How is it possible we’ve reached the end of 2017 already? Why does it seem like the years zoom past us faster than the previous ones did?
As we marvel at how quickly time passes, we, as small business owners will be wise to do some end-of-year clean up and planning tasks to help us accomplish a few things:
- Spend time now to save time later.
- Spend money now to possibly save money both this year and next year.
- Review our efforts to maximize our effectiveness – and our successes – in the new year.
See how many of these tasks make sense for you:
Records and Data
- Better file management will save you time, so take a look at how your digital records are being kept. Is it easy to get your hands on the information you need? If not, consider changing your filing system both on your computer and with your email. Keeping one folder for each client works well, and if you are uber-organized, you might consider keeping additional folders inside those, perhaps one for the work you perform, client reports, plus another for contracts or transactions and billing. Delete the information you just don’t need or will never need to access in the future.
- Now that your records are cleaned out and cleaned up – back everything up! Copy all your records onto a backup hard drive – a physical one. (If you don’t have one, you can purchase them very inexpensively. I have one that’s the size of a deck of cards, holds one full terabyte of information, and cost about $50.) Do not store records online (in the “cloud”) because they will not be secure, unless you are paying for secure storage (as determined by HIPAA requirements.) Finally, be sure to remove backed up files from your computer, especially from a laptop or tablet that leaves your office. Best practices suggest you keep those records for a minimum of 5 years.
- Income Taxes: Organize your receipts for your taxes (because you won’t want to take the time next year!) Be sure to separate business from personal, and be sure you have receipts for every expense so you have backup documentation for whoever prepares your tax return.
- Determine your Profits: As best you can, review your cash flow and P&L (Profit and Losses) Cashflow: Did your money come in before it needed to go out? Were you profitable for the year?
- Income Taxes: You’ll only pay taxes on your profit. If you were profitable this year, then consider doing a couple of things to reduce your profit and get a jump-start on next year. One idea is to pay a few business bills early, before the end of the year. Or two, purchase something like a new computer. Both approaches can reduce your profit and therefore, reduce your taxes.*
Important Note! The new federal tax bill (not yet law as of today, December 11, 2017) calls for a change in how small business taxes are assessed, and may no longer allow for deductions as they have been managed until now. Spending this money this year may be the only way to take advantage of those deductions to reduce your tax bill.
- Create a budget for next year: Use last year’s budget, plus this year’s expense reality, to determine what it will cost to run your practice next year. Don’t worry! All good budgets are just educated, or not-so-educated (!) guesses. But you need a handle on your expenses to be sure you can make more money than it costs to be in business.
- Examine your time tracking: Time is money, and there are two ways to be sure you are being paid what you deserve. One of them is to track your time accurately and to bill accordingly (because many of us don’t bill for all the time we spend with clients, right?) The second is to estimate accurately the time a body of work will require. The more accurate your time tracking, the more accurate your income. If your current method of time tracking isn’t working well for you, and you need a new tool to make it easier, we keep a list of them in the Tools & Tech section of your APHA membership.
- Consider raising your prices. This is the perfect time to re-evaluate what you charge for your time and effort. You can use the formula for pricing provided in The Health Advocate’s Start and Grow Your Own Practice Handbook. And, take a few moments to read this rationale for raising your prices.
- Write down your goals for 2018. What worked this year? What didn’t? What do you need to revisit? What was too easy? Set yourself some lofty, but attainable goals, then ….
- Figure out how to get there by creating an action plan and making your actions SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) Your plan should address your goals and how you’ll achieve them. Do you need to expand your list of services? Do you need to raise your prices? Can you hone in on a niche you really enjoy? Do you need to do some PR outreach, or refresh your website? How will you achieve your goals?
- Review your marketing materials including your website. At the very least, you’ll need to change out your copyright to say 2018 (it’s OK if you do that a few days in advance!) At the most you’ll need to be sure your website represents you accurately and well. Our checklist of website needs can help you. Be sure you have a way to collect email addresses, and double check that your phone number and email address are available on every piece of printed marketing, and every page of your website.
- Evaluate social media. (OK – true confessions – this is the part where I tell you to do as I say and not as I do). Social media can be an excellent tool for finding other advocates and potential clients. Within your social media presence, do you know what’s working to reach your goals, and what isn’t? Your time is a valuable commodity and you need to be sure that the time you’re spending on social media balances that equation – the time you spend for the return. Once you’ve reviewed it, then make any changes necessary.
- Prepare for the patient advocate certification exam, coming up in March 2018. In a few weeks, the PACB (Patient Advocate Certification Board) will post a handbook and a list of study resources to help you prepare. For now, the best thing to do, if you haven’t already, is to sign up to receive notices at the PACB site.
- Here at the end of the year, it’s time to pat yourself on the back! Make a list of your best accomplishments from the year, whether they were achieved on behalf of a client, or for your practice or business, or even just for yourself. Any accomplishment will help you feel good about yourself, and that’s an important way to take stock before the new year begins. Even if you don’t feel like you accomplished much, celebrating the “small” things can feel good. Then post that list somewhere you can see it to remind yourself of what you did accomplish. Throughout the coming years, add to it as you accomplish something new.
- This will take only a minute, but is always informative: Go to your website, and test your contact information. If it’s a phone number, then dial that number to be sure it’s correct. If it’s an email address, then send yourself an email (preferably from another email address) to be sure you get it. If you have a form on your site, then fill it out, hit “send”, and be sure you get it. Fix anything that’s not working.
- Identify other advocates you want to connect with, and make plans for reaching out. You know that you’ve met other advocates at conferences or in workshops. Or, perhaps you’ve just been interested in what they have to say in the APHA Connect Discussion Forum. Do a search in the AdvoConnection Directory – who else is working in your area? Now reach out to these folks to say hello, to connect. Remember that the rising tide floats all boats, and connecting with others is one of the best ways to accomplish that.
OK – enough reading! Get started on this list. You have only a few weeks left this year to complete it.
Anything else you can think of that is a good end-of-year task?
*Yes – my usual disclaimer…. I’m not an accountant and cannot supply accounting advice, so be sure to double check these money ideas with your accountant.