8 tips to improve your small business in 2020

Working ‘on’ as well as ‘in’ your business is the endless challenge for all business owners. The first few months of a new year (let alone a new decade!) provides the perfect opportunity to develop a fresh approach to navigating this delicate balance. Master these eight tips to improve your small business and set yourself up for success in the 2020s.

Bet on a business plan in 2020

Without a plan we invariably end up wherever life chooses to take us. This is fine if we are lucky enough to drift into success, but often we end up stuck or stagnant!

When this happens, it can feel as if we are toiling away, expending ever-increasing effort with little reward. Or, to put it another way, we are working harder not smarter. The outcome is that we have less time for family, friends and the activities that matter to us. This is so unfortunate because most people who choose to start their own business do so because they are seeking freedom and independence.

So, what is going wrong?

The cause is almost always the lack of a clearly defined plan. A plan does not need to be a long, fancy ring-bound document containing graphs and spreadsheets – it just needs to contain clarity and intention as to where you want your business to go, how you are going to get there, and by when. It can even be a one page business plan to start! It’s not the length and complexity of the plan that counts – it’s making (and recording in whatever format that works for you) a clear and definite decision as to the future direction of your business and committing 100% to seeing it through.

As your year unfolds you may need to adjust and modify your plan to factor in new opportunities and challenges. But as long as you remain focused on the end goal you will greatly enhance your chance of actually achieving it.

Look backwards as well as forwards

What worked well in 2019? What didn’t? Did you achieve the goals you had set?

If you didn’t set a goal or have a plan, then that is the first thing to change in 2020!

It is important to be reflective in business, and as you get back into the swing of things in February, it’s a good time to take stock. We all make mistakes and misjudge at times – what matters is that you learn from these experiences and change course for the year ahead.

So, take a little time to reflect on the year that was and on your performance as a leader, owner and manager. What did you do consistently well in 2019? What areas of improvement can you identify? How can you best implement this for 2020? Now repeat the same exercise for your business.

If you don’t make time to examine and ‘unpick’ the lessons from 2019 they are almost certain to repeat in 2020!

Handle the ‘difficult tasking’

There is usually one area of a business that gets continually ignored, avoided or delayed – and this is the area of ‘difficult tasking’.

It might be recruitment, systems, compliance, bookkeeping, marketing – it can be anything. For many business owners, the challenge of learning, optimising or managing social media platforms and new technologies all fall into this category!

Your business, like any team, will only be as strong as its weakest link – and so at some point (most likely when you are wanting to seize an opportunity or are seeking finance or similar!) you will find that you are compromised due to the failure to handle this area of difficult tasking in the past.

One of the best things to do in February is to take time to identify what the area of difficult tasking is in your business. Then devise a plan to tackle it – fast. You may delegate this to an employee or even to a friend or family member – it doesn’t matter who does it, as long as it gets handled.

As the year takes off and your business grows and new opportunities knock on your door, you will at some point be relieved that this area of your business is up to scratch. So rather than let another year (hopefully it’s not another decade!) pass by with your ‘difficult tasking’ still in the ‘to do’ pile, make a decision to handle it today and give yourself a nice reward when the job is complete!

Be alert, protective and prepared

About 10 years ago, I was trying to help my step-daughter appreciate some of the risks associated with solo overseas travel. As a joke, before her flight departed, I made her repeat the mantra “there are people out there who want to rob me!” She is one of those wonderfully kind and generous people who sees the good in life much more than the bad. She needed that type of fun but simple messaging to get the point across!

Sadly, it can be the same for small business owners – we don’t want to think about such things but we must because the ‘robbers’ are much less visible and very, very skilled. It is absolutely essential to focus on security and on protecting what you have worked so hard to create, build and grow. Cyber security must become a normal part of your business practice – regardless of the type, size or location of your venture. The Australian Cyber Security Centre has some great information and resources available which are worth exploring. Visit https://www.cyber.gov.au to learn more.

We live in complex times and serious events of many kinds can and do happen – some are foreseeable and some are not. Knowing the likely risks, ensuring you have adequate insurance in place (including for business disruption) and building contingencies wherever you can will at least give you the peace of mind that you have positioned yourself well for recovery and rebuilding. Take a few minutes to do a mental ‘audit’ of your business and its key points of vulnerability to help you identify what you can do today to protect and buffer your business from risk in the future.

Develop and value your people

The expression ‘your people are your greatest asset’ is so true. All growth in business requires people. The key to achieving long term success is your approach to recruitment and how you develop and recognise your employees.

It can be easy to lock people into specific roles in your mind, and to then focus on external recruitment when the moment comes to fill a role. This is unfortunate because often the best people for a new role can be found within your business – they are just in a different role. It might be that your forklift driver would make an excellent Operations Manager. Or your receptionist could be incredible in sales and marketing. They may just need a little training and support.

Promoting from within is efficient because the person already understands your business, its customers, systems and needs. But promoting from within also creates far more powerful and intangible results because it tells your people that you truly want to invest and develop them – which is essential to creating a strong and positive workplace culture as well as building internal loyalty.

There are lots of ways you can show your people that you value them and their contribution. Diarise key dates such as birthdays, employment anniversaries and similar in advance. If someone steps up when needed make sure you show your appreciation. It can be as simple as a restaurant or cinema voucher – it’s the recognition of their extra effort that counts. Relationships matter at all levels in business – so make sure you build the type of relationships you want with your employees. It won’t happen unless you make it happen.

Become a learner

It can be so easy to become stagnant, especially when the demands of day-to-day business operations are so high. Stagnancy is always more likely when we stop pushing ourselves to learn. It doesn’t matter what sector you are in, there is always more to learn – whether it is learning about how to develop and manage your people, learning better financial practices, developing your skills with social media, etc.

Set a goal to learn something new and grow yourself as a business owner and manager in 2020. You could use online resources such as YouTube videos or something more formal. You might enjoy the shift in focus!

Give back

We can all give to others – sometimes we just need to work out how! All businesses exist within communities and depend on them to survive, whether these communities are physical or virtual. It’s important not to allow yourself or your business to become isolated in the day-to-day performance of your work. Think about who and what you can support, and then follow through and do it.

For example, some businesses like to set a budget at the start of the year for ‘giving’ and then find projects, community groups and initiatives to contribute to that align with their business values and people. The start of 2020, especially in light of what we are experiencing at the moment as a country, is the perfect time to reflect and determine how and where your business can best contribute to its community.

Be positive

Last but not least, your attitude towards your business and its potential for success is all important. There is a lot in life we cannot control – legal requirements, economic and environmental conditions, social media trends and much more – but we can make decisions about our state of mind, our emotions and our response to challenges and change.

Change is a normal part of life and business. If we see change as ‘bad’ and develop the habit of resistance, then we are likely to miss the opportunities for innovation and growth that may lie hidden. To succeed in business you must be resilient, and resilience requires a degree of positivity. Developing this within yourself could be the best investment you will ever make in yourself and in your business!

Claire Crocker

Director | ION Group

Claire is Director at ION Group and also owns businesses in the wholesale, retail, hospitality and professional sectors. This gives her a unique perspective from which to offer strategic advice and solutions.

ION Group provides innovative, practical and holistic advice to business owners and managers to help drive profitability and performance within their business. It is particularly skilled at supporting businesses to successfully navigate through periods of challenge and change.