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Small business resolutions for 2016

Small business owners must always strive to do better; even the most successful ones must make improvement a top priority. And January is the perfect time to commit to change.

Keep the list of modifications small but focused, and inspire diligence by creating goals and setting a time line for improvement. Trust me, you already have all the tools necessary to make modest but meaningful adjustments with employees, customers and the bottom line.

Woman sipping cocktail
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Here are my top tips on how to make your business grow, starting now:

1. Dust off your core values. Many businesses have core values. Few businesses use them effectively. So, take a look at your core values and create initiatives around them.

I always encourage my clients to create questions based on their core values for use in employee interviews. If one of your values is "integrity," then pose an open question like "tell me about a time you stood up for your business or colleague." The answers to these questions provide clarity on whether the candidate already upholds the same values or not.

And, if your business isn't currently living by the core values, take some time to revitalize them and bring them into the light. Your core values are a great way of making the day-to-day ideals of a business actionable for the staff, and they will help you stay on message as you lead your team.

2. Reinvent performance reviews to increase productivity. Ditch your old performance reviews. Traditional performance reviews can actually de-motivate your employees, as people consider a "review" or "feedback" a negative experience. Set your employees up for a more positive approach by reinventing the review process so that it focuses on employee strengths. Call it a "2016 Goals and Performance Timeline." Focus on your employee's strengths, and create initiatives together around setting goals for the coming year.

A Gallup poll shows that employees who are able to focus on their strengths in their positions are six times more engaged in their work and are 8 percent more productive than plain old worker bees. Engagement equals performance, and your business – and employees – will be better for it.

3. Give it away. It might seem antithetical, but companies that give away free products stand to make more money. Many companies add small "freebies" in their shopping bags in order to inspire their customers to buy more. Sephora and other major beauty brands regularly include samples and offer free products to their loyalty members in order to create customers for those products.

Researchers have found that people feel obligated to spend more when they have received something for free. Restaurants regularly offer "comps" to their guests in the form of a round of drinks or a dessert sent to the table. That free dessert is given to entice you to order a coffee or after-dinner drink, which brings up the check in a significant way. With any giveaways, make sure you track your spending and are strategic about deploying them; then market your initiative and watch your sales – and your customers' happiness – increase.

4. Focus on incremental sales. When giving a directive to "increase sales," you must be specific. Stimulate sales by asking your team to sell a particular product by a certain time (by 5pm) or in a specific amount (each person should sell 5 items when the usual number is 4). Then, track your sales totals.

In the restaurant business, the servers are regularly tasked with selling the most of a particular bottle of wine or a certain dessert. And, throughout the service they try and one-up each other and keep a running tally of the totals. This keeps it fun and friendly on the team side and helps move product and increase sales on the business side. Even selling a side of fries helps the bottom line because additional sales add up, every single day.

5. Build your community impact. Consider how you can create and encourage a community, based around your business. Hosting events or supporting a charity is a great way to be involved in a good cause while inviting your community of customers into the event as a participant or as an attendee.

I know financial planners and lawyers who regularly host informational events about various topics that are enlightening for their clients and help keep them connected to the firm. By creating additional ways to see your customers throughout the year, you are creating relationships that will serve your business far longer than sales alone.

6. Remember your best customers. The best way to wow your customers is to remember them. Create a database of your valued regulars that states their personal preferences (food, drink, sports teams), the names of their family members, their birthdays, and their spending history. Then, use this list! Ask about your client's daughter by name; send a birthday card to your client with a warm greeting; send an email when their team wins the series; or give them a ring when you have a new product available that they might enjoy.

When you remember your best customers, you are treating them like valued people in your life. When you remember your client, you are ensuring you — and your business — will be remembered by her as well. When people feel considered, they will feel cared for, and they will associate these good feelings with you and your business all year long.

If you can start the ball rolling now with these enhancements, you will have created a habit of excellence that will last through the rest of the year. The result? A business model you can be proud of.

Commentary by Kate Edwards, owner of service consultancy Kate Edwards, Consulting, has more than 30 years of service experience, working with such companies as il Buco, Nutrisystem, Le Cirque, What If Innovation and The Rainbow Room. Edwards just completed her first book, "Hello! And Every Little Thing That Matters" (Palgrave Macmillan), available in bookstores now. Follow her on Twitter @servicedefined.