Big data, AI, Internet of Things, analytics — oh, the times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to what it means to be a small business owner on the cusp of the next industrial revolution. Even the smallest businesses can take advantages of some of the newest technologies that are moving toward levelling the playing field between big and small businesses.
But these changes can mean new challenges for small businesses as well. Bricks-and-mortar mom-and-pop shops that have been doing things the same way for decades may find that they need to invest in technology or innovate so they’re not left behind. And it’s not just traditional businesses; new technologies are disrupting nearly every field and changing the way business is done.
As a small business owner, it’s vital that you take steps now to future-proof your business so that you won’t be caught trying to play catch up in the near future. Here are my best suggestions for staying at the forefront of changes so that you can stay at the top of your field:
1. Embrace new technologies. Frankly there’s very little room in today’s economy for luddites. I can promise that there’s someone out there trying to “be the Uber of” your field — meaning that they are looking to technology to find ways to disrupt the status quo. Your best defence is a good offence. Know what new technologies are out there, and which ones are trending in your industry.
2. Stay aware of key trends. Whether you decide to follow them or not, you need to be aware of the key trends in your industry and how they will affect your business. Becoming your own market and competition research department is a very good idea for even the smallest businesses. Find ways to stay on top of the newest trends in your niche and in the broader business world so that you can make educated decisions when presented with new opportunities.
3. Be open to collaboration. No man is an island and no business, either. We’ve entered the “gig economy” in which small and micro-businesses can hire talented freelancers instead of an in-house team to do everything from customer service and administrative tasks to copywriting, graphic design, even sales. The upshot is that today’s small business owner is collaborating with a team of other small business owners and therefore must be a consummate collaborator.
4. Understand automation and AI. As machine learning matures, everything from your tweets to your emails to your manufacturing processes can be automated. This is a real advantage for many small businesses who can use automation to replace the need for more staff, like employing an AI chat bot in place of a customer service representative on your website. But you must understand what’s possible before you can put it to good use.
5. Plan for the best and worst-case scenarios. Scenario planning, also known as horizon analysis or total return analysis, is an analytic tool that allows you to look at a variety of possible future events or ‘scenarios’ by considering alternative possible outcomes. Essentially what you are doing in scenario analysis is attempting to work out if the world would turn out a certain way when certain conditions were met. By creating a few scenarios — even the off-left-field scenario — you can end up uncovering new information or insights that were previously unknown that can not only assist the outcome but what’s happening in business right now.
Small business is changing — and most of the changes will definitely be to your benefit. But you can’t stick your head in the sand with the idea that you’ll continue to do things the way they’ve always been done. You must embrace the changes, open up to the ideas of what’s possible, and plan for a bright future, no matter how different it may look from today.