A new year is the perfect time to ditch old habits and think about how you can improve both personally and professionally. But with steeper-than-ever competition for small businesses, vague New Year’s resolutions just won’t cut it. And, you’re not the only small business owner looking to evolve your business.

Here are 4 practical steps you can take to improve your business practices this year.

1. Budget for more than you need.

Unless you see any large investments or expenditures on the horizon, you probably have a good idea of your monthly budget. But that’s no excuse to settle for the status quo.

Take the opportunity to examine your budget closely. Have you gotten a little too relaxed with your personal expenses? Did you break the bank with a holiday party or staff gifts? Now’s your chance to buckle down.

In addition to trimming the fat, there are a few other creative ways you can protect your business’s finances going into 2020.

  • Pad your numbers. (Your budgeted numbers, not your actuals.) For example, consider adding a few cents per gallon to your typical fuel costs to account for inflation or economic changes.
  • Establish an emergency fund. Hopefully you have a rainy day fund to account for unexpected expenses or emergencies. To cover most worst-case scenarios, try to grow it to around 3-6 months of your typical operating costs.
  • Look for monthly charges and subscriptions you no longer need or use. You likely have a few recurring payments that may seem insignificant but that can really add up over time.

2. Watch your marketing ROI.

When it comes to marketing, it can be easy for business owners to fall back on familiar habits and funnel money into the channels they’re most familiar with. And if you’re doing that, you’re probably not taking the time to analyze your return on investment (ROI).

But you’re not alone. 39% of marketers say proving the ROI of their marketing activities is one of their biggest challenges.

Take time early this year to compare your marketing spend with what you really gain from it. If you notice any marketing activities make it hard to measure your ROI, consider reallocating those funds to channels where you can more easily see the bang you’re getting for each buck.

Marketing channels with transparent ROI:

  • Pay-per-click and search engine marketing (to supplement your SEO)
  • Targeted email promotions
  • Social media advertising (especially when compared to organic posts)

3. Find at least 3 ways to go digital.

One way big brands will continue to stiffen the competition in 2020 is by finding new and exciting ways to connect with customers and clients digitally.

Have you ordered a pizza via text emoji yet? Booked a full salon experience without speaking to a real person? Paid for a purchase without standing in line to check out? Then you know businesses that will see the most success in the new year will be those that find ways to transform their most antiquated business practices.

Look at your competition, and see how they’re finding new ways to interact with and serve customers. It could be as simple as transitioning from paper estimates to text and email. Or, you could begin accepting mobile payments.

Set a goal to find at least 3 ways to update your business and bring it into the digital age so you don’t get left in the dust.

4. Automate your most time-consuming task.

You probably know of at least a few automation options available for small businesses. There are email marketing software, accounting tools, and social media schedulers that can all help you save time and get ahead on otherwise time-consuming tasks. There’s also Thryv, which has all of the essential business tools in one, end-to-end software.

But before you dive into the deep end of automation software, ask yourself which tasks you spend the most time on. Is it figuring out what to say on social media? Or is it following up on text inquiries? What about responding to online reviews?

Add up the time you spend on each of the daily tasks you have to get done. Then see if there’s a tool that can help you automate the most time-consuming task. (Spoiler alert: There almost certainly is.) If it’s cost-effective, go ahead and invest. Use the time you save to get ahead on other projects or plan other ways you’ll improve your service in the new year.