You might be the one disrupting now, but how long is that going to last? Sooner or later you're going to be faced with a new competitor in the market, shaking things up, trying to steal your customers – just like you're doing with more established players right now. And with the pace of change speeding up all the time, it could be sooner than you think!
That's why it's essential to constantly stay on top of the changes that are happening in your market, the threats and opportunities posed by competitors and new technologies, and the risks that lie on the horizon. Take your eye off the ball and you could find you've gone from disruptor to disrupted in the blink of an eye.
Here's some future-proofing strategies that will help:
1. Embrace diversity
However popular your main product or service, there's no guarantee that it's going to stay that way. So best to keep hedging your bets by diversifying your offering and reducing dependence on just one part of your business. It makes sense to invest in areas that are a natural extension of what you already do, or that use your existing skillset and resources. One good example is Google, which began as a search engine and has since moved into all sorts of related services, including email, social media and television. It knows that there is always a new upstart waiting to steal its territory if it doesn't keep innovating. You can read more on moving into new business areas in our blog on having the guts to pivot.
2. Stay close to your customers
Your customers are the key to everything. Understanding how they use your product or service, along with those of your competitors, and how this changes over time, is vital to ensuring you stay relevant. Think about the failure of traditional music shops such as HMV, which failed to respond to the explosion in music streaming. If they'd paid closer attention to the wants and needs of their customers, and the new technologies that were arriving to serve them, they may have had more time to develop their own rival service. As it was, they became entirely irrelevant.
3. Build flexible systems and technology
No business is an island, particularly in today's interconnected world. If you're building an online product or service, you need to be ready to collaborate and integrate with partners, clients and suppliers – now and for many years to come. Just think of industries, such as insurance, that have been held back by old legacy systems, leaving them incapable of modernising, but also unable to replace the way things are done. Avoid this trap by ensuring your systems and technology are flexible to change and integrate easily with other services.
4.Identify and prepare for risks
It's impossible to accurately predict what's going to happen further down the road, but it's important to try to identify the areas where your business could potentially be at risk. You'll inevitably have certain weak points at any given time, whether relating to people, finances, data security or your supply chain. So, spend time regularly reviewing potential threats to your operations, taking steps to mitigate any issues before it's too late, while also having a plan in place for if the worst happens. Read more here about how to avoid the biggest risks facing small businesses.
5. Immerse yourself in the market
Spotting risks and new opportunities in your sector is impossible if you don't keep your finger on the pulse. That means tracking your competitors, new entrants in the market, new technologies and trends in other developed countries. Read the papers, trade magazines, blogs, follow industry influencers on social media and attend conferences and events. Doing so means you'll spot opportunities and threats that otherwise would have passed you by.
Start-ups are naturally innovative and have the agility to take risks, fail and keep trying new things. But this gets harder as your business grows and develops, with more at stake and more processes to get in the way. But if you want to make sure you don't miss out on the next big thing, it's vital to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive, encouraging employees to generate ideas, experiment and yes, even fail. Without this culture, it's inevitable that your business will become staid, inflexible, and stuck in the past. And your employees will become frustrated too. So, always stay creative!