Believe it or not, a new year (and a new decade) is around the corner. As we approach the beginning of 2020, small businesses need to kick their planning into full gear.
Growing small businesses should approach 2020 with a mixture of optimism and practicality. The global economy is strong, and ecommerce is booming—but there are some warning signs that a decline in growth and consumer spending may be in sight.
Your goals for 2020 will vary depending on where you are in your business’s lifecycle, how successful you’ve been up to this point, what industry you’re in, and other factors. But for most ecommerce businesses, you’ll have to tackle projects and meet objectives in three major categories.
Here are the three types of goals you should set for your small business in the year to come:
1. Budgeting: Plan for More Than You Need
Setting a budget for your business is an important step from day one, and yet few business owners do it as earnestly as they could.
Budget planning isn’t glamorous, but it’s necessary—especially as we head into 2020, where there’s a ton of economic uncertainty. You can hire an accountant to go over your financials from 2019 and project your 2020 budget, get automated accounting software to make some predictions yourself, use some free budget templates from organizations like SCORE, or a combination of the above.
When creating your 2020 budget, see if you can build up an emergency fund or factor in acquiring some kind of financing. The best time to look for capital is when you don’t need it; if you start your search when you need it desperately, you will have limited options.
There are a few ways you can work this kind of emergency financial lifeline into your budget, including:
- Applying for affordable and flexible financing: Get your hands on either a business line of credit or a low-interest business credit card. Both can sit, unused, in your back pocket until you need them.
- Whittle down expenses and boost profits: These tactics may seem rather obvious, but you’ll need to identify areas where you’re spending too much, or where you can increase your margins. Can you switch to a different supplier, or save on office supplies by buying in bulk?
- Audit your personal spending: If your business is small enough that you’re still one of the only people on the payroll (and perhaps you’re the only one), consider your personal spending habits. How could you redirect some of your recreational funds towards an emergency stash for your business?
A good rule of thumb is to have cash to cover three-to-six months of operational expenses, either in a savings account or another interest-yielding option.
2. Automating: Take "Busy Work" off Your Plate
Automation is a buzzy word that feels like it’s for global corporations, not for small ecommerce businesses. But there are a ton of ways that ecommerce companies can incorporate automatic processes into their workflow.
Your goal for 2020? Find a few key areas that could benefit from an automated process. This will free you up to focus on big-picture thinking, strategy, and becoming a better leader.
Here are just a few areas where business owners can start exploring third-party software providers that offer automated solutions:
- Inventory management: If you sell your products across a variety of platforms—such as your own ecommerce store, a brick-and-mortar location, or sites like Etsy and Amazon—inventory management software can sync your inventory levels across channels and warehouses in real time.
- Marketing: From email marketing strategies like sending out retargeting emails to shoppers that abandoned their carts to reaching out to longtime customers for reviews and feedback, customer relationship management software can help you move people through your marketing funnel and entice new visitors to convert into customers.
- Customer service: From AI-powered chatbots that provide 24/7 customer support to automated return systems that allow customers to initiate their own returns flawlessly, you can offer people a robust customer service experience without sinking another dollar into training or worrying that you’ve left an irate customer without recourse.
Other areas where automation can help you save time and money include accounting and bookkeeping (see goal number one). You can also automate certain administrative and organizational tasks, like adding customers to certain “customer groups” in your backend, or time-tracking tools for employees.
3. Marketing: Spend Wisely
As the ecommerce space continues to expand, ecommerce business owners will face more competition than ever. That’s where marketing comes in. Marketing helps differentiate your offerings from those of your competitors, particularly when the price points are similar.
As discussed above, there are many ways that you can automate your marketing processes and make them more dynamic. By doing so, you’ll speak to both potential new and increasingly loyal customers without breaking the bank. These areas—email marketing and customer relationship management—are the ones to focus on, since they've already demonstrated fantastic ROI for businesses that leverage them.
Sometimes, business owners use something of a “pay and spray” technique when it comes to marketing. They throw money at things like social media or SEO without a clear understanding of why. Does your business gain leads through search? If so, investment in SEO tactics makes sense for you. If not, however, you’re just throwing money at a vanity metric.
When it comes to your marketing budget, spend wisely in 2020. Double down on what has worked for you, and be careful when using new channels. Make small investments and test the results before committing massive chunks of your stockpiled cash.
Make it Happen
By now, you’ve seen the reciprocal nature of these three goals for growing your business in 2020. Creating a solid budget with room for experimental or emergency costs will give you the leeway to invest in automation and marketing strategies. Those goals, in turn, will give you a greater return on investment that you can then direct back into your budget.
The upcoming year will be a major test for many ecommerce businesses. By investing in the areas above, you’ll be in great position to conquer whatever challenges come your way.