By Michelle van Schouwen
Planning for a strong 2017? In addition to exploring best ways to increase your top line via higher revenues, self-audit your company’s expense history and projections now. After all, as businesses grow and mature, it can be easy to relax a little, adding new expenses that become normalized and escape scrutiny… at least until you rout them out. Take the time now to closely audit and cut unnecessary costs and to install new processes and systems to do more with less, especially since new technologies, a changing workforce and other factors offer great opportunities to do more with less.
Make sure you are getting good value from each employee. If not, do the hard work to mentor, train or retrain, redirect, reassign, or if needed, terminate any employee not providing needed support to your company and team. Sometimes even a hardworking and talented employee is no longer required for the work your business does today, and you may have a difficult decision to make.
For some functions, consider adding or substituting part-time staff, contractors or telecommuters to allow you to access great workers. Sometimes their advantage is yours as well.
-Health insurance benefits
Shop around and, within the scope of your legal obligations, study different ways to provide employees with healthcare coverage, whether through conventional plans with higher deductibles than in previous years, through Affordable Health Care plans for small businesses, or through providing a stipend that allows employees to access insurance through individual Affordable Health Care accounts. Sometimes, this last option allows your employees to enjoy a discount. If you work with a broker, task him or her with finding a healthcare plan you can afford.
Reduce it! Sure, we know that face time with customers and others is important, but maybe not every time you “meet.” Replace non-essential trips with online meetings and conferences with webinars. Save travel for the times it benefits your company most.
Before the end of your current lease, make sure you are getting the best value possible from your space. Look hard at how you and your team work now. Consder how you interact with customers. Also check out the current rents in your area and compare them with your own. Negotiate hard for what you need, because unless you are in a highly desirable community or neighborhood, your landlord may need you as much as you need your good space.
Or consider buying a building or commercial unit. At the end of the day, many small businesses learn that much of the value of their companies derives from the value of the real estate they own.
“Are we still paying for that?” A self-audit audit often illuminates monthly expenses that have outlived their value.
In with the new. The right software can save you a tremendous amount of time and money. Track your employees’ time and production (consider simple solutions like ClickTime for offices), simplify your bookkeeping, and store your documents (we’re fans of Google Drive). Search online for your best options.
-Runaway “stuff”… lesson learned
Years ago, during the waning months of a growth spurt, our company conducted its first truly serious expense self-audit. We were surprised and a little embarrassed by some of the costs that had sprouted under our watch. Too much money for rent, parking and airfares. A couple of employees whose pay and benefits had outgrown their usefulness to the team. Phone plans with too many lines. Employee travel expenses that strayed outside acceptable limits.
We buckled down, changed some habits, providers, staff, and policies. We ended some traditions that no longer worked for us. We ruffled a few feathers.
One new policy we adopted was the “at-least-once-yearly expense self-audit.” Thanks to the first self-audit, subsequent rounds are less painful, but each one is still valuable.
A final recommendation:
After your 2016 self-audit, conduct regular mini-audits (a steely look at each expense line item) during the year, and then repeat the comprehensive self-audit-and-update process at the end of 2017. You’ll run leaner, smarter and happier, too.
Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B.