Planning your company’s future

  • Columns
  • Monday, 21 Sep 2015

Being immersed in running your business from day to day should not distract you from thinking about the latest trends and where your business stands. Successful businesses are those that anticipate and adapt to change.

AS any entrepreneur can tell you, it’s easy to get lost in the here and now. Running a business means that you and everyone on your team always have jam-packed schedules, and there’s so much plate-spinning and problem-solving that needs to be done that planning for your enterprise’s future may drop down your list of priorities.But leaders of companies of all sizes have to ensure that everyone on staff, from the top down, is able to take a step back every now and again to assess where the business stands. And what needs to change in order for it to continue attracting customers.

Both on the day-to-day level and when you are engaging in planning, there are many variables that you and your team need to monitor, since detrimental factors that are out of your control can escalate quickly and do lots of damage. Successful businesses are the ones that find ways to adapt to change, no matter which direction it comes from. The travel industry is a perfect case in point.

New technological innovations from the potential of self-driving cars to the possibilities of commercial space travel are changing consumers’ perceptions of what a travel company should be and what services it should provide. These developments have begun to influence the industry, and we at the Virgin Group know that it’s critical to plan forward and adequately consider how we will be affected.Travellers’ motivations are also changing. For a long time, travellers prioritised speed and personal comfort over other factors, but these days new considerations have become equally important.

For instance, a lot of people look for a certain degree of sustainability and a lighter carbon footprint when weighing transportation options. So everyone in the industry has going green in mind when thinking of new ways to get around, like the inventor Elon Musk and his Hyperloop high-speed transport concept and the adventurer Bertrand Piccard and his solar-powered plane designs.

Our team at Virgin is no exception. There are also changing regulations (which often follow, rather than precede, innovations!) that we need to take into account, as well as our competitors’ actions.With all the variables that affect your industry in mind, how can you make sure that you have enough time to think ahead and future-proof your business?

One of the easiest, and most enjoyable, ways to do this is simply to start a conversation and invite others to join.Through our Virgin Disruptors programme, we regularly ask experts from both inside and outside our team to discuss cultural tensions and innovations in a particular industry. Given the rising excitement surrounding Virgin Galactic’s planned flights into space, we asked leading thinkers to debate on the future of travel and their views on what’s in store down the road.

Obviously, it’s not feasible for every such conversation to be held in such a public forum, but there are many alternatives. Your approach might be as simple as taking your team offsite for an afternoon to brainstorm. If you’re a one-man operation, you might find it useful to invite others from your industry out for a drink, to talk about changes on the horizon that concern you.

While it can be easy to slip into the unhealthy habit of sitting at your desk for 10 hours a day, you shouldn’t be afraid to leave the office or turn off your emails for an afternoon – whatever you need to do to make time to think about the future of your business.

Making sure that you’re able to plan effectively is an essential skill for an entrepreneur, one that you may have to learn by doing.At Virgin, our focus on the future has been responsible for some great ideas. For instance, many years ago we were looking to do something different in the live-music sector. As a lover of music festivals, I started conversations with a number of musicians about their ideas and what they’d like to see in the future.

One musician who I consulted was Jarvis Cocker, the rather dapper frontman of the band Pulp. He said to me that he’d always thought it would be a great idea to hold two festivals on the same weekend in different parts of the country, with a lineup that swaps between the sites over two days.

We thought it was a great idea, and later started up our annual V Festival in Britain. The festival will be 20 years old next summer, and it is going stronger than ever.

These days the format, which effectively provides music fans with two festivals rolled into one, is used around the world. It just goes to show that entrepreneurs should never be afraid to start conversations – you never know where the next one might take your business.

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