There is nothing magical about the transition from December to January. After all, it is simply the turning of a calendar page and is really no different than the change from, say, March to April. Yet there is something inherent in moving from one year to one on a new calendar. We see it as an opportunity for a fresh start; a chance for new beginnings.

Personally, the new year may bring resolutions, diets and new habits, but what about in the business world? What can business leaders do to bring improvements and growth? Southern Business Journal asked several business coaches and specialists for ideas on kickstarting business in 2018.

“One of the real keys is getting started as early as you can,” urges Carterville-based business leadership coach Karen Cupp. “Ideally, in October you should be planning for the next year by looking at what you need to do, what you want to do, who you need to meet, what training you need to be successful.”

Cupp says even if planning for the new year starts in the new year, it is a very valuable process.

“Often small business people don’t want to take the time away to plan, but if you really want to find momentum, you have to take time away from your business to do some soul searching,” she says.

Russ Williams, director of the Brehm School Foundation and a leadership coach under the John Maxwell Team says often looking forward begins with looking back.

“I think the beginning of the year is a great time to reflect on the past year – on what was done, what wasn’t done and what was and wasn’t valuable in terms of time, energy and resources,” he explains. “Start there. What were the successes and the failures of last year and what did you learn, especially from the failures?”

Like Cupp, he suggests a personal retreat.

“Have some quiet time and spend some quality time for reflection. We really learn from reflecting on our experiences. It’s a great way to jump-start the new year for a business, entrepreneur or leader,” he adds.

Cupp recommends getting away from the distractions of business for a time of planning for the year and suggests spending time with like-minded business people who can help talk through and refine plans and goals.

“Find an accountability partner to set goals with and to move forward with – someone who will remind you what you said you would do and ask you if you actually did what you said. Without that accountability partner, goals can get lost,” she says.

Setting goals

Williams says that goals should be the things you want to accomplish in your business.

“What do you want to see you, your business, your employees and customers achieve in 2018? Write these goals down. There’s a key – it’s about writing the goals and the whys behind them. Plus, these goals have to be what is called ‘SMART:’ specific, measurable, start with an action, be realistic and have a time component,” he states.

Beyond setting goals, Williams says they need to be turned into habits.

“Seventy percent of what we do each day is from habits,” he explains. “If our habits don’t lead us in the direction of our goals, then we won’t reach them. Find and implement daily habits that lead to growth.”

Greg Bouhl, director of the Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University says goals should be challenging.

“The first thing I would recommend is to focus on what one thing you can do in your business that will double sales,” he urges. “Go with a crazy goal that will force you to focus on the biggest lever you can pull that will really make your business stronger. The execution won’t be easy, but the thought process will be extremely valuable.”

He says one of the biggest challenges in reaching business goals in the new year can be described as getting out of your own way.

Making a plan

“It seems that when you start talking about doing the big things, leaders procrastinate,” he responds. “The day-to-day fires get in the way and before you know it, another year slips by. You have to find a way to make these things priorities in the first quarter of the year.”

Bouhl states big things may include hiring an assistant such as a bookkeeper or other staff to free up time for planning or “pulling big levers.”

He also suggests taking time away from the business to spend time with others in similar situations or businesses.

“Go to an industry-related conference,” he says. “It forces you to get out of the office and gives your brain time away from the day-to-day so you can learn new things and meet new people like you. I’ve never had anyone go to an event and later tell me that they regretted it.”

New connections can be very beneficial, Cupp adds.

“I often suggest people make a list of 10 major players that you can build relationships with in the coming year – people that will move you closer to your goals. It seems to be so simple, but it is so important,” she insists.

Bouhl recommends doing anything that will move you toward the goals.

“Read a book, join an industry Facebook group or go to a seminar,” he says. “Simply make new connections and learn new things. It can be easy to stay within the four walls of your business and stay busy, but are you being productive?”

“The general advice I give is that you have to do something, especially when it comes to marketing,” says Nic Skovgaard, owner of AlterEgo Marketing. “Business leaders have to be proactive, not reactive in marketing. When it comes to promoting your business, you have to plan for the year, considering budget and consistency.”

He explains that marketing and achieving goals share some aspects.

“You see results where you pay attention,” he states. “If you are not growing or you are not reaching your goals, the answer is pretty obvious.”

Cupp says regardless of the goals for the year, business leaders should not be afraid to give themselves some room for change and even for some missteps.

“Be willing to plan in the midst of action,” she says. “We set goals and we want to move forward, but most of all, we need to get going. Make sure to celebrate the little wins along the way and to have grace for the progress you are making. Take time to realize that as you achieve, you are impacting others lives outside of your own. That’s when you really make an impact.”