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Was 2015 Your Company's Best Year?

Are you ready to evaluate how your business fared this year, and to make plans to ramp things up next year? We ask an industry expert to offer some strategies to pragmatically look at what you've accomplished.

Q: 2015 was a pretty good year, but how can I unequivocally judge how my business fared? Also, how do the folks like you who’ve been in business for some time get pumped up to take on the new year? How can I get myself revved to keep improving?

A: There are so many ways by which to evaluate your business. You can’t boil it down to some irrefutable single metric that will prove your upward swing. That said, there are questions you can ask about key business areas to assess your progress.

Start with the numbers. Did you profit? Assuming you track your overhead, hours worked, and keep your finances square (if you haven't been, that should be the first step for your 2016 ramp-up), you start with the bottom line. Have you been profitable, and if so, has that percentage of profit raised year over year? If you’re starting out and haven't broken even, you can still look at trends; are you making enough per hour worked to cover your overhead? Are you trending positively that profitability is on the horizon? If you’re on a measurable upswing, you've got an easy marker to judge your year and which you can aim to improve in 2016. Cover this  necessary base, and you can move on to less pressing, though not less important, metrics.

Take stock of your mastery. Have your skills and capabilities increased? Determine if you’re a better, more capable, and higher-quality decorator than you were at the beginning of 2015. Have you learned things that were useful to the daily functioning and growth of your business? Can you point to improvements that will make a positive difference in how you operate? If so, that gain in competence is a win.

Have you remained aligned with your purpose? If your business has more than profit as its main motivator, if you see your purpose as engaging in charitable outreach, being a community resource, reinvigorating a neighborhood, providing support for your employees to a certain standard, promoting a cause, or helping out your industry, have you continued to adhere to your ideals and work toward these aims? Can you point to consistent work that proved that you’ve kept your larger goals in mind? When you can show you've been on-message and keeping close to your purpose, that will furnish good feelings about your year.

Measure your exposure. Have you become more well-known in your community or industry? Have you gained reputable connections that opened you to opportunities to which you didn't previously have access? Have you become known for your work, your ethics, your service? Are you the go-to person for your customers and community? Have you taken on high-profile clients that gained you recognition? If you can point to several instances where you shone on a larger stage, that’s a step up.

Has your business been profitable, increasingly able to take on projects, purposefully focused, and more important to your community and peers in 2015? If that's a resounding yes, you can take a very, very short breath and let out a sigh of relief, before you dive into 2016.

This leaves the second half of your question: How do those of us who stay in the business stay motivated? Here's how I keep myself rearing to go.

Cultivate a beginner's mindset. I remind there's always something new to learn and every project may offer a chance to innovate and improve. I never assume I'm a master or I know all there is to know about any aspect of the industry, even those I spend the most of my time exploring. Be a learner; learn to crave the uncomfortable space just past the edge of what you know how to handle. That’s where growth happens.

Share, teach and talk. Engage with the community, whether that's the community of your peers in the industry or your local community, being involved, helping others and joining in the larger conversation gives you more to aim for and look forward to than you’ll have if you go it alone. Bring your business into a larger context; it's good for networking, and the extra input and stimulus is good for you. Find people to talk to on a regular schedule so you can discuss your goals and progress; there's nothing like a regular report and the attending accountability it brings to keep you motivated.

Measure and evaluate more often. Take stock throughout the year. Keep track of how you’re doing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. There's no other way to really know where you stand. It becomes very easy to spin one's wheels chasing the false sense of achievement one gets from being busy. It's all too inviting for those of us who grind to do unnecessary work if we don't evaluate what that work is (or isn't) achieving.

No matter how you go about it, the real key to improving and staying motivated is realizing that all of this is a process; it's about showing up every day, even when it doesn't go to our liking. You'll find the gains and the growing sense of momentum you need to succeed.

ERICH CAMPBELL, an industry veteran, is an award-winning embroidery digitizer with experience in designing, implementing and maintaining e-commerce websites. A longtime technology fan, ad-hoc IT staffer and constantly-connected Internet dweller, Campbell is in the process of adding social media to the marketing arsenal of Albuquerque, NM-based Black Duck Inc. (asi/700415). Contact: ecampbell@blackduckinc.com.