"I can't believe it's already (INSERT DATE HERE)..." has become nearly as common in casual conversation as talking about the weather. The world feels like it's spinning faster- a sensation that seems particularly acute when you have a major deadline looming or big holiday on the horizon. The end of the year comes with both more celebrations and increased obligations. And that can mean even less time to finish what you set out to do this year.
With the flurry of activity, I have the tendency to start to let some things slip such as building new client relationships as I slide towards the end of the year. At some point, I kind of give up on some of those year-end tasks and decide to rollover whatever is left of the goal to the next year.
This year, I want to do something different. I've been thinking about how I want to use the last three months of the calendar to finish strong. I recently had the opportunity to interview several top entrepreneurs and CEOs about how they plan to achieve their year-end goals and finish this year on a high note. Here's what they had to say.
Gary Mulloy, Chairman and CEO of Money Mailer
How does the time of the year impact your thinking about your business? Is there a season for selling?
"The fourth quarter of the calendar year is our biggest and most important. It is a period that you must anticipate and plan for. In our business that means having promotional plans set and in place months in advance, repeated meetings with our sales organization to plan how to utilize these promotions and regular, frequent meetings to motivate the sales organization to strive to exceed budgeted goals."
How do you keep your clients' (or market's) attention when many of them get busy and distracted over the fall and winter holidays?
"Since the fourth quarter is the most important to us from a revenue and profit standpoint, we start early to plan our activities. The objective is to help our clients understand the importance of the time of the year and to also help them realize that by planning ahead, they will actually be freeing up time. This helps both of us by providing additional time during the busiest and most profitable time of year, when inevitable problems occur that would otherwise cause serious time shortages."
Amy Freeman, CEO of The Spice & Tea Exchange
How important is it to stick to your annual business plan? When should you consider changing it?
"Sticking to my business plan is the best way I can clearly measure my successes and failures without clouding the data. It then becomes the tool for future planning and judgement so I don't have to rely on the memory of why we made a left-hand turn and how it impacted the overall plan.
"Changing the plan only happens if we absolutely must do so for reasons out of our control. If you stick to your plan, you will become disciplined at thoroughly reviewing every detail before rolling it out so you don't repeat the same mistakes over and over."
Rita Goldberg, CEO and founder of British Swim School
If my business isn't where I thought it would be by now, should I just give up and wait until next year?
"Absolutely not! If you, as the CEO, don't always live and breathe a faith in what your business is aiming for, then there would be no hope. It's vital to never take no for an answer and to keep moving forward to get the breakthrough you believe is there. Progress may be slow at times, but the important thing is maintaining forward momentum. Back in my swimming days, I can still remember my Olympic mindset - you have to believe you can achieve the goal no matter who's on the deck beside you.
As Sir Winston Churchill said, 'Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.'"
Heather Harris, president of CycleBar
If things in my business didn't work out as I hoped they would this year, what should I do now to get back on track?
"If business isn't where it needs to be, you need to assess why. Always get back to the basics. Sometimes it can be as simple as doing too much too quickly, non-profitable customers, eliminating or reviewing categories, or a re-education and/or focus. Other times, it's a bigger strategy shift where digging deep is necessary to identify where goals and fundamentals need to shift.
"Either way, when you isolate the issues and stop the behavior [that's getting you off track], you can gain easy wins. Easy wins build momentum and turn business around. Stay nimble and get the team re-focused with all hands on deck. Never wait, because a lot can happen in a small period of time. Most importantly, never underestimate your ability to turn things around and make a difference."
Why is it important to stick to your business plan?
"It's important to not make changes to the number or quantitative goals of an annual plan. Doing this can lead to confusion and detract from the buy-in that's critical from the management team. Volatility in consumer perceptions and what happens in the world every day can sway business from one week to another, but a week doesn't make a trend. We look at actions and strategies on a quarterly basis, as well as a forecast for the business. But those yearly number goals do not change."
Tina Bacon-DeFrece, president of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More
If I'm frustrated because sales aren't where I hoped they'd be, how should I think about getting back on track?
"We have definitely had a few years where our business didn't meet its franchise development forecasts. At no point were we tempted to throw in the towel and just lay low until the next fiscal year. This isn't to say that we weren't frustrated with what was happening. Sometimes these things take some trial and error to get right.
"We listened to industry experts and tried different sales approaches, different marketing schemes and things just didn't click for us. In 2014, we applied for and received a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to spur our growth from our local community bank. And although the cash infusion allowed us to run a comprehensive marketing campaign, the results didn't warrant the expense. The lesson we've learned is if something isn't working, waiting isn't going to make it better. Pull the bandage off and end that marketing campaign - or even find a new employee that may fit the culture or role better. It's never too late to turn the tide and there's no way that waiting a month or two will make anything better."