This article was originally published on Dec. 31, 2018, and was updated on Dec. 13, 2019.
As an entrepreneur, you always have a lot to do, and little time in which to do it. But the beginning of the year offers you a unique opportunity to stop, breathe and evaluate. Take advantage of this time to reflect and refocus your efforts.
Just like making a list of New Year’s resolutions, we’ve made a list of business owner responsibilities that you might choose to tackle as you head into the new calendar year.
Beginning-of-year checklist: 8 essential things to do
Make your way down this checklist of important tasks to do on behalf of your business:
- Set realistic financial goals.
- Explore affordable financing products.
- Migrate your busywork to automated solutions.
- Investigate remote work options.
- Focus on ROI in marketing efforts.
- Connect with a mentor.
- Read up on industry trends.
- Do a recap and forecast with your team.
Before you charge ahead into the new year doing business as usual, check off these eight essential but manageable tasks.
1. Set realistic financial goals
The idea of setting goals might seem trite — of course, you want to accomplish big things. But if you’re not the kind of entrepreneur who really puts the things you want to achieve down in writing, make this the year you’ll do it.
Setting goals isn’t just about saying, “It’d be cool to make a million dollars,” though.
Because you’re a business owner, many of the goals you’ll look to achieve will be financial. Depending on how long you’ve been in business, how successful you’ve been of late, and what you’re looking to achieve in the next year, your financial goals may vary.
The best way to set these goals is to look into well-established systems of team productivity and goal-setting that other companies use to achieve results. Examples include Intel’s OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) frameworks.
With OKRs, for example, you might make a list of objectives and key results for each area of your organization. Sales, finance, marketing, human resources, business development, engineering, product development — every team that contributes to the bottom line should have a sense of what they’re looking to accomplish heading into the new year.
Additionally, look into different tools and project management processes to help you achieve these.
It’s not enough to just set goals — you have to move your organization toward implementing the infrastructure to support achieving them, too.
2. Explore affordable financing products
If you’re headed into the new year on a roll — holiday sales were strong, and the business performed well throughout much of the year prior — then you want to at least explore the business financing options available to you.
This might seem backward to some business owners. Business loans, lines of credit and other business financing options are for businesses that need money, right? Why would I take out a loan if business is booming?
When the business is struggling and you need a loan to stay afloat, you’re much less likely to qualify for the high-quality loan products that businesses use to catapult to greater success, such as SBA loans or 0% introductory APR credit cards.
There’s no need to take out a loan if you don’t need one. If you see an opportunity for expansion or improvement on the horizon, however, the beginning of the year is a good time to look into what financing you could qualify for.
3. Migrate your busywork to automated solutions
Automated solutions are quickly changing the way we work day-to-day.
People now spend much less updating spreadsheets, filling out timesheets or logging correspondence with clients.
We now have software and tools that can do these things for us while we focus on getting real work done.
If you aren’t using automated software solutions for tasks like accounting, customer relationship management and time tracking, it’s time to start.
Take accounting software for example. Consider that at the beginning of a new year, you have to wrap up your financial statements: P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statement among them. Your business accounting software can run these reports with ease, while sending all the necessary information to your bookkeeper to process, as well as to the IRS.
Meanwhile, instead of spending hours calculating everything by hand, you can review your documents and ask yourself these important questions about your business:
- Over the past year, have you managed your cash flow well?
- Did your investments pay off and create the ROI you expected?
- Are you going to need to replace any equipment or hire new staff?
- Based on your forecasting, will you generate enough revenues to cover anticipated expenses?
Let your software do the heavy lifting, so you can work smarter in the year to come. Here are some options to get you started.
4. Investigate remote work options
Remote work — whether it’s allowing your full-time employees to work from home, contracting remote freelancers to help you complete a project, or utilizing the gig economy to help your business reach new customers (via delivery services, for example) — will be one of the defining work trends of this generation.
For some businesses, it’s not possible to utilize remote work opportunities, such as if you own a brick-and-mortar retail store. But these businesses will be in the minority: According to Upwork, 73% of all departments will have remote workers by 2028.
How would hiring remote workers benefit your business?
- Could you widen your talent search for the right candidate, even if they live in a different (and less expensive) market?
- Could you spend less money on office space as you instead rent coworking space across different cities, scaling up or down as needed?
- Could you make the right temporary hire instead of the wrong long-term hire?
Start researching how an investment in your remote workforce — the price of remote communication tools, collaborative platforms and more cloud storage — could be worth their weight and then some.
5. Focus on ROI in marketing efforts
When deciding which marketing initiatives to focus on in the coming year, your primary concern should be what kind of return on investment you’ll get from each one.
Novice marketers tend to take a “let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach when it comes to new campaigns. Social media, email, blogging, paid advertising on social platforms — sure, why not? Hey, I heard Pinterest is getting big again, let’s buy advertisements on there as well as on Facebook and Instagram. This is all about “building our brand” anyway, right?
Marketing almost always involves striking a balance between understanding that not every initiative is perfectly measurable (many consider word-of-mouth the most effective marketing strategy, and that’s impossible to measure with confidence) and making sure that some marketing channels demonstrate a real ROI before moving forward with them.
Especially when facing a year as uncertain as 2020 — which may continue to be weighed down by trade tensions, or could experience a recession, as some are predicting —it’s important to focus on marketing initiatives that you can show will make a difference in your bottom line.
For many businesses, email marketing is one of the best channels in digital marketing, as you can use it to recapture abandoned shopping carts, remarket to new buyers, and cement your relationship with existing customers.
But every business is different, so understand who you’re trying to reach and why before you start pouring money into a marketing channel to try to appeal to them.
6. Connect with a mentor
No matter what stage of life or business ownership you’re in, a mentor is an invaluable resource.
Whether you’re a new or well-established entrepreneur, gaining insight from someone in your field or industry who has been in your shoes can help you navigate uncertainty with greater ease and less financial risk.
According to a report from Kabbage, entrepreneurs basically fall into two camps: people who have benefited from having a mentor, and people who wish they had benefited from having a mentor.
- 92% of small businesses agreed that mentors had a direct impact on growth and the survival of their business.
- Of all the respondents, 63% didn’t have a mentor — and 89% of those small business owners wished that they did.
Mentors offer business owners objective advice, tales of subjective experience, access to a larger network of people and resources and much more.
7. Examine industry trends
As a busy owner, it’s important to know how to react to changes in your industry or sector. But if you can be proactive — well, that’s much better.
Don’t begin the year without taking the pulse on what’s going on, both within your industry and in every other industry that has bearing on yours.
For instance, if you make and sell wool sweaters internationally, you shouldn’t just look at wholesale and retail clothing trends. You also want to look at the price of your raw materials, including wool and dye, and fuel for the ships and planes that carry your goods.
You might even want to keep an eye on the length of seasons — are people even wearing sweaters as often as they used to? Maybe you need to introduce a lighter-weight thread into your product line, or try to open up distribution domestically, based on what you find.
Either way, you’re making proactive decisions.
This has become an especially important step to take as China and the United States continue to engage in a trade war. Prices for your goods may fluctuate or skyrocket at a moment’s notice. See if you can find a more stable inventory source, or build up a backlog of useable inventory that can potentially last until tensions ease.
8. Do a recap and forecast with your team
Whether your team is you and your accountant or lawyer, or you’ve built a robust and growing workforce with managers and freelance contributors, take the time at the end of each year (and the beginning of a new one) to update everyone on where you are and where you’re going.
An all-hands meeting that reviews OKRs and/or SMART objectives, your finances, and your ROI on major projects from the year before will not only keep your team in the loop, but it will help them feel more personally connected to the success of the business.
Additionally, informing your team of what you’re looking to accomplish next year — new OKRs, sure, but also possible investments in remote work opportunities, migrating workflows onto new platforms, and plans for expansion — comes with big benefits.
It will help ease the transition in case of major changes, and will allow you to field questions and hear valuable feedback about what works or what could be improved.
That last part is important.
If you don’t do quarterly or biannual check-ins or reviews, the beginning of the year is a great time to do an annual review.
No business owner is an island. Keep your team informed as to how you’re doing and what’s coming next, and you’ll get greater buy-in and enthusiasm than if you keep them in the dark until the day of changes arrives.
Plan for success
Of course, there are probably a million things you’d like to do to give your business a fresh coat of paint, so to speak, at the beginning of the year.
If you can focus on a few vital stats and make improvements, a little just might go a long way.
Start with this beginning-of-the-year checklist, and you might find that certain areas require a greater investment of your time and energy than you originally thought. Similarly, you might decide that you can alter or skip certain steps next year, since they weren’t as impactful as you hoped.
As long as you cover the basics and do your due diligence to make sure your business is thinking proactively about the future, you’ll be well ahead of the curve.