Founder of global startup invoice2go, Chris Strode, reveals why taking a future smart approach is crucial to small business success.
Change isn’t easy. As business owners, however, we need to be flexible and ready to adapt to an ever-changing market. Procrastination may seem easier in the short term, but in the long run, putting off necessary changes can lead to missed opportunities and impacted growth.
While you may not have a crystal ball, you can help yourself be “future smart” by asking the right questions to shape your approach day by day. Then, take the steps required to make real change. These are the questions every business owner should be asking themselves:
What’s the big picture?
Sometimes we can picture the long term goal clearly, but the steps to getting there aren’t clear. Challenge yourself to come up with milestones to reach over a specific course of time, then use it like a map to reach the big goal.
Name each milestone (e.g. launch website), add a due date, set a budget, and the steps needed to reach it. Also determine how success will be measured (e.g. reaching $5,000 in sales in the first month).
What’s the market like?
Is it a good time to take risks in your industry, or should you play it safe for now? The best way to determine this is with good old-fashioned market research, which can be divided into primary and secondary.
Primary market research is exploratory and involves surveying your own network of customers and potential customers, whether by phone, mail, online focus groups, etc. This will help you find problems and needs that you may have been unaware of.
Secondary research involves gathering data from government agencies, trade associations such as the Small Business Association of Australia, media and magazines. This identifies trends in the market, your industry, the population you target to serve and the competition.
What are your competitors doing?
As much as we hate to admit it, our competitors are out there, hungry to grab what they can. Keeping tabs on the competition may feel a little underhanded, when in fact it’s anything but. You can bet that your most successful competitors have their fingers on the pulse of your industry. They’re always studying their competitors to see what’s trending so they can be one step ahead.
Don’t linger on the sidelines. Get in there and find out what they’re doing. Try Google Alerts to find out what, where and how often your competitors are being mentioned in the media. Do the same for your own business. If you see their presence heavily in one place, try to get your business advertised or look for leads in that same space.
Follow your competitors on social media, and sign up for their newsletters. Adopt some of their promotional strategies if you can. Attend conferences and trade shows. Ask your suppliers what products are popular with your competitors. Search review sites like Yelp to see what customers are saying about the competition. If there’s an area in which they are lacking, can you do it better?
Learn to let go
The end of the financial year is a great time to decide that what isn’t working, needs to go. This can be difficult if we are emotionally attached to our business – we may love a product or service we offer, but if customers aren’t buying it, we’re wasting time and money and preventing future growth.
That doesn’t always mean you have to give it up for eternity. It could mean you can shelve that idea until your profits are healthy enough to try launching it again or the market is hungry for it.
How much do you want it?
Answer this by thinking where you see yourself and your business years down the road. Are you willing to do what it takes to succeed? This could mean sacrificing free time, saying no to diversionary opportunities, and taking financial risks.
Be future smart in your approach. Make a clear plan, know your market like the back of your hand, study your competition, and cut your losses. Then you’ll be able to make well-thought ut and effective changes – big and small.