As a small business owner, the daily operations of your company can often demand all of your work days—and then some. Yet, pausing to do a mid-year check-in may be one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your business is on track.
“It’s important to look at the goals that you began the year with, and evaluate what you’ve achieved—as well as identify where you may need to correct course,” says Meghan Storey, Business Banking Market Manager and vice president with Fifth Third Bank. In fact, Meghan’s team often facilitates mid-year check-ins for top clients just for this reason.
Even if you know you’re having a banner year, a check-in can help you determine what’s driving your success, uncover important insights and ensure you are following your long term plan. Meanwhile, the risks of not assessing your progress can equal missed opportunities, unintentional overspends or worse.
Metrics that matter
For every business, the metrics you want to evaluate mid-year will vary depending on your goals, industry and business stage. For example, an early-stage startup may be keeping close tabs on its monthly burn rate, while an established manufacturer may be focused on improving its product yield or total throughput.
That said, there are some key areas that Storey and Samantha McElhaney, also a Business Banking Market Manager and vice president with Fifth Third, suggest every small business owner evaluate at mid-year. These include:
- High-level financial targets. Most all enterprises start each year with revenue, profit and operating expense goals. Now is a great time to check in and ensure you’re on track to meet them—or evaluate why you may be behind.
- Business and personal tax plans. This includes estimating what you may owe and recalibrating your payments to ensure you don’t have a big bill at the end of the tax year. Also, review your planned income distributions and any potential tax savings strategies that need to be implemented before the year’s end. “For our small business clients, distributions are often a pain point and something they need guidance on,” McElhaney says. “They don’t want to leave too much money in the company, but they still want to keep their balance sheets healthy.”
- Outstanding commercial loans. McElhaney advises that clients review their loans and any associated covenants to make sure that they’re still meeting them. Breaching a covenant can be a serious matter, resulting in a lender calling a loan or potentially increasing the interest rate.
- Employee performance and contributions. Storey notes that mid-year is a great time to assess how your employees are performing, determine who is making significant contributions and note who might be underperforming. You might also examine whether you need to improve retention through proactive measures such as offering bonuses, raises or improved workplace benefits.
Digging into details
Getting a high-level picture of your business’ progress toward financial and other goals is helpful, but Storey notes that business owners shouldn’t stop there. The value of mid-year check-ins comes from digging into the reasons behind the results. If you understand the underlying drivers of, say, your increased sales or your static profit margins, then you can find ways to replicate your successes and put an end to any unintentional, but costly practices.
For instance, Storey recalled a client whose mid-year check-in revealed a nice boost in revenue. That’s great news; however, the client dug into what was driving the increase and realized that all their sales had all come from upselling to their current clients.
“They hadn’t gained a new client all year,” Storey says. While the client did appreciate the increased revenue, figuring out the source revealed that the sales team needed to ramp up its client acquisition efforts.
This anecdote also highlights the importance of acting on the information you uncover. Conducting a mid-year check-in is part of an ongoing goal-setting and progress-tracking process—an integral component of small business management. Simultaneously, and more importantly, business owners should use check-ins to implement plans that will drive further success or achieve measurable improvements. Additional check-ins then reveal whether your efforts are working.
How bankers help
While it’s possible to do a mid-year check-in on your own, getting guidance from your banker can offer real advantages—especially if you haven’t done a formal mid-year check-in before or are pressed for time. A banker can help you outline what areas you want to evaluate, ensure that the process runs smoothly and potentially open the doors to even more resources and opportunities.
McElhaney notes most of Fifth Third’s Business Bankers manage a book of 80 to 100 clients.
“We talk to these businesses on a regular basis and often encounter the same themes, whether it’s managing growth, finding talent or obtaining capital,” she says. As a result of this experience, the Fifth Third team can offer additional perspective and specific guidance on issues that they’ve helped other clients navigate, while individual business owners may not have encountered those scenarios before.
In addition, your banker can work in conjunction with your other service professionals, such as CPAs or attorneys, to create a holistic view of how your business should be operating. Bankers can also recommend experts when you need them. For instance, if your mid-year check-in reveals that too many employees are leaving, then your banker may be able to recommend a consulting or benefits firm that specializes in helping small businesses improve their retention rates.
Starting, building and sustaining a small business is no small endeavor. But stopping to do a mid-year check-in is always worth your time. Doing so helps keep your organization on track with where you want it to go—and prevents small issues from turning into larger problems later in the year.