End of year 'must-dos' for small business owners, part 2
Read part 1 of the article here.
Don’t neglect your other big “asset”: Employees.
If possible, meet with each one individually. Even if it’s not a “formal” performance review, a quick end-of-year conversation one-on-one can help you shore up relationships, challenge low performers to do better, and reward and re-recruit your highest performers. (Rewards don’t have to come in the form of a big end-of-year bonus. You might offer an extra couple of days off, a gym membership or a gift card for a spa treatment as a thank you for a job well done.)
The idea is to show employees that you recognize and appreciate their contributions. A heartfelt thank you, a compliment passed along from a customer, an inquiry into an employee’s goals and aspirations, or a simple handshake and acknowledgment can be incredibly meaningful. A good motto to follow is “Be firm — but fair, and show them you care.”
Review your marketing campaign. Does what you’re doing make sense for you?
Ask yourself some specific questions: Are you marketing aggressively enough to attack the market, or are you trying to coast by, letting your competitors stir up the market? Are you targeting the best possible markets and customers? Might a customer reward program improve repeat purchases? Would the money you’re pouring into ad placement be better spent on direct mail? Does a huge social media campaign really make sense for your company, or are you tweeting fruitlessly into cyberspace just because everyone else is doing it?
It takes marketing to bring customers in and it takes marketing to keep them. Many companies see marketing as an expense but it’s actually an investment and deserves your focused attention. There are two key points often neglected when businesspeople think of marketing. The first key is marketing without measurement is being reckless with your money. Results matter and have to be measured. In other words, create an objective and measure results against it. Secondly, your best market opportunity may in fact be your own customer base.
Meet with your accountant, your attorney and other key advisors.
These specialists almost certainly know things you don’t. Their perspective can be extremely valuable to an entrepreneur who has been chained to his or her desk all year (and, as a result, is out of touch with changes in the external business environment). Planning for a future you can’t predict is part of a business owner’s job, and these advisors can help you gather the information needed to get the “lay of the land” and make smart decisions.
Ask each of them, “What are the three most important things I need to know right now?” In fact, you might pose this question in advance of the meeting so they will have time to think about it and won’t just give you an off-the-cuff answer. Then you can factor their feedback into your plans for the upcoming year and beyond.
Successful businesspeople have a good grasp of business in general. By regularly touching base with important members of your larger network, you are educating yourself on the various aspects of the business world beyond just your industry.
Kick off a cost-cutting, gross-profit-building mission.
No one knows what the future holds. But it’s a safe bet it won’t be “smooth sailing.” More likely “choppy waters filled with sharks and the occasional iceberg.” When tough times and financial uncertainty loom, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand. And, one of the best ways to create cash is to find added gross profit and at the same time cut some expenses. That said, I suggest you ask yourself: What expensive mistakes did we make last year? How can we avoid them next year? And what can we do to build up the cash cushion that might help us get through any market corrections or uncertainty?
I’m not recommending knee-jerk reactions like massive layoffs or switching to inferior-quality materials. Don’t cut out the wrong things, but do look for smart, well-thought-out ways to save money and start building up your cash cushion. Think about Ford Motor Company. Years before the 2008/2009 credit crunch, they began to restructure their debt and build up their cash reserves. So when their competitors needed bailouts, they didn’t. That’s what smart planning can do for you. We all have heard “Cash is king” and it is, especially when it’s there when you need it.
Set some realistic goals for next year. Then, dial up the “aggression factor” just a little bit more.
In other words, aim high. Don’t be lulled into complacency or let the continued talk of doom and gloom handcuff you. You might be okay now, but that doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow and you have to keep pushing the market. Every company has competitors, and if it doesn’t and it’s successful, it soon will. Successful owners know they have to fight not only to win market share but to retain it as well.
I always say that the marketplace is a war zone. You must develop a warrior mentality and maintain it for as long as you’re at the head of your business. If you take your focus off the market, competitors will step in and take what you have worked so hard for. It’s just the law of the market place jungle.
This last point is perhaps the heart and soul of my philosophy. To succeed and to stay successful, companies must be “on their game” 24/7. And that warrior mindset begins and ends with the business owner.
Being an owner has its ups and downs, just like most things in life. But it can be an immensely rewarding career, especially if you do a yearly check-up and prepare yourself and your business by building on the success of 2012 and prepare yourself and your business for 2013 and beyond.