You made it through another year! That’s no small feat, especially if you’re running a new or small business — up to 50% of small businesses fail in their first five years of business. For you to be on the right side of that coin flip, you must be doing something right.
That doesn’t mean you can relax, though. You need to stay fluid, nimble, and flexible, and that means looking forward to the new year. Here are some things you can do to say ahead of the curve in the next four quarters.
Re-Examine Your Business Plan
Any small business has a plan going in — if you’ve been enjoying success so far, you know how important that is. But when’s the last time you read over your business plan to make sure it’s still relevant?
Business climates change. The market in which your business operates will change; it might have changed already. More importantly, your goals and plans will change. Does your business plan still reflect what’s important to you, what you’re trying to accomplish, and what you need to prioritize?
Your business plan is important, so we’re not suggesting that you completely throw it out on a whim. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be set in stone either — the start of a new year is a good chance to sit down with your top executives, accountants, consultants, and strategic partners and make sure that your business plan is still reflective of your business.
Think About Your Staffing Needs
Your employees are the heart and soul of your business — they’re what keeps things running smoothly, they’re your point of contact with your customers, and they’ll shape your business going forward. It’s in your best interest to make sure they’re equipped to do the best job they can.
So, talk to them! Find out if people are feeling overwhelmed, or if they have suggestions. You may have implemented workflows when you started your company that made sense to you at the time, but it’s possible that they didn’t scale well or that they’re not as efficient as they could be. Maybe your current staff is having more trouble keeping up with your business’ growth than you realized.
There’s a simple fact that many business owners forget — your employees almost certainly have a better grasp on the day-to-day operations at your company than you do. Listen to them, make adjustments, and hire more help if need be. They’ll feel heard, appreciated, and empowered, and you’ll run a more efficient business.
Check In With Your Customers
If there’s anything more important than a satisfied workforce, it’s a satisfied customer base. They’re the ones living with your product day-to-day, putting it through paces you might never have considered, and, obviously, keeping the lights on.
Recently, businesses in every sector are starting to realize that the happiness of their existing customers is at least as important — probably more so — as courting new customers. Existing customers are more likely to buy from you again, they’re more likely to buy new products at release, and they’ll talk you up to their friends and family, giving you a boost in credibility whose value can’t be overstated.
So now’s the time to check in with them. Send an email survey or ask questions on social media. Find out what they like and what they don’t like about your product, your customer service, your physical locations, your website, or anything else.
Obviously, you don’t have to take every piece of feedback as gospel, but you could find some valuable insights this way, and you’ll make your customers feel heard at the same time. You might even get a few testimonials out of the exercise that you can use in future marketing.
Audit Your Software Solutions
For everything you don’t know how to do yourself, someone out there has designed a piece of software to help do it for you. You probably have software subscriptions to send emails for you, monitor your website analytics, post to social media, handle credit card transactions, keep track of customer contact info, track employees’ paid time off, manage your finances, and so on.
But we’re willing to bet that you assembled that list in a piecemeal fashion — when a need arose, you found a solution without really examining whether your current software could fill that gap. Moreover, software capabilities change — you might have needed two subscriptions a year ago, but now one of them will cover the features of both.
Sit down and take a look at the subscriptions and programs you use. See if you can cut back on the number of things you’re signed up for, either by fully utilizing your existing options or by finding a new one that covers more of your needs. Software subscriptions can add up to thousands of dollars a month even for small businesses, so making sure you’re maximizing their potential is worth your while.
Create A Policy For Customer Reviews
In case you hadn’t noticed, customer reviews can make or break a company. For better or for worse, potential customers put a huge amount of stock in the reviews and testimonials that your business gets online — and you’ll get reviews, whether you solicit them or not.
First of all, you need a plan for how to respond to the unsolicited feedback you get. Your customer service teams need to be reading every single review that you get on Yelp, Google, Facebook, or wherever else your business’ name comes up. They should also be partnering with your social media team on this — responding to a bad review in a way that feels overly corporate or out of character with your brand’s image is as bad as not responding at all.
Good reviews should get a “thank you” at the very least, and ideally something slightly more personalized than that. Bad reviews should be acknowledged too — some people will be impossible to please, and there are a select few trolls who will outright lie about your business, but ignoring them helps no one. Try to fix what’s bothering them, apologize even if you can’t, and remain polite and professional regardless. An angry business owner isn’t a good look — take the high road.
Brush Up On Your Security
No, we’re not talking about hiring a bouncer. Customers want convenience — that means storing their financial information, email addresses, phone numbers, and other personal info with you, and that means you need to be extra careful to take care of them.
You’re doubtless aware that data breaches have been in the news recently — breakdowns in cybersecurity at Marriott International, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Google+, and others exposed the personal information of hundreds of millions of people last year.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking it can’t happen to you. In April of last year, a T-Mobile Austria rep on Twitter made the surprising admission that T-Mobile stores part of users’ passwords in plaintext — an unacceptably insecure practice — then smugly asserted that it wasn’t a problem, since their security is “amazingly good.” A mere four months later, T-Mobile’s “amazingly good” security was breached, exposing the personal data of 2 million people.
Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean the same thing can’t happen to you, or that no one will bother trying. Take basic precautions to keep your network, your data, and your customers’ info safe.
Take The Time To Give Back
Small businesses are heavily reliant on their communities for support, staff, and probably customers, even if most of their business is online. Show your neighborhood that you appreciate being a part of it by getting involved in professional organizations, networking events, and social events that are relevant to your business.
Charitable giving is a great way to connect to your community, too. Give a portion of your profits to local organizations, or subsidize employees who do charity work by paying them for their time. Seek out partnerships with other organizations that share your vision for your area, and find causes that align with the goals of your business. Set a good example and others will follow.
Happy New Year!
Every business’ exact needs will vary, so don’t take this list as a hard and fast set of rules or priorities. But even if last year was a good one for your business, it doesn’t mean you can’t make this one even better. Pick a few resolutions that matter the most to you and your business and make this year your best one yet!