Business Improvements to Tackle in 2018

Making business improvements should always be a top priority, but it isn't always clear what to measure or how to increase ROI. Here's how to get started.

Financial management

The day-to-day concerns of running a small business can leave you to with very little time to strategize about your long-term goals and direction. But the new year is a perfect time to assess your position and make business improvements to keep the company strong. Use this guide to figure out which business improvements deserve your attention:

Take Stock of Your Place in the Industry

You want to stay in tune with marketplace demands and changes in the competitive landscape, so think broadly about your company and its overall position. Try these methods for doing a check-in.

  • Competitor research. Refresh your list — or create a new one — of who your competition is. Where else might your customers go to fulfill the needs you are trying to meet? Once you have your list, consider how your company can most effectively stand out from that crowd. Does your business need to refresh its offerings or market its strengths differently?
  • Market research. Study recent industry trends. Are there new innovations in manufacturing or technology that you could use to maintain an edge in your field? Have customer preferences shifted in the past year?
  • SWOT analysis. Using your research, pinpoint the "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats" facing your business. Gather your team to discuss what you should capitalize on and what you might need to guard against in the coming year.

Review Customer Feedback to Find Improvements

Look at the past year's interactions with customers. If you have a database of customer information, look through any notes you've collected on feedback — and if you don't have one, sift through email conversations or other sources. Take an objective look at the feedback that came your way. What kinds of issues came up repeatedly? Assess how to smooth out the obstacles or problems, and brainstorm ways to amplify the positives.

If you don't already have a customer database in place, now may be the perfect time to start one. You might compile information on the services the customer usually requests, for instance, along with any complaints that arise. Being able to access such valuable information helps you spot cross-selling opportunities and avoid trouble spots that have led to complaints in the past.

Assess the Quality of Your Offerings

Aside from customer feedback, other signs can indicate how your products or services are holding up. Look at telltale signs, such as the number of product returns or warranty claims. Are these a signal that some specific products are breaking down, or are not as advertised?

Service businesses can make an effort to look up repeat customers — for example, a hair salon or landscaping service may research how many customers returned or contracts were renewed. A high turnover rate might spark some useful soul-searching as to how to improve your offerings, while a strong core of repeat customers can inspire ideas for how to make those relationships even stronger.

With the calendar turning another page, now is the time to review the performance of your business and start researching business improvements. Taking a step back is tough to do when you're busy every day — but in the long run, it's well worth it.