Quick question – how many of you felt that 2020 went according to plan?  Did you meet the goals you set at the start of the year?  Run into any problems?  Any unforeseen events hinder (or help) your business this year? 

I’m joking of course.  This year is a year that none of us want to ever repeat, whether we own our own business or not! 

For those who feel that the path to job security is working for a large company, then the year may not have worked out so well for you. 

According to a recent Washington Post article, while 45 of the 50 “most valuable publicly traded U.S. companies” were profitable this year, over half of them held layoffs this year, despite pledges to protect employees.

Of course, if you kept your job at one of these large organizations, you may be in good shape despite the pandemic, as these 50 companies averaged 2 percent revenue growth in the first nine months. 

In contrast, small businesses saw a 12 percent decline in revenue, and over 100,000 small businesses permanently closed during the shutdown in March and April alone.

A recent McKinsey report predicts that it could take more than five years for the industries most affected by COVID to get back to where they were in 2019, and that “many small businesses in the United States will need to make extreme changes to survive.”

Does this help motivate you to set some goals for 2021?  No?  Too soon?

How about instead we leap ahead to 2030.

Think for a minute – what will your job and your business look like in the year 2030?  What will be the same?  What will be different?

Will you need to hire an Ethical Sourcing Officer or an Artificial Intelligence Business Development Manager?  What other futuristic careers will be needed?  Or will a machine be doing your job sometime in the next five to ten years?

How will you find customers and interact with them in 2030?  Will your mix of products and services be essentially the same or extremely different?

It might seem like a crazy thing to do – looking ahead nine or ten years into the future.  But it is actually a very beneficial exercise. 

A study of companies published in 2018 showed that those businesses that focused on preparing themselves for the future (not just one year out but closer to 10 years out) experienced 33% more profits and 200% more growth than those who did not.  And, only about one-fifth of companies actually undergo this exercise, and a fraction of those actually adjust their course of action.

So, if you’re looking for a competitive advantage as we enter 2021, here’s my tip:  Start planning for 2030 first, and then work your way back to 2021. 

Large organizations employ or hire specialists in futures thinking, corporate foresight, long range planning and similar sounding terms.  As a matter of fact, the practice of “futurism”, or the use of research, training and forecasts to “navigate complex change and develop world-ready strategies”, has been gaining in popularity among large organizations.  Typically, this involves a group of people scanning the environment for trends that could affect their business, discussing how things could develop from there, and what a “preferred future” might look like.  The goal isn’t to predict the future, but to plan for it, based on what we are seeing today that might serve as a signal for what might be different in ten years.

Large companies can set aside time and funds for a corporate strategic retreat, with a futurist or long-range planner guiding a conversation about the future to set a course for success.  But small business owners don’t have the time or the money to bring in experts or add a new executive to help plan for the future.  Yet another “David vs Goliath” challenge of being a small business owner.

So, what’s a small business owner to do?  There are a lot of simple techniques that can serve as a good starting point for entrepreneurs and small business owners who would like to not only still be in business in ten years, but ideally see some growth. Here are some tips:

  1. Set up alerts for topics of interest

Whether you use something free and simple, like Google Alerts, or try out some of the newer tools (with free and paid versions) like Feedly and Content Gems, start keeping track of what is going on in your industry and those of your customers.  Be on the lookout for anything unusual or different that might signal a potential shift in how things are being done today.

  1. Do a Google search by adding “the future of…” to any topic to see what others are already predicting

It seems simple, but it really works.  There are already experts out there making predictions, so start with what you can find with this search technique.  Try searching for “the future of entrepreneurship” or “the future of marketing” or “the future of computer chip design” and see what turns up and catches your attention.

  1. Consider all the outside influences that could impact your business with a PESTLE analysis

A situational, or PESTLE analysis is a great way to explore all of the external factors that could have an impact on your business now or in the future.  Check out my blog post “Perfect time for a PESTLE” for more details on how to do this.  Consider large shifts that likely will impact many people, such as changes in demographics, or the impact of climate change.  Will these things have an impact on your business or your customers?

  1. Set aside some time to focus on both strategic planning and futures scenarios with your peers

It’s hard to brainstorm all by yourself!  In addition, working with others serves to improve both the depth and the breadth of the discussion.  Seek out a group of similar sized business owners and work together to discuss some different versions of the future.  Studies have shown that collaboration and innovation have a strong positive correlation – and that over half of businesspeople get their best ideas when talking to their peers.  Look for a group of like-minded business owners for small business discussion on the future. 

Think about where you want to be in the future – both personally and professionally – and then think about what the first steps might be in the coming year to get to your preferred version of the future. 

It’s the perfect New Year’s exercise for a pandemic holiday!  Instead of ringing in the New Year with friends and family over a glass of champagne, you can celebrate by Zoom (try some special New Year’s Eve Zoom backgrounds) and have a friendly discussion about what your lives will be like when we ring in the year 2030!

And if planning for the next ten years of your business isn’t on the top of your mind as we (finally!) say good-bye to 2020 and ring in the new year, then keep following my blog to learn about more opportunities for small business owners to come together to focus on growth!

 

Blog hack:  Have you ever clicked on the hyperlinks in my blog posts?  Some of them go to a site that just supports the research I’m sharing or defines a term.  But others link to some fun and silly sites for pure entertainment.  Give it a try sometime!

 

 

 

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