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The effects of 2020 will stay with us for the rest of our lives. It marks a critical turning point from before and after. It's a year that blinded many small business owners.
We have seen new businesses start successfully and others thrive in chaos. We've seen neighborhood classics tragically lost and others struggling to survive every day.
Critical points like this cause any business owner to act strategically and respond to Curveballs. As we welcome 2021, most businesses are settling in one of three camps:
Thrive but don't trust in successSurvive but hesitate to take bold stepsFight and feel defeated, hurt, and disaffected
Whichever camp you fall into, you will likely view 2021 with caution. You are optimistic but shy in your approach to achieving the great visionary goals you have achieved in the past. You may even find it difficult to dream of a better future because it feels so untouched by what is happening globally. You are not alone with these feelings.
Do not be discouraged. The New Year is an opportunity to rewrite the rules and stop settling for less in your company. It is the opportunity to develop a strategic vision different from the past and create more success and growth in your business and your life. Here are five ways you can accomplish this.
1. Embrace change
Changes unsettle most people, but are constant for small business owners. And change is happening at a terrifying pace.
You have probably noticed that the old reliable ways of attracting and serving customers are stalling. The laundry list of things that need your attention is growing. Nip these problems in the bud.
If something is already changing in your company, why not continue? If you respond to these changes, treat the symptoms. The better approach is to accept change to address the problem.
In addressing the problem, you are making changes to work with you, not against you. People are now likely to embrace strategic change – especially if the changes also improve their lives.
A solid way to bring agility and innovation to your small business is to implement a quarterly strategic planning and review process in your company. This rhythm of planning keeps your efforts focused and actionable, while remaining agile and free to change as new insights come to the table.
As part of the process, ask yourself these questions.
What would upset your business enough to change anything? How can you be at the forefront of this change? How can the business be relevant and profitable in five or even ten years?
2. Prioritize customer needs
The old rules of supply and demand have been turned upside down. Product-based companies are feeling the crisis through problems in manufacturing and distribution. Changing customer needs and social distancing have put recession-proof businesses in trouble. Service-based companies are finding that their services are no longer critical or needed. No business or business model was immune.
The reason is simple: customers' needs and their problems are constantly changing.
A simple strategy is to engage in conversation with your customers to identify opportunities. The strategy could be as simple as asking an exploratory question at the end of every customer interaction. It could also be more involved, like surveys or quarterly customer advisory groups, to pursue a more formal process.
More than ever, it is imperative to keep up with customer needs and the problems you can solve. It is the gateway for future growth and innovation.
Related: 3 Ways Customer Relationships Will Change Forever in the Face of Covid-19
3. Work smarter, not harder
American culture is all about hard work. If you are struggling to achieve your goals, you have probably heard someone tell you to work harder.
Since the rise of intellectual capital as a commodity in the 1980s, the ability to succeed has been less dependent on our ability to work hard. Many business owners have told me how hard they work to make it difficult for success. Proof that success is not hard work.
Sure, success requires focus, determination, and resilience. But I challenge the idea that hard work is one of the requirements. If it were so, we would have more success stories to celebrate.
Working smarter is about harnessing people's talents and working together. If you remove hurdles and bottlenecks in your processes, you promote ease. What is easy is achieved. That means you can earn more income from your resources. You are likely to see increases in team morale and fewer daily fires to put out.
It uses technology and systems to streamline business and keep it running smoothly. Gartner says companies will reduce operating costs by 30% by 2024 by combining hyper-automation technologies with redesigned operating processes.
Think about what elements of your customer experience and service could be delivered through automation and save key points for human interaction. The organizational efficiency gains achieved can offset growth investments and produce a more efficient team.
Related: 5 Unusual Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder
4. Profit is an intention, not a reward
One of the most misleading entrepreneurial and inspirational quotes is, "Follow your passion and money will follow." If only things were that simple.
If success is a reward for hard work, this quote puts profit on the same unattainable pedestal. Passion for what you do gives you a fire in your stomach and can bring a sense of contribution. Ultimately, however, passion doesn't pay the bills. productive profit does.
As you change the way you think about profit and other metrics in your business, the way you spend your day will magically change. You focus on initiatives that produce results and affect your bottom line.
A 2018 study by Cone / Porter Novelli Purpose found that “78% of Americans believe that businesses need to do more than just make money. They also need to have a positive impact on society. “This connection of purpose and profit is a case where everyone wins. Customers love to support social impact. Businesses can be profitable while improving their community and world.
For many of my clients, the key element in restoring business stability is to prioritize profit even when revenue is reduced.
5. Be a confident leader who empowers others
The business trials of the economic crisis have shaken the confidence of even the most seasoned entrepreneurs. We question everything in our professional and private life. Whispered conversations with other entrepreneurs over the year let us know that we are not alone on this journey.
With this time of re-evaluation, the future feels less secure. This uncertainty undermines our confidence to take risks and take courageous steps. Past success, "knowledge" and being right are pillars of the old definition of trust.
Be careful – this shattered belief seeps into the bones of our teams too. They want something they can stand up for.
There is good news that can breathe new life into your confidence. You don't need all the answers. You don't even need the "how" beyond "what's the best next step?" Knowledge. You don't even have to be right.
In his book "What Brings You Here Doesn't Get You There," Marshall Goldsmith teaches that empowering others is what makes a top executive successful. What got you here has been focused on who you are and what you can achieve. These successes will not fuel the future. Relying on your efforts alone is a limiter when scaling your business – even in difficult economic times. The old definition of trust was about what you can do. Your future trust needs to depend on your team and your belief in what the team can do.
Related: Three Leadership Skills You Need to Make Your Team Stronger
For 2021 to be the start of your comeback story, you need to act differently to move the needle in your business. Take bold steps that will move forward and protect your business. Marry your vision with these tips and you may have a prosperous New Year.