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Prep your small business for a successful year

For many small business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic became a never-ending guessing game of, “Is today the day my business closes
for good?” 

The last couple of years were rough ones for small businesses. Forced to deal with issues like social distancing restrictions, staffing problems and waning sales, some owners had to close their doors for good. Some owners continue to struggle, while others are successfully finding their footing in this new world—but must always be ready to reinvent their businesses as that world evolves. 

Luckily, there are certain enduring business basics that can help every business owner prepare their businesses for a successful year…even when they can’t be sure what the year will bring. Consider the following to get your business on the right track:

Get and stay organized 

A successful business is one run by an organized business owner. Running a business involves a million details, and sometimes those details need to be accessed easily (e.g., tax audit, loan opportunities, legal issues). Since you have to get ready to file taxes at the beginning of the year anyway, now is a great time to be sure your inventory is up to date and your records are complete, organized and detailed—and to promise yourself that they’ll stay that way throughout the year. 

Review and adjust your business plan and goals

Even in a calm period, things happen that could require a course change for your business. If you’re like most of us, over the last couple of years, it’s probably been tough to take an extra breath, let alone take a look back at the events of your year. Especially if you’ve had to change your product or service lines, or lay off employees, it’s vital to give yourself some time now, at the beginning of the year, to outline what’s changed. Then, you can adjust your business plan if necessary, gauge the progress of your goals, and determine whether and how those goals should change. You’ll gain a new sense of focus, and you’ll also have solid answers for your employees when they ask you questions about their future with the business.

Take a look at your online presence

If the pandemic taught business owners nothing else, it at least showed them the value of their online real estate and tools. Whether your particular “online” involves a remote work strategy or an e-commerce site (or both!), it’s vital that it meets the needs of the users and your business. Map out a plan for refreshing your website and e-commerce sites so that they’re not only attractive to customers and prospects but do what they need them to do. If you have employees who work remotely, make sure they have all the tools that enable them to do their jobs. And if you meet with customers and employees, be sure you have Zoom, Slack, Teams or another virtual meeting tool in case they still don’t feel comfortable with in-person meetings.  

Have a contingency plan and an emergency fund

The idea of businesses shuttering and hundreds of thousands of people being thrown out of work practically overnight are no longer just stories in the Great Depression chapter of our high school history books. We’re still emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that it’s possible for our economy to backslide again. Plus, there’s always the possibility of natural disaster, illness or other unforeseen circumstances that can set you back…or put you out of business. Don’t wait to put together a contingency plan for steps you can take to keep your business in survival mode. Make it this year’s resolution (even if it’s a little past New Year’s Day) to start putting away funds to carry you through. Even if you start small, at least it’s a start.

Build a support network

Being a business owner can be a lonely experience. Make it a point to find someone—or several someones—you can mutually share a sympathetic ear with or serve as a sounding board for questions, decisions or dilemmas. A business coach, other local small business owners, your peers
in professional associations across the country (remember, Zoom is your friend), or even the right Facebook group know what you’re going through because they are, too. And that can make a world of difference.

Keep the focus on customer service

A business without loyal customers is…probably out of business. Consider sending a survey to your current customers to ask what they like about your business, what could be improved and what they want to see in the future. Then, act on their answers and suggestions if possible (i.e., “Carry widgets in more sizes” is a definite possibility; “Start a free widget Wednesday” maybe not so much). Don’t neglect your prospective customers, either. Make it easy for them to get the information they want and need from you by making your website easier to navigate. If it makes sense to offer educational content, make it easy for them to find and download it. Find out where they spend their time online—Facebook, Instagram, etc.—and see if it makes sense to fit social media marketing into your marketing plan, if you haven’t already. Use the adaptability you’ve learned over the last two years to think outside the marketing box. 

Author Karen Salmansohn writes, “The most challenging times bring us the most empowering lessons.” If that’s true, the last two years have been a master class in adapting and managing through the chaos. 

The way you run your business today may look nothing like it did two years ago, but no matter how much has changed, you can take steps to make sure you have your business set up for success this year. 

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