Summertime and the livin’ is easy…or so the song goes. But as the days grow longer and warmer, small business owners might want to be careful about taking it too easy during June, July, and August. The reality, says successful entrepreneur and author Bill McBean, is that the season is actually a great time to do a half-year review and make some smart moves for your business while some of your competitors are in a summertime lull.
“I’m not saying you have to work yourself to death this summer,” says McBean, author of "The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don’t" (Wiley, October 2012).
“I’m suggesting you work smarter, not harder. Often, business owners think they can just wait and review their business or implement needed changes after they’ve enjoyed the summer. But what happens is, owners come back from their vacations and they are ‘slammed’ trying to catch up and dealing with past problems, instead of looking for market opportunities or getting ready to ramp back up after Labor Day.
“They end up trying to succeed with the same troubled systems, processes, and/or employee(s), so nothing changes; suddenly the year is almost finished, and valuable opportunities have passed them by. But trust me, there are many benefits to taking the time to do a half-year review right now—before time runs out to adjust to the market and make conquest sales to improve your bottom line.”
According to McBean, summertime is a great time to “mash the gas” on improving your strengths and eliminating any weaknesses that have cropped up since the beginning of the year.
“The key here is to identify what can be done quickly and implemented easily,” he says. “The more difficult challenges begin once you get these initial improvements in place. It’s also important to check in on the goals you made earlier in the year and make adjustments as needed.”
Read on for a few tips from McBean on why you should do a summertime check-up on your business:
1. Some important changes will take a while to fully implement. If you want to make changes in your operation, like ordering new inventory, hiring and training new employees, or putting a new marketing campaign together, it will take time to really get them rolling. “You might think, Oh, as long as we get this or that going by fall, we’ll be good to go for the rest of the year,” says McBean. “But why wait until fall? You probably have a little extra time right now to make things happen. So take advantage of it!”
2. You can take action while your competitors are procrastinating. Most owners and their managers say, “Thank God we got through the winter months, and we are now in the meat of the market! Things should get better now…at least, I hope!” Then, they kick back and wait to see what happens during the next few months. But not you.
“The important thing to understand is that while your competitors are taking this approach, you have a market advantage and an opportunity for conquest sales and more profit,” notes McBean. “But only if your changes are smart and you begin the preparation now. Set a goal to take action on at least one or two important goals. Do it while your competitors are sitting on their hands, and there will be conquest sales and a bigger payoff for you and your business.”
3. Now you know what you didn’t know in December/January. Hopefully you did an end-of-the-year or beginning-of-the-year review back in December or January. That review probably raised some important questions. For example: What will the hottest products be this year? Will my biggest competitor’s expansion gamble pay off? What’s my biggest threat? And so on. “Now, almost halfway into the year, you should have answers to some of those important questions,” says McBean. “Most importantly, now that you know what you didn’t know, you can look at what it means for your business and make decisions accordingly.”
4. You have the opportunity to regrip the reins. As a business owner, you must take control of your business. Owning and managing a business is not a democracy—it’s more like a dictatorship. When you aren’t ruling over your business, chaos will reign, and you will have upset employees and customers. “Success begins with great leadership,” explains McBean. “That means you and your appointed leaders—managers, department heads, and team leaders—must operate and stick to the processes you put in place every day, all day. If employees aren’t following your processes, you must get them on board. But if they won’t, the employee has made a decision for you—unfortunately, you will have to let them go.”
5. Nothing good comes from waiting to look at your numbers. Are your sales up or down compared to last year and what you had forecasted for this year? Why or why not? Is your overall local market economy doing better than last year? If it is up, what products or services can attract this added disposable income in your market? If it is down, what do you need to do to protect your business? Is your industry up nationally and regionally? Sure, sitting on a beach somewhere will be a lot more fun than running these numbers, but when you’ve owned up to them, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing where your business stands and what you need to do to get it (or keep it) on track.
“One important thing to note: Most business owners look at sales revenues, expenses, and bottom-line net profit,” says McBean. “But don’t forget the importance of gross profit and the products and services that generate it. In reality, gross profit is what creates your net profit and provides meaningful measurement of sales and expenses. It is a factor that every business owner should be studying in detail.”
6. It’s a great time to go after new opportunities. New opportunities are always presenting themselves. By running your business through a summer check-up, you’ll be able to reevaluate the products and services that could add value to your current customers while attracting new ones, and as a result increase profits for your business. “When you’re thinking about going after new opportunities, ask yourself a few important questions,” says McBean. “In what areas can you gain market share because your competitor is struggling? Have you attacked the customer base and gross profits of your competitors? And so on. By going after new opportunities now, you can take a bigger piece of the business pie in the coming months and enter next year in a stronger position both from sales and from the profits they generate.”
7. There’s no better time to remotivate employees. Most business owners probably look at the summer as the time their employees check out for a bit. They go on vacation or daydream about it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Great business owners know how to use the summer to remotivate their staffs.
“One great way to remotivate employees is to set a pre-holiday objective and an end-of-summer goal,” says McBean. “A pre-holiday objective is the set-up for the overall summer goal.”
“Keep in mind that most employees are looking for extra summertime cash, so give it to them for a job well done,” he adds. “It keeps them focused before they leave for vacation and ‘hungry’ when they return. And when the summer is over, your company will have had higher sales and profits from conquest sales and will be focused on the last four months, ‘springboarding’ your business for a great year and strong finish.”
“With new information comes knowledge, and a summer check-up is a great way to gather the latest information about your business and market,” says McBean. “If you’re the first to harvest this information, you will be the first to use it to boost your business. You’ll have the chance to attack the market—where it’s hot and where it’s not—before your competitors.
“Sure, you can always think of excuses not to do something,” he concludes. “But you also have the ability to take advantage of opportunities, jump on them, and maximize them. Use the summer to gather new information about your business and capitalize on it while your competition is in ‘the relaxed mode’—it’s what all great owners do.”