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Hit the Ground Running in 2014

January is a month of fresh starts. Cover all the bases for a well rounded year in 2014 with these small business tips.

Legal: Legal isn't an area to be wishy-washy. It is important to have clear guidelines in place. Make sure you have legally-binding contracts, especially when it comes to vendors. When dealing with customers, it is important to be clear and concise about payment terms, including a rigid due date. For both vendors and customers, it is always smart to havea  second contact for invoices. As most business owners know by now, problems can and will arise, so make sure to take an estimated amount of late payments into account when you are doing financial planning. 

Tax: Don't hesitate to get help – taxes are getting more and more complicated every year. Even if you are able to navigate the tax laws to file yourself, it may be worth hiring a professional. With personal and business taxes to file, it's easy to miss deductions that could save you a lot. And if you are audited, your accountant can help.

Marketing: Reconfirm your target market (geography, demographics, and a database of prospects if you can get it) and its size.  Even if you've gone through this exercise before, it's critical to think it through at least once a year. If your company is like most, you'll find that the target has shifted, at least a little. Knowing who your target is will help you incredibly in your selection of media to reach your prospects and the offers that you send their way.

Social Media: Whether you’re just starting out in social media or you’ve been using it as a business tool for some time, 2014 offers many opportunities to utilize the different social media platforms to grow your business. The first step is understanding how social media works in business. Everything you do should help move you towards a goal. Are you trying to meet a new client? Build your brand? Do some market research? There are six reasons for you to use social media as a business tool:
 
1)      Connecting with existing customers
2)     Finding new customers
3)     Conducting market research
4)     Analyzing your competition
5)     Networking with media for PR purposes
6)     Building your brand.
 
If you’re just starting out, walk before you run with social media. Set up your accounts on the most popular platforms for your industry (e.g. LinkedIn is a better B2B platform than Facebook) and then listen to the different conversations taken place. Most of the discussions are public so you can see how people are interacting with each other. Once you get the rhythm of a particular platform, the next step is to start using it for business purposes. Before you know it, using social media will become part of your everyday routine in business. More importantly, it will be a critical asset in helping you achieve your goals for the year.

Management: There's no time like the beginning of the year to assess your employee and contractor base relative to your business goals for the year. Even if you were perfectly staffed last year, it's important to plan ahead for staffing changes next year.  If your business is growing, think about how you'll meet that demand with the mix of staff and technology.  And, above all, don't wait until demand forces you to add people.  If you do, you'll add two risks - getting the wrong person for the job and decreasing satisfaction among your existing customers.

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