Are You Prepared for That Cliff That Could Be Further Down the Road?
(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
You’re on a long car drive. There’s no one around. You look off into the distance at the road ahead. The weather is fine and the next few miles are smooth and clear. Except, off on the horizon, it looks as if the road just ends. It looks like there’s a cliff at the very, very end and you’re going to drive off of it. Of course there’s not, you say to yourself. Everything will be just fine.
So you keep driving with the hope that you’re right. You figure that when you get there, the road will continue on. And you’re right. There’s no cliff. Even though it looks like you’re going off a cliff, it’s all good.
You’re back in the office. It’s approaching the middle of year. You look off into the distance at the road ahead — at 2016. The weather is fine and the road ahead for the next few miles is smooth and clear. Except, off on the horizon — about six months from now — it looks as if the road just ends. Of course not, you say to yourself. Everything will be just fine.
So you keep driving with the hope that you’re right. You figure that when you get there, the road will continue on. And you’re right. There’s no cliff. Business just keeps going.
But what if there is a cliff? What if you reach the end of the year and there’s no work coming in? What if the economy tanks? What if a competitor creeps up on you and steals away some big projects? What if one or two large customers stop placing orders for whatever reason? What if a key employee or two leaves?
Right now, my most successful and competent clients aren’t worrying about this year. They’re looking down the road, at the cliff. Because it could really be a cliff. They’re already worrying about next year. Are you?
Here are three things you should be doing right now to prepare for 2016.
1. Reach out to all significant customers.
Take your customer list, put it into a simple database and make sure that everyone, particularly the significant ones, are hearing from you or your senior people. Call them. Get on a plane and visit them. Make sure they’re happy with the work you’re doing for them. Ask them about their businesses. Figure out ways you can help them more. Give them free advice. Refer them to your friends and partners.
You will need these customers in 2016 and the year after that. These are the people that will make sure you don’t fall off a cliff next year. Don’t ignore or take them for granted.
2. Educate your community.
You are an expert in what you do. Spread your knowledge. Start a monthly newsletter. Hold seminars. Expand your activities on social media. Share news, commentary, advice, tips and opinions from other experts in your field. Help your community learn how to be better and more successful.
You can’t put a gun to someone’s head and say “buy from me” when next year comes. But you can stay in front of them so that when they need something that you provide, they will think of you first. That’s another way to avoid the cliff.
3. Train your people.
Invest in certifications. Send them to conferences. Help them learn and grow. Keep them refreshed, happy, motivated and smart. Make them feel better about their jobs by helping them to become smarter.
Besides a change of scenery and improving their skills, a good training program will help your people identify other ways your company can help your customers. All of this can be done now, while it’s the middle of the year. That will help them prepare them for next year.
2016 could be a disaster for you. You don’t know. You can’t guarantee that there’s no cliff at the end of the road. You can never be sure that you will be as successful next year as you’ve been so far this year.
You can’t just flick a switch and turn on the orders. You don’t know if the economy will turn south, if a big customer decides to leave you, if a competitor chooses to attack your territory or if a key employee suddenly disappears. You don’t really know what lies beyond the cliff at the end of the road.
You hope that the road will keep on going. But the chance that it won’t panics you. Just like it panics every other business owner I know. It’s just the smarter, more successful ones are already thinking about the cliff, way ahead of when they reach it. And they’re doing what they can to make sure that they never, ever reach it.
2016 could be a disaster for you, if you’re not thinking about it right now.