Looking ahead — Our year-end checklist for entrepreneurs

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Make a list and check it twice

A new year signals new beginnings and new resolutions. And, for business owners, it can also signal a shift in business priorities. What worked for the business? What didn’t work? Making a year-end checklist is the perfect way to sort those questions out and plan for the future.

6 considerations for your year-end checklist

In this guide, we’ll cover important items to include on your year-end checklist and how to optimize your business in the next year and beyond.

  1. Review last year’s goals.
  2. Confirm your marketing and business objective alignment.
  3. Audit your website.
  4. Check in on your finances.
  5. Assess your staffing.
  6. Review your marketing efforts.

Let’s take a look at each of these in-depth below.

1. Review last year’s goals

Your first step should be to revisit your marketing strategy from the beginning of the year compared to your goals and overall performance now. While the fiscal year isn’t quite over, you can determine how effective you were in the first three quarters.

Take note of your key performance indicators (KPIs), objectives (you’ll want to keep those in mind to determine the ultimate return on investment — aka ROI), and overall efforts.

 

2022 has been yet another roller coaster of a year, so try to assess your success and give yourself some grace. There’s a lot of effort that goes into pivoting and adapting due to an evolving business climate — especially when there are factors outside of your control.

When reviewing last year’s goals, ask yourself the following questions: Were your goals realistic? If so, how can you further build on that success this year?

Your intention should be to gain a high-level view of your marketing success. If your goal was to increase sales by 10%, did you? If you wanted to double your follower count on social media, where do you stand?

Additionally, your previous year’s goals will help you define new objectives and guide your strategy to reach them. The next steps will help you build the specific tactics of your marketing plan, while also analyzing past performance.

2. Confirm your marketing and business objective alignment

Too often, entrepreneurs or business leaders prioritize marketing just to check it off the list, and they aren’t sure why. They think, “every business is supposed to have a social media presence, right?”

The truth is that every part of your marketing effort needs to support your overall business goals. Whenever you spend time and resources on marketing, it should move the needle in some way. Looking back at the previous year, with your goals already in mind, ensure you have that alignment.

If you don’t, you can adjust your marketing strategy for the new year to support your business objectives.

Part of this planning step should be developing critical pillars of your marketing strategy for the new year, i.e., what do you need to do next year to achieve those goals? Can you cross something off the list that didn’t work in previous years?

Common marketing pillars include:

  • Social media management and engagement
  • Content production
  • Keyword research for on-site SEO
  • Paid advertising, PPC and paid social ads with accompanying landing pages
  • Email marketing

A great way to get an idea of what other businesses and marketers are doing would be to take a look at CMI’s Content Marketing B2C Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report.

3. Audit your website

Once you’ve determined your marketing objectives, you’ll want to get your business website updated to match those goals.

First, begin by asking yourself the following questions:

What were your biggest online successes?

Jot down the things you know you did well and why. Look at ways of solidifying those processes and how you can build upon them.

Where did you fall short?

You know where you fell short — write that down as well. Only then can we make the appropriate corrections.

What were your online goals for last year?

How did you do? If you didn’t note any specific goals for the past year, you should make sure to identify what you want to accomplish in the next year — in as much detail as possible. If you don’t know where you want to go, how can you expect to get there?

Which goals did you meet, miss and why?

An honest business owner knows the answers to these questions. Being forthright during this process will only serve to push you toward success.

This quick overview serves to help you quickly identify the pillars you want to concentrate on moving into the new year. And, jotting down the answers to the above questions will allow you to easily set the groundwork so that you can build upon your successes and avoid unnecessary setbacks.

Is your website design up to par?

Technology keeps steamrolling ahead with or without us. You have to make the effort to keep up or you will be left behind. This requires you to review your website visuals, layout and functionality.

How long ago did you update the look or feel (theme) and images on your website? Visual trends are being set all the time. Site visitors travel around the web and get accustomed to how websites should appear and operate. And with that, expectations are created.

Here are some questions to guide you:

  1. Does your site look contemporary? Does it provide the impression it was set up in 2022 or 2002?
  2. Are your content and photos (including your profile photo) current or outdated from years ago?
  3. Do you have the features your visitors expect?
  4. Does your site include the functionality that makes doing business with you a breeze?
  5. What year is the copyright notice at the bottom of every page? Be sure to change it to the current year.

Site navigation is also something that can grow to the point of taking on a life of its own. Did you know there is a thing called the choice paradox? Too many choices can lead to indecision and fewer sales or contacts.

Review your navigational structure and pair it down to be simple, concise, and more importantly, intuitive for your site visitors.

How is your site performing on mobile?

You must 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 tablet, they’ll move on to one that will. If you’re not sure your site works, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

There are also a couple of options if your site doesn’t work:

  • Hire a web developer. Hiring an expert can 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 — try 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 the tech challenge, consider a mobile-first website builder like GoDaddy Websites + Marketing. You can have a mobile-friendly site up and running in no time.

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. You’ll also want malware protection and possibly backup services (if they’re not already included in your hosting plan).
  • 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 for your business in the new year.

Pro tip: If you’re running a 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.

4. Check in on your finances

Finances are generally the least exciting part of owning a business. But, with a bit of early bookkeeping, your financial planning can get off to a healthy start in the new year.

Taxes

Prepare for your annual meetings with your tax accountant, lawyers or consultants now before the first snowflakes (real or synthetic) fall. Don’t wait to send bank confirmations, especially if your business has a December 31 year-end.

Keep in mind any new tax forms that may be required for your business this year, such as the 1099-K.

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. It’s best to dive right in, working through the list from top to bottom.

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 financial statements for reference. Ask for clarification on anything 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.

Auditing

This leads us to 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.
  • Create an “auditor” file. Do this for regulatory agency correspondence (if any) and 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).
  • Ask your accountant for suggestions. After the audit, you should ask for advice 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? 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.

Related: Websites + Marketing and Avalara AvaTax partner to empower entrepreneurs

Budgeting

The idea of setting a budget might seem trite — of course, you want to accomplish big things. But if you’re not the kind of entrepreneur who 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.

Setting goals

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 financial objectives and key results for each area of your organization, like:

  • 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 bookkeeping processes to help you achieve these.

Sustainable practices

It’s not enough to just set goals — you have to move your organization toward implementing the infrastructure to support achieving them, too.

Also, if you have money allotted for projects or expenses that you haven’t used up, now’s the time to do so. Some business expenses might be tax-deductible, so it’s in your best interest to take advantage of those budgets.

If you’re not sure what to spend the money on, here are some good candidates for investment:

  • Updating office equipment or furniture.
  • Subscribing to software that makes your work easier.
  • Hiring new employees to even out the workload.

Again, ensuring your business is equipped for growth is a major key to success, so don’t hesitate to invest in the necessary areas.

5. Assess your staffing

With staffing in mind for your budget, the end of the year is a great time to take a look at your current employee numbers. If you’ve got more work than you can handle and are constantly overwhelmed, consider your hiring plan for the new year.

Additionally, you may need to consider your current work environment. 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 by renting coworking space across different cities, scaling up or down as needed?
  • Can 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.

Keep your employees in the loop

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 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 expansion plans — 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.

Take the time to talk to your employees and understand how they’re feeling about their roles and responsibilities.

Also, 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.

6. Review your 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? This is all about “building our brand” anyway, right?

Marketing almost always involves striking a balance.

 

The scales should involve an 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 that some marketing channels should demonstrate a real ROI before moving forward with them.

Especially when facing as many uncertainties as business owners are — 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
  • Cement your relationship with existing customers

But every business is different, so understand who you’re trying to reach and why. Do this before you start pouring money into a marketing channel to try to appeal to them.

Plan for success in the new year

There are always 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, though, a little just might go a long way.

Start with this year-end 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.

This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by Meredith Wood, Nellie Akalp, Cate Barker and Tracy Ring.

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Stacey Hartman
Stacey Hartman has been with GoDaddy since 2007, working as a product professional throughout the company. Outside of work, she enjoys playing with corgis, traveling, gaming, reading, and baking award-winning cheesecakes.