From revenue and expenses to personal satisfaction and social media successes, it's important to closely look at what went right and what didn't for your business in 2018.
The end of the year is the perfect time to give your small business a checkup. To set yourself up for a successful 2019, take a look at these 10 areas of your small business, from revenue and expenses to your personal satisfaction as a business owner.
1. Revenue trends
The first and obvious starting point is whether your small business made a profit. If you did, that's excellent. Examine your revenue streams to find out what's working, where you could diversify or expand your offerings and how your customers' needs might change in the coming year.
If you recently started your business and your expenses are still outstripping your profits, that's not uncommon. Many small businesses take a few years to become profitable. The key metric you'll want to look at is the revenue trend: Is your revenue increasing or decreasing? Are you reaching customers who are willing to spend on what you offer? Are your sales inconsistent or declining?
If you aren't making a profit and your revenue trends are negative or inconsistent, plan on making changes in the next year. Analyze what you are offering, what customers you want to target and how you are marketing in order to start making a profit from your small business.
2. Marketing successes (and failures)
You should be keeping records of your various marketing streams, including direct advertising, media appearances, email and search engine traffic. This is the time of year to sit down go through those records and discover where you were and were not successful.
Did you only send out a few emails this year but get a strong response from each one? Then it's time to create a strategic email plan for next year. Did your blog bring reliable search engine traffic to your site? You'll want to continue investing time and resources into it. Did you buy print ads but not see any increase in customer interest? Put your money somewhere else next year. Examine the return on investment for every form of marketing that you use to decide what you need to continue and what you need to change in the coming year.
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A strong website is key to having a successful small business. Even if you are running a brick-and-mortar store, your website is where most customers will find information about your business, services and availability. But what makes a website strong at the beginning of the year may not be the same by the time December rolls around.
Customers expect your website to keep up with advances in design, mobile responsiveness, security and speed. All of these features will require periodic updates to your website design. You'll also need to update your website's content to keep up with changes to your business and services, search engine optimization, competition within your industry and your marketing plan.
Some years, your website may only need a few small tweaks to content or design. Other years, you may find yourself in need of a full overhaul, especially if customers are bouncing off your website before making a purchase, contacting you for more information or signing up for your email list.
If you are unsure what needs to be updated, contact a content writer or web designer that you trust. Most of them will be willing to provide an assessment of your website's strengths and weaknesses for a small fee.
4. Social media
Business social media accounts all come with analytics that go far beyond the number of followers and how many times you were retweeted. These metrics allow you to assess how you are reaching and engaging your audience, as well as converting that audience into customers.
Set aside time to go through your analytics to assess what is and is not working for your business. You may find that you need to invest more time on a platform that you were previously ignoring, or you may discover that one channel isn't creating any return on investment, and you can stop making so much effort there.
Use what you find to create a concrete social media plan for the next year rather than trying to spread yourself too thin without understanding the results.
5. Business expenses
You'll need to have all your business expenses recorded, categorized and backed up by receipts and invoices when it's time to file taxes next year (and if some of those expenses are contractors, then you'll need them in January when it's time to send out 1099 forms). But sorting through these expenses before the end of the year doesn't just save you time during tax season.
When you go through your business expenses, you'll also put together a picture of the results of that spending. Did you pay for advertising that didn't bring in any new customers? Skimp on a website redesign that lowered your website's bounce rate? Was your virtual assistant a good investment that saved you time and improved your productivity?
As you go through each business expense, analyze the cost and the results. This will let you know where you need to spend more and where you should cut back next year.
6. Employee satisfaction
If your small business has employees, performance reviews are a useful tool for assessing their work and potential for advancement. But you should also use reviews to assess how satisfied employees are with their jobs, management and work environment.
How employees feel about their work and work environment is a strong barometer of your business' well-being and future success. Employees who are unsatisfied with their career growth or workplace culture are more likely to interact poorly with customers or leave prematurely, both of which can cost your business.
Ask employees about factors like their career goals, growth within the business, and how well they feel their work has been recognized. Depending on the size of your business and your relationship with your employees, you may find one-on-one reviews more productive, or you may be able to encourage more honesty through anonymous surveys.
If multiple employees mention problem areas, such as work overload or lack of career growth options, then you likely have structural issues in your small business that need to be addressed in the coming year. Consider what changes you can make that will strengthen your business and keep your employees happy at work.
7. Management and leadership
Poor leadership is one of the top causes of employee burnout, and ineffective management can lead to high employee turnover, an unhealthy work environment, inefficient work, poor professional relationships, and lost revenue. The main cause of poor management is simple: Most managers never receive leadership training.
To ensure that your company is functioning at the top level possible, review leadership skills with your management team and find out whether they feel properly equipped to lead their team. If managers – including you – haven't received any formal training, set aside time and resources in the next year to educate them on leadership and team-building skills rather than simply expecting them to learn on the job.
8. Yearly goals
If you did achieve your business goals this year, reward yourself and any employees who were instrumental in making that happen before moving on to setting next year's goals. Rewards are a strong motivator, even if we're giving them to ourselves. If you made partial progress, acknowledge that positively, then assess whether the goals were achievable, or if you should set more realistic objectives for next year.
If you didn't make progress on your goals over the course of the year, lost track of what you were working toward or didn't have any objectives in the first place, now is a good time to start thinking about what you want to achieve in the next year. Set concrete goals with defined action steps, and choose a method for tracking progress toward those goals. If you aren't sure where to begin, get back to basics with a vision statement to understand the core of your business and what you want to work toward.
9. Learning and growth
To help your business grow, you need to be growing too. The end of the year is an excellent time to pinpoint areas where you need to learn and grow as a business person.
From learning another language to taking courses on marketing, studying management to learning how to give an excellent presentation, make a commitment to learning at least one new skill every year. You'll improve your ability to run a successful business, uncover new opportunities and encourage your employees to do the same.
10. Personal satisfaction
Finally, check in with yourself. If you are healthy and happy with the work you are doing, then your business is probably in great shape. But if you are feeling burned out, then regardless of your business's profits or progress, it's time to reassess.
Take a look at the work you take on, the clients you interact with and your relationship with your employees. Should you delegate more responsibilities? Stop offering a service that leaves you drained and unhappy? Partner with a charity to start making a difference in your community? Consider a rebrand? Get feedback from other business owners? Take an honest look at what parts of your business leave you energized and which ones make you unhappy.
As an owner, you are the foundation of your small business, and your personal satisfaction, along with your physical and mental well-being, is vital to the health of your company.