5 Smart Decisions Small Businesses Needs To Make for 2014With 2014 looming on the horizon, small businesses need to not only assess the past year’s success and failures, but also plot a path forward. Businesses that have survived a challenging 2013, or even experienced some growth, can take certain steps to ensure and improve growth in the rapidly approaching new year. Here are a few tips to help prepare your small business for success in the coming year.

1) Explore all the options your bank (and competing banks) offer small business owners. Save money and stretch your dollars by choosing the right bank for your business. End of the year is a good time to take a look at the competition and see what offers they might have that would benefit you. Look for low account and transaction fees, low or discounted loan rates, and free direct deposit, among other offers designed to help the small business owner.

2) Network. You represent your business, and every contact you make end up being a lead or result in additional leads. Spend time joining groups that support other local small businesses and small business owners. You may come up with great cross-promotional ideas, or learn tips about the banks with the friendliest small business policies. Join business associations and community events to increase awareness of your business. While advertising can help raise your profile, networking is much less expensive, and often times, more effective.

3) Spend some time setting up an organizational system and then stick to it. The end of a year is good time to de-clutter and reorganize, as your business prepares for the new year. If you don’t have a good organizational system in place, now is an excellent time to develop one and implement it at the start of 2014. Whether you use a simple spreadsheet, an online task manager, or a full-blow productivity suite, a well-organized company usually has fewer missed opportunities and fewer costly mistakes. Take the time to stay organized throughout the year, once you’ve established your system.

4) Get references from former clients and satisfied customers. Word-of-mouth and online reviews can make or break small businesses. Sites like Yelp or Epinions can help or harm you growth, depending on how favorable your reviews are. Testimonials on your own website can also help improve conversion rates. New customers often want to see how previous clients responded to your service or product; find happy clientele who are willing to vouch for you and post their testimonials to your business’s website or blog.

5) Start marketing your business online. If you haven’t already, don’t wait until 2014 to create and execute an online marketing strategy. With 81 percent of consumers researching products and services online prior to purchasing, it would be a missed opportunity for your small business to not have an online presence.

A website isn’t enough to really gain a foothold any more; implement social media strategies, create a blog, participate in groups or forums, and work on maximizing SEO to really take advantage of the millions of people potentially searching for your product or service.

As 2013 rapidly comes to a close, small businesses are well under way in their forecasting, planning, and budgeting for 2014. By employing smart decisions, a small business can see major growth in sales and visibility, while managing its money more wisely. The steps outlined above are smart steps that can help keep a small business viable and growing.

Dave Landry Jr. is a small business owner and blogger, providing his banking and investing expertise on several finance and business blogs. Dave has implemented several of the aforementioned methods into his own business strategy to great effect, and hopes you find these suggestions equally useful and effective.