It happens every year. I start out with good intentions of making sure I have time for mid-year planning but things just seem to move too quickly and before I know it the year has passed and I have to scramble. This year I made a conscious effort to do a mid-year business check-up and change my approach.
When you a run a small business it is easy to be so involved in the day to day work that you simply don’t have the time to think. But if you break down your operation into a few “big buckets” then it makes the job easier. Here are a few thoughts.
Employees: There is nothing you can do that will yield more results than spending some time with employees. In the past I waited to do all the reviews and meetings in a block of time. Frankly, that is why it took so long to get scheduled. After I finished the last round of reviews I decided to plan a little time every few months to meet with employees, one-on one. I started to schedule a coffee or lunch. At first, they were suspicious. What was the agenda? There was no agenda. It was just a time to connect and hear their thoughts. I have come away with a few things that I can do immediately to improve the operation.
Customers: We do a lot to stay in contact with customers but it is hard to have a good substantive conversation with each and every one of them. I picked four customers from which to solicit feedback. I made an effort to really diversify the group based upon size of the account, type of work and project. I also wanted customers that we had worked with recently and others that have not been in our door for a while. Similar to the meeting with employees, I have scheduled casual lunches or drinks and spent time just talking about their needs. I also shared some of the trends we have been seeing in corporate communications which might be useful to them.
Operations: I have a great team of outside professionals that I access to help with planning and decision making. They include my accountant, business lawyer, insurance professional and IT company. In the past I would meet with these professionals once a year now I connect more frequently. These are areas where it is easy to have problems which become costly if you don’t catch them early. In addition to a monthly visit, the IT company also has remote access and sometimes fixes issues before we even know they exist. I try not to make huge operational changes mid-year but this year I did. We decided to implement a new project management system which tracks every job from the initial quote right through to invoicing. While doing the changeover mid-year might seem like a bad idea it has actually been good. If we had tried to do a hard changeover of systems at year-end we would not have been able to run the old and new system simultaneously for a period of time. This helped us be sure that we worked out the bugs and were comfortable with the new technology.
Marketing: This is an area that needs constant attention. You don’t want to just keep doing the same thing year after year. We have ramped up our marketing and PR efforts. This year we bought a package that provides the ability to send press releases, synchronize social media, manage marketing campaigns and get some consulting. We are in the process of reviewing this to see if it is worth continuing or if we should revise our plan.
It is easy to get pulled in many directions when you run a small business. That’s why it is good to take the time to do a mid-year business check-up so your company stays healthy.