I Need Your Input

For today’s blog post, help me out by channeling your inner creative side.

Today’s blog post is an interactive one.  Grab a pen and some paper to take notes as you read.  We are going to envision ourselves living five years from now.  Remember, this is YOUR version of the future, so picture what you would ideally like to be doing in five years.  So go ahead and imagine something great.

What Does Your Future Look Like?

What does success look like for you?  Has your business grown beyond where it is now?  Have you added employees?  Perhaps your business has become a household name?  And maybe you have added locations across the country, or the world?

Or maybe you’ve retired, or sold your business, or added another business.

Perhaps your customer base has grown, or the products or services you offer have grown or modified from what you’re selling now.  Maybe you bought a business or merged with one.  Or maybe you added new types of customers you haven’t worked with before, or customers in a different country.

How do you balance work and home life in this not-too-distant future?  Can you picture taking a four-week vacation?  Turning off your email account every weekend?  Setting up a Virtual Assistant or a Bot to sift through your email messages and respond on your behalf?

Do you have a second home?  Or a third home?  Maybe a sailboat or an RV.  Who are you spending your time with?  What activities are you doing?

Take a few minutes to reflect on this.  What parts of your current life frustrate you?  And what do you keep hoping will be different in the future?

What Kind of Technology is in Your Future?

Now let’s think about how technology might change in the next five years.  How could some of the new technology help (or hurt?) your business.

Maybe you’re living in a new location and commuting to work by EVTOL.  Or maybe you’re working fully remotely from a tropical island.  And playing golf in the metaverse with your prospective customers.

For those of you running a manufacturing business, perhaps you have automated many tasks being done by employees now.  And maybe your equipment notifies you when maintenance or repairs are needed so you can avoid unscheduled down time.

Perhaps your products are delivered by drone or a self-driving truck.  Or maybe your employees can work remotely and control robotic arms that complete the assembly tasks.

Is it possible that any cool new innovations you or your fellow small business owners create get bought up by one of the Big Tech firms?  That’s not so different than current day!  Will the Big Tech firms be the same ones as today?  Or will there be a new firm dominating the technology world?  Maybe it’s your firm?!

How might technology help your business to become even more productive, efficient, profitable, successful?

A Day in Your Future

Alright, now I want you to take all these pieces and parts and blend them all together.  Envision one day in your future.  Where are you living?  What wakes you up?  What do you eat or drink in the morning?  How do you get to work?  (Assuming you are going to work vs working from home or retired)

What are your responsibilities in this future?  Remember, this is the time to think big.  Has your company grown by leaps and bounds?  Has it gone public?  Do you have multiple locations?  Does your business accept bitcoin as payment?

Who works with you?  Are you all in the same location, or do you use your virtual reality glasses to communicate in a boardroom in the metaverse?

Think about what types of customers you’re serving, and which vendors you work with.  What could change from how you work today?  Are you printing your own spare parts with a 3D printer? Is it powered by solar or wind power?

Think through a typical day in your future – both business and personal. Not just the “George Jetson” futuristic part of it, but also the part specific to you and your business goals.

How do you get to this Future?

At this point, I hope your plan for five years from now is somewhere between “fantastical” and “overly optimistic”.  This is not the time to be cautious or pessimistic.  Have fun with it!

Do you have some sort of a vision in your head now for what your business looks like and what your role in the business will be?

Great!  Now think about some of the key aspects of that vision.  How do you get from where you are today to where you’d like to be in this great version of your future?  What is the same and what is different?

Based on that, where do you even get started?  Start by paying closer attention to the world around your business.

Talk to your customers and your vendors.  What are they hearing?  What are they asking for or about?  They are an excellent resource to help you better understand what parts of your business deliver the most value and have the most potential for future growth.

Read industry and business news.  What are some trends in your industry? Are you aware of any changes in the regulatory environment?  Or maybe a shift in the economy?

The better informed you are, the better prepared you are.

How do you find time for planning the future?

This all might make sense to you – survey customers, talk to vendors, read lots of news stories.  But how in the world do you find the time to do all these things?  Most small business owners barely have time to plan out the next month, so how can they find time for all that research to plan out the next five years?

This is where we all need to work together.  Our mission is to think about the future intentionally, not accidentally.  To be proactive rather than reactive.  And to help each other by supporting small businesses however we can.

Don’t let the Big Tech and Fortune 100 companies be the only ones planning for a successful future.  Just because they have teams of people in charge of this doesn’t mean you can’t make progress without those people.

As small business owners, our advantage is flexibility and control.  We can pivot faster.  And there are fewer levels of hierarchy for messages to get stuck or garbled, like a game of whisper down the lane or telephone.

But the challenge is finding the time and prioritizing planning.  That’s where we can all help each other.

Futures Thinking Mindset

As a market researcher, I am already reading the news all the time.  So, it’s not a huge time sink for me to point out signals of change that show up in the news that might be relevant to small business owners.  As a matter of fact, I already share a weekly Five for Friday newsletter with the members of my private online community, Small Together.

If curated news like what I’m sharing isn’t your jam, then maybe crowd-sourced news from several peers, or news feed tools like Feedly will work for you.  Or the Entrepreneurship subreddit.

Beyond looking for signals of change in the news, the other key step is taking action.  Look for an accountability buddy, form a mastermind group or join a Business Owner Roundtable Group to help push yourself to spend more time in planning mode and less in firefighting mode.

Then make sure you set aside time each week to do a little reading or planning to create your ideal future for yourself and your business.

The more we can all enable each other to think about and plan for a successful future, the better we will all do. Your future self will thank you.

So much change is underway, it can be a challenge to keep up with it all.  How will automation, blockchain, climate change, demographic shifts and other external forces impact your business and your customers?  Join me to keep an eye on these topics and more, to prepare your business for a successful future.  Start by subscribing to my free biweekly blog posts by email so you don’t miss anything!  Or subscribe to my free weekly Five for Friday videos for news on signals of change.