As always, the fourth quarter sneaks up on you like that last Trick-Or-Treat-er when you’ve run out of candy and shut off the porch lights.
If you’re like me, you feel a twisted combination of satisfaction (This was a good year so far!), panic (Oh, crap, I’m nowhere near ready for holiday sales!) and dread (Next year will be a disaster, I have no time to prepare!). You feel that?
If so, congratulations, you’re a creative entrepreneur!
If so, you’re probably also given to paralyzing bouts of procrastination. The panic and dread should serve as wake-up calls-to-action, but instead you find your head swirling, and you don’t know where to start first, so you do nothing.
Again, that’s perfectly normal. I’m sure you’ve seen all over social media the recent reassurances that procrastination isn’t laziness (despite what we were taught), but fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of not knowing/having what it takes to get to the next level.
Shouting from the other side of your brain is the logical voice telling you to ignore these feelings because the clock is ticking (okay, that’s not helping!) and if you don’t do something, soon, you’re going to wake up in January and at the starting line of a race that’s half over.
That’s the voice you should be listening to, but sometimes FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is nowhere near as powerful as FOFU (figure that one out yourself).
I know it. I feel it. I’m nervous as hell about 2024.
When I can’t find a way to motivate myself, I get an old-fashioned “study buddy.” A colleague. A peer. Someone I respect in my field. And I ask them to hold me accountable to getting what I need accomplished. Like a personal trainer who comes to the house to make sure that Peloton doesn’t become a $2,500 laundry rack.
You, Dear Reader, and I are going to be study buddies. We are going to hold each other accountable for getting prepared for 2024.
For the remainder of Q42023, I am going to let the right side of my brain tell you what you need to do now to prepare yourself for a 2024 that will outperform expectations. I’m not going to lie, there are signs of economic headwinds and you’re going to have to work harder now to have an increase over 2023 business. It’s going to be tough and uncomfortable, but you’re going to get it done.
And how do you help me? By making me practice what I preach.
While I provide you with all the research, analysis, structure and creative thought you need to do what needs to be done, this work becomes my own to-do list. I will be performing the same tasks you will, alongside you, at the same time.
We’re in the same class. Our homework will be due the same time. We both have a final on December 31, 2023.
You know that to have your own business is to let your entire self be consumed by it.
Your “self” is more than just a set of organs, muscles and nerves – it’s how they holistically function together. Just as any organism has different metabolic systems, so does the business of a small product-based entrepreneur.
PRODUCTS: The heart of your business. The things you create and an audience willing to buy them.
CHANGE MANAGEMENT: The business environment. The platforms you sell on, the technology that fuels them, the rules that govern them and the speed/frequency at which they shift.
WORKFLOW: How your business moves. How you make your products, how you sell them, how you list them, maintain inventory, fulfill orders.
BRANDING: Your identity. Your values and how they are represented by your products and customer service.
MARKETING: Your social interaction. How you find people, connect with them, what you share with others through a common love of your creation and why you create.
As a result, our “class” is going to be a hybrid of biology, psychology, sociology and some PE. We’re going to dissect, analyze and train it so that it operates at peak performance for the marathon that starts on January 1.
Before we engage in a program for 2024, we have to measure the health of your 2023, and we’re going to examine it metabolic system by metabolic system.
Assessing your product performance is the first step in understanding your business’s strengths and weaknesses.
What sold well? Why?
Take a deep dive into your sales data and identify which products performed exceptionally well. Was it due to a unique selling point, effective marketing, or customer demand? Understanding why certain products excelled can help replicate success.
What did not sell? Why not?
Likewise, analyze products that underperformed. Was it due to market saturation, pricing issues, or ineffective marketing? Identifying the root causes can prevent future losses.
What will sell? Why do you think so?
Predict future trends and consumer preferences based on market research. This allows you to proactively plan your product lineup for the upcoming year.
What did you want to sell but didn’t get to?
Reflect on any missed opportunities. Were there products you intended to launch but couldn’t? Understanding the obstacles can help with future planning.
The digital landscape is ever-evolving, and understanding platform changes is vital.
What platform rules/functions changed?
Stay up-to-date with changes in rules and functions on your selling platforms. Compliance is key to avoiding issues.
What platform rules/functions are expected to change?
Research and anticipate future changes. Being prepared can give you a competitive edge.
What platform changes will improve your listings?
Identify opportunities to optimize your listings based on platform changes. This can enhance your visibility and sales.
What new opportunities/limitations can you forecast?
Look ahead to predict how platform changes might create new opportunities or limitations for your business.
Efficiency is critical for productivity.
What workflow obstacles were human-related?
Examine how human factors, such as training or communication issues, affected your workflow. Addressing these can lead to smoother operations.
What workflow obstacles were due to technical limitations/restrictions?
Technical limitations can slow you down. Identify these constraints and consider potential upgrades or workarounds.
Take an honest look at your time management.
Time management is often overlooked but is a significant factor in productivity. Reflect on your time allocation and seek ways to optimize it.
Your brand identity is the essence of your business.
Does your current product line reflect your core brand?
Evaluate whether your products align with your brand’s identity and values. Consistency is crucial for brand trust.
Should you evolve your brand based on product forecasts or vice versa?
Consider whether your brand or your products should lead change. Sometimes, one can drive the other.
What branding actions/elements need to be changed/updated?
Identify areas of your branding that require updating, such as logos, messaging, or visuals.
Effective marketing is the lifeblood of any business.
What marketing efforts succeeded and why?
Analyze successful marketing campaigns to understand what resonated with your audience. Plan to replicate these strategies.
What marketing efforts failed and why?
Learn from failed campaigns. Understand the reasons behind their lack of success and don’t make the same mistakes in 2024.
What marketing efforts did you not get to attempt?
Reflect on missed opportunities and consider integrating them into your future marketing plans.
What changes have affected your marketing plans, for better or worse?
External factors can impact marketing plans. Assess how changes in the business landscape affected your marketing strategy.
These are going to be tough questions to answer, as they will require you to be blunt and honest with yourself.
From now until the end of the year, we are going to self-examine each metabolic system in our businesses, identify strengths and weaknesses, increase our efficiency, energize our brands and magnify our marketing.
Your homework? Ask yourself each of the questions above, and next week come back with at least two or three answers about your products, which will be the subject of our next entry.