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Business agility and the art of pivoting

Agility is the theme of the moment if you’re in the small business game. We’ve heard about the importance of resilience and the primacy of adaptation, but we should also be concentrating right now on a more long-term strategy to avoid being thrown around by the will of the market.

Business agility and the art of pivoting
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  • Contributed by Jon Martingale
  • July 17, 2020
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Here in the UK, you’ve certainly weathered a lot as an accountant. Maybe you’ve had a gutful of hearing about pandemics or an ever-changing world, but let’s face the music, the world is pitching us curveballs at an intimidating rate.

We need to do better than adapt, we need to actively model our businesses for agile movement and ingrain the ability to pivot on a sixpence if need be.

Reacting is one thing, but anticipation is a far more useful beast. Let’s start thinking about bringing agility into your business model now, to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

What is business agility and why should I adopt it?

Business agility refers to an entity that has established itself to be nimble, lean and incredibly change ready. This agility is embedded in its culture, technology, structure and philosophy.

As such, an agile business is exceptionally customer-centric and sensitive to a changing market. If customers shift in terms of habit or desire, an agile business can match them in lockstep. For example, if delivering services through teleconferencing becomes preferable over physical interactions, an agile business will be addressing that immediately and will be designed to do so.

An agile business must, of course, be structured in such a way that makes pivoting toward a new service, product, market or goal as frictionless as possible.

Be prepared!

The future is unpredictable, and with the world and technology changing ever faster, it is creating greater uncertainty for our needs and requirements. The need for agility should be clear in such an environment. Forewarned is forearmed.

Businesses that embrace an agile model are simply able to adapt faster. An agile business will be delivering little and often, testing the environment and remaining customer-focused.

Change is the only constant so be ready to pivot when the moment comes. This requires diligent pre-planning, keen observation, decisive action and a flexible business model.

Small business? Good news

As luck would have it, a smaller business is at an advantage here. In most circumstances, a larger, better-funded and more widely marketed business can have the upper hand when it comes to generating revenue. Not so when it comes to agility and the ability to switch direction if circumstances prevail.

As with many things in this world, the smaller and less complicated you are, the more quickly you can transform, change direction or completely reinvent yourself.

Say you need to rebrand and start selling new services or products? Easily achieved in small scale, yet a mammoth task for a larger business. After all, you’re not encumbered by a large range of offerings, specialist staff or a hefty brand to redirect.

This gives small guys a real edge when it comes to pivoting a business in a new direction. It also means you can get there first and grow your business as larger entities groan and heave slowly into a new market.

Interrogate your business model as a matter of regularity

This is where many businesses let themselves slip. As we know, billable hours, money in the bank and services rendered are more immediate issues you need to concern yourself with. Cash flow is king.

This remains true, however, a regular interrogation of your business model is essential to agility and the ability to pivot quickly and decisively. Let’s hear it from someone smarter than us.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning,” Albert Einstein.

Don’t stop questioning. Query the market, keep an eye on past events as well as those on the horizon.

  • Question your business model and its weak spots. Never over-rely on a single source of income and prepare for new ones if need be.
  • Question the future viability of your services and what could change.
  • Look to the immediate past to understand how quickly things can change and consider how successful businesses reacted.
  • Think about alternative services, delivery and products that may come into desirability.
  • on future restrictions and how you can respond.
  • Query your readiness to adopt new technology.
  • Make ‘what if?’ a regular part of your business life.

Plan for change

Now you’ve got into the mindset of someone adaptable. Plan for it.

COVID-19 sprung a trap for all of us. If you had your time again and could return to February 2020 with full awareness of what’s coming, what would you do differently? How, in real terms, would you change your business?

Think about:

  • How would I switch products if current options are no longer viable?
  • What would I do to alter my services if issues like social distancing remain relevant?
  • What technology exists that could increase my adaptability?
  • Can I remove physical necessities in my workday?
  • Do I have enough reserve capital or investment opportunity put aside to pivot my business?
  • Do I have enough knowledge or team capacity to pivot my business?
  • What are my competitors doing? Looking at like-minded businesses can reduce your research.
  • Is my brand change ready?
  • Am I over-reliant on a single source of cash?
  • Should I preemptively rid myself of soon-to-be unpalatable or unsellable services and products?

Multidisciplinary team

Wherever possible, stack your team with talented people who possess a range of skills. Yes, we should all be hiring for the immediate role presented, but you should also keep an eye on their ability to be flexible too.

Should your business model become untenable, should you need to engage new markets with new skills, you’ll be best served with employees that have future-focused experience and skill sets to go with the flow. You’re only as flexible as your team.

Get the right solutions

The right tools are essential to being able to respond to shifting marketplaces.

Untethering from physical data storage, places of business and retail experiences may be the next step on a road to agility and change readiness.

It should be immediately obvious at this juncture, that:

  • Desktop software is increasingly unfeasible.
  • Cloud software is a necessity to remain untethered and work-ready no matter what.
  • You need to be mobile friendly and online capable.
  • You should consider the feasibility of on-premise solutions and in-person contact.
  • You should have a host of remote oriented workflow tools such as Trello, Asana, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack to ensure seamless remote work.
  • You could be missing out on a better deal – shop around for your software, regularly look for useful features and take advantage of available free offers.
  • Ensure customers can order or pay for products and services online with great user experience, using modern software.

There we have it, some food for thought during these times of transformation. What can you do, even if a small change, to make your operations more agile and change ready?

Jon Martingale, senior manager, IFA Books+

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