Looking for New Year's resolutions that are easier to keep than, say, losing weight or kicking a bad habit you've had for 10 years? Turn to your business. No business, or business owner, is perfect, and there is always room for improvement. The New Year is a great time to carry out new strategies, fuel growth and make changes for long-term success.
"A new year brings with it the promise of a fresh start," said Connie Certusi, executive vice president and general manager of small business accounting at Sage North America. "Why not take a moment to reflect on the lessons learned from the past year and move forward with a new focus on success?"
Whether you need to be more efficient, keep up with the latest technology or implement innovative ways to find and retain new customers, New Year's resolutions can help you create a plan of attack and stay on track. Here are 10 small-business New Year's resolutions to help you get started. [Read Related Article: Tech Trends: What Awaits Small Businesses in 2014]
1. Get the most "bang for your technology buck"
Commit to fully using all of your technology solutions. So many busy small business owners do not fully utilize the technology investments they've made, despite the fact that doing so would likely save them a lot of time, and drive efficiency. Make 2014 the year to become the master of your technology!
Start with keeping an organized [email] inbox, continuing with automating your accounting functions and then cleaning up your contacts so they are complete and organized. From there, move on to mobile! A lot of the apps businesses use on laptops and desktops also have mobile apps that can make it easy for your salespeople in the field to complete a sale without having to call back to the office to check inventory or [to] find out the last product ordered by a particular customer, saving time and money. Mobile payments allow in-the-field employees to complete sales on the spot. There are so many ways that technology can make your life easier once you take the time to fully embrace it and learn. — Connie Certusi, executive vice president and general manager of small business accounting at Sage North America
2. Adopt mobile payments
I predict, in 2014, significant advancement in the field of digital wallet payments will make credit cards obsolete.
The current magnetic stripe is highly inconvenient for smartphone-enabled customers. And credit card numbers are extremely insecure. Their authorization doesn't specify the amount of the transaction, so they are routinely "accidentally" used twice by merchants. Or even worse, are stolen from reputable retailers by third parties.
Encrypted digital wallets will provide an answer to all these needs. They will authorize payments for a specific amount. They will be accessible anywhere through secure smartphone apps. And retailers should make them easier to use by providing proximity sensors in checkout registers.
All businesses, retail or enterprise, large or small, should work to update their payment systems. Customers and business partners will expect to send and receive payments using more secure and convenient methods like Pay-pal or Google Wallet. — Dr. Satwant Kaur, "First Lady of Emerging Technologies" and author of Transitioning Embedded Systems to Intelligent Environments: A Journey Through Evolving Technologies
3. Get closer to customers
As we head into 2014, one of our key resolutions is to continue innovating the ways in which we engage with our customers. We view our customers in terms of relationships, not transactions, so it is critical that we are delivering value to them in every engagement, before and after the sale. Our unique support model and online communities are examples of ways we do this today, but there is more we can do. Through the continued expansion of mobile technology and social properties, consumers and businesses are interacting with brands in whole new ways. Next year, businesses should focus on capitalizing on these [tools] to strengthen their customer relationships. — David Duncan, chief marketing officer at Webroot
4. Make customer service a priority
It's a fact: customer service can make or break your relationship with current and even future customers. Looking ahead to 2014, customer service should be a priority for every small business. We see small businesses taking advantage of the cloud to work smarter and make customers happier. As we learned in our most recent survey, one in six customers would rather see their dentist than speak with a customer service agent. So small businesses, take note! — Matt Lautz, president and chief information officer at CorvisaCloud
5. Focus on marketing efforts
In 2014, we plan to grow spending on marketing along with revenue. In the age of digital marketing, everything is now measurable, and marketing is more accountable than ever. At Message Systems, we are increasing our marketing spend triggered on measurable results from spend in the last quarter. For example, when we see certain activities that grow our sales pipeline and closes, we are able to increase the budget in the following quarters based upon solid knowledge that the spend has a return on investment (ROI). — Steve Dille, senior vice president of marketing at Message Systems
6. Revamp social media strategy
Earlier this year, we saw a rise in visual social media platforms like YouTube and Pinterest, coming in just behind the big three [Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn] in adoption growth among small businesses. In 2014, a picture truly will be worth a thousand words as small businesses increase their adoption of visual-based social networks like Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr and Slideshare. — Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media at Constant Contact
7. Be SEO- and data-savvy
In late 2013, Google began blocking keyword referral data in Google Analytics. Before, you used to be able to see which keywords users entered to bring them to your site and how many visitors came from each keyword. This data is no longer available through Google Analytics. Google's position on this change is that they are "protecting" the consumer. As identity theft and cybersecurity dominate the headlines, this is Google's way of making sure consumers feel safe using Google products and platforms. However, the data is still available to Google, just not to digital marketers who rely on their [Google's] analytics program. In 2014, search engine optimization (SEO) firms will discover new ways to uncover this data (there are several options). Firms will get more creative with how to access and interpret keyword data because it remains a large part of SEO strategy. After all, knowing how visitors are searching helps firms to better understand their target markets and create a better user experience on the website — the foundation of a solid SEO strategy. — JoAnna Dettmann and Kaysha Kalkofen, co-founders of digital marketing firm tSunela
8. Perform a security audit
Next year will be a crucial time for companies to make sure their data stays truly protected. The rise of targeted attacks we've seen against corporations — from technology companies like Adobe to retailers like Target — have made this a very real and urgent concern. When it comes to investigating potential vulnerabilities, it's best to look outside the company and leverage domain experts to probe for risks, examine policy and suggest fixes. While we have very strong security protocols in place, we perform an audit yearly. Next year, we're expanding the scope of our audit due to the new types of security risks and escalating threats we've observed. As the saying goes, if you see a storm approaching, it's best to bring both a raincoat and an umbrella. — Charles McColgan, chief technology officer at TeleSign
9. Prevent employee fraud
Adopt a code of ethics for employees. Set a "tone at the top" that fraud will not be tolerated at any level of your organization. Draft and approve a code of ethics that includes concise compliance standards that are consistent with promoting ethical behavior across the organization. Require each employee to read and sign the code of ethics — as well as contractors who work on behalf of the organization. — James D. Ratley, CEO at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)
10. Become more nimble
As mega-retailers like Amazon continue their quest to steal market share from other big-box retailers, both online and off, smaller online businesses will need to become more nimble in how they compete, both from a price, customer service and marketing standpoint. This includes identifying true points of difference and showcas[ing] these points in marketing and branding, delivering personalized experiences, etc. — Matt Winn, marketing communications manager at Volusion