2020 forced both consumers and businesses to adapt quickly during complicated times, accelerating changes to legacy practices, while simultaneously ushering in a new era of expectations and behavior. Quite suddenly, business as usual was flipped on its head and business leaders were left having to figure things out quickly. Much like trends in pop culture or fashion, trends in business aren’t meant to last forever. They are constantly evolving or being reinvented.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what we can learn from the events of last year, and how to best prepare for the growth to come.

Start and End Your Decision-Making with Data

We are already well into the New Year and even though you’ve already put a business strategy in place, it’s imperative to always understand where your business is and where it’s headed. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that even with planning, you need to be ready to address risks or opportunities that come up.

What does this mean? Continue to collect data from across the entire organization to inform real-time decision-making, while also providing the flexibility to adjust no matter the circumstances. Having data and the insights that quickly allow you to turn risk into opportunity is critical.

It can be easy to want to operate from your gut, especially when you have years of experience doing this successfully, but as 2020 showed us things can literally change overnight. Implementing new systems and processes can be painful, but business leaders should be starting and ending every decision with data at the center.

To do this, you need to clearly outline where you need to collect this information from and establish a regular cadence. Businesses should be relying on as few systems as possible to aggregate all this information into one place for a comprehensive view of business performance and to support planning throughout the year.

Examine Business Operations and Supplier Relationships

Even the most resilient supply chains were put under stress over the last year. According to a recent Oracle NetSuite and Thomas survey, 88% of manufacturers said pandemic-related disruptions have affected their business. In times of crisis, supply chain management requires real-time insights to quickly make informed decisions and shift your strategy when needed.

For product-based organizations who faced costly delays with foreign suppliers and distributors, the cost-benefit analysis to on-shore or near shore your supply chain suddenly became much more appealing. Supply chain resiliency requires any business to recognize, react and recover from disruption to your network.

Lesson learned? As we quickly shift into the rest of the year make sure your business is taking stock of current supplier and vendor relationships. This is an important step to identify the ones that have helped you maintain a healthy business the last year, and where there could be the potential to expand. On the other side of the coin, don’t be afraid to reevaluate the supplier and vendor relationships that may no longer be serving the needs of your business or even are a step closer to home. A new year always calls for new opportunities.

Leave Your Books On Autopilot

Managing your books may not be the most exciting part of running a business, but as we learned last year it is absolutely necessary to have a close eye on your operations and cash flow. This can be the difference of being able to apply for a loan or even attract new business. Accessing your real-time financial data, which requires making sure you have the right tools in place, is a sharp contrast to getting bogged down in spreadsheets.

For many small businesses, it’s a two or three person team serving as sales, marketer, IT and accountant. Hiring a person dedicated to accounting alone, or investing in accounting software, can make the difference in positioning your business for growth and recovery in the year ahead.

Accounting software automates bookkeeping processes that are time-consuming and error-prone if completed manually, and makes it easier to find all of that information to create financial statements. If you’re like one of the many businesses that hopes to be a part of the upward part of what many economists are calling a K-shaped recovery, having your financial house in order is fundamental.

Tech Investments Are No Longer Optional

It is easy to choose the comfortable route, stick to the status quo or be cost conscious by not spending on tech improvements. Last year made it clear though that technology has become the price of entry to maintain a healthy, growing business. Government closures and COVID restrictions quite literally forced businesses to rethink their operations, while challenging leaders to overhaul their companies altogether.

Thankfully, when the government rolled out its second round of PPP funding, these new loans allowed businesses to reinvest 40% for growth initiatives and cloud software upgrades – and new changes to the program are being implemented to reach even more small businesses.

There is no longer an excuse for putting off necessary technology investments when even more business owners are being given access to capital to help prepare for both the challenges and opportunities that still lay ahead. After the massive surge in cloud adoption, now is not the time to slow down but use technology as an enabler to refocus on your company vision and support you in reaching 2021 goals.

Lisa Schwarz is Senior Director of Global Product Marketing for the Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit. She is responsible for positioning of NetSuite’s unified cloud-based platform which includes finance, HR, ecommerce, inventory management capabilities and more –  supporting more than 24,000 organizations. Find Lisa on LinkedIn.

Business growth stock photo by Monster Ztudio/Shutterstock