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How to futureproof your business

May 18, 2018

how to futureproof your businessThere’s never been a more exciting time to be an entrepreneur, the amount of new options and opportunities can also feel overwhelming.

Moreover, your customer has become ever more fickle and mistrustful of how companies operate and what they promise.

So how do you futureproof your business in the face of so many choices and a changing landscape?

If you’re expecting a silver bullet to answer this question, then the first thing you need to do is to alter your mindset.

Futureproofing your business is more about adjusting your mindset than focusing on creating the best product or service, or on-boarding some new technology. So what’s the right mindset?

Start with your purpose and brand

Being a small business means that resources are, almost by definition, bootstrapped. You end up having to do it all with limited time and money. And running after the next sale can quickly be an all-consuming activity.

Yet, it is my conviction that time invested in taking a step back is time truly well invested.

Have you really come to grips with what business you are in? If the answer is too easy, it’s likely you’ve not spent enough time thinking about the question.

Moreover, if you have not defined how your proposition is materially different and better in the eyes of the buyer, then the challenge of futureproofing your business just got harder.

It can sound trite to suggest that a small business owner needs to consider their business’ purpose; but I believe that it’s like the question of building a brand.

Brand is, at its core, the mark of trust, a guarantee of sorts. And brand is carried, not just as a logo on your product or website, but by the people working for/with you.

There is no size differentiator when it comes to trust. After all, most business relationships are one-to-one. Customers deal with people, not a company.

As the latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows, trust in business and business executives is at very low levels in the eyes of customers. Your team become your most important weapon in establishing a trustworthy brand. There are two emphatic and typically uncustomary questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. What does my brand stand for?
  2. Why would the world be worse off without me/us? It’s in this context that I establish the three mindsets that are needed to futureproof your business: Meaningfulness, Responsibility and Collaboration.

Inserting more meaningfulness

If you’re a small operator, you rely on everyone in the team showing up in top gear as much as is humanly possible. Drops in energy, lapses in execution and miscommunications can have important consequences.

What’s going to drive that higher-than-average energy level? I argue that it’s about making sure that everyone feels that what he or she is doing is meaningful. That doesn’t mean you need necessarily to be fixing all the world’s problems, but it does mean that;

(a) everyone knows why and how his/her work is contributing to the company’s success; and

(b) that each person feels like he/she is doing more than just contributing to the shareholder’s bottom line.

There are many ways to increase meaningfulness in your business, from giving recognition, establishing prizes and allowing playtime, to handing over ownership on projects, all the way up to helping your local community or reducing the environmental cost of running your business.

Because it can take time, small companies often forego opportunities to explain why such and such a role or task is relevant to the business’ strategy. Even small companies need to spend time telling their story internally and making sure everyone feels part of the mission.

Taking on greater personal responsibility

FutureProof - How to get your business ready for the next disruptionThe second mindset is absolutely critical and, I’d say for small business, far more urgent: everyone needs to be responsible.

There are four areas where one needs to take greater personal responsibility in order to futureproof your business:

  1. Continuous learning,
  2. Cyber security,
  3. Personal branding, and, most sensitive,
  4. Ethics.

1. Continuous learning

Concretely, this means encouraging everyone to own what she/he needs to learn about and to share openly with the team when appropriately interesting content is found.

A tip that I find useful is creating a specific Flipboard on a particular topic that can be shared within the team. If Pinterest is your game, you can create shareable secret Pinterest boards. The idea is to model the behaviour you want to see happen within your team and to share the burden (and hopefully the excitement) of continuous learning.

2. Cyber security

For cyber security, everyone needs to be doggedly aware of the latest cyber security hacks and threats, in a bid to protect sensitive customer data, not to mention your own IP. For example, that means updating each other on the latest clever phishing tactics.

3. Personal branding

On personal branding, it can sometimes feel counter intuitive, but I strongly encourage team members to raise their own profiles in their preferred channels, especially useful when these overlap with where the customers are hanging out.

The key here is to find a way to encourage the team to participate in increasing his/her own presence online, according to the aptitude and intention, and to help elevate your firm’s online presence and interaction.

4. Ethics

Lastly, everyone needs to strengthen his/her ethical backbone. As the world gets ever more transparent and exciting opportunities arise to use new tech to drive the business, there is a heightened risk in using unethical practices. As we’ve seen more and more over the last few months, bad ethics are being outed.

I encourage making ethics part of the conversation in team meetings. Are your business practices in line with your ethics and what you stand for? Are you setting the right example by being the type of leader people want to deal with?

Collaboration within and without

The third and final mindset is collaboration. Collaborating among yourselves in the team sounds obvious, but the bonds that unite are oftentimes tenuous, especially when the proverbial smelly stuff hits the fan.

Uniting the team around a higher purpose is one solid answer, but be careful not to make it a hollow-sounding purpose. You’ve got to be prepared to believe it and live it yourself.

The benefit of having purpose is that it will help navigate through the stress and conflicts. That said, the real power – and futureproofing – happens by making sure you build a set of trustworthy external partners.

With so many new technologies to confront, this network should be there to complement or fill in the gaps in your own expertise, especially as it comes to on-boarding new technologies into your solutions.

Ultimately, futureproofing your business is more about a state of mind than a destination. The more you recruit and retain individuals with a shared mindset, the more likely you’ll craft a futureproof, trustworthy brand and find ways to adapt and thrive in this exciting new world.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Minter Dial and Caleb Storkey, authors of Futureproof: How to Get Your Business Ready for the Next Disruption (winner of a Business Book Award 2018) – which is out now in paperback and ebook.

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