What skills do business owners need to successfully run a business, not only for today, but for the next five years and beyond? This was the question explored by speakers at the Sage “Future-Proof Your Business” event for business builders held last week.
The event was aimed at helping entrepreneurs to position their business for growth. Their message was clear; change is the only constant and if you’re not ready, you’ll fall behind and miss opportunities for innovation.
Here is what each speakers had to say about how to future-proof your business.
1. Find the ‘WHY’
Cal Fussman is New York Times bestselling author, writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine, and corporate culture consultant. He translated the skills he learned from talking to people on his travels across the world into his famous column ‘What I’ve learned’.
He believes the secret to success in relationships, parenting and business is found in the power of the word ‘why’.
“It’s true – I’ve seen for myself how the right questions can illuminate what matters to your customers or what makes a potential employee tick,” Fussman says.
He says that these answers are even more important in today’s rapidly changing world, where SMEs are under pressure to innovate if they are to remain relevant. It’s a world where the ‘Robo Griller’ can flip 360 burgers in an hour and Amazon knows you so well they send you goods you want before you know you want it, he adds.
Fussman says that constantly innovating requires continually asking yourself questions, your customers questions and your team members’ questions – and the quality of the question will determine the kind of information you get back.
2. Ask the right questions
It’s not enough to ask ‘what are we doing right/wrong’. You’ve got to ask ‘what else can my business do’ says trend specialist John Sanei.
His advice for entrepreneurs is to innovate outside your sector and rethink its boundaries. If you don’t believe you can, you’re wrong, he says. Sanei gives the example of Charmin Toilet Paper in the US – they wanted to innovate – but how do you take toilet paper beyond one-ply and two-ply? They found the answer by developing an app called ‘Sit or Squat’ for people travelling to new places to find and rate public toilets for cleanliness, he says.
Sanei says it’s useful to look to the brands that have got it right to map out new opportunities for your business. For example, he says, personalisation (think Amazon) and trust (think Woolworths), rather than price, give today’s most successful businesses their edge. How can you increase personalisation and trust for your brand?
3. Understand your current and future customer
Ask your customers questions to understand them better, but also spend time observing them and how they interact with your brand as a ‘fly on the wall’, says Miles Khubeka.
Khubeka, owner of Vuyo’s Restaurant, says he found another use for security camera footage – he used it to study the behaviour and experiences of his customers – for example, waiting time, how much did they order, and how long they take to eat.
Khubeka uses these insights to improve the overall customer experience.
4. Always be learning
Mark Sham, founder of Suits & Sneakers probably made the point that’s the most important of all – things are changing at such a fast pace that entrepreneurs can’t only rely on formal education, he said. Neither can corporates who want to upskill their team members.
Sham says when you want to get fit, you can’t just work out in 12 hour bursts a few times a year. Yet, he says, this is how we tend to view education and training – intensive and packed into a short space of time. Instead, you’ve got to work at it slowly, doing a bit every day – it has to become a part of your lifestyle, he adds.
Sham’s top tip of all for staying relevant and future-proofing their business is to schedule a ‘daily learning’ session into their calendar every day. Whether you choose a blog, a podcast, a newspaper or a conversation with a mentor or knowledgeable friend – you’ll be better off for it. If you don’t keep learning, you will fall behind, he says.