Whether you've recently hung up your shingle or you're a seasoned small business veteran, the start of a new year is the perfect time to take a fresh look at your operation by reviewing the year that's passed and making necessary adjustments as you plan for the future.

It's the beginning of 2018 and a good time to plan. Small business owners are typically spread thin during the holiday season and even the most diligent ones may find themselves behind on their checklists. If this scenario sounds familiar, don't worry--it's not too late to tackle the important items.

Here's a list, with input from accounting professionals in the Intuit QuickBooks ProAdvisor community, of the five most critical to-dos for any small business owner, to ensure smooth sailing throughout the year ahead.

1. Keep your finances up to date.

Work on your accounting on a weekly basis so you can keep a finger on the pulse of your finances at all times. Knowing your numbers in real-time can help a small business realize if they are in good shape or flag issues. Waiting until the end of the year, quarter or even month is too long to find out that the business needs to make changes.

2.  Implement a system for managing tasks.

While your business is still new and/or things haven't quite picked up, implement systems to manage tasks. It will be much more difficult to get your to-do list under control once business picks up and your're busy, putting you at risk for losing customer, vendors or even your mind!

3. Get ahead of taxes.

As an individual, you know that tax day arrives in April. But as a small business owner, you're probably aware that there are tax deadlines you must meet well before the April 17 deadline. Start preparing for tax filing now, and you'll meet these deadlines with ease, and save yourself a headache in a few months.

Here's a quick rundown of how to get the process moving:

  • Pick a strategy. Will you use an accountant, do it all yourself, or something in-between (like doing it yourself with the help of a CPA advisor on-demand during tax season or a ProAdvisor for help throughout the year ).
  • Mark your calendar with important tax deadlines to ensure you file on time. You can sign up for email reminders directly from the IRS.
  • If you have employees, they need a W-2 from you; independent contractors get a 1099. They'll both needed to be sent to recipients and submitted to the IRS by January 31.
  • Collect all necessary tax forms for the type of business entity you have established. 
  • Organize your business-related expense records and receipts that are critical for maximizing write-offs.

4. Finalize your staffing plan.

One of the biggest business decisions you'll have to make is whether or not to hire employees in the coming year. Consider your new goals, expectations for customer demand, and current staff level to project your 2018 staffing needs.

If you're on a limited budget or only need intermittent help, consider leveraging freelancers or other on-demand talent who can assist with projects as-needed. If you do plan to staff up, just make sure your budget and business plan support the additional headcount.

5. Beware of competing on price.

There will always be someone willing to do things cheaper so be careful about competing on price.  Instead, compete on your service level or something else that makes your business unique. Price shoppers always will leave for the cheaper price, but customers that truly value your unique offering or service are more likely to stick around.

In an ideal world, we'd all have our to-do lists checked well before the beginning of the year to guarantee a solid start to the new year. But regardless of when you  plan, the point is to get it done. 

If you're like the many small business owners who find themselves late to the game, don't fret. Use this time as a catalyst to kickstart the planning process and get it back on track. Remember: the more organized you stay throughout the year, the easier this process will be by year's end.

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Published on: Feb 1, 2018