Business, Entrepreneurship, Productivity, Success

Behind the Scenes: How to Use the Fourth Quarter

As the year comes rushing to a close, it is tempting to float through the last quarter. After a long year, some entrepreneurs simply hang on through October, November, and December, grateful to have survived. Others spend the fourth quarter playing catch-up because they failed to make a plan of action and are scrambling to meet their sales goals.

With a little preplanning, however, the fourth quarter can be one of the most successful seasons of your company’s year. Instead of starting the new year in a rush, use the last quarter of the year to review and recap the previous 12 months, while making a plan for the upcoming quarter and year.

In review

business resultsWant to get a clear idea of how well your business is doing? Review the wins of the last three months. What ideas worked during the last quarter, and which ones didn’t? What goals did you set as a company that should be carried over into the next quarter? It is tempting to focus only on the successes, but it is equally important to pay attention to the losses. What didn’t work the way you expected? Are there products or services that you need to discontinue?

In addition, a broader evaluation of failures or missteps over the past 12 months will help your team avoid the same mistakes in the future. Evaluate each department of your company, and ask for input from your employees to get a clear, honest picture of how your company is doing.

Give your goals priority.

Consider the goals you have for your company. Plan the upcoming year by determining which goals should be given priority. Rank the list in order of importance and then assign each item to a specific person.

Create accountability.

Once the individual goals have been assigned to staff members, establish a plan for accountability. Rather than waiting until the new quarter is almost over, establish weekly benchmarks for each employee. Break the goal down into individual milestones or steps to be completed. By allowing employees to work incrementally, they are more likely to stay on top of their workload, and are more likely to be successful in reaching their ultimate goal.

Measure the results.

Meet weekly to track the progress of team members as they work toward their goal. Making a chart that allows everyone to see exactly what progress has (or hasn’t) been made can be an effective motivational tool. In addition, a chart can also serve as an early warning tool and alert you to potential setbacks or failures that may keep you from reaching the goal. A chart should also demonstrate how each goal will help your company achieve its longer-term plans.

Ensure you have the people and supplies you need.  

Evaluate inventory levels, supply chains, vendors, and staffing levels to ensure you will be well-stocked and have everything you need for success in the new year. Look for weaknesses or any other problem areas that may be hindering your progress. Make changes as needed for the upcoming year.

Focus on your staff.

Have you identified areas where your staff may be weak? Offer training workshops to improve employee skills. Cover topics such as dealing with difficult customers, specific operational processes, communication, time management skills, or whatever topics are most relevant or needed.

In addition, you may wish to consider team-building events and outings. Even team lunches or happy hours can improve morale, make employees feel appreciated, and help them get along better with their coworkers. The holidays are also a great time to host a company party to celebrate the past year and acknowledge those employees who have gone above and beyond.

Review expenses.

Reviewing profit/loss statements, utility statements, and staffing reports can give you a clear indication of how your company is doing and highlight areas that may be problematic. Have your expenses increased unnecessarily? Do you see areas where you can cut back? Are there more economical options for some of your fixed costs? Make changes as needed to reduce expenses and increase profit margins.

The last quarter is a great time to evaluate the progress you’ve made during the year. As an entrepreneur, it is easy to get discouraged by looking at the things that you didn’t accomplish. However, it is important, particularly at the end of the quarter as you’re considering the upcoming year, to remember that you have already accomplished more than most people. Many people dream of becoming an entrepreneur; few take the necessary steps to make it happen.

So, while the year may not have gone the way you envisioned, the future is still brimming with opportunity. Celebrate your success, learn from your mistakes, and plan for your future. As the year draws to a close, remind yourself of the lessons you’ve learned and take those lessons with you into the coming year.