The title of an article in the Ivey Business Journal caught my attention because it explained what happens to business owners who resist change — “Adapt or Die.” It began with this: “Enterprises that do not adapt are in for a lot of trouble. The problem is change: The more rapid the pace of change, the more dire the consequences of stubbornly sticking to old ways.”
Change makes some people uncomfortable because they don’t know what will happen as a result. In addition, some small-business owners have said it’s taken them years to get their business where it is — earning healthy profit margins with steadily increasing revenue — and they resent being forced to suddenly do things differently.
If you’re averse to change, you won’t like what I’m about to say, but you know it’s true: The only constant is change. In business and in life. Change will come from every direction. Customers’ tastes will change. Competition will change. The way you price your goods or services will change. Technology will change.
A good small-business owner embraces change and, though perhaps not being thrilled about having to do things differently, realizes the new way of doing things will help the business operate more effectively and efficiently. Those who fail to embrace change willingly take longer to adapt — if they survive.
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Whether you like change or loathe it is really beside the point. What matters is how well do you adapt to it.
What would you change?
Some small-business owners not only embrace change, they look for things to change on their own, before the market or the competition forces them to change. These owners are market innovators. Before you bristle at the thought of innovating — assuming it has to be costly and bring radical changes — realize an innovation can be simple and inexpensive. If it helps you operate your business more effectively and more efficiently, it’s an innovation.
Since you should constantly be looking for ways to innovate, here’s a question to think about: What five things can I change that will help my business operate more effectively and more efficiently? Ask yourself this question often, and consider every idea no matter how outrageous it may seem. Lots of ideas that were once considered far out have changed the way we work and live.
One of my friends owns a moving company, so I thought of three innovations that would improve his business and his industry:
▪ Conveyor belt that moves each item from the front door to the moving truck.
▪ Platform that, after a piece of furniture is placed on it, wraps each piece with padding and wrap.
▪ Software that allows a prospective customer to take pictures of the items to be moved and download these pictures to the mover. The mover sees what needs to be moved and can quickly and easily provide the prospective customer a price for the job. The software would also calculate how long it should take to complete each job.
I’d also recommend my friend put a GPS in each of his trucks and use a satellite tracker, showing where his trucks are at all times, so he knows how long it should take each driver to reach the destination. Though some small-business owners know about tracking technology, few of them actually use it.
Change is created in lots of ways. Sometimes it comes from creative types in brainstorming sessions and sometimes from regular employees who have devised better ways of doing their jobs. On rare occasions, it’s created by accident. It took this commonly used business item two accidents to come about.
Spencer Silver, who worked at 3M in 1968, was trying to create a super-strong adhesive to be used in building airplanes. He succeed in creating an adhesive, but it was weak, so it couldn’t be used on airplanes. His adhesive was shelved.
Art Fry, an engineer who worked at 3M in the late 1970s, saw the value of Spencer adhesive because of something that happened outside of work. Art sang in his church choir, and in rehearsal one evening, tired of the pages in his hymnal falling out during songs, he wondered whether Spencer’s adhesive could keep the pages in place — but also let them be turned when the time came.
The adhesive worked so well, employees at 3M began using it at work. But management wasn’t convinced the product would sell. Finally, in 1980 — 12 years after being created — Post-It Notes were sold across America.
Business has lots of moving parts, so when everything is running smoothly it’s tempting to take a moment and breathe. I understand. When I owned my small business, I was often overwhelmed.
However, change will come whether your business is running smoothly or is out of control, so why not grab a competitive advantage and create change yourself? If your goal is to increase your share of the market, or maintain the share you have, you’ll have to find better, more efficient ways to meet your customers’ needs. The more willing you are to change, the longer you will stay in business.
Marvin Carolina Jr. is a vice president for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.