Preparing Your Business for the New Year—Do You Have Extra Tubas?

Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC

Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC

The tuba is the largest instrument in the brass instrument family. It can weigh as much as 35 pounds. It also is the lowest pitched musical instrument, consisting of 16-feet of tubing curved into the familiar oblong shape with which we are familiar. The similarly-shaped trumpet has only about nine feet of tubing and weighs two to two-and-a-half pounds. 

There may be several tubas in a concert band. Marching bands also may have several sousaphones. The sousaphone, named after John Philip Sousa, is similar to a tuba but has tubing bent to fit around the player’s body. That makes it easier to play the sousaphone while walking in a marching band. 

Orchestras usually have only one tuba playing its deep bass notes. Much orchestra music, particularly that from the 18th century and early 19th century, does not even have a tuba part. 

Imagine the surprise of the police in Southern California when they received reports that more than 30 tubas and sousaphones were stolen from schools during 2012 winter break. One would think it would be difficult to conceal or dispose of something as large as a tuba. However, the thieves didn’t accumulate a basement or secret storage unit full of tubas. There was a ready market for used tubas among band performers. 

Tuba thieves might find it easy to dispose of their large loot, but businesses may find it more difficult to shed unnecessary baggage. The new year is the perfect time for every business to evaluate whether it has extra “tubas” sitting around. 

In the past year, I have written several articles about business maintenance and sustainability. This article reflects on those articles and adds new ideas to help businesses dispose of their extra “tubas” and start the new year in good shape. 

Evaluate the Past, Plan for the Future

Reflecting on the previous year and setting new year’s resolutions is routine for most individuals. Businesses similarly need to reflect on the previous year and plan for the future. 

  • Compare last year’s accomplishments to last year’s goals. Now is the time to celebrate the business's successes. Businesses evaluate whether they met last year’s goals. If not, business leadership should determine what went wrong. Leadership should assess whether the goals were realistic. If so, leadership should determine what obstacles prevented the business from reaching them. Rather than engaging in self-criticism, leadership then should use this information to establish new goals for the future. 

  • Develop a long-term strategic plan. Business sustainability is best accomplished through long-term strategic planning. Using last year’s experiences as a springboard, leadership should develop long-term goals for the business. A strategic plan should not only include long-term goals. The strategic plan also should state what resources (human, financial, and otherwise) are needed to attain those goals. 

For businesses that already have a long-term strategic plan, the new year is a terrific time to reevaluate the plan. Leadership may want to change the strategic plan to address new developments in the industry, economy, or available business resources. Leadership also may revise the business's vision or mission statements to align with a new business direction. 

  • Set goals for the new year. With the long-term strategic planning updated and in place, leadership can establish goals for the year. Budgeting should allow funding for the goals. Most business’ most valuable asset is their people. Employees and stakeholders should be involved in the goal-setting process. If the individuals charged with necessary leg work aren’t on board with the goals, the process is likely to fail. 

Business Maintenance and Housekeeping

Businesses also should do routine housekeeping and assure that resources are being used effectively. 

  • Routine Business Maintenance. The new year is a great time for a business to conduct routine maintenance. Businesses should be sure that they have made all required filings necessary to remain in good standing. Business also should evaluate whether their by-laws or limited liability agreement still meet their needs. 

This also is a good time to assure that corporate formalities are in place so there is no risk of a creditor piercing the corporate veil. The new year is a good time to confirm that the business minute books are in good order. There should be minutes and resolutions to reflect all official action. And, the new year is an excellent time to calendar the year’s board, shareholder, and member meetings. 

  • Document Retention and Disposition. Every business should have a document retention policy (DRP). If the business does not have a DRP, the new year is a great time to adopt one. For businesses that have a DRP, business leadership should confirm that documents have been appropriately retained–and disposed of–in accordance with the DRP. 

The new year is an excellent time for the business to evaluate the DRP. If the business has new types of documents or storage methods or if legal document retention requirements have changed, the DRP should be updated. 

  • Evaluate data security. While confirming compliance with the DRP, leadership also should assure that the business has appropriate secured its data. Cybersecurity is critical to smooth running of a business in the 21st century and is an important part of any DRP. 

Year-round software updates, virus and malware protection, complex passwords, and routine backups are an important to document retention. Some cloud storage systems allow for automated document retention and destruction processes, which can aid DRP compliance. 

But leadership should not neglect old-fashioned low-tech or analog security. It still is important that doors and file cabinets be locked, that paper containing confidential information be shredded, and that where possible, there are backups in electronic format. Boxes of documents stored in a basement, closet, or storage unit are for a business, akin to tubas stored in a basement. 

As businesses are looking toward the future, so are employees. Business staff are the most valuable and frequently are also the most expensive, business resource. Ownership and employee succession may depend upon the business retaining key employees and preparing them to take on more responsibility. 

Therefore, in addition to considering whether staffing meets the business's needs, leadership should evaluate whether it meets the employees’ needs. Leadership should endeavor to place employees in positions that are well-matched to their skill sets. Leadership should, if possible, adjust compensation to meet the market so employees are less likely to see better-paying opportunities elsewhere. And, where possible, employees should be given the opportunity to develop new skills in areas that interest them. 

Good employee relations create a win-win situation. Employees placed in jobs that fit their skills and interest and who are appropriately compensated will be happier and more productive. Plus, they can better support the business in accomplishing its goals. 

A Prosperous New Year for All

Strategic planning, goal-setting, and maintenance and housekeeping may seem like daunting tasks. Yet, avoiding those tasks creates more work which can bog down businesses as much as an extra 30 tubas in the basement. 

The business’ general counsel (whether in-house or outside) can assist a business with these and other items.  Once leadership starts the planning and housekeeping, it might discover, like the tuba thieves, that it isn’t nearly as difficult to rid the business of the extra tubas as they first thought. 

Plus, with clear goals and a plan to accomplish them, effective use and protection of business resources, a business is most likely to succeed in the new year and beyond. 

This series draws from Elizabeth Whitman’s background in and passion for classical music to illustrate creative solutions for legal challenges experienced by businesses and real estate investors.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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