“The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
2012 was a year defined by uncertainty regarding issues over which business leaders had little or no control. Many coped by adopting conservative strategies and taking a “wait and see” attitude. 2013 is all about resurgence and growth, and the most successful entrepreneurs make the revitalization of themselves the foundation for future prosperity.
2012 in the rear view mirror
Most of the business owners I know were not sorry to see the year go by the wayside. Entrepreneurs are by definition an ambitious lot, and nothing dampens down the impetus to be aggressive like uncertainty.
Many businesses spent the year focused on survival rather than growth, which is not how the entrepreneurs I know like to spend their time and energy. There’s not a lot of nostalgia regarding 2012.
Numerous factors contributed to the toxic levels of uncertainty that made the past year so frustrating. Here are just a few:
The 2012 presidential election pitted two very different economic philosophies against one another in an excruciatingly divisive contest with an uncertain outcome. This made it exceedingly difficult to determine what to plan for and invest in.
Post election wrangling among our elected officials in Washington over the vaunted “fiscal cliff” had investors and business owners fit to be tied, as we all wondered what would happen regarding taxes and a possible government shut down as the new year approached.
Gas prices demonstrated dramatic, and to many, frightening increases. Since the price of fuel affects the cost of everything else, this also eroded confidence and made planning difficult.
Lucky ‘13: Better days ahead
Although a number of issues remain to be resolved, particularly at the federal level, most of the business leaders I know are optimistic regarding 2013. Some analysts are predicting that the Dow Jones industrial average will demonstrate a dramatic increase and exceed 14,000 for the first time in history. Others are predicting even higher levels.
In addition, projections for the housing market are the best in years, with builders and materials becoming increasingly in demand. There are real signs of economic recovery beginning to appear. Perhaps most telling is that California, regarded as having one of the nation’s most troubled state economies, is demonstrating a genuine recovery. This bodes very well for the rest of the country.
Ready for revitalization
So to a certain extent, the stage is set. Most economists think that we hit bottom some time back and have the worst of the recession behind us.
While an improving macroeconomic situation can provide the fertile ground for business success, it can’t guarantee it. It’s up to individual entrepreneurs to take charge and make good things happen for their businesses and the communities in which they operate.
But what does “taking charge” involve? We know that many businesses fail even during good times, so what steps can entrepreneurs take to make the best of the fact that things are improving?
One key to success is continuous personal growth and development. Like the hardware we use and depend on, our skills, attitudes, and outlooks also need attention and maintenance. One of the demonstrated enemies of success in business is complacency. If one is not actively working to improve, one is in all probability backsliding.
A mindset for success
Virtually all success is based on a mindset, which itself is worth attending to and cultivating. Leadership expert and consultant John Maxwell elaborates on this point in his book, How Successful People Think.
After decades of working with successful entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, Maxwell emphasizes that the best of them are constantly working to improve their own thinking about their businesses and life in general. Above all, they are optimists, always looking at people and situations in terms of their possibilities.
Successful entrepreneurs also engage in what Maxwell calls “big picture thinking.” This is a propensity for looking beyond the immediate and appreciating complexity and interrelatedness. It’s an ability to get beyond yourself and develop realistic and functional models of how the world around you works and how best to manage your place in it.
Discovering your strengths
Marcus Buckingham, bestselling author and former senior researcher for Gallup conducted studies that included tens of thousands of successful people worldwide.
Among his conclusions, summarized in Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, is that people who are both happy and successful tend to have good understandings of their strengths. They then build their lives around these.
The successful folks Mr. Buckingham studied had a high degree of self-awareness, but most striking was that they were less concerned with shoring up their weaknesses than they were with taking advantage of the areas of life in which they were already proficient.
Habits for success
The late, great, Steven R. Covey provided the world with a timeless gem when he published The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. First released in 1989, Covey’s approach to being effective transcends time, culture, and geography. His work is known and valued worldwide.
If you’ve never read the 7 Habits, 2013 is a great time to do so. If you have read it, then there’s no better time to revisit Covey’s treatise regarding what successful people down through the ages have cultivated in themselves that made them effective.
One caution, however— simply reading it isn’t enough. You’ve got to actually implement the habits it discusses through daily review and practice. In a sense, the key habit for success is practicing the art of self-improvement as it relates to the business that you’re in.
Developing your business: The bigger picture
Gearing up for a great 2013 means becoming the best “you” you can be, but it also means improving your business and increasing your profit margin. Sooner or later this requires getting your mind off of yourself and focusing on the activities that will enable you to do so. If you’re truly growing as an entrepreneur, it will evidence itself in your planning and execution.
Realistic strategic planning
Among other things, successful business growth and development requires an articulated and well-developed written strategic plan. I frequently encounter entrepreneurs who neglect this aspect of their business, and they invariably end up being outperformed by their more diligent competitors.
Serious strategic planning forces you to ask questions about where you want your business to be and exactly how you’re going to get it there. If done appropriately, it will include realistic analyses of all the factors critical to your success, including all of the complexities, challenges, costs, and potential payoffs involved.
2013: Meeting new challenges
The uncertainties that defined 2012 are receding in the rear view mirror, but new challenges await us all. One thing that personal growth and research based business planning have in common is that both lead us to be well prepared for rapid change and increasing complexity— two things that we’re all guaranteed to encounter.
There’s no looking back, save for the purpose of avoiding the repetition of past mistakes in planning and execution. And as entrepreneurs, we cannot escape the fact that business growth and development is actually an extension of our own growth and development as persons.
Part of the excitement of entrepreneurship is dealing with the challenges we face in an ever-changing world. The real satisfaction of participating in a free enterprise system comes from turning problems into possibilities and potential into performance.