Q4 planning isn’t something that most small business owners think about until October is just around the corner. But if you can start Q4 planning during Q3, you put your business in a much better position for success. You won’t find yourself behind at the end of the summer, and you won’t be scrambling to make a good profit in Q4.
Q4 can be a very busy time of the year. Affiliate managers hustle to schedule and coordinate brand and site promotions. Operations managers hustle to ensure they meet program goals. To make your Q4 successful, we strongly suggest early preparation with business analysis, strategic Q4 planning, and a production review.
(1) Review and Analyze Data
Start with a review and analysis of your business’s historical performance. This process will give you a lot of valuable information that can guide your Q4 planning. Take a good look at your key performance indicators (KPIs) like revenue, clicks, average order value, and return on advertising spend. You can review different time periods separately to look for trends. For example, you can discover your specific peak sales seasons for different products. Then review the numbers for year over year, and then quarter over quarter. This will give you an idea of how your business has performed through time. That way, you can see where you have or have not grown, and then you’ll know where to look for the reasons why this happened.
Going deeper, you can look at each individual KPI separately to review things like which links got you the most clicks, which devices your target customers are using most, which partners got you the most referrals, and which promotions got you the most sales. This will show you the trends and most lucrative opportunities to invest more in as you move towards Q4. It will also show you which campaigns or other efforts are not bringing you the level of results you need to make them worth repeating.
At the very least, this review will show you where you need to improve tracking so that you can collect more data about your performance and learn more from it. For example, you might notice that you don’t know where your traffic is coming from. Then you can set up trackers to monitor it so you can take better advantage of those traffic sources. You may also notice that you have not been taking advantage of certain built-in social media data analytics, or that you need more than just the basics. Then you can decide what improvements to make, like hiring someone to increase community engagement or purchasing a tracking tool.
An analysis should also be able to tell you how you can improve your abandoned cart ratings and launch retargeting campaigns. These take time to set up, monitor, and tweak, so you’ll want to get started before the Q4 rush sets in. Armed with campaigns that have been tested as effective, you will be in a great position to experience a very profitable Q4.
Generally, you will want to take note of any opportunities for optimization that you notice as you go over the data. This will help you to set goals for the business when you sit down to do your Q4 planning.
(2) Start Q4 Planning in July
July is the best month to start Q4 planning. You have finished Q1 and Q2, and you are ready to implement new projects to achieve a whole new set of goals. To prepare for Q4, many of these goals should be geared towards a successful end of the year for your business. If you plan for Q3 separately, you may find yourself overstretched, or having to redo several goals to accommodate your Q4 strategy. By the time you realize that you need to shift, you will have wasted time and will most likely get stressed out trying to manage it all. The real danger here, however, is that you may not even have enough time or resources to achieve your Q4 goals even if you power through. The key is to start Q4 planning in July to avoid all of this hassle. This way, you will have a full quarter to prepare your business for the busiest shopping season of the year.
Armed with the review and analysis that you have just conducted, you should have a good number of ideas on what needs to be done in preparation for Q4. You have three whole months to figure out how to put out the fires and shore up certain areas. If your business was in pretty good shape to begin with, then you will have plenty of time to get some growth plans set in motion, too.
The first thing that you want to look at before deciding on what projects to do is your budget. When you know how much you have overall, you can decide how much you can and should invest in each project. Then you can think about the ways in which you can reasonably cut costs to stay within budget without sacrificing quality. Make sure that you take note of any obstacles that you think you may come across for the duration of the project. This is part of the mapping out process that shows you how you’ll be able accomplish each of your goals, or at least some of them. That will help you decide which of the ideas on your list you can pursue for this round.
You may be looking into launching a new product or service in Q4. This means that you’ll need to prepare a go to market strategy. This strategy will describe in detail how you are going to break into that new market or audience. This type of strategy also works if you are planning a relaunch of your existing or improved brand, product or service offering. More than a marketing plan, this strategy will give you a more detailed focus so that everyone involved knows exactly what targets they need to hit and how to get there.
If you’re focused on pushing sales for an existing product or service, you’ll need to plan around your top offering. It should be very easy to determine what your top products or services are, using the data from the first step above. Take into consideration as well any products or services that you think might become very popular this year. With this, you can start developing a plan to promote them.
Customers always look for the best deals during the Q4 shopping season. One big idea around your Q4 planning should be how you will provide them with the best offers possible. When you have this mapped out, it immediately puts your brand in a position to succeed. Look at your data once again and identify the offers that were the most popular last Q4. Then look at what the competition is offering and do a comparison. This should give you a good idea of how well you are positioned in terms of specific offers. Look at set sale days, too, like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day, and Super Saturday.
Make sure that you get all your promotions organized in a calendar. At Outsource School, we use Trello to keep track of all this. With the Calendar power-up, it’s a breeze. We have all our content in one place, making sharing and collaboration easy. Plus, tasks are tracked by point person and due date. Everybody involved in these promotional cycles know exactly how much time they have to roll each one out.
You may also want to roll out affiliate offers to boost exposure and sales. The earlier you start building these relationships, the more breathing room your affiliates will have to prepare. This allows you to work together to come up with a solid plan.
To make planning easier, you may want to have some kind of visual representation of your project timelines. A Gantt Chart is a great tool that gives you an overview of what preparatory tasks are scheduled for Q3, and how they flow into implementation for Q4. Within the bars, you can also include who is working on each task so your project manager can make sure that there are no overlaps. If there are, then you can look into hiring additional help early on, before the bottleneck threatens to mess up your deadlines. The goal is to get you to the finish line, and a complete chart like this will tell you where you are and help the whole team stay on track.
(3) Hold Q4 Planning Meetings
As soon as you have your timeline drafted, start meeting with your team. You will want to give them a heads up about what’s in store for Q4 so that they can get ready to rock. More importantly, you will want to get their input on the proposed projects before you finalize the details. Your team has most of the hands-on experience in the business. They will be able to give you valuable insight into what can and cannot be done within your timeline, and suggestions for how to overcome challenges.
You’ll also want to get some form of sales proposal drafted. You need this to plan out your message for how your brand and the specific service or product you’re focused on will positively influence your target customers. This proposal will guide your marketing team in terms of what kind of brand collateral they will need, for example, to show your strengths. It will also guide your sales team in preparing to push the product or service. They can operate more efficiently when they have this streamlined and actionable process to follow to reach your goals.
To help everyone stay on target, you can also have a target slide created. This visual is basically a bullseye surrounded by circles where you can write in the different goals or stages that need to be reached to ultimately land the central goal. This is a great reminder of the overall steps that everyone needs to focus on to achieve the Q3 and Q4 goals.
(4) Check Production Capacity
If your business experiences that common peak in sales during the holiday season, you will want to make sure that you can meet the demand. Whether you offer products or services, it’s important to check your production capacity so that you can serve your customers well. You don’t want to run out of inventory and lose the opportunity to achieve your highest sales on record. You don’t want to be pressed for time, either, when providing a service, which often leads to poor quality output.
For products, make sure that you check your data for the specific figures that show how each product sells during Q3 and Q4. You want to make sure that you will be able to order just enough to cover the sales for each order cycle. This means looking at your production times, too, so you know exactly how long it will take to get new orders into the warehouse. Then you can figure out exactly how much to order, and when. Give yourself a good margin for error in case any production issues come up, but not too big so you don’t end up overstocked and paying additional warehousing fees.
For services, make sure that you check your personal capacity and the capacities of everyone on the team. Look at your data to find out the sales volume that you anticipate, Then figure out how many man hours that translates to. If you don’t have enough people to cover the work, consider expanding the team as early as now so that they will have enough time to train up and be ready for crunch time. Whatever you invest in this preparation, make sure that you anticipate a great enough surge in sales to more than make up for it. Otherwise, consider cutting back on promotions to control your sales level and keep it at a manageable level. At the end of Q4, at least you will know what volumes you can expect next year, and how you can scale up within budget to take the best advantage of it.
(5) Check Your Accounts
Give all your accounts a good once-over to make sure they are in good working order. Q4 is a crazy time of the year when you won’t have a lot of time or energy. You don’t want to have to deal with anything suddenly popping up. Use the time that you have in Q3 to tune up your accounts so you can avoid issues later.
Make sure that you have all the basics in place on your website, social media channels, and all the tools that you use. For example, check to make sure that your Facebook pixel is working, and that your Google Analytics is tracking traffic properly. Get any bugs sorted out and check again until you’re sure it’s all working smoothly.
Check your finances and make sure that you have enough funding to make the hires and purchases that you need for your Q4 plans. You don’t want to end up having to bail in the middle of all your efforts because you ran out of money.
Get your Q4 planning done early so you can enjoy a more profitable and stress-free Q4. Planning out your final quarter will help you to avoid making errors that can have heavy costs both on the business and you personally, as well as your team members. Q4 planning during Q3 puts your business in a much better position for success, without making unnecessary sacrifices.
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