Running any business means you will continually encounter change. From market dynamics to growing pains, your career – and your company – never truly stand still.
For conventional employees, this change can be easy to ignore. You have defined duties, fixed working hours, and on a normal day it might feel like not much is different.
The same is not true for entrepreneurs. If you’re trying to build a business, standing still is synonymous with going backwards. You need to embrace change on an ongoing basis, grab a hold of the opportunities it presents to you, and steer its trajectory ever upwards.
In this article I’ll share some of my own insights from building my video marketing agency, Stada Media, and how I dealt with the rapid pace of change during the early growth phase.
Why you shouldn’t fear change
Change itself can be scary in many parts of life. Often change represents an ending, or some other unwelcome event outside of our control.
In business there are positive and negative changes (and in some cases, neutral changes). You can anticipate some of these and mitigate their impact but in the end, what defines you as an entrepreneur is how you respond to the changes you can’t avoid.
This starts with how you perceive change. Instead of fighting change, embrace it. Recognise that in every change, there is an opportunity: a chance to grow, to become more robust, or to bounce back stronger from a negative impact.
Remember that when you’re launching a business, change is something you should be looking for. Stability is a long-term goal too – change is not the same as chaos – but you should always be looking for ways to make progress.
What is change?
Let’s take a moment to understand what change actually is. For change to happen, you need three things:
- A starting point
- A (different) end point
- A passage of time
No change is instantaneous – it takes time, so if you’re trying to make change happen, you need to give it time too.
Equally, if time passes and you’re still where you were, nothing has changed. It takes an external force – either from you, or from a third party – to make change happen.
Remembering these simple principles can help you to cope with change and even to guide it in the direction you want, by exerting some force on it and allowing time for that to take effect.
Fast and constant change
You can think of the rate of change as being the size of change, divided by the time taken. A big change that takes a very long time is still ‘slow’ change overall, whereas a small change in a very short space of time could still be quite ‘fast’.
It’s often the case that the fastest change occurs in the early days of a new business. A lot of different things are changing all at once, you’re building an entire workforce from scratch, setting up your supply chain and finding your market niche.
Careful planning can help – this is why you should have a business plan – but either way, a lot is going to change in a short amount of time as your new venture finds its feet.
This is a running theme in my Diary of an Entrepreneur podcast, where I address some of the growing pains I encountered when taking Stada Media from a new start-up, to moving offices, managing my workforce and setting ambitious revenue goals.
Don’t neglect slow change
Fast change can deliver rapid results, and being able to pivot when the market demands it is crucial to ongoing survival. But slow, incremental change can build to deliver massive return on investment, so always have a long-term plan in place for those slower goals.
Slow change can be harder to keep track of. You might be looking for relatively small trends over long periods of time, in quite erratic variables like website traffic, customer numbers, turnover, revenues and profits.
At the same time, slow change gives you longer to average out those values. So even though the margins for error may be larger, it should be possible to spot the upward trends you’re aiming for – or to identify if you’re not achieving those goals.
You won’t always see change coming. The way you cope with unexpected change – such as the loss of a key member of staff or a big client contract – can define your career as an entrepreneur even more than the way you deal with planned changes.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect example of unforeseen change. The impact on businesses was very large and very fast, with some sectors hit more severely than others, but everyone affected to some degree.
Good leadership, combined with the ability to move into the lucrative new markets that appeared overnight, allowed some entrepreneurs to thrive while less adaptable businesses (both big and small) did not survive the periods of lockdown.
It’s worth noting that this did not necessarily mean exploiting consumers. Many businesses started selling face masks, hand sanitiser and other consumer-grade PPE at reasonable prices; it was just about responding quickly to the overnight demand.
What have we learned?
Let’s summarise what we’ve learned. Change isn’t always something you can foresee, but it is something you can plan for – and even something you can control, as part of your business plan.
Change is opportunity. Without it, things would stay the same. Growth is change, profit is change, even recruitment is a form of change. Learn to embrace the positive potential that this unlocks for your business.
Some change is fast, some change is slow. Big change in a short space of time is the fastest of all. You can use this to prioritise opportunities that offer you the quickest (and biggest) return on investment.
It’s not an either-or scenario. Capitalise on rapid change to deliver ROI, but remember to keep working towards the incremental gains and organic growth outlined in your business plan.
Everything changes, including people, businesses and market dynamics. By recognising this and reacting to constant change, you can avoid being left behind and make sure your business comes out on top after riding the wave.