We’re now halfway through 2018, so it’s a good time to take stock and  see how your business is performing. In the fast-moving world of running a start-up, it can often be hard to stop, look and strategically judge what has and hasn’t worked. This is the only way you can move forward so it’s really important you do it.

Ask yourself what success means to you

This may seem obvious, but if you ask five different small business owners to define success, you will get five different answers. People start their businesses for different reasons and everyone has different motivations. To get to where you want to be, the first thing you need to do is define what success looks like and understand how to measure it.

Write your vision down or create a picture

When you plan for success, write it down or create a visual image of it. Then make sure you print it out and put it somewhere you won’t lose sight of it. This will ensure you stay focused on the bigger picture while you’re busy with the day-to-day of running your business.

Create your plan with answers to what, when and how

What will you achieve?

For example, this might be 2,000 new sales and 500 new and repeat customers. If you determine what your benchmarks are, you’ll be in a better position to set targets and evaluate their success. Look at industry information or identify your year-on-year trends. Have you consistently been growing by 5% every month? If so, maybe it’s time to make it 10%. Always try to create stretch goals and challenge yourself.

When will you achieve it by?

Ensure you have a firm date to strive towards. Without a concrete date in mind, you risk wavering from your goals. And be realistic with your timings.

How will you measure your success?

Measure your success in the six key ways outlined below.

Six ways to achieve business success

  1. Analyse sales reports

Use accounting software such as Xero to create sales reports and take a look at performance over the last year. Have sales been increasing? Are there seasonal peaks and troughs? And how can you prepare for these?

  1. Look at profit and costs

How is your business tracking when it comes to costs? What is your profit year-on year? And how can you improve it?

  1. Identify your revenue earners

It’s vital that you understand which products or services are your best and worst performers so you can expand into your best performing areas. Take a critical look at why some products or services aren’t doing as well and re-evaluate whether you continue with them.

  1. Review customer satisfaction levels

To figure this out you could ask your customers (in person or online): “How was our customer service today?” You’ll gain valuable insights from hearing your customers’ feedback in their own words. By analysing their answers you’ll get an overall score for customer satisfaction, such as a percentage or measure. Use the NetPromoter Score calculation method to quantify whether your customers are willing to recommend you to others.

  1. Evaluate your marketing tactics

Is your Twitter channel working for you? Do you post regularly on Facebook? Do a deep dive into your website analytics to see which traffic sources your sales are coming from. For example, if your biggest and best-performing traffic source is from Facebook, consider dedicating more time to that channel.

  1. Check out the competitors – and stay ahead of them

Are you one step ahead of your competitors or are you always playing catch-up? This could be your year to take charge and break away from your competitors by thinking outside the box. See what the competition is doing by regularly looking at product or service reviews from their customers on their website or social media channels.

Be ready for challenges

In the same way you can plan for success, you can also make contingency plans. For example, you’ll need to plan in case of economic downturn, or for lack of inventory if you sell a product. If you know what kinds of obstacles you might encounter on your way to success, you’re more likely to avoid or overcome them.

You can’t stop the unexpected from happening, but at least you’ll have a plan if hurdles are put in your way.

It’s your business – success is in your hands

In business, the path to success is a journey you can chart. You can start right now. And while change is the only certainty in business, you still need to know where you’re going. Make sure you can tell someone what success means to you in a sentence or two.

by Donna Torres, director of small business at Xero