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How Online Businesses Can Prepare for 2017

New tech? Weekly and monthly goals? Risks you plan to take? What goals are you setting for next year?

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With 2017 on the horizon, it's time to wind down another calendar year and prepare for a new year of opportunities.


Related: Are You Actually Setting Goals? Probably Not. Here's How in 3 Steps.

As you look to streamline, grow or sell your business in 2017, here are several key pieces of advice on how to make the most of the year ahead.

1. Stay up-to-date with old and new tech.

With technology advancing at an alarming rate, getting left in the dust is a real possibility. As entrepreneurs, we must stay on top of emerging developments and trends. Most industries and niches are affected by not only new emerging technology, but constant updates to existing technology.

Daryn Smith, co-founder of MPULL, wrote on the HubSpot blog: "It might be a time-consuming -- and sometimes mind-blogging -- task, but keeping up with the latest developments in marketing technology, industry norms and consumer trends is non-negotiable. Today's well-informed and web-savvy customers expect nothing less."

Your customers are immersed in a society steeped in consumerism. With easy and accessible access to information, they are likely to be informed about the latest developments. As a marketer, you will need to keep up with them or you'll be overlooked.

Peter Economy, co-author of Managing For Dummies, advises: "Change is a given -- the question is not when will change come to your industry, your market and your business, but how soon. If you want to win in the long run, you've got to be a step ahead of your competition, not just one or two days out of seven, but every day of the week."

Economy offers an example of Jeff Bezos disrupting the shipping and mailing industry by introducing drone delivery to the U.S. Postal Service. To help your audience and customer base see you as an industry leader, you have to be ahead of the game. Innovation and new ideas are what will differentiate you from the competition.

2. Set weekly and daily goals.

Many entrepreneurs utilize a variety of goal-setting and project-management methods to keep their teams and companies on track to achieve important objectives. As you've likely discovered yourself, it's difficult to live 365 days, or even 90 days, at a time. Why not set and track more immediate goals to improve employee morale and productivity?

Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers personal finance suggests asking for weekly updates. "By doing so," he's written, "you'll let employees know that you care about their progress and not just the finished product. This gives them the opportunity to ask questions on a timely basis, thereby improving the overall quality of the project."

Instead of waiting until the last minute, offer team members regular feedback to better guide their efforts, Schrage advises.

Danny Boice echoes this sentiment on Speek, writing, "You have to be capable of long-term, strategical thinking while simultaneously killing it at the tactical, micro-execution level. This is very hard to do."

Boice says he keeps his own team abreast of the context behind every task and makes them aware of "how it fits into the bigger picture." He says that he and his team use Trello to track long- and short-term progress, and says they also hold daily "huddles," so everyone is on the same page.

Related: Entrepreneurship is a Game of Calculated Risk

3. Take more risks.

What is something you haven't yet tried? Is there anything new you could bring to your business in 2017?

Sometimes, to take your business to the next level, you need to take risks. This is exactly what Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora Radio, had to do when his company ran out of money in 2001. At that point, Westergren had a choice to make: He could let go of the business, or keep going.

He decided on the latter, but the subsequent few years weren't exactly easy. He ended up maxing-out 11 credit cards and lowering salaries by nearly $1.5 million over the following two years. Pandora was rescued by an investment that came through in 2004.

If at all possible, you don't want to end up having to take the same risk Westergren did -- it's illegal in the state of California -- but boldness has a way of paying off. Today, many observers name Pandora as one of the top music streaming sites.

4. Make personalization a priority.

Today, you can hardly read about retail or ecommerce without coming across the word "personalization." Getting the right message to the right people at the right time has become increasingly easier with data-driven marketing campaigns and segmented email lists, but many companies still aren't putting a high priority on it.

According to Dynamic Yield, 74 percent of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content -- offers, ads, promotions, etc. -- appears that has nothing to do with their interests.

Gourmet coffee retailer Boca Java is a good role model here. Boca made the decision to segment its list based on purchasing behavior. Some of its customers ordered two bags of coffee, while others purchased three or four. So, the company sent emails offering 17 percent discounts on three packs. In this way, Boca discovered that customers who bought two bags of coffee were the most likely to take advantage of this offer. This strategy then prompted an increase in sales volume.

Is your company missing out on upselling and cross-selling opportunities? Are you monitoring purchasing behavior to customize customer experience? Are you going to start?

5. Utilize automation software.

From posting content, to engaging in social media to keeping track of customer relationship-management and accounting, many tasks within your business can be automated with the use of software to free up more of your time for high-value thinking and vital projects.

Carrie Swails of Rock Your Weird says she's often asked how she keeps up with everything on her plate. People assume she's a superhero, she says. But no, she uses automation software to stay on top of her various tasks; and that, she says, has led to time savings, a more consistent customer experience, and an improved marketing presence and level of passively generated income.

"When it comes to my personal story, I can tell you that automation is what saved me," Swails says. "It's what keeps my business going. It's what keeps customers knocking at my door. It's what keeps me from getting burnt out. At first, automation just seemed like a convenience, and now I've built my entire business on it. I don't think I'd be here today without it."

Final thoughts

The future always holds uncertainty; in an ideal world, you could predict change and be prepared for any challenge. But this isn't an ideal world; the closest solution is to prepare your foundation and then follow trends closely because everyone will face unknown factors in a new year; and that includes your competition. You just want to be the one to make each discovery first.

Related: 4 Steps to Choosing Marketing-Automation Software That Actually Works

So, now that you know what you need to do, prioritize your tasks and go for it. Most of all, don't shy away from what's uncomfortable. It's easy to put off what you know you need to do, but this can end up costing you. Start delving into things, even if it's just a little bit at a time.

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