The last quarter of 2018 was the best holiday retail season since 2012, and entrepreneurial optimism is riding high. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found in their latest Small Business Optimism Index that optimism is still hovering at the highest levels of the survey’s 45-year history.
CNBC.com credits the score of 104.4 to tax cuts and deregulation. These efforts from the government have boosted investment, hiring, and sales around the country. In fact, the researchers behind the Small Business Optimism Index noted that there were record highs when it came to business owners that had job creation plans and felt it was a good time to expand.
Yes, these are the salad days for America’s small business. As Katia Dmitrieva wrote on Bloomberg.com, these encouraging statistics have been exceeding projections for a while now and are being welcomed as a pleasant surprise.
Onward and upward…
So how do you harness all this goodness for your own business? How do you expand in 2019? One of the most important things to do is survey the field and see where you can improve. After all, business isn’t static. There are constant evolutions in marketing, technology, and other areas of your operations. With that in mind, here are some of the potential areas to focus on in the coming year.
1. Get on the blockchain.
Prepare yourself to hear this buzzword a lot. Whether it’s regarding payment processing, data storage, or something else, blockchain technology has a lot to offer in terms of efficiency and security. Perhaps you won’t incorporate it into your business in 2019, but you should know that it’s most likely the wave of the future.
2. Tailor your advertising.
Modern consumers want you to speak directly to them. Research from Epsilon reveals that 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase with businesses that provide a personalized experience. As part of this approach, ditch the generic emails and bland banner ads. Try to speak your audience’s language by saying things they’d actually like to hear.
3. Improve your look.
Speaking of personalization, one of the first places you can showcase this is with the photos in your advertising. Rather than always defaulting to the same stock photography, look for something better. Something that looks like the people you see in your store. And remember, you can easily improve the quality of your photos using one of the many apps on the market.
4. Measure effectiveness.
The old days of “kitchen sink” advertising are over. Data should be your best friend, helping you identify messages that stick and calls-to-action that get results. One of the best ways to optimize your ROI is by using an evaluation tool such as the new Creative Compass from Facebook.
5. Remember reviews.
Did you know that the average consumer reads 7 reviews before trusting a business? So think about what your reviews say about you. When the stories are positive, highlight them. When the stories are negative, resolve them. Don’t let these reviews take place behind your back because they’re going to shape your future.
6. Streamline your customer service.
In the past, customer service typically meant an employee at your office would answer the phone if someone called in with a question or complaint. Things are now more sophisticated and diverse, so you’ll need to put extra energy into keeping it efficient. At the core of everything should be this: Resolve issues as soon as you possibly can. Because, as mentioned above, customer reviews make it possible for folks to broadcast a simple gripe to an international audience.
7. Ensure your people are happy.
All this talk about customers can make it easy to forget the people you have working the front lines. If you want to do anything of worth, you first need to get buy-in from your employees. Remember, unemployment is historically low, so people aren’t simply happy to have a job. They need to be happy because they have a job with your company.
8. Consider the remote element.
One way to improve engagement is to let your employees have more say when it comes to their schedules. Perhaps the idea of letting them work remotely is out of your comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. Who knows? In addition to making some of your employees happier, it could boost your bottom line. After all, research shows that 86% of workers prefer to work alone in order to reach maximum productivity.
Don’t take on too much.
You obviously have a lot on your plate. According to research from SCORE, 33% of small business owners work more than 50 hours a week, and 25% of them are putting in more than 60 hours a week. In most cases, the bulk of that time is spent with the day-to-day logistics of keeping the business afloat. So when it comes to evolving and expanding your business, the prospect can be intimidating.
But remember — you only need to tackle one thing at a time. Be strategic about it. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and think about what would make the biggest impact on them. By taking this thoughtful approach, you’ll make changes that matter and avoid the risk of overextending yourself.