Last January, I spent a lot of time with business owners and leaders who were gearing up for a year we all knew would be challenging. I encouraged them to think of 2010 as a Year of Discovery—a time of exploration, invention and renewal through the pain of discovery.
Did you discover anything last year that made you and your business more valuable? Did you lay claim to it? Because I’m telling you, I did. And if you’re still in a viable business today, anticipating another year, I’m betting you did, too.
You, like other owners and leaders I encounter as the New Year begins, are taking those discoveries forward as your capital for 2011, a year of transition and transformation.
As we look into the eye of another year of uncertainty and challenge, here is what I am seeing.
I see a business that has morphed from a large professional services company struggling to maintain complex delivery systems into a boutique that has incorporated new technology and analytics that reduced its costs, kicked up its profitability and improved its solution for clients.
I see a multi-generational business whose leaders resisted change despite their stagnant industry. As the old year closed out, they called me in like a dark messenger to preside over their company’s demise.
I see a company that is six times smaller and twice as profitable because it has salvaged the core component of its success and created margins where there were none a year ago.
I see a long-time strategic partner forced to sell off one of the crown jewels in its success, that is still able to say, “We’re going to be better for this, even if we don’t know where the next gem is coming from.”
I see an owner realize that by paring down his own business, he can remain viable while the rest of the companies in his space try to maintain the status quo and eventually fall flat. He calls it clearing out the marketplace.
They’re all asking, “What’s next?”
Or, translated directly, “How do we make money in this economy?”
The marketplace is full of variables and surprises, of course, and it’s presumptuous to pretend my crystal ball isn’t murky. But here are a few things we can count on seeing as 2011 unfolds.
• Staying small, achieving big: Growth will come out of absolute necessity, not out of ambition. Our objective, in the arena of private enterprise, shouldn’t be bigger. Our objective needs to be growing the effectiveness and extraordinary value of our solution. That’s where our strength and our success lie.
• Escaping commodity hell: You know you’re in commodity hell when everywhere you turn, your margins are being squeezed and the word of the day is “cheaper.” Cheaper is never a sustaining concept. Commodity hell is full of mediocrity. Get the hell out of there.
• Reinventing Main Street: Forget Wall Street. Wall Street doesn’t generate jobs, it generates profit. And that doesn’t necessarily translate into quality of life for Americans. Today, jobs have to come out of the everyday micro-enterprise of a reinvented Main Street. Money has to circulate on this new Main Street. The growth and health of emerging and micro-enterprises may not be a quick fix, but it’s a solution with the best long-term implications for job creation, innovation and consumer hope.
• Avoiding displacement, part 2: We all know that experienced executives were among the first to fall in the economic crash-and-burn of 2008. To avoid further displacement, we must analyze, calculate and think on the right problems—problems that can’t be systematized and commoditized because they require ingenuity and intuition and uniqueness of thought.
We’ll face these disruptors and more as we absorb the pounding of the waves of change and ride the flow toward end-results we can’t yet see.
Will we be washed up on the shore of a healthy new economic era in 2011? This BizProphet says no. But 2011 may be the year when the wave begins to crest. The ride will be fast, unsteady and exhilarating for some entrepreneurs. When the wave crests, those of us who are still riding the wave will catch our first glimpse of the new shore where ideas and innovation can be converted to economics and employment opportunities.
The “Leverage Warehouse”
One of the most successful business models to emerge in 2011 will be the Leverage Warehouse. This enterprise will organize around a core industry or knowledge-based solution. Pared down to its essentials in terms of team, talent and overhead, the Leverage Warehouse will extend its influence on customers/clients through a carefully cultivated network of related experts. Built on a high degree of trust and integrity, offering a high degree of elasticity and adaptability, the Leverage Warehouse will be measured on its ability to create success for customers/clients, vendor partners and itself. Hot spots: professional services, health and life sciences, distribution, analytics, bio-technology, neuro-technology and nano-anything.
The “Needs Boutique”
People need what they need and businesses that focus on filling human needs will continue to have opportunities. The need for food, transportation, housing, medical care and education won’t go away, although the ways those needs are met will change. Even community and social needs won’t go away. Envision bold new ways of meeting those needs and you are looking at significant opportunity. Key to remember: Wants are not needs and will line up differently as consumers become boldly different. This will be the spawning ground for solo and nano-sized enterprises.
Strategy of Intimacy
On traditional Main Street, retail and consumer-based businesses remain anemic. Here’s what’s thriving: a counter-cultural strategy to fill the ache people have to belong, to connect, to have a sense of relevance. Wherever a business is satisfying people’s need to belong, look for wealth potential.
Are You Ready?
As an owner or executive leader, are you mentally prepared for the cresting of the wave in 2011? Take your inventory; use these questions. Encourage your leaders and colleagues to take their own inventory. Use your responses to think creatively about what 2011 holds for your business.
• Do my customers/clients know the value they receive from their investment in my service/product?
• Would I invest my money for that return?
• How can we increase value to our backbone customers/clients?
• How will our customers/clients be different this time next year?
• What aspects of our business will technology transform in 2011?
• Are we in the core of our business today? Have marketplace changes compromised or enhanced that core?
• Where is our business most vulnerable? Where have we gotten comfortable and lapsed into mediocrity?
• What signs do I see that the leaders of this business have the will and the fortitude to face the uncertainty and challenges of the day?
• If my business vaporized today, would the world miss it?
Content provided by Samuel E. Frowine III, founder, owner and president of The Performance Group, Ltd., a business consulting firm aligning enterprises with the ambition of owners. For a complimentary white paper on the Big Trends for 2011 or a complimentary online evaluation of your Ride the Wave Readiness, contact him at 704-597-5156 or firstname.lastname@example.org or start a dialogue via his blog at www.ownershipsuccess.com.