12 Aug Futureproof your small business
It can be impossible to see the silver lining of COVID when we are in the thick of the pandemic, but as humans we have overcome greater adversities, and as entrepreneurs we are used to facing challenges. We are all dealing with the force of this pandemic both at a personal level, through our families and friends, as well as through our businesses and the impact it has had on our customers and their jobs and lives.
In our recent webinar we looked to the work of futurists and how they use scenario planning, to help us cope with the different stories we may face. We start looking at the future by first looking at the past.
What has COVID taught us?
Now is the perfect time to reflect on what COVID had taught us. If we leave it for weeks and months the intensity of what we have felt, learnt and dealt with, will be diminished. Think about:
- How did you, your staff and customers manage the change?
- What mechanisms did people use to cope?
- In what ways did you learn and grow?
- What would you do differently if you were faced with it again?
When the intensity of the pandemic hit us we were forced to act decisively and quickly. For some industries, services that were once viewed as necessities, such as commercial air travel, became luxuries, or in the case of international business travel, are currently real risks. On the other hand, what had been considered luxuries, like working from home, have become necessities.
We quickly adopted video conferencing and other online tools. And have accepted behaving in ways that would have been foreign just months ago. We have seen faster progress towards drones for delivery, online retail and remote medical consultations. Businesses and organisations have realised they have less need for expensive real estate.
The acceleration of existing trends
In some ways, this isn’t a new shift, so much as an acceleration of existing trends.
We need to ask ourselves why it took something so dramatic to force us into behaving in ways we maybe should have been anyway. As well as how we can continue to embrace existing technologies and put in place ways to ensure we are staying on-top of the options available to our business in the future. Maybe we need to consider being early adopters rather than laggards that wait.
While so many elements of our business practice may have changed, what should stay the same is our commitment to our loyal customers. How can we find new ways to keep them engaged long-term? How do we make sure we don’t lose touch with why people love you?
What got you here, won’t take you there
Things have changed forever. This is a time to take advantage of what we should do regularly as business owners, and plan for the future.
Maintaining your ‘why’ and your core values while evolving is a challenge that most business owners face. Figuring out where to draw the line is hard. But ultimately, to futureproof your business model, you have to align it with the primary ways you provide value to your customers.
The pandemic has forced us to act, to innovate and to adapt in ways we never thought possible. Ask yourself, ‘was it going to happen anyway?’
What we can do is use tools to better prepare ourselves and our businesses for the next phase, stage or era.
Whenever a wild card becomes possible the future planning playbook has to be rewritten
If anything, the virus has taught us we need to be better at contingency planning. Consider the following questions:
- Where do you want to be in ten year’s time?
- Has this changed?
- If you want to be around as a business owner in ten years time, do you have a business to sell, a business to build or franchise?
Your business will not be the same in ten years time as it is now. So now is the time to prep for the new normal. Imagine where you want to be. What you want your business to be. And the possibilities that may happen on the way.
Not many people had ‘global pandemic’ in their risk management plans, but maybe we should have! Scenario planning is about imagining possible futures and creating the absolute best and absolute worst case scenarios, as well as something in between.
To create different scenarios we need to start by examining trends.
Look at what has happened and what could happen in the future in these key external areas using the PEST model:
- Political/legal: How does the political landscape impact on your business now and in the future? Are there long term legal changes you need to incorporate into your operations? Are you sufficiently insured?
- Economic: How will the recovering economy impact on you and your customers? Does your customer base consider your products of services a necessity or luxury?
- Social/environmental: Society has changed forever. Social distancing is the new normal – does that have an ongoing impact on your operations? How can you benefit/tap into the growing connectedness and environmental consciousness in the community?
- Technological: We quickly adopted new technologies – what’s next?
After examining the external factors, look at what could go wrong internally. In these areas we have some control:
- People: Illness, death, workplace safety, harassment, industrial action, access to skilled staff.
- Operational disruption: To supplies and operations, loss of access to essential assets, failures in distribution.
- Reputation: Reputational loss of business partner or employee confidence, harm to professional standing, or damage to reputation in the market.
- Procedural failures: Of accountability, internal systems and controls, fraud.
- Projects: Risks of cost overruns, jobs taking too long, of insufficient product or service quality.
- Financial loss: From poor cash flow, poor debtor control, stock market, interest rates, unemployment, fluctuations in exchange rates.
Use storytelling to imagine the scenarios
By examining all of the likely and possible external and internal factors we can pull elements together to create different scenarios. One of the ways we can do this is by creating stories for the potential scenarios. When we use stories to create possible futures, we are one step removed from the vested outcome and we are better able to use our imagination. We are less likely to say, ‘but that would never happen!’
In creating your stories work out who are the players – who is the hero and who is the villain, and who is the unlikely one who saves the day? We all have the opening chapters to these stories, but what are the possible middle and end points?
The only relevant discussions about the future are when we succeed in shifting the question from whether something will happen to what we would do if it did happen.
We would love to hear your stories, and how you will futureproof your business. Get in touch!
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