For many of us, each New Year brings with it a mishmash of emotions and challenges, some good and some bad. It’s a time to reflect on everything that went right in the year gone by as well as an opportunity to initiate the process of making positive changes moving forward. But change is rarely ever easy because it oftentimes requires concerted effort and resources, like time and money, things far too many of us seem to have so little of anymore.
Change: The Only Constant
At the same time and as is true of life in general, the only constant in business — especially if you own one — is change (okay, and taxes…), so all of us would do well to get used to it and step up accordingly to our best ability. Any SMB (small- to medium-sized business) owner who has trudged through the recent economic downturn only to show up stronger, or for that matter at all, on the other side can tell you that.
It's no secret that the last five years have been anything but “normal” where business is concerned, for this generation anyway. Constant adaptation in an especially uncertain economic climate has become the norm for most SMBs at this point. Consequently, many of them have mastered both the art and science of surviving and even thriving in dynamic circumstances, all to their credit.
However, with an unprecedented amount of information at our finger tips courtesy of computers and the internet, experts and pundits making endless predictions about what the future holds and pressure from all sides telling us what we must do in order to keep up, it’s still far too easy to get overwhelmed.
Here’s the really great thing about being your own boss though…you get to focus on what really matters to you and your business at any given time. You don’t have to tackle everything that you want or even need to all at once. In fact, you can’t. And that’s okay.
One Step at a Time
So with that assurance, let’s take a look at just some of the things you might want to put on your New Year’s Resolution list for 2014, realizing of course that going after just one or two of them is sufficient, for starters anyway.
And that’s the real trick, isn’t it…just getting started?
It’s all about understanding and embracing the fact that owning a business is a marathon, not a sprint, and to then make small and incremental steps to change something for the better as you are able.
To get your juices flowing about what should command your attention most in 2014, here are the ten areas we believe will be of greatest import to U.S. SMB owners in the foreseeable future. If you can resolve to make even one of them worthy of just some of your time, energy and even money starting with the New Year, you’ll be a little closer to getting something done that may well have a positive impact on your bottom line.
And that’s what success is all about, isn’t it? Having some direction, getting started and then taking it one step at a time.
Top Ten Business Resolutions for the New Year
Given all the research on the small business landscape that we’ve done this past year, and we’ve done plenty, here's a quick synopsis of just some of the more pressing SMB-related issues that we think you might want to address on your New Year’s Resolution List for 2014…
#1 Craft a Mission Statement
As businessman, philanthropist and author W. Clement Stone once said, “When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it.” Yet far too many SMB owners figure that having a mission statement of record is only useful for big companies, while nothing could be further from the truth.
Even if you’re a micro-business of only one or two, a written mission statement is a critical reminder of why you exist and why your customers should want to do business with you. It’s a clear and concise statement of who you are, what you do, how you get things done and who you do it all for.
Summed up, your mission statement is the driving force that gets you and anyone that works for you out of bed every day to do your or their best work. And if you already have one, it’s important to revisit it every once in a while, even if only to fine tune it, make sure you’re adhering to it or use it as a reference point for developing your business’ goals for the coming year, which brings us to…
#2 Set Real and Measurable Goals
Goals are a statement about your ambition or the efforts you intend to make as an SMB owner to achieve a desired result. All too often, start-up small business owners in particular simply jump into the business of doing business without taking time to think through their actual goals, and that’s a big mistake.
An even greater number of those who do set goals never follow through with execution. In fact, research studies have shown that as much as 80% of small business owners don’t keep track of their business goals, and of those who don’t, as much as 77% of them have yet to achieve their vision of success.* That’s not so surprising given the circumstances.
Think of the start of 2014 as the perfect time to set SMART goals for your business: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. And don’t let fear or excuses of any kind stand in your way. Dream big and set a course to take action, even if it’s just a little bit each day. Of course, you can choose to do nothing and remain stagnant, but chances are, if you take that route, you are by default planning to fail.
#3 Organize Your Organization and Your Life
Whether or not you as a SMB owner are organized has a huge bearing on whether or not your business is operating smoothly because the chances are good that your lack of having everything together is impacting your bottom line in a number of ways. Thankfully, the start of a New Year is a great time, especially if there’s a slowdown in your operations these next few weeks, to organize everything from your very own desk to your office space, your files and your record keeping.
It’s also a good opportunity to take stock of whether or not outsourcing various administrative or other duties, such as payroll, bookkeeping, accounting, social marketing or taxes may be necessary and how you can make that happen in the coming year. Lastly, getting organized also means carving out time for things that you find personally enjoyable and to take care of yourself, even if that means simply resolving to break away from your home office to take a quick walk each day.
#4 Make Customer Service a Top Priority
The need has never been greater for SMB owners to focus first and foremost on keeping their customers satisfied and coming back time and again for more of what it is they’re selling. According to leading customer experience (CX) research and consulting firm Temkin Group, three of the hottest trends in this arena that might affect small businesses the most in 2014 will be:
• Voice of the Customer (VoC) Renovation — Burdensome customer surveys will be scrapped in favor of obtaining more targeted feedback using topic-specific conversations on social media, via online chat and on the phone, as well as through solicited commentary on cards and through email.
• Building Customer Loyalty through Relationship Building — There is a very palatable shift in business right now from emphasizing efficiency above all else to anticipating and fulfilling customers’ needs and meeting their expectations. Businesses of all sizes are learning to capture and use everything from customer journey mapping to behavioral data and all of their associated metrics and analytics to improve their customer relations capabilities in very profound ways.
• Mobile, Mobile, Mobile — Digital experiences are now a part of everyday life for most of us. SMB owners who can get ahead on this trend now will set themselves apart early. More smart phones, mobile apps and tablets are inevitable, so businesses that are able to integrate mobile into their product offerings and service experiences across various platforms and channels are the ones that will survive and thrive well into the 21st century.
#5 Use Tech to Take Your Management and Marketing/Analysis to the Next Level
If, given that it is 2014 come tomorrow, your small business doesn’t yet have a website, that needs to change. If you’re not optimized for mobile, that also needs to change. If you don’t understand how important content creation has become in today’s ever-increasingly competitive online world, then you need to do some homework. If you don’t have a clue what SEO means and how you can make it work for you and your small business, that’s not good. If analytics are lost on you, and you’re not using any kind of small business intelligence tools to your greatest advantage, it’s time to change that as well. If you think all of this high-tech mumbo jumbo is overwhelming to such a degree that you haven’t yet really dealt with it at all, you’re making a fatal mistake.
Unfortunately, the new reality is that even if the old way of doing business is working for you now, it won’t for much longer. Bite the bullet and get on board with the latest technologies to enhance your SMB marketing efforts as well as your overall management tactics and strategies, sooner rather than later, or it’s only a matter of time before time runs out.
#6 Get Your Financial House in Order
There’s nothing quite like the start of a new year and the close of yet another tax year to get you thinking about what you need to do in order to get a hold of your finances before this time of year inevitably rolls around once again in just 365 short days. First, you’ll want to think long and hard about your financial goals for the coming year, whether that includes paying off debt, starting a savings plan, increasing your marketing budget or what have you. Then it’s time to make a plan for how you want to achieve each goal one step at a time and by setting measurable objectives.
Don’t forget to take into account the trends in your industry, seasonal changes that affect demand or any other foreseeable changes in the marketplace as best you can. Give thought to any expenses you may incur as a result of growth, as well as how you can cut expenses if need be.
Keep careful track of your profits and losses at a minimum, and resolve to hire administrative help or even an accounting professional of some kind if or when your finances become more complex.
#7 Understand the Regulatory Issues That Affect You Most
According to leading small business solutions expert Paychex, some of the regulatory issues for 2014 that you need to know about because they will affect small business owners the most are:
1. Affordable Care Act (ACA) — While most small business owners aren’t required to offer insurance to their employees under the ACA, there will be tax incentives to do so through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) marketplace. Furthermore, those that do provide insurance options will need to meet ACA compliance standards, so knowing what those are is extremely important.
2. Immigration and E-verify — This issue will be white hot next year. Highlights of proposed legislation that will be of greatest interest to SMB owners include mandatory E-verify requirements and the potential release in 2014 of a new version of Form I-9, which should contain enhancements to help employers with compliance.
3. IRS Priorities — While there is much to be said on this point, the IRS’ expressed intent to watch more closely the taxation of tips and service charges in 2014 should have many SMB owners, especially those in the hospitality and restaurant industries, on high alert.
4. Employment Regulations — SMBs need to keep an eye on high-impact, hot-button issues such as: workers’ rights to organize, enforcement for the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, minimum wage and overtime provisions, and growing support for increasing the federal minimum wage standard.
5. Security and Technology — Along with the advent of technology has come the new era of BYOD/BYOx (Bring Your Own Device/Technology), policies that allow employees to use their own mobile devices to conduct company business. This is adding a whole new layer of complexity to the already daunting threats posed by cyber fraudsters and hackers who are intent on compromising the personal and financial integrity of as many individuals, businesses and organizations as they can. SMBs are at particular risk on this front and must put privacy and security measures in place to minimize potential damage.
#8 Go Green!
While the recent recession did put something of a damper on the whole “Go Green!” effort, a resurgence of sorts seems to be afoot. Consumers and even employees are beginning to express interest once again in sustainable goods, services and business practices. In fact, multiple studies have found more people today are considering sustainable business practices than ever before and consider them to be even more important than they did before this latest recession hit.
The impact? Today and well into the next decade, going green will be as much about branding and public relations as it is saving the planet. Demonstrable and environmentally friendly business practices, products and services will result in support for those SMBs who implement them, so why not make 2014 the year to get started?
#9 Embrace the Future
An alarming number of studies this year found that the majority of small business owners know they are not saving enough for their own retirement. And their ideas for how to catch up don’t hold much promise either — aggressively putting money aside at the last minute and planning to sell a business one day to fund retirement just aren’t sound business or financial planning strategies. There’s no doubt the recession took its toll on most small business owners’ ability to save money, but now that things are looking up a bit, the turnover of a new year is the time to get back on track.
Seek advice on how you can start saving now, even if it’s just a little bit each month, from your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a government-sponsored office that offers free counseling to small business owners. Or, you also can get help from an investment broker, asset manager, accountant or attorney. Just make sure you find one that’s reputable and that you can trust with your most personal financial information.
#10 Give Something Back
Finally, and especially if times are good and all of your hard work has paid off, it’s time to think about how you can give something back this year…to your community, your customers, your employees, your partners and your associates. And when you do, despite the fact that it might seem self-serving, don’t hesitate to crow about it a little bit, especially if it's via social media and you can encourage your customers to join you somehow in the effort. It’s okay to do good things that serve two purposes — enhancing both your business and your life.
Perhaps no one said it better than Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
How about you? What are your New Year’s Resolutions for 2014, both for your business and your life in general? Let us know…
*Source: 4th Annual Staples National Small Business Survey, 2010