I have a positive outlook for 2012. But it's more important than ever to map out the goals you want to stick to.
If you run a small business, and make resolutions for the year ahead, you're obligated to take them seriously. The margin for error is slim and, while I'm optimistic for 2012, it's still a demanding economy.
Here are my top 5 resolutions for 2012 that can help you drive your business, which will ultimately help drive the economy.
1. Have a plan. If you don't have a road map you may not end up in the right place. Rather than just reacting to what comes up, ask yourself where you want to go and what you need to do to get there. What is true about my business and what can I do to make sure those things continue to be true? This may mean buying new equipment, updating your technology, or raising prices. Make sure to match your plan to your goal. Your goal may not be to make more than seven figures. It might be a certain lifestyle you're seeking. If you want to set up your business plan so you get to take an extra vacation this year, that's valid too. Whatever your goal, stick to it, and plan accordingly.
2. Know what's working and what's not. There may be things in your business you've always done that don't quite work anymore. At the end of the day, if the return on investment is not there, perhaps you need to fix or stop some of your old practices. You have to be willing to adapt, try new ideas, and scrap outdated ones … even things you've been doing forever (like, say, advertising in the Yellow Pages).
3. Along with your plan, have a back-up plan. As anyone who has owned a small business long enough realizes, stuff happens. The computers crash, the phones go down, a blizzard hits, the office floods. Anything can go wrong. You should have a back-up plan if your employees can't make it to the office, or the office isn't available to the employees. It's become so much easier to telecommute that having contingency plans shouldn't be too hard.
4. Follow the best-use principle. Ask yourself some important questions. Are you being as efficient as possible with your time and how you utilize your staff? Is it worth it, for example, to do your own taxes or your own payroll when there are services out there that can make it easier for a modest price? Are you managing your contracts through fax and mail, or are you using an e-signature solution? Consider your options and how much your time is worth in these and all areas of your business.
5. Take the temperature of your employees. It's important to not take for granted those employees you can't live without. Make sure you have your eye on what you can do to keep them around. Also, keep in mind how you will react when someone quits and plan to mitigate those feelings before they do. At the same time, take note that there are many skilled people out there willing to work for less because of the difficulty of the job market. It may turn into a great opportunity.
Like most goals, these might be easy to break as you get swept up in the many tasks of any given year. But think about how good you will feel at the end of 2012 when you've improved your small business, and you're ready take an even bigger step forward in 2013.
MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University. @michaelalter