It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running and drama of your business. Often it can feel as though you spend all your time fire fighting and never get the chance to look at the bigger picture. Yet long term strategizing is what differentiates the average business from the good ones. All the best managers take time to focus on the future of their business - to protect it from the ever changing business environment in which they must operate. Those who don’t will suffer. (Anyone remember Kodak?)
It can be difficult to foresee changes before they happen - after all, no one saw the internet in the 1980s, but at least you can make time to react early when change does happen. No one has a crystal ball, but everyone can take steps to respond quickly when the future reveals itself. Here are a few suggestions that can go a long way to protecting the future of your business.
1. Don’t depend on one part of your business. We operate in an industry that is closely related to fashion and as such can display some of the fickleness of this area. Those who didn’t foresee the bead market arriving paid a price. If you are big into watches can you be sure that watches will continue to be worn in an age where every phone has the time on it?
2. Revisit whether past strategies will work with new customers. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it can be true, but each wave of new customers will have different expectations, and continuing to make the same offering in the same way may not be the answer. Millennials are fast becoming the new marketplace. Companies such as Facebook, who have had huge penetration with Gen X and the Baby Boomers, are in danger of losing market share to other social media from millennials who don’t want to ‘hang out’ where their parents or grandparents are. The same risk exists for your business and your industry.
3. Predict future demand today. Easier said that done, but the greatest success has come to those who have been able to do it. Henry Ford bet big that the automobile would replace the horse and he was right. Steve Jobs saw ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ before others and made his success legendary. Your ambitions needn’t be this grand, but seeing the wave in time to catch it and give you that competitive edge you need can make the difference.
4. Identify and manage your risk. Where does your greatest threat come from? What could your greatest competition be? It may not even be from within your industry. Identifying and managing this risk can reduce its impact should the worst happen.
5. Watch and listen to your customers. They will generally ask the same questions and identify the same issues. Listen carefully and you can be a step ahead of the game. Some of the most successful businesses have become so by taking complaints about existing products and solving them on their own.
6. Watch for external factors that can affect your business. We’ve already mentioned Kodak, but there are countless other examples. Hotels would not have seen the arrival of Airbnb and the sharing economy, nor would taxi drivers expected Uber. Banks are being out muscled by peer to peer lending platforms. Change is inevitable every where you look. Learn from others’ mistakes.
7. Encourage group discussion. You don’t have to focus on the future alone. Encourage discussion amongst your staff, particularly around getting customer feedback. Several heads are always better than one. Talk often with others in the industry about where the future is heading, what customers’ expectations are, what new marketing methods are available and where future trends in product lines are going. Attending group meetings and industry events can stimulate thought in this area
We live in a fast changing world. The only certainty it provides is its ever changing uncertainty. Change can be scary and it can destroy businesses, but it can also create opportunities for those who are brave and willing to see them. Our industry is about celebrating love and relationships. This hasn’t changed in several millennia and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. We simply need to focus on how we give our customers the best way to represent this.