It’s been a good year for most small businesses. The economy remains strong, and you all are a relatively optimistic bunch.
Still, every business should take the time to look at what went right – and not so well – in the past year and then create a road map for the New Year. It’s about setting your business up for success in 2020.
Growbiz has consulted the experts and compiled some tips for making your business stronger in 2020, some big moves and some small, and we give you plenty of supplemental reading suggestions. This is a holiday buffet so consider the tips most appropriate for your business – or write your own. You can call them New Year’s Resolutions if you wish, as long as you stick them better than you will stick to your diet or your vow to hit the gym every day!
1 Take a few steps before the end of 2019.
You’ve still got a few days left in 2019 to reduce your taxes, improve your retirement and feel more safe and secure in 2020. Depending on your tax situation, that might include accelerating expenses and delaying income if you can. If that’s you, buy some things now that you need for your business and pay in advance some expenses, such as subscriptions, memberships and vendors. You can certainly pay now for any items or services received in 2019 even if the bill isn’t due yet.
If you were thinking of getting a new vehicle soon, you might try to buy it in December. The You’ll get a whole year’s worth of depreciation if you buy that car, truck or van now instead of waiting until next summer.
If you set up an individual 401(k) or a 401(k) for your business, you need to establish the plan by Dec. 31, though you have until your tax deadline to fund it. Even though you have until your tax deadline to set up a SEP IRA, go ahead and set it up now. You’ll also get a tax deduction for the amount you contribute.
The end of the year is also a good time to back up all your important data – your financial records, customer records, inventory lists, etc. – in the cloud.
2 Next, take the time to look back before looking ahead.
What were your goals in 2019? Did you meet, exceed or fall short? What do you most wish you had accomplished but didn’t? What was our greatest success and what can you take away from that? What was your biggest failure and what did you learn?
These are not easy to answer, so take your time. Look back at your sales and customer data – and involve your team in the discussion.
3 Make sure your company is cyber safe.
- Just last week, Wawa was the victim of a massive cyber attack. The City of New Orleans, too. But it is not just big companies and governments that get attacked; in fact, small businesses were the victims of about half of the recent cyber attacks. They just aren’t making the headlines. Here are some tips:
- Regularly back up your company’s data.
- Create a firewall that prevents outsiders from accessing your private network.
- Invest in the latest security software, web browser and operating systems on your company’s computers.
- Set antivirus software to scan regularly. And keep your operating system updated.
- All the technology in the world may not save you if employees aren’t trained to not click on suspect emails and to monitor and alert you about warning signs such as slowdowns, mysterious emails or popups and missing information.
- Develop a plan for how you will respond if you are attacked, including alerting customers of the breach required by law, if that is the case, and managing the PR risk.
Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center with FIU’s College of Business, and other SBDC offices aroud the state have launched a Cybersecurity Basics for Small Businesses program. Read more about it here.
4 Review your vendor contracts and look for other ways to trim costs.
Start off the new year by auditing your spending. Are renting a storage facility that’s too large for your current needs.
Get new quotes on business expenses. For example, have an agent review your insurance policies to make sure you’re not overinsured or have duplicate coverage.
Review your vendor pricing. Shop around to see if you can find goods and services at better prices – assuming that the quality and delivery are comparable.
Use technology to create efficiencies cut costs. Are you still mailing out bills to your customers? Offer some type of discount or credit to customers who opt for email invoicing. Going paperless will reduce postage and staff costs. Automate as much as you can in your office.
Finally, look at all your software and subscriptions. Do you use them?
5 Now’s the time to reduce high-cost debt.
The Federal Reserve instituted three rate cuts in 2019, and rates are about as low as they can go. If you have high interest debt, such as a credit card that charges 14% interest or more, figure out a way to pay it off sooner, rather than later.
Consider taking out a business line of credit, which now can be had at an interest rate as low as 5%. At a time when interest rates are so low, there is no reason to continue paying high rates, especially if your company is doing well enough to qualify for a low interest financial product. If you need real estate for your company or equipment, consider an SBA 504 loan.
6 Consider adding dimension to your growth plan.
When was the last time you expanded your business offerings? Perhaps it is time to introduce a new product or expand your services offerings. Look for ways of expanding your revenue streams from the customers you already have (organic growth), which can be easier and less costly than acquiring new customers altogether.
Read this post about strategic growth planning on Growbiz. There is a bunch of great advice in there. And here is a post about recognizing market changes and making strategic shifts in your small business.
If you are thinking about exporting, SBDC at FIU has a program that can help you with that. And here are two posts for you:
- The demand is out there, but where? Smart export market research can help
- Going global? These free tools can help get you started on your export strategy
If your resolution is to dive into government contracting, SBDC at FIU and the SBA offer a number of workshops throughout the year. Is contracting right you’re your business? Read more here and learn how to find government opportunities and get your foot in the door here and here.
While you are thinking about growth planning, keep in mind that a growing number of national and Florida economists believe a recession is coming in 2020 or 2021. We have a post about preparing your business for that.
7 How’s your SEO? Give it some love this year.
In our social-centric world, it’s easy to focus all of your digital efforts on social media. But it’s your website that is the core of your digital world. It’s important to prioritize building a strong organic web presence with organic search engine optimization (SEO). Consider hiring an expert to evaluate your site for SEO. You can resolve to drive more traffic to your site by creating content around keywords that are related to your business. Start a blog and put a healthy Q&A on your site. In the process, you are showing your expertise in the industry and can provide value to your potential customers in the content you serve them.
There’s no easy button for digital marketing, but make it a priority. Read more here.
8 Take your PR strategy to the next level.
In today’s world, public relations can include media relations, marketing communications, social media, corporate communications, speech writing, event planning, even corporate social responsibility can all be part of your PR strategy. And you don’t have to have a big-company budget for it.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- If you are a very small company, start to nurture media relationships. You could start with a blogger, comment on their blogs, volunteer to write a guest post.
- Use your data ethically and write good rich content on your social media or blog. If that isn’t your forte, consider hiring a content writer for their blog or social media.
- Start formulating a plan and communications strategy, even if you are a very small company. You want each of your team to say the same thing.
- If you are going to outsource PR, contract it out completely so there is consistency. Be on top of it and have weekly meetings to talk about the messages you want to get out.
9 Take a look at your HR processes, including employee training and benefits.
Do you have a company handbook? Is it up to date? What company policies, systems and processes do your small business have in place to properly manage your people? Companies will not be able to grow if the CEO is running everything.
If you don’t answer no to any of those questions, start there.
Next, examine your benefits package. This is important even if you don’t plan to hire. With unemployment so low, retaining your valuable employees is critical. Small businesses may think they can’t compete against larger companies offering fat salaries and benefit packages, but think creatively about what you can offer that may be more valuable for the candidate than some of the more traditional benefits. A flexible schedule and the ability to work at home sometimes is very appealing to some employees. Millennials don’t always care as much about the traditional benefits because of the stage of life they are in, but they do care about development opportunities. A tuition reimbursement program and/or company training can go far.
Here is one piece of good news on the benefits front: Congress this month passed the SECURE Act, legislation that among other things seeks to expand retirement plan coverage by making it easier for small businesses to join together to offer 401(k) plans and share administrative costs. About a third of private-sector employees work for companies that don’t now offer a way to save for their retirement.
10 Get personal.
Your business is only as strong as its leaders. In 2020, resolve to improve your own knowledge (should a course or conference be on your calendar?), up your leadership game (survey your team – anonymously if you can — about your management blind spots and make that lunch appointment with your mentor) and create more work/life balance (and who doesn’t need that?).
11 Don’t wait for a disaster to have a plan.
Don’t wait for the imminent threat of a hurricane to dust off your emergency plan.
Florida SBDC at FIU helps business owners to develop a comprehensive business continuity plan. “But for most businesses we meet with, a good start is conducting a risk assessment, developing some table top exercises, and coming up with company-specific checklists they can follow pre-and-post-disaster,” said SBDC director Brian Van Hook.
FIU’s Bizaster app is a free tool specifically created for small businesses. It is available in English and Spanish for both Android and iOS. Find out more information about it here.
In addition to downloading the Bizaster app and doing your own risk assessment, you can update your employee contact information and identify any special skills your team members possess that might help in an emergency, such as CPR, and evaluate your insurance coverage.
12 Last but not least: Give back.
As a small business, there are many ways you can give back to your community and they don’t all involve donating financially. Some companies encourage their employees to spend one day or afternoon per month or quarter – on company time – volunteering for a local registered nonprofit or charity of their choosing. Today’s millennial generation in particular considers social responsibility a cool personal benefit, too. Some small businesses do volunteer projects together, such as participating in a beach cleanup or rehabbing a home for Habitat for Humanity, which can also double as team building. Your business could donate your product or service to a non-profit, or sponsor an event or a youth sports team. Your contribution to your local area will be appreciated, and you may even gain some new customers as a result.
Last but not least, dear readers, I hope you will take some time to enjoy your friends and family during the holiday season.
Happy New Year!
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