Here are some top tips from FreeAgent’s Head of SME Engagement, Matt Perkins, to help you brush up some important parts of your business so that you’ll be set for fresh new growth in the months ahead.
Update your business plan
When you first had your business idea, you would (hopefully!) have drawn up a business plan, visualising how your business would develop. This would have included who your customers would be and how your operations would work – for example where the business would be based and who it would buy any goods and services from – as well as how much you expected to sell, and how much profit you estimated you’d make.
The start of a new year is a good time to review that plan and see how relevant it still is, and update it if necessary. Are you planning to take your business into a new market, for example by selling offline as well as online, selling to overseas customers, or bringing out a new product or service? Will there be changes to your operations, such as moving from a base at home to an office or other workspace? Are you still buying from the same suppliers? All of these factors could affect what you need to include in your updated business plan so that it’s as helpful for you as possible.
You should also look back over your numbers for the last couple of years and see if your forecasts are still accurate – for example, whether you had an extra cost you hadn’t planned for, or made more or fewer sales than you anticipated – and if not, update them in your business plan.
Review your social media profiles
Social media is a great way to engage with customers and get useful exposure for your brand but that doesn’t mean that your business needs to have a presence on every single platform. For every post that proves popular on Facebook, you may have a dozen others on Google+ or Instagram that are doing nothing for you.
Take some time to delve through the metrics of your social channels and see which ones are performing well and where the tumbleweed is. Most platforms have useful analytics available for free to do this, but you may choose to use cloud tools like SproutSocial, Hootsuite and Rival IQ for deeper metrics. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to prune out everything that sucks up your time but doesn’t deliver any results for your business, leaving you with a core group of profiles to focus on.
Brush up your business books
Bookkeeping isn’t the most exciting thing about running a small business, but it’s nevertheless one of the most important tasks to stay on top of. Without up-to-date information about how much you’re spending, how much tax you owe and which clients haven’t paid you, you’ll never know exactly how your overall finances are performing or be able to make informed decisions about where to take your business next.
Poor bookkeeping is often down to poor organisation, so if you tend to wait for months before updating your accounts – or stash your expense receipts in a carrier bag or shoebox and only get round to processing them when doing your tax return – perhaps you could implement a more effective set up. If you hate spreadsheets, try looking at cloud accounting software instead and find a specific system that’s designed for your type of business.
Above all, make sure that “doing the books” becomes a regular part of your weekly business routine. Blocking out an hour a week and using it to reconcile your bank transactions, chase up invoices and log expenses will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
Review your customer list
Remember that not every customer will necessarily be beneficial for your business. There will sometimes be one who, for example, never settles their bill on time, is overly critical and nitpicky with the small details or who you just don’t especially like working with.
By reviewing your customer list you’ll be able to identify these potentially problematic customers and, assuming your business can afford it, you may then choose to politely ask them to find an alternative company to work with. You’ll also be able to highlight the great customers that you love working with, who you can then ask to refer friends to your business.
Review your supplier list
It’s not just your customer list that is worth reviewing. Take a look at your suppliers too and see whether any of them are not performing as well they should be. For example, do you work with a courier company that is routinely late when making deliveries to your business? Does your broadband provider fail to provide you with adequate coverage or service speeds? Does your bank keep introducing new service charges or other fees?
Once you’ve identified any issues with your suppliers, consider your next steps: you might want to raise the issue with the supplier directly and ask them to resolve it or you may prefer to choose an alternative company to work with.
Matt Perkins is Head of SME Engagement at FreeAgent, which provides multi-award winning cloud accounting software for freelancers, contractors and micro-businesses. Try it for free at www.freeagent.com