Now that we’ve officially welcomed a new year, we can start or continue to plan for what’s to come in the next 365 days! For businesses, this may include a host of things aimed at improving current operations. However, sometimes planning for the next year includes things that are simply necessary in continuing to keep things moving along smoothly and successfully. No matter what’s in the works or what your goals are for the coming year, planning ahead properly and getting the right resources into place is essential.
Planning to Incorporate Professional Services
It’s fairly safe to say that business owners are always thinking about how to improve their systems and take their businesses to the next level. Planning to incorporate services over the next year that help with this will ensure you have more precious hours of time to run your business and less to stress about. Moreover, it’s difficult to see the full benefits of a service until you’ve given it enough time to work. Planning to implement new services at the beginning of the year will allow you to try out something new for a long enough period of time to fully integrate it into your current operations and then to evaluate whether implementing it was beneficial at the end of the year.
Professional Answering Service
Utilizing an answering service is one way to increase your level of customer service offered without having to hire additional staff to cover phone calls outside of the normal hours of operation. Executive Answering Service offers friendly telephone receptionists who can answer your phones whenever you cannot – whether you are on the other line, out of the office, with a client or spending treasured time with your family/friends. Many callers will hang up and call someone else when they receive a voice mail or busy signal, resulting in what could be hundreds of dollars of lost business!
“Hiring, training and then the overhead cost for a friendly and customer service oriented telephone receptionist – including salary, benefits, etc. – is expensive!” says Megan Lipert, owner of Executive Answering Service. “Our operators can obtain messages and/or seamlessly transfer calls to you or your staff, just as if they are working directly in your office. They are trained to be the best virtual receptionists in the industry. We don’t want to be just your answering service, our goal is to be a part of your team and your customers are our number one priority. Executive Answering Service is able to offer the quality of service that is aligned with your reputation and the communication technology that your business requires.”
Grounds Management and Landscaping Services
Keeping your property looking great all year long definitely requires some forward planning for optimal execution. This is something that should ideally be planned in the next month or two—especially for any spring projects on the horizon.
“A lot of people don’t think about this during the winter, but it’s the perfect time to plan for what type of colors and plants you’ll be incorporating in the spring,” explains Brandy Prettyman, owner of The Grounds Guys of SW Omaha. “If you plan for the entire year of landscaping and grounds maintenance now, which includes already getting started with the planning for the spring, it gives the company you will be working with time to use its vendors to your advantage. Aside from better prices, this includes determining what is coming in for the season—when you wait until spring rolls around, the options available to you likely will have dwindled down to the tail end of what hasn’t been claimed yet. Landscapers such as The Grounds Guys get first pick from wholesalers, so if you plan for upcoming projects in January or February, it gives us an opportunity to get the absolute best product that fits your exact needs.
It is also important to put a budget together that encompasses services over the course of the year. It may be easy to put off in the winter months as something that can wait, especially when cost is concerned, but I can assure you it is key early in the year to set aside funds and plan ahead by looking at all of your needs and wants vs. your budget. Your yearly needs may span across all of our services, from lawn care to landscaping, grounds maintenance, project clean-up, other property work, snow removal, and even holiday lights or decorations throughout the year, or you may only need a specific service. Regardless, a good contractor will be able to look over things with you and find ways that you can get the most out of your budget. Also, planning for what you want will allow you to see what may actually be feasible. As a prime example, for projects that incorporate mulch on a property it is important for the owner to understand that it will need to be turned over once a year. This can be expensive, but if you incorporate this into an overall contract, the company will likely be able to give you a better deal. Especially as a business owner myself, I understand that it’s important to watch every penny to make sure you get the most out of any contract. Even if you check with four or five companies to get a ball park estimate of what you are looking at, that will provide you with helpful information moving forward with developing a budget for the year and staying within that budget.”
She adds, “Even though we’ve just enjoyed another holiday season, now is also the time to look into next year’s holiday lights! We offer discounts the earlier in the year that you book because it gives us significant time to develop a plan and troubleshoot. For any holidays throughout the year, any décor on the grounds that goes along with the holidays, or even to draw attention to an event or a new location or for a facelift on an old location, we’d be happy to help! We are also able to coordinate our efforts to connect the outdoor décor with your marketing or PR timelines.
Above all, planning for the year ahead will help you accurately gauge what you want and what you can actually afford. This will allow you to make adjustments and to explore your options in order to find a way to get everything you need done when you need it, on budget, and in a timely manner.”
Travel Agency Services
In the business world, we are always on the go and this not only takes us everywhere in the Omaha area but to various destinations across the United States and even abroad. This may be how you’d consider utilizing a travel agency, and you’d certainly be correct that these professionals are a tremendous help and using them as a resource is the best way to guarantee that you’ll have a worry-free trip, but there are also other ways that you can plan to incorporate their services.
“Assisting in planning destination meetings and team building events for our corporate clients has been among our increasingly popular services over the past few years,” says Kris Reddy, owner of The Vacation Store and The Cruise Company. “These work really well for getting your team out of the office and into a different environment where they can be productive and also share a memorable experience with one another. Aside from meetings and corporate retreats for groups, you may also incorporate a nice getaway into an incentive package or program. Cruise ships are particularly nice because they are all-inclusive and provide a relaxing environment—we recently arranged an executive meeting for one of our clients aboard a cruise ship and it got rave reviews from those who participated on how productive the meeting was but also how refreshing it was to get out of the normal day-to-day office setting and interact with the entire team, especially those from other departments who normally didn’t have contact with one another. We can even schedule a member of our team to act as a meeting concierge throughout the entire trip as needed. Travel packages can be planned for client or member appreciation too, as a memorable way to maintain your relationship. We’ve also planned successful seminars as well as consortiums, or a gathering that connects multiple businesses, organizations or unions. These are all examples of creative ways to incorporate travel into the coming year that you could potentially write off for tax purposes, generally claimed as travel and meeting expenses incurred to help businesses meet their goals, so I also highly advise consulting with your accountant to see what your options are. Above all, the expense of travel is well worth the opportunity for training, networking, goal setting, team building and so on in a unique environment that is still conducive (and many times optimal) for producing the results you seek. We’d be happy to help you plan any of these types of events, and also tune into Travel Tuesday on KMTV’s The Morning Blend for more ideas on how you can incorporate travel in 2015.”
Planning Your Financial Future
To increase your profits, you must have a complete understanding of your finances and manage them according to what is in your best interest. The professionals at Union Bank & Trust are always willing to provide their knowledge and expertise to make sure you are headed in the right direction for the next year.
Jim Smith, Vice President – Treasury Management Services at Union Bank & Trust, offers some of the ways that your bank can assist you with planning for the coming year:
Fraud protection: Large organizations or retailers are not the only victims of fraud and network attacks. Planning for the new year should include an overall review of your tools to resist payment fraud and network vulnerabilities. Make sure your PC and computer network protections are working and up-to-date. Regular updates to your account or other software including tools such as Adobe or Microsoft is extremely important. Payment protections are equally important to protect against counterfeit checks and electronic payments. Check volume is on the decline but does not stop check counterfeits and fraud.
Employee Benefits: Organizations of all sizes are trying to manage healthcare costs. Have you considered a health benefit review including a qualifying High Deductable Health Insurance plan coupled with a Health Savings account to better manage increases or even reduce medical costs? Have you considered some type of wellness plan for employees?
Retirement Benefits: While we are talking about employee benefits, does your organization sponsor a qualified retirement plan of some type and do your employees take advantage? Now is a great time to consider the health of your retirement benefits, associated costs, and education for your participants. Employees who understand the requirement plan and their options are much more likely to save for retirement. Do you provide some type of teaching or education for their financial well-being?
Electronic Payments: Check volume continues to decline but not as quickly in the business world. Small Business is still the largest user of checks for payroll or vendor payments. Consider the benefits of going electronic for even part of your company’s regular payments. The savings go beyond just the cost of check stock to use electronic ACH for payments. ACH is not only more secure but is more convenient for employees and customers. Do you accept credit cards for company sales? Maybe you could benefit from an app allowing you to accept card payments from a mobile device (smart phone or tablet) from anywhere. Depending on the volume of checks accepted for sales, you will soon have the ability to use that same mobile device to submit check deposits from any location.
Online or Electronic Statements: This ties back to Fraud Protection for the potential of hard copy of your bank, credit card or investment statements to be stolen or intercepted from your physical mail box. Enroll in electronic statements where you can for your financial information. Paper takes up space, time to organize, and is susceptible to theft or accidental destruction. Limit access to this sensitive information and reduce the risk of theft by keeping it online and behind a secure web portal.
He adds, “Check with your bank for solutions to protect your accounts such as Positive Pay and an ACH Filter. These services use payment information you provide to allow only authorized transactions to pay from your bank account on a daily basis. Use online banking to review your accounts on a regular basis. A small office may not have the staffing numbers for normal account controls and separation of duties. Periodically reviewing your account can help ensure what you see on the ‘company books’ is accurate….is the payee name identical to your register on the cancelled check?
Your bank may be able to help you with education for both your Health Savings Account and Insurance Plan as well as your company Retirement Plan. Union Bank & Trust Company has a full staff of ‘educators’ who explain an employees retirement options and benefits in language they can understand. Your associates will be much more likely to successfully utilize your company benefits if they have a better understanding of those investment options.
Union Bank has full capability for electronic ACH payments to gain speed and efficacies of all types of payments including direct deposit of payroll, recurring client payments, vendor payments, tax payments as well as the accompanying remittance information. We can offer mobile solutions that allow you or your staff to accept a credit card payment through their smart phone. It’s called POGO and includes a simple, quick application process to get your started. POGO provides you the credit card reader that plugs into your Apple or Android device.
You can contact Union Bank any time to add electronic statements or eStatements to help your sensitive financial records stay more secure with the ability to retrieve up to 18 months information for your checking account. Electronic statements are an option for your credit card, merchant statement, or investment records. Just tell your banker you want to make the change and for which accounts.”
In addition to your bank, your accountant, payroll provider, insurance agent and/or investment advisor are financial representatives who are also invaluable resources for assistance with keeping your finances secure and in educating you about all of the options that are available to you and what might be the best fit as you move forward with doing business in the coming year.
Planning for Transition
For those who will be in transition at any point during the coming year, planning to utilize a storage facility will make life a lot easier for everyone.
Strong Box Storage is Lincoln and Omaha’s premier storage facility, offering a secure, state-of-the-art facility complete with extra amenities such as climate controlled units, 24/7 digital surveillance, drive-up storage rooms. As a registered U-Haul dealer, in addition to providing many sizes of moving vehicles Strong Box Storage also offers a wide variety of moving supplies to help you tackle the project.
“We have a lot of clients who store items from their businesses, as we are generally the most economical option available,” explains Thomas Friedman, owner of Strong Box Storage. “Some businesses use our facility as overflow, some for seasonal storage, and some companies use our facility as their main point of storage. For example, we see a lot of construction companies store valuable equipment in our larger units as opposed to keeping it on-site to risk being damaged or stolen. In fact, quite a few of our units are utilized by businesses, both short and long term. We offer a range of sizes from 5×5 to 10×40, and we always try to find the right size that fits the customer’s needs. We also provide unique keypad codes so our customers have access to their unit 365 days a year. A different code can also be given to each person with access so you can track exactly who is coming and going. While we can get walk-in clients right into a unit, often times we like to meet with people to show them a few different sizes and strategize as to which one will best accommodate the space and features they require. We are glad to offer our time and expertise in this way, and I highly recommend briefly touring the facility when planning for offsite storage to see the full extent of options available at our facility.”
He adds, “At Strong Box Storage, security and convenience for our clients is very important to us. While you don’t normally think of staff at a storage facility, we feel that it is important to have someone from our staff availably on-site 24-7 to assist our customers with whatever their needs may be. As most of our customers are generally going through a time of transition when they require our services, our goal is to ensure that everyone and everything is safe, secure and well taken care of in addition to making sure things are convenient and go as smoothly as possible. We are set up to accommodate just about any requests you may have, and we also make it very easy to pay on time which helps businesses plan ahead to cover costs related to storage. You can pay whatever way you choose, including automatic withdrawal to eliminate fees associated with late payment, and you can also pay ahead for additional discounts. Whatever your needs or goals are, we can come up with a plan to make them happen.”
Planning to Promote Your Business
To effectively market your business in 2015, you’ll want to take a look at the big picture at the beginning of the year, evaluate where you are at and where you want to be, and then strategically plan out your efforts so that they will have the most impact on your target audience over the rest of the year.
“With the new year just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about strategy, and how to get the most ‘bang for your buck’,” advises Joseph Frost, owner of Frost Media Group. “It’s critical to stay top of mind, whether your goal is to bring in new customers, clients, or donations. A solid plan today can help you stretch your budget to cover the entire year.”
He continues, “One idea is to look for efficiencies through annual contracts. A yearlong marketing strategy is often less expensive than relying on a series of one-off projects, and if you can sit down once and outline a strategy for the year, you’ll avoid spending countless hours in planning meetings and sifting through proposals.
For example, Frost Media Group offers 30 to 40% off an annual video contract versus onetime projects. You can get the same quality content, stay in front of your audience with engaging videos, and save some serious money by planning ahead.
Another great idea is to sit down with your calendar and plan your marketing strategy around the events you already know about. Have a big fundraiser in the fall? Grab people’s attention in the months leading up to it, pull at their heartstrings while you’ve got a captive audience, and then make sure anybody who didn’t attend wishes they had with fun social media content that day and a recap afterward.
Frost Media Group provides video solutions and creative strategies for its clients. Our One Minute Video annual packages included annual and quarterly content planning to maximize return on investment from video marketing campaigns.”
Geniece Brown, owner of Brown Virtual Assisting, also advises, “I always encourage my clients to streamline their marketing by planning out what they will do each day, each week, and each month for the entire year. Putting marketing on your calendar and knowing what you will do each day systemizes your marketing and saves you time.
Many businesses have customers and clients coming in and out of their doors all the time (or visiting their websites), but don’t have a system for continuing to connect with them. One of the best cost-effective ways to stay connected with people who have expressed an interest in your business is sending out a weekly or bi-monthly email newsletter. Prospective customers who want to hear from you will be able to stay connected, build trust in you, know of events and changes with your business, and even be more apt to buy products and services when they are ready because you’ve stayed connected with them.
If you have a website, spiff it up a bit if needed to get attention and get an email sign up form on your site. Put your sign up form in more than one place on your site and offer a free value-added guide or cheat-sheet to encourage sign ups. You can even offer to have site visitors sign up to get your weekly “how-to’s”, tips, motivation, or giveaways they may like or find useful.
I can certainly help businesses with getting their email newsletters planned into their marketing calendar, helping with set up through an email marketing provider if they haven’t started the process, and provide ongoing support with developing content and getting their newsletters sent regularly for the 2015 year. Contact me today at email@example.com for a free 20 minute consultation.”
Marketing drives our businesses,” emphasizes Dan DeSive, CEO and owner of Get eWired Marketing. “Unfortunately a lot of companies will cut marketing budgets when money is tight–but you can’t grow without getting customers in the door, on the phone, or to your website. It’s an investment in the long-term health of your company.
At Get eWired Marketing, we offer expert advice in local online and mobile marketing. Perhaps the most vital aspect of any business is the marketing plan. Mobile will be bigger than ever in 2015 and a local business, retail or service provider has to have a plan on how they can be found on these smart phones that we all carry. We can help incorporate that into their marketing plans.
In fact, I can’t emphasize enough: mobile, mobile, mobile and social media. The branding opportunities and direct customer interactions that occur on social platforms are all too often overlooked, and furthermore, a lot of social media is via mobile devices. Text message marketing is also going to continue to grow. How else can you get over 95% of your customers to read something within three minutes of you sending it?
Basically, we create custom marketing plans to get paying customers to a local business. There are a lot of cookie cutter marketing companies that will offer the same thing to any kind of business. We want to find what makes your business great and unique and build a campaign around that. That way we can get the business a return on their investment and increase their bottom line.”
Planning to Reach Your Goals for 2015 (And Setting Them Now!)
All of the most effective business owners understand that setting goals and accomplishing them, as well as developing talent and utilizing each person’s strength to its full potential, is essential. Moreover, they understand the benefits of utilizing experts for help with things that they don’t specialize in themselves.
Local motivational speaker and author Van Deeb provides some insight on why goal setting at the beginning of the year is so important:
“FACT: 97% of business people do not have written goals and a plan of action. If you fail to plan you are planning to fail. I offer goal setting workshops that will help you formulate a legitimate plan that WILL work.
Anyone who is able to consistently achieve success has a strategy! I live for the strategies and insights that can turn somebody’s world around in an instant. My goal setting workshops have been carefully designed to help business owners, sales people and staff create written goals and a plan of action as to how they will accomplish each one. This is my signature course that will benefit anyone in the sales or service industry. I will help you make a blueprint that will produce results. This goal setting workshop will increase employee attitude, add excitement to the work day and increase revenue. Schedule your workshop today by calling me at (402) 680-8448. My goal setting workshops can take place at your office or location of choice and are available Monday thru Saturday.”
There’s no time like the present to plan for the future, and the beginning of the year offers that fresh start that makes the timing feel right to get everything in order. Strategically, it is also the best time to look at the entire year and in doing so, set up an effective timeline for implementing changes or anything new you will be incorporating. Planning ahead also allows you to look into everything that’s out there thoroughly so that you can make the best possible decisions for your business, and if you’re really ahead of the game, you’ll also find that it offers you the best selection of inventory, optimal scheduling and better pricing too. Local experts should always be used as a resource when planning because they’ve likely been through it all, and that experience as well as their industry expertise is an incredibly valuable asset to you and your business.
Following along the theme of business planning, this year we will be featuring a new series specifically geared towards buying a business, developing a business, and selling a business. If you are interested in getting involved, please call (402) 466-3330 or email Katie@strictlybusinessomaha.com.