Business is full of buzz terms. One that I particularly dislike is “future proofing”, because it reminds me of the White Star Line’s boast that the Titanic was unsinkable. The problem is that no one knows what the future holds.

You can try to plan for every eventuality, but it’s likely that your business strategy will be overtaken by unforeseen events. However, I think there are certain steps every small business owner should take to ensure they are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Look around you

I think it’s possible for you to spot the likely trends in your sector over the next 24 to 36 months without resorting to a crystal ball. See what your competitors are doing as a first point of reference. You may not necessarily agree with them, but it can help to crystallise your own thoughts on where your industry is heading and what you can do to be ahead of the pack.

Big businesses call it strategising, but I think it’s just plain commonsense to ask yourself what are the possible hurdles over the next couple of years that could prevent your company from being as successful as it could be, and how you can overcome them.

Don’t be afraid to act

Once you’ve analysed where you think your market is heading, you need to have the courage to use that information, even if it’s telling you to change direction. Otherwise, you may end up ruing your indecision.

For me, two companies that missed the big trends in their industry, and have seen their market share decline as a result, are HMV and Morrison’s. Two very different retailers, but both missed the big switch by consumers to online shopping, and are suffering as a result.

Whereas, I think John Lewis has done very well to remain relevant in a fast-moving retail sector, despite being 150 years’ old. It invested heavily in an online presence as well as expanding its number of stores, while its strategy is underpinned by a commitment to choice, value and great customer service. As a result, its sales continue to grow strongly when several of its rivals have stumbled.

What’s your value proposition? 

You need to ask yourself whether you still offer what people want. Why do your customers like buying from you, and what can you do to make sure they will continue to in the future?

Your business may have been doing well up to now, but what made it successful won’t necessarily ensure it will be so in the years ahead. You need to guard against becoming stuck in your ways otherwise it may prevent you from thinking up fresh ideas to excite your clients.

You must also value your employees by ensuring you offer them a positive and challenging place to work. Ask yourself if a sense of complacency is starting to creep into your business. Is everyone still fully motivated and looking for ways to improve, both themselves and the business? Or are some of them coasting? Also, do you have the right people to help your business to kick on?

I think what the so-called business gurus call “future proofing” is simply keeping your finger on the pulse of your business and your market.

One of the advantages of owning a small business is that you can be much more nimble than the big boys. But to use that agility to stay ahead of your rivals you need to be pragmatic, and, most of all, adaptable. If you spot a new trend then you need to have the guts to jump on it before your rivals, even if that means taking your business in a new direction.

You can rightly be proud of what you’ve built, but you can’t sit around patting yourself on the back. You always need to look to the future, so you can spot the challenges and opportunities that are over the horizon.