As a small-business owner, you may feel like a Scrooge if you require extra diligence from your employees during the holiday season. But slow periods at the office or on the manufacturing floor can provide the distraction-free space and creative energy to tackle simple projects with significant payback.
Focus on some, or all, of these 10 activities, which don’t require long hours but can position your company for higher profits and better productivity.
1. Develop reports. Throughout the year, you may scramble to gather information needed to make tactical decisions. As a result, you're unable to react quickly to customer needs or changes in business conditions. For example, you may be able to capture more sales if you had better access to customers’ purchasing patterns and company inventory levels.
Take the time to design reports and spreadsheets that can give you the information needed to analyze, plan and manage day-to-day activities more efficiently, and at a glance.
2. Evaluate vendors. In the typical rush to negotiate prices, place a purchase order and verify compliance with specifications so you can serve your customers, evaluating vendors falls to the bottom of the priority list.
Use this downtime to consider whether your vendors' service levels, product quality and pricing are improving or deteriorating. Use past performance as a guide, and make decisions for the upcoming year. Determine whether to fortify partnerships with top performers, more clearly convey requirements to underperformers or search for new vendors that can more effectively serve the company.
3. Finalize capital purchases. If you're planning to make a major purchase soon, consider buying before the end of the year. Capital expenditures that meet qualifications can be deducted in entirety, reducing your tax liability for this year.
4. De-clutter office and digital space. Year-end is appropriate for tidying the office or production floor, especially if you struggle to find time for such tasks during your busy season.
Toss dated materials, organize files, create new real-life or virtual folders, archive records and reassign storage space based on current priorities.
5. Collect outstanding bills. The de-cluttering process may allow you to uncover some unpaid invoices. Now is a great time to collect these outstanding bills.
Prepare and send invoices for orders shipped or services provided during the year; finish projects that may have been delayed so you can collect final payment; or call the customer to determine why a payment has not been received.
6. Evaluate, test, and deploy new technology. Even if there aren't enough man-hours to evaluate, test and deploy a major system, you should have free moments to tackle smaller projects or portions of larger ones.
Ask employees about system features that will improve customer service; investigate project tracking, reporting, and billing systems; learn about traffic analytics; or train staff members to use a new reporting tool.
7. Introduce wellness programs. Sync the launch of wellness initiatives with your employees’ desires to improve their health. Many will be making New Year’s resolutions to get more exercise, eat healthier and improve health measures such as BMI, blood pressure readings, cholesterol and glucose levels.
Introduce programs, such as walking groups and healthier options in the break room, at a time when employees will be most likely to embrace new habits.
8. Develop an editorial calendar. Generating great online content is time consuming and can be paralyzing if you try to do it when your schedule is packed. Meetings with key accounts take precedence over tweeting, and before you know it, you haven't updated in weeks, and when you do, it feels futile.
Create an editorial calendar with key categories, topics to be covered and schedules. Solidifying the process helps streamline the content development and forces you to set goals and define the results you expect for these outreach efforts.
9. Document lessons learned. Reflect on the successes and the difficulties of the year. Describe the hopes, challenges, setbacks and proud moments.
Document what you learned that will help you implement programs, reach customers, deepen relationships, increase profits and accomplish more next year.
10. Set strategic direction. Having reflected on the past, you're ready to dream about the future. Consider next steps for the business, such as whether to tweak business processes or make dramatic changes; add new product lines or discontinue old ones; find better ways to reach, engage and serve current customers or pursue a new customer segment.
Establish or update your company’s strategic plan, and share with your employees. Get everyone on the same page.
Such projects and tasks typically require concentrated effort and time that may not be available on a regular basis. Use the holiday slowdown to make decisions and take actions that will have a positive, long-term impact on your business. You’ll feel energized and get more done during the busy times of year.
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Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.