As a drapery workroom, I always found it not only beneficial for me and my employees, but also necessary to close my shop between Christmas and New Year's Day. That last six to eight weeks before Christmas is likely to be the hardest you work all year and you need a vacation at that time. The added benefit of taking time off then is that the retail customer is not interested in spending any more money for anything, much less decor items.
That between-holiday week is the perfect time to schedule an appointment with yourself for evaluation and planning. It's likely your spouse has to work (unless self-employment is a family affliction!), and you can send the kids to a double feature at the movies. Find a nice comfortable chair in a quiet room and settle back with your accounting records, a pen, plenty of paper and a nice cup of tea (hot chocolate for us chocoholics!).
Now this doesn't sound so bad so far, does it?
As you are sipping your cup of hot chocolate allow your mind to wander, dream of where you want to go with your business in the future. The key word here is want. What is it you want with and from your business? You have worked hard to bring your business to this point. Is it where you want it to be? Where do you want it to go?
Try on new hats as you dream. Only pick the hats you might like -- not what someone else (like your business) thinks you ought to wear. How would it feel to be a manager of a few people, or maybe a few stores? How would it feel to do more sewing yourself, to train others, spend more time in direct sales, write or maybe speak about your experiences? How would it feel to have more time for your family, personal hobbies or volunteer work in your community? Will your wants add more responsibilities?
As you try on these different head dressings, really get involved in them. Not only see them in your mind, but taste them, feel them, live them and hear what others may say about them. You need to know what it really would be like if you get what you wish for. Would you be as happy as you thought?
As you try on these caps and bonnets, write down all the ones that really fit well -- and be specific. How many stores do you want? Where and what type? How much time do you want to spend selling? How much time would you like to spend gardening and how often? You may only be in the mood for it in the spring. You also may be deliriously happy with the status quo and just want a little more or less of what you already have.
Make a Date
After you have made this list of wants put a dream date of achievement on each item. In your mind when would you be ready to declare the hat a perfect fit and bask in the pride of accomplishment? January 31, 1997? February 29, 2000? Tomorrow? Do you really want everything on this list? I mean really! If there is anything that you don't really want, take it off right now. If you don't take it off now, it will come off on its own later after you have wasted valuable time that could have brought you closer to other goals.
You've worked hard to get to this point. Relax a moment and have another cup of cocoa.
Now that you know where you want to go, look at where you've been. It is important to look at your business objectively and to observe if the business has been steering you toward the wrong fork in the road. You may have so much business that you assume you have to grow bigger and wear oversized hats to be successful. Or perhaps you only have enough business for you to handle by yourself, so you assume a chain of stores is out of the question.
Look at your accounting records and examine how your business got to where it is. Make notes as you go. Did you advertise? Where? What did it cost you? Did your marketing dollars pay for themselves? Did you get the training or equipment you needed? Did you attend trade shows? Where exactly did all your investment dollars go? Determine what was wasteful, what was necessary, and what received an acceptable return on your investment.
Now look back at the past year and evaluate your "un-investments." Did you lose jobs because you didn't have the training or information you needed? Maybe you didn't know how to make a lightweight cornice but your competition, who regularly attends trade shows, did know. Or maybe you lost customers because you weren't using industrial equipment. If you had bought that swag pattern (or piece of equipment) a year ago, would it have paid for itself when you had to do 50 swags for that restaurant?
If you had an accountant doing your books and taxes, how much time would it have saved you? How much production could you have put out during that time? If you had farmed-out some products, how would that have affected your bottom line? If you had sought professional help in any area, would the investment have saved you enough time and money to have increased your net profit or allowed you time for other meaningful projects?
Putting It All Together
With your history lesson as a guideline of what has worked and what hasn't, it's time to plan for those new hats, which now have become goals.
Determine if any of your goals are sub-goals of others. It's wise to limit main goals to no more than three. You might have a business goal, a family goal and a personal goal. Write each main goal in the center of a separate piece of paper and circle it.
Play the "what-if" game. What if you had a computer and software for accounting or estimating? What if you moved out of your home? What if you moved back home? What if you hired help? What if you took classes? What if you did your marketing in a different way or hired a marketing consultant?
Take one main goal at a time and draw branches off it to the next level of goals. Each branch represents what you must achieve first before the main goal is achieved. The illustration is an example of the beginning of this process.
As you write down each goal, ask yourself how are you going to do this? And then ask, what if I do this? This practice will take you to the next branch or sub-goal. The whole point of this exercise is to back yourself down a ladder to the bottom rung. The bottom rungs ought to be things you can do today or tomorrow.
Once you have gone as far down the ladders as you can in all directions, put an expected date of achievement beside each step. Plan each one of these steps on your calendar and daily planner. Put your diagram on the wall above your desk where you can see it. Then as you accomplish them, cross off the steps. Just seeing crossed off steps lets you know that you are making progress and will keep you encouraged even when you have some setbacks.
Whenever you mark off the steps, reward yourself with something you really enjoy. This is so important because it helps satisfy your sense of accomplishment and keeps you encouraged to move on to the next step.
If you commit the time and follow through for success planning, you will feel a great sense of accomplishment just knowing where you are heading. You will have done what very few people take the time to do. There also will be a renewed excitement and enthusiasm for life, because you will be moving toward something that really means a lot to you.
Speaking of rewards, if you have accomplished this New Year's planning session, I think you are entitled to a big reward. What about a nice hot fudge sundae? Excuse me, I have to go make an appointment with myself. What I won't do for chocolate!
Have a happy and successful New Year!
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.