Forget an extravagant fireworks show or a ball drop in New York—if anything ushered in 2021, it was a collective sigh of relief. While many of us are excited to see 2020 in the rearview mirror, that doesn’t mean we can get complacent about the future. The new year is an excellent time for entrepreneurs to reflect on their businesses and think about how they can improve and excel in the months and years to come.
As you take a moment to review your endeavors, it’s worth looking at what your peers have on their minds. I connected with seven entrepreneurs and business leaders to find out what they’ve resolved to refresh in 2021.
1. Gather a wealth of input: Steve Willis, managing director of milliCare
Steve Willis recognizes that the pace of change has never been faster: “Even without a global pandemic or economic crisis, it’s important to reflect and refresh your business ideas each year. Market trends change, demographics change, and most importantly, our customers’ needs change.”
To stay on top of those changes, Willis looks to three different sources: “Soliciting feedback from key customers, hearing new ideas from team members, and looking at the overall industry shift helps us to stay current and advance our business.”
Plenty of organizations think they know what their customers want, but the only way to truly know is to ask. Once you’ve gathered information and planned how to meet a need, Willis says to test your idea to ensure it meshes with established products, processes, and procedures.
2. Keep your focus tight: Tom O’Neill, CEO and founder of Parallax
As Parallax builds an SaaS platform powering profitable growth of professional services organizations, Tom O’Neill has made a conscious effort to limit the company’s focus.
“Like most entrepreneurs, we’re passionate about our product,” O’Neill said. “It’s tough to fight the urge to pursue every opportunity presented, including those outside our core.”
Still, that focus is what helped the company grow. In the new year, O’Neill plans to scale that growth: “Remember that there is a difference between growing and scaling a business. When you started your company, it was natural to orient toward growth and try different things to achieve a product-market fit.”
Scaling, on the other hand, requires clear objectives and data-driven decision-making. O’Neill explains that these allow your team to deliver consistently and efficiently in your established market while still investing in your new market.
3. Take time to reflect: Haman Sharma, founder of ReviewNPrep
Haman Sharma is adamant about the importance of reflection, and he recommends entrepreneurs spend time thinking about the course their business is charting.
“If you are not consistently reinventing your business, you will eventually have no business,” Sharma said. “It all starts with a problem and an idea on how to address that problem. Keep track of these ideas in a journal, and take time out of your busy schedule to revisit them at least once a month.”
At the same time, Sharma recognizes that you can’t implement every idea you have: “It is important to step back and think about the list of ideas you have and see if they are still relevant based on your current state of business affairs. I’ve personally come across these crucial junctions in my entrepreneurial journey, where I had ideas but no data to support them.”
Collecting data can help validate hypotheses and ensure that you’re putting more of your good ideas into practice more often.
4. Surround yourself with people who push you: Dr. Rachel Hamel, founder of Dr. Rachel Hamel, DC
Dr. Hamel knows that we’re a product of the people we surround ourselves with, so she suggests being mindful of these relationships and making sure we’re getting as much growth out of them as possible. As she makes progress toward finishing a book that’s been in the works for two years, she’s drawn inspiration from her network—and credits them for her initiative.
“My number one tip is to get in a mastermind group or get a mentor,” Dr. Hamel said. “Seeing people do big things or constantly work on projects and ideas will inspire you. It will cause you to level up and get fired up to finish your own projects and ideas. It’s also a great opportunity to get feedback. If the circle you’re in doesn’t push you, then find one that does.”
5. Learn from successes and mistakes: Kara Hertzog, president of Innovative Employee Solutions
Kara Hertzog believes reflecting on the company’s performance is the most critical job of any business leader: “What worked, what didn’t work, and how you can keep improving and evolving as a company? When you’re not continually questioning, you risk stagnation. Don’t leave out the areas where your company excels, because even these may one day require a refresh.”
Because of the current tumultuous business climate, many companies are rethinking how they do business. Hertzog’s advice? Look to your peers for inspiration.
“Everyone has had to get more creative this year,” she said. “As we research new and innovative online engagement tools, we’re taking a hard look at how other businesses have made these kinds of shifts.”
Learn from those who have gone before, and you’ll make fewer mistakes of your own along the way.
6. Leverage tools to overcome new obstacles: Laura Boccanfuso, CEO of Vän Robotics, Inc.
Laura Boccanfuso doesn’t need a new year to reflect on how she can improve her business. Instead, she explains, “I continually think about two major goals. First, I want to build an incredible company that people want to work for, and second, I want to build fantastic products that people want to own. When you get the first objective right, the second becomes much easier.”
Before COVID-19, her company’s software use was strictly supplemental. To support the teams at Vän Robotics, Inc. in 2021, she’s looking to leverage tools specifically designed to facilitate remote project management that will also provide a strong foundation for her expanding team. Because software on its own can add complexity instead of removing it, Boccanfuso will also empower team leads with online resources and training.
7. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat: Scott Schoenberger, managing partner at Bluewater
The team at Bluewater had dabbled in remote work, but the resulting success after fully embracing it this year caused Scott Schoenberger to wonder what else the company was missing.
“It can be easy for companies to become complacent when things are moving along OK,” he said. “Instead of rocking the boat to gain faster traction and better growth, we often double down on exactly what we have done before.”
Remote work gave employees valuable flexibility, and it helped the company hire from a much larger talent pool. To ensure that Bluewater continues to tap into new sources of innovation, Schoenberger says his company is working through a formal process for intaking ideas, vetting them, and assigning resources to test them.
For companies that want to find their own sources of innovation, his advice is simple: “Try to reset your expectations of the ‘right’ way to do things while revisiting business ideas. Letting go of existing notions may open your eyes to new approaches that can dramatically improve your business.”
People around the world have entered 2021 with a sense of relief—but that doesn’t mean entrepreneurs can sit by and hope this year will be easier than the last. A new year is a time for reflection, and that reflection should result in action. Follow the advice of the above leaders, and you’ll be well on your way to a standout year for your own business.