If you want to make 2018 your most successful year ever, it’s time to start planning for it. The end of the year is a perfect time to tie up loose ends, examine your business processes, and make concrete goals for the year ahead. This end of year checklist contains 18 simple things you can do in the weeks ahead to ensure that your business is primed for success in 2018. How many can you check off before January 1st?
Take Control of Your Inventory and Supply Chain
☐ Audit your vendors
Your cost of goods is one of the major contributing factors to your business’s financial health—and you have more control over it than you think. As the year draws to a close, reach out to your suppliers and negotiate for lower rates for the next year. (Read this article for some great tips on how to create leverage with your vendors.)
At the same time, invite other vendors to bid for your account and see if you can save money by switching suppliers. Reducing your prime cost by just a few percentage points can have a big impact on your 2018 profit.
☐ Collect any outstanding invoices and accounts receivables
Late-paying clients can wreak havoc on your working capital reserves. If you don’t already have a formal process for collecting on unpaid invoices, take some time to establish a game plan for when to follow-up with tardy clients, what to say in your collections emails, and the criteria you’ll use to escalate unpaid invoices to an attorney or third-party collections agency. Make it part of your weekly routine in 2018, and the additional effort will put more money back in your pocket.
☐ Cut down on your supply chain costs
How well do you know your “cost to serve”? Getting your product to your customers involves countless moving pieces, from transportation to storage to customer service, and ironing out inefficiencies can save a company between $2 million and 10 million per year. Here’s one easy way to start: Take a close look at how many “touches” your product goes through between the point of supply and the customer, and see if any can be simplified or eliminated altogether.
Get Your Taxes in Order
☐ Catch up on year-end payments
For business owners, “tax season” lasts all year. From sales taxes to unemployment taxes, entrepreneurs have a handful of monthly and quarterly tax obligations to deal with, and forgetting them in the rush of year-end activity can have harsh consequences. (For further reading: When Are Small Business Taxes Due?) Put those Q4/December payments on your schedule and start 2018 with a clean slate.
☐ Check for changes in tax law
Changes in tax law could have a huge impact on business owners in the coming year. Just as you wouldn’t want to be penalized for underpaying or missing payments, you also don’t want to strain your cash flow by overpaying based on an outdated understanding of your obligations. Keep an eye on the IRS’s Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center hub for the latest information.
☐ Search for every deduction and benefit you qualify for
Do you know how to calculate your home office deduction? Are you writing off business-related meals—even when you’re eating at your office? A little research into the deductions available to business owners can go a long way. We recommend reading our article 5 Small Business Tax Loopholes You Should Take Advantage Of, which runs down how to take advantage of S Corp status, state tax nexus rules, family income splitting, and other lesser-known tax benefits.
☐ Take advantage of small business tax credits
Another great way to minimize your tax burden is applying for as many business tax credits as you can. Tax credits are offered by the IRS to incentivize businesses for things like providing child care to your employees, making your business handicapped-accessible, and installing energy-friendly systems. Take a look at the current list of available business tax credits.
Get your accounting ready for the end of the year
☐ Assess Your Profit and Loss Statements
Your profit and loss statements are a great snapshot of your business’s performance. Assess your revenue, cost of revenues, and income from revenues. How does it compare to previous benchmarks? Do you expect these numbers to change between now and the end of the year? Are certain areas of your business underperforming? Are they overfunded relative to their return? You’ll need to make comparisons to previous dates in order assess performance. If you don’t have any benchmarks, establish them now. Lastly, don’t forget to revisit your P&L after your reconcile your bank accounts, receipts, etc. and throughout the following year.
☐ Organize your receipts and collect W-9s
Closing the books is a tedious task — the last thing your accountant wants to see is an unorganized pile of receipts (with many missing). Whether you utilize accounting software, an in-house team, or an external party, do them a favor and start collecting and organizing everything in advance.
If you’ve spent $600+ for goods or services from any vendor, you are legally obligated to issue and complete a 1099 form. The IRS gives you until January 31st to get this done, but you may want to prioritize this activity. The holiday season can be hectic and waiting until the new year to close last year’s books is a problem. Would you rather start off 2018 focused on growth initiatives, or closing last year’s books?
☐ Check payroll, verify benefits, and account for end-of-the-year extras
Many businesses feel blindsided by deferred compensation, fringe benefits, and end-of-the-year bonuses. For any taxable benefits your employees have received throughout the year, ensure that you have withheld taxes. Don’t forget to review sick days, PTO, and any deferred compensation. While some plan to take extra time off over the holidays, you may find yourself digging deeper into your pockets to cover the cost. There’s a lot to budget for before even thinking about end of the year bonuses.
Audit your digital footprint and communications
☐ Perform an SEO analysis
How visible is your website on search engines, when potential customers are searching for the kind of products and services you offer? Getting to the first page of Google doesn’t just happen—it takes a concerted, ongoing effort. If you’ve never made SEO a priority for your business, read our SEO for 2018 guide and start laying the foundation to draw lots more eyeballs to your site next year. You can also use a simple, free tool like seoptimer.com or The Hoth’s SEO Checker Audit Tool to get started.
☐ Compete locally
Speaking of Google, your Google My Business page is the first thing many consumers see when they try to find more information on your business, so make sure that yours features up-to-date information, positive reviews, and flattering photos. In addition, optimize your website content so that you outrank your local competitors for as many relevant keywords as possible.
☐ Check your site for broken links
Links that lead nowhere can be very frustrating to visitors, and broken images on your site make your business look unprofessional. What’s worse? Broken links negatively impact SEO. Before the new year kicks off, take a close look at all the most important pages of your website—your homepage, your product pages, the contact page, etc.—and make sure everything still works. Just one bad link could make a significant chunk of your website visitors bounce from the page and never return. Luckily, there are many free tools you can use to identify broken links.
☐ Optimize Your Social Profiles
While it’s debated whether or not links from social media influence search rankings, social profiles do show up in SERPs. Complete and thorough social profiles showcase your brand in a positive light, and duplicate or inaccurate listings can hinder your ability to rank. We aren’t saying you need an account for every platform — each profile is an additional responsibility that should be taken seriously. If they exist, they should be optimized. It only takes a few minutes and the potential benefits are massive.
Audit your technology and cybersecurity
☐ Assess Your Website’s Security
Cybersecurity is one of the largest concerns for small businesses in 2018. Is your information secure? What about your clients? If not, it’s time to purchase (or renew) an SSL certificate for your website to ensure an encrypted connection. This certificate protects both you and your users and has a positive impact on SEO. Contact your hosting company or webmaster and make the purchase — it’s that simple.
Are your files and website backed up? While you’re at it, you should ask that your website administrator backs up your website. If you’re managing your own site, there are many control panel tools and WordPress plugins that you can
☐ Clean up Your Shared Drive
Let’s be honest, most corporate shared servers are a mess. And what good is a shared drive if you can’t find what you need, when you need it? Cleaning up the drive may be a daunting task, but it lays the foundation for improved transparency and productivity. You’ll also free up serious room and save on costs.
Don’t have a shared drive? Take advantage of the clean start! Begin by mapping out the information architecture (folder hierarchy and user permissions). Next, adopt a file naming syntax to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Wait until both steps are completed to make your purchase —- Google and DropBox are great options.
Establish Your Goals for 2018
☐ Get SMART
Will 2018 be your “best year ever”? We certainly hope so — but your goals need to be more specific than that if you hope to succeed. When goal-setting for the year ahead, business owners should stick to SMART goals, which reflect these five characteristics:
– Specific (or Strategic): Which high-priority areas of improvement will you focus on?
– Measurable: What criteria will you be using to track your progress?
– Achievable: Is the goal challenging enough to inspire you, but not so lofty that it will be discouraging?
– Relevant (or Results-Oriented): Is this something that will actually matter to your business? Is the goal more about impact than effort?
– Time-bound: Does the goal have a deadline to ensure that it’s not neglected?
☐ Try a project-based approach
Another way you can improve your business’s productivity next year is using a project approach. That could include breaking down large initiatives into smaller “sprints,” or using project management software like Trello to track the progress of each task. This motivates your team by giving them more frequent feelings of accomplishment, and prevents them from being overwhelmed by the scope of what needs to be done.