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Bold Leaders

Innovative Technology

Revamp Your Business For the New Year

4 Moves That'll Help You Kickstart Growth

While many Americans refuse to make New Year's resolutions or make and then break them, business is different. Entrepreneurs shift strategy so often that "change management" has become a staple of study at business schools around the globe.

There's no mistaking the implication: If you hope to grow your small business, you'll have to make changes from time to time. What better time to start than in the new year? Here are four areas to consider if you plan to accelerate growth heading into 2016.

Out Of the Cloud, Feet On the Ground

Data breaches have been making headlines in recent months, yet this isn't a recent problem. Small business owners have been struggling to keep customers' information secure for years. Use of cloud services has soared while the number of data-breach attacks rises, and technology consultant Debbie Mahler says that's not a coincidence.

"One needs only to read news headlines to hear how secure all the clouds are with breach after breach," Mahler says. "I would have to say that while there is technology available that is secure, it's priced more for the enterprise and not for the budgets of small businesses."

Her advice? Don't rely so heavily on cloud storage. Instead, buy highly-rated external hard disks for storing sensitive documents, says Mahler, locking them up with unique passwords. She also advises switching the logins on a regular basis.

Embrace Digital Dollars

Yet there are times when the cloud can help get more done. Tightly secured digital wallets that allow consumers to pay by smartphone are becoming more common.

Buyers like the convenience of smartphone purchases, and the benefits to business are also numerous. Mobile wallets can minimize the checkout process, enabling self-service where applicable, and – in some cases – offer lower transaction fees. In fact, the new Chase Pay is using that as an incentive to get stores and restaurants to use its new QR-code method, designed to work with most Android and Apple phones.

That support for multiple platforms is important. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners surveyed some 3,800 computer users and found that more than one-third of iPad owners and 28 percent of Mac users have an Android phone.

File For Divorce

Just as single-platform technology chafes when it binds too tightly, restrictive business relationships can leave entrepreneurs in a need of a break-up. That's where Jennifer Dawn found herself earlier this year. A self-described business coach for accountants, she determined to enter 2016 without her largest — and most troublesome -- client.

"While their account yielded the highest annual revenues, they also demanded the most time and kept asking for more with an expectation of getting the time for free," says Dawn. "The general attitude was take, take, take."

She'd neglect other clients in her quest to serve the big fish, knowing all the while that she'd gotten stuck in an abusive business relationship. "Over time, getting on calls [with them] made me cringe," says Dawn.

Firing the troublesome client freed her to pursue other work. She has since signed three new clients and doubled her revenue.

Go Under the Hood

One troublesome customer is bad enough. A failing technology infrastructure is worse, turning buyers furious in a flash or crimping growth needlessly. Don't wait for the cracks to become crevices.

Instead, revamp your business by taking the time to evaluate and fix weak spots. Steve Silberberg, founder of Fitpacking, which organizes weight-loss backpacking adventures, is commissioning a new database to make it easier to track the process of securing permits and approvals for long hikes across wilderness.

Silberberg says the automation will help save time that used to go to updating spreadsheets. He'll also save money, since local students are developing the database as part of a semester project. The team lead plans to join Fitpacking as a programmer and guide upon graduation, helping Silberberg keep up with accelerating demand. Call it another way he's revamping Fitpacking for 2016 and beyond.

"There are other things that need to be automated," Silberberg says. "We record body compositions at the beginning and end of trips. Instead of writing these down on paper, it would be great to enter the metrics directly into the database. And someday, we'd have a body composition monitor that would wirelessly transmit data right into the database."

Sounds useful. And maybe then we'd be more likely to make and keep that weight-loss resolution we let slip in February.

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