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Future-proofing a business: 7 ways you can avoid the Uber phenomenon

If you once ran a thriving taxi company that started to fade when Uber burst on the scene or a hotel that suffered from the impact of Airbnb, you know what the word “disruption” means.

You probably don’t do either of those things but could the business you do run be equally at risk from rapid changes in your industry in the future?

“I never saw it coming” or “Who could have predicted such quick change?” is a poor defence against a failed business. And closing the door after the horse has bolted usually does little good: you can’t catch a bolting horse on foot.

So ask yourself:

How future-proof is your business?

How well-equipped are you at handling disruptive forces in your industry?

Could you be doing more?

Following are seven simple measures you can introduce to lessen the effects of disruptive forces on your business.

Taking the steps now to add future-proofing to your business could save you considerable stress in the years ahead.

  1. Listen carefully to your customers

Your customers are not just a source of revenue; they’re a great source of information.

Understanding where they are now and where they want to be can help you develop products and services that better meet their demands now and in the near future.

How often do you survey your customers to get their feedback on past products or services and ideas for new ones? This is sound business practice on many fronts because it helps you stay up-to-date with their needs and expectations while also boosting customer retention and loyalty.

  1. Use social platforms to understand industry trends

LinkedIn groups, Twitter, and other online industry and business-based forums can help you keep abreast with trends in your industry.

If it’s happening, you’ll most likely hear about it first on Twitter or inside an active LinkedIn or Facebook group. Here, your industry peers discuss what’s important and thought leaders keep you enlightened.

Staying across this and becoming an active contributor can help you foresee what’s around the corner.

  1. Think relationships – not transactions

Another tip that’s just good general business practice is to build relationships rather than simply going after transactions; provide experiences rather than simple products or services.

Relationships with employees, customers, and suppliers are the key to a sustainable business. And by building closer connections to these key parties, you will gain more insight into their needs, desires, problems, and issues going forward.

Being aware is the first step to being prepared. Once you know what’s coming, you can plan for it; but without building close bonds and working partnerships, you’re shooting in the dark.

  1. Hire and develop millennials

Businesses in most developed countries are experiencing an aging workforce, greater cultural diversity in the workplace, and a growing number of millennials taking leadership positions.

If you’re not already hiring and developing millennials, now may be a good time to consider it. They are your future leaders and are set to dominate the workforce by 2020. And they thrive on innovation, connection, and community.

Mentor and train millennials and ensure they understand your wider vision and how they can contribute.

Without this level of attention to their development, they may become disengaged and look elsewhere. And high staff turnover is never good for a business. Look to build a team that is raring to go into the future.

  1. Focus on flexibility and “leanness”

You want your team all shooting for the same goals but it’s important to review these goals regularly and build flexibility in your business.

Without some flexibility, a branch breaks off a tree in a strong wind. Similarly, when external forces impact your business, it can stretch and break it.

While you have no control over external forces, you can build a leaner and more flexible organisation that is better prepared for change: this thinking should permeate your structure, leadership, operations, working arrangements, and delivery methods, and become part of the culture and identity of your business.

Remember, it’s difficult to turn around a top-heavy juggernaut if you’re going the wrong way; it’s much easier if you are driving a minivan.

  1. Apply the best technologies to solve problems

Things don’t get un-invented. Once the technology is out there in the business domain, someone will use it to either connect with customers or make their business more efficient through automation.

Think of how online shopping has revolutionised purchasing habits over the past decade or so.

The skill is in applying the technology in the right places. Many businesses don’t have the flexibility to apply the latest technology and innovate. They usually end up being supplanted by newcomers that do.

Uber married the growing use of mobile apps with frustration for unreliable taxis amongst their massive target audience (who doesn’t—or pre-Uber, didn’t—take taxis?). The company used cutting-edge technology and paired it with a strong understanding of their buyers.

How can you do the same?

You don’t need to be an online or app-based business to consider what customer problems (or business process problems) you can solve with the latest technologies.

  1. Diversify: eggs in more than one basket

You may initially build your business on one main product or service but pinning its future health on that can be very dangerous.

When Google changed its algorithm a few years back, many previously successful online small businesses went bust almost overnight. They pinned their whole business model on achieving a top Google ranking and suddenly they plummeted.

There are countless offline examples of one-trick ponies getting caught out by external market changes affecting their product or service.

Don’t be one of them. Diversify your offering and future-proof your business: ideas can come from employees, customers or even suppliers. Keep all doors open for product development and innovation.

 As you can see, you don’t need a crystal ball to prevent your business being eaten up by future disruption.

By taking a few initial steps – many of which are simply sound small business practice – and looking for continuous improvement, you’ll be better prepared for what’s around the corner. That will place you in a stronger position than most other businesses when push comes to shove.

Need assistance with making your business more future-proof? Call and speak to one our accountants today.