As the year and a decade come to an end it is time to both reflect on the past and plan for the future…

I recently came across this survey conducted by the Pew Institute which examined popular attitudes on the most notable technological and social changes of the past decade.

According to half of the respondents the current decade is considered the worst in 50 years. This sentiment is further reflected in the expressions they used to describe it- words such as “downhill,” “poor,” “decline,” “disappointing,” “turbulent,” and “chaotic.”

For many small business owners the past few years have been particularly brutal as consumer confidence and spending dropped and the flow of credit was reduced to an almost indiscernible trickle.

But not all is doom and gloom. The last few years have brought to small businesses a wide range of technology that allows them to significantly improve operations and successfully compete with bigger companies. The recessionary economy has also created a crucible of sorts giving rise to new business ideas and opportunities. Moreover, the spate of corporate bankruptcies that occurred toward the end of the decade left gaps for nimble and advantageous small businesses to fill.

Given all of these trends, I have composed a list of what I feel are the ten most important resolutions for small business owners in 2010.

 1. Acquire healthy business habits: The healthier the core business operations, the better the chances that your business will survive and thrive. This means proper cash flow management, disaster planning, content management, and theft prevention. Where growth is a possibility, look to diversify what your business offers, add more value for customers, and make sure that the level of growth is sustainable.

2. Invest in an Internet presence. Having and sustaining an online presence is an important tool in marketing and image branding. But, small business owners should keep in mind here that quality is more important than quantity with all the bells and whistles. To be effective, your web presence does not have to cost you a fortune in either time or money. Maintain a simple, up-to-date website. Make sure that your business is listed in the major and local online directories, as well as Point of Interest databases. Where appropriate you might want to initiate an email marketing campaign or upload informative videos on to YouTube.

3. Get on the social networking bandwagon: Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been generating a lot of buzz over the past couple years by providing an easy way for people to connect and share information. Many businesses big and small have joined the fray, by for example, maintaining their own Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Now, with Google’s recent announcement of its new personalized search results, social networking sites are poised to play a more prominent role in bringing traffic to your business website. One cool feature: enter a Google search query and you will see relevant updates and suggestions from your friends in Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. It’s definitely a trend worth noting and incorporating into your online marketing strategy.

4. Bring on the gadgets: From smart phones, such as RIM’s Blackberry series or the ubiquitous iPhone, to netbooks and pocket projectors, the market is literally flooded with some really powerful and handy electronic devices. Where budgets are tight, look to bring in multi-functional equipment.

5. …And load those gadgets up with some good apps: Your equipment is only as good as the tools and programs you put on it. Make sure to check out any free open source versions of popular software programs as well as a slew of low-cost apps that can turn your phone into a powerful business tool.

Though the next four resolutions fall under good business practices, they deserve specific mention:

6. Don’t skimp on security: Make sure your sensitive business information is protected from would-be thieves and hackers-especially if you conduct business online.

7. Be selective in your hiring: The job market is currently flooded with qualified individuals seeking employment. But even if your applicant pool has grown don’t shy away from conducting standard background checks such as calling references and conducting online searches.

8. Build good business credit: With the credit markets holding at a virtual standstill, maintaining a good business credit history has become all the more vital to accessing financing. It also paves the way for future business-to-business transactions.

9. Revamp your debt collection policy: Times are tough, and it may be affecting the ability of your valuable customers to pay up on time. It is therefore all the more important to re-evaluate and refine your debt collection policy to ensure that your cash flow is even and your customers remain loyal.

10. Look on the bright side: Even if your business has been forced to cut back or put off growth opportunities, look for ways to maximize the situation, such as seeking out cost reductions and redefining your company’s product or goals. 

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