By Marshal Kushniruk
2017 is starting as an uncertain year for many small business owners. The spotlight on Brexit and the new Trump administration has created both awareness and uncertainty around the complexity of running a small business, with a range of issues – from taxes and loans to federal, state and local regulations – all in the spotlight. If you are looking for clarity and security around growth opportunities for your business, while ensuring you tick all the compliance boxes this year, you are not alone.
Against this backdrop, one trend I see is many small businesses simultaneously excited and daunted by the promise of digital tools and technologies to help them take away the complexity of certain back-office tasks – in a secure and compliant way. This means ultimately they can just get back to focusing on their business’s health and generating income. But it becomes counterproductive if instead businesses feel bogged down catching up with the latest trends.
One thing that is clear to me, however, is that uncertainty is detrimental to economic activity. In 2017, small businesses have more pressure than ever to plan strategically for success and protect their business from a host of threats. Here are my top five tips for how to keep your business safe and compliant this year and move forward on the path of growth to turn small business into big business:
Revisit and reset
As markets evolve, you can’t stand still. As you look to move forward, it’s useful to keep coming back to the same point: understanding the problem you want to solve and the customers who need it. Do your research, have a plan to execute, talk to your customers and prospects and iterate on what you’re finding as you speak to them. Then repeat the process as you go.
As an example, let’s say your business offers an interior design service. You will need to keep abreast of challenges such as clients living in small city spaces, or the growing trend of people remodeling their homes over moving properties. You will also need to find out where people look for these services, and use all this information in order to effectively adapt how you market and showcase your capabilities to the changing needs of your audience. Then be ready to adjust your plan in response to what you learn.
Find new opportunities
A recent 2017 State of Small Business Report that surveyed over 1,100 small businesses found that 39% are concerned with growing revenue this year. It will be crucial for businesses to find new sources of revenue to move forward on an upward growth trajectory and partnerships are a great way to do this.
For example, the rise of the online marketplace like Amazon, Etsy, Jet and niche alternatives, as well as short-term rental sites/apps including VRBO and Airbnb open the doors for anyone to become or grow a small business, so embrace them. You may be able to bring your products to market faster and reach new customers more easily, particularly outside of your state or country.
If you have the right product that solves a problem, you should be able to grow your business. However, there is definitely less room for error in today’s business world with its frenetic pace. To stay focused on their core business, small businesses should outsource backend tasks and leverage technology.
Businesses with between 11 to 50 employees increased outsourcing for tax preparation from 47% to 58% last year and for businesses with between 51 to 100 employees, this number increased from 31% to 43%. A further 42% of small businesses said they plan to increase IT spending in 2017.
When looking for an automation technology for back-end tasks such as payment handling or tax management, choose one that integrates with your existing applications and data and makes business decisions in the background. These solutions can deliver value sooner while ensuring seamless business operations and greater reliability.
Solve an old problem with a new solution
With more millennials entering the workplace who assume there’s a solution (usually technology-based) to every problem, the status quo method of problem solving will go out the window. Focus on how to solve old problems with new solutions – start by asking other small business owners, trusted friends and others how they “solve for X”.
For example, if you need temporary staff support, you may discover that dipping into the growing gig economy worker pool is the solution. Or, if you need to reduce time spent on back-end tasks, you’ll likely hear from other business owners that automation technology will handle those processes for you.
In a growing small business, there are opportunities everywhere. Learning how to resist temptation and to not go after so many different kinds of business is key. Focus once more on the problem you are trying to solve, and the easiest way to reach your target audience, and stick to a clear action plan.
Marshal Kushniruk manages Avalara’s key strategic ERP accounts and independent software vendors, supporting their software and usability needs and ensuring that the highest-quality customer care and technical support systems are in place. Twitter: @avalara.