Time for a midyear business checkup
Scheduling an annual medical checkup is a good idea, but your small business needs a semi-annual exam in order to end the year on a positive note.
July is the perfect time to take the pulse of your business. Unless you sell ice cream or run a beach resort, your business probably slows down a bit in the summer, freeing up some valuable time for review and reflection.
My midyear checkup takes less than two hours and is designed to help you diagnose and treat common business problems. So, grab a pencil, turn off your phone and answer these questions. You will need access to your bookkeeping program, social media platforms and company website to complete this exercise.
Money: Cash fuels your business, but keeping the cash flowing is a challenge. You control the products and services you provide, but you can’t control when or if you will be paid. So, first take a look at your accounts receivable. Make a list of who owes you money and the amount. Seeing the list in black and white will encourage you to take action.
If the amount is under $1,000, send a letter, not an email invoice with a note asking that the balance be paid immediately. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it easy for the person to send a check.
If the amount is in the thousands, stop providing the product or service until a payment plan is in place. If your letter doesn’t elicit a response, consider asking your attorney to draft a demand letter. If you don’t accept credit cards, consider setting up a merchant credit card account. It’s worth paying the processing fees because many people prefer to pay their business expenses by credit card to accrue points and perks.
People: Think about all the people you work with, both employees and contractors. Is everyone working hard and coordinating their efforts? Do people show up for work on time and put in a full day? What is the atmosphere like in your office? Upbeat or gloomy? In a small company, one crabby person can dampen morale. If someone is not working up to par, schedule a private meeting, preferably outside the office, to find out what’s going on. Personal problems often affect a person’s ability to work. Allowing one person to slack off can impact everyone’s productivity.
You have the right as an employer to require someone’s best effort and full attention.
If the problems are serious, start documenting – in writing – all the details. Outline specific improvements to be made and set deadlines. Consult a local labor attorney if you think you may need to terminate the employee. You want to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit. Remember, there are millions of talented and experienced people looking for jobs, so why pay someone to aggravate you?
Marketing: Now, review your company website, printed marketing materials, catalog, direct mail pieces, etc. Then, visit your competitors’ websites. Is yours as compelling and attractive? Most businesses today need to maintain active social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Update your website at least once a week, preferably more often. Social media needs to be updated daily, if not more frequently. If you are too busy or not into it, ask someone on your team to be your social media assistant. Or, hire someone who specializes in online marketing. If you are a good writer, write a weekly blog with interesting industry-related information or tips. Post it on your site and tweet out the link. A monthly newsletter is easy to produce with a platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact.
If you haven’t revised or updated your marketing materials in the last six months, it’s time to do so. Just changing the color palette or text on existing online materials makes a big difference.
Update your business cards and pass them out. Networking events are popular again, so attend at least one a month.
No matter what you do, you have to aggressively promote your business. Discounts, gift-with-purchase or other deals should drive up sales. I like the new Amazon Local deal platform. The deals, all provided by small businesses, are targeted to shoppers based on their location and personal preferences. It’s easy to purchase vouchers through your existing Amazon account. I’ve bought $20 tickets for a sunset sail around Manhattan, a deeply discounted car-service ride to the airport and discounts on restaurant meals.
Finally, make a list of your five best customers or clients and call them up. Ask what’s new in their lives and find out if they are happy with your products or services. If not, resolve the problems. If so, ask them to refer you to at least two people and follow up with those leads.