Growing Your Business in Changing Times

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Anyone who became qualified in their field 20 years ago — and has not evolved through education — is superbly equipped for a society that no longer exists.
–Robert Jastrow

I love quotes. This one I found in a colleague’s PowerPoint presentation, but whether this particular piece of wisdom is really from professor Robert Jastrow, the famous astronomer, physicist, and cosmologist, I can’t say, as for once Google couldn’t find my, probably misquoted, quote.It really doesn’t matter, of course; it’s the sentiment that’s important: the world is changing at warp speed.
Really successful businesspeople stand out: they get noticed. They are interesting, knowledgeable, and have an uncanny knack for predicting future trends. They have an insatiable appetite for knowledge — they are information junkies. They know what’s going on in their industry and market, what’s going on in the global economy, how the world is changing, and what effect it will have on their business, customers, and competition. What’s more, people are attracted to them and seek them out.
And never before in the history of the world have consumers had so much access to information.
Little Things Can Have a Big Impact
What would you say has had the biggest impact on our lives over the last 50 years? Most people would agree that the Internet has changed our lives to a massive degree, but what runs a close second?
{advertisement} What if I told you it was an aluminum box? Not just any box, but the shipping container? In 1956, the first shipping containers (initially little more than aluminum truck bodies) made the journey, via an old tanker, from New Jersey to Houston — 58 of them. (Nowadays, shipping containers are made from corrugated steel.) This simple, inexpensive breakthrough in transporting goods changed the world’s economy. Today, stores are full of foreign products and competition is global not local, all because of a metal box. To learn more about the shipping container read Marc Levinson’s new book The Box: How the Shipping Container made the World Smaller and World Economy Bigger.
The point here is that small, seemingly insignificant things can have a huge impact on our lives and, more importantly, if we are in business, the lives and buying habits of our customers and clients.
If you are thinking to yourself, that’s okay, I’m in the service industry so none of this affects me, think again. Remember the big hullabaloo about Y2K? All our electronic equipment was going to fail on the stroke of midnight as the clocks ticked into the year 2000? While the world wasn’t a whole lot different the next morning, the Y2K scare created ripples, and some of them may still be heading your way. It meant a massive amount of upgrading and remediation to computer hardware and software; it was tedious, boring work and required huge numbers of techies. However, the convergence of the PC, Internet, and fibre-optic cable meant that the work could be carried out anywhere in the world. That’s when the Americans decided to outsource some of the work to the vast numbers of new graduates from technology schools in India. It was an inexpensive and effective solution and set in motion a massive change in global outsourcing. By the end of the Y2K scare, e-commerce was taking off and Indian entrepreneurs were perfectly placed to take advantage of the West’s need for a massive, inexpensive labour force to cope with its huge demand for technical support, customer service, and sales personnel.
Once again you may be thinking, so what? Well, this convergence of technology and events allowed India, China, and other countries to become part of the global supply chain for both services and manufacturing. They are now, or soon will be, your competition. These countries can supply products cheaper than we can in the West and, as for services, you can now have all your accounts and bookkeeping done in India for a fraction of the price you can get it done in Canada. Want secretarial or executive assistance? You can hire a personal assistant for as little as $1,500 a month who will work while you sleep, booking flights, creating presentations, and carrying out research.
It doesn’t stop there. Need a root canal or cosmetic dentistry? Go to India and you will pay just $100 for a top-end dentist to carry out a root canal and only $800 for dental implants; they will arrange a five-star hotel and a nurse to help you recuperate and organize tours before or after your procedure (source: www.mediescapes.com).
So, global competition is a reality, increasingly so for many of us. On the other hand, India or China can’t affect your car repair or landscaping business. But, car parts and plants can be bought online easily and inexpensively, cutting into your peripheral sales. I know someone who recently bought a car from Texas but took delivery from his local car dealer, who lost a sale and ended up with just a small delivery fee. My son just purchased a spare part for his Toyota online direct from Japan at a fraction of the price he was quoted by the local dealer.
In The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas L. Friedman tells us that the world is becoming flatter, and that distance is no longer a barrier to the supply of products and services. In a changing world, the successful will be those who recognize the opportunity not just the threat.
I’m an information junkie, always reading what the world’s business leaders and futurists are saying about business and globalization. It increases my credibility and gives me an edge. And sometimes it is that edge that makes the difference between success and failure.
I urge you to read books that talk about the changing world of business. Drop into your local bookstore or browse online, or check out one of the many online services that provide five- or six-page summaries of important, bestselling books. There’s even an iPhone application! Keeping up to date is no longer an option: it’s a necessity.