- Improving your business is an ongoing effort, and paying attention to the details of your company can help you reach success.
- Regularly updating your software helps protect your business from potential online security breaches.
- Organizing your documents helps you to access what you need quickly, which comes in handy during tax season.
- This article is for business owners who want to know some best practices that will help their business run smoother.
Businesses are living organisms that need attention. A business can ebb and flow for a variety of reasons, like changing management, a tumultuous business environment or new competitors. To keep your business healthy, you have to constantly analyze your business’s internal and external structure and ensure its growing in the right direction. This analysis involves practical strategies (like updating technology) and abstract strategies (like reaffirming your mission statement with your team).
Here are 10 best practices for small businesses to stay on the path to success.
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Outdated software is one of the most common reasons a business's network remains vulnerable to a cyberattack.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 2017'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," said Morten Kjaersgaard, CEO of Heimdal Security. "The industry numbers point to vulnerabilities as the root cause of infections, spanning from 65% to 92% of the compromise sources."
Key takeaway: To avoid damaging cyberattacks, make sure all your software is always up to date.
2. Unify your branding and marketing efforts
In the modern digital environment, there are many channels through which businesses can 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 to 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 promote 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 you use to distribute the message, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Key takeaway: Your marketing strategy should have a unified goal across all your social media and other platforms. Strong branding helps you get your company's message across clearly and attract your target audience.
3. Increase your legal and regulatory awareness
Regulation is often the bane of a small business's existence, as you need to stay on top of all the changes in the legal landscape of your industry. 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.
To make smart decisions for your business, you need to know about existing laws on the books, as well as pending legislation that might change the rules. Entrepreneurs need to remain aware of the rules at not just the federal level, but also the state and local levels. When you're considering what a law or regulation means to your business, it's never a bad idea to consult an attorney. [These major regulatory trends could have a big impact on your business.]
"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, founder and CEO of Rocket Lawyer. "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."
Key takeaway: Take the time to learn or brush up on the legalities of running your business. Regulatory compliance helps you avoid potential legal trouble.
4. Organize your records
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.
You might even consider adopting technology to make your archives easier to manage. 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 in dealings 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.]
"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," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. "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."
Key takeaway: Set up a system that keeps your documents organized and easy to find. This will be especially helpful during tax season.
5. Reaffirm your mission statement
Your mission statement should be the foundation and guiding light of your business. It should cut to the heart of your goals and ambition, serving as a pathfinder for your team. 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; this will give your team a clear objective, and 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'etre," said Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures. "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."
Key takeaway: Remember why you started your business, and go over your company's vision and mission statement with your team to reinvigorate your company culture.
6. Reward your team
It's important for your team to feel appreciated. Recognition for their work and effort can improve your company culture and is also an incentive for them to produce quality work. Their achievements being overlooked can make employees feel undervalued, which can lead to low retention rates for your company. When you reward or recognize your team for their work, they are more likely to feel appreciated and work hard.
It’s important to choose the right reward system for your business. Bonuses, extra PTO and company competitions are all good ways to incentivize performance, but it’s also important to brainstorm ways to show your appreciation for good work that’s already been completed. This can mean setting up an independent reward system, or it can take the form of unstructured thank-yous. Taking the team out to an impromptu lunch to thank them for a good performance is one strategy for showing appreciation in a small way. Your team will notice.
Key takeaway: Recognizing and rewarding your team for their hard work will help you retain staff and build team morale.
7. Give feedback
Communication is the key to any relationship, including your relationship with your employees. Open, ongoing feedback is one of the few ways your team can determine how well they are performing. That clarity helps employees produce the work you need. When your staff is aware of your expectations, you can create a successful working environment. Feedback is one of the wheels that keep your business moving forward; keeping an open line of communication puts everyone on the same page.
Businesses without built in feedback systems often suffer from stagnation. Your employees should be open to feedback, and you shouldn’t be afraid to give it to them. So long as your team’s relationship is built on honesty and respect, you should be able to help each other grow. Tie feedback systems back to your company’s mission: Make it clear that you are all trying to accomplish a goal together.
Key takeaway: Providing feedback to your team allows them to correct mistakes and produce the quality of work you expect.
8. Hold regular team meetings
Communication is key, both in terms of offering feedback and giving employees the floor to voice their opinions on work matters. Team meetings provide headspace for your workers to exercise new ideas and collaborate on how to improve your business. When your business is progressing, it's easy for employees to get siloed into their own work and departments. Dedicating time for you and your staff to meet during the week fosters team building and camaraderie.
This could also be a great time to get an idea of where everyone is with their work and bounce ideas off one another. When your employees have a sense of what everyone is working on, it's an opportunity to gather more insight and help each other reach their goals.
Key takeaway: Meeting with your staff routinely is a great way to build a strong team and an opportunity for them to help one another.
9. Analyze business relationships
Running a successful business is about building good relationships. You have to have a good relationship with your workers, your business partners and your customers. The best, most successful small businesses are capable of balancing these relationships as the company grows and changes. Two essential factors to building relationships that can weather company changes are trust and vulnerability.
The most productive companies have positive employee-manager relationships. That means business leaders have to be vulnerable in order to build trust with their workers. Your business will be better off for it: Employees need to feel capable of speaking their minds when around higher ups. This allows more ideas to come to the table, and it provides workers with a collective environment. They should feel like they are part of a collective unit striving toward a common goal. Prioritizing business relationships can build a foundation of trust that contributes to positive growth.
Key takeaway: Build trust with employees and business partners by being vulnerable and prioritizing your business’s common goal.
10. Realign your goals
Much like with building positive business relationships, prioritizing your mission statement and aligning your goals will allow you to forge ahead of your competitors. Build clarity about your mission statement with upper level managers, and set goals that you can strive to achieve every day with your team. By constantly analyzing your business's direction and maintaining clarity on your common goal, you can keep your company on track from the bottom up.
Key takeaway: By constantly analyzing your business’s goals, you can ensure your company is on the right track.
Matt D'Angelo also contributed to the reporting in this article.