smb-tech-trendsWhere are you in your business planning for the next year? Even if you already know where you want to take your business next year or five years down the road, putting a plan together with details helps you identify if you need to make adjustments in your marketing and operations. For example, to add new products or services, you may need to bring on talent you can’t find locally, which will require hiring remote workers and moving more processes to the cloud so that employees can access company information wherever they are. If you expand geographically but can’t afford the time and expense of travel, you may want to look into video and web conferencing tools to conduct business meetings without leaving town.

Get your team together in an all all-hands meeting or gather the heads of your departments together to begin the planning process, which probably will require several sessions.  If possible, get everyone involved away from the office so there are fewer distractions. (Just make sure mobile devices are turned off).  Planning should include the following key steps:

Charts and diagramsAssess the year

Compare achievements over the year against stated goals. Examine how internal factors – business procedures and processes, customer support, staffing issues – and external ones such as the competitive environment, customer requirements, new distribution channels or the economy in your area supported or challenged meeting your goals.

Do your homework

Find out what you can about the market in the coming year. Social media channels can be helpful in conducting research. Search Twitter for posts about your company as well as major competitors. Check the Facebook pages of your competitors to find out what they are planning.  Use your social media channels to conduct a poll or toss out a question to help you better understand the needs and preferences of your customers and prospects. Also when you have the opportunity, ask customers directly about their own plans for the coming year and if appropriate about the competition.

Set goals

As part of your goal setting, revisit your mission statement; it helps focus goals. Include in your plans objectives that reaffirm your company’s mission or decide if the mission needs to change based on developments in the market and customer requirements. Goals can be strategic – such as become the leading brand in your small business market space – as well as tactical in terms of profits, new client acquisition, operational costs and efficiency.

Review operations

Assess all of your operations to identify what you need to fix or change. Review your marketing plan; HR policies and hiring needs; customer service; and financial priorities, including new expenses and funding. In addition to cloud computing and online conferencing, look at our BigTrends for Small Business to see what other tech trends are continuing to make an impact on small business. And plan for the unexpected by making sure critical business information is secure in the event of a disaster or against a cyber-attack.

Make adjustments

More than likely you can’t change everything at once, but you can set timelines for change. You also may have to prioritize your goals based on your time, budget and staffing resources.

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing is running a short poll on his blog about 2014 business planning. If you’d like to participate, cast your vote and see where other small businesses are in the process.