Small businesses may face more uncertainty than usual next year, as a new administration prepares to take the reins in Washington. But firms can still control where they set their priorities.
In a recent survey by GetApp, businesses said their top three priorities for 2017 were attracting and retaining clients, reducing costs, and improving software and information technology infrastructure.
Setting priorities doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task, but it should involve taking a step back and assessing both what worked and what didn’t in the past.
“Setting yearly priorities is always a challenge for small businesses, but given the current climate, it’s more important than ever to invest time in getting them right,” says James Thornton, chief editor at Barcelona-based GetApp.com, a business app discovery platform. “Establishing goals that directly relate to your business’s priorities for 2017 is crucial.”
GetApp recently asked more than 500 small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses to name their top priority. Not surprisingly, close to 58 percent said attracting and retaining clients was their No. 1 interest.
That “has always been a top priority for any small business,” Thornton says.
Within that larger goal, firms should tailor their focus. For example, Greg Demetriou, president of Lorraine Gregory Communications, a Farmingdale marketing communications company, says one of his 2017 priorities is to focus on attracting more midsize companies as clients.
Other priorities on his list include seeking a new location, since his lease is coming due; expanding the firm’s web development and social media business; and investing in better production equipment for its digital printing business.
“We like to have a short view of what we will focus on for the next 12 months, but then that usually changes the first three months of the year,” Demetriou says.
This year that may be even more true, with so much uncertainty looming, experts say.
With that said, businesses should be preparing for possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, says Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association business group. There could also be changes to workers’ compensation, he says.
In addition, companies should prepare for the coming minimum wage increase: Long Island’s minimum rises to $10 on Dec. 31, and will rise $1 a year after that until reaching $15 in 2021. The LIA is preparing its own 2017 priorities now, Law says.
With many factors outside their control, owners are best served by identifying those priorities within their control that “move the needle” — show measurable results, says Steve Davies, president of the Nassau Chapter of The Alternative Board and of Edge Initiatives, a Huntington time management consultant. These are typically things that wouldn’t happen if you didn’t set goals.
Through The Alternative Board, Davies is working with about 20 member businesses as they set their goals. He has them review what happened this past year, both good and bad. Then he has them articulate their vision of where they want to be in three to five years, and identify the critical success factors that have to be in place to achieve that vision.
“It’s like looking to the future to come back to the present,” Davies says.
Don’t overload yourself with too many goals, Andrea Feinberg, president of Coaching Insight LLC, a Port Jefferson Station marketing and productivity coach, says.
Imagine you’re sitting down with a good friend next December and you want to be able to say, “I’m thrilled I was able to accomplish X this past year,” Feinberg says. What is that one big goal? All else should support that big goal, she says.
Learn to give up those things that need to be “dumped, delayed or delegated,” Feinberg says.
“If you overload yourself with responsibilities and obligations you will not have time to properly respond to the unexpected,” she says.
That’s why it pays to be flexible, Demetriou says.
“You have to be fluid because you can’t live and die with something’s that in a state of flux,” he says.
Priority: Finding talent
Percentage of small business owners who reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.
Source: NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism