Umer Ashraf is a young entrepreneur who owns the Glasgow-based iCafé chain of shops. He recently opened smoothie and juice bar Paradise Bay in Oban, on Scotland’s west coast

I recently got nominated for a Career Award at the Young Scottish Ethnic Achievement Awards. The competition was stiff and I didn’t win it, but being a finalist is an achievement in itself. Upon reflection, though, with everything that has been happening recently in my personal life as well as in the business, I have realised some very important things. The first one is having a goal. This is very important. In business, some may call it "short-term planning" or "long-term strategy". Whatever terminology, the principles are the same.
Around this time last year, I planned my New Year’s resolutions for 2009. One of my business goals for iCafé was to open a 2,000sq ft flagship shop and I am pleased to say that, despite some setbacks and tough trading times, we have still managed to achieve this. Our doors opened last week.
We have taken everything we have learnt in the past three years since the birth of iCafé and incorporated it into this new store on Woodlands Road, which will provide spacious seating and an excellent platform for us to open other stores in Glasgow and its suburbs.
One of the other "goals" we had was to go up a notch on branding. Despite rising prices, slow business and generally tough trading conditions, we decided to go for it. Many independent firms keep their marketing budget very tight during tough trading times, but if you want to stand out, you need to focus on this department even more budget allowing, of course. Just like many others, we didn’t have the budget for it, but we managed to make savings elsewhere in order to allow us to achieve this goal. It’s a case of setting priorities. Ours was branding, yours might be changing the food menu, increasing the management team or simply increasing sales revenue without the need to "brand" certain items or products.
What worked for me was having a good solid team who understood the challenges and were very adaptable to change. I do appraisals at this time of year. I think it is important to write some goals together with the team, so they have a focus for the year ahead. That way, we are both clear on what needs to be achieved and the New Year period acts like a "catalyst".
I will provisionally book my holidays at this time of the year. It may be July, March, November or any other month for that matter. But I will also put down things that need to be achieved before this holiday, which gives me a target to meet.
This is also a good time to put expiry or renewal dates for contracts, service agreements, insurance and other management fees in the diary, so we can shop around to get the best deals. If I don’t do this now and that renewal notice comes in during the year, we are sometimes too busy and overlook it. By doing this now, while things are fairly quiet, iCafé has managed to save over £3,489 compared to 2008. This is a phenomenal figure, which we can use some other way.
I hope these thoughts help you plan certain aspects of your business more effectively and I wish you all a prosperous and joyful 2010.