Since November 8, both consumer and small-business confidence have spiked.

Consumer confidence rose in December 2016 "to the highest level since August 2001 as Americans were more upbeat about the outlook than at any time in the last 13 years," according to a December 27 report from the Conference Board.

Small-business optimism also soared. According to the National Federation of Independent Business's survey in November, the overall optimism index for small businesses jumped to 102.4 post-election, up from the 95.4 before the vote.

This means that consumers with money are likely to be more willing to spend it and small businesses expect better times ahead.

These reports suggest that in 2017 and beyond you should expect to see a national mood swing from fear of losing everything (FOLE) to fear of missing out (FOMO).

And that means more money will be flowing into the economy--creating growth opportunities for your business and more competition from other employers for your best people.

To capture those growth opportunities and build up the talent pool you need to get and keep customers, here are the five budget items in which you must invest your time and money this year.

1. Employee pay and benefits

The unemployment rate in November was a low 4.6 percent nationwide, and it may be even lower where you're located. If the economy grows faster, demand for your most talented employees is going to increase. What's more, you may find yourself seeking to hire new people to meet the needs of your growing customer base.

Culture plays a big role in attracting and retaining talent. And you ought to spend about 20 percent of your time making sure you have the right values and you put in place processes to encourage people to act according to those values.

But to stay competitive on employee pay and benefits, you ought to scrutinize what your rivals are paying and make sure you at least match what they are offering. Budget for meaningful pay and benefits increases or risk losing the war for talent.

2. Training

If you have talented employees, you should invest in their training and career development. If they are advancing their skills faster in your company than they could if they worked for rivals, then they will remain loyal. What's more, they will tell their colleagues about how great it is to work in your company and could help you hire more talented people.

So make sure you budget to train your people and spend time with them to understand their career goals and how you can help them get there.

3. Product development

At the same time that you are securing and building your talent pool, you ought to invest in improving your products and developing new ones. Otherwise, you could miss out on significant growth opportunities for your talent to capture.

Doing that well will require you to listen to current and potential customers to understand why they pay for and use your product and how their needs are changing.

What's more, you should form a team of early-adopter customers who work with different functions--such as engineering, sales, purchasing, manufacturing, and finance--to build prototypes and get feedback.

Make sure you have a big enough budget to manage this process and understand clearly how the products you bring to market will satisfy unmet customer needs.

4. Marketing

To boost your company's revenue, you must market your products. But the key to effective marketing is narrowing down the target of your message to those potential customers who have a real unmet need that your company's product can satisfy uniquely.

To understand the needs of those customers, you should invest time and money in conducting market research that will help you identify and rank the specific factors that customers use in comparing your product with competing ones. What's more, you should ask potential customers how they think your product stacks up to those of rivals on each of those factors.

Armed with those insights, you should be able to craft a marketing message that will pay off in the form of new customers.

5. Customer service

Not only do you want loyal employees, you should also aspire to turn each new customer into a passionate advocate of your company's products. The way to do that is to spend a considerable amount of your own time asking your customers to tell you what they like about your company and what they would like you to improve.

What's more, your company should invest in a customer service team that is dedicated to making sure that your company understands and responds effectively to the problems customers encounter with your product.

If your customer service team members see you spending time with customers, it will inspire them to turn each customer service interaction into an opportunity to create a bond between your customer and your company that will keep the person buying from you and turn those customers into your most compelling advocates.

The year 2017 is shaping up to be one of opportunity. Make sure you budget to capture the lion's share for your company.

Published on: Jan 5, 2017