Apocalypse novels and dystopian novels were my favourite as a teenager. I loved losing myself in the end of the world, via a good book.
The last few years in business have been a deviation and felt, in the thick of March 2020 like the apocalypse has arrived. This deviation is being followed, thick and fast, with terrorism and war, cyber-attacks on corporations, and a global recession.
In business (and life), the ability to anticipate and adapt to change is paramount. The accelerating pace of change means that your business’s sustainability requires a future-focused approach.
In this article, I’ll share a step-by-step plan to not only future-proof your business, but also ensure your personal sustainability as an owner, to ward off burnout and ensure you thrive in the face of uncertainty.
Predicting the future
The first step in future-proofing your business is to cultivate a keen sense of awareness. This is a skill that I use when I’m marketing, especially when I’m preparing launch materials.
When I’m creating marketing, I let my awareness extend sideways, to listen into the zeitgeist – not of the year or month, but of the week and day.
We see plenty of fallout from brands who ignore the zeitgeist – forging ahead with tone-deaf marketing campaigns or out-of-touch messaging that alienates the very audience it was (purportedly) designed to attract.
The art of prediction is intimately related with awareness and listening. While it’s impossible to accurately foresee every twist and turn, we absolutely can stay informed of trends, use our own data and analytics (such as our email open rates and our Instagram or LinkedIn analytics) to significantly enhance our predictive abilities.
The future begins in the past. Says American novelist Pearl S. Buck, “If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday.” American journalist Norman Cousins adds, “History is a vast early warning system.”
Be careful that your awareness of history doesn’t tip into sentimentality or progress denial. Use historical context to help you understand human behaviour and predict future behaviours.
- Participate in forums, conferences, and networking events, not just in your particular industry, but in complementary or adjacent industries.
- Read social media comments. These are a goldmine of insights into other people’s minds.
- Follow trendsetters and thought leaders in your industry – beyond the obvious mega personalities – to gain a deeper understanding of where your market is headed.
Building your resilience
In my Hustle & Heart program, this is part of the ‘heart’ – developing strength of character, and the resilience that comes of this. Resilient leaders have a constructive, proactive attitude, which makes setbacks, mistakes, hindrances, and failure par for the course.
Resilience is not “toughing it out”. It’s taking exquisite care of yourself, asking for help, utilising rejuvenation techniques, and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.
- Diversify your revenue streams so that you’re not exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. Your key offerings may well be applicable in several different ways, that don’t necessitate a complete redesign.
- Pursue opportunities to get out of your comfort zone: whether this is sales calls, pitching from stage, being more vulnerable in your marketing, or whatever else that scares you (that you secretly, really want to do).
- Establish a crisis plan or worst-case scenario plan: don’t wait until you’re in the thick of a crisis to decide what your plan of action will be. Having a crisis management plan in place enables your business to respond swiftly and effectively. This includes clear communication strategies, contingency plans, and a well-defined chain of command.
Grow your capacity
You know those individuals who have a disproportionate amount of responsibility, but look graceful and relaxed? That’s capacity.
Capacity building equips and empowers you, and your business, to handle increased demand, while enjoying yourself in the process.
- Resilience starts from within. Even if you’re a company of one, foster a positive work culture. Design your week to create “meeting free” buffer, with time for research, learning, deep thinking, reviewing, and reflecting.
- Invest in automation, systems and processes: use technology to enhance your business’s capacity. Whether it’s streamlining service delivery processes, improving customer service through chatbots, or utilising data analytics for decision-making, integrating technology into your operations helps you build capacity, while protecting your energy.
- Change your attitude to stress: stress is normal and it’s not the enemy. Change your attitude towards ‘good’ stress and notice how much easier everything becomes when you’re not fighting the inevitable.
- Invest in training: as technology evolves, so should the skills of your workforce. Provide continuous training and development opportunities to ensure your staff or contractors are equipped with what they need to enhance performance.
Magnetising your community
Your community is essential to your business. Business is built on relationships, and in online business, this translates into your paying clients, email list, web visitors, social media communities, and the “word on the street” about you (aka: your professional reputation).
Building a strong and engaged community around your brand can provide invaluable support during challenging times, foster long-term loyalty, and increase sales and referrals. It also gives you invaluable insights to help you anticipate the future needs of your clients.
- Invest in your communities: cultivate a sense of belonging in your online communities (via Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, LinkedIn groups, etc), show the behind-the-scenes of your work, and engage authentically, creating a space where your people can connect with each other without you gate-keeping relations.
- Cultivate brand advocacy: exceptional customer experiences, actively seeking feedback, and incorporating client suggestions make it easy for your clients to become brand advocates. This is not about you as the hero of your brand, but rather, showcasing your clients as their own heros in whatever it is your business helps them with.
- Lead with your values: demonstrate your commitment to social and environmental causes through your initiatives. Whether it’s supporting local communities, reducing your environmental footprint, or championing ethical practices, this makes it easy to magnetise your community towards a common cause.
Be relentlessly relevant
To future-proof your business, you need to be relentlessly relevant – continuously evolving your business to meet the ever-changing needs and expectations of your ideal clients. This isn’t just about what you sell and to who. It also incorporates how you deliver it (https://www.hustleandheart.com.au/online-business-models/) , as well as your marketing and sales messaging.
What worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work tomorrow, and evolving your business to be relentlessly relevant also ensures that you stay personally connected and inspired by what you’re doing – which creates its own momentum.
- Take inspiration from a variety of sources. Innovation doesn’t happen by staying in your lane, or slavishly following your competitors. It comes from fostering creativity, making time to daydream, and exploring new ideas.
- Invest in your own thinking: this doesn’t mean being a perpetual student, never quite “ready” to launch. It means carving out regular space in your calendar to digest ideas and explore your own thinking on a topic.
- Speak with your ideal clients regularly: you can’t claim to be “customer centric” if you’re three steps removed from your ideal clients. Talking closely with a broad array of your clients (not just the VIPs), enables you to better understand their evolving needs.
- Stop blaming the algorithm: social media gives us immediate feedback on our messaging. Use social media to formally and informally gather feedback, conduct market research, and stay attuned to shifts in consumer behaviour.
Look at what scares you
We make business far harder than it needs to be by avoiding the inevitable or necessary, making up stories to justify our lack of decisions, and overcomplicating our offerings, marketing and sales.
Future-proofing your business includes future-proofing yourself: investing in your skills and attitude, protecting your enthusiasm, growing your capacity, and developing invaluable talents in prediction, resilience, capacity, community engagement, and relevance. Doing so enables your business to not only navigate the uncertain terrain ahead but also emerge stronger. The future belongs to those who embrace it.