Strategies: Year of the Rat brings opportunities

"Gung hay fat choy." That's happy New Year in Chinese — or at least a close proximity. If you own a business (and believe in any kind of astrology), this is a New Year you'll want to observe.

In case you missed it, the Chinese lunar New Year began on Feb. 7, but celebrations continue throughout the month in Asia and in many communities in the United States. In the Chinese calendar, each year is identified by an animal — there are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Predictions for the trends for that year (as well as attributes of the people born during that year) are associated with the characteristics of that animal.

This year is the Year of the Rat, and it's closely associated with entrepreneurs. That's meant as a compliment, not an insult.

Rats! "Ick" you might say. But don't turn your noses or toes up so quickly. The rat is the first sign of the Chinese zodiac because, according to legend, the rat was the first animal to show up when Buddha summoned all the animals to come him. Thus, the rat — and the years associated with the little rodent — are given pre-eminence in the lunar calendar, representing the beginning of a new 12-year cycle.

The rat is also respected for its many attributes — smart, clever, resourceful, quick-witted, and courageous. Rats are cunning problem solvers, energetic. They are also responsible, protective and careful planners. Being first, they're also considered leaders. You can see why it's a sign associated with entrepreneurs.

As the first year of the lunar cycle, the Year of the Rat represents the beginning of a new phase. So let's talk about how you too can use the energy associated with the Year of the Rat to create a new phase in your own business life.

As a businessperson, what does the Year of the Rat supposedly augur for you?

New beginnings

Because it's the start of a new lunar cycle, rat years are thought to be particularly lucky years for new undertakings.

• Starting a new business. If you've been wavering about whether to start a business, this just might be the year to go for it. While you must weigh your options carefully, rat years are believed to be especially promising times to launch a company.

• Expanding your business. Are you being held back because you're overworked or your existing staff has all they can handle? Perhaps now is the time to add to your workforce as a way of adding to your bottom line. How about hiring a salesperson or an administrative assistant?

• Launching a new product (or service) line. Since rat years are propitious for new activities, consider ways that you can add to your existing offerings. What do your current customers want or need that you're not offering them now?

• Opening a new location. If you are already successful in your current location, look around to see whether you can find a good opportunity for an additional branch.

Cleverness and cunning

I'm not talking about being unscrupulous, but rather, being clever in the best sense of the word. In other words, figuring out how to survive and thrive. With recession concerns all around, being quick witted and inventive will be needed to survive intact during 2008. What does the year of the rat suggest:

• Finding customers in new ways. Most of us get used to selling our merchandise and services through one channel — a distributor, certain retailers, or reaching customers through one major marketing medium. Now's the time to develop additional avenues to connect with customers. Find new ways to advertise and new ways to sell.

• Building up your reserves. Rats like to hoard their belongings. While you need to spend money on new endeavors, avoid unnecessary expenditures when possible. Put that money in the bank instead.

You don't have to be a believer in astrology, Chinese or otherwise, to find lessons and inspiration for your business in the Year of the Rat. After all, each of us could use the opportunity for a new beginning. So if you're ready for a new phase, now's the time to go for it. Happy Chinese New Year!

Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Their newest is Finding an Angel Investor In A Day. Register for Rhonda's free business planning newsletter at For an index of her columns, click here. Copyright Rhonda Abrams 2008.