Future Planning

This is going to reshape businesses, lives, the country, the world for years to come in ways we cannot even now predict.

Already we are seeing huge changes: working from home on a mass scale; virtual meetings (fairly) easily replacing face-to-face ones; reduced pollution; a coming-together of neighbourhoods and communities.

Some business owners are also being given, whether they like it or not, the chance – the need – to fundamentally change their business model, and have a damn good excuse for doing so.

Many business owners, myself included, often wish for a ‘blank slate’ – if only I could start all over again I’d do this, that and the other. I’d get it right. This may well be your chance.

There’s a lot to put in this section, but it’s less of a priority than the other parts of the site. Whilst I’m bringing it together, here are what I consider to be the fundamental principles of a thriving, sustainable business.

What does success mean to you?

It comes in many forms: you could double your sales, take on staff, increase your income, reduce your hours, retire earlier (or later), sell your business…

Just as there is no single answer to that question, nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution to the complexities of running your business. Rather, there are a series of questions to ask, frameworks to follow and methods to embrace. Some ideas will stick, some should be discarded.

What’s important is a willingness to ask those questions, and honestly answer them.

A problem shared…

You and the many business owners across the country deal with both identical and entirely different problems. People who need more work, people who have too much. People who are chronically disorganised, and those fighting crippling perfectionism. People with mental and physical health problems, people dealing with grief and loss, people who want to change the world and others who want to save it.

Some aspire to riches, others simply desire the weekends off. For some success is an ego boost, for others a humbling experience.

Twelve key principles

I want to explore all this and more – from the personal, emotional aspect of running a business (“How am I going to get through today?”) to the practical (“What should I do next?”).

These ideas are based on twenty years of learning, succeeding, failing, trying, not wanting to try and a gamut of other emotions, attitudes and approaches.

Start with the twelve key points which I believe require serious consideration, to help you run a good (in every sense of the word), successful, sustainable business which contributes positively to the lives of your staff, customers, suppliers, communities and, of course, yourself.

1. Know your world

Your world.  Understand all the elements of your business before you make decisions:-

  • Why do you run your business?
  • What do you sell?
  • Who do you sell to? What’s important to them?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • How do decisions get made? What makes things happen?

Take time to engage with people inside and outside your target market and areas of expertise and interest. What are they doing well? Where (and why) are they failing? What do they need, what do they believe they need?

2. Capture interest

Develop systems to engage and interest people: new leads are the nutrition which feeds your business.

3. Earn money

Get rewarded for the valuable work you do. Understand what is worthwhile (work -v- non-work) and focus on it. What are you earning? Is it worth the effort – and if not, what are you going to change? Where are you missing out?

4. Be disciplined and accept advice

Other people can’t help you if you won’t help yourself. Be honest with yourself – where are you leaking … hemorrhaging … time, energy and money? What mistakes do you consistently make? It’s fine to make mistakes – in fact, you must – but repeating them is problematic. Discourage inappropriate and wasteful activity, be honest with yourself.

Ask for, and accept, feedback. Find people who know more than you who can provide constructive, honest advice. Don’t be intimidated, don’t react against or resist advice just because it doesn’t make for comfortable listening. Commit to act upon the advice you receive – but equally do not follow blindly. Don’t become a magpie who flits after the latest shiny thing.

5. Create a sustainable, growable business

Embrace markets, but don’t strip them. Create perpetual systems to deliver contacts and income to your business. Don’t do everything yourself. Practically: consider your impact upon the world, your community and your family. Train staff to train themselves. Never stop learning. Turn yourself into a renewable resource.

6. Don’t be wasteful

Customers who are not the right fit for your business (and there should be many of these if you’re doing it right) can be passed to others – informally or formally, reciprocally or not, for a fee or for free. Share suppliers and contacts. Consider how to make money from opportunities which at first view appear irrelevant. Don’t be lazy and inefficient just because times are good – that’s the best time to get things right. Use sales queries to write blog posts, use the blog post to send emails, use the emails to write tweets. Reuse.

7. Understand patterns

Step back: look at your industry, your community (business and personal), your customers, suppliers, staff, processes – and yourself. Observe the positive and negative patterns you seen. Good habits and bad. These are the backbone of everything that happens – sketch out the basics and fill in details as you go. The closer you get to something, the harder it is to view it objectively. Look at the whole tree, not just a single twig.

8. Bring people together

The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Bring people together – customers, suppliers, contacts, friends, neighbours, staff, job applicants, competitors. Put the right things in place and allow relationships to develop. People will support one another and all will be stronger for it.

9. Pace yourself

Small, slow systems are easier to build and maintain. Mistakes are less critical and can be corrected more easily. You avoid the highs (the anticipation of a get-rich-quick scheme) and lows (its inevitable failure). Intelligently use resources to produce a sustainable business which is less at risk to the whims of the market, fashion or legislation. Fast, big growth is exciting but can make it harder to adapt to change. The tastiest strawberry is the one which grows slowly with the season, not the one forced under artificial light and heat. Patience is a virtue. Act deliberately.

10. Be diverse

Reduce your vulnerability – take advantage of the ever-changing nature of the world to adapt to a variety of opportunities and markets. What could go wrong? Downturns, changes in society, technology, legislation, fashion, competition… you won’t predict every change, and nor should you expect to, so create systems and business structures which render you (at least partly) immune to the unexpected.

11. Love the edges

The well-trodden path isn’t always the right one to take. Interesting things happen at the edge of markets (niches) and might be the most productive and valuable. Don’t follow the crowd, look to the edges and see what’s really going on. New ideas will appear here. In nature, the ecotone is a transition area – the edge of a wood, a lake, a forest or the sea. Interesting stuff abounds.

12. Embrace change

Don’t put your head in the sand. Watch for changes in behaviour and activity on small or large scales and decide how best to respond (not responding is an option, as long as it’s a deliberate decision). Don’t fight against the tide, instead accept that we live in a constantly changing, evolving society. Intervene, adopt (and adapt) and embrace.