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Are These Items on Your Small Business’s Summer To-Do List?

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

We all want to take it easy during the summer months, even if it's our busy period at work. But summer time is the right time to do a little planning and preparation for the second half of the year and beyond. Here are some business activities to check off on your summer to-do list:

1. Financial Check-In. You may not want to think about taxes and such any more than you have to, but a mid-year meeting with your CPA avoids miscues and surprises, and keeps your office finances organized. Examine your balance sheet and P&L to make sure tax payments are accurate, and to forecast tax and financial requirements for the remainder of the year. “Review to see that you’ve maximized your contributions to your retirement plan — a 401(k) plan, IRA and Roth IRA,” adds Thomas Scanlon, a CPA and financial advisor with Raymond James in Manchester, CT.

ACTION ITEM: Make an appointment with your CPA or banker. “Take this opportunity to review your goals,” Scanlon counsels. “Ideally, you would be doing this at least quarterly. However, many business owners get so busy working in their business when they should just pause and work on their business.”

2. Staffing Plan. “Summer is often a slow time for business and thus for hiring new employees. That makes it the right time to think strategically about what your organization needs,” notes Bob Myhal, CEO of NextHire in Boston. “Recognize the skills and background that will be most valuable and start drafting job descriptions proactively versus reactively,” Myhal says.” In addition to planning for open or new positions, include temporary employees for planned leave, off-sites and vacation time. As long as you’re looking at personnel, identify skills gaps that need to be addressed and find professional development opportunities or classes that address them.

ACTION ITEM: Myhal suggests answering these questions:

  • Do we have the right people in the right positions?
  • Who is part of the future and who isn’t?
  • What are the personnel areas that are likely to grow most quickly?
  • What skills gaps do our current employees have and how can we fill them?

3. Marketing Audit. A marketing audit examines sales and marketing effectiveness. “Results of the audit become the blueprint for strategic decisions and for future sales and marketing plans,” explains George Schildge, founder of the Matrix Marketing Group, with offices inPlattsburgh,NY andBurlington,VT.

ACTION ITEM: Review the metrics of each promotional activity from the last year to evaluate your offline marketing and research some new online marketing tips that may help your business plan.

4. Brand Checkup. “Summer is a good time to reevaluate your brand because it tends to be a less noisy time for many businesses,” says Deborah Harkins, creative director in 99designs'San Francisco office. “Without the distraction of the holiday shopping season and tax time, you can more easily take the time to evaluate whether your brand is reflecting the value you are offering to existing and prospective customers.

ACTION ITEM: Take a hard look at your company’s core values and personality, and make sure your offline marketing materials are up to date. Harkins suggests answering these questions:

  • Does your brand communicate the truth about who you are and what you offer?
  • Does this truth and the way it's communicated connect with the needs of prospective and existing customers?
  • Does the branding differentiate you from your competitors?
  • Are all your marketing assets (Web site, social media, brochures, letterhead, etc.) consistently representing your brand?
  • Do you have enough of your offline marketing materials to last through the end of the year?

5. Marketing Plan & Budget. Now is the time to plan creative and tee up promotional activities — particularly for the holiday season. Many print publications require ad buys many months in advance of publication, so check in with ad reps now to reserve your space and start your creative. Get out the calendar and slot the specific activities required to produce and launch promotions, deals and other marketing activities. Don’t forget to plan, schedule and write email newsletters and blog posts that support these activities. You can even pre-plan social posts using one of the excellent social dashboards on the market. Then create a marketing budget to fund these activities.

ACTION ITEM: Gather your staff and creative/marketing consultants to create a marketing plan. “Establish measurable benchmarks for the coming year, identify categories and audiences you want to target, and begin compiling data lists of customers for acquisition,” suggests Matthew Reischer, CEO of Legal Advice, a New York–based legal marketing firm.

So forget the “lazy days of summer” and get busy! “Many of the year’s business activities require vision and the summer is a great time to focus on the core creative strategic basis upon which the organizational will operate,” Reischer says.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a business writer who grew up in her family’s gourmet grocery. She’s run her own creative agency, The Word Factory, for 21 years, and frequently advises start-ups and emerging enterprises on everything from communications to operations. She lives and works in Carrboro, NC. Follow Margot on Google+.

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