Seven steps to small business success in the New Year

By Andrew Stevens, Head of Small Business, Vodafone UK

With another pandemic-interrupted year in the rear-view mirror, and a challenging start to 2022, small business owners up and down the country might be wondering when ‘business as usual’ will return. But while the desire for certainty and clarity is understandable, disruption will always be a factor for SMEs.

Pandemic or otherwise, small businesses must prepare for unexpected challenges and capitalise on new opportunities. Here are seven small business resolutions that will set you up for success in the year ahead.

Strengthen your online presence

Whether we all like it or not, we live and work in an increasingly digital-first world. Customers aren’t only buying products and services online more readily than ever before – they are now also more likely to encounter your brand for the first time online than ‘in real life’.

Digital channels put your brand in front of new customers while offering a way to keep existing ones updated with the latest announcements and offers. Investing in an engaging website, targeted digital marketing, and social media advertising is not just a ‘nice to have’ for your business this year – it’s a necessity.

Focus on the core

While it’s tempting to get drawn into a ‘do more’ mentality, small businesses often risk spreading themselves too thin when they try to be all things to all people. Now is a great time to focus on what makes your business unique – those products and services which are most aligned with your brand identity.

Cake shops didn’t switch off their ovens entirely – instead, they invested in online ordering and home delivery services

Put simply – focus on the few things that you’re best at. Owning your niche means you can outcompete even the largest of companies on your own turf.

Get creative with the approach

Focusing on your core products and services doesn’t mean getting stuck in a rut. The pandemic has taught many small businesses the smarter way to diversify – by mixing up how you deliver what you do best.

Cake shops who couldn’t rely on passing footfall didn’t switch off their ovens entirely – instead, they invested in online ordering and home delivery services and even hosted virtual baking classes. Identifying opportunities to bring the specialty you’re best known for to new people in creative ways is a winning strategy, regardless of your sector.

Pick up new skills

The shift to digital during the pandemic makes a commitment to upskilling even more important for small businesses this year. With new opportunities driven by digital and new demands around developing the right online capabilities, small business owners have every incentive to get ahead – what they may not have is the knowledge of what skills they need, or how best to sharpen them.

There are thousands of online courses out there, with many of the most useful available for free at sites like Udemy and Vodafone V-Hub. Whether it’s advanced coding and photoshop design, or simply setting up a website, there’s never been a better time to get tech-savvy.

Invest in the right tools

alongside digital skills, business owners also need to leverage the best digital tools for them. Our own research found that two in five SMEs hadn’t invested in digital tools despite Covid-19, while one in three simply didn’t know which ones were right for their business.

But most surprising of all was that one in four had purchased digital tools without ever activating them. When investing in new technology, it’s critical to understand what you’re buying and why you might need it. Do your research and take advantage of free trials before committing to any long contracts.

Get streamlined, not stingy

Efficiencies are a reality for any business, especially in challenging economic times. However, it’s best to focus on cutting waste rather than cutting services.

Those digital tools you bought and don’t use, or that business broadband package that doesn’t deliver value for money, are prime areas to make savings that won’t negatively impact customer experience, productivity or profitability.

Reach out for help

If there’s one thing we could all be a bit better at, it’s remembering that it’s no bad thing to ask for help when we need it. We all need support from time to time, whether personally or professionally (and for a small business owner, there’s sometimes no difference!), and knowing where to turn can have a huge impact on our wellbeing and happiness.

Peer networks, friendship groups and family members can all be great sources of advice and assistance, and so too can sites like the Vodafone V-Hub for more business-focused support. Whatever the issue, you’re not alone – we’re always better connected.