As a new year begins, so do opportunities for protecting and growing your business. Now is the time to resolve to turn your professional goals into reality and create a strong platform for growing your small business. If you’ve made some resolutions, you are not alone. According to a recent survey of U.S.-based small business owners, most plans for the New Year include executing fresh marketing strategies that capitalize on the power of social media, providing better benefits for employees, and protecting their data from digital predators. We’ve gathered up some resolutions to help your business stay solvent, competitive, and secure in 2018.
January is the perfect time to start organizing your paperwork for tax season, as tax day comes on April 17, 2018. First off, consult your accountant about any potential changes regarding the new tax law that may benefit your business. For example, provisions such as the Section 179 deduction will allow business owners to write off $1 million in new equipment purchases such as office or manufacturing equipment up front for five years. January is still the time to pull together all invoices, pay stubs, previous tax returns, receipts, and anything else you might need to file, including the correct forms. New small business owners, should make sure to mail out all the forms in time—the deadline for workers to receive W2s and 1099s is January 31, 2018, which, as their employer, the IRS requires you to also file.
If your business and budget is super small, H&R Block offers a free, small business tax checklist online. While you may remember to list all IRS-approved tax deductions applicable to running your own business, don’t forget yourself. If you are saving for your own retirement, make sure to fund your SEP IRA or Keogh Plan, and deduct that contribution on your tax return.
It’s tempting after the holidays to turn away from debt, but it can be debilitating for your business. Take stock of what money has come and gone out over the past year, then review your debts and pay them off, advises Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, an online legal filing service based in Calabasas, California.
“You may want to just wait it out and start fresh in January, but [make sure] [to] pay off the debt that has the highest interest rate first and then work your way through debt with lower interest rates,” she says. “Doing this improves your credit score and makes you a more attractive candidate for a loan or any other potential financial opportunities. If you have any credit card debt leftover from the holiday season, it is best to just pay it off as soon as possible.” Extra tip: Pay off your bigger balances with vendors, too, and contact customers or clients who have outstanding bills from 2017. Don’t let debts linger.
Protecting your small business logo or trademark by registering with the federal U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is a wise, relatively inexpensive step when it comes to protecting your brand, new products, new service offering, or whatever it is you use to promote your business and services. “As your business grows and you invest in your brand and market to your customers, it is wise to consider the breadth of the Internet and your brand,” shares Sweeny. “It’s important to both be aware of other competitor’s trademarks/brands and also to ensure that third parties do not use your brand to their benefit.”
Think this is a no brainer? Consider this: According to Sweeney, of the 6.8 million businesses started each year, only 2.5 million businesses incorporate or form an LLC, and, of those businesses, only 600,000 file trademark applications and just 350,000 trademarks are registered each year. That’s a lot of exposed brands out there—make sure yours isn’t one of them.
A new year can be a perfect time to offer employees new options, like a flexible spending account or dependent care flexible spending account, both of which are annually renewed and frequently start in January. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, robust health coverage and retirement plans are the most sought-after and valued employee benefits.
Take note: If your company is in New York State, be aware that the New York Family Leave Act goes into effect on January 1, 2018, and will be phased in through 2021. All small business (no matter how few employees) owners will be required to offer employees 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of a newborn, or an ill child, partner, spouse, or another household family member. Not in New York? This law may still impact you. So far, five states, including California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington, have made paid family leave a requirement for business owners.
The National Cyber Security Alliance estimates that 60 percent of small business owners close their doors within six months after a breach in data. Keep in mind that these recent numbers are from 2015, so that number most likely has gone up. The financial downfall can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the loss of customer confidence (and customers). But don’t let fear get the better of your business. Figure out how much you really need to cover your assets, should you be a victim. It doesn’t do any good for a small business to adopt a $10,000 solution if the potential risk reduction is only worth $5,000, shares Bill Fanelli, co-author of a recent report, 2017 State of Cybersecurity Among Small Businesses in North America, and the chief security officer for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Find out how prepared you are by taking the Better Business Bureau’s Cyber Security Quiz.
In 2018, keep up with social media, and we don’t just mean hitting refresh on your Facebook page. Chatbots (“especially through Facebook messenger”) will be a must-have tool for small businesses in 2018, according to Inc. magazine. Make sure all of your marketing tools are mobile-friendly, too, because by 2020, 59 percent of Facebook users will only access it by a mobile device.
Video is also an excellent way to gain social traffic. According to TechCrunch, Forrester Research found that “[v]ideos are 53 times more likely than traditional web pages to receive an organic first-page ranking.” Don’t know where to start? Start by picking your favorite social media app. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest all have integrated video features available that can be utilized for free, a bonus for small marketing budgets.
Don’t wait until the last minute—give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the next holiday season. Plan around the big 2018 shopping dates—Cyber Monday, Black Friday, and Small Business Saturday. In order to keep your holiday marketing emails going into potential and returning customers’ inboxes, make sure to verify your status with Google Postmaster Tools.
Discuss lessons learned from 2017 and look for ideas to implement this year. Nancy Friedman, a top customer service expert and president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training Inc., in St. Louis, Mo., recommends a postmortem to gear up for the next year. “Meet with your staff,” she says. “Discuss what went wrong and what went right, and make sure any customer service concerns are addressed immediately and solutions are made so [in the future] customers can walk away satisfied.” Not a bad suggestion for any time of the year.