As businesses battened down the hatches and pulled the purse strings tight in response to media predictions of a double-dip recession, my wife and business partner and I started 2012 the same way we have started every year since we set up our company in 1999.
That is, we drew a new line in the sand and promised ourselves we wouldn't slip below that line. We've set goals and thought about what we can do to maximise our chances of success.
Looking after the team is top of that list. Many of my peers have been scaremongered into cutting all but the essential company costs by reading constant headlines about the fragility of the UK economy.
Instead, we have been thinking about the trips, activities and rewards that could ensure we get the most from our valuable team.
I'm aware that our staff incentive schemes may be considered ludicrous by some fellow business owners but I find it incredibly easy to defend them.
Our company has achieved consistent year-on-year growth since we started, without taking on any outside investment.
We grew by 32 per cent in 2011 and we're on target to grow by at least 40 per cent this year. And I put those achievements down to building a happy, energetic and passionate team. Maintaining that team culture – and the momentum it has given us – demands an investment of time and money.
Back in 2008, we bought a house at the foot of Mount Snowdon as a team retreat. This enables our team to meet and develop skills and discuss projects in a more creative environment away from the office.
We will regularly take new starters there to learn about our company culture. We get the team doing activities such as raft-building or learning mountaineering skills. This is a way for them to develop shared personal memories with colleagues, bonding as well as discovering various strengths and weaknesses they may never have known about.
Last year, we employed a man called Joe Cravagan as head of personal development. He has 15 years of experience running his own personal training company and chains of private gyms, and he will lead team-building trips to the Castell Cidwm base.
We also employed a full-time masseuse and beauty therapist last year. Ben, the team chef, has been cooking brilliant food for us for years; we couldn't be without him now.
It's difficult to put a price on the difference things like that make to an organisation. How do you measure emotion, for example? There's no KPI you can use.
It's not as easy as attaching a value to a piece of machinery that helps you sell a product. In the past, accountants and other business professionals have played down the importance of team-building and corporate hospitality.
However, these things are essential elements to running a successful business.
If firms like Google can do such things, why can't a smaller business in Manchester do the same? My staff deserve some perks and it's interesting to note that Google has grown at a similar rate to us over the last year.
Before Christmas, I took a group of key performers from the sales team to Las Vegas for a five-day trip after they beat a target set months earlier.
I thought I couldn't lose if I set them what I considered an unachievable target. They would push and push, and our figures would keep improving – and if I did have to invest in a costly trip, it would pay for itself many times over.
They smashed every record set by any previous sales team and they blew my predictions out of the water. What they earned covered the whole trip and we still had some left over.
But sometimes the best and most worthwhile events are the cheapest. A sponsored run to help raise money for a charity does a lot to raise morale along the way.
I am a firm believer that if you have something of great quality and you take good care of it, you will have it forever.
Sadly, the HM Revenue and Customs doesn't help – what you spend on team building isn't tax deductible – but once you swallow the cost and commit yourself to the journey of real investment in your team and their wellbeing, the rewards won't be too far behind.
I see it every day when my team goes over and above the call of duty.
Lawrence Jones is chief executive officer of UKFast
Infrastructure provider says international sales now make up 51 per cent of its revenue
Suzanne Chappell of TMS plans sailing venture after selling Oxfordshire-based TMS to acquisitive Chess
Withdrawal of credit insurance by some providers a 'reflection' of current challenge facing IT sector, according to MD Steve Soper
SMART's UK managing director joins Lenovo to boost SMB business