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Racing Against the Clock in the 4th Quarter

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The weather is cold, the kids have long been back in school, is dominating the air waves and in my home state of South Dakota, the combines are in the fields finishing up the harvest for another season of crops. Winter is almost upon us -- and for businesses, late fall means the looming arrival of holiday shopping and fourth quarter results.

Related: 5 Project-Planning Tips to Help You Meet Your Goals

The final push of 2015 is in full swing and it's never too early to think about 2016, so have you started yet?

From retailers putting the final touches on sales promotions to distributors figuring out delivery routes, implementation should be in full swing to make this the smoothest and most successful Q4 yet. To land a home run, you must have five strategies firmly in place:

1. Look back to get ahead.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to look back at how last year’s Q4 performed, what you did to obtain those results and how you might surpass last year’s results. It’s critical that you document what sales and promotions you ran, what email blasts went out and how much stock you ordered to keep up with demand. To not do that is to set yourself up for failure before you even begin.

At my consulting company, my team keeps a log of all of the keynotes I've delivered and conferences and events I’ve spoken at since 2012. It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet containing all of the necessary information, from lodging costs spent to fees collected to contact information. In this way, they can follow up at the beginning of next year to see how we can help. It’s singlehandedly the biggest and best tool we utilize, not to mention the most efficient.

2. Pay attention to what’s trending.

Stay up to date with the latest trends; otherwise, you’ll swing and miss.

What are researchers forecasting to be the hottest toys and gifts? What are your customers talking about being the most excited for? On December 18, there will be a huge blockbuster release in Star Wars -- are you implementing any supporting sales or activities to help celebrate? By paying attention to what’s trending, you can tie your sales and promotions into these items and drive more success.

Spend time researching and talking to your customers, and pay attention to the news. You need to consume all kinds of media -- from your industry's trade press to newspapers and TV news. The more, the better! Stores have already decked the halls for , and Thanksgiving and Black Friday are already here. Experts are making their biggest holiday "buy" selections, and major retailers have announced their Black Friday specials. The information is out there -- if you know where to look!

Related: How Strategic Planning Transforms Chaos Into Confidence 

3. Determine your goals.

Now that you’ve researched how Q4 has performed in the past, and what’s currently trending, you should begin to put time into determining your early 2016 goals. From feet in the door to purchases made, how big of an increase do you wish for, and how big of an increase do you realistically expect?

These two factors are vastly different, but both are important. Don’t be afraid to think big here. Nothing but your own self-imposed limitations is going to stop you from reaching an extra 5,000 new fans or from teaming up with a likely ally to do a twofold promotion. And for those who say you can’t, prove them wrong and show them that you can.

Get creative and have fun!

4. Determine your budget.

How much are you spending to reach your Q4 goals? And how will that affect your goals next year? It takes to make money, but you can’t blow your entire earnings with hopes, and still pay your bills. When you look ahead to 2016, do you think it’s going to take one big spend per month to reach your year-end goals, or micro-pushes, with local newspaper and digital ad spend?

Do you do an open house and cater-in appetizers with special deals, or hold a bag sale promoted heavily throughout the area? These are questions you (and your business partners, if applicable) need to sit down and discuss in length -- because blowing your budget to try to make money is a disastrous sign.

This is also the perfect time to review what you’ve spent money on in 2015 and see if it’s time to clean house. Business comes first, and if there are relationships that are draining your coffers without any return, it’s time to cut ties and move on.

Preparing for 2016.

The tidal wave of Q4 leads you right into the start of Q1 2016, so don’t let the momentum wash away: Use it to start the off with a bang, and have next year’s plans already in play. You can step-and-repeat the strategies above to plan for 2016. Things to pay attention to are mobile marketing strategies, social media strategies and ways to make each customer feel like a friend and not a number. If you can master these goals, you can master 2016.

Q4 is potentially your business’ busiest, most profitable quarter. If you squander opportunities, that mistake will have a snowball effect into next year and you might find it difficult to play catch-up.

Then, speaking of those football games on TV, not even a Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass will be able to help you.

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