I love this time of year.  Not just the crisp air, the beautiful fall colors or schools back in session.

It’s budget season.

Businesses on a calendar year should be thinking now about next year.  Typically, you start in September or October, see where you are and then plan ahead to see what you want to accomplish next year.

I’m a bit of a budget geek, having worked in the finance department of large corporations for years.  Sure, I enjoy the numbers and spreadsheets the way some people do crossword puzzles. But my favorite part is talking through the strategies and initiatives that inform the numbers.

A strong budget isn’t something the CFO throws together by simply growing revenue and cutting expenses.  Leadership first sets a vision and talks through what needs to be changed or done differently to achieve that vision.  You may have to abandon products lines that weren’t successful, expand staff or tinker with sales plans.  You’ll consider ideas and investment and risk and reward.  The best budgets are the result of this process, not the process itself.

I am really excited about the Chamber’s approach this year.  Our committees (membership, events, advocacy, etc.) each are setting their own 2016 objectives and determining the resources required to achieve them.  This week, I have the privilege of adding it up before presenting it to the Board.  I get first look at where our leaders think we should be headed and how we can get there.

Earlier, I implied I have been doing budgets for years.  That’s true, except for the few years I skipped the exercise while running a small business.  As an overworked small proprietor, I answered to myself – so why take the time to put numbers and strategies on paper? 

That was a mistake.  Budget season forces you to take time to be intentional and reflect and focus on what needs change.  You may, at the end of it, decide that “business as usual” informs your budget.  But that should not be the default, as it is rarely the right strategy for the long haul.  

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...