Where do you want to go to­mor­row?

Take a breath and think about your busi­ness in 2019

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Jobs - By Howard Tull­man

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good op­por­tu­nity to catch your breath and spend a few hours just think­ing — and not do­ing any­thing but think­ing — about the year ahead and where you want to take your busi­ness.

If you don’t have a plan, or re­ally care where you’re headed, then any path will get you there. In that case, just make sure that you’re walk­ing down a path and not a plank.

But the smart en­tre­pre­neur knows that even the most rapidly re­ac­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions can’t keep up with the rapid and ac­cel­er­at­ing rate of change to­day, where each change short­ens the in­ter­val between changes, and the next abrupt shift is on top of you be­fore you’ve even dealt with the last. So, you’ve got to get ahead of the curve, an­tic­i­pate the ac­tion and skate to where the puck is headed.

I’m not talk­ing about some fool­ish New Year’s res­o­lu­tions or your de­sire to def­i­nitely get in great shape this win­ter, to read a book a week and clean out the at­tic, or sim­ply to be a much bet­ter per­son in 2019. I mean think­ing strate­gi­cally about how you can make the next 12 months a lot more valu­able and pro­duc­tive for your com­pany.

Not enough en­trepreneurs do this sim­ple ex­er­cise. We’ve all got plenty of ex­pla­na­tions and ex­cuses for why this is and, as a re­sult, too many lose sight of the crit­i­cal things they should be do­ing and the most im­por­tant ques­tions they should be ask­ing: Why did I get into this busi­ness in the first place? Am I do­ing any good and/or mak­ing any dif­fer­ence that mat­ters in the long run? Does any­one out­side of my friends, fam­ily, in­vestors, and em­ploy­ees care about what we're do­ing?

Here are a few hints to get that con­ver­sa­tion with your­self go­ing:

Don’t dwell on the past

While you are think­ing ahead, I wouldn’t waste much time re­flect­ing on the past 12 months be­cause there’s noth­ing you can re­ally do about them and you ought to al­ready know what you did right and wrong and hope­fully you have learned a lot from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Also, fret­ting over mis­takes and missed op­por­tu­ni­ties doesn’t re­ally move any­thing for­ward. You can’t build your fu­ture on re­grets and “shoul­das, woul­das and coul­das.”

Be­sides, look­ing in the rearview mir­ror is dis­tract­ing. It makes it easy to run off the road or smack into some­thing big and ugly that could have been eas­ily avoided if you had been look­ing ahead. That in­volves pay­ing at­ten­tion to the out­side world and, even more im­por­tant, to what your cus­tomers are do­ing and say­ing about their own press­ing needs and their cur­rent de­sires.

Cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tions are pro­gres­sive. If you’re not on top of these needs, you’ll soon be at the bot­tom of your cus­tomers’ lists.

And the most im­por­tant rea­son that you don’t want to get all wrapped up in an­a­lyz­ing the past is that do­ing so is al­most al­ways an in­vi­ta­tion to spend your time navel gaz­ing, mak­ing ex­cuses and be­moan­ing the bad breaks. And that’s not where you need to be fo­cus­ing your en­ergy as you try to get your busi­ness set for the new year.

Find out what cus­tomers are go­ing to want

You need to get out there and un­cover what’s go­ing on out­side the four walls of your busi­ness, be­cause that’s where your fu­ture will be found.

Re­mem­ber, you will never get straighter or more use­ful an­swers to your ques­tions than the ones you get di­rectly from your cus­tomers. The truth, with all its won­ders and warts, comes from the con­sumers and the users of your prod­ucts and ser­vices.

They don’t have an agenda (apart from al­ways want­ing a lot more for a lot less), and they’re the real rea­son you got into this busi­ness to be­gin with. Pleas­ing them and ad­dress­ing their needs seems like the ob­vi­ous thing to do.

When you take the time to look, think and ask, you might just dis­cover that there’s a big­ger and bet­ter op­por­tu­nity right un­der your nose that you’ve been prac­ti­cally trip­ping over for months or years with­out ever notic­ing.

Ask your­self a few things

If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are a few of the main ques­tions to ask your­self.

1. What’s the prob­lem you ini­tially set out to solve?

2. Are you try­ing to solve the same prob­lem to­day or do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent?

3. Is the prob­lem still im­por­tant to your cus­tomers and worth their pay­ing you to solve?

4. Are oth­ers of­fer­ing cheaper, quicker or eas­ier so­lu­tions to the prob­lem?

5. Are there new, more im­por­tant or dif­fer­ent prob­lems to be solved?

You’ll no­tice that all of these ques­tions ad­dress the cus­tomers’ prob­lem(s) and not your prod­ucts or so­lu­tions. This isn’t just a ques­tion of se­man­tics. If you don’t un­der­stand the press­ing prob­lems of your cus­tomers, you have no chance at all of build­ing a suc­cess­ful prod­uct or ser­vice to solve them.

You can keep build­ing the great­est soft­ware never sold or dis­cov­er­ing the cure for no known dis­ease, but you won’t be build­ing a busi­ness that will be here at the end of next year.

Howard Tull­man is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ed Ka­plan Fam­ily In­sti­tute for In­no­va­tion and Tech En­trepreneur­ship at the Illi­nois In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and was the long­time CEO of Chicagob­ased 1871.


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