Another year is ending, and the economic indicators for 2018 are promising. You don’t want to wait until the new year arrives to start planning for the new year. It will be too late at that time, and you’ll be playing catch up right out of the gate. 

Digitization is transforming how businesses of all shapes and sizes manage their businesses and interact and engage with customers and partners. The priorities that shape your business—whether you’re a solopreneur or a business with 100 employees—involve some aspect of digital technology. For businesses seeking help in mapping out their core areas of focus for 2018, the following are a good starting point: 

1. Cloud Services

There is a plethora of cloud services for small businesses today. The number of solution options, let alone the cloud services for each solution category, can be overwhelming. An important starting point is to map out your business requirements and to prioritize which ones are the most pressing and what benefits you would achieve by moving an on-premise or manual process to the cloud. For vetting and deciding between multiple cloud service providers, a great starting point are the third-party review sites. Also, it is important not to forget to include a checklist of security requirements when vetting cloud service providers.

While not a comprehensive list, the following are some of the cloud services categories where small businesses can get the biggest bang for the time and money:

a) Accounting. There are a lot of options here. Over 100 are listed on the Software Advice review site. 

b) Online Storage and Backup. Cloud storage was one of the first cloud services and probably one of the easiest to adopt for businesses. There are no fewer than 22 different cloud storage and backup options from which to choose. 

c) Website Hosting. The days of running your website on an on-premise server are in the past. There are a lot of great web builder and hosting solutions, including ones that require no HTML knowledge. 

d) Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Maintaining a list of customers and managing your engagements with them is pivotal. There are no shortages of options here either. (One tip: Some CRM solutions for small businesses also include an integrated marketing automation platform. These are a great alternative for businesses looking for simplification and ease of use.)

e) Marketing Automation. For some businesses, all you need is an email platform such as MailChimp or Constant Contact (and even those entry-level solutions have added marketing automation capabilities). For others, you may need to automate marketing processes and campaigns. In these instances, you would do well to look at a marketing automation platform.

f) Project Management. Depending on your business, managing projects on Excel or Google doc spreadsheets can be tedious and time-consuming—not to mention ineffective. The good news is that you don’t need to be a big business to use project management and collaboration in the cloud.

 2. Geographical Expansion 

Many businesses allow geographical expansion to thwart their businesses, thinking they must have a permanent office in a location before they launch operations. Virtual addresses such as Davinci Virtual Offices enable businesses to hang their shingle in new cities and states without acquiring an expensive office location. On-demand meeting room solutions like Davinci Meeting Rooms gives businesses the ability to use coworking space, rented meeting rooms, and day office space alongside virtual addresses without paying for permanent office space.

3. Virtual Assistants

 The emergence of intelligent chatbots that function as virtual assistants is transforming everything from customer service to administrative work. Small businesses can tap these automated systems like Davinci Auto Receptionist to handle incoming calls, whether from customers, prospects, or partners, and to route them to the appropriate department, individual, or voice mail based on rules they define. 

4. Scale Your Team

A full-time equivalent (FTE) headcount is not always the answer. Hiring an FTE incurs ongoing costs and obligations such as benefits, unemployment, and other factors. Sometimes a temporary contractor is the answer, someone with the skills and expertise to help you tackle a specific project. In other instances, organizations may want to look to third-party providers for certain functions. These solutions are more cost-effective and flexible than an FTE. For example, rather than hiring a 40-hour-a-week FTE to handle inbound and outbound sales functions, a small business can outsource the work to a third-party provider like Davinci Live Receptionists. In addition to providing the business with scale via an on-demand model, such an approach is most cost effective.

5. Marketing Personalization

One of the first things marketing professionals learn when they embark on their marketing career are the four P’s of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. With the emergence of digital technologies, a fifth P needs to be added to the curriculum: personalization. This can mean many different things. 

The following are some of the ways small businesses can use personalization to their advantage:

a) content personalization offers that are presented on your website based on the identity and/or behavior of the visitor.

b) personalized email campaigns using marketing automation.

c) proactive live web chat on your website or within mobile apps based on the identity and/or behavior of the visitor.

d) ad retargeting based on the identity of the visitor after they leave your website.

e) customized online ads targeting prospects and customers based on various firmagraphics and details on the person.

6. Cybersecurity

While malicious intrusions and data breaches are most certainly a concern for large enterprises, small businesses are just as much a target as their larger counterparts. Small businesses often have more security gaps due to fewer resources, and cybercriminals know it. But small business owners are in a state of denial; 82% in a recent study indicate they are not targets for attacks. At bare minimum, small businesses need to have antivirus software, firewalls, and a documented backup-and-recovery strategy in place. In addition, because of the volume and velocity of threats, including the advent of zero-day attacks (previously unknown threats), organizations need to seek out security solutions that include advanced threat prevention and detection capabilities. And just as cloud services should be carefully vetted, including the use of third-party reviews, so should cybersecurity solutions. 

With the arrival of 2018, there is much to be excited about. Getting the right strategies in place before the New Year hits will enable you to hit the ground running. The prior checklist of six areas are a great starting point. Don’t wait for the New Year to arrive but rather get started today.