Most people revel in the spookiness of Halloween, but for business owners, the really scary things are likely to happen after October.
Viewed by superstitious investors as the month of the “October Effect,” many businesses find themselves on shaky ground after a turbulent stock market ride in October. Retail businesses look ahead to the holiday shopping season to bring them back into the red, but what’s to come in 2020? In a hot-and-cold political climate, it’s hard for any leader to predict.
That’s why the smartest leaders looking for high growth will start planning now for the year to come. Frightening happenings on the horizon aren’t inevitable — and the best prepared are the most likely to succeed.
If you spot these slow-growth predictors while plotting your course for 2020, create safety nets to keep them from haunting you:
1. A lack of concrete plans.
It’s nice to hope for 15 percent growth in 2020, but if you aren’t putting things in place to make that happen, you’re hanging on a hope. Too many teams set nebulous goals, like “Increase referrals” or “Build a blog to drive leads.” You need metrics or tactical steps to make these goals worthwhile. How are you going to increase referrals? How many or what percentage of referrals would be defined as successful? How will you track leads originating from your blog? What kinds of content will drive them further down the funnel?
Creating a helpfulness guide to highlight what your company wants most is a good way to get your partners, vendors and other stakeholders rowing in the same direction.
2. Weak team members.
I’m not referring to physically strong employees here, though you may need those come inventory time. But take a look around your office: How many people here will take your company to the next level? I’m not advocating for hard-core rankings, but genuinely assess the skill sets and motivation levels of the people around you. If you’re holding Bob’s feet to the flames to get things done on a daily basis, is he likely to change? If Jane is doing the work of three people, how can you replicate her efforts?
You have about two months left until 2020, give or take some holiday PTO. Use that time to have in-depth meetings with each teammate. During those meetings, determine which strengths you should maximize and which weaknesses you should shore up or offload to someone else. Each employee should leave with an action plan for the year ahead or a metaphorical pink slip. In fact, you may determine during these conversations that a longtime team member doesn’t want to invest in any trainings or new projects — and that likely means you’ll need to part ways. That’s better for both of you.
3. No cash flow.
Living on credit is dangerous, even more so if you’re running a business and a recession is possibly looming. Thinking that impeccable credit or a compelling business proposition will get you through tough times is exactly how people fall into tough times. One business I worked with had come out of a slump with very little cash. Although the new market was ripe for the brand’s product, it had no money to pay R&D or manufacturers. That meant loans had to float its first run. It’s not exciting to be successful, only to turn your money over to creditors.
You may not have an emergency fund socked away today, but that has to change going into 2020. Gather together your best financial and strategizing minds, from your accountant to your COO to your mentor. Where can you make budget cuts? Downgrading from premium coffee to a store brand may lead to some whining, but you can’t shun saving hundreds a year in a coffee-slurping office. Are you paying for two software packages with the same functionality?
Likewise, where can you make money? Do you have empty offices you could rent out as co-working space? Would offering trial subscriptions make sense? Could you create a low-tier upsell package to expand your partnerships without busting budgets? Answering these kinds of questions can put your company in a cash-safe spot in 2020.
October is viewed as a scary month, but it can also be a fortifying one. Take a close look at whether you’ve let slow-growth predictors creep into your business. If you can manage them now, your 2019 decisions won’t haunt you into next year.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.