New Year’s Resolutions for Business Owners

New Year’s resolutions are all about habits. Breaking some bad ones (smoking, drinking excessively, binging on fast food) and starting new ones (working out, eating more Brussels sprouts).

Businesses, like individuals, develop bad habits over time that need correction, while success in business over the long run usually means adopting good management habits and sticking with them year after year.

Here are my 2023 New Year’s resolutions for business owners.

Do your annual “legal review.” It isn’t enough to hire a good lawyer and pray you don’t get sued. Every business has laws and regulations you need to know about, and it’s your responsibility to learn about them so you can prevent lawsuits before they happen. Take your lawyer to lunch sometime in January, tell him or her everything your business did last year and is planning to do this year, and find out what laws have changed since last year.

Update your web presence. Look at your business website and make at least five changes that will make it more attractive, fun and “cool” to prospective customers. Post some content-rich articles answering commonly asked questions about what you do. Put some videos on your website (and post the videos on YouTube) demonstrating in an entertaining way how to do (or not to do) something. Start a blog, podcast or discussion group where your customers can talk to one another about the stuff you do, with you as the all-knowing “moderator.” Most importantly, hire a search engine optimization consultant and learn what you can do to get your website higher in the Google search rankings.

At the same time, delete things from your website that are boring, difficult to access or that are not driven by your customers. If you are a lawyer or accountant, nobody cares what you look like or where you went to school, so get rid of the website photo and biography. Put up your fee schedule instead because clients DO care about how much you are going to charge them for your services! Also, a little free advice on commonly asked questions wouldn’t hurt.

Don’t have a business website? Create one! People expect you to have one, and it dings your credibility if you don’’t. Make sure your web address appears on all of your business cards, stationery, your telephone answering message, the signature line on your email messages and all offline marketing materials (such as the stenciling on your car or van).

Sign ’em up, nail ’em down. You’ve got a part-time salesperson or administrative assistant working in your business one or two days a week. While they’re there, you tell them what to do, when to do it and how to do it. You believe this person is an “independent contractor,” so you don’t withhold money from their paycheck each week. Bad idea! The IRS is very likely to look at this person as a part-time employee, and they will come down on you like Thor’s hammer if they find out. Now’s the time to have this person sign a one-page employment agreement effective Jan. 1, 2023. (your attorney can draft this for a couple of hundred dollars), and add them to your payroll.

What should the agreement say? At the very least, it should clearly state that the employee serves “at will” and can be terminated at any time, with or without a reason.

Become a local “celebrity.” As a famous Hollywood actress once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Do anything and everything you can to generate positive local press and PR for your business. Volunteer to speak at local business luncheon meetings. Sponsor a charity event at your business location. If you run a butcher shop, call your local cable TV news show and volunteer to do a segment on “how to carve your holiday turkey.” People love that stuff, and news reporters love it when you make their life easier by suggesting story ideas. Consider running for local public office against a popular incumbent so there’s no chance you will actually win the election. (But be careful: A lawyer friend of mine did this years ago and the incumbent died two weeks before Election Day, sweeping my friend into office unexpectedly).

However you do it, get out in front of your marketplace and let them see you. If you aren’t visible to your customers 24/7, you are invisible.

Market on social media. If you do not have a presence on social media, you are not reaching millennial or Generation Z customers. Make 2023 the year you learn which social media platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram) are right for your business, and take at least one course on how to market effectively on those platforms. Commit to building a fan base or following of at least 1,000 people by the end of this year.

If your business already has a strong “following” on social media, consider making a crowdfunded offering of stock to these people under the SEC’s Regulation Crowdfunding. (Buy a copy of my book “The Crowdfunding Handbook” to learn how.)

More next week …

Cliff Ennico (crennico@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt.” This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.