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Your Future Is Now
By Paet Hidalgo on November 30, 2015

Is your business positioned to win or is it a field-filler?
 
Have you and your team made a real effort to engage in planning and positioning your business for the future? Do you have a game plan that will help ensure your company’s viability, relevance and growth in the years ahead? Are you flourishing or slipping; innovating or stagnating; driving or hanging on?
 
So many unexpected or accidental entrepreneurs find themselves in business on the legs and strength of a timely, revolutionary or superior idea that they turned into a successful product or service. They didn’t rely on business plans or any kind of formal plans for that matter; no strategy, market or viability studies—just the desire and determination to make a living on their own terms.
 
Some of these success stories make the jump from small enterprise to becoming global brands; others run out of gas and eventually disappear. Given the opportunity, most business owners faced with these common scenarios in hindsight would invest the time and resources necessary to properly manage their company’s health, competitiveness and growth; but the key is to do it before it becomes a matter of hindsight.
 
What you do today determines where you will be tomorrow.
 
All successful businesses share common traits, the most fundamental of which are good strategy, planning and execution. And if you look a little closer, you’ll see a mandate and mentality among long-term successful companies to constantly improve the value proposition of their products, company organization, procedures, personnel and performance. Improvement is a constant goal, not a destination.
 
If you’re a business owner who was smart enough to put your enterprise on the map in the first place, but now find yourself with growing concerns about where you’re headed, then it’s time to take some simple steps to put your company on the right course.
 
Where do you want to be in the next five years?
 
Have you ever considered selling, merging, handing the reigns over to a successor, or winding down your business and dissolving its assets to fund retirement?
 
These are questions that most small business owners will consider eventually, and what you are willing to do to prepare for addressing these scenarios will directly affect how you will come out on the other side.
 
If you’re thinking liquidity event (selling the business) or contemplating handing the reigns over to a successor, you should definitely get yourself headed in the best direction to take control of your destiny. Truth be told, making the right improvements to strengthen your business is what you should be doing regardless of your specific endgame. Because at the end of the day, preparing your business to succeed long term will put you in the best position no matter what the ultimate scenario happens to be.
 
How do you get started putting your business on the track you want?
 
As daunting as it may seem, an easy way to begin the process is by simply sitting down and doing a light assessment of your business on paper. Start by getting a notepad and drawing a line down the middle of the page. On one side, list all of the things that your company did well when it started out, and things that you got better at along the way, including what you still do well today. On the other side of the line, identify the things that your company isn’t so good at, or where you feel you’re falling short or failing altogether. Be honest with yourself here—the first step to making positive changes is admitting that changes are needed to improve your situation.
 
Next, invite key personnel or managers to make their own lists, and encourage them to be completely candid without fear of repercussions for expressing their constructive opinions (if these people value their place and future with your company, they will embrace their chance to contribute). Then, get your team together and start refining and consolidating the collective input into one master list.
 
Take the list and spend time with it alone, without distractions (you need to make this important and a priority), and begin making notes next to each entry, identifying what you think the greatest determining or corrective factors are, or could be, for each line item.
 
Time to dig deeper—now make separate pages for each of the following areas of your business and write down your thoughts:
 

  1. Product Viability: Is your product or service still relevant and competitive in the marketplace. Do you have enough product diversification to ensure revenue streams from multiple markets?
  2.  Operating Efficiency: Does your company operate efficiently, and are your product margins enough to make healthy profits?
  3. Marketing Execution: Do you have multiple, reliable methods for driving prospective customers to your brand? Does your product have compelling advantages over the competition?
  4. Sales Production: Do you have an effective sales engine? Do you have a good team of people that can cultivate buyers and close sales while propagating goodwill and referral business?
  5. Key People: Do you have good managers who are effective at building, motivating and maintaining successful teams?                                                                                           

Once you begin to understand the assessment that you’ve built on paper, you may surprise yourself with how quickly you will get fired up to devote the necessary time and effort to drive improvements that will change the course of your business trajectory.
 
What if you don’t have a solid management team to help with the process?
 
Put together your own formal or informal board of directors. Don’t let the title intimidate you. A board of directors is simply a group of willing people that you pick for their general wisdom, opinions and business acumen, who together can give you valuable input and advice on important decisions that you invite them to weigh in on.
 
Though large companies compensate their directors, many board members of smaller companies do it voluntarily for the personal satisfaction and occasional free lunches.
 
Other alternative sources for immediate help can be found in the form of business coaches or contract management consultants who are skilled at efficiently identifying your company’s immediate weaknesses and potential solutions, as well as helping you map out the best long-term game plan to fit your situation and objectives.
 
Whatever you do, don’t choose to do nothing; inaction guarantees that things will likely remain the same, or get worse.
 
Escape your own insanity.
 
Don’t keep doing things the same way, expecting that your situation will somehow get better by itself.
 
Draw inspiration from successful examples of big “turnarounds” to motivate you to do the same.
 
Use examples that you can relate to, e.g. sports teams that were regular “basement-dwellers” who, after some key changes, managed to climb their way up and become consistent contenders. These common successes all start with a better mindset (desire to fix things), better game plans (business strategy), players (staff) and coaches (owner/managers).
 
Ironically, one of the biggest obstacles in your way can be you.
 
In many cases the most practical solution comes from good outside help. Don’t be intimidated or discouraged from the thought of seeking professional assistance—it’s a common and effective practice among successful companies.
 
It’s hard to assess your own business accurately; trained outside eyes can give a more objective and realistic appraisal of your company’s strengths and weaknesses. This insight and blunt reality is critical for you to obtain and understand if you’re going to see your way clear to creating and implementing changes that will enable you to overcome the obstacles that hold your company back. 
 
There are some very good business consultants and company coaches out there that are efficient and effective at identifying, prescribing, and in some cases implementing the solutions and initiatives you need to put your company on a successful path.
 
And for those that are simply held back by their ego, remember, the creativity, action and results that you achieve through outside help are ultimately your creativity, action and results, because you sought them, approved them, and gave them what they needed to succeed.
 
You’re already committed to the race, so why not give yourself the best chance to win it?
 
 
Paet Hidalgo is CEO of Applied Mettle, Inc. He is also a former professional race car driver in IndyCar, SCCA Trans Am, ALMS and Formula 3000, among others. 

About the Author
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Paet Hidalgo is Chief Executive Officer of Applied Mettle, Inc., and a former professional race car driver.
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