Key strategies for making your business successful this year.

Ready or not, the new year has arrived. For most small business owners, a new year brings uncertainties over every business area from taxes to wages to health benefits, but it also drives new resolve.

Our New York Life survey of small business owners, conducted by Ipsos,* shows six in 10 small business owners believe their economic outcomes will somewhat, or even significantly, improve in the new year. The majority feel more optimistic than uncertain about the new political landscape, the talent pool, interest rates and health insurance.

Ensuring excellent results in all areas means putting the right strategies in place, and these essential tips can help you leverage your enthusiasm effectively. Begin with the one that will achieve direct results now and ensure success throughout 2017.

Plan for success.

Our poll showed 62 percent of business owners plan to grow their company in 2017 and that requires skillful planning. No matter the size of your firm, you need to develop a blueprint for the next 12 months. Your plan can be a one-page list of goals or a series of documents, breaking down business, marketing and sales objectives.

Organize your plan into quarterly increments to help you better meet your benchmarks, but make strategies straightforward and measurable. For example, "We will increase awareness of our latest product by 30 percent among target buyers by third quarter 2017." Then, identify specific tactics to help you achieve that strategy.

A quick online search will provide planning templates but check out the Small Business Administration website to get guidance on both planning and financing. Or, get in-person assistance from the Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE) or your local Small Business Development Center. 

Put focus on your brand.

Our survey showed over 60 percent of you intend to grow revenue. That makes the way your customers see you—your brand—crucial to realizing that goal. Make branding chief in your planning.

Remember, branding is not just about the visuals; it's about the overall client experience—from your website to contact with employees. Ask yourself if you meet your customers' real needs and if your service method gives you a competitive advantage. 

Then, take an objective look at each business aspect including digital and traditional marketing, customer service, order fulfillment and hiring processes. All influence your brand. 

Determine if each activity you conduct with your customers conveys that yours is the go-to business in your sector or geographic area. In places where you're falling short, fix the issues and keep finding ways to improve your brand reputation. Hire specialized help if branding is not your strength.

Delegate more.

No small business owner can do everything themselves, including handling finances, which is why 55 percent say they plan to seek or utilize assistance from a financial professional in 2017. There are so many variations of financial strategies and insurance plans available, it is not the best use of your time to research and compare what fits your company's budget and size. Save that task for your agent. 

Delegate in your business, too. Empower those you trust, whether they are employees or consultants, to add value to your business. Hand over work you're not required to do yourself or that isn't part of your expertise but is necessary to business operations.

That includes administrative tasks and office or home chores and duties. Hire vetted, qualified virtual help through platforms like Upwork, LinkedIn ProFinder, TaskRabbit and Work Market. 

Delegating will give you the flexibility to strike the right work-life balance, whether it's making time to exercise regularly, locking in a vacation or unplugging on a daily or weekly basis.

Embrace technology.

New tech solutions get created every day, and 66 percent of owners plan to incorporate mobile technology into their business. Don't be afraid of technology—make it work for you to help improve productivity, reach benchmarks and ultimately boost your bottom line.

Start by ensuring all your technology is newer including laptops and desktops and their software. Update office phone systems and go mobile by embracing free or low-cost apps that can transform your smartphone or tablet into a virtual office. 

Plan security carefully to prevent costly downtime, potential litigation and unhappy customers. As numerous recent, high-profile security breaches show, you don't want to put your company at risk with improper or inadequate protection. 

Build a stronger team.

Developing a stronger team has put hiring on your agenda for 2017: Just over half of you said you intend to hire more employees in the coming year. Hiring right helps you grow a more dynamic but cohesive team that reflects well on your brand. You'll also retain solid employees and attract both great new talent and more profitable business. 

Use training to keep your team skilled and productive. For both current employees and new hires, consider bringing in a coach to help staff brush up on fundamentals, whether it's marketing, business development or direct sales. Building both group and individual capabilities fortifies the entire team. Reserve time for your own professional and personal growth so you can lead by example.

Don't forget about the fun side of team-building. Whether it's holding an office happy hour, going on a paintball outing, participating in a sports league or scheduling a retreat, remember that personal and career development go together. Building a stronger team and delegating will give you more opportunities for downtime.

Network, network, network.

Of our survey respondents, 64 percent of you said you intended to network with other business owners or professionals. The key focus is “other business owners," which means networking with those outside your business sector or profession. 

Your network should include equal, highly-respected people from industries and occupations besides yours whom you can introduce to other business owners and customers to help them. Focus on building mutually beneficial relationships that lead to business down the road, not just direct revenue. Networking this way builds trust and others remember you helped them establish new connections when they are making referrals.

However, just like you would with your New York Life financial professional, qualify your business contacts. Make sure they're diverse and believe in building reciprocal relationships. One way to ensure that is by sponsoring high-quality events and inviting the right guests for your network.

Strong preparation boosts your profitability.

Putting the most effective strategies in place for your business early in the new year is the best preparation for a financially healthy 2017. Remember to talk to your business partners, your financial planner or business insurance agent when identifying the right goals for your enterprise.

 

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Further Reading

These are findings from an Ipsos poll conducted November 30 - December 8, 2016 on behalf of New York Life.