If there is one thing we have learned in today's chaotic global economy, it is that many businesses are not prepared for the future. Whether it is a lack of resources or an overconfidence that the best of times will never metastasise into the worst of times, too many organisations have refrained from future proofing. But if the latest international events have taught us anything, it is that we need to be ready for whatever could happen tomorrow, next month or next year.
Future proofing is not just about surviving pandemics, downturns and other assorted crises, however. It is about ensuring that your organisation isn't left behind by the advances of Industry 4.0 and beyond. It is about mitigating stagnation and making certain that, whatever your industry, you are able to stay relevant or adapt accordingly.
So, how do you do this? To help, we have compiled a detailed breakdown of how to future proof your business, and preserve its health for the years and decades ahead.
1. Adopt Technology
If you are not making technology a key component of your business model, then you will not be able to keep up with either your competitors or the general economy. To put it simply, technology is critical within the wider process of future proofing.
If you consider yourself something of a technophobe, then here are some of the ways in which technology can assist you in preparing for tomorrow's challenges:
Just as a bricks-and-mortar business is susceptible to break-ins, so too are your online assets. Be it a website, an eCommerce operation, social media pages or even cloud hosting: if you have an online presence – and, in 2020, you certainly should – then you are potentially vulnerable.
Technology will shield your data and information from unscrupulous parties attempting to infiltrate your digital infrastructure, so taking basic cybersecurity precautions and protecting your assets is imperative.
The more technological assistance you have in your office, the more ready you will be to deal with unforeseen circumstances. At the same time, you can also elevate your productivity levels and automate everything from time-consuming office tasks to entire marketing campaigns.
Previously, you could only guess what strategies might work and what may resonate with your clientele. Today, thanks to data analytics, business intelligence (BI), and key performance indicators (KPIs), you can gauge your customers' experience, interests and needs in a quantitative way. This is vital for fine-tuning your marketing strategies and minimising your opportunity cost.
Technology can help you scale up and scale back, which is critical for adapting to accelerated or contracted activity. This could happen at any time.
Technology is here to stay, so it is up to you to embrace the direction in which the world is heading – or remain stubborn.
2. Listen to Your Customers
In many ways, customers can be ahead of the curve and alert you to the newest trends, goods and services available in the open market. Indeed, for a lot of entrepreneurs, customers can serve as a glimpse into the next big thing, whether it is an online streaming platform or a mobile ride-sharing service.
Indeed, if you come across a handful of your clients talking about something new unfolding in the marketplace, this is your opportunity to learn more and take advantage of what may be exclusive information.
While this applies to in-person conversations, you can also learn what your shoppers are talking about on social media by assessing certain keywords or finding patterns in comments with monitoring software. There are other methods, too, to understanding consumer trends, such as questionnaires, market research and polls.
Ultimately, businesses that fail to listen to what their customers are telling them will not survive for very long.
3. Dispute Your Assumptions
The most dangerous words in business (indeed, some would say, the entire English language) are: "…but it's always been done this way." And yet, despite becoming something of a cliché, the phrase is still being utilised across numerous industries. If you wish to remain relevant in a fast-paced, ever-evolving global marketplace, then you need to seriously question this way of thinking.
One of the best ways to future-proof your firm is by challenging every assumption and executing new experiments, innovations and solutions. Changes should not be made for the sake of it, of course, but you should always be asking yourself if something can be done in a better and more effective way. Always question if it is possible to disrupt your own practice and, by definition, your wider industry.
4. Take a Peek into Tomorrow
If predicting the future were easy, we would all be wealthy by now, yet many experts flippantly make prognostications about tomorrow without any skin in the game. Serious businesses, on the other hand, forecast their futures with resources that capture accurate estimates for given periods. Since your bottom-line matters, you should also refrain from being so cavalier about your projections.
Plus, with a little bit of digging and common sense, you can come across some common trends unfolding before your eyes, such as:
- The rise of virtual offices and marketplaces
- The impact of the data economy
- Companies investing in automation
- An ageing workforce
- The ascent of millennials
- An increase in immigration
It is then up to you how you can leverage these developments in your favour.
5. Identify and Manage Risks
For every business owner, the most important job is to identify risks that threaten the foundation of your company. Then, once those threats to operations are determined, it is up to you to devise a plan to mitigate them.
This isn't an easy task, of course; businesses face a myriad of risks that can range from benign to severe. For example, data security is a common issue for corporations worldwide. A minor digital infiltration may not trigger a company-wide meltdown, but an immense security breach that leaks customer data can.
To remain future proof, you need to continually assess, analyse and prevent these risks. Conduct SWOT analyses of your company on a frequent basis and be sure to act upon any potential weaknesses and risks that you identify.
6. Determine and Leverage Trends
Information is worth a lot of money; it is how you can discover the next significant profitable opportunity. When leveraged correctly, you can front-run the entire market with information, data, statistics, numbers, and anything else that can give you an advantage.
By watching the news, reading relevant journals, listening to podcasts, and monitoring what key players are doing, you can put yourself in a position where you have a clearer understanding of economic and industry-related trends. This, in turn, allows you to make better decisions and steer your company in a direction that has a future.
7. Make Experience Key to Your Brand
One commonality among younger demographics is that experience outweighs both the brand and the product itself. Essentially, you need to sell an experience, as companies such as Starbucks demonstrate.
On the surface, Starbucks sells coffee. But when you dig a little deeper, it becomes clear that the company are actually selling a lifestyle, a physical space where you can meet friends, read books or surf the web. It is something that has allowed it to survive the booms and busts of numerous business cycles, and why people will still spend $5 on a cup of coffee when funds are tight. It has become such a successful business model that a plethora of retails chains have adopted the same concept.
Of course, Starbucks is a global market leader, but the concept is still applicable to any business – regardless of size or sector. Even if you are based online, user experience can still play a critical role, whether it is a positive digital experience or an incredible customer service system.
8. Foster a Culture of Innovation
It may be a no-brainer at this point, but many companies still fail to tap into their workforce's true potential. Maybe this comes down to individual management practices; maybe it is a paucity of trust to encourage independence. Either way, what's clear is that the only way a brand can tread new ground is by fostering a culture of innovation among employees.
Of course, every office is different, and some sectors are, by nature, less innovative, but there are many steps a firm can take to facilitate an environment where employees are creative shareholders in the organisation.
For instance, you can:
- Hold idea discussion conversations with all employees to gather unique perspectives and develop ideas.
- Establish idea campaigns from the bottom up to create a long list of suggestions to help the company in any way possible.
- Enable employee engagement, especially between management and subordinates, through gamification, recognition and promotions.
- Encourage transparency to get workers to submit their ideas.
- Support employees whenever there is an opportunity.
9. Think Big
In many industries, there is a mantra that if you are not continuously moving forward, then you are stagnating. In business, this is particularly true. Therefore, it may be time to step outside of your comfort zone and begin to think big.
This does not mean upwardly revising your revenue projections for the third quarter by 69%. Rather, the concept of thinking big entails focusing on big problems that affect large numbers of people. If you look at many of the world's self-made billionaires, for instance, they became wealthy by identifying and meeting the needs of large groups of people.
Of course, this doesn't mean that you should be looking to expand across multiple markets and setting up offices on the other side of the world. Thinking "big" is relative, after all. Instead, it means that you should be focusing on solving problems that affect the widest amount of people, whether that's within your neighbourhood or further afield. Remember: you can still maximise your prospects in your immediate vicinity by identifying a challenge in your community, and coming up with a workable solution.
It has been said that "the past cannot be changed, but the future is in your power". This is a generic phrase that can apply to anything in life, but entrepreneurs can unpack a lot from this statement – especially in regard to business survival and growth.
What happened yesterday no longer matters. It is all about tomorrow, so how will you get ready? The future is usually bright, after all, so to ensure that your tomorrow is profitable, it is time to future-proof your business.
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