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Take Some “Think Time” This Holiday Season

by Cynthia Kay

There is no doubt about it. Everyone is in holiday mode. Clients are busy trying to wrap up their year-end and are pressing with last minute requests before budgets disappear. There are extended vacations. There are stops and starts because Christmas and the New Year fall within the week. Let’s face it… it is a wonder anything can get done. Staying productive during this or any holiday season requires a huge effort- especially for service businesses. However, that does not mean that you can’t get meaningful work done. We are using the holiday season as a time to analyze the business from the inside out. Here are a few ideas you might want to consider.

Review Business Records and Documents

When was the last time you reviewed your employee handbook? Each year there are lots of changes to federal, state and local laws.  Are you conducting background checks, drug testing? There may be local or state laws with which you must comply. Not to mention, you may have had a great deal of change to your business. There are countless things that impact your company policies and need to be addressed in an employee handbook. Many small businesses do not have an HR department. I don’t, so I rely on an attorney who specializes in HR to do this work. But, it’s up to me to communicate with my employees and be sure that they are aware of and have signed acceptance of the employee handbook.

My good friends at the Small Business Association of Michigan have compiled a great year-end HR compliance checklist that might help.

This is also a good time to review agreements with customers and suppliers. While many contracts are up for renewal the first of the year, there are others that should be reviewed periodically. Get a handle on agreements with suppliers and look to see if they are performing well.

Operations

When it comes to operations, it’s easy for small business owners to consider themselves minor players. Because they’re small, they think they don’t need the systems, procedures and safeguards that huge companies do. Actually, it is very important for small businesses to have these systems, since there are fewer people to shoulder the work.

Have you automated systems? Geared up for electronic invoicing? Tried to “get lean?” This is a wonderful time to look at the areas of your business where you are experiencing a bottleneck or wasted time.  You don’t need to do a big study. You could sit down with employees, ask questions and brainstorm solutions.

Have you documented your procedures? If not, the quiet time between the holidays is a great time to get started on this or review procedures to see if they need to be updated. Sure, it’s not the most interesting work but it can save you a lot of headaches and it seems like there is never time to do this detailed work when you are busy.

Review Facilities

Over the years studies by architectural firms and furniture manufacturers have shown that the physical environment has a significant impact on business success.  Businesses with great environments generally have higher profits, better employee engagement and a stronger brand. Is your facility working for you? Does the current physical structure work? If not, can it be changed to meet the needs of the work flow? Does the furniture support your technology? Here’s one we are working on- removing and recycling all of the old technology and devices that have been cluttering up the building. It’s amazing how much space you have when you get rid of old equipment. We are also looking at reconfiguring some of our office space to provide some additional workstations to accommodate interns that will start n the new year.

Communications and Marketing

Do a review of your communication plan and marketing efforts for the new year. This is an area that needs constant attention. You don’t want to just keep doing the same thing year after year. You might see that it is time to revamp your materials. You could research innovative ideas and get ahead on blogs or other marketing and PR efforts.

It is easy to get pulled in many directions when you run a small business. Take some time during the holiday slow-down to do some of the things that require “think time.” Holidays are stressful both personally and professionally, but we still need to be productive. It’s not too late to get a plan in place so that you can get the work done… and still celebrate the season.

 

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