7 ways to future-proof your small business for long-term success

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But sometimes, small businesses simply fail because they haven’t been properly future-proofed.

Future-proofing your small business means taking proactive steps to ensure its long-term success. It’s preparing your business to weather any changes and challenges you may face, from economic downturns to periods of low cash flow to supply chain disruptions.

Because small to mid-size businesses typically don’t have the same level of financial flexibility or resources that larger businesses do, they’re especially vulnerable to these challenges — making it even more important to future-proof your small business.

Fortunately, you can get started right now. Here are seven easy ways to future-proof your small business and increase your chances of long-term success.

  1. Embrace technology

    You started a small business because you wanted to follow your dreams and spend your time doing what you care about — not because you know the ins and outs of running a business. And there are a lot of ins and outs.

    Fortunately, we live in a world perched on the cutting-edge of technology. Tech solutions exist to help you streamline your business operations, save time, eliminate human error, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.

    If there’s a manual task that needs doing, there’s a tech solution that can help you do it. The key word there is help — tech exists to make your life easier, not to replace people.

    By embracing new technology and keeping an open mind to new tech solutions, you can spend more of your time doing what you do best: Building and strengthening your business. For instance, did you know ChatGPT can help with marketing or that QuickBooks works directly with PayPal to track and manage expenses?

    New tech is out there, so how can you find it?

    • Attend industry or business networking events. Talk with fellow business owners and find out what they use to make their businesses run smoothly.
    • Follow business blogs and technology publications to stay up-to-date on the latest tech news.
    • Consult with business and technology experts — like your accountant. According to recent QuickBooks data, 91% of accountants say they’re using new technology to meet their business clients’ needs. 1 They recognize the important impact technology can have on business growth.
  2. Build a strong brand presence

    Your brand is more than just a color palette or a mission statement. Your brand is what your business projects — it tells your customers and prospects what they can expect from your company and your offerings.

    It shows them why they should pick your business over the competition (and any future competition that might crop up). And it solidifies your business’s reputation within your community or industry, attracting loyal customers and employees alike for years to come.

    You don’t need a huge marketing budget or a business degree to build a strong brand — but it may be worth your while to invest in something like a professional logo or a website.

    Fostering personal connections with customers, building trust, and providing impeccable customer service can go a long way toward building a strong, lasting brand.

    Quick tips to increase your brand presence:

    • Leverage social media platforms to connect directly and personally with prospects and customers.
    • First impressions matter. A strong website (both visually and functionally) or storefront will do wonders for your brand.
    • Focus on providing a great customer experience, every single time. Think of new ways to take your customer experience above and beyond basic friendly service. Offer workshops, host events, or organize giveaways — to name a few ideas.
  3. Diversify your offerings

    As a small business owner, change is the only constant. Seasons change, market demands change, and audiences change. If your entire business is dependent on a single product or service, those changes could leave your business behind.

    Diversifying your product or service offerings reduces your reliance on a single product or service, builds multiple revenue streams for your business, and allows you to lean on different parts of the business when you need to. Plus, when you expand your offerings, you expand your business’s reach into new or wider markets.

    Here are a few ideas to help you diversify your offerings:

    • Add complementary products or services to your lineup that meet the ever-evolving needs of your customers.
    • Offer customized or personalized options of products or services you already offer.
    • Invest in strategic partnerships. If you sell ice cream and the store next door sells cookies, perhaps there’s a mutually beneficial partnership to be forged. Your situation probably won’t be quite so obvious, but partnering with complementary businesses is a good way to diversify your offerings without starting from scratch.
  4. Build a strong team and company culture

    A business is only as strong as its people. A strong team — built with skilled and capable workers who are loyal to the business — is resilient, flexible, and innovative.

    This team can pivot and adapt as needed to keep the business afloat during rough storms. This team fosters a strong brand presence, provides excellent customer service, and achieves business goals.

    On the flip side, a team built with the wrong people — employees who aren’t dedicated to your business’ mission and culture or employees who weren’t set up for success — breeds employee turnover.

    If employee turnover is an ongoing problem, the future of your business may be at risk. It’s time to take a closer look at your hiring and onboarding process, your company culture, and your employee retention strategy.

    Quick tips for recruiting and retaining top talent:

    • Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. A diverse workforce is an important factor for new employees when evaluating companies and job offers. A workplace that prioritizes DEI makes employees feel valued and accepted.
    • Consider offering flexible work arrangements. Today’s employees crave flexible work options, but this benefit can be good for your business too. In the event of an emergency (like a pandemic), your team is already agile and adaptive.
    • Develop a strong training and onboarding program to set employees up for success from day one.
  5. Embrace sustainability

    Embracing sustainability isn’t just good for the planet — it’s also good for your business. Today’s consumers care about supporting businesses that support the planet. Globally, 60% of consumers say sustainability is an important criterion when considering a purchase, according to The Global Sustainability Study. 2 Another 34% say they’re willing to pay extra for sustainable products and services — up to 25% extra! 2

    Small businesses are taking note. According to recent QuickBooks data, 95% of small business owners believe sustainability is important to the future of the economy. 3 Three in five say they’re already taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. 3 And business owners who haven’t yet made sustainable moves say money, time, and resources are three barriers. 3

    But embracing sustainability doesn’t need to be a major lift. Going greener can be as simple as turning off the overhead lights or powering computers down at the end of the day. These actions might feel small and insignificant, but small businesses represent 90% of all businesses, according to The World Bank. 4 Together, we can make a big difference.

    Easy tips for better sustainability in your small business:

    • Go paperless and reduce waste at work. Cloud storage is more organized and efficient anyway.
    • Replace fluorescent lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs. (Your employees will thank you.) At the very least, make sure the lights are off when you leave the room.
    • Invest in eco-friendly shipping materials like recycled cardboard and packing paper, biodegradable peanuts, or organic matter (it’s out there!).
    • Conserve water by installing low-flow toilets, minimizing HVAC system use, and talking to employees about reducing water use.
  6. Build a cash reserve

    Many experts say you should have three to six months' worth of living expenses in a savings account. A rainy day fund to help you weather financial storms. Well, the same goes for your business. In the event of an emergency or unexpected drop in revenue, you should have a backup cash reserve that can carry you through it.

    Of course, building up that cash reserve is easier said than done. As a small business owner, you’re already operating on extremely tight margins, and you’re not alone.

    But building that cash reserve is essential to future-proofing your business. If you hit a rough patch (like we all do), an emergency fund can be the difference between riding the storm out or sinking with the ship.

    It’s never too late to start saving — here are a few tips to help.

    How to (slowly but surely) build a cash reserve:

    • Set a (manageable) monthly savings goal. It’s hard to tuck away large swathes of money all at once. Set aside a small amount each month or from each sale to save consistently over time.
    • Treat your cash reserve as a non-negotiable, fixed expense. Just like your other fixed bills. These expenses are built into your business budgets, and your savings should be too.
    • Set clear guidelines for tapping into your cash reserves. Determine what constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t. Depleting your cash reserve for the wrong reasons leaves your business vulnerable.
  7. Choose the right vendors

    No matter which industry you’re in, you work with vendors and suppliers. They’re the manufacturers, retailers, and service providers that help you run your small business. You rely on them for their knowledge and expertise, their equipment, and their skill. Without them, your business wouldn’t be much of a business at all.

    It goes without saying that positive vendor relationships are essential to the longevity of your business. Choosing the right vendors and building strong partnerships can help you save money, enhance the quality of your offerings, and accomplish your long-term business goals.

    A few strategies for successful vendor management:

    • Choose the right vendors for your business. Do some research, look at the pros and cons of each vendor, and compare the costs. The right vendor is a good fit for your budget and culture and can scale with your company as you grow.
    • Build a continuity plan. You and your vendor should be prepared for contingencies like late shipments or ruined pallets to natural disasters and equipment failures.
    • Show your vendors you respect them and the work they do by paying them on time, communicating often, and accepting accountability when your decisions or actions impact their ability to get the job done.

Future-proofing is the foundation of success

We know what you’re thinking — having an emergency fund, building a strong team, managing vendors: these all sound like actions small businesses should be taking anyway.

And that’s the point: Future-proofing your business isn’t some magic spell that prevents the worst from happening. It just means giving your business the foundation it needs to weather the storm — a foundation every small business should have. When done right, it won’t feel like you’re doing anything at all, except running a successful small business.

Read on to learn more about keys to building business resilience.

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