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As we hit the fourth quarter of 2018, now’s the time to recap your business’ annual performance, make year-end projections and set goals for the next fiscal year. But where do you start, and how do you best get an accurate picture of your performance? Let’s make a list you can follow for financial clarity.

The first task, and most obvious one, is to pull out your budget, sales reports and financial statements for the year. Wait — you don’t have a budget? Well, most people hate making budgets. There is this gray space between our ears that sometimes likes to get in the way of making the mental commitments required to set a budget. So, you’re probably not alone. Many owners and managers avoid setting budgets, fearing they can’t make realistic targets or adhere to setting numbers. If you’re a budget-avoider, rest assured that you don’t need to strictly adhere to a budget. Budgets are more often a moving target. It is good to create a budget with goals and sales targets, but it’s also important to cut yourself some slack when it comes to following it to the letter and take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. Use your budget as a guide, not a rule book.

Now, gather your sales reports and financial statements. You do have sales reports, right?! Ok, if you don’t then go ahead and add that POS or accounting software upgrade to your 2019 to-do list immediately! Let’s crunch the numbers to assess your real net profit numbers against your budget targets. Are you hitting sales targets? How are your expenses? Then, based on your current financials, cash flow and season, let’s do a year-end forecast to ballpark where you expect to net end of year. Are you happy with this number?

The next step might be a little surprising for some of you, but ultimately, it’s why you’re in business: customer satisfaction. Part of evaluating your performance as a company is to gauge how you did, or didn’t, deliver on customer expectations. Do you send out a customer survey or solicit feedback from regular customers? Touch base with your sales managers to collect feedback from regular customers, and review customer service patterns that don’t align with your company goals and values.

Next, look at new customer acquisition rates. How many new customers did you attract and hire over the past year? Did they fit your target customer profile and what is their average sale? Balance this against your customer loss rate. Did you lose any long-term customers? Categorize whether these losses were good or bad for the business. Not every customer is an ideal customer.

Now it’s time to evaluate employee performance. How is the team doing overall, and how are individual employees performing? If you haven’t conducted performance reviews yet, now is a good time to get them scheduled before the end-of-year holidays. Your employee goals and your company’s goals need to be compatible. If you don’t conduct performance reviews and talk openly with your staff about their goals and ideas, it can put a serious dent in your profits.

You might avoid performance reviews because you don’t want to create the expectation of a pay increase in conjunction with the review. While I understand the concern, this approach will almost always fail you. You can split up performance reviews and compensation reviews and hold them at separate times of the year. One way or another, you need to give your staff feedback, listen to their ideas, and keep up with proper compensation and market value for each job role.

No business is an island. Like it or not, you operate in a fluid marketplace that can change quickly. That change will impact your budget, goals and projections. I know it’s challenging to spend the time to do market analysis — and it’s easy to operate in the microcosm of your own business — but keeping up with market trends is a must. In terms of product offerings and marketing, are you doing what you need to do to stay relevant and differentiate your brand? This is the time to look for underserved niches in the marketplace you could move into to increase profits — or achieve other business goals.

Looking for simple ways to turn this and next year’s business goals into reality? I’m going to make things easy for you: Just write it down! No, seriously. Simply writing down a goal and attaching a timeline to it makes a huge impact on accountability — both consciously and unconsciously. Once a target is in black and white, your brain logs it as a must-do. If you spend any time online on social media, you’ve no doubt seen ads or promoted posts for a bevy of organizational products and daily planners. Clearly there is an art to how to write things down, and every owner and manager will find different yet equally effective methods.

If you haven’t yet set aside time for your annual business review and employee reviews, get out that new planner and schedule the time for yourself and your staff. Your goals will thank you.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.