Six Keys to Boost Your Business in 2012With 2012 shaping up to be another challenging year economically, you may be wondering how you can prepare your business for growth. It turns out, there are some specific steps you can take to improve your odds of seeing better performance this year.

A recently released study from the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute polled owners of both thriving and floundering small businesses about their management habits. The results paint an interesting picture of what owners of high-growth businesses are doing to thrive in this downturn.

Here are the study's six steps to better performance:

1. Prepare for problems. Forty-seven percent of high-growth business owners said they were prepared to tap cash reserves if revenue suddenly dropped. Only 38.5 percent of owners at companies where sales were currently declining said they would do the same. The growth companies were also more likely to borrow money -- nearly 22 percent versus just 7 percent of the struggling businesses.

2. Get savvier advice. The high-growth business owners more frequently sought advice from their accountant, financial advisor and peers through networking groups. By contrast, the low-performing business owners relied more on television and newspapers as a resource

3. Use borrowed money better. The majority of successful firms used loans for research and development, while the unsuccessful firms used borrowed money to open offices, add capabilities, or make hires.

4. Focus on management knowledge. More high-growth owners made "knowing what I have to do to grow my business" their top management goal, along with improving their long-term strategic planning skills. Three-quarters of successful managers prioritized being a better money manager, compared to 67 percent of poor-performing owners.

5. Enjoy work-life balance. Top performers said having their own business made them a better person and enabled better-quality family time. Fewer of the struggling owners said the same.

6. Know where you're going. Nearly 60 percent of the thriving owners named "having a clear vision for the business" the top factor contributing to their success, while less than 40 percent of owners of floundering businesses agreed.

What is the biggest obstacle to your company's growth this year? Leave a comment and share your view.