2020 was a rough one for small and locally owned businesses. But you've made it through. Now it's time to look forward to 2021. No one knows what is going to happen over the next year. But, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a well-managed, adaptable, and secure business operation plan will be able to maneuver the unexpected better. Here are 5 tips to help your business be prepared in 2021.
1. Refortify Your Cybersecurity. 2020 was a banner year for cybercrime attacks with so many people scrambling to work remotely while focused on the pandemic rather than security.
While the news that the US Government and several major corporations were hacked might prompt a person to take a "why bother" attitude, a better approach is to make sure that your business has a level of security and accepted risk that is appropriate for your missions while keeping you from being low-hanging fruit for criminals.
Governments and large corporations are targets for a variety of geopolitical reasons. Despite spending billions on security, they are still sometimes successfully attacked although the fruits of the attack are often limited due to the depth of security controls in place.
Since small businesses tend to do very little in terms of cybersecurity they are targets to a much wider range of cyber criminals. While you may not be able to resist nation-state level attacks, the likelihood that your business will face them is significantly less than that of a large government or corporation. What you likely will face is a variety of less-skilled attacks that are every bit as capable of causing ruinous harm to your business. Being among the easiest targets for a criminal is not a position you want to be in.
New regulations have been passed such as CMMC in 2020 that mandate cybersecurity protections for government contractors- even those that do not handle secret information. The underpinnings of CMMC are based on National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidelines. Most businesses should work to implement many of these principles, and many are compelled by various regulations and due-care requirements to do so.
All businesses should ensure that they are not only escaping the label of "easy pickings" but also becoming more and more secure over time with an ongoing security improvement program.
2. Invest in improving networking and communication systems. Seamless and secure access to company data and staff communications is critical to operations. Last year, many businesses scattered data storage and voice communications across multiple platforms using a variety of tools as they attempted to work from home or otherwise practice social distancing. Often company or personal cell phones served as the lifeline between co-workers and customers. Data may have been passed using non-secure methods like email, thumb drives, or other non-encrypted means. Home computers may have been set up as remote VPN terminals allowing unprotected hardware to introduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities to the company network.
With these things in mind, consider a true disaster and recovery plan for situations as diverse as a pandemic, a snow day, or a flooded building from a busted water heater. Beyond that, make a plan for improving your company infrastructure to support employees that need or want to work from home post-pandemic. Streamline cloud storage and cloud-based email communication and a reliable backup. Implement a VoIP communication system that incorporates not only work from anywhere voice calling from an app on a cellphone, laptop, or PC, but also, video conferencing, and encrypted messaging. Extending the office to where an employee works with a unified communication platform will win you, the business owner, kudos from employees because now you are organized, have a plan, and are ready for anything the comes at your company.
3. Make your operations pandemic proof. Hopefully, we won't have another shutdown this year, but that's not certain. If the worst happens again, have a plan. This could include designing multiple failover solutions for everyday operations, virtual disaster planning for remote employees, or working with multiple suppliers and vendors.
This investment doesn’t have to be a sunk cost for a temporary solution to survive the pandemic. Many experts agree, that although we may all get back to work in the office eventually, the technology will allow the flexibility to have a mix of in-office employees as well as talent that may work from home, or another part of the world. It opens up opportunities to expand our business’ reach beyond just our local market, because we can virtually be in front of customers, no matter where they may be.
4. Try out some new business tools. Innovation is good anytime. But, when times are rough, innovation is critical to survival. Milton Berle famously stated, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." That quote reminds us that the path to success isn't always obvious or reliable. Be prepared to create avenues of opportunities that may not have existed before.
5. Double down on advertising and marketing. When revenue drops, marketing budgets tend to be the first thing on the chopping block. Resist this temptation. When you lose customers, the last thing you want to do is hinder your ability to attract new customers. Explore PPC advertising, boost your social media presence, start a podcast, partner with another local business to capture a new audience.