By now you should know that there’s no magic bullet for succeeding in business; every industry is different and you have to find your niche. The only keys to business success you’ll find are sound principles that you can learn to apply in your daily life as an entrepreneur and professional. As we lay 2012 to rest, it’s time to start thinking about how we’re going to reform ourselves and our companies to compete in a business landscape where the ground seems to be constantly shifting beneath our feet.
Get Serious about Data Security
It can be hard to drive home the gravity of the world’s current vulnerability when it comes to technology. So, to drive the point home, let me frighten you a bit:
A friend of mine who works for a public accounting firm told me an IT security horror story about one of her clients. This company, which had millions a year in revenue, was running their entire accounting operation from a single computer running Windows 98. All their sensitive customer data was contained in unsecured Excel spreadsheets, on an outdated computer with absolutely no anti-virus software on it. The PC wasn’t even password protected.
Anyone with access to the building could have stolen all of that information, including client bank account information. If the company had been publicly traded, and it was known that this was their level of IT disaster preparedness, their stock would be worthless, and the shareholders might even sue.
My friend’s story is an extreme case of negligence in the IT world, but even large corporations with sophisticated IT security measures are experiencing significant data breaches. And the root cause of these problems is usually traced back to an improperly configured server or some other security flaw that could have been caught with a simple IT audit. Lax security is putting everything from your customers’ identifying information to your individual trade secrets at risk.
As your company grows, it’s essential that you have regular audits. You can’t simply trust a single IT professional to take care of all of it. A single significant data breach can expose you to huge liability that can easily sink a small or medium-sized business. You simply can’t afford not to be serious about protecting yours and your customers’ data.
Make Your Business a Marketing Extrovert
Many successful business people are accused of being narcissistic, but it’s that very trait of putting yourself out there on a consistent basis (hopefully in a non-obnoxious way) that helps you spread ideas, establish yourself as a leader and make sure people know your name. The same goes for companies. If your business only toots its own horn through traditional marketing channels, you’re going to get left behind. An increasingly digital world requires that we all become online marketing extroverts, spreading our message through web ads, PPC advertising, social media marketing, SEO and content marketing. If you’re not involved in these things, you might as well not exist to huge demographic swaths of would-be customers.
Start a company blog. Begin touting your products and your brand in social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and anywhere else where your customers will start looking for you. A slick website and an online ecommerce platform aren’t enough for businesses to compete in the marketplace anymore—they’re the price of entry.
Start Defining Your Best Practices
Productivity is through the roof in most businesses around the country. And those where it isn’t may soon find some other, leaner, more agile company is coming up from behind to eat their lunch. While you’re first starting out, growing fast and just making sure everything runs smoothly, it’s easy to just let everyone do what works. But that can’t last once you’re past the startup phase. You have to define your critical operations and develop best practices for them.
In my book for entrepreneurs, I make the analogy that best practices are like weapons. The idea is that defining and reforming the on-the-ground tasks that are your everyday business, from one end of the company to the other, cuts the waste out of your organization. Taking a microscope to the way each department—each person, even—operates will help you identify week spots in your best practices, weak spots that your competitors may also have. Then you can reform your own processes and start to exploit that former weakness in your competitors in the marketplace.
The businesses that nail down a process for self-reflection and reform set themselves up to be on the bleeding-edge of innovation in their industry. That’s a good place to be. (This feeds back into being an extrovert. If your company has the leading experts in the field, make them blog about what they know; use them as a marketing resource to establish your authority in online spaces and build your brand.) When you’re constantly improving, you’re gaining on the competitors who are resting on their laurels, and the competitors who are behind you can’t catch up. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.
As the New Year approaches, it’s likely that we’re about to experience a serious amount of growth in many sectors of the economy. If you’re ready to buckle down, refine your processes and start getting over the growing pains that so many new businesses suffer from, you can ride that wave through a year of prosperity and progress. Good luck.
Mike Mann, social activist and serial entrepreneur, is the author of MakeMillions.Com, a business book focused on making money in small business in order to better serve society. Read or download the book today for insight on his philosophy on wedding entrepreneurship and charitable goals