SMB March Madness: 4 Tips for Keeping Your Business in the Game

03/27/2015 08:41 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

The bounce of the ball, the squeak of sneakers on the court, and that feeling of correctly picking the top-ranked bracket in your office pool are just a few signs that March Madness is here. The popular college basketball tournament is known for being riddled with unpredictability and extreme competition. The highest ranked teams aren't always the ones to make it to the championship, and it is not unrealistic for a No. 6 seed team to overcome the odds and become No. 1, taking the championship by storm. In basketball, and in business, it's important to always expect and prepare for the unexpected.

Just like we see during March Madness, small businesses have an opportunity to beat more experienced businesses and win the hearts of consumers with their own personal Cinderella stories. Whether it's tapping into the local community, taking advantage of new technology, or learning how to re-strategize on the fly, here are four tips to keep your small business in the game this season:

Root for the Home Team: Fans love to feel a connection to their Alma Mater or their hometown team. Wearing a local team's colors and cheering to their fight song brings a feeling of connection, and of being a part of something bigger. Businesses can tap into this same feeling by taking advantage of their local communities. Consumers enjoy supporting local businesses in the same way that they support their home team--many businesses even see an uptick in sales during the tournament season! Consider supporting local sports teams in your brick and mortar stores, or contributing to local causes to engage with your local community. Beyond just sports this year, consider participating in National Small Business Week, which is a great way to gain exposure for your brand across the country.

Beat the Competition with Talented Teammates: We all know that March Madness is shining a spotlight on the most talented teams in college. As a business owner, you should take a page out of this playbook and make sure you have a smart hiring strategy in place to build the best team possible. Many small business, for example, are taking advantage of high quality talent by employing non-traditional, independent contractors instead of full-time employees. Unlike working with independent contractors, hiring full-time employees tends to be more complex because you need to think about taxes, as well as potentially providing additional benefits, such as health insurance, unemployment, disability and vacation time.Your reasons for choosing full time versus contract workers may depend on the type of work, and the amount of flexibility you want. However, in today's job market, it's easy to hire top quality professionals like web designers, PR representatives and accountants on a contract basis.

One caution: You cannot treat a worker like an independent contractor for tax purposes, and then use that person like a full-time employee in practice. You could end up being liable for payroll taxes later on if the IRS finds that you've misclassified your worker in this way. It's best to have a chat with your financial advisor to assess what your needs are.

Remember - just because your business is small does not mean it is not mighty. Taking big risks and embracing change can result in a big impact for your business.

Study your Playbook: One key to gameday success is to understand what your team is up against. Each basketball team studies their opponent's strengths and weaknesses and knows the rules of the game. Business owners need to be sure that they are keeping up with new and changing trends in their industry, as well as new rules and regulations they need to follow. Does your business need to file a specific kind of business tax (e.g. Federal Income Taxes or Social Security and Medicare Taxes)? Are you properly licensed?

For example, if you're not currently offering paid sick days, you will have to start doing so by July 1, 2015. In California, after the 90th day of employment, employers are obligated to provide at least three paid sick days to their workers who do not have any sick time as of now. This new bill is estimated to impact 40 percent of the workforce in the U.S., which is more than 6.5 million employees. There are many tools available than can help your business come up with a winning play. As always, we recommend you consult with a licensed, local attorney to ensure all of your business practices are up-to-date and compliant with new and changing regulations.

Take Advantage of New Tools: Technology has come a long way since the first March Madness Tournament in 1939. Spectators originally watched their team in their home stadium, but 76 years later in 2015, college basketball can now be viewed via your television, or streamed. Online March Madness brackets and office pools are constantly increasing NCAA viewership across the board.

The same goes for small businesses - as technology continues to evolve, business owners should progress with it, and leverage new resources at their disposal. With 29 percent of small businesses indicating that growing their online presence is the biggest concern for their business, it's important to be aware of new tools and technologies that will enable business advancement. Given the rise of mobile payments - a Forrester report expects that mobile payments will reach $142 billion in volume by 2019 - it's worth looking into them for your small business to bolster customer experiences and benefit your bottom line. And while it's important to seek new and innovative ways to stay competitive and grow, always familiarize yourself with the law when experimenting with new tools.

The bottom line is that whether you enjoy playing basketball or watching the March Madness tournament on TV, your business can learn a lot from the tournament mentality where anything-goes - and any team can relish in a major upset to get ahead of their competitors.

Lisa Honey is the Director of Product Marketing for Rocket Lawyer's Legal Documents business line. She left the traditional practice of law after seven years in commercial and civil litigation to join Rocket Lawyer. She's licensed in California, Texas and Arkansas.