Personal development 2

Six Ways to Future-Proof Your Business Starting Today

Innovation is happening faster than ever before. The speed at which businesses need to adapt and change continues to accelerate. Consumers and employees have increasingly high expectations for how a company should operate and the services it should deliver. 

Yet, despite this reality, many organizations continue to fall behind. They simply can’t keep up with our rapidly changing world. This inability to “future-proof,” unfortunately, for many of them, means an almost certain demise of the business.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things companies can do today – right now – that can make a huge difference in what happens to them tomorrow.  

As a strategic advisor, I consult and coach business leaders all the time on this very topic. I guide them on how to ensure their organization stays viable now and in the future. I have helped many of them overcome barriers and get on a future-proof path. 

I do this because I have been in their shoes. I have built and run companies and found myself struggling with when and how to pivot. I understand their challenges. I can relate to the fear, the doubt, the fatigue…  

My hope is that by sharing some of my insights, I can help others not only avoid making the same mistakes that I did but feel empowered by change. Embrace it head-on. 

So, in the spirit of being helpful, and especially in today’s unpredictable landscape, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my thoughts on how to future-proof your business – ensuring you stay relevant, but more importantly, that you thrive while also living a happy, more fulfilled life.  

Sounds good, right?

But First, What is Future-Proofing and Why Should a Business Become Future-Proof?

The official definition of future-proof is: “the process of anticipating the future and developing methods to minimize the effects of stresses due to future events.”

My direct way of saying it: The world is changing fast. Change with it or become irrelevant. This applies to both people and businesses! 

As for why businesses should become future-proof: The short answer is so they don’t fail. But outright failure isn’t always what happens to companies that don’t progress. More often than not, businesses will simply FLAIL. They won’t thrive. They will just exist. Slowly erode. There is something even sadder about this inevitable outcome for those that don’t adapt and optimize. 

Future-proofing may seem like an easy concept, but many business leaders and organizations don’t entirely grasp it. They don’t even realize they are in the midst of a continuous grind. And if leadership isn’t quite sure why they need to adapt and change – then they probably won’t. Or worse yet, they realize they do need to change, but just don’t WANT to, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That, of course, is never good for any business.

So Why Are So Many Businesses Ill-Prepared for the Future?

They are Scared. For some business leaders and organizations, it is fear that prevents them from adapting – whether they realize it or not. The future is happening faster than they could have imagined and the unfortunate basic human instinct is to retreat. I see this all the time as an advisor. Rather than focusing energy on creating something new, CEOs and entrepreneurs spend their energy defending or trying to preserve the past. 

They Get Too Comfortable. For some, it’s about being set in their ways or being too comfortable with the status quo. Business execs sometimes (usually, wrongly) assume that doing the same things that proved successful in the past will continue to work in the future. Nothing will change or evolve. As co-founder of one of the first social media marketing agencies, Fanscape, I experienced this very thing. We were early in the space and had a window of time where we knew something that others didn’t, and I ignorantly got used to this feeling. We got way too comfortable being the smartest ones in the room – like we had a “secret formula.” Then I woke up one day to see that everyone else had caught up and figured it out. The lesson: don’t ever get too comfortable. In fact, get comfortable being uncomfortable!

They Experience Fatigue. I have seen many senior executives struggle to muster the energy to take on the seemingly daunting task of “future-proofing.” They know they need to change but it seems too hard. They lack motivation. They don’t have the help they need. They wish things could just be the way they used to be because they really don’t want to change. They are just too busy and too comfortable, putting out the fires of today to think about what they need to do tomorrow. So, they slowly let the business erode. They become paralyzed. 

They Don’t Listen & They Get Blindsided. Time and time again businesses fail to listen to their customers and to their employees. They also don’t observe the marketplace and the changes happening within it. They just don’t pay attention. Businesses will oftentimes get surprised by something new, only to realize it’s too late to act – usually after a competitor has already taken advantage by introducing a cheaper, faster, better solution. Understanding your changing consumer, changing employee and changing industry is essential to knowing what to do next; yet many companies still don’t invest the time and energy into relevant research. The information is there. Your customers and your employees are telling you what they want from you. Listen. 

They Don’t Respond to What They’ve Learned. Another mistake that businesses make is having the data and insights at their fingertips and not putting any of those learnings into action. They’ve invested in the research and in listening tools, surveyed their customers and employees, analyzed trends … and then they do nothing with it. They stay frozen. Standing on the tracks waiting for the train to hit them. It is imperative that data is turned into an actionable plan. There is no use collecting it if you aren’t going to use it. Knowing what’s in store for your industry and your customer isn’t enough. Don’t be in disbelief and get comforted by delusion. Trust the data and take action. 

They Are Too Big.  Once an organization gets to be a certain size, their ability to be nimble and agile becomes more difficult. Or at least that’s how they feel. So, business leaders will simply adopt a somewhat delusional POV and hope that their current business model and standing in the marketplace will be enough to sustain them. It may work temporarily, which is even more delusional, but eventually this strategy will fail. I’ve been there…I worked at one of the largest record companies in the world when Napster and eventually iTunes came along (enough said).

They Don’t Have the Resources. There is certainly a perception that it takes a big investment in systems, people, technology, etc. that some organizations aren’t able to make. Many business leaders I work with are often surprised when I tell them that a huge financial investment is not always necessary. Most of the time it’s about starting with a change in mindset. A change in attitude. A change in culture. A real willingness to evolve. 

Change is Inevitable. Struggle is Optional.

The good news is, ensuring that your business thrives now, and, in the future, doesn’t have to seem like an impossible task. In fact, it can be fun. It can be exhilarating. Ignoring change doesn’t make it go away – so embrace it and let it serve you.

Here’s my advice to business leaders on where to start…

Six Ways to Future-Proof Your Business

1. Have a Growth Mindset. Embrace the attitude: “Change is inevitable. Struggle is optional.” You need to stay hungry and continue to personally evolve. You must adapt in order for your business to adapt. I like to tell my partners to subscribe to this simple concept: “what got you here, won’t get you there.” Having that mentality will go a long way to future-proofing your business. Leading by example in this way will also help influence the culture of your company and energize your team towards growth and evolution. I can speak from experience, – your team is watching you and feeding off your energy, so you need to embody this mindset 24/7.

2. Have a Clear Vision. It may sound strange, but sometimes a healthy dose of insecurity can really help establish a clear vision. I tell business leaders every day to spend time asking themselves questions about what could go wrong. What the future of their business could look like. What the future of their consumer could look like. What challenges and opportunities may present themselves?

Identify what you want to achieve, what your customers want, who you will serve, what the various scenarios are that can impact your business, etc. By going through this exercise, you will develop a vision of what your company will look like if you achieve your goals. You may find that this requires an investment in things like people (consultants, talent), consumer research, or technology – but it is essential to solidify that vision and become the “Chief Believer” at the company. You set the north star.

3. Develop a Strategy. Without a north star, you will be destined for stagnation. So, it’s critical that once you have that crystal-clear vision, you need to be disciplined about revisiting it every quarter (if not more often!). This is achieved through setting strategic initiatives. Map out a specific plan and core tenets of what is to happen and by when. Make sure you share this strategy with your team to get buy-in and tap into their perspectives. Plus, you will need their participation as you shouldn’t try to do this alone. One tip that I learned (way too late!) is to foster team/group accountability to guarantee the initiatives get completed. That way, everyone feels that they are working “for” each other, not just “with” each other.

4. Ask for Outside Help. You have to get comfortable knowing what you don’t know. There is no shortage of experts that you can leverage to bring a different POV and skillset to you and your team. Full disclosure, I advise companies as CEO and co-founder of Future Proof Advisors, but it is still important advice. Tapping into the wisdom of people who are not “in” the business with you, gives you the freedom to work “on” the business. Get different perspectives, encourage radical candor and be open to constructive criticism. These outside resources will pressure test your strategy and help you think in ways you had likely never considered before. If I had one regret from my early entrepreneurial life, it is that I didn’t figure this part out WAY sooner. Park your ego at the door, take off the blinders, and be receptive to the help of others.

5. Put Your Plan into Action. All of the above is a waste of time without a true action plan and way to measure. Focus and execute the plan you’ve laid out as it is critical to have the discipline, helpers, and systems in place to achieve your goals. Make this future-proof plan a reality. It wasn’t until I had surrounded myself with the complementary team that could truly execute the strategic plans, that we dramatically grew as a business. Otherwise, I just had a plan that wasn’t being activated.

6. Continually Optimize. Always look at new ways to optimize your business and your future-proof plan. Revisit what you’ve done often and update/make changes as needed. Those changes might be new systems, new people, new technologies or new strategies. You need to always think about how the business operates and what improvements can be made to ensure it remains nimble, flexible, and ultimately future-proof. Don’t be afraid to pivot. Take it from me, as a business owner, I had to pivot several times. If I hadn’t, my companies would have failed. Continually optimizing is as core a behavior as driving revenue.

What Does a Future Proof Business Ultimately Look Like?

If you are able to accomplish these steps to future-proofing your business, the end result will be a more agile and flexible company. Your culture will shift to one that thrives on evolutionary change. You will no longer see it as a struggle. You will see it as an opportunity.

And this shift doesn’t just benefit the business, it will personally benefit you and your employees. Ultimately, future-proofing can lead to a happier and more fulfilled life by eliminating barriers inhibiting your personal and professional progress. It should be invigorating and fun. That’s how it makes me feel, and hopefully, some of these tips can help you get to that happy and fulfilled place too!

If you have questions on how to future-proof your business or are interested in our company, Future Proof Advisors, I’d love to hear from you: [email protected]. And if you like what you read, please follow me, connect with me or visit our website to learn more!