Wait a minute – weren’t you just breathing a big sigh of relief after happily bustling through the holidays? That was months ago! Now it’s April, and the whole first quarter of the year is behind you.
So, how’d you do? More importantly, do you have specific ways of evaluating first quarter so that you know if you’re on track and can also make adjustments while there are still three quarters left in the year?
Small business consultant Brian Moran suggests five questions to ask to keep your business on track:
- What are your strategic goals? (Specific, measurable goals for your business like revenue or new accounts)
- What’s your operational plan? (How you’re going to achieve your goals—and if you’re not on track now, how you’re going to adjust your plan)
- What’s your backup plan? (Bumps in the road now, obstacles later, so best to address them now)
- Who can help? (Take advantage of any and all resources lined up, like coaches, attorneys, vendors)
- When is your next monthly meeting? (Assuming you have a team—monthly meetings are a good way to keep everyone on track in real time)
Moran cautions against a “better luck next year” stance that some small business owners take when they find they’re off track. Don’t wait: Grab the bull by the horns right now, while there’s time to make changes.
Writing on digitalbloggers.com, business advisor Patricia Goodman says a full first-quarter business check-up is not only achievable but also fairly easy. Goodman says that, although you know you’ve been working hard for the past 90 days, it’s critical to pause and determine answers to the following:
- Did we achieve our first-quarter goals?
- Even if we did, does it make sense to continue as planned?
- OR – should we make changes in the plan before proceeding?
Start by reviewing your plan documents, and compare “projected 3/31/13” with “actual 3/31/13.” Be sure to look at both revenue and expenses, then drill down to the reasons underlying your results. Even superficially good results, Goodman says, require a deeper look.
It’s important to do a separate analysis on revenue and expenses, respectively. When looking at revenue, determine things like online conversions (visitors to leads to sales) and the average sale per buyer? Where are you having particular success? Where are you falling short? For example, if sales are lagging, could it be your offer? Your marketing and advertising? A combination of factors? Can you easily do some fine-tuning while holding other factors constant? This way, you’ll be better able to make a more realistic comparison in approaches.
Reviewing expenses is a bit easier if you’ve been keeping good records. The obvious question: How does your actual spending compare with projected spending levels? And beyond the totals, is your spending in specific categories consistent with what you planned? Where there are variances, do you know exactly why? Can you account for expenses that were truly unexpected (and necessary) versus those that may have been overlooked in planning?
Commit to a quarterly check-up, and you’re far more likely to have a better year. Regular check-ups will also make you a better planner, which means your “projected” and “actual” results will increasingly be closer together.
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