Small business owners resolve to watch details

/ Source: The Associated Press

One of Julie Kampf’s New Year’s resolutions for her small business is to be sure the executive search firm is focused on what it does best.

Mary Shnack’s resolution is a little more concrete: She plans to finish her company’s business plan. And Kassie Rempel’s is downright mundane — she’s going to eat lunch each day.

The Associated Press conducted a very informal e-mail survey of small business owners, and found that many have come up with things they want to change out their business in the new year. Many owners’ resolutions are specific to their own companies — putting together a formal business plan, finally starting to work with a budget or monitoring cash flow. But there’s a common thread, and that is to pay closer attention to how the business is doing.

To help her company stick with its resolution, Kampf is planning quarterly meetings that will allow her and her staff to take a step back and be sure they’re on the right course.

Kampf’s company, JBK Associates Inc. in Englewood, N.J., has had a niche in helping businesses in the life sciences and consumer products industries find senior-level management. But as time has gone by and her business has grown, clients would come with requests beyond her company’s scope. She’d do the work, but ultimately, Kampf said, that was a bad idea.

“We satisfied our clients, but when you get too far away from what you started as and for what you’re grounded in, it’s a recipe for problems,” she said.

Tim Berry, president of Palo Alto Software in Eugene, Ore., also plans to reassess his business. He’s run a company for decades, but noted that he’s lost some employees, and that’s a sign to him that some change might be needed.

“I do need to step away from the business and take another look at it, because we’re missing things,” he said.

Often, an owner’s New Year’s resolution is preceded by a realization that he or she just can’t do everything. “Delegate” was a resolution of many owners who responded to the AP survey.

Curt Finch has resolved to get help in doing one of the hardest parts of his job: project management.

“I’m not particularly great at it. I’m getting someone to come help me,” said Finch, CEO of Journyx, an Austin, Texas, company that makes tracking and project management software.

Finch had the same experience as many new entrepreneurs: “I was doing everything.” The things he didn’t like or felt he was bad at, he did get someone else to do. Yet project management didn’t fall into that category, until now.

The impetus for the resolution was the fact that “our growth hasn’t been as spectacular as we expected it to be, and it all comes down to execution,” Finch said.

He’s well aware of the irony that a company that sells project management software has been struggling with that very process. So, Journyx will have someone to handle that part of the business in 2007.

Shnack, meanwhile, says her company needs a business plan to grow. Her business, Asia Business Connect, helps U.S. companies do business in China, and vice versa.

“There’s so much opportunity that we need to have a business plan to stay focused and to have a strategy to grow the business,” said Schnack, who is based in Sedona, Ariz., and who has two business partners in China.

Many companies start putting a business plan together because they want to get financing from a bank or investor. But Shnack is following the advice of small business advisers who believe a business plan is a blueprint that helps companies be run in an organized, purposeful fashion.

Some business owners are resolving to take better care of themselves personally, because that will in turn help their companies.

Rempel’s resolution, to eat lunch, is interesting because she routinely skips the meal although she has a home-based business.

“It’s the first thing that’s always neglected and I’m realizing how important it is for your health and my company,” said Rempel, owner of SimplySoles, an online and catalog shoe retailer.

“It affects my demeanor, and being in the customer service industry, I need to keep my energy high and my gratitude for the customers showing in every call.”

Rempel has other resolutions more directly connected to running the company, and they also involve paying attention to some of the small but important details. For example, she’s going to be more vigilant about creating a record of every customer phone call.

“I’m always on the phone, running from one crisis to the next, and many of my phone calls are short snippets here and there,” Rempel said.

“Unfortunately we have a different recollection of that call when or if something doesn’t happen per our expectations down the road.”