If you are feeling strangled by your electronic tethers, disconnect and try all or some of these five things to end 2010 on a super positive note.
1. Review all your customer accounts to zero in on who owes you money—and how much. Your mission is to get some money in the door—or prepare to write it off as a loss. Once you’ve made the list of deadbeats, dust off the company letterhead or make some by cutting and pasting a company logo onto a blank word document. Do not do this task via email. If you want to really get someone’s attention send certified letters that require a signature. Here’s a sample collections letter:
“We truly value your business and look forward to serving you next year. However, it has come to our attention that you owe us $_____ for ___________. We are prepared to offer you a __% discount on the balance due if you submit payment via check, cash or credit card within the next 72 hours. If you are unable to settle your account, we may not be able to serve you in the future.”
Remember, if the account has been overdue for months, you have nothing to lose. The company will either pay up, send a partial payment (which is better than nothing), or be tossed into your “write it off and move on” pile. Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. You are in business to make money, not provide charity. If you don’t accept credit cards, set up a merchant account. It will instantly improve your cash flow.
2. Ask your employees what kind of equipment, technology or tools they need. Most employees would rather have a new computer or phone than a small cash bonus, according to personnel expert and author Dr. Bob Nelson. Buying stuff has other advantages. In 2010, Uncle Sam (and Congress) permuted business owners to expense up to $500,000 in equipment purchases (that includes vehicles). With tech prices at all time lows (except for Apple products), it’s time to hit the stores before Dec. 31st. (Note: I recommend shopping in a store—not online—so you can play with the all new toys before buying them).
3. Plan a holiday open house. I know times have been tough, but it’s time to celebrate the fact you are still in business. Pick up soft drinks, beer and wine. Order simple, tasty party food from a local restaurant. Ask if anyone on your staff would like to bake a batch of their favorite holiday treats. (Offer to pay for the ingredients). Then, use the party as an excuse to clean up the office. Hire a professional crew to do the heavy stuff (like shampooing the rugs and scrubbing the bathrooms). Ask everyone to toss out all the junk they’ve collected and tidy up their work areas. Decorate the office with green plants, evergreens and poinsettias.
4. Beat the Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa rush by sending Thanksgiving cards. Paper cards (not e-cards) show appreciation for your customers as the year winds down. After mailing out the cards (check out www.sendoutcards.com), figure out if it’s possible to shut down between Christmas and New Year’ Day. Unless you run a retail store, restaurant, hotel, emergency clinic or bakery, consider giving everyone a few extra days off—with pay.
5. Make a list of New Year’s resolutions. Take a long walk and think about what went wrong and how you can make 2011 a better year. Promise me you’ll eliminate toxic employees or customers from your life. My motto is this: never work with anyone who gives you a headache or a stomach ache. Period. Why tolerate lazy or incompetent employees when there are millions of great and talented people looking for work? Be sure to consult an experienced labor lawyer before you fire anyone. If it’s time to let go of a toxic customer, refer them to another company. And, remind yourself there aren’t really bad people—just people who are a bad fit.
Jane Applegate is the author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by John Wiley & Sons. The fully revised third edition will be out in 2011. Applegate is a speaker for the Bloomberg Financial Forum and an event producer and strategic marketing consultant for big and small companies. Contact: www.theapplegategroup.com.