It's easier than ever to start a small business, but it's also easier than ever to fail. No matter how long you've been in business, whether a startup or a seasoned success, you're always at risk of failure. In 2014, knowing how to grow your business and continue to operate efficiently and profitably is critical. It starts with knowing where your business stands, where you want it to go, and how you'll get it there. That's why knowing the following 10 things is essential to small-business survival in 2014.
1. Your goals and how you'll achieve them
Start planning for 2014 by writing down measurable business goals as well as the steps you'll need to take to achieve them. Break each goal down into monthly and weekly tasks so you can track your progress. Without goals and a goal achievement plan, you're blindly moving in a random direction when you want to be moving forward.
2. Marketing plan
Your marketing plan for 2014 should cover everything you're going to do to promote your company, products, and services. From print marketing such as posters and flyers to direct mail marketing such as postcards to digital marketing and advertising, you should have your comprehensive marketing plan ready to go – along with a reasonable budget.
3. What your competitors are up to
To be sure, your competitors aren't going to reveal their marketing strategies for 2014; however, you can keep tabs on what they're doing early in the year to gain a sense of the direction they're going. Know your enemy, so you can beat your enemy.
4. What about health care?
Changes in health care laws will have a major impact on small businesses in 2014. Get with a knowledgeable health insurance broker to help figure out how to keep health care costs manageable.
5. How customers perceive your brand
The beginning of the year is a great time to survey customers to determine how they perceive your brand, products, and services. Capitalize on what they love about you, fix what they don't, and then measure again in 2015 to see how you've improved.
6. What challenges you'll face and how you'll solve them
Your business is in a unique situation; I don't know what that is, but I know you're going to face challenges that are likewise unique to your business. Determine what they are and create a plan for solving them early in 2014.
7. Product and service changes
Will you be offering new products or services in 2014? Discontinuing others? Making sweeping changes to how you deliver your products? Make sure you've anticipated customer reaction to changes before you make major moves.
8. Missed opportunities
Consider what opportunities you missed out on in 2013 and then determine why you missed those opportunities and how you can be prepared to take advantage of similar opportunities in 2014. To err is human; to not learn from mistakes is a recipe for disaster.
9. What your most valuable employees want
Happy employees are easy to retain. Find out what will make work life better for your most valuable employees. It doesn't necessarily mean more money; days off, shorter working hours, performance-based rewards, and other incentives can be more powerful methods of employee retention.
10. Whom you're going to count on for advice
Do you have a small-business advisory board? A SCORE mentor? Determine who you're going to count on for business advice in 2014. You don't have to follow every piece of advice, but listening is free and can lead to innovative insights that foster better business practices.
What else do small businesses need to know in 2014?