Tips from a futurist: Seven ways to prepare your business for the future

Here, author and futurist, James Wallman, has provided seven essential tips for the small business future.

As we near the end of the year, it goes without saying that most businesses will have their plans for 2018 sown up. However, in such a fast-paced landscape, where the likes of new technologies are launched and then become obsolete in such a short space of time, planning further into the future is just as essential.

Luckily, Yell Business have collaborated with the acclaimed futurist James Wallman to help us all along the way, as he has forecasted seven key trends, that he feels will influence the next 30 years in business. Coming from the man that correctly predicted driverless cars, it’s worth taking note.

In addition to his predictions, Wallman has provided his advice on how small businesses in particular can look to prepare and even capitalise on what’s to come. Read on to discover his predictions, and tips for each:

On money becoming easier to manage in the future

Prediction: Thanks to game-changing regulation change, far better user experience (UX), and clever algorithms that turn “should-we-lend?” uncertainty into risk you can put a price on, it will be easier to access capital, accept payments, and calculate cash flow and taxes. Money will become, if not easy, at least far easier to get hold of and manage.

James Wallman: ‘Stop managing your money. Or, at least, stop managing it the way you do now, the way you’ve always done it. First, get a Monzo account for your personal finances, so you can get a feeling for how simple “step one” automated financial management feels.

‘Then, look into accounting cloud software solutions — like Holvi, Smacc and Xero and new business banking service Tide — and think about what baby steps you could take to try them out. It only takes five minutes to sign up for Tide, for instance.

‘Commit to trialling at least one of these properly for a month. And then work out what impact it’s having.’

On the start of the ‘Cobot Revolution’

Prediction: Instead of worrying about robots, we should be excited about “cobots” — robots that are colleagues, designed to work collaboratively alongside humans. They will make us more productive and happier at work.

James Wallman: ‘In case you’ve been spooked by all those scary headlines about robots taking your job, now’s the time to make a cup of tea and relax.

‘They’re not coming to get you, they’re coming to help you.

‘Are you about to invest in a robot or a cobot? That depends on your business and size. But at the least, divide your work into tasks that require a high level of skill and creativity, and those that are simple and often repeated. An easy way to do this is by writing down the story of your typical day or week, or breaking your time into chunks of an hour and noting what you did during each hour.

‘Once you’ve done that, apply three steps: simplify, standardise, automate. First, what you can simplify? Where can you remove complications that have somehow become part of the process? Next, can you standardise? The fewer individual choices you need to make per task, the quicker you’ll be. And third, can you automate this? If it’s a software task, is there a cloud-based service that can take on the task for you? If it’s a physical task, is there already a robot that’s affordable, compared to a human’s wages? Perhaps not, but if you’ve followed the three steps as far as your business will allow, at least you’ll know you’re being as efficient as possible — and when the right cobot comes along, you’ll be ready to shift from standardise to automate.’

On more businesses beginning to work the Hollywood Way

Prediction: More firms will work as they do in Hollywood. Groups of people, who may or may not have worked together before, will form temporary teams to deliver projects.

James Wallman: ‘The Hollywood Way is a very liberating and exciting approach to business that will have a vital impact on your operations and ambition.

‘Operations first: following the Hollywood way can instantly reduce the fixed and committed cost profile of your business. Your aim is now to approach business from an asset-and commitment-light point of view; so, you can still commit, but only for short-term tests — whether that’s IT or premises or people. Instead of buying hardware, laying down big deposits for premises or making big, risky hires, you’ll be using IT services in the cloud, co-working space, and taking people on and paying them by the hour or project via the “human cloud”. Find out about the “startup stack” and which of the services could help your business.’

On the future of Big Data in small business

Prediction: Until now, finding meaning in the depths of Big Data has only been possible for large firms with deep pockets. But thanks to cloud computing and the ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) model, you no longer have to be a big firm to profit from Big Data. In the future, all firms will be data firms. Even yours.

James Wallman: ‘Casting your ambitions wider the Hollywood Way doesn’t mean a scatter gun approach. It means using data to discover more about who your customer is and then finding more customers who fit that profile.

‘The starting point is realising how much data your business generates and thinking about how you can digitise, collect, and organise that. And then upload that to cloud computing services to parse and analyse the data so that your business is more efficient in all ways.

‘With better, more granular customer data, and with meaningful analysis, you can improve your customer relationships and sales. You should be able to identify opportunities to sell to your customers more often, and uncover ways you might cross-sell other services.’

On the rise of a predicted 4-Hour working day

Prediction: As robots and cobots perform more of the routine tasks, humans will move up the value chain and become more creative. And the best way to be creative is to work around four hours per day.

James Wallman: ‘First, don’t make it permanent. Try it out. Set a three-month time limit. Call them ‘Winter Hours’and run it from 1 December till 1 March. And then stop and check to see if those benefits happen.

‘Next, apply the rules that Stephan Aarstol applied at his firm. Use Pareto’s 80-20 rule to identify the 20 per cent of things you do that create 80 per cent of outcomes. Then, seek to dramatically reduce the 80′. Shift from an input to an output mindset. Forget how many hours you put in. Focus on how much you get done. Try to standardise and automate all inefficient processes.’

On business reputation becoming even more paramount

Prediction: In an era of transparency, and heightened concerns about ethics and the environment, businesses are moving from a single-minded concern for profits, to a broader interest. You have to not only care about profits, but also people, planet, purpose, and your performance. Your reputation — what you’re able to do and how you do it — will be ever more important in the future.

James Wallman: ‘Building a business based on what you can genuinely deliver, with a mission to leave the world better than you found it, and treat people with respect, will leave you well prepared to succeed in the reputation game of the future.

‘How to do that? The first step is to think about what you care about your personal brand, and your firm’s mission. A useful book here — as recommended by Chris Coleridge, programme director at the Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre — is Carol Pearson and Margaret Mark’s The hero and the outlaw: Building extraordinary brands through the power of archetypes. Here, you can find out if you’re an explorer or an outlaw, or any of the other archetypes Pearson and Mark discuss. Then, you can use these insights to orientate your business and your brand from the inside out. With that in place, you’re on track to create and maintain a positive, true reputation that will resonate with your customers.’

On the future of the ‘Experience Economy’

Prediction: It is now clear that people are becoming determined experientialists — looking for happiness, identity and status in experiences — and that the experience economy is taking off. In the future, the most successful companies will be those who provide their customers with meaningful, memorable experiences.

James Wallman: ‘All businesses, including yours, are not only in the stuff or services game anymore. You’re in the experience sector. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. This is good news for small businesses.

‘Instead of simply delivering your goods or services, think of your business as a stage, and your staff as actors, and every interaction with your customers as not only a moment of theatre, but a chance to be memorable. Remember what US poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

‘So, decide how you want people to feel before, during and after your customers spend time and money with you, and work out how you can create a memorable experience that delivers that.’

James Wallman is a futurist and author

Further reading on preparing for the future

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