I used to be embarrassed about the fact the direction of my business has changed fairly regularly over the past 4 years. But now I realise that agility, the ability to let go of things that aren’t working and resilience are virtual superpowers.
Here are a few ways you can keep your business as agile as possible, so when times change, so can you.
Wait, why the lack of pictures? In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of my web presence, I am only using images at the very top of my posts, as well as where they serve a true purpose, such as headshots or infographics. That’s why you won’t find any purely decorative photos here anymore.
What Is Business Agility?
Being agile is defined as “the ability to move quickly and easily” or, more specifically to business, “ways of planning and doing work in which it is understood that making changes as they are needed is an important part of the job”.
So how can you keep your business (and yourself as a leader) as agile as possible so change is more natural and less jarring and terrifying? Here are my top tips.
Keep Things Simple
One of the biggest traps founders can fall into is building what I affectionately call “a beast that can’t be tamed”. I get it – you have an amazing, big idea, with about a million smaller (and also amazing) ideas orbiting it like a giant planet. It is very easy to get swept up in the excitement and adrenaline of building a business or product that incorporates as many of those ideas as possible.
But when you do, it can be difficult to unpick when you inevitably realise that some of the things you’ve built aren’t working or aren’t needed.
There’s a reason for the term “MVP” (operative word: MINIMUM), and it doesn’t just apply to product or tech businesses. Applying the MVP model to almost every business is a sensible thing to do. This includes:
- Staying intentionally small. I’ve seen businesses grow teams of 20+ straight off the bat, spend all their money then come unstuck when they’re chasing their tails raising capital purely to pay debt. Stay as small as you possibly can until you absolutely have to hire.
- Acknowledging that doing things manually rather than building complex automations (at least initially) is a good way to identify what you really need and inform the systems you use in future.
I asked my connections on LinkedIn how to make sure your MVP doesn’t turn into an OTTVP, or worse still, an OTTNVP (over the top, non-viable product) and this is what they said:
Jason Charles Hale, founder of Etrify says “An MVP can end up having multiple features which solve different problems. You want to be laser focused. Define the outcome you want to achieve, the problem you are solving (which once solved will achieve your outcome), and figure out the absolute minimum amount of work to make that happen. If it fails (i.e. you launch and you find out it doesn’t achieve the outcome like you expected), you’ve only put minimum time in so you can reiterate until your test succeeds. Also there’s work prior to actually building you can do to validate/de-risk your idea.”
Digital sustainability expert Rich Brassett added “Understanding you don’t truly know what your audience wants is powerful. It allows you to start small and learn from them before building something you assume they want. Knowing 100% a feature is needed is gold dust.”
Listen To Your Customers
The key to building a business or product that actually solves people’s problems is by listening to what those problems are. The more conversations you have with current, past and potential customers about what they struggle with, the more likely it’ll be that you can create a business that actually helps them solve their problems.
Never make assumptions about what people need, do your research and don’t think that just because you’ve thought of an amazing idea, you can sell it without listening to your audience first. And if the messages you’re hearing are changing, think about how you can change your business to meet those evolving needs.
Be Prepared To Let Go Of Things You Love
This is a hard one. Sometimes you’ll create something that you love. You love building it, you love delivering it and you love talking about it.
But what if what you love isn’t working? As well as listening to your customers, listen to your instincts. If you’re clinging on to a particular service or feature just because you love it,but it’s not giving you or your customers results, maybe it’s time to cut the cord and let it go.
Hesitation is the enemy when it comes to agility. The more quickly you can come to a conclusion about something that needs to be adapted, ditched or added to your business or product, the more quickly you can roll it out and get it working for people.
Yes, slowing down and making sure your decisions are well thought through is a good idea, but if you’re spending your days procrastinating over a decision that just needs to be made, make it.
Innovation is my favourite. Sometimes it’s not the outcome that’s the issue, it’s how you get there.
If you know that what you’re offering gets results, but the method for getting there isn’t quite right, get creative! Is there another way you can deliver the same result (more simply, if possible), that doesn’t require an entire rebuild of your business?
Employ Multi-Passionate Staff & Consultants
This one is key – particularly for startups with limited funds. If you can engage staff or consultants who can work across multiple disciplines, you’re much more likely to be able to make changes to your business without an entire team overhaul.
One thing to think about here: make sure anyone you employ knows in advance and are happy that their role might evolve as the company evolves. Nobody wants to be hired for a marketing role, only to be told out of the blue three months down the line that they’re now responsible for new business. But if people are expecting these potential changes of course, and are involved in the agility of the business, you should find you have a team filled with multi-skilled, engaged and invested employees or freelancers.
Speaking of being multi-skilled…
…I work with the founders of sustainability-focused and impact-led startups and SMEs across multiple disciplines. For business strategy, management of specific projects or ongoing support across operations, sales, marketing and leadership, I’m your woman.
Drop me an email now to find out how I can help you to manage some of the moving and strategic parts of your business.