Where These 4 Common Business Resolutions Often Go Wrong—and How to Reframe Them

New year, new business goals. It turns out these common ones could use a rethink—here’s how experts recommend you approach them.

Woman's hand writing 2021 Goals in notebook decorated with Christmas decorations on the tricolor background. Top view, flat lay
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With 2020 finally in the rearview mirror, there’s no better time for dance business owners to set their goals for 2021. But given how many New Year’s resolutions go unfulfilled, how can entrepreneurs set themselves up for success?

“A lot of people set goals from an emotional place, focusing on goals that feel exciting,” explains Megan Taylor Morrison, an Atlanta-based business coach who works with many dance industry clients. “Sometimes that works, but in other cases, it can lead to a cycle where one’s goals are a bit too big, and they ultimately don’t empower you because they’re out of reach.”

A big part of setting achievable goals is looking at them through the proper lens. See how Morrison and other experts suggest approaching common business goals in uncommonly effective ways:

The resolution: Attract more clients.

The reframe: Retain current clients.

While participating in an online challenge run by dance-studio growth expert Clint Salter, Bridey Kearns says she heard a common refrain among the other participants. “The number-one question everyone was asking is, ‘What can I do in the new year to get new students?’” says Kearns, who owns Cape Coral, FL-based Studio 8 Dance. “But focusing so hard on bringing in new people lets current clients fall through the cracks; it creates a constant revolving door of people coming and leaving.”

Having started her studio four years ago, Kearns says she started to see success by homing in on customer satisfaction and retention—by hosting themed social gatherings for students, for instance, or creating hype around her annual recital to incentivize students to stay the whole year.

Four young girls, around 6 years old, perform on an outdoor stage, wearing fuzzy white dresses and ballet slippers. They bend their knees and put their hands on their knees
A Studio 8 Dance recital. Photo courtesy Studio 8

“When I stopped aggressively marketing and started focusing on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers, I had the biggest boost in enrollment I’ve ever seen,” says Kearns, adding that the tipping point happened in year three when her enrollment jumped from 58 to 85 students and then steadily rose to her current roster of 114.

It’s also a financially sound decision to shift efforts to retention. Oft-cited research by strategist Frederick F. Reichheld and David W. Kenny of Bain & Company shows that even a 5 percent uptick in customer retention can increase profits by at least 25 percent and as much as 80 percent. “It’s so much less expensive to retain current customers than it is to find new ones,” concurs Morrison.

The resolution: Bring in more revenue.

The reframe: Improve margins.

When setting goals for year-over-year growth, consider focusing on gross margins rather than just total sales revenue. Small business consultant Anne Alexander says these numbers can often tell a more accurate story about a business’ performance.

“If you’re on the edge of a profitable margin, making more sales will mean a lot more work and not much more profit,” cautions Alexander, who owns Authentic Alternatives consultancy. “By focusing more on margins, you could make the same revenue and still emerge with more money at the end of the year.”

Alexander recommends business owners take an objective, thorough look at what’s working—and what’s not—to better focus offerings. For instance, a dance studio with flagging adult enrollment might decide to go all-in on exclusively teaching kids, or a dance retailer might review all of its lines to see which consistently perform well (or don’t).

“In any business, you want to be relentlessly reviewing your products and services and considering dropping the lowest-performing, lowest-selling among them,” says Alexander. “It can really make your operation easier and more profitable.”

The resolution: Reduce turnover.

The reframe: Align with your values to attract the right employees.

When it comes to hiring, Alexander likens the process to America’s pastime. “Unless you’re a solo entrepreneur, hiring is one the most important tasks, but it’s also one of the most difficult,” she says. “It’s like baseball: If one of three hires turns out well, you’re doing fabulous.”

Alexander believes the key to improving one’s proverbial batting average is to get clear on company values—and measure applicants against them. Not only can this approach improve the likelihood of finding the right fit employee-wise, but it can also position your business to be more attractive to qualified candidates. (Glassdoor’s Mission & Culture Survey 2019 found that 73 percent of job seekers won’t apply to a company unless its values align with their own.)

Alexander recommends employers use values-based interview questions and/or assessments, such as the People Analyzer, to drill down to what really matters. “People can learn skills, but values are innate,” says Alexander. “Discerning those values during the interview process can greatly improve your hiring success ratio.”

The resolution: Achieve [insert big goal here].

The reframe: Find the various versions of that goal to get from point A to point B.

Coined by researchers Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, the term “big hairy audacious goal” (or “BHAG”) has gained traction among entrepreneur circles in recent years, and there’s certainly no shame in thinking big. However, Alexander suggests making goals more expansive to give more space for actually achieving them.

“I talk with my clients about setting three versions of the same goal: minimum, target and outrageous,” says Alexander. “The minimum is acceptable; the target is attainable; the outrageous would be that big, hairy audacious goal.”

In practice, a dance studio owner might implement this by setting three levels of enrollment goals rather than one—such as 75 students being minimum, 100 being target and 125 being outrageous. A dance company might set fundraising goals in the same manner.

Creating the proper infrastructure to achieve those goals can make a big difference. Morrison suggests taking inventory of the things that you can tangibly influence and focusing on those to create a positive ripple effect in your business.

“We can’t control whether we make X amount of money or bring in X amount of clients, but we can control things like onboarding systems and marketing funnels—ultimately leading to more-sustainable business strategies,” says Morrison. “Set goals around establishment of systems, and celebrate your accomplishments every step of the way.”

Jen Jones Donatelli is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, Dance Retailer News and she is the former managing editor of CheerProfessional magazine