With every new year, there is an opportunity to take stock, reevaluate, and course-correct when necessary. This is especially true for entrepreneurs, who can use this time to establish smarter practices and keep their business moving in the right direction.
These five big-picture best practices are wise implementations for any small business in 2018.
1. Update your technology and cybersecurity.
It's easy to overlook regular software updates for the technology your business uses every day, especially if they appear when you're in the middle of working on something important. However, it's wise to install software updates whenever the opportunity presents itself, because failing to do so can make your business vulnerable to a cyberattack.
Companies patch their software all the time 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.
"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. "If you spend more than one week – or even one day – getting up to date with your software, you might as well not update it at all. Cybercriminals … [can] implement exploits in less than 24 hours, so that's what we have to keep up with as users." [See our small business cybersecurity guide to find out more ways to protect yourself.]
2. Unify your branding and marketing efforts.
It's important, now more than ever, for companies to create coherent brands that stay on message across a number of channels. Disjointed marketing efforts, or those that only focus heavily on one channel while neglecting others, no longer work in a hyperconnected world.
"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.
3. Increase your legal and regulatory awareness.
It's never a bad idea to brush up on the legal aspects of your industry. Laws and regulations are often changing and, while many entrepreneurs retain attorneys to deal with the finer points, understanding the broad strokes could keep your small business from running afoul of Uncle Sam.
Whether it's existing laws on the books or pending legislation, understanding the current landscape is key to making smart decisions. And it's not only of federal laws that entrepreneurs should remain apprised, it's also those at the state level.
"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 up front than a lot down the road, especially when dealing with federal regulations."
4. Organize your record-keeping.
Whether for finances, compliance, employment or clientele, keeping an organized record system improves transparency into your business's inner workings. Today, there are plenty of opportunities to digitize or even automate record-keeping using software, 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. [Check out our best picks for software to manage your documents.]
"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.
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 clientele. Make sure you and your staff both know why this company even 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."