Before You Plan For Your Business In 2015, Do This First

As we hit the end of 2014, it’s time to start taking whatever time you aren’t spending on holiday sales, spending the holidays with your family, or just the day-to-day business of…well, running a business, and start planning out 2015. Obviously, that tiny slice of time you have left isn’t a huge one–but that’s okay, for two reasons:

  1. You don’t have to plan your entire year right now. What a lot of business owners do, and what I myself do, is plan for the first month or two of 2015 and start nailing down big picture priorities in December, and then take most of January to really map the year out. In other words: all you need to do right now is plan for the first few months of 2015, so that you have time to really plan later when you aren’t stressed from the holidays.
  2. You’re probably approaching your planning in inefficient, overwhelming ways. When you wade out into the middle of a mess that consists of dates independent of your marketing calendar (like product launches or trade shows), your own personal priorities, your business priorities, and other data, and try to make sense of it all and then create a coherent plan out of it…well, it’s not exactly setting you up for success.

So what does set you up for success?

Pick your priorities

As Jim Collins put it, if you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any priorities. Before you even touch your planning process for next year, you should know what your three priorities for 2015 are going to be, and structure your plans around those. 

Here’s a few priorities you might want to consider: 

  • Bringing in more new customers
  • Creating more referrals from current customers
  • Retaining more customers
  • Establishing your brand as an industry leader

In addition to those four broader categories, you might want to focus on a particular category of your marketing–depending on which of those is most important to you. Keep reading for a list of suggestions and commentary for each potential priority, to help you decide which one to focus on and start thinking about how you’ll work on it.

Want to bring in more customers?

If you want to bring in more customers, you need to start getting the word out about your business in a serious way. As far as online marketing goes, you’ll be looking more at content and social media marketing than email marketing–email marketing helps with other things and shouldn’t be neglected, of course, but content and social media are very public-facing, so they’re better for getting people in the door.

Aside from bringing more people to your website, you want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to convert those visitors into customers. Here’s a KISSmetrics post that shows how we did that with a Kaleidico client (and has plenty of other examples–even if you’re not in the SaaS industry, it’s worth reading).

If you want to dig deeper into the topic of conversion optimization, here’s our recommendations: 

  • The Optimizely blog has useful, in-depth articles with plenty on A/B testing and lead generation
  • The Daily Egg is pretty focused on conversion optimization and testing
  • The KISSmetrics blog has a broader view, like Optimizely’s blog, but has plenty on improving conversion rates

Want to create more referrals?

 You might be happy with the number of people you currently have coming in to your website and converting into buyers, but feel like you should be getting more incoming referrals from clients or customers. After all, if your current customers are referring people to you, then that’s less time you have to spend marketing. When it comes to creating more referrals, look at your email marketing, quality of product, and customer service.

Here’s a few good places to start:

  • It’s not a blog post, but the Referral Engine is one of my favorite business books ever–engaging, informative, and chock-full of actionable insight to create more referrals in your business.
  • Depending on what kind of business you own, think about running experiments (like the one detailed on the Groove blog that grew referrals by 30%) intended to grow referrals via footer links or other notes.
  • In general, it’s a good idea to think about experiments you can run–even if your business won’t grow from adding a link or two to emails, you can consider running a short-term refer-a-friend promotion, for example.
  • And if you want to create more customer advocates, this post from Client Heartbeat gives you plenty to work on.

Want to retain more customers?

If you want to keep customers coming back to you time and time again, your focus is going to be a little broader. Engaging customers via email is typically good for retention (as long as you’re actually engaging them, via starting conversations or asking what product/service questions they have). But so is having a dependable presence on your site, via your content marketing efforts, like blog posts or videos. And so is being visible on social media, sharing valuable content (whether your’s or from someone else) and starting conversations.

All of these will remind customers that you’re around and that they enjoy your service or product. But of course, you also need to have a good product or service to retain customers, and great customer service to go with it. You can see how it could be easy to go too broad with this one–so instead of trying to improve all of these things at once, take stock of these areas and figure out which ones are the weakest right now, then work on shoring those up.

Here’s some more jumping off points for increasing retention: 

Going to work on making your brand an industry leader? 

If what you really want to focus on is making your brand stand out in a crowded marketplace, you should focus on content marketing and social media marketing. Creating an engaging experience via those two marketing channels will do wonders for your brand. Create in-depth, helpful blog posts (or other content) that reflect your unique brand voice, and then spread the word about them far and wide.

Of course, you also want to have the other markers of an industry leading brand–high quality web design, typo-free copy, personality, excellent customer service, and an amazing product–but if you have all of that locked down already, then put your content and social media marketing at top priority.

The value of an outside voice 

Going back to the introduction and the second point in it, about avoiding overwhelm when planning, it’s worth noting that bringing in an outside perspective can help a lot during this process. As a business owner, you’re so in the thick of it on a daily basis that it can be hard to remove emotions or personal preferences from the equation, while still stepping back and viewing your business from the 10,000ft view.

Whether you work with a one on one consultant or an agency (hint hint), or even just create a temporary mastermind group with other business owners to help each other plan, seriously consider getting outside input on your business plans for 2015.

And there you have it! This should keep you busy with your pre-planning stages, so that when January hits, you’re not totally unprepared (but you also didn’t spend Christmas Eve looking at business plans).