Your goals are within reach, but you must be willing to grab them.

A new year will soon be upon us — a time when many consider the twists and turns of the prior 12 months, the lessons learned and what the coming year may look like. At their core, these folks still believe they can exert influence onto their circumstances and take steps to improve them.

For many others, the changing year will pass almost unnoticed. Life will go on (“and on and on,” as The Kinks once sang). And while they may not feel entirely at fate’s mercy, this group will take a far less optimistic view.

One reason I like working with shop owners is that they tend to be in the first group. I don’t have much time for pessimists or “victims,” people who blame their circumstances on anyone and everyone – except the one staring back at them in the mirror.

As I write this column – roughly a month before you’ll read it (such are the production demands of the print media) – the global economy is in utter turmoil. I’ve been watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average and in just the last half hour, it has swung from a loss of nearly 300 points below yesterday’s close to, at the moment, 121 points above that same number.

Whether you watch the market or not, it’s easy to see such turmoil and decide that the second group is right, that success has a lot less to do with personal initiative than with circumstances beyond the individual’s control. When I feel myself beginning to think that way, I stop and ask (as the Talking Heads once sang), “Well… how did I get here?”

The truth is inescapable: I got here the same way you did, through a series of decisions. Some of them carefully considered, many of them snap, still others passive (or, paraphrasing Rush this time: Choosing not to decide still equates to making a choice).

So, where we are today is due largely to decisions we have made. And at some point, each of us made one crucial decision: To go into business for ourselves. So maybe the next thing we need to ask ourselves is, “Why?”

I don’t mean that sarcastically, although in times like this I can see how you would think so. (By the way, the Dow is now up 171 – uh, check that, 210 – and still climbing.)

What I mean is: Why did you take the plunge? What was your dream?

Was it to run your business so efficiently that you could work four days a week and have more time for other things? Perhaps you were attracted by the notion of working in solitude with basic tools to create beautiful objects. Or maybe your goal was a big shop full of state-of-the-art equipment to crank out casework.

Maybe you wanted your company to be an example to the clueless superiors at your last “real” job, proving that yes, when you know what you are doing, you can pay a decent wage and produce great work.

Or it might be that you are just a free spirit who would rather work for himself than for somebody else.

The definition of success is as diverse as the people seeking it. To some it means having everything. To others, just enough. It runs the gamut between those extremes, from the monetary to the material to the spiritual. Whatever your dream, I’ll bet it includes your own, highly personal vision of success. No matter what that vision is, it begs yet another question: What’s stopping you from grabbing it?

Here is a hint: It is not your customers or your costs or your product.

What is stopping you is not knowing enough about all three. From July through November, in these pages, I walked you step-by-step through the creation and use of a tool that can give you that insight: A cost accounting spreadsheet you can use again and again, on every job you do. Those five articles are now on the CWB Web site, along with the helpful forms and graphics that originally accompanied them in the magazine. By analyzing every job you do, you will understand how to quote jobs more accurately and what types of jobs you do most profitably.

No matter what your dream, no matter what you want your business’s profits to do for you or (to the philanthropists out there) for others, you can’t achieve it if you don’t understand how your company gets, spends and makes money.

So, forget about the Dow (now up 552 points, by the way), the doom and gloom and everything else you can’t control. As a new year begins, look instead at where you started from, where you are now and where you want to be.

Then start taking the steps you should to get there. Happy Holidays.

Anthony Noel has helped custom shops make more money for more than 20 years and has written for CWB since 1994. Send e-mail to [email protected].

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.