By Andrea Hill
The beginning of each new year is always an exciting time. Even the change averse get swept up in the potential and energy of a new beginning. And 2021, perhaps more than any other new year in recent memory, is filled with anticipation, expectation, and hope. So as we raise a glass to dropping the curtain on the drama, discomfort, and uncertainty of 2020, here are 21 ideas for advancing your business goals and increasing your business satisfaction in the year to come.
2020 threw employment into the spotlight, as companies were forced to figure out how to maintain the employees they had, manage furloughs and layoffs, bring people back, and then do it all over again. All of this highlighted the fact that most companies do not have a good process in place for managing hiring, onboarding, and training.
One thing you can do in 2021 is create a skills matrix. As the economy begins to improve, there will be new emphasis on hiring, training, and retraining. A skills matrix helps you prepare for that process in advance, and then manage the process in real time.
A skills matrix is a diagram that shows you—in one glance—what skills are necessary to run your business and which employees have which skills. You can do this with an Excel or Google spreadsheet. Skills are listed at the top, one per column. The names of employees in the company (or in each department) fill the first column on the left. Inside the matrix, you rate each employee’s level of skill for each task.
Some companies use a simple metric such as “low,” “medium,” and “high” to rate individual skills. Some companies use a numerical scale such as 1 to 5. The result is a snapshot of areas with sufficient skill coverage and areas that are weak. Using the skills matrix, you can make better hiring decisions and training plans.
It has been proven over and over again that process documentation can dramatically improve quality, consistency, and efficiency, yet most companies do not document processes. Some people believe that only production tasks or particularly complicated tasks should be documented but that’s not true. Even tasks that we do every day and are part of our muscle memory should be documented. Have you ever tried to explain to someone else how to do a task that seems simple to you, only to have them stare at you blankly? You may have thought, “What’s so hard about that? It’s just common sense!”
The adage “common sense is not so common” is true, but not for the reason most people think. It’s true because what is common sense to one person is not common sense to another—it’s simply not common! Everyday tasks that have evolved through a series of micro-adjustments make perfectly good sense to the person involved in the micro-evolution, but to the uninformed, they may be quite complex. Documenting those processes will ensure that someone else can assist or take over when needed.
Some tasks are done so infrequently that we forget how to do them from one experience to the next. Then, we either avoid doing them because we’re afraid we can’t remember how or we waste time reconstructing the task. When infrequent tasks are documented, people can open up the documentation, immediately establish a starting point, and get going. Process documentation makes it easier to train employees, increasing the odds that new employees or employees moving into different roles will be successful.
Finally, process documentation alerts us when a process is outdated or needs to be adjusted or refined. When we just do a task by memory, we tend not to be very thoughtful about it. It’s like driving home, only to realize that you don’t remember the drive itself. When we use process documents, we are more likely to recognize steps that are outdated or need to change. In this regard, process documentation fuels continuous improvement. You can create your process documents in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or Apple Pages. But there are also process documentation apps. One of the best is Process Street (process.st), which helps you create logical processes and allows you to assign processes to employees and monitor progress.
Most of us start a new year with excellent intentions regarding consistency, discipline, and control. But by January 7, all those goals have gone out the window. Improve your marketing by creating an editorial plan. The most powerful marketers today are killing it in content development, but if you try to sit down every day and figure out what to talk about, you’ll go blank more often than not. Instead, create a monthly plan and start with 12 main ideas. Then, use that content plan to decide which blogs to write, which banners to put on the website, and what you should share in your e-mail campaigns and on social media. Extend your content themes to paid ads, new product communications, designer features, events, and trunk shows. Creating an editorial calendar bakes consistency into your marketing and takes away the writer’s block.
Many of you have websites that are heavily tied to one of the major jewelry industry product platforms, or you have a custom site that was designed to work with your product catalog, or you spent weeks (or even months) logging all your products and prices into a website builder. Now your site looks outdated or too much like everyone else’s website (or both). Maybe it handles products well enough, but it can’t do any of the things you know you should do to make your website more functional, engaging, and exciting. There’s a cure for that and it doesn’t involve throwing out your product-based website and starting over.
You can take a headless commerce approach. Headless commerce allows you to keep the e-commerce system you have, and then add on to your website using different technology more suitable for the information-sharing, training, sales and/or marketing automation, storytelling, customer engagement, and social proof even B2B sites today require. Creating an add-on is much easier than a complete do-over. Headless commerce can be an incredibly cost-effective and fast way to upgrade your entire website experience without scrapping and starting over on the product side, which tends to be the most difficult and most expensive piece of your website.
Most businesses in the jewelry industry create sales plans by product category. Now it’s time to think about creating a sales plan by channel. As the pandemic drove home the need to have strong digital selling tools in place, most businesses expanded their distribution channels. You still need the sales plan by category, but you also need to take your sales forecast and plan and look at it from another angle.
If you are a manufacturer, your channels in the past may have been independent retail and chain retail. Today, those channels could have expanded to include online marketplaces, internet pureplays, and auction sites. For retailers, the channels may have expanded from in-store sales and internet sales to general marketplaces (such as Amazon), social media, and daily deals sites.
Looking at sales by channel will give you a better understanding of how to allocate your energy and investments in the sales function.
Sales automation is that process of streamlining tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming, such as coordinating meeting times, note taking and dissemination, CRM documentation, and many types of e-mail communications. You can use sales automation to expedite those tasks and make them more consistent.
Gone are the days of going back and forth to find an acceptable meeting time. Now you can make your schedule openings visible and allow people to book automatically using tools such as Calendly or Omnify. If you have regular Zoom meetings with your customers, you can now use Zoom.ai to allow your customer to book an appointment with you and generate a Zoom link.
If you integrate your regular e-mail system to your CRM system, the e-mails that go back and forth between salespeople and customers will post automatically to the CRM. This is important because if a customer needs something and their salesperson isn’t available, another team member can review the conversation. If that information exists in a conventional e-mail exchange, nobody else can see it.
Of course, a lot of customer communication happens on the phone, and we all know that nobody is going to type up all those notes and drop them into the CRM. But you can automate that too. There’s a tool called Otter that was designed for meetings. It will record the conversation and create an instant transcript, and those notes can be posted via link or copied/pasted right into your CRM system.
You don’t want to create all canned customer e-mails be-cause that’s too impersonal. But many e-mail communications are repetitive. For those pieces of information you end up typing over and over again, create content blocks (or content snippets), and have them available as cut-and-paste elements. Some CRM systems such as HubSpot, Salesforce, or SharpSpring make it easy to store e-mail snippets and call on them while writing.
In 2021, automate those repetitive sales tasks and give yourself the time for the qualitative things that automation just can’t do.
After all the disruption and transition of 2020, it’s time to refine your brand messaging. Brand messaging is important because consistency is the key to success and clear brand messaging is key to consistency.
Your brand messaging is all the ways you tell the customer who you are, what you do that makes you different, and why you matter. So you need to know those answers. Once you know them, they become the basis for your announcements, social media posts, product announcements, blog content, taglines, headlines, and every other communication. If you can see the DNA of your brand messaging in everything you do, you’re doing it right.
Brand messaging must be focused and clear. Your customers are assaulted by marketing messages every day, so your communications must be memorable and sticky enough that you rise above the noise.
Every company should have a brand book, which gives the business a framework of consistency and keeps everyone in alignment. You may already have a brand document that includes your logo, colors, and typography. But a brand book should go further. It should also articulate how your brand will use imagery, the tone of voice, and the personality of the brand.
Create or update your brand book and make sure everyone from your customer service team to your PR firm uses it every time they create messaging, visuals, or talking points.
2021 will be a year of revisiting and refining employee safety programs. If you don’t have a formal employee safety program in place, you probably struggled with how to implement safety precautions as the pandemic upended business operations. Of course, every business struggled with how to react to a virus that we didn’t understand. But companies that had formal safety programs in place already had a framework for addressing safety and health issues.
This heightened attention to health and safety is likely here to stay, so companies without an employee safety program need to create one. OSHA offers a free safety plan template, so getting started couldn’t be easier.
Many customer issues come from disconnects between customer service and operations. But operations teams often don’t get the kind of customer feedback and interaction needed for them to understand the customer perspective. The only way that they can get that perspective is to have strong links between your customer service and operations teams.
Of course, if the only time your operations team hears from your customer service team is when customers are upset about something, then the operations team will go into hiding every time they see the customer service team approaching. That is not the time to build the link.
Instead, create regular meetings, team building, and information sharing between operations and customer service teams to close the gap and create sensitivity and awareness. This will lead to much better customer service and customer satisfaction outcomes.
Most companies saw significant stress between their operations and customer service in 2020 due to the new operational demands related to expanded digital selling and supply chain logistics. So in 2021, it’s time to create strong links between customer service and operations.
The average worker wastes about three hours of paid time per week looking for information. And it’s not even possible to calculate what companies miss out on because employees didn’t see certain types of information at all. Most companies try to address this problem with bulletin boards or by sending e-mail, but bulletin boards don’t offer the opportunity for dialog, and nobody needs more e-mail.
The good news is that you don’t need e-mail to standardize company-wide communication. It is easier than ever to create a company-wide secure website or app. Employees can log in securely, receive notifications and alerts, search for process documentation, access company training, post questions and get answers, have discussions, and make suggestions. Companies with better communications tend to be more flexible, and flexibility is what you will need in 2021 and beyond.
Every business has a culture. The question is, is your culture intentional or unintentional? Unintentional cultures are very inconsistent because each department tends to have its own culture, typically based on the strongest personality in the department.
An intentional business culture can reinforce your strategy and brand and raise your profile with customers. It is very important to have a consistent, thoughtful culture embraced by everyone in your organization.
This year, consider what kind of culture you have and what kind of culture you want. Is there a gap? Which behaviors will help you meet your strategic and customer goals and how can you motivate those behaviors? What are you saying to customers—in person and through your marketing—and are those promises backed up by cultural consistency? Your business culture is one of the levers you can use to achieve your business objectives. Give it the time and the attention it needs to become intentional.
In a typical downturn, people are just happy to have a job. But the experience of 2020 turned up something different. Employees started putting their collective foot down about the things that matter to them. Employees want fair pay and growth opportunities, but they want more than that. They want to be happy at work. They want to feel like they matter. They want to know that the work that they do has value. 2021 is the year to create an employee happiness program with your employees. Believe it or not, your future sustainability as a business is strongly related to your desirability as an employer and your ability to hold on to good people.
When the pandemic started, companies without a financial buffer immediately suffered the consequences. Companies with a small financial buffer were able to hold on until the first round of stimulus occurred, and companies with a rainy-day (or year) fund have not only weathered the storm, but have turned it into a competitive opportunity.
While we don’t expect a complete recovery in 2021, it’s still time to start building your rainy-day fund. You won’t be able to put as much as you want into it at first, but that’s okay. As time goes by, you’ll build the fund and the confidence that comes with knowing you have options.
To be successful, you need a clear strategy and a plan for how you will execute that strategy. This is the year to tighten the connection between your strategic plan and execution; if your strategy isn’t clear, add that to this list as Tip #22.
Your strategy is how you will differentiate yourself in the marketplace and maintain a competitive advantage. To execute it, you need to set goals for each aspect of the plan and attach a KPI (key performance indicator or metric) to each goal. Without clear goals and metrics, you can’t know if you are on track with your strategy.
How do you keep that work on strategic goals and measurements alive? How do you ensure your employees are aligned and pursuing goals together? You do it with good communications.
Team management, collaboration, and communication tools have become more familiar to businesses of all sizes as millions of employees shifted from working in the office, store, or plant to working at home. Overnight, managers all over the world suddenly had no way of knowing what people were doing. Managers who previously felt a sense of comfort being able to see what people were working on had to find ways to communicate with, motivate, and manage teams.
Tools such as Slack, Asana, and Basecamp were designed to help teams coordinate, communicate about tasks and issues, and remain committed to outcomes. Managers can see task assignments and progress and participate in discussing issues and answering questions. These tools are useful at any time—not just for work-at-home employees. This year, look at implementing team management and collaboration tools to deepen your effectiveness as a manager.
Today, all business is niche business. Neither B2B nor B2C customers have time for generic offerings. If you can identify very clearly who your target customer is—your niche—and become very important to them because you understand them better than any other company, then your competitive position will become unassailable. This is the year to refine your products, services, messaging, and operations to be particularly relevant to your specific group of customers. This is the year to define and pursue your niche.
In Tip #15 we discussed tightening the connection between strategy and execution. But it’s not enough to just have a corporate-level strategy. Your strategy must be relevant and clear to every department. Each department or team should also have their own execution plan with goals and KPIs to track.
But it’s still not enough if each department’s goals and metrics are understood in isolation. To be effective, departmental goals must be in alignment with one another. Any risk of one department suboptimizing another must be identified and mitigated. Cross-functional goals can further strengthen the bonds between department goals.
Once everyone can see the connection between what they are doing and what the company is trying to achieve, you have alignment. That’s powerful stuff.
The world changed dramatically in 2020 and business is forever changed as a result. One thing every business owner will need to do to compete is to think more like an entrepreneur. Whether you attend a course at a local college or university or take an online course, 2021 is the year to adopt a more entrepreneurial focus.
Continuous learning is the executive form of continuous improvement and luckily, there’s a lot of readily accessible information out there to help you. Here are a few terrific new business books to read. Consume their content early and enter the year with new ideas and motivation!
Study market disruption by reading Billion Dollar Brand Club (How Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, and Other Disruptors Are Remaking What We Buy) by Lawrence Ingrassia.
Learn the power of taking risks by reading Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments by Stefan H. Thomke.
Consumer and employee expectations are changing. Consider how your business can respond by reading Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution by Robert Chesnut.
One of the most common refrains of 2020 was, “I never stop working! Every day is Blursday!” Enter 2021 with a goal of making time for family, friends, and yourself. Put fun on your calendar. Put spirituality into your breaks. Walk more. Breathe deeply. Laugh. All this hard work isn’t worth anything if you forget to infuse it with purpose and joy.
2020, we’re not sad to see you go. Welcome 2021! Here’s to better days ahead!
Want more tips for success in 2021? Click here to listen to our latest podcast, in which Andrea Hill offers five great ideas for how a business can expand their online reach. Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.