Congratulations! You’ve maintained your new business for at least one year at this point. You are starting to feel more like an established business than like a start-up, most likely. However, this is an important part of your journey as an entrepreneur. How you respond to the successes and challenges of your first year is a big part of how you progress in the years after you get started.
In order to really soul-search about your first year of business, and in order to make solid plans for the future, ask yourself the following seven questions and write the answers down. By writing them down, you’ll have a record for next year of what you were thinking and feeling at this point in your company history, and that information can help you in the future.
Have You Progressed at the Pace You Expected?
Pace is a big thing that business owners envision but don’t usually accurately gauge. Has your customer base grown slowly but steadily? Maybe the customers were very reluctant, but as soon as someone caught on, your sales spiked? Look at the trends of your success, and especially compare your original business plan with your numbers here at the end of year one.
This isn’t a place to beat yourself up if the numbers don’t reflect your original optimistic projections. It is instead a chance to point out to yourself and any other stakeholders that your company has now found a particular pattern of customer growth. This moment gives you the chance to decide what the second year will be: are you still actively recruiting many new customers? Are you happy with your current volume and focused on delighting these customers so they continue to be loyal? Are you actually trying to slow the growth down so you can keep producing a high-quality product and have time to hire the people you need to meet demand? None of these are bad scenarios, but operating in one way when you are really in another spot can be bad for business. For instance, if you aggressively market as if you need new customers when you can barely fill all the orders you already have, you’ll definitely run into some trouble.
Are There Any Favorite Ideas That Need to Fall to the Side?
Most of us have a vision of at least one or two products or services that we just love to offer, that bring us a lot of joy. If, at the one year mark, some of your favorite items are actually bringing in almost no money, this is a good time to let them fall away, making room in your store or your time schedule for the things that are truly bringing in customers. While there are certainly things worth keeping around if they don’t actively cost you money, make sure that you aren’t setting aside time and space for items that detract from your high-paying opportunities.
Do You Need More/Less Help?
Many small businesses start with no employees or only one or two part-timers, but after a year, it may be worth evaluating what you could do if you had more staff. Would bringing on a full-time assistant or shopkeeper make it possible to really expand your own partnerships and outreach? On the other hand, you may realize that one way to trim the budget while keeping the business open would be to scale back your amount of employees. It can be hard to let people go, but if it helps the company prosper long-term after this lean early season, you may be able to hire them again.
Is Your Location Working For You?
Location means a lot of things: an in-person office, a storefront, a website domain, or even your home office from which you call potential clients. Think about location broadly and consider whether you should change something up. Do you need a redesign of the website, a new location when your lease runs out, or a membership in a co-working space so that you can get out of the house and work with other people? This could be the time to experiment.
Is There Anything You Want to Outsource?
One problem that a lot of companies have when they first get started is that, rather than wanting to spend money or have contracts with other companies, they want to bootstrap everything. This is a good strategy when you are short on capital, but as the cash flows in over time, it’s worth considering whether it is really worth your time to do all your own copies of marketing materials in house, or other tedious or otherwise outside-your-wheelhouse items. Do the cost comparison, and if it frees up your time, seriously consider the outsourcing.
Is Your Online Presence Doing Everything You Need it to Do?
Speaking of websites, make sure that, no matter what you offer, you are returning to your online presence and making sure that it supports the image you want to convey. This doesn’t always mean active work on social media or review sites, but it can mean that, and your own website should at the very least answer all the basic questions that a customer might have, so they don’t feel turned away from your business. Get a friend or two who you haven’t talked to extensively about your business and ask them to “Google around” about either your product or your business name and see what they come back to you and want to discuss. They may reveal things you didn’t know that you needed to address.
Where Do You Want to Be in One More Year?
The conclusion of a one-year check-in should definitely be forward-thinking. After all, you want to aim high but you also want to take into account all the things you may need to accomplish to get there this year. Do you want, for instance, to be working less hours by the end of the second year? Attune your goals to the life you want to lead, and set yourself up for success through good research and clear objectives.
By asking these questions, you get the mindfulness that comes from making a business plan but without having to completely overhaul your original goals. You are on the path to success.