Small Talk: Meetings should be on companies’ yearend calendars

Joyce Rosenberg

Joyce Rosenberg

NEW YORK — With the end of the year approaching, small business owners should be scheduling meetings to help them plan for a hopefully stronger 2010.

December is often a slow time for many companies, and owners should take advantage of the down time to do some planning. So meetings with financial advisers, bank officials and consultants should be on your schedule.

Equally important is for employers to meet with their staff. Employees wants to know what’s ahead, especially with so much continuing uncertainty about the economy.

Meet with your accountant

No matter what shape the economy is in, the end of the year is an important time to meet with a financial adviser such as an accountant. The conversation should be about all the facets of your business, and not just a talk about whether you’ll end the year with a profit or loss.

Most companies have already been cutting costs throughout the recession. Those that are still having cash flow problems probably need an accountant’s help to determine what their next steps are, whether that means cutting back further, being more aggressive about customers who don’t pay or finding cheaper ways to get the work done.

But many companies will have more upbeat discussions with their financial advisers. Jeffrey Berdahl, a certified public accountant with Berdahl & Co. in Center Valley, Pa., said his clients, while they’re expecting to see revenue flat or down this year, are cautiously optimistic about 2010. So they’ll be coming to his office to discuss how they’ll be changing the way they do business in the coming year.

“They know things will turn around. It’s a matter of when, and what the new business model will be going forward,” he said.

Don’t forget your banker

Berdahl said it’s critical for small business owners to be speaking with their bankers, not just at year’s end, but periodically throughout the year. If you haven’t been in touch with the bank, you need to do that soon. Your line of credit could be at stake.

Berdahl said owners need to be up-front with lenders about their companies’ cash flow and receivables. “Keep your banker on notice on what’s going on, good, bad or indifferent,” to avoid any surprises that could make the bank more cautious about lending to you, he said.

And, Berdahl suggested, “treat them as your ally, not your enemy.”

Meet with other advisers, too

If you have other advisers, now’s a good time to check in with them, too. Berdahl said owners need to be thinking about marketing — “let people know you’re still out there” — so a call to a marketing consultant is in order. If you feel you can’t fit marketing into your budget, then get some help from a counselor at SCORE, the organization that offers free advice to small businesses. You can find a counselor at www.score.org.

Talk to your employees —and listen to them

Owners who have focused on trying to keep customers happy and maintain a steady cash flow may not have devoted enough time to their employees. The year’s end gives you a chance to talk to workers about how the business is doing, what you’re expecting 2010 to look like, and what you’re expecting from them.

“It’s important to communicate what the course of the future is in the organization: Here’s our plan for success, here’s how we’re going to survive and compete,” said Leigh Branham, owner of Keeping the People Inc., an Overland Park, Kan., human resources consulting firm.

Branham said owners still need to acknowledge the ongoing anxiety that employees feel about their jobs. Even owners who have been communicating all along need to check in with staffers now, and, if possible, talk to them one-on-one.

“Ask, ‘how are you doing? How do you feel about things?’ ” Branham said.

There could be issues an owner doesn’t know about. They could affect the quality of an employee’s work, and also make him or her look elsewhere when the job market improves.

“A lot of them are disengaged because they have not been treated well under the threat of losing their jobs,” Branham said.

Branham also advised owners not to assume that all employees have the same problems. “Some are concerned about career advice, or benefits or burnout,” he said.

And, he recommended, “do what it takes to keep people aboard.”

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