Whether 2011 was a good year or difficult one, now is the time to start planning for 2012. While some may actually be planning for a slower and less profitable 2012, others may want to plan for growth — and frankly I hope you’re in the latter category.

But, wanting and doing are very different, and as Albert Einstein stated, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So the following are some thoughts to consider when planning for next year:

Make planning a team exercise. Plans and spreadsheets are relatively easy to create. However the problem is execution and getting people’s buy-in. So involve them at the beginning and truly listen to their thoughts and ideas.

• Acquisitions/partnerships to drive growth.
We all know the adage “buy low, sell high” and the poor economy may create opportunities to expand by purchasing another company or partnering with one. This can either increase sales or reduce costs, both of which can help add profits. So a simple idea for 2012 is to set a goal to have these discussions and explore opportunities. And the goal can be small, such as a single call in the month of January, as the first one is always the hardest.

• Enter new markets.
2012 might be a terrific year to enter new geographical markets, although this always stretches management and resources in lots of ways. But if you have some people who are gung-ho to try, then consider it. One other option is to enter another sector in your existing geographical area. For example, set a 2012 goal to stretch your expertise and learn how to perform some new type of specialty cleaning such as for healthcare facilities or cleanrooms, if not already in these sectors.

• Retreat from under-performing markets to concentrate resources for better results.
Success isn’t always about growth. After all, it could be some of your existing customers that are actually hurting your business. So objectively evaluate this and recognize that good management can mean cutting your losses and focusing those resources in ways and areas that will generate a more positive return on the investment.

• Evaluate new products. Manufacturers continue to innovate so it is important to specifically plan continual evaluation and improvement. Some facility managers actually like trying new things, so make a plan to look for these opportunities. And if nothing else, try some new things in your own office because if you’re not innovating you’re falling behind.

• Offer other services. 2012 might be a good year to introduce new services. Not only can this expand revenues from existing customers, but could give a competitive advantage when competing for new business. But new services can be more than just the obvious ones like stone care or starting a security, landscaping or light-maintenance division. It can also include doing your services differently, such as introducing a daytime cleaning program or training janitors to help the facility reduce energy, water, waste, etc. Not only would this be good for the environment, but if you can help the customer save money, they can afford additional services. So everyone wins.

• Hire and train new people and/or replace problematic or under-performing ones.
In the end, cleaning is about people. So an important and intentional part of your plan for success must be to evaluate your people and plan to hire new ones. And don’t forget about training. They can’t help you succeed if they don’t know what to do or what is expected.

• Greater focus on green cleaning. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest you include green cleaning in your plans for next year. Green cleaning is changing in 2012, and by this I am referring specifically to the new revision of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Rating System (LEED-EBOM). With the new release expected for early 2012, make plans to be the first in your marketplace to adopt the changes and become the “go-to” company to help customers and prospects with the changes.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network. He can be reached at ashkin@tradepress.com.