December is here, and 2013 is right around the corner. With a little focused thought, the last month of 2012 can also be the most valuable one, according to Bill McBean, author of the new book The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t.
"You owe it to yourself, your customers, your employees and your future to tear yourself away from the daily grind long enough to do some end-of-the-year or early-next-year reflection and forward planning," McBean says.
Maintaining a cool and measured perspective on where you are, where you’re headed, and - most importantly - exactly what you need to do to get there is crucial to next year’s success. "It pays to step back and reevaluate your market and your company’s place in it by making sure your practices are in line with 'the facts,'" McBean says.
8 “must-dos” to tackle before the end of the year
1. Hold a 2012 post-mortem. Start by analyzing whether you've been an effective leader. A skill every great leader has is the ability to self-analyze, away from the high fives of success and the consistent pressure tight cash flow brings.
“This is a good chance to gauge the effectiveness of your leadership,” says McBean. “Good leadership begins with defining the destination and direction of the company and deciding how the business should look and operate when it arrives. If you haven’t done those things, you aren't leading; and if you aren't leading, no one will follow.
“Ask yourself: Did your business have a successful year? What did it do well? What could it have done better? Where are the future opportunities that will grow your business? What are the threats to your company’s success, or what is holding your business back? These are serious questions that demand serious answers. And once answered, then it’s up to you to define the leadership skills needed to move your business from where it is today to where you want it to be tomorrow.
“The good news is that the most important aspects of leadership can be learned,” he adds. “And, the sooner you start, the better your likelihood of long-term success. But a note of caution: Before you can lead a business forward, you have to define where it is today, evaluate your personal strengths and those of your business, and compare those evaluations to those of your competitors. This self-evaluation is an important part of being a successful leader. Because at the end of the day, if your business is equal to those of your competitors, it’s the owner’s skill that makes the difference between one business being successful and another being below average.”
2. Do a top-to-bottom walk-through of your systems and procedures. Examine what is working and what isn't. You may find that a system that once worked well no longer does - because the marketplace has changed, your competitors have changed tactics and strategies, or your customers’ needs have shifted. Or you may find that your business has fallen into bad habits that hinder success. In particular, look for inconsistencies in how employees handle tasks, especially those that directly impact customers and those who handle the data you use to make decisions about the business. This allows you to catch problems before they develop into crises.
“It may not be politically correct to say so, but if you’re not controlling your procedures and processes, you don’t really ‘own’ your business,” McBean says. “Great procedures and processes need controls, and these controls in turn create great results and skilled employees. The key to understanding the importance of processes is to understand the concept that processes operate your business - and employees operate the processes.”
3. Pinpoint your best customers. Give them a heartfelt end-of-the-year thank you. McBean insists that protecting your company’s assets is job one. Those assets are not just monetary - far from it. Customers are some of the most important; after all, without them, no one gets paid. What’s more, all customers are not created equal. Some are more profitable than others, and they’re not always who you think they are.