As the holiday season gets into full swing, many of us reflect on the successes and failures we’ve experienced over the past 12 months. Then we think about what the new year may have in store for us, setting goals for personal improvement. But we’re not just doing this as individuals; it’s also the perfect time for small business owners to take a look at where they are and consider what opportunities will be coming their way in 2015.
Let’s take a look at four key issues affecting small businesses and see how you can take advantage of them to make 2015 a great year for your company.
Embrace the cloud (if you haven’t already)
We’re living in a more competitive business world than ever before. After all, an Etsy seller on the other side of the world might be offering the same product you sell to your local customers. But at the same time, small businesses have never been in a stronger position to compete with large enterprises. With the power of Internet-based tools and platforms, you can reach anyone, anywhere to make a sale.
Small businesses are continuing to migrate to the cloud. When your competitors are taking advantage of the same flexibility and agility you are, it’s time to take the next step. As cloud-based technologies become more capable, you can move beyond just accessing your data in the cloud, to using that information to create actionable insights. Getting the most out of the data your company creates can provide you with real competitive advantage. Look for innovative solutions that integrate with the technology you’ve already invested in. The latest generation of cloud-based tools can help you understand your business – and your customers – better.
Keep an eye on the regulatory issues facing your industry
Small business owners often have to perform job functions ranging from CEO to inventory manager. And with so many hats to wear, it’s easy to overlook the complicated legal stuff. But if you’re not prepared for changes in regulations taking effect in 2015, you’re setting yourself up for a painful lesson. For example, the Affordable Care Act has been gradually taking effect, with new regulations being put in place each year. In 2015 you will need to be aware of new reporting requirements for employers with at least 50 employees, for example, and businesses with more than 100 employees may have to pay assessments if full-time employees elect to purchase insurance through the new Health Insurance Marketplace.
These regulations will vary from one industry to another, from HIPAA for healthcare companies to PCI regulations for accepting credit card payments. To make sure you’re up to speed on changes that will affect you, familiarize yourself with the publications and resources that are relevant for you. A good place to start is www.sba.gov, where the federal government has collected useful information and tips about operating a small business in today’s regulatory environment.
Mobile devices are essential to keeping things in your company running even when you’re not in the office. From creating databases of customer information to taking sales orders in the field, these devices are the lifeblood of today’s small business owner. And as the mobile marketplace becomes more ubiquitous, you are the winner – with more accessibility and functionality to get the job done.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to dive in and see how mobile solutions can take your company to the next level. Once you take that step and realize the convenience of accepting payments on the spot, accessing customer information while providing customer service in the field, or using mobile capabilities to invoice customers and accept electronic payments, you’ll quickly see the benefits.
Don’t forget your customer
You’re not the only one to benefit from mobility; your customers are more than aware of what it has to offer. According to CNN, mobile Internet usage recently passed that of PCs. Companies that aren’t making their websites mobile friendly are missing out on a significant chunk of business. And it’s not just mobility. The bottom line is this: make your customers happy and they’ll keep coming back for more – and they’ll bring their friends.
When customers can get what they want from any company anywhere the world, the one that provides the most positive experience is the one that will earn their loyalty. Think about it; if you’re choosing between two online stores to send you a T-shirt, would you go with the one that shipped to the wrong address last time? Or would you choose the one that got your order right and periodically sends you useful coupons? Take advantage of tools that provide you with new ways to engage with your customers, like social media. Make them feel like they’re a part of your company and they’ll make you a part of their lives.
While 2015 is sure to bring about some new surprises, prepare now to take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way. Don’t be afraid to embrace technology that integrates and simplifies your business operations, such as accounting, payments, online payroll and inventory management. Keep up to date on regulatory issues that affect you. And above all, find a way to provide an unforgettable customer experience. If you can master these principles, next year just might be your best yet.
By Connie Certusi
Connie Certusi is Executive Vice President and General Manager of Small Business Solutions at Sage North America.