To say that small business owners have a lot on their plates might be the understatement of the year. Small business owners are responsible for all the major business areas—operations, marketing and sales, HR and finance—and must be skillful in both visioning and big-picture planning, as well as adept at leading daily operations, launching new initiatives, managing staff, and putting out fires.
Those who succeed in the job (and with their businesses) develop a multi-year vision/plan and maintain clearly defined annual, quarterly, monthly, and sometimes even weekly goals and targets around key company metrics in support of that vision/plan. The specific planning model used is not what’s important; what’s important is developing, adapting, or co-opting whatever framework works best for you—and sticking to it.
As we enter Q4, you will have been tracking your progress towards some key metrics since the beginning of the year. And now is the perfect time to take that proverbial pulse as you look to establish goals and targets for the new year.
Your Financial Beat
Now is the time to understand if the trends are what you should expect in terms of profitability and cash flow. Review your profit & loss statement by month to see trends in your revenue and expenses, as well as net profit. Also take a look at your assets and liabilities on your balance sheet. Review your cash flow and make sure that you’re not piling up more debt than you’re aware of.
Your Sales Beat
Think too about your sales funnel–and not just about the number of qualified leads you are generating–but also about how much money/time you are investing in each sale. Are you converting well but spending too much? For example, as a consultant, if I spend an hour on sales for every billable hour, half of my revenue is going to marketing, and I am going to need strategies to make my marketing more efficient.
Your Customer Beat
Having clear and consistent processes for collecting customer satisfaction data throughout the year is essential. Now is the time to look at all that customer feedback with a critical eye. In general, is the feedback becoming more and more negative or do the same “pain points” keep popping up every year?
Engaging Staff in Annual Planning
Once you’ve taken the pulse in these key areas, it’s important to gather all the data and engage the staff. Because the staff knows things about the day-to-day work of customer service and on-the-ground delivery that you don’t know, their perspective, analysis, and creative thinking are needed for continuous program/process improvement.
Annual planning meetings set up by business function or process are effective mechanisms for identifying where enhancements can be made and coming up with new ideas for addressing persistent challenges. After these meetings, it will be important to affirm the value of their input, define the changes you wish to make, and articulate how these changes align with next year’s goals.
If putting a framework in place, or reviewing it regularly during the year, is challenging, call on us to help establish a plan and to help you consistently execute it. Sometimes what a small business owner needs is a trusted partner to support them, hold them accountable, and keep them on track.