October has just started, but so has fourth quarter, and we’re already thinking ahead to 2020. Getting ready for a new fiscal year presents its own challenges, but they’re pretty straight-forward. Settle the budget. Go over last year’s end-of-year reports. Plan for this year’s new marketing and sales strategies. Then, you’re ready to go. It involves a lot of reflection and planning. Compared to that serenity, fourth quarter is a scramble. You have final sales you’re working overtime to get in. Reports need to be drafted for the quarter, for the year, and maybe even for the month. Perhaps you are attempting to get a few assets in for this year’s budget. Or maybe you still haven’t checked in with some long-term domestic clients. What’s more, the holidays are around the corner, and everyone is either too busy or MIA on vacation. Before things get too hectic, October is a perfect month to take stock, plan for the rest of the quarter, and prioritize.
How did this year’s initiatives go?
If you didn’t do a round-up last year, you should at least have saved quarterly reports from each department. These should all be in your company’s content service or document management solution, such as Contentverse. If your reports have accompanying emails or supporting documents, examine those. Get yourself and your team up to speed. Also retrieve the minutes from any initiative meetings you had at the beginning of the year. Have a clear understanding of the goals set out a year ago. We know that a year feels like such a long time, but looking over these documents will help put it into perspective.
Hold a team or company meeting. Go over the goals you’ve achieved, those that are on track to complete before December 31st, and those projects which must be abandoned. Don’t be afraid of uncompleted or failed tasks. Pilot programs don’t always work out, and untested initiatives are a necessary part of growing your company. If you don’t acknowledge that a project didn’t work out, you’ll either waste more money on its budget or learn nothing. Do an autopsy, so to speak. Why did this fail? Should we attempt it again? Should we cannibalize this budget and funnel it into other projects?
What priorities should we be setting for next year?
After you look at what went wrong, what went right, and what’s still ongoing from this year, examine the new projects you want to begin for 2018 and beyond. Perhaps you need to purchase a new onboarding software. First Quarter will be for shopping around and due diligence. Q2 can be for implementation. Or maybe you have a goal that can’t be reached in a single year. For these types of long term engagements, starting your planning in October (if not earlier) is mandatory. It may be that you need an entire year just for preparation. If this is the case, forecasting is important to the eventual success, but once you have an accurate estimate of the timeline, take it one step at time. Create achievable milestones that can be reached in individual quarters or years. This way, you can monitor the project progress with quantifiable measurements. Additionally, while accounting may ask for billable milestones, your own team can maintain a list of separate, internal milestones for the project.
Priorities are flexible; goals are steadfast and manageable. After reviewing last year’s reports and this year’s projections, your company may pivot. That’s good. You want your priorities to shift as goals are achieved. Times change from year to year, so you should as well. That is not to say that your team should shift with the daily tide— objectives must have some solidity to them, or how will you know whether you’ve done what you set out to do? Think of it like target practice. You can switch from target to target, but make sure each of them is clear enough to hit.
Bridging the Gap
We aren’t going to tell you how to balance your budget, but we can help you manage your time. Yes, you need to make sure this year’s budget was allocated efficiently and that next year’s budget has been squared away. You also need to manage your time allocation. One business can’t possibly complete all of their dream projects in a single year. Just look at how last year turned out! So you have to examine how much time each project needs and how much time you have available.
Start with this past year. How long did finished projects take? How long did it take to recruit sales candidates to fill your open positions? How many hours were spent on admin tasks? How long did it take to rebuild your filing structure from the ground up? If you don’t have timesheets with individual hours, look at when each project started, how many hands were working on it, and how many discreet projects those folks were working on at the same time as this. It helps to lay this all out in a spreadsheet or two, create a visual narrative of the year your team or departments had.
Remember, unfinished projects will have to fit in as well. Unless your team size increased or certain team members were promoted, the amount of projects any single employee can handle at once shouldn’t deviate from this past year. Just because priorities change or responsibility increases does not mean your team should lose sleep or work themselves to the bone. Expect better work out of your employees next year, not more work.
Holidays, Vacations, Bad Weather, and Productivity
The end of year is a hectic time. Many companies take off for the various holidays. Some employees or managers go on vacation, sometimes for weeks at a time. Bad weather will mess up some commutes and leave employees homebound, ill, or both. Productivity tends to fly out the window. That is precisely why you need an October round-up in fourth quarter. Your team has scattered to the wind, and focus seems like a lost cause. A round-up gets everyone around the same table, discussing this past year, pointing out problems they’ve solved and priorities that have evolved. It should be a positive experience to weather the winter blues, but it should also be sobering. Evoke some lucid optimism from your team.
Realism tells us that people will still get sick. Employees will still take vacations. Potential customers will still be notoriously unreachable until February. But if you enter Q4 with realistic expectations and get your team on track early, you’re a step ahead of the competition for next year.
A version of this article was published as Fourth Quarter Round-up: What Your Business Should Do Before Winter Comes on October 27th, 2017.