New Year, New You: Mapping Out the New Year for Your Business

With the New Year quickly approaching, it’s time to start strategizing how you plan to improve and grow your business over the next year. From creating resolutions and goals to mapping out your budget and perfecting your skills, this extensive guide can help you map out your New Year business plans.

We’ve broken it into four chapters, so you can read through it all at once or bookmark it and come back to it in segments:

  1. New Year’s business resolutions
  2. Mapping out your budget
  3. Reallocating spend
  4. Improving your business
  5. Onboarding new hires

New Year’s business resolutions

Establishing a few New Year’s business resolutions may be just the ticket to jumpstarting your success in the new year. Why not take a few minutes to write down some goals that you want to achieve this coming year? Need some help? Here are some that are definitely worth considering that can help you kick off the year in a positive and productive way.

Resolution #1: I will plan my work and work my plan.

Business owners often are running on top speed so much of the time, that there is very little focus on developing and implementing an actual plan of action. If this sounds like you, don’t beat yourself up about it. It just means that probably need to carve out a little bit of time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go. Yes, this means a business plan.

If you created one when you started your business, but have it tucked away in a drawer, now is a good time to pull it out and review it.

Remember: A business plan should be a dynamic document that you continue to update and not a one-time exercise when you launched your business.

If you haven’t taken the time to develop a business plan, it’s ok. Now is as good a time as any! The Small Business Administration has some excellent resources for helping you. And, the non-profit organization SCORE can even provide you with a mentor who can help in the process of writing your plan.

Having an updated business plan in hand and reviewing it on a regular basis is akin to having a roadmap to guide you to where you want to go. Without one, you’re far more likely to be taken down a windy or even dangerous road that may or may not get you to your desired destination.

Resolution #2: I will take care of myself.

Have you been accused of burning the candle at both ends? This is certainly not uncommon for entrepreneurs who typically wear many hats when it comes to growing their businesses. Although it’s commendable and necessary to be busy, you also need to balance this with time away from work.

This should include time for meals, exercise, family, friends, community activities and, most importantly, rest. You will be more productive and happier if you have time for yourself. No one can go full throttle for months and years without experiencing negative effects. So, consider your business a marathon in the new year instead of a sprint, and pace yourself with plenty of time to enjoy time away from work.

Resolution #3: I will rid my business of psychic vampires.

If you’ve had your business for a while, you know what a psychic vampire is. These are the customers who suck up time and project negativity. Not surprisingly, they’re often the same individuals who pay late or expect “extras” to keep them happy.

One of the best perks of being a business owner is that you can pick and choose who you work with. If someone is taking up an inordinate amount of your time and it’s not beneficial for you and your business, it might be time to part ways.

Resolution #4: I will not be afraid to outsource.

You probably went into business because you have a marketable skill or have the ability to sell products that you have a genuine interest in. You’re an expert in your field. But, you may not be an expert in bookkeeping, taxes, benefits, graphic design and programming. No one is good at every single thing, and no one expects you to be!

Your business success is contingent on doing what you do best. This means that the other necessities of your business are better off being outsourced to others. It’s a common misperception of business owners that they can’t afford to hire an accountant or someone to help them build a website. Rather, these individuals can help support your business so that you can stay focused on what brings in money.

Relinquishing some of the required duties of your business is often difficult when you feel you need to be taking care of everything yourself. But, it’s an absolute must if you plan to grow your business. The larger you grow, the more help you’ll need.

Not sure where to find good, quality contractors to help you? Ask fellow business owners who they use. Most often, they’ll gladly give you referrals. Interview a few before you decide upon any one person, and don’t hesitate to negotiate pricing or even ask if they’d be open to a barter relationship. What’s more, there are plenty of free business services that can help you save time and money. So, look to maximize the impact of your time by leveraging and outsourcing.

Resolution #5: I will talk to a new prospect each day.

It’s great to have a handful of wonderful customers who pay on time. But, putting all your eggs in one basket can be risky even under the best of circumstances. Healthy businesses with long-term growth potential continuously add new customers.

The reality is that even good, reliable customers can experience money problems or other challenges that can dramatically impact your business. The best way to minimize this impact is to keep growing your customer base. If one drops off, you still have the others to keep the revenue flowing in.

One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is to make a promise to yourself to reach out at least once a day to a potential new customer. This means that over the course of the year, you will have made contact with hundreds of prospects. While some may not become customers, others will, and a few may even refer you to others who will want what you’re selling. This means exponential growth over time, and that’s when your growth potential can begin to skyrocket.

What would 50, 100 or 1,000 new customers mean for your business? It’s a definite possibility if you can plan to consistently market your business.

Resolution #6: I will give back.

Helping others can help you both in your business and in your life. Starting off the year by committing to giving back can be incredibly positive and rewarding. Consider opportunities where you can offer your business’s services or products.

Not only will you feel good about helping out, it may expose your business to new audiences and enable you to meet others, who like you, are dedicated to doing good.

Donating your “time, talent, or treasures” also just feels good. It can lift you up and put a positive spin on your business that will be reflected in everything you do.

Are you ready to make this new year your best year ever? Great! With a few resolutions in place and excitement for what the year will bring, you’ll be well-positioned to achieve great things this coming year.

Resolutions can help give you a roadmap of where you want to see your business grow in the next 12 months. Before you can start executing on these plans, however, you need to take the steps to ensure you’re ready to do so.

Mapping out your budget

If you haven’t already, it’s time to prep your business’ budget for the new year. While a variety of factors determine your business’ success or failure, your ability to create and stick to a budget is key to its survival. Your budget can help you:

  • Anticipate cash inflows and outflows
  • Prepare for tax obligations
  • Identify financing needs
  • Explore growth opportunities
  • Gauge your business’ performance

Also, worth noting: According to the Small Business Administration, half of all small businesses fail within the first five years. Smart budgeting now can give you a better shot at clearing that hurdle.

Not sure how to get started? Let’s break budget planning into five simple steps.

1. Review your previous budget.

The first thing you should do when budgeting is reviewing the previous year’s budget (if you have one). Go through it line by line to determine how closely it matched your business’ actual income and expenses. This will give you a concrete starting point for any needed adjustments.

If you’ve never created a business budget before, there are plenty of free online resources, such as SCORE’s financial planning templates that you can download and customize.

2. Project your income.

Create a realistic estimate of how much money you expect to bring in each month. If you’re just starting out, talk to other small business owners to see if they can give you a rough idea of how much you can expect to make during your first year.

Getting a clear picture of how much money you expect to bring in is important for two reasons:

  • Overestimating can lead to overspending and quickly put your company in the red.
  • Underestimating may keep you from investing in new products, employees or marketing and hamper your growth.

Running a small business is a balancing act, which is why an accurate projection of your income is so critical.

3. Add up your expenses.

Once you know your cash intake, start tallying up your fixed expenses, such as:

  • Rent/mortgage
  • Payroll
  • Utilities
  • Small business insurance
  • Taxes

Granted, these expenses may change from year to year, especially your tax obligations. As a general rule, CPAs often recommend setting aside about 25 to 30 percent of your earnings for quarterly taxes. To learn more about small business taxes, check out the IRS Small Business Tax Center.

Lastly, don’t forget to plan for these “gotcha” items that can add up fast and throw your budget off:

  • Office supplies
  • Fuel and maintenance for company vehicles
  • Postage and shipping
  • Entertainment expenses, such as client lunches
  • Membership dues for professional associations
  • Professional development, such as subscriptions to industry magazines or fees to attend conferences

If you start to notice that your expenses are creeping close to your projected income, figure out where you can make cuts. Check out these helpful tips on how to reduce some common office expenses.

4. Plan for wildcard expenses.

This is basically your “expect the unexpected” costs. Think about potential disruptions your business might face, such as:

  • A broken printer that needs to be replaced
  • A big rent increase
  • Repairs to a company vehicle

These can derail your budget if you don’t plan ahead, so make sure you set aside some money to cover miscellaneous expenses.

For example, let’s say you’re planning to launch a major marketing campaign in July. However, when June comes, you realize you have so much extra work that you need to hire another person. That new employee could mean you have to scale back your promotional plans unless you had already accounted for unexpected expenses in your budget.

5. Review your budget once a month.

To keep your business on track, review your budget once a month so you can make any necessary adjustments.

For example, if you realize your fixed expenses are higher than you anticipated, you can make cuts in other areas, like nixing weekly coffee and bagels for the office. If your income is higher than expected, you can make additional investments in your business, such as purchasing new equipment or paying down business debt.

Once your budget is mapped for the new year, take a look at areas that you can pull back spend on. This can help you better allocate and meet your budget projections.

Reallocating spend

While it’s true that making money means spending money, wasted dollars are still wasted even in the context of running a small business. Most entrepreneurs have a solid handle on the major costs of doing business, but you might be surprised how many small leaks your cash flow has sprung. Check your reporting for some of these six all-too-common money losers.

1. Employee turnover

Hiring a new employee costs direct money if you hire out to a headhunter or employment service. Even without those, the costs of training and intake add up to a hundred or more hours of payroll that could be used in running your business. Rapid turnover costs long-term money you could leverage for bigger, better things.

Plug the leak: Pay a reasonable wage according to your region and industry and implementing low-cost ways to maintain workplace morale.

What else to look for: The hidden costs of letting inertia or loyalty make you keep a substandard employee who wastes time, loses clients and reduces the morale and productivity of everybody around them.

2. Unwatched service fees

Recurring service charges can build up on the cash flow of your business. Whether they come from automatic signups that accompany a free trial, services you needed once but don’t need anymore, or actual services you value and use, it’s easy to let those charges become unaudited background noise in your business’s operations.

Plug the leak: Do a triage of all expenses for a quarter. Assign each regular service fee a “definitely keep,” “definitely dump” or “keep only if” designation, then act on them.

What else to look for: Service and periodical subscriptions or industry memberships that aren’t pulling their weight – either because they don’t provide value or because you lack the time to use them.

3. Bad workflow

The problem here is explained best by math. If your business process makes $100 per task and your team can complete five tasks in an hour, you make $500 per hour, per employee. If you can change workflow to increase that to seven tasks per hour, you’re increasing your income by 40 percent.

Plug the leak: Look for low-hanging fruit like poor ergonomics, suboptimal scheduling or distractions in your workstations and insufficient break times. Once that generates enough income, consider hiring a workflow consultant for a day or two of analysis and advice.

What else to look for: Poor health on the part of some employees. We’ve already noted how powerfully you can improve productivity with low-cost employee wellness initiatives.

4. Too many soft costs

You probably have your hard cost ROI figured out to the penny, but the soft costs from utilities for the sales floor, to business lunches, to that convention in Florida, don’t generally make it into your ROI calculations. Without understanding those soft costs, you can’t truly track how expensive new clients and new processes are – which leads to leaks in your cash flow you don’t even see.

Plug the leak: Use average expenses for all soft costs over a quarter and divide them by the number of units sold during the next quarter. This won’t be exact, but it will give you a more accurate understanding of your per-unit ROI.

What else to look for: Expenses you justify because they’re “for the business.” More than one small business owner has bought far too many toys for the office and industry simply out of passion for the process.

5. Maximized media

The trouble with the web is that it’s infinite and has really, really cheap real estate. The maximum cost in money and hours you can put into it is far, far higher than the maximum investment you can make for real benefits. Bloated webpages, full-time social media staff and high-end per-impression ad campaigns can all drain your budget with little real benefit.

Plug the leak: Use robust metrics on all of your social media and email marketing platforms, and your home page. Find out what’s working, and discard everything else.

What else to look for: Losing productivity from spending too much time on social media, long email exchanges and other electronic time losers. This is true for both your staff and you, so lead from the front on this issue.

6. Outdated process costs

Are you still sending someone to mail out orders instead of using a postage meter on-site? Still hand-checking your mailing lists or using paper when smartphones will track orders faster and communicate them more effectively? Though office equipment investments can be pricey, they often pay for themselves in less than a year with the effort they save.

Plug the leak: Invest in new equipment that simplifies and speeds things up.

Now that you’ve planned your budget and taken the steps to stop cash flow leaks, it’s time to map out how you’ll improve your business in the next year.

Improving your business

Revisit your business plan

If you haven’t taken a look at your business plan in a while, you need to. There are a ton of things that need to be changed that would drastically alter the way you do business.

Even if you reviewed your business plan last week, there may still be some ways to fix it. You always want to make sure the path your company is on is the most profitable and the most ethical, so it’s worth it to reconsider your individual goals and milestones.

Exit Plan

Everything comes to an end, and you leaving your company is no different. And it may seem so, so far off – 30+ years away or so – but leaving and making sure the company doesn’t immediately fold will come sooner than you think.

Think Steve Jobs only drafted an exit plan right before he passed away? It probably changed, sure, as all exit plans do. But a plan was in place long before that conversation ever came up. You want to ensure who takes over the reins knows where the company is going and how you want it to get there.

Find the Original

Speaking of dusting off business plans, why not take a look at the original plan you drafted back in the day? Plans change all the time, and no doubt throughout the years your goals and business focus has shifted.

However, occasionally it’s a good idea to go back to when your business was younger. Going back to your original business plan can reinvigorate your sense of adventure. Perhaps you completely forgot one of your goals was to invent a new product every year. Just because you haven’t been doing it this far doesn’t mean you can’t start now!

Dusting off your business plan will give you a chance to reminisce about where you’ve been while reevaluating where you’re going – and it will probably give you a new sense of purpose, while you’re at it. Whether you need to make minor adjustments or your organization’s plan is completely off course, here are five ways that you can quickly get your business plan – and your business – back on track in order to reach your long-term goals.

The onset of the New Year is a perfect time to backtrack. No one wants their organization to move backward, and luckily that’s not what backtrack means. A closer look at this handy verb can help you conceptualize how to revisit and update your business plan in light of marketplace and organizational changes.

Backtracking is strategic! It’s not about moving backward; it’s about putting yourself in the best place to move forward. If your business plan got derailed somewhere along the way or has become obsolete due to changes in the economy, the competitive landscape, or the size and capabilities of your own organization, one or more of these definitions might apply. Keeping this in mind, here are five areas where revising your business plan could help you grow your organization more quickly in the year ahead.

5 Business Plan Backtracks That Can Help You Move Forward in the New Year

Backtrack #1: Mission and Vision

While some organization’s mission and vision statements might seem to be set in stone, others may change dramatically over time. From changes in the economy, to the evolution of regional demographics or the introduction of new technology – any number of factors might result in the need for an organization to reassess its overarching goal for the future (as expressed in the vision statement) and how it plans to achieve its vision (as expressed in the mission statement).

Backtrack #2: Target Markets

There are two main reasons it might be necessary to backtrack and redefine your business plan as it relates to your target market. First, your target audience might not be big enough to allow you to grow your organization. Second, your marketing strategy might not be effective in attracting them. If the size of your target audience simply does not support your goals for organizational growth, you may need to reassess your product or service make-up. It might be necessary for you to improve what you have to offer or add new items in order to reach a broader audience. In addition, it will be necessary for you to ensure that you define a compelling USP (unique selling proposition) relative to each of the major subgroups that comprise your target market.

If your marketing strategy is not reaching enough buyers, you may need to expand marketing efforts by adding new channels or increasing brand exposure within existing channels – or both. If your marketing strategy is giving you adequate exposure but prospects are not converting, again, it will be important to revisit your USP.

Backtrack #3: Unique Selling or Value Proposition (USP or UVP)

Your unique selling (or value) proposition must accomplish two things. First, it must align with a particular need or want that members of your target markets want to fulfill. Second, it must give them a reason to choose your brand or its products or services over competing options.

Developing a strong selling proposition is essential if you want to convince buyers that you can improve their lives, address a pain point, or fulfill an unmet desire better than the products or services that your competitors offer. This is what differentiates your business from all the rest and lays the foundation for repeat business, loyalty, and customer referrals.

Backtrack #4: Competitive Landscape

No matter the size of your business, it’s easy to be so involved in day-to-day operations that you lose sight of the competitive landscape; but this can be very detrimental to organizational growth. The entry or exit of key competitors is a constant that must be monitored and will necessitate changes to the business plan.

As new competitors enter the marketplace, not only will there be increased competition for the same ideal buyer types and target markets in general, but it might also put your business in the position of competing with services or products that come in at a lower price point or offer prospects additional value.

Existing rivals can also change the competitive landscape by lowering prices, adding value, or bringing new technology into the equation. In either case, you may need to backtrack and assess how these changes impact your business plan and the strategies you will execute in order to grow.

Conversely, if major competitors decide to leave the marketplace, you may have a brief (or even an extended) window of time where you can shift into high gear in order to gain a larger market share for your business before new competitors emerge. If competitors are leaving due to shrinking profits or lack of sales, you may also need to assess whether your organization is also likely to fall prey to the same threats.

Backtrack #5: Financing

Many of the adjustments that a business needs to make in order to achieve the goals laid out in its strategic plan require an investment of money, time, and other organizational resources. Inadequate financing could put your organization at a deficit when it comes to reaching its target markets or responding to the competitive landscape. Depending on the scope of financing needed, a business loan or cash advance, bank line of credit, or capital obtained from outside investors could all provide your organization with the money needed to implement the strategies that can help you grow your business.

Start with a SWOT

If you have not conducted a SWOT analysis (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) in a while, this can be a great place to start. This exercise can give you a good idea of how the marketplace has changed, and whether these changes indicate the need for minor adjustments or a full-scale overhaul of your business plan.

Turn January from slow time to go time

The holiday decorations have been boxed up and put away, and the droves of shoppers are nowhere to be found. The first few weeks of the year are often a gloomy time for small business owners. But your business doesn’t necessarily have to suffer a post-holiday shopping hangover if you take a few proactive steps.

Whether you had a banner holiday season or you were a little disappointed after adding up the receipts, this time can be used wisely to jump-start sales.  Are you ready to hit the ground running in the new year? Here are a few ideas to combat a potential sales slump and to help you make the most of this notoriously slow time of the year.

1. Don’t assume sales will drop.

Yes, sales historically decline for almost all retailers in January. And because of this, a full-scale sales drop-off becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many small business owners. Being sluggish about marketing is a surefire way to see a slowdown. Don’t let this happen to you!

By being the retailer who is enthusiastic about January, you can set yourself apart from the others and capture the business that is still there to be had. Often, you can find discounts on advertising space and on other marketing opportunities for your business in January when everyone is experiencing a slowdown. Take advantage of the month, and you might score some good deals to promote your business and a few new customers, too!

2. Focus your message.

The holidays are all about buying gifts for others.  Yet this isn’t the case come January when shoppers are more about purchasing items with a personal focus. After months of giving to others, who doesn’t want to spend a little on themselves?

With that in mind, small businesses can focus their marketing on two specific areas. First, many shoppers will spend gift cards they’ve received during the holidays. Why not encourage gift card holders to purchase more by introducing them to new products or promotions that you’re offering? This can be done in person or via email blast.

Is your mailing list not quite up to par? Make sure to encourage these shoppers to sign up to get more “specials.” This strategy can help you sell more not just in January but actually all year long!

There will also be customers who are in New Year’s resolution mode. They will be committed to self-improvement as well as products and services that will help them achieve their goals. Do you offer anything that could fit into this category? If so, you’ll want to put these in front of your customers.

3. Cater to target audiences.

Many small business owners make the mistake of making their marketing efforts too general. A one-size-fits-all approach can dilute your message to the point of it not being impactful or interesting.

Consider why your customers choose your business and what they really want from it. Your marketing content should meet their needs. This can include targeted email campaigns, social media messages, and even advertising that can be strategically placed in publications that they read.

It is well worth your time and effort to identify several target groups who frequent your business. An example of this would be a bookstore owner who finds that a high concentration of mystery readers buy from them. Or maybe it’s a printer who gets a large amount of business from churches or a reseller of children’s clothes who discovers that most of their shoppers are grandparents who reside within a certain zip code.

Are you not exactly clear who makes up your target audiences? Start with a careful review of your mailing list. You’ll probably get some valuable clues from that in terms of location of your customers, gender, and maybe even income level.

A great way to learn even more about your customers is to get them to complete a survey. Of course, you’ll want to reward them with a freebie or a special offer for their time, but the information you receive from them can be worth its weight in gold as you plan out your marketing strategies and develop your content.

Pro-tip: Do you have a blog? Writing blog posts specifically for targeted demographic groups will pique the interest of specific audiences, and they will naturally contain keywords that these groups are looking for on search engines. This means more traffic to your site!

4. Increase social engagement.

If you’re already experiencing a winter drop-off, don’t waste your time twiddling your thumbs. This lull can be a tremendous opportunity to reach new prospects online. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are a good place to start. But don’t hesitate to try out other channels like Instagram and Pinterest if you know that these sites are places where your target audiences like to congregate online. To maximize your social media results, be creative to stand out from the crowd. Share photos of your team, your products, and your inspirations. Consider advertising opportunities on social media if your marketing budget allows, and experiment with contests and giveaways to increase engagement.

Social media should be considered a vital component of your business whether you have a brick-and-mortar establishment or an eCommerce site. Focus the bulk of your energy on the social media channels that matter the most to your customers, but take some time to promote up-and-coming communities on other sites.

Social media management requires patience and diligence. Start by blocking off a set amount of time each day for it even if it’s only 15 minutes. Create fresh posts, promote your blog, share content from your influencers and try your best to keep it lively and engaging. And of course, don’t forget to thank your customers and answer their questions promptly.

5. Plan an event.

With the holiday parties over, your customers’ schedules have probably opened up at least a little. Now is a smart time to schedule a post-holiday open house or sales event. An evening of wine and hors-d’oeuvres is one option and a great way to spend some quality time with your most valued customers. But there are countless other event options. From an early morning in-store yoga class to a buy one, get one free lunch hour special, create an event that makes sense for what you sell and what your customers will appreciate.

Do you sell exclusively online? You can still host an event. Why not schedule a Twitter party or a webinar promoted via email blast? The key is to gather a captive audience and provide them with something of value so that you can stay on their minds front and center!

6. Measure your results.

There isn’t any point in marketing if you’re not going to measure the results. This time of year you will want to determine your return on investment for each marketing campaign you tackle as well as closely monitoring sales for the month and quarter. You might just be surprised to find that sales are not particularly bad in January, and a little extra marketing can make them even better. With less “noise” from other retailers, you will probably discover your marketing to be more impactful than at other times of the year.

The weather is less than ideal in most of the country, and the news reports may indicate that consumers aren’t interested in buying. However, this shouldn’t discourage you from keeping a positive attitude about the post-holiday season. Many businesses are very successful this time of the year, and they are usually those that tune out the negativity and stay focused on their opportunities.

Better your writing skills

This section was written by Mary Walton, a business writer. She helps with resume proofreading at Resumention and creates successful business presentations and online courses at Paper Fellows. Mary has a blog – Simple Grad, there you can check latest tips for students on how to improve education and college life.

The importance of good, well-written content is totally underestimated in the business world. It’s generally assumed that people will just take what you give them, but businesses quickly realize the hard way that this is just not the case.

No matter the size of your business, what your customers want to see is content that’s valuable to them and provides them with some level of usefulness. Here are some tips to help improve your business writing skills and avoid mistakes you could potentially be making in your content:

1. Positively perfect

Everyone’s got something negative to say about something. It’s always easier to complain than it is to pay a compliment but hearing an abundance of negativity can truly be exhausting. Being inundated with bad thoughts can really weigh down on a person, and it can eventually cause them to tune out completely. For the most part, people want to feel good, uplifted and hopeful. Taking a positive spin on things will give your readers that good feeling they want and will make them more receptive to your message.

2. Words matter

It’s not enough to write things and hope your audience understands what you’re trying to say. If you’re writing about a topic that you’re not very knowledgeable about, make sure that you research the topic extensively so that your writing will make sense to your readers.

3. Get to the point already!

Your readers don’t want to sift through your content to find what they’re looking for. They want what they want, and they want it now. Filling your pages with fluff only serves to frustrate your readers and can easily send them elsewhere to find the information they want. Remember, the average person has an attention span of about 8 seconds – so if it takes you longer than that to grab their attention and make your point, you’ve likely already lost them.

4. Plan ahead

You may have countless thoughts spinning through your head about what to write about and what you want to tell your readers. But confused thoughts lead to confused writing, which inevitably leads to confused readers. When you sit down to write, before you start, think about what you want to say – get a clear picture of the point you want to make and map out how you’ll make that point. The clearer your content is, the better received it will be. Trying to jump the gun and think as you write may seem like an honest and forthright approach, but it more often than not results in jumbled thoughts, repetitiveness and incoherent ramblings.

5. Don’t miss the most important stuff

While you’re getting caught up in the brouhaha of what you’re writing about, you may be overlooking some of the most important things you should be including. Look at your content through the eyes of someone who knows nothing about your business and see if there’s any information that’s missing that would be essential to them. The best method is to give your writing to someone who actually doesn’t know anything about your business, so they can proofread it and tell you what they would need or expect to see. Perhaps it’s something as simple as an address or phone number that could easily be overlooked by someone already familiar with the business.

6. Don’t LOL

There’s a time and a place for abbreviations, symbols and emojis, and your business writing is neither. If you’re sending a text to a friend, it’s completely appropriate, but when you’re writing content for your business and want to put on a professional face, things need to be written to reflect that.

7. Proofread the heck out of your writing

For goodness sake, don’t let all of the effort you’ve put into your writing go to waste by allowing mistakes to sneak through to your customers. Whether you’re doing the proofreading yourself, letting a trusted friend or colleague do it or sending it off to a professional proofreading service, this is one step you absolutely cannot miss. The reputation of your business could literally be hinging on producing error-free content for your readers to consume.

8. Buzz-off with the buzzwords

We’ve all heard those catchy clichés that make their way into so much written content these days – but they are generally overused and unclear in their meanings. Steer clear of these tired, boring and essentially meaningless phrases. Instead, find new ways of saying these things – your new way should be a more definitive and straightforward wording. So, instead of saying that you want to “push the envelope,” make a statement about what that specifically means to you and your business.

Make use of any or all of these online resources to boost your content writing and help your business grow:

  • Easy Word Count – Stay within the word limitations you’ve set with the accurate counts of this online tool.
  • EssayRoo – When you need to call in the professionals, EssayRoo has experienced writers who are well versed in their fields, ready and able to help get your content written.
  • AustralianHelp – The library of resources compiled by AustralianHelp can help to keep the grammar in your content flawless so that you can keep your credibility intact.
  • Academized – Don’t put your reputation on the line by risking accusations of plagiarism when you’ve got this helpful resource to reference.
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Focus on key milestones this year

There’s a saying in martial arts training: “Every day you’re either one step closer to a black belt, or one step closer to quitting.” It’s the same in small business ownership. Every day you’re either one step closer to your next big goal, or you’re one step closer to shutting your doors forever.

Milestones, goals and benchmarks are vital to business success because they keep things growing and dynamic. Less measurable but equally important, they also keep you and your staff excited about what’s happening in the company.

That said, it can be easy to become so caught up in the day-to-day operations and drama of a successful business that you forget about goals and focus only on what’s actually happening. Here are three important milestones you should keep your eye on in the coming year.

1. Corner your next big opportunity.

Instead of making great things happen, many small business owners are stuck in an “if only” mode. Combat this by identifying the one big thing that would move your company to its next level of success. This might be a single goal or part of a process that will take years to complete. Whichever it is, focus on a goal that you can complete within a year. To help find your next big opportunity, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a liability or commitment that is preventing forward progress?
  • Does your company need new equipment, new online resources or a new space to compete at the next level?
  • Is there a market you want to break into?
  • Would adding a new line of products or services set you up for success?
  • Do you need to make serious changes to your company culture?

Use those questions to identify exactly what must change, then express that change in terms of a goal with a timeline and monthly benchmarks. All that’s left after that is to make a plan to achieve those benchmarks.

2. Double your budget surplus.

Businesses are only successful when they make a profit. This is true even if your small business is more focused on making a living for your employees and serving the local community. Making a profit means bringing in more money than you spend. Aim to double the size of that budget surplus by the end of the year by attaching specific goals and benchmarks to:

  • Cut unnecessary expenses
  • Streamline operations to reduce wasted time and materials
  • Increase income from each sale or client
  • Expand into new opportunities or markets
  • Improve your lead-to-sales metrics
  • Generate more referral business and repeat customers

Most small businesses run with a fairly small budget surplus – one you can double with only moderate improvements across a couple of these metrics. If your budget surplus is larger, say in five figures or more, congratulations! You’re doing well, but still, aim to add 50 percent to that surplus over the next year.

3. Kill your top time waster.

Almost every small business owner lists “time” as the most precious, and most frequently short, resource. Wrangling your own time is a huge project that you’ll never perfect 100 percent, but this year aim to identify and eliminate the factor in your life that takes up the most time and results in the least return. Set up the following benchmarks this year in order to meet your milestone by November and celebrate during the holidays:

  • Track your time for a week, noting what you did and what you accomplished every 30 minutes or so.
  • Tally your tracking in categories by task, for example marketing work, admin duties, cleaning, employee training, employee problems, client service, business growth.
  • Break down your top three time-consuming tasks into subcategories. For example, employee problems would get broken down by employee name. Business growth would get broken down by individual project.
  • Rank the subcategories in order, from most time-consuming to least time-consuming.
  • Look at the top ten subcategories from all categories. Cross out any that represented a one-time emergency, and any that inarguably provide enough profit that the effort is worth it.
  • Of the top three subcategories remaining, choose the one you hate doing the most. Even if it takes less time than the others, the fact that you hate it means it saps extra energy as well as time.
  • Develop a plan to eliminate or delegate everything related to that subcategory.
  • Work that plan.

It might help to do the same thing with factors in your personal life that drain your energy. Work-life balance is all well and good but pretending one doesn’t affect the other does neither part of your life any good.

All this said, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining the status quo in a business you’re happy with. Even in those cases, though, you can tweak these benchmarks to focus on the quality of your operations, customer service and personal lifestyle rather than upping the quantity.

Onboarding new hires

This section was provided by Deborah Sweeney. Deborah is the CEO of MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @mycorporation.

You’ve read through resumes and cover letters, held in-person interviews and made your decision to hire a new employee to join your business. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part of the process — onboarding the new talent.

Or it should be fun, anyway. Far too often, onboarding new employees means sitting them down with a pile of paperwork to fill out and introducing the talent to the team so quickly that the employee struggles to remember everyone’s names afterward. It’s harmful for any business to have an onboarding process that isn’t engaging, but it’s especially damaging for lean startups. The prospective hire might have heard the company talk about their collaborative environment only to come on the team and find out the atmosphere doesn’t match its interview description. This may even lead them to seek employment elsewhere.

The best way to retain new talent and show that they are valued from day one is to onboard in the same way you’d want to be brought on the team. Here’s a handful of initiatives small business owners can implement to create a more personalized process.

1. Prep before the new hire arrives.

Your new employee will likely be excited (and a bit nervous) about their first day at work, but that excitement may fall flat when they realize nobody has set up a workstation for them or greets them upon arrival. Before the new hire steps into the office, prep by making sure the following areas are ready to go.

  • Workstation setup. Do they have a computer ready and a place to sit? Has an email address been created? Do they need a phone extension? Do they need a key to the office?
  • Documents and employee handbook. Bundle your hiring documents and materials like organizational charts to provide to the newbie in a batch. You may even want to email them over to fill out before the employee arrives so less time is spent on paperwork, and they can become more familiar with the processes. If your employee handbook is outdated, now is your chance to update it for the new hire (and for the rest of your team too).
  • Company announcement. Let your team know that a new employee will be joining them in a quick companywide email. Explain more about who the person is, their job title, what they will be doing and any fun facts about their background.

2. Ensure a great welcome with an introduction to the team.

Don’t let a companywide email about your new hire be their only introduction. Conduct a walking tour of your space with the new employee so they have an understanding of where certain rooms, like the restrooms and break room, are located and where they can find resources like printers and copiers. Personally introduce the newbie to the rest of the team one-on-one to make it easier for them to remember names and faces. After you’ve made the initial rounds, you might want to encourage even more mingling with the team. Take everyone out to lunch, play icebreaker games as a group or pop champagne to celebrate their arrival.

3. Meet with the new hire for orientation.

Your agenda should include a big picture explanation of the overall workings of the company. The new hire should have a greater understanding of the company at large and their role in it. Outline any etiquette rules the business may have, the types of technology you use, any social media or password policies and more of the inner workings of the business including its mission, milestones and goals for the future.

4. Establish a 30-60-90 day plan.

In addition to understanding their role in the company, make sure the employee clearly understands their role and what is expected of them. Create a 30-60-90 day plan that outlines their responsibilities to help them gradually work their way up. (Why 90 days? This is the typical benchmark date for the onboarding process.)

From here, it’s a good idea to begin thoroughly training your team member. Don’t cram it into one day since the learning curve varies for everyone. My recommendation is to ease them in over the course of a week-long training period. You may also want to assign them a mentor who has plenty of experience within that department and can be on hand to help guide and engage them.

5. Check in regularly.

The new team member’s desk is set, they’ve met the team, understand their duties and the overall company and have trained accordingly. On to the next hire, right? Not quite. Meet in person with both the team member and their mentor (if you have appointed one) regularly to see how the new hire is fitting into the role.

Admittedly, not every employee will be a fit, and it’s important to recognize these signs early on if issues flare up. Many others will though, and touching base together does more than just ensure that the hire is getting their duties accomplished. It gives the newbie the confidence to keep moving forward in areas they excel in and the feedback they need to work on areas they need extra help in. Pretty soon, they won’t be the newbie anymore and all of that will be thanks to the strength of your onboarding process!

The New Year means new possibilities for your small business. With the right strategies in place, your business can potentially see yearly growth and reach new levels. Start preparing now to make more opportunities for tomorrow!

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