The Myth Of “What’s Next”

Many business owners, in our initial discussions, ask me…

“Hey Joe, what’s next in the world of business?”

Or this…

“Hey Joe, what big innovation can take my business to the next level?”

My answer usually sets them back a few notches…

“There isn’t one.”

I’m famous for telling my clients EVERYTHING they don’t want to hear.  But let me explain why…

This notion that there is a “What’s next?” for any business, small or large… is a complete myth.  It’s a waste of your time to pursue this idea, until you have the “What’s now?” mastered and delivered 100%.

The more surprising fact of the matter is… almost NO business has done that yet. Not even the biggest, most profitable companies have mastered all of the basics yet.  If a company provides great customer service, for example, and over-focus on it… they typically lose in the administrative or analytics part of the business.

This isn’t to say there aren’t a handful of businesses who seem to have all of the bases covered.  I’m leaving that as a general statement though, because I have yet to come across any business that does everything well (different from trying to please everyone).

Let’s dig in a bit further here…

When you keep hunting for “What’s next?”… you lose sight of the basics, and your business begins to enter an endless cycle of hunting for magic bullets from which to profit.  You can only do that for so long, that is NOT sustainable.

Here are the basics…

  • Listen to your customers.  You don’t have to do “everything” they say, but if a good portion of your customer base is saying the same thing… examine it deeper.  NOTE:  By the way, listening to your customers will lead you to “What’s next?” automatically.
  • Business is about people.  That includes your customers, but also your employees, vendors, and other people connected to your business.  If you don’t treat all of them exceptionally well, your business will be doomed with small margins as you compete on price.
  • Know your numbers.  You might be good at whatever you do or offer in your business (e.g. you’re a good mechanic), but you MUST understand your business.  You have to know what is selling and what isn’t, and above all, use this information to optimize your business to take care of the people who support it (  <— BIG point).
  • Don’t be lazy.  Most business owners are lazy.  There are NO shortcuts, no magic pills, a Facebook page WILL NOT skyrocket your business profits overnight, you can’t just use direct mail once, fail, and assume it doesn’t work anymore etc…
  • Nobody cares about your business… at first.  I don’t care if you have the greatest mousetrap in the world, you will NOT be able to sell it unless you get over the fact that nobody cares about your business.  That being said, if you have a remarkable product or service, a certain group of people in your customer base WILL care, so long as you take care of them like royalty ( <— ANOTHER big point).

One big final point…

Don’t EVER sacrifice the people that support your business in the name of profits.  Don’t hire until you need to, don’t sacrifice customer service EVER, and holy shit don’t cut the marketing or training budget.

Here’s where the die-hard, “we’re in business for the money” entrepreneurs will challenge me I’m sure, but I have one point that even you cannot challenge:

If you truly, wholeheartedly have EVERYTHING in place and optimized, you’ll also have a culture people care about (customers and employees alike).  Your profits are a measuring stick of how well you’re doing that.  Google started out very optimized, and now, it’s VERY profitable and has an employee culture worth talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a perfect example of any business… because almost none have mastered the basics.  Almost no business has “What’s now?” down, 100% of the time.  Google is a good example of that too.

Big businesses seem to get so big, they rely heavily on automation, at the expense of their customers.

But heed my warning… automated systems will only get any business so far.

Once the shiny, glossy nature of the digital world has lost its luster in about 5 – 20 years, entrepreneurs will begin again to come up with the next age of culture-oriented companies focused on solving real-world problems.  Actually some already are (note: these are NOT investing recommendations).

A few of the next age of real, problem-solving innovations will challenge Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Target, Wal-Mart, etc… etc… for BIG pieces of their market share.

That is, unless they focus more on “What’s now?” 😉

Notice too, that I did NOT focus on “growth” in this article.  Sometimes, smaller, more focused companies are in better position to stay with the basics.  They don’t grow too big for their shorts (usually at the expense of customers and employees).  They are also more profitable when they do it right.  You won’t see them on the NASDAQ though.

We have to change the way we’re thinking about business people.  The “profits before people” mentality needs to change.  But you don’t have to sacrifice profits (in the long-term) to accomplish that.