By Sherry Lutz Herrington
I ran cross country in high school, and like most things in high school you don’t really imagine it will be of any use later in life. However, I’ve found some of my most important life lessons have come from my high school experiences.
In cross country you race for several miles, so you need to have a strategy. You can’t just dash out of the starting gate at top speed and expect to have any energy left at the end. Coach taught us to pace ourselves so that we were able to finish strong.
My poor sister would come to watch me race and she always freaked out when I started because almost everyone else would take off faster than I would. What she couldn’t always see while I was out on the course is that I would pick them off a few at a time. If I wasn’t quite able to reach the last one of two before rounding the bend toward home, then I would start my kick to the finish and overtake them before the finish line. I didn’t win all my races, but I did okay, and my sister came to believe in my strategy.
As we round the corner toward the end of the year, do you have a strategy in place to kick to the finish?
Of course, when you start the year, you likely have a budget and some goals set. Your enthusiasm is probably high, and you’re excited to see what the year will bring to your business. But where are your energy and momentum levels at right now? Do you have the drive to finish strong or have you forgotten about your goals and are so far off budget that you’ve given up?
I hope not. But just in case you’ve lost track of how many milestones you still need to pick off your list, now is a good time to reexamine what you want to accomplish this year. I would highly recommend you run the following two reports to help you determine what you need to do to cross the finish line as strong as possible.
Start with your Budget vs Actual.
This report is easy to run if you set up a budget and load it into your accounting software at the beginning of the year. If you didn’t, then hopefully you at least put one together in an Excel spreadsheet. You can pull it up and compare it to a year-to-date Profit and Loss.
Be sure you’re looking at the same time period. If you can look at the Budget vs Actual year-to-date, I recommend that version. You can see where you had hoped to be by this time as opposed to where you actually are. If you aren’t meeting your income goals, then now is the time to examine why your sales are below predicted. Make any adjustments you can to drive in new business and focus on increasing your income during the final quarter of the year.
If your income is on target but your expenses are over budget, then your net profit is below your goal. This means you have a few months left to trim your spending and try to get things back in line.
Either way, examining the Budget vs Actual should help you to find the energy and focus you need to finish the year strong.
Next, run a Year-to-Date (YTD) Comparison.
If your budget was unrealistic, or you faced unexpected challenges and are nowhere near reaching the goals you set out in your budget, then look at the YTD comparison. Sometimes things just interrupt our plans and even the best thought-out budgets don’t always end up being realistic.
Taking a look at the YTD Comparison will help you see how you’re doing compared to the year before to the same date. This is critical to help you understand if your business is growing or contracting. Each has their time and place, but are you doing everything you can to drive your business where you want it to be?
If you are in a growth period, then hopefully you’ll at least be exceeding last years’ numbers. If not, then you can focus on revenue strategies. If your sales have exceeded your sales YTD, then looking at where the sales are strongest vs weakest can help you determine where to focus. Just because your overall numbers are good doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of opportunity. If you look at your sales by category, you may find where you’re lagging and then put your focus on that area.
Suppose you’re satisfied with your sales but see that your expenses are way up compared to the prior year. Then you may be in a pre-growth period where you are investing heavily in your infrastructure or inventory. Sometimes we need to change things to get to the next level in our businesses. This might entail spending money to be able to handle more sales when they come in. Or it might mean you need to create more products so that you have more to sell. Either way, your spending may be up compared to last year, but that doesn’t mean you’re not doing well.
If your income is down and your expenses are up, then your business is contracting. You won’t be surprised if this was part of your strategy. However, if you thought you were on track to make more than last year, you may be surprised. In this case it’s critical to examine where you are headed and make the necessary adjustments to redirect course.
When you look at the YTD Comparison report you can see what is happening and determine what needs to be done to close out the year in the right place.
As we round the bend toward the finish of this year, it’s time to kick.
I can almost hear my sister and my coach yelling from the sidelines. Encouraging me to kick and race for the finish line as strong as I can, picking off the last of my opponents. In your case, it might mean pushing yourself and your team by giving them clear directions on what you want to accomplish. Together you can exceed your year-end goals.
Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (www.strongwomenthriving.com), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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