The new year is a time to reflect on the recent past as well as plan. It is a time of resolutions and adjustments, a chance to make minor tweaks (or major overhauls) to the habits and routines we've developed. That's not only true of individuals but also of businesses.
For a business to succeed, it needs to constantly adjust in accordance with the marketplace, doubling down on what works and eliminating what doesn't.
As we prepare to enter a new year, these five best practices for small businesses are important to keep in mind. If your business already has them covered, it never hurts to do a check-up. If you find any of them lacking, however, it might be time to develop a plan to address the gaps.
1. Update software and secure networks.
Outdated software is one of the most common reasons a business's network remains vulnerable to a cyberattack. It's a simple fix to make sure you're running the latest version of all your software and, if you aren't, bringing it up to date. Doing so could prevent your business from suffering a devastating cyberattack.
Software companies regularly patch their products to defend against new threats and mitigate previous shortcomings. Ignoring these patches puts you at great risk of falling victim to preventable scenarios, such as last year's Wannacry ransomware attack, which could have been avoided with a simple update to Windows months before the incident. [Stay on guard with more tips from our small business cybersecurity guide.]
"Patching is probably also the primary cause of most penetration that happens to IT administrators' environments. The industry numbers point to vulnerabilities as the root cause of infections, spanning from 65 to 92 percent of the compromise sources," said Morten Kjaersgaard, CEO of Heimdal Security, said on the company's blog.
2. Unify your branding and marketing efforts.
In the modern digital environment, there are many channels through which businesses reach their audience. It's critical to ensure your brand and marketing efforts are unified and coherent across these channels while remaining optimized to each specific platform. Disjointed marketing efforts, or those that focus heavily on one channel while neglecting others, are destined to fail in a hyperconnected world. [Want to build a better brand? See our guide on defining a truly powerful brand.]
"The most important thing for small business owners to realize is that a piecemeal approach to marketing is now a death sentence," said Evan Berglund, senior partner at the Gonzberg Agency.
Your social media strategy should feed into your website, and your advertising should echo the messages you're promoting with your content marketing. Identify the emotions you want your brand to evoke and then capture those in your marketing efforts, tweaking them only to better suit the channel through which your messages are distributed.
3. Increase your legal and regulatory awareness.
Regulation is often the bane of a small business's existence, but that doesn't make staying on top of all the changes in the legal landscape any less important. Although it can be a pain to navigate the byzantine world of legalese and red tape, few aspects of running a business are as important as ensuring compliance with the law.
Whether it's existing laws on the books or pending legislation, knowing the rules and how they might be changing is key to making smart decisions. Entrepreneurs need to remain aware of the rules not just at the federal level, but at the state and local levels as well. When considering what a law or regulation means to your business, it's never a bad idea to consult with an attorney. [These major regulatory trends could have a big impact in 2019.]
"Year after year, small businesses say complying with government regulations is their top concern, and this year, there are sure to be many changes as a new administration takes office," said Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO. "It's good to consult with a business attorney more than once a year rather than wait until a big issue arises. It's better to pay a little upfront than a lot down the road, especially when dealing with federal regulations."
4. Organize your record-keeping.
A well-run business must maintain a lot of documentation, but that info doesn't do you much good if it is disorganized and difficult to access. The new year is as good an opportunity as any to reorganize your record-keeping.
Beyond organization, you might even consider adopting a method to make it easier to manage your archives moving forward. Today, there are plenty of software solutions that help digitize paper records and automate the record-keeping process, making it easier than ever to stay on top of your filing system. These records are especially important during tax season and when dealing with the government, but they also help illuminate your regular operations. [Looking for a record-keeping solution? Check out our picks for the best document management software.]
"Use the start of the new year to hold an annual corporate meeting where you can get your records organized," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. "File your annual report so your business remains in good standing, and make sure your business information is accurate and up to date, including your present address and any changes made with your registered agent. If you have a business license, make sure you know when it's time to renew the license and pay its fee to stay in compliance."
5. Reaffirm your mission statement.
Your mission statement should be the guiding foundation of your business. It should cut to the heart of your goals and ambition, and serve as a pathfinder for your team when considering how to operate. Often, however, businesses allow their mission statement to languish unchanged, even as the company is transforming and growing.
There's no time like the start of the year to reaffirm your company's overarching mission and examine your goals of how to continuously serve your target customers. Make sure you and your staff both know why this company exists in the first place; knowing the mission will give your team a clear objective, and then the rest just comes down to planning and execution.
"As a business owner, it's easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and lose sight of your long-term goals and raison d'être," said Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures. "The new year is an ideal time for you and your team to revisit why the company exists in the first place. Having a clear sense of purpose will motivate your employees to do their best work, ensure that your activities speak to one cohesive strategy, and put you on the best path for growth and long-term success."
Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.