The last few weeks of summer can be a useful time for small business owners whose companies are going through a slow period– they have a chance to tackle some of those tasks they’ve been putting off.
Some owners use summer downtime for big projects like writing an employee handbook, while others cross off more mundane items from their to-do lists, such as entering that pile of receipts into their accounting software.
It’s probably safe to say that if you haven’t done your strategic planning for the rest of 2008, that should be your priority. For example, what changes do you want to make to your products or services? How do you want to adjust your marketing program? What do you need to do to meet customer expectations that may well be changing in a more difficult business climate.
“Summer is a good time to get all this stuff done, in preparation for the fall,” said Nancy Shenker, who owns theOnswitch, a marketing firm based in Thornwood, N.Y. “A mistake so many business people make is they wait until Sept. 1 to really gear up. They’re really short-shrifting themselves.”
Among the items on Shenker’s summer list: developing a new business strategy for her firm and analyzing her financial statements and creating a forecast for the fall. She also assessed her staffing needs, wrote some articles and finished her company’s employee handbook. And caught up on some reading.
Shenker said she actually has a to-do list with deadlines to meet during much of the year, so it was natural for her to have projects planned for the summer.
The slow days of summer are a good time for companies to update or make changes to their Web sites. Culling customer lists is also a good idea — not just to make record-keeping or mailings easier, but to help find some overlooked marketing opportunities. It’s a widely held belief that it’s a lot easier and a lot cheaper to market to someone with whom you’ve already done business.
This is also a good time to be looking over your costs and seeing what you can cut. And maybe to look for new vendors or suppliers; companies often stick with someone they’re not thrilled with, or who they think is too expensive, just because there’s no time to find somebody else.
It’s also a time to think about employee issues — maybe this is a good time to get some annual performance reviews done. Then there’s that employee handbook; some owners are motivated to put one together during the summer after having had friction over employees’ summer vacation schedules. A handbook also can detail policies on sick time, promotions, benefits, dress code and the standard of behavior that staffers are expected to meet.
There are samples of employee handbooks available online, and books that can help you put one together. If you’re not sure about how federal or state law might affect your policies, you should consult with a human resources professional or an attorney who specializes in labor law.
Many owners’ to-do lists have simpler tasks: giving the office a thorough cleaning or painting and making simple repairs. Or, making the trip to an office supply store or warehouse club to stock up.
Nancy Kirk’s big project is to do a lot of clearing out of paper and merchandise from her two Omaha, Neb.-based businesses, a public relations firm, PRM Associates, and the Kirk Collection, an antique quilt dealer.
With two dozen file boxes of paper to dispose of, Kirk called in a records management company to do the shredding. For the quilt business, “we’re getting rid of old and excess inventory,” selling some on online sites like eBay, and donating other merchandise.
Kirk is also putting together a file that details the status of all the projects her businesses are involved in. This was prompted not by the summer but by some health problems she’s had. “That’s just a smart thing to do,” she said.
Given that there are just a few weeks left to summer, if your list is very long, it’s probably a good idea to pick out the most important and most doable items. Enlist the help of employees if they also have time on their hands. Or, since summer camp is over for many kids, bring them in to help with some of the simpler tasks you’re hoping to accomplish.