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Tackling 30 Small Things: Big Results For Small Business

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In 2012, my business doubled in every which way. That can be good or bad. Believe me when I say bad feels like a roller coaster that widely jumped the tracks. But thanks to being accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program we went the good route, and have been enjoying the ride ever since.

The 10,000 Small Businesses course helped me identify 30 small things we could improve upon to shore things up and to take our business from good to great. These things weren't hard, or complicated, or even magical in nature. They were simple, small steps that just needed the time to be addressed.

Here's our big results list:

1. Reorganized our Chart of Accounts

We reorganized items within our QuickBooks accounting system in order to get a better understanding of revenue and expenditures, cash flow and profitability, and to ensure accurate and relevant reporting needed to analyze the financial health of our company. I can't emphasize enough how important this has been to our business. That's why it's number one on my list.

2. Improved Liquidity

We improved liquidity by creating a very formal accounting process. We have a schedule around our processes that help drive revenue and collections ... and we stick to it. We made accounting our number one priority.

3. Began Forecasting

We took the time to run reports detailing our business for every week, every month, every quarter during previous and current years. We set goals, forecast and make business decisions based on those numbers. We use our project management tool, Harvest, to capture the value of incoming jobs. And now I can see the future. (No, you won't win the lottery this week.)

4. Improved Daily Communication

I spend a few minutes at each person's desk every morning to make sure team members have what they need for the day, understand expectations and know I'm engaged. I use this time to reinforce goals and to capture ideas and needs, so we're all on the same page.

5. Fostered a Collaborative Work Environment

It's hard to be collaborative when everyone is super busy and doing their own special individualized jobs. So, we created a weekly event called Gallery Hop, where everyone comes to the table to share ideas, discuss issues, show off their current masterpieces and gather kudos from their teammates.

6. Held Team Lunches for Relationship Building

We take one day a month to grab lunch together and get to know one another outside of our work lives. Restaurant choices reveal a lot about our different personalities -- we're all foodies!

7. Created Client Schedules

We began creating job schedules for client approval. They've become a great visual to show the time it takes to complete a project and keep clients on track with getting materials to us on time.

8. Started Working on the Business Instead of in the Business

I dedicate half of Monday reviewing the company's financials and goals, and work with the team on forecasting and business development activities. I organize my working files, clean out email, and do not take meetings. In this way, I'm able to stay on top of work before jumping in to the week ahead. On Fridays I run numbers and make sure we close the week well. If I can't get my work done in between all that, I know it's work I need to delegate.

9. Invested in Marketing

We have been fortunate over the years to build our business mainly through referrals. But we need to grow new services and territories. Our investment in marketing is helping us do that. We have a marketing plan with a line item budget and defined ROI expectations, and consider marketing a necessity, just like the electric bill.

10. Built Our List

As part of our Friday ritual, we make sure the entire team is involved in letting us know about new contacts and prospects. We actively search for prospects in LinkedIn and through our micro-marketing efforts. And we are diligent about keeping our CRM up-to-date weekly. You cannot market to a stale list.

11. Took Inventory of our Tools

An annual inventory of tools and applications helps us find new ways to be more productive. By understanding which tools are working, we're able to scrap non-productive tools and make investments in the ones we need to make Blue Star and our clients successful.

12. I Moved my Desk (Mr. Zappos guy)

I've always had my desk right in the middle of the action, just like Tony Hsieh at Zappos. I wanted my team to know I work just as hard as they do and I am accessible. But in reality, I was in the way. Moving my desk gave the team a better office environment and gave me more privacy in dealing with sensitive business issues.

13. Dressed for Success

Blue Star has flown stealth for a long time -- but this year we installed a neon sign, bike racks and gave the storefront a new paint job. People now recognize us just from our street presence on Lorain Avenue in Ohio City, Cleveland.

14. Gave Us Credit

We've taken the time to pat ourselves on the back, enter our best work in contests, and we've come home a winner. It's a great way to celebrate with our clients and get the team extra kudos for all of their hard work.

15. Learned How to Hire the Right People

We recognized that you cannot teach personality. We look to hire people who fit our environment first, and the talent to succeed in our business second.

16. I Handed Off Work I'm Lousy At

Just because I own the business doesn't mean I'm good at everything. I've learned to hand off work to the people who do it better, and then stay out of their way.

17. Created an Employee Handbook & Integration Process

This year we gathered common employee questions, issues and expectations into one manual. The manual, along with our new integration process, proved beneficial during our recent hire since we had all the information in one place, and a checklist for getting our new teammate off to a great start.

18. Created an Operations Manual

I used to spend days training new people how to use our project management system. And in the end, we all used it differently. This year we created a written manual, which means less training, less errors and more consistency.

19. Networking

I actually took the time to attend a few networking events, and we held an open house for our clients and friends. Both types of events brought new business.

20. Handed Out Titles, Job Descriptions and an Organizational Chart

Design agencies like cool job titles like "designer guru" but what the heck does that mean? We went back to the basics and gave each team member real titles and job descriptions -- spelling out who does what and for whom. Ah, clarity.

21. Filed for Women-Owned Business Status

While I'd rather be chosen for work on merit rather than status, I've discovered some organizations need to hire on both.

22. Created a Proposal Template

Creating a template sped our response time for getting proposals out to clients and prospects.

23. Changed Our Pricing Structure

We've reviewed our pricing and adjusted rates to be more consistent for our clients. This means we're able to clearly articulate our pricing, turn quotes quickly and speed up invoicing as well.

24. Added to Our Service Offerings

We've been able to expand our services by recognizing the amazing skills sets of our employees and being open to new types of client requests.

25. Stayed in Touch With my Mentor

When you own a small business, you are the person everyone turns to for help. So, who do you turn to? Your mentor. Your mentor is your guide, your cheerleader, your teacher. Go get one.

26. Hired a Social Media and PR Expert

Our marketing manager majored in journalism and managed communications for very large organizations. She's a talented writer, makes us sound smart and gets the word out in all the right places at all the right times. If you need PR and social media help, hire a trained writer, keep your day job and don't do it yourself.

27. Improved Negotiation Skills

I'm a big believer in win-wins in business for everyone involved. I've worked hard this year to remember to include us in the win.

28. Revamped our Message

We've grown and changed. We've embraced it, created new collateral and communications, and have marched proudly forward.

29. Got Healthy

During the last few years, my job has taken precedence over just about everything else. As a result, I became an unhealthy, overworked, over-stressed zombie. No one likes to work with zombies, so back to the gym I went. (Thank you, Fitness Edge, for making me human again.)

30. Created our 2014 Business Plan

We listed another 30 or so things to tackle next year.

Look out 2014 here we come!

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.