For many companies, December is the month for addressing those often put aside matters that, while not crucial to the bottom line, are nonetheless important.
For those whose fiscal years mirror calendar years, December is a time for finalizing the coming year's budget. I have worked with companies who plan their fiscal year according to the Gregorian calendar and I've worked with companies who prefer a delayed approach to the new budgetary year, with a start date of March 1.
Either one is fine; and, for the most part, the same rules apply.
Depending upon one's status on the infamous "employee flow chart," the levels of fiscal input can vary considerably. (For the record, in two decades of budget preparations, I have consistently refused to present an "employee flow chart." I find the damned things to be most demeaning. With one exception: When I served on a local college board of trustees, we did have a flow chart. The college students were at the top. I liked that. Otherwise, forgo the flow.)
Planning ahead, of course, is one of those necessary time commitments. As a matter of survival, business needs business. Business begets business just as success begets further success.
Many times, we have grown accustomed to looking at the new fiscal year with the same economic assumptions as the current and previous years. Don't do this.
I have known corporate executives who did this as a matter of routine. Their budget advice was similar to that of Occam's razor. You could say – and you would be correct – that such executives often demonstrated an extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources. Many paid for their narrow-minded approach, too.
During budget season, it is not unusual to hear this "sage" advice: "Let's just assume we'll have the same customer base next year as this year. Then, let's increase all rates by 10 percent, while freezing expenses at their current levels. This will result in a 10-percent increase in profit margin in the new year."
You don't say?
If business were only that simple, we'd all be increasing profits at a 10-percent rate, year in and year out. And why stop at 10 percent? If such a business model actually worked for 10 percent, why not shoot for 20 percent? Do I hear 30? 50?
By the way, one of the companies that tried the afore-referenced tactics filed for bankruptcy not all that long ago.
There's a better way. Really.
Instead of relying solely on increases in rates for services, why not seek additional revenues by expanding the base? It can work.
For a case in point, I purchased a small-city newspaper at the height of the Great Recession of 2009. Almost five years have gone by. We have had exactly zero rate increases for our customers. We have, however, expanded our total number of customers and plan to continue that trend through our well-recognized better quality, better service and better pricing.
Quality. Service. Price. Three of the great business variables.
Granted, as costs of doing business go up, some increases are necessary. But a rate- increase-only approach to improving the bottom line works best for monopolies. If you are a monopoly, well, good for you. If you aren't, you might be wise to find additional means to revenue enhancement.
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Organize. Delegate. Supervise. Check.
These were the first words spoken at the eulogy for Robert B. Greene Sr., formerly of Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Greene was a self-made businessman and a U.S. Army Infantry Major in World War II. His son, Bob Greene, of the Chicago Tribune, is one of my favorite newspaper columnists.
Organize. Delegate. Supervise. Check. This approach seems preferable to that of: Dictate, Demand, Shuffle, & Blame.
Perhaps most importantly, put the customer first. Always.
If you have employees who are not respectful of all generally accepted business proprieties when it comes to answering telephones, responding to emails and text messages or waiting on customers, you need to address that – now.
It will do more for your bottom line than you can ever prove in a spreadsheet.
Rory Ryan is Senior Editor, North American Desk, at Paperitalo Publications and the owner of The Highland County Press in Hillsboro, Ohio. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.