Five questions for small-business owners to ask at midyear

Whether the summer means tourism slam, business as usual or slow goings, every entrepreneur should make time for a midyear checkup on their small business, experts say.

"Running a business is a day-to-day process," said Gregg Thompson, North Carolina director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. "But it's much more than (that). It's a longer-term planning process."

June and July are months when businesses should assess the year so far and begin planning for the next six months and beyond, Thompson said. But even the prospect of an assessment sounds daunting and potentially expensive.

Here are five questions to ask about your business:

1. Am I networking enough?

Joe Garen, senior operations manager of Vine American Kitchen, a restaurant that opened late last year in Ballantyne, N.C., said the hours he recently spent passing out free jambalaya, chocolate-chip cookies and menus at the annual Ballantyne Business Bash were fruitful. Summer can be a slow time of the year, especially if you're new on the scene, Garen said. But that's just another reason to make sure you keep your name circulating.

"You don't let your guard down," he said. "You've got to stay up on your business. Stay sharp."

Someone's more likely to seek out a restaurant where they know someone, Garen said, and summertime business events and family-friendly festivals facilitate that one-on-one interaction. "You exhibit what you have, you have fun, and you generate business," Garen said.

2. Am I playing off the news?

David Tobin, one of the founders of Tobin Starr and Partners, a Charlotte, N.C.-based architectural and design firm, said he starts every meeting with a discussion of local and national news. Those few minutes help them stay apprised of the marketplace, which, in turn, has generated a lot of business, Tobin said. His firm designed the NASCAR Hall of Fame building in Charlotte and has big-name clients, such as Brixx Pizza and Pandora Jewelry.

These updates were especially important when the economy crashed and many of the private-sector gigs dropped off. Tobin Starr and Partners relied on news to find opportunities for public-sector jobs, such as the renovation they recently worked on at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

3. How are my financials?

At the midyear mark, it's important to take a look at profits and losses over the first six months, and consider an outside opinion, said Carol Daly, a consultant with the Rock Hill, S.C.-based Winthrop Regional Small Business Development Center.

For a quick, budget-conscious tune-up, consider free resources through local nonprofits and publicly funded business incubators.

4. What is my competition doing?

It doesn't cost any money, but a few simple Internet searches can go a long way toward helping your business better compete in the marketplace, said Dawn Newsome, founder and owner of Moonlight Creative Group, a Charlotte marketing agency that predominantly works with nonprofits.

Start with your own "brand checkup," Newsome said. Have you gotten any positive or negative press? Are customers talking about your brand? Are they saying what you want them to say?

This will give you a point of reference and a way to analyze your goals for the next six months, she said. As for the competition: See what's being said about them. Visit their websites, blogs and social media pages. See what they're touting, and the medium they used to do it.

"It's not like you're spying," Newsome said. "You're just staying current, making sure you know what's going on in the industry. You may learn some trends that you weren't aware of that you want to get up to speed on."

5. How do I get ready for fall?

It may be the last thing on your mind as you consider the office policy on flip-flops, but it's crucial to look ahead at upcoming events and holidays in the next six months, especially if you want to save money.

Consider what you want your staffing to look like and how many people you'll need to hire, Daly said. Do you need to install security cameras, revamp the layout to decrease shoplifting, or budget for part-time security? Don't let those considerations sneak up on during the busiest, most stressful time of year.

And for retailers, consider what inventory you'll need to order ahead of time. "Think ahead," Daly said. "Make sure you get the best price you can get."

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