Working with contractors of all sizes and service offerings across the country, the successful ones have one thing in common: they plan. Not only are they looking at the next week, the next month, the next quarter and the next year, but the most successful look ten years beyond.
If you’re not planning for 2030, then it’s not too late to start. What are you doing to learn about what the future of our industry, or your personal life will look like in the next decade? How are you preparing yourself and your team to adapt, train, and take advantage of the opportunities and challenges to come?
I encourage my clients to run their businesses as if they are going to sell it, even if they have no plans to do so. The most attractive companies to buyers are run well, have strong teams, are innovative and are leaders in their markets. As an owner or top manager these things should be important to you and you need to always be working on them.
American corporate history is littered with once great companies that got lazy and sat on their success, only to watch it get ripped away. Take Kodak, whose hesitation to embrace digital photography led to its demise. Sticking with outdated technology and old business practices while your competitors invest in their futures is a failure waiting to happen.
Ask yourself: How will your business be different in 2030? How will you be different? Are you a younger owner looking to build your company? If so, what does the rise in M&A activity mean for you in terms of the number of companies out there for you to buy? Do smaller companies, ripe as a “tuck-in” acquisition, have unrealistic expectations on the value of their company based on what the big players are doing? Is your team rowing in the same direction? Do you have the capacity to assimilate another company? Will your team succeed if you absorb new markets, and customers?
If you are looking to sell, same question: how are you preparing to exit your business? Is your leadership team ready for you to go? Is your wealth tied up in your business? How might that impact the transition and your retirement? Do you have family in the business, if so, what are their expectations?
We have seen great economic change in the last year. We may not be able to predict what disruptions and emerging technologies will be going forward, but we are certain more will occur – how are you preparing for it to ensure your company’s survival?
Your clients’ needs will change. Do you know how? Are you reading what your clients are reading so you can better understand their market challenges? Are you positioning your company as a strategic partner, not just a solutions guy? Production is becoming a commodity. For success you need to differentiate yourself through service, creativity and big picture thinking at a strategic level that helps your clients solve problems they may not even realize they have. Are you preparing for monumental shifts in commercial real estate segment models? Do you even know how your clients’ business models are changing? Or how changes in their industry will impact changes in yours? You should.
The same is true for residential real estate and changes in how people buy and sell their homes and upgrade their lifestyle. You need to understand your clients and how they live, work and play. Everything is becoming more consumer focused. Technology is making access to data easy and mass customization practical. Your clients are being trained in their personal lives to expect information and services in ways they want to receive it, not in ways that are necessarily easier for you to deliver. Their expectations are already transferring over to their business lives, as well.
How is automation going to change your business model? We have seen the Uber-ization of snow plowing begin, so what’s next? On the green side of our business, we have seen radio-controlled mowers lead to autonomous mowers. How will technology move into the snow industry? The Air Force flies drones in the Mideast from bases here in the U.S. How long until we control a skid steer in a Midwest snowstorm from a call center in India? Do you struggle finding employees with driver’s licenses – self-driving vehicles can take care of that problem. Technological change is happening faster then we realize. The technology already exists – it just needs to make it to our industry.
Everything is happening so fast and yet you still need to run your business today, how can you get ready for the future? How can you prepare for what you don’t know? It’s important to keep up with market research, business trends, technology and economic forecasts. Think about attending conferences, discussing with consultants and subject matter experts, watching TED talks, listening to podcasts of futurists. While you look at our industry and your clients’ industries, it’s critical to look beyond to see what is coming.
When you go to trade shows, pay attention to the new technology and product launches. Talk to company reps about their firm’s pipeline for innovation. Don’t just walk away from it because you think it’s a gimmick or a fad. Don’t be the company that failed to innovate or got caught off guard when the market was transformed by someone who did it better.
Remember, long-range planning isn’t a once and done activity. Just as you should be looking at your rolling budget each month, you should be looking at your long-range plan on an annual basis. Keep researching, learning, and incorporating what you find into your strategic plan. Each year replace outdated information with your best new expectation of what is to come to keep your snow and ice management company relevant and ahead of the competition.