Quarterly Questions to Keep Your Business On Track
Most businesses operate -- with budgets, sales goals, performance evaluations, and so forth -- on an annual basis. But if you wait until the end of the year to assess your operations, it will be too late to make adjustments that could boost your bottom line. So it makes sense to take your business’s pulse on a quarterly basis.
You don’t have to follow an elaborate or formal process, but every three months you should check your performance against major criteria and opportunities to make sure you’re on track. To that end, here is a list of questions to ask quarterly to make sure your business is doing as well as it can.
Am I Networking Enough?
Making personal contacts, asking for help, and cementing relationships by helping others ought to be a year-round activity -- and a priority as well. But under the pressure of keeping your business afloat, necessary networking often gets postponed, ignored, or forgotten.
Once a quarter, assess the amount of networking you've been doing and consider whether you ought to do more. Whether you pass out free samples, attend community meetings, make referrals to other businesspeople you know, organize a block party, or forge new connections in some other way, it's very difficult to network too much.
Am I Leveraging Current Trends?
Current events, trends, fads, and pretty much any new developments in popular culture are natural attention-grabbers. You can use them as opportunities to get your business noticed and to increase your brand’s mind share among prospects and customers.
That being said, it can be easy to let this tactic slide. Every three months or so, look for a clever and appealing way (one that's also simple and inexpensive) to piggyback onto something that's already making headlines.
Are My Finances in Order?
Take care of your business and your business will take care of you. The end of every fiscal quarter is a good time to get your financial house in order. Check your operating numbers against last year's performance, against your historical averages for a prior, comparable quarter, and against your plan for the current year.
If the numbers -- revenues, inventory turns, conversion rates, profits, etc. -- are not where you'd like them to be, you've identified an opportunity to improve them while you can still favorably influence the full year's results. You could even decide to bring in outside consulting help with specialized knowledge, experience, and/or connections to kick up your business.
Can I Learn Anything New From My Competition?
Your competitors are more than mere rivals. They're free, full-scale test cases that can help you discover new ideas, strategies, and approaches for your business. After all, your competitors spend a lot of money to tell people (including you) what they're doing and why they're "better."
Three or four times a year is a good frequency with which to follow them closely, visit them in person, explore their online presences, and determine how your business stacks up. Use your competitors as benchmarks, or points of reference, for assessing how your business presents itself -- and what value it offers to prospects and customers -- with a fresher, keener eye.
Am I Preparing Well for the Upcoming Season?
The year's seasonal changes offer excellent opportunities to offer prospects and customers even more incentives to buy from you. As each new season approaches -- just before the summer's doldrums, fall's back-to-school activities, winter's holiday-making stresses, and spring's renewal -- look ahead and plan a related special event.
You may also want to use each quarterly milestone to plan for changes in business activity levels, different staffing needs, your customers' seasonal swings in preferences and priorities, near-term purchasing decisions, and so forth. If your business has a retail component, for example, you’ll almost certainly want to order a different mix of inventory for each season in advance.
Robert Moskowitz is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.