The year is half over, but there's still time to salvage those New Year's resolutions to get your business in better shape.
Remember those great New Year's resolutions for making improvements to your company? With the year half over, how have you done? If you're like most small-business owners, you spend more time working in your business than on it, and you may have completely overlooked implementing those things that could greatly improve your business. Well, now's the time to take a fresh look so that you can put your ideas into action -- and still make this year the kind of year you had resolved it would be. Some key areas to consider are sales, customers, employees, taxes, and strategic planning.
Have you met or exceeded sales targets for the first six months of 2007? Now is the time to decide what you are doing right, as well as what you are doing wrong. If you and your sales team are falling short, consider taking a sales-training course in the summer when things are usually slow. Then put your newly-acquired sales skills into action after Labor Day, when business typically picks up.
Many owners pledge to maintain better communication with their customers. Have you done this in the first half of 2007? If not, design ways to implement your goal. Consider e-mail outreach to let your customers know about special activities, such as sales or seminars. (Communications by snail mail may now be too costly anyway, in light of postal rate increases in May.) If it's appropriate, think about creating a blog to engage customers in your business concerns.
If business has been good, perhaps you want to add or enhance fringe benefit plans to retain your valued staff and boost morale. Key plans to consider are:
* Retirement plans: If you already have a 401(k) plan in place, consider increasing the company's matching contributions.
* Health plans: If you don't yet have medical coverage for staff, look into health savings accounts (HSAs) as a low-cost solution for providing some type of health-coverage assistance.
It's also time to check for new minimum wage rates. Starting July 24, 2007, the federal minimum wage rate increases to $5.85 per hour. A number of states already have rates higher than the federal rate and several states' rates increase on July 1, 2007. Ask your state labor department for details.
Are the estimated tax payments you've made thus far in line with your net revenues? You still have two estimated tax payments to go for 2007 -- one in September and another in January 2008 (or December 2007 for corporations). Make sure you don't underpay, because you'll incur estimated tax penalties. But don't overpay either -- you'll make an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam and the overpayment can't be recouped until you file your 2007 income tax return.
Another common resolution that is difficult to follow through on is a pledge to keep better records of business expenses. If you've fallen short of your objective, it's not too late to get on track. The better your records, the easier it will be to claim all the deductions to which you are entitled.
Don't wait until the end of the year to meet with your board of directors or advisors. Now is the time to brainstorm ideas that can move your business to the next level. And re-read your business plan to see if you are meeting your goals. If you don't have a formal business plan, or if you do but haven't updated it in a long time, consider writing one. This will help you to focus on your long-term goals and the ways you can achieve them. There is software designed for this purpose, like Business Plans Pro from Palo Alto (e.g., www.paloalto.com) or you can follow the business plan outline from the Small Business Administration. You'll find it at
BARBARA WELTMAN | Columnist
Barbara Weltman is an attorney and a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is the author with such titles as J.K. Lasser?s Small Business Taxes and Smooth Failing, and she contributes regularly to American Express OPEN and SBA.gov. Her articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and U.S. News and World Report. Weltman is also the publisher of Idea of the Day and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business at www.barbaraweltman.com and hosts radio shows and podcasts, including Build Your Business radio. She has been named one of the 100 Small Business Influencers in the U.S. for the third year in a row.