3 Habits to Change in the New Year to Future-Proof Your Business It's time to change our everyday actions from fixating on short-term gains and start looking ahead to the future of cooperation and possibilities.

By Julia Skupchenko

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We often use the New Year to mark the new beginnings, change what we do or how we do it and try to get ready for the future. The reality shows that good old business strategies that have worked for decades are no longer relevant in the ever-changing and chaotic present. And even less so in the unpredictable future. It is the time to discover new, better, simpler and faster ways to run your business and make customers happy -- it is time to change.

In 2013 Bill Sharpe of the International Futures Forum published a book about Three Horizons, a framework of thinking about the future. The concept of three horizons does not refer to the short, medium and long term but to three different ways of behaving towards the future.

  • Horizon One refers to the business as usual where we expect our reality not to change. So we plan on doing what we are doing and getting what we are getting.
  • Horizon Three is the vision of the far future that we don't have evidence of. But there are subtle signs in the present that might signal us what future will emerge.
  • Horizon Two is where they come together. Here you anticipate what changes might come from the far future and try to be part of that shift. You choose what to invest your resources and give it a go.

Each horizon is a lens through which we look at our business and new ideas. So ideally we need to keep an eye on all three of them at the same time. However, the majority of small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs focus mainly on Horizon One - keep the system running. The downside here is that being stuck selling what you sell has an expiration date. For example, when a more successful competitor comes who appeals stronger to your customers. Refusing to discover and explore high-risk ideas leaves you fragile to the changes that will come.

Here are three business habits that can help you recognize that you are stuck in the present.

1. You are looking for clients, not partnerships.

Being busy as you are, if somebody invites you for a coffee, you, first of all, evaluate if they can be your customer. If yes, you accept the invite. Depending on how the conversation goes, you evaluate what you can offer them and on which terms. You seed the sale. If they are interested, you tell them how much it would cost. If they try to offer you a counter proposition to partner up (invest instead of sell) and see what comes out, you politely wrap up the conversation. Afterward, you ignore their follow-up emails because you already marked them as "time-wasters".

2. Your favorite word is conversion.

When a new idea comes to mind or to your attention, first you calculate if it is profitable today. Who is the customer? Where can you find them? How much time do you need to invest to sell? What is the opportunity cost, in other words how much money will you earn on this idea vs. how much money you could earn if you focus on something else?

If this questionnaire doesn't show you short term return, you call it charity and discard it.

3. You believe in quantity not quality.

You have a service or a product. You already spent time and money developing your value proposition and marketing strategy. All you need to do now is sell. So you assume that the more people you can target with your offer, the more chances you have at selling. You don't spend time pursuing any particular lead, building relationships, having conversations to get to know them. You just go for social media ads (or alternative) that promise you to reach thousands of your target customers.

Why are entrepreneurs primarily concerned with the present and not the future?

The answer is in time and money we invest. Entrepreneurs are accountable to their own and their family's financial well-being. Imagine if instead of increasing sales on your existing offer, you start exploring a brand new idea for a few months. An idea that does not promise immediate conversion, in fact, you will have to work for a while before it is even a value proposition. What does it do to the picture of your earnings during those months and the overview of the year? Most importantly what does it do to the entrepreneurial drive -- one thing that always keeps you moving forward?

In the Horizon One view of the World, probably nothing positive. You spent time, invested money and energy, the year is ending and the idea is only a more mature idea or prototype but certainly isn't a sales-ready product. That feeling is what entrepreneurs are trying to avoid. But let's look at it from the lens of Horizon Three, our far future. Even if your experiments so far were not very successful, if you have a vision of the future and take consistent steps towards it, it might well come about.

The key is in balance. In combining what you do at the same time as exploring and trying new things that were not done before. Giving it the same amount of attention so you can still support yourself and your family while discovering what the future holds for you.

Julia Skupchenko

Head of SDG Partnerships and Reporting

Julia Skupchenko is an award-winning entrepreneur and sustainability leader with over a decade of experience in the field. She is the co-founder of the Think Tank AlterContacts, leading SDG Acceleration Actions recognized by the United Nations and awarded by the European Parliament.

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