The beginning of the year is a time to reflect and refocus on what you want to achieve over the next twelve months. Optimally, entrepreneurs spent part of December on small business housekeeping tasks that helped them finish the year strong, and at the beginning of January, they prioritize setting themselves up to look ahead confidently.
Reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs) and vendor agreements, filing required annual documents, meeting with business professionals such as your accountant and attorney, setting strategic goals, and completing other tasks on your new-year checklist will allow you to hit the ground running.
You probably keep a close eye on your numbers throughout the year to ensure that you are heading in the right direction. But a review of last year’s final quarter is a good way to assess whether you hit your goals or came up short.
The specific metrics that you should focus on can vary by industry and financial models. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, these are some of the more important small business KPIs:
- Financial metrics such as cash flow, new profit, revenue growth rate, customer acquisition cost, cost of goods sold, and accounts payable turnover
- Customer service metrics such as customer satisfaction rates, customer purchase frequency, and customer lifetime value
- Human resources (HR) data including benefits administration, employee satisfaction, and worker turnover
- Sales and digital marketing KPIs such as website traffic, cost per lead per channel, conversion rate, cart abandonment rate, and SEO rankings
To put these figures in perspective, compare them to the goals you set for last year. Coming up short in a single year does not mean failure. It could indicate unexpected market shifts or unrealistic expectations to account for in the new business cycle.
Take the long view and compare year-over-year figures going back to when you started the business. While outlier data points may not be a reason to worry, consistently coming up short in the same areas could signal the need for change.
Records and Documents
Hopefully, you have a good record-keeping system in place to maintain important documents and records (if not, now is the time to implement a document management system). Here are some of the documents that can be useful to review:
- Vendor files: Is the vendor information you have on file updated and accurate? Did your vendors meet their contractually agreed-upon performance metrics? Are there poor performance trends that impacted your business goals? Is it worth restructuring the contract or looking for replacement vendors?
- Independent contractor agreements: Small businesses are increasingly utilizing independent contractors. Good contractors can save you money as compared to hiring full-time employees, but it is worth performing an annual assessment to determine how much value your contractors are providing and whether you want to renew their contracts, restructure them, or move on from them.
- Operating documents: You may need to update the information reported in your initial formation documents if, for example, there is a change to the business entity’s name, purpose, or type. Make sure you have filed articles of amendment with the proper state authorities. Your state may also require you to file a yearly report that includes reporting on annual meetings and minutes. In addition, you might wish to change corporate bylaws (e.g., voting procedures, dissolution procedures, membership qualifications, and officer duties and powers) based on a year-in-review assessment of what worked—and what did not.
- Tax documents: Begin gathering documents needed for filing income tax returns. The tax deadline for partnerships, S corporations, or LLCs that are taxed as partnerships is March 15, 2023, and the deadline for C corporations and sole proprietorships is April 18, 2023. Those who are self-employed and some business owners must pay quarterly estimated tax on January 17, 2023, April 18, 2023, June 15, 2023, and September 15, 2023. If you have workers, double-check—and send out on time—W2 and 1099 forms and confirm benefits, wage, and tax data. In addition, check for special procedures like year-end bonus checks and payroll adjustments.
Other Areas to Review
Businesses have a lot of moving parts. As the new calendar year begins, give those parts a once-over to identify any issues that need attention. Pay attention to the following areas, in particular:
- Employees: Talented employees drive organizational success, and keeping your talent happy can be a key competitive differentiator. Accordingly, consider reviewing the benefits and perks you offer workers, such as health insurance, 401(k) plans, stock options, and vacation time. This is particularly important for upper management and other key employees. Have a plan for addressing talent gaps and staffing shortfalls heading into the new year.
- Technology: Investing in technology can be just as important to business success as investing in talent. Technology such as a cloud platform, enhanced cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and data analytics tools might have significant upfront costs but save you money and enhance earnings in the long run. There may be ways to get more out of the tech you currently employ, too. Even a simple update like a new website could pay dividends. Finally, download cloud-based information and back up your computer system by the end of the year to reduce the chances of catastrophic data loss.
- Inventory: Businesses that carry physical merchandise should conduct an inventory review. This confirms that what is in your warehouse matches what is on your books; it also identifies slow sellers and hot sellers. You may be able to exchange the former for the latter with your suppliers. At the very least, accurate inventory records facilitate better sales and purchase forecasting.
Planning for the New Year
Once you have all of this year’s ducks in a row, you can shift your attention to strategic planning for the new year. Places where you came up short last year can be areas for future improvement. However, do not forget to look at your business in totality and how the pieces fit together.
Missing your sales goal could have multiple reasons. Are there underlying market factors that caused competitor businesses to also come up short? Do you need to adjust pricing? Did your sales representative underperform? Could more marketing, or a reallocation of marketing money, move the needle? How about better pricing from a different vendor?
Taking the ten-thousand–foot view can be difficult when you are involved in the day-to-day running of a business. You may benefit from a business professional who can provide an unbiased, outside point of view. Their perspective could open up new angles that did not previously occur to you. There may be technical business aspects as well, such as business entity choice, tax structure, and changes to the law, that benefit your business.
As the year begins, a short meeting with legal professionals can go a long way toward putting your best foot forward in the new business year. Find out how our team can guide your team to make any legal updates needed to help your business succeed. Contact us to schedule an appointment.
 Jessica Elliot, Small Business KPIs: What Are the Numbers That Matter?, CO (Apr. 20, 2022), https://www.uschamber.com/co/run/finance/measure-small-business-kpi.
 Payroll Year-End Checklist, ADP, https://www.adp.com/resources/tools/tax-guides-and-forms/year-end-checklist.aspx (last visited Jan. 9, 2023).