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As fall creeps into winter, the countdown to 2024 is on. While you shouldn’t lose sight of your 2023 goals and closing Q4 with momentum, the end of the year is the perfect time to review the state of your business and reflect on the relationships and elements of your business that matter most to your success. Additionally, getting a jump on 2024 planning before the hustle and the bustle of the holidays can help you hit the ground running in January with clear priorities — while also making the holidays a bit less stressful.
As 2023 comes to a close, I recommend focusing reflection and planning into three areas: reviewing and updating your business plan, exploring new resources and trends, and taking care of your team.
Updating your business plan
Consistently reviewing and re-evaluating your business plan is critical to ensuring you’re operating in a grounded, realistic business environment — and because December is National Write a Business Plan Month, there’s clearly no better time for it.
When updating your business plan, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. First and foremost, you should review your business’ performance from this year compared to years past — check sales results and marketing strategies to look for common trends and build a forecast for next year. Your budget should be top of mind, so it’s critical to update cash flow projections, fixed costs, salaries or any money you use for operations and growth.
Getting honest feedback is another critical component of updating your plan. Speak with customers, peers or teammates on how your business meets market needs, and evaluate how you can increase sales. Assess your customer service strategy and loyalty programs to ensure your customers are coming back for more and are eager to bring you their business.
Once you’ve addressed the highest-level needs, your business plan should tackle other fixtures of your business structure. Many small businesses are struggling with staffing right now — according to a recent Bank of America survey, 46% of small business owners say labor shortages are currently impacting their business. With that in mind, it may be time to re-evaluate your hiring or retention processes. Whether it’s sourcing candidates through different methods, setting a clear employee pipeline and growth timeline, or creating an internship program, entrepreneurs can explore various ways to bring candidates to the interview table.
Take advantage of all the resources at your disposal
In an increasingly tech-driven world, entrepreneurs should use the end of the year as a time to explore new resources and make sure they’re taking advantage of all the tools at their disposal.
Effective marketing falls under this umbrella. With more digital tools and capabilities than ever before, entrepreneurs can open their businesses up to new local and regional consumer bases through wide-reaching marketing strategies. Grassroots marketing is always an effective way to reach consumers on a more personal level, and broader digital marketing strategies can give your business the edge it needs to take the next step. Whether you consider kicking off a new digital newsletter or getting crafty with a new look for your brand, entrepreneurs should embrace new ways of marketing and advertising their business to customers.
Another resource that almost all business owners need at some point is capital, and Bank of America’s recent survey showed that 77% of small business owners plan to obtain funding for their business in the year ahead. However, many entrepreneurs struggle to navigate this space, and as a result, more than 70% of small business owners rely on their own savings, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As you head into 2024, consider your potential cash flow needs and plan ahead — half the battle of securing capital is preparation and understanding your options.
Traditional bank loans are a tried-and-true method but might not be right for your business needs. Federal grants can serve as a shot in the arm for small business finances, as unlike loans, you don’t have to pay them back. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) can also be helpful sources of capital, as such loans often have lower interest rates and focus on helping underserved entrepreneurs. Bank of America also offers multiple resources for entrepreneurs eager to learn more about gaining capital, including our Access to Capital Directory.
As important as monetary resources are, expanding your business education is just as vital. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned small business expert, plenty of educational resources are readily available to sharpen your skills and learn the ins and outs of the business world. For starters, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers plenty of informative online resources for entrepreneurs, ranging from planning solutions to mentoring services. We also provide multiple educational resources as well: Bank of America’s Small Business Resources site can help entrepreneurs find valuable tools and information to optimize their business, and the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell provides women entrepreneurs in particular an opportunity to earn a certificate in business through a free online program, granting them the ability to gain an edge in their small business endeavors.
Checking in and wrapping up before the holidays
The holiday season is the perfect time to ensure the core of your business — your people — are taken care of. Consider scheduling year-end meetings with your employees to check in on their work and aspirations at your company; it’s essential for them to see a legitimate career path at your business with ample opportunity for growth and advancement in the coming year.
Gift-giving isn’t limited to friends and family, either — if your business and budget allow, consider giving back to your employees. A little show of appreciation can go a long way towards group morale and effort, whether through a holiday bonus, some extra time off, an employee recognition program, a work dinner or even something as simple as personalized thank you notes. A business is only as strong as its team, and no matter how you choose to do it, you should make sure your teammates understand how highly you value them as the year comes to a close.
Once you’ve checked all three of these to-dos off your year-end list, there’s a small but important final piece of advice I believe all small business owners should adhere to: Take the time to celebrate your own accomplishments. Owning and operating a small business has grown in difficulty in recent years, and it’s important to remember your “why” and focus on the positives you can take away from another year in the books. Whether it was a standard or record-setting business year, take the time to be proud of yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labor, and cheers to an even more successful year on the horizon.