Get Started on the Right Foot This Year
The new year has finally been ushered in; holiday madness is starting to mellow out, and everyone is starting to look towards the next few quarters. While it might be tempting to jump into this year head-first, it’s in your company’s best interest to pause for reflection and to plan for the months ahead.
As we move forward with the checklist, try not to get overwhelmed – this is an exciting time for you and your business! Any company that has the opportunity to reflect on a year and plan foranother is doing something right. When we refer to the term audit, we simply mean that youshould use a fine-tooth comb to examine every detail of a process or collective.
Sure, this might take you some time; however, at the end of the checklist you will feel more up-to-date and synchronized with your company’s health and it’s areas for improvement. Set yourself up for success by planning an end of year meeting – here, you can delegate tasks outto employees, the technical department, or an outside source.
1 – Prepare for Taxes
The beginning of the year is difficult for all businesses and employers; it’s a time for precision and, possibly, holding your breath as you await a potentially random audit. One of the most important things to be aware of for tax season is that you simply need to be prepared in advance – the best thing you can do is have paid close attention in the previous twelve months!
Regardless of how effective your expense tracking was last year, you’re still in for some work in the weeks ahead; accept it, and muster up your greatest task-busting motivation.
Verify Incomes and Expenses
Take a look through the books and make separate sheets for incomes and expenses. If your books are already organized this way, it’s time to run through and verify purchases, receipts, payments, and any other financial documentation. Try to maintain a complete log of payments, stubs, and receipts throughout the year that way this task isn’t insurmountable come tax season.
Collect Bank and Card Statements
Depending on how diverse your banking information is, this may take some time. If multiple employees have company cards, for example, you could delegate this task to them – ask each employee to receive their own card statements from the previous year and have them to you by a certain date. You may even wish to hire a financial advisor or tax assistant to help you with any of the tasks you don’t have time for – outsourcing is often difficult for small business owners, but it can save you valuable time that you will need for more important tasks.
Verify all Accounting Procedures
While not entirely necessary for filing taxes for the previous year, this self-performed audit can help identify any issues or loopholes in your financial wellness. Plan a meeting to refresh your employees on the steps required for payments, expenses, and funding. If everyone is clear on the process, there’s less room for error in the future! Unfortunately for you, any missed steps in your dedicated financial procedure can result in books that look sloppy, or worse, altered.
Develop an Audit Report
At the end of this self-drafted audit, you’ll have completely combed your financial department. It’s best to keep copies of your notes from this process, along with any spreadsheets you were working with; print out a copy and store it in a file folder or binder. These documents may be necessary within the following year as you refer to increasing budgets or cutting back on spending. At the end of the day, you used time building this report for your knowledge – keep it somewhere safe and accessible.
2 – Catalog Hardware
Whether we realize it or not, our businesses could not run smoothly without hardware; even a market gardener relies on hoes and a farmstand to make a profit. Just because it isn’t technology, doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall into this category. Think outside the box when you work through this area of your business.
Update, Repair, Replace, Maintain
Think about the hardware that is central to your company’s proper functioning. A thorough inspection of these items should be performed more than once a year, depending on the hardware, but the beginning of a new year is a great time to refresh your confidence in the equipment you use every day.
Keep in mind that this hardware is important for your enterprise’s ability to stay competitive; if you have the budget for it, upgrades should always be considered at the beginning of a new year. Even if you simply compare prices and create a goal for the year to (for example) replace five technical support workstations, you’ve at least given thought to the state of your most important equipment. It’s better to keep things up-to-date and avoid problems rather than chase your tail as hardware fails on you.
Maintenance is a major part of proper hardware function – there should already be systems in place to maintain and clean hardware, but now’s the time to evaluate whether your maintenance schedule was sufficient. Perhaps you need to ask your IT department to do a routine check of all workstations every quarter rather than six months this year. After all, if you don’t know there’s a problem, you can’t fix it; with hardware, this can escalate quickly.
Usage as Intended
Employees are, unfortunately, notorious for misusing hardware – whether their intent was misplaced or not, the outcome is always the same. You may decide what groundwork you wish to lay for your own business, but some corporations request that personal devices not be used for work and work devices not be for personal use. Perhaps you can transition workstations to an intranet or use virtual machines; speak with your IT director for ideas that suit your needs.
3 – Software Audit
This process will be mostly the same as the hardware audit above. While it may be completely possible to perform both a hardware and software audit simultaneously, we recommend keeping them separate. Software tends to misbehave in different ways than hardware does, and can require more elaborate fixes.
Installations and Purchases
Software is usually purchased outright or subscription-based; for example, your antivirus software for all workstations would likely be a yearly, bi-yearly, or tri-yearly subscription. Keeping tabs on when programs were purchased for each machine can help you predict the yearly cost for this department. Any purchase should be logged under expenses, but it’s helpful to keep software expenses tallied separately, or at least categorized properly in your spreadsheet for the year.
As mentioned before, some software is subscription-based – this may require annual renewals at different times of the year for different programs. Consider keeping a digital calendar for any renewals that you are aware of; ask employees to inform you whenever they add any subscriptions so that you can stay on top of these recurring transactions. In addition, gathering this information may help you see that there is a way to cut costs. For example, if five employees are using the same anti-virus, look into getting a package deal for five workstations (rather than paying five individual subscriptions). Furthermore, if this is an area you had not yet considered offering for the whole team, look into bulk offers that you can ask everyone to use. This can save you money in the long run.
Is There Something Better?
It’s the beginning of the year, and you’re starting to analyze the productivity of employees, as well. One of the most important things your employees use on a daily basis is the software that’s in front of them – who knows it better than them? Take some time to chat with team leads or moderately-productive members of your staff. Is there any tool, used daily, that could use improvement or upgrading? You can ask this very same question about the hardware your team is using!
As a business owner, you already have a lot of tasks and loose ends on your plate; it’s an impossible job for one person to manage all by himself – as we’re sure you’re aware. Technology can be a huge help for all of those small tasks that take up your time. Consider software like customer relations management and calendar applications that can send reminders for appointments and upcoming renewals. Your time is money, and so is your employees’ time; anything you can do to cut down on menial tasks will help you save in the long run. Automation can help you and your staff to focus on the more important things.
4 – Fail-Test Your Data Recovery
If your business relies heavily on stored data, whether that’s on local machines or on a server, data recovery is a must. As you’re likely already aware, redundancy is imperative for a recovery plan; if you have an IT specialist helping you to manage your backed-up data, this might already be planned for and covered. It’s always best to check, though, that systems are in place to check and cross-check your fail-safes.
Update, Optimize, Cross-Check
Either perform these checks yourself or ask your IT director to take care of these things for you. You’ll want to update any firmware for drives and software for backup programs; you also will need to optimize local drives, defragmenting as necessary. Cross-check active data with local and external backups (you should have both an on-site backup and an off-site backup). Do new backups need to be run? Should you be scheduling more frequent snapshots of your data? Ask yourself how much progress you would be willing to lose in the event of a data loss – if the answer is none, you may need to run nightly backups.
Evaluate Your Needs
Above all, make sure your current solution still works for your company’s needs! If you need more storage, look into your options – you don’t want to frantically be upgrading once you get a notification that your backup server is full; this goes for local hard drives used for backup as well. You may also want to consider the possibility of moving to another service if the current plan no longer works for your needs. There may be a transition period while your data is re-uploaded, but it may be worth the effort if you move to a higher-quality product.
5 – Evaluate Your Network Infrastructure
Every business today requires some type of internet connectivity. Small markets may only need a small bandwidth to run card transactions, while call centers and technical support centers will need the largest business package imaginable. If you’re like most small businesses, you likely fall somewhere between those two extremes – knowing where you lie is the most important part.
Speed – Get What You Pay for
You’re already connected and live, that much is certain. But what you may not know is if you are actually being delivered the service you are paying for. This can happen for any number of reasons, but the most likely would be out of date firmware or deteriorating connection lines inside or outside your office space. You or an IT specialist can run a simple speed test from each workstation to determine the bandwidth you are receiving. If your results are grossly different than what you’re paying for, reach out to your ISP (internet service provider) and ask some questions.
Replace, Repair, Optimize
Your internet infrastructure is more important than you may realize, especially as more and more of business services are moved to the cloud. Keeping your network in tip-top shape is, therefore, of the utmost importance. Keep spare hardware in stock for failures, check your connections frequently, and perform a full network audit at least once per year – the beginning of the year is a perfect time to do this!
This is also a great time of the year to discuss any internal network and work machine etiquette. Speak to your employees about avoiding unnecessary bandwidth hogs, such as music or video streaming, even on the company’s wi-fi. Each employee will be using a chunk of your allotted bandwidth per second; ask everyone to keep this in mind as they continue in their roles.
6 – Building Walkthrough
Just as hardware, software, and network infrastructure are important to the success of your business, so is the building you work in. Care for your office space as you would care for your own home; you’re likely paying as much or more for it per month. Perform a yearly walkthrough, paying close attention to the state of furniture, break room appliances, employee desks, chairs, and so on. Perhaps you might want to hire a cleaning team to come in and deep clean the carpets, restroom, and kitchenette. Replace air filters and have any heating and cooling units serviced
7 – Employment Evaluation
Your employees are your lifeline; they experience the workload, with the tools required, on a daily basis. They are intimately connected with most processes in your business exactly as you have delegated it. For this reason, your employees are a critical source of information for moving into the next year!
Workload and Feedback
As you begin to consider your hiring policy for the upcoming quarters, you’ll likely be looking at last year’s performance from a sales standpoint. Is there a projected increase this year that might be slightly heavy for your workforce? Reach out to your team to get their opinion on workload manageability during different seasons last year. This might give you some insight into what sort of employment tweaks need to be addressed.
In certain fields, it’s important that your company’s training program be sufficient and fluid. For example, a company that provides technical support for a software program must have a very adjustable training curriculum – this program may have updates and rollouts every few months!Use this opportunity to interview some recent graduates of your training for potential holes in the knowledge that is being passed to new hires.
Consider a Remote Workforce
If workload is moderately high for a minority of your employees, you might consider outsourcing some tasks to freelancers or part-time employees that can work from home. In this extremely digital, globally-connected age, we do ourselves a disservice if we do not consider alternate load balances for our workforce.
8 – The Road Ahead
At the beginning of the new year, it’s important to plan for the year ahead! Perhaps you could schedule an end-of-year meeting with staff members; discuss anything you have time for – it’s great for your employees to be involved in discussions about how the previous year went. Make plans apparent for the future; use your team’s insight to build the big picture.
It’s a new year, and trends are likely going to change – fast. Keep an eye on your company’s niche and prepare for changes if the popular opinion switches key. A good company stands firm with its product, but a great company makes small modifications to a portion of the product to appeal to its target buyer.
One of your company’s biggest expenditures is likely advertising and promotion; it makes sense, then, that this topic should come up as you begin to plan for the new year. What worked for your business last year? Could that tactic be viable again this year, but maybe at a different time of year? Consider your focus groups and what they are looking for – the best businesses grow and evolve with their intended audience.
You’ll likely need to evaluate the effectiveness of any events and public relations proceedings from the past year. Work any successes into this year’s rotation, and see if you can improve upon anything lackluster. While you’re looking to improve your marketing and make it more competitive, take a look at your website to make sure the information is still up to date and relevant to your company’s goals.
See the Big Picture
At the end of the day, you dictate how prepared your business is for the future; that starts with now, the beginning of a new year. Set expectations for greatness and absorb the innovation and motivation to do so – waste no time getting your ducks in a row! Kick-off the new year with your own financial audit so that you can be prepared for tax season; get in touch with us at NTRC Tax and Finance to get the ball rolling. We’ve got you covered with a free consultation.