By Jennifer Lobb
Despite the fact that the fourth quarter rolls around at the exact same time year after year, the realization that it’s just around the corner is always startling. In fact, every year as Labor Day bookends the far end of the summer, I find myself asking “how did we get here already?”
We are, of course, “here,”and if you’re a small business owner, it’s time to pencil in a few important tasks to help you navigate the Q4 craziness.
1. Talk to Your Staff
It’s tempting to label this as “evaluate your employees,” because that’s something you’ll want to do as well, but your efforts should exceed evaluation. Your employees are on the front lines and often offer the most candid and useful feedback when it comes to “everyday” tasks and processes. They also are likely to be the ones who have the most frequent, and therefore most insightful, feedback on client or customer relationships.
As an added bonus, this can be a great time to provide positive feedback and motivation to employees, especially if Q4 is your company’s busiest and most important quarter of the year.
Don’t have time to meet with them one-on-one? Fear that the candid feedback you want won’t be what you get when they meet with the boss? Consider offering the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback. Surveys are great options if you have specific questions you’d like answered.
2. Meet With Key Decision Makers
Though some small business owners may have unfettered freedoms to make decisions as they see fit, many have partners, boards, and executive members. As you round out the year, it’s important to touch base with any key decision makers that should have a say in, or at least provide insight into, major decisions such as strategies, labor, investments, etc.
Don’t forget that department heads are influential in data collection and strategy execution, so be sure to pencil in time to meet with them. Because they’re dealing with a specific aspect of your company (marketing, sales, purchasing, etc.) on a daily basis, they’re likely to have insights others won’t.
3. Clean Up Your Contact List
Data, especially customer and client contact information, does not have an unlimited shelf life. In fact, over time, If your fourth quarter means active engagement of customers/clients (e.g., email marketing campaigns), now is a good time to review your lists and clean them up. Why? Bad data can cost you money and negate any efforts you may set out to accomplish during Q4 campaigns.
Review client profiles, check (or implement) email segments, and make sure that the contact information and client/customer profiles you have are as accurate as possible, purging any that are incorrect or have been inactive for a significant period of time.
4. Evaluate, Inventory and Audit
It’s likely that you’re doing at least one of these three things on a fairly regular basis, and if so, you should have a decent understanding of where your company stands on everything from labor and staffing, products, and finances, but in Q4, it’s time to start thinking about what those numbers mean.
In addition to helping you plan for Q1, which we’ll get to next, analyzing key data will help you identify gaps in your business. Perhaps, over time, some departments have grown too large while others are suffering due to limited bandwidth. Similarly, your findings may indicate a need to reevaluate partnerships or supplier relationships in Q1 or purchase new equipment (think depreciation) before the financial year comes to a close.
Finally, as you carry out your evaluations, inventory, and audits, make sure that your finances are in order and you’re prepared for the upcoming tax season. That means verifying that all accounting information is present and accurate, but it also means that you have someone lined up (be it on staff or as outside help) to assist with your tax obligations.
5. Begin Q1 Planning
All of the tasks or events above should lead to a wealth of information, and that information should be used to tie up this year’s loose ends and start planning for the first quarter. Q4, which is fraught with holiday expectations and time-off requests, can present a challenge when it comes to January planning,
As Q4 begins, take some time to jot down your expectations, desires, or strategic goals for Q1. Having a running list can help you keep your goals in mind despite the busy nature of the last quarter of the year.
6. Plan for Holiday Gift Giving & Bonuses
Depending on your company’s culture, now is a good time to plan not only for employee bonuses, if applicable, but also for client/customer gifts. Why now? If you don’t plan now, waiting too long can leave you scratching your head and potentially spending more money on poorly executed gifts or bonuses.
If you send out gifts to clients, start a list of potential ideas. Not only will this take the burden off of you or your employees during the busy season, but it will also give you the opportunity to find the best prices or take advantage of sales and promotions. Just sending out cards? Get them post-office ready now so that when the time comes, prepping and sending them doesn’t interrupt crunch time.
Thinking of rewarding employees for a year of work? Every company has a different approach to this, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but be sure that whatever you choose is fair and manageable. Don’t foresee cash or physical gifts in the cards? Consider extending a bonus in the form of time off, flexible hours, or even a holiday party.
For many small business owners, Q4 is hectic enough, even with the best laid plans. By considering and implementing the aforementioned, you can save some time and energy as you close out the year and prepare for a new one.
About the Author: Jennifer is a alum of the University of Denver. While in the graduate program there, she enjoyed spending time identifying ways in which non-profits and small businesses could develop into strong and profitable organizations while promoting strong community growth. She also enjoys finding unique ways for freelancers and start-up businesses to reach and expand their goals.
This article first appeared on the Nav Blog on September 7, 2017, and is reprinted with permission from Nav.