The end of the year is racing toward us – Christmas is less than a week away! If you haven’t started planning for 2018 for your business yet, well, you’re a little behind. Don’t despair – there’s still time to get a game plan together for the coming year. Block off a few hours on your calendar, shut the office door, turn off your phone, and get to work. These five tips will help you plan your best year yet.

Set SMART Goals

No, we didn’t lose track of the caps lock key for a minute there – SMART goals are a real thing. They are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. This means the first thing you’ll want to do is set clear parameters for your goal – what exactly do you want to achieve? Then it’s time to measure it – how will you know if you’ve succeeded? Next, ask yourself if you can actually achieve the goal, or if it’s just a pipe dream. Shooting for the stars sounds great, but if you’re setting yourself up for failure then it’s a waste of time. Next, make sure your goals are relevant to your company mission. If you’ve set a goal to acquire 1,000 Facebook followers next year but your business doesn’t post on Facebook more than once a month, that goal is not relevant to your overall success. Finally, set a deadline. This is the scary part – you only have so long to do this. Saying you will make $1,000,000 in sales the following year is way more motivating than saying you just want to achieve it some time. As December 31 approaches, you’ll know exactly how far you still have to go.

Write Everything Down

Putting your plan down in writing makes it a whole lot more real – and whole lot harder for you to shirk. Plus, you’ll need this document handy when you’re planning your annual budget (something else you should definitely be doing right about now). As you review each expense in 2017, ask yourself whether it is relevant to achieving your goals in 2018. If it’s not, out it goes so you can make room for products, services, and people who are.

Start Planning Sub-Goals

You don’t need to have your whole year mapped out down to the minute right now, but start thinking about what smaller tasks and projects you will need to complete to meet your large goals. For example, if one of your big goals involves shortening the response time to customer service requests to two hours by the end of the year, plan out when you will start researching software to help with this. Do you need to increase the size of the support team? When will that hiring process take place? Who will manage it? The more you can outline now, the easier it will be to stay focused when a thousand other things clamor for your attention in 2018.

Gather All the Data

Before you really dive into this whole planning thing, you’re going to want to stop and figure out what resources you’ll need to actually answer the question. Your accountant or bookkeeper will need to provide you detailed financial information, going back an additional year or so for comparison if possible. If customer satisfaction is important to you, find out if your operations department keeps data on solved tickets and feedback. If you’re trying to even out your revenue stream month to month, find out what’s keeping your sales team from hitting their goals in certain months. You get the idea.

Listen to Your Team and Customers

Your team is there in the trenches with you every day. It’s a major mistake to plan the next calendar year without their input. Ask your department heads and managers to assist with this. A survey is a good place to start, but encourage managers to actually sit down with their employees and really hear what they have to say. What’s working in their department and what’s broken? What makes them excited to come to work and what makes them drag their feet? If they ran the business, what would they like to see happen next year?

Your customers are also an excellent source of advice and knowledge. Ask them what they love about the way your company does business and what they wish would change. Are there products and services your competitors provide that are threatening to draw your customers away? Do they want to receive more communication from you, or less? While you won’t be able to please everyone, it doesn’t hurt to listen. You’ll hear topics that come up over and over again – those are great places to start.

Plan to Upgrade Your Credit Card Processor

It’s time to stop settling for rates that keep creeping up year after year and annual contracts with no end in sight. At 360 Payments, we keep things simple. There are never any contracts, and our rates are transparent and fair. The credit card processing industry is complicated enough. Choose a partner who has your best interests in mind. Give us a call at 408-295-8360 or drop us a line on our website. We’d love to show you why that partner should be us.

PS – Keep an eye on these four fintech trends in 2018.

PPS – The holiday shopping season is almost over! Keep your sanity with these tips.