Small Business and Startups: End-of-Year Mishegoss, 2011 Version

For those of you unfamiliar with Yiddish, the word ‘mishegoss’ is defined as craziness or senseless activity, and as small business-people we can certainly relate to that concept, particularly as the holidays loom and the year comes to an end. Of course, every small business is unique and every business owner has their own priorities for operating their venture, but there are many things that each has in common and the scramble at the end of the year is one of those. Bonuses and raises to consider for the new year, tax prep to accomplish for the accountants, gifts and cards for your best clients – these are the little chores that every business owner carries out during these waning days of autumn.

Some of us may already have these tasks checked these off the list, and others among us will no doubt procrastinate and not carry through until in the grip of a post-New Years-champagn-hangover, but sooner or later you will have to deal with the drudgery. I had planned a list of 12 tasks, one for each of the 12 days of Christmas, but could only come up with 8. So, in honor of the the 8 nights of Hanukkah (and in the spirit of Yiddishisms), I have put together a list of the 8 things you should be doing (or at least thinking about) over the next couple of weeks as the holidays approach.

1. Plan ahead. A new year is the perfect metaphor for a strategic assessment and a great opportunity to rethink your approach to the business. Make some time this month to review your current goals, strategies, and tactics. Look hard at the data and be ready to discontinue the efforts that are not paying off, renew the ones that are, and come up with some great ideas for new efforts for next year. Holiday time is also a great time to do some reading and there are a ton of great business books out there which will surely get your juices flowing and help you to generate some new ideas for your own business.

2. Review the team. Most companies use the evaluation process to determine bonuses and salary increases and December is the perfect time to sit with each member of the team and spend some time discussing their performance, contribution to the company, and personal/professional development. There are numerous methods to use for your employee review and each has it’s advantages, but on a practical level, most small companies approach this process as a simple conversation. My best advice is to take some time beforehand to prepare; for each member of the team write a list of the things they did well and the things they did poorly. Reflect on the employee’s overall contribution, their growth in terms of skills and abilities, and how they work with the rest of the team. Be honest in your feedback and identify areas for improvement and goals for the coming year. Be sure to write these down as they will serve as a guide for next year’s evaluation.

3. Arrange for time off. Holiday time is friends and family time and many folks at work will want to take some extra time to spend with theirs. Be as flexible with work schedules as you can and be prepared to give your people some extra time to enjoy the season. While our office is typically open the week between Christmas and New Years, we tend to encourage people to work from home that week, or otherwise limit their time in the office. This is a wonderful ‘gift’ in itself and the goodwill will mre than make up for the lost hours for that one week of the year. Not to mention that people come back after the holidays with batteries fully recharged and their attitudes happily mellowed.

4. Prep for the accountant. Well tax tie is here again! Not really, but it is just around the corner and now is a great time to get organized for the hand off that will happen early next year. Make sure your accounts are up to date, that your reconciliations are done through November, and that your income and expenses are correctly booked. It is a smart practice to send your Quickbooks, Freshbooks, or other financial file to the accountant this month and let her have a look. This way she can give you any notes,ask any questions, or make any changes ahead of time and eliminate the scramble that often accompanies the April 15th rush.

5. Party. Be sure to spend some time this month having fun with the team as well as their spouses and families. Great teams are usually made up of people who truly enjoy one another’s company and leisure time together strengthens those bonds. I had a great conversation about this recently with the president of a bank here in Chicago, and he shared an insight that resonated. He told me that since his bank started a tradition of family-style holiday parties, employee retention had increased along with overall job satisfaction. His point? It’s a lot harder to leave a job when you have strong relationships with your fellow  workers; and when your kids are attached to the other worker’s kids its harder yet.

6. Investor updates. If you have investors (as many of us do), the end of the year is a great time to communicate to them your accomplishments in the year past as well as your plans for the year to come. More than anything, investors hate to be kept in the dark, and holiday time is a perfect opportunity to bring them up to speed. Invite them to drop by for a meal or a drink – remember these relationships are as important to the operation of your business as any you may have.

7. Appreciation your customers. Just as end-of-year-time is when you say think you to your workers, it should also be time to say thank you to your clients and customers. Some of us have tens of thousands of customers while others have only a handful, but now is the time to send out a card, or an email to let them know how much you appreciate their business and their trust is you. Invite a few key customers out for a drink, or have them over for a meal – these relationships are critical to your company and now is the time to acknowledge that.

8. Clean up your space. Mom used to do this in the Spring, But I argue that now is the time to do some tidying up around work. Get rid of the junk paper that’s piled up, dump the moldy leftovers from the fridge, and de-junk a few desk drawers. You will feel better, your workspace will look better, and you will be able to start the new year with renewed focus and fewer distractions when your environment is in apple-pie order.