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Set your business up for success

For business owners, the end of the year seems to go one of two ways: All of your customers are off for the holidays so you have some time to catch your breath, or you’re so slammed with business that sleeping, eating, and sanity seem like a distant memory. But amidst the chaos or quiet of your year’s end, it’s also a natural point to evaluate the year that was and take action to improve the year ahead.

Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional, here’s an easy checklist that will help set your business on the track to success.

Get a good snapshot of where your business is.

You can’t really gauge your trajectory going into the New Year without knowing where you started. Pull some basic reports to make sure you’re where you need to be.

  • Review your profit and loss statement; take note of sales trends and concentrations.
  • Review your balance sheet; specifically look at Accounts Receivable to see if the accounts are all collectable.
  • Review your cash flow statement, including cash flow from revenue and expenses (operations), purchased and sold assets (investments), and loans and repayments (financial activities).
  • Take a look at year-to-date margins and expenses to see if they’re in line with historical performance or if there’s room for improvement.

Don’t forget your employees.

At the end of the day—or year, as it were—people make a business. In addition to personnel and staffing outlooks, take a look at your benefit offerings and bonus ability.

  • If you’re so inclined, plan a holiday party.
  • Look for benefits to list on your outgoing W-2 like health and life insurance, transportation, education reimbursement, etc.
  • Determine whether end-of-year bonuses are feasible and decide how to distribute them.
  • If you find that you may have a budget shortfall going into the tax season, consider cutting overhead and underperforming or unnecessary personnel. (Yes, I know it’s never fun. But it may be necessary for the long-term health of your business.)

Get ready for tax season.

Work with your accountant or controller to make sure you won’t be in for any nasty surprises come tax time. Take a look at previous returns and estimates, and make adjustments or purchases to help avoid penalties or reduce your bill.

  • If you have the available liquidity, look at taking advantage of available tax deductions by strategically timing new equipment purchases, employee bonuses, and accounts receivable write-downs.
  • If you’re on cash-basis accounting, consider stocking up on inventory items you know you’ll be using in the first part of next fiscal year.

Do some routine maintenance.

Housekeeping items tend to get pushed further and further down your to-do list as more pressing, and, let’s face it, more interesting tasks come up. Take the opportunity to just get it done. It can save you a lot of time and headaches down the road.

  • Verify your vendor and lender files, ensuring contact information is complete and purging inactive or inaccurate contacts.
  • If you sell a product, take inventory and make sure it’s not obsolete or spoiled.
  • Make sure your servers are backed up.
  • Update passwords to prevent security breaches.
  • Take a look at your succession plan.
  • File your annual report.

Create a budget and set goals for the next year.

The closing of the year is a great time to look at your long-term picture and plot your course to get you there. Start with a sales forecast. Take a look at trends within your company, industry and the economy and get input from the people closest to your customers to set reasonable, yet aggressive goals. This sales forecast will also help you plan to add (or cut) overhead in the upcoming year, and help you budget accordingly. 

Running a business is hard work. Beyond day-to-day operations, you’re responsible for its long-term success (or failure). Pile on the people who count on you for their livelihoods and, well, that’s a lot of pressure.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. With this simple end-of-year to-do list backed by the experience of your commercial lending partners at Bank Mutual, you’re taking the right steps to ensure your next holiday season will be in the black.


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Jim is currently Vice President, Commercial Banking for Bank Mutual. Jim has over 29 years of experience in the financial services industry as a commercial lender. He has been responsible for increasing focus on large to mid-size businesses, including manufacturers, distributors, and service providers. Jim holds a Bachelor’s Degree in finance from Marquette University.

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