This past summer, I took my kids on a trip to the Utah desert. The heat was oppressive—spoiler alert, deserts are miserable in August—but luckily we found a marvelous oasis amongst the red rock. The thick cottonwood trees formed a shaded glen where the kiddos spent an entire afternoon splashing in the stream that wound its way through the trees and gave them life. As we sat on streamside rocks enjoying our lunch, I noticed a crawdad slowly moving around in the water. I stopped eating my sandwich mid-bite and focused on the bottom of the stream. To my delight, there were several crawdads in view. My kids had never seen a crawdad before, and I knew they’d be amazed by the strange critters. So I crouched near the water and slowly reached toward the nearest crawdad. I was able to get my thumb and index finger around the body before it knew what was going on, and I was soon showing the crawdad to my kids. “Is it a lobster?” exclaimed my 6-year-old daughter. “Can we eat it?” These questions highlight just 2 of her amazing qualities. First, she loves seafood. Second, she is bold enough to eat a bizarre-looking creature that has been yanked from a desert stream. My daughter announced that she wanted to try catching a crawdad of her own. I pointed to the bottom of the stream and helped her to identify the camouflaged crustaceans as they slowly skittered along the rocks. As my daughter lowered her hand into the water, a massive crawdad suddenly emerged from the abyss. It walked right below her grasp, seemingly unconcerned by the small fingers that were closing around it. I was stunned by the size of the crawdad—it honestly resembled a small lobster—and, in the excitement of the moment, I didn’t have the wherewithal to advise my daughter against grabbing it. A crawdad that size can do some real damage with its claws. My daughter grabbed the crawdad by the back and pulled it from the water. As she held it up triumphantly above her head, it began swinging its massive claws. She screamed in terror but was too scared to drop it. Perhaps she worried that if she did, it would latch onto her toes on the way down. I rushed to her aid and carefully took the crawdad from her hand. I placed it back in the stream, and it quickly backpedaled into the shadows beneath the nearest rock. This story represents what can happen when you accomplish something great but don’t have a plan ready for the aftermath. And that’s a situation that small business owners sometimes find themselves in when they acquire some extra money but don’t have a great idea for how to use it. “Small-business owners must set goals to operate and grow a successful business, despite the products or services offered,” explains The Balance Small Business. “Business owners must set both short-term and long-term goals that include everything from funding and income to expanding the business and reaching customers. In addition, both short-term and long-term goals must be realistic, specific and measurable so the business owner can measure success on a monthly and yearly basis.” So how should you use your small business loans in 2021? That’s entirely up to you. The essential factor is that you have a plan in place. You should identify where you want to go and how much money it will cost for you to get there. It’s not enough to have a plan that lives only in your head, however. Research reveals that the act of writing something down brings lasting benefits, though only about 20% of us consistently take the time to do it. By writing down your plan, you’ll be better positioned to remember it and express it to others—and ultimately, to accomplish it. A study highlighted in the Harvard Business Review confirmed these facts and showcased just how impactful it can be when small business owners formalize their plans. The researchers discovered that when your plan has been written down, you’re 16% more likely to bring it to pass. Here are some ideas to prime the pump and help you to begin thinking about the most strategic ways to put financing to work for you: \tRepair and upgrade your business’s property \tExpand to a new business location \tTake advantage of a promising new business opportunity \tPurchase essential furniture for your home office, if that’s a work arrangement you’ll have in the future \tRepair a piece of crucial equipment \tPurchase new equipment or technologies that can upgrade your operations \tPurchase new vehicles to diversify your fleet \tResearch and develop a new product or service \tLaunch a new product or service with a robust marketing campaign \tInvest in new marketing initiatives for your business \tExpand an already successful marketing campaign to new channels and audiences \tBolster your inventory in preparation for the busy season \tRecruit and hire additional employees for the busy season \tBoost your payroll so that you can give raises to permanent or temporary employees who deserve it \tAdd new features to the benefits you offer employees—and get their opinion on which features to consider \tSupplement your cash flow during a lull in business \tDevelop a disaster plan and purchase training resources \tInvest in new customer service technology and training \tPurchase updated software for your marketing, bookkeeping, project management, or video conferencing \tHire a designer to refresh your logo \tUpdate your website with new copy and design \tAttend additional conventions or trade shows in order to spread the word about your business There are plenty of worthwhile suggestions on this list that could potentially bring you a strong ROI in 2021. Of course, you could already have a much better idea for how to use your loan. You are the most informed person on earth when it comes to your small business, so trust your gut and make the decisions that you know will move the needle for you. Just be sure to develop and record a plan for the road ahead. You don’t want to be caught by surprise, holding a snapping crawdad and not knowing how to proceed.