Q1 Planning Checklist: 7 Ways to Kick Off a Successful Year

Author: Caron Beesley | December 20, 2018

A new year brings new resolutions. As this year comes to a close, it’s time to get strategic with a quarterly plan of action that puts your business on the right track from day one.

Here are seven important things to add to your Q1 checklist.

1. New Tax Laws are Confusing, Consult Your Tax Planner

Let’s start with the tactical stuff. Tax season is around the corner and now is the time to start planning for filing your 2018 return. Many of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made changes that impact virtually every business in 2018 and in the years ahead. Some of these may free up funds so that you can focus on business growth or help ease any cash flow issues you anticipate in the months ahead.

Set time on your calendar to meet with your tax preparer to determine which deductions and credits apply to you. Here are tips from the IRS on how to choose a tax preparer wisely. If you’re looking for more help in the coming year, you might also use this time to find a new accountant.

2. Stay on Top of Key Tax Dates

Keep these dates in mind for 2019: January 31, March 15, and April 17.

There are a few tax dates and deadlines that fall in Q1. C corporations, LLCs, sole proprietors, and individuals have until April 17 to file their tax returns.

S corporations and partnerships must file by March 15, 2019.

The other deadline for Q1 is the provision of W-2 forms to employees and 1099-MISC forms to independent contractors. The deadline for both is January 31, 2019. Consider issuing these sooner than the deadline, to allow time to find and correct any errors.

(Always double-check your tax dates! To verify these and other tax dates that may affect your business, visit the IRS tax calendar.)

3. Look Back Before You Look Ahead

Now onto more strategic business. Before you start checking off all your great business ideas for Q1, pause and reflect on the year that has passed.

How did your plans for 2018 pan out? What worked and what didn’t? Which marketing tactics shone, and which are not worthy of a repeat? Which product lines proved most profitable? Did you encounter unexpected cash flow problems and why?

Knowing what worked and what didn’t will help you form a clearer idea of where to focus your energy and funds in Q1 and the months ahead.

4. Map Out Your Content Needs

Creating relevant marketing content is more important than ever for businesses. 78% of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing while 82% of consumers feel more positive about a business after reading the content it produces (blogs, ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, and so on).

But content needs to be informed by strategy. Think about your goals for the quarter (and year) and where strategic content could help.

Some questions to ask you plan your marketing include: Will you be producing content to generate leads, improve SEO, drive loyalty, or establish thought leadership—or all of these? Who is your audience and what do they want to learn from you? Is there a stage of the sales funnel that would benefit from a certain form of content?

Spend some time now, thinking about how content can help you achieve your goals for the year ahead and where to direct your efforts.

5. Create a Budget that Works for Your Business (and Revisit it Regularly)

One of the biggest decisions SMBs make is how to spend their scarce funds, yet smaller businesses are more likely to skip the important task of budgeting. Survey data shows that 61% of small businesses did not create a formal budget for 2018 and 37% of those that did create one spent more than they budgeted in Q1.

Many SMBs feel that a budget will limit their agility and business growth, but without a budget it’s hard to focus on what matters and keep everyone on the same page. Budgets are also a vital tool for helping you manage costs and dealing with unexpected financial surprises. For example, if you lose a client or revenue stream your budget will inform how this loss will impact your cash flow, where cuts need to be made, or if cash needs to be reinvested into sales and marketing to help drive new business elsewhere.

In this way, a budget becomes a dynamic reference point that informs your business growth activities and helps you navigate financial hurdles – if you revisit it often and adjust based on what your other business indicators are telling you. For instance, if your sales forecast suggests a buoyant March, you may need to shift your budget to cover the costs of extra inventory, equipment, or staff.

Cloud accounting software, such as QuickBooks, Xero, and FreshBooks, bring an enormous amount of value to the process, saving time and delivering insights. Rather than the manual headache of maintaining a spreadsheet-based budget, these tools allow you to create a budget and run automatic comparisons with your financial statements, so you can easily see how your business is performing.

6. Get Team Buy-In For Your Action Plan

Q1 is the perfect time to reconnect with your employees and get them excited about the year ahead. If you can, meet with them personally to connect face-to-face and renew relationships and feelings of team cohesiveness.

It’s also a good time to be honest about what worked and what didn’t last year and be clear about how you plan to tackle these opportunities and challenges in 2019. If you haven’t already, conduct employee reviews and set individual and team goals so everyone knows their role in helping you hit it out of the ballpark this year. If they need help, explore training opportunities and review business tools together.

7. Review Your Funding Needs

With so much going on in Q1, chances are you’ll need some form of financing to help you on your path to success. The good news is that a stable economy has created more funding opportunities for entrepreneurs and there are many unique options to consider.

SBA loans continue to provide an invaluable source of financing to small businesses. In the 2017 fiscal year, the SBA reported the approval of more than 68,000 loans in its 7(a) and 504 loan programs. But for businesses seeking smaller injections of cash, microloans are also a useful alternative. With maximum lending amounts of $50,000, microloans can be used to buy equipment, office supplies, furniture, etc. Although interest rates are higher than other small business loans there are fewer requirements to qualify for this form of financing.

Another option—especially if you have a limited credit history or just need access to funds as and when you need it—is a business line of credit. Unlike a term loan, a line of credit does not provide a lump sum of cash that requires a monthly repayment schedule. Instead, it offers access to capital up to a certain amount. Similar to using a business credit card, you can access funds when you need them most.

Businesses commonly use their business line of credit as a tool to help them grow their business and accomplish more, faster, such as hiring new employees or a freelancer to help you polish up your website, purchasing inventory to get ready for a busy month, and so on.

If you’re worried about pledging collateral or minimum credit score requirements, Fundbox might be an attractive option. You can be eligible for a line of credit within just six months of starting your business. There are no minimum credit score or monthly income requirements, no application fees and no origination fees, just a weekly fee when you draw. You can also pay back early, reducing your total fee costs.

 

Use this checklist to keep you focused in the coming months as you tackle key deadlines, work towards your goals, and motivate your employees.

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