All year long you’ve been in frantic motion. You’ve put out fires. Solved employee snafus and issues. Juggled conflicting priorities. Fielded exhausting back-to-back meetings, telephone calls, and endless emails. Motivated yourself and others. And, kept blocking and tackling month after month by leading and managing your company toward achieving the objectives and goals you set. In other words, it’s been a typical year in the life of a small business owner, and, suddenly, December is here, and 2013 is right around the corner. With a little focused thought, the last month of 2012 can also be the most valuable one.

Typically, entrepreneurs and small business owners have trouble seeing above the action and the dust it creates. But maintaining a cool and measured perspective on where you are, where you’re headed, and—most importantly—exactly what you need to do to get there is crucial to next year’s success. It pays to step back and reevaluate your market and your company’s place in it by making sure your practices are in line with ‘the facts.’

Here are eight “must-dos” to tackle before the end of the year:
Hold a 2012 post-mortem. Start by analyzing whether you’ve been an effective leader. A skill every great leader has is the ability to self-analyze, away from the high fives of success and the consistent pressure tight cash flow brings. Ask yourself: Did your business have a successful year? What did it do well? What could it have done better? Where are the future opportunities that will grow your business? What are the threats to your company’s success, or what is holding your business back? These are serious questions that demand serious answers. And once answered, then it’s up to you to define the leadership skills needed to move your business from where it is today to where you want it to be tomorrow.

As the year winds to a close and a New Year approaches, it pays to take a breather and spend some time thinking about the big picture.

Pinpoint your best customers. Give them a heartfelt end-of-the-year thank you. Protecting your company’s assets is job one. Those assets are not just monetary—far from it. Customers are some of the most important. (After all, without them, no one gets paid.) What’s more, all customers are not created equal. Some are more profitable than others, and they’re not always who you think they are. Once you’ve identified your VIPs, create ways to enrich the relationship and continually create added value for them. Obviously, saying thank you doesn’t hurt, no matter how often they hear it. No one likes to be taken for granted. A call or letter from you will show them that you don’t. It’s amazing the ROI you’ll get from such a simple action.

Don’t neglect your other big “asset”: employees. If possible, meet with each one individually. Even if it’s not a “formal” performance review, a quick end-of-year conversation one-on-one can help you shore up relationships, challenge low performers to do better, and reward and rerecruit your highest performers. (Rewards don’t have to come in the form of a big end-of-year bonus. You might offer an extra couple of days off, a gym membership, or a gift card for a spa treatment as a thank you for a job well done.)

Review your marketing campaign. Ask yourself some specific questions: Are you marketing aggressively enough to attack the market, or are you trying to coast by, letting your competitors stir up the market? Are you targeting the best possible markets and customers? Might a customer reward program improve repeat purchases? Would the money you’re pouring into ad placement be better spent on direct mail? Does a huge social media campaign really make sense for your company, or are you tweeting fruitlessly into cyberspace just because everyone else is doing it?

Meet with your accountant, your attorney, and other key advisors. These specialists almost certainly know things you don’t. Their perspective can be extremely valuable to an entrepreneur who has been chained to his or her desk all year (and, as a result, is out of touch with changes in the external business environment). Planning for a future you can’t predict is part of a business owner’s job, and these advisors can help you gather the information needed to get the “lay of the land” and make smart decisions.

Kick off a cost-cutting, gross-profit-building mission. No one knows what the future holds. When tough times and financial uncertainty loom, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand. And, one of the best ways to create cash is to find added gross profit and at the same time cut some expenses. Ask yourself: What expensive ($$) mistakes did we make last year? How can we avoid them next year? Don’t cut out the wrong things, but do look for smart, well-thought-out ways to save money and start building up your cash cushion.

Set some realistic goals for next year. Don’t be lulled into complacency or let the continued talk of doom and gloom handcuff you. You might be okay now, but that doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow and you have to keep pushing the market. Every company has competitors, and if it doesn’t and it’s successful, it soon will. Successful owners know they have to fight not only to win market share but to retain it as well. I always say that the marketplace is a war zone. You must develop a warrior mentality and maintain it for as long as you’re at the head of your business. If you take your focus off the market, competitors will step in and take what you have worked so hard for. It’s just the law of the market place jungle.