New Year resolutions can be realised with determination
It's customary to start the new year by turning the page on what has come before - making a break with the past and setting resolutions for the future. Many small business owners think the same thing, and seek to solidify strategies and budgets at this time.
It's all arbitrary of course - for the majority of businesses, it doesn't happen as neatly as that, with a clean break between the old way of doing things and the new.
For some, January is a peak period, and time for planning and reflection comes in the summer months. But regardless of when it takes place, my experience is that it is crucially important for people leading a business to take time to really think hard about their success, as well as missed opportunities, in order to honestly understand their strengths and weaknesses - positioning themselves to learn and take advantage for the next time.
In this vein, Ulster Bank has just finished celebrating those who have reflected on their hard work by applying for our Business Achievers Awards. With eight categories for SMEs, including food and drink companies and agri businesses, the awards provide an excellent platform for firms to showcase their success. The most recent awards saw success for Northern Ireland companies on an all-island stage, including food company Finnebrogue, manufacturer AJ Power and Bryson Group. All are great examples of Northern Ireland enterprises that have specialised and excelled in their fields.
The benefits are there not only for the winners, but also for all those who go through the rigour of itemising, line-by-line, the effort that has enabled them to stand out. I was pleased to see the strength in depth that exists across a range of sectors.
Heading into 2016, two sectors really stand out for me. The fast-growing technology sector is an area that we're keen to see developing even further - as it has the potential to be a driver of productivity improvement, business improvement and growth. Northern Ireland needs highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs to provide opportunity for the talented graduates that our higher education system produces - giving them a chance to make the most of their abilities locally. The most innovative of these firms are well-positioned to do that.
Secondly, 2016 is the Year of Food and Drink, an opportunity to talk about the world-class produce that Northern Ireland companies make. As the sponsors of the Balmoral Show, we have our fingers on the pulse of the sector, so I know that there are a great many strides being made in terms of developing export opportunities.
But one can also be sure that as we plan for the sectors that we think will do well in 2016, there are new ideas and companies developing to disrupt that. We believe in supporting these entrepreneurs of the future. The Entrepreneurial Spark hub, powered by Ulster Bank, is going to be a robust proving ground for many new entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses.
Whatever resolutions businesses make this year, the thing that helps them realise these is determination. We are determined to make a difference for the people and businesses who have the courage to grow and invest in doing things differently, so I look forward to speaking to many of you about how we can put our people and products in place as help for what matters to you.