By Bill Brunelle

It’s almost that time — time for a new year, a new quarter and new business goals. With 2018 on the horizon, a new year of opportunity is on the line for small business owners across the country. Planning for success in the New Year means setting the right goals and knowing which resolutions to avoid in 2018.

To begin, small business owners planning for the future should take a scrupulous look at the past. What worked well in 2017? What didn’t? Evaluate how you can continue to do the things that did work well while tweaking what didn’t to create future success.

Of course, it’s important to remember your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Consider what lessons you can learn from your customers. Did they share any feedback with you over the last year? Did they respond well to any new campaigns or promotions? As much as you can, try to anticipate what your customers will demand from your business and your competitors in 2018.

To put the finishing touches on your 2018 strategy, consider adopting a small business resolution. Perhaps there’s a new marketing medium you’d like to explore or a new service you’re yearning to offer in the New Year. You probably have endless “to-do” items for your business this time of year, but here are a few “to-don’ts” you can immediately check off your list.

DON’T: Cut Prices

Lowering prices can seem like an easy way to draw customers into your store. In the small business community, there exists a constant pressure to match or beat the prices of powerful national chains and online competitors. While low prices are sure to attract customers in 2018, striving to be the bottom dollar may be counter-productive.

Price will always be important to consumers, but data increasingly shows that consumers are willing to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to shopping small. According to an AT&T survey released in April, approximately half of millennials are willing to pay more at a small business. As the largest generation in the country, millennials will continue to have a significant amount of purchasing power in the New Year and beyond. Their desire to support small business, no matter the cost, suggests that many consumers value factors other than price. In other words, don’t sacrifice your business’ strengths for a lower price point.

DON’T: Try to Control the Message

As social media and interactive marketing become more ubiquitous, controlling the message about your business gets more difficult — and, perhaps, less necessary. Surely, your business should employ a comprehensive public relations and marketing strategy, including reputation management, to ensure that your business’s message remains pure and authentic. However, instead of trying to control the message, it’s high time to embrace two-way messaging.

According to BrightLocal, a staggering 97 percent of consumers read online reviews. Customers can leave reviews about your business on Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and similar sites. As a business owner, it’s important to read what customers are saying about your business on these sites. You’ll learn where you succeed, where you can improve, and how you can communicate with consumers. If there’s an opportunity to respond to reviews about your business, take advantage of the ability to create a two-way conversation and foster customer relations.

DON’T: Be the Big Brand

In the endless effort to compete with big brands, small businesses risk losing their edge. In an increasingly homogenized marketplace, there’s value in being unique. In the New Year, small businesses across the country should seek not to take on their big-box counterparts directly, but rather, to change the game. Differentiate your business by telling its Main Street Story and prioritizing customer service. In essence don’t be the big brand, be better than the big brand. Take an active role in the local community and work together with other small businesses on your block. The competition from big brands won’t go away in 2018, but you can confront it differently by thinking creatively about the value your business adds to the community.

Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause-marketing campaign sponsored by STIHL, which is dedicated to educating communities about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. Independent We Stand inspires small business owners across the country to celebrate their locally owned status and help consumers understand the importance of supporting them. For more information, visit www.independentwestand.org@IndWeStand.