Adapt or Die. Will Your Business Stand the Test of Time?
Whether you are part of a Fortune 500 or the CEO and founder of a small, local business, will you be around ten years from now? How about five? Two?
In the jungle, the saying might be “survival of the fittest,” but in business, “survival of the most adaptable” is the reality. Whether yours is a business that offers services or products, those who thrive in these economic times will be those who are constantly assessing themselves and looking to stand out from the crowd in radical ways.
In prior posts we’ve discussed the reality of businesses and entire industries that have gone under while those who were onboard could see their ship was sinking, but rode it out to the end without a plan B. Now, I’m not saying that you should jump ship at the first sign of hardship, but what I am saying is this, “Will your business be valuable and relevant next year if you don’t make any changes whatsoever?” Very few businesses could answer this question with a positive yes. So, what needs to be done? Have you taken a look recently?
Many businesses are preparing for tough economic times by “hunkering down,” much like we do when we find ourselves in the path of a severe storm or a hurricane. Business survival plans often include cash management, possibly accepting less profit for a period of time, customer retention, and cutting budgets to a bare minimum. While this is a good start, keep in mind that it’s only a short term solution. Along with this, a proactive assessment and possible business restructuring may be in order. Bottom line? If you aren’t moving, growing, and changing along with the times, you can cut all the corners you want, but you may still end up obsolete.
So, what’s the answer? How do you think like an innovator?
First of all, let’s take a look at a sector of an industry that may be about to take a tumble. After reading the following, you tell me, should this business be surprised or should they have seen the writing on the wall, so to speak:
Is This the Beginning of the End?
This was the headline of an article published in the Atlantic Journal back in the Spring of 2011 referring to the Yellow Pages. It seems that what once was a daily point of reference where many Americans would “let their fingers do the walking”, the Yellow Pages had now become the target of the city of San Francisco, who decided that the Yellow Pages were not only no longer relevant, but had become a nuisance, and a scourge of the city, overflowing landfills every year with over 1.6 million books distributed in San Francisco alone.
Can we really argue this point? San Francisco decided to lead the way in what many of us would say is long overdue. We live in the age of technology and let’s face it, most of us toss our Yellow Pages as soon as they arrive. In fact, I’ve wondered on more than one occasion just how much longer they would be printed. Yes, I understand that some of the nation’s elderly probably still use them, but wouldn’t it be better to offer them at a local “pick up center?” instead of just shipping millions of books out without any idea who needs them and who doesn’t? Currently, in the city of San Francisco alone, there are enough copies printed for every man, woman, and child to each have two copies. Excessive? I think so.
Apparently the Yellow Pages Association, who recently changed their name to the Local Search Association, didn’t see this coming (or won’t admit to it). While small business groups, environmentalists, apartment managers struggling with the accumulation left in their building lobbies, and city economists who report that the books generate 7 million pounds of paper waste, clogging the city’s recycling equipment and creating costly repairs were thrilled with the ruling to limit the amount of Yellow Pages printed, the official response from the Local Search Association was, “Hogwash.” (Yes, that was a direct quote). The Yellow Pages claims the ruling to be a “ban” and against our constitutional right to free speech.
A law suit is currently in the works, because both sides do, in fact, have a case, but aside from whether this is a ban or whether it infringes on our constitutional rights, let’s ask just one simple question. Could anyone foresee this day? I think, without a doubt, we all would have to say, yes. Maybe we couldn’t predict it would start with San Francisco or this particular lawsuit, but we’d be fooling ourselves if we were to say, “Oh, I think those huge Yellow Pages will continue to be printed forever. Their business is probably thriving.” No. In fact, we’d all have to agree that it is a sector of an industry that has been living on borrowed time.
According to 2011′s Nielson Mobile Media Report, which measures current mobile phone usage in the United States, the number of smart phone users who are accessing local search information through Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp and other local search sites has more than doubled since 2009. Baby boomers are becoming more and more tech savvy. Just a few years ago it was odd to see grandma or grandpa texting…that was for kids. Now it’s for everyone. Face it, technology is permeating every area of business, every age, and every people group.
So, what can we learn from this as business owners? Adaptability and innovation is the name of the game and denial is a killer.
Remember…If your business isn’t growing in value, it’s dying.
Here are several businesses who saw the changes ahead, adapted, and thrived because of their willingness to change. Let these be an encouragement to us.
- Adaptation – DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, began in gunpowder. In fact, DuPont was so successful that it supplied over half of the gunpowder used in the Civil War. Of course, if it would have continued down that path, we wouldn’t even know their name, but they began to add other businesses as they recognized needs and supplied a variety of lacquers and rubbers before inventing the first polyesters, the first Teflon, and the first phenothiazine insecticide. The company continues to adapt and grow to this day.
- Diversify – Nokia, now one of the world’s largest cell phone manufacturers, used to be a pulp and paper company. It’s true. They started in the mid 1800s and switched to power generation in the early 1900s. Later they added telephone equipment and cables, and finally their diversification brought them into computers, televisions, and finally cell phones. Once they recognized the potential of mobile communications, they sold their other operations and focused completely on telecommunications.
- Technology & Quality - Instead of letting technology sweep them away, Apple, continued to launch products that would change the way America uses media. From iPods to smartphones to tablet computers, they continue to lead the way, always thinking outside the box. On top of that, Apple is dedicated to being the best of the best. Apple products are trusted as superior.
What about your business? Does it need an overhaul? Can you see the end in sight? If so, that’s okay. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. Instead, be open to new ideas and look for ways to adapt. What does your consumer want? Are they talking but you just haven’t been listening?
If DuPont had never moved past gunpowder, they wouldn’t be where they are today. Be willing to prune away the things that aren’t working and expand the things that are. Stay true to these rules and you’ll thrive in any economy.
Bryan Binkholder, The Financial Coach, is a catalyst for change in the financial industry. With a true passion to make a difference, Bryan offers practical insights on financial topics, investment strategies, and business success. As a business advisor, motivational speaker and author, Bryan is best known for exposing the inner workings of Wall Street and bringing clarity to common investment misconceptions. Be sure to take advantage of his two most popular resources: 7 Deadly Traps of Investing and The Six Pitfalls of Retirement Planning and look for his latest book, 401(k) Conspiracy, authored with Jim Winkelmann of Blue Ocean Portfolios. If you are a business owner, plan sponsor, or 401(k) plan participant, you’ll want this information.