In planning for the year ahead, the focus for many small and medium-sized businesses will be to leverage success, achieve profitability and maximise and capitalise upon business opportunities, writes Maura Quinn.

To ensure competitiveness and to remain resilient, it is vital that your business is operating efficiently and effectively, that there is a clear path to realising your business strategy and that you are delivering for your customers. Below are five areas to focus on to develop your business in 2014 and beyond.

Bring your strategic plans to life
Far too many business plans end up on the shelf, with little attention given to them from one year to the next. When developing a strategic plan for your business make sure that it is achievable. Create an activity planner to bring your business objectives and goals to life, develop summary plans for each of your stakeholders and focus on your competitive advantage to ensure that you have the edge in your market.

Work smarter not harder
To realise your business ambition, you need to assess where your business currently stands and where you want it to be in the future. Identify any roadblocks or risks to achieving your business ambition and set up project teams to solve or overcome those roadblocks. There are some useful processes, structures and frameworks than you can apply to your business to ensure that you are working efficiently and maximising opportunities.

Deliver for your customers
Crucial to the success of your business is a customer focused strategy. Examine your business through the eyes of your customers – are you providing what your customers want? Do your business processes align with what your customers value? It may be worthwhile conducting research with your clients to assess their current needs and future requirements.

Reputation and Communication
Business is built on its reputation, and so it is vital that you know how to both protect and project your business reputation. Understanding the role and benefit of effective communications within your business and how to get your key messages across to all of your stakeholders, in good times and bad, is a vital ingredient for any successful business.

Managing people
The key to the performance of any business is its people. Your employees should share your vision for the firm and should be motivated to play their role in achieving common goals. It is important to build a culture in your business that encourages idea sharing and continuous improvement and to work with your employees to harness their skills and abilities to create both individual and business performance.

Maura Quinn is chief executive of the Institute of Directors in Ireland. In March, the Institute launches a new training course in March aimed at people who want to develop their businesses in 2014. The IoD’s Building Better Business Programme is a six-day action learning programme designed to equip participants with the knowledge and practical tools to leverage success in their businesses across a broad range of disciplines. For further information visit www.iodireland.ie or call 01 411 0010.