Ask any small business owner what they want more of and they will likely say time and money. One thing that robs them of these two coveted assets is a set of lacking or outdated best practices.
For your business to succeed you know that you need to constantly adjust to changes in the market. You must also pay attention to outdated systems, internal procedures, and inadequate, disjointed marketing practices. Savvy business owners review these things regularly to double down on what’s working and upgrade or eliminate what is not.
Below are 6 best practices that are often overlooked. You may believe that you just don’t have the time to devote to these best practices, but consider the time, money, and stress it takes to react to every urgent situation. Many of these could be prevented by having processes, guidelines, and updated systems in place. We need to make time to be proactive--because being reactive is rarely pretty.
1. Update software and make sure your network is secure.
Make sure that you are running the latest version of all of your software; older versions leave you vulnerable to cyber attacks, viruses, system slowdown, and glitches. If your team is virtual and accessing a company database or software system, have them do the same. If you don’t know how to do these things it is well worth the cost of hiring an expert. Make sure that your information, and especially your client’s information, is secure.
2. Familiarize yourself with legal and regulatory mandates.
What local and federal laws, pending legislation, and regulations apply to your small business, including your specific industry? From a local license to operate to the Privacy Act, an entrepreneur cannot be expected to know it all.
It’s a good idea to consult a small business attorney on an annual basis. He or she should review your contracts, data collection practices, and your business model in general. It may cost a little bit but hiring an attorney to defend your is far more costly than the proactive measure of an annual consultation.
3. Create cohesive branding and marketing efforts.
Social media, direct mail, trade shows, local events, Google ads, radio and tv ads; where to put your marketing and advertising budget? Assuming you even have a budget. In my experience, most small business owners throw a few random darts at one or two of these channels and expect to see results. Don’t waste your time and money. Instead, solidify your brand, including your brand message. Then create a plan and stick to it. Hiring a VA to add regular posts to your social media platforms is not a plan. Your social media strategy, advertising, website, and any other marketing platforms need to demonstrate continuity. Even if you don’t have a large budget, hiring a good consultant to help with your messaging and marketing approach will pay off in the long run.
4. Document and update your processes.
One hand doesn't always know what the other hand is doing, even in a small business. Sometimes business owners are shocked at the things their employees either don’t know and/or how inefficiently they are performing their jobs. When employees are responsible for training new employees there’s a danger of these inefficiencies being passed along.
Have each employee document their tasks. Documentation can be a combination of screenshots, video, and written documentation. Review their processes and organize them into a database of information. Make sure you update it annually--at least. If you do not have any employees, do it for your own tasks. Someday you will hire a team, and this will give you the foundation for training them, saving time and aggravation.
5. Get your bookkeeping in order.
Tax time should not mean a mad frenzy to collect everything your accountant needs from you. Nor, should it introduce unwanted and stressful surprises. With the software solutions available to us today, there is no reason for messy books. If you are poorly informed about your numbers, implement a process to stay on top of them. Look at your profit and loss statement, accounts receivable, and cash flow statement on a monthly basis, at least. If you don’t know how to properly enter information or don’t understand your reports, sit down with your accountant or access an online learning opportunity.
6. Review (or create) your core values, vision, and mission statement.
These intangible assets are your roadmap to success. It’s important that they evolve as you grow, and that your branding reflects your values and mission. We know that people choose to do business with companies that align with their own values, so this information needs to be visible to them. And, your mission and vision give your employees a clear objective, which helps them to make decisions that align with the company’s purpose.
I understand how easy it is to get bogged down by your day-to-day operations, so it’s also easy to lose sight of best practices. But it's important to take a step back and look at the benefits of having best practices in place and up to date. Most fires that entrepreneurs are called upon to put out can be prevented, and the documentation above is a part of those preventative measures. If you schedule just one day per quarter to hunker down in a private space and work on best practices and planning, you’ll pave a much smoother path to success.