Where do you see yourself in five years? It’s more than just a dreaded cliché from a job interview – it’s one of the most crucial questions any business-owner should be asking themselves if they care at all about the survival of their company. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy one to answer.
It’s a fast-changing world, and if you can’t keep up, you’re going to be left behind. But that doesn’t mean your business can’t be as fast as the world that’s changing around it. Stay ahead of the game with our seven tips for future-proofing your business.
1. Don’t be complacent
This is a big one. Your business might be churning out healthy profits now, but that’s no guarantee it’ll still be doing the same in a few years. So don’t be tempted to relax while the going’s good – put those profits to good use by researching new markets, improving your products or developing new services.
“Very few products are so good that they cannot be continually improved upon,” said Sir Richard Branson. “Product development should be an endless quest for improvement.”
2. Keep a close eye on the competition
If your competitors are offering something new or changing the way they provide their services, you should be the first one to notice. It’s not a case of blindly copying everything they do as you need to ask yourself why they’re making those changes. If your competitors are cutting back on opening new retail stores and focusing on selling online, it could be because consumers are starting to change their preferred ways of buying goods like yours. Don’t fight it – adapt to it.
3. Be objective about your own brand
Admit it, you’re completely biased. You’re emotionally and financially invested in your own business, and that can make it hard to see things through your customers’ eyes.
So what’s the answer? Become a customer. Buy your own goods, have them delivered through your company’s usual means, and call up anonymously to make a complaint or try to return what you’ve bought. You might find out just how poor your own team’s customer service is, or just how unreliable your delivery service is. Get your friends, family and distant acquaintances to do the same and encourage some constructive criticism – you’ll be in a much better position to make the changes that will keep your customers coming back in the future.
4. Be flexible
No matter how good your product or your marketing is, levels of trade are bound to fluctuate. And if your costs can’t fluctuate when demand drops off, you could end up in some dangerous cash flow territory. So make your business as flexible as you can. Outsource to freelancers so you don’t have a hefty payroll to worry about every month, and create a community of supporters that understand your fluctuating needs so you only pay for the office space you need. Don’t invest in expensive IT systems if you can happily pay as you go with cloud computing, and don’t stop training your team – you might never know when a vital employee is about to change jobs.
5. Embrace technology
According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), tech-savvy companies are more likely to grow than those that don’t keep up to speed with the latest developments. In an FSB report, 62% of businesses said that technology improved customer communication, and 59% said technology was beneficial for boosting innovation.
Regardless of the direct benefits, those businesses that don’t make the most of new technology are probably going to be left behind. While retail stores were trying to find the best ways to sell physical DVDs online, Netflix came along with their streaming services and became a billion-dollar company. Going even further back, many other retailers didn’t react to the emergence of online shopping, and now Amazon and eBay have taken a huge chunk of their customers.
6. Cover your bases
The fewer ways your business has of making money, the more vulnerable it is to the threats of a fast-changing world. If consumer demand shifts away from your only product or service, you’ll simply have nothing else to fall back on. So don’t put your eggs in one basket – start looking into new product lines, additional services or even new markets you could start exporting into. The wider you put your feet apart, the more stable you’ll be when the world gives you an unwanted push.
7. Keep your team engaged
In the same way that you can become complacent when it comes to improving your products and services, a disengaged team can become just as complacent when it comes to providing those products and services. If you want your business to last, you need to get your workers involved, helping you drive the company forward and coming up with fresh ideas.
So listen to them – find out what motivates them, what they need from their workspace and then find out what would motivate them more. It’s not always enough to start dishing out raises and bonuses either. Simple changes like offering remote working, flexible working hours or even allowing them to work from home can be enough to bring them out of their workplace apathy.