The start of the new year is a great time to get you and your company pointed in the right direction financially. Making small improvements at the beginning of the year is a lot easier than trying to play catch-up later on. Just as you would embark on an exercise program to lose weight, there are simple steps you can take that will lead to your business being financially healthy.
Here are my seven tips for improving your financial life in 2013.
1. Review 2012 thoroughly. What worked and what didn't? The most expensive lesson is the one you have to learn a second time. What was the most important lesson you learned in 2012 that helped you move forward? You will want to build on the successful aspects of your business where you saw the best return.
2. Track the right stats. You can't control what you don't track. Decide what the three most important statistics are for your company and set goals for each of those. Follow each on a monthly basis so you can make small adjustments throughout the year. My dad used to say, "Watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves." You'll be amazed at your overall results when you focus on the right stats.
3. Establish a cash flow plan. Too often, business owners think they don't need a budget because they can keep track of company expenses without one. A cash flow plan is critical for a company's future. You need to plan for the slow times of the year and put aside a contingency reserve. A line of credit may need to be established as a backup until reserves can be built up.
4. Trim the fat. Don't be afraid to shop for the best price on everything -- insurance, office supplies, telecommunications and any other business expense. There is no incentive for your current suppliers to offer you a discount. However, there is a huge incentive for a competing supplier to give you a better deal. Make sure you include borrowing costs. Interest rates are at historic lows and lenders are willing to work with a good credit risk.
5. Consider expansion. This may be a good year to pursue expansion plans you put off during the economic downturn. The economy continues to slowly recover and the cost of borrowing is low. Companies with good cash flow and a clean balance sheet may be able to qualify for expansion loans with low interest rates. Interest rates are eventually going to increase; this will be a good year to lock in borrowing costs while the cost of capital is very low.
6. Study your competitors. What companies are doing better than you in your own field? Pay attention to what your competitors are doing and learn from their successes and their mistakes. Review those that are no longer in business to determine what caused those companies to fail. It's easy to get tied up in your own business and not think about others in your industry. However, there are many lessons you can learn from competitors that just might help you avoid a big mistake.
7. Make sure your team is on board. Do your employees understand your goals for the company? Give them the opportunity to review your business plan and offer feedback. Let your employees know you welcome their input and get them involved in goal setting when appropriate. This might be easier to do with a smaller company. Larger companies should engage department heads and let them communicate the company goals to their departments.
Don't just make a vague resolution to cut costs and increase sales. Put your goals in writing and share them with your team. You also want to be clear about the role each employee will have in meeting business goals. Let 2013 be the year you make lasting changes to improve your business and your financial life.