Like many small business owners and entrepreneurs, I start each new year with resolutions to improve my business life. Since I document those new year resolutions in my USAToday column, I’m able to go back and reflect on how I’ve done.

I dusted off my list from 1999—20 years ago—to see how those resolutions turned out.

The most important take-away—for me and for you: I’m still in business 20 years later. Following these resolutions—embracing these attitudes and actions—helped me survive. They can help you too.

Starting and running a business in 1999 was very different from today. Google was just launching—people searching for businesses used the “Yellow Pages.” Social media wasn’t a thing. The iPhone wouldn’t be invented for another eight years, so forget “mobile.” And the first millennials were just entering kindergarten.

What my 1999 list of New Year’s Resolutions for Small Business shows is that the fundamentals of running a business are what helps insure your long-term success.

Here’s my 1999 List—still relevant in 2019:
  1. Keep learning. Your business can’t grow if you don’t. Attend trade shows, read journals, take seminars, hire a consultant to teach you new skills. Your brain is your most important business asset—add to it.
  2. Keep priorities straight. It’s easy to keep busy being busy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. Make a list of those few items that make the difference between succeeding and failing, both in business and in life. Put your energies there. Don’t let unimportant squeaky wheels get all your attention.
  3. Stay in touch with former clients. We all focus our attention on the projects at hand, but former customers are the best source of new business. Find an easy way to communicate with all your customers, past and present, at least two to three times a year.
  4. Use technology better. I know that technology can improve my business. This year, I’m going to use technology to master my contact lists, move more paper to digital files, and keep better control of my finances. (2019 update: I use technology for virtually every aspect of my business.)
  5. Know when NOT to use technology. Technology is not the answer for every problem. Be open to the right solution for each problem, whether it’s technology or paper and pen. (2019 update: every day, find time to turn technology off and interact with other humans and yourself.)
  6. Throw stuff away. This year, I’m going to get rid of my ten-year-old files, transfer stuff off my computer onto a Zip drive, and get rid of all those little slips of paper on my desk I’ve been saving.  (2019: what’s a Zip drive?)
  7. Backup data. In 1998, I had a hard drive crash. It was a nightmare. So in 1999, my mantra is: “I will back-up daily. I will back-up daily. I will back-up daily.” (2019 update: I’ve moved all my files to the cloud and backup automatically—so should you.)
  8. Funny thing, I find my business improves when I actually take time to think. It’s easy to get so busy we stop thinking about our business. So regularly, ideally every day, stop and think about what you’re doing, what you’re saying, how you’re saying it. The busier you are, the more important it is to pause, catch your breath, and reflect.
  9. Hire more help. Sure, it takes time and energy to train employees, and money out of our pockets, but evaluate whether you might actually make more money if you had someone to take over some of your non-income producing tasks.
  10. Be more patient with employees. I’ve gotten a lot better in understanding that the way to help employees grow is to let them make decisions, do things their way, and sometimes make mistakes.
  11. Finally, let’s all find ways to have our businesses help others. Make 1999 (and 2019) a year in which we add to the wealth of the world, not just in monetary terms but in terms of kindness, sharing, lending a hand, and giving others opportunity. We all focus on improving the bottom line, but remember, the bottom line is just the bottom. This year, let’s all make a resolution to aim higher.

Have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!


Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2019

This article originally ran in USA Today on January 2, 2019