What To Look Forward to in 2016

Early 2016 has not only been a microcosm of the last several years but it's also a pretty good indicator of what we can expect throughout the rest of this year. There has been volatility, as illustrated in the roller coaster-like swings in the stock market. But even as we brace for continuing uncertainty on Wall Street this year, there is some reassuring stability that will allow businesses who plan ahead to achieve success in 2016. For good or bad, businesses have some legislative clarity that hasn't been available in the last several years. 

"For so many years, business owners have complained about uncertainty in the economy and in Washington DC.," says Convention Speaker and Small Business Expert Gene Marks. "Right now, there's very little uncertainty. You can expect there to be no significant legislation coming out of Washington this year. So even if you're worried about Washington doing big things or passing big laws that will really affect your business, the good news is that isn't going to happen this year. So you can focus in 2016 on making money and making your ship as clean as a whistle."

We know that come January 2017, we will have a new President. Smart business owners know that they can't control what Washington does and they can't predict the future with extreme accuracy. In 2016, business-owners should control what they can control during this rare stable time.

Preparing for Stability
One thing we know for certain is that there is not going to be any new, major legislation passed until at least 2017. The good news is that businesses can operate without the threat of the legislative sword hanging over their heads. But stability doesn't necessarily mean good news. Payroll will go up this year.  

"Sometime by the end of this year, new overtime rules will go into place raising the exempt level for salaries employees to $50,440 from $24,000," Marks says. 

In addition to overtime rules, minimum wage hikes are happening in cities around the country. Even if you pay your employees more than minimum wage, companies may start to feel pressure to increase wages at every level. With unemployment continuing to be low across the country, small and medium-sized businesses find themselves competing for the top talent and external pressures to raise all wages could impact your ability to hire new talent. So too could the increasing trend of offering paid time off. While you may not be able to do that, you will probably need to do something to compete for the top candidates. All of these things spell an increase in payroll in 2016.

The cost of healthcare will continue to rise, with no significant changes to the Affordable Care Act happening until 2017 at the very earliest. 

"The Affordable Care Act and healthcare costs remain number one on many small and medium-sized businesses’ minds," Marks says. "Healthcare costs continue to rise significantly around the country. The outcome of the presidential election could turn the whole system upside down, but for now, we're going to be paying more and more."

These things aren't particularly good news but because they are certain, they can be prepared for. 

Implementing New Technology Effectively
Outside of the beltway and legislative concerns, there are some really great technological opportunities for businesses to implement this year. 

"There are some applications out there that I think every business owner needs to be considering that will help them with collaboration, communication, customer service management and even sales and marketing. Just some really cool, hot new technologies that you should be taking a look at in 2016 and 2017."

While not every app and tool may be right for your business, in today's environment, businesses can't afford to not be investing in technology at all.

"You can't be standing still," Marks says. "There are too many great technologies out there that will not only provide some significant value to your business but your competitors' business as well. And if you're not making that investment, you're going to get passed by."

But before you make the investment to upgrade to the latest and greatest tool, first make sure that you have somebody in house who can implement it successfully. 

"It makes no difference what type of technology you want to invest in, you have to have the right people," says Marks. "The one thing I've learned about all of the technology that I'm going to talk about, as great as it is, none of it is going to work at all if you don't have somebody to implement it. You can't just snap your fingers and expect technology to solve all of your problems. It's a tool."

If that candidate isn't already in-house, businesses should go out and find them.

"I'm going to share some really great services that are available that can help you in the hiring process," says Marks. "But it's still a crap shoot. You're taking a leap of faith that the person not only has the skills but that they fit in with your culture. You can do background checks, you can look at their social media activity and call references. And I recommend that you do. But you still don't know if they're going to be a cultural fit."

While there is no way of knowing for certain if a candidate will be a great fit, Marks suggests that the best place to find new employees is by asking current employees.

"There is no better source than a person who knows your culture already," he says. "Even if an employee might be less qualified, if they can be a fast-learner, that can be the key to finding somebody who fits into your culture because they were brought in by someone who already knows your culture."

Preparing for 2017
"I want attendees to walk away with a good understanding of what some of the top issues they're going to be facing this year are and have some key action items to take with them to adjust to those issues," says Marks.

2016 is a year of stability and potential for business owners. In January 2017, we will have a new President. This could mean a continuation of the current administration's policies or it could be a complete 180. Owners should familiarize themselves with the positions of both candidates and prepare for either possibility.

"You can have a Plan A and a Plan B," says Marks. "And in the mean time just focus on making money this year." 

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