Get your house in order with our free year-end checklist for professional service firms

Don’t miss out on the fun

This article was updated on May 8, 2018.

I get it — you’re busy. In addition to delivering services — whether it’s accounting, insurance, legal representation, financial advice or some other professional service — you might also be doing all that for your own business. So nobody would blame you if you put off year-end tasks like checking this year’s marketing ROI or prepping for tax time. No worries. We’re here to make sure you’re not hunched over your computer on December 31 while everyone else is dancing at end-of-year parties. How? With this year-end checklist for professional service firms.

3-step year-end checklist for professional service firms

With another year skidding to a close, it’s time to get started on those end-of-year tasks. You spend all year helping make others’ businesses run, now it’s time to put your own house in order. To make it easy, we’ve compiled this list.

  1. Audit your website.

  2. Get your financial house in order.

  3. Look back at the year’s marketing efforts.

There’s a bit more to each step then what meets the eye. Keep reading to see an in-depth break down.

1. Audit your website

Turns out, your clients don’t like static websites — which is why the most effective sites are those that are watched and updated regularly. Here are some things to check.

The basics

Look at your website as if you had never seen it before and knew nothing about your business. Check these things:

  • Is your navigation clear and intuitive?
  • Is there a Contact Us link on every page of your website?
  • If Contact Us triggers an automatic email, review the email content.
  • Are your social media buttons in the same place on every page?
  • Is all site content up to date? Delete, revise or refresh.

Pro tip: It’s imperative you make sure your website works well on smartphones and mobile devices.

If you do nothing else to your website this quarter, do this. People aren’t just finding restaurants on their phones — they’re looking for tax preparation, insurance and legal representation. If your website won’t work on their smartphone or iPad, they’ll move on to one that will. If you’re not sure your site works, use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool.

If it doesn’t work, you’ve got a couple options:

  • Hire a web developer to change your existing website’s code or build a new responsive website. That means that the way its pages display will adjust, or “respond,” to the user’s screen size. Responsive websites use the same URL and code no matter what device the viewer is using.
  • Fix it yourself. If you’ve got the tech chops, take the time to make your existing site mobile-responsive — like by installing a WordPress mobile plugin or changing to a responsive WordPress theme.

If you need to build a responsive site from scratch and aren’t quite up to that tech challenge, consider a mobile-first website builder like GoDaddy GoCentral. You can have a mobile-friendly site up and running in under an hour.

Once you’ve got all that in order, there are a few more things you’ll want to check off your website to-do list:

  • Make sure it talks to search engines. Search engines like Google are your best friend, since future clients will use them to find you. Learn how to make them pay special attention to your site — it’s well worth the time and effort.
  • Conduct a website performance test. Most performance tests measure two things: resource loading and page speed. Together they constitute a huge pain point for clients in every industry. But you won’t know it’s a problem if you don’t look. Use one of the free test tools here to test your site’s performance.
  • Do a security check. With Google’s transition to HTTPS everywhere, an SSL is imperative to keep traffic coming. Beyond that, you’ll also want malware protection and possibly backup services (if they’re not already included in your hosting plan).
  • Consider starting a blog. Blogging is a proven way to generate new leads for your business. By publishing helpful articles on topics of interest to prospective clients, you can reel in people who otherwise wouldn’t know about you. Linking back to your website in each post brings them in the digital door. Find out how to start a WordPress blog.
  • Look into Google Analytics. If you aren’t already using this tool, start now to find out what people are doing on your website. This can lead to small site adjustments that will make huge differences to your business in the new year.

Pro tip: If you’re running a Managed WordPress website, be sure to check your plugins, themes and extensions to make sure everything is current. If they have not been updated to be compatible with the latest platform version, look for alternatives. Outdated themes and plugins are a big security risk and can affect the performance of your website.

2. Get your financial house in order

Prepare for your annual meetings with your tax accountant, lawyers or consultants now before the first flakes (real or synthetic) fall.

Don’t wait to send bank confirmations, especially if your business has a December 31 year end.

 

Be sure to file an annual report if it’s required in your state. If you do have to file, do it before the end of the year to avoid late fees. Then, prep for end-of-year financial reporting. If this is one of your least-favorite tasks, you’re not alone. Best to dive right in, working through the list top to bottom.

Get ready for tax time. Here are a few big-ticket items:

Pro tip: Ask your accountant for a list of to-dos in advance.

Request any templates they’d like you to use and copies of last year’s working papers for reference. Ask for clarification on anything that’s unclear, including requests that look like they might be especially time-consuming for you. It’s possible either:

  • They could get the same information from another source you’re providing, or
  • This schedule has value beyond the year-end audit (e.g. business analysis).

If using both an auditor and an accountant, be sure to ask if there’s anything the tax accountant will need that the auditor hasn’t asked for.

Which leads us into our next agenda item: preparing for your financial audit (if applicable).

  • Choose a point person for the audit (if it’s not you). This person should oversee the reconciliation of detail to general ledger account totals, including all bank accounts, accounts receivable, accounts payable and equipment lists. Here are seven financial calculators to help keep you on track.
  • Create an “auditor” file for regulatory agency correspondence (if any) and for copies of new or changed documents about fixed asset additions and disposals, debt agreements, leasing arrangements, lawsuits, complex transactions, technology modifications and major customers and vendors.
  • Report annual earnings to your shareholders (if any).
  • After the audit, ask your accountant for suggestions on ways to improve the process for next year.

With all that information in hand, it’s important to revisit your business plan. Update your privacy statement, add new sales targets, and create or update policies for common issues such as unhappy customers.

This simple act focuses your thoughts and ensures your goals align with your firm’s current state. Consider doing it once a quarter.

Finally, review your business structure to make sure it’s still a good fit. Have you outgrown your sole proprietorship or other current legal structure? Scan your options here. If you decide to make a change, the first of the year is the time to do it.

The above content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

3. Look back at the year’s marketing efforts

There’s often a lot of enthusiasm when it comes to trying new marketing tactics. Banner ads! Link building! But with all the other hats you wear, it’s easy to forget to look back at what worked, what should be shelved, and what should be kept and improved.

Tally up what you spent

You’ll need this for your taxes. This will also serve as a starting point for next year’s budget. Your expenses might include:

  • Print materials (brochures, cards)
  • Your website/blog/domain name registration
  • Online advertising
  • Agency fees
  • Marketing staff salaries
  • Social media management
  • Professional memberships
  • Sponsorships
  • Trade show fees
  • Customer appreciation

Clean up your email list

This will not only endear you to the universe of weary email users, it will keep you off email blacklists. (Not to mention with GDPR rolling out, this is a must to make sure you’re in compliance.)

If you don’t have an email list, it’s time to put your website to work.

 

Consider using a tool like GoDaddy Email Marketing to create effective subscriber emails. And don’t forget to track your email analytics. Open and click-through rates can tell you what content readers really loved (and what they didn’t). Use this insight to plan more of what worked in the new year.

Social media it up

Social media is uniquely effective in growing a business and here’s why: unlike other forms of marketing, it’s a two-way conversation. You can interact with and actually learn from clients … What do they love about what you’re doing now? What could do to serve them better?

For those who have active business profiles:

If you haven’t be using social media to promote your business, it’s time to dive in (or delegate this to a staffer). At the very least, create a Facebook Business Page.

Review your local listings

Local business listings are often the first search results to appear when someone Googles a term like “car insurance,” “IT troubleshooting,” or “tax return prep.” Make sure your address, phone and hours are up to date in all these listings:

Don’t have time to manage all your local listings? Look into a tool like GoDaddy’s Local Business Listings to manage all your online listings from one convenient dashboard.

Evaluate professional conferences and groups

Start checking out dates, renewing memberships and making reservations. Apply for one or two speaking opportunities to build your professional reputation.

Pro tip: Make sure your business cards are on point. Read this post for DIY tips.

Start at the top and work your way down

Don’t wait until your accountant starts sending frantic emails or for contractors to ask where their 1099s are. Use this year-end checklist for professional service firms, then set aside an hour or two each week to check a few more things off the list. Come New Year’s, you’ll be glad you did.


Also published on Medium.

Image by: Alex Holyoake on Unsplash