Business article: Give yourself a professional makeover for 2010

The New Year is, of course, a time for making resolutions like quitting smoking or going to the gym. So why not take the opportunity to make sure your business is in tip top shape for the year ahead too?

For many business owners the next 12 months will be just as challenging as the year just gone; some will continue to struggle with depressed demand, while others will need to think on their feet in order to make the most of the recovery.

There are a few simple business changes that you can get started on straight away to help ensure that your business is in the best possible position to take on the challenges of 2010. So make sure that you begin the year in good health by considering some of these top tips.

Consider outsourcing

Many small business owners discount outsourcing, presuming that it is expensive and useful only for large organisations. In reality, the number of SMEs adopting outsourcing techniques has increased in recent times as it becomes clear that firms of any size can benefit from them.

When considering outsourcing elements of your business, you must perform a simple calculation; will the cost of paying someone else to perform the task be offset by the benefits associated with freeing up work hours in your organisation?

If you are a one-man-band, you should consider whether you will be able to utilise that time in a way that directly generates profit, or that will increase your long-term earning prospects.

Top up your professional training

A significant proportion of entrepreneurs have expertise in their industry but little or no professional training in certain key skills necessary for running a business. Some do not even have training in their own field of business. Additionally, many small businesses do not think to set aside resources to ensure that their employees are properly trained.

Training in one or more aspects of business is a simple way to give your business a boost this year, providing you with a fresh perspective on tasks that you may not have been confident in doing previously.

The nature of the training you choose will, of course, depend on the field in which you operate. For example, in some instances a professional qualification may be a legal requirement, particularly in the construction industry. If you are starting a new venture in 2010, you should carefully investigate whether or not any such obligations apply to you.

Review your marketing

Think about the ways in which you have promoted your business in the past. How successful have these activities been? Many canny business owners re-designed their marketing during the course of 2009 in an effort to attract consumers increasingly concerned with price as a differentiator.

However, as consumer confidence increases and immediate concerns about job losses are reduced for many, you may find that your customers’ priorities are changing. Your marketing should change with the market in order to maintain its effectiveness.

A new year is a good time to analyse the results you got from last year’s marketing activities. Ditch anything which is not giving you a good enough return on your investment and test new tactics to take your business forward.

If your previous marketing efforts have been mainly offline, for example in local papers and telephone directories, you may wish to consider whether online marketing is right for you. Many of the basic techniques of online marketing can be learnt quickly, and often at very little initial cost.

Upgrade your online presence

Potential clients and customers increasingly make snap decisions about firms simply by looking at their website. Given the vital importance of first impressions, you should ensure that your website is eye-catching, attractive, and easy to navigate. Importantly, you should also be sure that your website clearly and coherently explains what your business does.

Even if you don’t have a website, your business should be included in online directories and on other relevant sites where your customers may search for information. Make a list of websites where you can appear and get started on creating professional looking business profiles.

You may wish to read the Simply Business small business website guide for more information on building or improving a website.

Learn to haggle

Despite evidence that the economy may be starting to recover, businesses across the country will continue to be strapped for cash for some time yet. Regardless of your own financial situation, you can use this to your advantage by negotiating better deals from your suppliers.

Many firms are desperate, above all else, to hold onto clients and as a result they will be willing to negotiate discounts. Consider trying to renegotiate some of your contracts to ensure that you are getting the best possible deal.

Conversely, though, you are likely to find that your customers and clients are increasingly comfortable haggling. As a result, you must ensure that you are able to deal with the process of negotiation effectively and from both sides.

If analysts’ predictions are correct, 2010 looks set to be just as bumpy a year as 2009 – if not necessarily as financially challenging. In order to survive and thrive over the course of the next 12 months you should make sure your business is fighting fit.