As winter draws to a close and the days get longer, it is a recognised fact that as a nation we start to feel happier. I am sure that like me, you hate going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark, day after day. As the nights get brighter, we become more socially aware and, in general, take part in more outdoor activities. Spending time on fun things after work is a good way to lift your spirits, and helps provide you with a more positive outlook on life; this will help lift the mood of the nation and in-turn, will impact on our spending habits.

If you own a small business or are just starting out now is a great time to review how and why your customers spend their money with you.

Many small to medium business owners feel they are far too busy to take a step back and think carefully about what is happening in their businesses. I think this is a mistake, but not an uncommon one. Perhaps you really don't know where to start or how to go about such a review; perhaps at this stage you don't even agree that it is a worthwhile task.

Here's why I think it is important and how it can add value to your business

Do you fall into one of the following categories?

•    Your business is always busy and you make a large profit - if so you probably don't need to read on!
•    Your business is always busy but you are struggling to make a profit.
•    Your business is never quite busy enough and you could really do with extra income.
•    Your business is only just surviving.

To correctly review any business you first need to identify your target market. This will help you understand how to put in place a strategy to move your business from where you are today, to where you would like it to be - this is called a business plan.

Don't assume business plans are only appropriate for new ventures. Any good business should have a written plan that includes aims and objectives, along with a timescale of when each one should be achieved. Business plans don't need to be cast in stone, but can and should be adjusted along the way to accommodate new opportunities; they need to include a marketing strategy and a cash flow / profitability forecast.

The terms 'marketing' and 'cash flow' may have a few of you running for cover; in my opinion you ignore them at your peril. Lots of small business owners hand over their accounts at the end of the financial year to their accountants and then 3 to 6 months later go for an hour long meeting, at which they find out if they made a profit or not. If you fall into this category I strongly recommend you reconsider your business strategy. It is impossible to understand how your business is truly performing, whilst paying so little attention to your finances. If you need help with the finances then recognise this fact and act upon it. In order for you to be in control of your business you need monthly management of accounts; your accountant can set this up, or even produce them for you; don't get hung up about the cost, it will pay dividends.

Once you have monthly management accounts you can measure your actual performance against the forecast you made in your business plan, then adjust your marketing policy and or cost base to ensure you keep on track.

Your marketing plan should include:

Your image; think about how your customers perceive you. This is a vital ingredient for future success. You should take a close look at your customer facing staff - this may only be you! They should be smart and tidy looking in all aspects and be able to articulate the right company message to anyone they come into contact with. If your customers come to your place of work the area they see should be clean and uncluttered with professional looking displays of your products in the area.

All signage should be clear, clean and uncluttered. Don't try to say too much.
How your image looks in print is important as often this is what reminds them about your business and is enforces your positive image, make sure you have good quality printed cards supplied by an experienced business card printing company - this always makes a positive statement.

Look at what your competition do, and do it better. That doesn't mean undercut them, it means look for areas that will be of benefit to your potential customers, and giving them a reason to choose your business over your competition.

Make sure your products and services are as good as they can be at a fair market value that allows you to make a profit. If you develop a strategy using the above techniques and dedicate the time to understanding how such important business essentials can benefit your business I am sure you will improve your level of business and your profitability.

Having owned the same business for the last 23 years, I have used these techniques to my advantage; they have served me well and hopefully will do the same for you. My business will shortly be launching a brand new website called Betterprint, which will specialise in producing everything from custom business cards to letterheads and stationery.

Please feel free to comment on any of this information or any other aspects of business life.