One of the most decisive times of the year is upon us: The year-end. It's a unique time within the business calendar that blends the exhaustion of culmination with the enthusiasm of beginning. The year-end process is a chance to wrap things up and pack things up, but it can be so much more. If you've had a successful year, now is the time to end it right — as a professional organization. If it was a tough year, there is no better time to learn your lessons from it and carefully pack it away so that you can move forward.
Whatever the outcome make sure to find enjoyment in the year-end. As a business owner, there are few moments as deeply satisfying as watching a pallet full of outdated records, ancient files and other assorted useless things getting trashed, smashed and crashed into a Dumpster. Year-end is a time to literally clean house — more on that later. Beyond the beauty of "the annual chuck," there are those sublime few days when every business that uses a calendar year is momentarily even-up with the rest of the world.
It's the same exact feeling that a loyal fan gets about their team during spring training. Nothing has officially started. Every team is undefeated and the fans all have the same hopeful notion that "this could be the year!" It is belief and expectation that sustain them. In those last few days of December when you have cut off your billing for the year, you are uniquely tied with the rest of the business world. In that frozen moment, that one wonderful week in late December, your sales for next year are the same as this industry's leaders. Hell, your sales are the same as ExxonMobil's for that matter! Your safety record's perfect. Your defect rate is zero. Employee turnover couldn't be lower. If you've done it right, even the employee refrigerator is clean!
You've yet to hit a rough patch or a dry spell or even the dreaded flat spot where sales sometimes hide. Your team is happy, loose and malleable. Just like a thermostat, they are ready to be set. What's it going to be, boss? Did you do your homework? Have you got a plan? Can you share your expectations for a smoothly run, well-tended year-end process? Is it going to be a December to remember? The proverbial fresh start awaits you!
Putting Your Rear-End Into The Year-End
Far too many business owners view the year-end as nothing more than an annual necessary evil rather than the critical business/accounting closeout it is. That's a vision problem which may be rooted in a too-narrow definition of a year-end. View this column as a prescription for new specs.
The year-end process matters and your personal involvement in it will confirm that to your team. Make sure you develop a reputation as a stickler when it comes to doing it perfectly. It's vital that your employees see you planning the company's year-end activities, and it's equally important that they see you physically involved in the more strategic elements of the plan. As in all things, they will take their cues from you. The best business leaders don't have to make many speeches because they already walk the walk when it comes to immersion in the business (which includes maintaining that immersion as the business grows and builds more layers). Staying in touch with each functional task gives you credibility with everyone — especially newer employees who missed the hands-on birth of your business.
Group It, Assign It And Resolve It!
Like most projects, you will find it easier to manage by breaking it down into sections or phases. If you don't yet have a master list that describes your year-end routine, try writing one now. If you are unsure where to start, walk around with a clipboard, look at every staffer or functional team (administrative, billing, sales, quotations, finishing, etc.) and write down your most optimistic wishes about cleaning up and clearing out. You might envision an organized, responsive quotations area or new shelving and cabinetry neatly holding expensive inventory that could be spot counted once a month — that's a fine start!
Maybe you will imagine your accounts specialist researching every single unresolved small open balance to either collect it or credit it off. Put it on that master list. Capture every dollar-related process (invoicing, deposits, credits, material purchases, depreciation, etc.) and determine how to best account for it and close it out. Soon you will have a comprehensive year-end list.
Consider grouping this list by category or type of action required: accounting and banking procedures, tax and legal issues, filing and document storage, inventory and assets, returns, banking and credit requirements, defective materials, special projects, etc. In addition to the concept of closing out, the year-end process should include elements of cleaning up, fixing up and finishing up those jobs that always get bumped at the first sign of sales activity. It's an ideal time for maintenance of all sorts to be scheduled and performed.