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Undertake test-and-learn initiatives and dare to take risks. Map out the year’s objectives. Quickly become indispensable to critical business partners. Embrace new technology (or go the way of Kodak). Improve the digital experience for customers. 

These were just some of the recommendations yielded by our first “Let’s Talk…” feature for 2018, which posed the following question to two dozen thought leaders…

“How can businesses shake off the holiday cobwebs and kick off the year with a bang?”

Read on for further guidance from this week’s Let’s talk…” lineup:

Martin McCann, Co-founder & CEO, Trade Ledger: “The best way to drive growth in 2018 is to understand clearly what your agenda will be for the year, and then get this agenda in front of any customers, suppliers, and partners critical to your success. This needs to be done as soon as possible. This is the time of year when they will be forming their yearly strategies too, so it’s the easiest time of year to become a part of their strategies. The same opportunity may not exist at a later stage of their planning cycle, as they may have committed to someone else already by that point.

“Another important consideration at this time of year is to look forward and pre-empt anything that might hinder your growth efforts. As an example, there has been a lot of talk in financial services about the potential for tech platforms to seriously disrupt major incumbents. Our research shows that 2018 is likely to be the year that there is heavy adoption of these platforms in the mainstream, and this disruption becomes a reality. Businesses in financial services therefore need to consider which platforms are relevant to their specific market, what’s likely to be adopted this year, and how to plan ahead accordingly so their growth efforts are unaffected. Now is the time!”

Sreelesh Pillai, General Manager, Freshworks Australia: “As the New Year rings in, now is the time for businesses to lay the foundations for success in 2018. With last year’s highly anticipated arrival of retail juggernaut, Amazon, competition is heightened for businesses of all sizes and the pressure is mounting for businesses to retain customer loyalty. Now more than ever, providing a positive and consistent customer experience is essential to business growth.

“As customers come to expect immediate responses, adopting digital infrastructure from the outset will be crucial for organisations to compete on a global scale. By recognising the power of tools, such as self-service portals and chatbots, and embracing the efficiencies they create, businesses will be able to start 2018 on the right foot and spearhead operational efficiency, collaboration among teams, and ultimately provide outstanding and memorable customer service.”

Andrew Barnes, Co-founder & CEO, GO1: “The start of the new year is relatively quiet for most businesses – an opportune time to establish new goals as well as the overarching company strategy. This will provide a solid foundation for staff to hit the ground running, especially in the first quarter after the December lull. Learning from the past is crucial to any business. Looking back at the previous year’s goals and strategy – what worked and what didn’t, and improving or changing one’s approach based on these experiences and achievements will be key to charting a solid trajectory for 2018. It’s also a good time to ensure everyone, particularly managers, have clear objectives for themselves and individual team members over the next 12 months.”

Ruth Hatherley, Founder & CEO, Moneycatcha: “Business leaders should strive to ‘be brave’. Mark Twain’s “with courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity” quote is one I hold close to heart.

“As leaders, we need to be brave and keep moving even during difficult times or uncomfortable moments. Rivals, especially in the ultra-competitive fintech space, will eat your lunch if you wait and play safe. No risk, no reward is a good mantra to live by.

“When the going gets tough, I remind myself that being brave allowed me to create this amazing company and build the future I want for my daughter and myself. If we move forward with a desire to work collaboratively and be brave by learning and growing together, we can forge new paths and make unprecedented progress in 2018!”

Rhys Taylor, Regional Director, Aerohive Networks ANZ: “There continues to be downward pressure on the economy and growing businesses must be smarter in harnessing the power of the cloud in 2018. The main benefit moving to the cloud is no longer cost savings. Instead, the gains have proven to be business efficiency, productivity gains, increased revenue and competitive edge.

“The cloud has become a critical component of any business structure – from payments to ordering dinner. Some businesses, e-commerce outfits included, have been slow in even optimising their mobile sites at the cost of millions of dollars in lost revenue per annum. While many e-retailers and established institutions have been quick to adopt new payment systems like Afterpay, others have lagged. 2018 will be the year for such organisations to embrace new technology options which customers demand –  due to convenience or otherwise – or risk becoming the next Kodak or Dick Smith.”

Mark Randall, Country Manager, WP Engine ANZ: “Starting the new year strong is critical to setting the tone. To kick off 2018 with a bang, I encourage CEOs to take a walk in their customer’s shoes. Start with the digital experience. How does your site engage customers? What does the online journey look like?

“Experiencing the digital journey first hand is a great way to identify opportunities to improve digital experiences, which can increase sales and drive operational efficiencies. As they look to improve and evolve the experience, they may also find gaps in the technology that require investment in platforms that can deliver the insights, performance, intelligence and integrations to power impactful digital experiences. The downtime in January is a great opportunity to vet and ramp new technologies.”

Karen Lawson, CEO, Slingshot: “Traditionally it’s a time for individual reflection and goal setting but there’s nothing stopping your company doing the same. If you can tap into the reflection and aspirations of your employees do so – ask them what they want to achieve, personally and professionally. January is a great time to do this as it’s not part of a structured company annual review so it is more personal and has greater meaning.

“Think about your customer. Customers have different cycles of planning and goal setting, but by tapping into and aligning with customers goals you can be their coach and help them achieve their planning and forecasting sessions.

“It’s all about you, or is it? If you’re customer focused sometimes you are so busy being ‘in the business’ you forget to do your own health check. How has your company evolved, grown and built brand? This is the time to revisit all your marketing materials; your decks, website, social media – is this you? Does it walk, talk and feel like your business both internally and externally?

“Now is also a great time to focus on your team as you move into a new year. Do you have the skill sets, the attitude and the resilience to do it all again and then double it? Be honest about where you need to go, the talent required and the journey ahead. Start thinking about your structure, high performing talent and developing your employee brand to bring the future to you.”

David Stewart, Managing Director, InSite Logic: “The New Year often provides new opportunities, especially for the growing businesses.

“If possible identify your prospect opportunities late in the previous year so you can start new at the beginning of the new year. A good start would be clients you have recently been unsuccessful with, providing new offerings or opportunity and a fresh approach. Then target clients you do not already have a relationship with, provide brand and product information and contact directly. The new year is amazing how businesses use to refocus and look at new opportunities, potentially including your product.

“Your existing clients also cannot be forgotten, keep the relationship strong and see if there is opportunity to grow that account as well. Connecting with existing and offering new exciting products or options is also an opportunity to grow your business, as well as ensuring continual business.”

Nick La, Co-founder, Weploy: “Last year was the year of learning for Weploy. We hit some significant business milestones, cemented a number of strong partnerships and collaborations, and were strategic with mapping out various scenarios of growth.

“Businesses looking to kick off this year with a bang should re-evaluate and update company targets and goals and consider how every single person in the team can help achieve them. Everyone must have their input!”

Anny Havercroft, Head of Brand, Yahoo7: “‘Fast finish, fast start’ has always been my motto around this time of year. A fast finish to the year is wrapping up projects as efficiently as possible in order to syphon off some time to review priorities and plan for the coming year ahead. Ambitious? Yes. Necessary?  Absolutely. Doing so creates the opportunity to start the year with purpose and your priorities clearly articulated. Our typical operating cadence at Yahoo7 ensures we set out business priorities and corresponding go-to-market strategies months before year end and the subsequent preparation ensures we’re building momentum before the clock clicks over into the new year.

“For growing businesses still fine-tuning their business rhythm, kick starting the year reviewing learnings and identifying priorities gives a sense of purpose to the subsequent months that follow before the onslaught of business-as-usual takes over. Reinforcing the strategies that have helped grow the business to date can be made more effective coupled with identifying test-and-learn initiatives to inject freshness and continual improvement.”

Tanya Titman, Accountant & Founder, Acceler8: “My advice to any growing business is to start your 2018 with a full overview of your finances. This will ensure you’ve created a sustainable financial platform that will underpin the success of your business goals for the year. Set a realistic budget for your business and review it every three months. Your budget should include a market salary for the time you spend in the business. You should aim to have a business model that generates a profit after paying your salary, rather than viewing your business profit as your salary.

“Finally, if there’s one thing you do this New Year, I would advocate you take the time to improve your financial literacy, as this is the most common downfall in every SME I mentor. As an SME, you will have enormous passion and knowledge about the products and services you deliver, but usually the financial side can fall-down due to a lack of understanding and specialization in this space.”

Sarah Moran, CEO & Co-founder at Girl Geek Academy: “We all make new year’s resolutions and by the end of the year they’ve often come unstuck. But with a growing business, now is the time to set the roadmap and vision for your team’s 2018 success. Setting clear, achievable objectives now is paramount to making sure you can capitalise on a well-rested team, and allow them to create their yearly goals in a way that aligns to your broader goals for the company.

“Empowering your employees to be innovative and contribute to the long-term success of the business at this re-energised time of year will reap rewards. Look to develop ways to keep on track of the goals throughout the year such as monthly or quarterly check-ins and incentives for milestone achievements. Map out any obstacles or challenges that might interfere with the 2018 business plan and work on navigating around these. My favourite tool for keeping the wheels on the bus is sweep.cards – amazing for managing my team’s recurring tasks.”

Damien Sheehan, Country Head (ANZ), Regus: “It’s important for growing businesses to build a flexible structure in 2018 that will enable it to scale and retract quickly based on market conditions. We’re seeing an explosion in co-working spaces, with the amount of co-working spaces in Australia alone soaring by almost 300 per cent since 2013. As we continue to become more globalised, it makes sense that businesses are able to quickly establish footprints in new territories and have the flexibility to work with contractors and freelancers who may not be local.”

Kelvin Kirk, Managing Director, Pureprofile: “Begin 2018 by reviewing what did and didn’t work in 2017. Speak to your customers and discover how they feel you did. Review your Net Promoter Score (NPS) to understand your customers’ loyalty and try and distinguish any consistent themes. Be creative and think about your current customer experience (CX) — ask your employees, customers and suppliers for feedback and align 2018 business goals based on your learnings. Ensure this goal is established throughout your business by incentivising staff to follow this through.

“In addition, advertising effectiveness, reports and channel performance should be analysed to determine what worked, what didn’t, and how budgets should be allocated over the next six-months. I would recommend allocating 10 percent of your budget into new ideas, and make a new year’s resolution to always measure your results.”

Fleur Brown, Personal Brand Specialist & CEO, Launch Group: “Don’t spam your customers in 2018, talk to them about things they are interested in. There’s so much content flying around on digital channels, our customers hit overwhelm pretty quickly. Make sure any communications coming out from your business are adding real value to your audience (and that it isn’t just self-serving content that only promotes your product or service).

“Set a couple of thought leadership themes for 2018 and identify a 12-month content plan around those topics which will genuinely and generously help your audience improve their lives or their business life. Pick topics that you can own or dominate the conversation around and that you have expertise within. Whilst there clearly need to be relevance to your own business and how you generate income – putting the customer first will help magnetise more people towards your brand.”

Lisa Pagotto, Founder, Crooked Compass: “Kicking off 2018 with a bang is about having simple, clear objectives and a mapped-out path to achieve them. You must remain focussed. As a small business owner, it is easy to get distracted with what I refer to as ‘shiny penny syndrome’. Break everything down. What is it you want to achieve this year? Prioritise it.

“Is it database growth? How much growth? 20 people per day to sign up to your newsletter. What do these 20 people look like? Create a persona for them. Where you can find these 20 people. Is it through targeted social media posts, or finding strategic partnerships with like-minded brands?

“Now that you have found your prospects, how do you get them to take action? An exclusive deal, a value add, perhaps an awareness campaign showcasing your point of difference? There needs to be a hook which makes people want to bite.”

Chris Haigh, CEO, 20FOUR: “Here are my three tips…

  1. Start as you mean to go on: It is key to set a strong example early on, especially amongst the leaders. If you can get the leadership team energised, it will firmly set the tone for the rest of the year.
  2. Touch base with your planning cycle: Take a bit of time to plan, but don’t over invest. If you set objectives on financial year, spend some time with them and make sure you are still running in the right direction.
  3. Think ahead: Set the long-term calendar. Look at what is coming up for the year and get the big things in the diary so that they don’t come as a shock. Think: reporting, conferences, travel, annual leave, and so on.”

Damien Vasta, CEO, Sniip: “Australian businesses looking to hit the ground running and kick start growth in 2018 might consider how mutually-beneficial strategic partnerships can provide fast access to competitive advantages that create rapid (sometimes overnight!) growth. These advantages could be a large pre-existing customer base, new distribution channels, strong brand equity, new products or forms of expertise, or access to superior technology. The partnership could be a highly formalised joint venture structure, or a simple agreement. The point is to remain true to your own competitive advantages and company vision, while strategically leveraging the competitive advantages of others to quickly achieve this vision.

“Another key driver of growth in 2018 will be the degree of convenience and simplicity you can offer to customers via technology. Consumers and businesses alike are becoming less and less tolerant of cumbersome, manual processes when dealing with companies. So, whether you are a B2B or a B2C company, it could pay to complete a “technology stocktake” of your processes to better understand whether any aspects of your client interactions can be improved through technology.”

Brad Stevens, Head of Marketing, Reckon: “Growing businesses need to ensure they have a strong cash flow to stay ahead in 2018. We know they often experience negative cash flow in the beginning, as they invest in equipment, stock etc… but it’s how you manage your cash that can make the difference between success and failure.

“There are a number of ways to keep the cash flowing and fuel business growth this year. Digitalising your payments can help businesses get paid faster and to track progress. When you offer a range of payment methods, it makes it easy for customers to pay and speeds up cash coming into the business. Also, cash flow forecasting is key. By understanding where and when your money is coming in and out of your business, it helps predict peaks and troughs in the cash balance and highlights how much money you’ll have at any given time – making it easy to plan and budget for future growth.”

Ben Mulligan, Regional Marketing Leader (ANZ), Hootsuite: “One of the social media trends most pertinent to startups and small businesses in 2018 is the way social ROI is measured, and how this is used to drive business impact. While businesses have evolved the way social is used, how its success is tracked and measured has lagged behind. Failure to prove ROI has made it difficult for most businesses to harness social to drive revenue or growth. Businesses struggling to measure social ROI must invest in tools that allow them to identify where social can directly address problems and opportunities. Whether this means understanding how social media activity impacts sales, or reducing customer churn by identifying at-risk customers with social listening – measuring social allows focused investment. By taking note of this trend, your business will be on the path to kick starting 2018 with a bang.”

Kaylie Smith, Head of SMB (ANZ), Facebook: “One way businesses can kick off their growth in 2018 is by ensuring they are making the most of marketing tools that they have at their fingertips to expand their customer base and remarket to existing users that they worked so hard to acquire in the past.

“At Facebook, our marketing tools can help businesses of any size to reach customers both locally or anywhere in the world. In fact, more than 180 million people from around the globe are connected to a business in Australia on Facebook and this number is growing. Businesses can find potential customers and convert them by using Facebook’s suite of targeting tools, which allow businesses to engage with their desired audience profile at the click of a button. Facebook’s targeting tools can easily narrow the search down, to areas as small as suburbs and specific interest areas, which can be perfect for local businesses targeting a local audience, such as restaurants, hairdressers or beauty salons.”

Julie Demsey, General Manager of SBE Australia: “You are likely coming back from some time away and are feeling re-energised. Use that energy to your advantage and focus on tackling some larger, more difficult problems as your first priority. At the same time, don’t go in so fast and hard that you burn yourself out early, pace yourself!

“Reconnect with your team, clearly articulate the goals of the company for the year ahead, how they fit into those goals and what their impact will be. Stay focused on top priorities. Take “failures” as learning experiences, brush them off quickly and remember to celebrate wins.”

Topaz Conway, Chair of SBE Australia: Here are five ways to kick off 2018…

  • Focus on your customers – know them, understand them, listen to them!
  • Be generous with your time, knowledge, and expertise – to your team, your colleagues, your support network, yourself.
  • Know what success looks like in your business, and always make decisions that will help you get there – and know how to measure it.
  • Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – we all need help, and we should appreciate it when given, no matter how small the offering.
  • Stop thinking about your next holiday! It will happen when your business can function because you have the right people in place (besides YOU).

David Jones, GM of Business Growth and Innovation, WREDA: “Businesses should use the start of 2018 to identify cities built to help startups grow and should consider establishing a presence there. Wellington is one such city.

“New Zealand’s capital presents compelling reasons as a venue for growth. The number of businesses in the region has steadily increased over the past six years to now host more than 50,000 different, innovative, challenging unique creations.

“Practically, office space is less expensive than Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and Wellington’s house prices are among the most affordable in New Zealand once adjusted for Wellington wages which are the highest in the country.

“Technology particularly has thrived  in Wellington with more people now working in the tech-related sectors than any other.  Some of New Zealand’s greatest success stories still call Wellington home, including Datacom, Xero, Fronde, Weta Digital and Intergen.

“Creatively,  Wellington remains the film hub of New Zealand too, with  59 per cent ($289 million) of all feature film revenue generated here.

“Businesses in 2018 should consider how location can really have an impact on growth. Finding a region where the public sector is invested in your success and is driving the creation of an ecosystem of innovation can deliver huge growth.”

About “Let’s Talk…”

“Let’s Talk…” is an exciting weekly initiative that provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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