Three Tasks Every Business Owner Should Do Annually

Alisha M Pennington is the owner of ATvantage Athletic Training and a business development mentor.

As the end of the year approaches, business owners typically have a laundry list of tasks. Of them, there are three tasks, in particular, that leaders cannot overlook. While they don’t need to be completed before year-end, they should be addressed annually for yearly planning. The information gathered as a result can help you understand how the market might have changed in the past 12 months, offers insight into which shifts have occurred and provides clarity on the next steps.

1. Market Research And Competitive Analysis

When you have an established customer base, it’s important to hear their thoughts, collect feedback and look at what others have started doing since you came to market. Each of these exercises should then be used to help determine how to adjust services, products and/or the customer experience moving into the next year.

When talking to clients, you want to be precise and pointed with your line of questioning. Specifically, you’re looking to identify their pain points and desired solutions. For pain points, ask questions such as:

• What are you currently struggling with related to (product/industry)?

• What do you need support with related to (product/industry)?

• What bothers you most about (product/industry)?

• What is not working for you related to (product/industry)?

To understand their desired solutions, ask questions such as:

• What is your ideal version of (product/industry)?

• What would your dream solution of (product/industry) be?

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• If you could have everything you wanted related to (product/industry), what would it look like?

When it comes to the competitive analysis, you need to be mindful of how others have pivoted, who remains or is no longer a competitor, how your client base might include demographics you didn’t originally consider, and/or investigate new products or services that have come to market. Areas to consider when completing a competitive analysis include:

• Who do your competitors primarily serve, and how does it differ or resemble your audience? Consider age, industry, geographic region, stage in career or life, gender, etc.

• What are their strengths, and where do they excel? Look at testimonies and reviews, aesthetics, client experience and whether they have more or fewer deliverables or products.

• What results are they delivering? Are there points in their reviews that you could improve in your business? How do they make people feel, and how does your brand differ? What are the results clients have after working with them?

The key takeaways you can gain from this research include the following.

• What are things you can borrow that they do well?

• What are the strengths of your product or service that you should highlight in your messaging?

• What is something you hadn’t previously considered that you should implement moving forward?

2. SWOT Analysis

As I’ve written on previously, after a decade of starting and scaling businesses, I’ve found a SWOT analysis to be one of the best tools for assessing a business and deciding on the necessary next steps. Here’s how to execute one.

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• First, conduct what I call a “business brain dump.” Investigate all aspects of the business, including but not limited to legalities, accounting, quality control, marketing, communications, leadership and more.

• Then, categorize your responses into four primary groups: what you and your team do well; things you and your team struggle with; areas to capitalize on and what to look forward to; and concerns and risks that might be looming. You now have your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

You can now prioritize potential opportunities, minimize threats and find solutions for weaknesses—all while doubling down on strengths. This creates an efficient way of auditing the entire business and developing a roadmap for next steps.

3. Intention Setting

Probably best suited as an end-of-calendar or fiscal-year activity, intention setting is an opportunity to collectively ideate with yourself or your team on what you want next. This is different than goal setting, as goals are typically set as a result of understanding intentions. A quick way to approach an intention-setting exercise.

• Identify verbs that describe actions you want to take within the business, such as grow, share, shift, develop, engage, drive, ensure, identify, improve, drive, consult or spread.

• Attach phrases to these verbs that provide direction for where you want the business to move. For example: “Grow our audience into another demographic.” “Spread the message of our mission further.” “Drive engagement with the current client base.”

• Use these intentions to create the goals and subsequent key performance indicators of each leader or department, including yourself.

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Intention setting allows you to move toward an end goal while not having to define it with a specific metric. It creates the opportunity for everyone to feel they can engage in an activity that moves the business ahead and allows them to identify the goal and/or KPI associated with it for themselves. It empowers team members to have buy-in while still providing overall direction for where you’d like them to go.

The three tasks suggested above are often overlooked, as they are typically done at the onset of business and then rarely completed again. When you’re writing business plans, developing new ideas or pivoting, you often use these techniques and then forget about them as practical, foundational tools to inform your next business steps on an ongoing basis. Leaders often forget to keep asking questions and remain curious about their customers’ needs, overlook the need for an audit of their business or lose sight of their vision as they work so hard in the business.

Truthfully, this is an opportunity for you to zoom out and work on the business instead of in it. Implementing these practices into your annual calendar allows for increased efficiency in decision making and easily reveals the next steps, all while avoiding potential pitfalls. As you execute these tasks, be sure to prioritize the client experience while keeping the vision of the business in focus.

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