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End-of-Year 'Must-Dos' For Small Business Owners

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All year long you've been leading and managing your company toward achieving the objectives and goals you set. Suddenly, December is here and 2013 is right around the corner.

With a little focused thought, the last month of 2012 can be the most valuable one, says Bill McBean, partner and chairman of Our-Mentors, a company that works with owners to improve their businesses for long-term success, and author of '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 do some end-of-the-year reflection and some forward planning." 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.

He offers some 'must-dos' to tackle before the end of the year:

The Post-Mortem

The first step is to hold a 2012 post-mortem which includes analyzing whether you've been an effective leader. "This is a good chance to gauge the effectiveness of your leadership," he says. "Good leadership begins with defining the destination and direction of the company and deciding how the business should look and operate when it arrives."

Ask yourself if your business had a successful year. What did it do well? What could it have done better? Where are the future opportunities? Once answered, 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.

Examine The System

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 that your business has fallen into bad habits that hinder success. "If you're not controlling your procedures and processes, you don't really 'own' your business," says McBean. "You're just a spectator watching others play with your money."

Say Thanks

Customers are an important asset to protect, says McBean. "Once you've identified your VIPs, create ways to enrich the relationship and continually create added value for them. Obviously, saying thank you doesn't hurt.

Your other asset is your employees. A quick end-of-year, one-on-one conversation can help you shore up relationships, challenge low performers to do better, and reward and re-recruit your highest performers. "The idea is to show employees that you recognize and appreciate their contributions," says McBean.

Review Your Marketing

Are you marketing aggressively enough? Are you targeting the best possible markets and customers? Might a customer reward program improve repeat purchases? "Many companies see marketing as an expense, but it's actually an investment and deserves your focused attention. A mistake business people make is marketing with measurement.

Meet With Key Advisors

The perspective of your accountant and other key advisors can be extremely useful. Planning for a future you can't predict is part of a business owner's job and these advisors can help you gather the information needed to get the 'lay of the land,' says McBean.

Kick Off Your Mission

When tough times and financial uncertainty loom, it's always a good idea to have some cash on hand. One of the best ways to create cash is to find added gross profit and, at the same time, cut some expenses. McBean recommends asking yourself what mistakes were made last year, how you can avoid them next year, and what can be done to build up the cash cushion that might help get through any market corrections or uncertainty.

Set Realistic Goals

Aim high, says McBean. Don't be lulled into complacency or let the continued talk of doom and gloom handcuff you. You might be okay now, but you have to keep pushing the market. Successful owners know they have to fight not only to win market share, but to retain it as well. "The marketplace is a war zone. You must develop a warrior mentality and maintain it for as long as you're at the head of your business."

 To succeed and to stay successful, companies must be 'on their game' 24/7. "Being an owner has its ups and downs, just like most things in life. But it can be an immensely rewarding career, especially if you do a yearly check-up and prepare yourself and your business by building on the success of 2012 and preparing yourself and your business for 2013 and beyond.