Why the Ability to Change Gears Is an Entrepreneur's Most Valuable Skill Today's million-dollar idea might be tomorrow's flop, so you need to be ready to adapt.

By David Kleinhandler

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So many people enter entrepreneurship because, in their words, they want to be their own boss. While this makes for a good motto, it's not an accurate picture of the dynamics at play when you're running your own business. Large or small, your company only succeeds by meeting a need in the market. As those needs shift, your company needs to shift as well. It's not a nice ability to have -- it's a necessity.

Related: When His Business Model Didn't Work, This Entrepreneur Had to Change Things Up

Yes, as an entrepreneur, you're setting your own path. But the market you're entering is the real boss. Never forget that your million-dollar idea is only worth that much because of the hole it fills in your chosen industry. Today's sure thing can become tomorrow's also-ran in an instant, so the ability to change gears is possibly the most valuable skill you'll cultivate as an entrepreneur.

Growing means learning.

Even if you're surviving at a healthy clip, your company always needs to expand. It's not just a Tony Robbins mantra that if you're not growing, you're dying; it's an inexorable fact of business. Even the largest companies need to embrace change and growth or get left behind. The fact that it handles over 90 percent of search traffic worldwide doesn't stop Google from constantly refining and improving its search algorithms.

So maybe you're not the worldwide leader in information. How do you stay aware of where these changes will need to be? By keeping your ear to the street. Tech news, business developments and shifts in regulations are all things you need to stay aware of. The business leader of the past century started every morning with the newspaper -- today's can do the same at all hours of the day.

Set keyword alerts to bring news about your industry to your inbox as it happens. Balance that out with regular checks of the big stories and developments. Keeping up with the news isn't something that happens during your downtime -- it's part of your productivity. When you sniff out a new trend before your competitors do, you'll be glad you did it.

Related: How One of America's Most Beloved Toy Makers Rebounded From Near Death

Listen to your customers.

It's not only outside sources that will show you the next direction to take. Often, your customers' behavior will be the best bellwether for the change that will jumpstart your company's growth. Take Wrigley, for example. It's a name synonymous with gum, even over a century after it first started selling the stuff. What a lot of people don't know is that in 1892 it made that big shift that turned it from also-ran to a household name.

After an earlier change from soap to baking powder, the change-ready Wrigley started to include packs of gum with its powder tins. The treat was then growing in popularity, something William Wrigley, Jr. and his company took to heart when they again shifted their primary product to take advantage of that underserved market. There was simply more money to be made in selling gum than in baking powder. Sure, continuing to sell cleaning products would have been the safe, predictable move. But the Wrigley name would probably be long forgotten now, rather than an enduring market leader.

Related: Pivot or Die: How One Travel Company Finally Hit Its Stride

Build on what you have.

You don't need to throw out what you're already good at, but enhance and expand it. There are organic ways to make these growth-spurring shifts. You can do this by taking a look at what you bring to the table, and taking the next step to serving a wider scope of customer. I've been particularly interested in what Airbnb is doing in its industry. After years upending the old hotel model, it has taken a look at just why people are tired of the usual tourist experience. Users' desire for authenticity has fueled the rental app's growth, so why not do more to create a more authentic experience for their customers?

The company is now partnering with local artisans and experts to curate 360-degree experiences for travelers eager to get as close as possible to local culture. It's an exciting new path for a young company that's quickly grown into an industry leader. This new stream may well run dry, but it's the kind of risk that shows your leadership isn't afraid to make those shifts that can lead to big growth.

Related: The Founder Behind Furniture-Maker Poppin Explains Why the Company Needed to Transform Itself

Timing is always critical.

Stories abound describing entrepreneurs who thought they had a sure thing in hand, only to find out they needed to pivot or lose it all. It might sound unfair, but it's an intrinsic part of growing a business. Even that foolproof million-dollar idea might lose its value by the time you're ready to bring it to market. There are too many variables at play for any idea to be a sure thing, so you'll need to remain ready for changes, especially when prevailing attitudes start to change.

In founding Vest, my newest venture, I'm riding my own wave of changes. The concept of mindfulness has been around for centuries, but it's only recently become part of our business vocabulary. Marrying financial services with mindfulness has been something I've been itching to do for years, but it's only become feasible as the latter has gained some traction with the general public in recent years. With Vest, I've finally gotten the chance to present a modern vision of financial wellness.

The halls of business history are littered with companies that failed to adapt when the market dictated it. Your entrepreneurial skills will face their greatest test when the winds of change are swirling -- and whether it's starting a new venture or pivoting an existing one, the ability to grow and change is what separates the Blockbusters of the world from the Netflixes, the Toys 'R' Us's from the Amazons, and the AltaVistas from the Googles.

Related Video: This Wellness Company Finally Found Success After Pivoting 4 Times in 7 Years

David Kleinhandler

Founder and President at Vest Financial Group

David Kleinhandler is a New York-based investor and entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience founding and funding financial startups. He is founder and president of Vest Financial Group, founder and CEO of Blackridge Capital, and runs a financial literacy initiative for student athletes at Syracuse.

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