Chances are you have reassessed your financial portfolio with an eye toward investment opportunities in the new year. But have you taken a hard look at your business investments? As a business owner, your business is your most critical investment. So how can you invest in it more wisely? These experts offered their tips on where business owners should invest their time and resources in 2019.
Invest in Employees
With a strong economy and continued optimism among their ranks, many small and midsize business owners may be looking to invest in additional employees this year. The big challenge: finding the skilled help they need in a tight labor market. Businesses must have a strategy to effectively compete for talent, says Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a small business advocacy group. That means “evaluating everything from their workplace culture to benefits offerings that will set them apart in the marketplace," she says.
And look outside the usual avenues, counsels Geri Stengel, president of Ventureneer, which offers research, training and content for entrepreneurs. For example, women returning to the workplace after raising children and semi-retired professionals are a great source of skilled help—and they don't require a lot of training or oversight, she says. And in the age of the gig economy, there are plenty of services to help you fill critical skills gaps—website design, digital marketing or writing, for example—that don't require a full-time position, she adds. Finally, don't neglect training for the staff you already have—or yourself!
Entrepreneurs are often isolated. The thinking is that business is a solo sport.
–Geri Stengel, president, Ventureneer
Up Your Marketing Game
Technology changes quickly, and it can be hard to keep up. But if you are looking for new customers—and who isn't?—pursuing investment opportunities in digital marketing is a must. A modern website and SEO (search engine optimization) are de rigueur, of course. But in 2019, savvy marketers are turning to new tools that allow them to personalize their marketing pitches and more effectively target potential customers. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) is filtering from research labs and big corporations to practical and affordable tools that everyday businesses can use, says Brad Gaines, a partner at marketing firm Reset Strategies and co-author of Reset: 11 Ways to Reset the Old and Grow. AI tools might include chatbots that automate routine requests or tools that help home in on online customer behavior to identify those most likely to buy your product.
If that sounds daunting, many technology providers offer free trials or other baby steps. “The point is, you're losing more money by shouting at the rooftops to people who aren't paying attention rather than to people who have their hand on their wallet," says Gaines.
Protect Your Data
And while we're on the subject of technology, don't neglect cybersecurity. The past year saw a wave of data breaches and abuses, which erode customer trust and loyalty. And with new forms of malware, phishing, ransomware and tech scams being reported almost daily, it's important for every business, even the smallest, to take precautions to protect your data and that of your customers. The U.S. Congress may consider national data privacy legislation this year, but there's no reason to wait.
By now of course you should have upgraded your web site to HTTPS—a secure, encrypted version of the basic HTTP hypertext transfer protocol (the 'S" stands for secure). Websites that use the older HTTP may trigger a warning message to visitors and scare them off, notes David Saphier, owner of David's Tech Concierge, a personal tech support firm in New York. And you are using a password manager to manage and protect access to your accounts, right? (If not, 1Password or Lastpass are two to try).
Many businesses store client data, so it's important to make sure that your storage is encrypted and backed up, says Saphier. Most cloud-based services (like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure) provide this capability. If you are storing client data on your own systems, you should encrypt your hard drive—Apple provides a hard drive encryption facility called FileVault and Windows computers have Bitlocker, Saphier says. Don't forget to turn on these features and to use strong passwords for the encryption, he says. And make use of one of the many cloud-based backup systems just in case.
Find a Support Group
“Entrepreneurs are often isolated," says Stengel of Ventureneer. “The thinking is that business is a solo sport." But having a support system is critical—for the well-being of your business as well as yourself, she says. That could be in the form of a mentor, a coach or an advisory board. Another option is to join a group—there are plenty of professional associations and networking groups to choose from. Others are more informal. Stengel recalls one entrepreneur who created her own group of peers by going to trade conferences and looking for business owners who, like herself, were in the food industry and had small children. They set up an online group and shared notes about everything from where to find people to hand out samples at a trade show to what do you pay your babysitter, says Stengel. “It's finding a group of people that can support you that are peers."
Having people to confide in, share your concerns with and seek advice from can pay personal as well as professional dividends. So what are you waiting for?
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