you learn how to construct headlines effectively.

Are you doing direct mail now? What sort of results are you getting? What would happen if you stopped doing ad-hoc direct mail and instead instituted an on-going program of mailing to direct clients where you nurtured the relationship by offering great advice and educating them how to buy?

This is one of the quickest most reliable ways to increase your business over night. An alternative would be to set up some sort of continuity program, where you program your customers to buy on a regular basis. One pharmacy client of mine now offers his clients automatic replenishment of their prescriptions, ensuring many thousands of dollars in extra sales that might have gone to competitors or perhaps been left unfilled all together.

This kind of approach can easily give you many thousands of dollars in extra sales and most of these ideas cost nothing to implement – do them in combination and you multiply the outcome dramatically.

These ideas may look like great ideas, but which leverage points in your business are most relevant to you right now as you get ready for next year?

Most marketing education makes marketing look a lot more complex than it really is or needs to be. Yet when you distill it down there are only 5 ways to grow your business and when you understand this, marketing becomes much easier. That’s because there only 5 paths you can take to build your business. Of course there infinite variations but understanding these 5 options allows you to focus your efforts on what’s important.

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“Action Item “

So before the new year starts, invest some time with a one year calendar or planner and map out your very own personal business plan for ’08. Write down what you want to achieve and when you are going to do it. Set yourself a specific set of prioritized goals, that when focused upon, will produce the most effective result for your energy and efforts.

The key points on the planner are your marketing leverage points. Focus on these at the times you decide and you’ll see the impact on your bottom line in ’08.

Keep it simple and keep it handy. I have mine on the wall by my desk, so it’s always visible. Use it on a regular basis.

Its very simple, its supposed to be. That’s the strength of it.

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In a recent piece of research, it took workers at Microsoft 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after responding to e-mail and instant messages. They would often reply to other messages or browse website after being interrupted by dealing with a new e-mail.

If you are dealing with e-mail as it comes in, how much is this affecting your productivity? My advice; check e-mail no more than twice a day. Recent research also shows that today 95% of all e-mail is spam. Is this worthy of your continual attention?