We've just launched our business planning software – Sage Planning for Business – and what I wanted to do was give you an insight into how we see the business world changing and how you can plan to thrive in it. Here are six key trends I believe anyone starting a business should consider in their planning.
1 The tyranny of speed
Potential customers won't wait around for you to 'get back to them'; they're off, looking for someone else who can help them 'now'. And they'll find someone, because the internet has changed the game, putting speed at the top of the agenda.
If you can't respond quickly, you need to consider whether your unique selling points are worth waiting for – or if the customer is going to go somewhere else.
2 The impossibility of controlling the market
The creation and marketing of a business, product or service used to be expensive. It required investment and only the wealthy could afford to do it. They could push products onto their audience because there was little competition, and they controlled the production and distribution networks.
Now you can set up in business for next to nothing, so competitors can and will pop up overnight. Plus, potential customers can visit price comparison websites and go to the lowest seller. And they can read hundreds of reviews online and communicate with other users of your product or service before they buy.
Face facts – you can't control the audience anymore. But, you can be more agile. Try to build flexibility into your offerings, service and marketing to help you adapt more quickly to circumstances.
3 Be authentic in whatever you're planning
Gone are the days when customers didn't talk to each other. Today, they're always talking to each other online. And as the marketing author Seth Godin and many others have said: "the internet does not forget".
Whatever you're planning, don't try to spin one 'truth' to one audience, and the same 'truth' another way to a different audience. They'll find out you've been playing both sides against the middle and your reputation will take a real battering as a result. This can be serious and follow you around like a bad smell for years. Stories spread like wildfire online.
The best way to avoid this is to be authentic in everything you do. Speak with passion, speak with conviction, but more than both of these – speak with integrity.
4 Add more choice
If you are planning to sell online, the more choice you offer, the better you'll do. This takes advantage of a phenomenon called “The Long Tail”.
Put simply, the internet has enabled customers to find what they want to find, no matter how small a niche you operate in. And because there is no physical stock to store, there are no additional costs to offer that niche product or service. All those niche sales add up, so take advantage of this in your planning.
5 Can you outsource any skills or processes?
The world has changed. It's easy to outsource these days. There are thousands of web and social media sites that enable you to hire skilled people to work remotely and cost-effectively. Ask yourself if this might be a viable solution to work into your plan.
6 The definition of scarcity has changed
Colour TVs used to be scarce, as did bananas, cars, mobile phones, PCs and many other goods. Not any more.
Now, time is scarce, therefore quality time spent with a customer or potential customer is more appreciated and can have a higher value placed on it, but you need to balance this against your return on investment. How much service and support are you willing to provide, and can you charge more for it?